Sand. It's everywhere on the planet Crassus.

Long, billowing towers of dust roll in from the west; an inexorable tide of cloying, choking grit. A twisting network of jagged ravines spider their way across the surface of the planet, hewn from millennia of exposure to the planet's savage winds.

Between these canyons, landmarks are few and far between, relegated to the occasional clump of withered foliage and prickly cacti; rendered all but blotchy smears when viewed from the cloudless sky above. As the Pelican drop-ship's shadow sweeps across the golden desert floor, such land-marks are quickly forgotten.

Flight Officer David Perry's voice is weary as he keys the com once more.

"Oscar Three-Two, this is Kilo-Six-Four, call-sign Warmonger. Do you copy, over?"

Only static answers him.

Perry rolled the lander to port, broadcasting his transmission one last time. No response. He sighs and cranes his neck around to glance at the empty row of seats behind him. A few hours earlier, they had all been full; teeming with the very men Warmonger had been tasked to retrieve. The hold seemed cavernous now. Like a tomb, Perry grimaced.

Frustrated, and more than a little bit spooked, Perry opened a new channel.

"This is Warmonger to Control, nobody's out here. Not a damn whisper and I am bingo on fuel, over."

"Roger Warmonger," Control's response crackled, "RTB for debrief."

"Ten-Four, confirm-RTB, out."

As the Pelican veered off and away into the distance, the dust-storm swelled to an outright howl. Layers of sand begin to peel away, revealing scorched and blackened wreckage. Here, the crumpled husk of a Scorpion Main Battle Tank lays upended, its turret snapped neatly in half. Here, a trio of warthogs, gutted by plasma-fire. Corpses, shrivelled by the endless heat, sprawl baking where they fell.

The storm wails on, undaunted. Just as quickly as it is unveiled, the carnage is buried once more. The sands of Crassus care little for this brutal conflict. On the planet's time-scale it registers as less than a heartbeat. It is trivial, insignificant. To the UNSC forces stationed on Crassus, however, it is something else entirely.

It is a taste of things to come.