Chapter 24: The Dam Breaks

Garrus fired off another shot from his rifle, taking off the head of one of the Elites. The tides had turned rather rapidly against the Covenant Officers. Once they realised help wasn't coming, they tried looking for an escape. His team had managed to corner them with the help of some Marines near the edge of the butte. Now the Covies had nowhere to run and they knew it. Garrus didn't expect them to give up of course and the Elites were so far doing well to live up to that expectation.

"Keep up the fire on them people," he shouted aloud as plasma bolts flew by him. "They have nowhere to go! No need for anything fancy here, just let them waste their batteries!"

Kasumi's face smirked at the order.

"Aww, fancy is all I know," she said, feigning disappointment.

The hooded thief then tossed a flashbang at the Elites, blinding two of them long enough for Garrus to get a bead on them. He fired two different shots, center mass, cutting into the Covies while Kasumi shot off some rounds from her pistol. She managed to hit one of the Elites' heads, killing him instantly. The other got tagged by an incineration blast from Mordin, setting him alight. The salarian just barely managed to duck back behind his crate as needle rounds slammed into it.

"Resistance growing despite enemy losses," Mordin called out to Garrus as plasma bolts flew over his crate. "Covenant reaction to situation similar to that of Krogan."

"I only count a few more left among the rocks," Garrus assured. "We just need to keep whittling them down."

Another of the Elites fired at Garrus, but the Turian managed to duck into cover before the bolt hit him. He lurched up, hitting the offending Covie with an overload attack from his omni-tool. The Elite took the hit and it was immediately followed up by a shockwave hitting him from the side.

"I say let's knock these fuckers off the cliff already!" Jack called out before sending out a biotic throw that struck one of the Elites in the chest.

Jack suddenly jumped out of cover, shotgun in hand and charged at the Covie positions.

"Jack! I said nothing fancy!" Garrus shouted after her.

But Jack didn't seem to be listening. She rushed in, sliding under a barrage of plasma. She pressed herself into a rock and then popped up to send another biotic throw rocketing into two Elites. The attack hit hard enough that actually threw the poor Elites clear off the side of the cliff. She then stood up and began blasting her shotgun off. She was on the direct flank of one Elite and the blast cut through him with relative ease.

As Jack kept shooting though, she didn't notice she had missed one Elite. Popping up from behind one of the rocks, he raced towards her back with his sword drawn. The energy came close to the ex-con's back and Jack turned almost too late to see him coming. She attempted to use a biotic punch to send him back, but instead she saw the Elite take a shot to a shoulder and then another to his head. The latter bullet pierced the alien's skull and he fell down dead at her feet.

Jack looked to where the shot had come from and saw Thane holding his sniper rifle and kneeling on the ground. He looked over at her with a rather deadpan expression. She grimaced at the sight, but was unable to mouth off before Garrus caught up to her.

"Jack, get out of the open," He ordered as he took cover behind one of the rocks.

Jack complied, but she wasn't happy about it.

"We don't need heroics here, we're winning," he reminded her. "There's no sense in taking these sorts of risks."

"I was fine," Jack insisted with a frown. "I was about to send that fucker right over the edge."

"Didn't look that way to me," Kasumi added, appearing right beside her.

Jack really hated that damn cloak sometimes. One of these days she was going to punch Kasumi for doing that freaky 'out of thin air' shtick and get her to knock it off for good. Thane soon joined the others as they continued to engage the remaining Covenant, firing off a few shots from his submachine gun.

"If you're looking for a thank you, forget it," Jack told him sternly. "I had it under control."

"I was not seeking a compliment," Thane assured her. "I saw that you were in potential danger and tried to help."

"Well I wasn't in any danger, and I didn't need your help," Jack informed him crassly. "I'm getting really tired of you doing that to be honest. Hell, it's all you've been doing since we fucking landed on this shithole. What the fuck do you want from me?"

Thane turned to her, his eyes narrowed.

"I did not realise assisting someone on the team meant I wanted something in return," Thane replied, sounding a bit offended. "Perhaps that is a human custom, but it is not one of mine."

"Bullshit, you're an assassin," Jack reminded him. "You take hits for money!"

"Not as much as I used to," Thane corrected her. "Shepard is not paying me to be on this team."

"And I'm not paying you to be my bodyguard," Jack told him angrily. "I don't need babysitters! Let me do what I do best! I can handle myself just fucking fine."

Garrus groaned in abject exasperation at the argument, firing a concussion shot off at one of the Elites. Luckily, this one's shield had been taken down, so he took the full brunt of the hit. Garrus then turned to both Jack and Thane.

"Would you two stop bickering with each other already?" Garrus ordered them.

"I'm not the one arguing," Thane insisted.

"I don't care," the turian responded viciously. "Get a room or something later! We still have Covenant to get rid of here!"

Garrus' outburst seemed to shut the two up, for the moment at least. He turned back to the fight at hand, firing off more shots from his sniper rifle. Thane and Jack re-joined the battle, but they didn't have to keep the Elites engaged much longer. Moments later, more firepower entered the fray as Samara's group came up from behind.

The Justicar sent a biotic throw hurtling into one of the remaining Elites while Zaeed and Grunt opened fire with their assault rifles. Buck's squad of ODSTs tossed frag grenades into the Elite positions, saturating the area with shrapnel. The already cornered Elites didn't last much longer under the increased pressure. Before long, they were all dead or falling to their doom of the side of plateau.

"Didn't think you'd show up in time," Garrus told them all.

"We didn't want you hogging all the enemies," Grunt said, chuckling in his usual bloodthirsty way.

"That and we ran into a few more of their squads on the way here," Samara added. "Other than that it seems the fighting has died down."

"Yeah, those guys were pretty much the last Covenant soldiers on the mesa," Garrus concurred. "I think it's safe to say the plateau is secure, but let me check in."

Garrus activated his communication link on his omni-tool and called up Kat. Hopefully, she, McKay, Jun and Linda had similar good news to report.

"Garrus to Noble Two," he radioed. "We've beaten the enemy back, how are things on your end?"

"Base is clear, Garrus," Kat replied. "Although Silva thinks one of the Spec-Ops managed to get away in a Banshee we swiped from before. Probably their leader, we can't be sure. They freed a few of the prisoners we took, but he and one of the grunts are the only ones unaccounted for."

"Well that's good to hear," Garrus said, breathing a sigh of relief. "Bet when he gets back to his bosses they'll give him a mouthful. If we're lucky, we won't be seeing him again soon."

"Yeah, but the night isn't over," Kat was quick to inform him. "McKay thinks Silva will want us to make the Covies regret this assault of theirs. She believes he'll want to put together a counter-attack."

Garrus wasn't entirely sure about that idea. It seemed like a pretty risky plan for such a minor goal. But he did have to admit he liked the idea of making the Covenant regret attacking them tonight.

"I suppose I should get the others ready to help out with it then?" he asked Kat.

"I think we can handle it," Kat responded. "There's no need to put more strain on yourselves tonight. Then again, I don't think even McKay would turn away some help. Wouldn't you, Lieutenant?"

"Not at all, ma'am," McKay responded. "I'd appreciate whatever you can give me. It may take me awhile to come up with something though, so you have a few hours to rest up."

Before Garrus could ask anyone in the group if they wanted to volunteer though, Joker's voice interrupted the conversation.

"Garrus," he began, sounding rather flummoxed. "We haven't gotten word back from Shepard or the Master Chief yet. Me and EDI tried to contact them about what was going on, but we keep getting interference and I can't pick them up on any sensors. So we contacted Foe Hammer. She says she hasn't heard from them in over two hours. They were supposed to check-in by now."

That didn't sound good at all. Shepard would've contacted them at some point if something went wrong on their mission. At least, that was what Garrus expected he'd do. He looked to the others who all seemed just as concerned by the news, even Jack.

"I think we should figure out what's going on," Joker told Garrus. "The Commander may be in trouble."

"Well, we definitely can't afford to take the chance," Garrus concurred. "Send over the shuttle, Joker. I'll bring a team with me."

"Some of us should still stay behind to assist in the counter-attack," Samara suggested. "I shall go with the Marines. Shepard is in more than capable hands with you, Garrus."

Garrus nodded at that and looked to the rest of the group.

"We'll divide our resources then," he declared. "One team comes with me to find Shepard and the others, the second helps the Marines."

"Mind if my squad tags along on this one?" Buck asked Garrus.

"You don't have to do that, Buck," Garrus assured him. "This is more of a Normandy matter anyway."

"Yeah, but your Commander and the Master Chief pulled our asses out of the fire when we crashed here," Buck reminded him. "Not to mention his quick thinking back on Reach when he stopped those Wraith tanks from frying us. I think it's time we started paying back our debts."

Garrus smiled at that. It would be nice to have Buck's help with this one. Something just told Garrus they were walking into some real trouble here. Maybe it was Cortana's warning or the fact Keyes and Shepard had now gone off the radar. Either way, Garrus wanted to be prepared.

"Happy to have you along then," the turian conceded. "Everyone else, decide now. Shepard might be in trouble and we may not have much time."

Shepard found it hard not to look down at the onslaught below, even if for a moment. Covenant survivors were embroiled in battle with their former leaders, as the infected Elites tore through their ranks with relative ease. Their plasma weapons were only slightly more effective than his crew's traditional weapons. The bolts were meant to burn flesh, but that was useless when your enemy couldn't feel pain. The needles were more successful, but only when they caused an explosion. Not many Jackals got that opportunity.

There was no point in trying to help the Covenant survivors as Shepard doubted they'd be very grateful to see him. All he cared about now was getting his team out. So they simply rushed over the light bridge, as the undead Elites slaughtered their former charges beneath their feet.

When they got to the other side they found the door on the other end was stuck partially open. The space between was too small for even Tali to squeeze through. Shepard frantically looked around for another exit and spotted one along the wall to their right.

"That way," he told them. "Come on!"

Shepard took point as the group ran for the door, only to be surprised by one of the infested Elites lurching out from behind a piece of architecture near the door. The swipe of his hand forced Commander Shepard to duck suddenly. The Commander tossed the creature away with a biotic punch, but he knew that wouldn't stop him. Sure enough the monster got back up and tried to attack again only for both Shepard and Chief to fill it full of lead.

The gunshots got the attention of some of the other infested Elites below and they began leaping up to their level. Knowing they'd be overrun if they stayed here the team quickly hurried through the door. They found themselves above the ground floor of a familiar room, where they had encountered the team of Jackals guarding the door. Now it was home to some of the abominations below and the pesky little crawling parasitic creatures from before.

"Don't stop, we're near where we came in!" Shepard reminded the others.

Miranda cleared their way forward, blasting the parasite creatures apart. As before though, the gunshots attracted the infested Elites and they began following the small team. One of them burst up through a section of the upper level's glass floor, landing directly in front of the team. Tali blasted the monster with two bursts from her shotgun, tearing off an arm and then blowing a hole in the monster's chest. Miranda then sent a biotic throw at the creature, tossing him back down to the ground.

Jumping over the newly created hole in the walkway, the team made their way back into the entrance hall they had first came into. They could see the door where they had come in, but they could also see more of the undead creatures occupying the floor below them. They were being fired upon by a small team of Jackals near the back of the room, desperately trying to hold off the advancing horde.

"Oh, now they choose to come out of the woodwork," Tali bemoaned as she looked at the undead abominations.

Shepard looked to find the light bridge's console, hoping to use it so they could span the gap before them and get back to the lift. He remembered that the one on the other side had been destroyed, but maybe the console on this end was still intact.

Sure enough, it was. Shepard rushed over to it and slammed his fist down on the central symbol. The light bridge soon appeared and Shepard motioned the team to cross. He and Chief took point with Miranda and Tali backing up the rear.

The undead creatures below spotted them, however and leapt up towards the light bridge to attack. Apparently being changed into these things had not destroyed the Elites' natural agility. In fact, it seemed improved. Shepard fire on one of the creatures as pounced at the squad, pumping two shots into the monster just to be sure. Another landed in front of them and Chief filled it with lead from his assault rifle.

"More behind us!" Miranda shouted out.

She pointed her pistol at two of the creatures as they landed on the bridge behind them. She aimed for their chests and arms as they charged towards the group. Tali helped out, firing her shotgun at the undead beasts as they approached. One of Miranda's shots tore off an arm, while two of Tali's shots gradually blew a hole in another creature's chest.

Between the four of them, they managed to get past the creatures and to the door on the other side. All they had to do was call the elevator down and they'd be home free. They rushed through the door with their guns pointed ahead of them. When they entered the elevator room they found it swarming with more of the creatures, both the upright attackers and the smaller parasitic creatures.

"Clear them out!" Shepard ordered.

Chief was quick tear into one of the undead abominations as it charged, blowing chunks off it with every shot from his assault rifle. Shepard let a shockwave tear apart a smaller group of the little parasites before turning his incendiary charged shotgun on another of the turned Elites. The shot burned through the monster, torching the parasite in the creature's chest. Shepard next lifted another one into the air with a pull attack.

"Miranda," he shouted aloud. "Fire a warp at it!"

Miranda obliged, sending a warp attack right at the alien as few of the little swarmers and another of the infested Elites approached. The resulting biotic blast tore the zombified aliens asunder and popped the little swarmers like balloons.

"At least some biotic moves work on them," Miranda noted, firing off a few more shots at another of the creatures.

Tali moved up with the Master Chief along the right side of the lift. She kept Chiktikka activated the whole way. At the very least, her energy shock was able to keep the infested Elites at bay long enough for Tali to get enough shots pumped into the mutated freaks. Chief found himself emptying magazine after magazine, just trying to keep the monsters at bay. He tried going for their legs more in an attempt to slow them down.

"Well they're like the Husks in way," Tali noted, loading another thermal round into her shotgun. "They just keep coming!"

Tali fired two shots more, blowing away one of the creatures as it jumped towards her. She dodged away from the body as it fell to earth in a heap.

Chief, in the meantime, almost got blindsided by one of the monsters while he was dealing with another. It got close to him and hit across the back. He turned and punched it away before unloading more rounds into it. Tali turned to help, blasting one of the monster's arms clean off before it could hit the Spartan again and then firing another into the freakish thing's chest.

