His first impulse, which he resisted, had been to grab the grenade and then thrown it back, but then he remembered that these grenades stuck to what they struck, and so he did the only thing he could: he blocked it with the pilfered weapon, the grenade sticking to it, after which it started pulsating rapidly.
Knowing the explosion was impending, James threw the weapon as hard as he could over the adjacent pipelines, but the grenade had barely made it over the pipes when it blew up, blue plasma washing over him, draining his shields and throwing his to the ground.
Looking for his ManHunter, he quickly found it, but noticed it had been partially deformed by the explosion.
He heard many footsteps coming up the ramp, and recognized them as human, so he called out to the incoming Marines so that they wouldn’t shoot him when they exited the structure.
When they came out, he asked for and received a heavy pistol and two spare clips.
Taking point, his shields having come back, he advanced cautiously, dispatching enemies as they appeared, making sure none of them were in any shape to represent a menace to the Marines.
Once all of them were out in the open, under the watchful eyes of Lt. Hicks, Cortana called out to Foe Hammer so she would come and pick up the survivors.
As the Marines climbed aboard the drop-ship, called a Pelican, James appropriated himself with another couple of spare pistol clips, and relieved one Marine of his rifle.
The man was only too happy to oblige, giving his rifle wilfully to the armored monster who had saved them, and brought them to safety.
As the Pelican lifted off to fly the survivors to the UNSC camp, Cortana piped in the Comm channel.
“I am detecting another lifeboat further up in the mountains, to the South-East.
We should go there immediately, as I am also detecting a Covenant drop-ship inbound for that location.”
Cue “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack
James and Johnson jumped in the Warthog, James driving this time, as he knew his enhanced reflexes would allow him to better maneuver the jeep and use the best possible speeds.
And speed they did use, for after they had recovered Lt. Hicks, James had put pedal to the metal, almost going through the Warthog’s undercarriage, and he never lifted his foot while getting to the Marine survivors’ location.
They encountered only token resistance, as the Warthog’s front fender impacted heavily on an escaping Elite, while Johnson and Hicks fired at the smaller fodder aliens.
The jeep then shot on through the lines of aliens, careening in a gorge, bouncing against the walls, always going full throttle, and eventually the beating James was giving it started to take its toll on the vehicle.
But its job was done, for as they rounded a bend in the gorge, they came in a rocky valley and saw that the Covenant Drop-ship was just positioning itself to drop its troops so they could attack the Marines’ positions.
James slowed down near a grassy knoll, and then yelled “Jump now!” to Hicks and Johnson.
The two men obeyed him instantly, and as soon as they were off, James floored it again.
He laid low in the driver’s seat, as the Covenant troops had seen him and had opened fire, but they scattered in wild panic as he continued on, straight for the Drop-ship.
At the last instant, just as the ship was trying to escape by getting airborne again, James aimed the warthog at a low, inclining rock, jumping in a tuck and roll right before the Warthog hit it, jumping high in the air to impact the Drop-ship just as it was finally gaining altitude.
Before James could hit the ground, the ensuing explosion threw him backwards to land roughly on the ground, just as it incinerated the aliens closer to the ship, and threw the rest flat on the ground.
The impact was brutal, the shields flickering and dropping, the armor absorbing the brunt of the impact, James body absorbing the rest.
Even though he was completely encased in armor, hitting the ground took away James’s breath and stunned him.
He heard shouts and through hazy eyes he saw forms approach him, but he couldn’t make out if they were friend or foe, and his FOF apparently wasn’t working after the fall.
His hearing was also out, a shrilling noise continuously present, one that prevented concentration from James.
He was a sitting duck, and he knew it.
Cue “Demon Hunter – My Heartstrings Come Undone” from the Resident Evil 2 soundtrack
He shook his head, trying to regain his senses, fearing even his resilient body could be experiencing the effects of a concussion, but eventually his vision did refocus, his hearing stopped ringing.
When he could finally see clearly, he saw the bodies lying on the ground around him, all of the enemy, all of them dead.
