Disclaimer: I can't believe that this still has to be said, but Halo belongs to 343 Industries. Any attempts to sue the author will net you at most one of my doomsday devices (Go ahead and take, I have more!).

A/N: I should warn you that this chapter here is going have some shockers. It will hit people hard. Seriously, this here might annihilate...

Tikigod: Havoc, enough with the rambling. Just destroy them already!

Oh, right. Okay, let's get this show on the road.

And remember: this is an AU fic. The histories and personalities of certain characters do not line up with canon. The Prophet of Mercy, for example, is not a mook to be strung around like a lost puppy. Also, I'm changing the Prophets' throne chairs so that its a traditional shield and not the gamey "can stop weapons fire but not someone jumping on board to punch the Prophet's face out" shields.

And of course, Tikigod's editing skills were here.

"The angry can be made happy again, but a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never again come into being nor can the dead be brought back to life." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

1922 Hours, November 11th, 2552 (Military Calendar) / Covenant Holy City High Charity, X-3279 System, Sector 357.

Everything had gone relatively according to plan up to now. That being said, John knew the operation was hanging on a knife's edge. Thus far, the Spartans have been able to exploit three critical yet fleeting factors in the battle.

The first factor was that the Covenant had been completely surprised by the sheer audacity of the UNDF operation in their most heavily protected piece of real estate thousands of light years behind the front lines.

The second was how the Spartans, together with the fleet and Cortana, had ensured that the initial Covenant response would bumbling and ineffective thanks to their decapitation of the Covenant's command and control capabilities as well as sabotaging the Covenant communications network.

Finally, the third factor was the neutralization of the Covenant's superior firepower and numbers thanks to their positioning near Covenant landmarks, relics, and other monuments which the fanatically religious Covenant were not willing to destroy. This, in turn, allowed the single 200mm artillery piece under Spearhead team to cripple transportation networks, destroy defensive installations, neutralize mission critical objectives, and to blast open a path for the other Spartan teams on the ground.

Unfortunately, all of these advantages would expire soon. As evidenced by the sweeps of the city by legions of Covenant warriors, the Covenant response was now becoming visibly more organized. This was inevitable as someone on the Covenant side would eventually get over the shock of the attack and reestablish command and control, even if they have to work around Cortana's electronic blackout. In addition, Spearhead team would have, by this time, exhausted most of their ammunition, leaving the other Spartans short on artillery cover. At the same time, the Spartans would have to quickly prosecute the one objective which the Covenant would not hesitate to unleash their firepower upon: the prison block, where hundreds of UNDF prisoners including Admiral Preston Cole were being held.

The prison facility was a miniature fortress with the defenses pointing in rather than out for obvious reasons. Compared to the other intricate buildings of the city, this facility was rather plain. A high wall, probably ten meters tall and five meters thick, surrounded an area about half a square kilometer to form a rough square. The surrounding territory was open land roughly half a kilometer wide, probably constructed that way to make sure any potential escapees would have no place to hide. There was only one gate into the compound with a single dirt road leading in and out; again, another likely anti-escape measure. Inside the walls were the barracks, armory, administration, and other facilities. The actual prison was underground, effectively a silo dug into the solid rock with multiple cell blocks per level. The only access was through the use of a gravity lift that was controlled from the top, an effective security measure that prevented any breakout without outside help. There was about a company's worth of Covenant soldiers present with some shade turrets and an anti-air crystal battery completing the defenses.

Fortunately, John and Colonel Mendez had planned for all of this. Even if Spearhead's artillery hadn't been nearly exhausted by this point, a single howitzer would not have been enough to provide the level of fire that they would need to take and hold the prison block as well as suppress the enemy's artillery. For that, they would have to escalate the situation. Noble team was already inside the facility, having infiltrated the compound to provide up-to-date intelligence and to ready the prisoners inside for the breakout. For their part, John and the rest of Blue team were slated to assist the breakout.

After escaping from the key ship, Blue team and its three Covenant engineer defectors had made their way under cloak to the prison block. Those three aliens had already helped to get through Covenant security sweeps before the shooting started and were doing the same now, dropping their cloak and interfering with Covenant sensors now that the enemy could no longer tell that the engineers were not on their side. Once they arrived at the edge of the clearing, Commander-117 left the Spartans' new friends behind to hide in an empty house. Linda had also stayed behind to once again provide overwatch from the rooftops and to protect the engineers. Under cloak, the five remaining Spartans slowly made their way to the wall opposite the gate to await their planned "escalation."

