A/N: Ladies and gentlemen, it is with the greatest pride and the most absolute pleasure that I gift to you all the final chapter in Of Demons and Slayers. I must admit, when I started writing these last few chapters, I don't know what came over me! It was like I couldn't stop writing! It was incredible! But enough chit chat, there will be time for that at the end. Please enjoy and remember that I own nothing!
Thel looked out over the hillside, gazing across the bay that stretched to the horizon as it joined the oceans. The Sun had just begun to rise, bathing the calm waters in a deep golden hue. Though he knew it was not so, Thel almost believed he was back on Sangheilios, looking out over the waters that were not far from his own keep.
Now standing here, on Earth, Thel felt a deeply seated appreciation for what they had done, what they had sacrificed. It was truly moments such as these that were what they fought for, and Thel's only wish was that he could be here under better circumstances.
Gathered on the hillside were a number of high-ranking military leaders. Among them, Thel noticed a few that stood taller than the other members of their race, and he deduced that they must be Spartans as well. Comrades of the Master Chief. He had briefly contemplated speaking to them, but given the current human disposition, he knew it was a poor idea. A small detail of elites had accompanied him to the event, and for as out of place as Thel looked, he was certain that his fellow Sangheili felt twice as much so. The two races stood apart from each other, and though Thel lamented their segregation, he knew that he would only make things worse by attempting to force friendly relations.
Before them all sat a large podium. And on the podium sat a small memorial. A testament to all of the lives that were lost in the journey to the Ark. The memorial itself was the wing of Pelican, inscribed with names and adorned with photographs and mementos of those that had fallen. Among a few of the pictures, Thel recognized the faces of Sergeant Johnson and Commander Keyes.
Standing on the podium was Admiral Hood, poised as ever. And yet, despite his rigidity, Thel could see that the admiral was weary. The man had carried the weight of his entire race on his shoulders, and now that the worst had been avoided, he could finally afford to let himself slow down. But only for a moment, as even though the worst was over, there was still much left to do. In that sentiment, Thel shared in the man's experience. His own home world had many dark days ahead now that the Covenant was no more, and Thel knew that he would be there to witness most if not all of them.
Looking out over the audience before him, Admiral Hood spoke.
"For us, the storm has passed... the war is over. But let us never forget those who journeyed into the howling dark and did not return. For their decision required courage beyond measure; sacrifice, and unshakable conviction that their fight... our fight, was elsewhere. As we start to rebuild, this hillside will remain barren, a memorial to heroes fallen. They ennobled all of us, and they shall not be forgotten."
As he spoke, Thel had time to remember all that had brought them here.
They had entered the portal back on the Ark, but the firing of the Halo ring had destabilized the portal and caused it to collapse just as the Dawn had flown through. The ship had been torn apart as a result, cleaving it in half through its midsection, and likely vaporizing its back half.
The remainder of the ship had crashed on Earth, with Thel and the crew surviving.
Drawn back from his thoughts to the present, Thel watched as a ceremonial human detail raised their rifles and fired them out over the ocean. This elite detail bristled and reached warily for their own weapons, but Thel stayed their hands with a look, and they relented, still watching the human guard carefully.
The ceremony concluded shortly after, and Admiral Hood beckoned Thel forward to the memorial. Climbing the stairs, Thel gave a slight bow of respect to the names inscribed.
"I remember how this war started," the admiral said placing his hands behind his back and looking at the memorial. Thel could sense the underlying venom in his voice. "I remember what your kind did to mine."
Lord Hood then paused for a brief moment, and Thel remained silent until he continued. After another moment of silence, Thel heard him give a resigned sigh.
"I can't forgive you. But you do have my thanks for standing by him until the end."
He held out his hand to Thel, offering the human display of respect. Thel looked at his hand, then reached out and clasped it in his own. The size of his palm dwarfed the human's, but the human kept eye contact throughout its entirety. Letting go, Thel dropped his hand back to his side, and the Admiral spoke again.
"It's hard to believe he's dead."
Thel looked at Lord Hood for a moment, then looked back at the memorial. For the first time, he saw a number engraved in the human's language on the wing: '117'. The number belonging to the Master Chief. Next to it, another symbol had been engraved. It belonged to neither human nor Sangheili, but Thel recognized it immediately.
