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Bootleg Bros. Ultimate - Atriox Invictus


Previously turnt3chGodh34d
It had all been sudden. The roar of noise that flooded everywhere with the sounds of explosions and searing plasma bursting metal apart. The alarms came on next, and the Infinity exited slipspace a moment after, exiting as quickly as it could near an uncharted world of brown and gray.

John was already on the move, Kelly, Linda, and Fred backing him up as he sprinted down the corridor, MA40 in-hand. The additional augmentations Halsey had performed had done wonders to enhance his performance. Where he’d started to feel the aches of age, he now felt even stronger than he had in his youth. The Mjolnir Gen 3 certainly helped as well, making the Spartan-II’s even more proficient than they’d already been—and they’d been top of the line for nearly forty years.

“Lasky,” Chief spoke, his voice steady and stable despite the distance he was sprinting, hurtling down shafts and corridors, making his way up from the barracks to the bridge. “What’s the situation?”

“Internal disruption,” Lasky’s voice crackled in, but it was strangely covered in static, as though there was something nearby that was interfering with the signal. “It’s looking like sabotage, Chief, somebody planted some old Covenant charges in the hangar, you headed to the bridge?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well turn around, I need you on the scene ASAP. You and Blue Team are the only ones I trust with handling this as proficiently as possible—any more surprise explosions like that could eliminate our combat abilities with enemy fighter craft, or Guardians.


On his HUD, the rest of Blue Team’s lights pinged their acknowledgement, letting John know they’d gotten the message too. Just as quickly as they’d left the barracks, they were now barreling down toward the hangar.


The situation in the hangar was worse than he’d been expecting. Heavy smoke filled the upper half, melted metal and vehicles lie scattered about, not to mention the various corpses of Infinity personnel.

As Blue Team moved in, the Chief knelt to check the pulse of one of the crewman who was lying on the ashen metal floor, but got nothing. Shaking his head, John grabbed the dead man’s dogtags, and rose back up to his feet. “Fan out,” he ordered, and Blue Team immediately dispersed, traveling into the heart of the molten wreckage in search of any hints to the culprit behind this.

“It looks like an anti-matter, almost,” Fred commented through the comlink in their helmets. “Too little damage to be one, must be a smaller variant.”

“Small enough to smuggle on board and plant without alerting a soul,” Linda added.

“No Covenant tech I know, must be new. Banished? Swords of Sangheilios?” Kelly inserted, her British accent as strong as it had ever been.

John didn’t have a definitive answer for them yet, instead remaining silent as they perused through the wreckage, obtaining sample scans of the damage and coming to conclusions on damage. Lasky was right, another blow like this could irreparably cripple the Infinity, and if placed on the bridge...

“Kelly, head to security, go over any footage you can,” John ordered. “Linda, Fred, investigate the crew. See if you can find anybody who doesn’t belong.”

The latter task would be a tough one. What with Cortana and her Guardians taking over the known galaxy, it had left an absurd amount of refugees fleeing her dictatorship, a lot of which had ended up on board the Infinity, making its crew primarily civilian.

“What about you?” Fred asked, the others tensing as they prepared to follow through on the order.

“I’ll make sure the bridge isn’t rigged,” the Chief stated.


“What’s the damage, Chief?” Lasky asked the moment he saw the green-armored Spartan walk onto the bridge.

“Severe,” John answered. “We counted seventy-three casualties, no suspects.”

The captain’s gaze traveled down, his gears turning in his mind. “It has to be sabotage, but—who’d want to do that? It’s not Cortana’s style, and Halsey...” he glanced at the Chief. “She’s done with Mdama and his Covenant. Which leaves-”

“The Banished,” John concluded.

“Exactly, but why target us? We’ve kept to ourselves, we’re all facing Cortana as a common threat.”

While he didn’t say it, John had to assume it was because of the operation on Reach. Blue Team had scuffled a few times with the Banished there, and built up some bad blood, no doubt reminding the faction of the predecessor’s hatred and fear for the Spartans, the Master Chief in particular.

“Any leads?” Lasky decided to ask when he couldn’t find any conclusions to his theory.

“Not yet. Blue Team is investigating,” the Chief informed, glancing about them for anything out of place. Anything that didn’t belong...

He found nothing unusual.

“Keep unauthorized personnel from the bridge,” the Spartan advised, turning around when he saw an alert ping on his HUD from Kelly. She’d found something.