As they waited to make their next move, the Spartans paused to check their load outs once more. They had used almost half of their ammunition to get here. If Spartans don't get resupplied soon, they would have to pick up enemy weapons which, while they have become proficient with them, were not their preferred choice of weapons.

John checked over his own weapons. His 7.62mm SCR and PDR were still in working order and his pistol still hadn't been fired. Knowing their coming task, the Spartans had loaded their SCRs' underslung launchers with 50mm canister rounds. After he was done with his rifle and sidearms, John had to tend to one additional weapon on his person: the plasma pike that he had taken off that Elite honor guard he had grappled with before. John had used it a couple times during the running battle through the High Charity slums, leaving the Spartan with a nagging sense of proficiency that the commander knew that he shouldn't have. John examined the pike once more. He had drained the better part of its power cells and proceeded to swap them out with ones he had scavenged from the Covenant dead.

As he synced the power cells, the commander noticed something. The pike had suddenly changed. Instead of the carapace purple that the Covenant seemed so fond of, it now boasted a metallic sheen with spots of glowing blue and gold, similar to what John had seen back in the key ship. He didn't even remember turning on the blade, but yet here it was, a thin film of blue light that looked less like a sheet of compressed plasma than a film of light.

Time slowed to a crawl as John noticed his hands had changed too. It was not the image enhanced outline of his cloaked armor or the gun metal black that he had grown accustomed to but the same ornate metallic sheen with gold and blue outlines. On his left arm's gauntlet was a device that literally floated in the air yet followed the rest of the arm's motions. A blue film of light flowed off the device like a wrist shield. It was strange, and yet all of it seemed familiar.

He suddenly heard something in the distance. It was a wretched sound of tearing flesh like a meat grinder in operation. It sent a chill down his spine, and also prompted a familiar sense of dread. John felt like he knew with certainty what it was, but yet the actual thought of what it was failed to materialize in his mind. It was like muscle memory, like a man operating on nothing but instinct. It was getting louder and more menacing with each fraction of a second.

He felt like he knew exactly what to do.

Before he moved, though, John heard another sound, this time a familiar voice uttering garbled words.

It was Cortana.

"Commander!" The AI shouted loud enough to hurt the Spartan's ears.

Then it was all gone. Back again was the image enhanced outline of his armor and the captured plasma pike that he was reloading.

For an entire second, Spartan-117 was left dumbfounded.

What the hell just happened?

"You back with us, Commander?" The AI said.

"I was gone?" 117 inquired.

"Just for a moment. I detected a massive spike in cerebral activity."


"Well, I honestly don't know. Your suit's sensors doesn't give me enough to data to say one way or the other. You've probably just taken one too many hits to the head recently." The AI joked.

"I'm fine." John dismissed, though neither one of them believed it.

"In any case, I detected the IFF signatures from our reinforcements. The cavalry is here."

"They all made it?" John asked

"So far, yes."

"And what about Medicant Bias? Did he do it?"

"There's no way to be sure right now, but I am reading a massive drop in power generation and usage from that ship. We can only assume that he pulled it off." The AI responded.

The rumbling in the ground was the first sign of things to come before the flotilla burst forth from the ground itself.

It was a sight for the ages, an inverse of the unfortunately common sight of Covenant ships terrorizing a hapless human colony. The flotilla of Spitfire-class corvettes were forming around the Sacred Valley, raining fiery death upon all Covenant soldiers within a two kilometer radius of the planned drop zone. The gunship corvettes formed a screen for the heavily laden transport corvettes which were seeking space to land the 7th Marines. One of the ships was even spewing out assault pelican drop ships and drop pods loaded with ODSTs. Messages over the com turned John back to the situation at hand as the UNDF ground forces broke radio silence.

"This is Overlord. We are on station. All call signs, report in." The gruff voice of Colonel Franklin Mendez commanded.

"This is Red Actual. We are proceeding with insertion." Fred declared.

"This is Noble Actual. We are in position and are awaiting go-ahead." Carter announced.

"This is Spearhead Actual. Ammunition down to 30 percent. We will expend our ammunition and then extract." Nicole said.

