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40px-Terminal.png This article, Vadam Legacies: The Fallen, was written by Sonasaurus. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.
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Vadam Legacies: The Fallen
VL-The Fallen
A new era has come for the Sangheili. But their recent relegation from the Covenant has stirred restlessness among the once-proud species. Some do not trust humanity, and form an alliance to wipe them out...
Protagonist Autel 'Vadam
Antagonist Atsu 'Hidal
Author Sonasaurus
Date Published October 3, 2009
Length Unknown (Incomplete)
Author's Rating Unknown (Incomplete)
Previous Story Breaking the Covenant
Next Story The Rift
Story Series Vadam Legacies
[Source]

Story

Part 1

Prologue

Time 16:22:37 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), tenth sunrise shift of the fifth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Sanghelios, exact location unknown

1900 Hours, June 15th, 2553

The room was dark, with the only source of light being the fiery suns casting rays through the holes in the ceilings. The silence was almost as thick as the darkness.

Light flooded the room as a Sangheili dashed in. Atsu 'Hidal, waiting at the other end, turned to face the newcomer. "What news?"

"The protests have grown stronger, Excellency," the Sangheili said. "The military cannot hold them down, and chaos is descending upon the planet."

Atsu's mandibles parted in a smile. "The Fleet of Homogenous Clarity did not make the glorious return they had anticipated. And neither would any expect them to, what with their unwise decisions."

"They claim the Prophets had betrayed them, and they thought the Great Journey was a lie."

"They have only themselves to blame for their stupidity," the Sangheili said. "Why we should feel shame from their mistakes is beyond me. The Covenant had been troubled since the Jiralhanae had joined us. They have ambition, but they lacked brains and were too nearsighted to bring it out. Which is why we should never ally with the humans. We are making the same mistake twice, and this time, I will ensure we do not fall into it." He stepped closer to the second Sangheili. "Seek out those whom will listen. They will take great interest in what I have to say."

The alien bowed his head, and walked out of the building, closing the doors behind him.

Atsu paced the room, thinking. He didn't have much right now, but everything he needed would come soon. And it would be amusing to watch Thel 'Vadam, that so-called Arbiter, try and keep things under control. The erstwhile Supreme Commander could revel in the wasted remains of the Covenant once he was done with it, but Sanghelios would be under Atsu's reign in a few months. And then, the humans would all die.

'The Age of Amendment'...The Sangheili laughed to himself. The only thing that would require amending was their relationship with those pathetic humans. And Atsu would do everything in his power to make it so.



Chapter 1: Dawning of Darkness

Time 16:34:65 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), tenth sunrise shift of the fifth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Yermo, Sanghelios

2300 Hours, June 15th, 2553

Autel 'Vadam walked up the winding path that led to the Keep. Although the Shadow of Intent returned to Sanghelios three months ago, there had been issues to sort out and Thel had wanted him to remain until it was completed. It was his first time returning since he had gone to Stoic Courier. The events that had occurred felt like a lifetime ago.

Elder Lak 'Vadam was waiting at the top for him. "Autel, you have come back." The former warrior placed his fist over his chest by way of greeting. Autel returned the gesture.

"Everything is changing so quickly," Lak said quietly, staring down the misty mountains. "The things I have heard...the breaking of the Covenant, the alliance with the humans, and you, child. You have done much for one so young."

"Thank you, elder," the young Sangheili said. "I am honoured by your words."

The silence stretched, the only sounds being the birds squawking in the distance. "Is something on your mind?" Lak asked.

"Yes..." Autel said, turning to him. "Elder, my first impressions of the Covenant were that of betrayal and deception. I had intended to bring glory to our beliefs and values, yet all I did was fight against those who we were meant to follow and stand beside our supposed enemies."

The older Sangheili sighed, and said, "Glory is not merely about what you mean to do, and neither is destiny, young one. And what honour is there in fighting for one who has tricked you for so long? I have long looked onto my accomplishments with pride, but I now see that it counts for nothing. But I know I had conviction in what I have done, so I do not feel regret. And neither should you, Autel. For only ourselves know truly what it means to us, even if others do not."

Autel contemplated Lak's words, and nodded. "You are right, elder. Thank you for your wise counsel." He walked with him to the Keep's entrance, and followed the older Sangheili inside.

As Autel bade goodbye to Lak, and walked up the winding stairs to his room, he sank into a chair, and was silent.

Things hadn't been going well recently. Many Sangheili took offense to the fact that his father, Thel 'Vadam, had decided to ally with the humans to win the war. Although it had been clear that the Prophets had turned against them, and that the Jiralhanae had taken their place, the Arbiter was still trying to convince everyone that the Great Journey had been a lie all along. Autel looked down at a shattered ring he still wore. It used to generate an energy stasis field holding compressed plasma, which he had used to break out of a cell in High Charity after the Prophet of Regret had locked him and his allies up. If only they knew what we knew...

Autel had not kept the ring for its value. He held onto it because it was the last possession his mother, the Seer of Sanghelios, had given him before her death. When she had been killed by the Brute Captain Othreus, he had felt such rage and a lust for vengeance, that he had cast off her warnings. Now those feelings made him feel almost shameful. After fighting in the Covenant war, he knew that revenge was naught but a two-edged blade, hurting the victim not nearly as much as those whom were foolish enough to bask in it.

Autel wondered if Othreus had been killed during the Battle of the Ark. The thought of it gave him no real joy.

"Autel!"

The albino looked up and spotted Taszar 'Vadam. The younger elite was Autel's own half-brother, although Taszar didn't know it.

"Yes, Taszar?"

"Have you heard the news?" There was a strange glint in the young Sangheili's eye. "There are many groups leaving the Keeps. Rebels, so I hear!"

Autel couldn't believe what he was hearing. Rebels? So soon after his race had just finished one large war? "Surely you jest."

"I do not." Taszar said, moving to sit down at an angle to Autel. "I saw, with my own eyes, seven score of Sangheili walking out of one of the Keeps! They fled to the deep mountains."

Autel played with the ring around his finger, twisting it to and fro.

"I doubt it will be of any consequence. No Sangheili would dare declare war so soon after the one we just won."

Taszar bowed his head, then snapped it around as there was a shuffling. Autel followed his gaze, and they spotted the Arbiter, Thel 'Vadam, standing in the doorway.

"You two young ones ought to be down at the celebration." He said warmly, turning to go. His mandibles were parted in a smile, but Autel could tell it was strained.

The two young Sangheili curled their fists over their first hearts and followed the Arbiter.

"We'll speak again." Autel said to Taszar. Taszar nodded, and walked away, in to a crowd of young initiates just like him.

Autel watched him go. He remembered being an initiate, still innocent to the ways of war, not knowing of what it meant to kill.

Well, he thought with a slight feeling of unease. That's likely to change in the future.


Atsu 'Hidal walked slowly into the room. Thirteen of his best Sangheili warriors were arrayed around a circular stone table, each one from a different family.

Atsu was not clad in his usual golden armor, but one that was blood-red.

"Welcome, my loyal warriors. Today we mark the formation of a resistance." Here Atsu took the blade of his energy sword out and laid it on the table, so that it would, if activated, point to the center. The other thirteen Sangheili followed suit.

"We pledge to keep our line sacred." Each line was echoed by the rest.

"We swear to uphold all the bonds of family."

"We swear to cleanse the human filth from the galaxy, and end the blight that our fathers fought against for so long!" Atsu finished, then looked at each of the others in turn.

"We will be cast from the very society we swear to protect. We must become what no Sangheili has been for millenia: spies, thieves, cutthroats in the night. All our sacred traditions must be swept aside to protect them. We are the Fallen, the last of the honorable. Let it be known that we have but one rule!"

"Honor above all else!" Atsu roared to the ceiling.

"Honor above all else!" The thirteen roared in unison, all fourteen Sangheili holding up their arms and roaring with primal bloodlust.

Atsu allowed himself a small smile. Now he could begin to reclaim his race's honour.


Time 02:43:15 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fourth sunrise shift of the sixteenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Vadam Keep, State of Vadam, Yermo, Sanghelios

0230 Hours, January 26th, 2554

Thel 'Vadam left the council chamber much more morose than when he had entered.

"Is there anything wrong, Kaidon?" Autel asked as he and Taszar took up positions on either side of the Arbiter.

"It is these rebel groups, the Fallen in particular." Thel said, picking up the pace slightly. "They gain more and more support each day. Atsu 'Hidal is a crafty individual, skilled in the art of persuasion."

"Atsu 'Hidal?" Taszar muttered questioningly.

"A Zealot who fought near the end of the Great War." Thel responded, stopping by one of the many mosaics that decorated the hallways. He point to one symbol in particular, that of the Hidal family.

"He was Kaidon of Hidal Keep, and hated humans with an unmatched passion. He is a mighty warrior, as strong as he is cunning. To put it another way: if he and I had both fallen out of favor with the Prophets on the same day, he would be the one wearing this armor."

This was a most humbling statement. It was not often that any great Sangheili leader admitted inferiority in favor of another, much less so for an enemy.

Thel turned and began walking away. "The Fallen are the suspects in all the recent crime sprees across Sanghelios, but we can't find anything to prove it. They seem to be experts of espionage and trickery. Envoys have been sent to find them, but we cannot even establish communications yet. It is a most frustrating position."

Autel and Taszar could only nod somberly.

"Now, leave me, please." the Arbiter said. "I need to think."

The two young Sangheili curled their fists over their first hearts and marched off.

As Autel walked out of the Keep with Taszar, and looked out into the fiery sunrises casting over the mountains, he looked across the State.

"This is a dark time," Autel said, gazing across the peaceful forests and the stillness in the early hours of the day.

"The restlessness is heavy in the air," Taszar said. "Tension is mounting, and the Fallen prove as elusive as ever."

Autel sighed. "It seems there is no end to this feeling for me. Ever since the Jiralhanae first betrayed us at Stoic Courier, I am constantly expecting someone to make an attempt on my life."

"What was it like, to train at Stoic Courier?" Taszar asked after a while.

The pale-skinned Sangheili looked to the stars. "You can see your home from the shuttle bay, but you are very far away from it. Your fellow recruits are your family."

"I have felt such a connection with them too, Autel," Taszar said. "Until the day's lessons are over and I return to the Keep. It's not the same."

Autel was silent for a moment. "Then it is something. When this is over, I'm hoping that the Sangheili all feel that same connection to each other. Unfortunately, it seems the opposite is happening."

The latter looked towards the suns. "It is almost daybreak. I must go and begin my training." He bid his half-brother goodbye, walked down the mountain path, and vanished into the trees. With a sigh, Autel headed away from the Keep as well in a separate direction. As he walked through the dirt path he was now so familiar with, the young Sangheili remembered the time he had gone with his father to begin his training at Stoic Courier. They had stopped at the Seer's house...

He stopped, seeing the abandoned hut. He thought for a moment, then pushed the door open, deciding to enter. He didn't know why he wanted to go inside his mother's house, but there was just a sense of...something.

Autel slowly closed the door behind him, and looked around. The single room was as cramped and windowless as ever. It seemed completely the same as it had been six years ago. He looked around the silent cabin, and sat down on the unused bed. He remembered when the Seer had told him of his future. There has been so much done, and so much left to be done...

He spotted an array of objects laid on a table, and looked down at his ring. Standing up, he walked towards it. There were many objects he didn't recognize, but what caught his eye was a series of carvings made from the bark of a fireproof tree. He remembered when he was younger his mother making them by hand, her eyes closed and intoning something. Although the images were far from perfect, they were easily discernible.

There was a group of bulky figures standing in a row, and they looked vaguely like humans. Their form reminded Autel of the deadly Spartans he fought alongside during the Schism. Looking carefully, he realized that the image was cleverly done so that they would look like merely five Spartans at first, but were really formation after formation of them, standing in perfect columns, becoming smaller and smaller. Some had the same look of power, but held an indiscernible grotesqueness about them, as if to suggest some had broken away into corruption or conflict. More than one were not standing, but the centremost one at the front looked the most out of place, yet seemed to be a sign of hope to the others. Intimidating, eccentric...but with the air of a leader.

Then Autel noticed that above the Spartans, hovering above the leader, was a massive, fiery bird. The Spartans all seemed to be looking at it.

He turned as he heard the door quietly open. Another Sangheili entered the small hut, stooping so as not to hit his head on the frame. The albino Sangheili recognized the newcomer at once.

"Uncle," Autel said, clenching his fist over his heart respectfully. Although Stel 'Vadam was slightly shorter than he was, he still held an air of authority that was often admired in Thel. The Seer's brothers had all died out when Autel was young (although she had nothing to do with it, it was something that had caused a lot of Sangheili to fear her), so it was left to Stel to train him. But it wasn't until after the Covenant Schism that the former found out that the formidable warrior was Thel's brother.

"Why are you here, Autel?" Stel asked, not unkindly. "I saw you enter as I made my way down the Keep."

"I do not know...there was something that drew me here..."

"Hmm. Your mother has always been known to be mysterious." The Zealot looked thoughtful. "What is that you hold?"

Autel showed him the wooden carving. Stel's eyes widened.

"This is...most unusual."

"Do you know what they are, uncle?"

"Spartans. I have met their kind before..."

Autel knew that Stel had encountered the deadly human warriors on the planet Reach prior to the Sangheili's alliance with them. There were very few others he knew that survived a battle against them in direct combat. Stel was one of them. Another was Fira 'Demal's cousin, Sona, although the rest of their lineage had not been so fortunate at the time. However, while Sona managed to survive unharmed, Stel was given a bloody fate: he had received thousands of scars all over his body. Another thing Autel had not seen before was Stel's prosthetic arm, which he made himself after his arm was ripped off clean from his body by a Spartan.

Stel closed his eyes wearily. "After serving in the military for so long, it is difficult to forget the bitter past. It is not what has happened to me that remains in my memories, but everything that has happened. Watching your lifelong friends die beside you in the blink of an eye, while fearlessly looking death in the face over and over again. The injuries I have sustained are carried with me, but I choose not to dwell on them. The things that do keep coming back to me is what bothers me the most." Stel felt the row of scars over his green eye. A strange medical condition caused his left eye to turn green instead of yellow. Like Autel, he was often cast out from others for this. "I must leave. I have business to attend." Stel gave a Sangheili salute, and left.


Chapter 2: The Cazal Keep

Time 11:73:22 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), eighth sunrise shift of the sixteenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: State of Cazal, Sanghelios

0400 Hours, February 24th, 2554


Autel knew that something was wrong when he saw the thick smoke drifting out of the valley. So it wasn't too surprising that a subunit later, the team specialist specialist, Kei 'Oltem, discovered a transmission requesting assistance from the source of the smoke.

"Be careful," Special Operations Officer Tico 'Serul warned his squad. "This valley is an ideal place for an ambush."

"Ambush? From what?" asked Minor Tyen 'Dafek. "We have had no war for over a year."

"Be on your guard, nonetheless," 'Serul said. "Autel, you're in front."

The squad proceeded down the valley, which wasn't easy. Trees and tall boulders had collapsed, and large patches of the land had been burned away. The air itself smelled burned, and the usual sounds of animals inhabiting the area weren't present.

"Perhaps the Keep is down there," said 'Oltem, looking down the valley.