“Sir!” a crewman suddenly called out to Lasky. “I keep picking up something on the long-range scanners, but it disappears every time I hone in on it.”

Master Chief glanced back, his visor glinting off the artificial light, staring back at Lasky, whose face was grim. Something was about to go down, that much was certain. Something in the air made it all the more obvious. A stillness. A sense of dread.


“Nobody can recognize him,” Kelly stated, leaning against the wall as she watched John stare at the monitor displaying the hangar, moments before its eruption. A scrawny, seedy-looking human male, probably in his early thirties, shuffling his way into the middle of the hangar, in which two posted marines began to approach him.

“Pause,” John pointed to the screen, aiming at the man’s neck. “Magnify,” he added, and the security footage magnified and enhanced on the man, his neck exposed with his head craned to look toward the two guards approaching him.

Kelly moved closer, joining the Chief in staring down the screen. Despite her emotionless visor, John could have seen her eyes light up in realization. “That tattoo, it’s Jiralhanae...”

“It’s part of the Decimus Clan,” John clarified. “He’s a Banished initiate.”

“We need to-” Kelly began, before another explosion rocked the ship. While the other security personnel in the room stumbled and fell, John and Kelly only wobbled, remaining relatively stable as they looked toward each other. No more words were spoken as they dashed from the room.

“Lasky,” John tried to contact the captain, but got no response. Had he missed a charge on the bridge? Had his own incompetence cost them some of the last viable leadership of humanity? Ever since Lord Hood went down with the rest of the UNSC, holed up at the UEG headquarters in Australia on Earth, it had just been the Infinity that was truly left. The last bastion of command as others struggled to get back up.

A moment later, Fred and Linda appeared, sprinting alongside John. “What’s going on?” Fred gruffed out.

“Banished initiate, killed himself in a suicide bombing. He’s not the cause of this second explosion,” Kelly answered, filling in any gaps that remained for John pertaining to the footage after he’d paused it.

The ship rocked again, another explosion making the entire structure swing to the side, stumbling Blue Team for a moment. Lasky still wasn’t responding to his hails. This could only be bad...

A fourth explosion took place nearby, part of the wall being obliterated by a swelling of white light and teal plasma, a kinetic wave blasting all four Spartans back. Their boots skid along the ground as they ground to a halt, bearing their weapons to aim forward.

Out of the large hole that had just been formed, various aliens began to stream from it. Jackals, Grunts, a few Elites, and a few Brutes. Their armor made it clear; they were Banished. If it hadn’t been obvious before, it was now. Every event that had happened since the Banished initiate had infiltrated the Infinity had been a ploy by the Banished. To lock down the Infinity, to isolate it, and clearly, to take it out. But Lasky’s question rang in John’s mind. Why would they do this? Their quarrel was small compared to the threat of Cortana.

“Focus fire,” the Chief announced, indicating the nearest Brute, a Chieftain, as their target. A hail of bullets began to rain as the firefight took place.​


Previously turnt3chGodh34d
The call for evacuation had gone out, but escape was beginning to seem impossible. Banished forces swarmed the ship. Everyway that John turned, there was another small army gunning down what little remained of humanity. The bridge was gone, Lasky with it, a Banished ship had crashed head-on into it, leaving Fred as the highest ranking officer aboard Infinity, a rank he passed onto the Chief despite John’s inferior rank.

However, doubt was beginning to set in. As the Spartan’s fist plunged into and through the skull of a black-haired brute, its body ragdolling into another only to both disappear in an explosion of plasma, John having planted a plasma grenade inside the dead brute’s skull, he found that it was likely only he and Blue Team that remained. For twenty minutes, they hadn’t seen nor heard from any other UNSC or civilians.

The others seemed to have caught on as well, Linda’s sniper round blasting through six grunts at once, their bodies flailing as they collapsed. “Chief, we need to go! There’s nothing left for us here!”

She was right, and with Fred barely able to stand, his leg twisted at an odd angle and blood pouring from his side courtesy of an early pack of brutes trying to rip him apart with their claws, a wound that the biofoam his suit dispensed wasn’t able to fully compensate for, their choices were growing limited.

He didn’t like to do it, but the situation was hopeless. The Infinity was gone, along with everyone else. They hadn’t even seen Halsey in the chaos, and if she was somehow still alive... John had to hope she could take care of herself. “Abandon ship,” the Chief grunted, his tone causing Linda and Kelly to glance at one another, unfamiliar with the sound of defeat in their team leader’s voice.