It was time to lay all the cards on the table- The weeks of travel in slipspace, taking the Truth and Reconciliation, the infiltration of High Charity. All the intricate plans, maneuvers, and deceptions had come to this point. It was time for the UNDF to commit everything to the field.

"This is Blue Actual. We are in position and are awaiting the go-ahead." John finished.

The response came swiftly.

"Overlord copies all. All call-signs, proceed with your objectives. I say again: all call-signs, proceed with your objectives!"

"Blue Actual copies. Proceeding with our objective." John finished before he turned to the com and raised Linda. "Smoke them."

From the distance back, a short barrage of 50mm smoke rounds landed around the gate. The results were immediate as the Covenant garrison inside quickly scrambled to the smoke, expecting to see their enemies coming across the open ground. Linda quickly fired off a few more HE grenades before the torrent of plasma, fissile, and needle fire chewed her position up. The barks and growls of elites and grunts suddenly perked as hordes of Covenant infantry responded and made for site of the commotion. No longer having the luxury of a hesitant and confused enemy, the Spartan sniper quickly withdrew to another rooftop, her retreat being covered by 200mm artillery fire from Spearhead team. More of the shells proceeded to pound the area around 058 as Linda quickly finished off the survivors and prevented more Covenant soldiers from linking up with the prison's garrison.

The other Spartans quickly took advantage of the distraction to begin their attack. With the guards distracted by the distant commotion, they sneaked over to one of the guard towers. At that moment, they heard a slight disturbance up top. One by one, the bodies of elites, jackals, and grunts were unceremoniously tossed over the railings, their necks having been slit or broken or their heads brutally caved in. A couple of figures leaned over to inspect the site, their faces wearing the gun metal black of Mjolnir armor as they tossed ropes down to their comrades below.

Blue team dropped their cloak and engaged their assault shields before pulling themselves up the wall. As they ascended, they could already hear the sound of small arms fire as the Nobles above protected Blue team's entry point. As John neared the top, a hand extended out to pull him over.

"Welcome to the party, Commander." Noble Six greeted, his armor likewise conspicuously glowing with his assault shields. Beside Six was Jun who was helping James up.

As the two Nobles helped each of the Blues up, the huge plasma bolts from the four Shade turrets hitting his assault shields made it quite clear to the commander that the Covenant now knew that they were here. Four quick cracks in the air were followed by each of the guns going silent, leaving 117 to quickly look back towards distance where Linda was still covering them. With the team over the wall, they quick joined Jorge and Emile who were holding each side of the catwalk as squads of Covenant soldiers attempted to drive the Spartans back over the wall. The waves of bullets and buckshot from nine Spartans quickly ended the Covenant counterattack. The two sides began to exchange fire, with volleys of fuel rod rounds and plasma bolts being answered with precision rifle fire and 50mm grenades.

"Sit-rep." John ordered as several fuel rod rounds slammed into the piece of cover he had been using, prompting him to move. The Covenant are definitely not holding back anymore.

"We have control of the facility's computer network, Sir. Carter is protecting the cell blocks

and Kat is taking control of the anti-air gun and releasing the prisoners." Six responded.

"I can confirm that, Commander. I now have control of the AA battery." Cortana added. "But the Covenant definitely knows we're here. I've intercepted fire mission requests targeting us right now!"

This was bad news. If what Cortana said was right, the Covenant was responding even faster than he had anticipated. They had been counting on the slow response of the Covenant to give them more time to clear the prison. As it was, it would be no easy task as the Spartans needed to take the prison and its defenses intact, creating an inverse of the erstwhile situation in that they were to be the ones exercising fire restraint instead of the Covenant. The reason for this caution was that the evacuation transports and the prisoners would need all the protection they could get. Now there was another impetus to take the compound quickly.

Fortunately, the Spartans did have a contingency: Spearhead's artillery would suppress hostile artillery until the 7th Marines' batteries come online. While Spearhead's artillery was available to help Blue and Noble teams to take the prison, it would be a last resort lest they themselves damage the defenses. Moreover, Spearhead's early barrages had been planned specifically to target the grav lifts and other infrastructure that would allow the Covenant to move troops against the prison and the valley. With the prison's AA battery at the Spartans' disposal, it should still be some time before Covenant reinforcements arrive.

