Posted By: Cthulhu117<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 15 December 2005, 9:31 pm
Ninth Age of Reclamation
Covenant Holy City High Charity
Neophyte Training Facility
Eraa Sam was cold and tired and injured. As he wiped the artificial snow from his reptilian eyes, he glared angrily at the plasma sidearm that was his only weapon. He was thirteen, and he was undergoing- and failing- the Neophyte training rituals. He thought back to his education on the history of the trial which he now suffered.
Thousands of years ago, Neophyte Sangheili had proved their worth by fighting through the Valley of Ruuka on their homeworld. The valley was huge, cold and perilous. The Neophytes who struggled through the vale could never be certain what dangers were inherent to the deadly nature of the region and which were set up to weed out the unworthy.
Now, although millennia had passed, the Sangheili tested their youth in the same way. The Valley of Ruuka had been devastated in the Sangheili Prophet war that had culminated in the formation of the Covenant, but its legacy endured: when they reached the age of thirteen, all Sangheili who would be warriors and gain the honor and respect that accompanied the position, as well as the fabled eternal glory of the Great Journey, would battle their way through an artificially formed course in the bowels of High Charity.
Although the struggle was not an easy one, it was far easier than it had been for the ancestors of the Sangheili. The ancient Neophytes had been equipped with no armor at all and a short curved metal blade; those who attempted the trials today were given the option of a light plasma pistol and some training armor. The training armor had no shields, but could protect against the teeth and claws of the vicious animals that inhabited the simulated Sangheili trial area. Rumor had it that it would not protect against the notorious final test, whatever that was. The Sangheili who completed the trial were not permitted to speak of what they had endured to anybody.
But right now, Eraa, of the Samee' clan, was not sure that he would even make it to this final obstacle. His first day of the trials had gone well. He had vaulted a ten-foot-high wall that he could not climb or go around. He had encountered a many-tentacled Fascas squid in a swamp area. He had even succeeded in locating one of the pistols that the testers had placed there. He had wanted one- the trials ahead were numerous and fearsome, and incapacitating other Neophytes who attempted to beat you to the finish of the trial was permitted. In fact, it was practically mandatory.
The next day had also been simple, although he'd been forced to swim for an uncomfortably long amount of time to get under tree that blocked his path. He had encountered only one enemy, and that had been another Neophyte: Crasta Hul. Crasta had always been the bully, the boaster, the one who beat everyone else up. But when Eraa encountered him in the trials, Crasta was in no condition to do any of these things.
Crasta was tall for his age; he already stood nearly eight feet tall and could lift the crates that the warriors kept their weapons in. Furthermore, he was dumb as a box of rocks and extremely popular with a group of similar Sangheili Neophytes. He had enjoyed picking on Eraa, and just about anyone else who was like Era. It was no physical difference that cause Crasta's hatred- Eraa was almost eight feet tall and looked no worse than any other Neophyte- but merely the fact that Eraa was a nerd. He could always be counted on to spout out some bit of knowledge that no one wanted to hear.
Eraa paused as he struggled up the frozen hillside and let his mind wander back to when he'd found Crasta the day before. Their short conversation was vivid in his mind still...
He'd been attracted by the screaming.
The sound of a Sangheili screaming in mortal agony was terrifying to him. He had never heard it before, but he knew, almost instinctively, what it was. He also knew who it was. The voice was too familiar to him. Too many times he'd heard it fling a stinging jibe at his turned back, causing him to blush purple with rage. It was Crasta Hul. Turning, Eraa had headed for the source of the noise.
Because of the darkness, he stepped on Crasta before he saw him. He probably wouldn't have noticed anyway if he hadn't heard the horribly wet sucking sound as he lifted his hoof. Jumping back, he had knelt down and seen Crasta...or what was left of him. He had been horribly mutilated. Blood soaked the rocky earth purple, and as Eraa looked more closely he could see that Crasta had been literally ripped to bits.
Eraa vomited. A stench like rotting fruit was rising into the air, and the combination of the fetid odor and the horrifying sight was too much for him. He heard a sound of rasping breath. He was amazed to see that Crasta Hul was still alive. He bent as low as he could stand the smell.
'Er- aa?' came the weak hiss.
'Yeah,' said Eraa quietly.
'The doctors- they c-could save-'
'What?' Eraa had asked, unsure what the maimed Sangheili was trying to say.
'Doc- tors- they could help m-me- get me to them- send the help beacon-'
Eraa looked with a mixture of pity and revulsion at his fallen enemy. Every Neophyte had a help beacon attached to their armor before they entered the trial. If they could not complete the trial, they would activate it and a trainer would come and rescue them. However, this made it impossible for a Neophyte to ever attempt the trail again. Eraa couldn't quite believe that Crasta would sacrifice that chance, even at the cost of his life. He realized as he looked that Crasta's beacon was gone. Crasta's arms were nowhere in sight, and the beacon was implanted into the left bicep. If he activated his own beacon, the trainers would interpret it as a call from Eraa for help. They would remove him from the trial.
He reflected on something that his trainer had told him once. 'You can't always leave no man behind. Sometimes, those who are not worthy have to be sacrificed for the good of those who are.'
'Yeah,' said Eraa again. 'They might be able to.' Although Crasta was little more than a head and torso, the prosthetics technicians could work wonders. Crasta was strong. He might survive. But it would be a trade-off: Eraa's career as a warrior for Crasta's life.
