Halo: Vanguard

Book 3

Legacies

"For a hero to rise, a city must fall."


Chapter One: A Song of Winter

VANGUARD

September 7, 2563 (Estimated Military Time) \ En Route to UNSC Fortress City Eden. Troy Province, Spira.

The storms of winter had come. Small orbs of ice were falling through the bitter air, covering the vast landscape in waves of sleet and brightened snow. Luscious fields of wheat and grass were dipped in seas of white fluff; their icy tips poking up from the white. Cold winds caused the hail of snow to swirl and twist through the gray sky, and fierce clouds stretched for hundreds of miles over the white world: behemoths clouding a burning god. The sun was lost within the stormy skies of Spira; its gentle light protruding through the army of gray with weakened vigor. The world below was dim and darkened, and the howl of the wind sent a fearful message sweeping across the land:

Winter had come.

Armies of white orbs rampaged into the pelican and twisted around like savages, forming small tornadoes and hurricanes as they swept through the cargo bay. The howling winds were close behind, screaming into my ears and covering my face with droplets of water and snow.

I wrapped the heavy fur cloak around my shoulders and tucked my arms into my sides, lowering my head and letting out a burst of vaporous air. I closed my eyes and struggled to keep warm; feeling the hairs on my neck and arms standing on end as my body began to shake from the bitter cold.

I found myself longing for the warmth of my armor; disregarding the thought almost instantly.

A few days after the Battle of the Crevice, my MJOLNIR Mark VI armor had completely shut down and died, finally succumbing to the years of damage and scars it had endured. Technicians reported that repairing the armor was impossible, and that it would take billions to replace the plating and electronics within it. I had unwillingly handed my broken armor and helmet to the techies, sorrow building in my gut as I realized that they would be scrapped.

It was for the best. Shortly after the Battle of the Crevice I had been ordered to see a doctor, regarding my wounds and injuries. The doctor was kind enough to inform me that I was dying, and not from my recent injuries. Apparently, the Nanomachines inside of my body had drained most of the energy from my muscles and organs; a dire consequence brought on by my abuse of the MVES system built into my armor. The doctor had said that my body was working overtime just to keep me up and running, and that I would begin to grow tired and weak within the coming months. I had asked him how much time I had left, and he had hesitated before answering:

Six months.

That was a shock to me. My life now had a harsh deadline, and I was prepared to spend my final days in the midst of battle; with my arms wrapped around Odin's neck.

A fierce gust of snowy wind rushed into the cargo bay and covered my cloak in white fuzz, forcing me to tighten the cloak even more and breathe in the icy air. I could feel my lungs grow cold as I swallowed in the bitter air, and exit my mouth and nose as clouds of gray air.

I hadn't seen Deseron or my teammates since our departure from the crevice, and I was more than eager to reunite with them again. No one knew where Zeke had been taken or if he was still alive; he had seemed to disappear from the world itself along with the ONI agents that I had given him to. I was holding on to the hope of seeing him again in this world, and not the next.

"Uh, I can close the cargo door if you're getting cold, sir." Came the muffled voice of the pilot as he spoke through the pelican's speakers, his voice barely rising over the roar of the howling world.

"It's fine." I replied, raising my head and looking out at the white canvas outside. "I like the cold."

"Y-yes sir. We're entering Eden Airspace, sir; ETA five minutes." The pilot reported before growing silent.

I nodded to myself and let out another stream of vapor, my hopes rising as we neared our destination.

My friends and teammates were waiting down below; preparing for one of the largest battles in UNSC history.

It had been over a month since our battle against the Covenant in the massive canyons of the Storm-Crest Province, and Spira had drifted into a tense, ominous peace. There had been no skirmishes or direct encounters with the Covenant since their retreat from the canyons, and both sides had went their separate ways: UNSC forces rallying in Eden, while the Covenant fleet sat in wait within the Cera Province. The weeks that followed were filled with nervous silence and anxiety as the UNSC began to prepare for the large-scale Covenant attack on Eden that they knew would inevitably come. Fleet Admiral Hawke, now residing in Washington DC back on Earth, had immediately ordered additional reinforcements to head for Spira, and three thousand soldiers had arrived on the planet in the following hours.

