P.S. I know...
Isabel could not stop reading that phrase.
'I know'. What the hell does he mean by that? she thought as her mind raced with possibilities behind Diablo's words.
Letting out an exasperated sigh, she forced herself to put the COM pad away. She knew her sanity and mood would worsen. In all honesty, she should have known he was not dead. Not even close. If he had been able to survive an ambush, and then torture that lasted for who knows how many years, then being in Titus' company would not do the job.
Suddenly, an interesting question popped up. She understood why Diablo was with the chieftain and his legion of Covenant troops…at least, to some degree. She still believed what he was attempting to do and how he was carrying it out was crazy. The factor she was trying to understand dealt with Titus and the extent of his tolerance. When Arbiter and she had encountered the Jiralhanae and his pack, he had seemed absolutely appalled and angered to be sharing similar space with, not only her and Thel, but also Diablo.
It did not make sense. What was compelling Titus to keep Diablo around? Why had he taken the Spartan in the first place? There had to be a purpose. There just had to be.
Slow down, she thought, seeking to ease the frenzied notions. After she took in a calming, deep breath, she continued, There is a simple explanation to this.
"Titus is using Diablo," she said aloud.
But that is kind of given, and it only partly answers the question. The remaining component now is - what for? What does he stand to gain?
She groaned and shut her eyes, feeling an advancing headache. Inhaling and exhaling a few times, she centered her body and mind to pacify the racing gale of ideas. It took a moment, but she was able to succeed. Once the pain subsided, she opened her eyes to stare intently at the door.
I am not going to worry about that asshole or the Covies now, she thought, making a set decision. There are not enough variables for me to come up with anything useful. Sighing, her gaze fell to the cube held in her gloved hand. I still have a task to complete. I better get started if I want to make any progress.
With that choice made, she began to work on the Forerunner artifact.
Stepping outside, Thel searched for the Field Master. While he did, he noted how much the light of day had darkened. He peered out toward the horizon, viewing dusk's limited, yet radiant colors.
Is the day truly coming to a close? he thought. It seems like it had only just begun.
His attention was redirected when he heard the familiar sounds of active Ghosts. He glanced back at the guards near the door. He saw their vehicles were inactive. Puzzled, his brows furrowed.
How strange, he thought.
Noticing the noise growing louder, his eyes averted to the front where the sound appeared to be emanating from. He witnessed two, additional Ghosts emerging out from the foliage. The drivers guided them to the camp before braking to a halt. Thel watched as a figure, who he assumed was Field Master 'Lavat, merged in between the transports. The Sangheili superior officer exchanged a few words with each subordinate.
Relieved he did not have to look for his fellow brethren for long, Arbiter made his way over to 'Lavat.
"We will resume the hunt tomorrow," the Field Master said to the two Sangheili drivers. After they nodded in response, he patted the hood of the vehicles as a sign of dismissal. When he turned, he spotted Thel walking toward him.
"Arbiter," 'Lavat said, bowing his head.
"Field Master," he greeted, lowering his head as well.
"Your exchange with the Spartan went well, I presume."
Thel nodded. "Yes."
"She still inside?" the Field Master asked, gazing beyond Arbiter to focus on the building.
"Yes. She is applying the method she used earlier to unlock the remaining parts."
"You trust her with the cube?"
"I do." He paused in his steps, sensing an edgy, skeptic vibe coming off 'Lavat. He saw the Field Master had his arms crossed and was looking down in contemplation. "Try to ease your worries, brother. Shadow is trustworthy."
"It is…difficult, especially considering who and what she represents."
"A human and a former Demon, I am aware. But you must remember that things are changing between our species and hers."
"Yes…they are." 'Lavat glanced up at Thel, giving him an inquisitive expression. "May I ask you something, Arbiter?"
"Of course. What is on your mind?"
"What makes you trust the Spartan?"
Thel silently stared at the Field Master. He studied the emotions swimming in the other's eyes. It was a blend of patience and seriousness, yet there was a hint of suspicion. A small jolt of apprehension nearly surfaced, but was pacified quickly and thoroughly. As the feeling quieted down, he pulled his gaze away from 'Lavat to turn until the building was in his sights.
Despite Dawson being hidden within the structure's interior, the image of her form, battle-ready and casual, was crystal clear. He could see her hard at work as she strived to solve the mysteries of the cube.
From the time he had spent with and getting to know her, he had a good idea on her nature. Plus, he had seen her in action out on the battlefield. He could go on a detailed discussion about what she was like in each setting, but it was not the occasion, place, nor individual to talk to about such things. It was easy for him to comprehend and trust her. The same could not be said about the Field Master.
