The remaining Covenant stood transfixed, bewildered by what they saw: Standing on a low ridge in the middle of their encampment was a sole combatant, a lowly human dog, coated in the blood and viscera of their brethren. Such a thing was unthinkable.
Once he was certain he had their complete and undivided attention, Jonah knelt,
slowly-deliberately-never taking his eyes off his enraged foes.
In his right hand, Jonah held his combat knife, gripped blade back, eager for a fight. Thick chunks of flesh and clots of purple and green blood stuck to the blade's edge-hanging in strings, like saliva from the maw of a ravenous beast. With his left hand, Jonah reached for the ground, pausing only briefly as he gripped something just out of sight.
Roland watched from the nearby shadows as he set the remainder of the charges along the rim of the final reactor. His suit's active-camo function was quickly depleting its dedicated power supply, and he could see that the Covenant, though momentarily confused by Jonah's presence, were
beginning to tense up.
He sensed the energy in the atmosphere begin to charge; these last few survivors would not allow their lives to end as helpless victims to the assassins in their midst. A defiant glower on their faces, Roland saw three of the Elites draw their muscles taut-they were getting ready to make a move; ready to pounce. Their first steps on their so-called Great Journey may be mere seconds away, but the warriors' code by which they lived meant these Elites would not die without a fight. Their sense of honor would not allow it, just as it would not allow them to be taunted by the murder of their kin, which is exactly what Jonah was doing-taunting them.
It's what he always did- Every damn mission, Roland thought. He just can't help but play with his food .
The eerie quiet that had settled upon the camp following the initial burst of violence gave Roland the sense that they were directly in the eye of the storm-that whatever hellish fury had played out only moments before, what was to come next would be worse, and it would be sudden.
He placed the last of the charges and locked the detonator's receiver in the ―on" position, then knelt and lifted a half-loaded Covenant carbine rifle from a dead Jackal's grasp. He sighted the Elite nearest Jonah, the weapon's aiming reticule drawn directly at the beast's head-the instant he so much as twitched, a hail of radiation would liquefy his brain cavity.
Out in the open, the Covenant soldiers still frozen in disbelief, Jonah rose from his crouched position, a severed Elite head gripped tightly in his left hand. Jonah lifted the trophy high in the air, and then spoke for the first time since the encounter began: ―Rolle, light 'em up."
The lead Elite's head rocked with three successive bursts from Roland's scavenged carbine before its massive body slumped to the ground, lifeless.
The handful of Covenant survivors leveled their weapons at Jonah, who hefted the severed head and threw it full force at a Grunt about to unleash a fully charged blast from its quivering plasma pistol. The macabre projectile hit the Grunt in the chest, shaking it off balance and sending its plasma blast spiraling into the night sky.
The tiny, angry alien attempted to right itself, but not in time-Jonah had already removed his pistol and as the Grunt regained its bearing a single slug impacted its temple. Jonah then made short work of the scattered Grunts and Jackals displaced about the courtyard, while avoiding fire from the few Elites still in the fight.
He and Roland had the advantage of placing their enemies in a crossfire between Jonah's slightly higher vantage and the tree line Roland used for cover, making it difficult for the Covenant to focus on just one attacker.
Roland finished off two more Elites but then his carbine trigger clicked empty.
A third Elite charged Jonah, whose attention was focused on wrapping up the only other surviving Covenant, a Kig-Yar cowering behind a personal energy gauntlet. As Jonah worked his way around the shield and planted two bullets in the Jackal's side, Roland called a warning, ―Jay,
seven-o'clock," and peppered the back of the Elite with his submachine gun, whittling away at its shield.
The Elite barreled toward him, only a few meters away, anger and hatred burning in its eyes. As if he were simply swatting a fly, Jonah tapped the trigger of his magnum twice, putting a bullet into each of the Elite's kneecaps.
The beast fell.
Roland sprinted over as Jonah slid a new clip into his pistol.
The Elite struggled to lift itself-beaten, yet defiant. Unable to stand, it rested on its bloodied knees.
―Nice shot." Roland bent down to grab a plasma pistol from the ground, sweeping the area for survivors as he rose.
―You softened him up." Jonah walked toward the injured Elite, also checking the periphery for any signs of trouble.
―Still got some fight in you, big guy?" Jonah stopped just out of the Sangheili's reach. ―Ya know?
Up close, you Slip-Lips aren't so special. You know that, right?"
