Society - The Hunting Dome
Date: 7 August 2006, 11:00 am
'Vadumee flexed his forearms, feeling the heat from the ultraviolet device above him. The oversized lamp was a good few hundred arns above him, obscured by foliage and the holograms of black clouds, making the Hunting Dome feel as though it could have been Sangheil. The ominous sounds of thunder were lacking, and 'Vadumee saw no mountains, fake or otherwise, that would mimic the harsh climes of his own world. Still, he imagined for those Sangheili on High Charity it was home enough. Some of them had never even set their claws on true Sangheil dirt.
One of those soft warriors was standing in front of him, revelling in the soft soil under his pads. "It's good to be here, isn't it, Rtas?"
Letting his shoulders slump, 'Vadumee nodded in agreement. His grey skin was soaking up the heat and he could feel his muscles already responding to the warmth of the unreal sun. "Where are we to meet these friends of yours?"
Rifling in the bag he carried at all times, Ish 'Manatee came out with a small scanner. "Not far," he said. "About three sols from here, in that direction." He grinned, his mandibles stretching to display a fearsome array of teeth. It was well seeing that Ish 'Manatee had bought his commission. The high bred Mana name didn't worry about putting flatbread into the mouths of their hatchlings, and each hatchling was given every opportunity. "Ready for a little walk? I suppose it will do us good to warm up."
'Vadumee said nothing as he fell into step behind the higher ranking official. He let 'Manatee break through the bushes, bending the leaves and twigs as he went. He made enough tracks for three Sangheili, and hummed a tuneless song as he went. 'Vadumee didn't worry about keeping quiet, stepping in the imprints left by the pads of 'Manatee's feet. His colleague was an innocent soul, one of the Forerunner's own, it could truly be said. They had met on 'Vadumee's last posting to the former Brute space patrols and he had developed a certain fondness for the fool. None of 'Manatee's remarks were ever meant harshly, and if one could tolerate the occasional faux pas, 'Manatee was always willing to share his wealth.
He was also a loyal and faithful friend, but 'Vadumee would never admit to this. He ducked under an overhanging halli branch, rather than break the sacred wood. One of the creatures which dwelled in the dome had used the tree as a scratching post, the grey bark sloughing off the three. He stooped to pick up a sliver, running the smooth grain over with his claws. The others were going to laugh when they heard of his appointment with the elite, hunting with the Supreme Commander, none the less, and a councillor as well. It was certain that such a pursuit was above his station, but no less honourable for it. His competitors would not be pleased that 'Manatee invited him and not them.
Well they ought to be nicer to the poor soul.
The distance passed quickly under 'Vadumee's long strides, particularly when he was lost in his own thoughts. He came across the clearing abruptly, almost walking into 'Manatee's back. His eyes widened when he saw thee hunting party and his thoughts of many long marks spent crawling through the undergrowth in search of any beasts quickly evaporated. The party was by no means complete but already he saw Councillor 'Talsamee with an elegant robe on, something that would not be at all conducive to the chase. Her father, the esteemed and respected Hans' Galatash was not yet there, nor was his protégé, the new Supreme Commander. Instead the rest of the party seemed to comprise of 'Talsamee's various aides and contacts, including two elderly Councillors that 'Vadumee recognised but could not put a name to. He would be carrying home no pelts today.
"Ahh, Ish!" Fera crossed the ground towards them and clasped Ish's claws in her own. "You're looking very healthy."
"And yourself, Councillor 'Talsamee," he said, bowing his head respectfully. "You are more radiant every time we meet."
She chuckled, a light, affected noise that was supposed to sound flattered. 'Vadumee rather thought she expected such compliments. He bowed his head to the collected party and clasped his claws behind his back. Ish clasped his shoulder and extended a claw out to the group. "May I introduce to you my dear friend, Sub Commander Rtas 'Vadumee."
"Good morning to you," Fera said politely, but disinterestedly. Her mandibles slackened with boredom and two of her aides began a hushed conversation.
"I've heard of you," said one of the older Councillors. "You were distinguished in your last battle."
"I apologise," Ish 'Manatee said quickly. "This is Councillor 'Salmoss and Councillor 'Jalahan, they're old friends of my family."
"And yes," 'Jalahan said with an amused expression. "It would be the same Jala family."
'Vadumee assumed that he meant the same family as Saia 'Jalahass, the High Priestess of the Convent. To bask in the honour of ones family was perfectly acceptable, and the Sangheili culture positively revolved around blood ties, but with no lineage to speak of himself, such talk made 'Vadumee uncomfortable.