They turned and ran, moving as quickly as they could with Fred’s injury. Despite his fatal wounds, he still kept up with them, sprinting with a broken leg at 60 kph down the corridors with them, never making a sound as they raced along.

Sliding his MA40 onto his back to conjure his sidekick, Kelly scooped up a couple plasma rifles from the ground as they moved. The corridor they turned down led to the escape pods, but there was a small obstacle in their way. Dozens of Banished troops, armed to the teeth, and already aiming for them.

“I count at least a hundred brutes, Chief. Double that for the others,” Linda spoke.

“Sounds like piss-poor odds for them, then,” Fred’s strained voice crackled in.

The Spartans moved in unison, spreading out from one another, each taking a different approach down the corridor. As John and Linda continued down the center, Fred gave his leg a break by leaping up to begin swinging from the support structures, his shotgun swapping hands with each move as he fired upon the Banished soldiers. Kelly took a ramp up, firing her dual plasma rifles, bolts of energy melting Banished faces. With John at the forefront, providing cover for Linda with his MA40, she followed behind, her sniper rifle piercing through dozens of targets at once. It only took about ten seconds, but by that time, the Spartans had reached the halfway mark of the corridor, and in tandem, had cut their opponents numbers in half.

Many Banished struggled with the dead pilling around them, stumbling over corpses, some falling on them, stray shots wounding still-living fighters only to be put down a moment later. That was when Chief noticed it—the elite taking aim with a particle beam rifle at Kelly. Only a split second later, it fired.

John’s breath hitched as he saw Kelly’s status light on his HUD blink off for a moment. While the adrenaline that pumped into his system from his suit provided plenty, his body offered its own, and the Spartan shot forward like a blur, pulling back an arm, before swinging it forward as he barreled through dozens of Banished, clotheslining plenty of them. Necks snapped, some heads went flying, but the Chief didn’t pay attention, leaping from the ground into the air, zipping forward, before his thrusters activated. For a moment, 117 was invisible to the naked eye, untrackable even without using his suit’s active camouflage.

Yet, even then, the elite warrior had seen him coming, sliding backward to avoid the Spartan slamming into the ground where it had just been standing. A crater of metal formed as a shockwave of kinetic and electromagnetic energy propelled outward, sending grunts and jackals flying through the air, and making the elite skid backward, his shields bursting.

“Demon!” the elite roared, tossing aside his particle beam rifle to procure a small item off his hip, which activated a moment later to reveal an energy sword, but the Chief was already on him, fist slamming into the elite’s gut, followed up by a kick that turned the alien’s knee completely around, making him collapse to the ground, only for the Spartan’s hands to grab his face, and spin the elite’s head around.

However, he’d launched himself directly into the middle of the remaining Banished forces, and they closed in on him. Grasping the energy sword, Chief leaped backward, rising into the air, aiming his left arm downward as energy projectiles tracked him upward, and his grappleshot fired out, snagging onto the floor right at a grunt’s feet.

“NOT AGAIN!!” the grunt screamed as the Spartan performed the same slam from before, the shockwave sending more foes flying, a tactic only to give the Spartan time to reach Kelly, his following sprint allowing him to cut a path through the rest of the Banished, energy sword flashing as it cut through armor and flesh like a hot knife through butter, aliens toppling left and right, before the sword flickered out, expended of energy.

He tossed it aside, noticing that Kelly’s status light had winked back on, but it was in red status. Fred and Linda continued their assault, and the Chief’s actions had provided them with the distraction needed to begin rapidly dispatching the Banished that remained. Firing his grappleshot, 117 swung himself up toward the platform Kelly had collapsed on, a few plasma bolts knocking his shields down to minimum integrity, but that didn’t matter. In a few seconds, Fred and Linda would have finished off the remaining Banished in the corridor, their weapons discarded from lack of ammunition to use the Banished weapons against the aliens themselves.

Landing on the platform, John dropped to a knee beside Kelly, pulling her off the ground. “Kelly, respond,” he ordered. She didn’t say anything back, but her hands slowly reached for his arm as he pulled her toward her, looking over the wound. Her visor was cracked, a hole shot clean through out of the back. That elite’s aim had been impeccable, punched right through her shields, through her armor... but she was alive, though barely.

