Halo: The Arbiter
A Novelization of Halo 2
Prologue: The Heretic
Covenant Holy City High Charity/Ninth Age of Reclamation
A towering mountain of white-furred beast stood in the center of the wide chamber, heavy arms crossed over his burly chest. His eyes, burning crimson pits that glowed in the relatively dim light of the vast chamber, regarded the figures filing past on either side of him with open contempt. He watched in amused silence as the three hundred Elite Protectors, the High Prophet of Truth's personal bodyguard, resplendent in their shimmering red-orange helmets and decorated armor, shuffled past. Every one of the Sangheili gave a silent glare at the Jiralhanae as he towered over them, and his stare challenged them to take action against him. Here he stood, a mere Brute as they would call him, having a personal audience with the High Prophet of Truth himself, the greatest source of truth and knowledge in the entire width and breadth of the Covenant Empire. The notion that he, Tartarus, of all creatures, was speaking words with the Prophet that they, his trusted legion, were not allowed to hear, was driving the Honor Guard to madness.
Tartarus savored their hate, tasting it and rolling it about in his jaws like freshly seared Kig'Yar meat, ripe off the bone. He reveled in their hatred and anger and helplessness, and he could sense their quiet shame and the distant, subtle feeling that they were not being considered worthy, that they were dishonoring their ancestors.
After all, it was they, the Sangheili, the iron heart of the Covenant, who had allowed a human, of all things, to destroy Halo.
You sense it, do you not? Your race has begun the slow, inevitable slide that began when we joined the Covenant. You, who have defended the Prophets and led the Covenant armies and navies for thousands of years, undone by a pack of mere Brutes. Undone by me.
Tartarus managed a slight, quiet chuckle, his deep voice resonating across the chamber. The last of the Protectors paused, looking back at the Brute Chieftain as if he was poised to crush the Hierarch himself with his mighty gravity hammer. The Brute refused to grace the Protector with any response, and he knew that the Sangheili was silently savoring the image of running him through with his guard pike.
Finally, after several seconds, the door leading out of the chamber sealed shut, and Tartarus lowered his arms. He calmly strode across the chamber toward the figure that floated before the vast glass mural, formed of the shards of the countless worlds the Covenant had purified with their holy fire. As he neared the Hierarch, he slowly dropped to one knee, kneeling and bowing his head.
"You have summoned me, Truth?" he asked, his deep voice in a low baritone that would have vibrated the glass beyond the Prophet, if his volume was but a little higher.
Slowly, the Prophet rotated his hovering throne, coming about to face the Brute Chieftain as he kneeled. The diminutive, long-necked creature observed Tartarus for several long moments, calmly stroking the fleshy growth beneath his chin with slender, stick-like fingers.
Tartarus managed a tight smile. If he had called Truth by that name in the presence of any other Covenant, even his fellow Brutes, there would have been an infuriated uproar. If the Protectors could hear him speak as such, they would have ignited their blades and sliced him to pieces in an instant.
But yet, Tartarus, Chieftain of the Jiralhanae, did indeed speak with the most powerful creature in the galaxy so candidly, and the power that signified was absolutely delicious.
"Yes, Tartarus, I have," replied the Prophet quietly. "Rise. There are no Protectors present." Tartarus slowly stood, coming to his full height, which left him face to face with the Prophet of Truth as he hovered in his throne. One of the advantages of such a device; no one would look down upon a Prophet seated within one.
"Tell me, Tartarus, have the pilots been executed?" the Prophet asked, and the Brute nodded, a tight, satisfied grin upon his face.
"There was a tragic breach in the hull of their ship, while they were all gathered in a briefing room," Tartarus stated. "It was quick and quiet, just as you ordered."
"Excellent," Truth replied. "You are indeed a testament to your race's unusual subtlety and intellect." Tartarus rose up slightly, fur bristling with pride. Of course, he knew that the Prophet was partially appealing to his ego. But he also knew there was truth in Truth's words; the Prophet needed him, precisely for his exceptional intellect and cunning. Though huge and savage, he was far wiser and much more learned than most Sangheili would dare imagine.
"Tell me, Tartarus, how do your warriors fare?" Truth asked, turning and floating across the chamber, looking up absently at the glass mural.
"They hunger for more battle," the Brute answered immediately. "They have yet to challenge the humans, to prove their worth in war with them. They are furious that the Sangheili lead all the charges, and none of my soldiers actively fight in our crusade."
