The commander, former Ship Master and disgraced Sangheili, could only feel his mandibles twitch as the Covenant Council prepared to judge him. The minor Prophets and Sangheili sitting above him booed and threw rotten scraps of food at him. The Sangheili commander cried out in a whiny voice, "Stop throwing things at m—OW!" He screamed in pain as a fragment of a ship's hull struck his head. His gold helmet, stained with Kig-Yar urine, sported a dent where it had been hit.

The Prophet of Truth waved a hand and intoned, "Begin."

"There was only one ship," stated the commander, holding up three fingers.

Truth smacked his hand against his face. "Why must it be the incompetent one?"

Unperturbed, the Sangheili continued, "They called it...um...hold on..." He took off his helmet, removed a paper hidden under it, and read, slowly and with difficulty, "The Pillar of Autum...nnnn."

"Why," queried the Prophet of Mercy, "was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet?"

"It fled as we set fire to their planet," deadpanned the commander. "But...I followed. With all the ships in my command."

The Prophet of Regret coughed exaggeratedly, then asked, "Tell me...when you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?"

"Blinded?"

"Yes, blinded."

"No, I mean, what is 'blinded?'"

"Blinded," said Regret, "means you can't see anything."

"But I saw the holy ring with my own two eyes," the commander insisted, holding up four fingers this time.

Regret groaned. "Metaphorically speaking, you nincompoop!"

"Um...no. As a matter of fact, the sight of it...made me want to relieve myself. Which I did, of course. Which caused the controls to fry, which in turn caused the communications blackout that prevented me from saving Halo, which in turn left the ring destroyed."

Truth mocked, "Which in turn ensured that you are blarghed."

The commander gulped and fidgeted. "Yes, but surely you understand that once the parasite attacked—"

"You," answered Truth, "as hard as it is to believe, let alone comprehend, were right to focus your attention on the Orgy, but this Demon...this 'Master Chief'..."

"Once I learned of the Demon's intent, there was nothing I could do."

"'There was nothing I could do," mimicked Mercy. "Please."

In a dark corner, the Jiralhanae named Tartarus chuckled to himself as he pinched his hairy nipples in sadistic delight.

Regret whispered to his brother, "This has gone on long enough. Make an example of this bungler."

Truth continued, "You are one of our most cherished instruments. Long have you led your fleet with honor and distinction, but your inability to safeguard Halo was a colossal failure."

A Council member roared, "Nay, it was heresy! Heresy, I say!"

The Council dissolved into loud bickering as the Sangheili in question stood stupidly in place, nervously biting his lower mandibles until they bled. "I will continue my campaign—"

"No!" retorted Truth. "You. Will. Not."

Two extremely hairy Jiralhanae attempted to seize the commander, but he shrugged them off, until at last, they got a hold and dragged him from the chambers.

"Soon the Great Journey will begin. But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay what remains of your stumpy, diseased feet, and you will be left behind."

As he was taken away, the Sangheili screamed, "Damn! I was going to get the Zealot discount at the Great Journey gift shop!" He broke free and charged the Prophets, but Tartarus jumped from above and crushed the other alien in a tackle worthy of the Arena Football League.

"Excruciating pain."