Over ten thousand marines and soldiers now occupied Eden, with at least seven thousand more expected to reach the city within the coming weeks. Over a dozen Companies and Divisions were spread across the massive city, with seven Frigates and three Destroyers patrolling the airspace. Mercenaries and elite soldiers from across the Human Colonies had traveled across the galaxy to participate in the War For Spira; all of them more than eager to fight in the biggest and bloodiest war of the decade. The streets of Eden were filled with ignorant and anxious soldiers waiting for the fires of battle, and to quench their undying thirsts with the blood of their enemies.

There was more than enough blood to sate them all.

A few weeks ago, UNSC soldiers on patrol in the Cera Province had reported witnessing the dawn sky being cluttered by shadowed silhouettes as over fifty Covenant Frigates shot out of slipspace and entered the planet's atmosphere, with at least five cruisers close behind. The soldiers swore to seeing over fifty thousand Covenant soldiers standing in formation across the province, their glimmering purple reflecting the morning dawn and setting the plains ablaze with light.

It became gravely clear that we weren't the only ones receiving reinforcements.

The strange artifact Odin had uncovered in the crater had marked Eden as an area-of-interest, which meant that the Covenant Warlord would try his hardest to burn the city to the ground and uncover its secrets.

We had to be ready.

We had to be willing to fight; to die.

Eden was our last stand.

The pelican banked left and sent a forceful rush of wind into the cargo bay, causing the icy breeze to bite at my face. The snowy hills and sloped seemed to slide along below us, giving me a fierce surge of vertigo. The pelican swirled around and began to stabilize, causing the vastness of Eden to pan into view down below.

The fortress-city was enormous: three miles of pure, titanium-A encased the entire city in a massive wall; standing fifty feet into the air and wrapping around Eden in a massive half-circle. Steel buildings and skyscrapers formed the bulk of the city, creating perfect rows and formations along the paved roads. The UNSC Command Center stood at the far end of the city: a large, steel facility surrounded by concrete walls and watchtowers.

The massive, military city of Eden was separated into three districts; East District, West District, and North District. Each district rested behind one of the three main gates into the isolated city, with each gate being named after their respected districts. Three large, concrete roads led through each of the gates and into the Silent Plains beyond, stretching for miles and connecting Eden with the other cities in the Troy province.

The north road twisted for over seventy miles through the silent plains, eventually connecting Eden with the trade city of Roark.

The west road followed the Talos mountain and snaked itself between the chains of mountains to the far west, coming out the other side and reaching the snowy city of Arid.

The Talos River snaked across the plains near the east gate, spanning half a mile in length. Its deep blue water had solidified into a floor of pale ice, with slithering cracks stretching across its white surface. The Iron Bridge rose over the river: an enormous structure formed of thick, iron pillars and intersecting beams. The concrete road raced across the bridge and over the river, stretching on for fifty miles before breaking into the forests of the Storm-Crest province.

The fabled Talos Mountain rose over a thousand feet into the air behind the city, with its snowy, icy cliffs forming a solid backbone for the capital city. A long, narrow pass crafted behind a stone wall stretched across the mountains cliff-face, forming the infamous "Blood Pass."

The entire city was covered in fresh snow, and the bitter cold caused sheets of ice to cover the wall and icicles to form under the building windows. The chilling breeze was ominous and silent; the hail of constant snow racing around the city alongside the fierce wind.

I cursed as a sudden jolt shook the aircraft, causing droplets of water to fall from the ceiling and explode unto my face and shoulders. The pelican soared over the massive wall surrounding the city and into the jungle of snowy buildings beyond. I looked down to watch the squads of soldiers move through the streets below, their hoods over their heads and fur cloaks wrapped around their bodies. Warthogs and tank moved through the snow as well, their tires and treads leaving trails behind them that revealed the wet pavement below. Within seconds the road was covered in a white sheet again.

The pilot flew the pelican over a large aircraft hangar located in the center of East District, easing up on the controls and allowing the ship to slowly descend onto the circular landing pad below us. Technicians on the ground waved flashing lights at the pilot as he landed, trying to keep the pelican from accidentally colliding with the other aircraft on the airfield.

Another jolt surged through the ship as we touched down, and I quickly unstrapped and stood; holding the cloak across my chest to keep it from blowing away in the bitter breeze.