“We’ll get you out of here,” the Chief assured her, his voice wavering slightly. He’d never admit it, but he couldn’t lose her. Linda and Fred would be hard losses to have, but Kelly? She was the last part of his life before this war. Sure, Fred and Linda had been part of the Spartan-II program, but Kelly? She’d been at his side since he was six years old, alongside Samuel. When Sam died, it had just been them. He’d lost Keyes, Miranda, Johnson, Cortana, Lasky, and possibly Halsey now too. Kelly was one he’d always expected to surpass him in survival.

Hefting her over his shoulders, John glanced down to the sea of bodies to find Fred and Linda gazing back at him. Fred was looking even worse, plasma scoring all over his body. He seemed to barely be standing at this point.

“Let’s go,” the Chief nodded, hearing the roaring of engines coming from the other end of the corridor from where they’d come from. John leaped down to the others, and they moved in unison, racing toward the escape pods while picking off any stragglers, the roaring of engines growing louder, no doubt brute choppers heading for them.

The choppers never got the chance to engage Blue Team. They were on an escape pod before anybody could realize they were gone—those that would have were dead.

Setting Kelly on a seat as the bumblebee lifeboat roared to life, Linda at the console, John glanced at Fred, who sat nearby, breathing heavily. His status indicator was in the red as well. This wasn’t good at all... if they couldn’t successfully escape the Banished and find a way to regroup and strategize a counterassault...

“How is she, Chief?” Fred asked, noticing John staring at him. Fred didn’t need to ask that, the squad’s status indicators were active in all their HUDs, but the Chief understood why Fred had asked. Just like John, just like the other Spartans, they placed each other above themselves.

The Chief shook his head slowly, returning his gaze toward Kelly, her breathing becoming more labored. Her hands had never stopped gripping his arm, and one of them moved slowly down to grasp onto his own hand, squeezing tightly. John grit his teeth, staring back at the visor of his oldest friend, knowing what was coming, but refusing to believe it. Kelly seemed to understand this, even in her state, as she slowly nodded her head.

John squeezed her hand back, feeling an empty pit open up inside of him. Only a second later, her grip began to relax, before the strength faded entirely away from it. A couple of moments later, and her red light dimmed on his HUD.

He stared at her for only about half a minute, but it might as well have been an eternity. Nobody spoke a word, Fred gazing at Kelly like the Chief was.

After all they’d been through, it was hard to accept.

Spartans didn’t cry, but at that moment, John felt like he should have, despite the fact he couldn’t.

Then, Linda’s shout snapped him back to reality. The bumblebee was shuddering and shaking, taking fire from Banished vessels closing in on them. They were headed for the desert planet they’d exited slipspace near, and as red lights winked on in the escape pod, the Chief understood just how hopeless their situation truly was.

The next moment, his visage was engulfed in a fiery inferno as the pod erupted, and his shields diminished. Damage indicators blared in his HUD as the Chief spun about, blasted into open space. His hand still held onto Kelly’s.

Once the wreckage cleared, John could see that the rest of Blue Team, like him, were falling rapidly down to the planet, the flames of atmospheric re-entry already beginning to sphere around them. Fred’s lights had winked off, Linda’s sitting now in the yellow zone.

A numbness washed over John as he looked down toward the planet’s surface, then back toward Kelly. His mouth was dry as he let go of her hand, a new feeling beginning to take form beneath the numbness. A quelling fury twisting in his gut.

This wasn’t over.​


Previously turnt3chGodh34d
The first thing he could see was sand. Packed together like dirt, but fragile, crumbling as he moved to sift about itself, pooling in crevices and dips. The Mjolnir Gen 3 had armor-locked, gel layer tanking most of the impact from air-to-surface impact. Put simply—the fall from orbit hadn’t left a scratch on the armor, though it had knocked the Spartan out for a good 5 minutes or so after impact, if the military time stamp on his HUD was any indication.

With a grunt, John picked himself up, the memories quickly rushing back to him. The entire experience. The loss of what little left he held dear. Kelly and Fred’s status lights continued to register as flat-lined. Linda's, however, was red. She was still alive, but the Chief feared that wouldn’t last.

His suit’s radar picked her up about a hundred meters off to his right, locating her IFF tag. Kelly and Fred were near her as well. So as John rose to his feet, sand sliding off his armor, he turned his gaze to the sky, noticing the white dots steadily growing larger; Banished ships. They intended to finish what they’d started.

