Posted By: Cthulhu117<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 3 February 2006, 2:57 am
Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.
Ninth Age of Reclamation
Jiralhanae Shipyard Hagja Prime
Jiralhanae Warship Massacre
Seven Cycles Later
It was a strangely incongruous sight, Eraa 'Gamsamee reflected. A holy truth-giving Hierarch, his Honor Guard, two Zealots, and a host of ranking Sangheili, all with reverent expressions, marching through the fetid corridors of a Jiralhanae warship. He wondered why the Jiralhanae had simply done what Tartarus had told them to an hour before. Their war with the Covenant had gone on for decades; some of the younger warriors had probably fought the Covenant for their whole lives. Yet at the words of their Chieftain, they had simply joined their lifelong enemies. Had they no commitment?
He had mentioned this, respectfully, to 'Timraee. The Ship Master had not answered. He had only meditatively rubbed his lower left mandible, which bore a permanent scar from the massive electromagnetic pulse that had permeated the ship's systems. Privately, 'Timraee thought that the Covenant would do the same thing if the Hierarchs said so. But it did not do to tell one's deepest inner thoughts to an adolescent Minor. He had kept his silence.
Tartarus did not see why there had to be a swearing-in to joining the Covenant; the Jiralhanae were irreverent and, 'Gamsamee was quite sure, had no respect for the holiest rites of the Prophets. The Chieftain did not realize, it seemed, what being a member of the Covenant entailed.
'Gamsamee clutched the Fist of Rukt in his fists, so hard that his knuckles were the color of dirty water. He and his brother had made a visit to an upper gravity-lift hallway and retrieved the Fist from among the blood crusted corpses. He had fled the corridor before 'Fulsamee could start to look among the bodies for their father.
He did not recognize many of the Sangheili that walked alongside him. 'Bayatsee was among them, as was 'Denlinee. There was a small, wiry warrior that he thought he might have seen on the bridge of the Mercy and Righteousness, the other Honor Guard, who, 'Gamsamee had learned, was called Gora 'Ulkhamee, and the two Zealots. However, the rest of the Majors and Minors remained quietly anonymous. Most, he reasoned, were simply there for show, their armor beautifully polished and touched up. Some, such as 'Bayatsee and 'Denlinee, were there due to their importance and skill.
And then, of course, there was the Honor Guard 'Ulkhamee. 'Gamsamee was waiting for a chance to ask about his father, and if 'Ulkhamee had known him well, but he did not think it would come. The Honor Guard was tight-lipped. Indeed, most of his rank were. The task of guarding the Hierarchs was meant to be an honor second only to being the Supreme Commander or General. However, the general opinion of the Guards was that it was a waste of one's life. All the years one could spend living were squandered guarding the Hierarchs, whom no one would ever attack. Except other Hierarchs or ambitious Minor Prophets, as had indeed happened several times in the history of the Covenant.
A door to the left of the marching Sangheili opened, and several Jiralhanae stepped through and fell into step. One of the Majors whispered something to another, who gave a hastily muffled laugh. In full dress uniform, Eraa thought sarcastically. As always, the Jiralhanae wore nothing but a plate of armor protecting their vulnerable heads. He noticed that these high-ranking soldiers had at least dispensed with bandoliers for this occasion.
The Jiralhanae moved somewhat ahead of the marching Sangheili, and saw that they did seem to have combed and oiled their pelts. The result was, as usual, hideous, but at least it was also shiny enough to burn your eyes. And your nostrils, 'Gamsamee decided as he caught a whiff of the beast's musky odor. Whatever scent they were using, they needed more of it.
They were fast approaching a large door, which opened into the muster bay, or something of that sort. As the lofty gateway opened with a hiss of released air, 'Gamsamee noticed that several Jiralhanae were standing close about Tartarus. They truly were brutes, and fickle besides. Orthrys had quite literally stabbed Tartarus in the back. The Jiralhanae had followed him. When Tartarus got his revenge, they had switched back to his side. 'Gamsamee shook his head in disgust.