"You long to test your might," Truth mused. "But tell me this . . . have you seen the sensor analysis of the debacle regarding the Unyielding Hierophant?" Tartarus paused, and quietly shook his head.
Truth turned back toward the Brute, and Tartarus saw a subtle smile spread upon the Prophet's face. It was one he had seen before, one that signified that the small but wily creature possessed an advantage that no one else knew of. It was a smile that sent unease through the huge Brute's thoughts, as it was a smile directed at him.
"There was a catastrophic failure in the power core of the station. Tell me, Tartarus, who was tasked with defending the temples that gave access to the sacred Forerunner technology that powered that station?"
"My warriors," Tartarus answered stiffly.
"Perhaps the blame for the Unyielding Hierophant's death and the destruction of almost the entire fleet should fall upon the shoulders of the Jiralhanae," Truth mused, turning away. "Perhaps then the Sangheili will recover some of their pride, and your kind will be shunted to the side. Relegated to guard duty, if your kind can even be trusted with that sad fate, while even the Unggoy see the honor of duty on the front lines."
"We shall not fail you again!" Tartarus declared with tremendous force, his words shaking the glass mural that Truth was studying. The Prophet turned again toward the Brute, and quietly nodded.
"All is proceeding as we intended, though the loss of Halo has set back our plans." The Prophet sighed. "The artifact we recovered at the human world of Sigma Octanus showed us much, but it only possessed a map to one Halo. And the Holy Light at the human world of Reach has been broken, and only part of it in our hands."
"The Great Journey will not be postponed," Tartarus stated. "Give the duty of hunting the artifacts to my warriors! We shall track them down and take possession without failure!"
"You kind is noted for its tracking skills," Truth replied calmly, placatingly. "But this is no live quarry we hunt. It is the most elusive of artifacts, the key to the Great Journey itself. There are other Halos we may find, but I must state with much regret that the humans have delayed us substantially."
"We shall smite them with our holy vengeance," Tartarus stated, and Truth nodded.
"But we must have patience, Tartarus." Truth gestured into the air, a wide waving motion that seemed to take in the entire galaxy. "There is much work that is yet to be done. And, sadly, I fear that noble Regret may yet impede our progress."
"Yes, I have heard," Tartarus replied. "The Prophet of Regret has taken what was left of the Hierophant's grand fleet and continued onward with no further escort, into the heart of human space."
"He has great will and conviction," Truth conceded. "But no sense of caution. He is rash and bold. He may end up digging a grave for himself." Truth paused, and then looked to Tartarus. "But enough of this. I have called you here not to prattle, but for a task."
"Name it," Tartarus stated.
"The one who has lost Halo and the Ascendant Justice is to stand trial and answer for his failure in one cycle. The entire Council shall be convened, Prophets and Sangheili. You will be present, and when he is found guilty, you will carry out his sentence."
"He is guilty?" Tartarus asked, confused. "So, you have not even bothered to call the High Council for an inquiry?"
"I do not need to," answered Truth, sitting back in his chair. "Whether he likes it or not, the one who lost Halo has an important destiny before him. He shall be found guilty, he shall be punished, and he shall walk the path few have walked." Truth looked up to Tartarus, and that terrible sneer came back onto his face.
"And when the time comes, he shall die."
Fleet Master Tano 'Inanraree could barely control the trembling of his hands as they clenched together tightly. His eyes remained fixed, unblinking, and his mouthparts twitched as he stared at the holographic display. As his ship, the Reverence-class cruiser Incorruptible pulsed across the void of space, it floated past a glowing, burning mass of concave metal and stone a thousand times its mass. The cruiser's shields flickered as tiny pieces of the wreckage - pieces as large as a full-sized dropship or troop transport - bounced off the barrier, and the Ship Master could do nothing but stare.
He'd seen the reports, and had watched the live video feed from the Ascendant Justice as it had witnessed the final moments, but it was still nothing compared to viewing the remains of the holy artifact in person.
The Forerunner-constructed Halo. The sacred artifact of legend, the holy ring that was destined to lead their entire civilization to salvation with its divine, cleansing light, was broken and shattered, fractured into millions of pieces of twisted metal and rock, stretching across the skies of the gas giant of Threshold, rendered asunder by the filth that was the humans.
"Un . . ." he began to whisper. "Unforgivable!"