"You attacked an entire colony of rebels yourself, so I'm told," 'Salmoss said. "The mission report mentions you very favourably indeed, and it is not the first time your name has graced the annals of the Council."
Bowing fully this time, 'Vadumee crooned with pride. "I thank you for your generosity, Councilor 'Salmoss. I am honoured to hear of it."
"Rtas is a truly spectacular warrior," Ish was babbling now. "The best I've ever seen. When we were posted in the former Brute territories he must have saved my life a good dozen times."
Fera 'Talsamee laughed outright. "You must be very clumsy, Ish! As I remember from when we were hatchlings. Everyone knows the Brutes have accepted the Covenant whole heartedly. I've heard it murmured that the detail on the former Brute space will be scrapped. It's just not needed."
'Salmoss clenched his mandibles together but 'Jalahan laid a claw on the Sangheili's forearm and he didn't say anything further on the subject. 'Vadumee was beginning to wonder if 'Manatee's foolishness was exactly what it appeared. It struck him that feigning idiocy could give one a certain immunity in the back stabbing ways of the Councillors.
"My apologies!" a deep voice boomed as three more Sangheili approached. The oldest and most muscled of which was the speaker, an elderly soldier that 'Vadumee recognised as Hans 'Galatash. The Sangheili was made of legends, cut him and he would bleed stories of grandeur and honour. It would be a sad day in the universe when the Forerunner took 'Galatash.
"Hello, Father," Fera 'Talsamee said in a tone that was not entirely respectful. "Glad you could join us at last."
"The delay was my fault," said the second male. The three came to a stop in the clearing and 'Vadumee took his first real look at the new Supreme Commander. He was tall and rangy, not the muscle bound fighter that 'Vadumee had expected. Still, he bore his fair share of scars and war wounds, including a long black scar up his thigh, disappearing under his hunting robe. Orna 'Fulsamee clocked him, puzzlement colouring his features for a moment. 'Vadumee recognised that look and knew he'd had it several times. 'Fulsamee simply couldn't put a name to the face.
"Ah, Orna," Fera said, her tone much warmer now.
"Councillor 'Talsamee," the third Sangheili spoke. Unlike 'Talsamee she was not a radiant beauty. She looked somehow familiar, but 'Vadumee couldn't imagine how. The plain female was dressed simply much more suited to a day's hunting and had rough skin as though she'd not always taken care of it. Her eyes narrowed when she addressed the Councillor and the muscles in her powerful thorax tensed. "I only thought that I might be allowed to join you."
"My mate and I do not spend a great deal of time together these days," 'Fulsamee said regretfully. "We thought we might join this hunt together."
'Vadumee regarded the Sangheili female with new found wonder. This was the infamous Saia 'Jalahass, High Priestess to all Covenant, her blessings were second only to the Prophets in the order of the universe. He hadn't recognised her without the ornate headdress and splendid robes of her rank.
"Alas, so many pairings do not survive in these times," 'Talsamee said coolly. "What of yourself, 'Vadumee? Are you like 'Fulsamee that you have taken a mate while engaging in battle? I sometimes wonder that it might not be better if we returned to the old ways."
"Where soldiers could not take mates because lineages were not protected by law?" Saia 'Jalahass fired back. "An odd statement to come from one whose family depends on those very laws, your father was a Supreme Commander in his youth."
"Less of the 'youth'," 'Galatash chuckled. He smacked Orna 'Fulsamee's skull with his claw and dodged a returned blow. "Just because some upstart has usurped me doesn't mean that I am old."
Neither female conceded this, or the argument, but the others were quick to latch on to Galatash's neat defusing of the situation. 'Salmoss rolled his eyes at the showiness of the two warriors and clicked his mandibles in thought. "If you're all you say you are, Hans old friend, then you should prepare to lay a little wager."
"A wager?" 'Jalahan's interest picked up immediately. He swatted at a fly and puffed out his chest. "I'm game."
"Councillor?" 'Fulsamee asked 'Talsamee, his head tilted to the side in a manner that was not entirely polite. He looked to be sizing her up. "How about yourself?"
"I'm very game," she said. "First one to return with a pelt?"
"First team, I should think," 'Salmoss said. "Shall we split?"
"Certainly." Orna 'Fulsamee laid a hand on his mate's back and steered her firmly away from 'Talsamee. "Hans and I on one team, and the Councillors on the other?"
Clearing his throat, 'Vadumee dared to meet his gaze. "As a soldier, I should be with yourself, surely?"
"Of course," 'Jalahass said warmly. "I wouldn't condemn you to the losing side."
