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Commander: Hierarch
Posted By: Cthulhu117<spartan_eric_271@yahoo.com>
Date: 4 January 2006, 9:13 pm

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Ninth Age of Reclamation
Covenant Holy City High Charity
Sangheili Young Warrior Academy

      It was some time before Orna went looking for his brother. He had to learn some important things. Things that only a Special Operative could tell him. He cornered 'Vutbrugee as the Commander deactivated his camouflage.

      'Why are you here, Excellency?' said Orna without a hint of fear.

      Orna didn't expect a reply, but it was swift in coming. 'Your brother interests me. He's a better fighter than any warrior I've seen in years. He needs experience, and I could give that to him if he became a Blade of the Prophets and donned the black armor. I have changed plans that took years to make because of you two. Eraa in particular seems to change the workings of the Covenant without realizing it.'

      Orna's next question was nebulous, but 'Vutbrugee understood it nonetheless. 'So what, Excellency, do you propose to do?'

      'Vutbrugee was walking away when he heard the question. He stopped and did not turn, although he gave Orna his answer.

      Thus it was not till the next cycle that Orna walked into Eraa's dormitory room to find him meditating and repeating the Seven Principles of Strategy to himself. It was only this constant mutter that alerted Orna to his brother's presence. He spoke cautiously, uncertain of what his unpredictable brother's reaction would be.

      'Do you have the Fist?'

      Eraa silently pointed a gore-spattered claw at the corner, where the hammer of the Jiralhanae rested against the wall. Orna hefted the heavy weapon as he spoke again.

      'Aren't you going to finish off his family?'

      Eraa gave no indication that he had heard, but after a unit or so he responded. 'Not unless they ask for it. There's no purpose to the mindless slaughter I could unleash. Did you speak to 'Vutbrugee?'

      Orna gave a start. He wondered how Eraa knew that 'Vutbrugee was there in the first place. His answer was somewhat perturbed when it came. 'Yes. He told me what he was going to do about this.'

      Eraa ceased his meditation and for the first time gave Orna his full attention. Orna's tone of voice was partly amazed and partly amused.

      'The Commander has decided to send his second-in-command, Jhanda 'Barletee, to take over the Academy. 'Barletee will see to it that we are pushed on into the Grand Army immediately. We will both start as Minor warriors in the Warband of Unveiled Majesty. 'Vutbrugee will engineer our passage through the ranks so that we will achieve Command-level within ten years. He has prepared a ship, the Mercy and Righteousness, to bring us to our first assignment, which will be negotiation with the Brute Chieftain Tartarus over the return of the Fist of Rukt.'

      Eraa's eyes narrowed slightly at this, but he gave no response. As Orna turned to leave, he heard Eraa's last question. 'When does the ship leave?'

      Knowing that Eraa couldn't see his face, Orna gave a mock-evil grin. 'Two cycles. You'd better pack everything you're going to need now, because you're not gonna have much time later.' He left the room sniggering, ignoring Eraa's vicious cursing.

Ninth Age of Reclamation
Derelict Jiralhanae Shipyard Hagja Prime
Covenant Battlecruiser Mercy and Righteousness
Seven Cycles Later

      Minor Eraa 'Gamsamee and Minor Orna 'Fulsamee stood together on the bridge of the Mercy and Righteousness. Eraa's mind ran over the events of the whirlwind last seven cycles. He and Orna had been hastily graduated from the Academy by Ultra Operative Jhanda 'Barletee, a stocky, pale Sangheili in white armor, given a brand on the left thigh that signified their warrior status, outfitted with the blue armor of a Staff of the Prophets, given a plasma rifle each and been informed to board the battlecruiser in Docking Area Gamma. Eraa and Orna had been escorted to their quarters and sent to the bridge from there.

      The only other Sangheili in the place was the Zealot in command, a Ship Master called Ricka 'Timraee. He was entering logbook updates into the memory array, and largely disregarding Eraa and Orna. 'Timraee was generally more friendly to the lower ranks, but at the moment he was confused, angry and generally unable to tell what the hell was going on. He had been volunteered for this mission by none other than the Energy Sword of the Prophets himself, Supreme General 'Vutbrugee. He wondered why 'Vutbrugee had insisted that a battlecruiser and not a carrier should bring the Prophet of Truth and the rest of the negotiators to this meeting with the Brute Chieftain.