"It looks as if the attackers are long gone," said 'Dafek.

"This is our lead," 'Serul said firmly. "It is somewhere to start."

For the next few subunits, there was no sound save the team cautiously making their way past the half-destroyed land. Everyone was tense, and looked in every direction in case something was still lurking in the valley.

"Look," said Jaurn 'Konar, pointing at a distant structure at the bottom. "It looks like the—"

Plasma rained down on them, ripping through the surrounding plants and felling two Sangheili. Instinctively, every weapon was trained on the sky, but there was nothing airborne.

A blue bolt landed in a tree. It exploded, tearing the tree apart and killing the soldier unfortunate enough to be standing next to it. Several soldiers opened fire at the sky, to no effect. After only a moment's hesitation, 'Serul shouted, "Run! Down the valley!" The squad dashed down the slope, still firing after them. One of the soldiers was shot in the back by plasma, and he stumbled, smashing into a boulder. Weapon fire sprayed him until he lay still, slumped against the bloody rock.

"Where's it coming from?" yelled 'Dafek. Autel moved around a tree, a second before it was peppered with plasma. He glanced at the sky for a moment. He couldn't tell who was firing on them.

He felt someone grab him by the forearm and jerk him to one side. A moment later, the ground where he stood a second ago exploded, showering dirt everywhere. The albino looked at who had saved him. It was Jaurn.

"Thank you," he said. The latter nodded. Deciding to focus on making it to the bottom alive, he saw that they were almost at the building. It had to be the Cazal Keep. It looked too big and ancient to be anything else. It looked as if it had been shot up very recently.

Someone opened the door from the inside. "Hurry!" He urged them. Without question, the squad ran in one by one. There were just four of them left to make it inside. They were almost there.

A cluster of blue plasma impacted on the ground around them, glowing dimly. Only 'Dafek made it to the door, and Jaurn's eyes widened in panic as the explosives' glow increase. Reacting quickly, Autel tackled him hard, pushing him out of range. Grabbing his other squadmate, he dived straight through the mass of explosives.

The plasma detonated, throwing them high in the air. Autel felt a flash of pain, and blood sprayed him. He landed in a heap on the ground, still clutching his squadmate's wrist. He realized that all he was holding was a hand, with blood dripping down its still fingers, and he let go, feeling an intense burning sensation around his middle. He looked to the sky, waiting for more plasma to finish him. He saw the slightest blur moving through the air, and the next thing he knew, Jaurn and 'Dafek were hauling him inside by the shoulders.

"Is he alright?" 'Oltem asked, looking at Autel with a wince. "It looks as if his entire stomach has been torn apart..."

"He will live," said the unknown Sangheili, the one who let them inside. But the albino lost all thought as he faded into unconsciousness...


Autel awoke, feeling stiff. He was lying on what felt like a bed, his chest plate had been removed, and his middle was bandaged. He didn't know if he wanted to move.

"I think you will be taking time off service for a while," said a voice. Turning his head to look, he saw that it was the stranger.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"The Cazal Keep. My name is Urei."

"Autel 'Vadam. My team, are they—"

"They are fine," Urei said, although his expression suggested otherwise. "They are waiting for you to recover."

Autel sat up, wincing as pain shot through his stomach.

"You should rest," the other Sangheili said.

"I need to talk to them." Carefully, he walked out of the room, followed by Urei. As he stepped into the hall, he noticed that he was walking towards a Sangheili who was staring pointedly at the wall. It looked as if he were examining the carvings on it, but as the albino walked past him, the stranger turned and glared at him. There was something in that glare that suggested resentment. Autel slowed his pace, uncertain of what the matter was.

The moment passed when Urei walked by him. Tearing his gaze away from the unknown Sangheili, he kept walking. He was led to another room, where the Special Operations team was waiting. Some of them had minor injuries, and were being treated. When 'Serul saw Autel, he stood up. "How are you feeling?"

The commando had a strange expression, mostly tense. But there was something else. "I'm alright..." With another wince, the albino sat down, feeling a bit light-headed. "What happened, Excellency?"

"We are still trying to figure that out," the officer replied grimly. "I assume we were ambushed by aircraft. They may have been using heatsinking to remain silent."

"And camouflage," Autel said, just remembering. "I saw a blur in the sky..." He suddenly realized just how few of them were in the room. Not wanting to hear the answer, he asked tentatively, "How many did we lose?"

'Serul's expression hardened. "Six."

It was quite a loss. Their squad consisted of thirteen Sangheili. They had lost nearly half their numbers. "What are we going to do, Excellency?"

"We must return to Yermo and report. This attack will raise a lot of questions."

"You are welcome to stay here as long as you like," Urei said. 'Serul looked at him, and Autel realized why his expression was so strange. It was uncustomary for a Sangheili to enter another's Keep, and their presence here must have been uncomfortable.

"Autel 'Vadam needs to recover," the latter insisted. "And he should not move until he has."

"If you do not mind, I would not either," 'Serul said. "But the rest of us will not trouble you any longer once we can go."

Urei nodded. He gestured at one of the female Sangheili helping to treat the squad. "Cyla. Sister, could you bring Autel back to the medical room? Stay with him." She nodded, and helped the albino stand up and out of the hallway.

"Your squadmates were very worried about you," she said. Autel said nothing, feeling too dazed to talk. She turned to look at him.

"So, you are Autel 'Vadam," Cyla continued. "There are many who speak highly of you...and what you have accomplished before even joining the military."

Deceptive Prophets and killing Brutes... he thought with a grimace. What is there to speak highly of?

They reached the room. "You have done so much for one so young."

She doesn't look very old either, Autel thought vaguely as she helped him lie back down. Somewhere around my age... And he passed out again.

Cyla got the medical supplies, and cleaned the blood off his stomach. As she did so, she examined his face carefully. He looks as if he was raked across the face with a Spiker. His expression was so serious...he looked as if he had already suffered a lot. Even asleep, he looked fitful, as if peace was something he couldn't find anymore. She didn't know why, but she hated to see him so troubled. There was something about this young warrior that made him different from the rest.

Cyla realized that the cloth she was using was now soaked with blood, and she went to get a fresh one.


Autel groaned as he regained consciousness. For some reason, the pain in his stomach felt more intense than the last time.

Cyla, who was sitting nearby reading an electronic pad, looked up at the sound. She hurried over to him. "Try not to move," she said. "I couldn't give you anything for your pain because it would slow the healing process. It will go away after a while."

Shifting where he lay with some awkwardness, he said, "It's alright. Whatever gets me back on my feet."

I don't think I have sustained a major injury before, now that I think about it. I didn't think it would feel so...vulnerable.

Neither of them spoke for a while. The albino was wondering if he should go back to sleep, when he noticed that she was gazing at him, almost as if she were studying him. He turned his head slightly towards her, and their eyes met for a moment. Quickly, she looked away, picking up the electronic pad again. He said nothing, not wanting to embarrass her.

"You fought at the Battle of the Ark," she said after a while, still looking at the device in her hand. But her eyes were too still and unfocused to have been reading it.

"Many did so."

"But you were there. The world that many in the Covenant dreamed of seeing."

"Yes..."

"What was it like?"

Autel thought back to that day. "The end of the war was near. We wanted to finish it...and to make things right."

"What I meant was, did the Ark intrigue you at all? The magnificence of it, the creations left behind by the Forerunners?"

He had known what she was asking. He just didn't want to answer it.

"No," he said finally. "It was very disheartening to be there right when we discovered that the Journey was but death for all. The pain was fresh, and we did the only thing we could. After the war...we were unsure as to how our fellow Sangheili here would react to the events." Well, now we know.

Cyla looked at him again. "Those scars look as if they were they inflicted by a Spike carbine. Is it true that you got them when you saved the Arbiter?"

"Yes."

"Then you are a hero to many, Autel 'Vadam."

The albino closed his eyes. "The days when I longed for glory in battle have passed, Cyla. I have searched for them, but it was never found."

"That is because you became a warrior in a time of betrayal. They say that our days used to be much fulfilling."

"Perhaps. But even though we have freed ourselves from war for now, we are not without our enemies. We have fought amongst ourselves before. But it will be a wretched day when our separate beliefs would divide us so bitterly."


Chapter 3: New Tidings

Time 07:23:64 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fifteenth sunrise shift of the sixteenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: State of Cazal, Sanghelios

1900 Hours, February 17th, 2554

"Best of luck to you, Autel 'Vadam," said Urei as he escorted him to the Keep's exit.

"Thank you for your time," the albino said. "Both of you." He involuntarily glanced at Cyla, who gave a slight smile.

"When our enemies surround us, it is good to stand together," Urei said. "Send my regards to the Arbiter."

"I will." As Autel turned to the Keep's exit, he saw someone standing on the adjacent staircase, arms crossed and staring at him pointedly. It was the stranger who had glared at him the other night. The albino wondered why the Sangheili was watching him, but had no time to voice his thoughts as he stepped out into the valley.

There was an Umbra was waiting for him, ready to take off. He stepped into the cargo bay, seating himself close to the right hatch.

"Are you well, Autel?" the pilot asked.

"Better now, 'Pyron," he replied. "Do you like the new Umbras?"

"They are very well-designed. But I do prefer flying a Phantom. Are you ready to go?"

"Yes." Autel leaned back, surprised by how relaxed he felt. After his injury, he had willed himself to stand and walk without wincing. He didn't realize how difficult it was at first, and after several days of coping with it, it was a great relief when he was finally able to move freely again.

Autel enjoyed the ride across the mountains and back to the State of Vadam, breathing in the fresh air. One does feel at ease after getting away from one's worries. He had spent a lot of his week talking to Cyla, and he had enjoyed her company. They could talk more comfortably when they weren't discussing war, or politics. He was almost regretful about returning to service. Maybe we can resolve everything, and return to living in peace. We just need time to sort everything out after the end of the war. He wouldn't mind spending more time getting to know her...

They arrived at Yermo after a few subunits, and Autel thanked 'Pyron for the ride. He hadn't taken more than three steps from the Umbra when he saw a large crowd of Sangheili talking animatedly near a large building. Walking around them, he looked for a familiar face. He found Taszar, and approached him.

"Taszar, what has happened?" he asked. His stepbrother saw him, and broke into a smile.

"We have graduated from our training!" he said joyfully. "We are to being our services by the end of this month!"

Autel was taken aback. Taszar had graduated at the age when he himself had begun training at Stoic Courier. Looking at the others more closely, he noticed that some of them were even younger. Returning the smile, even though he still felt intrigued as well as a bit apprehensive, the albino asked "Who has made this decision?"

"Thel 'Vadam, the Arbiter himself; Many other families have yielded hundreds of graduates each!" Taszar looked very excited about this.

What does the Arbiter mean by this? Autel wondered. He must have a reason for this decision. It had long been discouraged to allow Sangheili to fight as soldiers because of their inexperience and reckless nature. Then he realized it. He must be anticipating war. The negotiations with the separatists must be going badly. The Sangheili had lost a considerable amount of their forces following the battle at the Ark. Was Thel willing to send these young ones into war to make up for the loss? It would give us a better chance, but...it is dangerous.

Autel was already half-hoping this wasn't the case. Maybe he has other reasons. Something I did not foresee. Either way, he decided not to let his uncertainty show. What was done couldn't be reversed, and graduating into military service was no small feat. He gave Taszar a genuine smile, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Congratulations, Taszar. You will make an excellent warrior. May our forefathers guide your way."


Atsu 'Hidal did not move as he heard the someone enter the room. "What news?" He asked softly.

"Excellency, Autel 'Vadam has made a full recovery and has returned to the State of Vadam. It is lucky the ambush I set up did not kill him."

Atsu smiled coldly. "Nothing happens by accident. Keep an eye on him, and give it some time. I will let you know when we will make our move."

"Yes, Excellency."


Autel found his squadmates at Yermo's main outpost. Seeing him back on his feet, they greeted him warmly. The only one who didn't show any form of greeting was Kei 'Oltem, who looked as if he was working on something intently. The albino walked over to his station, and asked, "What is it?"

The specialist glanced up in surprise. "Autel, you have returned." He stood up and clasped his hand, with an expression of open relief. "I am glad to see that you are well."

"Thank you." Looking at the holographic screens surround 'Oltem, he asked, "What are these for?"

"I have been investigating the ambush in the valley. It was too coincidental how they could have known we would be there."

"What have you found out?"

"Well, 'Serul tells me that he informed someone at the Cazal Keep that we were to make an investigation. He didn't ask for his name, though."

"So you think there is a traitor in the Keep?"

"Possibly. Although with the few details I have, there could be a number of possibilities. I have also looked into the possible factions that could have sent the attack. Right now, the largest separatist organization is the Fallen, but they would obviously deny their involvement unless I have more evidence." 'Oltem looked a bit frustrated. "I—" He broke off as a large group of graduates walked past in the hallway. 'Serul, who was speaking with Jaurn about something, stood up and walked after them, muttering, "What are they doing here?"

"Have you seen the graduates?" 'Oltem asked. Autel nodded.

The specialist sighed. "I do not know if they were ready for this. I remember when we finished our training early, but this is a bit...extreme. I saw Thel talking with some of them a few subunits ago."

"Thel is here?" the albino asked, surprised.

"Yes. He said he was leaving for something, and he came down here to have a word with Commander 'Kamul."

"Where is he?"

"In the Commander's office, I believe."

Autel nodded thanks, dashing down the hall to 'Kamul's office. He turned the corner, and almost ran directly into Thel, who seemed to be just leaving.

"You seem to be in a hurry, warrior," the latter remarked.

"My apologies, Arbiter," Autel began, but didn't get any farther as he was grabbed in a tight embrace.

"'Serul told me about the attack. I am heartened to see you are well."

"Father," the albino whispered, looking around quickly to see that no one else was around, and feeling slightly embarrassed at the same time. He took in Thel's demeanour, and saw that he looked even more stressed than the last time he saw him. Maybe that explained the sudden emotion. The Arbiter let go, and some of the tension was gone from his expression.

"I have been called to Reach," he said, as they walked towards the exit. "We are making preparations to form an official alliance."

"At last," Autel said. "Maybe then this political dispute will end."

Thel did not look convinced. "I am not sure about that. Some will take it as an insult."

"Like the Fallen?"

"Yes," his father sighed. "They are most passionate about remaining separate from humanity. And their numbers grow increasingly by day."

Walking out of the outpost's main entrance, he walked towards the Umbra that was waiting for him on a small landing pad. Nearby, 'Serul was talking with the group of graduates. Looking at them with uncertainty, Autel asked, "Father, why did you allow them to finish their training so early? You are not anticipating war...are you?"

The Arbiter did not answer.

The albino felt his heartbeat quicken. "Father?"

Thel wordlessly stepped on board the Umbra. He turned back to his son, looking older than ever.

"It is something I wish I knew the answer to," he said quietly. "And also something I do not want to know."

Autel watched as the aircraft took off, escorted by two other Umbras and four Banshees. They flew over the State of Vadam, becoming smaller and smaller in his vision, until they disappeared behind the mountains.


Chapter 4: New Alliances

Time 13:41:37 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fifteenth sunrise shift of the sixteenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 1st Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: State of Vadam, Yermo, Sanghelios

2320 Hours, February 17th, 2554

Thel stepped off the Umbra, with Autel's words still echoing in his mind. You are not anticipating war...are you?