With that, the last of the infested Covenant were dealt with. The team immediately regrouped on the console and Chief quickly pressed down on the button. They thought they heard the lift for a moment, but then all they heard was a strange, groaning metallic sound that was followed by shattering glass. They looked up and saw the terrible truth. Falling from above were several pieces of the lift that had brought them down. It sped past them like a sack of rocks and into the murky depths below.

The four of them just looked on completely dumbstruck.

"Well, that sucks," Tali suddenly stated. "Or blows. Whatever the human saying for this situation is, I'm not entirely sure which one applies."

"Probably both," Miranda admitted.

"This can't be the only way out," Shepard surmised. "We need to head back through the complex and find another lift."

"Seems like our only option at this point," Chief concurred. "But like you said before, this place is maze. It won't be easy navigating it."

Shepard knew he was right. Given what he had already seen, it would be really easy to get turned around in this massive place. That would mean they'd put themselves at more risk of getting overrun by these things. Thankfully, Tali, brilliant as she ever was, hit upon an idea. She called Chiktikka over and input a few commands.

"I can send Chiktikka ahead of us," she explained as she worked. "She can scout out a path and feed it back to my omni-tool. Then we can just follow her. Plus she's way faster than those things. She should be able to stay out of arm's reach."

"Better than wandering around aimlessly for hours," Shepard agreed. "Send her ahead."

Tali let the little drone go and it wasn't long before she started sending back mapping information for them to use. While they waited for the drone to report back something they could use, they tried to make more sense of all this. What were these things and why were they even here?

"We can be certain they're not natural at least," Miranda presumed. "Perhaps they're some kind Forerunner genetic experiment. This is their ring after all."

"That just leaves the question of why anyone would make something like this," Shepard told her.

"Don't ask me, Commander," Miranda told him. "I'm not the expert on Ancient Aliens here."

Miranda strangely turned to Tali when she said that, expecting the quarian to respond. She did have more information on said Ancient Aliens than anyone after all, considering how she spent her time with Halsey. Tali, however, seemed just as flummoxed as anyone.

"Nothing in Halsey's research on Forerunners mentioned something like this," she despondently informed. "That being said, I'm not entirely positive we can be sure the Forerunners made these things. For all we know, they could be an entirely different form of life altogether and separate from the Forerunners themselves."

"Origins aside, I doubt the Covenant would come down here intentionally trying to unleash these things," The Master Chief added. "They must not have realised what this place was for until it was too late."

"Yeah, and now thanks to them we got this little outbreak on our hands," Shepard concluded.

The word outbreak did not evoke comforting thoughts in them. It reiterated the simple fact that they had to get out of here as soon as possible. Lucky for them, they had a navigator to help them out now. At that moment, Tali's omni-tool beeped and she looked at the data Chiktikka was sending back.

"There's a doorway we missed to our left, the one those two Jackals we just saw were in front of," she informed them all. "It looks like a way forward."

"Let's go then," Shepard ordered. "And keep moving no matter what. We can't kill all of these things and we shouldn't try. We need to get past them and find a lift out. That's priority."

After exiting the room the way they had come in, the four wasted no time in hurrying back across the light bridge. There were still a few of the creatures left below though and they were quick to give chase once more. As the squad got back across the bridge, the infested Elites began leaping onto the upper level. Tali turned and fired at one of them, sending it falling off the side of the ledge from the impact.

"Keep moving!" Shepard ordered as he moved towards the right of the platform towards the door.

Jackals who had once been on the platform hadn't lasted much longer after they left. The Infested Elites had overrun the upper platform. They needed to clear the area if they wanted to get out of here. So the Master Chief took out a grenade and tossed it towards the assembled undead creatures.

"Fire in the hole!" Chief called out to the others.

The grenade then exploded among the abominations, blasting their huddled forms apart with ease. The team now began moving towards the door proper. The blast didn't stop all of the creatures though, only the ones that were torn apart by initial explosion. They rest began leaping up where they could onto the second level and chasing after the small squad.

Shepard sent a shockwave rippling towards some the infested creatures. The attack managed to send a few of them flying, but Shepard knew they'd be back up soon enough. The Chief covered the Commander as he fell back with Miranda through the doorway. The Spartan fired down at the creatures below as they attempted to scramble up to them, emptying a whole magazine before he fell back.

Tali was the last one through the door. She turned momentarily to shoot a panel off the wall. After a moment of looking inside she pulled a mechanism of some kind clean out. The door then shut tight behind them, locking the Infested Elites out.

"How'd you know how to do that?" Shepard asked her.

"I didn't," Tali admitted. "I just gambled that Forerunner automatic doors aren't much different from ours. Call it engineer's intuition."

The team hurried to an exit down a small corridor to the side of the room. As they moved towards it, however, the group spied a grisly sight. Three more Marine bodies were strewn across the floor before them, their weapons at their sides and covered in their own blood. There was little doubt that these soldiers were from Keyes' unit.

"Those things must've cornered them here while they were looking for a way out," Tali observed sadly.

"They look like they put up a fight at least," said Miranda reverently.

Chief bent down and picked up one of their weapons, the Shotgun. Considering how Tali and Shepard's own shotguns had proven somewhat effective, it made sense that a traditional M90 would work even better against these things. Chief checked the Marines for their ammo quickly and tossed his Assault Rifle over to Shepard who caught it with ease by the barrel.

"This thing should have enough bullets to get us out of here," Chief thought aloud as he stood up and pumped the shotgun once. He also grabbed a second Shotgun from off the floor. "Who wants the second one?"

"Not me," Miranda informed him with a shake of her head. "I've always been rubbish with shotguns. Your UNSC's assault rifle suits me fine for the moment."

"I'm fine with my own shotgun, the incendiaries are making up for the lack of power," Shepard assured the Chief. "Give it to Tali, she needs it more than I do."

Tali looked over at the Commander sweetly in response.

"Always the gentleman you are," she replied rather playfully, smirking behind her faceplate.

"I just know better than to deny a lady a shotgun," the Commander joked in return.

Chief obliged the Commander's request and tossed Tali the second shotgun. She caught it easily enough along with the ammunition he handed her next. Tali quickly loaded the thing and primed the the gun for firing with a single pump.

"I always did like the kick on this thing," she said looking it over. "I need to get one of my own eventually."

It was then that the glass on door behind them suddenly shattered as the mutated hand of one the creatures burst through it. It reached out in an attempt to grab someone, anyone, while the group aimed their weapons towards the entrance. The door's frame began to buckle and bend as more of the creatures pounded on it.

"You wouldn't think piles of rotting flesh would be stronger than living people," Tali observed nervously.

"I don't think they particularly care about how implausible this is," Shepard fretfully responded as he backed away. "Come on!"

They picked up what else they could from the fallen Marines and rushed through the exit into the next room. Tali quickly turned to seal the door behind them with her omni-tool's welding torch. She didn't do the entire seal, just enough to melt the lock. She didn't want to waste too much time, not when they still had to keep moving.

"Chiktikka's just up ahead, she's sent a feed," Tali quickly explained, a sense of joy in her voice. "It looks like another lift. Thank the Ancestors, we're almost out of here."

They passed by a strange piece of machinery as they walked through the room. It appeared to be some kind of energy conduit given how it was shooting off bolts of electricity between two slabs of metal. If it helped power the facility they couldn't be sure, but it was rather peculiar regardless. They then came to door and Master Chief's motion tracker immediately lit up with hostiles.

"Next room is full of them," he warned the others.

"Then we'll clear it out like the last one," Shepard assured him. "We'll split the difference again. Miranda and Tali will go left and Chief and Me will go right. Let's move."

The group entered the room and split into their pairs. It didn't take them long to engage the mass of mutated corpses and their tentacle-like appendages. Among the larger Infested Elites were the smaller parasite creatures. Miranda let loose with her assault rifle, popping the little bulbous creatures with ease. At the same time, Tali fired her M90 at one of the infested Elites. The blast from the shotgun blew a chunk out of the creature's chest and tore off one of its arms. The body then dropped dead onto the floor.

"Now that's more like it," the quarian stated.

Another of the creatures leapt towards the two girls, but Miranda was quick to react. She sent a pull attack flying at the creature forcing him to float in mid-air and giving Tali ample time to fire a blast clean into the undead creature's body.

Shepard and the Master Chief in the meantime cleared out their half of the room. The Commander used his biotics in a similar fashion, to keep the monsters back. The small parasite creatures popped when a shockwave hit them, while the larger Infested Elites were lifted into the air. Chief used his shotgun to blast them apart as they made their way to the control console near the back of the lift.

When the last of the creatures fell silent, Master Chief firing his rifle point blank into one just to be sure, the team regrouped on the lift proper. Chief moved to hit the same symbol as he always had, thinking it would take them up and away from this nightmare. That wasn't what happened though. They elevator went down instead, descending further into the complex rather than out.

"What the hell?" Miranda said as the elevator continued downward. "Why aren't we going up?"

"I pressed the same symbol as before," Chief assured everyone. "Those things probably damaged the lift or something."

As the elevator continued down, the team of four soon discovered a particularly bad omen before them. The walls of the shaft were soon covered in Covenant blood. It had looked as if someone had dragged a bleeding corpse across the wall, they could even see handprints in the some of the stains.

"This place just loves telling us how screwed we are, doesn't it?" Tali asked shakily, reloading her shotgun with shells rapidly.

"We are not going to become dessert for these things," Shepard declared. "Lock and load people, I have a feeling they're going to be waiting for us at the bottom."

The Master Chief reloaded his shotgun as well and Miranda prepared her assault rifle. With any luck they could clear out the room just as easily as before. They had gotten a bit used to how these abominations operated after all. But despite how ready they seemed, they weren't entirely prepared for what happened next.

When the lift stopped at last they quickly moved off of it and towards what they knew was an exit. As they did, they spotted another of the infested creatures, but this one didn't look like an Elite at all. It wasn't nearly as tall for one and the head was far less alien. Through the mutated brown grime that covered the creature now, Chief could also see a few pieces of a Marine's armour. That and he almost thought he recognized the face. He had seen it on Jenkins' footage.

"Mendoza?" He asked.

The creature growled at him as it shuffled forward. When Chief got a better look at his face, there could be no doubt. It was one of Keyes' men, the one that had lost his nerve and ran off to be precise. Chief should've suspected as much, if those things could turn the Elites why not humans?

"Mendoza," Chief asked cautiously as he brought up his shotgun. "Are you still in there soldier? We can get you to a medic. Fix whatever these things did to you. Just-"

Mendoza shrieked loudly at him and the others and then raised his arm. He was still holding his MA5B Assault rifle and mere seconds later he also began firing with it. The bullets hit Chief's shields and he moved with the others back to cover as Mendoza kept firing.

"Damn it," Shepard said gritting his teeth. "I thought we were done with undead monsters that shot back! First headshots don't work and now this! Am I the only one that gives a shit about the rules for zombies anymore?!"

There was little time to argue the point further as yet another infested human rushed out into the open. He also had a weapon and began firing it at the group haphazardly. Miranda quickly hit the infested creature with a slam attack, sending him up into the air and then back down. It gave everyone enough time to move out of the line of fire.

"They were the ones shooting at the Covenant when we first arrived!" Miranda realised. "These things are smart enough to still use our weapons!"

"This just means we need to use cover more," Shepard informed her. "Basic strategy remains the same. Take them down!"

More of the Infested Marines and their Infected Elite counterparts joined the fray now. They were all armed with weapons and used them rather proficiently despite their decaying forms. Shepard even thought he saw one of the infected Marines grab a magazine off what was left of his belt and reload his assault rifle to fire again. Just when they thought they knew what kind of enemy they were fighting, it turned out they didn't really know anything at all.

Miranda aimed down the scope of the pistol Chief had given her earlier. She began firing at the infested creatures, using a Covenant weapons crate as cover. She aimed for the arm the creatures were using to shoot at them. A few good shots and she managed to rip it clean off. As the gun dropped to the floor, Miranda opened up on the helpless monster's chest, tearing it open.

She turned her attention to another of the infested creatures, a turned Elite armed with a plasma rifle. She sent a biotic pull attack to lift into the air. The creature flailed about, still trying to fire at anything while Miranda sent a warp attack to detonate the monster. The creature's body parts fell back to earth with a sickening squish.

Tali in the meantime had activated Chiktikka again and sent her out among the creatures to harass them. The creatures were easily distracted by the strange glowing ball and opened fire on it. That gave Tali the chance she needed. She popped out from behind her cover and blew a gaping hole into the back of one of the infested Marines.

Tali next vaulted over her turned over Covenant weapons crate and blasted at another of the infested Elites armed with a needler. The shot managed to blow off both of the creature's arms and its head with one shot. She watched as he body fell to the group limp.

It was then another of the turned Marines fired on her with his assault rifle, but she ducked into cover just in time behind one of the architectural pillars. She then lurched out and fired a shotgun blast that blew off the creature's legs. The abomination kept firing with his assault rifle as it crawled towards her. Chiktikka moved in, zapping the beast in its back, the arc of energy blast out of the monster's chest. With that, the monster stopped moving at last.

"I can't believe I'm starting to miss the husks," Tali whispered to herself.

Shepard and Chief held out across from Miranda and Tali. Shepard fired from a distance, hitting the now armed abominations with biotic attacks where he could. He hoped the attacks would keep the monsters away from the Chief and give him a fighting chance. The Spartan seemed to be doing well enough on his own though, turning from one infested monster to the next with relative ease and precision. There was another reason Shepard hung back a bit though.

One of Chief's shots tore apart an Infested Elite while a turned Marine leapt through the air, firing his assault rifle down on the Spartan's position. Chief rolled away as the bullets hit his cover and shields and fired up into the monster, breaking him into meat chunks before he landed in a heap.

However, Chief was so focused on the abominations in front of him he hadn't seen the one get behind him. It was the thing that used to be Mendoza, bearing down him like the rabid animal he now was. The Infested Marine raised his arm to strike the Spartan from behind with his whip-like tentacle.

"Chief, look out!" Shepard warned sending a warp attack to hit the creature in the back.

