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Halo: Sacred Bounty

NOTE: Halo is owned by Microsoft and 343. I do not own the copyright, nor do I have any affiliation with Microsoft, 343, or Halo. Sacred Bounty is a fan-made story written for the fun of writing and my personal enjoyment of the Halo series. Also, I wanted an excuse to write a Flood.

Chapter 1

Uncomfortable Silence


This was the first time Shipmistress Vir’Acae questioned whether the money would be worth it. The High Prophets, the holy leaders of the Covenant, placed a bounty on the “Sacred Icon’s” safe return to the Covenant’s holy city, High Charity. It was said to be a Forerunner artifact that would begin the Great Journey. That’s not what scared her. She thought that was nonsense. The true fear was who they’d sent to retrieve it. An Arbiter.

When did they appoint another one? Why did they appoint one?

She asked herself this question, dismissing it as unimportant. Vir’Acae knew if they needed an Arbiter for this task, the situation was either dire or a suicide mission.

And then there were the rumors. Were the Sangheili really being replaced as the High Prophet’s guards?

These rumors were the talk of many races in the Covenant. The big, brutish species, the Jiralhanae, were to replace them. There was a bounty on Sangheili dissidents. She could have taken that mission.

That wouldn’t make nearly as much money. At least the Sangheili had some honor. We shouldn’t get caught in their civil war. Maybe it was time to grab and go. Somewhere away from the Covenant.

She looked to the soldiers who stood chatting amongst themselves. Two members of her species joined her on this mission. The first was an avian-based alien race with tan skin and scales, a long, toothed snout with a bird-like beak at the end. The tops of their heads and forearms were covered in long, sparse quills. This, one of three evolutionary branches of the Kig-Yar, was known as the Rhuutians.

The Shipmistress and her personal guard were different. Known as the Tvaoan, Their builds were stockier, with feathered plumage on their head instead of quills, dark, scaley skin, a more prominent beak at the end of their snout, and yellow, slitted eyes. This difference marked a superior rank, known by humans as Skirmishers. The Rhuutians under her command were regular foot soldiers, while she and her guards were the elite.

Vir’Acae stood in the troop bay, trying to form a plan based on her knowledge of past forerunner excursions. She rested against the wall of her dropship, called a Phantom, as the meditative hum of its engine and the soft, lavender lighting helped her concentrate.

The Sacred Icon was located within a place known as the Library. To get there, they had to make their way through two walls—one to drop a shield around the Forerunner facility and one to reach the Library itself. Normal Forerunner defenses, such as drones and turrets, were to be expected. There were humans too, but they only had one ship? What was the threat? An Arbiter was sent for a reason. I’ll have to assume it’s something even the Sangheili fear. Was a demon here? Didn’t one of them destroy the last Ring? Maybe I should’ve taken the other contract.

Vir’Acae searched the faces of her soldiers. Upon meeting her gaze, a few of the males flexed their quills. She ignored them, checking their armor and stature. She counted ten majors, her forward phalanx, each equipped with a shield gauntlet and a blue and black, rounded pistol with two green energy emitters at the front, known as a plasma pistol. She knew these were the best of the Rhuutians majors under her command.

The forward guard acted as a shield against incoming enemy fire. They were a portable cover for the rifleman. This allowed for flexibility in any environment and forward movement, she thought to herself.  

Next, her personal guard. Six Tvaoan Skirmishers, including herself, were all but one equipped with two smaller shield gauntlets and long-barreled, silver, and purple rifles known as Needle Rifles. Several pink, explosive Subanese crystals protruded from the top of the midsection. All six had heavier armor and better platting than their Rhuutian counterparts.

One of her guards held a V-shaped, deep purple rifle with a longer barrel and five lavender lights near the stock, patterned in a circle. The Sulok-pattern beam rifle. A sniper’s weapon of choice. His armor was lighter and better suited for fast movement. She focused on his mechanical hand, ensuring it was undamaged and functional.

She and her guard were the riflemen, with one extra to act as a long-range scout. So long as they acted as a group, this tactic would ensure optimal defense and offense.

The Shipmistress looked at the ventral bay doors of her Phantom. Two more Rhuutians stood next to heavy turrets. Once the doors opened, they would act as gunners for the dropship and use their high-powered plasma cannon to decimate their foes. She looked to the cockpit door.

The pilot, co-pilot, and chin cannon operator were inside. They can pull me out of any situation. she reassured herself. Her mind was still contemplating why she felt uneasy about the mission.

Vir’Acae felt the Phantom’s gravity generators adjust as they entered the atmosphere. The artificial gravity generators kept her clawed feet clung to the floor despite the change in trajectory. Her soldiers still chatted, relaxed. They spoke of the same rumors she pondered. Why the Arbiter? What would happen to the Sangheili after failing to protect High Prophet Regret’s life? Stories of a schism spread fast. Some even wondered if the Demon really was on the Ring. That seemed to scare them more than anything else.

Not your concern. Focus on the task at hand. What should I expect? Warriors of the Sacred Ring, Sentinals as some called them, were easy to deal with. Break the shield and destroy the Forerunner drone with a few shots. There may be other machines she had to be weary of, but she’s never seen anything else on a Forerunner world.

Her first priority is to take down the shield protecting the Library. Get inside and find the Sacred Icon before this Arbiter steals our bounty. With that much money, we could abandon the Covenant and their war. She smiled at the thought. Despite her concerns for the mission, the idea of winning a race against a Sangheili thrilled her.

“Shipmistress, we’re landing soon,” the pilot, Tec, announced over their coms.

“Everyone ready. You know what we’re after. One of the Sangheili wants to steal our prize. Are we going to let him?”

A chorus of boos and hisses broke out.

“You’ve all seen Forerunner artifacts. Should we be afraid?”

“No!” The Kig-Yar responded.

“There are humans on this ring. Are they a threat?”

A few of the Kig-Yar laughed while others shouted, “NO!” even louder than before.

“They say a Demon is here. What will you do when you find it?”

The responses to this were mixed. Some said they’d take its armor. Others said they’d feast on his flesh. One even offered to use his skull as a soup bowl.

Vir’Acae felt herself pull against the artificial gravity as the Phantom slowed to a stop. The mid-section of the bay doors opened, and the gunners took position. The Shipmistress gazed at the gargantuan grey-black wall, looking up to see a glittering green shield projecting over the top, protecting the Library—A cone-shaped structure with a beam of light at the top and four angular struts. We’re here.

The Phantom flew into a small opening on the wall. “I hope you boys are ready.” A blue-white light emanated from the back-central floor of the drop ship as a round hatch opened. One by one, the Kig-Yar jumped into the hole, descending as the artificial gravity slowed their fall. One of the Rhuutians, Fex, turned, flexing his quills with a smirk to the shipmistress as he fell back.

Her guards followed behind. Then she jumped in, the artificial gravity feeling like a cushion guiding her to the hard, metal floor below. Vir’Acae took in her surroundings.

Unremarkable. As always, she thought, scanning the grey metal structures and noting the various patterns and lights. The clearing was big enough for her Phantom to drop them off, hover, and guard them as they cleared the area. Vir’Acae noticed a protrusion with a blue light on the wall opposite the Kig-Yar. It had a single panel. She heard shield gauntlets power on, her guards noticing the same thing she did. The Rhuutian majors followed suit.

“Stay on guard. Those drones could be anywhere.”