He felt a quick stab of guilt. The Sangheili military force was now integrated with so many soldiers so young they were barely out of childhood. They had resorted to such measures before during the ancient conflicts that had taken place ages before the Covenant was created. We have fought among ourselves before. But never had we been divided like this. To have Sangheili families settle matters with each other was a common thing even during their war against humanity, but to have the entire species divide into two sides, without so much as a single individual to see honour and nobility in both sides...it troubled him. This will destroy us, if we are not careful.

Thel remembered how eager the graduated Sangheili were to join the effort to stop the insurgents. Among them was one of his sons, Taszar. How many of us will fall to bloodshed against our own kind? How many of them will die through inexperience? Am I to be responsible for their deaths?

The Arbiter did his best to put the thoughts out of his head and turned his attention to matter at hand. By the gods, I do hate publicity appearances. I wish I did not have to walk out in the streets for everyone to see me board my ship. But I suppose it is part of my role now. After the end of the Human-Covenant War, the Unified Earth Government had urged him to take the position of Head of State, which he had reluctantly accepted. The replacing of the Sangheili political leader with a soldier had received very controversial reactions, but it was necessary, considering that it was difficult to tell these days who was an ally and who was not. Nonetheless, Thel found that with his new position, his life became more important than ever. So he was now constantly surrounded by eight guards, and was rarely allowed to become involved in military issues.

Ironic, considering that I did not believe I would still be alive, Thel thought as he walked down the streets of Yermo with his Zealot guards on all sides, trying to look valiant as he passed the civilians that observed him noncommittally. First I thought I was to die as a dishonourable traitor after the destruction of the Halo ring. Then I believed my time as Arbiter would be cut short by a suicide mission. And then there was my escape from the Ark with the Spartan... He suddenly felt an unexpected sorrow at the thought of the supersoldier. After they had met on Earth, they had built up what was at first a suspicious mutual acquaintance. But over time, they had grown to trust each other; John-117 had fought with a ferocity and honour that Thel did not believe to be so different from the Sangheili he knew. He was surprised that he could be so affected at the loss of a human.

The sense of duty to one's species to protect it at all costs, even one's own life, is one of the greatest honours we hold. Why can the Fallen not see that it is nothing less in humans?

Remembering his predetermined route, Thel turned left when he reached an adjacent road, his guards not taking one step out of formation. What a shame it is for the Sangheili to be like this now. The Fallen are just as honourable than we are. But why we must accuse the other of treachery is lamentable. Now I have to have guards walking around me, snipers lined above my path— Thel stopped sharply. His eyes swept the rooftops, sensing that something was not quite right.

The Zealot formation stopped with him. Their leader, a Field Master, walked closer. "What is it, Arbiter?" he asked.

"The snipers," Thel said quietly. "Where are they?"

He winced when the Zealot turned his head this way and that, making it obvious that he was scrutinizing the roofs. We are hardly being conspicuous to any enemies that may be watching us.

"Perhaps they are staying out of sight, Excellency," the Field Master said after a moment.

"Perhaps," Thel echoed dubiously. Maybe I am being paranoid.

The Zealot caught his tone. "Do not worry, Arbiter," he said. "Who can kill over thirty Sangheili snipers without being detected?"

The sudden sound of an almost continuous stream of plasma fire whistled through the air. Startled, the crowd parted as two Zealot Minors crumpled, their purple blood spraying Thel. The remaining ones reacted quickly, raising their weapons and spreading out in formation. Thel spotted a young Sangheili wearing traditional unshielded armour, and for some reason, a vest over it. He was dashing from the crowd, blue steam venting from his right side, undoubtedly from a weapon he was holding.

He lost sight of the individual when half a dozen white-armoured Fallen soldiers appeared as if from nowhere and opened fire on the guard team, causing absolute havoc as the Zealots returned fire. But Thel kept his eyes on the young insurgent, who was making no efforts to hide himself, but was weaving in and out of the crowd. Then their eyes locked.

The next thing Thel knew, the young Sangheili was rushing at him with an Energy Sword ignited in his hand. He raised the weapon and let loose a mighty battle cry. Shocked, the Arbiter instinctively activated his own sword, locking blades with the insurgent. He followed up with a series of rapid strikes that were parried by Thel. But the sheer skill in the young individual's sword-wielding ability surprised him. He couldn't have been older than Taszar, and yet he fought like a seasoned veteran with the unrelenting energy of one who did not weaken with age.

A deadly combination, Thel soon realized. He had expected to be able to deal with the young Sangheili quickly, but his adversary was proving to be very difficult to defeat. Their duel intensified as their sword patterns became more and more complex, but neither of them had taken a hit yet. The Arbiter changed his stance, along with his attack method to force his opponent back. I could take him alive. If I could just incapacitate him, I can find out who he is.

Besides, the days when I could kill another warrior without a second thought have died out with my service to the Covenant. This Sangheili could have very well been my own son.

Thel swung hard, causing the insurgent's blade to swing to the side. He brought up his left hand and smashed his opponent's right, trying to disarm him. But the young Sangheili kept his grip firm on his weapon, not even losing balance to the attack. He made a quick stab that was awkwardly blocked by a backwards parry by Thel. He twisted himself around, bringing his body close to that of his adversary's. The Energy Swords crackled dangerously close to their chests, still locked together.

The young Sangheili glared at Thel with a simmering hatred that set him aback. Was this insurgent just another headstrong adolescent who had been won over by the Fallen's antagonism towards the military? Or did he hold a personal grudge against the humans? Or...him?

Thel realized that the insurgent was pressing something on his vest, still struggling to hold his ground in the fight. The Arbiter caught the glint of three plasma grenades tucked under one side of the vest, and realized that the young Sangheili was trying to detonate them. Reacting quickly, he shifted grip on his Energy Sword, causing his surprised opponent to lurch forward. He raised his blade to run it through the young Sangheili, but held back momentarily. I do not know if I should kill him.

In the split second of Thel's hesitation, the Field Master ran past him and rammed the insurgent into the stampeding crowd that was running down the street in both directions. Shocked, the Arbiter restrained himself from rebuking the Zealot leader, resolving instead to look for the young Sangheili. Not good, if the grenades go off...

He noticed out of the corner of his vision that the Zealots had another one of their own but had taken out three of the Fallen already, and was forcing the remaining three to make a last stand against a wall. Thel picked up a Plasma Rifle from one of the dead Fallen, looking through the crowd to see if the young Sangheili was still there.

He caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw the Sangheili's vest flying through the air towards him, with ten plasma grenades glowing dangerously. Thel snapped up the rifle and fired at it, burning holes in the vest but shooting it into the air.

The rifle overheated, and he dropped the weapon, his eyes still the vest. It would land in the crowd...

The grenades exploded in a massive blue cloud, its blast radius barely reaching the mass of Sangheili. The force of the explosions, however, pushed the closest ones in all directions. Thel was thrown off his feet and knocked hard into one of the Fallen. Rolling off the soldier, he grabbed for his Energy Sword and quickly killed him. He stumbled to his feet as the Zealots riddled the last Fallen soldier with plasma rounds. The Sangheili was slammed against the wall, with purple blood splattered all over it. Steam lifting off his body, he stood with his back arched for a moment before falling to the ground.

The crowd was gone now, and a silence settled onto the street. Thel looked around and took in the mess. Bodies lay scattered around them, a few of them belonging to civilians. He examined every single one of them carefully, but none of them was the young insurgent. He must have been carried off by the crowd.

The Field Master gathered his surviving subordinates and approached Thel. "Arbiter, are you alright?"

Thel tore his gaze away from the mutilated body of one of the Fallen. "Yes...I am fine."

"We must get you onto the ship now," he said. "Hurry."

He ran with them down the wrecked street, eager to be on board his ship and away from the carnage. I am almost glad to be able to escape Sanghelios for a while. Our world has become appalling.

They reached the waiting Phantom without further incident. As Thel boarded the dropship and waited impatiently for it to bring him onto the ship waiting in orbit, he wondered if he had seen the last of the young insurgent. That troubled young Sangheili has the look of vengeance I have seen in many others before. But who is he?


Time 51:75:19 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), thirteenth sunrise shift of the seventeenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Planet Reach, Epsilon Eridani system

1900 Hours, March 3rd, 2554


"Lord Hood, the Sangheili representatives have arrived." Lieutenant Commander Gregory Montrose informed Hood.

"Double check our security measures, if you would." Hood replied. "I do not want anyone, least of all the representatives of Sanghelios, to be harmed today."

"Yes sir." Montrose marched away.

Hood turned to watch the sun rise over the planet of Reach. A fitting place. He thought. Here is where our greatest victories, and our greatest losses, took place. And here it shall be that we finally make peace with one of our enemies.

The UNSC Red Sun Rising was a simple frigate that had managed to survive the war mostly intact. In recent months it had been repaired and updated with the latest slipspace drives and MAC weaponry. For now, though, all weapons were on safe.

"Sir, security details reporting that we are secure." Montrose strode forward and intertwined his hands behind his back.

"Good. Is the shuttle ready?"

"As ordered, sir."

Hood nodded. "Please, come with me, then, Commander Montrose."

Montrose looked perplexed. "Yes sir."

Hood walked to the shuttle currently waiting in Red Sun Rising's hangar and boarded it, Montrose muttering orders to his second-in-command to hold down the fort while he was away.

"Take us out, Sanders." Hood said to his personal pilot.

Lieutenant Kelly Sanders nodded. "Aye, sir."

The shuttle lifted off gently and floated out of the hangar. "Is the Chairman already aboard?"

"Yes sir."

"And the Sangheili?"

"Five minutes out, sir."

"Thank you, Sanders."

"As always, sir."

The shuttle pivoted slightly, and a flash of light temporarily blinded Hood. He realized he was looking down on the surface of Reach.

Smooth glass. The Sangheili won't miss the message. And neither will I. Hood made a mental note to raise a toast to all those who had laid down their lives defending Reach later, after the ceremony.

The shuttle decelerated and gently turned to set its main docking port to the side of the orbital station. Recovered from the wreckage of Reach months ago, the old MAC orbital platform had been rebuilt into a rudimentary space station. Hood would have preferred more work on it, but then, he also probably would have preferred that his holster not be empty.

Lieutenant Sanders powered down the ship. "Docking ring in place, you are clear to disembark, sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Hood rose as one with Montrose. They walked through the docking bridge and into the station, with Sanders following them.

"Admiral on deck!" A Sergeant barked, and several rows of Marines snapped to attention. Hood held up a salute as he walked by them.

Out a window, he saw an unarmed Phantom dropship docking with a rudimentary docking ring, and about a dozen Sangheili disembark, including a familiar one wearing burnished silver armor.

The Chairman of the United Earth Governments, Kevin Locke, was already in the ceremony room.

"Lord Hood, a pleasure to see you again." He said, holding out a hand to Hood. Hood shook the hand firmly.

"Likewise, Chairman."

As he released the Chairman's hand, the Arbiter and the other Sangheili walked into the room. Every Marine in the place had their rifles slung over their backs, but Hood saw them all aching to draw their weapons and fire. He imagined that a few of the Sangheili looked like they wished to do the same.

The one Sangheili that wore no armor, just a simple blue robe, broke off from the group and approached an elder human. Both of them began murmuring before stepping forward to the middle of the room.

The human woman spoke first, her voice amplified by directional microphones and sent through speakers throughout the station and broadcast around the galaxy on thousands of different frequencies in a thousand languages, so that human and Sangheili alike could witness the event.

"On this day, March the Third, year 2555, we celebrate the anniversary of the end of the greatest war we have ever known. I ask that we bow our heads in a moment of silence for that that were lost."

Hood bowed his head, noting as he did so that the Sangheili delegates followed suit. He did not believe that it was because of simple tolerance. They too, were remember those lost.

After a minute everyone raised their heads, and the Sangheili diplomat spoke next.

"It is on this day we dedicate not only to the end of the war between our races, but to our future. On this day our two species agree to not only cease hostilities, but to enter into an alliance."

The human spoke again.

"On this day we become not only fellow warriors forced into an alliance to survive, but we become allies, brothers to stand at each others' side. The wounds of time may run deep, but we will heal. Chairman Lock, please step forward."

Here Chairman Lock stepped forward to face the two diplomats. It was the Sangheili who addressed him next.

"Chairman Locke of the United Earth Government, do you hereby agree to regard any Sangheili citizen as you would one of your own, to treat them fairly and just as you would a human under your own laws?"

Chairman Lock nodded. "I do swear."

The Sangheili diplomat nodded and continued. "From this day forward, let it be known that the UEG recognizes the race of Sangheili as their own, and agrees to shelter them when in need of aide, to answer their calls for aid, and to stand against the enemies of Sanghelios.

"Arbiter Thel 'Vadam, please step forward."

Here the Arbiter stepped forward. The human diplomat addressed him.

"Do you, Arbiter Vadam of the Sangheili High Council, agree to regard any Human citizen as you would one of your own, to treat them fairly and just as you would a Sangheili under your own laws?"

The Arbiter's mandibles clicked. "I do swear."

The human diplomat nodded. "From this day forward, let it be known that the Sangheili High Council recognizes the human race as their own, and agrees to shelter them when in need of aide, to answer their calls for aid, and to stand against the enemies of Earth.

"Lord Hood, please step forward."

Lord Hood stood forward, still ramrod straight. As he did, he locked eyes with the Arbiter. The large alien nodded in approval. He looked... tired.

Then he was in front of the human diplomat, and she was speaking.

"Lord Hood, as the primary leader of military operations for the United Nations Space Command, you have been called upon to be witness to this agreement between races. Do you agree to be witness and enter into this alliance?"

Lord Hood nodded. "I do."

The Sangheili diplomat spoke then. "Rtas 'Vadum, please step forward."

A Sangheili warrior missing half his mandibles stepped forward, standing next to Lord Hood.

"Rtas 'Vadum, as the primary leader of military operations for the Sangheili High Council, you have been called upon to be witness to this agreement between races. Do you agree to be witness and enter into this alliance?"

Rtas 'Vadum nodded without hesitation. "I do."

"Then it is done." The human diplomat announced. "Let it be known that on this day, our two species agree to enter into the Interspecies Union."

"May our Union be long and bring peace to the galaxy. Should any other race of this galaxy seek to enter into our alliance, then it shall be done. For years we have been enemies."

"Now, we are friends." The human finished, and the cameras cut off.

Hood hadn't expected much applause, and was thus mildly surprised when a smattering of it began in the rafters among the Marines, but quickly spread. He would have joined in, but even he had an image to maintain. None of the Sangheili applauded, but a few of them definitely looked pleased.

"Lord Hood." The voice made him turn, and he found himself facing the Arbiter. "May this bring peace to our races." The Arbiter held out a massive hand.

Lord Hood shook it. Just as he did two years ago, his hand felt absolutely dwarfed. "I wish peace were that easy."

"As do I. But now we may strive for it together."

"Aye," Lord Hood turned to look out the viewscreen, at the scorched and glassed surface of Reach.

"Together."


"The Arbiter has done what?" roared the Fallen Fleet Master.