The hit managed to stop the monster mid-attack, rending the creature's molecular structure and lighting him up with a burning biotic aura. Master Chief was able to turn around in time and knock the monster away with a good solid kick. The former Marine then raised its gun and opened fire on the Spartan, hitting his shields hard, but Master Chief wasn't about to be beaten by this thing.

He fired a blast from his shotgun into the thing that was once Mendoza, tearing off his firing arm, head and part of the abomination's torso. The creature wasn't dead just yet though as it lashed out with a swipe from his arm, knocking the Spartan to the floor. Chief quickly raised his shotgun again and blasted the beast once more, killing it for good.

Shepard rushed over immediately firing his shotgun over the Spartan. Chief looked behind him to see an infested Elite burst into flames before part of its arm ripped off. The Commander then turned and helped Chief up to his feet.

"Bet you're happy we didn't leave you now," the Commander told him.

"I suppose if I'm trapped in some giant underground complex filled with monsters it helps to have company," Chief admitted simply.

Shortly after that, Tali and Miranda regrouped with the two. Chief bent down over the infested Mendoza's body searching for the dog tags on his person. When he found them, he pulled the tags off what was left of the Marine. Parts of the decayed and mutated flesh came with it, making a sickening sound as it was torn from the body. The Spartan then pocketed the tags and stood back up.

"I should try to collect the others if I can," The Spartan told him. "It's only right."

"I know, but we shouldn't take too long," Shepard warned.

"We can help," Tali earnestly offered. "It will go faster."

Shepard looked to Chief for approval and the Spartan nodded. They quickly moved to the dead Marines they had shot and pick off the tags they could find, returning them to the Chief when they were done. Now they refocused on the far more pressing issue of what they had just witnessed.

"These things aren't mindless monsters like we originally thought," Miranda hypothesised. "They have some kind of intelligence. The fact they can use weapons effectively to a certain degree proves that."

"Now I know they're nothing like the Husks," Tali added morosely. "And not just because they're wholly organic. Whatever they are, they're not specialised for specific tasks like the different variants of Husks we've encountered. They can adapt to whatever host they infect and use whatever weapons they find. Not just the ones they're given."

"Precisely my thoughts," Miranda concurred. "These things all have similar appendages and abilities despite the fact they used to be different species. They're not just infesting the hosts. They're physically changing them to a form they find most suitable for their own survival against their enemies, a 'Combat Form' if you will."

"Alright, so these things can infect anything and turn them into these 'Combat Forms', we keep running into." Shepard restated, quickly going over what they knew. "They also have a degree of intelligence, but how? Are they getting it from leeching off the host's brain or is it something else? Like... maybe a hive mind between the individual little parasites. We've encountered something similar to that before."

It was a question none of them were qualified to answer, but they knew one person who could.

"Mordin could figure this out," Tali reasoned. "He's the only on this ring with any knowledge about xeno-biology in the first place and he's already more than qualified to answer these questions for us."

"We'll need to get to him first," Shepard pointed out to her. "That means us getting out of here. We better get moving again."

As they did though, Miranda was reminded of another thought.

"Speaking of getting out of here, we know now it was most likely these things we saw shooting at the Covenant when we first showed up," she thought aloud.

"What are you getting at?" The Master Chief asked.

"These things have had the run of the place for at least more than two hours now, maybe longer." She elaborated. "We've all accepted they've probably gotten outside by now. Depending on how much time they've had, they could've covered a lot of ground. What does that mean for everyone else on this ring?"

It was a thought Chief didn't want to think about much, but Chief knew that the Normandy XO had a point. They had all been thinking it actually. Miranda was just the first to state it aloud. The Covenant and what Halo did were now the least of their worries. All the more reason to get back to the surface and warn the rest of the UNSC forces of what they had stumbled upon.

McKay kept quiet alongside Kat, crouching behind a tree trunk together. They had been here for close to three hours now, just waiting for someone to attack. If they were completely honest with themselves, they didn't suspect they'd be out here again so soon after beating back the Covies.

After McKay came up with the plan, Silva wasted no time in ordering her to carry it out. Kat came along to assist, but only after assuring Silva it would be the Lieutenant's show. Kat honestly didn't care one way or the other. She just felt she'd be more useful in the field right now than back on clean up duty around Alpha Base.

Kat even told McKay herself that she felt the idea was pretty good, almost like something she'd have thought up. Using the Normandy and some extra Pelicans, they took the wreckage of Charlie 217 and ferried it to a secluded spot in the woods north of Alpha Base. The Frigate was able to carry the most via cable, without it's assistance it would've taken hours.

McKay was just grateful that Garrus didn't need Joker to get them over to Shepard's last known location. Although the Normandy still returned to a holding pattern half-way between Alpha Base and the Commander's coordinates. He wanted to be nearby in case they needed help, which meant the frigate was now practically on the other side of Halo by now.

McKay was confident they wouldn't need him here though. The thick forest canopy would make it near impossible for any Covenant air support to assist their troops when they did arrive. They'd only have infantry to be concerned with this time.

Once all the bits and pieces of the destroyed Pelican were in place, the assembled Marines and elements of the Normandy crew began strategically placing the debris around the area. They needed to make it convincing that the Pelican had crashed here and not just been placed.

They even had Marines digging a trench and cutting down some trees to make it seem convincing. It helped that they had a giant humpbacked space dinosaur to push down some of the trees by himself. Jacob and Samara's biotic abilities also helped greatly in moving the bigger pieces of the wrecked dropship.

Once everything was ready, there was nothing left to really do but wait. It was the relatively early hours of the morning, although still pitch black. Halo's unique shape and the fact it orbited a huge gas giant made days and nights rather peculiar in length. They had only been here a few days and McKay had been quick to accept that. It was kinda like living in Alaska, where she heard the days tended to get really short sometimes.

"All teams check in," McKay spoke into her radio.

"Spartan 058 checking in," Linda reported back. "I see nothing in the tree line. No one in my section has called out anything."

"Noble Three checking," Jun's voiced spoke up. "We got nothing here either."

McKay wondered if the small fire they had set had been big enough or if the Covenant had been able to detect the distress signal through the trees? She assuaged her doubts quickly. Just because they had been able to put this together shortly after the attack didn't mean the Covenant were in a position to rush out again. They were probably still licking their wounds, bringing in fresh troops to search for the dropship. They had to be showing up soon.

"Samara to Lieutenant McKay," the asari's voice spoke up. "We see no movement, but we are prepared."

"Jacob here, I'm not seeing much of anything myself," the Normandy's armoury officer replied next. "Just more crickets... or whatever bugs they have on this ring."

Next was one of the Marine Sergeants.

"Sergeant Taylor reporting in," he began. "My squad has a direct line of sight on the wreckage. If anything moves into view, we'll let you know."

It was good to see everyone was more or less prepared at least. That gave McKay a little confidence. She turned to Kat, hoping she would ease the tension a little.

"Never did like waiting myself," she admitted, noticing the Lieutenant's slight case of anxiety. "I always preferred efficiency and speed to sitting around and waiting."

"It can't be much longer," McKay assured her. "The Covenant wouldn't pass up the chance to murder a bunch of helpless crashed humans. Not after the beating we gave them."

McKay tried to see through the pitch black night with her helmet's night vision. She figured it was worth a shot, but it came up empty. Not a single Covie soldier in sight.

"Who knows," she relented. "They probably got lost in the dark or something."

"Elites have pretty good eyesight," Kat corrected her. "You're thinking of the Brutes. They rely more on smell than anything."

"Funny that we haven't seen any of them actually," McKay noted. "They were all over Reach when the Covie fleet showed up."

"With any luck it will stay that way," Kat told her. "The Elites are tough, but at least they aren't rabid space gorillas. It takes forever to put one down, unless you go for a headshot."

McKay silently agreed. She had only been in a few engagements with the Brutes, remembering how they had lived up to the nickname the Marines had given them. They were savage, vile creatures. At least the Elites felt more like soldiers, not a bunch of animals set loose on the battlefield. She'd be happy to never again have to face off against those things if she could help it.

"They smell terrible too," McKay thought aloud as she looked at Kat.

The Spartan offered a slight laugh at that remark before going back to watching the treeline. The tension had been relieved, but it didn't last long. A few moments later, someone called in with a report.

"We got movement," Jun reported in. "Left of our position. Three figures walking through the treeline."

"Something on our end too," Sergeant Taylor called in. "Looks like they're coming up the center as well. This zone is about to get hot, ma'am."

"Maintain positions and hold fire," McKay ordered. "We need to assess how many we're dealing with here before we engage."

Slowly but surely, the Elites emerged out of the woods. They were flanked by a few Jackals and some grunts as per usual. It looked like a pretty standard hunting party of four or five fire teams. They began searching among the wreckage, trying to find evidence of where the humans had gone to or if any were still here.

"This is your show, McKay," Kat told her. "How do you want to play this?"

"Snipers open up first, pick off a few of their officers, Marines on the left, forcing them into cover on their right where my Troopers will flank them in their positions from the right."

"Sounds good," Kat told her, before speaking into her radio. "Linda, Jun, pick your targets, you're weapons free. Pick off the Elites."

Linda acknowledged and searched the line assembled group of Covenant soldiers carefully for a good target. She spotted one getting a closer look at the Pelican wreckage, highly exposed. She took aim at his head and fired a single shot, splattering his brains across the downed aircraft. As the body fell, another Elite a few feet away got hit in the neck by a shot from Jun's rifle. The two shots quickly alerted the other Covenant soldiers and they began searching for cover.

Linda quickly searched for a different target before any of the Covies could figure out where the shots had come from. She picked out another Elite nearby, behind some bits of wreckage. He ducked down into what he thought was safety from whoever had fired a shot, but there was a small hole in the wreck. Linda could just barely see the back of the alien's head through it. She took careful aim, placing her crosshairs over the hole in the wreckage and fired. The shot went clean through the hole and sliced into the back of the Elite's skull, killing him.

"Marines, light them up!" McKay ordered over the radio.

With the Covenant still trying to determine where the enemy was, searching for cover where they could, the Marines opened fire on them. Sergeant Taylor unloaded several shots from his DMR on a Jackal that had pointed his shield away from them. He then switched to a small group of grunts that were running for the safety of a nearby log.

"Squad, targets right!" He called out, focusing his team's fire on the retreating gas suckers.

Pearson opened up with his assault rifle, raking the grunts as they ran. He managed to take out one before the rest ducked into cover. Not long after, an Elite charged up to the little gas-suckers and rallied them back into the fight. The Covie officer fired off a stream of energy bolts that forced the squad back down into the cover of their little ditch.

"Ramirez, target that bastard!" Sgt. Taylor ordered. "I'll hit him with an overload from the omni-tool!"

Ramirez nodded and brought up his Vindicator assault rifle to the line of fire. Taylor then moved around to another position in the ditch where he had a better look at the Elite. He then activated his omni-tool and sent an overload attack flying at the Covie. The alien's shields took a direct hit and Ramirez opened up with incendiary rounds on him before he could duck into cover.

As the Elite began to burn, Kat and McKay pushed up towards the firing line, throwing themselves behind a log a few feet away. The Spartan tossed out a grenade into the Covenant lines, blowing up a Jackal and the two grunts he was covering.

McKay in the meantime unloaded a barrage of DMR rounds on an Elite taking up cover behind a tree. She pelted the trunk with rounds, sending splinters flying. Eventually, enough shots penetrated the wood that they started hitting the Elite's shields. The alien tried to rush to the next tree only to get shot by a sniper round as he did.

"He's down, Lieutenant," Jun called in.

"Thanks for the assist, Noble Three," McKay replied. "Alright Marines, push them back toward our Troopers!"

Ellingham was one of the first Marines to oblige, rushing up from the ditch with a shotgun drawn. He fired several blasts, taking out a grunt before sliding into cover behind a rock. Agley ran up next, firing wildly at the Covenant lines, but not really hitting anything with his assault rifle. He dropped in behind a log next to Ellingham.

Kowalski wasn't too far behind him with Samara taking up the rear. The asari tossed biotic throws at the Elites and their subordinates, knocking them away from cover or into the wreckage of the Pelican. The Private smiled a little at the sight, he always enjoyed watching the Justicar work.

Kowalski targeted a small grouping of grunts huddled among some bits of wreckage. He landed a shot between one grunt's eyes before another shot hit another grunt in his tank. The small explosion from the rupture sent the rest of the grunts running. Samara hastened their retreat further by sending a shockwave rippling after them, catching one and sending him flying into the air.

"Feels good to be back on the offensive," Kowalski stated as he took up cover behind a rock and reloaded.

"It feels good just to be fighting the Covies on our terms for once," Ellingham called over to him. "We'll be back in time for morning chow at this rate!"

"Do not assume victory yet," Samara cautioned sending out a reave towards one Elite. "Continue to press our advantage before they can react!"

Samara tossed a throw at the Elite she had hit with the reave attack. The biotic detonation consumed the Elite and a nearby grunt. Sergeant Taylor rushed in with the others at this point, firing off his rifle at the Covenant as they pulled back.

"Listen to the blue lady, boys," he ordered. "This ain't over yet! Come on!"

As the Marines forced the Covenant to reposition, the ODSTs sprung their portion of the attack. They fired bursts from their rifles, tearing apart the shields of the Elites. Jacob and Grunt were among them, taking the fight to the Covenant more directly.

The krogan rushed out of the dark and slammed one unsuspecting Elite into a nearby tree before he could react. He then kept pounding his head into the bark just to be sure. Jacob fired an incendiary blast from his shotgun, setting the Jackal ablaze. He then sent the burning Covie headlong into a collision with an Elite via a biotic throw.

All the while, McKay looked on with a sense of satisfaction. The Covenant were stuck between their two forces and they were losing officers fast. They were now moving back towards cover in the woods and she suspected that they would try to withdraw from the wreckage soon enough. The Covenant would no doubt have troops held back in reserve, whose positions they'd fall back towards soon.

She began thinking of exactly what to expect when that happened. It was at that moment, however, that everything changed on her in an instant. It was through no fault of her though, for no one could've predicted what was about to occur.

Gunfire began to break out further in the forest. You could barely hear it over the initial battle, but it was there. McKay was confused by the sounds of another gunfight breaking out. There were no additional squads in this area she knew of. Had Silva sent a detachment to check up on them? No, he would've tried to contact her first and their radios were working perfectly. All she could tell at this point was that it was behind the Covenant forces.

