Author's Notes: I don't own Halo, its concept, or characters - only those characters and concepts which were later created by me. All other rights go to Bungie, Microsoft et al. I would like to take this opportunity to thank and recommend the excellent works of Soulguard for permission to use the Mirratord in my writings. As a final note, writing for this story originally began in 2005, after the release of Halo 2 and before the release of Halo 3, the Halo Graphic Novel, Ghosts of Onyx et al. In order to avoid complications, canon elements released after the original publish date are not and will not be incorporated into the storyline of the Collapse saga, but I hope you'll enjoy it anyway. If need be, there's more information about original concepts and characters in this story detailed in my user profile. I may go some time between updates as I try to write as completely as possible, but in any case I hope you'll enjoy reading this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I always love to hear from you. Many thanks as always. -- REG

Update: (5-7-2010) Due to formatting changes on this web site, the "context dividers" I used in this story no longer appear as they once did. I am in the process of resolving the problem, but for the time being there may be jarring context changes in later chapters where these dividers have gone missing. Not my fault - someone put a wall in my way. :)

I'll finish these repairs as soon as I can.

Halo 3: Collapse
Prologue: The Tenth Age

What of the Covenant, he thought. Ages of faithful service has come down to this.

Jiralhanae and Sangheili, both worthy, yet both bitter from conflict and vying for our favor.

Truth had contemplated this for many years, but now that the day was upon him, he felt twinges of remorse.

The Sangheili were brilliant tacticians and disciplined fighters who had long ago proven their worth. Long the strength of the Covenant, they had led the war against the humans with great success until the advent of the Demons. The Human presence on Earth was unexpected, unfortunate, but with soldiers like these, the Covenant was ensured victory, even at the cost of thousands of ships.

The Brutes, however, while not as cunning in combat and prone to revert to their animal instincts at an inopportune moment, were far more effective on the ground. Their victories came without the hindrances the Sangheili placed on themselves by insisting on giving the Humans a fighting chance. The Brutes were more than willing to backstab, to strike their enemies while wounded, hence, to be victorious.

Doubt, Truth realized, had begun to sink into the Sangheili. They had begun to view themselves as equals to the Prophets. They were not falling from their faith, yet. But to do so was inevitable. The Sangheili were beginning to be inflicted with the condition which had made the Humans unfit, nay, dangerous, for the Covenant. By course, however, the Jiralhanae were as devoted to the Prophet's cause as any could hope them to be.

Regret had been failed by the Sangheili, giving the Jiralhanae further reason to despise them.

So it would be done. The Sangheili now posed a threat to the Great Journey, and the Jiralhanae would be unleashed upon them.

And what of the Fleets?

The cleansing of the Sangheili would prove costly, indeed. They would fall in great numbers in the beginning, with an unannounced and uncoordinated attack on board all Covenant vessels. The Jiralhanae were stronger than the Sangheili, but it was almost certain that much of the fleet would fall under their control once the fighting ceased. Would the Sangheili attack High Charity to destroy the Prophets within, or would they submit, waiting for commands?

Would the Sangheili survivors be destroyed by the rest of the fleet, or would the fleet then prove too weak to penetrate the Human home world's defenses?

The risk was too great, Truth realized. The Ark would be vulnerable if the Sangheili were left command of ships. Those ships they took would have to be destroyed by Jiralhanae vessels or the city's defenses themselves.

What of the others, Truth thought. What of the Kig-Yar and the Yamn'ee? What of the mighty Lekgolo? The pitiful Unngoy would almost certainly side with their traditional masters, but would their feeble ranks turn the tide? Where would loyalties lie once the shooting began?

These things weighed heavily on the aging Prophet's mind, but he realized it was beyond his sight. The order would form as it may. Truth planned to abandon High Charity before conflict began, but the war had already started. Jiralhanae and Sangheili were starting isolated battles within the city. The Covenant was prepared to break, and Truth had only to declare the Jiralhanae his allies, and the Sangheili his enemies, to bring all things to a close. The Great Journey was about to begin, and the Jiralhanae would be the Prophet's escorts.

Then let it be so.

Truth spoke the order, and war broke loose in High Charity.

The Tenth Age of Reclamation had begun.

# # # # # # #

The wind swept over a rocky cliff overlooking one of Installation 05's vast oceans. A beam of light streaked down from the sky and with a pulse of energy that lasted less than a second, an Elite in ceremoniously-plated armor materialized on the edge of the cliff.

The Elite rubbed his arms in disgust, as if trying to wipe off the stench of the Flood leader he had so recently encountered. Looking warily at his surroundings, the Elite thought he heard the distant fire of a plasma rifle. Realizing that he was unarmed, the Arbiter scanned the ground nearby for a weapon.

Lying in a puddle of purple blood was a plasma rifle.

He picked up the weapon and found it had not been fired.

The Sangheili warrior who bore this was murdered in cold blood, the Arbiter realized. Hearing two bursts from a Brute Shot, he saw one grenade fly from a wooded gully out to sea.