"He has created an official alliance with the humans," said the second Sangheili, a Ship Master. "Thel 'Vadam has returned only today."

The Fleet Master's mandibles were twitching but forming incomprehensible words. "How dare he...that fool...he has shamed our ancestors, and our entire species!"

Atsu 'Hidal smiled thinly, watching the exchange. "I am hardly surprised at the Arbiter's decision. Calm yourself, Isto. My guess is that they will not last very long before they lose faith and destroy each other."

Isto's expression tightened. "We should not wait for them, Excellency. This must become a matter of war. We will spill the blood of every human and dishonourable Sangheili until we are cleansed from this repugnant act!"

"Bold words, Fleet Master," Atsu sighed, rising from his seat. "Except you forget one thing. How are we to do this? Our forces are still gathering numbers, we do not have enough followers to best even the humans at the moment. The best thing for now is to wait, bide our time, and watch for the right opportunities."

He turned his attention to the second Sangheili, who hadn't even reacted to Isto's outburst. "Ship Master 'Cazal, check on our...subject. See what news there are of Thel's return. But be careful, not everyone in your family is on our side. You know I trust only you with this task." The Ship Master nodded and walked out of the room without a word.

When he was gone, Atsu looked at Isto again. "It is time we bring every insurgent on Sanghelios under our control. Here is what I need you to do, Isto."


Chapter 5: Tension

Time 36:92:17 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), seventh sunrise shift of the twenty-second month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Yermo, State of Vadam, planet Sanghelios

2300 Hours, June 19, 2554

Autel looked up as Tico 'Serul entered the briefing room. He stood up from behind the table and placed his fist over his heart; Jaurn 'Konar and Tyen 'Dafek, who had also been waiting, did the same.

"My apologies," 'Serul said. "I was held up." Without waiting for a response, he turned on the briefing room's holographic screen.

"Take a seat," the Special Operations officer said. When they did, he continued, "I have called the three of you here to take a mission." He paused, placing his hands on the table and gripping it tightly. "I have never assigned this kind of operation before, for it is not our way. But it is necessary."

"What do you want us to do, Excellency?" Jaurn asked, leaning forward.

'Serul took a deep sigh through gritted mandibles. "You are to enter the ranks of an insurgent faction and spy on them for us."

Autel was caught off guard. "Spy?" he repeated. "Excellency, that is a Kig-yar method of—" he broke off when the officer turned his head slowly to face him. "I am sorry, I should not have spoken so rashly."

"No, you are right," 'Serul said. "I do not find this idea favourable. But we do not have a choice. If the insurgents are intending for war, we must be prepared. I am asking the three of you because you are the most capable in my squad. Can you do this?"

Autel exchanged glances with Jaurn and 'Dafek. He spoke for all of them.

"Yes, Excellency."

The officer smiled, although it was still strained. "Good. Here is what you will do. We will stage an incident that will look as if you are part of The Shadow of Dissent. It will be done where we will attract their attention, and you will easily enter their ranks."

"Why The Shadow of Dissent, Excellency?" Jaurn asked. "Why not The Fallen?"

Autel was equally puzzled; The Shadow of Dissent was a fairly prominent rebel group, but still in relatively small numbers and didn't have plans for very much other than political opposition.

"Too risky," 'Serul answered. "The Fallen are the best among our enemies. It would be difficult to place you behind their lines, and even then, it will be difficult for you to obtain information. It will be easier to sneak you into a smaller, less secure faction. But the Arbiter strongly believes that The Shadow of Dissent will join the Fallen in a matter of months, and it is better if you establish yourselves as ranking members of The Shadow of Dissent first."

"How long are we to be spying on them?" 'Dafek asked.

"You will remain with The Shadow of Dissent without any outside contact until you are part of The Fallen. Wait two months and then one of you will meet me to report. After that, I do not know how long you will remain stationed with The Fallen. But you will know when it is time to pull out." 'Serul's eyes darkened. "This is no easy task, and it is possible you may be discovered and killed. If you are, we will have no way of knowing immediately. You will be cut off from us for a very long time. Are you ready?"

"We are, Excellency," Autel said, with a boldness he did not feel.

"Then follow me. We have a lot of work to do before you are sent off. I must make sure all three of you will be familiar with your new identities before the last sunrise of this month."


Time 76:3:32 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), forty-third sunrise shift of the twenty-second month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Yermo, State of Vadam, planet Sanghelios

1640 Hours, June 28, 2554

Fira couldn't believe his luck. Someone had transferred him out of Sona's squad to work with a "team" of graduates. Why they want me, I don't know. I can't even comprehend what this is about. Maybe it was a new protocol for whatever was happening between the Covenant separatists and the insurgents right now, but what situation could warrant placing a Minor Domo with a Elite Operator Specialist and a half dozen graduates?

He spotted his new commanding officer standing outside the compound, their new base of operation, of sorts. Even in the dark burnished armour that covered most of his body, Fira could tell that the officer was an elder. Interesting. I have never worked with an elder Special Operations soldier before. He approached the operator and placed his fist over his topmost heart. "Zehr'tul 'Sum, it is an honour to work with you."

Zehr'tul mirrored his gesture. "Greetings, Fira 'Demal. Thank you for coming early. I trust you will be great help to me for our task ahead."

"Are the graduates here yet, Excellency?" Fira asked.

"They are not to meet us here," the Operator said. "They are being flown to the other side of Toari to intercept a trade between two insurgent factions. We are scheduled to leave soon, but we may as well do so now. Can you drive?" Zehr'tul led him over to a Spectre parked nearby. Fira nodded and sat in the driver's seat, securing the hood over himself and activating the turbines. He waited for the Operator to climb into the right-side passenger seat before steering the hovering vehicle away from the compound and into Toari's streets.

"May I ask you something, Excellency?" Fira said.

"Ask any questions you have," Zehr'tul replied. "We will work much better if you are not unsure of something."

"Do you think intercepting a trade is a bit difficult for graduates?"

The Elite Operator chuckled. "There is no easy job for anyone in the military. But I know what you mean. I believe they are capable. But if they are not, there is still you and myself to take care of it. I'll tell you the truth, young one...do not see this as anything perilous. We are acting under the authority of the Interspecies Union, and these two factions are nothing to worry about."

For some reason, Fira didn't feel very reassured. But he said, "I will take your word for it, Excellency."

"No, you don't, I can tell you are on edge. That is good though, it means you don't let your guard down on any mission, no matter how trivial. I am glad they picked you for this operation, Fira."

But why did they pick you? Fira wondered, but didn't speak it aloud. Surely we could make better use of a seasoned warrior than to look after graduates. And one who specializes in stealth too. He drove the Spectre across Toari by Zehr'tul's instructions, with a single thought lodged in his mind.

Things certainly are very strange now.


Thel gazed out the hatch of the Umbra as the vehicle flew across the city. Below, he could see Sangheili gathered on the streets, heads turned upward to watch the passing of the aircraft formation.

I suppose they are still getting used to the idea of having an Arbiter as the head of state. Or are they watching us because they think we are patrolling in case of an attack? In addition to the two other Umbras flanking his, there were four Banshees flying in formation around them; one above, one below, and two in front. Every one of the aircraft had their guns tucked away and unactivated, but Thel doubted it was any more reassuring. He wondered if the firepower would do them any good if insurgents made an attack on the aircraft.

I am not used to this myself. Being flown around all the time under constant danger of assassination, and on our own homeworld too. The Umbras would switch flight positions every once in a while, although Thel's was currently in the "leading" spot. This doesn't make me feel any more safe. But it is the best we can do.

But I do have one surprise for any enemy that would dare attack us. Thel looked up to see the Banshee flying above the formation. His brother Stel was behind the controls, blending in perfectly with the rest of the aircraft. They may find he's more capable than the usual pilot.

Of course, it hadn't been Thel's idea to bring him along. Stel was a Ship Master, and too valuable an officer to risk his life flying something as vulnerable as a Banshee. But Stel had always been reckless, a trait that hadn't quite died out after the war. It was better that no one apart from the pilots knew he was there, and Thel felt a bit more safe with him coming along. I am meeting with members of the Fallen today. I may need the extra help.

The trip to the Central State Building was uneventful, however, and soon enough, Thel was stepping off his Umbra upon landing and entering the building with his escorts, one of them being Stel disguised in common guard armour. Maybe I was wrong. If there was to be an attack, surely it would have been while we were airborne and not in the midst of politicians numbering in the hundreds.


The plan was simple. Stage an exchange-fire between the Covenant Separatists and the supposed members from the Shadow of Dissent. Autel, Jaurn, and 'Dafek were all fitted with armour worn by the insurgents and armed with battered and half-depleted weapons. They were at the spot where the fight was to take place, not too far from the enemy headquarters. They were sure to get their attention soon as the plasma started flying.

Autel ran everything over in his head quickly. For what seemed like every unit in the past month, he had been learning to become Sanol 'Norom, a medium-ranking officer of the Shadow of Dissent. Jaurn and 'Dafek were respectively Bera 'Fulsam and Ralum 'Bandol. The easy part had been for the team's technical specialist, Kei 'Oltem, to break into the insurgent database and insert their names and information into it. But the more difficult part was learning to respond to being called by their assumed names, and acting as if they weren't soldiers of the Covenant Separatists. The only way to do so was to train without end for day after day. Now they were ready.

Autel nodded to Jaurn and 'Dafek, and the trio burst out of cover from an alleyway and opened fire on the Sangheili they were "fighting". Plasma bolts ripped into their armour and some dropped, while others retaliated, seemingly wounded. Of course, none of the soldiers were injured. Underneath their standard armour, the Sangheili had layers of older armour that had no shielding but could take a lot more damage than their updated counterparts.

'Dafek ducked behind a nearby container as plasma bolts whistled over his head. Jaurn stepped over a body and returned fire, scoring more hits on the Special Operations team. The bodies in the colours of the Shadow of Dissent were all too real; captured enemy soldiers who had been interrogated and executed by a firing squad were riddled with plasma burns and blood splatter. Autel moved up to where 'Dafek was, and called urgently into his transmitter. "Comrades, we require your help! We have completed our task but are surrounded by the enemy!" He fired a few more shots over the container. A plasma bolt caught him on the shoulder, but his shields held.

'Oltem had tapped his transmitter to have access to the Shadow of Dissent's communications, so he wasn't too surprised to see a trio of Ghosts, a Spectre, and a Revenant speeding down the street in less than five subunits. The vehicles lined up horizontally on the street and opened fire on the Special Operations team, who faked surprise and immediately broke and ran. The Revenant fired a mortar round at them, but it impacted on an outcropping roof, blowing apart a chunk of the stone. A few shots hit some of the soldiers, but none of them fell, and soon, they were gone.

"Stand and fight, cowards!" crowed one of the insurgents, but sounded triumphant.

The Dissent members stopped firing as Autel led the other two to the vehicles. The leader, who was seated behind the Revenant's controls, swept his gaze over the corpses on the ground and said, "Are you the only survivors, brothers?"

"We are," Autel replied grimly.

"It is a shame," the leader said. "We are so few that we cannot afford to lose many. Come aboard, you should make your report when we get back. Let us be quick, before the dishonourables call in aircraft to deal with us."

Autel sat down beside him on the Revenant, while Jaurn and 'Dafek took the passenger seats on the Spectre. The Dissent team turned around and drove back down the abandoned street.

Now we are on our own, he thought. I hope we are up to completing our mission.


Fira realized just how much of Toari was abandoned after driving halfway across its suburban districts through the night. Their current location didn't look like it was ever very populated, but the lack of Sangheili presence from the homes was unnerving. Or were they hiding, perhaps nearby?

"We are here," Zehr'tul said.

"Excellency, I think we are being too conspicuous," Fira said. "What if there are enemy patrols?"

The Operator laughed as they hid the Spectre between two houses and climbed out. "Have you ever dealt with these insurgents, Fira?"

"No."

"I thought not. You overestimate how many resources they have at their disposal. Not even the Fallen would dare to leave their soldiers stationed around the city."

Yet, Fira thought. Zehr'tul was certainly very confident. He hoped that he could trust the older Sangheili's experience. "Where are the graduates, Excellency?"

"Across the street. They've been watching us for two subunits now."

Fira was startled. He thought they were alone. "I saw no one else since we arrived."

Zehr'tul smiled. "They could use a few lessons in remaining undetected. But I suppose I have been operating in stealth too long to place my expectations upon others."

"How many of them are there?"

"Six."

"So...we are to wait until the insurgents arrive?"

"Yes. The others have already received their instructions from another officer."

"What are our instructions, Excellency?"

"Simple. We know one of the rebel factions are coming down this street soon. We will follow them to their meeting place and ambush the deal, killing those we cannot take alive."

"I am not trained for stealth, Excellency," Fira said tentatively. "And neither are the recruits."

"I know. I am going to follow them alone, and when I have found them, you are to take the graduates and join me. I am not sure exactly where the meeting place is, but it is close by."

So that is why Zehr'tul was picked for this mission. Fira took his Needle Rifle from his back and checked to make sure the magazine was full.

A series of flashes on the other end of the street suddenly caught his gaze. A distinctive blue-white glow emitted from between two houses. Pointing, he asked, "Excellency, what is that?"

Zehr'tul cursed. "The graduates have activated their weapons. Plasma Rifles and Energy Swords, I'm guessing. They will easily be seen at this time of night." He grabbed for his transmitter.

Fira stiffened. "Excellency, I hear a vehicle approaching." The deep hum of a hovercraft's turbines was getting nearer.

The Elite Operator was frantically speaking into the device. "Taszar, tell everyone to deactivate their weapons, now! You will be detected!" Almost immediately, the glowing went out one by one. The two Sangheili held their breath, watching as a Shadow glided down the street. There were a half dozen insurgents on board, and floating in the troop bay was a massive black container. It looked like they hadn't been spotted.

The gunner abruptly swiveled the Shadow's turret to the left and opened fire at the opening between the two houses where the graduates were. Four of the Defiant leaped off the vehicle and ran towards them.

Fira swore in Caelestem Gloriam, dashing across the street. Snapping up his Needle Rifle, he shot one of the insurgents four times in the back, pulverizing the enemy's spine and dropping him instantly.

Zehr'tul was beside him, a Plasma Repeater in his hand. "Excellency, go after the Shadow!" Fira shouted. "I will help the graduates, you must not lose sight of the package!" The stealth officer hesitated for a heartbeat, but then engaged his camouflage. Fira caught the slightest blur moving away from him before it disappeared soundlessly into the night.

Turning his attention back to the matter at hand, he dashed towards the enemies, dodging and weaving around their shots with some effectiveness. The graduates had recovered from their attack and were retaliating, spraying the insurgents with plasma bolts. Caught between both sides, one of the enemies fell, then two. The last one was trying to figure out how to take the offensive without turning his back; Fira ended his indecision by putting a single needle round through his head.

Silence loomed over the street again. He reloaded his weapon and ran to the graduates, who were emerging from the street. Two of them were wounded, one more seriously than the other.

"Where is Zehr'tul?" asked one of them.

"Elite Operator 'Sum is following the Shadow," Fira said. "I imagine he will have a harder job keeping up with it now that we have been detected." He pointed at the less injured graduate, who was bleeding on his left forearm. "You, are you able to drive a vehicle?"

