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~Chapter 18: Arrival~ It was early, the sun casted a bright white glow before it revealed itself. A cool breeze picked up, and few clouds were overhead. Morning dew appeared on the grass. Runner had no idea what time it was, but she took a good nap. Zeff said he’d use the rocket turret if it was needed, hopefully by then she would be up. Runner stood up and stretched her arms. “Ooh, that felt good.” Now that she started to regain conscious, she could spectate the world around them. Surprisingly, she just noticed they were no longer in the desert, but in a grassland with something laying over the hill. “Wait a second...” Runner trailed off, before she could think of what it was, it came into view. There it was, the Brute’s Keep. It was smaller than a citadel, but that didn’t mean anything. These were Brutes. With the resources available with such little troops back at the camp, they might have been able to stand a chance and just waited out for the return of Warlord and the others. They couldn’t do that, not with their friends inside. Hell, if any of the other Spartan’s were sent in to do this. This would’ve been a hell of a lot easier. Except a few of those were at the camp to defend the troops. All the others were onboard the Fleet. “Alright you guys, I doubt all their troops are here. Especially if they’re out on the look for more stragglers. This will be their weakest point, and a surprise to them. After a while, reinforcements will start to arrive. We’ll need to get out of here once that happens, and quick. As stated earlier, we will have our retreat covered, thanks to Caelin.” Jackson said, she put her hand up in a ‘Hello’ sort of matter for acknowledgement. Jackson proceeded to turn off the lights on the Mammoth, they didn’t want to get spotted easily now. “Alright now, stick to the shadows and try not to make too much noise.” Jackson grabbed a sniper rifle and placed a silencer on it. “You know what to do when we need it.” He handed the rifle to Ash. “Everyone else, stack up on the vehicles. Except Zeff, you stay up on the overwatch.” Jackson proceeded down to the vehicles. Jackson felt off. Were they missing somebody? “Hey, where are the others?” He asked, unsure of whom they were. “Who? Michael and the Marines? They’re dead. beam rifle got them. The Marines disposed of the bodies off the side of the Mammoth. Last one got shot, and fell off.” Junior answered. He held up the dog tags for proof. “How did you get the last one’s dog tags if he fell off? Also, I don’t remember there being more than one beam rifle shot at the Mammoth.” Jackson asked? He counted the dog tags while they were held. “Mammoth was stopped sir. I climbed down. You were also on the field with the tank. There’s no way you could have heard any of the beam rifle shots, only the roar of the engine.” Junior replied, his voice was stern. “Alright then, that’s a settled recap. Wish you would’ve said something earlier though.” Jackson directed everyone to a vehicle. Magnus hopped on the turret of the Rocket Warthog, Frank took the driver seat, and Runner snatched a rocket launcher before she sat in the passenger seat. Junior hopped in the driver's seat of the Gauss Warthog while Zen loaded himself on the turret. Jackson, again, took the Scorpion. “Rocket ‘hog? Are we good to go?” “Yes, we’re ready.” “Gauss ‘hog? Are you?” “Affirmative.” “Roger that, waiting on Caelin for the go. Front hatch will drop open and we will be dispersed. Remember, lights off and keep quiet. If there are any Brutes on patrol, signal Ash. She’ll take them out if she already hasn’t. There shouldn’t be anything big this early. So we’re in the clear for now. As soon as we can get inside, the faster we can get this done.” Jackson said, his plan sounded pretty solid in his mind. Even though he wasn’t done with the explanation. Frank’s Warthog moved in first, the sound of it was quiet from the distance. A rough noise could be heard every so often from the tires churning up dry grass. Magnus gave his motion to Runner, who instantly gave the motion to Frank to stop the Warthog. Up ahead Magnus detected two Brute signatures on the rocket turrets sensor. He motioned in the distance where they were at, Runner forwarded the message to Frank. Who turned off the Warthog and turned on COMMs. “Ash, do you read me?” Frank said, quietly. His voice wasn’t mute like the other two’s would have been, no thanks to him not equipped with a helmet. A voice came back, softly, after a few seconds, “Yes. What is it you need? I got eyes on your Warthog. You seem to be clear as far as I can see, anything new?” Ash was focused on the Warthog like none other, sniper rifle in hand. Finger on the trigger. “We have two. I repeat, two Brutes ahead of us. Location is unclear, but they’re shown on the turrets sensor. Distance is approximately two hundred yards ahead. Over.” Frank