"Saia," 'Fulsamee stressed under his breath, only just loud enough for 'Vadumee to hear. "We'll return in three marks," he said louder. "And the most pelts wins."
In the shady clearing the Sangheili nodded, the Councillors and 'Manatee beginning to pull elaborate weapons from their bags, assembling them with great efficiency. 'Vadumee felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see 'Galatash and 'Jalahass already disappearing into the forest. 'Fulsamee clicked his mandibles softly and beckoned for 'Vadumee to follow him.
"I hope you don't intend to use weapons, Orna," 'Jalahass said as she clambered over a fallen tree.
"Saia, you should know he's far too traditional for that," Hans said. The pair was in the lead, not cutting the most economical path through the fabricated wilderness. 'Vadumee guessed they were simply putting some distance between them and their opponents.
"Excuse their informalities," 'Fulsamee said quietly, walking with 'Vadumee. "I don't believe we were properly introduced, though I imagine you know me."
"I have heard of you," 'Vadumee admitted.
"It's difficult not to," 'Fulsamee said wryly. He avoided some loose ground and chose the rockier path instead, more difficult to track through. 'Vadumee took his lead. "Still," 'Fulsamee said, "I keep hoping someone might tell me they've never heard my name before. I almost miss those days."
"Honour has been bestowed upon your family," 'Vadumee said.
Suppressing his laughter, 'Fulsamee merely nodded, his mandibles twitching. "My family needs no honour, I was the only son of my lineage and Saia, forgive me, 'Jalahass' name is more sullied by mine than honoured by it."
'Vadumee stayed quiet for a time, following in the Supreme Commander's footsteps. "I did not realise that you came from a small family."
"A quite remarkably small family," 'Fulsamee said. "I'm the only one left alive. Myself and my children, though they don't bear the family name." He paused and chirruped to catch the attention of the two at the front. "I'm sorry, what was your name?"
"Let 'Vadumee lead now," he said to them. "Bring up the rear. I want to take home something truly spectacular. Let them mar a dozen hides with plasma scoring I want a single perfect Lagar."
"Orna," 'Jalahass said, looking slightly awed. "Is that wise?"
"Most certainly not," the new Supreme Commander said, a glitter in his eyes. "They usually congregate at the watering hole. Shall we?" Without waiting for a response - and 'Vadumee wondered if that was a product of his new command or a character trait he'd always possessed - 'Fulsamee moved off into the undergrowth without a trace.
'Vadumee sped up, overtaking and leading their small pack into the higher ground. Any vantage was better when trying to bring down a Lagar. Roughly the same size and mass as two Jiralhanae, the shaggy creature was a native of the icy planet in the same system of the Prophets. Their inclusion in the hunting domes was purely upon the insistence of the Jiralhanae and Lekgolo, the only species which could reliably take down the creatures. That was not to say that the Sangheili found it impossible, 'Vadumee himself had brought down a few, the pelts going to the leader of the expedition. Still, he could think of no occasion that the hunting party had included a retired soldier and a Priestess.
Speaking of, she was moving slowly and noisily, though not as much as he had feared. 'Galatash was hanging back to help her which was undoubtedly lending their procession some speed. The ground underneath 'Vadumee's feet grew steeper and he felt his one, large lung begin to work overtime as they neared the small lake. It may have been a false construct, with a fake sun and a mock ecosystem, but this was the most advanced hunting dome 'Vadumee had ever been in. He forced himself to remember the sensors that monitored every motion in the artificial hub, and reminded himself that the Sangheili beside him was the most honoured in the fleet.
'Fulsamee grinned at him and pointed to a boulder, scrambling up the edge with all the agility of one half his age. 'Vadumee followed, suddenly curious as to how old the Supreme Commander was. He clung to the rock as he peered over to the lake. The water stretched out ahead of them, licking the treeline and the marshy ground to their right.
"There," 'Fulsamee said, pointing to a herd that was slowly making their way to the edge of the lake. Sure enough, a black haired, shaggy Lagar was sitting on its haunches, panting in the heat. It wasn't too far from where they hid, 'Vadumee could see the saliva dripping from its huge fangs. Still, it would no doubt detect any attempt to move closer.
"We'll have to wait until it turns its back on us," 'Vadumee said reluctantly, glancing down when he heard 'Jalahass and 'Galatash approach the base of the boulder. "They have keen eyesight."
"Hmm," 'Fulsamee said. He dropped down to the earth and landed neatly. "Saia, my love, how fast can you run?"
Seemingly taken aback by this statement, 'Jalahass glanced to the others for some clue before replying. "Fast enough, I guess."