The Elite stared up as the two Spartans look down on it.
―I mean, really," Jonah prodded. ―I've always meant to ask . . . what makes you Covenant thugs think yer so damned special anyway? What gives you the right to do the things you do?"
The Elite passed his gaze from Jonah to Roland and back. ―There is honor in our path," he began,
―you . . . your kind . . . humanity? You are nothing but a disease that must be wiped clean from this galaxy-a taint upon-"
―Yeah, well-this disease ain't goin' nowhere. In fact, seems ta me, it's right up in yer goddamn face and there ain't much'a damn thing you can do about it."
―If we were to meet in battle as warriors- true warriors," the Elite hissed, ―you would fall, just as so many of your kind have fallen-to our swords and fire; under the weight of our boots. But you- you are not warriors. You are assassins . Weak and timid, you hide in the shadows-"
―Says the alien shit-heel who invented active-camo," Jonah said. ― Yeah, yer noble. How noble's glassin' a planet from orbit?" Jonah tapped the kneeling beast across his temple with an open hand.
―Your influence must be expunged-eradicated-from the worlds you have fouled with your very
―I really don't like this guy," Roland interrupted. ―Cut 'im loose, Jay. I think it's past time we beat feet."
―I fear not the path to the Great Journey beyond. I embrace it." Though he was bloodied and gravely wounded, the Elite's eyes welled with pride has he spoke.
― ‗Great Journey,' huh?" Jonah huffed. ―What's so great about it?"
The Elite stared directly at Jonah's visor, making eye contact despite the fact he could not see Jonah's face through the reflective surface. ―You will never-"
In a blur of motion, Jonah's hand flicked forward, plunging his blade hilt-deep into the side of the Elite's neck.
The creature shuddered and lurched, sick wet gurgles bubbling up from its throat. It lunged for the blade, more reflex than an actual attempt to defend itself. Jonah stood motionless, holding his ground.
Purple-black blood seeped from the wound, dripping from the Elite's split mandibles.
Jonah maintained his stance for a moment-looking down on his latest victim with disgust-then suddenly, violently wrenched his wrist, twisting the blade in place. ―It was a rhetorical question, asshole," he said, his voice a mix of disdain and boredom as he slid the blade out of the dying Elite's neck.
In one fluid motion, he removed his M6C from its holster with his left hand, and kicked the alien to the mud-and blood-caked ground with a thud. As the heavy alien body settled, a sudden and silent flash burst from the muzzle of Jonah's pistol as he fired a single round into his fallen enemy's face-the bullet entering through the roof of its still-twitching mouth before exploding out the top of its thick skull, depositing itself, along with a myriad of brain bits and bone fragments, in the soft, soggy turf below.
―Overkill, don't you think?" Roland offered, mockingly.
Jonah leveled his M6C dead center on the dead Elite's chest, firing four more rounds, each
whispered thwip of gunfire- thwip, thwip, thwip, thwip-answered by the kiss of punctured flesh and ventilated lung. ―Better safe than sorry," Jonah cracked back as he safetied his weapon and ran his blade along the armor-plating on his thigh, wiping away the residue of a battle well won.
―Someone's gotta put a smile on that grumpy face, Rolle, old boy."
Roland checked his sensors and the power charge on his suit's battery. ―We got other places ta be and this joint is prime to blow-you ready to roll out?"
―Yeah." Jonah paused as he gave the area one last visual sweep-Covenant carcasses and discarded weapons littered the campsite. ―This place is dead anyway-"
As the last syllable escaped Jonah's lips a sudden crackle of energy sparked in the cool night air.
Roland's body quaked-a violent, sudden spasm erupting from his torso and pulsing through his limbs in a series of aftershocks-then he seized as the muscles along his spinal column clinched and froze.
Jonah sprang back, instinctively taking up a defensive stance-pistol instantly off his hip and in firing position, the events before him slowing to a crawl.
For less than a second Roland stood perfectly upright and motionless before his body jerked with another forceful, involuntary start as the dual-pronged tips of a Covenant energy sword pierced his chest, sliding through his body and armor like wet paper. Jonah's eye caught on the flicker of the blade's plasma sizzling red with blood-the weapon's dual blades protruded farther from his
Shaking himself from his daze, Jonah unloaded his Magnum's clip just over Roland's shoulders.
The bullets pinging off something large, but unseen; each round harmlessly deflected into the night.