He got up and went in for a closer examination, and noticed that they all had huge holes in their bodies, the kind that a sniper rifle would make.
He thanked Hicks silently, and went to gather his weapons, found only his pistol, then looked around for Marines and enemies.
He found neither, but he realized that the valley he was in was small, and had many rocky outcroppings in its middle, and that these outcroppings apparently created some kind of maze where enemies could hide and ambushes could be laid.
To his right, there was more grassy terrain that went farther in the valley.
To his left, the ground went slightly up, the far wall of the valley curving to the right, enclosing the rocky outcroppings.
There was debris from the Drop-ship, fires were still raging, and James thought he saw movements beyond the wreckage.
He advanced cautiously, favouring his left leg which he realized he must have twisted when he landed after the explosion.
Pain was there, meaning the injury was greater than his Pain Compensators’ capacity to drain.
As he made his way around the burning wreckage, using larger rocks to mask his approach, he saw an Elite come up to a Marine who was on his back, moving weakly.
From James’s location, he could only see the Elite’s upper body, and the Marine’s shoulders.
The elite was looking down at the Marine, its maw open as if to laugh, then it pointed its weapon to the defenceless Marine’s head, and fired.
James tried to shoot it before it could kill the Marine, but as he had drawn his weapon and taken a step forward to shoot, his left foot had stepped on a small rock and his left knee twisted, pain flaring up in it, and so his first shot went off its mark.
The Elite went down, hiding behind the rock as soon as it had fired.
Cursing his bad leg, he ran as best he could, and then jumped over the rock hiding his enemy, firing four shots blindly as he somersaulted over the surprised alien.
He landed badly, his left leg buckling under him, and he fell to the ground, losing his grip on his Pistol.
He turned around in an instant, ready to roll away from the Elite’s return fire, but he saw it was in no shape to fight.
James’s shots had hit it in the right shoulder and left leg, and it was down on the ground, looking frantically for its weapon.
James found his, got up and grabbed it, and walked towards the alien to finish it off.
But then he stopped, for he saw the Marine’s body, the one that had been shot in the head, or rather, James saw his upper body and the rest of his head, for his lower body, from the navel down, was covered by a huge boulder, almost as big as the one James had vaulted over.
It had probably fallen from one of the rocky outcroppings higher up, and had crushed the Marine’s body to a pulp under it, blood escaping from the man’s mangled body.
The Elite had not killed a helpless man, James could see, but it had abridged the suffering of a mortally wounded enemy soldier.
What James had taken for a callous act of savagery had in fact been an act of compassion.
He stood there, dumbfounded, for what seemed like an eternity to him, studying the face of his wounded enemy.
The Elite was no longer looking for its weapon, its concentration fully on James, curiosity clearly apparent in its eyes.
These aliens had appeared to him as cold and ruthless as the acid borne ones, yet the one in front of him had shown him he wasn’t.
Even worse, looking at the way James had conducted himself in the battles against those enemies, he couldn’t rightly believe himself better than them, as he had been as hard, as vicious against them as he had perceived them to be against the surviving Marines.
James opened his visor, so the Elite could see the expression on his face.
“Major, what are you doing?” Cortana asked, slightly panicked.
James ignored her.
“I’m sorry!” He said, not sure if the huge alien could understand him.
“It seems I misjudged you.
I didn’t know your kind was capable of compassion.”
The big alien didn’t answer, it simply continued to stare at James.
The big man advanced slowly towards the Elite, holstering his weapon, and getting his medkit out.
He kneeled next to the surprised alien, knowing full well the creature could attack him at that instant.
He took out clean gauze and bandages, and took care of the big alien’s wounds as best he could, fearful of using any disinfectants, not knowing if they would actually help or wound the creature further.
His job done, he got up, took a few steps back, nodded to the Elite, and turned to leave.
“I did not know your kind was capable of compassion either.” A big voice rumbled at his back.
James turned around to face the Elite.
“It seems we are both guilty of misjudging the other.” It said with its deep, booming voice.
“And thank you for tending my wounds.
