Chapter I - Awakening
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His sense of smell was the first to return to him, bringing with it the scent of burning neolaminate metal, scorched flesh, and the distant tinge of burnt methane. All were tragically familiar scents to him, as was the pinched tightness and pain in his side that helped draw him back to fuller consciousness. Amber eyes cracked open as, groaning, he pulled his limbs under him and made to rise, grunting as the pain in his side lanced through him and forced the breath from his lungs.
Collapsing under the weight of neolaminate hull, he groaned and forced himself to rise more slowly, running a hand down his chest. Swiftly he found the ragged end of hull that had punched through a slight gap between his Kaidon plate. With the same hand he found the other end, punched through from behind and attached to the metal on top of him. Groaning, he forced himself up again and held himself there, drawing his energy sword and moving the projector behind him carefully, before taking a deep breath. With a hiss of plasma, melting metal and burning flesh, his sword flicked to life and he had to fight to stifle a howl of pain. A fight that was also sadly familiar.
And one he nearly lost, much to his own chagrin.
This time when he rose, he lifted the metal decking and let it fall behind him, standing in the collapsed Phantom and looking around. The craft, being his personal one, was empty of troops aside from the Arbiter himself, the hold was thankfully empty of fallen warriors. The pilots, though, he knew to be dead, the front third of the ship crushed into the ground so deeply and surely that it anchored the craft’s rear up in the air, laid on one side where the other exit had been similarly crushed. He could see evidence of burning plasma and electrical fire scorched along the hull, but smelled and felt blessedly little heat, and so knew the fires had died out for whatever reason.
“At least the path forward is a simple one to find… And not barred by plasma fires, for that matter.” He murmured, turning and hauling himself up and forwards, towards the other door.
Pulling himself over it he dropped the several feet and grunted as he did, pressing a hand to his bloodied side. At the very least it wasn’t bleeding any longer, cauterised by the heat of his sword. So as painful as it was, he at least knew he wasn’t at any risk of dying at the moment. And dying a death that was simultaneously most dishonorable and wasteful, and almost amusingly innocuous. He’d fought for years, first against the Humans and then later against the Covenant, and faced down both the Parasite and the might of the Jiralhanae, so the idea he’d bleed out from a simple crash amused him slightly.
A most macabre amusement, to be sure, but an amusement nonetheless.
“But where is it that I might have found my ignoble end?” Looking around, it seemed like a simple forest, and from first glance a quite Earth-like one.
Tall, thick, green leafed trees surrounded him with wide spaces between and short, thickly grown shrubs beneath. Several he saw sported fruits, like little red balls that he recognized as being ‘apples’. A distinctly Human fruit he had himself tried, on one occasion, and found to be rather enjoyable, if a bit small and tart.
“But I cannot be on the Human homeworld, it is far from Sanghelios.” He murmured in quiet disbelief, standing in spite of his soreness and resting a hand on his blade. The only weapon he had on him, sadly enough. Activating his communicator he barked a sharp order, “Swords of Sanghelios, hear me. My shuttle has gone down in what appears to be a temperate forest. Reasons unknown. Respond.”
No answer came and, after a full minute of patient waiting, and so he sighed and turned from his ruined craft.
By now in his life, he knew and had learned the lesson that waiting got one nowhere. Any aid coming his way would easily be able to find him elsewhere. No, what came to a warrior aimlessly waiting on rescue rather than acting on his own accord was death. Or dishonor and defeat, at the least, though that only meant death by a more familiar hand. Most likely, his own.
Instead he rose to his full height and turned slow circle, searching the world around him - land, soil, trees, sky, all - for a sign of his way forward. Mundane or divine, any sign would do, and swiftly he found one. In the distance, just barely discernible above the sprawling tree-line, he saw black smoke billowing in half a dozen pillars that climbed into the sky like the fingers of some dark beast, choking the sun that glowed in its fingers. As though whatever shadow cast it wished to strangle the light of the day.