"Good morning! Welcome to Eden, Spartan!" a Colonel shouted to me as I stepped out of the pelican. The Colonel's face was shrouded in a wool hood and goggles, and a black scarf was tied across his face.

I gave him a nod, throwing my own hood over my head. Within seconds my hood was covered in snow and water; the howling wind continuing to rip at my cloak.

Damn it was cold.

"I've been ordered to escort you to the command center! Admiral Briggs wants to meet with you as soon as possible!" the Colonel shouted above the howl of the wind.

I gave him another nod and followed behind him, gritting my teeth as my feet fought against the bitter wind.

The Colonel jumped into a parked warthog and grabbed onto the wheel, waving for me to get into the passenger seat. I did, and within seconds we were driving through the wide street, blending in perfectly with the squads and vehicles that moved around us.

The warthog shook constantly as it followed the white roads, snow morphing into water as it fell on the hood and frame. I watched the people around us in cold silence, my eyes darting from side to side as I scouted for familiar faces. I found none.

We crossed an intersection packed with warthogs and Scorpions and hurried through, the purr of the engine drowning out the shouts and conversations of the marines around us.

We passed a group of marines standing around an intersection, smiles on their faces as they told a news reporter about their experiences in the war. They waved and shouted at the small camera sphere as it buzzed around the reporter, who nodded and grinned as he held a microphone towards the soldiers.

We continued on.

We made our way towards the far end of the fortress-city, where a wall of thick concrete stood before the Command Center.

The Colonel led the warthog through the barred gate and into the courtyard beyond. The blackened trunks of trees stood in rows on both sides of the paved road, their twisted and gnarled limbs naked and stretching into the air. The chilled breeze covered their arms with waves of snow, and a white blanket of frost covered the meadow of roses and daisies. A stolen statue of a Spartan stood in the center of the courtyard amidst a giant fountain; a granite super soldier with his hand stretched out to touch the burning sun. Marines patrolled the courtyard constantly, their faces hidden behind scarves and helmets and MA5B rifles in their hands.

The Colonel stopped the warthog when we reached the large pavilion that rose into a large granite staircase; the large steps leading up towards the Command Center. The enormous facility cast a dark shadow upon the entire courtyard, flooding the dead trees and the white land with ominous blackness.

"This is it. The Brigadier General will take you the rest of the way. Farewell, Spartan." The Colonel said as he turned to me, giving me a slight nod.

I returned the gesture and climbed out of the warthog, my boots stomping onto the granite with a wet thud. I gave the Colonel a wave as he turned the vehicle and drove away, back towards the barred gate.

I wrapped the fur cloak tightly around my chest and turned, heading up the large steps and towards the Command Center. The stairs were big and polished, their surface melting the white snow as it attempted to settle atop it.

I reached the top of the stairs shivering and sneezing, lifting my head to see an old friend beaming down at me.

"It's about damn time! I've been waiting here for ten minutes!" spoke Brigadier General James Deseron as he watched me walk forward, a wide smile on his face.

Deseron wore a set of black battle armor, with a heavy fur cloak wrapped around his torso and arms. A small, brown beard had grown around his mouth and chin, and his short hair was wet with snow and frost.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, my friend." I told him as I shook his hand, smiling.

"Don't apologize to me; Briggs is the one you need to worry about. She's been expecting you all morning, and she's not the patient type." Deseron warned, his smile unfaltering.

Shit.

"Come on, everyone's waiting inside." Deseron said as he ushered me forward. "No need to keep them waiting any longer."


I stepped into the War Room hastily; droplets of water streaming down my cloak and hair and splashing onto the metal floor.

The room was small: a steel, oval table sat at the center of the dim room; with dozens of papers and maps scattered across its surface. Medals, awards, and monitors adorned the walls, and a large window was placed at the far end of the room; with the white wastes displayed beyond it.

Three people stood around the table, their heads turned towards me. General "Armstrong" Rogers stood at the far left, his stern eyes staring into mine fiercely. He was garbed in the gray suit of a General, with glimmering medals and awards emblazoned on his chest.

A woman with long, golden hair stood with pride at the head of the table, her striking blue eyes peering at me. She was beyond beautiful, with locks of blonde hair and an amazing body. She wore a cloak of white fur over a set of battle armor, and a ceremonial sword was sheathed at her side.