Six began again. "And there's another problem, Sir. The prisoners are far more..."

Before Six could finish, the Spartans' HUD flared red as markers appeared pointing up towards the sky where several large bolts of white hot plasma arced towards the prison.

"Warning! Incoming hostile artillery fire! They have us zeroed!" Cortana shouted over the teams' com channel. In the background, the Spartans heard the sound of Spearhead's artillery offering counter-battery fire to knock out the Covenant guns, but it was obviously too late to destroy the Covenant guns before their massive plasma bolts hit.

There was no need for orders. The nine Spartans quickly darted from their cover and along the wall. But alas, there was not enough time to fully escape the first plasma bolt's explosive impact. A shower of molten metal and rock tore through the compound, hitting Spartans and Covenant alike and sending the commander flying through the air.

The world was a ringing blur to John as the commander pushed the half slagged debris off of him. His vision was still blots of yellow and white as both his eyes and his HUD struggled to restore themselves. As he finally pulled himself back onto his feet and shook off the sense of daze, 117 found himself alone yet again.

Well, not completely alone as he soon noticed two things.

First, Cortana was still with him as always.

"Commander? Commander!" The AI shouted. "Are you alright?"

John simply grunted in acknowledgment even as nausea and vertigo threatened to overtake him. But then, even through this haze of confusion, 117 noticed the smoke and dust settling around him to reveal one simple fact:

Spartan-117 had landed near the prison gate, right in the middle of almost two hundred bloodthirsty Covenant warriors. They have the high ground on the wall and cover by the prison's armory and barracks.

And they've all noticed the dazed lone Spartan in their midst.

"Get. Us. Out. Of. Here. NOW!" Cortana muttered with an undertone of panic as dozens of grunts, jackals, and elites began pointing their weapons at them. At least a dozen elites slowly circled the commander, all of them brandishing plasma rifles and swords as they snarled at their trapped prey.

That sound suddenly came back, the one of tearing flesh that chilled him to the core. He hadn't heard it in his ears but rather in his mind, bringing with it a head splitting migraine for a few moments. Again, the blur washed over the world as John saw it, leaving a dark landscape of barren rock, boulders, and sand intermittently covered by what seemed to be sickly yellow mold with a leathery sheen.

He was not alone here.

Dozens of blurred figures surrounded the Spartan, all armed with unknown firearms that were just as blurry as their owners were. In addition to those mysterious ranged weaponry, they all had an assortment of whips or claws attached to their arms.

Instinctively, the commander reached for his weapons. His rifle and PDR were missing, either destroyed or lost in the blast. John grasped the plasma pike with his right hand and his sidearm with his left before readying them against his wrist shield. Then he noticed the change again; his pike, armor, and wrist shield once more morphed to have the same aesthetics he saw on the Forerunner key ship. As a new surprise, though, John's M6E sidearm had likewise changed into some foreign weapon. Yet again, he felt as he knew exactly how to use it.

This time, though, confusion gave way to action as the mass of figures took aim at him and fired. Every good soldier instinctively knows that to stay still or to run while in a trap equaled death. There was only one option: attack.

The Spartan charged into the hail of incoming fire, his light lance in his right hand and his sidearm and wrist shield in his left. In an adrenaline-fueled frenzy, John dodged and weaved against the combination of bolts and beams of brilliant light even as his shields absorbed and deflected the few shots that hit. The figures nearest to him closed ranks and began their own counter-charge.

The key for any smaller force to defeat a larger one is for the former to first disrupt the cohesion of the latter and destroy them in piecemeal before they could reform. Just before the two sides collided, the Spartan aimed his light lance and fired, releasing a blue bolt of light that exploded amidst his enemies. The victims of the blast were not only thrown back but the two closest to the blast began to disintegrate as if they were being consumed like a piece of burning firewood.