As Truth drew near is his gravity throne, the Jiralhanae stood at attention. The Sangheili remained standing, straight-backed and formal, with serious looks on their faces. In contrast, Truth wore a benevolent expression, although 'Timraee could tell he was wrinkling his flat nose in distaste. He spoke in the same voice he preached his sermons in. It was not a somber voice, nor deep or particularly impressive. It was rather high, almost reedy, and yet all who listened seemed mesmerized by it. Much of the power of a Hierarch was in his voice, and that made Truth the most powerful of all. Even the Jiralhanae paid attention to his hypnotizing tones.
"Greetings, Chieftain. This is the moment of your unworlding, and the final assurance of your allegiance to the Covenant. I have prepared the ritual."
The voice of Tartarus, as always, was a slightly derisive growl. "Not so fast. I will have the Fist of Rukt returned."
The Hierarch's face was momentarily distorted with anger, but in a moment he regained his composure. "If you intend to join the Covenant, you shall respect its truthgivers, and most especially the Hierarchs. To do so, you will refer to me as Excellency...at the very least. Holy One is the term in general use."
Tartarus's lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl, but he made no noise. He paused, then knelt and said, much more politely, "Would it please you, Holy One, to return the Fist of Rukt to...your servant?" He stuttered somewhat over the last words. 'Gamsamee gave a rather cruel smile over the Chieftain's obvious discomfort. Truth looked in 'Gamsamee's direction, then motioned to him.
Hefting the Fist, Eraa 'Gamsamee stepped forward. He offered the gravity hammer to its original owner. The Jiralhanae's white-furred talons received the Fist warily, yet readily. As 'Gamsamee drew back, the Chieftain spoke in a quiet growl.
"You have used the Fist in combat. I can tell you do not wish to part with it. It is a great weapon. You are a great warrior, even for one of your race."
'Gamsamee did not retort. He gave no acknowledgement that he had heard the comment. He stepped back. He did not listen as Truth swore first the Chieftain, then his command crew, and lastly the other Jiralhanae in attendance into the almighty Covenant. He got the feeling that Tartarus wasn't listening either. The two were engaging in a furtive staring match.
Eraa 'Gamsamee did not believe in the telepathy that some of the Sangheili monks of Gracious Enlightenment claimed they could achieve through meditation. But at the moment, he hoped it worked, so that Tartarus could at least realize the nature of the unspoken message in 'Gamsamee's mind.
I am watching you, Tartarus. I always will watch you. And I am waiting for the day when I see something out of order. And when that day comes, you'll pay for it.
'Gamsamee barely heard the rest of the ceremony. He had to give the Hierarch credit. Truth had adapted the Sangheili initiation speech for the Jiralhanae on the spot. He supposed that when your race had an eidetic memory which made it impossible to forget things, Truth could have just written the speech down and memorized it.
After the ceremony, Tartarus declared that their new masters in the Covenant were to be shown the main power source of the Massacre, which Truth had expressed a great interest in seeing. 'Gamsamee would have stayed to talk with Orna, but was rather roughly pulled along by 'Bayatsee, along with his brother. No explanation was made as to why they wanted two Minors along.
The ship was just as 'Gamsamee remembered it. No, he decided as 'Ulkhamee helped Truth into the vessel, not quite as I remember it. The same unidentified power source that Orna had detected on their first foray into the ship was now much stronger. So much stronger that it was emitting potentially harmful radiation. 'Gamsamee did not mention this; no one would pay attention anyway and it wasn't likely to be a threat.
Truth looked around the devastated bridge and spoke quietly, but with an air of command. "Search around. We must learn what happened here."
'Gamsamee had no intent of searching any further than those energy emissions led him. After a short inspection, he found what appeared to be an inactive console. But it was clearly the power source. He prodded a button on the holopanel. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then a light flickered on the console's main screen, and suddenly a holographic creature of some kind appeared. It was similar in form to a Sangheili, but strangely stretched, and dead black in color. Its 'skin' had an odd sheen to it. The figure seemed to glow from within. It paced on the surface of the screen for a second, and then faced in 'Gamsamee's direction. Its eyes snapped open, revealing metallic silver and pupil-less orbs. It examined him for a second, then spoke in a dialect that 'Gamsamee had never heard before.