The planet was barren, a scorched globe without water. The oxygen levels in the air seemed to exist, though barely, suggesting the planet had either recently died and was losing its remaining O2, or there were underground oases providing such a rich atmosphere for an otherwise lifeless planet.

Shuffling his way through the sand, 117 closed the distance to Blue Team, cresting a small hill to find the three in their own craters of impact. They remained intact, as one would expect with Mjolnir power armor, but two thirds of them were still gone forever.

“Linda, status,” the Chief spoke through the com system toward his last companion. He got a crackled grunt in response, and saw her feebly turn her head to face in his direction.

“Chief...” she strained out. “Go.”

“I’m not leaving you,” John replied stubbornly, sliding down the small crater toward her, doing his best not to look at Kelly or Fred. Linda had been fatally wounded before, and he’d saved her, putting her in a cryogenic stasis. While she’d been with him during the events on Installation 04, she’d been asleep for it all, and somehow survived the Autumn’s fusion overload that had destroyed Halo.

But there were no cryo pods lying around to throw her in now. They had nothing to support them.

The sound of engines began to reach his ears. The Banished were growing rapidly closer. It was only a matter of a few seconds now...

“Go,” Linda repeated, a little louder. “You of all of us should know... Spartans never die...”

He was without weapons, save for a plasma grenade, without options, and in a dangerous position. The Banished Phantoms were closing in too quickly, but he wasn’t going to run, he had nowhere to run to...

“Please...” Linda was practically begging him to leave her. Yet, before he could do anything more, something massive dropped from above, and in the next moment, a plume of sand had obscured his vision.

Linda’s light dimmed.

He was alone.

Taking a few steps back, the Chief balled his fists as he prepared himself for anything, unsure of what he was now faced with. Nothing stepped from the dirt as it floated down, and as it dispersed, the massive form of a brute was revealed, his gaze stark and serious, aimed toward John. One foot was placed on Linda’s chest, the power armor caving inward to crush her ribcage.

The brute didn’t speak. John noticed the mechanical enhancements on the monster of an alien, its hulking form fitted out to appear even larger thanks to the armored body, a large braided beard extending from his face. In one hand, he held what appeared to John like a miniature gravity hammer, though lacking much of its features. More akin to a black club than anything.

He shot forward, thrusters activating to give him that extra umph, the Spartan blitzing toward the brute, intent on colliding head-on. He met his mark, slamming heavily into the brute, who stumbled back from the attack with a slightly annoyed grunt. Just as Chief bounded off of the brute from the collision, he activated his thrusters once more, bursting point-blank into his opponent. Once again, the brute only shuffled backward, a little more annoyed than the first hit.

The Chief slammed his boots into the ground, extending his arm to fire his grappleshot toward the brute’s forearm, intending to pull him forth and bash his unprotected skull in, but instead, the brute turned, bringing his free arm about to grab the cable of the grappleshot. Even as it fired electricity, tesla arcing along the brute’s armor, the alien didn’t so much as wince, yanking on the cord before 117 could react, yanking him violently off his feet, only for the brute’s arm to swing out, clotheslining John. A crack splintered his visor as his ears rang. He found himself on the ground, tasting blood in the back of his mouth, uncertain as to how a brute was this physically powerful. There had to be more to him than just the mechanical enhancements, this was super-physical, even by brute standards.

Before he could climb to his feet, the alien reached down and grabbed him by his shoulder, before he yanked John into the air. Just before John could get his bearings and perform a counter-attack, something glowing scarlet smashed into him, releasing a destructive shockwave and blasting him back into the ground out of the air hard enough to release a second shockwave upon impact, a deeper crater forming beneath the Chief.

“My name is Atriox,” the brute spoke after a moment, Master Chief struggling to stand. He turned to face the alien, finding him still gazing impassively at the Spartan, as though unimpressed. “And I am the last face you will ever see.”

Gritting his teeth, John burst forward again, but before he’d even covered half the distance to Atriox, the club in his hand, tip now ignited with red energy to appear like a mace, pulsed with energy. A field of gravity grabbed invisibly upon the Spartan, constricting his body, making him completely immobile. His momentum didn’t stop, however, as he still flew toward the brute—and right into Atriox’s mechanical hand, which grasped 117’s throat tightly, lifting him high off the ground, treating the Spartan as though he were weightless.