      If he had known 'Vutbrugee's reasoning, he would have been even less at ease. A battlecruiser had much less mass, making a slipspace destination easier to calculate. Therefore, it could escape into slipspace almost ten times faster than a carrier.

      This was unknown to 'Timraee, however, who was entertaining himself with various heretical thoughts of the pain he'd like to inflict upon Truth. Ever since him and his damned gravity throne had come aboard, he'd done nothing but fuss, gripe, fuss, whine and fuss. My quarters are too small, Ship Master. This Unggoy was disrespectful to me, Ship Master. Your cuisine is poor, Ship Master. 'Timraee was left grating his mandibles in exasperation. What did Truth think he was running, a bloody resort? He didn't mind the two Minors sent to negotiate, though. They were both soldiers. He couldn't tell if they'd be any good at negotiating, but at least they weren't as finicky as Truth was.

      Eraa was somewhat preoccupied. The Jiralhanae cruiser Jiral was supposed to be entering the system in a few units. He and Orna both knew why 'Vutbrugee had really put them on this mission. Truth couldn't bring any of the Honor Guards that traveled with him when he went on board the Jiralhanae ship, or any warriors at all, actually, for fear of being accused of an assassination attempt. The two Minors were there to defend the Hierarch in case of emergency.

      Orna elbowed Eraa, disrupting his thoughts. On the holoscreen, a slipspace rupture had appeared. Eraa looked at the ship that was coming through. It wasn't the Jiral. That ship was mainly diplomatic in purpose. This ship bristled with weapons. This ship was Tartarus's personal warship, the Massacre. Eraa swallowed. If it came to ship-to-ship combat, a Jiralhanae warship could outgun a Covenant battlecruiser nine times out of ten. The Massacre's weapons were incredibly brutal and could tear the battlecruiser apart in a matter of seconds if the Mercy and Righteousness had its shields down.

      There was a sharp intake of air from 'Timraee. Evidently, he hadn't foreseen this either. He spoke into the intraship comm unit with a sense of urgency. 'Noble Prophet of Truth, your presence is requested on the bridge. All crew, battle stations. Firing control, charge all weapons and prepare to raise shields.'

      Several units later, the Prophet of Truth's gravity throne floated onto the bridge. He was followed by the two Honor Guards who obsessively protected him and the other Hierarchs. Eraa almost shuddered. He hoped he would never be reduced to the almost combatless existence of the Shields of the Prophets. Truth's voice was outraged.

      'I was gaining some much-needed rest when your overly loud message blared throughout this ship, disturbing my slumber without overt cause! I will not keep silent about this, you-'

      Eraa then did something that violated about a hundred unspoken rules of etiquette: he interrupted a Hierarch, pointing to the ship on the screen. 'Excellency, the Jiralhanae have arrived.'

      Truth was about to launch into a furious diatribe when he glanced at the screen. Immediately, his voice grew even more affronted.

      'Why, those brutal, honorless traitors! There was an agreement to bring weak ships to the meeting!'

      'Timraee threw the Prophet of Truth a glare that would have split a layer of titanium battleplate. Nobody else could be so impossibly rude as a Hierarch, and no Hierarch could be so rude as Truth. But Hierarch or not, it simply was not done to insult another's command.

      The other main door to the bridge opened and the two Zealots who assisted 'Timraee entered. Hika 'Gajturee had his Energy Sword active. Nuya 'Lakturee was a few inches shorter, but besides that, the Zealot brothers were identical. 'Gajturee and 'Lakturee were Sub-Ship Masters, and both had taken their current post only long enough to gain ships of their own.

      There was an alert sound, and Eraa looked up to the screen to see a Jiralhanae face. It was Tartarus. The unnaturally pale coat and irregular hair patterns contrasted sharply with the burning small eyes of the brutish creature. Eraa was strongly reminded of a Sharquoi. Although almost everything else was different, in the eyes of the Drinol Beast he and Orna had destroyed there had been the same malicious flame.