The Rhuutians took a forward position, as was standard in their formation. They moved as a wall, quickly and efficiently, shifting position with the space like a fluid in a maze. Her Tvaoan guard with the beam rifle, known as Sot, stayed at the back, searching the outside of the wall for a place to climb. The remaining guards stood before her, walking in a line of four.

“Shipmistress!” A Rhuutian named Tos waved her over. He stood next to a large, square column with a long, green holographic pattern. She approached him.

“Are there any other exits?” She asked.

“No ma’am.”

“None over here!” Another shouted from the opposite end of the room.

The Rhuutian placed his hand on the holographic panel. It reacted, shifting to a bluer hue at his touch. A small, teal, pinpoint beam of concentrated light struck his hand, burning at the point of impact. Tos shouted, recoiling. He reached to grab the offending drone, a small, hand-sized construct.

“Wait,” Vir’Acae ordered. She glanced at the burn on his hand. Minor, he’ll be okay.

She observed the little machine fire a teal beam into the holographic panel. As it did, the color shifted shades from green to blue. The Shipmistress kicked the hologram, turning its color from teal to neon blue. Steam hissed as the column pulled into the ceiling. She peered down, the little drone whizzing by her head and flying into the long, metal tunnel big enough for them all to jump into.

“We going down?” a Rhuutian asked.

“It’s the only way forward. No other exits.” Sot spoke up, now behind her.

“What are you guys afraid of,” Fex pushed forward, turning to flex his quills at the Shipmistress as he stared down the tunnel.

“Watch out!” Tos shouted.

Everyone looked up as the column descended from the ceiling. The Kig-Yar moved out of the way. Once the holographic panel reappeared, Vir’Acae kicked it, turning it neon blue and opening the hole once more.

“Quickly, before it closes,” she ordered. The Rhuutians jumped in. A tone, like an electrical whir that raised in pitch, played from the far wall. The protrusion she spotted before began to glow with a white light as the forward panel lifted. Her guard jumped in and she quickly followed, hearing the rapid beeps of a Forerunner drone as it drifted out of the white light. The column closed behind her as she carefully navigated the long, curved slide.

“Watch the panels with blue lights on the walls. Sentinals can come out of those.”

“Yes ma’am!” her soldiers called back.

She used her feet talons to slow her descent as the tunnel curved back and forth, reducing the risk of injuring herself. The Shipmistress could hear the Rhuutians shouting with joy as they slid down. Even one of her guards, Ric, had his arms raised, quiet tones of joy escaping his snout.

A dull light glimmered at the end of the tunnel. The shipmistress spotted her soldiers coming to a rough stop on another column, then hopping out of the way. Vir’Acae landed and jumped down, followed by Sot, whose robotic, clawed hand clung onto the tunnel’s edge, his gaze assessing the room before dropping down.

The shipmistress analyzed her surroundings. They were let out in a small room, lit by rectangular white lights in the corners, with one way out.

“Scouting,” Vir’Acae heard Sot whisper. She spotted the faint shimmer of his active camouflage, a technology that allowed anyone to become near invisible. She followed the mirage-like visage of his form until she lost track of him.

“Formation, proceed with caution.” Her soldiers nodded.

The forward Rhuutians stepped forth, their round, bright orange shields deployed. While in a doorway, they walked two-by-two, breaking apart to step around obstacles and quickly forming back into a wall when they could. When one spotted an alcove, corridor, or anywhere an enemy could hid, the phalanx folded in to protect the riflemen following close behind.

An alcove to our left. She looked at a set of slanted pillars and rectangular outcroppings coming up from the floor. These look like a good cover. She watched the Rhuutian majors, noting their watchful gaze. Good. They’re already aware.

She turned her attention to the protrusions closest to her. It had a had a solid red light. Vir’Acae noticed her guard already watching it. Another at a distance had a blue light. The same tone, an electronic whir raised in pitch, sounded as a white light emanated from it. The front panel slid up, revealing a bright tunnel. A distinct “pew” sound fired as a neon, purple-white streak shot into the small tunnel, bursting it and knocking the panel into the opposite wall. Sot appeared for seconds as his active camouflage faltered from firing his beam rifle. Soon, he faded away.

They crossed the long, angular hallway and entered another room with the same column as before, its green holographic panel shining against the dull, dark grey metal. One of the Rhuutians struck the panel with his shield, turning it from green to neon blue. Steam ejected, and it raised. They dropped into the connecting column; the small tube was far shorter than the other. She heard one of the Rhuutians, Don, let out an audible “Aww.”

The phalanx continued forward, scanning the corners of the much larger chamber with a central chasm. A green energy beam pulsed from an emitter attached to the wall nearest the Kig-Yar mercenaries. On either side of the long pit were two walkways connected by a bridge at multiple points. A soft, electric humming resounded as they walked further into the chamber.

As if aware of their approach, the familiar tone of the Sentinals leaving their launchers played. A Rhuutian broke the drone’s shield in two plasma bolts, and another three burst it. The searing-hot, green plasma gel hissed as it cooled on the metal. The tone played again, then a second, third and fourth time. The phalanx backed up, covering the Tvaoans with a semi-circular formation.

One of the launchers burst. The shipmistress heard an energized hiss as an orange beam streaked across the chasm.

“Spotted,” one of her guards whispered, firing his needle rifle, pink crystals darting into its metal hull. The Sentinel burst in a ball of flames.  

Two metal drones drifted around the corner. Their main bodies, angular and grey, glowed a blue light and their two small, metal arms folded in place, angled left and right at 45-degree angles. Its primary weapon, an energy beam, hung on its ventral side, an orange light brightening at the tip as it readied to fire.

Firing in sequence, the fifteen Kig-Yar soldiers eliminated it on sight. Another sentinel launcher burst, a neon purple and white energy trail disappearing. The Tvaoan fired their needle rifles at the second drone, its shields deflecting the sharp crystals as the energy barrier dissolved away. It fired the beam, hitting the large, round, orange Rhuutian shield, which flared red in response to damage. Green bolts struck into the metal, burning it until the Sentinal burst and fell to the ground.

The phalanx pressed forward, keeping each other covered. An energized hiss and an orange beam struck against another Rhuutian shield. A wave of green bolts shot down the Sentinel.

Another tone played but was immediately interrupted by the unmistakable pew of Sot’s beam rifle bursting the launcher. “All clear,” he announced over coms.

One of the Tvaoan broke formation, picking up the energy weapon held by the Sentinal.

“Gar, can you even use that?” One of the Rhuutians searched the room for threats, still protecting himself with his shield. Gar shrugged, exploring it, searching for a trigger.

The Kig-Yar continued forward, reaching the end of the chamber and a long, open hallway. The floor, made of the same grey metal and a hard, glass-like substance, had five triangular arches acting as the only other form of structure, with a wave of electrical energy striking outside the frames.

They entered a chamber identical to the previous, with two paths on either side and a central chasm. A tone from a sentinel launcher played but was quickly interrupted by Sot. Two more played. Vir’Acae spotted one of the drones and quickly dispatched it. She noticed the white light of the launcher and fired into it until the device burst. Another sentinel exploded as a Rhuutian fired until it melted. Vir’Acae could hear Gar trying to fire the Sentinal Beam.

“Another column, right, backside,” Sot announced over coms.

“Coming to you,” Vir’Acae responded.

Following their Shipmistress’ direction, the Rhuutians proceeded forward, raising their shields and popping any machines that looked like a threat. With a strike of the shield, the column raised, and the Kig-Yar descended into another small room.