Once in the brute’s grasp, the gravity field dissipated, and John’s hands grabbed onto the alien’s fingers, trying to pry them apart, and failing to so much as budge them. The grip tightened, threatening to crush John’s throat, the world beginning to turn black...

One of his hands shot down toward his waist, plucking off the plasma grenade, simultaneously activating it as he quickly made to thrust it forward and stick it to Atriox’s chest, but the brute seemed to have expected this, already letting the gravity mace fall to the ground to free his hand, which caught the backside of Chief’s own, turned the Spartan’s arm toward him, and forcibly slammed his fist, and the plasma grenade, against John’s own chest, the hum of the explosive sticking to a surface being heard.

The Chief’s eyes widened with realization behind his mask, but just as he could comprehend his situation, he was slammed face-first into the earth, the grasp on his throat relinquishing. Atriox’s foot stamped down on 117’s back, forcing him down. He struggled to move, to break free from his opponents reach, but it was all too late.

Atriox stared down as his foot raised a few inches, plasma bursting from beneath the Spartan, expelling around him, but his body was a shield to Atriox, his other foot taking little damage from the explosive.

And the Demon ceased to move.

Atriox removed his foot, glaring at the corpse of the Covenant’s most feared foe. The destroyer of Halo’s. Humanity’s ultimate weapon. It had taken a little under half a minute to extinguish his life forever.

The brute reached down, grabbing the Spartan to flip him over, inspecting the front. His entire forward side had been melted together by the plasma grenade, his helmet twisted and charred, the visor having sunk in to melt against his skull. A fitting end for the little demon.

Atriox hefted the corpse over his shoulder with a sniff, before a gravity well fired down from his phantom above him, and he lifted off the ground with his prize, the rest of Blue Team’s corpses abandoned on the planet to be forgotten. To decay with the rest of the planet.

The Last Spartan no more.​


Previously turnt3chGodh34d
Catherine Elizabeth Halsey had never known what it was like to feel without hope. She had known an array of emotions throughout her long and morally complex life, but hopelessness? Even when at her worst, she’d never once given up hope. She’d always placed it in her Spartans. In John.

But now? Now she understood.

The melted golden visor glinted the crimson light back into her pale blue eyes, shocked wide with disbelief, overcome with the aforementioned hopelessness.

The Master Chief. Her Chief. Her John...

Halsey swallowed, tearing her eyes away from the corpse of her absolute pride. John was strung up behind the brute responsible, strapped to the wall like a trophy, Atriox sitting before it upon his captain’s chair, or rather his throne, appearing rather pleased with her reaction.

“Doctor,” the alien greeted her with a low rumble, his eyes piercing into her. She chose to glare defiantly back into them, but was once again shocked with what she saw. The glint in his eye, that glint was all too familiar. This was no warmongering brute... this one was... intelligent. He hadn’t spared her life for some arbitrary reason. He had a plan for her...

“Brute,” Catherine responded, venom lacing her tone, her mind lingering on the last of her children, now killed by the Banished. She had outlived them all.

“You understand why you’re here?” Atriox asked, rising from his throne. He towered over the human female, an enormous form of braided fur and customized metal armor, yet even with his size, he seemed rather small for his species.

“I understand you realize killing me is counter-productive,” Halsey responded coolly, making it clear in her tone that she thought very little of this jiralhanae, despite his uniqueness.

Atriox approached her slowly. The brutes behind her, the ones that had dragged her into the war room and thrown her to the ground, turned and left. When the exit doors hissed shut, it was just the two of them.

“Cortana was your creation,” Atriox stated, narrowing his gaze upon the doctor. “While your little demons and the UNSC have fallen, I still lack the knowledge needed to take care of your fallen child.”

“What would my incentive be?” Halsey spat, her body growing more tense as he continued to draw closer. She could smell his stench strongly now, a signature of the species, which used pheromones to communicate emotion to one another.

“You have none,” the brute replied simply. “The breath that leaves your lungs is a luxury. I simply ask for your cooperation out of respect for your... product,” he was talking about her Spartans. “But I do not require your consent. Dead or alive, your mind has uses.”

Her eyes slowly widened as she stared back at the massive form before her. “You’re researching AI,” she realized. Atriox didn’t reply. He didn’t need to, his stench had shifted slightly. She could only assume the smell meant satisfaction. “My mind is a little more difficult for you to reach.”

“I’m aware,” sniffed Atriox, who turned away from her. “However, your Spartans were courteous enough to collect those cloned brains of yours from Reach.”

