The Master Chief was just about to enter the cryo tube, when a sudden tremor shook the Forward Unto Dawn, the groaning of the metal hurting John's ears.
"Cortana?" the Chief calmly asked, as he hung onto a nearby support beam.
"Analyzing," Cortana responded. "It appears that the Dawn is being drawn into a nearby planet's gravitational field." she explained quickly.
The Chief cocked his head to one side. "I thought you said we could be drifting for a while." he stated, as more tremors wracked the hull of the ship.
"The Dawn was cut in half; I couldn't detect anything on the cut side." Cortana replied irritably.
"Well, what do you suggest I do?" the Chief inquired, as he started floating through the cryo bay's door.
"Wait a moment…" Cortana murmured, as she quickly scanned all the remaining part of the Dawn held.
"Well, the bad news is that we don't have an escape pod, a docked Longsword or Pelican." Cortana said.
"And the good news?" the Chief asked.
"I think you can survive another atmospheric reentry, but if you get knocked out…" Cortana trailed off. The Chief kicked off a bulkhead, passing by a sign the read "Escape Pods."
"Chief?" Cortana meekly asked. The Master Chief paused, hanging onto the doorway with only one hand. Inside the escaped pod bay, Cortana's holographic avatar popped up on a holo-monitor.
"I want you to know… if I don't make it… I just want you to know…" Cortana started to say, as the Chief reached the escaped pod bay, where a series of blast doors covered the empty spots where the pods had occupied.
Cortana abruptly stopped talking, as the Chief secured himself to a wall with a line of cord.
"Yes, Cortana?" the Master Chief asked. Cortana simply sighed through the speakers.
"Chief…" Cortana whispered, as the Chief extended his hand towards the access port that housed Cortana.
"Chief… no. Don't take me with you." Cortana told him.
"Cortana, we have to go." the Chief replied, his voice brooking no argument.
"Chief… I still have access to some of the emergency thrusters. I'm going to use them to drive the ship into the ocean, as far away from you as I can." Cortana muttered face screwed in concentration, as the symbols on her body picked up speed, flashing red.
"I can glide to a safe point, away from the impact zone." Chief stated. It would not be hard, and he had once had to do just that, when the Say My Name was destroyed over Azure VII.
"Chief, the reactor of the Dawn was already damaged from the fighting above the Ark. The Dawn getting cut in half only made it worse. When this thing lands, there's a good risk everything around it for a one hundred kilometer radius will be gone. With luck, I can guide the Dawn away from any sizeable population center, where the blast might be contained in the deep sea. A tsunami is a possibility, but I'm willing to bet that I can avoid fault lines, with detailed scans."
The Master Chief paused, his hand on the knot securing him to the wall.
"Might be contained?" he asked.
"It's better than letting this tub land on your head." Cortana fired back.
"You can just spin off a few subroutines to do that." John told her. Cortana looked down, unable to meet his eyes.
"I can't, Chief. The Index is the pinnacle of Forerunner technology; it doesn't exactly come in a small package. I can't even begin to calculate how much it shortened my operating life. Add in the Covenant data I recovered from the Ascendant Justice… I've run out of time."
"Cortana, I'll need your help once I'm on the ground."
"Please Chief. Allow me this one, final favor." Cortana pleaded, as the Chief untied the coiled rope.
The Master Chief Petty Officer Spartan-117 glided to the blast door, which showed him a panoramic view of the planet, as a klaxon soundlessly began to blare and red emergency lights began to flash.
The planet spun out of view, as the first blast door cranked open slowly.
"John?" Cortana hesitantly asked.
"Yes?" he replied.
"Good luck." she said, as John stuck one hand fast into a handlebar.
He paused. Words alone could not express how he felt at this moment.
"…Thanks." John answered, as the last blast door finally opened. Air pressure had been lost right after the split from the Portal, but now gravity was returning. John began to feel a tug as it slowly tried to tease him out of the airlock.
John slipped out of the bay, watching, as the planet slowing grew larger. Despite her claims to the contrary, Cortana hadn't cut it close at all. He had maybe a little bit more time than his HALO jump back on Earth, though this time he was doing it without the shield. The MJOLNIR Mark VI wasn't created specifically for HALO jumps, but given how often Spartans had been forced to use them like that, both with Mark IV and Mark V, the scientists behind the Mark VI had tried to increase survivability in those scenarios.
As best as he could tell, he was heading straight for a mostly flat expanse of land. To the north were high mountains, to the south a deep, deep swamp. He checked again, but the closest large water body was far beyond him.
He boosted his gel-layers to maximum, locking up most of his movement. As he descended, the land rushing up to meet him, he spotted a tiny patch of blue, a lake.