      The Chieftain growled as his eyes took in Truth, the three Zealots, the two Honor Guards and the pair of Minors standing there, all with a numbed look in their eyes. Tartarus's guttural voice barked out loudly to the Prophet of Truth.

      'So, Hierarch. There has been a change in plans. The negotiations will be on my ship, not yours. You will bring no weaponry to the meeting. Nor will you bring any high-ranking warriors, with the exception of the ship's commander. You will come in the next ten units, or the negotiations will be called off and we will open fire.'

      Truth's voice was thin and unpleasant. 'Remember that you are not on bargaining terms, Chieftain. We have the Fist of Rukt. You do not, and opening fire will merely destroy it.'

      'The Fist is more expendable than you are, Hierarch. I can afford to lose it, though it will cost me the leadership of the Jiralhanae. The loss of the Fist to me is outweighed by the loss of you to the Covenant.'

      Truth's smile was even thinner and more unpleasant than the tone of voice he used. 'I think that this is not the case, Chieftain. My death will cause the Prophet of Calm to join the Triad of the Hierarchs. Calm will then have the right, under the three hundred and seventy-second Canto of the Articles of Covenant to remove Mercy and Fury from the Triad. He will replace them with Pity and Joy. The three of them will take immediate steps to stamp out the Jiralhanae. Kill me if you like, but bear in mind that doing so will lose you the war in a matter of megacycles.'

      Eraa felt like vomiting at the insincerity of this speech. Truth was making it sound like he didn't care about being a martyr as long as the war was won. All that the smarmy bastard cared about was saving his worthless hide. He heard the Ship Master speaking to Orna.

      'We'll go over in the shuttle Pride. I'd take a Seraph, but its firepower wouldn't be much good against that monster anyway.'

      The Honor Guard to Truth's right spoke to the other guard. 'Energy swords and carbines, warrior. Be ready to leave in five units.'

      Without turning, Eraa spoke in a flat, angry voice. 'You two aren't coming. Tartarus said no high-ranking warriors and no weaponry.'

      Truth curled his long fingers into a fist. 'Whoever you are, do you honestly think for a unit that Tartarus is going to keep to those guidelines himself?'

      Eraa gave his answer immediately. 'Yes, noble Hierarch. Tartarus wants the Fist back more than he will show. If we threaten to blow up the ship unless he...modifies...the terms, he'll be persuaded pretty quickly.'

      Truth opened his mouth to object to this, couldn't think of anything to say, and shut his mouth again.

      Exactly ten units later, the Covenant shuttle entered the main hangar bay of the Massacre. The terms had been changed. Truth made a mental note that the young Minor, whatever his name was, ought to be commended. The shuttle carried six Sangheili and one Ahlainga Hierarch. The two Honor Guards each wielded an energy sword and a carbine. The two Sub-Ship Masters carried energy swords. Orna held two plasma rifles, and Eraa was ready with a particle beam rifle, six plasma grenades and a new prototype weapon that he'd found in the ship's armory. Its designation was the particle-beam blast cannon. The Sangheili who ran the armory, a Major called Kyndja 'Bayatsee, had called it the blaster. It launched super-high velocity particles at the enemy in a wide spread, potentially killing several targets with one shot. On Eraa's back was the Fist of Rukh. With all that ordnance, he was surprised he could still walk.

      A Jiralhanae warrior was waiting for them. His rank was Captain, as Eraa could tell from the red flag upon his back. He carried a vicious-looking grenade launcher with a long curved blade projecting from the stock. He gave a grunt and led them through the darkened corridors to a room with a high, vaulted ceiling. Tartarus stood at the other end of the room, two other Jiralhanae commanders flanking him.

      The Jiralhanae to the right of him was even taller than his Chieftain, and his scarred black skin and long white pelt made it easy for Eraa to identify him as Orthrys, Tartarus's lieutenant and the leader of the Jiralhanae armies. The warrior on Tartarus's left was more diminutive, although he still towered over Eraa, and carried no weapons, but was surrounded by an almost palpable aura of fear. His skin and fur were both gray, making him almost invisible in the dark halls of the ship. Eraa's grasp on the blaster tightened. He knew who this was.