Closing his eyes and ignoring the aching in the back of his skull, he listed as closely as he could.
Distantly, he heard gunfire and… Something altogether more bestial, and, of all things, cawing. What could be so loudly cawing he had no idea, and even the roars sounded like they held too little base to be Brutes. Regardless, the sounds of battle were clear, and if this was Earth that would mean that the Humans were in danger. And he was honor bound, after all he had done, to aid them if they were in such danger.
They were also, quite coincidentally, his sole hope to return home and discover how precisely he and his craft had been brought here. But that advantage was completely out of his mind, to be sure.
But it was, as his Human allies would so often say, ‘a win-win situation’.
His head was throbbing and likely bruised and his side was certainly so, alongside the puncture wound, but his legs functioned just as fine as they always had. And so he loped towards the smoke, and travelled as directly as he could manage. He leapt over thin rivers and creaks, wound through hilly, overgrown woodland, anything he could do to speed his journey towards the endangered Humans. At first, he had to strain to hear the distant echoes, but soon enough they were so loud he couldn’t escape them. The trees were dense, though, so even as the sound approached he could see next to nothing but leaves, wood and shrubbery.
That was, until he burst from the trees onto an old, wide, and clearly very Human road. He’d recognize the same grey stone - asphalt if he recalled - anywhere after the Battle at Voi.
To his left, the road stretched on through the forest until it all faded into a wash of green and brown. The grey of the road was lost in it, the colors were so vibrant. To his right he found he saw orange and black first. Fire and smoke. And behind it, the Human settlement, such as it was in what he could see of its state, broken and burning, and swarmed by dark shapes he could barely make out. One stood tall and in the middle of the road, roaring and head back, bestial body bowed backwards in its feral display. Of dominance
“Brute…” He’d recognize the ape-like shape anywhere, even if it seemed armored in an all-together different way from what he was used to. Spiky and what looked to be white, and so heavy that when it leaned forward it seemed to be walking as much on its arms as its legs.
“No matter, in the end.” He chided himself, drawing his sword and watching the orange glow expand powerfully. Threateningly. It echoed of an ancient, storied past, and he saw a reason to add to that story as he turned back to the village. “Billions of innocents lost by my hand… Ordered by the younger half of this blade, or fallen upon it.”
Taking another step on his path for atonement, he loped forward, sword held off to the side and humming as he went.
He crossed the hundred yards in less than a minute and loose a roar, cutting through black fur and white armor like a plasma sword through butter. He heard the thing snarl in pain as its severed arm fell aside and spun with practiced ease, burying the plasma-blade to the hilt in its chest and wrenching it up through its face so quickly he couldn’t even discern its features before they were disfigured.
Limp, it fell back and he turned at the sensation of muscle, body tensing as another oddly armored and shaped Brute leapt for him with might fists drawn up to crush and a bestial roar to frighten. His reaction was faster, though, and he leapt to the side in time to feel naught but the air from the blows, like a breeze along his back. Its great fists punched down where he’d been regardless, turning the stone to dust that filtered into the wind but he ignored it wholly as he lunged.
Lacking its head, it fell limp across its fellow, the Arbiter only then registering that the dust was not dust. But smoke, rising from the two Brutes’ bodies before him as he straightened. He noted that and then, almost in the same moment, he grunted as the sound of a rifle cracked the air and his shields sparked. Turning slowly, he met eyes with a young woman in red and black, holding a blocky rifle at her waist and watching him with wide, frightened eyes.
“No.” He corrected himself, slowly lowering his hands and letting the plasma of his sword die, so as to pose less of a threat. “I see surprise there, not fear.”
The child was half his size, armed with a rifle that had sparked off his shields, and seen him best two creatures he knew little of. And yet, in spite of even some of the bravest Humans he’d met balking at the sight of him in full regalia and with his blade glowing, she was unafraid of him. Only… Surprised.
“A warrior…” And more. Even the Spartan occasionally flinched at his presence, though such was less for fear and more for apprehension at the cause of old wounds.