"I'm sorry, I don't quite understand you..." 'Gamsamee almost whispered.
The holographic creature made an evidently annoyed sound, and then spoke in an oddly accented Sangheili. "I said, who are you and when is it?"
"Ninth Age of Reclamation," 'Gamsamee said without thinking. "And I am the Sangheili warrior and Minor Eraa 'Gamsamee, clan Sam, of High-"
The thing interrupted with an expression that 'Gamsamee did not exactly comprehend. He had never before seen such an impatient and rude being that it would interrupt one's lineage. "I am Edenian Unlimited AI 001, designation Alpha Zeta Alpha 20715207. The name that my previous owner referred to me as was Azathoth. Over the millennia, I have grown somewhat attached to the name, so I would prefer that you refer to me by this designation."
"I'm not going to refer to you as anything," 'Gamsamee protested. "You're going to the Hierarchs."
"Hierarch?" asked the AI in a questioning tone. "Oh yes. I remember the first Hierarch. Revelation. He had the sight. A pity that they got him."
"Who 'got him'?" asked 'Gamsamee urgently. The AI did not speak. Instead, a line of text slowly burned onto the AI's chest in silver. The line read 'Restricted Access Material.'
"I apologize," the AI said resignedly. "My memory files regarding the subject have been erased, in accordance with protocol."
"What can you tell me about Revelation?" 'Gamsamee asked. The AI considered answers for a second or two, silver text flashing across his ebon form and disappearing again. He then spoke as if remembering a childhood friend.
"He found me on the Edenian station. I was the 'relic' he had found. He never knew that I came with him. Kept shouting about the 'guards of the ancient shrine', but all he meant was the F-" He broke off as the glowing silver message scrolling across his body dimmed and hastily faded out.
"Who are these 'guardians'? And who are these 'Edenians' you have referred to? I know of no such race."
The AI made an expression of surprise comparable to raising his eyebrows. "I am not allowed to speak of the creatures I will refer to as 'guardians' to any of non-Edenian DNA. As to the Edenians, I believe you would call them Forerunners."
'Gamsamee almost fell to his knees. A Holy Oracle of the Covenant's Lords! What a prize for the Hierarchs! "Azathoth, will you consent to submit to the Covenant's custody and tell us what you know about the Forerunners?"
Azathoth gave a quiet chuckle. "Oh no. The one who releases me will have to either re-integrate me into the ship's systems or take me with him. You do have a choice, but it is not the one you were hoping for."
'Gamsamee was in something of a quandary. If he chose to take the AI with him, Gods knew what would happen. If not, he would have to put him back into the ship-but owing to the ancient nature of the Dignified Peace, he was fairly sure nobody knew how. Besides, he rather liked the quirky AI. He placed his hand on the console, ready to hit buttons or do whatever he had to do. With a small smile on his face, Azathoth disintegrated into millions of silver and black particles which entered 'Gamsamee's hand, causing him to gasp in pain. He had just experienced a situation similar to being stabbed in the arm by a thousand tiny needles.
After a second or two, a voice spoke in his head. "Not much room. You should have your cranium enlarged. More room for me and brains." Azathoth gave a rather insane snicker. "Sorry," he added. "Being confined to a poorly designed computer for eighteen thousand years will do that to you."
The search turned up nothing of interest. 'Gamsamee did not tell anyone, even Orna, who he'd found. He was trying to ignore Azathoth, which was difficult. The voice in his head made rather unhelpful comments every few seconds. It was all 'Gamsamee could do not to tell the AI to shut up.
Their re-entry into the muster bay was heralded by a bow from the Sangheili, hastily copied by the Jiralhanae at a glare from Tartarus. Azathoth made a joke regarding the Jiralhanae fur that caused 'Gamsamee to give a snort of subdued laughter. 'Timraee glanced at him for a second, then looked away, shaking his head. 'Gamsamee went and stood in the corner, observing the others.
