Prologue: Arrival “Well, that could have gone better.” No one thought to answer the owner of the voice, a glowing, blue white figure coming up out of a data port. The three figures that were in front of her were too busy trying to assess the situation that they now found themselves in. The Dawn was battered, its engines down, and they were adrift… well, wherever the hell they were now. Still, they weren’t dead, that had to count for something. “Cortana, report,” Commander Miranda Keyes said from up in the bridge. “Structural integrity stable, as is the reactor. The engines were damaged by the Halo firing. Weapon systems are out of sync, but reparable with what we have onboard. The only problem is that I think the portal didn’t take us home… or, for that matter, anywhere near it.” “What do you mean?” Cortana turned to face the source of the iron hard voice. A man that she had come to care for and respect in the months that they had worked together: Spartan-117. John. “What I mean, Chief, is that I don’t recognize any, and I mean, any, of the star patterns that the sensors are picking up.” She paused and flicked a strand of hair out of her eyes. “I don’t know where we are.” The cyborg said nothing, but Cortana detected a massive spike in neural activity. He was thinking. The Chief’s mind raced over the possible implications of this. If the portal had malfunctioned, not sent the Dawn back to Earth like it was supposed to, what might have happened? Perhaps the firing of the Halo ring had caused it to malfunction. If that was the case, where were they? Near another Forerunner shield-world? Perhaps they could land there and find a way to get a signal to the UNSC. At the same time, another part of his mind was attempting to calculate possible exit vectors for their ship, how long it would take for a ship to reach them. If it was any significant distance, then finding a safe landing area was a priority. The cyborg continued to let his thoughts race along. “Spartan, what are your thoughts on the situation?” John turned to face the only non human member of the group. Orna Fullsamee, Arbiter of the Sangeheli, looked at him, the four mandibles that formed his mouth clicking together at seemingly random intervals. It was a sign of agitation among the Sangeheli. The Elite’s four fingered hands were clenching open and shut, perhaps trying to rid himself of the massive overload of adrenaline that came with their escape from Halo. Halo… Guilty Spark. John remembered his last few moments with the A.I. -- “You are Forerunner, the inheritor of all that they left behind,” the floating machine’s single eye glowed a vibrant blue. He seemed almost sad. “Remember this well, Reclaimers. An entire galaxy had to be wiped clean of life because of the Flood. There is too much at stake for the knowledge of your forefathers… of… never mind. You cannot allow history to repeat itself again!” “Set this thing off and let’s get out of here!” Johnson growled. “We can catch up on Humanity’s newfound history later.” “No.” Guilty Spark shook himself back and forth in the air, suddenly looking down at the ground. “Halo is incomplete. A few more days and it would be ready to fire without complications, but you are right… we scarcely have a few more minutes.” He looked back up at the three soldiers. “There is too great a risk for me to leave. The Installation will shake itself apart under its own power… and the damage to the Ark would be catastrophic. If I stay behind I can monitor and contain the situations as they arise. Besides…” he trailed off for a moment. “I cannot bear the thought of losing yet another installation under my control.” John nodded, and moved forward. Within moments, Cortana had linked into Halo’s control systems, and inserted the activation index. The station began to glow and pulse. “One last thing, Reclaimer,” Spark said. He moved over as the Chief put Cortana back into the slot at the base of his neck. “I want you to take the data caches I have stored inside of myself. A slot suddenly opened on the side of the A.I. “Study it, there is much information on it that will aid your rebuilding.” The Spartan nodded and took it. Then the room started to rumble and a beam of light, blindingly bright, shot up from the depths of the installation. The firing sequence was beginning. They couldn’t stay here. They had to leave. “Godspeed, Tinkerbell…” Sergeant Johnson snapped to a salute, before he dashed out of the room. Chief and Orna fast on his heels. -- The Spartan didn’t know what to make of the little A.I. He was an enigma. Half the time, on the first Halo, he’d been trying to kill him and Cortana to get the activation index back. Other times he had thrown every Sentinel drone he could in-between them and the ravenous Flood. He felt an ache inside of himself, like when he had lost a brother or a sister on the battlefield. He shook his head. There would be time to remember the sacrifices of the fallen later. For now, they had to make sure they didn’t join their ranks. “Cortana, is there anywhere nearby where we could land?” Keyes asked. “Scans of the initial area within the next few billion klicks indicate that we might be in luck,” she gave a faint smile. “There’s an Earth-type planet just a little ways away. I read an earth-type