His heart thudding loudly in his ears as the pressure grew, John directed himself as best he could at the tiny blue patch, aiming for the dead center, where it should be the deepest. The water tension could be safely ignored because of the armor, but if he hit solid rock the armor would most likely fail.
As John drew closer, he spotted a rough patch of grey and brown, possibly a city, but it was farther away, and he couldn't make out any details.
He drew closer and closer to the lake, and spotted a tiny brownish greenish dot in the dead center of the lake. He tried to alter his course, but it was too late. The G-force was too much, and he blacked out.
A meteor streaked across the sky, shedding debris as it shrieked past the worn path, causing the few people traveling the road to scatter in fear. The object passed them by, howling like a demon the whole time. It flew over the gypsy camp, and impacted on Bower Lake with a thunderous BOOM! and a blinding flash of light.
The ground shook and heaved, up heaving trees and rocks, as the little island where Bower Tomb once sat was crushed, leaving a crater on the island, smashing the ancient mausoleum.
Unseen to those above, the object continued to smash through cavern and rock, until it impacted on a large underground lake, slowing it, but not stopping it. While slowed, it still cracked the ground open, and the water fell with the object, into a small underground stream, which quickly swelled in size. The deluge of water pounded through already weakened rock, stripping it away quickly.
It stopped It's planning, ceasing It's eternal labor, to consider the shaking of It's tomb. The earthquake subsided, and It relaxed, It's mind once again straying to the plots and plans that occupied It's mind. It focused on the trickling river to focus, happy for once to have the stream there.
Then a crack appeared in the cavern's rocky ceiling. Hesitant, puzzled, It extended the power of It's mind into the gap, studying it, and trying to determine the reason for the crack.
With a loud noise, a crackling, hissing noise, the crack enlarged, and water began to trickle from the crack, as the crack slowly widened.
Then, with a thunderous CRASH! the roof caved in, and a roaring deluge filled the chamber, shocking It numb.
The water battered It against the wall that held It, and for the first time in It's eternal existence, It thought that It was about to be destroyed. But It's hold on the wall was firm, and It remained firmly anchored to the wall.
The water slowly filtered out with the small stream, slipping out with the cracks. As it did, it revealed a strange greenish object that It was sure had not been there before the earthquake. It examined the object with It's mind, marveling at the shape of it, the complexity of it. It almost looked like a man! Or maybe it was made to contain men? Was it some kind of wizard's golem? Perhaps a Summoner, remaining long after it's masters destruction?
That's it, no more atmospheric entries!
It recoiled in shock; there was a man inside the object! It inspected the man inside, looking past the twisted metal, and found him to be as strange as the object itself. He was incredibly pale; he must've been an albino. Still, he bristled with muscles, and he must've been seven feet tall!
Sparrow walked down the old tunnel, as her dog raced forward to investigate the new smells he detected. Sparrow shook her head, but she was smiling. The rock beneath her shook, and she looked up in realization. A low rumbling echoed through the cavern, and imperfections in the rock shook off, chipping away as the rumbling grew louder.
Sparrow reflexively grabbed the rock wall beside her as the quake struck, her reactions saving her life, as the ceiling split and gave way in front of her. She stared in shock at the place where a moment before, she had been standing. The rock ceiling would have crushed her instantly, Hero or not.
John slowly regained consciousness; his raging head feeling like an over-enthusiastic Brute had whacked him with a Gravity hammer. John forced his sealed eyes open, and saw… nothing.
Am I dead? He thought, but his head told him otherwise. He winced, and tried to figure out why he couldn't see anything. Nothing came to his mind, and he had almost resigned himself to his new existence, when he felt pressure on his chest. A second later, light filled his vision, blinding him. Something had ripped a jagged hole through his visor. A pungent, stale smelled assaulted his seldom-used nose, and he snorted. John blinked, and then glimpsed rocky shards on his chest. The boulder had gashed through his helmet, shattering in the process.
John tried to shove the boulder off him, but his arms would not move. At least, they wouldn't move easily. John struggled with all his might, and an incredibly loud screeching penetrated his ears. He was rewarded when the pressure on his chest was relieved.
John stopped pushing, but his arms stayed in position, not moving. John tried to see what the problem was, but the slashed helmet was obstructing his view. John pushed and pushed, eventually bringing his arms up to the back of his head. He slowly popped the seals on his helmet, and carefully removed it. He had almost gotten it off when pain flushed through his system, and his arms instinctively flexed, again slashing his face. He ripped the helmet off, and tossed it away, his agony rushing through his system like a rogue wave.
He lay there for a long time, blood pouring from the two cuts across his face.
Sparrow carefully slid through the narrow crack in the rockslide, as she continued to traverse the somewhat blocked tunnel. She shimmed across a narrow piece of rock, then hopped off it onto solid ground. She sighed, relieved to have crossed the dangerous cave-in with no injuries.