A replacement magazine clicked home in the pistol before the last of the barrage's shells hit the ground.
Roland's muscles relaxed and he let out a gurgled, raspy cough, and a single, whispered word . . .
―Clear . . ."
Everything-the blade, Roland, Jonah, the evening breeze-stopped for a handful of seconds-still and eerily serene; the only sound the pop and sizzle of the energy sword as it seared the flesh around and between the wounds.
Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the floating sword pushed forward with a quick,
deliberate thrust before viciously being ripped up and away, exiting through the Spartan's right shoulder, just below the neck. Upon reaching the apex of its arc, the energy sword shimmered then blinked out. Gone-but not gone.
The force of the swipe nearly cleaved Roland's upper body in two, a thick geyser of blood spraying upward as the mortally wounded soldier slumped to the dirt, lifeless. As Roland fell, the spray of his blood coated a cloaked shape looming directly over his broken body.
Like an apparition, the smattering of crimson life danced in midair. Jonah couldn't make out the exact shape of his enemy, but its weapon of choice suggested it was Sangheili. He brought his pistol to center mass on the red blot and sidestepped toward a downed Unggoy to his left.
The small, dead creature's Plasma Pistol would come in handy if Jonah hoped to penetrate the cloaked Elite's shield. Jonah had two additional disruptors, but he would need them at the next target site. Regardless of being a man down-friend or not-there was still a mission to accomplish.
As Jonah retrieved the alien weapon, he was sure his foe would attack.
Instead, the alien held its ground-showing an extraordinarily high level of restraint, even for an Elite. Usually Covenant warriors pressed any advantage-attacking in force until their enemies were overrun and slaughtered, but this one was different. It hadn't taken part in the firefight between the Spartans and the rest of the camp's Covenant contingent. It had stayed back-hidden; waiting.
For what? Sangheili weren't cowards. Unlike the Unggoy and Kig-Yar, whose bravery and
ferociousness most often relied squarely on the tide of battle, the Sangheili were uniformly fearless foes. Why would this one in particular wait until its colleagues were beaten before launching its assault?
Jonah wanted answers to these questions-craved the hows and whys-but more than anything he
just wanted this creature dead. He wanted to see the life drain from its eyes. Wanted to revel in its death.
He felt rage well up inside-like a weight pressing down against his chest-as he gripped the Plasma Pistol and began to rise, pointing both of his weapons at the bloodstained blur across the yard
Motion trackers should've caught him before he got close, Jonah thought, running through the past twenty seconds, grasping for logic in this surprise attack-in his friend's death.
He squeezed the trigger on the plasma pistol, building a charge as he and the alien circled one another. He and Roland liked to goof-liked to have fun-but they were careful. Damn careful. And way too skilled to have their partnership ended in such an ignoble fashion-taken unaware by a lone Elite.
Hazarding a glance at Roland's mangled body, Jonah's mind raced. ―Goddamn it," he shouted.
―How'd you do it, you sonuvabitch? How'd you get the drop?"
Jonah released the plasma pistol's trigger, sending a large green burst of energy careening toward the ghostly blood smear. The Elite tried to leap out of the way, but the plasma blast tracked its target, catching the alien in its side just below the rib cage. The beast let out an angered cry as its active-camouflage and its shielding sparkled with tiny flecks of electricity and faded, revealing an Elite warrior like none Jonah had ever seen. The Elite seemed like any other in terms of its size and physical makeup, but was made more imposing by the sleek, custom armor that covered its entire body, including a full-faced helmet with a cycloptic visor port wrapping from right to left. There was also an odd shifting in the armor's coloring, as if it were analyzing and adapting to its environment, the base color of the armor adjusting, changing to blend with the background, making it hard to focus on the alien's movements. While not as effective as active-camouflage, this new chameleonlike feature definitely provided a strategic advantage.
Squinting to get a clearer view, Jonah noticed the armor itself was more rounded-more
elegant-than the typically segmented Sangheili battlefield attire and was adorned with etched detailing, which was hard to make out in the low light, but seemed to have a purpose similar to war paint-ornate and aggressive. This Elite may not want to be seen, but clearly wanted any who got a good look to understand completely, and without question, that he meant business.
Jonah followed the plasma blast with a barrage of bullets from his pistol, lightly feathering the trigger for maximum rate of fire.