The last person standing around the table was an old man in a crisp, blue suit; his white hair covered by a matching hat. He was skinny and pale, with wrinkled leathery skin and glassy eyes. He held a black cane in his right hand, and a Medal of Honor was displayed on his chest.

"You are late, Spartan leader." Spoke the old man, his head shaking slightly as he glared at me with sunken eyes.

"My apologies, Admiral Briggs." I told him, giving a swift nod.

"I," spoke up the woman, her eyes filled with fiery irritation, "am Admiral Briggs."

Shit.

"Again, my apologies." I managed to say as Deseron and I walked to the table, placing our hands on the cold surface.

Admiral Briggs glared at me for a long moment, her burning eyes sending plumes of unease through me. Finally she lowered her eyes and examined the map before her, putting her focus back to the task at hand.

"Now that we're all here, we can begin." Briggs stated as she glanced at the five commanding officers around her. "General Cutter: would you be so kind as to inform us of the situation."

The old General gave her a nod, his weary face and sunken eyes displaying his old age. "Of course."

My eyes widened as I realized who he truly was; how could I have been so naïve?

General James Cutter was one of the most renowned soldiers to ever participate in the Human-Covenant War, and also the Commanding Officer of the infamous UNSC colony ship Spirit of Fire. He was involved in the fable Harvest Campaign, and had even helped in the battle for Arcadia. His ship and its crew had survived to fight through the fiercest battles of the war. Supposedly, Cutter had uncovered an unknown Forerunner Shield World during his travels, and had even stopped an Elite Arbiter from gaining the knowledge within. Long story short, the tale ended with the Spirit of Fire drifting through unknown space, with no working slipspace drive and its crew locked in cryo sleep.

Back in 2557, a group of rebel pirates had discovered the Spirit of Fire somewhere along the edge of the Milky Way, and had the bright idea of looting the silent ship for anything valuable. The ship's AI had awakened its crew and they sprang into action; killing the pirates and using their ships to jump back to earth. Three days later Cutter had walked straight into Lord Hood's office, bringing with him tales of war, Forerunners, and Flood. He and his crew were awarded with the Medal of Honor, and he had been granted a retirement fit for a king.

Even Hood was shocked when Cutter traded in his retirement for a promotion to General, stating that he'd rather continue serving his land and his nation than sitting in an empty mansion with rats as company.

Cutter looked around the room, his sunken eyes surveying us. "A storm is coming. It is a storm of ships and soldiers; all under the tyrannical grip of a gold Sangheili warlord."

Odin.

"We believe his goal is to lay siege to Eden, and uncover the Forerunner artifact that is supposedly hidden underneath the city. He will attack with all his might and crush everything in his sight. His army is vast and powerful; almost three times larger than our own. If we are not prepared to fight till the very end, then this storm will reduce this entire city and everyone inside it to ashes." Cutter explained, his face grim.

"We do not know if the artifact under our feet exists or what its function may be if it does, but we fear it may have something to do with the Halo Installation that hangs near the planet. If that is the case, then we may be facing yet another threat to humanity and all sentient life in the Milky Way." Admiral Briggs added, her eyes upon us.

"We've done our best to prepare for the coming fire, but there's only so much we can do and time is running short. All available companies and battalions throughout Spira have been ordered to head for the city, and additional reinforcements are on their way from the Outer Colonies. Odin's armada is slowly making its way through the Troy province and towards the city, and we believe that he will reach our gates within the week." Cutter continued.

"Odin faces resistance in the city of Roark, which is over a hundred miles away from Eden and directly in his path. Roark will take a few days for him to siege and sack, which should give us enough time to hunker down and prepare for his arrival at Eden." Briggs interrupted, placing her finger on the black dot on the map below her.

"We believe Odin will put his trust in attacking Eden head on, with his forces charging forward in powerful waves of brute strength and power. The Talos Mountain prevents him from flanking the city, which will help further his motivation to attack from the front. If our theories are correct and he chooses to use this battle strategy, then we may have a chance to survive his campaign." Cutter explained.

"Odin may have a large attack force and strength, but we have the advantage of terrain and defense. Ultimately; since Odin is attacking and we are defending, it automatically gives us a major advantage. His army will make careless mistakes and blunders as they attempt to push into the city, while we will remain strong and organized behind the great walls." Briggs added, a grin appearing on her face.

