The sky is still partially filled with thick, dark clouds that block out some of the early morning light. On the horizon the dim opalescent purple outline of an enormous covenant carrier ship in orbit juts out above the distant mountains, dwarfing them with its unfathomable size. Flashes of distant explosions light up the peaks. Far below is a long, narrow, twisting ravine, cutting its way through the hills from the crater that used to be Command Center Nine. The Falcon banks hard in sudden turbulence, the rotors straining with the weight of the sudden tilt and the pilot grunts in concentration as he works at the controls, leveling the small craft out.
Seated on one side of the open passenger bay, a Spartan, small by their standards, leans over the edge for a better view. If he survived, she thinks, he would have headed through there. She turns to her companion seated on the other side of the craft and points down, indicating a trail. The other warrior, a tank of a man even for a Spartan, gives her a short, sharp nod.
“Take us down and follow that ravine! Don’t get too low though; there could still be hostiles in the area.”
The pilot nods his head and gently but quickly lowers their altitude until they have a good, clear view of the narrow canyon below them. They follow its winding path, searching for any sign of life and so far, seeing none. It goes on like this for a while until they see a clearing ahead of them.
“Commander, I have smoke at two o’clock, could be the missing pelican.” The pilot says.
“I see it too, circle it.”
The Falcon banks to the right and comes up to the side of what is obviously a crash site. A thin trail of smoke rises from the surrounding area but there are no flames. They circle around it and get a little closer. A blackened, torn up wing sticks out of the earth and a strange angle, like some kind of monolith. There’s no doubt about it, this is the lost ship. The commander notices strange shapes lying around the ship.
“Bring us down.”
They get closer and details become clearer. The shapes are bodies, covenant bodies. Five jackals and a minor Elite lie dead in the mud, two of them showing the tell-tale signs of taking sniper rounds through the head. He’s been through here for sure the commander thinks. The Falcon’s landing skids touch ground about twenty feet from the crash site, sinking a little in the soft earth.
“Erik, stay with the ship, keep a sharp eye. I’m going to have a look around.”
“Yes Ma’am.” The hulking soldier replies. He grabs his assault rifle and hops out of the Falcon.
The Commander’s feet sink a little in the mud as she approaches the scene. This means he’ll have left tracks. As she gets closer she notices the distinctive odor of death surrounding the area. The crew are likely buried in the rest of the ship, there’s no way they survived. As for the small covenant force, she sees they’ve been obliterated. A smile touches the corner of her lips. He always was fast she thinks. The jackals have been torn apart by assault rifle fire, except for one whose skull is crushed in. She steps over the dead body and scans what’s left of the Pelican’s insides; empty. Just as suspected she finds a path of large boot-prints leading away from the crash site and towards the far end of the valley. He must have gone into the mountains. She switches on her radio.
“I got a trail, looks like he’s headed to the mountain pass.”
The pilot’s voice crackles a little bit in her ears. “Scans show there’s a village up not too far up the face. Could be he’s headed there.”
“It’s a start, let’s move.”
Moments later she and Erik are seated in the Falcon again, leaving the valley far below and behind. Ahead of them looms an enormous peak, reaching far into the sky to the clouds. The terrain looks treacherous, ravines and cliff faces everywhere, all carved from the same sharp, unforgiving stone. Snow drifts near the top, capping the peak in white. The Commander looks at the screen on her wrist-com. Ten hours to go.
“Alright people, we have until nightfall to find him. After that, planetwide evac is in effect for all UNSC personnel. Let’s get our man and get out of here.”