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In the Shadows of Darkness
Posted By: Mainevent
Date: 19 December 2003, 3:54 AM

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      Elsrik and the Monastor were weaving silently through the crowds, bobbing between vehicles and bodies. Their miniscule voyage led them to a guarded door, three enormous Forerunner males and a Watchman. Rock solid muscle twitched as it tapped on the door three times. Several seconds passed before it jerked upwards slightly, and slide to into the wall. The pathway was well lit, and the floors emblazoned with precious metals. Pictures of Forerunner religious symbols, major cities, and random wilderness scenes.
      Down the hall, three heavily dressed men skittered down the hall. They were whispering to themselves, apparently upset and confused at the appearance of Elsrik. He didn't want to be there, he just wanted to be back home, with his brother. Goranth held his wrinkled hand up to halt whatever comment they would have, and rotated his finger. They stopped dead, turned around, and headed back the way they came. Goranth must have a lot of influence around here. He thought to himself.
      At the end of the hall the path began sloping slightly upwards, it was a very long hall indeed. The men he was following veered suddenly to the right, through a barely discernable doorway. Elsrik caught himself, and took several steps backward. The new room was larger, and at it's center was a large wooden table. Elsrik hadn't seen wooden furniture in so long, everything now was made of metal or synthetics, and was all so dull.
      The Monitor had prohibited the cutting or destruction of any of Eden's precious landscape. It was to be a sort of estuary for the Reclaimers. That word again, what did it mean. Reclaimers. At first, Elsrik had thought he mean Forerunner, but then after the Angastal, he wasn't sure. However, the more he thought about it, it didn't really seem to fit them, but he was too busy to worry with such trivial stuff. At least for now.
      "Is he safe?" One of the figures asked, casting a glance that could melt the three inches of metal surrounding them.
      "He is perfectly fine. You know that. When would I bring someone who wasn't? Now all of you, sit down, and we can discuss what's at hand." Monastor Goranth returned the glare with an equally vicious stare.
      The figure exhaled deeply and took a seat in one of the six chairs settled equidistantly around the table. Elsrik counted to himself again, there were only five. Was the sixth seat to remain empty, or was there someone else he would have to be judged by. He hoped it would remain empty, the overall reception so far was only that of hostility, but in such an illegal operation, he probably would be too.
      "The attack is being prepared. We have four squadrons of Watchmen, an entire division of Wardens, and six platoons of Sidewinders. But The Monitor is on high alert. His beloved Angastal caused more trouble than he had thought, they aren't behaving mindlessly, they're attacking everything. His sentinels are disappearing from our monitors left and right. If we're going to attack, now would be the best time." Another of the three figures said. His older voice wasn't scratchy like the other's, and had a somewhat soothing tone to it.
      "Helanth is right Monastor. My men are equipped and ready to fight. We will leave whenever you order." Came the heavy voice of a shadow in the doorway. Elsrik, as well as the entire assembly, turned to recognize the figure.
      "General Ambrak, welcome! We are most happy to see you. This is truly our time. The time for us to bring The Monitor's reign to a violent end, and you, YOU, will be at the head of it all. You will go down in history for what you are to do today." Helanth replied as he shook Ambrak's hand.
      "You flatter me Dakship. I do this not for prestige, but for our cause."
      "Everyone does it for prestige, the cause is just the excuse." Elsrik muttered under his breath, but Helanth glared at him none-the-less.
      "Enough. We have not the luxury of time. The Monitor will either crush the Angastal where they stand, or be overrun. Either way, our timetable is closing fast." Goranth interjected with the only helping hand he believed Elsrik would get in this room. Ambrak bowed in the Monastor's presence, and then turned to face a hologram that had appeared.
      "This map is of The Library, the place where The Monitor believes he is safest. Our objective, is to fight our way through his security, bypass his locks, and make our way to the Index. His leverage against us will be gone, and then he will be useless." Ambrak finished to the approving murmur from two of the men in the room, Helanth and the other man.
      "It's a very very good plan." Goranth said. He cast a sideways glance at Elsrik, gaging his response. He personally thought it was suicide, but it was a test. To see if this man was really what he thought he was.
      "It's highly doubtful. From the estimates and figures I have here, your men COULD get to the Index, but the possibility of you escaping is slim to nill. Nowhere you could go would be out of his grasp. Every Sentinel on Eden would come down on you like a ton of bricks. He would still very much be a threat."
      "And you are?" Ambrak suddenly noticed Elsrik with a vengeance. "How then would you handle it?" He asked without even getting a response to his first answer.'
      "I would use The Net against him. He thinks it's his safety net, but we can trap him in it. We can't get directly to the Index through it, but we can get close enough to bypass most of the security. We'll be in the Index Chamber before they even realize we've accessed The Net."
      "And then what, you've done the same thing we will have, only quicker. You can't come back to The Garden without him following you, and you can't go anywhere else. You've solved nothing."
      "But your whole plan is directed at retrieving the index. Mine is directed at attracting the Monitor. We'll use what he wants most to snare him. He'll come to us, in the Index Chamber, where we'll be. And he won't fire."
      "How can that be? You can't promise us that."
      "I know I can't, but would he really risk destroying the index. His most precious relic."
      "So then what? We bargain with him? Give him the Index and put him to his word." Ambrak snorted in contempt, but was as surprised as anyone at his answer.
      "Yes. It'll be the only way to get him off of our backs permanently."
      "That's suicide. He'll destroy us all."
      "No, he won't. The virus will take care of that."
      "What virus?"
      "We make a duplicate of the Index, and upload a virus into it. We bargain with him for the Index. He lets us live, hopefully long enough to escape, and then we wait. We can fortify The Garden in case it fails, otherwise he will be worthless. The Virus will lodge itself in Amswhel's neural pathways, and let his own anti-virus software destroy him. He will then be no more than a dumb program, removed to nothing but his Sentinel counterparts. There may be unforseen sideffects though, we can't be sure how he'll react. But if all goes as planned, we will be safe forever."
      None of the men in the room wanted to admit it, but it was the sanest plan they had heard yet. They lazily and very stubbornly agreed to it, much to Ambrak's dismay and displeasure. But their few moments of rejoice as they had a solid plan came to a screaching halt as the foundations rumbled. The three guards Elsrik had seen earlier came bounding into the room, and informed them that the Angastal were attacking en masse.
      First things first, if they were going to save The Gardgen, they had to have a garden to save. Elsrik and the Monastor followed one of the guards, as the other four men split up and disappeared down several other corridors.
      The shimmering hallway from minutes before was now covered with dust and debris, ceiling panels had shattered and their broken pieces reflecting Elsrik's distorted image as he passed. They finally entered the main cavern, which was now almost completely empty, save the massive armada of army personnel and vehicles arrayed in the courtyard.
      "Take a Watchman, and follow whatever orders your given." Goranth ordered as he turned back towards the security of the hallway.
      "But I've never driven one of these before." Elsrik protested.
      "It's not hard. Left stick is movement, right stick is aiming. Triggers fire your weapons. Blue display turns it on, green display shows your power. Red display turns it off and is your weapons display. You'll get the hang of it, trust me." Goranth hurriedly turned and was ushered into the hallway, which was quickly secluded by a heavy door that was previously hidden from view.

