Day 796 – Part 1

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the Dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the Dark will be brought to the Light

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

~Johnny Cash, God’s Gonna Cut You Down


The ceaseless wind pushed up a tiny dune of red sand in front of my vision. In the faint glow of dawn I could see the tiny grains tumbling over one another, pushed and pulled incessantly by air and gravity, helpless against the shaping forces of the planet. Eventually the wind picked up again and blew the little dune away, returning my line of sight to the campsite in front of me.

In the center there was a fire pit, its charred remains already coated in a fine red dust and leaving only a faint wisp of smoke. Camp fires were anachronistic when heat and light could be produced with modern technology, but Humans and Fallen seemed to find them comforting – even Hive used fire in rituals. A thin metal beam had been laid next to the fire pit to serve as a seat. The sand had been beaten and stirred with traffic, giving the impression of 3 to 4 campers who had stayed the night and already packed up and left before the rising sun. Any real tracks would have been already obscured by the blowing winds.

Without moving my head I looked up at the buildings: the hollowed skeletons of skyscrapers and ancient research facilities stretched their emaciated digits to the starry sky, clothed only in the tatters of rusted sidings and corroded pipes. The campsite itself sat in the hollow of a crater in what had once been a wide thoroughfare several lanes across, now abandoned by all but the occasional decrepit vehicle long since gone to decay. The only sound was the whistling and sighs of the wind that blasted and wore away at the remains, a susurrus that would never end until the cadaverous remains of the invaders were wiped away and buried beneath the ocean of dust that covered the red planet Mars.

It was perfect.

“Do you think they’ll come?” asked Ebony in my ear.

I didn’t respond. I was //amazed my Ghost thought I would even answer. Or maybe he didn’t expect an answer, and was merely passing the time. I trained my eyes up again, and saw a beam of light from Sol graze the top of the hollowed structures. Morning was here.

“I hear something,” said Ebony.

The ceaseless whispering of the wind was interrupted by the thrums of Interceptors; the sound bounced and careened off the buildings.

I waited.

The first of the Interceptors entered the thoroughfare nearly a kilometer away, the acoustics of the buildings making the sound seem much closer. It was joined by 3 more. They did not charge up the street at the campsite, but took their time without using their thrusters. The Cabal had learned.

The leader dismounted on arrival, his huge boots crunching the sand underfoot. He sank a little as the ground settled under him. The other Interceptors floated forward a few meters, but no one dismounted. I studied the leader as he approached the fire pit: a Centurion, wearing the blue and gold of a Siege Dancer. His armor was pocked, his insignia faded almost to nothing from regular exposure to sand and wind. He drew out his weapon, and I could even seen the smoothed areas of the grip from countless uses of the gun.

I felt the tiniest bit of //elation course through my circuits as the Centurion kicked his way through the remains of the campsite. My eyes flicked to his escorts: they had established a rough perimeter, floating their Interceptors in a lazy circle around their commander, but their gaze often strayed to the buildings above their heads.

“They think you’re up there in a sniper nest.” Ebony whispered even though no one else could hear him.

I waited.

The Centurion grunted to his troops, and 1 flicked something on his Interceptor and barked a series of commands. Moments later a pair of Harvesters swooped through the sky, low and slow, taking their time as they passed between the skyscrapers. The Centurion grunted again, and his escorts dismounted. They began talking, gesturing at the fire pit and the buildings all around.

“Something’s wrong,” said Ebony. “The Centurion is saying he doesn’t want to deploy his troops.”

I squeezed the grip of my rifle and mentally backtracked through my preparations. Had I missed something? Did they know?

“Wait…a lieutenant is insisting it’s protocol.” Ebony “hmmed,” to himself as he parsed the speech. “She’s very adamant. The others are telling her that protocol out here is different. Maybe she’s a transfer from the Sky Burners.”

More talks and grunts. The Harvesters had arrived now, and the sound of their engines overwhelmed almost everything as they floated above. The wind was stirred by their presence and kicked sand every which way.

“The Centurion sounds like he’s making a compromise…they’re deploying a Harvester here and sending the others on.”

A Harvester activated its thrusters and flew down the thoroughfare while the other opened its belly and disgorged Legionaries and Psion troops to the ground. The Psions chattered and spread out, and 1 came straight at my position and stopped with its boot less than half a meter from my face, looking up and all around.

I waited.

Then the air tore open with a scream and I felt a wash of //relief as the first of the Taken launched their attack. Vex simulacrum, looking like living, oily smoke charged the Cabal. The massive soldiers formed up with intense discipline to repel the Taken. A Taken Minotaur appeared in their midst, blasting several Legionaries aside.

I waited.

Shadowy Thrall suddenly charged in, whipping their claws through the air at the Cabal, only to be easily knocked aside to disappear. Several Thrall managed to latch onto the Centurion, who calmly pointed his gun at the clinging shadows and vaporized them.

I followed the trail of shadowy Thrall back to their source, looking and //hoping

A Taken Wizard floated in the mouth of a doorway to one of the buildings: she was all but invisible, a deeper shadow in the darkness of the crumbled structure, sending forth her spawn to crush the Cabal interlopers.

In a single motion I stood and raised my sniper rifle, the sand cascading and streaming off my invisible form in a shower of dust, sighted on the Taken Wizard and fired. I heard a Cabal yell out the word I knew to mean “Guardian”, but I ignored them: the bait had served their purpose.

“Skadi!” I screamed at the Wizard. “I’m here to finish our business!”

I could hear her shrieking laughter on the wind.

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