"Even with the advantage of cover; we're stilled screwed. Judging by the amount of soldiers Odin has under his command as of now, we could be defending the city for months. There's no way we could fight for that long without succumbing to his strength and losing the city." Armstrong said as he gazed at the map, his hand scratching his chin.

"It's possible." Briggs protested, moving her hand to point at a solid black line that stretched across the Talos River on the map. "We'll constantly be receiving supplies, ammunitions, and reinforcements from cities within the Storm-Crest province; as long as we keep the Iron Bridge standing. Also, supplies will be coming in from the west road as well; from the distant city of Arid. As long as we keep those two roads protected and safe, than we should be able to hold out. They're our lifelines." Briggs replied.

Armstrong gave her a timid nod, contemplating her words.

"There is, however, another problem." General Cutter said, turning to Briggs. "Admiral Hawke has ordered all air support to be redirected from the city and back into orbit; to assist in keeping the Covenant ships from gaining control of the surrounding airspace. If the Covenant were to gain control of the skies, then he would be able to successfully isolate the entire planet from incoming UNSC supplies and reinforcements arriving from the outer colonies."

"So not only are we dealing with fifty thousand Covenant soldiers knocking at our front door, but we have to fend them off without any kind of air support?!" Armstrong gasped in disgust.

"I'm afraid so."

"That's bloody impossible! There's no way in hell we could hope to survive without air cavalry!" Armstrong snorted, crossing his arms.

"It doesn't matter if it's possible or not, Robert. It's our duty to protect this city, and I would rather die fighting than watch it turn into burning ruins. If you'd rather abandon your duty and run like a coward back to Earth, then by all means, Robert; go." Briggs told him, calmly.

For a split second the two commanders glared at each other, their stares seeming to heat the entire room in fierce ferocity.

With a sigh Armstrong backed down, shaking his head.

"Now." Cutter continued, disregarding Armstrong's quiet mumbling. "Our defensive strategy begins with securing the three main gates and making sure that they stay under our control. We'll need to assign a General to command each district and their corresponding gates; along with the companies assigned to defend each section of the city." Cutter explained.

Briggs lifted her head to peer at Deseron, "Brigadier General Deseron: you will be placed in charge of maintaining control of the east gate and district. Nova Delta will be assigned to defend your district, along with Nova Hotel."

Deseron gave a nod.

Briggs turned to me, sending a surge of unease through my spine. "Spartan IV Vanguard-032: you will be promoted to Brigadier General, and placed in charge of the north gate and district. You will be in command of the 109th Expeditionary and Nova Charlie. General Armstrong will serve as your second-in-command."

My eyes widened in complete shock.

Brigadier General?! That was a pretty big promotion.

"Uh, y-yes sir! T-thank you, sir!" I managed to say, giving the Admiral a salute.

Armstrong snorted in disgust; no doubt angered at the thought of being ordered around by a Spartan.

Briggs sighed and stood, her mane of golden hair resting upon the white fur on her shoulders. We stood straight as well, our eyes upon the revered Admiral.

"The fate of Eden rests on our shoulders. The continuation of human history depends on what the five of us do in the coming days. It's up to us to defend this city; and humanity as well." She sighed, her blue eyes gazing back at us. "That's a pretty huge burden, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm afraid. I don't know the future. I don't know if we were destined to succeed or fail. But I know that we have to try."

We all gave her a nod in agreement.

"You're dismissed for now. Go; rest, relax. Prepare for the coming fire. I'll call you when I need you. I'll call you, when Eden needs you." Briggs concluded as she gave us a salute.

We returned the gesture, before turning to leave the Admiral to her thoughts.

Deseron turned and made for the door, stopping beside me and putting a hand on my shoulder. "It's great to see you again, Van. Stop by the Rusty Maiden later; I'll treat you to a drink or two."

I gave him a nod, watching as he turned and left the room.

I was the last to leave the room, glancing back at the Admiral as she stared at the map before her.

I turned back around to find Armstrong standing in front of me, his stern eyes glaring at me.

"There's a storm coming, Spartan." He said with an intimidating voice. "And I don't think you're ready for it."


I found Gizmo and Hercules sitting atop the north wall.