“What…?” The girl seemed lost for words but, seeing him stand down, she did so as well. Eyes confused and brow furrowed, she shook her head and asked, quietly, “What are you?”
“What, not who? Strange…” He thought before answering simply, “I am the Arbiter, Thel Vadamee. Leader of the Swords of Sanghelios, slayer of Truth, wielder of the Prophet’s Bane and ally of the Demon.”
“Wow, uh…” The girl blinked, still surprised but quickly collecting herself, “That’s a lot of titles. So can I call you Mister Thel or-”
“The Arbiter will suffice, child.” Though he felt the echo of amusement filter through him as he looked around.
The village, no more than a dozen dwellings, was far less ablaze than he had thought. It was broken and smoking, to be sure, but where he’d thought he saw fire he now discerned to be covered in orange leaves that sprouted from spindling vines. It made up a mostly ruined wall and gate, through which he could see more ruined buildings. A breeze blew and they shifted, looking for all the world like they were the blaze he had thought he had seen. Set by what he had assumed to be Brutes.
He snorted suddenly and the girl flinched at the, to her ears, harsh and sudden sound. Shaking his head he waved her off and apologized, “Amusement borne of my own thoughts. Nothing more.”
“Okay, well, Arbiter what- Grimm!”
He spun on her word as a great beast descended on them, feline claws ripping up concrete as he leapt aside and lit his blade. Its tail lashed out, hissing snake head glaring with beady red eyes, but it fared no better in striking him. It never got a second chance, severed by the scythe spinning in the child’s hand on his left side as the beast roared.
“I got the wings.” The girl called before vanishing in a flurry of rose petals, disappearing and leaving him to contend with the beast.
Leaping, the Grimm, as she had called it, snarled and snapped at him. He backpedaled easily and cut across its face, scoring a deep cut through its armored face that had it snarling and backing away in pain. Just as the girl landed atop it, appearing as though she’d been contained in the little ball of petals. Her scythe sang as she spun, severing a great wing as the beast roared and he saw his own opportunity.
Leaping forward as it bucked, he punched his blade forward and buried it to the hilt in the juncture between throat and shoulder. It seized for a moment, wheezing as he burrowed into its lungs, and finally fell. Its own weight pulled the plasma blade through it and, with an eep, forced the girl to leap aside to avoid being cut.
“My team and I were assigned to clear out the village.” The girl explained once she’d landed, stepping in between him and the creature he was watching dissolve into ash. He met her eyes and she planted the base of her scythe beside her, nodding, “We could use your help, Arbiter. There’s Lien and a meal in it for you, at least.”
“Hm.” he had no idea what ‘Lien’ was, but food sounded fine enough at the moment. Instead of taking her offer, though, he gestured at the area around them, “I will hold this place, and take my payment in answers when you return to me.”
“It would be foolish to fight beside strangers against creatures I do not know.” He grunted simply, turning his back to her and igniting his blade. Brooking no room for argument, he grunted a parting, “Fare well in your coming battles, child.”
“I- okay, I guess?” In spite of the confusion she seemed to understand how staunch he was in his decision and left, her feet pattering away.
Soon, he heard a far more near crack of a rifle as she found her next fight. A moment later he heard a growl and turned as a large, lupine creature stepped out of the woods. Blade humming, he turned to it and slid a foot back, raising the sword and propping it with his other hand. When the creature, feral and dumb, lunged for him he stepped forward and knelt, swiping above him and bisecting the beast.
“Like animals, rushing headlong into danger with not a thought for their own safety.” Like the Brutes, in a way, and the comparison kept him from growing into arrogance as another of the wolves came to bay at the door.
It fared no better but, he knew, would soon be replaced.
It felt like an hour passed before the Grimm tide ebbed, his sword arm aching familiarly and his wounded side burning. When it did, though, he sighed and let himself collapse onto the convenient seat offered by a chunk of the fallen gate. The hand he pressed to is side came away dry, thankfully, but he knew that was utter chance. He ought to have started to bleed again from such fighting.