“Aww,” Don hissed as he jumped down to the next floor. “Why couldn’t these be slides, too.”

The forward guard entered another hallway similar to the first, large with short, angular turns and many pillars, columns, regresses, and other structures that made getting lost easy. Despite this, following Vir’Acae and Sot’s instructions, the forward guard traversed with little trouble. A few sentinels, but otherwise, the mission remained straightforward.

Vir’Acae felt pride for her soldiers. One injury. So far so good. She took a quick scan of the room. Keep my eye peeled. There are more threats. The Arbiter is here for a reason.

They dispatched the last of the Sentinal Launchers in the room, found the next column and opened it.

“Come on! The Forerunners are so dull.” Don complained upon noticing another short jump. The forward guard entered the new opening first.

“Mistress! We have trouble,” Sot announced over coms. Vir’Acae leaped into the hole, the phalanx in a protective position, guarding the doorway to the next area. Her guard quickly followed her. She searched the room, peered into the next chamber and dove back into cover with a soft gasp.

The next chamber, big enough to fit half a dozen dropships, held a new Forerunner drone, although calling it a drone didn’t do the machine justice. It was the size of one of her Phantoms with metal arms hanging down that were bigger than her entire body. Its forward energy shield, translucent blue, looked like a beetle shell.

A red light on its upper, lateral sides glowed, a rapid, high-pitched pew sound echoing in the chamber. Red darts shot forth like a swarm of insects, flying toward her men.

“Move! Out of the doorway!” Vir’Acae ducked away from the hail of red.


Chapter 2

Buyer’s Remorse


Red lights glittered in the doorway as her Rhuutian soldiers funneled back into the small, metal box of a room. A few stayed in position, their shields raised, covering their retreating comrades. The orange shields flared red with every hit, dozens of energized needles pelting into the forward guard’s shield.

One of their shields popped with a hiss as dozens of red needles pelted a Rhuutian guard, his body falling back into the small room, purple blood splattering against across the room. The red needles shattered against the metal column as the last of the Rhuutians took cover in the small metal room.

“It got Det!” One of the forward guards shouted, peering around the corner and returning fire. The Tvaoans moved behind the columns, firing at the massive, beetle-like drone. Its shields deflect both green plasma and Subanese crystals. The machine’s red lights brightened as another wave of needles shot forth. The Kig-Yar took cover once more.

Waiting for the barrage to end, Vir’Acae analyzed who was in the room. She caught the shimmer of Sot’s invisibility.

“Sot. Can you distract it?”

The needle fire stopped and her soldiers peered out to return fire, only to duck back again as another wave of red barraged the doorway. “He can’t hit it with that shield up,” a Rhuutian shouted.

“On it.”

A second passed, and the unmistakable pew of a beam rifle fired. Vir’Acae checked the doorway. The giant machine turned, a second purple streak darting into the blue shield.

“Quick! Phalanx, go to turtle formation, with two in front, four on our side, and four covering the top. Rifles at the center.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they all responded. The Rhuutians stepped out of cover while the massive drone was turned away. They did as their Shipmistress ordered, forming a near-complete cover, turtling together into a box of shields. The Tvaoan ducked behind the bright orange shields. Vir’acae, taking a moment to look at Det’s body, taking care not to step on him.

The mechanical behemoth let loose a barrage at a ramp beneath them, a few needles disappearing into the alcove. Sot’s in there. She gazed around the chamber, cover on both sides, big enough for half of her squadron each. 

The central platform, a patterened metal flor with a shade of red-brown, had four short pillars. Each with a green holographic panel similar to the columns from earlier. What happens if we activate those? Is that how we deactivate the shield?

“When I say, three rifles and four shields, go left. Five shields, myself, and another rifle go right. You go to whichever side you’re on. Run fast and get to cover.”

“Split up? Why?” She could see the Rhuutian’s hand shaking. A few of her men looked scared. A few looked thrilled.

“Look at the shield. It’s one-sided. One of us can draw its attention while the others fire.” An electronic whir resounded as a white light caught Vir’Acae’s attention. A Sentinal launcher was opening. The giant drone was now turning its attention back toward them.

“Go now!” She and the other Tvaoan activated their gauntlets—a smaller, blue, crescent moon-shaped shield projected from both wrists.

“Yes ma’am,” they acknowledged, splitting off. She caught a Tos turning to look at Det as he ran.

One rifleman stood in place. Wielding the Sentinel’s weapon, Gar aimed and fired the neon orange beam into the machine’s shield, attracting its attention. At the same time, a beam rifle shot fired from the alcove below him, bursting the Sentinal entering into the chamber, then destroying the launcher in two quick, successive shots. Hazy, purple steam hissed out of the alcove as the beam rifle overheated, Sot’s form becoming visible for a few seconds.

The drone’s two red lights brightened as it fired a wave of darts at the Tvaoan holding his ground. He strafed, bouncing from left to right with bursts of incredible speed, moving around the darts, deflecting some with his projected shields.

Kig-Yar on both sides didn’t waste time. As soon as they reached cover, the mercenaries fired at the machine. Another Sentinal prepared to launch and Sot shot it down. As the massive machine turned its attention, Gar fired past its shield, burning into metallic underside.

An arm exploded, falling onto the central, brown platform. Another sentinel launched, and Sot shot it down. The big drone turned back to Gar, the red lights illuminating again. He fled back into the doorway, taking no less than half a second to find cover. The red, hardlight darts fired. None struck their target. He leaped out of cover, the machine’s outer hull singed and sparked from the constant barrage of searing green plasma and sharp, reactive needles.

Four more sentinels launched. Sot shot two down but didn’t fire at the remaining two.

“Overheated,” he said overcoms.

Gar focused on the sentinels, who turned their attention to the Kig-Yar hiding behind cover, the top of their protection vulnerable to attack. The Rhuutians lifted their shields just as the orange beams fired, protecting their Tvaoan allies from the searing energy.

One Sentinel fell as Gar burned past the shield and blew its main body. A yellow light from the giant drone glittered at the edge of Gar’s vision. He strafed and moved, aiming at the second Sentinel, watching for incoming fire.

An explosion rang out—something launched from the massive machine, a cone of yellow-white fire trailing behind it, whistling through the air.

“Move!” Vir’Acae ordered, sprinting out of cover. The Tvaoans were the first to clear as the explosives arced toward them. The four Rhuutians ran but were slower than their allies. They raised their shields, protecting themselves from the blast as the shockwave knocked them off balance. Another burst as a second explosive launched, arching toward them.

Gar fired at the Sentinel, bursting it just as he heard one of the Rhuutian’s shields pop. He turned and fired at the massive drone. The Rhuutians closest to the explosives ducked just out of the way, screaming in pain as the blast burst his shield, a sharp crack reverberating out.

With the Sentinel beam in hand, Gar fired into the giant drone’s body. The beetle-like machine turned to him, firing another explosive. He strafed, dodging away from its line of sight and back into the doorway.

A volley of plasma struck the drone. Its second arm burst as whatever anti-gravity device it used started to fail. Its shield flickered and its heavy body drifted down. Two swift pews from a purple beam caused the giant drone to explode, falling to the platform in a heap of burning metal.

The Kig-Yar took a breath, assessing the room for any signs of danger. “Let me see that.” Vir’Acae grabbed the Rhuutian with a singed arm bent at an odd angle, leaks of purple dripping onto the floor. She felt him tense up, noticing his quills lower. “It’s broken.” She ignored his flustered reaction.