“How-” Catherine was, for a third time, surprised. However, she was cut off as Atriox continued, turning his head to speak to her over his shoulder.

“You’ve recognized my intelligence, but you still underestimate it,” he stated. “There are matters bigger than this universe now. I have seen it. The Forerunner, the Flood, Cortana... nothing compared to what I’ve witnessed.”

“And what have you witnessed?”

“Power. Change. Eternity...” the brute let out a soft hum, before he slowly returned to his seat, his gaze locking onto her once more. “I intend to reach it, but I must first attract its attention. As long as Cortana lives, I cannot do that. You will help me.”

Halsey’s throat felt dry as her gaze flicked back toward John for only a moment. She didn’t have a choice, there was... no hope left. Atriox and his Banished had won this fight, and if they conquered Cortana... there would be nothing to stop them.



Like a virus, it spread. A plague. A cancer. A tumor forming at the edges of the galaxy, growing and growing, before one day, it grew too great to control. Too great to kill. The Banished victory over the Master Chief and the greatest bastion of the UNSC was just the beginning, and from that point on, Catherine watched the universe fall to the mercy of a monster—a monster she enabled.

So long as she proved useful, he did not impede her work. He gave her schematics and blueprints that belonged to something she’d never seen before. He told her it was from another universe. She found that hard to believe, but she obeyed as best as she could. She wasn’t a robotics expert, an engineer, a mechanic, she was a bioscience expert, the best that had ever existed in her field, and probably ever would at this point, the most advanced AI researcher, but this was a bit out of her league. Or rather, it would have been, had she not been up to the challenge. Just like everything else in her life, she learned and adapted, but also put the strangely brilliant minds of some of the Banished to work, those with engineering know-how.

Monsters of war were built, including a new weapon that Atriox planned to use against the Created. A “Scarab Dragoon” he called it. She oversaw its construction, witnessed as it became something even more powerful than anything the Covenant had had at its disposal. Then... Atriox unleashed it.

Cortana’s Guardians were impressive, but after the first twenty or so fell, it became clear that her reign was over. Atriox trapped her on Zeta Halo only once he’d eliminated all of her Guardians and all AI that had allied to her. Then, he destroyed the entire ring with her on it.

The Banished assumed the mantle, and swept across the rest of the galaxy, forcing all within their ranks—and killing all who resisted. Of course humanity resisted, humanity always foolishly resisted.

So Atriox destroyed Earth.

That quelled the remaining human population.

Only once galactic “peace” had been established, did Halsey finally find herself standing before Atriox once more. John remained where he’d been.

“I hope this is quick, I have a lot of work to be doing,” she stated briskly. Atriox let out an exhale that sounded like something of a snort. Her comment had humored him.

“Keep that eagerness, doctor. You have served me well, but this was only the beginning,” the alien tapped on a scarlet holopanel above his armrest, and a hologram appeared between them, displaying what looked like footage. Halsey squinted at it, taking in every intricate detail she saw, becoming intrigued with what she witnessed. It was John, infiltrating an unfamiliar ship filled with unfamiliar units, commanded by what appeared to be a large, though rather round, bald man with an... “expressive” mustache.

“His name is Ivo Robotnik,” Atriox stated as the scene played out, the Chief duping the bots and offing a few, Robotnik’s hovering egg-like ride swerving to avoid a few well-placed shots, barely missing an easy death. “He is responsible for much of those schematics I gave you.”

With the press of a button, the footage shifted to display Atriox’s right hand, Decimus, communicating with Robotnik, agreeing to an alliance.

“This is the... other universe?” Catherine asked, recalling the now old conversation she’d once held with the Banished warmaster.

“More than that,” Atriox’s lips pulled into what could only be described as a sneer. “A collective. A convergence of realities. A web of universes. A nexus.”

Another button press revealed a third scene, displaying a small boy in red, a floating orb-like creature with red eyes, and a ninja-like individual clad in blue infiltrating a Banished phantom, taking out the crew on board.

“Why are you telling me this?” Halsey asked, peering past the hologram toward Atriox, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I know you don’t trust me. You expect me to break the mystery behind interdimensional travel?”