The sound of barking intruded on her relief, and she looked up, to see her dog, miraculously unharmed, wagging his tail in delight at her. She laughed, happy to see her beloved companion safe, and hugged him. The dog obligingly licked her face several times.
With a rush of nausea, John woke from his stupor. He tried to stand up, but couldn't move his arms and legs. He looked, and saw where he discarded his helmet. It was dripping with his blood. As he tried to move, he felt warm liquid matting his hair. With an unpleasant shock, he realized it was also his blood. How much had he bled?
He depressed the manual release buttons for his arm plates, pulling them off with a clatter. In a matter of minutes, he had discarded his armor plates completely. He shakily stood up, clad in only a thin black bodysuit. He grabbed the rock wall next to him, holding on to it dearly as his legs continued to shake uncontrollably, but to no avail. His legs gave out, and he smashed back down onto the ground.
He felt his arm and leg muscles contract, pulling themselves to the ripping point. Slowly, they relaxed, and John was able to stand, albeit shakily. He grabbed the rock wall with one hand to be sure.
His armor was ruined. The damage it had taken during that last charge to the Control Room must've damaged it beyond what he had thought initially. The plates were superheated by re-entry, but this was nothing new to MJOLNIR armor. The plates were a total loss, however. Without anything to shield him from the heat, as he had done back on Earth, the armor had taken much more of a beating; and unlike on Earth, he hadn't had the luck to land on a relatively soft section of ground. Smashing through solid rock, combined with already weakened armor and no shields, it was a wonder he had made it down alive.
His undersuit might be salvageable, but it was ripped in parts, the stress of landing cutting through the advanced composition of the weave. He'd take the undersuit with him, but he'd have to come back for to retrieve any of the mangled pieces.
He looked around, at the cavern. He wondered where the light was coming from briefly, then spied the hole in the ceiling that he made. The hole extended, a straight tunnel to the surface, with many tumbling bits of debris and a little stream descending from it. Unfortunately, he couldn't climb out through the hole, because the ceiling was a good hundred meters above him.
Troubled, he thought hard on how he could get out of the cavern, missing the hole behind him. He thought long and hard, but couldn't find a way out. Finally, a gust of wind blew out of the hole behind him, rippling the puddle of blood, but John didn't feel it. His skin was numb, the gel-layer of the armor must've been flattened by the pressure.
Finally, the rippling blood at his feet sunk in enough to alert him to the tunnels presence.
He slowly walked through the tunnel, trying to work out the kinks in his arms and legs, pausing to stretch as much as he could. He paused again to stretch his right leg, but as he did, he smacked his head on the low ceiling, knocking himself to the ground.
He hit the ground, and his body started shaking again. When it had stopped, John looked up at the tunnel. It had closed up with an earthquake some thousand years ago. There was no way that he was going to get through solid rock.
John sat down, breathing deeply as he lay back on the smooth, cold stone.
Sparrow crept through the tunnel, her old and rusty longsword clutched in her right hand, her left hand carrying a rusted flintlock pistol she had found after the cave-in. She edged around the bend in the tunnel, leading with the pistol extended in front of her.
A dark shape dropped from the ceiling and sped towards her, it's curved carapace gleaming in the strange, ever-present light…
Sparrow blasted the beetle out of the air with the pistol, then hurried to reload it as more beetles fell from the ceiling, some launching strange purple balls at her. She didn't know what they were, but she assumed that she didn't want them to touch her. They looked…chaotic. One struck her left hand, burning it. She cried out, dropping her smoking pistol and clutching her hand against her chest.
She swung her sword desperately, killing two of the beetles with one stroke as she fought on, moving quickly and slicing the beetles in two. They moved with a quick, skittering speed, but were surprisingly weak and fragile. All too quickly, Sparrow looked up from the last kill and discovered no more beetles to kill. What remained, however…
Sparrow hunkered down on her haunches, studying the oddly colored translucent orbs. They were green, blue, and yellow, and spun inside their little shells. Swirling spirals that twisted and weaved, intercrossing and connecting.
Sparrow shook her head, and slowly reached for the nearest orb, but to her astonishment, it moved towards her! With a startled cry, she leapt backwards, but all the orbs accelerated at her, moving with blinding speed until-
The orbs touched her. The second it impacted on her skin, Sparrow felt odd, almost as if someone had dropped her in a cold lake, then toweled her off just as fast. Her skin tingled, and even shone where the orbs had touched her.
Sparrow sighed, her muscles loosening, and her exhaustion fleeing. She got to her feet, and admired the shiny gloss over her hands, where she had attempted to block the odd balls. Her burnt hand no longer stung, but it was covered in an odd, reddish black burn mark, which extended up to her left elbow. Sparrow tore off a strip of her already tattered shirt, ripping away the sleeves and wrapping them around her palm, cutting niches for her fingers and tying it with a loose square knot at the end. She tugged on it, content that it would not cut off the blood flow to the arm, then moved on.