The two Spartans were gazing out at the sea of green plains beyond the wall; their golden visors shining in the sun's light.

"I thought I'd find you here." I grinned as I walked towards them, my hands gripping my fur cloak tightly. The howling wind struck fierce and hard, pelting my face with snow and water and sending chills through my body.

Hercules was the first to look back at me, his red armor covered in snow and water.

He chuckled behind his helm and jumped down from the ledge, moving forward and rustling his armored hand through my hair.

"Agh! Stop it!" I protested as he laughed.

"It's about time you got here; we've been waiting for hours!" he said, removing his hand from my head.

"Van! Bloody hell, I almost didn't recognize you without your armor!" Gizmo shouted in joy as he jumped down to greet me, his green armor glittering in the sunlight.

"Of course I am." I told him, grinning. "How have you guys been?"

"Miserable." Hercules groaned.

"Miserable?" I asked him, confused.

"The war here has received a lot of public attention. Now that everyone's gathered here in Eden, the press has swarmed in as well; like moths to a bright light." Gizmo sighed.

"And it's not every day that the press gets to interview actual Spartan super soldiers…" Hercules explained.

I was beginning to see the problem.

"They've been trying to 'interview' us for days. We've been trying our best to hide and avoid being seen, but they're bloody persistent." Hercules exclaimed.

"This is basically the only place we can go to escape the cameras and news reporters." Gizmo concluded, glancing around the massive wall.

"Oh. Well I'd hate to see you killed by the press instead of Covies." I told them jokingly.

"Yeah, us too." Hercules replied.

"Deseron says hi, by the way."

"He's still around?! Damn, that's one tough son of a bitch!" Hercules exclaimed in surprise.

Deseron had been fighting ever since the beginning of the war, and I've personally witnessed him getting severely injured.

"Yeah. And I've been promoted to Brigadier General. We've been put in charge of defending the north gate."

"Brigadier General? Damn." Hercules said as he turned to sit on the ledge again; overlooking the vast landscape beyond.

I did the same, allowing my feet to dangle above the towering wall as I sat beside the red armored Spartan. The fierce breeze was especially strong up here, and my body was constantly being hit by snow and slush.

"Any news about Zeke?" Gizmo asked as he sat beside me, his voice grim.

Zeke had been missing since the Battle of the Crevice; when I had handed his mangled body over to an ONI Agent. We had heard no news regarding him, his condition, or his whereabouts. He was MIA, and I was beginning to fear that I would never see him again.

"No." I told him.


"Lord Hood is coming to Spira."

"W-what?!" I stammered in shock, staring back at Deseron as he chuckled and took a drink from the glass of scotch in front of him.

The Rusty Maiden was filled with marines, mercenaries, and drunks; their voices loud and their drunken laughter even louder. Glasses filled with beer, vodka, scotch, whisky, and ale were placed in abundance on every table, with empty and broken glasses cluttering the floor and the bar counter. The barkeep shouted orders to the waiters as they rushed through the bar, carrying pitchers of booze to the drunken men around.

"It's true. Briggs received word of it a few hours ago." Deseron reassured, leaning back in his chair.

"What the fuck is wrong with him?! We're almost on the brink of total war and he chooses NOW to pay a visit to the city where shit is gonna go down?!" I shook my head, trying to clear my grogginess. The vodka was starting to affect me.

"I must admit: it's one of the stupidest things he could ever do. He's going to address the soldiers tomorrow, and they plan on having a huge feast and celebration to honor his arrival in the city." Deseron continued, smiling.

"What the fuck! A feast?! A celebration?! On the eve of battle?! What the fuck is wrong with everyone?!" I exclaimed, taking another gulp of vodka.

"Briggs had the same reaction." Deseron replied.

"And what happens when Odin arrives during Hood's little speech and drops a plasma mortar straight into his ass?!" I asked rhetorically.

Deseron laughed. "Admiral Hawke is coming as well, and their bringing an entire battalion along with them."

"Well at least they're bringing us a present." I mumbled.

"Yeah. Speaking of presents: when are you gonna get a new set of shiny, sparkling white armor?" Deseron asked as he drank again.

"I don't know; I was hoping that Briggs would provide me with another set…what the hell does armor have to do with presents?!" I asked him in disbelief.