I hope we meet again on the battlefield.
It would be an honor to fight against you.”
James nodded, turned around, and jogged away, looking for the surviving Marines.
He found a passage between large boulders, and followed it very carefully.
He tried raising his team over the integrated Comm unit in his helmet, but he only received static.
The boulders he was going through were very high, and the passage he was following was narrow, making them perfect for an ambush.
He stopped, looked at the boulders on each side, and decided travelling on the top of the boulders would yield better vantage points.
He jumped up using his full strength, and when he was at the apogee of his jump, he extended both his legs, one on each side of the passage, and used them to lock his body in place.
Then, using his hands as anchors, he ascended, one foot going up, the other being used to push himself up, then his hands locked his body in place while the other foot was brought higher than the first, and he repeated those movements until he was at the top of the boulders, seven meters up.
He slowly lifted his head over the lip of the boulders, and quickly looked around.
Seeing no enemy, he lifted himself up and over on the top of the bolder to his left, which was the widest one.
Crouching, he advanced as quickly as possible while making very little noise, going to the edge of the boulder he stood on, never going close to the edge unless he was certain no one was hiding there in ambush.
His position allowed him to see that there was some sort of clearing in the middle of the maze created by the boulders, and when he listened carefully, using his augmented hearing to its maximum, he thought he heard some noise coming from the clearing.
Jumping over passages that were at some points close to two meters wide with ease, always careful not to offer himself as a target, he made his way towards the noise.
As he was closing in on the clearing, he went to a crawling position before slowly, and very carefully, approaching the edge of the boulder he was on.
He arrived at the edge of the boulder, and looked down.
The clearing was wide, almost fifteen meters across, and was circular in shape.
But when he looked in it, his heart skipped a beat, because before him were his two companions, Sergeant Johnson and Cpl. Hicks, as well as half a dozen human survivors, all kneeling on the ground in the middle of the clearing, weapons in a pile at the northern side, next to a passage.
They were guarded by two Elites and three smaller aliens with shields, all of them alert and on guard.
James had to move back a couple of times so they wouldn’t see him because one or the other would look up to where he was lying.
“This is a trap.” Cortana told him.
“They’re waiting for you.”
“You think?” He asked sarcastically.
“Don’t worry,” He said, “I’ll handle it.”
He knew it was an ambush, of course, as he was certain, after all he’d done, that the enemy knew about his capabilities, and knew that the guards affected to watching the Marines would not be sufficient, that in fact, they would barely slow him down, unless it came down to unarmed combat, which he did not intend to happen.
But he also knew that people laying ambushes rarely had the patience to see things through, especially the ones who were used as cannon fodder.
He continued to observe the guards, patiently noting every movement, every action to see if they could be some sort of coded messages to the enemy in hiding.
He did not see any pattern of movement, though, but after over an hour of patiently waiting, lying on his boulder, occasionally looking around to ensure he wasn’t being crept on, he was rewarded.
One of the smaller aliens looked for a few heartbeats to the north of the clearing, close to the Marine’s weapons pile, and then turned away.
James saw that the boulder there was shaped in a way that created some sort of canopy, and he could see that this canopy was deep enough that aliens could be hiding under that boulder and he wouldn’t be able to see them from his position.
He backed up, and thought of a way to free the men with a minimum of losses, but no matter how he twisted and turned all possibilities in his mind, due to the unknown number and type of enemies hidden under the rocky canopy, he always ended up with a plan that left at least half the men dead, to one that left him and Johnson, and possibly Hicks, alive.
James simply abhorred those numbers.
He was still thinking about possible issues, a plan slowly forming in his head when he heard a deep, booming voice come from the clearing.
“I address the armored human warrior.” It said.
“I am Krec’Loak’Hor, leader of the Sangheili warriors and lesser castes you have faced in combat.
I know you are out there, close by, I can feel it.
We have your friends, though I’m sure you already know that.”
The voice was powerful, charismatic, the tone was firm, and the speaker clearly held immense resolve.