Sparrow retrieved her sword from where she dropped it, and moved off again, her dog following her loyally. She bent over once more, but quickly discarded the ruined pistol. It's barrel had been smashed against the rock by
John leaned heavily on the tunnels wall, reaching carefully out with his hand to prevent more bumps on the ceiling. He took smaller, slower steps, and began retracing his path to the larger cavern where he had awoken.
As he shambled along, he took stock of his situation. He was trapped underground, with his MJOLNIR armor completely trashed, and Cortana was gone, along with the Dawn and all its weapons. He was injured, his body battered by the abused gel-layer of his armor, and slashed in parts where the armor had failed him. His muscles were tight, some possibly ripped or torn, and he was bleeding slightly from his face, where his disfigured helmet had gouged him.
As best he could see off of a still puddle of water, the cuts were slowly healing, the blood flow staunching off.
He was also completely nude, his skintight bodysuit stripped away. It lay back in the cavern, steaming from the heat of atmospheric re-entry. He had been forced to peel it off before it broiled him alive.
John spied a growing light ahead, and he entered the cavern.
Sitting down on a convenient outcropping of rock, John gazed around the room, resting. His eyes lingered on the shredded pieces of armor that littered the floor. Some had been more or less intact, but others, especially his helmet, had been mangled and ruined by the heat of reentry and the shock of hitting the little island at the center of the lake.
Spying an odd protrusion at the other end of the cavern, John strode over, carefully negotiating drops and small rises of the uneven floor. A little stream trickled by, but the larger splash marks meant that, presumably, more water had spilled in from a cavern that he had made a hole in.
The light dimmed as John left the illumination of the pillar of light that followed his entry hole. Somehow, though, there was a splotch of light by the odd protrusion, which looked like… a chest?
John stopped at the edge of the chest, glancing at the flickering, ethereal torches. How were they still burning? John shrugged off the question, leaving it in a pile with all the other unanswerable questions he had.
He reached down, fiddling with the latch. There was no keyhole, but instead a complex puzzle-lock. John studied it for a minute, then ripped it off the chest. Its worn bolts gave way instantly to the excessive force.
Moving his hands around for a good grip, John hefted, and the rusty hinges squeaked, protesting at the sudden force. The chest opened an inch, then two, then all the way, with an ear-achingly high-pitched screech.
John reached inside the chest, pulling up a pant-leg. He paused, considered the weirdness of finding clothes in a chest, then pulled on the pants. If anything, moldy old pants were better than completely exposed to the elements. The pants were followed by a hand-stitched shirt, which was too small for him. John discarded it without a thought.
The boots, luckily, were a good fit, and by ripping up the shirt, he had socks. Finally, John looked and found a fabric-covered lump at the bottom of the chest. He carefully unwrapped it, and found a pair of long knives, along with an odd seal. John regarded it, turning it in his hand, but decided it must be an official seal or stamp.
He slipped the two knives in a pocket, and the seal in another. He straightened his back, shut the chest, and looked up. Hidden directly behind the chest was an odd thing, like a porcelain kabuki mask. John made to move away from it, but something about it attracted his eyes again, and found himself staring at it.
There was just something interesting about that mask…
With steel will, John clamped down on his wayward curiosity and moved away from the mask. A second later, he felt a tingling in his gut. John dropped down behind the slight bump in the cave floor, taking cover as he tried to assess whatever had set him off.
After a tense minute, John relaxed, easing out of cover.
A slight tumbling of rocks sent him diving behind the rock again, this time focused on the noise from the left of the chest. Peeking his head around the rock, John saw a woman appear from a small crevasse some meters away from the chest.
No, not a woman. A girl, barely eighteen years old from the looks of it.
John considered his options. On one hand, he was lost underground, and this girl might know the way out. On the other hand, she could be an Insurrectionist hiding out on this world, away from the war. Weighing his choices, John hesitantly stepped out from behind the rise, raising his right hand as he did.
Sparrow noticed motion out of the corner of her eye, and she twisted, drawing her ancient sword quickly. She dropped into a loose fighting stance, spinning on her heel to see-
A man, clad only in dirty old pants and ragged boots, waving a hand at her.
Sparrow sighed, sheathed her sword, and approached the man. How a local gypsy had gotten through the locked door or the massive plunge into the underground pool was beyond her, but she would not put it past the inquisitive gypsies.
"How did you get down here?" she demanded, pointing at him. The man cocked his head quizzically, as if he couldn't understand her.
Sparrow groaned. Wonderful, she got a stupid one. She marched over to him, muttering under her breath about irritating curious gypsies.