But this Elite was too fast. Jonah hit his mark with a few rounds but the nimble alien easily avoided the rest; an unsettling turn of events for a marksman of Jonah's caliber.
Jonah holstered his pistol and pulled his fully loaded SMG from his back, bringing it to bear on the Elite, cocking the weapon in one fluid twist, but the alien's shields and camo recovered from the plasma hit.
―There's no way," Jonah said shocked. ―Well, Rolle, buddy," Jonah already missed his friend more than he cared to admit, ―looks like we got ourselves somethin' new with this one."
Jonah flipped on his suit's VISR enhanced vision. Luminescent tracers marked the edges of
buildings, trees, abandoned weapons and corpses, giving a defining edge to everything in Jonah's line of sight.
Wherever the Elite was hiding, VISR would allow Jonah to track him with ease. Problem was; the Elite wasn't hiding . . . and neither were his friends.
Standing where he had faded just seconds ago, the mysterious Elite held his ground, his transparent bodily features indicated by a ring of red as the VISR technology mapped out the creature's silhouette.
Jonah kept his aim on the Elite, but didn't fire.
―Shit," Jonah said aloud to himself, his shoulders slumping a bit.
The Elite laughed, a thick, guttural boom, as the full extent of the danger dawned on Jonah.
Standing to the left and just a few meters behind the Elite were three others sporting the same souped-up armor, as marked by the red VISR-induced glow tracing their outline. To his right, two more Elites stood, almost casually.
These others had been watching the whole damn time. ―This wasn't a solitary straggler who'd caught two of ONI's heavy hitters with their guard down," Jonah chided himself.
―This was a goddamn trap."
Time was running out. Despite the immediate odds, Jonah knew he didn't have much time to make his escape before the base camp was overrun with Covenant regulars, never mind the six hard-asses standing in front of him.
The other squad's gotta be doing better than this, he hoped, as his mind flashed to the second team of Headhunters operating on the other side of the valley.
As if reading Jonah's mind, the Sangheili who'd killed Roland spoke. ―Your fellow conspirators are dead. Like the one here, slaughtered like pups-helpless and weak."
Jonah was impressed. If the Covenant had such high-level Spec-Ops troops stationed on such a remote moon, then one of two options was true: Either ONI had gotten their intel right and this place was, in fact, a pretty damn big deal to the Covenant, or the Headhunters had been doing their job so well that this whole scenario was one big alien boondoggle devised to draw them out. For a moment, thoughts of Roland's death and six large obstacles standing before him dissipated and Jonah found himself strangely satisfied-if two or more teams of the Covenant's absolute top-of-the-line Elite squads were tied up babysitting a site so far from the frontlines, then they weren't on the frontlines, which was a win for the UNSC no matter how you sliced it.
―You idiots set this up," he called to the Elite. ―This . . . all of it. You wanted us . . . heh. Yer afraid of us. I'm flattered."
―You are dead," one of the Elite hissed.
―Could be. Don't matter."
―You value your life so little?"
―No. Not really," Jonah explained. ―I kinda like being me, actually. But you being here, means yer not somewhere else, get it? All this . . . these resources, all yer skill, wasted on a few ‗pathetic'
humans makes me feel kinda good-kinda special. And if you think yer taking me out without
losing a limb . . . you've lost yer goddamn mind."
―We'll see who's lost their mind, once we have carved your flesh and you've screamed your secrets to the stars," the main Elite replied.
These guys were different, and Jonah admired them for it.
Usually Covenant battlefield doctrine was simple and to the point: ―Take no prisoners." And while this new brand of Elite seemed to be playing a different game, Jonah was fairly certain that, had they wanted, he would already be dead. After all, they had the numbers and, up until a moment ago, the added advantage of total surprise.
―This ends one of two ways, chief," Jonah said. ―I either walk out of here, yer teeth hangin' from a string around my neck, or I die with my fist down someone's throat."
Jonah made a come-hither motion with his SMG, before finishing, ―So let's start this party, I'm late for a hot date, and I don't wanna keep yer sister waiting." Jonah was unsure if the familial insult would translate, but by this point he couldn't care less. It was time to dance.
―You can sense your end, human. That is good. If it brings you any peace, the whole of your kind will soon follow suit."
The lead Elite clicked something to his squad in their native language.
