Posted By: Walker<email@example.com>
Date: 28 August 2003, 3:49 AM
The skull stood in the center of an abandoned Covenant base camp, impaled on a sharpened pike made from a discarded branch. It had been bleached to a dusty-white by harsh twin suns that pounded down endlessly on its gruesome form. Blood and brain juices, long dried, stained the head, their trail of gore leaking forth from the center of the cranium, where thrust up through was the end of the pike. The skull was that of the Grunt, and it stood as a marker to all enemies who should come past that they were not welcome here.
Carved delicately into the forehead were harsh words in the tongue of man, English as it were most common. They were quite unnecessary, for even to one who could not understand their meaning the message of the skull was message enough.
Turn back or be destroyed.
At the base of the pole were the mutilated carcasses of several Covenant soldiers, their weapons piled over their bones. The plasma pistols and rifles were crusted with mud and rusted. The two needlers were cracked in half, their ammunition strewn about.
The rest of the base camp was vandalized. Communication stations were riddled with bullets, and the stumps of quickly-erected Covenant "tents" jutted forth from the blood-soaked ground, having been set aflame. The single Covenant Banshee was disassembled and hacked apart in some places by primitive human tools such as axes and machetes and chainsaws.
These were the findings of Field Master Onamee and his research team.
Onamee stood, staring at the skull intently. The twin suns of this solar system sent heat cascading off of his golden armor, not even penetrating his shields. There was no need to shield his eyes or step into the shade, for even if his interior cooling unit had not been on it would have made little difference. In his armor he was invincible from even the heat of two suns, as it were. And yet... he looked to the skeletons at the base of the pole. He recognized the carcass of an Elite, his armor gone. This Elite had most likely shared the same feeling.
A Jackal approached his side meekly, and stood at attention. Onamee gave no heed to his presence for several moments, and the Jackal waited patiently, knowing that while Field Master Onamee was one of the more intellectual and less athletic members of his species, he still would not hesitate to beat him to a pulp. Finally, Onamee gave the slightest turn of his head. "What do you want?"
"Well, sir, as you know you assigned me to write the report on this mission and since—"
"Spare me your pointless chatter and go to the point," Onamee interrupted.
"Field Master, what happened here?"
In less than a billionth of a second Onamee executed an about-face, raised his fist and swung it within a millimeter of the Jackal's face. The Jackal, sure he was about to die, cringed. A trail of urine leaked from his crotch, but Onamee seemed not to notice or care. Perhaps he was even proud that he could strike such fear into the hearts of his team. The Field Master looked hard at the Jackal, studying every detail of his face. He then drew his plasma sword, ignited it, and put it just under the Jackal's chin.
"What happened here?" he asked slowly, raising the tip of his plasma sword just enough to burn a crease into the Jackal's neck. The creature hissed in pain, and hesitated to answer. He was about to speak when Onamee cut him off once more. "I'll tell you what happened here, scum. I'll tell you exactly what we found, and I'll tell you exactly what you will put in your report and what information you will relay into the minds of this research team until they come to believe it: we found nothing."
The Jackal risked a question. "Sir?"
The crease was burned further, and the Jackal gasped. Onamee narrowed his eyes to slits. "We found nothing. We found no trace of Outpost Bravo's Base Camp, no blood, no bones, no scattered weapons or mutilated aircraft. We found nothing here, scum. We found nothing. Now repeat."
"We found nothing, Field Master."
"Exactly, puppet. Now, go fill out your report!"
"Yes, sir!" The Jackal saluted, stepping away from the plasma sword. He ran off, a datapad in his hands, and Onamee turned back to the skull. He studied it once more, intoxicated by its gruesome form and the message carved into the head. It was, to him, beautiful. And he counted it as the one thing in the universe that he feared most... Yes, he, the great Field Master Onamee, terrified by a Grunt's skull above all other things in the known universe, including the Prophets.
He stared at the skull more harshly, as if daring it to rise up and bite him. He snarled quietly to himself, and stepped slowly away from the thing. He was horrified of it, and yet it affected him so. Onamee swung his plasma sword in one, long cut, and hacked it from its pole, and the skull fell to the ground and shattered into many pieces.
Onamee turned his back and without another thought led his research team away from the spot. By nightfall, it was as if they had never been there—but for the skull.
Clouds clashed in the heavens like a great battle of the gods. The moon slowly rose, casting its beams every which way—until finally it reached the scatter fragments of the skull. The moon seemed, like Onamee, intoxicated by the skull. It would not let it out of its grasp... it was too beautiful to let go.
The shattered skull slowly began to move.
Every piece started off slowly, rattling as if blown by a wayward gust of prairie wind. Then, moving so lethargically that, if not measured, would seem not to be changing at all, the pieces began to draw close to one another. Closer... closer... closer... and still closer. Until, finally, the skull was one once more.
Then, as if cradled by a ghostly hand, the skull impaled itself once more on the end of the pike. The pointed, severed end fit snugly back into its opening, and then slowly rose and settled itself back onto the pole. The skulls below rattled, and the clouds descended, forming a fog.
The fog then separated, taking the forms of many different creatures, first Grunts, then Jackals and finally an Elite, and then, at the last, a posse of well-armed vigilantes. Slowly but surely, with every stroke an exact reflection of its original blow, the battle was recreated, a ghostly duel in the night.
One by one the Covenant were slaughtered, mutilated, and left to rot at the center of the camp. The vigilante ghosts set fire to the Covenant's outpost, burning everything to the ground and destroying what was left. Finally, with a machete, a vigilante approached the writhing body of a Grunt... and decapitated it. He took a pike, sharpened it, and thrust it through the Grunt's head, then carved these words into the forehead:
Turn back or be destroyed.
He placed the pike at the center of the mutilated Covenant bodies, the message the skull bore on its forehead facing to the outside. Then the ghosts disappeared, and only the dead Covenant were left, alone, to haunt the field of their demise.