Whoa… this guy was pretty tall, she thought as she got closer. Hell, he was a giant! He towered two full heads above her, his impassive face still regarded hers. His skin was pale, like one of those porcelain dolls traders sometimes brought, but this was offset by his brownish hair. He looked like one of those classical statues she sometimes saw, half-covered by vines, in the woods. The image was ruined by a sharp stink of something odd, a tangy smell that clung to the man.
This might take a while, she thought.
Idly, John considered the incredibly high odds of landing on a world where they spoke English. This girl was pointing at him with a sword, so they obviously couldn't be that advanced. And they were even Humans.
And how can one answer that question?
John gestured behind him, pointing up at the pillar of light. How does one properly communicate 'atmospheric reentry' to a culture that still uses swords, for crying out loud?
He had a feeling that this would be an experience to remember.
Sparrow watched, silent, as the giant pointed at the pillar of light.
"You came down on a pillar of light." she deadpanned.
The giant sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, and then he turned away, moving towards the pillar. With a half-hearted protest dying on her lips, Sparrow followed, quickly overtaking the pondering giant. She nimbly darted over cracks and crevasses, clambering up ledges as she navigated towards the luminescent column.
Making it to the top of a rise, she looked behind her at the giant, only to see him to her right, climbing up a twenty yard cliff with ease. Slow he may be, she thought, but he certainly wasn't weak. He found handholds quickly and efficiently, moving with a constant motion, a steady rhythm.
The Giant glanced over at her, hanging without effort by one hand. He shifted, hurling his arm over the ledge and hauling himself up with the barest hint of struggle.
The Giant was staring at her, Sparrow realized. While the male gypsies stared at her all the time, being gypsies and all, this stare was different. He did not focus on her bosom or her hips, but rather staring directly at her. Sparrow shifted her weight uneasily, a little flustered by this intense study shown by the giant.
Hurriedly, she slid down the gently slope of the rise, nearing the pillar promptly.
The pillar speared clear through the ceiling at an angle. As Sparrow looked closer, she quickly realized that the hole was actually pretty small, a little larger than a man.
The Giant appeared behind her, pointing at the ground around the base of the pillar. It was soaked with water and a lot of blood. Deformed bits of metal surrounded the whole, some stained from the blood. Little by little, the blood had pooled, and dripped drop by drop onto a lower level.
But how had the giant made it down here? This blood was recent, and it could only be his, so…
Sparrow squatted down, inspecting one of the bent pieces of metal. It was torn, as if a Troll had pulled on opposite ends with all its might. She tried to lift it, but rapidly withdrew her hand. It was amazingly hot, burning her fingers instantly.
Sparrow next resorted to pushing the tiny slab of green with the broken tip of a stalactite, but the stubborn chunk refused to move. Sparrow fumed, then jabbed the bit of metal as hard as she could. The metal finally moved, barely.
Sparrow shook her head in dismay. A hole in the ceiling, and slices of some Guild-era armor that was both too hot to touch and too heavy to move without strain.
Who was this giant?
John watched the girl inspect the hole, then his armor with veiled amusement. He found her antics hilarious, like a child thrust into an armory full of shiny toys.
At last, when she had finished poking a calf plate with a shard of rock, she turned back to him. John sat down, patting the ridge beside him to invite the girl over. She looked hesitantly at him, then carefully sat down.
"This explains nothing. How did you get down here?" She inquired. John gazed once more at the hole, but the girl missed his subtle hint. John sighed again, ignoring the scent of ozone from reentry.
"There is a hole. I appeared." he explained. The girl shook slightly at hearing him speak, but she retained her confused appearance.
"You mean you came in through that hole?" she asked, her confusion clearing. "But how did you vault down from that height? You don't have any rope or climbing equipment or-"
John motioned for her to stop talking.
"It's not important right now." John dismissed. The girl seemed to be annoyed by that, but John cut her off.
"Can you tell me where the nearest center of government is?" he asked, moving off the shelf. The girl screwed up her face, concentrating deeply. John found it a little disconcerting.
"I'm going to Bowerstone later, if that's what you mean. You're welcome to come along." she answered.
That was most likely the city he saw on his way down. A city was better than a cave, so it was possible he could get some answers there. He nodded to the girl, who smiled.
"Spartan-117-" He started to say, before hesitating. "No. Just... Spartan."
"I'm Sparrow." she answered.
"First though, I have to find something down here." Sparrow told John, drawing her sword. John seemed to tense, but relaxed as she pointed it away from him. He inclined his head, and she took that as an agreement.