He had offered 'Lavat a few assuring words earlier, but it seemed like it had not been very convincing. This was going to be slightly tricky.
Or perhaps not…, he thought, facing the ground before eyeing the Field Master who appeared to be waiting patiently for a response.
Taking in a faint, deep breath, he said, "Lavat, you know I could fill your ears with words of encouragement about our human ally. However," twisting his body until it was parallel to the Field Master's, "I had already done that. Since I do not like repeating myself and feel it would save time, I will say only this, 'I trust her because of what I have seen.'"
"Actions can be deceiving," 'Lavat said.
"So can words."
"This…is true," the Field Master said, nodding his head.
"Furthermore, keep in mind, she is a not San 'Shyuum."
"That is…also true. She is not."
"Nor is she a youngling with a new plaything."
Noting Arbiter kept subtly backing his trust in the Spartan despite what he had said earlier, 'Lavat could not help a sly smirk tickle his mandibles.
In a lighthearted tone, he said, "You seem to be saying more than what you informed me of."
Thel paused and took a moment to recall the most recent words he exchanged with the Field Master. He chuckled when he realized 'Lavat was correct.
Shaking his head in false shame, he said, "I have." Instead of speaking, he examined the Sangheili standing across from him.
The first thing he recognized what the air around the Field Master had settled. The Sangheili's stance did not appear as rigid too. Arbiter knew well it was because of his own foolishness that had caused the change. Reverting to what he had said, he was aware he could have easily said his piece and let it be. After all, that is what he told 'Lavat.
However, Thel had continued to support his claim. He could not decide if he was conscious about it or not. He felt as if his persona had been spilt into two, separate dispositions. One side had spoken and thought with intellect, rationality, and duty. The other…emotion, personal obligation, and coded justification for a human he had come to deeply care for.
Internally, he laughed at himself. Little by little, he grasped at how complicated the situation he had gotten himself into was.
Falling for a human… he pondered. Indiscernibly, he shook his head. I thought I would never see the day, let alone be the one to experience such an…absurd, unusual concept. Allowing himself to become adrift in the currents of his own psych, he grew oblivious to the world around him. It followed and played along.
All the parts constructing the environment and its inhabitants seemed to fall out of their intended places. He soon found himself in nothingness. It was like whatever event had transpired had wiped everything clean, save for himself. It was odd how he felt a sense of peace. The feeling increased in a gentle way when a familiar individual materialized a few feet in front of him, its dorsal side shown.
Just like he had seen in his dreams, the being's representation flickered like a damaged hologram. But, this time, it altered its look back and forth. It was like it was having a difficult time choosing an appearance.
Thel did not care what it selected. In the end, the person was the same. She merely had two identities.
"Dawson," he whispered tenderly, with his mandibles stretched into a mellow grin.
Beckoning to the call of her name, the figure of Dawson slowly inched her way around to face him. While she moved, the flickering resumed at a faster pace. The distorting action gradually decreased, and eventually ceased when her anterior side was visible. The final form was not Shadow Dawson, but simply…Dawson.
Initially, her expression was blank, yet sharp. It was almost as if her eyes studied every bit of flesh on his body, trying to find a weak point or something. The scrutinizing was temporary, not enough time passed for him to grow tense. Soon, her lips rose into a pleasant smirk. The gleam in her eyes returned to a notable kindle. Her soft giggle lengthened her smile, and rung pleasantly in his ears. It was also contagious.
Chuckling, he shook his head before walking toward her. He extended his arm out and rested his hand on top of her shoulder…
At that moment, Thel returned to reality. After blinking a few times, he noticed his hand was on the Field Master's shoulder, not Dawson's. Glancing closely at his brethren, 'Lavat seem to have a composed, yet confused glimpse on his face.
"What do you find amusing, Arbiter?" the Field Master asked.
Suppressing another laugh, Thel shook his head again and said, "Nothing worth mentioning."
Not fully believing him, 'Lavat nodded, "I see."
Patting the Field Master's shoulder encouragingly, Arbiter said, "'Lavat…brother…I know there is not much I could say to completely convince you to trust Shadow. I understand why. So, how about you permit the Spartan's actions speak for her?"
"I do not know if…"
"If you will not take my word or her deeds, then what will persuade you?" Thel asked, starting to get annoyed.
'Lavat stared at Arbiter for a second. His mandibles spread apart to speak, but no words were verbalized.
"You…may have a point."
Thel lightly hit the Field Master's shoulder again. "Time – that is all you can grant for, not only Shadow, but also yourself."
'Lavat simply nodded, knowing Arbiter was right.