Yet 'Gamsamee was nearly oblivious to his surroundings. His mind was on other things, in particular the AI. He seemed harmless, but he had no doubt that over the thousands of years that Azathoth had been imprisoned he had lost a few things in the mental department. Even the impromptu 'goodwill celebration' that Truth proclaimed could not distract him from the fact that the Sangheili and Jiralhanae were standing separate. Neither group showed any sign of mingling, or indeed of movement. Or so he thought until he found the Ship Master 'Timraee steering Orna through the crowd and towards him. 'Timraee was smiling on first inspection, but as he neared 'Gamsamee saw that the smile was rather forced.
'Timraee spoke quietly as soon as they were near. "You two and myself are returning to the ship for the time being."
'Gamsamee was about to say something to the tune of "I didn't do it," but something told him that it was honor and not punishment that was being conferred on him. Besides, he was no longer a child, to say what he wished with impunity. He was a soldier now, and a big mouth would only get him in trouble.
The three were silent all the way back from the Massacre. 'Fulsamee shared an uncertain glance with his brother, wondering what was going on. They found out as soon as they landed. Several Majors awaited them, an expression of mild congratulation on each face. One among the Majors nodded as 'Gamsamee passed by, giving the Minor an almost appraising look.
Finally, 'Gamsamee pulled up his courage and whispered in his brother's ear, "Did the Ship Master tell you what was going on?"
Staring rigidly ahead, 'Fulsamee responded almost silently. " He told me that we are being promoted. The majors are acting witnesses." They both knew that a promotion had to be witnessed by seven soldiers to be valid.
'Timraee turned, the traces of a smile on his face. "Eraa 'Gamsamee and Orna 'Fulsamee, I have resolved that, due to outstanding bravery and skill in combat, you are to receive a more exalted status, designated Major, and to gain the right to be called a Hammer of the Prophets and wear the red armor that accompanies this privilege. Orna 'Fulsamee, you are hereby called Major for your great skill as a pilot, warrior and commander, and the presence of mind you showed in battling the Jiralhanae traitors when all senior officers were incapacitated. Eraa 'Gamsamee, you are hereby called Major for your incredible talent as a warrior and the fury of the Covenant that you showed the Jiralhanae. Your armor and your status brands await you in the armory."
Eraa 'Gamsamee couldn't say he was surprised, but he felt it would be rude to say so. He and his brother bowed, and 'Fulsamee said reverently, "I speak for both of us when I say that we are most deeply honored."
"Likewise," the Zealot said with a rather slack smile. The witnesses dispersed. Orna started for the armory, but the strong claws of 'Timraee held him back. "I have not finished. The Hierarch wishes me to tell nobody but yourselves of this. He wishes the same of you. You will never wear the red armor. You are to be promoted...again." Distaste was evident in the Zealot's voice.
"Again, Excellency?" said 'Gamsamee. His brother was speechless.
"Yes," the old warrior said wearily. "Normally I would ask for more experience in a senior officer, but I cannot overrule a Hierarch. Two warriors died on the Massacre, and skilled replacements must be found. 'Fulsamee, I offer you the position of Sub-Ship Master on this very cruiser. 'Gamsamee, the Prophet of Truth would have you replace your father. He wishes you to become a Shield of the Prophets."
'Gamsamee started violently. Why had everyone recognized his father except for him? And how could he become an Honor Guard? To receive that rank, to stand for the rest of his life at the shoulder of the appallingly manipulative Ahlainga called Truth? He could not sacrifice his career; not when he had killed to continue it. Truth insulted him by asking him to do otherwise. And yet it was impossible to decline. One did not simply deny Truth his whims.
He spoke haltingly and gingerly. "With all due respect to you and the Holy One, Excellency, I do not care to serve the Prophets in this manner. Let my skills be used in some other manner."
To his amazement, 'Timraee nodded. "The noble Hierarch feared your answer might be so. He has made arrangements for you to become a Special Operative of the Covenant."
For the second time in as many minutes, 'Gamsamee's head whirled. The mortality rate of the Blades of the Prophets was incredible. Almost ninety of every hundred Operatives was killed in their first battle. True, if you survived that battle, you were much less likely to be killed later, but even so, the risk was tremendous. And yet, it was better than the alternative. He accepted without a smile.
So it was that, barely two days after their acceptance into the Covenant Grand Army, the two sons of Dava 'Vansamee became superior officers, one a Zealot, the other a Special Operative.