kept his best at being quite, pretty good since the wind started to pick up. Nice breeze every so many seconds. It’s as if nature wanted them to save their friends. A few minutes passed by as they sat in the dark, they saw Junior close to the entrance in the distance. Lucky him, got the easy route it seems. Jackson wasn’t anywhere near in sight yet. Runner looked over at Frank, as soon as she did Ash responded back with the softness in her voice. “Roger that, I got them. There’s three of them.” Frank sat there and waited, as did the other two. A ghost whispered in Frank’s ear, although he couldn’t hear what he said. So he responded quietly, “What?” Runner looked at him, concerned. The whisper came back, still faint and unable to hear. Frank looked at Runner, “Did you hear that?” he kept quiet as he said that and the wind picked up once again. A third whisper was heard. Still undetectable. “Alright, now this is freaking me out.” Frank looked around cautiously. “Alright, targets have been eliminated. You should be able to proceed.” Ash said, her voice kept that soft-tone. Something about it offset Frank. “Those were the sniper rounds, you dolt.” Runner said after Ash got off the COMMs. Frank’s face was covered in embarrassment. He should have known better what that sound was. ‘Of course those were sniper rounds. Not some ghost. What was he thinking?’ he turned on the Warthog and proceeded towards the entrance, at his best to be undetected. Magnus was on the rocket sensor once again. He turned it around ever-so-slowly as to see if they missed anyone or were being ambushed. In front of them was the entrance to the Brute’s Keep, guards stood outside. The door seemed accessible, but they couldn’t see what was inside. “Ash, the entrance to the Keep has about four Brutes guarding it. Could you give us a hand?” Runner asked. “Copy that, waiting for alignment.” Ash bolted off the top of the mammoth, she landed in a crouched position. One hand on the ground, sniper rifle held up in the other. “Ash, we have arrived at the entrance over. We see about four Brutes standing guard. Three of them huddled in a pack, the fourth one in front of the door.” Junior spoke up from. He was at a further angle than the others, they had already departed from their vehicle. “Copy that, already on it. Standby.” Ash managed to sprint across the open field in fifteen seconds. Up ahead she could see the entrance, as well as the Brutes. First up, the Brute on its own. Shot fired. Junior watched and heard as the Brute collapsed to the ground. One of the other Brutes heard it, and decided to go investigate. The other two watched him as he did. Ash fired a round at the left Brute, she watched Magnus stab and takedown the second Brute. Now all that was left was the wandering Brute. Ash reloaded the clip, and fired. The bullet impaled his head, and exited out the other end and hit the door. The door opened briefly, it allowed her to see what was inside before it was closed. “All targets eliminated. Entrance is clear, nobody is inside the first door. Have at it and have fun. We’ll see you when you get out.” Ash returned to the Elephant, but was stopped in her tracks. A Brute Chieftain stood over her, hammer raised. “Wilco. Thanks for the assist Ash. Couldn’t of done it without you.” Runner said, she motioned for the others to form up, while she took lead at the door. As Ash had said, there was no one inside the first door. She proceeded to the second door, the others stacked up ready for what was on the other side. Runner motioned for Magnus and Zen to take point. The door opened. Ash dropped her sniper rifle and jumped away from the Chieftains swing. She grabbed her silenced pistol as fast as she could, then activated her thruster pack. The Chieftain didn’t have time to react. Ash fired the entire clip into the Brute's armor. His shields just flickered, her bullets were consumed. That didn’t stop her, she kept at it. The Brute just laughed. He went for a hammer spin, which forced Ash to activate her thruster pack and jump back. This was no use, she had to find something better. The Chieftain swung his hammer at her in a chop-like maneuver. Ash grabbed her sniper rifle and held it up as a defense. The Chieftain's hammer hit. Ash let go of the Sniper and made a dash for her knife. The Chieftain scraped the sniper rifle off the hammer in disgust. He let out a roar at her to know how angry he was. “You dare defy me, I will have your head and feast upon every last one of you.” The Chieftain raised his hammer again, to be stopped by a loud sound in the distance. Ash was caught off-guard as well by it. A Covenant Cruiser flew in from above, and then two Corvettes came down with it in support. The Chieftain let out a loud roar, then looked back at Ash. Who returned the look to him. “I will kill you.” She said, she went for the neck. The Chieftain slammed the backside