Suddenly, one of the Elites near the Pelican was hit by a series of plasma bolts from the back. Another rushed over to his fallen comrade and was suddenly pulled back into the dark by some kind of shadow. McKay couldn't make it out, so she turned her night vision on again.

She spotted another Elite, further back along the line get tackled to the ground by something. One of his squadmates tried to rush to his aid, only to be flung away by something in the brush. The Elite was thrown back down the side of the small hill, only stopping when he hit a log. And McKay wasn't the only one who noticed something was going on.

"Lieutenant, I'm seeing a lot activity in the Covenant lines," Jun reported in.

Moments later, most of the Elites disengaged from the Marines and turned back towards the woods. Before long, all of the Covenant soldiers had turned from the battle. Everyone looked on, only able to listening to some kind of fight that was getting closer. McKay called up Linda immediately.

"The hell is going on?" She asked her.

"I don't know, but it looks like the Covenant are scattering," Linda tried to explain. "I see plasma fire going off to the left away from us or to the right. They're completely abandoning the field."

"Who is shooting them?" McKay asked insistently.

"I see gunfire and I think some of the sounds are from our weapons, but I don't know," Linda said, sounding almost as confused as McKay was.

She wanted to keep pressing Linda for information, but it was then McKay saw something step out from the treeline. It was as tall as an Elite, had legs like an Elite and something looked like the head of an Elite limping on the side of its shoulder. But McKay could see the brown sickly decaying flesh, the strange tentacle like appendages and the open sores in its chest. It looked like a Covenant, but it wasn't. This was something else.

She could barely take in the sight of the creature before more joined its side and shrieked at the assembled Marines, Troopers and Normandy Squad Members. One of them fired on an ODST trooper with an assault rifle, hitting him in the chest. The rest began firing on them as well. Now it was clear that, whatever these things were, they were hostile. As everyone huddled back down into cover, McKay and Kat tried to rally the group.

"Return fire!" McKay ordered aloud, firing off her DMR at one of the things.

The bullets didn't seem to affect the creature though. She blasted what looked like its head off, but it kept standing and spraying the battlefield with its plasma rifle. In her experience, if something didn't die when you shot its head there was something seriously wrong. But at this point, saying so would be an understatement.

"058, Noble Three, shoot these fuckers down!" She ordered. "Try for chest shots, taking out the brain box doesn't do jack!"

Linda took aim at one of the creatures, hitting it twice in the stomach with ease. It was just standing out in the open after all. But the bullets just went straight through the creature, impacting the ground behind it. They didn't even slow them down.

"Sniping is ineffective, ma'am," Linda informed McKay.

"Same here," Jun reported next. "They don't look like they're even feeling it!"

Linda wasted no time in holstering her rifle and taking out her sidearm. She raced down to the Marines' positions, firing at the creatures as they slowly moved out of the trees. She hit one in the chest several times and eventually it went down, so at least these things could be killed. Although, considering their appearance and the fact they didn't need their heads, perhaps they weren't really all that alive anyway.

Jun rushed down the hill next, throwing himself beside Kat as he reloaded his assault rifle. He popped up and fired a few shots at one of the creatures, only for it to become enraged and rushed at him and Kat. As he kept unloading into it, Kat shot at the creature's legs with her pistol. She managed to take them out, blowing them clean off the body at the knee. The creature didn't seem to care though, as it kept dragging itself towards them until Jun finally plugged it with enough bullets that it stopped moving altogether.

"The fuck are these things, Kat? Jun asked.

"They look like Elites that have been lying out in the sun too long," Kat responded plainly. "We'll figure it out later. Right now we have to push them back."

That was easier said than done as nothing seemed to deter the new hostiles. They advanced regardless of how many bullets hit them, returning fire as they rushed forward. It almost seemed as if there was no end to them.

One poor Marine tried to back away as one of the creatures charged, only for the thing to lash out with his strange tentacle like appendage. The Marine's blood splashed across the ground as his body twisted in the air. He landed in a heap a few feet from another Marine who tried to avenge his fallen brother's death, only to be shot in the head by the same monster that had killed him.

As Linda kept firing, she noticed a discarded pistol lying on the ground near her. The Spartan saw the gun and made a rush to grab it. She picked it up and checked to see if it was loaded. Lucky for her it was.

"We'll need more firepower to knock these things back into the woods," she reasoned, gritting her teeth as she spoke.

She began firing both her pistols off at the same time, moving into the fray to help the Marines. She aimed again for the chests of the creatures, as it seemed most effective. She also targeted the creatures' firing arms. The pistol's powerful ammo was enough to blast the entire arm off of one in a few hits, ending the creature's potential long range threat.

She managed cut down three of the creatures as she strafed the area. It still took more bullets to put them down than she expected. Even with holes blown clean through their bodies, some of the abominations kept walking.

"These things are a lot harder to kill than they look," she thought to herself.

One of the creatures sudden leapt at her, firing its assault rifle down on her. Her shields whined as the gunfire rained down. She fired up at the creature as it plummeted towards her, blowing off both its arms in the process as it got close to her she punched it clean through the chest and kicked the remains off her arm.

As hard as it was for the Spartans to kill these things, the regular soldiers and the Normandy crew weren't doing much better. Samara fired every bullet she could at the creatures, but they seemed even less effective than the sniper rounds from before. She tried her biotics but other than pushing them back and perhaps taking off an arm or a leg now and again, the creatures just got right back up.

"By the grace of the Goddess," she declared. "I will make you stay down!"

She fired off a reave attack at one of the creatures and at last it seemed to work. The monster stopped in its tracks, although Samara was unsure it was in any real pain. She then hit it with her throw attack and caused it to explode. It took two of its fellow abominations with it.

At the very least, Samara was keeping her cool, but the same could not be said of everyone.

"What in the hell are these things, man!?" Private Agley screamed, firing like crazy into the treeline.

"Don't ask me, I don't work here," Pearson told him, firing off more shots from his own assault rifle.

The bursts from the rifle did damage the creatures, but not critically. Ramirez himself found that his Vindicator was not very effective, save for the incendiaries burning through their flesh. With the lack of sufficient weapons, one of the creatures managed to get through the line of fire. It ran towards the squad, firing like mad with its assault rifle, howling and growling at them. Then, suddenly, it exploded into several meaty chunks when Ellingham fired off his shotgun at the thing.

"Try brushing that off, dipshit!" Ellingham shouted at what was now a mutilated torso.

Kowalski kept firing on the treeline, doing his best to protect his fellow Marines and their ODST counterparts. Through his DMR's scope, he saw Jacob using his shotgun the same way Ellingham had. It seemed less effective, but was still enough to blow pieces of the creatures and keep them down. But the swarm of creatures was too many and he soon started to fall back, dragging one injured Marine with him.

Grunt's Claymore was extremely effective, although the krogan had to keep reloading. When he did, he found himself having to kick the creatures away from him when they got too close. The giant humpbacked reptile couldn't keep it up though, even he retreated to cover as the fire from the every advancing abominations intensified.

Kowalski targeted the creature firing on Grunt, piling on shots from his DMR at the creature's chest. Specifically he aimed for what seemed like an open sore on the torso with strange feelers coming out of it. He fired three rounds into it and for some reason that seemed to work. The creature tumbled to ground dead. Before Kowalski could revel in his success though, something scrambled onto his gun and jumped at his head.

Kowalski fell onto his back, instinctively grabbing whatever had attacked him. He stared back into what looked like a strange bulbous creature with tiny tentacles for legs. It gnashed aggressively at him, trying to bite him with little pincers. Thankfully, someone pulled the creature off him, tossed it into the air and shot it before it could gnaw his face off. Kowalski looked up to see his saviour was Samara, of course, who else.

"Are you unharmed, Private-"

Samara couldn't finish, as a needle round penetrated her barriers and hit her in the shoulder. She dove down into cover and fired back. Kowalski helped himself up and joined her side. He then peered over their cover and saw that even more creatures had joined the fight. Samara stared at arriving aberrations eerily, a look of shock on her face

"Some of the creature, they look like... batarians," she finally blurted out in disbelief.

Kowalski decided to take a closer look for himself. He saw that some of the arriving creatures had strange bumpy heads that did not resemble those of the Elites. They also had four eyes, or what looked like holes where eyes had been. Kowalski had only seen a few batarians, but he hadn't forgotten how they looked.

They didn't have much time to ponder the revelation though, as something else came out of the woods. More of those strangle ltitle creatures, scuttling out of the darkness and towards their lines. They swarmed over Marines and ODSTs alike, biting at them, gnawing on them, trying to dig into their chests. The Marines tried to fire back, but the little creatures were overrunning the area.

"All squads," McKay's voice suddenly cried out over the sounds of battle. "Fall back! Fall back to the woods!"

Everyone was quick to obey the command, even Grunt who chased after Jacob as they ran into the woods. The ODSTs and Marines who weren't quick enough to heed the order were overtaken by the swarming little bulbous creatures. The screamed in pain as the little vermin started clawing into them. If they were lucky, the upright attackers got to them first and beat them into the ground with their tentacle appendages.

McKay knew they couldn't hold out like this, they needed to get out. They were prepared for the Covenant, not whatever these things were. She, Kat, Jun and Linda did their best to cover the retreat, but they couldn't stay for long. McKay barely managed to duck as a whole barrage of bullets came towards her. She managed to avoid them in time, hearing them cut into the tree behind her. Kat picked her up by the arm and pulled her into the woods, away from the advancing hostiles as Linda covered them with her dual pistols.

"We have to get everyone back to the extraction point now," McKay told the Spartan as she began running alongside her. "Whatever those things are, they aren't natural! I don't even think they're alive!"

"Doesn't look like they are," Kat admitted. "And they don't look like Husks either. They don't have the freakish techno-crap all over them! This is something new!"

The questions of exactly what these things were would have to wait. McKay couldn't think about that right now. All she could think about was getting out of this forest alive.

The three Marines fired on the Combat Forms below as they tried to escape the room, only for one of the hostile creatures to return fire in kind. With shotgun in hand, it blew the two Marines away, absorbing their assault rifle rounds with ease. Chief and the others could only watch as the brave soldiers were gunned down before they could do anything.

"Damn," Chief whispered as he shook his head.

The Spartan looked to the light bridge nearby and watched as it flickered on and off. The infested monstrosities had damaged it somehow and had rendered their most direct path forward practically useless. The bridge activated for a few moments and then vanished, then appeared again and repeated the process. Miranda took stock of the situation, trying her best to time the intervals. In the end, she sighed despondently.

"We'd never get across it in time," she informed everyone sadly. "It's barely active long enough for it to work. I wouldn't want to risk jumping as a solution either. If we time it wrong we may miss the bridge entirely or end up with it activating as we head down. I don't want to know what solid light does when it hits you in the torso."

"Sliced-up, sizzling human with a side of quarian I wager," said Tali morbidly.

That left only one option then, they'd have to go through the Combat Forms below. Shepard scanned the area for a way out first and saw an open door to their far left. He noticed the Combat Forms and parasitic blobs were mostly taking up residence in the small ditch directly beneath the light bridge. With all that in mind, he quickly formed a plan.

"Alright, Tali and me will go down but stay in cover," he explained. "We'll fire on the Combat Forms, surprising them. Chief, you got any grenades left?"

"I took some plasma ones off the grunts," the Spartan responded.

"Alright, try sticking one of them with it," Shepard told him. "We'll open after it blows. Then you and Miranda will follow us down and help us eliminate the parasite creatures. We make a run for the door when we get an opening."

Everyone agreed on the plan and they put it into motion. Shepard and Tali slipped down to the ground level through a gap near the back of the platform. They moved up towards the cover of some support beams on each side of the ditch.

They watched as the Combat Forms and the parasite creatures dragged the bodies of the dead Marines into the ditch itself. With the monstrosities distracted, Shepard looked over to Tali and motioned her to move up with them. They both rushed to a support beam ahead of them, being careful not to make too much noise.

"Now, Chief," Shepard whispered into his radio.

The Master Chief tossed the plasma grenade out. It soared through the air and stuck itself onto the arm of one of the Combat Forms. The infested Elite ran away from his fellow Combat Forms in response. Tali opened up on it with her shotgun as he ran, blasting a hole in the creature's torso. The grenade detonated moments later, killing a few of the bulbous parasites when it did. Shepard now began firing on the remaining creatures as they tried to retaliate, blowing off the arm of one of them before it could fire its own shotgun.

"That will teach you to break the rules," Shepard called out. "Zombies are supposed to get killed with those, not use them!"

Shepard ducked back into cover as bullets raked his support beam. Tali, seeing the fire he was taking, rushed out, moving towards one of the other beams. She fired her shotgun into the back of the offending creature, killing it. Before another of the abominations could target her, she rolled into the cover of the support beam. The bullets bounced of her metal cover harmlessly.

The Master Chief and Miranda soon joined the fray next, firing down onto the mass of remaining parasites beneath them. The Spartan landed on one himself, splattering it beneath his boot. The small explosion this caused damaged his shields slightly, but not enough to be of any consequence. Chief then fired off a blast at a nearby Combat Form, blowing off its head and arms with ease. The limbless creature now ran around, impotently trying to attack something, before the Spartan fired another shot and ended it.

With Miranda and the Chief on the ground floor now, Shepard and Tali moved in to finish off the last of the Combat Forms. One of the infested Marines limped backwards, firing off the pistol in its hand. Tali fired a shot at it, blowing the arm clean off the body. The abomination then charged at her, growling like mad, flailing its tentacle appendage about. Tali unloaded another blast as it came close and the body dropped to her feet.

Tali kept her shotgun pointed at it for a moment longer though, only to hear a sound come behind her. It was one of the parasites leaping down at her. She hit it with the butt of her gun and turned just in time to see the infested Marine standing back-up, its tentacle hand raised high and ready to strike. Tali stumbled back, barely avoiding the strike before her shotgun went off in the monster's face. The buckshot blew the creature's upper body clean off, killing it for good this time.

"I hate it when they do that," she grunted as she stood back up.