"I don't know, man; I'm drunk! Ha ha ha!" Deseron laughed loudly, taking another gulp of ale.

I grinned. Dumbass.

A fight had broken out across the bar, and I turned to watch as a drunk marine smashed a bottle of whiskey into the face of another. The bar erupted in shouts and woots as the two marines brawled across the table and the floor, trading punches and kicks and spilling beer and blood on the floor.

"This is what happens when you give soldiers too much free time…" I sighed, shaking my head.

"Aye! We're here to fight the Covies, not each other!" Deseron shouted towards the marines, downing another gulp of ale.

The fat barkeep grabbed a shotgun from under the counter and fired it into the ceiling, creating a loud boom that echoed throughout the room. Everyone stopped moving, their eyes wide as they turned towards the barkeep.

The two drunken marines let go of each other and stood, blood covering their armor and faces.

Within seconds the bar was back to the way it had been before, as if the brawl had never happened.

Deseron chuckled, turning back to our table and lifting his bottle to his mouth. He stopped before taking a drink, his eyes widened in shock as he peered behind me.

"It's Vanguard, right?" said an unknown soldier behind me.

"Yeah, who's asking?" I answered, not bothering to turn around.

There was a pause, and then the soldier spoke again.

"You were in a city called Haven a little over a month ago. Do you remember?" he said, moving from behind me and to my side.

He was clearly an elite mercenary; with blood red armor, a grizzled black beard, menacing eyes glassy from alcohol, and a muscular figure. A golden sun was painted onto his chest plate, and a M6D magnum was held at his side.

Two other mercenaries dressed in similar armor were standing at his flanks, their hands gripping their magnums as they glared at me coldly.

Oh no…

I turned to the lead merc, leaning back in my chair. "Yeah, I remember. What of it?"

The mercenary stared at me with fiery eyes and raised his hand, placing the barrel of the magnum directly between my eyes.

"You killed a mercenary back in Haven. Do you remember his name?" the merc asked with a growl.

Aw fuck.

"I do. His name was Rohan. Not a day goes by that I don't regret ending his life." I told the merc truthfully. Rohan's death had been a complete accident; I had lost control of myself and let power take control of me.

The mercenary laughed hysterically, spit flinging from his lips. "That's fucking hilarious! I never knew Spartans could feel regret!"

His two comrades shared in his laughter, their weapons still pointed at my skull.

The merc lowered his head to glare at me again, his finger twitching around the magnum's trigger. "Rohan was my little brother. He was my flesh and blood, and we have one golden rule where I come from: we don't let the souls of our family rest unavenged-"

With lightning speed I jabbed my right hand forward, grabbing the barrel of the magnum and pushing it backwards with tremendous force. The barrel made a clicking sound and detached from the frame of the magnum, sliding off of the firearm and falling to the floor.

I immediately lifted out of my chair and thrust my right hand into the merc's neck, pushing his windpipe back into his throat and causing him to gag in pain. The merc fell to one knee and grabbed his neck with his hands, his eyes wide with pain and fear as he struggled to breath. A swift kick to the chest sent him sprawling across the floor, arms flailing as he knocked over a nearby table.

The two remaining mercenaries finally realized what was happening and opened fire, their pistols barking loudly as fire flashed from the barrels.

I ducked and rolled to the left, hearing the scream of bullets as they flew by me and struck the floor. I reached up and grabbed the bottom of our table, grunting as I tipped it over and caused it to strike the floor on its side; forming a circular wall of cover between the mercenary's bullets and my armorless body.

Deseron sprang into action, shouting curses as he lunged at one of the mercenaries, a half empty bottle of ale gripped in his hand. He brought the bottle down hard on the merc's head, causing it explode on impact and separate into a cloud of glass and booze.

The merc grunted in surprise as his head swayed back and forth, his eyes rolling into the back of his head as ale dripped down his scarred face. He fell to the floor in a heap; unconscious.

By the time the second merc fell to the floor the entire bar was ablaze in energy and action as the drunks cheered on the fight and started ones of their own; transforming the small bar into an all out brawl. Fists and bottles flew everywhere as drunken marines and mercs joined the frays around them, aiding their drunken comrades and beating the bloody shit out of their opponents. The barkeep cursed and shouted in defiance as he witnessed the fighting in the bar, but was quickly quieted by a bottle of whiskey that was thrown at his head.