The Spartan did not give his enemies the chance to recover and proceeded to drive his lance into his closest foe, watching it disintegrate into light as the others did before. The second blur lashed at him with its whip with an upward swipe. The Spartan jumped forward and spun on the balls of his feet to get inside his foe's arc and threw his enemy over him with his wrist shield. At once, he sliced the phantom figure with the light lance on his right hand while his left took aim with his sidearm at the third and fourth apparitions coming at him. Bolts of light shot out from the odd weapon's barrel until they both fell, the fourth falling onto its knees and requiring a stab with the lance to finish off. A fifth came hurtling through the air, intent on going over his shield. John rolled backwards, leaving the blur short before the Spartan shot forward to stab it. The shadow parried the strike but it left itself open to a swipe from John's shield, stunning the creature long enough for the commander to bring the light lance's blade back and cutting it in half. A sixth phantom figure came in from the left, firing as it closed. With his light lance, 117 slashed wide towards the blur's midsection only to see his blow parried. But the Spartan carried his momentum and backhanded his foe with his wrist shield, knocking it onto the ground and finishing it off.

Waves after waves of these apparitions came at him with bolts of light striking all around him, knocking him around like an enraged tempest. It was like a flood of these creatures; there seemed to be no end to them. Again and again, he blasted them apart with his lance before he charged them and took them apart one by one. Time stretched on as he felt as if he had struggled against the tide of these ghostly phantoms for days until finally both his wrist shield and his weapons finally gave out. With another barrage, his personal shield finally gave out and bolts of light struck his armor, knocking the Spartan down into the sand.

But just as that happened, the Spartan saw a familiar glint from the sand not far from his feet. It was his rifle, or at least it felt as if it was his rifle as it too bore the metallic sheen and blue and orange glow with its some of its parts seemingly floating in the air. John quickly swooped up the rifle. But before he could even fire a shot, another volley of luminous bolts scythed through the field, cutting down all the apparitions still standing. The Spartan looked towards the source of his salvation. It was a team of soldiers armed and attired as he himself was. There were eight of them all together, some on the sand with him while a few were on the rocks and boulders above him.

One of them came to him and helped him onto his feet. The soldier depolarized his or her visor and spoke.


He knew that voice. He knew those eyes.


Then a different voice spoke.

"Oh, I DO know how to pick 'em."

He knew that voice too. It was Cortana.

Instantly, the world faded back into existence. Back again was the gun metal black of the Mjolnir armor and his SCR. Back again was the prison compound the Spartans had been storming, but now the area was littered with Covenant dead. Most of the corpses showed obvious signs of being dispatched by small arms fire. However, the bodies around John looked charred and had been sliced to pieces with a plasma blade of some sort. Well over a dozen and a half of these dead had Covenant plasma swords in their cold dead hands. Near John's feet was the plasma pike; its power cells had been completely depleted.

"The area is secured, sir. All hostiles eliminated."

"And we're ahead of schedule too." Cortana added.

The commander looked at the mission clock. It had been just two and a half minutes into the assault on the compound. They were ahead of schedule. All the projections had estimated that it would have taken at least four minutes to eliminate the garrison. By John's own estimates, it had been just about a minute since those plasma artillery rounds had blown him to the middle of the Covenant garrison.

He had killed well over a dozen and a half sword-armed elites in less than a minute.

"Did I kill them all?" John said to no one in particular.

"Well technically, it was twenty elites with swords and plasma rifles. The other Spartans got the rest. Still, I think that you've just set a record." Cortana quipped.

John nodded, but his thoughts were far from celebratory.

What the hell is happening to him?

The commander's thoughts were interrupted as he felt Kelly's hand on his arm.

"That was really good work, sir. With you distracting the entire garrison, it didn't take too much to clear them out. And when did you learn how to fight with a spear? I'm not even sure that Fred could do that."

Kelly's words prompted some serious thoughts the commander's head. Wiping out twenty sword-wielding elites in close combat in less than a minute with a weapon that he had barely any real experience with? And all of that while evading fire on open ground from at least a platoon of Covenant soldiers? John knew that he was a good soldier but he wasn't that good. He couldn't even attribute it to the ever-present "luck" that some people had ascribed to him. While he was in that… hallucination, he felt as if he knew exactly what he was doing. Every move and strike had the feel of long practice and hard experience. And it all started after leaving that key ship and picking up that plasma pike. The weapon alone shouldn't have done anything to him, otherwise the Covenant would surely have taken advantage of such a feature.