      Four particle beams etched thousand-degree trenches in the wall as Elsrik's Watchman opened fire. It hadn't taken him long to get used to it, the Monastor was right, it was actually very simple. The Sentinel was only slightly faster than his Watchman could turn, so he readjusted his aim. Another Sentinel wasn't as luck. It's shields flared, died, and then it followed suit, erupting in flames and skidding into the ground.
      As if the Angastal weren't enough, the Sentinels had followed them. They knew where The Garden was, and they were fighting for every square inch of it.
      Two of the monstrous fleshen creatures The Monitor had unleashed leapt high into the air and came crashing down on top of a monitor, their tendril like arms whipping at the occupant. Elsrik rotated ninety degrees, cut through them like a hot knife through butter, and then tore apart a small group of eight or nine. The Watchman he saved charged it's heavy particle cannon, and unleashed a lob of it's superheated plasmid material into the air. It arced quickly to the right, and homed on a cluster of three Sentinels. An envelope of bright red and green hell covered them. They disappeared inside of the fireball, only smoldering pieces escaping the weapon's wrath.
      Two Wardens hovered by, unleashing their mammoth load on the intruders. Their particle beams cut through several Angastal straggling around the complex, while their heavy particle cannons took care of the Sentinels. Their super heavy particle cannons charged a glorious hue of purple before dislodging a massive blob of energy that struck violently at the waves of new warriors pouring into the courtyard.
      Six Sentinels converged on one of the Wardens, their heavy lasers impacting the hull and sending massive sparks bouncing off of the floor. It took four of them down in it's secondary wave of fire, but was helpless as eight more Sentinels and a small contingent of Angastal converged on the wounded beast. Elsrik fired at the Sentinels, knocking two of them out of the air with a fury, and four more made lazy spirals as the second Warden put forth it's verbal interjection. The Warden would survive, but it was stranded.
      The world spun as Elsrik's eyesight dissolved. He wasn't sure what was happening, but it was all going so fast. The pain in his scalp, the bone-rattling vibrations, the whail of sensors. He was being overloaded. It all went dark. He was once again cold, and lonely; only this time, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to survive the odds.

      The smaller mechanical vehicle, designated XA-116 came to the defense of a damaged CB-174. The Sentinel, obviously comfortable with the vehicles inability to move, checked it as Battle Inoperable, and moved onto another target. It linked to the Battle Net and issued four hundred simultaneous commands. Six lasers bit into the air with a hiss, rupturing the "Watchman"'s small power supply. It shuddered violently before finally succumbing to gravity and skidding to a halt.
      PROGRAM TERMINUS: Occupant survival rate-76%.
      PROGRAM FUNCTION: Vehicle battle status-Operable
      PROGRAM SOLUTION: Reply-Destroy vehicle and occupant
      The Sentinel's programming was clear, it must destroy and kill the XA-116, and render it's operator battle inoperable. It rotated on an invisible axis, and began it's deadly dive toward it's prey.