Then a blue plasma burst streaked into the sky.

The Arbiter's grip tightened around his weapon and he headed down the purpled trail.

# # # # # # #

Jatharus scratched his wooly back and lazily plodded along the blood-stained trail. The fighting here was done, but he would be damned if he were to take part in removing the corpses of the fallen Councillors.

Let them rot, he thought, shooting one of the bodies for good measure.

A flash of movement passed in the corner of his eye. Looking to his right, he saw another dead Elite lying under a bush. He plodded over to the body, glanced over his shoulder, and aimed to fire on the dead Elite.

A sword forged of plasma exploded through his belly, spattering the dead Elite in oily black blood. The sword withdrew and Jatharus clutched his stomach. Before he had a chance to scream, the sword had cut off his head.

Two of Jatharus' companions were only a short distance away, disposing of the dead Elites at a relaxed pace. Taralus dragged one body to a small opening to the sea and kicked it off the cliff, watching it limply drop four hundred feet into the churning water below. Hearing the thump of a body behind him, Taralus turned around to see a lone Elite glaring at him, standing over Taralus' dead companion with a plasma sword. The Elite assumed a fighting stance and motioned for the Brute to approach.

It took Taralus several seconds to recognize the Elite's armor. He threw down his weapon and charged the Elite, shouting "Die, Arbiter!"

# # # # # # #

The Captain of the Jiralhanae shifted impatiently. He heard an animal wail which was quickly choked out. He growled and barked an order to two of his underlings.

"Go and see what's taking them so long!"

The two brutes, their hides brown with youth, eagerly charged out of sight around a corner. The captain growled to himself. The Prophets would not be pleased with their progress, as some of the Councillors had managed to escape. How could they possibly be pleased if the disloyal heretics were not destroyed?

Plasma fire echoed for a few moments. The Captain heard small bursts from a Brute Shot and then a larger explosion which must have been a plasma grenade.

One less to deal with, he thought.

A flash of movement passed in front of his eyes. The Captain watched it, warily loading his Brute Shot. Suddenly the anomaly took form as the Arbiter's active camoflage generator powered down. The Captain paused for a moment incredulously seeing that the Arbiter was holding two Brute Plasma Rifles. The Arbiter opened fire. Hot plasma seared the Captain's thick hide and scorched his face. He fired two grenades at the Arbiter in blind rage, who nimbly dodged them and took cover behind a large boulder.

The Captain snarled and charged around the other side. The Arbiter was just standing there, rearing his fist back as if punching the Captain would do any good.

The Arbiter tightened his grip around the plasma sword's hilt, and twin blades shot forth, skewering the Brute Captain through the throat in two places.

The Captain's eyes widened in shock. He dropped his Brute Shot, and the Arbiter kicked the Brute Captain off of his sword. The Brute Captain fell to his knees, clutching his neck and gasping for breath as his lungs filled with blood. He fell on his side, kicked one last time, and was forever stilled, black blood pouring out of his open mouth.

The Arbiter deactivated his energy sword and looked upon the carnage around him. The Councillors had all been slaughtered in cold blood.

"By the Rings, what have these Brutes done?"

The Arbiter looked to the ridge above him to see a black-armored Elite with an Energy sword overlooking the gully. The other Elite tightened his fist.

"They have shed our brothers' blood, and for that they must die!"

Three capsules streaked out of the sky and crashed into the ground in the gully, another landing out of sight around the ridge. The capsules burst open and three Sangheili warriors charged out, weapons ready.

One of the Elites, a Ship Master in golden armor, saw the dead Captain, and gave a slight bow to the Arbiter before continuing up the ridge.

"Come, Arbiter, there are more Brutes to kill!"

"Long have I waited for this!"

The Arbiter looked once more at the dead Captain, whose holographic red flag waved weakly in the breeze and flickered out. He turned to follow his fellows up the ridge when five more capsules streaked down from the sky and crashed to a halt in the ground. The capsules fell open one at a time and a Human soldier staggered out of each.

"Shit, I'm seeing stars!" one said.

One of the Humans shook himself and looked up to see himself staring down the barrels of half a dozen plasma rifles held by three Elites.

The other Humans, armed with a variety of Covenant and Human weapons, took aim at the Elites, but the human in front held up a tightly-closed fist. The Elites tensed, but the humans lowered their weapons.

The first Human lowered his arm and looked around. Seeing two dead Brutes and many dead Elites, but no dead Humans, he aimed his carbine at the head of the nearest dead Brute. He fired a single shot, causing blood, bone and brain to stain the ground black, before speaking.

"If you honestly think you have anything to gain by killing us, then by all means do so. If not, then you are going to let us fight."

At that moment, the black-armored Elite from the fourth capsule appeared from the forest and stepped between the Sangheili and the Humans.

"Hold your fire, my brothers. The humans have fought by my side."