As soon as they left the great cavern, Sparrow's dog appeared from wherever he vanished to, barking happily. She bent down to greet him, ruffling his ears and talking silly. When she looked up at the giant, he had moved to the corner of the tunnel, peering past it for some reason. Sparrow briefly considered introducing her dog to John, but swiftly decided against it. He might be a cat person. She sighed, standing back up.
Sparrow marched ahead, intent on taking point, as she had a sword, but blinked as John moved around her gracefully. She snorted, then tried to take the lead again. John, bemused, kept moving, his longer legs allowing him to easily outpace the much shorter girl.
This kept happening, until the ceiling trembled and shower dirt on them. Sparrow backed away, protesting as she was pelted with rocks, but John froze, then spun into motion. She opened her mouth to ask him what he was doing, when she spotted the crimson carapaces of the giant beetles.
She drew her sword, diving forward with a slash that shifted into a stab, as John crushed a beetle into the ground with his boot. Sparrow was forced to narrow her options drastically, lest she accidently slash the giant.
Dispatching two beetles with more stabs, she watched he continue to crush beetles with huge stomps, sometimes snatching them out of the air to crush them against walls, or pinning them to the ground with a pair of knives.
Before she could move to help him, the last of the beetles were crushed. The multicolored orbs appeared out of their bodies again, and before she could draw them unto her, John reacted.
Unsure of the orbs, he dove backwards, rolling away from the blue orb closest to him. Sparrow chided him lightly, shaking her head as she drew the orbs to her left hand.
He watched her carefully, eyes narrowed, as the green and blue orbs sunk into her skin. He made no comment, but he observed her carefully as they moved forward again.
Sparrow found herself annoyed by this turn of events. Yes, she had previously doubted the orbs, but to have such as strong reaction? He was one twitchy gypsy, she thought.
The odd pair of giant and girl made their way through the underground tunnels, until they reached an obstacle.
John drew close to the door, running his hands over it. It was covered in dust, and had obviously been there for a while. While the dust attested to that, the workmanship of the odd, red metal was bizarre. John could identify no real lever or way to move the door.
Sparrow, meanwhile, stooped over the pedestal. It bore old inscriptions, and without another thought she translated them.
"The one of Hero's blood descended shall come to restore the Guild upended." she read, as the dog moved over to start digging in a corner of the room.
"Bad poetry." John muttered, returning from his inspection of the door. Just as he was about to explain the doors immobility, a small sphere broke off from above the door's arch, moving down to hover before them with an audible hum.
Sparrow and John backed away from it slowly. Sparrow was nervously gripping her sword, John already prepared to fight.
They stood that way for a while, until Sparrow cautiously stepped forward, and poked the sphere with her sword. The sphere bobbed downwards, dropping to the pedestal and sliding into a neat grove. The door at the other end of the hall lit up, its two sections splitting apart and rolling away into the walls.
John and Sparrow looked at each other suspiciously, then headed into the next tunnel. Sparrow held onto her dog's collar with her spare hand to keep him from running off again, while John ran a hand over the walls. The rocky, crudely excavated tunnel was slowly changing shape, morphing into a dusty old corridor.
"What do you thin-" Sparrow started to say, but John interrupted her, putting a finger to his lips. He moved forward, stalking surprisingly silently for someone his size. Sparrow trailed him after a few seconds, her sword in her hand now.
"Safe." John called back, his voice echoing oddly off the walls. Relieved, Sparrow moved up to meet up, finding him in a huge circular chamber.
Sparrow gasped at the sight. Old mosaics littered the walls, chronicling the deeds of old Heroes, while stained glass windows showed the dirt and rock around them, their majesty undimmed. She stepped forward and almost fell, John pulling her back hurriedly. The ground had given out in several spots, and deep holes filled those spots, seemingly without end. Sparrow kicked some rocks over the edge, hearing them clatter as they left.
"One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…" John counted out, listening for the return clack. After twenty Mississippi, he gave up. He sniffed, the earthy aroma of minerals and wet dirt slowly rising up from the crevasse.
Sparrow had already moved on, and had found another pedestal in the center of the room. John strode up the numerous steps, opening his mouth to ask about the pedestal when suddenly a column of white light erupted from it. An incredibly loud keening sound filled the air, like one thousand out of tune violinists playing their highest note.
Sparrow was trapped in the column, revolving slowly. Her eyes shut as though sleeping, she levitated above the shining pedestal. John flew up the last few steps, grabbing Sparrows hand and yanking her-
Three disciplines of Strength, Skill, and Will, togeth-
Sparrow was being gripped tighter by the beam of light. John's arm was now stuck in the beam, unmoving no matter how hard he tugged. He tried again, but the beam pulled him closer, drawing him into it.