Behind him, the rest of his bridge crew remained silent; they, too, were frozen in awe and horrified fascination as the weight of the humans' desecration fell upon them. The ultimate construction of the ancient Forerunner was broken before them, the very salvation that the covenant had been seeking for millennia, lost. Within each of the Sangheili, rage began to well up as they stared at the ruined world, and they too began to harbor similar feelings. The humans were already being destroyed for their transgressions, standing in the path of their righteous crusade to begin the Great Journey. But now there was only white-hot fury at the vermin that had destroyed their chance at salvation.
"There will be no mercy!" snarled Tano as he turned on his bridge crew. "None shall avoid his part in this desecration!" Roars and rumbles of agreement filled the bridge as the other Sangheili voiced their thoughts, and the dull rumble of the two massive Lekgolo guards at the entrance to the chamber filled the air.
Tano turned back toward the holographic display, and eyed what waited beyond the wreckage of the sacred ring. Floating in the space beyond the ruins of Halo, framed by the orange clouds of Threshold, was the Covenant Holy City of High Charity, drifting serenely among the ruins. Thousands of motes of light flowed alongside it, and from this distance, one would not think that they were the massive supercarriers and cruisers of the Second Fleet of Homogenous Charity, the Holy City's escort. High Charity itself vastly overshadowed its escorts, consisting of a tremendous dome of gray and silver metal, with untold kilometers of intricate carvings and delicate designs engraved into its hull, amidst the vast arrays of external structures, docking bays, and weapons systems bristling from its hull. Beneath the dome, a vast array of spires and towers stretched and descended, housing the immense power and life support systems to sustain the city contained within.
Tano snarled as he looked at the city, and tapped a holographic light. The display changed, to a feed that his cruiser was receiving from inside the Holy City, transmitted from the heart of the Covenant's government in the Grand Council Chamber.
"None shall escape his part in this blasphemy," Ship Master Tano snarled. "Neither human nor Covenant."
The Grand Council Chamber. It was in this hallowed room that the High Council, the ruling body of the Covenant, convened to discuss matters. There were other, lesser councils, who had longer, florid names and more specific duties, but none of the them were the High Council. The High Council needed no qualifiers, it required no embellishments or extensions of its name to give it further purpose. There was no body within the Covenant more powerful than the High Council, and the three Prophet Hierarchs who stood over and led it.
The Grand Council Chamber was where the Council made its greatest decisions and where the most critical and momentous announcements were made. It was here that the Prophets had declared their crusade against the human species. It was here that the Prophet Truth had announced the discovery of the sacred ringworld of Halo. And it was here that the horrid news of Halo's destruction had been released to the masses.
And once again, the Council was gathered in this room at another momentous occasion: to hear the account and the sentencing of the one who had failed to protect the sacred ring, whose incompetence had lost him half his fleet and his own flagship at the hands of the vile vermin.
He stood upon the central dais, raised up to an Unggoy's height above the floor. The shining white light that poured down from above the vast hall was reflected in his polished golden armor, the glare distorting his image as he stared ahead, unflinchingly, at the trio of Prophet Hierarchs. The white light and the glowing armor was a stark contrast to the dark, muted purples that made up the rest of the chamber's walls, floors, ceilings, and the seats the Councilors sat upon. To the figure's right sat the thirty Sangheili Councilors, tasked with operating the vast military arms of the Covenant Empire, resplendent in their spotless silver armor and high helmets. To his left sat the thirty Prophet Councilors, tasked with overseeing the religious and civil affairs of the Covenant, clad in their carmine robes. Within their high seats, far above his head, they looked down upon the one who had failed to protect Halo. Off to the side, to the right of the Prophet Hierarchs, stood the white-furred form of Tartarus, Chieftain of the Jiralhanae, with his arms crossed and watching the entire show with an amused grin. Flanking the approach to the dais were a half dozen Sangheili Protectors, pikes in hand and the glowing red-orange plates on their forearms, thighs, and ornate helmets clashing with the muted purples and the gleaming gold of the one who was on trial.
That was the whole point behind this hearing; the Supreme Commander of the Fleet of Particular Justice had been in command of the forces that had been defending Halo when it had been destroyed. His thousands of ground troops and dozens of surviving ships had been bested by a scant few hundred human soldiers and a lone, aged cruiser that by all rights shouldn't have even had a tenth of the armaments it carried. And then, to add to the insult, after Halo's destruction, the one responsible - the Demon - had escaped, boarded one of his command ships, and had captured it and then used it to destroy a vast armada and the support station Unyielding Hierophant.