Then the Spartan remembered Mendicant Bias. The Forerunner AI had been quite adamant that the Spartans escape, even at the cost of its own survival. Bias had said that the information that the Spartans now carried had to make it back. Of this, John had no doubts about the AI's sincerity. However, it seemed as if the AI had its attention and interest on John himself specifically. In its last words to the humans, the ancient had declared that they would all one day know of the reasons for its actions and of the legacy of these Forerunners. Had Bias had done something to him during its time with the Spartans? Did it gave him some sort of message or, more ominously, a warning of what's to come that John was literally carrying within him? Was that even possible considering that his armor and shields were on the whole time? Then again, the technology on that ship was far beyond what either humanity or the Covenant could even conceive of.

It was pure speculation at this point, but John decided to let the matter go for now. While the Spartan definitely has his worries about whatever this phenomenon was, it was helping them so far. In addition, he has no proof of anything beyond a recorded spike in brain activity. Moreover, if it truly was something Bias had done to him, the commander shouldn't worry too much about it. Bias would not have done so much to help them only to screw them over now. Once he gets back to Reach, he'd bring it up with Doctor Halsey. She'd know what to do about this.

John turned back to Kelly.

"I guess that I'm full of surprises."

Kelly chuckled slightly. "Yeah. But I think I've had enough surprises for this mission."

John knew what she really meant by that. The commander "smiled", swiping two fingers across his visor.

Just then, Six stepped forward. It looked like there would be at least one more surprise in this mission.

"As I was saying before, sir, we have a problem."

Ninth Age of Reclamation, Step of Silence \ Covenant Holy City "High Charity," Sacred Valley, Temple Halls.

The temple hall held some of the most sacred treasures of the Covenant Empire. The scrolls and books of ages past had been gathered here long ago aside the walls of glass shards, each piece taken from worlds cleansed by the fiery wrath of the great horde. At the center of it all was a series of holograms kept eternally lit showing the embodiment of all the hopes of the empire's people: the seven Halos of the Forerunners, the very engines of their ascension to divinity.

Whereas most citizens of the Covenant standing before these artifacts would have the thoughts consumed with awe and reverence, the one standing here now had but fear and forebode.

How had it come to this?

Trapped amongst the hallowed columns of the temple halls, the Prophet of Mercy was now left with no escape. From what had been an entire legion of the most deadly warriors of the Covenant now remained barely two dozen survivors, the rest having been ruthlessly slaughtered by sharpshooters. Despite the bravery of these few warriors, the sound of human gun fire edged closer to the hall's entrance with each passing second.

It hadn't started out as a hopeless last stand. In fact, escape seemed foregone until a few minutes ago.

As the great doors to the hall closed behind them, the Sangheili rear guard's sound of struggle were silenced. The Demons were upon them and had put them to the sword. But those guardsmen had died knowing that they had bought with their lives the time needed to seal their charge within the temple hall where they could mount a better defense. Such noble martyrs were assured a place in the Great Journey.

As the remaining honor guards jammed the door controls and welded the metal shut with their weapons, Mercy tried once more to call for help. The humans had planned and executed their attack well, making sure to cripple the city's communication networks. But unbeknownst to the humans (or really anyone outside of the Triumvirate of Hierarchs), the city had a far more secure com network hardlined into much of the urban infrastructure so that the Hierarchs could communicate with the utmost privacy. The course of the fighting had damaged the connections, though it was still possible to get somewhat garbled messages through. It was these garbled messages from the Prophet of Truth promising immediate and massive reinforcements that Mercy and his entourage now hung on to. But the reinforcements had been neither immediate nor massive. In fact, there had been no sign at all of any discernible attempts at rescue.

Mercy retreated to the archives and away from his guards before raising the com channel. Slowly, the blurred image of the Prophet of Truth materialized on before Mercy's throne chair.

"Where are your reinforcements, Ord? We cannot hold out for much longer!" Mercy shouted.

Truth, however, did not share the elder statesman's sense of urgency. "I assume that you have made your way into the temple halls and have sealed yourselves in?"

"Yes. We are safe for the moment but that will not last long. We are trapped here and the guards will not last much longer against the Demons. Now where is Tartarus?!"

A smug smile appeared on Truth's face. "I'm afraid that the chieftain will not be arriving any time soon. In fact, no one will be coming for you, save the humans of course."

It took a few moments for the implication of those words to sink in.

Truth was leaving him to the mercy of the Demons.

Amused laughter from the younger Prophet snapped Mercy back to attention.