"Yes, Excellency," he replied.

"Don't call me that," he snapped. Pointing at the uninjured graduates, he said, "Right, the four of you are coming with me. You two," he said, indicating the wounded. "Patch each other up and take the Spectre back to the base."

"I can still come with you," the second graduate protested.

Fira eyed the younger Sangheili, who had taken three plasma bolts to the chest and one in the knee. Blood was dripping out from the holes in his armour. "You have already lost honour by allowing yourself to bleed from your own mistake. Do not make it worse by disobeying me."

"But—"

The other wounded graduate cut in. "By the gods, Taszar, listen to him!" Taszar lowered his head and fell silent.

Fira pulled out his transmitter and contacted Zehr'tul. "Two of the graduates are injured, Excellency. They will be returning to recover, but the rest are with me. Have you found the meeting place?"

"Yes. I will tell you where it is."

He listened carefully as the Elite Operator described the route. When he was done, he nodded in satisfaction. The package wasn't that far off; the other faction hadn't even arrived yet. This isn't so bad. We can still complete this mission without difficulty.

Beckoning to the four remaining graduates, he said, "Follow me. Our objective is not far off." The five Sangheili dashed down the street, weapons clutched tightly in their hands.

It didn't take long for them to reach the location, even by foot. Zehr'tul was waiting for them on a rooftop overlooking a large courtyard. Gesturing at them to remain silent, he pointed below. Fira saw the Shadow parked beside a building, with the gunner still behind the turret, and the driver standing in the middle of the courtyard next to the black container. There were five others with them, standing guard over each exit.

"It looks like the trade will occur soon," Zehr'tul said. "Here is the plan. I will kill the one guarding the package. Fira, kill the gunner and take the plasma cannon. Everyone else is going to help me eliminate the guards. Ready?" The others nodded, some of them looking a little apprehensive. "We are short on time, go!"

Fira ran swiftly across the rooftop and jumped off, activating his Energy Dagger and driving it into the gunner's rib cage as he landed on top of him. Moving quickly, he spun the turret around as the others attacked.

Zehr'tul had already killed the driver, and was attacking the insurgent guards with the graduates at his back. Fira aimed at the nearest one and shot him down easily. Switching targets, he cut down a second one. The rest were eliminated in less than a subunit.

Zehr'tul was examining the container now, and the graduates were positioning themselves in all directions. Fira decided to stay on the turret in case there was more trouble.

The Elite Operator straightened. Turning to Fira, he called, "Dropship!"

He could hear it now too, the low ominous humming of a Phantom. I am making myself an easy target. But this turret is the best firepower we have. Clenching his mandibles, he pointed the gun towards the sound of aircraft turbines.

The Phantom appeared over the rooftop, its hatches open and its turret glowing. Staring down the dropship, Fira fired at the turret, melting it with plasma until it was useless. He had no angle over the two gunners aboard though, and watched helplessly as Zehr'tul and the others began to take fire.

The situation became worse when no less than twenty insurgents were deployed from the Phantom and were surrounding the team. The graduates opened fire in panic, trying to fight their way out. Fira helped, ignoring the bolts that were draining his shields. He could see Zehr'tul was trying to protect both the bomb and his subordinates. Plasma poured in from all sides to the middle of the courtyard, and the graduates were screaming as they returned fire, whether out of agony or a berserk rage to take down as many enemies as possible.

The container began rising into the air as the Phantom's antigravity holder gripped it. Fira felt hopelessness seize him. There was no way they would make it out alive with it now. There was only one thing to do. "Destroy the package!" he yelled over the din. The graduates hadn't heard him, and he shouted it over and over until one of them pulled out a plasma grenade and threw it at the black container. He took three plasma bolts in the stomach and crumpled.

The other graduates were throwing grenades at it too, ripping apart the casing. Zehr'tul had disentangled himself from the mass and climbed to a rooftop. He was running across the surrounding buildings, making his way over to the dropship hatch.

Fira was still firing at the enemies below when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Stepping away from the turret, he came up quick with his Needle Pistol and fired at the insurgent that was now on top of the Shadow with him. He didn't get to fire more than six rounds when his opponent beat him on the side of the head with his gun and sent him toppling off the vehicle.

Dazed, he watched as the insurgent took aim at him. He could see Zehr'tul taking a great leap at the Phantom's gunner as the dropship began turning to fly away. The Stealth Sangheili was hit by a dozen rounds from the cannon, pushing him back. He fell behind the rooftop and out of sight.

A plasma grenade attached to the container held under the Phantom. It stuck there for a second and detonated.

Fira saw the outline of the Phantom, the Shadow, and the insurgent standing over it for a fraction of a moment before everything disappeared in a flash of white. He squeezed his eyes shut against the blinding light, hearing nothing but the roar that no living creature could make. He felt himself being lifted off the ground and flying through the air.

He felt a heatwave washing over him as he was propelled away from a fiery cloud, spreading in all directions from where the courtyard had been. He landed hard on the ground and skidded across a street, barely hearing the sound of armour scraping against rock because of the ringing in his ears. He soon came to a stop and laid there as his vision began to fade, overwhelmed by shock.

Zehr'tul...did he escape the explosion? The graduates, they were caught right below it... Letting go of the Needler clutched in his bloody hand, Fira faded out of consciousness.


Chapter 6: Firestorm

Time 17:34:26 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), forty-fourth sunrise shift of the twenty-second month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Yermo, State of Vadam, planet Sanghelios

2210 Hours, June 28, 2554

Thel was beginning to tire of Leran 'Nafal's speech. The Fallen representative had been going on for the last two units now, speaking of the Interspecies Union with something bordering contempt. And he didn't show any indication of finishing what he had to say. This political meeting had been going on for the entire night now, and the Arbiter was beginning to feel irritated by how long this was taking.

Sitting beside him, Stel muttered in his ear, "This one really likes the sound of his own voice."

Thel gave his brother a stern look. "This is not a joke, Ship Master."

"I know. I just do not see the point of this. I got the message after ten subunits of this meeting. The Fallen does not like the Interspecies Union, and they will pretend to look for a peaceful solution. We could have figured that out without putting up with this politician."

The Arbiter sighed. Sometimes it was as if Stel had never grown up. Perhaps he is right. We are never going to agree with the Fallen on these matters. But I have my job to do, and so does Stel. I should not have let him come, he would be better suited elsewhere.

The Zealot was now looking out the window. "See that?"

Thel looked away from 'Nafal and followed his gaze. "What am I supposed to see?"

"The first sun. It's going to rise within the unit."

"And?"

Stel made an exaggerated half-arc gesture with his prosthetic arm so he was pointing at the opposite window. "Bet you it will be all the way over there by the time he is finished talking."

Thel held back a laugh, trying to ignore the glares from the other politicans that Stel had attracted. Suddenly he frowned. There was a speck in the sky, clearly seen in front of the sunrise. It was clearly an aircraft, but it wasn't there a moment ago. Why was it heading towards them?

Stel nudged him. "Thel..." he whispered, this time sounding uneasy. The Arbiter turned around and saw a second Phantom in the opposite window, flying around the tall buildings and towards them. He spotted a large black container clutched under its antigravity unit.

Something was wasn't right. He stood up abruptly, and everyone turned their gaze to him. 'Nafal stopped speaking.

One of the guards hurried over. "Arbiter, is something wrong?"

Thel pointed out both windows. "Phantoms."

The guard activated his transmitter. "Excellency, there are two unidentified dropships approaching the building. They are carrying something."

'Nafal slammed his fist down on the podium. Pointing accusingly at Thel, he said, "This is your doing, Arbiter! You mean to divert the attention of—"

The building shook as something large landed on it. The ceiling cracked as an explosion rocked the building above them, knocking several people off their feet. A second explosion completely destroyed the ceiling.

Coughing up grit, Thel pushed aside a piece of debris that had fallen on him. He was shocked at what he saw. The Central State Building had fifteenth floors; the meeting had taken place on the eleventh. Two bombs had managed to wipe out four entire floors, and the room was exposed to the sky above. The shattered stage was on fire.

All around the room, guards were helping the politicians up or digging them out of any rubble. Several of them were laying still on the floor, dead or unconscious. More guards rushed into the room, weapons raised.

"Everyone, in position!" Stel barked, all traces of humour gone. The Ship Master was uninjured and was holding a Plasma Rifle. Thel ducked behind a pillar as the Phantoms hosed the destroyed room with plasma. The guards scattered, some of them handing sidearms to the politicans. All affiliation differences were forgotten as the Sangheili in the room prepared to fight their way out.

"Give me a weapon!" Thel shouted to the leading guard, who tossed him one of his two Plasma Rifles. Stel was leading everyone out of the room as enemy insurgents dropped down from the destroyed ceiling. The Separatist and Fallen forces sprayed the room with relentless barrages of plasma. One of the insurgents had made it out of the room and was running at Thel with an Energy Sword before being torn apart by a hail of plasma bolts. He collapsed at the Arbiter's feet, his armour smoking.

'Nafal turned the corpse over with his hoof. "We are being attacked by the Defiant," he sneered. "The ones who dare proclaim themselves as rivals to the Fallen. They are no match for us."

Stel was standing next to the gravity lift. He pounded it in frustration. "They have disabled the lift," he said.

Thel was both amazed and surprised by the ferocity of the attack. "The Defiant have never been so aggressive."

"They see this as an opportunity," 'Nafal said. "To launch an attack on both our sides."

"Guards, split everyone up and find ways to get them out of the building safely," Stel said. "I will remain with the Arbiter." He picked two more guards to accompany them, and they dashed out of the hallway.

"How long until we can bring in air vehicles?" Thel asked.

"Too long," the Zealot said, looking out to the ground below. "Those Phantoms are not letting up, and the enemies are making their way through the building to find us. By the gods, they are swarming the streets below." He shot apart a section of the floor, opening a large hole. "This way, Arbiter."

They made their way down each floor of the building, sometimes coming across startled Sangheili who worked in the offices, who joined in the evacuation once the word spread about what was happening. They had made it all the way to the ninth floor before they were apprehended by The Defiant.

The guards took cover behind a wide desk and returned fire as Thel and Stel cut them down in front. The insurgents were no match for the two warriors, and the fight was quickly ended. The Ship Master was about to open up another hole in the floor when a dozen plasma beams shattered the windows of the building, two of them catching Thel in the chest and taking down his shields.

"Out of the room!" Stel shouted, pulling his brother to his feet as they sprinted into a hallway. "Are you alright, Arbiter?"

"I am fine," Thel said, clutching his side. He wiped the blood off his hand and gripped his gun. "We should find a room on the opposite end of the building, where the snipers cannot reach us."

"No," Stel said. "It could be a trap. If there are snipers on the other side, you could be killed."

"Can we make it to the ground floor?" the Arbiter asked.

"We could, but that is where the Defiant forces are the strongest. I have sent for Wraiths, but it will take a while for them to reach here, never mind clearing the bottom floors. I have no doubt that they have captured our aircraft as well."

They made their way carefully down the hall, careful to move quickly past windows. Thel stopped when he saw an Umbra fly past the building. "The Defiant have Umbras circling the building. If we could take one of them, we can escape."

Stel nodded. "That is the best chance we have. Come on."

The brothers headed down a few more floors, with the two guards watching their backs. The farther down they went, the more insurgents appeared. They frequently met other guards with politicians, but kept their group small to maximize their chances of survival. Occasionally Thel would find corpses belonging to the Separatists or Fallen, lying near dead Defiant soldiers. They would sometimes take weapons from the bodies.

They were now on the fifth floor, and things were more perilous than ever. Stel slid open a door, and was instantly met by a team of insurgents. Firing rapidly, he shot them down with the Plasma Repeater he had found. Thel, clutching a Carbine, was helping the guards take out the Defiant pursuing them. They defeated the enemies quickly enough to avoid being pinned down, and the Arbiter closed the door behind them as they entered the room.

"Stay out of sight, Arbiter," Stel cautioned. "I think we are low enough to acquire transportation. Let's get their attention." He and the guards shot out the window, and the Zealot looked out to the city. He spotted an Umbra hovering a couple of floors above them, and scored a few hits on its underside.

The aircraft immediately swooped down. Stel beckoned to his brother, who intentionally stood in the middle of the room, weapon raised. The pilot opened fire on the Arbiter, but to no avail, as he nimbly dodged the worst of the attack and ducked behind a cabinet.

The Umbra flew towards the window, turning sideways as a trio of insurgents disembarked. Stel gave a roar as he leapt over a hologram unit, smashing one of them over the head and dropping him. Ignoring the other two, he jumped onto the Umbra and ran into the cockpit, activating his Energy Dagger.

The two surprised insurgents turned to deal with him when Thel and the guards shot both of them dead. Quickly climbing aboard the aircraft, they saw Stel step back into the troop bay, holding the body of the insurgent pilot.

"Get rid of that, will you," the Ship Master said to Thel, handing him the corpse. "And hold onto something, I'm going to take you out of Yermo for now."

"We should rescue more of our allies," the Arbiter said, dropping the Defiant's body off the side of the hatch. He sat down as the guards manned a turret each.

Stel shook his head. "Too risky. There are still a lot of enemies in the building, and your life is more important than most of theirs. Besides, the Fallen are inside as well. I would not mind if a few of them were killed. Now we should leave before we are shot down."

Thel wasn't happy about leaving behind the others, but knew Stel was right. He stared gloomily at the wrecked Central State Building as it disappeared into the distance, smoking and half-destroyed, but still standing. A fitting metaphor for our failing attempts at unity.


"This first mission has not gone well, I realize," Zehr'tul said.

Fira gave a hollow laugh. "It was a complete disaster, Excellency, and nothing less."

The Elite Operator looked like was going to reply, but instead said, "I suppose you heard about the attack on the Central State Building."

Fira's fist clenched. "Yes. The news of it just brings even more shame upon me."

"I fail to see how this is your fault, Fira. No one could have predicted that the Defiant would launch such a massive attack."

Forty-two politicians killed. It was a disastrous day. The Fallen will declare war on the Defiant, I am sure of it.

"I suppose they depleted all their resources on that attack. A desperate attempt on the Arbiter's life, and that of the Fallen. They have dug their own graves, as they are now short on weapons, and no doubt there will be retaliation. No...that is not what I mean, Excellency." Fira placed his head in his hands. He didn't want to say it, but he couldn't hold it back. It was ripping him apart inside.

"A bomb. That's what it was. There was no trade."

Zehr'tul didn't reply, so he looked the stealth Sangheili in the eye. "I told the graduates to throw grenades at a bomb. And now they are dead." I spent a month at the hospital. I wish I had died.

"You did what you thought was right," the older Sangheili said gently. "There was no telling what that container held. I would have tried to destroy it myself. In a way, you saved me."

Fira's fists clenched over his own face. "I was knocked out by my own mistake. Lying unconscious on the street like a fool while two Phantoms bore down on the Central State Building and nearly killed the Arbiter."

Zehr'tul stood up and put his hand on his shoulder. "We can fix this." Fira didn't even acknowledge that he had heard, but the officer persisted. "We will make the Defiant pay for what they have done. I think you would want to help."

He walked to the doorway. "You are a good soldier, Fira 'Demal. I would like to work with you again." The door closed, leaving Fira alone with his thoughts.