The third mercenary tried to jump over the overturned table and shoot me in the face, but instead let out a cry of surprise when three drunken marines jumped onto his back and pulled him to the ground. The marines laughed and taunted as they launched fists and kicks into the mercs body, their eyes wild with drunken flair.

I turned towards Deseron, my eyes widening as I watched him punch a drunk marine in the face. The marine fell instantly, his bottle of scotch rolling towards Deseron's feet.

"T-thank ya fer der refill, m-mate!" burped Deseron drunkenly as he picked up the bottle and began to lift it to his lips. Milliseconds later he was being tackled by another drunken soldier, his eyes wide as he watched his bottle of scotch fall and shatter against the dirty floor.

I stood and began to run towards him, cursing inwardly as I watched him brawl with the drunk.

"Get off him, ya drunken git!" I growled at the drunk as I grabbed him by the chest plate and threw him into the air; his body crashing into a table filled with empty bottles and food.

I turned to help Deseron to his feet, realizing that the Brigadier General was already on his feet and trying to wrestle a bottle of red wine from a waiter.

I cursed and went after my friend, ducking under projectiles and shoving drunken buffoons out of my way.

I reached the Brigadier General and pulled him away from the frightened waiter.

"Hey! Damnit Van, get off of me!" he shouted as he struggled under my grasp.

"Uh, I'm sorry; he's had way too much to drink." I confessed to the frightened waiter, giving her a nervous smile.

She squealed and ran away, taking cover behind the counter.

BOOM!

The fighting stopped immediately. No one moved. All eyes were turned towards the door; where the rifle shot had come from.

General Armstrong stood in the doorway, his MA5B held in his left hand; the barrel pointing towards the roof and a trail of smoke rising from its depths. Six UNSC marines stood behind him, their rifles raised.

"Lieutenant General!" most of the drunken marines shouted in fearful unison, their bodies snapping into awkward salutes. They all stood and faced the General, their eyes wide with absolute terror.

Armstrong looked throughout the room, his menacing eyes unwavering and intense.

"This is beyond unacceptable behavior for marines." He said to the soldiers, a deep frown on his face. "You have all brought great shame to your names and to your army."

He began to walk through the room, making sure to glare into the eyes of any soldiers that were too brave or drunk to avoid his gaze. "We are days away from the fight of our lives, and this is how you spend your time? Is this how you prepare for the battle of your lives?! Shameful."

The room was deathly quiet.

"I want every last one of you stripped naked and standing outside the city gates in two minutes! You're running ten miles across the silent plains with nothing but your own filth and shame to keep you warm." Armstrong commanded, his voice growing louder with each word.

No one moved.

"GET MOVING!" he shouted in a voice so loud and threatening that it sent chills down my spine.

In an instant soldiers were running past me and fleeing from the bar, their armor and clothing falling to the floor as they stripped nude.

Armstrong turned towards Deseron and me, as if noticing us for the first time. He glared down at us for a few moments, his face emotionless.

I sighed and led Deseron towards the door, lowering my head as I passed by the Lieutenant General.

"It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that you would stoop so low, Spartan." Armstrong stated coldly as I passed him.

I disregarded the General, helping a dazed and groaning Deseron along as we walked towards the door.

"Don't listen to him, Jack. He's full of bullshit." Spoke a familiar voice to my left.

I turned, spotting a lone soldier as he sat at a table near the door, a bottle of rum held loosely in his left hand.

The soldier was wearing a polished suit of gray Mark VI MJOLNIR Armor, his helmet tucked under his left shoulder. He had a young face, with tan skin and short, blonde hair. He had a grin on his familiar face as he drank the rum, and his green eyes were gazing down at me. A long, red scar twisted over his left eye.

"What the fuck…" I muttered as I stared at the lone Spartan, my eyes wide with shock and disbelief.

"But they're all full of bullshit, aren't they. Commanders, Leaders, Warlords, Officers. Fucking humans. They're all full of bullshit." The gray-armored Spartan said as he grinned, leaning back in his chair.

I continued to stare at him, unable to comprehend what I was seeing.

There was no way.

There was no fucking way.

"They don't understand us, Jack. They never will." Tiger told me as he grinned, his green eyes filled with pride and arrogance. "We live in two different worlds."