A sign of the gods, he supposed, that he had not.
“Yes, I’m sure he’s not a Faunus!” He heard the girl from before complain, alongside four sets of footsteps. Her team, he presumed, standing beside the gate and turning to it as their voices closed on him, “Look, see he’s-” she blinked as she turned and found him, looming over her and sending her sprawling back in surprise, “Ack, right here!”
“Why?!” She demanded loudly, gesturing theatrically at him with her arms. “Why are you right there!?”
“I was sitting, child.” he answered amusedly, turning his sharp gaze on the three young women with him. Each was oddly armed and brightly colored, as though the gods had color coded them by hand. One, though, was an oddity among the oddities. “You have… Feline ears.”
“I- What did you just-”
“Yeah, and you’re… Scaly.” The blonde retorted, scowling and stepping between him and the feline woman. He gave them botha wide eyed look and took a step back, but the blonde followed, looking him up and down. “And you look like a Solstice ornament and a dinosaur had a kid, shipped it off to be laminated, and it came back with an obsession with anime characters who like swords too damn much.”
“I… Understood most of those words.” He blinked, looking to the other woman and clenching his mandibles. Hoping to make peace, he bowed his head ever so slightly and offered, “I meant no offence. I have… Simply never seen any of your kind with such appendages.”
“Yeah, and how many people have you met?”
“Thousands, though few of those offered their names.” If one counted those he ordered bombarded or hunted down, then it would be billions.
“Maaaaybe we should try this whole ‘meeting’ thing again, okay, guys?” The young woman from earlier offered, stepping between the blonde and him and physically pushing them apart. Looking first to him, she raised her eyebrows and asked simply, “Maybe you should introduce yourself.”
“I already did.”
“Yeah, but…” She smiled and bounced back on her heels, hands held up in mock surrender as she did. “I kind of forgot most of it ’cuz I was fighting Grimm. Aaaand you can say it to everyone now.”
“I see.” That was… Well, not truly reasonable, but an understandable enough excuse that he let it go. And besides, she was right in that this allowed formal introductions. Bowing his head slightly to that end, he intoned somberly, “I am the Arbiter, Thel Vadamee. Slayer of Truth, Kaidon of Vadam Keep and ruler and leader of the Swords of Sanghelios, wielder of Prophet’s Bane.”
“That’s… A lot of titles there, big guy.” The blonde murmured, earning a large nod and a bright ‘I know, right?’ from the small red one.
“I earned them all, child.” And more titles he did not like to give out as easily, such as ‘The Destroyer’, a moniker bestowed upon him by his once enemies the UNSC.
“Sure you did, big guy.” The woman nodded, still affronted at his earlier surprise but seeming to force herself past it. Taking a breath, she offered her hand, gleaming metal armor clicking and clinking as she did. “Name’s Yang Xiao Long.”
Gently for fear of harming the smaller Humans he took their hands in turn and nodded as they introduced themselves. On the last, his mandibles clicked interestedly, “White Snow? Are you, what was the name… Ah. Are you perhaps German then?”
“I’m… Sorry?” The small woman murmured, confused eyes flicking between his eyes, unsure of where to look. A normal problem, and one he had long since ceased taking offence to. Pulling her hand free, she answered, “I don’t know what a ‘German’ is, Arbiter. I’m Atlesian.”
“Hm.” Atlesian, not German. His memory may have failed him, he supposed, but he could have sword he’d heard the language and name from his Human allies. Odd, but so was a lot at the moment. Instead, he let the questions go and asked, hoping as much to learn as to distract from his earlier offences, “What were those creatures, though, my small friends? I have never seen anything of their ken.”
“You’ve never seen a Grimm?” The blonde grunts, surprise etched in her form and her face. Chuckling, she shook her head and cocked her hips, eyes narrow and watching him, “Where on Remnant are you from? You aren’t Human, that’s for sure-”
“Or any kind of Faunus I’ve ever seen.”