Shepard charged into one of the infection forms, sending the creature flying. He then quickly unloaded several incendiary blasts from his shotgun and let them tear the creature to shreds before it hit the ground. That was the only way his biotics were going to be of any help now, keeping these things off balance until he and the others could kill them.

He quickly looked to the left side and saw three parasite creatures rushing towards him. He slung out a shockwave, destroying them easily, but was hit by something in the back of the shoulder as he did. He turned and saw another infested Elite firing off its assault rifle. Shepard turned his shotgun around to him and fired off a blast or two as he tried to clutch at the wound in his shoulder.

"Commander, above you!"

Shepard turned just in time to see the Master Chief fire at something over his head. Moments later and infested Marine plopped out of the sky and landed in front of him. Shepard unloaded a shot into it with his shotgun just to be sure it didn't move again.

"He was going to land on top of you," the Spartan explained to him.

"Nice shot," Shepard congratulated as he approached.

Shepard applied some medi-gel to his wound and had the team regroup on the door nearby. It was another small enclosed corridor, so everyone was naturally cautious. They could even hear the sounds of more of those little parasite things within.

"Stay together guys," Shepard warned. "Watch each other's backs in there."

They entered the cramped hallway, trying to cover all their corners. They moved to the left, away from the more apparent sounds of the little parasites nearby. They passed by the wreckage of a door, peering into the small room it once guarded carefully. As they did though, one of the Combat Forms burst from within and pounced on Miranda, pushing her up against the wall.

"Lawson!" Shepard shouted out, aiming his gun at the creature.

"Careful," Tali cautioned. "You could hit her and that thing!"

Miranda wasn't about to be killed so easily though. As the creature's held her down with one arm and raised the other to attack, she pulled out her pistol and fired point blank into the creature's chest several times. She then kicked the creature off her, digging her heel into the open sore. The creature growled at her, clutching the wound the heel had made and backed away. Miranda then used the powerful pistol to blow off the monster's tentacle-like arm, sending falling uselessly to the ground, before unloading the rest of her bullets into the thing.

Out of breath and her gun barrel smoking, Miranda looked over to the others. Her eyes travelled to Tali as she brushed the hair out of her eyes.

"See?" She began. "Heels have their uses."

Tali was about to respond with something, but then looked to the side of the wall and pointed her gun at it.

"Duck!" She told Miranda.

Lawson did as commanded, just as the quarian fired and blew up a parasite creature that had been leaping for her head. As she rose back up, she turned back towards the quarian with a grateful look.

"I'll admit your shoes helped you out this one time," Tali admitted. "But I'll stick to my shotguns and boot knives as a combat accessory."

"Sounds fair to me," Miranda replied to the quarian with the slightest of smiles on her face.

The team moved quickly to the passageway's exit and found themselves looking at another one of the incubation rooms. They could already hear more of the Combat Forms walking about within. Looking inside more carefully, they could see several walking about the area armed with both Covenant and Human weapons.

Shepard wasn't about to risk taking them all on and neither was the Master Chief. They needed a quick way out of this room. They found it in what appeared to be collapsed section of the upper level walkway. They could climb the debris just like before and get up a level. With any luck, they'd find themselves on the other end of the broken light bridge and be able to push forward.

"Okay, this won't be easy," Shepard cautioned. "Miranda, keep them back with your biotics on the right, I'll do the same with the left. Chief, Tali, clear our path forward. Do not stop for anything."

The team came out of the passageway running. One of the Combat Forms spotted them immediately and aimed its plasma rifle at them. Shepard let a shockwave knock him away while Miranda used a slam attack on a second creature to create a little shockwave of her own, throwing off the aim off two other Combat Forms.

The Master Chief unloaded shell after shell into the Combat Forms to their direct front. He wasted no time in blasting one and then switching to a second target. His shields took hits from all sides as he ran, but he toughed it out. They needed to keep moving, they couldn't stop.

He was so focused on firing on the creatures he saw he nearly missed the one that popped out right in front of him. An Infested Marine appeared from behind a wall, aiming a plasma rifle right at the Spartan's head. Chief managed to knocked the gun away and stick the shotgun right into the monster's chest. He pulled the trigger and the monster tumbled backwards.

They reached the collapsed walkway and quickly began climbing the debris. Shepard boosted Tali up while Miranda clambered up the side on her own. Chief Covered them best he could, firing off shells at the incoming Combat Forms. He spotted one Infested Elite coming up from the left, assault rifle in hand, taking aim at Shepard.

"Hostile left!" He called out.

He took aim with his shotgun, pushing the Commander's head down and firing into the creature. At this distance, the shotgun only managed to blow off a piece of the creature's head. Luckily, Tali added to the barrage as she stood atop the collapsed walkway. She fired two shots more, ripping off the creature's arm and then his leg.

"Thanks again," Shepard told the Spartan. "I'm gonna have to pay you back for all these saves at some point."

"With our luck you'll get a chance in about two seconds," Chief replied in kind.

They scrambled up the side of the debris and then up the walkway. As they did, Chief took a shotgun blast from afar, taking his shields down to half strength. Shepard saw the offending Combat Form from afar and sent himself hurtling into the creature with a biotic charge. The Infested Covie was thrown backwards as Shepard pumped him full of lead.

"What do you know," Shepard called back to the Chief. "You were right!"

But there was time for thanks, as more of the Combat Forms were coming for them. They rushed across the walkways, firing back at the little parasite creatures that followed them and down at the Combat Forms still moving below.

They rushed through the exit and sure enough found themselves back in the room from before and back on the upper level. This time, however, they were on the other side of the broken light bridge and there was a busted open door just in front of them.

With their guns out and at the ready they pressed forward through the door. They could hear the gurgling roars echoing through the seemingly endless corridors and passageways as they did. These things were everywhere at now. With their luck, they'd end up having to fight them all just to escape this place.

Tali sent out Chiktikka again to scout ahead, but Chief kept wishing they had Cortana with them now. How quickly he had taken her advice and direction for granted. How quick he was to miss her little jokes and sly ribbing at his expense. What he wouldn't give to have her here now, giving them waypoints so they'd at least know where the hell they were even going. But Chief remembered why she wasn't here too. He was going to have a lot of questions when they got out of here that was for sure. Well, if they got out of here.

The dark woods surrounded Kowalski, as did the screams of abject terror of his brothers in arms. He frantically looked about him, his flashlight peering through the darkness. He saw glimpses of the creatures rushing about, taking shots at the retreating Marines, but nothing definitive. He searched for a way to go, a path out of this nightmare, but all he could see around him was chaos.

Marines fired into the darkness, behind them, in front of them, to the left and the right. They had no idea where this newly seemingly relentless enemy was coming from. The flashlights on their rifles and helmets lit up the shadows somewhat, but not enough to properly determine what lay within them. For Kowalski's part he tried to keep his cool and not waste ammo on shadows, but he found it extremely hard.

Leaping from the brush came one of the creatures that looked like an Elite. It tackled one of the ODSTs in front of him to the ground clawed at him. Kowalski fired several rounds at the thing, trying to get him off the poor soldier. The creature finally fell dead to the ground and the Private rushed up to help the trooper, but when he saw the poor man's throat slashed open he realised he had been too late.

"Kowalski, come on! He's gone!" Ellingham shouted into his ear, forcing him to keep moving by tugging hard on his arm.

So Kowalski kept running, racing through the trees in a desperate effort to keep up with everyone. Gunfire soon erupted from out of the darkness, cutting through Marines and ODSTs alike. Bullets and plasma bolts struck down the retreating soldiers, killing some, injuring many. Kowalski momentarily thought to turn and fire back, but he soon reconsidered by what he saw next.

One of the creatures tackled a Marine to the ground, grabbing him by the head with his tentacle-like appendage. The Marine screamed in horror firing up into the rotting, hanging flesh of the monster before it slammed him against a tree. He then dragged the body into the darkness. Another Marine raced after his friend, only to be blindsided by a shotgun blast to his side, fired by another of the creatures. Turning back for anything meant death, slowing down meant death.

Kowalski soon learned that for himself when one of the creatures came for him, firing like mad with its assault rifle. Kowalski ducked low and ran for cover, but tripped over a fallen branch in his way. He turned on his back and aimed his gun down towards the creature, only to see a most distressing sight.

With his flashlight directly on the creature, he recognized that's head had distinctive human features. It was rotten and decayed, bits of meat hanging from the torso and legs, visible bone here and there, but the monster clearly had a human face.

"Oh God," Kowalski muttered, the realisation hitting him suddenly.

The creature roared at him and prepared to fire, only to be thrown back into the darkness by a ball of energy that struck it in the chest. Kowalski looked to where it had come from and saw Samara standing over him. The asari pulled the Private off the ground and grabbed his sidearm from the holster.

"Move, Kowalski," she ordered. "I shall cover!"

She fired at the creature as it tried to attack again, blowing off its arm with several shots from her pistol as she moved back. The abomination kept coming, shrieking and roaring like mad. Samara suddenly froze the alien in place with a stasis field and then hit it with a reave attack. The monster exploded from the biotic detonation, pieces of it raining down onto the forest floor.

"Come," Samara said as she ran past Kowalski. "More will be here soon!"

Samara and Kowalski kept running until they reached a small clearing. There, they found Sergeant Taylor and the rest of the squad taking a short breather. They were still on guard, refusing to drop their weapons, but they couldn't hear the creatures as much anymore. The bad news was that they also couldn't head the gunfire of their comrades either. That did not bode well for them

"We've seriously stepped in something now," Pearson said, panting heavily. "Any chance you think those things will disappear at sunrise?"

"I don't know, Pearson," Ellingham growled at him. "Why don't you ask one of them while it tries to bite your face off?"

Sergeant Taylor kept his eyes on the treeline, searching for potential threats and their fellow Marines. He quickly realised that they were in bigger trouble than they thought.

"Damn it, we got all turned around in the dark," he told the others. "We've gotten ourselves separated from the main group. The whole retreat is descending into chaos."

"Then how the hell are we gonna get back to extraction?" Agley asked nervously. "We can barely see a foot in front of us and those fucking things are all over this forest! Aw fuck, we're screwed!"

"No we're not, the extraction point is north of here, remember?" Ramirez reminded him, holding up a compass in his pocket. "We just have to follow the arrow to it!"

"Is there even really a north on a giant floating space ring?" Pearson asked in response, slightly chuckling as he did. "I mean, it's not really a proper sphere so are there even poles? You think they got an Alien Santa living up there or something?"

Pearson seemed to be the only one not completely shaken by the events going on around them, and that did not sit well with everyone. Ellingham suddenly slammed his fest against a tree and turned towards Pearson with a venomous glare.

"Oh shut the fuck up, Pearson," he shouted at him. "This is not the time for your smartass bullshit!"

Taylor quickly got between the two Marines, placing his hand on Ellingham's chest.

"Calm down, Ellingham," he ordered him. "We're not gonna get anywhere yelling at each other or freaking out."

"I'm not the one who's acting like the perpetual class clown here, sir," Ellingham insisted.

"I said knock it off, Private," Taylor demanded once more.

Ellingham finally backed off and Kowalski used the opportunity to get in a word. He needed to tell them what he had seen while it was still fresh in his mind.

"Sarge," he began. "One of those things back there, I got a good look at it. It didn't look like an Elite or a batarian this time. It was human, two eyes, a mouth, everything."

"What are you saying, Kowalski?" Taylor asked him.

"I think these things, whatever they are, used to be what they look like," he explained. "Like those husks we keep running into, but different."

"Private Kowalski may be correct," Samara concurred readily. "These do not appear to be like the Husks I have encountered fighting alongside Shepard. They are clearly completely organic in nature. I can see no evidence of any technological fusion like that of the husks themselves."

Everyone looked taken aback by the news, even Pearson seemed shaken. Agley's shivering intensified while Ramirez and Taylor appeared deep in thought. Kowalski couldn't blame them for their reaction. It was scary to think that they could become one these things themselves.

"So something is turning them into those things?" Ellingham asked, shocked at the revelation himself. "What could do that?"

Kowalski wished he knew, but could only offer guesses.

"It might have something to do with those little gross insect-looking things," he eventually postulated.

"They did seem to show up along with those monstrosities," Taylor considered. "If that's the case we need to stay away from those little bastards as much as possible. Ramirez, you got point, lead us north and to the extraction point. Keep an eye out for more of those things people and stay together."

The squad began to move out, but they didn't get far before they heard something roaring nearby. It was hard to tell if it was one of the creatures or something else at first, so everyone pointed their weapons towards the sound. But the roar soon turned into a coherent voice, one Samara recognized.

"Get off of me!" The booming voice demanded.

"That's Grunt," Samara instantly declared.

Sure enough the krogan came running out of the brush, slamming himself into a nearby tree. The sound of something popping soon followed and the krogan reached back onto his hump. He grabbed one of the parasite creatures and crushed it in his hands. He pulled another of the creatures off his chest plate and threw it to the ground where he stomped on it with his foot.

"Worse than pyjaks," the tank-born krogan growled.

When he was done insulting the dead creature, he realised he was not alone.

"Heh, glad I found someone," he said as he walked over.

"Are you uninjured, Grunt?" Samara asked.

"Ugly little things bit me, but I'm fine," he responded. "They tried to claw past my armour, but I fortified it when they swarmed me. Stupid things learned what happens when you try to eat a krogan."

Kowalski was glad to see that they had a little more muscle now, but not everyone was. Agley had his gun still raised and pointed at the krogan, twitching constantly.

"Agley, relax, it's not a hostile," Sergeant Taylor told him. "It's just Grunt, THE Grunt, not the gas suckers."

"But he had those things on him," Agley reminded him. "Those little scary things that are probably turning us into the bigger scarier things that are trying to kill us, and they were all over him!"

"He doesn't look sick to me," an unconvinced Ramirez responded.

"I don't get sick," Grunt insisted readily. "I heal. Look, the only bite they got on me is gone now."

Grunt showed his arm and indeed the scar from where the creature had been had vanished already.

"Perhaps it takes more than biting to spread this virus," Samara suggested.

"How can we be sure?" Agley asked, still not putting his gun down. "What if he suddenly turns on us?"