“I was told of your great skill, warrior, was told by one of my most trusted subordinates of your compassion, but most of all, I was told of your great honor, which is why I am offering you a choice, warrior, and it is one I know you’ll consider:
I am offering you the chance to free your comrades, to gain their lives.
Face me in single combat, a fight to the death, as nature and the Prophets intended, no armor, no weapons but our bodies.
If I win, I will take your friends as prisoners of war.
If you win, my men will allow you and yours to leave unharmed to rejoin your clan, to fight in another battle.
This, I swear!”
There was a brief pause before the alien talked again.
“If you refuse, warrior, if my subordinate’s evaluation of your honor is wrong, then I will kill him, and then kill all your friends, this I also swear.”
James quickly re-analyzed the situation, and quickly came to one conclusion that allowed for a maximum number of saved lives: he had to accept the Elites leader’s offer.
As he rose up, he heard the plight of Cortana in his Comm:
“Don’t do this, Major.” She pleaded.
“The Sangheili are dangerous, they are a race of warriors, and their leaders are the most dangerous of all, not like the weaklings you’ve faced before.
And unlike you, their armor does not help their physical prowess.” She stated with finality in her voice.
“I know,” James replied, “But I have no choice.
This is the best chance I have of saving these men, and I will take it.”
“You truly are a Spartan, Major.” Cortana said.
“Though I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not.”
Turning on his external speakers to the max, James got up and said:
“I accept your challenge, Krec’Loak’Hor, leader of the Sangheili.”
And regretted it instantly.
For the Sangheili leader was easily identifiable, standing a full head above the other Sangheili, close to nine feet tall, and half across.
He was a regal sight in his golden armor, his helmet resembling ancient earth Samurai’s.
His skin was of the deepest grey, with lavender eyes which shone intensely.
Almost as impressive was the half dozen Sangheili standing guard around him, one guard favouring an injured shoulder and leg.
All the Sangheili were looking at James, standing tall atop the boulder, and the Marines lifted their eyes as well.
James saw Johnson smile, and Hicks, his visor up, only nodded at him.
He jumped down, his armored form easily taking the seven meter drop, his half-ton form cracking the rock he fell on.
He righted himself up, and advanced towards the surviving Marines.
He heard someone whisper “it’s the Master Chief, we’re saved”.
“I accept your offer!” He said again, to the apparent delight of Krec’Loak’Hor.
The Sangheili guards made the Marines get out of the center of the clearing, and had them sit with their backs to the largest boulder, fanning out around them so they could not escape.
James started to remove his armor, as did the Sangheili leader, the main difference being the Sangheili leader needed to remove his piece by piece.
The Sangheili were surprised when they looked at James, the human remaining big even out of his armor, his six and a half feet frame, with broad and very muscular shoulders clearly apparent in the skin-tight underarmor suit he wore.
The difference between James and the other Marines was the same as the difference between the Sangheili leader and his troops.
Still, when the two warriors approached one another, James looked small indeed when faced by the Troll-like Krec’Loak’Hor.
“I would know your name, warrior, for whether I win or lose this fight, my people will record what happens here, and it will join all other great battles the Sangheili have waged in the past.” Krec’Loak’Hor said with his deep voice.
“My name is James Reynolds, and I am honoured to be part of your people’s history.” He replied, hoping indeed that the fight would last long enough to be worthy of figuring in the Sanhgeili’s historical records.
Cue “Throwing Punches” from the Underworld soundtrack
The Sangheili leader saluted James in what was a close imitation of a Japanese bow, which James replicated.
And then they both fell in their combat stance, the two opponents staring at each other, knowing full well only one of them would get out of this fight alive.
Knowing the fate of the humans depended on him, and fearing the big alien’s capabilities, James started probing the giant’s defences.
A quick right spin kick delivered to the giant’s knee was absorbed when the alien simply turned his leg to James’s left and bent with the impact.
An uppercut in the giant’s stomach was partially deflected away from his body, the rock hard abdominals tanking the rest of the force of the punch.