"You fool! Have you no idea what you have done? You have killed not just me but also the sacred union of the Covenant. When I am taken from the Covenant, so shall the center of masses be taken as well. When the High Council finds out what you have done, there will be nothing to bring both sides back from the edge of the abyss!"

"No, old friend. The High Council will not be finding out about this any time soon. As we speak, Tartarus is destroying what records of this that have survived the humans' attacks. And with so many of the Sangheili High Councilors dead, they will not be able to investigate anything before I'm finished eliminating the rest of the evidence. That is what you did not know, but this is what you do not understand. You are a fool, trying to keep alive something that has died long ago. Our rule of the Covenant cannot last so long as the Sangheili remain preeminent, ever ready to strike us down and take complete control for themselves. The power of the San Shyuum will be secured only once the ire and energy of the Sangheili are consumed in vying against the Jiralhanae for our favor. And once you are gone, I shall deal with Regret and the humans. The way shall be clear to uplift the Jiralhanae and to return the Sangheili back in their place. You say that I threaten the union of our sacred Covenant? No, for in fact I am the savior and you are the villain, and I shall ensure that you will be remembered as such."

Apoplectic with rage, the elder heirarch slammed his fist into the throne's armrest, mustering all the spite he had for what he knew to be one last vindictive at Truth.

"You arrogant power hungry little whelp! You think that you can control what you have unleashed? No, you cannot and it shall swallow you whole. You shall crash and burn amidst the ruin and rubble as the Covenant is torn asunder, not at the hands of the humans but of our own. And our peoples, ALL our peoples, will weep for your mistakes."

Decades of work and thousands of years of legacy were now at risk of becoming undone. He could only hope that his worst fears would prove unfounded, that his loss would be an inspiration to rally the faithful masses and restore the sacred union rather than the last step before the abyss.

The captain of the guards approached Mercy. The Prophet had not bothered to remember his name, though the hierarch thought it better not to ask.

"Your eminence, any word on our reinforcements?" The captain asked.

After a moment of thought, Mercy gave his answer, the only answer that he could give to ones ready to give their lives in the mistaken belief that it might save his. "They are nearing us as we speak, though I doubt that they would arrive in time to stop the Demons from breaching the door."

The captain raised his plasma sword into the air and turned to his warriors. "Then we shall hold them here! We have the advantage of the terrain and of time. With the spirits of our ancestors and before the gaze of the Forerunners, we shall spill the blood of the Demons onto the temple's stones!"

Dozens of blazing swords followed the captain's into the air as the guards growled defiantly. Despite the lie, Mercy was as satisfied as one could be with the situation.

After all, it is such a terrible thing to take away someone's faith.

The warriors took up positions behind the columns before the the massive doors to the Temple Halls, readying their plasma rifles, swords, and grenades.

The captain turned to the Prophet once more. "Hierarch, please retire to the safety of the archives."

There is no safety to be had here, Mercy knew.

"Your concern is touching, Captain, but misplaced. I shall stay here and, if necessary, fight here. Your warriors will need the firepower that I can offer."

The Sangheili looked as if he were about to object but backed down in the face of the Mercy's determination. "It is an honor, your eminence."

The Prophet nodded before holding out his hand. "Your sidearm, Captain. And a grenade."

The Captain complied and handed over the weapons. If Mercy had been honest, he would have just asked for the grenade. Now, however, was not the time to tip his hand. With the pistol in hand and the grenade deep in the sleeves of his overlapping robes, the Prophet awaited the inevitable.

The doors flew apart in an explosion, announcing the Demons' arrival. A more inexperienced bunch might have started pouring fire at the exposed doorway, but the honor guards held their fire and waited for the enemy to show themselves. A number of canisters were tossed into the hall, prompted the guards to take cover. A shower of light and sound reverberated throughout the hall, shattering the hung shards of glass and overwhelming the senses. When the cacophony had ended, the guards looked out from behind the columns.

A trio of Demons, each clad in armor as black as the darkest of starless nights and surrounded by shields visibly lit like a Kigyar's, stood in the doorway. The two on the flanks had rifles of some sort but the one in the lead carried a metal blade with a glowing edge and a shorter weapon. The abominations walked in calmly, like soulless machines.

"Open fire!" The captain shouted.