      This warrior was Bracktanus, the leader of Tartarus's bodyguard. He had seen holos of this single warrior tearing unarmed through the Unggoy and Kig-Yar that would be first to board his ships. But Eraa knew that whenever the Sangheili warriors attacked to prevent another loss, Bracktanus would beat a cowardly retreat. So it often was in the war.

      Most of the time, the light Covenant infantry that assaulted the Jiralhanae would be defeated, until the heavy Covenant warriors attacked. A Sangheili-Lekgolo partnership would always be victorious in infantry engagements. When they had time and space to utilize vehicles, the Jiralhanae fell like grass before a scythe. But if it came to that, the Jiralhanae would run away like the craven fools that they were. And in the navy engagements, the Jiralhanae would almost always be the victors. Their warships could bend slipspace around themselves, creating a barrier impenetrable to Covenant sensors. As soon as they were in position, the barrier would drop and the Jiralhanae would vaporize the unsuspecting Covenant. They had many weapons to use.

      Their atom-fission torpedoes were enough to take down a Covenant destroyer with its shields up. The hundreds of plasma turrets that bristled from their hulls could bombard an assault carrier's shields until they dropped. And then there was the sonic missiles that each Jiralhanae warship carried two of. The more you tried to protect against it, the more damage it did. If you offered no defense, the worst it could do was knock anyone touching the hull unconscious. If your shields were up, it would neutralize them. But if the shields were up and the battleplate charged, every system on the ship would be destroyed and anyone in contact with the ship's chassis would be electrocuted. The Jiralhanae ships always fired one at the beginning of a battle, and if they looked to be losing or winning they would fire their other one. The Jiralhanae had won almost three-quarters of the naval battles in the war, and to be honest it was no surprise.

      The Jiralhanae were attempting to look intimidating, but they needn't have tried; they were usually quite intimidating as they were. When they tried to look frightening, they looked like they were half asleep. The Honor Guards had no-nonsense expressions. The Zealots had a cagy, secretive look to them, and Orna's knuckles had turned white from gripping his plasma rifles so tightly. But two of the ten faces in the room were expressionless: the face of the Prophet of Truth and the face of Eraa 'Gamsamee.

      When the room was silent, Orthrys pressed a button on the wall and a black slab of stone descended from the ceiling and came to a halt some five feet off the ground. Eraa hadn't known that the Jiralhanae were so adept at gravity manipulation. But then, they had made the Fist of Rukt.

      For almost a unit, no one spoke. Then the cold silence was broken, and the voice of Truth cut through the hot air like a knife. Eraa hadn't noticed it before, but the entire ship was swelteringly hot. He wondered how the Jiralhanae could stand it with their thick fur. Truth, however, was seemingly unaffected, or, if he was, he didn't show it.

      'You know, Chieftain, that this war has been fought continuously for the last seventeen years. You also know that our forces have defeated yours in almost every battle. Soon, you will not have the means to continue the war. The Jiralhanae will be against you. You will run out of resources. Furthermore, you will run out of troops. Within a year, maybe two, you will no longer be able to offer resistance. Our fleets will destroy your ships, glass your worlds, slay your armies and overthrow your race. You can either let this happen, or accept our terms.'

      Tartarus leaned over to Orthrys, and the larger Jiralhanae whispered something that Eraa could not catch into his Chieftain's ear. Tartarus considered this for a moment, and then spoke. 'I do not believe, Hierarch, that your armies will defeat ours so easily as you wish us to presume. True, you have vanquished our warriors often. But you and I both know that our ships and our ships' technology is vastly superior to your own. We can hold our own in a naval battle. I will consider your proposal for twenty of your units. Then you will know my decision, Hierarch.'

      The Chieftain rose and exited through a door that Eraa had not noticed. The two other Jiralhanae left through another such door. Eraa made up his mind. He followed Tartarus.