The follow-up left hook from James did impact the Sangheili’s face, but the big alien partially retracted his head and the punch barely fazed him, if at all.
A direct right kick to the inside of the creature’s left thigh only served to push James away, just in time to retract his head and avoid a punch that would have taken it clearly off.
James retreated to a comfortable distance, and was dismayed.
While the Sangheili had been surprised by James speed and strength, he was very resilient, and extremely good, for he had reacted perfectly to all of James’s attacks.
James knew then and there that his chances of winning had taken a huge drop, and that the fight was going to be long and gruelling.
The only upside was that his injured leg seemed to respond well, at least at the moment.
“Your prowess was not exaggerated.” The Sangheili leader said reverently.
“This will be a glorious fight.” He finished with a laugh.
And then he attacked.
To James surprise and total dismay, the giant moved like a mongoose, delivering his attacks with speed and power.
And unlike the Sangheili warriors James had faced a few hours earlier, this one was not predictable.
James, the man who was used to take the fight to an enemy, to wade in an enemy’s reach and deliver devastating attacks, was on the run.
The giant’s long reach and immense strength meant James could not block directly, or he would have been seriously hurt by the impacts of those blows.
So he evaded like a crazed monkey.
A spinning kick forced him to roll over it in mid air.
A powerful backhand had him bend over backwards in a bridge position, which became a handstand to evade a descending punch, spinning on his hands to deliver a kick to the alien’s head, and flipping in the air above another kick to get back to his feet.
A charge had James jump over the Sangheili leader, planting his hands on the alien’s back and kicking the back of his opponent’s head to jump away and land far behind Krec’Loak’Hor.
If this frustrated the alien leader, he didn’t let it show as he continued pressing the attack.
A knee attack to the face became a spring board, allowing James to jump over two crushing arms intent on grabbing him, opening Krec’Loak’Hor up for a knee to the face which, again, barely fazed the giant.
James landed farther back and quick stepped a couple of times to keep his distance from the monster facing him.
And so it continued for almost an hour, James jumping and twisting every which way to evade and counter, but he was getting tired, and his injured knee was making its presence felt ever more.
His only solace was the fact the alien leader finally showed traces of James’s blows, proving to the MACO leader he wasn’t invulnerable.
But he hadn’t slowed down much, while James had considerably.
Every miss was continuously getting narrower, and James knew the hits would come even closer still if the fight was allowed to continue.
James knew he had to change tactics, and so he did.
He decided to use the closer blows to start targeting pressure points and muscle joints.
But he didn’t have time.
A knee attack designed to force James to jump up was followed by a straight right punch to the face.
He reacted quickly by crossing his arms in front of him, but the blow simply pushed both his fists in his face.
He felt his nose get crushed, saw stars and then flew through the air to hit the side of a boulder.
He dropped to the ground, still on his feet.
As Krec’Loak’Hor advanced, he rushed the giant and speared him in the knee, bringing the giant down, howling in pain.
Finally, James thought, the Fragging alien shows some pain.
They got up at the same time, but James struck first, giving everything he had in an epic uppercut, and heard the cracking of a braking jaw just as the giant alien descended a huge hammer blow to James shoulder.
James went down on his knees, but tried immediately to get up and grab the alien’s head, but his attempt was stopped when Krec’Loak’Hor grabbed both his hands with its own, the huge alien’s hands completely enveloping James’s.
He lifted the human up, high in the air, looked at James in the eyes, and said “I’m sorry!” before he started pulling on James arms.
As the strain became unbearable, as he felt his arms were about to give, James replied “So am I!” before swinging his legs up, his right feet hooking the back of Krec’Loak’Hor’s head while his left went up against his forehead.
Before the big alien could react, James used all his considerable might to push with his left leg while pulling with his right.
Krec’Loak’Hor tried to resist, but his powerful neck muscles could not compete with James’s legs, and a loud, wet cracking sound was heard as Krec’Loak’Hor’s head twisted to his left and continued on to face the giant’s back.
Both combatants fell to the ground, limp, unmoving, only one of the two still breathing.