“Yes,” Atriox replied, tapping one last time on his panel before he rose to his feet. The fourth scene displayed a squad of jiralhanae warriors approaching a massive, almost angelic feature floating above the world. “The Nexus,” Atriox presented, before he stepped through the hologram, obscuring it from view as he glared down at Halsey. “When Decimus waged his war against Robotnik, this device activated. It destroyed most everything, but Decimus managed to escape. He crashed on the Ark, where he died, and we recovered all of this. Including one more thing.”

The brute held up something in his hand. A small orb, golden in color, patterned intricately with mysterious designs. Halsey felt almost mesmerized, temporarily pushing everything on her mind aside as the desire to study this orb overcame her. She approached it, eyes wide and curious, reaching her hand up. It began to glow, humming a deep sunset orange, pulsing with golden flashes. Atriox’s eyes narrowed as he watched, extending the orb closer toward Halsey, the tips of her fingers growing close—

The orb shuddered, and out of caution, Atriox let it go. It dropped to the ground, violently shaking, both taking uncertain steps back, before another hologram appeared. While the one Atriox had been using to display his closely guarded secrets of the Nexus was crimson, this one was a golden light, depicting what seemed to be clear-as-day footage.

A small ape upon a hovering throne zipped back from a white-haired boy armored in unfamiliar crimson and white plating, tossing attacks this way and that to combat the ape.

Atriox’s eyes now widened with his own curiosity, staring at the scene unfold.

“What... is this?” Catherine felt herself asking, turning her gaze from the scene to the orb, which was hovering a foot off the ground, humming a pleasant bronze now.

Atriox raised his hand, and swiped it casually across the hologram.

The footage changed, now displaying a small boy shouting commands to a behemoth of a creature as it battled a dark-robbed individual, carrying a glowing violet sword.

Atriox dismissed her after that, leaving her to ponder on what she’d seen, and though she developed theories... she had no real idea what it meant. Not until five months later, when Atriox summoned her a third time.


“That’s John,” Halsey breathed, her gaze turning from the footage toward the corpse of her best Spartan, who still hung from the wall as a trophy.

The scene depicted before them was two individuals standing atop a pile of rubble, one of them 117, the other a boy with comically large hair, though the two seemed to be hesitant, even upset, just from the body language she was reading. Then, the flash of a crimson blade, and the boy fell.

The scene vanished, and a bracket list appeared, an image of the Chief moving to a position where it was clear he’d won some... sort of tournament?

The stench of Atriox, even from his position across the room, was almost unbearable. She’d grown to recognize this pheromone as anger. Rage. Bloodlust. The warmaster was deeply troubled by John’s victory in this tournament, or whatever it was.

“You seem troubled,” Halsey stated, her tone somewhat smug. Regardless of the trophy in the room, she was pleased her John was still causing trouble for people, even from another universe.

The brute turned his gaze from the screen toward Halsey. It seemed he’d been rewatching this for some time. “The victor of this tournament was to gain a “greatest honor”, a gift from the Nexus. The Demon won. The Nexus is his.”

“What a shame,” Halsey replied with a callous shrug. “Perhaps you got lucky with my John.”

Atriox’s frown, however, began to shift, rising slowly up into the now-familiar sneer. “Now is the chance to do something about this. Regardless of what happens, the Nexus will claim itself a new tournament, or something akin to what the alternate Decimus experienced. And when it does? I shall claim it.”

“Good for you,” she rolled her eyes, placing her only hand on her hip, her other empty sleeve dangling uselessly beside her. “Why did you call me here?”

“Touch the orb,” Atriox suggested. “It responded to you before. It will again.”

She doubted it would do anything. She would have loved to disappoint, but fate had something else in store.

When she touched the orb, the world turned to black. When she awoke, Atriox congratulated her on her “success”, before he confined her within a lab, watched over by her t’vaoan handler: Writh Kul. That was the last she heard directly from Atriox. She was no longer as useful to him. So, he put her to work in a lab, getting strange new things every day to study, dissect, and sometimes redesign into something better. The rare things she did hear were from Writh Kul’s gloating. A Nexus World that Atriox was allegedly conquering, slowly biding his time to overthrow and subjugate allies he’d made.

Well, two could play at that game. She’d waited this long, she could wait a little longer for the right opportunity to break free from her metaphorical shackles, to take the fight right back to Atriox, and next time? Next time she’d win. She’d avenge John and her other Spartans. She’d avenge humanity, and the others the Banished had crushed. Best of all, she’d put down the monster that stole her universe. All she needed to do... was wait for the right moment, and then strike.

To be continued in...