of the hammer against her side and launched her across the field. “You are lucky this time. I’ll have you soon again.” The Chieftain said. A Phantom came in at an incredibly fast speed, the Chieftain walked into the lift and then the Phantom was gone as fast as it had came in. Ash just laid there in the open, the Cruiser and Corvettes positioned themselves over the Keep. They didn’t fire, they were just stationary. She thought to herself, What was the Chieftain doing that he had to leave so suddenly? It didn’t make sense. She reached down to where the hammer had hit, it breached her armor. She was bleeding. “No...” Ash now knew what the Chieftain meant when he said “I’ll have you soon again.” He planned this, that damn Brute planned this! She could prevent it, the Mammoth wasn’t far. Only five hundred feet, she could try to walk it. Caelin could help her the best she could. She started to walk, but it didn’t work. So she tried again. There was no way she could make it back, not like this. Tears rolled down her eyes as she laid there. Helpless. A loud noise was heard, all she saw before her eyes closed were bright headlights from above. Next thing she knew, someone carried her. She heard chatter, but couldn’t make it out. Finally, Ash had fainted. Everything went as black as the night sky. The second room was clear. Sort of suspicious, you would think there would be Brutes everywhere. Especially after the many they encountered. Unless that’s where they were at now. “Wow these Brutes aren’t smart are they? They have more on patrol than they do on defense.” Runner said, she laughed at the thought. “Yes, I don’t think the Brutes are smart to begin with. They’re just there for the money and the food, they could care less. However, I believe their leader is the highest priority. Which is the Brute Chieftain. We need to eliminate him, an outrage will breakout. They will feast upon another.” Zen said. “Wow really, that’s all that these guy’s have that are keeping them in line?” Runner asked, curious even more at their stupidity. “Yes, er well I don’t know. It’s just a theory. I would assume so though, you have eliminated their alpha and now all the betas do not know who to follow. Thus encouraging an outrage until someone claims alpha.” Zen said. He peered around the room, and motioned to Magnus to engage the two Brutes. Magnus fired his silenced SMG and Zen fired his silenced Magnum. The two Brutes fell to the floor. They weren’t wearing any armor. It’s as if they didn’t even expect anyone to come, it’s as if this wasn’t a trap at all. They just captured them for food. That was it. “Runner, we’re clear. Although none of these Brutes have armor. Should we split-up, that would make it easier to reach the target. Just a suggestion, sir.” Zen asked. “No. We stick together. Move forward.” Runner said. She took point this time, and the others stacked up on the door. There was seven Brutes without armor, they all fired at the Brutes. “Drop dead.” Junior said. Runner stacked up on the next door with the others, she motioned at Magnus and Junior to take point. Zen and Frank stood at the side, ready. The door opened. A Brute Captain stood in their way, plasma rifle in hand. Everyone opened fire. “Come on you guys.” Runner said, she reloaded her weapon then fired. The Captain didn’t stand a chance. “We’re clear here. Move forward, find out what that Captain was guarding.” Runner ordered. Magnus and Frank volunteered, everyone else stood aside. The door opened. “It’s them.” Magnus said, he lowered his weapon and motioned for Junior to assist. The others followed inside while Magnus and Zen stood guard at the door. “Haha, you guys are alright!” Runner exclaimed. “Marines, you guys hurt? If not, load up. We’re here to save you. We’ll have you three catch a ride on the tank with Jackson outside and... and... and who is she?” Runner trailed off as she noticed the ODST that was next to Joseph and Archangel, she seemed wounded and hurt. “Yeah we are, thanks for coming. We didn’t think you guys were going to shut up. We had a plan to attempt to kill the Captain, but our chances of winning would have been zero.” Archangel said. “Yeah, that fall didn’t help any. Luckily I didn’t break my back. Hehe.” Joseph said, “Speaking of which. Where’s Michael?” He looked around curiously at everyone, “Or Jackson, Ash, Zeff, and Caelin?” “Caelin, Zeff, and Ash are on the Mammoth, they should be waiting for us at the evac zone by now. Jackson is in a Scorpion, he is providing covering fire as we leave. Our Warthogs are outside, one of you can ride with Junior and Zen. The others will have to hitch a ride with Jackson.” Runner said, in her rough command voice. “Sounds fair to me. Archangel and I will ride with Jackson. Anne can take the Warthog, she needs it the most. She’s in a bad condition.” Joseph said, he looked over at Archangel. Whom nodded his head in agreement. “Alrighty