The asari glared at Agley while Grunt merely seemed to glare back at the nervous Private with a less than serious look. The krogan was clearly not afraid, more like insulted. Chances were Agley's assault rifle wouldn't be enough to put the krogan down before the giant reptile pummelled him into the ground. Before that theory could be tested though, Samara walked between Agley's gun and Grunt. Somehow she looked even more imposing than the hulking humpbacked reptile behind her.

"While Grunt was born from one man's selfish and deplorable actions, he himself is innocent of any wrong doing," she informed the Private. "Attack him and you will be attacking an innocent. My code will not allow that."

"Whoa, whoa, there's no need to get physical here," Kowalski insisted, raising up his hands in an attempt to calm the situation. "Agley is just scared is all, like we all are. He's gonna put the gun down now, right buddy?"

Agley hesitated for a moment, the rifle shaking in his hands. Samara stood unwavering in his path.

"Agley, stand down," Sergeant Taylor finally ordered. "Even if there is some kind of virus causing this we don't even know how it works. For all we know, the krogan's regenerative abilities render it useless."

Agley finally acquiesced, lowering his rifle at last. Kowalski took the rifle away for a moment, just to be sure. Taylor, in the meantime, immediately stepped over to Samara next.

"I understand you were protecting a crewmate, but you didn't need to escalate the situation there," he informed her politely, but firmly. "This is my squad. I'm in charge of them."

"I was only following my code, Sergeant," Samara explained simply. "I am grateful I did not have to conduct it to the full extent. I apologize if my actions created distress."

"Eh, he wasn't gonna shoot anyway," Grunt stated aloud. "Too scared. Can we go now?"

The squad moved out again, Agley taking his rifle back as they did. Kowalski stared at the back of Samara's head as they walked, still in disbelief at what had just happened.

"Geez, Kowalski," Pearson whispered to him. "Your girlfriend's head tentacles are little scrambled, aren't they?"

"She's not my girlfriend and she's just following her code," Kowalski informed him adamantly. "She's not allowed to let innocents come to harm and punish the guilty."

"Yeah, fine, remind me not to mention all those unpaid parking tickets I got in front of her," Pearson informed him.

"She wouldn't kill you for that," Kowalski corrected him crossly. "It's more complicated."

Pearson shook his head and fell back along the line. Kowalski in turn rushed up to Samara, hoping to set the record straight about what had just happened.

"Agley didn't mean to go a little squirrely, he was just scared," Kowalski explained to him.

"The code does not allow motive to dismiss the guilty," Samara informed him simply. "I sympathised with Agley's fears, but unless Grunt was immediate threat to his safety he could make no claim to self-defence. I told you before that the code is black and white, there is no grey."

"I know, just try not to do that again, please," Kowalski politely pleaded.

"I cannot make that promise, Private Kowalski," Samara replied. "But I will attempt to use less confrontational methods next time."

Kowalski just hoped that didn't mean killing someone outright. They had enough problems lost in this forest with monsters trying to kill them. They just needed to get back to the extraction point and find the others. Hopefully, they wouldn't leave without them.

Kat let loose with her DMR rifle as she stood atop the hill, taking cover behind a tree. This retreat had gotten disorganized. They needed to get it back under control now, before these things overran them. McKay had been quick to realise this herself and issued a general order over the radio.

"All squads this is Lieutenant McKay. Form up into defensive formation Charlie and take cover," she ordered. "Move back in pairs with your squadmates, do not break formation. We must maintain unit cohesion. The Spartans will give us covering fire while we move to extraction."

The initial shock of these creatures had finally settled and McKay was back to her cool under fire demeanour. Common practice for an ODST under normal circumstances, but admirable in this case. Even Kat herself was still trying to comprehend their situation. To her, the Lieutenant had almost Spartan like qualities.

Kat unloaded her rifle on a group of the creatures as they started leaping from the treeline. She blasted them with her DMR, hitting them center mass. She wouldn't allow them to attack the Marines from above like that.

Linda was moving among the Marines themselves, tapping on them to fall back while she kept firing. Her dual pistols made the job almost easy. She targeted two of the creatures simultaneously as they crawled out of the woodwork. Her shields took a massive beating from the plasma bolts, but she didn't back down. With every shot, the Spartan II managed to cut through what little flesh and bone still remained on the abominations.

When one got too close, she blasted off both of its knees, forcing it to kneel in front of her. The monster still trashed about, trying to whack her with its tentacle arm. Linda just fired both pistols straight into its chest, killing it. However, another volley of plasma bolts forced her back into cover, waiting for her shields to come back.

Jacob was covering the retreating Marines as well. His shotgun wasn't nearly as effective as the M90 models, but it did the job with the added use of the incendiaries. His biotic abilities also kept the creatures back, forcing them away from the squads of Marines.

At that moment, however, more of the swarming little creatures arrived. Jacob, unafraid of the rapidly approaching little pests, tossed a frag grenade towards their swarm. The blast detonated in front of the swarm, killing them all in one magnificent explosion.

But even Jacob had to fall back eventually, as the creatures pummelled his cover with bullets and bolts. Splinters flew from logs and rocks had pieces blown off them. Jacob soon moved back from the onrush of fire, covering Marines as he did. At the very least, the retreat seemed far more organized now.

"We're good to go, Noble Two!" McKay called up. "Extraction is just over the next hill!"

"I'll cover you!" Kat assured her.

Kat began to pull out of her cover and move back, firing at the creatures as they retreated from the field. As she did though, she spied something moving in the brush ahead of her, heading towards McKay. It didn't look human with the way it was hunched over. She targeted where the legs were and fired, managing to trip the creature up. It landed in front of McKay, who stopped when she spotted it, levelling her gun towards it.

Kat rushed up to find out what she had hit and saw that it was both human and not human. It was a Marine, but decayed and mutated like the creatures they were fighting. Flesh was hanging off its body, bone was visible and its arm was changed and malformed into a tentacle. The only way to tell it had been a Marine once was the armour beneath all the growths and sores. Unlike the other creatures though, it didn't try to fight back as much, holding up its arm in a defensive posture.

"Well that's curious," Kat noted.

"We need find out more about these things if we're going to fight them," McKay noted. "This one looks slightly pacified. What do you think?"

"I think he's one of ours," Kat replied. "And that puts a disturbing spin on this whole thing. We need to learn as much as we can."

"Agreed, Silva is gonna flip when he sees this," McKay concurred.

McKay raised the butt of her gun to the creature's head and smacked it with her rifle. She wasn't sure if it would work at first, but the monster passed out regardless. Kat grabbed it by the legs and dragged it through the woods towards extraction. They were almost free, and with a very unique prisoner of war to boot.

Tali and Miranda fired back with every bullet they had back into the passageway. Meat and bone flew about, scattering the walls with disgusting green goo, as the Combat Forms kept advancing. Finally, the two parted to allow the Master Chief to toss a frag grenade into the corridor. The cramped space turned the remaining monsters to mush, while everyone bid a hasty retreat into the very next room.

As expected, it was full of the abominations, but at least they all had more room to move again. Chief was already at work covering the others while Shepard looked for a way out of this room. They took cover behind one of the walls, while the Spartan blew away any of the Combat Forms that got close. It didn't take long for Shepard to find their exit though, a large container littered with the bodies of both Marines and Jackals strangely.

"You think they tried teaming up?" Tali asked, noticing the bodies strewn across the container.

"Who knows," Shepard shrugged. "Right now, it's our way up to that walkway."

Shepard and Tali ran up first, while the Master Chief kept them covered. The Commander boosted Tali up and then Miranda. As the two women pulled their Commander up together, the Chief scrambled on top of the container himself.

As he got on top, he took a spray of plasma bolts from one of Combat Forms standing above them. The creature then jumped down, trying to tackle the Spartan, but Chief was ready for him. He grabbed the abomination's arm and threw him into a nearby pillar. He then turned his Shotgun on the creature and blasted the torso clean off its legs.

The Master Chief took over point as the group climbed onto the walkway. As they did, they saw more of the Combat Forms moving towards them, firing off shots from their weapons and snarling at them from afar.

Shepard looked to Miranda as he readied a biotic attack. Lawson nodded and sent a pull attack towards one of the creatures. Shepard then launched a Warp attack at the floating creature, hitting the abomination clean in the chest. As the Combat Form detonated and took a few of his friends with him, the squad of four rushed out of the room.

They entered another cramped hallway, Chief leading the charge. One of the Elite Combat forms rushed out from behind a corner to attack, but the Spartan was barely moved by the attempted scare. He blasted the creature in the torso and watched the body fly into the opposing wall.

"Chiktikka's found the lift, it's just in the next room," Tali explained quickly. "I've had her activate the light bridge for us, but her sensors are picking up a large influx of these things! We need to move!"

"It's like they know we're trying to escape," Miranda observed.

"Well, they're smart enough to use guns, I wouldn't put it past them," Shepard admitted.

Chief tried to hold in his questions for when they got out of here. He suspected Cortana knew more than any of them anyway. He just had to focus on getting back to her. Then they could figure out how to kill these things before they overran Halo, if they hadn't already.

They came into the next large room with guns at the ready. Shepard sent out a shockwave that rippled across the floor and threw several of the Combat Forms standing nearby flying. Tali shot them as they ran past, rushing onto the bridge. More of the creatures scrambled up to the upper level, or began firing at them as they rushed across the light bridge from below.

The Master Chief took out his last frag grenade at that moment and tossed it down at the combat forms. The creatures were engulfed in the explosion, allowing everyone to reach the other side relatively unscathed. But more of the Combat forms were racing across the bridge, firing as they came.

Chief stood back and shielded the others from the shots himself. He unloaded his shotgun into the light bridge's control panel and watched as the bridge deactivated. The Combat Forms fell to the ground below. The fall wouldn't kill them, but it would slow them down.

"Get on the lift," the Spartan shouted as he ran inside the room with the others. "We're leaving now!"

Kowalski could hear the sound of Pelicans overhead, moving towards the landing zone. They were almost home free now. They just had to get over this next hill. The tension from before had died down now, Agley wasn't nearly as shaky and Samara's mood had shifted back to passive. That didn't meant their guards weren't up, they could still hear the distant moans and cries of the strange creatures around them.

"You suppose they've quit on us and gone after the Covies?" Ellingham asked.

"I think they would've done that earlier," Taylor told him. "And who's to say there aren't enough of them to go after both of us at the same time?"

Kowalski strangely didn't like thinking about the Covies facing these things. He should've been overjoyed to see them getting what was coming to them. All that stuff with the Husks and crap, felt like karma was biting them back. At the same time though, Kowalski couldn't imagine wishing this inflicted on anyone, even the Covies. This just wasn't something you wanted to happen to people.

"Really wish Shepard was here," Grunt grumbled. "We wouldn't have been in so much trouble if he was."

"That assumes he has not encountered these things already himself," Samara suggested. "I do hope Garrus and others have found him and that they too have escaped these monsters if they have encountered them."

Suddenly, Taylor stopped dead in his tracks, raising a fist high. His head pivoted from side to side and he clicked a fresh mag into his rifle.

"They're close," he warned. "Watch yourselves team they could be-"

It was then one of the monsters came barrelling out of the woods, rushing towards Taylor's side. The Sergeant turned and fired several shots into the creature's torso before jumping out of the way. The hostile monster was soon joined by more, screaming and growling as they fired and charged at the squad.

"Fuckers set an ambush!" Ellingham cried out, unloading a shotgun blast into one of the corpse-like monstrosities.

"Holy shit!" Was all Agley could shout out as he fired his rifle wildly at the attacking creatures.

"Don't let them corral us, squad," Sergeant Taylor ordered. "Rally and get up this hill!"

Samara did her best to cover the team, throwing out biotic attacks where she could. Grunt brought his shotgun to bear. He began blasting apart the creatures as they leapt at him or the others. When one grabbed onto him from behind he rammed himself backwards into a tree then ripped the upper body of the creature off from his legs, tossing him aside. The body kept moving, raising its pistol to fire on the krogan.

"Dead things should stay dead!" The krogan decreed as he slammed his foot down into the creature's squishy body.

At that moment, Agley got hit in the leg by a plasma round. Screaming, he fell to the ground, crying out for help.

"Ramirez, help Agley, I'll cover!" Taylor ordered.

Ramirez rushed over to the downed Marine, firing off his weapon at an incoming Elite-shaped creature. He managed to take him down and Ramirez began dragging his fallen comrade. Agley fired back at the enemy, even as he kept screaming like mad, if only out of a desire not get killed by these things.

Kowalski moved up the hill to Samara's position, firing down on the abominations below. They finally started to move back and the creatures themselves seemed to be thinning out. But with the click of the trigger, Kowalski realised he had just used up his last mag.

"I'm out!" Kowalski screamed aloud.

"I'm running low here!" Ellingham shouted out at the same time as he walked backwards up the hill.

"Running dry myself!" Pearson cried out as he ran back behind a tree.

"Keep moving team, we're getting out of this!" Taylor shouted aloud. "Kowalski, take this mag! Make it count!"

Taylor tossed the magazine towards the Private who quickly grabbed it out of the air. He fired it into one of the creatures as it closed on Agley and Ramirez, taking it down with a few clean hits. Kowalski searched for more targets as Samara launched out more throw attacks and Grunt blew more holes in the oncoming hostiles.

He then spotted Taylor, who had switched to his sidearm, unloading into one of the creatures below. He moved down the slope to help drag Agley to his feet and place him on Ramirez's shoulder to carry. The two Privates began running up the hill, while the Sergeant slowly followed, his gun still trained on the monsters all around them.

"Go, I'll give you cover!" He said as he fired back on the incoming abominations.

Then a burst of red exploded out from Taylor's chest and side. One of the creatures had caught him with a full burst of bullets. He managed to stay on his feet and return fire, but he was hit by another burst of rounds that struck him in the arm.

"Sarge!" Kowalski cried out.

Kowalski tried to rush over to Taylor, but one of the large Elite-shaped creatures rushed out of the woodwork and sideswiped Taylor with its massive tentacle-like arm. Taylor was thrown clear into one of the trees with a sickening snap and went limp. Kowalski just froze in his tracks, dumbfounded.

"Motherfucker!" Ellingham cried out, blasting the offending monstrosity in the chest. He pumped several more rounds into him, blowing off the creature's arms and head.