“Right, thanks, Blake.” The Blonde held out her armored hand and the Faunus slapped it with her own, as though congratulating her. “And you don’t even know what the Grimm are? Everyone on Remnant knows the Grimm and-”
“I am from Sanghelios, not any planet called ‘Remnant’.” He interrupted with a grunt, the blonde woman blinking at the statement. Seeing the similar states of shock on the faces of the others, the warrior grumbled and prompted them, “You… Know of Sanghelios, do you not? All Humans ought to.”
“Remnant is the name of our planet, though.” Weiss murmured, giving her team looks as she did. They merely shrugged unsurely and so she asked what to him seemed the most pressing question, “Are you… Not from this planet?”
“But aren’t aliens a myth?”
“Explain how else he looks so strange, then, Yang. Or how he doesn’t know what a Grimm is, or a Faunus. One would be unbelievably and two certainly is so.” Weiss challenged in quick, quiet counter. When she offered nothing, the girl turned and, offhandedly added, “As though aliens would be the strangest discovery we’ve made in recent days, what with Oscar and his… Condition.”
“I am indeed from another world, young warrior.” And that statement felt more accurate than would otherwise be the case, he found. For his aching side he retook his seat, but he found swiftly that it mattered little. He was still taller than anyone here. “I am from the planet Sanghelios, where I make my home. I was above it, and now find myself here, speaking with you.”
“OhmygosharealalienisstandinginfrontofyouRubyactcool…” Ruby murmured blinking when she caught herself and coughing into her fist, trying her very damndest to seem well put together and collected. “Well, uh, welcome to Remnant! I… Hope you enjoy your stay, I guess? Our, uh, planet is awesome, promise.”
“You sound like you work for a tourist agency…”
“Your planet does seem… Interesting, in its way.” He gave a nod to their old, broken surroundings as he spoke. Ruby smiled and he nodded his head to her, in turn, and added, “As do its people. I have never seen Humans display your ability to move, young one. Even on their home world.”
“I mean, s’just my Semblance.” She shrugged and then blinked as he cocked his head to the side, seeming to realize beyond disbelief, “You mean the Humans you’ve met don’t have Semblances?”
“Or Grimm, or… Faunus.” The woman in question blanched, as though afraid of something, and he held his hand up in a sign of peace. “My kind has learned the perils of judging along the lines of race, rather than person credit, well. Again I ask your forgiveness for any insult I may have offered you.”
“Y-Yeah…” She blinked, then, and nodded, letting the smallest of smiles break across her face and letting her ears flick gently. “Consider it done, then.” Offering a hand, she adopted as formal a voice as she could, “As the first Faunus to meet you, I, uh, hope the impression is good for our first contact.”
“Better than others I have lived through.” He took her hand and nodded, electing not to inform her precisely how the other one he had lived through had gone. “Consider our people on solid footing, young one. And ours as well,” he grunted to the other three, releasing the woman, “as I doubt you are of the UNSC, with so much else different.”
“We don’t even know who that is.” Weiss nodded, turning to the others and chewing her lip. After a moment, she sighed and turned back to him, “You should… Come back to Mistral with us, to meet someone. Someone with more influence than us, who can… Deal with you on more equal footing.”
“Indeed.” He nodded and rose, “I could use rest as well, and time to heal.”
“Heal…?” Ruby’s eyes roved him sharply and quickly, settling onto his side like a hawk’s onto prey. “Oh my grapes- When did you get hit?! Was it before I left? I wouldn’t have left if I had known you were hurt!”
“It happened when my craft was struck down and bit into your soil.” Or so he assumed, at least. He could never be sure without remembering it properly, and knew the chances that Jul’s forces had made some attempt on him. Something that seemed less and less likely, as he moved forward. “The wound is nothing, I assure you. Food and rest will deal with it fine enough.”
“Then we should go.” The Schnee remarked, “To Haven to receive our payment and meet with Ozpin, and decide what to do with our new… Friend.”