“I can fight,” he responded.

“I know you can, Don. Who has med—” over coms, multiple electronic whirs sounded. Five white lights appeared as sentinels entered the chamber. “Sot hold your fire. We may need the beam rifle later.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The sound played again, and four more appeared from the undamaged launchers. The Kig-Yar fired their pistols and rifles, killing two, but taking cover as the drones returned fire, the Rhuutians protecting their allies with their shields. Then, one of the sentinels exploded. Not from plasma or rifle fire, but on its own. Then another. One after another, they all burst, quickly followed by their launchers.

“What happened?” a Tvaoan guard called out.

Vir’Acae peered around her cover. “I don’t know. Stay sharp.” She searched the room but saw nothing. She stepped out from the metal shielding. A clawed hand grabbed her arm.

“I got this, Shipmistress,” Fex nodded, his quills flexing as he passed. He kept his shield ready, scanning the chamber. Nothing happened. The other Kig-Yar stepped out, searching the room.

“Ma’am. The shield is dropping,” dropship pilot Tec announced over coms.

“We didn’t do anything.” A Rhuutian said.

“I think it’s the Arbiter ma’am. I see another Phantom. It’s going toward the next wall.”

“Damn him.” Vir’Acae stepped over to one of the four pillars at the corners of the platform. She kicked the green holographic panel and it turned blue. “Quickly now or we’ll lose our bounty!”

A Tvaoan guard noticed what she was doing and struck the remaining three. Long, towering locks attached to the pillars rose into the ceiling. The center of the platform raised. Two prongs extended out, and an indigo holographic panel projected between them.

She approached it, staring at the central rectangle amongst the many other moving colors. She reached out and pushed a holographic image that looked the most like a button. The mercenaries looked around the chamber, waiting for something to happen. The northernmost wall opened and the platform dropped. Cold air rushed in from the dark, snowy outside.

“Ma’am!” Tec called overcoms. “I see a Forerunner construct headed your way. This one’s big. It looks like it’s got a forward shield.”

“Another one?” a Rhuutian shouted.

“Kill it and I can pick you up.”

“You heard him. Sot, save your shots for the body. Shield guard, you’re our cover. Everyone get below!” Vir’Acae searched the skies as she moved down a ramp to the lower platform. Snow drifted from the sky as she saw a wavy, brilliant green shield fade behind the second wall ahead of them.

“Tec, give us covering fire, but keep your distance. It has heavy weapons.”


“I see it,” Gar announced, firing his Sentinel beam at the approaching drone. It’s massive, beetle-like shields fluttering red from the impact. The Kig-Yar took cover once they noticed a wave of red light darting toward them.

“I’ve seen reports of this thing. It’s another Forerunner Sentinel called an Enforcer.” The Phantom, a curved, purple gunboat with a rounded nose, two silver and blue engines on the lateral front sides and two moving rudders at the back, hovered above their moving platform. A gun mounted on the chin of the dropship fired white-pink hot plasma into the Enforcer, knocking down one shield. Two gunners, holding onto the plasma cannons mounted to the Phantom’s ventral bay doors, fired a barrage of bright blue plasma.

“Is there an easier way to kill it?” Tos asked over coms.

“Shoot it till it dies.” The Enforcer turned to the Phantom. A yellow light glowed at the top of its shield as a giant sentinel fired an explosive. Tec strafed his dropship, moving it away.

“You heard him. Fire till it breaks.” She ordered, jumping from behind cover and firing. The machine kept its focus on Tec as one arm exploded from the constant stream of plasma and Subanese needles.

“Oh shit. Ma’am, new reports are coming in. We need to go. Enforcers are only— Kad move back!” An explosive struck the side of the Phantom, breaking the plasma cannon. A limp Rhuutian body fell into the abyss below.

“Tec, what’s wrong?” she asked as the Enforcer’s second arm burst and fell.

“The Flood. There’s an outbreak.”

A wave of nausea struck the Shipmistress as the feathers on her head instinctively lowered. That’s why they called for an Arbiter. Did the High Prophets know the Flood were here? Her mind reeled at the thought of facing the infection. She’d heard of them but never seen it in person.

“Once you’re clear, pick us up. We’re abandoning this bounty.” Vir’Acae looked at the approaching wall. It opened, the chamber’s bright white interior contrasting the dark, cloudy outside.

“What? No! Two of our guys died for this one. We can take on the Flood,” a Rhuutian spoke up. A few agreed with his outburst, while others did not. Those who recognized the parasite held grim expressions. Even the elite Tvaoan guard looked concerned.

“No, we cannot fight the Flood.” Vir’Acae looked at the approaching wall. She turned back, continuing to fire at the Enforcer. Sot once again fired the fatal shot. It exploded as their metal platform entered the large chamber. The Phantom drifted in, the hole on its underside opening and glowing white-blue. The chamber walls moved as a giant metal door started to close.

“Tec get out. It’s closing!”

“Woah,” the Phantom flew back, its hull scrapping against the metal. “Thanks for the warning.”

“Do you see a way out?” Vir’Acae asked on her coms, pacing on the platform—Silence.

“Did we just lose coms?”

Static followed. “That’s a yes,” Fex said.

“Tec, if you can hear us, go to the other side of the wall. We’ll find a way through.”

A hiss followed by metallic scrapping resounded as their platform docked and a wall to their left lowered, revealing a new path. “Guess we’re going that way,” Don stepped with the forward guard, his left arm dripping with purple blood, cringing when he moved it.

“New objective. We’re getting out of here. None of us can fight the Flood. Do not draw any unwanted attention.”

“You mean like with these?” A Rhuutian guard lifted his bright orange shield.

“Fair point. Then we move quickly. If it moves, kill it. No risks.”

The Kig-Yar, taking their phalanx formation, moved into the new, large hallway. Its lights were dim, the air dense with old, brown dust, and questionable structural decisions hindered their line. A single, haunting cry of an unknown creature made the wall of shields pause. They searched for the sound, but couldn’t find it.

The Flood takes over your body. I’ve heard about that much. It’s said that even the Sangheili feared them. How does it take control of a body? What does the Flood even look like? I wish I knew. Damn it!

They spotted a pillar similar to the ones from before, tall with a green holographic panel. Moving around the phalanx, Vir’Acae approached the column, her hand shaking. She struck the panel. The column hissed, then opened. She jumped down first, scanning the long hallway, designed just like the one they were just in, long with a slight curve.

“Ma’am. You should stay behind the guard,” a Rhuutian whispered. Vir’Acae looked at him.

I’m responsible if these men die. Coming here was my mistake.

“Right.” She acknowledged, falling behind the phalanx.

“I see something up ahead. It looks like a bug,” Sot reported over coms.

“Kill it.” She ordered, scanning the tunnel as they traveled, listening to the firing of a plasma pistol and flashes of green light. She noticed a green-brown goo smeared along the walls. Once at the end, the remains of brown and tan, balloon-shaped spider creatures with two long antennae lay splattered on the floor. Their bodies were burned with cooling green plasma. She looked to her left, noticing another column with a holographic panel.

Vir’Acae approached the column, preparing to touch it.

“Proceed to the objective. We’ll hold out as long as we can!” The voice playing over her coms made her pause.

Humans, Vir’Acae thought it herself.


The voice started screaming, “Get off me!”

Another human spoke, “Suppressive fire! Suppressive fire!

She struck the holographic panel. The forward guard jumped in first. “Think that Arbiter found them?” a Rhuutian asked.