Three of the Elites leveled what looked to be modified carbine rifles at Jonah, while two others began moving toward him, igniting their energy swords. As the blades sparked to life Jonah noticed something he'd earlier mistaken as a trick of Roland's blood on the Elite's blade-these energy swords weren't powered by the same blue-white energy source as the Covenant's typical
plasma-based cutlery. Instead they were comprised of a reddish energy combined with the white flicker of electricity, which caused them to emit a blood-colored glow.
Jonah couldn't guess at the difference between these new swords and the more commonly used
blue-variant, but he was sure of one thing: his attackers were full of surprises, and he felt a twinge of fear creep up the back of his neck.
The two sword-wielding Elites moved forward carefully, as if stalking prey.
Jonah laughed. ―You know I can see you, right?"
The Elites didn't alter their approach, maintaining their speed and positioning-muscles tensed, ready to strike.
―We are aware of your visual upgrades, human. As stated, we've already been through this with your friends. Lay down your arms and surrender yourself for inquisition."
Jonah shifted his gaze to Roland's body, keeping the Elites squarely in peripheral view. ―Twenty credits says yer all dead within . . . let's say . . . the next thirty seconds."
The lead Elite scoffed. ―We will end you before you so much as bruise our egos, dog. Now, lay down your weapons-"
―Seriously. I know you might not have any credits handy, but I'm willing to take the Covenant equivalent." Jonah let the offer stand for a brief instant, then dropped his SMG to the turf.
―We got a deal?" The two approaching Elites picked up their pace, as the others steadied their aim.
Jonah relaxed his posture, let his knees flex and his back and shoulders slouch.
The two Elites were almost within reach. Jonah bent into a deep crouch-his muscles contracted, taunt-before tumbling back, head over heels, coming up a good ten yards from the nearest Elite.
Hunched in a low squat, Jonah held a disruptor in one hand, his charge detonator in the other.
While Roland had been responsible for demolitions on most missions, with Jonah preferring to focus on direct combat, both members of a Headhunter squad were required to carry the proper charges and triggering mechanisms necessary for fieldwork to ensure redundancy should any
unforeseen complications arise. And though Jonah would've preferred another way out, he was fully aware that his luck had run dry, and as he and his fellow 'Hunters had been fond of saying since their earliest training days on Onyx: ―When in doubt, blow shit up."
Jonah's mind flashed to Roland one more time, and he silently thanked his partner for one last assist-―Clear." Roland's final breath had also been a parting shot at the Covenant bastard who'd run him through.
These special division Spec-Op Elites may have been watching the whole show, but Roland was cloaked when he set his charges, so unless the Sangheili had the equivalent of VISR in those shiny new helmets, they didn't know thing one about the explosives placed on the reactors all around them.
―Clear" meant the primer on the charges had been initiated.
―Clear" meant with a push of a button this entire section of the valley would light up as bright and hot as the surface of a star, nothing but scorched earth and charred bones in its wake.
―Clear," and Jonah had a plan, even if it meant kissing his own ass good-bye.
He raised the disruptor. ―Know what this is?"
―Take him!" the lead Elite called.
But Jonah had allowed the two closest Elites to get within arm's length in order to block the line of fire of their three squadmates with ranged weaponry. If the they got close enough to cut him he'd still have time to blow the fuse and take them all to hell right along with him.
Jonah activated the disruptor and tossed it in a low arc toward the four farthest Elites while dodging a swipe from one of the energy swords, but he was too slow to avoid the second's grasp.
The Elite yanked him to his feet, ripping his shoulder from its socket. Jonah screamed in pain.
The energy field from the disruptor expanded as it hit the ground at the feet of the farthest group of aliens, shutting down power to their weapons and armor.
The Elite holding Jonah shook him like a rag doll. ―You dare defy us, filth? You will suffer for your sins." He raised his sword, using the very edge of the blade to cut a gash across Jonah's faceplate, digging into the flesh beneath. Jonah's left eye sizzled and popped as the blade passed through. For the second time in recent memory, the Spartan screamed, but he still held tightly to the detonator, thumb pressed firmly on the tiny unit's ignition switch.
The second sword-wielding Elite stepped up and grabbed him by the neck.
In Jonah's mind a thousand witty remarks echoed, an infinite chorus of banter to die to, but instead of uttering a word, Jonah simply glanced at the beasts above him, these ―elite" commandoes whose body count quite possibly surpassed his own, and thought to himself, Six of you, one of me. Fair trade , as he released his thumb from the detonator.
After that everything went white.