Observing the Sangheili's reluctant acknowledgment, Thel smiled and said, "Now, come. Let us rejoin the others. Nightfall will be upon us soon."
"Argh! Damn it!" Isabel cursed. "Come on, you stupid cube! Work with me – geez!"
Less than five minutes had passed before she had been able to activate the second lock on the door. She had believed the final lock would be the same. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Clutching the cube tightly in frustration, she tried one more time to release the third and final lock. After a few clicks, twists, and turns…nothing happened. Groaning loudly, she clenched the square-shaped object until her hand faintly shook. She would not be surprised if, at the rate she was going, the artifact would shatter in her grip. Knowing Arbiter would be upset with her if she broke it out of mere aggravation, she let out a stressed sigh and stopped to calm down.
"What have I gotten myself into?" she wondered softly.
The uncooperative cube was just one of the hassles that were plaguing her. The other two things were her eyes and head. Thanks to whatever the artifact did to her eyes, they occasionally hurt as if they were dried out, or made her think something was caught in them. As for her head, it ached due to the visions that spontaneously played out in her psyche. It would not be so frustrating, if it didn't feel like tiny hammers were bashing against the sides of her skull.
Experiencing sudden dizziness, she walked over to a nearby wall. Turning and then resting her back against it, she slowly slid down to the ground. Once she was seated, she set the cube aside to free her hand. With both of her hands clear, she grasped the sides of her helmet and took it off. After setting it next to the square-shaped object, she took a deep breath.
While sitting in silence, Isabel's thoughts and eyes wondered around the room.
Noting how brighter it seemed to be, she pondered, I wonder if it getting dark outside. I would not be surprised if it is, especially after everything that has happened today. Plus, I don't even know how long I was unconscious. I never did ask Arbiter. Shrug. Oh well, it is not really that important, and not the foremost thing on my mind right now.
Sighing once more, she continued to survey the room. Other than the faint noises of her breathing, she could hear the low beeping and hums of the operational machines. Like some strange musical entity, it swirled around the room and eased her.
Keeping her ears open to the mysterious song, her eyes drifted toward the cube. She glared at it. She had a feeling the dammed thing and its visions would invade her dreams even after the mission was over. That notion brought on a new, heavier wave of exhaustion. With all the disruptions and surprises that have happened, Isabel was not sure if the mission's objectives even applied anymore.
Closing her eyes and laying her head back, she cursed, Damn it! Why, out of all the missions I have been on, does this one have to be so complicated and messy? Fuck!
Her thoughts were interrupted by a glow that faded in and out, and a low and deep sound. Reopening her eyes, she followed them and her ears to the source. Her senses forced her head and neck to bend down until she could see the cube.
Scowling at it, she said, "And you make this mission all the more strenuous. Little piece of shit."
As if understanding what she was saying, the cube's luminosity flared.
"Oh, don't give me tha-…" Realizing what she was doing, she paused. Then giggles began to bubble in her chest. At first, her laughter was gradual and gentle. When she felt it getting stronger by the second, she reacted quickly in order to keep in under control. After all, she did not want to get weird looks from Arbiter or anyone else, should he or they decide to walk in during her little breakdown.
After a few deep breaths, she managed to contain her laughter and turn it into small vibrations within her diaphragm.
Wow…just…wow. You almost lost it there, Isabel, she thought with sarcastic criticism. Man, if Lexi were here… She froze.
The idea of her friend melted away her feelings of agitated stress and replaced it with composed melancholy. It had been quite some time since she last saw her fellow sister in arms.
Moving her gaze away from the cube, she stared straight ahead. Her sight may not have focused on anything in particular, but her mind was centered on Lexi.
I wonder how you are doing. You are probably doing better than I am. It has been a long mission. Hectic, exhausting. But what missions isn't. The only thing good that has come out of it so far is Arbiter and I are back together again. He is the only thing that is keeping me going.
Mixing him and Lexi in her thoughts brought on a sudden sense of uncertainty.
I hope you and him can get along when we get back. I hope you will be able to recognize the wonderful being that he is underneath his rough, alien exterior. I…I hope…
Before she could finish, her eyes drooped shut and sleep took over.
A/N: Greetings, everyone! To start off, I want to apologize. Life, mostly college, has been keeping me busy, and drained most of my motivation to write. Ugh! So annoying! I have been making an effort to make some kind of progress at least everyday. It helps, to a certain extent. *sigh* Anyway, I just want to thank all of you for sticking with me and this story. Your reviews really renew my motivation, which in turn, fuels the story. I could not ask for better fans. :) As long as I have all of you readers who enjoy this story so much, then I shall keep working on it until the end. I hope you all have a great weekend! See you in the next chapter.