He just sat there for subunit after subunit, trying to push out the thoughts that were screaming accusations into his mind. It was becoming unbearable. Enough! I cannot let this continue to haunt me. Zehr'tul is right...this isn't my fault.

It didn't make things any better. But now Fira was thinking more clearly.

This is just the beginning. The Defiant is one of many enemies we have to deal with. But deal with them we shall. Sometimes there is no alternative to wiping out everyone who threatens to destroy the unity we have spent countless generations forging. It is a terrible thing, but...necessary.

He wondered where Autel was. He had been nowhere to be found for a while now, although his commanding officer Tico 'Serul told Fira that he was fine. Wherever his friend was, he was probably doing his utmost to fight the fallout that was erupting everywhere on Sanghelios.

Alright, Zehr'tul. I shall do my part.


Part 2

Chapter 7: Convergence

Time 51:24:4 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), twenty-sixth sunrise shift of the thirty-first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: The Fallen headquarters, Sanghelios

0520 Hours, March 27, 2555

Autel kept his gaze staring straight ahead as he and another insurgent stood on either side of Esar 'Nilur, the Shadow of Dissent's leader. He listened to the conversation with interest, but was careful to avoid eye contact with Atsu 'Hidal, whom 'Nilur was speaking to. The Fallen leader was a rather intimidating figure, even when he was in a relaxed stance, his hands folded behind his back.

"We are glad to have you join our numbers," Atsu said. Although his tone was warm, his eyes remained wary. "From this day forth, you, I, and all our followers are brothers."

"The Shadow of Dissent is no more," 'Nilur said. "We are at your command, as part of the Fallen."

The two Sangheili placed their right fists over their own second hearts, the sign of mutual agreement.

"Your new armour is in your personal quarters, Field Master 'Nilur," Atsu said. "The rest of your followers are being refitted as we speak. You may pick your subordinates, from your numbers or mine."

The former Dissent leader bowed his head and shifted his hand over to his first heart. Turning, he strode out of the command centre. Autel and the other insurgent followed.


They had infiltrated The Shadow of Dissent seven months ago without incident. Kei 'Oltem had done his part well; when Autel first reported back to 'Nilur, he "showed" him the bugs he had planted in the indicated locations, as per the mission 'Nilur thought was assigned by a high-ranking Dissent officer. In reality, the surveillance would do them no good, as 'Oltem had simply sent pre-recorded transmissions of false information for the insurgents to overhear; in a matter of weeks, every bug had been found and eliminated, although 'Nilur now believed he had gained a lot of information from the transmission.

Autel was given the rank of Ultra among the Fallen, Jaurn and 'Dafek were respectively given the ranks of Major and Minor. He picked them along with three other members of the Fallen to command. He took off the armour in his team's quarters, pure-white save for the blue that trimmed it.

"We leave tomorrow to defeat The Defiant," Jaurn said. One of the Fallen nodded.

"It will be a good day," he said. "We have been pushing them back for months now for what they have done in Yermo. Soon we will deliver the final blow."

"What if the Arbiter is to intervene?" another asked. "He will not appreciate us stirring a riot so close to his city."

"He has remained impassive so far," replied Autel. "And we do have our orders to avoid collateral damage. Atsu 'Hidal has made it clear that we must not create animosity from the neutral sides."

In truth, the albino knew that Thel intended for the Fallen and the Defiant to whittle each other down. It was obvious that the Defiant would soon be wiped out, and he saw no reason to prevent it.

It will be only a matter of time before the Fallen turn on the Interspecies Union as well. Tension is still rising, and they can hardly ignore the numerous trips Separatist politicians are making to human colonies to negotiate terms.

One task at a time though. See what we can find out here, and we will be able to defeat the Fallen. Until then, let them erase every enemy insurgent on Sanghelios.

The others laid down in their beds, and Autel did the same. He removed his helmet and placed it next to his armour, careful to hide the fact that he was still wearing the Adaptable Skin Membrane which hid the true colour of his skin. Strange, how I once balked at the idea of allowing Sangheili to slaughter each other like this. But now I have grown accustomed to it. I suppose we will never find unity again without the Covenant.


"This is their hideout?" sneered one of the Fallen soldiers, his eyes flickering disdainfully over the hilltop they were crouching behind.

Autel took in the sight of what lay beyond the hill but decided not to comment. They were standing outside a seemingly abandoned airstrip, one that had not been used by the Sangheili ever since they had been able to use hover propulsion technology. It located close to a volcano that had become extinct countless ages ago. The airstrip itself had been simply abandoned by the Sangheili of that era, leaving it to be torn down by the destructive nature of the volcano. It looked as if it had failed to do so before depleting its spews of magma.

It had taken the team four days to travel to the airstrip by foot. Autel was still getting used to the fact that The Fallen did not have access to many vehicles or stealth technology that the Covenant Separatists did. But they had managed to track The Defiant's base by tailing the forces retreating from Yermo. This move had clearly shown how desperate their attack had been, and Atsu had been confident that this indicated their vulnerability.

"That should be the entrance," said 'Nilur, pointing at the largest building. It was worn-out and patchy, but there were visible signs that attempts to repair it had been made.

"They do not even post guards around here," observed Jaurn.

"All the same, be on your guard," the Field Master said. "I will lead my team inside to deal with them. Sanol, remain here with the rest in case there are enemies hidden around the airstrip."

Autel nodded in acknowledgement, and without further ado, 'Nilur leaped over the hill and ran across the open space, with twenty Sangheili behind him. He kicked down the half-melted metal fence that surrounded the airstrip and made a beeline for the main door.

Rather reckless, the albino thought, watching as 'Nilur sliced open the main building door with his Energy Sword and charged inside. But these are insurgents we are dealing with, not military enemies.

Defiant Sangheili rushed out from every door and window in the main building, with 'Nilur's team vaulting back outside after them. The airstrip quickly turned into a bloody firefight, with the Field Master's team holding a firm stand but greatly outnumbered.

"Snipers, take aim and fire!" Autel barked. "Make use of your ammunition wisely, we do not have many."

A dozen Fallen Sangheili holding Beam Rifles, Carbines, and Needle Rifles spread out in a half-circle formation around the perimetre of the airstrip and opened fire on their enemies, cutting them down with great proficiency. Thirty of the Defiant lay dead before the snipers discarded their empty weapons and picked up the Fuel Rod cannons and Plasma Launchers that they had laid at their feet. They charged onto the airstrip with Autel leading them.

The heavy weapons didn't have a lot of rounds either, but the Fallen team was able to turn every Defiant vehicle into wreckage, using the remainder to blow apart clusters of enemy insurgents that were standing back to back.

With the ruthless assault, the tide quickly turned, and the show of force caused the Defiant's nerve to fail at last. They broke and ran, scrambling to get ahead of each other and ducking for cover. Almost indifferently, 'Nilur arranged the Fallen team to stand in a straight line and fire their weapons at the retreating enemies' backs. The last one managed to almost reach the opposite fence before Autel's plasma bolt caught him in the back of the neck, dropping him with hardly a sound.

"Cowards," the Field Master said distastefully. "As if these fools ever had a chance of beating the Interspecies Union with their underhanded attempts at assassination. They could not even die with honour."

Autel stared around at the carnage. The mangled bodies of the Defiant lay everywhere, and the smell of blood and singed flesh hung in the air. So The Fallen has won. The Defiant are no more.

Won what? he thought, watching as the Phantom 'Nilur called in appeared on the horizon beyond the volcano. All we did today was slaughter our own kind, believing we are so much better because we killed them first. I had thought The Fallen had at least some sense of integrity, that their intentions were correct, in a barely recognizable way.


Time 15:57:14 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fourth sunrise shift of the forty-first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: The Fallen headquarters, Sanghelios

1020 Hours, October 13, 2555

"This is our opportunity!" Isto said.

"If I had as many wives as you had claims of opportunity, my children alone would number highly enough to defeat the Union," replied Atsu in a bored voice, leaning back in his chair and not even looking at him.

If the Ship Master was thrown off by the offhand comment, he didn't show it. "This is the right time to go to war against the Union!" The Fallen Chancellor ignored him, prompting him to continue. "We have the resources to defeat him!"

Bam. Atsu's fist slammed down on the table. "When will you realize, Isto?" he spat, his voice finally giving way to impatience. "We are still nowhere powerful enough to win a war on our own planet! Look at the Defiant, they used every last weapon and vehicle at their disposal, and what became of them? We crushed them like miserable grubs!" He leaped to his feet, marching over to his subordinate. "And what of it if we do win? We will simply turn the whole of Sanghelios against us! Do not forget, the Arbiter has the support of those we are trying to win over. We. Need. More. Time!"

Isto hadn't even flinched during the tirade. He just stood there, glaring at him in an almost resentful manner.

The Ship Master had been getting on his nerves lately. He had been pushing for him to go to war against the Union, and was questioning Atsu's decisions more and more lately. He was even raising a commotion among the Fallen to back him up. The Chancellor was tempted to strip him of his rank and have him executed.

Suddenly, Atsu had an idea. Trying to keep the cunning smile off his face, he forced his voice to sound just a bit reluctant. "You are right, my friend. We cannot spend time dawdling. We need to show that we are not to be taken lightly. But it is not wise to be rash." Turning away from Isto, he paced around the room, and continued.

"So here is what you are going to do. Take your ship and go to the human colony of Falaknuma. Its fleet is not present and its defences are minimal. Kill the humans there, and lay waste to the planet. That is how we will begin to destroy the Union, by targeting its weakest forces there." Atsu turned and looked his Ship Master in the eye. "Do you understand?"

Isto hesitated for the slightest of moments, but then he straightened and placed his hand over his heart. "Yes, Excellency!" With a savage eagerness in his eyes, he left the room.

When Atsu was sure he was gone, he turned to the other individual sitting in the room. "That is one problem solved, Valir," he said.

Valir straightened a little. "Isto is a problem, certainly. But how was it solved, Excellency?"

"Because we will not see that fool again. If I know Thel 'Vadam, he will not stand by and allow his new friends to be killed. He will send his fleet to destroy Isto's ship, but by then many humans will have died."

"But then Thel will declare war upon the Fallen," Valir pointed out.

"Not once I carry out the other part of my plan. Where is your brother Urei?"

"In the Cazal Keep."

"Good. Keep an eye on him."


"Isto 'Vadum is preparing to leave for the human colony," 'Cazal said. "You will join his ranks. Find the military database in Falaknuma, and bring back what you find to me, and only me. Not to my brother. Not even to Atsu 'Hidal."

"I understand, Excellency," said Kaur 'Oltem.

"You have built your reputation well. Isto trusts you, so make that your advantage."

Kaur nodded one more time before running off to the dropship where Isto's troops were boarding before going into orbit.

No one knows that Kaur works for me, thought 'Cazal. He most certainly will return alive, even if no one else does.


The cruiser materialized out of Slipspace and drifted away from the closing rift behind it. Any sound made by the re-entry was quickly swallowed up by the stifling silence of space.

"What is our position?" Isto asked.

"We are out of range of the human colony's detectors," a subordinate reported. "We should be able to reach it within twelve subunits."

"What are their defences?"

"Detecting them now, Ship Master," said another Sangheili. After a pause, he said, "I can see fourteen space stations on this side of the planet. I am guessing there is at least twenty-two in total."

"How many warships?"

There was a pause. "Two."

Isto was surprised, and a little more than disappointed. "That is all?"

"Excellency, it is a small colony. And the humans do not have a lot of ships to spare at the moment. Still, any more and we would have more than we can handle."

That is true, I suppose, Isto thought. The Fallen only had a total of four capital ships at the moment. He decided it wouldn't be wise to engage in a direct space battle, because even repairs would be difficult for them to make.

"Reactivate the engines," he ordered. "We will destroy those ships first, then any other weapons the humans have."

One of the Sangheili looked apprehensive. "I do not like this. We are only one ship and that is an entire colony."

Isto considered berating the subordinate for his comment, but decided against it. After all, everyone in the Fallen was still alive because they learned to employ caution rather than stick by their reckless proclaimed honour that accomplished little more than get many of their number killed.

"Ship Master, there is a human ship leaving the planet," another Sangheili suddenly said. "It is small and I almost didn't detect it."

"Is it heading towards us?"

"No, Excellency. It is heading in a perpendicular direction. It is a small ship too, possibly for stealth rather than battle."

Isto pondered this for a moment. We should really just ignore it and proceed to attack the colony. But where is that ship headed?

Had we been detected? Was that ship leaving to seek help? Or could there be...a bigger reason?

"Trace it," he said.

"Excellency—"

"Do as I say," he snapped. "We do not have much time before it leaves. Plant the tracer and we will follow it." Perhaps it could lead us somewhere of interest. And we could always come back later if need be.

The subordinate entered a series of commands on his holographic panel, and Isto watched on the viewscreen as a small probe launched silently from the cruiser, almost invisible in the dark space. A moment later, a light blinked on his command screen.

"It has been attached, Ship Master," the subordinate said. "The humans do not appear to have noticed it."

Isto smiled. I must congratulate whoever designed these new probes. Even the Union does not have this kind of technology yet.

"The ship has entered Slipstream space, Excellency," reported a Sangheili.

"Then we will follow them."

If there were any objections among the crew, they did not voice it. The soldiers entered their respective commands, and a moment later, a glowing rift appeared before the cruiser and it entered, leaving behind the real space.

Of course, Isto was well aware of the risks he was taking. They could very well be arriving facing dozens of human ships. As primitive as their weapons were, a good half dozen cannons aimed at their single cruiser could easily tear them apart. Even if they arrived some distance from the human ship's destination, they couldn't stay far enough away without losing their trail. And once they were back in real space, it would be difficult to escape a small fleet of enemy capital ships.

But something tells me that this detour will be well worth it. Either way, I would rather have found out than be left in the dark. Isto seldom avoided taking risks if there was a potential reward to be had. He had had a few close calls in the past, but he wasn't about to back out now.


"We'll be arriving in New Quebec in thirty minutes," reported a Petty Officer.

"Copy," said Lieutenant Kirsten Seltzer. Addressing another subordinate, she said, "Chief, call Lieutenant Medellin to the bridge."

"Yes, ma'am." The NCO tapped the ship's communication access and found the officer. "Second Lieutenant Spencer Medellin, report to the bridge immediately."

The bridge doors slid open immediately. Seltzer turned around, eyebrows raised.

"I was just outside, ma'am," Medellin said. "So we're about to come out of Slipspace."

Seltzer nodded. "Is your pod ready?"

"It is."

"Good. You know what to do. I'll give you the signal while we're docking."

The Marine officer saluted and left the bridge.

Almost feels like a military operation. Still feels like an ONI op, no doubt about that. We're still the same double-dealing cloak-and-dagger team, no matter which side we're on.

The stealth corvette came out of Slipspace exactly thirty minutes later. New Quebec loomed on their viewport, growing larger as they approached it.

"Okay, everyone, we've gone over this," Seltzer said. "Play it cool."

The ship's COM blinked a blue light. She pressed a button.

"This is the Black Adder, on approach to New Quebec from Falaknuma," the Lieutenant said. "Requesting docking for transfer of datafiles."

"Roger that, Black Adder," came the reply. "Please send your clearance code and you will be directed to the indicated docking station."