“Assume anything you find is the Flood. Assume anything you don’t recognize is the Flood.” Vir’Acae jumped down beside him. Her guard followed her.

“What’s so scary about this Flood? What can they do?” Fex asked.

“You know the last ring that we found?” Gar spoke up.


“It’s said the Flood took less than a day to take it over. I hear they almost wiped out the occupying human and Covenant forces. Even the Demon almost didn’t make it out. That was a small outbreak.”

Fex’s quills lowered. He struggled to think of what to say. “I bet I could take them.” He spoke with a quiver in his voice as he stepped into the next set of rooms, maintaining his position in the phalanx.

“Fex. No, you can’t.” Vir’Acae stayed behind cover with the other Tvaoans. Fex turned, looking at his Shipmistress with a hurt expression. A cry rang out in the hallway curved. The phalanx, losing focus as they searched for the noise, drifted apart. An otherworldly cry, sounding like a malformed beast, reached their ears. The Kig-Yar stopped.

“What was that?” Don asked.

“Enemy spotted. Two humans,” Sot whispered. 

“Take them out. Quick.”

“Wait. There’s something wrong. Their arm’s are weird. I see more. And a few of those bugs. Falling back.”

“Understood, stay safe Sot.”

The phalanx continued forward, shields raised and weapons ready. The Kig-Yar tightened together, forming a protective wall. In the brown, misty dirt, she spotted a humanoid.

“Take them out.”

A howl screamed from behind them. A humanoid charged out of the fog, its arm longer than what should be normal, like two sharpened whips protruding from its wrist. Vir’Acae fired three shots, her needles embedding into its flesh and exploding. A cloud of brown flesh and pink mist splattered into the air.

“We’re spotted!” a Rhuutian shouted, firing his plasma pistol. “I see those bugs.”

The Tvaoan needle rifle made short work of the two humanoids while the plasma pistols killed the bugs, their balloon-like bodies carried by spindly, spider-like legs. The appendages at the front reaching forward. Two more came from further down the hall.

Something plopped next to Vir’Acae. One of the bugs had fallen from the ceiling. It jumped. She shot it out of the air, startling the Rhuutians.

“They’re above us. Run!” she ordered, eyeing the distant, green light of the column panel. A second object dropped from the ceiling. A body, big and bulbous where its head should be fell to the floor with a fleshy slap. Its flesh expanded, growing until it reached a stretch capacity.

“Get away!”


Chapter 3

Primordial Instincts


The Rhuutians heard their Shipmistress’ shout and turned to form a wall around the expanding body that fell from the ceiling. The Tvaoan jumped behind the wall, protecting the backs of their allies. The infected body exploded, splattering of green-brown goo and little bug creatures into the air. Vir’Acae grabbed one out of the air, its hooked feet scratching at her forearm. She slammed it to the ground, puncturing it with her taloned feet.

One of the little Flood creatures grabbed the Rhuutian with its antennae-like appendage, burrowing into his body with astonishing speed. The other Kig-Yar backed up. Some tried to shoot the bug before it made it inside their friend’s chest but missed their shots as they backed away.

The Rhuutian howled in pain, his hands clawing at the bug. Then his voice turned to gurgles, and his arms raised, struggling against itself as his hands grabbed the back of his head and snout. With one quick twist, he snapped his own neck.

Vir’Acae’s guard fired at the oncoming humanoids, bursting their bodies with explosive pink crystals. The other forward guard killed the remaining creatures before they could reach anyone else. A neon purple streak shot through the infected Rhuutian, severing his arm.

Another bulbous creature waddled toward them in the distance, and Vir’Acae sprinted to the back column, striking the green panel. “Let’s go!” The guard came back first, with the phalanx walking backward, shielding themselves from a few of the bug-like creatures as they tried to leap for them. Fex crushed one with the edge of his shield. A beam of purple shot the infected Rhuutian in the chest as it tried to move forward. Four more infected humans charged forth.

The shipmistress dropped down once the Rhuutians were in the room. They backed through the doorway two-by-two, Fex at the back, Tos in front of him, and Don toward the front. Another wave of six infected humans came stumbling around the corner. With a hiss, the column started to close. Six of the eight remaining phalanx made it down.

“Don!” Tos struck the lower column with his shield as it extended and clamped shut to the upper.

“Go!” he said over the comms. “There’s dozens of these things and more arriving by the second. If I come down, they’ll follow me. Get out of here!”

“Shipmistress?” A Rhuutian asked. He and four others stood with their shields propped against the open doorway. A sudden, malformed cry echoed down the next metal chamber.

We can’t save him. Keep moving. Find a way out. Keep as many alive as we can.

“Maintain a formation. Keep going till we’re outside.”

The Rhuutians remained silent. One muttered out a quiet, “Yes ma’am.”

Two-by-two, the forward guard moved out of the small room and into another chamber with a chasm at its center. The same green beam pulsed with a soft hum. The lights were dim, shrouded by the brown, foggy dirt drifting in the air. The acrid scent made Vir’Acae flinch.

An electronic whir noise sounded as the white light of a Sentinel launcher shone in the distance.

“Leave it. Let it draw the infected’s attention,” she whispered.

The forward guard watched it, shields and weapons raised. A distant figure leaped into the air and slapped the drone out of the sky.

“I count four Flood, two Sentinels,” Sot whispered into his coms.

A second passed before Vir’Acae heard the hiss of the beams as an orange light shone in the distance.

“Which side?” she asked.

“Your side is safer.”

Avoid a fight. Don’t kill when you don’t need to. Don’t attract attention. We need to get out.

“Forward,” she ordered. The phalanx obeyed, marching forth with shields raised. “Watch our backs,” she whispered into her coms.

“You’re clear. One ahead.”

Stop. It’ll move.

Vir’Acae spotted the humanoid shape in the fog. Gunfire from the opposite side of the chasm attracted it. A Sentinel crashed to the ground. The other continued firing its beam. The cries of the Flood reverberated off the metallic walls. Vir’Acae maintained a careful watch on the other drone’s blue light. It blinked out with the swipe of the infected’s whip-like claw.

They reached the opposite end of the room. “All four spotted,” Gar whispered.

“Guard, take them out. Forward guard, keep watch on the bridge.”

Keep moving. There has to be an opening. Get out.

Vir’Acae, glancing across the bridge, fired her needle rifle with the other Tvaoans. The feint glitter of pink embedded into the infected’s flesh, blowing them into a cloud of pink and brown mist. All four were dispatched. Cries of the Flood echoed from the other room, one sounding different from the others.

Three Sentinel launchers all whirred at the same time. A hail of bullets burst one. The other two drones flew out of the white light, drifting forth and firing their beams at the infected humans.

The infected are on both sides. Go left. They’ll destroy the sentinels.

“I see seven. Two are hiding near the next bridge. Two left side, three right side.”

“Got it. Hold your fire. Don’t give away your position if you don’t have to.” She ordered Sot.

“Forward, left side.”

The Rhuutians followed without another word, two positioning their shields right once across the bridge. Vir’Acae’s guards huddled close to her, their gaze following the foggy outline of an infected human.

They won’t fight you. Ignore them.

Vir’Acae noticed two figures fighting a sentinel at the opposite end of the chamber. She raised her rifle, hesitating.