“I doubt people will react kindly to seeing him… They react to my ears, but he can’t cover up even if he wanted to.” And from her tone, Blake understood such instant and unfair dislike. Even if she was unaware of his past, and the karmic nature of the Humans here disliking him. The others gave her looks and she sighed, rolling her eyes and smiling to him understandably, “Just… Bare with it, Arbiter. There’s nothing else to do.”
He would, of course. He deserved no less for the things he had done, until he found true absolution. Assuming he could find true absolution, that was. Somehow he doubted it, the weight of the lives he had taken was so great, but he would try. He had to try. He was duty bound to it, to repay the twin debts of the Covenant’s massacres and the hand that the Humans had played in saving his people.
“Lead the way, my small friends.” He grunted simply, waving a hand for them to do so. “I shall follow your lead and look forward to meeting with this ‘Ozpin’.”
And from there, he’d begin his search for answers. Chief among them being where he was, and how he might go about reaching out to his people. They were, without doubt, going to need him.
“As we walk, might I suggest you begin to… Fill me in, as it were, on the workings of your world.” He suggested it gently, as they stepped through the ruined gateway and began to make their way to this ‘Haven’. “Mayhaps start with what a Grimm is, and what the Faunus are, so I may identify the former and avoid needlessly offending the latter.”
“I’d be happy to explain the second.” Blake offered eagerly, the group seeming to fall in around him like a shield. Wounded, he allowed it, turning to look down on the small woman as she spoke. “The Grimm, though… That might be good to wait until we get to Haven.”
“Why is that?”
“The most basic reason is that the Grimm are attracted to emotions.” Ruby explained, walking on his other side with the silent two in the lead. “Fear, hate, anger, pain,” she gave a meaningful nod to his side, “anything negative. If we explain and you get angry, or get scared, or even just notice and think about your side hurting…”
“We could draw more down on us.” Blake offered, holding up her pistol as she did. “And we used a good bit of our ammunition on the last fight. So,” she gave him a look, “Faunus explanation now. Grimm one later. Does that sound good to you?”
“I suppose.” He grumbled, leaving aside how animals could sense emotions, or why they would come down on them. “By your leisure then, please. Explain all that you feel is important.”
“Stepped on a landmine there, big man.” Yang called over her shoulder, shooting the woman a wink when she whined a ‘Hey!’. Waving her armored hand over her shoulder, she called with a smile, “Have fun!”
When he gave the Faunus a look, she rolled her eyes, shrugged, and sighed like she was annoyed but more than used to her antics. Knowledge was power, though, he knew that from his friends in the UNSC. Or his rivals, he supposed, given the number of ONI operatives who had tasted the Prophet’s Bane.
Before he could ask her to go ahead, though, Ruby asked, “But first, I gotta know. Your sword is called Prophet’s Bane, right?”
“Why’s that?” She asked, turning so he could see her scythe, collapsed into a blockier shape she hefted for him to see. “Names have meaning. My baby is Crescent Rose, because it’s… Shaped like a crescent, and my last name is Rose.”
“Hm.” He considered what to say, for a moment, and then sighed quietly. Resting a hand on the blade on his waist, he spoke quietly, “My people were deceived by the Prophets. On their orders we did… Things I wish to not speak of. This blade, or parts of it, saw me through the war that followed, ending the Covenant when I slew the Prophet of Truth.”
“Ah.” Ruby nodded, “I got it. ‘Slayer of Truth’ makes a lot more sense, now.”
“Your turn.” He grunted, turning the conversation away from the next logical question - what the Prophets had made them do - and back onto them. Blake raised an eyebrow and he gestured at her head, “Speak to me of the Faunus. Whatever you wish to share, I would hear.”
“If you really want to know…” He nodded and she sighed, and then shrugged, and finally, she nodded. The woman began to speak, then. And he was allowed to do something he quite enjoyed, even as he rarely had an opportunity to partake of it. To learn of a people not his own.
And without a need to kill them afterwards.