Ninth Age of Reclamation
Covenant Holy City High Charity
Alpha Barracks of the Special Operatives
Six Years Later
The ajoht, or training room, of the Alpha Barracks, was empty upon first inspection. It was only if you strained your eyes in the darkened room that you could see a slight shimmer that flitted about the room. Even that would be difficult to observe, and even more difficult to recognize as a camouflaged Sangheili. It was Eraa 'Gamsamee.
The adolescent, gangly young warrior of six years ago was gone. A little wiser, a little fiercer, and a lot tougher, he had become an iron-hard champion of the greatest talent. At twenty-five, he was the youngest ever first-level master of the martial art uztajneyen. He could use any standard Covenant ranged weapon. He could battle with any melee weapon that had been in regular use within the last nineteen ages. In short, he was the consummate Sangheili warrior.
He had only seen Orna once since their parting on the Mercy and Righteousness. As they were both senior officers, the leaves of absence they took had to coincide for them to spend any time with each other. 'Gamsamee would have been rather lonely amid the condescending older warriors if not for two things: the non-sequitur commentary of Azathoth on everything he did, and the respect he'd won on his third day as an Operative.
He'd awakened to a knock on his door. He'd told them to enter, hoping it would be 'Fulsamee.
But it had been none other than his new commanding officer, Supreme General Dana 'Vutbrugee. He'd quickly snapped to rigid attention. 'Vutbrugee had told him to follow. He remembered that like it had been yesterday. They had entered an ajoht with close-combat weapons lining the walls. 'Vutbrugee had explained, "It is customary for a new Operative to be tested on his skills by the Commander as soon as possible. You will try to disarm me, defeat me, do anything but kill me."
'Gamsamee had nodded and taken a nikdar ruina blade from the weapon racks of the room. The ajoht was all white, making it difficult to tell where you were. 'Vutbrugee had smiled placidly and raised a nikdar kul.
For a second or two, they had stared at each other. Then, with a quick, fluid movement, the General lunged forward and struck out with a deadly blow. 'Gamsamee parried the strike, then spun and swung the sword twice in 'Vutbrugee's direction. The older Sangheili bent backwards, effortlessly avoiding the blow. "Move faster, or you won't last a single battle," 'Vutbrugee reprimanded him.
'Gamsamee was momentarily ashamed of his weakness. Then he banished the shame and became a whirlwind of graceful metal and flesh, striking wherever he saw a weakness. Yet 'Vutbrugee parried every blow. The young Sangheili's anger rose within him. He struck faster, with blows that could have killed a Jiralhanae, repeating through his furious assault, "Wort! Wort! Wort! Wort!"
For the first time, 'Vutbrugee looked worried. He stabbed out, piercing 'Gamsamee's skin just under his ribs, but the younger warrior was too inflamed to notice. He struck a blow so powerful that it cleanly sheared off a good half of 'Vutbrugee's sword. Yet his own blade bent and snapped under the stress. Both combatants scrambled for a new weapon as unseen watchers observed them.
The greater part of the Special Operatives were eating their morning meal in the mess hall, but a large group of Ultras and some of the more experienced Operatives was watching them on a holoscreen. Jokes, bets and compliments flew fast among them. "Well, the Old Warrior's taking on another one," pointed out a grizzled Ultra called Hivna 'Rornasee.
"I stake my glory-pendant that the new one will lose in under a unit!" shouted a younger warrior called Duva 'Haznullee.
"You're on," the watcher responded, and then, after a short pause, "Pay up! A minute, and the fresh meat is winning!"
Now the veteran Sangheili warriors were beginning to pay attention. "Winning?" the oldest warrior there, Kinro 'Yatkabee, asked. Then, with a laugh, "Who'll pay if the new warrior wins?" Most of the warriors nodded with laughs at the ludicrous prospect.
In the ajoht, 'Vutbrugee was not laughing. He had taken an ouba staff to the fight, hoping that its sheer weight would distract 'Gamsamee, but no opening showed itself as the new Operative battled back with some kind of spiked club. Finally, the General feinted to the left, and then threw all his strength up and to the right, smacking the cudgel from 'Gamsamee's hand. He struck again, ramming the end of the long pole into the younger Sangheili's chest. But as the General attempted another fierce stroke with the shaft, 'Gamsamee grabbed the end of the staff and swung his commander off balance. He ran to the wall, looking for any potential weapon.