atmosphere, continents, oceans, the works. I don’t want to try and calcs the odds that that thing conveniently dumped us in front of a habitable planet, but right now, I’m not complaining.” “How long will it take to get there?” “No more than a few hours, Commander. I’ve already dispatched an emergency signal, so the fleet will know where we are when… if, they ever get it.” She put her hand to her forehead. “Giving the engines ten percent power. That’s all I can risk.” “What about our equipment,” Johnson said. The man was tapping the front of his ODST helmet with a great deal of agitation. “Well, the armories survived intact, so weapons and ammo won’t be a problem, We’ve also got a Longsword, two Pelican dropships, a pair of Scorpion tanks, some warthogs, and a good dozen Mongooses onboard.” “Thank God for small miracles.” He said. “If you guys don’t mind, I’m going to have a smoke.” John looked up at Orna, who crossed his arms and stared back at him. “It is amazing how calm your sergeant can be under duress.” Then he clacked his lower mandibles. “I never truly had the chance to apologize, Spartan. For what I did… for what our Covenant did to your kind. Blinded by our delusions…” “Save your apologies,” The Chief started to walk off. “Words are meaningless. Prove your sincerity with your actions. When the time comes, get your people to help rebuild what you tore apart.” The Arbiter said nothing as the cyborg walked away. Then he nodded his head. Unknown to any of them, however, was just how quickly their world, their reality, was about to get thrown for a loop. -- Bruenor Battlehammer exhaled slowly. Around him, the night was crisp, and bitterly cold. The sky was clear, though, and the stars twinkled in all their glory. A fresh carpet of snow lay upon the Dale and Ten Towns, a testimate of the blizzard that had just passed through. Much had changed in the past few months. Akar Kessel’s bungled attempt to take them over, the Barbarians suddenly siding up with them against that common threat, and the discovery of his ancient home of Mithril Hall. With all that had happened, this period of calm was driving the Dwarf king out of his mind with boredom. He leaned back against the entrance to the tunnel. Drizzt was away somewhere, probably heading to Silvery Moon again. The Lady Alustriel had just allowed access to the city for him, and the Drow had been all too eager to set off, to see the wonders of a city where his heritage would not haunt him. Wulfgar was back helping his people to survive. The Barbarians had still not recovered from the disastrous attack on Ten Towns six years ago, and the battle with Kessel’s goblins and Orcs had only further weakened their ranks. The coming winter would not be an easy one for them to survive. “Out here again, Father?” Bruneor turned and saw his daughter, Cattie-brie, standing at the entrance. The human girl wore her usual smile beneath the furs that she was wrapped up in. “Bored out of my skull. I’m almost wishing those goblins would come back for another round,” His gruff accent distorted his words. Cattie planted a kiss on top of her father’s head, causing his skin to suddenly match her hair. The Dwarf sputtered and mumbled, glaring up at her. The glare melted after a second girl. “I’m starting to act like one of those bloody humans…” He got a good natured punch for his comment. “Girl, you will be the end of my sanity yet.” “Oh, Father, you’ll never change.” “You say that like it’s a bad thing…” he trailed off and glanced up at her again. Then he sighed and returned to watching the stars. The Dwarf king did a double take a second later, though. Was it just him, or was one of the stars getting brighter? He squinted and stared out at it. Then he looked over to his daughter. “I see it too,” she nodded fervently. It wasn’t just getting brighter, the Dwarf noticed, it was moving. It cut across the night sky like it was a shooting star, only a hundred times larger. The other stars winked out and night became day as it blasted across his field of view. He knew it had to be miles off, but even from where he was standing, he felt the air temperature rise. His furs and armor suddenly felt uncomfortable and he started to sweat. The snow near his feet seemed to loosen and melt slightly. Then it was gone. He watched it as best he could. It went just over the horizon, past the Spine mountains, and then there was a tremendous flash. A shockwave seemed to hit then, a blast of air that almost deafened him and blew him and Cattie-brie off of their feet. “What in the Nine Hells was that?” His daughter exclaimed as she pulled herself back together. Bruenor could only shrug his shoulders. Still, there was the possibility that it might be dangerous. “Tell Olthick and Mortar to get up here, we’re heading out to see what that thing was.” “Are you sure it’s safe?” Cattie asked. “Don’t question me, girl, just go get them. This reeks of some wizard…” -- For hundreds of miles around, the inhabitants of Faerun bore witness to the fireball. In Ten Towns, Regis found himself shaken out of his bed from the light and the blast. Out on the frozen plains, the Barbarians saw it, as did the few goblinoids that dared to stick their heads out of their caves. None could comprehend the changes that would come, what that fireball would herald.