Grunt joined the enraged Marine, firing on the creatures with his own shotgun. Kowalski just stood still, until Samara pulled him out of it.

"We must help Sergeant Taylor, come on!" She shouted at him.

Strangely, the creatures suddenly backed off, or maybe they had killed the ambush off they couldn't tell. Everyone quickly gathered around Taylor as he lay against the tree. There was already a large pool of blood around his legs as several bullet holes had perforated his body.

"He's bleeding out, we need medi-gel and bio-foam," Pearson screamed aloud.

Ellingham tried to plug up the various bullet holes with what bio foam they had. He ripped off the Sergeant's helmet and shredded armour to get a better look at his wounds. Samara administered medi-gel in an attempt to assist. She also began scanning his body with ehr omni-tool in an attempt to find more injuries. Pearson in the meantime tried to talk to the Sergeant, keep him calm, relaxed.

"Can you move, sir?" He asked frantically.

Taylor tried, but could only scream and fall back into place.

"I think the fucker... broke my rib cage... and the tree... cracked my spine," Taylor said, his breathing heavy and frantic.

"He's lost a lot of blood," Samara stated sadly, looking at her scans.

"He's gonna be fine," Kowalski tried to assure himself and everyone nervously. He bent down to Taylor's face. "You're gonna be fine, sir!"

Taylor suddenly coughed up a wad of blood, coating the front of his armour with it. Ellingham had closed up all the bullet holes, but the assault rifle rounds had done more damage than expected, as did the monster's hit.

"I think one of the bullets may have ruptured an artery near to his heart," Ellingham stated mournfully, looking over the Sergeant's body. "I'm not... I don't know what to do."

"You get the fuck out of here," Taylor ordered weakly. "That's what you do."

"We're not leaving you for these things, sir," Pearson shouted at him.

Taylor reached out and grabbed Pearson by the shoulder, coughing up more blood as he did.

"This is as far as I'm getting," he managed to tell him. "Look at me! I'm fucking Swiss Cheese here."

"We're not leaving you," Kowalski told him. "We've left too many of us behind already! We're all that's left of the unit!"

Taylor stared at all of them as his head fell back. He clutched at his pistol and raised it up.

"I've been proud to serve with all of you," he told them. "You... the whole company, you were... the best squadmates I could've hoped for."

He passed the pistol into Pearson's hands and forced him to clutch it.

"Get off this ring," he ordered. "Get... home. One way... or another, get home."

Ellingham took off his helmet as the Sergeant's breathing became more laboured. Ramirez and Agley followed suit. Pearson could only hold the Sergeant's hand as his grip started to weaken. All Kowalski could do was get in close and try to comfort Taylor best he could. He eventually worked up the courage to hold Taylor's hand with Pearson.

"Alec," Pearson managed to finally speak up. "We can't-"

"I need you guys to live," Taylor mustered up enough strength to say. "I need you guys to get back to Earth. I've tried to lead you best I can, train you, prepare for everything and anything. Now you need to look after each other... because I can't help you anymore. You're finest damn Marines in the UNSC... don't let me dying destroy that. Keep fighting, no matter what."

Everyone stood quiet for that moment, before Pearson finally spoke up.

"We'll keep fighting, Alec," he said. "We promise."

Taylor smiled weakly as he let his head sag to the side.

"That's... a good... Devil Dog," he said. "Semper Fi... see ya... on the other side."

Taylor's head limped forward and his breathing stopped. Everyone was quiet for a good long minute. Eventually, Samara bent down to close the Sergeant's eyes.

"May you find everlasting peace with the Goddess, Sergeant Alec Taylor," she spoke solemnly.

Kowalski turned to Pearson after a few more moments.

"We can't leave him here for these things," he stated.

Pearson agreed and turned to Grunt.

"Can you carry him out?" He asked the krogan.

The lumbering lizard obliged, picking up Taylor's body carefully and cradling it in his arms. Ellingham grabbed his helmet, holding it in his hands. It was then they heard more of the warbling and gargling sounds of the creatures.

"We gotta move," Pearson stated. "Come on."

The team rushed up the side of the hill. They soon beheld the Pelicans making their landing just beyond the ridge. They were home free at last, but none of them felt like celebrating, least of all Kowalski.

He had lost another friend, another member of the unit and once again he had been powerless to stop any of it. Taylor had wanted them to survive, but Kowalski wasn't sure if they could anymore. If Taylor could get killed like that, what chance did any of them have?

After what had felt like an eternity, they had finally reached a lift. Thankfully, this one took them up as they had hoped it would. As they rose up through the shaft the sound of the outdoors greeted and it wasn't the only thing that they heard.

"Echo 419 to the Master Chief," Foe Hammer called in. "Where were you? I lost your signal when you entered the structure and I've been circling around trying to get it back for hours! What's going on down there?"

"Foe Hammer we have a new development," Chief responded immediately. "We have a new highly hostile force down here. Not Covenant, I repeat, they are not Covenant. This is something different and far worse. They attacked Captain Keyes' squad and I can presume currently that they are all dead. I repeat, Captain Keyes may be KIA."

"Shit," Foe Hammer replied sounding rather taken aback. "Hold tight, I'm going to look for a place to extract you. Is Commander Shepard still with you?"

Shepard got on the line moments after hearing the pilot ask for her.

"I'm here, Echo 419," he spoke up. "We all are."

"Good, your friends will be happy to hear that," she stated. "They should be near your location now."

"Friends?" Shepard asked back, rather confused.

When the lift stopped at the top of the shaft, they found an unexpected sight. A squad's worth of Marines, guarding the exit, unchanged, non-infested Marines. More than likely the remains of Keyes' unit that had remained outside to guard the entrance to the facility. They weren't the only ones though. Standing among them were none other than Garrus, Mordin, Zaeed, Thane, Kasumi, Jack and, most surprising of all, Legion. More than half the ground team had come after them and somehow had found them. To say Shepard was surprised to see them all was an understatement.

"Shepard, thank the Spirits we found you," Garrus said as he rushed down the ramp. "We found the main entrance, but the lift down was destroyed. We hooked up with these guys and made our way here. We were just about to head down to find you."

"When I told you to come after us if we were overdue I didn't expect you to bring over half the team," Shepard told him, sounding rather stern for a moment.

"To be fair, I tried to stop Legion but they were really, really insistent on coming along," Garrus tried to explain.

Shepard's features softened and he gave his friend a smile.

"Well I'm happy you brought them, we'll need everyone if we're going to get out of here," Shepard happily told him with a laugh. "Can we get back to your shuttle from here?"

"I don't think so, Commander," Garrus regretfully replied. "We got cut off pretty quick from our main drop zone. I'm guessing you encountered whatever the hell these things are too?"

"Bucket loads," Shepard said, fully stressing the dire situation in his voice. "Every Elite and Human down in that place has been turned. If they found a way outside, they're probably swarming all over this swamp."

Tali in the meantime had noticed Legion and did not seem too happy to see him out. She didn't even bother to talk to Kasumi who seemed most grateful to see her alive and well. She walked right up to the Geth, eyes glaring.

"You're supposed to be on minor mission duty, Legion," she reminded him. "Do you realise how much danger you're putting yourself in by coming out into combat? What if you froze out there and one of these things blew your platform to pieces!"

"We were concerned with Creator Tali'Zorah's well being," Legion answered plainly. "We wished to make up for our previous unintended distressing comments towards you. We did not mean to disobey, only to help."

Kasumi quickly rushed up, taking the quarian by the shoulder.

"He was worried, Tali, we all were," the hooded thief told her calmly. "You were out of contact for a really long time. When we encountered those things in the swamp we thought you were zombie chow."

Tali sighed, recomposing her senses best she could.

"I appreciate you coming out here to help me Legion, I really do," she assured the Synthetic. "But you shouldn't have put yourself at risk like that while that glitch is messing with your systems. DOT being disconnected from you is a start, but your systems are still compromised."

"We determined the risk to ourselves was necessary," Legion explained, his plates drooping slightly. "Staying aboard the ship while members of our crew were in danger was an unacceptable position. We determined that Shepard Commander and Creator Tali'Zorah were both far too valuable to the Normandy to lose."

Tali's anger subsided. She understood Legion's reasons, and she was touched. But they put themselves in grave danger. Why couldn't they just listen to her, for once? Just once. Regardless, they were here now. Hopefully, Tali would be able to get them back to the Normandy without any incident.

"Just stay behind me, Legion," she told the Geth. "Don't go straining your neural net out there either. It could cause the glitch to seriously hamper your systems' functionality."

"We shall comply with this request," Legion answered.

Master Chief approached one of the Marines, a Corporal who looked seriously shaken.

"Master Chief, thank God you're here. We've been lost out here for hours," he started to explain, his nerves were clearly shaken and he sounded absolutely exhausted. "After we lost contact with the rest of the mission, we headed for the RV point to wait for the Captain. Then these... things, they attacked us! I thought they almost had us for sure until Shepard's crew and the ODSTs arrived."

"ODSTs?" Chief asked, confused as he did not see them nearby.

"Sergeant Buck and his squad," Zaeed informed him. "They're outside in a forward position monitoring for movement. Those bloody monsters are sneaky bastards. We wanted to be ready in case they decided to come in here after us."

"Sir, we got to get the hell outta here," The Corporal desperately insisted.

"I think we all can agree with that course of action," Chief concurred. "But we'd need a place for Foe Hammer to land. The swamp's trees are too thick for her to get through just anywhere."

It was then Foe Hammer herself provided a solution to the problem.

"There's a large structure in the middle of a shallow lake not far from your current position," she explained. "If you can find a way to the top past the fog and foliage I can pick you up and radio the Normandy's shuttle to do the same."

"Worth a shot," Shepard agreed. "Those things are going to be all over us though as soon as we go out there. We'll have to fight our way to it."

"Bring it on," Jack declared. "We've been handing these alien zombie freaks their asses for a good while now."

Garrus got on the radio and contacted Buck outside.

"Garrus to Buck, we got Shepard and the Chief," he stated. "We're going to make a run to large structure not far from here. You see any movement out there?"

"Quite a bit actually," Buck warned. "These things are getting bit squirrely. If we're going to make it to that tower we're gonna have to book it or risk getting overrun."

"Thanks for the update, Buck, get ready to move when we do," Garrus told him.

Shepard walked up to the top of the ramp and instantly grabbed everyone's attention.

"Alright, everyone stick together and don't bunch up," he advised. "These things are strong, fast and incredibly durable as you no doubt know by now. Our mass effect weapons don't have much effect on them so don't bother using them unless you have incendiary rounds."

"No worries, Shep," Kasumi called up to him. "We scrounged some UNSC guns off the shambling undead freaks we managed to put down. We're covered."

Kasumi held up her own M6D Magnum to better illustrate her point. With that concern settled, Shepard continued his speech.

"I don't know what these things are, but I'll be damned if me, my team and the Master Chief didn't fight through a whole complex full of them just to die in a bog, and none of you Marines survived this many hours out here alone to get killed now," he told everyone. "We're getting the hell out of this mud hole together! On me!"

The assembled mass of people rushed out into the bog outside. Buck, Dutch and Romeo were there to greet them, joining their group as they kept racing down the path towards the tower. The wet marshy ground splashed beneath them as they ran. Mud and dirt went flying as they charged forward. Their eyes were glued to the shadows and fog around them, knowing the creatures could spring an ambush anytime.

They made their way through the mess of trees and began trudging through the ankle deep water of the swamp. As they moved forward, Buck looked to the left suddenly as he heard splashing coming from that direction.

"More of the hungry little bug-eyed ones incoming, nine o'clock low!" He called out.

He and a number of Marines turned to fire on the little swarming parasitic creatures as they approached the large group. The water erupted from the barrage of bullets, practically churning it from all the rounds fired. The little freaks were popped with relative ease from the rapid firing weapons of the Marines, but greater dangers soon made themselves known.

Bursting from under the water, dripping mud off its decayed form, appeared one of the Combat Forms. He had gotten drop on one poor Marine and struck him with the full weight of his tentacle arm. As the Marine went flying, Buck unloaded his submachine gun into the beast with Dutch backing him up. They took it down, but they heard more Combat Forms approaching from the left.

"Run, Troopers!" Buck cried out. "And don't even think about looking back!"

The group rushed back out of the water and along a small ravine. It was here the bulk of the Combat Forms sprung their ambush. They leapt down from the trees and the top of the hill onto the horribly outnumbered group below.

Kasumi vanished as one of the creatures fell towards her. It looked about for a moment, trying to find out where she had gone. The Thief then reappeared behind it and unloaded several rounds in the creature's back. She managed to explode the creature's chest out from the back, but she didn't stick around for his friends to catch up.

Zaeed fired on the undead monstrosities with the DMR he had brought with him. To think he had only done so just to try out some of the Marine's weapons. Lucky him, as his sniper rifle proved completely useless against these freaks beforehand.

He fired bullet after bullet into the Combat Forms, blowing their arms clean off before aiming for the chests. He then tossed out an inferno grenade, igniting a large group of the monsters. But one jumped over the fire and landed almost in front of him. Zaeed, unflinching, punched the creature hard enough that it stumbled back. The old mercenary the blasted the creature's ribcage apart before it could recover.

"Nice hustle, old timer," Romeo called out from nearby as he fired back on the creatures.

"Please, this is nothing compared to the DMZs back on my Earth," Zaeed claimed.

Shepard tried to keep pace with the Master Chief, who had quickly rushed out ahead of the group. As Combat Forms fell down upon Marines, tackling them to the ground, Chief made it his personal mission to clear the way. He blasted one of the Combat forms as it came charging up to them, its plasma rifle firing away. When Chief had finished that hostile off, he turned his gun to one of the Marines who had been jumped by a Combat Form. He blasted the monster off him before the beast could pummel him to death.

"Christ, I think I recognized that one," The Marine stated as he got back up and kept running.

Shepard, for his part, tried his best to keep them all organized, calling out targets for his own crew mates.

"Jack, more are coming in on the right from behind those rocks!" He shouted out.

"On it," Jack assured. "I'll put them back in the ground where they belong!"