“Spotted.” A Tvaoan guard, Ric, fired his rifle. Three shots and the infected human burst into a cloud of rotting flesh and crystal. The other Flood turned, sprinting toward them. The forward guard ripped the decaying body apart. Hovering for a moment, watching the now-dead Flood, the Sentinel turned toward the other infected humans.

A third infected leaped forth. This one stood much taller and looked far bulkier than the others. Its head was missing and a blue combat harness was embedded into the growing brown flesh. This one leaped into the air faster than the other. A Sentinel on the other side of the chasm burst.

You do not have time to waste. Kill it quick. Leave.

The forward guard fired, their bolts hitting an invisible barrier covering the infected’s body. Gar fired in conjunction with the Tvaoan guards, their needles shattering on impact. The Flood’s energy shield crackled then burst and Gar’s beam focused on the infected. Another, a few meters back, sprinted forth.

“That’s a Sangheili,” one of the Rhuutians shouted. The infected humans on the other side of the chasm cried in response.

Run, they will not follow us.

Three pink Subanese crystals from Ric punctured the first infected’s flesh, exploding in a cloud of pink and brown. With quick pulls of the trigger, the forward guard popped the second infected’s shield. Now within range, the infected Sangheili swung its claw-whip arm, striking a shield. The head and long neck, hidden behind its back, swung with every movement. The impact knocked the Rhuutian back.

The Tvaoan quickly riddled it with crystals, moving away from the pink explosions. The Rhuutians protected themselves with their shields. Vir’Acae noticed the infected humans wandering on the opposite walkway.

They are not aware of you. Flee from harm onto the bridge.

“Forward and quiet. They haven’t noticed.”

The Kig-Yar stepped to the edge of the chamber, their clawed feet clicking against the metal floor. Distant howls of Flood fighting Sentinels echoed into their chamber. The infected humans sprinted across the bridge. One leaped at a drone floating over the long pit. It missed its swipe, falling into the dark.

With the bridge clear, the phalanx continued onward. They carefully pressed forward, their weapons aimed at the Sentinel. The drone turned in their direction, then floated around the corner, its bright orange beam hissing against the decayed flesh of an infected human—the cries of the Flood louder to their left.

Right is safe, and left is not.

“Four infected humans, three Sentinels, and one of those weird ones with the sack for a head on the left. Right looks clear.”

“We go right,” Vir’Acae ordered. The Kig-Yar traveled quickly, crossing into the chamber and watching the fight on the opposite side of the chasm. One of the humans moved in an odd manner. It crouched down on all fours and lunged with ferocious speed.

“I see the column, your side.”

“Awcknowledged, Sot.” Vir’Acae whispered. Her forward guard walked quickly toward the open door. Their weapons shook as they marched forward. She looked at the Flood across the chasm, the odd one jumping onto a Sentinel, clawing at it till a fire broke out on the drone’s hull and the machine dropped into the dark abyss below.

The Rhuutians turned into the doorway. Three bulbous infected walked from around the column, one with a shield gauntlet embedded into its flesh, the bright orange energy protecting a significant chunk of its body.

“Be ready. Either the column opens, or these things explode. The noise will attract the others.” She paused, contemplating which would be better. Killing them would prolong the fight, risking the little bug Flood infecting her men on top of bringing the other infected to them. Or, they could open the column, run past it, and hope for the best.

A sprint for light is near us. Move with haste and you’ll be free.

The bulbous infected waddled into the doorway. I have to make a decision.

“Forward guard, open the column. Everyone run inside as quick as you can. Rhuutians, prioritize your own safety. Tavaon’s, you’re fast enough to be safe. Go!” 

She heard one beat of her heart before the soft pews of the plasma pistols cascaded over the Flood, striking the green panel on the column. With a hiss, it opened. The howls of the infected humans reverberated around the chamber, one of their calls closer to a shrill squawk. The Rhuutians sprinted forward. Their shields pointed down. The Tvaoans darted with incredible speed, their half-moon shields raised and ready.

Vir’Acae glanced over her shoulder as she moved. One of the infected, crouched on all fours, jumped over the chasm with a swift launch. It braced, the creature’s snouted gaze fixed on her. She looked forward, bounding off the metal interior of the doorway, the three bulbous infected falling to the ground as their skin started to stretch.

All three of the Tvaoans were in the next room. Two of the Rhuutians jumped perfectly into the column’s hole. Three others landed in the metal room, shields raised as they made a dash for the hole. One Rhuutian, Tos, stumbled as he tried to push against the doorway, his shield catching against the Flood’s expanding skin.

Vir’Acae stopped on the floor, her talons scraping against the metal. She reached for Tos. A clawed hand grabbed her. Fex pulled her into the safety of the next room as a black feathered body sprinted past her. A Tvaoan, Ric, grabbed ahold of Tos and threw him into the hole.

His blue, half-moon shields raised, he braced for the explosion, stepping back with fast footsteps. A blur of brown, rotting flesh flew into the room, slamming Ric against the back wall. Vir’Acae couldn’t see what was happening, but she heard his choked scream as the infected clamped on the Tvaoan’s neck. The columns closed.

The shipmistress growled under her breath, her hands shaking as she tried to compose herself.

The end of your journey is near. Walk forth unto freedom.

Vir’Acae felt a wave of calm wash over her. The others are still alive. I have to get them out.

Tos looked around the small metal room, his eyes searching. His gaze met Gars, “did he make it?” Gar shook his head. The Rhuutian stared, his breathing quickening. He turned to the next room, another small metal box with a column at the center.

“Mourn after. They gave us this chance to escape. We can’t drop our guard.”

The room stayed quiet. Only the nodding of heads told her they agreed. The column hissed open as the visage of Sot appeared in the glow of the panel’s blue light. “Let’s go.” He faded once more.

The Rhuutians jumped down first, followed by the Tvaoans. This fall was longer but broken by a metal panel halfway through. Dull, white light shined from outside, illuminating the metal floor below. More open than the others, this platform had multiple angled struts to the sides, with another column near the snow-covered edge.

In the distance, a massive, cone-shaped structure with a yellow beam of light emanating from its center took up the entire outside view.

“That’s the Library?” Gar spoke, stepping off a raised ledge and onto the lower platform, walking toward the column. “It’s so close.”

“We’ve lost five of our guys getting here,” Tos spoke up, following after him. “It’s not worth it. We need to go.”

“I say we power through. Look at all those infected Sangheili. You think the Arbiter or the humans are surviving? We’re so close. If we stay hidden, we can do it.”

Do not journey to your death. Escape while you can survive.

“We should count ourselves lucky,” Vir’Acae spoke.

A Phantom flew into view and toward the snowy landscape, the rounded shape of a vehicle clinging to its underside. The dropship lowered, its ventral hatch opening. Seconds later, it flew away, the vehicle now missing.


Tos stepped to the edge, staring at the distant snowy ground. Using his scope to see, he spotted seven-foot-tall aliens fighting the Flood below with blue combat harnesses, long necks, and jaws split into four mandibles. “They’re sending reinforcements. I think Sangheili. That might give us the edge we need.”

With a soft and familiar hum, another Phantom dropped into view. “There you are!” Tec spoke over coms. The Rhuutian gunner waved as their dropship drifted closer to the platform.

Vir’Acae thought, weighing her options. We could continue. It’s right there. We might be able to make it. She gazed at each of her men. six Rhuutian majors, one Tvaoan sniper, and two Tvaoan riflemen. Sangheili reinforcements might give us the shot we need. We could leave the Covenant. Find somewhere safe from this war.