The Supreme Commander knew that what had happened at Halo was his fault. Through his own weakness, the vermin had destroyed the sacred ring and stolen his ship, and he was shamed with immeasurable failure. He was severed from his family, and his name had been stripped from him. Even now, he was only being tried to show his disgrace to the rest of the Covenant, so they would see him and scorn him for his weakness.
"Tell me, Supreme Commander," stated the elderly Prophet Hierarch on the right, a wizened figure whose brown skin had become a pale, pinkish-brown shade in his old age. "How many of the human ships managed to escape to Halo? I am most curious about the space battle prior to their landing on the sacred ring."
The Prophets clearly knew all of this information ahead of time, but they were asking him once more, in order to show his failure as completely as possible to the vast billions that were watching this hearing.
"There was only one ship," he admitted. The Supreme Commander closed his eyes as he recalled seeing that one insignificant cruiser escaping the battle above the human world of Reach. Had he known what that ship carried or where it had been headed, he would not have merely dispatched a small strike force of frigates to pursue at first.
"They called it . . . The 'Pillar of Autumn'."
"Why was it not destroyed with the rest of their fleet?" Hod Rumnt, the ancient High Prophet of Mercy demanded, his shrill, aged voice taking on angry overtones as he waved a bony hand in the Commander's direction.
"It fled," he answered. "As we set fire to their planet. But I followed with all the ships in my command the moment I knew where it was destined."
The Hierarch to his left floated forward, or rather, his image did. The High Prophet of Regret was far away, spearheading the push deeper into human space, and was not available in person. However, his holographic image did well to show the displeasure on his dark brown face, and his youthful voice cut into the Sangheili like the hot edge of an energy sword.
"When you first saw Halo," he asked, his words dripping with biting sarcasm, "Were you . . . blinded by its majesty?"
"Blinded?" asked the Commander, uncertain as to what the Prophet was getting at.
"Paralyzed?" the Prophet demanded, each word more vicious and biting than the last. "Dumbstruck?"
"No," responded the Commander, standing tall, fixing his gaze into that of the Prophet before him.
"Yet . . ." the Hierarch said, scratching his chin-growths, seemingly puzzled by something. "The humans . . . were able to evade your ships . . . land on the sacred ring . . . and desecrate it with their filthy footsteps! Pray tell me, Commander-" the rank was delivered with a biting edge, as if through speaking that one word alone, Regret was trying to condemn him "-how far does your incompetence reach? A single human cruiser, damaged, exhausted, ancient and weak, against over a dozen of your frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, and it not only remained intact, but it was able to crash upon the ring's surface and let its human filth walk upon the holy works of the Forerunners!"
The words that Regret were speaking made the Commander's blood boil with frustration. He had had no control over that engagement; Ship Master Orna 'Fulsamee's destroyer had been the first to engage the human ship, and the Prophet on board had forbade the use of plasma torpedoes to annihilate the vessel, instead commanding boarding craft to assault the ship. Even he, a Supreme Commander, had not been able to countermand the Prophet's idiotic commands, and the Pillar of Autumn was able to crash onto the ring's surface and the humans were able to take root on Halo.
And after they were on the ring, the Covenant search teams had uncovered what lay deep within the surface of the ringworld, and that subsequent disaster had, ultimately, spelled doom for the entire sacred ring.
"Noble Hierarchs," he attempted to explain. "Surely you understand that once the Parasite attacked-"
That did not go over well with the rest of The Council. Several of the Sangheili Councilors began speaking to one another, shaking their heads or nodding as they considered the Flood's presence, but the Prophets began to shout and argue loudly among themselves. The cascade of voices filled the vast chamber, echoing off the walls. Mercy immediately shouted, his voice amplified by his throne's voice enhancer.
"There will be order in this Council!" he shouted, slamming his hand down on the armrest of his chair, rocking it slightly. As he spoke, the other Councilors started to quiet, and then, all went instantly silent as two hands were raised, and the High Prophet of Truth, who had been sitting behind the other two Hierarchs, came forward to address the Commander personally. The chamber was filled with silence as all waited to hear the Prophet's words.