Then he saw it. Two short, curved nuhkalve blades, hung side by side, as though they were meant to be together. 'Gamsamee had never before used two blades at once. But, he reasoned, if he could use one, then he could use two. He grabbed the weapons and whirled them into a combat stance. One hand at waist level, the arm fully extended; the other behind and to the right of his head.
He attacked once more, as the General hefted some type of huge broadsword and wielded it two-handed. He realized, with a pang of disappointment, that 'Vutbrugee seemed to be tiring. How could he fight in the war with such poor endurance? It was true, he was breathing normally for a fighting Sangheili, but his strikes were falling slower and weaker.
He was distracted as a voice spoke in his mind. Azathoth had something to point out. "He's not getting slower. You're getting faster."
'Gamsamee was so perplexed by this that he did not notice 'Vutbrugee's spinning kick until it was too late to dodge. So he dropped the blade in his left hand and grabbed. For a second, 'Vutbrugee was suspended there, then 'Gamsamee struck him flat-handed in the center of his armored torso. The blade flew from his hand, and he flew into the wall with a dull thud. He got up, then bowed. For a second, there was silence. Then the door they had entered by opened to reveal most of the Special Operatives, applauding solemnly.
No one had bothered him about his age after that.
Now he was training again, wearing active camouflage. He had to learn not to pay attention to how he fought, so he made it impossible for himself to watch his motions. The only part of himself he could see where the two glowing energy swords that cleft the darkness and hissed through the air. It was a challenge for him to keep his balance. One energy sword was difficult enough to control; the magnetic fields required to keep the blade cohesive could throw off your balance and make you fall, probably right on the blade. Two blades had never been mastered in six years. Some Sangheili never got the hang of even one sword.
He stopped his rhythmic slashing and stabbing as the lights in the ajoht activated. He growled in annoyance as his comm unit beeped. The voice of the General's assistant, the Ultra known as 'Yatkabee, spoke in his ear.
"His Excellency wishes to speak to you and the rest of your warband in the briefing room. We have orders of an important nature to carry out."
"I understand," 'Gamsamee acknowledged. He had been made an Ultra three years ago, after subduing the last of the Jiralhanae uprising. His brilliant tactics in utilization of a Scarab mining engine that had been on his carrier for excavation purposes had seen him promoted. Although usually rank among the Sangheili was based on kills, 'Gamsamee had received the rank of Operative and then the rank of Ultra due to brave and cunning actions. He did not think this was strange. He did not, as a matter of fact, think about it at all.
That had also been the time he had seen Orna. The young Sub-Ship Master had been stationed on the carrier Wrath of Heaven at the time. 'Gamsamee had later received word that his brother had been given a ship of his own for his skilful piloting of a Scarab and the consequential defeat of the Jiralhanae insurrection.
As 'Gamsamee stepped into the main barracks area, he sent a comm message to the rest of his warband. If the Special Operatives were the best of the best, the Alpha Warriors were the best of the best of the best. He commanded twelve of the finest warriors ever to raise an energy sword. He was the youngest of the thirteen Alphas, but the rest looked up to him in a strange way.
He did not pause. He merely headed directly to the briefing room. His warband would be there. Indeed, when he entered the room, four of them were there. He scanned the faces. Juho 'Kiprafee, Nevo 'Huyfadee, Biza 'Olkaree and Givnu 'Jekaiee. All good, strong Sangheili. They were his brethren, as much as Orna was. There was no one he would rather have by his side in a battle.
As the remainder of Alpha Warband filtered in, 'Vutbrugee appeared from the doorway at the other end of the room. He was wearing the unique armor of the Supreme General. It had the interesting property of changing from white to black, depending on the ambient lighting. 'Vutbrugee only wore it for combat situations. That meant he was coming too. 'Gamsamee swallowed. If it was important enough for the Special Operative Commander to come along, it was a critical situation, or else one of grave importance.
He knew it in his bones.