Seltzer was about to send the code when alarms started going off all over the bridge.

"What's going on?" she shouted over the din as the crew fought to shut down all the alarms. Had they caught onto us already? But we made no mistakes...

"Lieutenant, our proximity alarms won't shut down!" shouted the ship operations officer. "But we're still eight hundred metres from the nearest—"

The bridge flooded with light as a Slipspace rift opened five hundred metres below them. A Covenant cruiser appeared underneath the corvette.

"Get us out of here!" Seltzer shouted. "Medellin, you have to launch now! Get down to the surface and link up later!"

"Ma'am, that cruiser is going to tear us apart if we make a move—"

"Do it, Marine! We only get one shot at this, so launch your damn pod before I have to override its controls and launch it for you!"

The Black Adder shot forward with a sudden burst of acceleration, nearly throwing her off her feet. The corvette left behind the Covenant cruiser, which was still drifting but otherwise motionless.

Covenant ships are dead in space momentarily until they power back up, she thought feverishly. We can make it into the mass of space stations before it has the chance to fire on us. To hell with stealth now. We need to get in and out as soon as possible.

"Station, we're heading down to the surface," Seltzer said into her COM, trying to keep her voice level. "We can't lose this information to that Covenant ship."

"Negative, Black Adder, get into orbital slingshot and find a space station to dock on the far side of the planet. You are not cleared for the surface. We have classified military operations going on down there—"

The Lieutenant cut the COM and watched as they approached the surface. She felt the corvette shudder slightly as the stealth pod launched from its hangar. Lieutenant Medellin will soon be back with some very important information for the Insurrection. Then we'll see how classified this new Delta Company will be.


"The Black Adder still isn't responding to our hails," the dockmaster said.

"Something's not right," said Major Lance Sturgis. "That corvette wasn't authorized to go down there."

"They're ONI operatives. You know how it is, they always like to do things their own way."

"But they would have been safer in slingshot orbit," the Marine officer pointed out.

"Yeah, but there was no time to talk. They're heading down there now, and all our forces are engaging that cruiser."

Sturgis frowned. "It's a Sangheili ship. We're supposed to be friends now."

"Could be insurgents, Major."

"That corvette might have led them here. They could be up to something. Do we have their location pinned down?"

The dockmaster checked the main datascreen. "They're about thirty klicks from Base Alpha-Two-Niner. And they're still getting closer. Wait...they just pulled away and are heading back into orbit. What are your orders?"

Sturgis hated the whole situation. He was placed here as the commanding officer of the military force that safeguarded ONI's current project down on the surface of New Quebec. He had about seven thousand soldiers under his command, and they were to be distributed all around New Quebec. Which would have been just fine had this Covenant ship not come calling. Planet as small and secluded as this could be glassed by a single cruiser. We don't have any capital ships, and our space weapons are limited. How the hell did these Sangheili get here?

What am I supposed to do?

Sturgis took a calming breath. He had to make use of what he had. Do the best he could, even if he knew he couldn't win. "Dockmaster, send out all distress drones in this station. Get all the other stations to do the same." The drones were capable of entering Slipspace and sending one-way signals to wherever they arrived, but even the nearest colonies were pretty far. It would be a while before they got any help.

Now about that corvette. Picking up the COM that he had connected to his subordinates, he found the officer closest to Base Alpha-2-9 and established a connection. "Lieutenant Forge, do you read me?"

"Yes, Major. The regiment down here is getting tense. We don't know what that Covenant ship is going to do, but they're awaiting your orders."

"Tell them to hold defensive positions at their assigned areas. But I need you and your team to go after a rogue corvette. Split up your force and look around Base Alpha-Two-Niner to see if they left anything behind."

"Solid copy, sir. Forge out."

As soon as they ended the connection, Sturgis contacted the Alpha-2-9's commanding officer. "Commander Damian Lash, this is Major Sturgis. Do you read me?"

"Yes, Major. I've already received word of the Covenant ship and we've put the base on lockdown. The trainees are all inside and out of sight."

"It's more than that, Commander. We've got a possibly rogue ONI operative team dropping in for a visit. They're somewhere around the area, but I've sent a team to take care of whatever they're up to. If you spot anything suspicious, contact Lieutenant Jacob Forge and give him a heads-up."

"Affirmative. We'll keep our sensors on alert, Major."

Sturgis slumped back in his chair, watching the dockmaster launch the distress drones. The nearby stations were doing the same, and soon the space was filled with tiny dots entering Slipspace and disappearing. Some of them zoomed past the Covenant cruiser, but it still didn't react. It merely drifted closer and closer to the planet, like a creeping predator.

What's it waiting for? the Major thought. He suddenly leaped up and marched out of the command centre. I'm not waiting around to find out. My Helljumpers are on the surface preparing for an attack, and I should be down there with them.


Isto wanted to pound his projector in frustration. Out of all the things to have happened to them, their weapons battery had to malfunction as soon as they came out of Slipspace.

I checked the ship over three times before we left, he thought darkly. Either the Fallen is shorter on functioning technology than I thought, or...someone is sabotaging the ship.

He thought of Atsu 'Hidal, and his sudden agreement to send him to attack the humans. Is this his doing? Was he trying to send me to my death? No, not even Atsu would lose a ship in exchange for taking my life.

Who is it then? Our opportunity is slipping away from us!

"Ship Master, we have found the human ship," a subordinate said. "It is near the surface, at—"

"I do not care," Isto snapped at him. "We do not need to follow that ship anymore. Weapons officer, are our batteries online yet?"

The Sangheili shook his head, looking puzzled. "I am still trying to find out what is wrong, Excellency."

"Let me see it," the Ship Master said irritably, striding over to him. No one noticed Kaur 'Oltem, who was surreptitiously examining the diagram of the corvette's location from underneath the bridge's platform. Covered in shadow and camouflaged, he was more or less invisible to anyone. He cautiously slipped out of the control centre's open doors, and headed for the hangar.

Isto would not have the weapons online for several cycles, Kaur had made sure of that. It would only be a matter of time before the Ship Master sent ships out for an attack. He could then easily leave the cruiser with them, and get to where the human corvette was lurking.

By the time he found the information he was looking for, the weapons would be working well enough to reduce the planet to glass. Isto would return with a triumphant announcement that he had annihilated the human colony, but no one would know about the information Kaur would obtain for 'Cazal. Not even Atsu 'Hidal.


Chapter 8: New Quebec

Time 37:11:62 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fifth sunrise shift of the forty-first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: The Fallen headquarters, Sanghelios

2210 Hours, October 13, 2555

'Cazal watched the Ultra conversing with two of his subordinates just outside their quarters. They were speaking in low voices, something he wouldn't have found suspicious had he not recognized the Ultra.

Autel 'Vadam. It was difficult to tell at first, but the albino had clearly taken care to conceal his skin and eye colours. He wondered how the Union had so easily infiltrated the Fallen. And more interestingly, how the so-called honourable Sangheili had resorted to espionage, no doubt due to their influence with their human allies.

'Cazal looked past him to the Sangheili standing on the other side of the hallway; he was observing Autel also. He caught 'Cazal's eye and strode towards him.

'Cazal made sure they were out of earshot before saying quietly, "I assume you recognize the Ultra."

The other Sangheili nodded. "Autel 'Vadam. An enemy to the Fallen." He glanced furtively over his shoulder before adding, "We could tell the Chancellor of this right now. That freak would never make it out of this building alive."

'Cazal pondered this. "Tempting. But no. Let him play his little game. I will make my own plan to deal with him. The Chancellor does not have to know."


Autel tensed as a Sangheili approached them. He forced himself to look impassive, and didn't turn around as the insurgent walked past down the hallway.

Jaurn noticed his demeanour. "Relax."

"Relaxing is a luxury we do not have," he replied quietly.

"We have been among the Fallen for countless months and are well-established among their numbers. They cannot know who we are."

"That is not what I'm concerned about," Autel said. "I recognized the one that just walked past us. Valir 'Cazal, Urei's younger brother. I did not know he was part of the Fallen."

"This conflict has divided many families," 'Dafek said grimly.

"That it has. I must leave at the first opportunity and inform Urei."

Jaurn shook his head. "A risky idea. And you do not know if Urei himself is on our side."

"I am fairly sure. And in any case, I have to send the information we've gathered to our own commanding officer."

"I agree with Autel," 'Dafek said.

The three Sangheili entered their quarters. They had decided it was better to have their conversations in plain sight, where no one could eavesdrop on them behind a door. But now it was time to make arrangements for the next step of their mission.

We must be careful, Autel thought. If we are exposed, no one will ever know what became of us, and the information we gathered so painstakingly will all be lost.


0830 Hours, October 16, 2555

"Commander, you can't," Major Sturgis protested.

"We don't have a choice," Commander Lash said firmly. "This planet doesn't have sufficient defences to fight off a Covenant cruiser full of hostile Sangheili."

"But we're taking a big risk here. If anyone finds out about the Delta Company—"

"I'm fully aware of the risks, Major," Lash replied with a hint of impatience. "But the alternative is to lose the entire program to these insurgent Sangheili."

"Sir, it'll take months to send our fastest ships to Sanghelios and back," the ODST officer said, grasping at straws. "Even if we have a Slipspace COM launcher, it will be too late."

"We do have a Slipspace launcher," said the Commander. "But this one's a new design, and doesn't require a receiving port. In theory, the message should have been received instantaneously, but I've never used it before. But I hope it worked, because the fight is getting ugly down there..."

Sturgis froze. "You mean you've already sent the transmission?"

"Precisely forty-eight hours ago, Major. If all goes well, they should be here soon..."

"Commander, Slipspace rupture, twenty kilometres from the central station!" shouted a nearby officer. "Confirmed, single Sangheili CCS-class cruiser entering the atmosphere!"

Everyone in the station held their breath as they waited for a possible transmission from the Covenant ship. Was it a friendly ship, or was it another Fallen vessel to speed up the attack on New Quebec?

An alien voice was heard over the station's main COM. "This is Ship Master Stel 'Vadam of the Marauder. We come bearing aid from Sanghelios and are dispatching ground forces immediately."

A collective cheer was heard throughout the station's command centre. Dozens of pods and dropships were deployed from the Marauder. The ship then bore down upon the Fallen cruiser.

"Delta Company is the only thing that will ensure humanity has a future," Lash said quietly to Sturgis. "I will go to any lengths to make sure they get that chance." He hurried off to another part of the command centre, ordering, "Deploy whatever fighter squads we have left and arm all orbital weapons. Let's give the Ship Master a hand..."


"Good hunting, my friend," said Stel.

"And to you also, Ship Master," replied Sona 'Demal. "I will ensure that this planet is not lost to the Fallen." Without another word, he cut the connection and launched his pod, flying rapidly towards the surface and was soon lost to sight among the hundreds dropping with him.

I know you will. Although Sona was only an Ultra, Stel knew that he was adequate to command the Sangheili infantry forces that would usually go outside his chain of command. The Ship Master recalled with some displeasure the strings Thel had to pull to allow the Marauder to be sent for aid. And even with that, many high-ranking Sangheili weren't permitted to leave Sanghelios due to "complications".

Politicians. They never realize the gravity of any military situation. Lives are being lost while they squabble and lie to people to maintain their terms in office. Did the creation of the Interspecies Union mean nothing to them? Stel shook his head, clearing away the thoughts and focusing on the situation at hand here. With any luck, Thel would be able to send additional help should it be necessary. In the meantime, he had a Fallen cruiser to deal with.

"Confirm all weapons online," he said.

"Be careful, Ship Master," said Lash's voice over the COM. "We don't have anything bigger than a corvette to defend the planet, so don't go for any suicide runs. I've dispatched fighter squads to provide assistance, so don't hesitate to call them in if you have a plan."

"Acknowledged," Stel replied. "Fear not, I have no intention of dying today."


Sona felt a hard jolt as his pod hit the ground. Deactivating the energy restraints that held him in place, he grabbed his weapons, opened his pod, and stepped out onto a grassy plain.

There was a light, warm drizzle of rain pouring down on the plain, but he could still spot four other Sangheili that had landed not too far. More pods were dropping from the sky, and as the warriors landed and jumped out, they all headed in a single direction, towards a series of massive facilities, obviously UNSC-made. All along the plains, firefights raged in swarms.

It seems we outnumber them. But our forces aren't very well organized. Every Sangheili on the ground was either a Major or Minor domo. Which meant he was in charge of all of them. It exceeded his usual authority by a long shot, but right now Sona was more concerned about whether the Fallen would breach that facility. Whatever was in there, the UNSC obviously didn't want anyone to see.

He had landed not too far from the facilities, so the Ultra checked his plasma repeater once before running towards it. The others should be able to take care of themselves for now. In the meantime, he had to make contact with someone at the base.


"Friendly Sangheili forces are forming up outside Alpha-Two-Niner, sir," reported First Lieutenant Jacob Forge. "They're holding the hostiles back pretty well. I'm sending out the troopers to give them a hand."

"Good," said Sturgis. "I'm afraid I won't be joining you in this party. The Commander needs me up here to look for the Black Adder." As if that's what I'm trained for, he thought sourly. But Lash was busy coordinating the space attack, which left him as the only adequate officer in the station that could track down the ONI ship.

"We're tracing the Black Adder inside the base," Forge said. "They're using a few tricks to hide, but we'll have them soon."

"Roger. Make sure those guys don't get into the base."

"Don't worry, sir. If these alien bastards can't get inside, then neither can anyone else."

"Be careful all the same, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir."

"Oh, and Lieutenant?"

"Sir?"

"Make sure no Sangheili gets inside. Friendly or no."

There was the slightest hesitation from Forge when he replied, "Yes, sir."

Lash wouldn't like it, Sturgis thought as he cut the connection. But he doesn't have to know. The Major himself usually didn't resort to secrecy when offered unconditional help during a crisis. But it was still early days into the alliance between humanity and the Sangheili, and there were some things that weren't meant to be shared just yet.

Hell, most of our own soldiers don't even know about Delta Company. All the more reason we should keep these Sangheili in the dark.


Sona fired the last shot from his particle beam rifle into a Fallen Major Domo, taking the enemy straight through the head and spurting purple blood everywhere. He checked the distance on the weapon. Two hundred metres in human distance. And their numbers are wavering.

A Corporal pushed a trolley full of weapons over. "Looks like we're winning. Help yourself."

Sona selected a needle rifle and gave a nod of thanks. "This will be over soon." He activated the weapon's scope and fired at a cluster of Minor Domos. He pumped a half dozen rounds into one, causing a pink-white explosion that injured three of his allies. The survivors were quickly gunned down by a team of Marines.

There couldn't be more than twenty of the Fallen left, and still they fought without showing any sign of giving up. It looked like the insurgents were going to make a last stand. It might very well have been for the best, because they were stuck on the ground with nowhere to run. So they do have some honour.

Sona quickly checked on his team and saw that they still had fourteen out of the twenty-four that had landed on the ground. And with the thirty-five Marines helping them, they would be more than a match for the Fallen. He ordered the Sangheili unit to encircle the surviving hostiles, while the humans did the same.