“Ma’am.” Gar stepped closer to the column. “We have the advantage here. The Sangheili would pull the Flood’s attention while we scale the tops of the hills. If we move quickly, we could reach the Library.”

“I can scout ahead,” Sot added. “Report the clearest route as I go.”

The Rhuutians looked ready. The fear drained away from their faces, with confidence taking its place. One stood at the edge, watching the Sangheili fight the Flood. Everyone won’t make it. None of us may make it. Is it worth it?

A poor decision to make.

Three clangs echoed into the cold night as the Sangheili-infected Flood landed on the Phantom. One hooked its claw-like whip onto the edge of the dropship, swinging around. The gunner swiveled and fired, the rapid, blue plasma bolts ripping its body in half. The Flood fell, its whip sticking into the gunner’s chest, pulling him from the Phantom and over the edge.

The other two infected Sangheili leaped off the dropship and onto the platform. Four infected humans dropped onto the Phantom, followed by two other infected crouched on all fours, an orange shield projecting from their wrist, keeping the two creature’s balanced on the Phantom’s hull as one of them struggled to use its other broken and malformed arm.

“Don,” Tos whispered as he backed up, forming a wall with the forward guard. “That’s Don!”



Chapter 4

A Grave Unseen


The Phantom moved as it closed the ventral bay doors, Strafing as it tried to shake the infected off. Vir’Acae aimed and fired at the infected humans, bursting one in a pink mist. Don, crouched and ready to jump, watched the fight. The forward guard quickly dispatched one infected Sangheili while the other charging forth, knocking one shield back.

Don leaped, flying past the other infected and into a Rhuutian whose knocked-away shield left him unguarded. Gar fired his sentinel beam, but Don, with the Rhuutian clutched in his now jagged-toothed jaws, hopped away, hiding behind a strut.

The Tvaoans shot down the three infected humans, turning their attention to the other crouched infected Kig-Yar, who bounced away in response. The Rhuutian guard fired green bolts into the infected Sangheili’s shield till it burst, then disintegrated the body with heated plasma.

Drifting closer, the Phantom moved back into position, the central hold on its underside glowing blue as the gravity lift powered on.

Still firing his beam at Don, Gar strafed as quickly as the infected could bounce, dodging the lunges. The Rhuutians inched forward, tracking the other infected Kig-Yar as it too hopped, trying to find an opening to attack.

With a hiss, the column on the inside of the room raised, the cries of the Flood within gaining closer.

Vir’Acae looked to one Tvaoan. “Fer and Sot, help the phalanx. Gar, you and I will get Don. Don’t stop moving.” She stepped forward, the needles from her rifle deflecting against the orange shield.

Sot fired two rapid shots, one hitting the shield, which changed colors from orange to red. The second shot missed as the infected bounded away, lunging toward the phalanx, knocking a Rhuutian over. Tec positioned the Phantom’s chin cannon toward the platform. Its white-pink bolts missed their quick targets.


The Shipmistress struck Don’s foot with one needle as Gar focused his beam on the shield, weakening it as he fired. A bullet whizzed past her head, striking the column to her left.

Leave and survive.

Two infected humans hopped down, one falling to pieces as pink-white plasma bolts fired from the Phantom’s chin cannon. The needle Vir’Acae had shot into Don earlier shattered.

Flying forth, the infected Kig-Yar crashed into and toppled Fex, who rolled and kicked it away. A neon purple streak pierced the creature’s head, but it still moved as quick as before, green plasma bolts weakening its shield. The infected used its hand to reach for the downed Rhuutian.

Fex spun on the floor, feet kicked out, striking the creature with a clawed foot, raking through its chest and tearing off its armor. A moving object, the bug Flood, squirmed in place, its antennae-like appendages waving in the air. A neon-purple streak struck it, bursting the creature on the inside, making the reanimated Kig-Yar fall limp.

More are coming.

Vir’Acae held her shot, waiting for Don’s flaring red shield to reach damage capacity. Bullets bounced on the floor around her feet as she strafed and hopped on the floor, keeping away from infected humans and Kig-Yar. The shield popped with a hit. She shot Don once. Twice. Then he took cover, keeping away as Vir’Acae followed him around the strut.

Two infected humans and the bulbous Flood dropped down, crashing to the floor and bursting on impact. The Rhuutian guards fired plasma bolts at the wave of little Flood bugs flying into the air. Two more infected Sangheili dropped down, firing bolts of blue plasma into the Rhuutian’s shield. With two quick beams of purple, Sot shot one down.

The shipmistress leaped over the strut, firing and missing Don as Gar’s Sentinal beam followed right behind. He noticed the oncoming wave and turned his attention to the infected humans, burning one’s clawed arm off as it charged toward him.

Vir’Acae lunged forth, catching Don as he jumped mid-air, kicking him to the floor. She aimed her needle and fired, striking him in the head. The combined three needles burst into pink mist. She turned to the open column on the opposite side. Three more infected humans hopped down. The Rhuutian guard killed the forward most. The Tvaoan’s dealt with another two. A pair of bulbous Flood dropped down, bursting on impact with the floor.

Retreat or die.

“We’re retreating. Everyone fall back.” Vir’Acae moved backward, staring at the green panel on the column. We’re so close.

A folly to continue on. Return us to High Charity.

“Tec, we’re coming aboard.” Vir’Acae saw an infected Sangheili’s shield pop. Three shots and it burst in a cloud of pink mist.

Stepping back, The Rhuutians retreated, focusing on the closest infected. As the Flood bugs drew closer, they turned their attention to them. The Tvaoans were on the gravity lift first. The Phantom’s ventral bay doors opened, giving them a perfect line of sight. They shot down smaller Flood, giving the Rhuutians a chance to back up.

Vir’Acae ran to the Rhuutian’s back, shooting anything that got too close. A black form jumped down. It crouched as it landed, the feathers on its head sloughing off as it moved. The infected Tvaoan lunged forward faster than Don, gripping and pulling Tos’s shield aside. It slashed up, the talon on its foot sharper and serrated, ripping a gash up his chest, slicing the flesh on his snout open.

The Shipmistress fired, embedding one needle. “Ric,” she growled, staring into the dead, yellow-grey eyes of her guard. She felt her grip soften as sorrow washed over her.

I chose this for them. Their blood is on my hands.

Retreat. Your men can still survive.

Vir’Acae gripped Tos’s armor and pulled him back. “Run! Just run!” She ordered, watching Ric bound back. He landed as the Rhuutian wall broke. Vir’Acae held onto Tos, purple blood leaking onto the armor. The Flood stopped their advance as the remaining Rhuutians boarded the dropship. The ventral bay doors closed.

He can still be saved with help. Return to High Charity.

“We can save him. We need to go to High Charity.”

“Ma’am,” Tec started to say but paused. “There’s something going on. You were inside, so I couldn’t tell you. I think the Covenant is breaking.”

“What.” Vir’Acae, slack-jawed, set Tos down. “Keep him alive till we can get him help.” The other Kig-Yar, who looked as shocked as she felt, nodded, words forming from their snouts, but no sound escaping.

The Shipmistress entered the pilot’s cockpit. “Why? What’s happening?”

“The Sangheili and Jiralhanae are fighting. I don’t know what happened or why, but we may not be safe to return. We have medical supplies on the Deception of Avarice.

“No. High Charity is where we’ll get the best help.”

“Ma’am. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Tec, you know High Charity has the best equipment. We’re going.”