The ex-con sent a rippling shockwave that lifted the incoming Combat Forms up before she pelted them with several blasts from her shotgun. Her warp round ammunition seemed almost as effective as incendiary. Possibly because they had about the same effect on organic tissue, warp just burned you on a cellular level.

They finally came to the lake and hurried into the water once more. They could now see the structure through the dense fog just ahead. It certainly looked big enough to get them clear of the trees. The problem was, Shepard couldn't see a way to climb it. That wouldn't stop him from trying though.

"Miranda, Zaeed," he ordered. "Get to that tower and find a way to get up it! Tali, Chief, help me cover them. Everyone else, form a perimeter around the structure and keep them back!"

More of the Combat Forms were already pouring out of the woodwork. Garrus took up positions with the others and tried their best to hold them back, but the creatures were all around them. Mordin set them ablaze with his incineration blast function. Thane and Jack hit them with biotic attacks to force them back. Legion let his drone roll out amongst them and detonate. But for every Combat Form they destroyed, more seemed to take their place just as quickly.

Garrus targeted one of the creatures as they opened fire on Buck's team. The ODSTs were forced to fall back from their cover behind a tree as more of the abominations tried to encircle them. As Garrus covered the retreat, a plasma bolt fired by one of the combat forms hit his collar bone. Luckily his shields absorbed much of the hit, but the heat was enough the force the turian back down into cover.

"Shepard, I hope you've found a way on top of that thing," he said over the radio. "Cause we're gonna slaughtered out here if we hang around too long."

As Garrus said that, his tree was pelted with bullets. Branches and bark fell and flew all around him. The turian rolled out of cover, kneeling in the shallow lake. He fired repeatedly into the fog where he saw the shots coming from.

At that moment, one of the swarming creatures burst from underwater and went for the turian's neck. But Garrus was quicker, grabbing the little bulbous parasite and tossing it back into the air. He took aim at the flying creature and fired at it. The little parasite burst into a thousand little confetti-like pieces high above the water.

Shepard finally responded to Garrus' concerns, but he had problems of his own.

"We're working on it, Garrus," Shepard told him. "Just keep them back!"

Some of the creatures had bulldozed their way past the Marine's perimeter. As hard as the Marines tried to fight back, these things were far more resilient than any enemy they had faced, mostly because these things weren't alive anymore. One hit from an assault or plasma rifle was all it took for the creatures to run up and strike the humans down. Even more leapt into battle, bypassing the cover completely to drop down on the hapless Marines.

Now, they were coming for Shepard's group and they were desperate to hold them at bay. Tali had Chiktikka working overtime to shock the Combat Forms with enough juice to give them pause, allowing Chief or Shepard to blow them away. Chief found himself unable to fully reload his shotgun, stopping mid way just to let off another shell before one of the monsters got too close.

Worse still, the creatures were draining their shields shot by shot. Shepard had to pull into cover when one bullet grazed his side after his barriers failed. Chief himself took a bad hit in the arm from a plasma rifle. Unlike regular Elites, these things didn't care if they got hit and they could take it as well. They were forced to get to cover while the Combat Forms had free range.

Tali grabbed Shepard and helped him into cover. Miranda picked up the slack for him while Zaeed continued looking for a way to get up the structure. Tali gave a quick look at Shepard's wound and shouted over to the Master Chief.

"Shepard needs bio-foam if you got it!" She called out.

Chief grabbed a packet off his utility belt and tossed it over.

"I got more if you need it," Chief told her.

Tali had already applied medi-gel to help stop the bleeding, but she wanted to close up the wound faster. So she injected Shepard with the bio-foam, sealing up the injuring quickly.

"Thanks, Tali," he told her as he regained his footing. "Help Zaeed look, I'll cover you with Miranda and Chief."

"Oh no, I'm staying with you," Tali told him. "Legion's already pulled that heroic crap tonight."

One of the Combat Forms jumped onto a nearby piece of the structure and fired down them both with its assault rifle. Tali pulled Shepard away from the shots and aimed her shotgun up at the monster. With one shot, she blew off the thing's arm and head and the abomination fell back down into the water with a splash.

"Besides, you're practically helpless without me," Tali informed Shepard slyly.

"Miranda's right, you are a real Comedian," Shepard responded in a good natured form of sarcasm. He looked over to Zaeed. "We have a way up there yet?"

"We can try climbing," Zaeed told him, staring up at the tower. "But that's going to make us real open targets for the bastards."

"Then we'll need to clear enough of them out before we can..."

Shepard stopped mid-sentence, hearing a whirling sound above him. He wasn't the only one, because both Zaeed and heard it too. It was like some sort of metallic sound, high above. Chief and Miranda kept firing on the advancing horde, but they were too were slightly distracted by the whirling. And then, they all heard what sounded like... humming, someone was humming a little song of some sort.

Before anyone could ask what it was, red lights erupted out of the fog. They struck the Combat Forms and the small parasites alike, scorching their flesh and rending limbs from their bodies. Romeo tripped on a branch as he backed away from a Combat Form, only to be saved by one of the red beams as it cut through the creature's torso.

"The hell?" He asked, looking around him to see even more red beams. "What's with the killer light show?"

"I don't know," Buck answered, grabbing the trooper by his hand and pulling him up. "But they don't like these things."

The source of the heat rays appeared out of the fog, sleek metallic flying silver machines. They fired the laser beams from their mounted weapons systems, cutting the Combat Forms down. When the creatures fired back, the drones were revealed to be protected by shields. They swarmed the Combat Forms, forcing them back from the structure and the Marine's positions. They kept attacking, but the pressure had been suddenly lifted by these machines regardless.

"This evening is just full of surprises, isn't it?" Miranda asked.

"Where they did they all come from?" Tali asked.

"I don't know, but they've just given us some much needed time," Chief declared. "Marines, let's climb this tower and-"

Chief was suddenly cut off as a bright light surrounded him. He felt his body being broken up into a thousand pieces and then being stitched back together. It wasn't nearly as painful as one would assume that would be though, more of a tingling sensation than anything. When his vision returned, Chief found himself standing further up the structure. With him were Shepard, Zaeed, Miranda and Tali, all of them were just as confused and dazed as he was.

"The hell just happened?" Miranda asked. "How did we...?"

Chief suddenly felt a presence behind them all and turned with his gun raised. He found himself staring at silver orb with a single blue eye, hovering in the air in front of him. The others soon turned to see the same sight, their guns raised as well.

"What in the...?" Was all Zaeed managed to say before the orb started talking.

"Greetings," it stated. "I am the Monitor of Installation 04. I am 343 Guilty Spark."

That didn't do much to get Shepard to lower his weapon or anyone else for that matter.

"Monitor?" Shepard said, his mind recalling that name. "You're the Synthetic who tried to access my ship the other day!"

"The same," the orb admitted. "Your Construct was most unhelpful and would be on report, were it not for the unique circumstances of your presence here. However, that is not of importance at this present time."

Shepard and Chief looked down at the lake below and saw that the others were still engaged in an intense firefight with the Combat Forms.

"Can you get them up here," Shepard requested of the orb. "We need to get to the top of this structure and get out of here."

"That is out of the question," the orb replied. "Technically, given your point of origin, I should have only taken the Reclaimer alone."

The Orb looked at the Master Chief specifically when it said that, catching the Spartan off guard.

"Reclaimer? What are you talking about?" The Chief asked him.

"Surely you are aware by now," the orb stated rather matter-of-factly. "Someone has released the Flood. My function is to prevent it from leaving this Installation."

"The Flood?" Shepard asked, still trying to make sense of everything. "Is that what these things are?"

"Well that's a funny name for zombies if I ever heard one," Zaeed noted.

The Orb continued, not doing much to answer their questions and queries.

"I require the assistance of the Reclaimer," it explained to the group at large. "However, I have seen fit to select some inter-dimensional visitors of the same species to further aid our endeavour. The reasoning being that I must determine your place within assigned protocol. My programming has little information on how to respond to your unlikely circumstance of being here."

The orb then suddenly focused on Tali, floating over to her and looking her in the eye. A whirling sound came from the orb as it circled around her.

"What are you doing?" She asked, rather unnerved by the strange machine.

"Oh dear, it seems in my haste to teleport the closest visitors in proximity to the Reclaimer I accidentally transported you as well," it stated regretfully. "I am sorry, you clearly are not a human in any respect."

"Brilliant deduction," Tali grumbled, rather annoyed by the floating eyeball's prodding. "Now do you mind telling us what the hell is-?"

"You must remain, protocol cannot account for your undocumented species' genotype," The orb decreed as it floated away from Tali. "The rest of you, come. This way."

Before anyone could ask what the orb was even talking about or where it wanted them to go, Miranda, Zaeed, Shepard and the Master Chief were enveloped by a strange orange cylinder of light. Tali could only watch as her companions were suddenly whisked away without her. She reached out to grab for Shepard, but only grasped at air. When the light settled, the four humans were gone, leaving one lonely quarian atop the structure.

"Shepard!" She cried out frantically. "Chief! Miranda! Zaeed! Where are you?"

Tali wasn't the only one that was asking those questions. Foe Hammer's voice soon called in over the airwaves.

"Chief, where'd you go?" She asked hysterically. "I lost your com signal! Chief!"

Frightened out of her mind that Shepard had just been kidnapped before her eyes, Tali immediately contacted Garrus.

"Garrus," she attempted to say over her fearful state of mind. "Shepard... The Master Chief... it took them!"

"What? What took them?" Garrus asked anxiously. "The creatures?"

"No, the Monitor! The thing that EDI encountered," Tali tried desperately to explain. "It teleported us up the tower, called these things the Flood and said it needed the Master Chief's help for something. And then it took him, Miranda, Zaeed and Wade for some reason, I don't know why, he just took them! He took all of them and I couldn't even do anything!"

"Calm down, Tali," Garrus tried to assure her. "We'll get them back. Where are you now?"

"Up on the tower, I can see you from here!" Tali shouted waving down below.

Tali saw Garrus turn to her. The turian returned the wave in kind, only to stop suddenly. He turned to the left and then back to Tali, only shout out to her through the radio.

"Tali, look out!"

She looked the left and saw a Combat Form armed with a rocket launcher, it had just fired the weapon. Tali moved away as the rocket hurtled towards her. She avoided getting hit by it, but when the missile struck the tower the shockwave threw Tali off the side. She plummeted down to the ground, hitting one of the architectural bits on her descent. The collision cracked her faceplate and part of her helmet before she fell into the water with a splash.

Tali screamed, clutching her head as she stood up. She could feel her nose bleeding and piece of her visor's glass embedded in her cheek. She tried to stand up, only for a bullet to hit her in the arm. She fell back into the water, grabbing her shotgun and pointing it at the direction the bullet had come from. A Marine Combat Form hobbled towards her, armed with a pistol in one hand. Tali fired, blowing the creature's body to bits.

She stood up now, propping herself up against the structure. A piece of her visor fell off, exposing one of her eyes to the world. The bullet had only grazed her as well, but it had ripped open her suit. And being a quarian, that was a big problem.

"I need to get back to the Normandy," she stated, walking over to pick up the fallen pistol from the downed Combat Form. "I need... to get to Doctor Chakwas, before..."

She then heard more fevered gunfire nearby. She moved around the structure to see more Combat Forms pushing on her comrades. The flying drones had left the field as quickly as they had come and now the creatures, the Flood, had come back to the field.

"Pull back!" Garrus' garbled voice came through the radio. "Pull back to –bzzt- Get away from the –bzzt- We're going to get overrun!"

Tali desperately tried to contact Garrus, to let him know she was still alive. She needed help, she needed someone, anyone. A quarian exposed in a place like this wasn't good.

"Garrus, I'm okay, I'm alive," she tried to tell him. "You have to help me! My faceplate is broken! I'm exposed!"

"Tali? Say –bzzt-! Where –bzzt- you?" Garrus asked in return.

"I'm here," She said, running out into the open, trying to wave her uninjured arm. "I'm..."

But the field was full of Combat Forms. They practically owned the lake and Garrus and the others were nowhere to be seen. She was completely cut off from the others. She tried the radio again, but all she got was static. The fall must've damaged the comm-link, she thought.

At that moment, one of the parasite creatures lunged down from on high. Tali heard its cries and fired on it with her pistol, blowing it up inches before it reached her head. The meaty pieces of the exploding creature, as well as the strange gas that resided inside its oversized head, was thrown right in Tali's exposed face. She coughed horribly, rushing through the water in an attempt to reach the shore.

She could see Combat Forms all around her, all closing in. She did the only thing she could do, run. Run into the swamp's woods for cover, run as far away from these monsters as possible. She needed to find Garrus, find the others. She needed a med-bay before it was too late, before the extreme exposure got her killed. It wouldn't be a question of if. It would be a question of how and when. She'd either die from illness contracted from exposure or from the Flood catching her as she grew weaker.

She ran into the darkness and fog that surrounded her, the growls and snarls of the Combat forms behind her. She clutched her arm tightly as did, her thoughts drifting towards only her survival and one other thing, Shepard.

Where had that Monitor taken him? Would she ever see him again? And was he now in far worse danger than she was? But she already knew the answer, the distant screams and gurgling growls kept the reality ever present. They were all in danger. No one was safe. The Flood was already spreading out from this swamp, covering the ring and killing anything its path. At that moment, she understood the name for them more clearly. Every living thing on Halo was going to drown, not from water, but in a tsunami of undead bodies.

"Ancestors, helps us," she fearfully thought to herself. "Ancestors, help us all."

AN: Cliff-hanger! Sorry for that, but how else am I gonna get you guys to tune in next time? Seriously though, it was the only natural course in my mind. The level actually ends with a cliff-hanger practically, one that's resolved two seconds later, but still.

So Tali is exposed to the elements and on the run, Garrus' and the others are being chased through a bog by ravenous undead corpses and Shepard, Miri, Zaeed and Chief are about to play through the most infamous level in Halo. Sucks to be them, huh?

I hope you enjoyed this reproduction of my favourite level in the first Halo game. Please review if you wish and do stop by the TV Tropes page to add in all the awesome inevitable horror tropes. Also, check the profile for more information on this chapter. Thank you for reading, now I'm gonna go eat something myself. But not brains, because I'm not undead... yet.