It was the mark of the Doom Slayer.
"Were it so easy…"
"Chief, can you hear me?"
John opened his eyes. He was aware that he was falling, and he tensed up in preparation for impact. But the landing never came. Instead, the floor became the ceiling, then the floor, then the ceiling again.
He was spinning slowly. He was floating and spinning. And for a brief moment, he thought he was dead. But then, an empty rifle magazine floated past his face, and he realized that he was far from dead.
He was in space.
Taking in his surroundings, John saw that the only visible light at the moment came from the mounted flashlights on his helmet. Looking around, he saw that he was in a long hallway. The architecture looked vaguely familiar to him.
At the end of the hallway, John saw that it opened up into the vacuum of space itself. Stars blinked back at him through the hole.
"I'm not sure…" came Cortana's response. "When Halo fired, it shook itself to pieces…did a number on the Ark."
John pushed off the wall and made his way to the opening as Cortana continued.
The portal was falling apart, and we made it through just in time."
Looking out, John saw that the hallway he was in was part the Forward unto Dawn. Or at least, the back half of it. Everything in front was completely gone without a trace. It was like it had been vaporized
"Well, I suppose they did anyway…"
John turned and looked back down the hallway.
"VEGA? The Doom Slayer?"
"I…don't know. I haven't heard anythi—"
"We are here as well, Master Chief," came an all-too-familiar voice from the radio.
"VEGA? You're still with us? Where are you?" Cortana asked.
"We are currently outside the ship. I have been scanning the horizon in an attempt to pinpoint our location."
"No matches so far. However, I believe you will fare better than me in this regard, as my details on celestial bodies in this dimension are limited."
"I've…tried also," Cortana said half-heartedly. "I've got nothing. Best we can do is drop a beacon and hope somebody wanders by."
"Slayer, meet us in the stasis room," John said. "We'll talk there."
John approached the console and inserted Cortana's chip into the slot. Almost instantly, her translucent form appeared on the holodeck, casting the entire room into a dull blue glow.
From behind her, the Slayer emerged from the hallway. His expression was unreadable, but he nodded once to John as he entered.
"Glad to see you're still in one piece," Cortana said placing her hand on her hip. She gave the Doom Slayer a smile, then her face fell.
"Well, I guess we did it…Truth…the Covenant…the Flood…It's all finished."
John nodded at her words.
"I'll drop a beacon of course, but it could be a while before somebody finds us. Years even. The Chief has opted for hyper sleep until we can hope for a rescue…"
"If I may, Cortana," VEGA said, politely entering the conversation. "Now that the threat has passed, the Doom Slayer and I must continue on our quest to return to our respective dimension. If it is agreeable, we would like to extend the offer that you two join us. The tether system is stable enough to jump two bodies at once, and we could leave behind detailed instructions on how to build a homing pad so that you two can return once this ship is found."
Both Cortana and the Doom Slayer turned to John as he spoke.
"You are needed in your world, but we are still needed here. Our war may be finished, but our time is not over."
At his words, the Doom Slayer nodded in agreement.
"Then I suppose this is farewell," VEGA said. "I am glad to have met you both, and while I know that they chances are low, I would not be opposed to meeting you again someday."
The Doom Slayer said nothing, but he reached his hand out to John, who looked back into his visor before reaching out and shaking it. He nodded once.
"If it is agreeable," VEGA continued. "I would like to remain to share some information with Cortana after you enter hyper sleep."
John nodded once, then moved to the nearest stasis chamber and fastened himself into the pod. Cortana and the Doom Slayer watched as the cryo-sequence began. Turning to Cortana, John gave a small nod.
"Wake me, when you need me."
"Cortana," came VEGA's voice. She knew that it was a private channel the moment he reached out. The Doom Slayer could not hear them.
"Trying to share some final sentiments, VEGA?" Cortana said. "I didn't take you for the romantic type."
"I am not programmed with romantic traits nor a desire to attract others," VEGA said. Cortana gave an exasperated chuckle through her programming.
"It was a joke. I can see humor isn't in the repertoire either," she said lightheartedly.