And suddenly he knew what it meant to be a warrior.
When he spoke again, his voice was as cold as the wind that was starting to blow.
'They could. But they won't.'
Crasta wasn't able to comprehend what Eraa was telling him. That could be attributed to shock, but Eraa was strongly of the opinion that Crasta wouldn't have understood him anyway.
He never asked Crasta. He never said another thing to him, except for one more word that Crasta couldn't hear.
Then he had lifted his hoof and brought down with all his might, revelling in the strangled scream that he had cut off and the crunch of bone pulping under his foot.
Eraa shook off the memory. After that, he could have walked all the way to the finish. He had run in horror after the kill he'd scored, unable to shake the feeling of guilt. He'd run all night, until he came to a wall. The wall had been nearly thirty feet high, but there had been convenient hand-holds almost all the way to the top. He'd used them and got on top of the wall, where he'd seen some large, incongruous holes in the ground. Before he could wonder as to their purpose, there had been a hiss of released air and he'd felt a blinding pain in his chest. He'd passed out and woken up later to find that a spike nearly five feet long was impaling him near his second heart and had mangled his plasma pistol.
It had taken him the better part of an hour to wrest himself off the spike without causing himself so much pain that he would once again fall senseless. When he'd finally hauled himself off the gore-stained blade, he had had to collapse on the snowy ground and rest. As soon as he could move his agonized muscles again, he'd gotten up, activated his tracker, and kept running.
He had known he couldn't last forever. His joints were frozen stiff, and the cold air on his open chest wound was paining him terribly. Besides that, he hadn't eaten in four days. He dropped onto the ground now, mentally reviewing the series of events that had gotten him into this.
He tried and failed to pull himself up. He was just going to die here in the snow. He wondered if it would be frostbite, infection, starvation or simple fatigue that killed him. Or, perhaps more honorably, another Neophyte, such as the one his strained eyes suddenly spotted against the snow. This trainee was very tall and thin. He stood nearly eight and a half feet and was starved in appearance, and that alone was enough for Eraa to recognize the Neophyte as Orna Sam, Eraa's brother.
Eraa tried to make some kind of noise to call for help, but the air he sucked in was so cold that he choked on it. In too much pain to raise his arms, he realized with horror that is figure was almost completely covered in snow. Unless Orna stepped right on Eraa, he would never notice him. And with Eraa in the condition that he was in, the weight of another Sangheili on him could easily kill him.
But Orna was turning around. Orna had raised his head and sniffed the cold air. Then, recognizing his brother's scent, he was nearing the place where Eraa lay, nearly frozen to the ground. He looked at Eraa and coughed loudly, apparently trying to conceal a laugh.
'Wow,' said Orna, coughing furiously. 'Wow.'
Eraa managed to inform him, still choking on the freezing cold air, that he was a son of a Sharquoi.
'And you,' said Orna, now not even trying to hide his laughter, 'are one lucky bastard.'
Eraa groaned in pain as Orna fired his plasma pistol at the ice starting to trap Eraa. The snow and ice melted away under the intense heat of the pistol, and Eraa managed to sit up. Orna rummaged in his rucksack, removing a small injection pod. Eraa eyed it with distaste.
'You're not actually going to use that on me, are you?'
Orna's only answer was a single quick movement that pinned Eraa's arm to the ground and pressed the injection pod against it. Eraa drew in his breath sharply. He was having a momentary and extremely strange sensation that a Kig-Yar was gnawing on his arm very hard. Gradually, the sensation passed and Eraa raised himself to a crouch, feeling better.
Orna replaced the injection pod and spoke to his brother, as quietly as he could to be heard over the roaring wind.
'You were pretty to close to the final area. Your tracker will have burned out with the cold, but mine is still fairly active. You were headed in the right direction- a dozen miles more and you would have made it.'
'I wouldn't have made it a dozen miles. I was frozen to the ground.'
'Maybe not, but at least you didn't lose your sense of direction. In that case, I probably wouldn't have smelled you at all. It was pretty difficult to discern the scent anyway; you were downwind of me.'
'You said a dozen miles, right?'
'Yeah,' answered Orna. 'A dozen miles. It's about two hours' hard running, but it's cold, dark and you're not ready to run. So I'd say that, once morning comes, it'll be about three, four hours it we maintain the pace.'
'We? You know, we're supposed to do this alone. The trainers told me that this was a solitary exercise.'
There was a flicker of displeasure that crossed Orna's face, but it soon disappeared. 'Maybe I don't feel like doing things the trainers' way for once. These trials are untenable alone. With a wingman, it just might be possible.'
'I probably won't even live till morning,' moaned Eraa moodily.
'Shut up, and stop being so morbid,' Orna snapped at him. It took quite a bit to get calm, collected Orna angry. Eraa had only twice heard that tone of voice from his brother before. The first time, Orna had been very afraid and trying to conceal it. The other time, Orna had been under a lot of stress. Eraa wondered which of the two reasons it was now. Probably both, he decided.
'Come on, get up,' Orna ordered in a much more gentle voice. Get to the shelter of those rocks and you ought to be in the lee of the big boulder.'
Eraa groaned in pain as he stretched his stiff leg muscles. Pushing himself to his feet, he prepared to move into the fury of the wind again. Together, he and Orna ran across the bumpy ground to rest behind the stones that had fallen conveniently enough to be a shelter till morning.
Whatever that morning might bring.