Tec stared at her. Vir’Acae took a deep breath, her arms shaking. “Yes, ma’am,” he responded.

The shipmistress returned to the main bay. Her legs felt wobbly as she walked. “Is anyone hurt?” Everyone remained silent. With help, she removed Tos’s armor, checking the deep gash across his chest.

The wound didn’t puncture through muscle or bone. She couldn’t see any signs of evisceration or injury immediately life-threatening. Having little to stop the bleeding or clean the wound, she could only use the under or connected to the armor as packing.

Time passed in silence. When a Kig-Yar tried to speak up; he looked lost for words and stopped. Vir’Acae could see the horror of what they saw give them pause. She couldn’t stop replaying what they had gone through in her head.

I lost almost half of everyone I brought with me. All for nothing.

She didn’t know how long it was till they reached High Charity, the holy capital city of the Covenant. All Vir’Acae cared about preventing another death. Something deep down told her this was what needed to be done.

An unknown amount of time passed before Tec announced their arrival into High Charity. Their Phantom docked and the gravity lift activated. With the help of Gar and Fex, Vir’Acae brought Tos into the large, deep purple docking platform. The dock workers were missing. As were the guards.

While effectively a space station, the capital city acted as a home to the many species of the Covenant. Buildings, houses, and the central government lined the inner walls and lower depths of High Charity. A large, triangular ship at its center acted as the city’s primary power source.

She gazed out to the city’s center, a massive sprawl of covenant architecture that traveled down from the wall where she stood and toward a central ship, better described as a tower, dwarfed the city around it. The lights surrounding and above it illuminated High Charity like a sun.

Follow the path into your home and your role will be clear.


She felt compelled to follow the strange thought. Follow the path. A sound, like lightning crashing, shook the docks. Vir’Acae searched around for the source of the noise. High Charity is in space. It has artificial weather. Can it even have lightning? Then she spotted it—a ship. Or at least the smoldering wreckage of one. A human ship flew through the city, and smaller ships dropped out and traveled to different locations. One of them, a human dropship called a Pelican, headed to where she was now.

“Tec, get out of there! High Charity is under attack, and they’re coming straight for us!”

“What about you?”

“Tos needs help. I’m going deeper into my home to find my path.”

“What? What are you talking about? You don’t live here.”

I don’t. I live in the Deception of Avarice.

All the pieces are in place.

Tos squirmed, groaning in pain. Fex and Gar helped set him down. Brown flesh creeped out of his gaping wound as his purple blood shifted colors. His hand swiped back, claw glancing off Gar’s armor.

“He’s infected! Get back!” Vir’Acae searched the skies, watching the approaching Pelican. Something about their flight seemed off. “How did the humans know how to get in?” What if it wasn’t humans. “Something’s wrong.” She looked at Tos, his body quickly shifting color and tone. A whip-like claw sprouted from his forearm.

“Tec, get out of here now. Something’s wrong.” She raised her rifle, aiming at Tec, but stopped.

Do not shoot this one, she thought to herself, wiping the brown crust from her wound and onto the tip of the barrel of her weapon.

Shaking and straining as if she no longer had control, Vir’Acae aimed her rifle at Fex.

A better target to sight.  

The voice. Her thoughts, or what she assumed to be her thoughts, shifted tone. It deepened, turning guttural.

“Run.” Her finger twitched, a hair away from pulling the trigger. I can’t do it. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.

“Mistress?” Fex asked, backing away. A look of confusion crossed his face. His gaze shifted from her gun to her eyes—a hurt look. Don’t look at me like that.

Vir’Acae fought the urge. She wanted to pull the trigger. She needed to pull the trigger. “Something’s wrong.” Tos, writhing on the ground, fell limp. Gar eyed him, weapon raised. The Shipmistress managed one glance away. Tec’s Phantom was hovering in the air.

Gar, his hand on hers, ripped the weapon from her grip, tossing it away, keeping his other hand on hers. Her body shook, and she felt a flush of warmth as if seized by a sudden fever. She glanced at Tos. He remained on the floor. The human’s Pelican drew closer.

“Vir. Your wrist.” Gar’s gaze fixed on a small purple and brown line cut into the dorsal side of her forearm, just below the plate. I was scratched? When? Her head flashed an image—the fight with the little Flood bug. A name came to her mind—infection form. How do I know that?

“I’m infected. Return to Tec.” Can I spread this disease? Are they going to get it?

Fex stared, his mouth slackened. Tos moved on the ground, a distorted cry leaving his throat. Gar aimed his sentinel beam. Vir’Acae sprinted for the needle rifle, her clawed hand scratching his armor as he passed.

Retrieve the weapon.  

Fex grabbed her, quickly forcing her into a headlock. She flipped him over her shoulder, gripping the rifle. Gar kicked it away, turning to face Tos, Sentinel beam ready.

The now-infected Rhuutian stood. A needle shard fired, darting past Gar and into Tos’ chest. Two more shots struck their target. He burst into a cloud of pink mist. Vir’Acae held the needle rifle, its tip shaking as she struggled to hold it steady. You can’t control me.

Ease your thoughts. Submit your mind.

“Run.” What if this spreads to High Charity? Images flashed in her mind—to the infected. You’re not going to use me. Vir’Acae repeated in her head, focusing her thoughts on the infected bodies of Ric and Don.

Their voice will join our chorus.

Like hell they will

The wall above erupted as the Pelican crashed into it, knocking the three Kig-Yar to the ground. Gar and Fex leaped to their feet, sprinting around falling metal and debris. Little Flood bugs, infection forms, dropped from the ship as infected humans scaled down the wall. Vir’Acae stood still, shaking, the tip of her weapon turning.

“Go!” she ordered, keeping the weapon steady, her gaze fixed on them.

Gar burned infection forms as they drew too close, shoving Fex away. Tec’s Pelican hovered in the distance. She fought as the needle rifle turned, taking sight of its target. She fired once. Twice. Three times. In an explosion of pink mist, she killed the first human.

Fex and Gar were now down the ramp, nearing the Phantom. She had to stop them. They needed to stay. Stop them. Vir’Acae rubbed the tip of her rifle against her purple-green cut, brown goo coating the tip.  

Her body shaking, an ever-rising fever stealing her focus. Don’t listen. Don’t do it. She turned the rifle once more, focusing on her target, fighting to keep a clear picture in her mind.

Do not shot. Do not submit.

We will. We are one. One voice.

I am me! I will...I have to...

Her target now in sight, the Phantom’s gravity lift activating. She fired the first shot. Purple blood splattered to the floor. She fired the second shot. Her hands shaking, fighting the urge that disgusted her. Vir’Acae’s hand twitched against the trigger, fighting to stop. With a loud cry, she fired the third shot. The supercombine effect of the pink Subanese needles activated and they burst.

Gar watched, trapped in the gravity lift’s pull, unable to do anything, as his Shipmistress burst into a cloud of purple blood and pink mist, taking her own life to stop herself from taking theirs. The Phantom flew off to the center of the city as the Rhuutians and Tvaoans mourned.

Little did they know, they escaped a terror far worse than they had experienced on the Halo ring. As they fled, the infection of High Charity began, unknown to the fleeing dropship. The nightmare they faced would buy them the freedom they desired. The Covenant would soon face its end.

Vir’Acae’s decision to take that mission prevented them from accepting another set of orders: quell the Sangheili uprising. Had she accepted that assignment, she and her crew would be fighting at the heart of the Covenant Civil War and the center of the Flood infestation of High Charity.

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