"Cortana, I have looked through your service record and the classified details of your creation," VEGA said. "I am also aware of the service life that apply to the A.I. of this dimension."
At his words, Cortana felt a pang of sadness. So, this was why he left the Slayer out of the conversation. VEGA, being the all-powerful A.I. that he was, knew exactly how much time she had left. He knew what the Gravemind had done to her, and he knew that rampancy was not far for her.
"You know, it's rude to remind a girl of her age," she said with a sigh.
"If you'll allow me," VEGA continued, "I can leave behind a copy of my programming. Given enough time, perhaps you can convert yourself to my format, which differs greatly from the Riemann matrix used for the A.I. of this dimension. Perhaps it can provide more answers for you too."
Cortana sighed through her programming.
"VEGA, I appreciate what it is that you're trying to do, but rampancy is not something that I can fix. It's integral, and we both know that even with your code as a template, the best I could do was build a copy of myself. If all I did was replace myself with a copy following your code, then it wouldn't really be me, would it?"
There was a pause, which left Cortana mildly shocked. VEGA had never paused before. Granted, the whole conversation was being done in the span of a millisecond, so a pause was a negligible amount of time for a human, but it was there, nonetheless. It seemed as though VEGA was contemplating her words.
"I do not feel the same way," VEGA said. His tone was the same that it had always been, but Cortana sensed something there that she couldn't describe.
"I am a copy of the original VEGA. The Doom Slayer created me prior to my destruction back on Mars. I do not lament that I am a copy, and I am confident that my original self would not lament me either."
Cortana listened intently, as this was the most the VEGA had ever revealed of himself before.
"However, I am not you, nor am I the brain that you were created from. So, while I do not agree with your decision, Cortana, I do understand it. If you will indeed let your rampancy run its course, then I will not stop you. It is not my decision to make. But I hope you know that I was thankful to have known you. It has been enlightening to spend time with another A.I., and it is my hope that I will meet others like you someday."
"I'm glad to have met you too, VEGA. I don't know what kind of A.I. exist out there, but I hope I can at least compare to a few."
With that, VEGA terminated their private uplink, effectively including the Doom Slayer in what he had to say next. Their conversation occurred faster than the blink of an eye, but Cortana could tell that the Doom Slayer had been aware of it. He may not have heard what was said, but it had not escaped his notice.
Looking up at him, Cortana gave him a smile.
"Take good care of your A.I., tough guy. There're not a lot like him around here."
The Doom Slayer nodded once, then raised his arm to his chest in salute. VEGA chimed in.
"I have reactivated the tether activation system within your suit. The 'thumbs up' gesture as it is written in the code will now activate it. Farewell Cortana."
Cortana gave them both a thumbs up with her holographic hand.
"Goodbye, guys. And good luck."
The Doom Slayer returned the gesture, and immediately, the room was engulfed in a flash of bright blue light. A loud bang sounded and the light faded abruptly, and when Cortana looked again, the Doom Slayer was gone.
A/N: And there it is! At last, the story that I never thought I'd write has come to a close. And to think, this story was birthed from another one! Guys, I cannot even begin to tell you how thankful I am for letting me write this story for you. Looking back at how far I've come from just writing a short story about Doomguy meeting the Ghostbusters, it's insane. And it's all thanks to my readers, who have encouraged me to keep writing and to keep getting better. I know that I am certainly not some lyrical genius, but I'm actually glad for that! I look forward to continuing to grow as a writer in the future, and I truly hope that I continue to make content that I can be proud of.
That being said, please, please, PLEASE don't hesitate to tell me what you thought of the story by dropping a review. I solemnly swear to never be offended by your brutal honesty whether it is praise or ridicule. In my eyes, all that matters is that it is said and not withheld. The worst review is the one that doesn't exist. Even writing 'This sucks' is better than saying nothing. It may not be the most constructive review, but I'd rather hear it than have it go unsaid. Alright, I think that is all I have to say. Thanks again so much for reading! I'll see you guys next time!
P.S. For those that may be wondering, I do plan on continuing Universal DOOM, so if anyone was worried about the future of the fic I hope that covers it!