The fight lasted less than five minutes. One of the four remaining attempted to rush Sona with an energy dagger but the Ultra shot him in the throat three times. A second enemy activated a plasma grenade and tackled another Sangheili into a trio of Marines, the subsequent explosion wiping out all five of them. The remaining two Fallen were riddled with gunfire from all sides and the shredded remains of their corpses dropped without a sound.

Sona called his sharpshooter over. "'Antinr, regroup the others and check for survivors. I need to have a word with the Ship Master." He walked away from the base entrance, making sure he was out of earshot before established contact with the Marauder.

Stel answered the connection immediately. "How are you faring, Sona?"

"We have just won the ground battle, Ship Master. And yourself?"

"I have inflicted heavy damage upon their cruiser. The cowards keep attempting to elude me. I should be able to reduce their ship to scrap in no time."

"I am glad to hear it. There are a few things I must tell you."

"What would that be?"

"Firstly, I've noticed that the Fallen infantry seemed more determined to target my team than the humans."

"Understandable, given that they have made their intentions clear from the beginning."

"I suppose. Another thing is that the humans have quite an arsenal of our weapons." And modified to their unit of measurements too, no less.

"Which the Arbiter had agreed to provide them with, along with other resources to sustain their military after the war."

"I'm aware of that. But I have observed that the humans seem to be trying to keep us from entering the base."

"Well, we are here to help, and have no need to enter the base."

"It's more than that, Ship Master. It is as if the humans are...afraid of what we might discover."

"What are you saying?"

"The Fallen knew they were outnumbered as soon as they came here. And you said their ship is not engaging you in direct combat. It sounds like they're stalling for time. Perhaps they're trying to find out what the humans are hiding here."

There was silence for a full ten seconds. When Stel still didn't say anything, Sona asked, "Ship Master, do you think we can trust the humans?"

Finally, Stel said slowly, "We should not seek answers from questions we did not ask."

Sona glanced down at his needle rifle, which was engraved with human characters. The letters "UNSC" were stamped on the underside of the barrel. "You're right."

"I have a battle to finish. I will inform you if there are more Fallen deployments. In the meantime, stay with the humans."

"Yes, Excellency."


Time 15:04:73 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), eighth sunrise shift of the forty-first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Yermo, Sanghelios

1725 Hours, October 15, 2555

"You are lucky I was in Yermo today," Urei said as he entered the briefing room.

"I wouldn't have had time to find you elsewhere," said Autel as he sat down. "I had to make my report to Officer 'Serul, and I cannot risk being away from the Fallen base for too long."

"I presume what you have to tell me is important then?"

"Yes. Valir is one of the Fallen."

Urei froze. He sank into a chair opposite Autel. "My brother Valir 'Cazal is one of them?"

"I'm sorry, Urei."

"I...I know this conflict has caused much disagreement, but...I never would have known..." Urei shook his head and regained his usual composure. But now there was a fire in his eyes and his mandibles were clenched. "Very well then. Leave Valir to me. I will deal with him personally when the time comes. But there is something you need to do for me."

"What is it?"

"I need you to steal some information from Atsu 'Hidal for me. We must act quickly, if what you have told me about my brother is true. This may expose you and your team members, so make sure you have a way to escape when you have the information. Your commander will understand once I let him in on my plan."

Autel nodded. It had become harder and harder to obtain information lately, and he had begun to believe that their espionage had just about run its course. "How do I obtain the information?"

Urei slid a small black chip across the table. "Insert this into any data port in the headquarters. You will be able to reach me, and I will tell you what to do from there. Good luck, Autel 'Vadam."


Chapter 9: Security Breach

Time 15:04:73 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), eighth sunrise shift of the forty-first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 2nd Age of Amendment (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)

Location: Base A29, New Quebec

1725 Hours, October 15, 2555

"Hey, did you hear about the Sangheili attack outside the base?" asked X-D2552.

"Stay on task," muttered Wings-D339, his rifle raised and his eyes sweeping the areas all around him. "And hurry it up."

"Give me five more seconds."

Zero-D576 took one hand off her gun and smacked X lightly on the shoulder. "Keep your eyes on the explosives."

"Yes, mom."

Zero's eyes flashed, which went unseen by anyone else. "Don't go there."

There was a small muffled boom, and a second later the doors the five trainees were standing next to were opened without any sign of damage save the latch, which was smouldering lightly. Wings waved the team inside. "Stay silent. You already know where the package is. We'll grab it and get out. Peec, go handle security."

X waited until the others were inside before Wings closed the door, his gun now up and ready as well. "If we really are under attack, don't you think the Commander would have called off training for today?"

"You know how it works, X. Training can't fall behind schedule. The Commander left specific orders before he left to deal with this attack."

The two trainees dashed inside, not seeing the camouflaged Sangheili that was observing them from outside the next facility.


Kaur 'Oltem made sure there was no one else around before he slipped away from the training grounds. Most of them were children, but they did outnumber him, and there was also the occasional guard around. His job here was to observe, not start a fight.

It seemed as if the humans were conducting some sort of training here. And if his suspicions were correct, it was similar to or even a continuation of the infamous SPARTAN project. The humans were creating more of those demons to defend their colonies.

I have recorded enough to show Master 'Cazal. Now I should obtain some information. It didn't take Kaur too long to find the administrative facility, which was clearly locked and under heavy guard. But that wouldn't be enough to stop him from getting in.


Lieutenant Medellin checked one more time to make sure his team was ready. "Okay. We only get one shot at this, so don't screw it up. We'll get the information and punch out, before the UNSC forces finish dealing with that cruiser and start searching for the Black Adder." That ODST team is trouble, but if all goes well, we should have enough time to get out of here. "Okay, go!"

Ten black-armoured operators burst from the cover and opened fire on the guards standing around the administrative facility. The soldiers crumpled without a sound, a few of them managing to return fire but were quickly overwhelmed. Three of the operators took out the snipers in the nearest towers, while four others readied grenade launchers.

Alarms rang out through the entire base as additional soldiers came running. Grenades flew into their formations and tore them to shreds as gunfire took down the ones that evaded the explosions.

A Warthog with a smashed through a team of soldiers, and before the rest of them could fire at it, the operators formed a line in front of the vehicle and provided supporting fire as the gunner shot the surviving guards.

The Warthog itself smashed straight through the doors to the administrative facility, and without wasting another second, Medellin urged his team inside. "Stay sharp, everyone. We've rehearsed this a hundred times over. Get to the control centre, that's where the information we'll need will be."

The hallway was small, but still large enough for the Warthog. It plowed through ranks of soldiers that tried to halt its advance, and 50-calibre bullets ripped through armour, flesh, and walls. In all the chaos, Medellin slipped off with three operators as the rest wreaked havoc inside the facility.

They had trained for this exact mission for months, with replicas of the facility built. But all the same, the rogue Lieutenant couldn't hold back a smirk of satisfaction. The deadliest UNSC project to have ever existed, and they couldn't protect it any better than this. Still, they weren't counting on something like this happening.

Not that it was surprising, given all the other things the UNSC had to worry about. Like protecting the other colonies, and sustaining them from collapsing entirely. They were barely managing, even with the help of the Sangheili. One little push, that's all it takes to finish the job we started decades ago. And we're going to be that push.

They turned the corner and faced a wide sliding door, which was already open, to Medellin's surprise. "Here we are, the control centre."

The four operators entered cautiously, wary for traps. But as they swept the room with their guns, they found only fifteen dead scientists, technicians, and guards lying around the facility, their blood splattered on the walls and on the ground.

"These guys were killed by bullets," observed Medellin.

"Looks like someone got here before us," said another operator.

The Lieutenant snapped back to focus. "Extract the information. We have to make this quick."

There was the sound of footsteps outside the hallway. An operator turned around, gun raised. "Looks like we're about to have company, sir."

Medellin showed no sign of consternation. He quickly reloaded his assault rifle and took position behind a data terminal. "Then let's roll out the welcome mat. Buy all the time we need."


Kaur stood still as a half dozen human guards ran past him and towards the control centre, guns up. He had been careful in heading back out, having spotted four black-armoured humans heading where he had just left. He quickly discarded the two assault rifles he had taken off the guards in the control centre and moved down the hallway, this time hearing the sounds of a heavy gunfight. It seems I am not the only one who was after this information. But I doubt these rebels will share my success in leaving undetected.

As he neared the hallway, he slipped into a separate room instead, and jumped down into the hole he had made in the floor. He landed in a large drainage pipe and silently headed for the exit that would take him to the far side of the base.

I imagine Ship Master 'Vadum isn't doing too well in space. Little does he know I had claimed the real victory today. Soon, the information the humans had worked the hardest to protect would end up in the hands of the Fallen.


Medellin gritted his teeth as he returned fire on the soldiers, ignoring the bullet wounds in his shoulder. "How much longer, Corporal?"

"Almost done, sir!" the hacker flinched as the operator covering him took six rounds to the chest and stomach, and crumpled without a sound. He shifted a little further into what little cover he had. "Could use a bit of help!"

The Lieutenant emptied the remainder of his magazine into the last two soldiers, and heard the sound of more coming down the hallway. Dropping his empty assault rifle, he dove from the data terminal, rolled behind an adjacent one, and snatched up the shotgun dropped by his deceased subordinate. He waited until the next group of soldiers were through the doors before aiming the gun at them and firing a half dozen shots at the group. The guards screamed and clawed at their faces, which were peppered with deadly shell fragments.

"Got it, Lieutenant!" the operator shouted. He pulled out a data chip and stored it carefully before grabbing his weapon, diving out of cover, and adding his gunfire to the fray. The room was cleared once more.

"Let's get out of here," Medellin said. They stepped over the crowd of corpses scattered around the doors, including the other dead operator. They ran down the hall, weapons ready.

The Warthog was still in the main hall, smoking, bullet-ridden mess but still intact. There were two other operators still alive. "Sorry about that last team, sir," called the gunner from behind the turret. "They slipped past us while we were engaging another group."

"Don't worry about it," said Medellin. "We got the information, which is what's important. Looks like they had more guns here than we thought. No way we can call in our bird for extraction."

"I took a good look outside, sir," said the driver. "They've got snipers and rockets aimed all over the place. They just haven't fired yet because they don't want to tear this building apart. But we need a plan, fast."

"There's some sort of hole in the other room, and a drainage pipe runs underneath it," said the gunner. "But if we all go in, they'll be sure to come after us. The Black Adder's too far to reach by foot with an entire UNSC platoon on our asses."

The Corporal pulled out the data chip and handed it to Medellin. "Take it, Lieutenant. We'll head back outside and make a rush on those guns."

Medellin slowly took the chip. "You boys sure about this?"

The other two operators fell silent. "We should be able to take some of them out," said the driver quietly. "Right, Corporal, hop in."

The Corporal clasped hands with his superior officer before climbing into the passenger seat. "Right. For devotion."

"And justice."

"And union."

"And liberation," said Medellion quietly. He slipped out of the hallway as another team of soldiers breached the facility. Bullets flew as the Warthog backed up rapidly and ran them down.

The Lieutenant quickly found the room with the hole in the ground, and without wasting a second, jumped in as the sounds of fighting faded. He landed with a slight splash in the drainage pipe, and hurriedly ran down the passage with a resurgence of determination.


"Excellency, the Marauder is bearing down on us," called a subordinate urgently. "We have nowhere left to evade it."

"I'm aware of that, fool," snarled Isto. "Do we have any weapons left?"

"All weapon batteries are depleted," reported another subordinate.

"Human fighter squads are preparing to make bombing runs. This ship will be torn apart!"

"Silence!" roared Isto. "Ready to deploy all dropships and remaining fighters. When the Marauder is lined up to fire on us—"

"Ship Master, the Slipspace engine is working!" said a subordinate, sounding amazed. "I do not understand it, they were completely inactive a moment ago—"

Isto spun to face him. "When are they ready to fire?"

"Now."

The Ship Master did not take the time to question the miracle. "Then fire them! Get us back to Sanghelios!"

A white vortex formed around the cruiser, sucking the ship in along with a score of nearby fighters or so. Then it was in Slipstream space, heavily damaged but intact.

"It appears we have underestimated these humans," said Isto wearily, slumping into his chair. "Along with the treachery of our brothers."

That you did, but Master 'Cazal did not, Kaur thought smugly. He returned to working on his station, while reading the data reports on the ship's condition.

The sabotage he had done on the cruiser's Slipspace engines had been quickly reversed a moment ago with the click of a single button. He had not been surprised to learn that the engineers were unable to fix the problem earlier, because there was nothing wrong with it. For once, our shortcomings have worked to my advantage. And those engineers aren't exactly a team of Huragok.

They would make it back to Sanghelios in good time, but many, including Isto and Atsu, would think the whole mission was a waste of time. If only they knew the value of the information I possess. A great secret had been learned, but would become known to only a few. And thanks to that team of rebels, Kaur's tracks were completely covered.

Their only cruiser was heavily damaged, and they had taken many casualties to boot. Isto would fall quite a few steps out of favour with Atsu when they got home. Although we did no shortage of damage on the human colony. Neither side had won this battle. Or so it would appear...


"Lieutenant, we've located the Black Adder," reported Private First Class Andrea Saldivar.

"Good, where is it?" asked Forge.

"Heading into space."

"What?"

"Don't worry, sir, Corporal Lin planted a tracker on it while the rest of the team was engaging the hostiles before they took off."

Forge swore. He had been momentarily held up dealing with the rebel operators in the Delta Company base, and spent a full hour searching for the data chip before confirming that it wasn't on any of the bodies. One of them must have slipped off and headed for the Black Adder. "Let's not relax just yet, Private." He established contact with Commander Lash and updated him on the situation.

"According to the station's logs, the Black Adder headed here from Falaknuma," said Lash. "They could have been falsified, but nonetheless, I want your team to get there as soon as possible. I'll inform the Marine battalion at Falauknuma to watch for the corvette, but make sure you're the one that retrieves the data. I don't want anyone else to so much as see that chip."

"Roger, sir. But my team is still on the ground. How are we going to beat the Black Adder to Falaknuma?"

Lash thought for a moment. "Let's see if we can call in one more favour from our alien friends."


'Cazal smiled thinly as Kaur walked into the room and knelt. "Please, rise."

The young stealth expert complied, and said, "I hope the data I obtained from the humans was of use to you?"

"Yes, it was, more than even I had expected. You did very well, my friend. I intend to reward you once I become leader of the Fallen."

"I will do whatever you ask, Excellency."

"And I know I can rely on you, Kaur. I saw my brother in Yermo recently. I think he suspects me, so you must act quickly. Here is what you are to do next. Find Autel 'Vadam in the Fallen headquarters, he is with two other Sangheili..."

When Kaur left the room, 'Cazal examined the data chip in his hand more closely. Such a small, harmless looking object that was worth so much. Not only had he learned everything about the SPARTAN-III Delta Company, but also discovered an interesting file on something called "Project: ZACK". He was intrigued by the possibility of controlling an individual by manipulating their emotions.

It is clear that these humans' knowledge of these forms of science far surpasses our kind. If I manage to replicate their tactics, we could gain the upper hand on Sanghelios.

The Fallen didn't yet have the means to deal with Delta Company at the moment. 'Cazal doubted they would be before the Spartans were deployed. But when they were, he would be sure to be ready. And he intended to be the Fallen's leadership by then.