      He caught up to the Jiralhanae quickly. Almost immediately, the creature heard him, spun and felt at its back for a hammer that wasn't there. Eraa addressed Tartarus before the Chieftain could do anything else.

      'You must surrender, Tartarus.'

      Tartarus snorted. 'More of your propaganda? I am no fool, Sangheili.'

      Eraa's response was fast and furious. 'This is no propaganda, Jiralhanae! You cannot both retrieve the Fist and win the war. If you agree to Truth's terms and get the Fist back, one of them will be the incorporation of your race into the Covenant. If you do not, you will eventually lose the war, and the Jiralhanae will either be killed or assimilated.'

      As Eraa spoke, he became aware of a gravelly voice from above him. Looking up, he saw Orthrys. The general's voice was grim and deep. 'The boy's right. We have to kill the Hierarch now if you want to win the war.'

      Eraa interrupted. 'I cannot allow that. I am sworn to protect the Covenant and the Hierarchs. If you wish to slay the Prophet of Truth, I will have to kill you.'

      Orthrys's face was contorted into a leering grin. 'Are you sure you want to get involved in this? Two Jiralhanae warriors are a lot to handle!'

      As he spoke, Eraa's spine tingled. Something wasn't right. As Orthrys said the word handle, he jumped backwards just in time. Bracktanus plummeted from the high ceiling with an unearthly screech, landing where Eraa had stood a micro-unit before. Tartarus's eyes widened in surprise. He whirled on his general. 'Orthrys! What is this treachery?'

      Eraa backed off, surprised. He hadn't expected a Jiralhanae to be honorable at all...and then he realized that Orthrys and Bracktanus were both facing Tartarus, with grenade launchers drawn. Bracktanus's voice was a horribly mocking and unnaturally high-pitched singsong. 'Now look at mighty Chief Tartarus. Without his little hammer, he's just a big ape. He's nothing more than a--'

      But exactly what Tartarus was, Eraa never found out. Tartarus leapt on Bracktanus, delivering a bite to his shoulder and knocking his treacherous bodyguard's weapon away. Orthrys stood back, shouting. 'The Jiralhanae have been led by you for too long, Tartarus! You got us into this war, and you haven't gotten us out of it! You wouldn't kill Truth, so now Truth and you are both doomed!'

      Tartarus didn't look particularly doomed, however. Bracktanus lay on the deckplates with gore crusting his neck. He looked dead, but Eraa thought he was still alive. The Jiralhanae Chieftain raised himself to his feet and spun around. Suddenly, there was a sickening sound like a side of wet meat being hit with a rock and dark ichor started to well onto the deck. Tartarus fell to his knees and collapsed, barely breathing. Orthrys had reversed the grenade launcher and impaled Tartarus on the blade. The general spat on his fallen Chieftain's body, then looked up and saw Eraa 'Gamsamee. Eraa was able to make out the Jiralhanae's lips moving to form the words no witnesses.

      Eraa turned and ran back toward the room where the rest of his party were gathered. If he had been alone, we would have stood and fought, but like it or not (and he did not like it), his first duty was to Truth. He burst into the room, much to the surprise of Orna, the Honor Guards, the Zealots and the Hierarch, just as he heard Orthrys's voice utter something in the Jiralhanae tongue over the loudspeakers. The door that they had originally entered by slid noiselessly open to reveal a Jiralhanae with an automatic plasma cannon. The enemy warrior aimed for the Prophet of Truth, but before he could pull the trigger, Eraa had torn the Fist of Rukt from its strap on his back and thrown it at Truth's head.

      Although the Ahlainga, and in particular the Hierarchs, were physically slow, weak and frail, they retained the quick reflexes of their rodent ancestors. Truth ducked, and the hammer only clipped his headdress, as Eraa had planned. It kept flying, and struck the astonished Jiralhanae in the chest, killing him. Eraa leapt over the table and pulled the Fist of Rukt free from the corpse with a sickly sucking noise. The Prophet of Truth opened his mouth to complain his ruined headdress, but the words died on his tongue.

      The two other doors to the room slid open, revealing Orthrys, Bracktanus and a legion of bloodthirsty Jiralhanae.