The guards opened fire en mass. Those closer tossed grenades not only at the three Demons, but also at the doorway to block both their means of escape and of reinforcements. The three Demons in turn sprinted forward, dodging much of the incoming plasma bolts while their glowing shields absorbed the few that hit. Even more disconcerting was the sight of a couple of plasma grenades bouncing off said shields and in some cases even being swatted aside like offending insects.

The closest guards lit their swords and charged to meet the Demons, who in turn greeted them with a shower of metal and fire. Like predators moving in for the kill, the guardsmen split up their approach and attacked from the flanks, unleashing a torrent of plasma bolts as they went. But against this storm of metal and explosions, the first ranks quickly faltered. Two honor guards trailing their comrades were able to strike at the leading Demon only to find their cuts and slashes dodged or parried by the Demon's blade. The creature tossed one Sangheili aside for its brethren to finish off while cutting through the other guardsman's shields and stabbing him in the chest. The three Demons then took to the columns for cover, exchanging fire with the Sangheili as the honor guards attempted to maneuver in closer to destroy the attackers.

It was then that Mercy saw it. A shimmering in the air next to the captain, edging closer with every fraction of a second. Before anything could be said or done, the captain's shields lit up with tendrils of electricity, obscured only by the black armor of a Demon materializing behind its victim. With a blade like the one in the hands of the first Demon, it sliced right through the captain's shields and neck in one stroke. More Demons appeared, ambushing the guards in the rear ranks. The three near the door took the opportunity to renew their attack against the surprise and now outflanked Sangheili.

The nearest Demon, the one who had slain the captain, turned its sight onto the Prophet. Mercy made sure that his throne chair targeting system had the abomination in its sights before he raised his plasma pistol and fired. The human easily dodged the Prophet's pathetically swerving aim and attempted to jump onto the throne chair only to bounce off its shields and crashing and rolling into the ground.

Mercy snarled as overcharged the pistol and fired the massive plasma bolt at the Demon's prone form. Though the Demon's shields seemed to have held, it seemed to still be stunned from its collision with the prophet's shields. As the human shook its head in an attempt to recover itself, Mercy slammed on the throne's weapons controls. A brilliant beam of plasma struck right into the Demon's prone torso. Charred bones and slagged armored was all that remained.

"Hah!" The Prophet spat before turning back to the battle, or at least what had been a battle as the last of the honor guards had fallen. And not only were the Sangheili guardsmen gone, but so were the other Demons. Mercy was alone amongst the temple's columns, despite the throne's scanner's best efforts. The San Shyuum's eyes darted back and forth, knowing full well that cloaked Demons could be hiding in plain sight.

The shields flared as Mercy realized that he had been attacked from behind. It was a short burst of human rifle fire followed by silence as the throne turned around only to find nothing but air and empty space.

The shields flared again, this time showing rippling impacts on both his left and right. But again, the San Shyuum found nothing.

Then came more attacks in rapid succession, each time a short burst on the flanks of the Hierarch or behind him where the throne's cannon could not reach. Even the powerful shields of the throne began to wane before this onslaught.

With a snarl every bit as much panic as aggravation, Mercy began firing randomly into the air before unleashing one sustained burst slicing a wide arc through the columns.

"Show yourselves!" The Prophet demanded. But alas, neither the scanner nor the Prophet's weak eyes could spot his foes.

When the scanners did detect movement behind to his right, Mercy turned to see power cells hurtling through the air towards him. The devices overloaded, taking what's left of the throne's shields with them.

The world spun as Mercy felt something lifting him out of the chair throwing him onto the ground. A flash of light and heat heralded an explosion in the distance as the Hierarch felt the Demons pin him to the ground.

As the Demon reached for Mercy's arms to restrain him, the Hierarch finally understood what the humans had hoped to accomplish by attacking High Charity: they were after a Prophet. Maybe they wanted to learn what secrets he knew or to even force him to surrender the Covenant? Mercy did not know, nor did he care. Everything he had done over these last few decades had been done in order to preserve the Covenant against the human threat to their faith. He would make one last sacrifice to that end.

Before the Demon could reach for the right arm, Mercy reached for plasma grenade still hidden in his sleeves and pressed the detonator switch. The Prophet then attached the device to the skin on his chest.

As the Demon noticed the armed grenade spinning up, Mercy spoke his last words for his people, ones that they would never hear.

"For the Journey! For the Covenant!"