"You were right to focus your attention on the Flood, Commander," he stated in his even, calm voice. "But . . . this Demon, this 'Master Chief' . . . ." His words were like an island of calm, dispelling the tense emotions in the chamber beneath his soothing tone. He seemed powerful, sympathetic, wise, reasonable, and collected, all at once.
The Commander closed his eyes again, and in his mind's eye, the destruction of Halo. The loss of their only hope for salvation, under his own stewardship.
"By the time I learned the Demon's intent," the Commander stated in a low, subdued voice. "There was nothing I could do."
The entire Council responded, Prophets and Sangheili, shouting violently, waving their fists angrily. Even so, the Prophets seemed the most animated again, several hopping up and down, snake-like necks craning and twisting.
Before the dais, the white-furred Jiralhanae Chieftain, Tartarus, managed a dark, amused chuckle to himself, his deep, chortling voice providing a shadowy undertone to the angry shouts and arguments. The huge creature seemed to be enjoying every second of the display. Beyond him, Regret's hologram floated close to Truth, and he whispered in hushed, impatient tones to his fellow Hierarch.
"Noble Truth, this has gone on long enough. The entire Covenant knows enough to gut this one by now! Make an example of this bungler!"
"There will be order!" Mercy shouted angrily while Truth was listening to Regret's advice, and the Council began to quiet. Once again, they fell deathly silent when the Prophet of Truth raised his hands.
The Prophet's eyes fixed the Commander's, and the Sangheili knew what he would speak an instant before it was said.
"You are one of our most treasured instruments," he began. "A Zealot worthy of your armor, a fleet commander who has led his charges with honor and distinction, and a warrior who has slain thousands of foes. But . . . ."
The chamber went deathly silent.
"Your inability to protect Halo . . . was a colossal failure."
"Nay!" came a sudden shout from the Prophet section of the chamber, and all turned their attention to the speaker. "It was . . . heresy!"
If the mention of the Flood and the Demon had angered The Council and sent tempers flaring, the mention of that word practically ignited the entire chamber. Sangheili and Prophets stood up, shouting at the top of their lungs, arguing and calling and cursing.
The Commander listened to their shouts for several long moments, and a surge of defiance shot through him at his helplessness. They were through questioning him and had gone straight to sentencing; the entire charade was over. He took a step forward on the dais, glaring at the Prophets who were condemning him with a fire and a resolve that instantly silenced the entire chamber faster than Truth's raised hands.
"I will continue my campaign against the humans!" he declared, with such force that it made several of the standing Prophets sit back down and sent quiet chortles through the Sangheili ranks.
"No," Truth responded immediately, undaunted by the Commander's words and tone. His voice was calm and even as always, but it carried a weight of power behind it that made even the defiant Sangheili stop in his tracks. "You will not." The slightest flick of his hand followed those words.
At that, Tartarus barked a sudden command, and his two Brute escorts stepped forward, around the dais, and toward the Supreme Commander. Complete disgust at the thought of being handled by such beasts as these hairy creatures erupted through the Sangheili's mind. As they reached for his arms, he shook his whole body and turned, glaring at one of the Brutes with such force that it took a step backward in shocked fear. Its comrade, spooked by the sudden motion, did so as well.
The Commander turned away from the Prophet of Truth and started walking away, understanding the dismissal in his words as he passed between the impassive stares of the Protectors.
"Soon the Great Journey shall begin," the Prophet stated quietly. "But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet . . . ."
With Tartarus and the two Brutes flanking him, the Commander stalked out of the chamber, but Truth's words echoed over and over in his head in the corridors beyond.
" . . . and you shall be left behind."
This is an idea that I had rolling around in my head for a while. I'm a huge Halo fan, and I've been wanting to write Halo fanfiction for a good long time now, but I just didn't want to write anything that I felt would have been contradicted by upcoming Halo media. Well, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx is out now, and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to get to cracking on this kind of concept. I've done plenty of work in other areas, mostly Final Fantasy, and I figured it would be a pleasant break to work on something outside of the fantasy genre and work my way into pure sci-fi/military matters.
And as anyone who's read my stuff knows, I'm a sucker for writing novelizations of existing media. There's already an official Halo: Combat Evolved novelization out there, but I wanted to throw myself into the idea and try a shot of my own with something that hasn't been released yet: Halo 2.
I'm not sure how this is going to progress, considering I've got a whole lot of other material on hand I'm working on, but at the very least, I wanted to get this prologue out there for the reading. Tell me what you think!
Until first chapter . . . .