then, once Junior is ready. We can do this.” Runner said. She looked at Junior for confirmation. “She’s patched up, but I don’t know how long it will last.” Junior said. Anne stood up, she acted as if she could handle the pain. “Alrighty, Zen. You support Anne while she walking, she’s going to need the assist so we aren’t slowed down. I know you want out of here more than anything and that’s the way it’s going to happen.” Runner said. Her voice still had the command in it. “Alright, let’s go.” Zen said, as He lifted his shoulder from up underneath Anne’s arm. The team exited the structure the same way they entered it. No Brutes were in sight, except the ones they killed. However, the outside was different than when they entered. Way different. First off, the sun was out. Secondly, Banshees flew around everywhere, shooting other Banshees. Assumed to be Brutes vs the Elites, as it would seem. There was a Cruiser this time, with Corvettes. Which is where they got the assumption that Lan Chorus came back. Then there were mysterious aircrafts flying around, they shot, only assuming, at the Brute Banshees. Prometheans were on the ground as they fought in one-on-one combat with Brutes. It was a slaughterhouse right now. “Come on, we need to go.” Runner said, she hopped in the passenger seat. Frank took the driver seat, and Magnus on the rocket turret. Junior took the driver seat of the other warthog, Zen sat Anne in the passenger seat, then hopped on the gauss cannon. Archangel and Joseph ran across the field at full speed, then hopped on Jackson's tank. They then proceeded to the evac zone. “Welcome back you guys, hop on.” Jackson said. Which is what they did, Archangel jumped on the machine gun turret, and Joseph seated himself on the tread covers. Jackson then turned around and headed to the evac zone. He fired rounds at a few of the mysterious aircrafts headed their way as he headed back. “Caelin, this is Jackson. Package has been received. Ready for that evac.” Jackson said, he pushed on the pedals to go as fast as he could. The Warthogs came up fast from behind, and were soon in front of him. Jackson felt a little bit more embarrassed, then remembered he was in a tank. So it didn’t matter right now. Except he could do for a little more speed... “We’re almost there! Five hundred meters out!” Runner yelled. She saw two Pelicans fly in, thrusters at their maximum. Then they made an incredible stop, and landed in a vertical motion. The hatch opened as they did so, and the landing gear pulled out. They arrived at the Pelicans, everyone hurried as fast as they could to board the ships. Jackson pulled up quick afterwards, and they did the same as the rest. They boarded the Pelicans at an incredible speed. “Alright, we’re all here. Let’s go!” Caelin yelled at the pilots. Both of them pulled up and thrusted out of their. They watched as they left, the Cruiser fired its cleansing beam, destroyed the Brute Keep and everything around it. Banshees and the mysterious aircrafts scattered about. Headed in all directions. Afterwards, the air got really hot. That’s when Jackson looked over and noticed Ash, she was out. “Junior, get over here now!” He yelled. His voice was a little saddened and concerned. As if he actually had feelings for Ash. Did he have feelings for Ash? No, no he didn’t He didn’t have feelings those were gone. He lost those back when he decided to join. That was his choice after all, he decided to kill that girl and run away. He decided to get on that Pelican that day... Oh how the memories hurt. Forget the girl, Jackson said. He should keep focused. Junior didn’t see it at first, but then he saw the wound. Blood was still there. So, he did what he could. It was a Spartan after all, he didn’t know much in the medical field about how to care for them. They were just going to have to wait. Junior looked outside of the hatch, which was now closed. The pilots insisted on it being closed for safety procedures and so they wouldn’t get burned from the Cruisers cleansing beams blast. Which he didn’t need to worry about anymore. Six MAC rounds pierced the Cruiser and the Corvettes from above. The Covenant ships fell to the ground, engulfed in flames. The Brutes Keep was gone. All of it was gone. Those mysterious vehicles, the prometheans, the Elites, the Brutes, everything. They were all gone. Burned to death. There was no other way they could have died. Now, they just needed to get back to the camp. See what’s going on and what they could do, and to find out where those MAC Rounds came from. But first, Ash needed to be taken care of. They couldn’t lose her, not now. He managed to stop the bleeding for the time being, but that’s only for about an hour. After that it’ll be back and possibly worse. “Hm.” Was all Junior could say. He didn’t really know what to say. All he knew was that he wanted to be back. Now. ~End of Chapter 18~