Mission to Szurdok Ridge
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On or prior to the night of July 23, 2552, the Covenant Fleet of Valiant Prudence arrived at the human Inner Colony of Reach undetected by its defending forces. A small strike, including artifact-hunting Sangheili Zealots from the Devoted Sentries, was dispatched to the Visegrád Relay in Visegrád to cut off communications between Reach and other UEG colonies. The Office of Naval Intelligence assumed that the communications blackout was caused by local Insurrectionists; in response, Colonel Urban Holland dispatched several Army fireteams to the relay. After losing contact with the troopers, SPARTAN Noble Team was sent to investigate. The team discovered the Covenant presence on Reach and reported back to CENTCOM, killing two of the Zealots in the process. WINTER CONTINGENCY was declared on Reach while Lieutenant Commander Kat-B320 retrieved a data module from the corpse of Doctor Laszlo Sorvad. The Covenant subsequently attacked ONI's SWORD Base, but were repelled by the defending forces with the help of Noble Team and an orbital Super MAC platform.
By the night of August 11, the Covenant had established a dark zone at Szurdok Ridge in the Viery Territory using stealth pylons. This dark zone, which blocked out the UNSC's ability to detect what was inside, held a secret landing zone for an invasion force. Concerned about what the Covenant were hiding, ONI decided to send in Noble Team on a reconnaissance mission to investigate.
By 26:30 hours, Recon Team Bravo, made up of Jun-A266 and Noble Six, were beginning to close in on the Covenant dark zone. Lieutenant Commander Kat-B320, who was commanding the mission, ordered them to report on any Covenant structures or devices and warned that direct action might be necessary. As they continued on, Kat informed the two Spartans that the area ahead of them was dark to electronic surveillance and Command wanted to know what the Covenant were hiding. Spotting an inattentive Sangheili and several sleeping Unggoy, Noble Six quietly assassinated them and avoided Covenant detection.
A short distance later, the two encountered the Covenant patrolling a settlement. However, Kat warned that it was not what they were looking for as it was too small and they were not yet in the dark zone. Jun and Noble Six engaged the patrolling Covenant which were soon backed up by forces dropped by a Phantom. Eliminating all resistance, the Spartans proceeded deeper into the complex where they eliminated more Covenant, including a plasma cannon.
Jun and Noble Six continued down a trail guarded by more Covenant troops and discovered the Covenant struggling with two Gúta, some of Reach's native lifeforms. After the Gúta eliminated the Covenant troops, the Spartans managed to kill the two creatures before the Gúta could kill them.
Skirmish at the pumping station
Continuing through the rocks to a pumping station, Jun and Noble Six discovered outnumbered local colonial militia forces engaging Covenant troops. Kat ordered the two Spartans to assist the militia as they might have information the Spartans would need. Working together, the Spartans and the militia were able to eliminate the Covenant at the pumping station and one trooper explained that they didn't like the idea of relying on anyone else to protect their homes and revealed briefcases containing UNSC contraband - stolen heavy weapons.
The Covenant sent in multiple waves of Phantom to drop in more troops to assault the pumping station. With the help of the heavy weapons, the Spartans and troopers were able to repel the Covenant attack. One of the troopers explained that the road led to a hydroelectric power plant, but the gate didn't work. However, the locals used the dried-up riverbed to smuggle UNSC contraband which could act as an alternate route.[Note 1]
Fight at the hydroelectric dam
Moving along the riverbed, the Spartans and militiamen were able to avoid detection by a passing Phantom and eventually reached the hydroelectric power plant. At the plant, they discovered a Covenant stealth pylon which Kat confirmed to be the source of the dark zone. Though Jun intended to destroy it, Kat instead ordered him to plant a remote det charge on the pylon as Command was planning something big and stated that the pylon tied it down.
Working together, the Spartans and militiamen were able to clear the Covenant out of the area and Jun began planting the explosive in the pylon's power core. However, the Covenant sent in reinforcements in the form of a pair of Hunters and a Sangheili Spec-Ops team. Noble Six and the militiamen fended off the Covenant, allowing Jun to successfully plant the explosive.
A terrible discovery
With the stealth pylon rigged to blow, Kat ordered the team to push into the dark zone in order to discover what the Covenant were hiding. Moving through a gate at the southeast of the hydro plant, the Spartans and surviving militiamen engaged heavy Covenant forces which included multiple Shade turrets. As they pushed on, the recon team spotted a Covenant SDV-class heavy corvette hovering nearby. Finally, the Spartans and local militia succeeded in clearing out all of the Covenant in the area.
Moving onto a nearby cliff edge, Jun and Noble Six discovered a massive Covenant landing zone with two landed corvettes, a nearby Tyrant and Covenant spires. Transmitting the visual to Kat, Jun realized that they were dealing with an invading army and not a strike force and they needed to go in hard and fast to smoother it. With the mission successful, Kat recalled all reconnaissance teams.
It was discovered that Recon Team Bravo's discovery was not an anomaly and the UNSC came under attack from large Covenant deployments that had previously remained undetected across the Viery Territory. In response and in accordance with the WINTER CONTINGENCY, the UNSC launched a massive counterattack the next morning, with Kat-B320 destroying the stealth pylon Jun-A266 had planted the explosive in during the reconnaissance mission.
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