Skill, the attribute of ranged combat, where a good eye can change the course of a batt-
Sparrow's eyes suddenly ripped open, and their usual chocolate brown was gone: her eyes now filled with light. Her hair changed colors, going from black to brown to blonde to platinum to red and more. Her skin tone shifted as well. She became as pale as John himself, before darkening to a deep, Arabian tan. She became a Chinook redskin, a bronzed Cuban, a deep pitch black from the depths of Africa. As John tugged, his skin too began to change, slowly altering, before John dug his feet into the stone pedestal, and launching with an almighty effort. The beam's grip on them loosened, before snapping, sending John and Sparrow flying towards the ground.
Time slowed, moving into Spartan Time, as John turned Sparrow around, positioning her on top of him. He tucked his chin to his chest, and braced himself for the impact.
They hit the cut stone and slid, bumping as they descended a stair. John's back ached from the impact, but his head had not whiplashed, and Sparrow looked okay. He set her down to his side, and rolled onto his chest. He wanted to lay there for a bit, but with a colossal force, climbed back to his feet. John staggered over to Sparrow.
Sparrow was on her chest, clutching her stomach, letting out low sobs of pain. The beam had flash heated her clothes, charring ends and almost setting them on fire. With no pause, John removed Sparrow's excess layers, leaving her on the cold stone floor in only her underwear. With luck, she would not be burned, but John was starting to doubt his luck.
While setting aside Sparrows ragged shirt, John paused. Maybe his retina was still seared from the burst of light, but Sparrow's hair looked pure white. Not a mere platinum or any other color you could get with a cheap dye, Sparrows hair had stayed shifted when John tackled her out of the beam. Blinking rapidly to help his retina recover, John stared at Sparrow's hair, but it was not changing back.
John didn't know of any procedure, even in the UNSC, that could instantly and permanently change your hair color that drastically, and he was a little worried. He rolled Sparrow over gently, and stopped dead in his tracks again.
Her skin's pigmentation had also changed, to a darker shade of brown. Moreover, all along her skin ran strange lines, bright blue. They ran along what John at first thought to be her nervous system. They shone similarly to the beam of light, but thankfully were much dimmer.
John's mind was abuzz with questions. What was that beam? Did it somehow change her DNA? How on earth did it do that?
Sparrow groaned groggily as she prized her eyes open. A faded mosaic of mighty Heroes defending the peace of Albion greeted her, the legendary Hero of Oakvale leading the charge against his historic enemy, the mighty dragon.
Sparrow rolled her neck, wincing at the cracks. As she got to her feet, she looked around, but she couldn't hear her dog or John. However, a couple additional torches had been lit and placed around the chamber, brightening up the whole room. As Sparrow looked around, she spied an old desk on the side of the chamber. She rummaged through it quickly, finding a couple copies of the seal of Bower Tomb, as well as an old mirror.
Instinctively, she picked it up, checking that she hadn't been injured.
John burst into the room, sweeping around the rifle he had found while exploring the caves. Sparrow's faithful dog followed him, growling menacingly. John quickly checked the room, but he found no threats. Slinging the rifle away, he moved over to where Sparrow sat, her back to the wall. John crouched down beside her, noting the fresh tears on her cheeks.
"What happened?" he inquired. "Who scared you?"
She was sobbing.
"What's wrong with me?" she demanded, sounding both scared and angry.
"There is nothing wrong with you, little Sparrow."
John leapt up, pulling up his rifle and aiming at an old woman who had appeared in a recess of the wall. She wore a long hood over her face, and voluminous robes. John glimpsed beneath the hood white, milky eyes. Without pausing, he drew a bead on the blind woman's head.
"Stop there or you will be fired upon." he warned, moving away from Sparrow. The old woman cocked her head directly at him, something he found unnerving. How could she see where he was if she was…
With a crack! and a burst of light, the old woman disappeared. John spun, searching for her again. He found her by Sparrow, consoling the girl quietly as she cradled Sparrow's face.
John strode forward, gripping the woman's arm and pulling her away from Sparrow.
"Ma'am, I must warn to-"
John's vision spun, and he smacked down on the floor, several feet away from the woman, his rifle in her hands. He tried to get up, but his head ached, and stumped, he stayed down. After all, that old woman looked pretty deadly as well as-
Shaking his head rapidly, John sprang to his feet, a snarl at his lips.
"Stay out of my mind!" he growled, charging at the woman. Sparrow seemed to respond to this, pushing a hand out at him, a warning, John analyzed subconsciously.
With another whoosh, John couldn't feel the floor anymore. As he struggled, the invisible bonds around him tightened, raising him farther into the air. His arms quavered, then strung themselves away from his torso. His legs quickly followed. Sweat pouring down his face, John resisted as hard as he could, ignoring his aching muscles as he tried to rock his body around to break the devilish grip.
A hand extended as if to hold him, the old woman let a small smile appear on her face.
"Good boy," she mocked John, "Know when to be quiet in the presence of your betters."