"Orna," 'Galatash warned in his gravely voice. "I'm sure there's some sort of legislation prohibiting the use of one's mate as bait for hunting."
"I may not be able to run that fast," 'Jalahass said, a wicked smile gracing her features, "but I can swim. How deep is that lake?"
Without thinking, 'Vadumee shrugged. "Not deep enough for the Lagar, I imagine you could escape through that . . . er, Priestess. High Priestess." As he fumbled for the correct title, 'Jalahass was already removing her robes.
"So what do you want me to do? Lure it closer?"
"If you can," 'Fulsamee said to her, taking the robes. He crooned with unabashed pride as she made her way to the watering hole. "Be careful," he called, almost as an afterthought, and she dismissed it with a wave of her claws.
"You must understand that the High Priestess is most unorthodox," 'Galatash said wryly.
"She calls herself a scholar," 'Fulsamee said. He eyed up one of the trees and turned to the elder. "Would you be able to climb that?"
"Do I look like a hatchling?" snorted 'Galatash contemptuously. He loped towards the gnarled trunk and used his long limbs to quickly disappear up into the canopy.
Taking a deep breath, 'Fulsamee appeared to hesitate, lost in thought for a moment. "'Vadumee," he said, "I give you a choice. Take the high ground on the boulder to attack the Lagar, or ambush it from this level from behind the boulder instead. I am happy to take either position, I leave the choice to you."
It was no contest, really. 'Vadumee was not about to let the Supreme Commander be trampled. "I'll take the ambush, if it's all the same to you, Excellency."
'Fulsamee nodded approvingly and scurried up the boulder, just in time as a Sangheili war cry echoed over the trees, spooking all manner of beasts into flight around the dome. 'Vadumee crept towards the clearing, watching as the High Priestess took flight around the edge of the lake, coming towards him with the singular purpose of escaping her pursuer. The Lagar was gaining ground, it teeth gnashing as it closed the gap between them. 'Vadumee wondered at the apparent disregard that 'Fulsamee had for his mate's well being, but supposed that he couldn't comment when he'd not yet found a mate himself. As the Lagar snapped at High Priestesses heels she took a quick dive towards the shallows, her body cutting into the water with a speed that far surpassed her agility on land. The Lagar skidded as it tried to slow itself, failing and stumbling over its huge paws.
Grabbing the Lagar's throat with his claws, 'Vadumee swung himself up onto the creature's back, ripping into its thick hide. It bucked, twisting to snap at him with its massive jaws.
Another war cry sounded from the tree tops and 'Galatash dropped to the creature's side, plunging a wooden spear into its throat as he did so. The Lagar backed off, stumbling as it reached the softer ground on the lake. From here it was in perfect position for 'Fulsamee. The Supreme Commander moved with a speed that 'Vadumee had never seen. He sailed through the air and landed on the skull of the Lagar, bringing his clenched fists down into the eyes of the creature.
"Spear!" he grunted, one fist grabbing the long, matted hair to keep his balance.
"Catch!" 'Galatash called from the ground, throwing the pointed tree branch at the same time the Lagar ducked away from him.
'Vadumee tumbled forwards off the shoulders of the Lagar, the claws on his outstretched hand closing over the makeshift spear. Contorting his body in flight he drove the pointed end up through the jaw of the Lagar, pushing until he felt it crumple through bone and brain.
He landed on the ground with a thump, the air rushing out of his body as he watched the creature totter, hovering above him as its blood dripped down the long, black hair. 'Fulsamee pushed away from the beast, landing a short distance away. His momentum was enough to influence the Lagar's fall. It hit the ground with a tremor, barely a hairsbreadth from where 'Vadumee lay, helpless.
"Well," 'Jalahass puffed, emerging from the lake with her skin flushed with purple. "I am impressed. I didn't think we could do it." She approached her mate and embraced him, laughing as he touched his forehead to hers in a gesture of intimacy.
'Vadumee lay on the damp earth, staring up at the fake sun and the holographic clouds. They blurred as 'Galatash's shadow fell over him and he took the older Sangheili's hand as he was lifted to his feet. "Now that it's done," he grunted, "we're faced with the problem of getting it to the start point."
'Jalahass laughed. "Let some Unggoy take it. We shall go elsewhere. Retire for something to eat, perhaps." She took her mate's arm in hers and began to walk away.
"Come on," 'Fulsamee called. "I have to talk with you about your next assignment. Have you received one?"
"I have not," 'Vadumee said, leaning heavily on 'Galatash as he followed.
'Jalahass glanced over her mate's shoulder to look at him. She smiled. "I have a feeling you might now."