John spat on the woman. Letting her smile slip for a moment, she wiped the spittle from her face.
"You ignorant peasant, you will-"
Sparrow latched onto the woman, tugging her arms down. The woman turned to Sparrow, her features softening, but Sparrow kept tugging until the woman relented, dropping John mercilessly to the ground with a thump.
"Don't do that to him." Sparrow ordered the bemused woman. "He's a good man."
"Little Sparrow, he could be one of Lucien's agents." the woman cooed, "He came out of nowhere and has given no explanation for his presence here."
Sparrow shook her head violently.
"He's a good man." she insisted.
Sighing, the woman stepped aside. Sparrow crawled over to where Spartan lay.
"You alright?" she asked, her eyes betraying her concern. She looked almost comical, with her new features and her height.
The stranger grunted an affirmative, slowly moving into a sitting position. He gave the old lady a hard stare from floor.
"Who is she?" he asked. Sparrow glanced over at the woman, now doing something to the pedestal in the center of the chamber.
"She's Theresa." Sparrow answered, absentmindedly moving a strand of hair away from her face. "She took me in after Lucien tried to kill me. She's the closest thing I have to a mother."
John mulled this over in his head. He had just attacked her mother figure? Well, another part of him thought critically, she had deserved it.
"Why did she attack me?" he asked.
"You threatened her!" Sparrow protested, rising to defend Theresa.
"Not unduly." John responded, continuing. "All she needed to do was identify herself before me and I would have let her pass. I will not let an unidentified person near an injured comrade."
"But you can trust her!" Sparrow replied, her anger rising.
"But at the time, that was not clear." John replied calmly, his tone cool.
Theresa watched this exchange from the side, looking up from the now-reactivated Cullis Gate. Sparrow marched away from John with a huff of irritation, coming before Theresa.
"What is this place?" she asked Theresa, trying to ignore the smell of brimstone from the cracks.
Theresa gestured around her, to the majestic mosaics and the delicate stained glass.
"Is it not obvious?" she inquired, amused. "This is the Chamber of Fate, once residing in the home of Heroes. This, dear Sparrow, is the Guild."
Sparrow's mouth dropped in amazement as she began to recognize the seal inlaid in the pedestal, and on the door of Bower Tomb. The long-destroyed Guild of Heroes had once been in charge of protecting and sheltering the people of Albion. The Guild had, however, become corrupt after the abuse of the Powers of Will went to the 'Heroes' heads.
In a historic moment, the townspeople of Bowerstone took up arms, and with the newly invented blunderbuss and rifle slaughtered the Heroes. The Mayor of the Bowerstone at the time expanded his guard cadre, extending coverage to the roads. He paid men to build bridges and better highways, and convinced the other town Mayors to do similar reforms in their lands. In the long run, traders began to move with more confidence, and the guards replaced the Heroes quickly and effectively.
In the time since, the ruined Guild Hall had decayed, and people quickly forgot about the Heroes, not noticing as the Hall sunk into the soft ground created by the old river from the Guild's forest. Soon, the river stopped up, and Bower Lake began to take shape, completely covering the old Guild. The only aspect of the Guild that was visible from the surface was the Tower of Maze, an old relic that miraculously stayed steady as the rest of the Guild was covered in dirt and rock.
None of this, however, was known to John, who by now was standing behind Sparrow, keeping a wary eye on the old crone to her side.
"What was that pedestal?" John questioned. Theresa glanced at the giant, regarding him as she would a child.
"The pedestal was an anchor to the Guild's store of Will Energy. In case of emergency, the Guild would open the seal, allowing a sufficiently powerful Will User to overpower a spell or shape any new form of Will with ease." Theresa explained. Sparrow, who had been fingering the seal curiously, now withdrew her hand hastily.
"Then what was that beam of light?" John queried. Theresa glared at him with sightless eyes, irritated with his many questions.
"You couldn't poss-"
"Tell us." Sparrow interrupted. John quirked an eyebrow as he looked at Sparrow, who was staring at Theresa with a somber look.
Theresa sighed. She hadn't had to answer this many questions since Sparrow had been a little kid asking about Strength and Skill and Will and all the marvelous ways of fighting.
"The pedestal must've sensed your latent Will power in your blood and reacted. It would have blasted through your blood, seeking out and activated these powers. Unfortunately, it seems that this simpleton pushed you out of the beam before it finished its work, doing this." Theresa shifted through the desk's drawers as she talked, eventually surfacing with an old chart. On it were displayed colorful images, showing men casting lightning from their fingertips, summoning whirling gales at will, and immolating creatures with a snap of the fingers.
"You are now capable of feats beyond any other mortal man. The bloodline of the Archons is slowly dying out, little Sparrow, but you are of that blood."