Ascension: Chapter 9
Posted By: Dragonclaws<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 24 July 2010, 10:47 am
Stepping into the gravity lift, Johnson soon was faced with the stench of gutted Hunter. Lovely, he thought sarcastically as he stepped around the corpse. They appeared to be on a rock ledge some twenty feet in diameter with a good view down on the base of the gravity lift holding up the Covenant ship, perhaps sixty feet below. Three alien corpses and two Covenant crates marked the area as a former Brute post.
The Elites scurried around, moving the corpses into the Phantom and out of sight. The one remaining Hunter seemed slumped over, and Johnson wondered if the walking tank was feeling grief at the loss of its partner.
"Johnson, Peer Sticky," the Arbiter called them over to the far end of the ledge.
He jogged over to keep up with Sticky's longer strides, and met the pink-clad Elite over by a half-melted crate. "What's up?" he asked, refraining from using the 'sir' honorific. Although he was currently willing to follow the Arbiter's orders to promote the possible treaty, he drew the line at treating a mass-murderer with the same respect he showed his true superiors.
The Elite gestured to a small, bush laden patch of ledge beyond the sunken crate, "Here is where you shall rest, within the shadows of the greenery."
"Yes, Arbiter," Sticky said with fake enthusiasm.
Johnson merely nodded and moved to find a sheltered spot to lie down in the hedges. He watched with interest as another Elite handed Sticky a transparent pyramid with a ball of blue energy suspended in the center portable active camouflage. Recalling the standing order to retrieve any Covenant armor enhancement containers, he made up his mind to procure one if possible.
For now, though, he would follow the Elite's command. He would camp out in the bushes, and from afar he would kill their common enemies: Drones, Jackals, and Brutes. Or Jiralhoony, or whatever the hell the Covenant word is. He would temporarily forgive the creatures who butchered his species in the name of mad preachers who couldn't tell godhood apart from suicide, and he would fight in their civil war because the treaty was what was important. It doesn't mean I have to like it.
Feeling guilty about having started to like the notion of their comradery, he began to silently recite each world destroyed by the Covenant. Harvest, Biko, New Constantinople, Paris IV, Draco III, Eridanus II
Thunder boomed ominously overhead. He looked up, and was glad the ship just covered their small ledge. With the cover offered by the cruiser, they would be kept dry if it began raining. Thank God for small miracles, he thought bitterly. You can't count on him for the big ones.
After placing Jahnsen and 'Pirztikee upon the ledge, the Arbiter's warriors worked hard to clean the area. With any chance fortune, any Jiralhanae would assume their guards had simply returned aboard the cruiser. When the site appeared to have been cleansed ideally, he waved them into the Phantom.
Shortly, it deposited them on the canyon floor beside the gravity lift. Eager to engage the enemy, his Sangheili warriors excitedly leaped out nearly before he even gave a command. They all stepped over to the lift, ready to enter. However, first he activated his radio to speak with the Exalted Courier's pilot, "Stay close at hand, pilot. We will send for you if pickup becomes necessary."
After a short silence, he received a message so filled with interference he had to pause to understand it properly. "Un-stood, Arb-we sh-ke-Zelo-ssionary-ift-our sigh-all times."
Understood, Arbiter. We shall keep the Zealous Missionary's lift within our sight at all times, he translated in his head. It was quite apparent 'Setfethee had not been exaggerating when he had described the communication difficulties faced by Sangheili forces. Anger grew when he thought of the disarray caused by the foul Jiralhanae; it would feel good to spill their blood. "Come now," he said to his warriors, "Let us begin our ascent."
His warriors followed diligently. As one, they stepped beneath the gravity lift. In the space of a single breath, he felt the pull of the lift. As it pulled them high above the ground, he caught a brief glimpse of the enemy Seraphs keeping a holding pattern around the island, before the lift deposited them in its cargo bay. The opening sealed underneath their feet, and they were slowly brought to rest there. He scanned the lift bay: one Wraith, one Shadow, no visible enemies.
"Seal the entrances," he ordered. The Sangheili hurried to perform the task, while Jitji and the Lekgolo formed a defensive formation around him should any enemy spring upon them.
"It is done," the warriors reported almost simultaneously.
"Inspect the vehicles," he then ordered. They promptly obeyed, splitting into teams to study the parts of the vehicles.
"All vehicles fully operational, Arbiter," one eventually reported.
"Your name, warrior?" the Arbiter questioned.
"Officer Owlu 'Derolee, Arbiter," the Sangheili answered.
He nodded, and turned to address all warriors, "Officer 'Derolee and the Unggoy Jitji shall remain here to guard our exit. The rest of us shall advance on the nearby cargo hold. I shall take a team of four Sangheili to infiltrate the corridors leading to the second level of the hold, while one Sangheili and the Lekgolo wait here. Upon my command, the Sangheili, alongside the solitary Lekgolo, shall make use of this wraith and attack the hold. Any questions?" The warriors remained silent. "Very well. Engage active camouflage."
He rested the head of the hammer against the floor, freeing his left hand. He stroked his wrist, activating the stealth technology. He smiled, knowing it would be unseen by his warriors. Honor though it was to wear the ancient armor, it was good to be back in a fully functional suit. He stepped over to a side doorway, the shuffle of hoof beats informing him his squad was close behind him.
A glance at his motion detector told him the Lekgolo was moving outside the view of anyone who happened to be lurking in the corridor. Perhaps the High Councilor will allow the production of enhanced armor for the use of the Lekgolo? While many Sangheili still distrusted them, they had been loyal for Ages. Now that we are to seek war on the Prophets, we must establish bonds of loyalty to our allies.
He opened the door, revealing an empty side passage. "Seal it behind us," he ordered. When it had been done, he moved on to the main corridor. Inside it, however, two Jiralhanae were walking side by side. They stopped, realizing the door had been opened by one under active camouflage.
"Sangheili stealth party," one yelled, raising its crimson rifle and firing into their passage.
He pressed himself against the wall, avoiding the beast's barrage. Similarly, none of his warriors were struck. He noticed a definite pattern in the Jiralhanae's fire, and crept from the side passage and snuck behind their backs.
It is time to see the Fist of Rukt wielded by the Arbiter. He raised the heavy battle hammer and brought it swiftly down, smashing the firing Jiralhanae's skull and bringing its form out of camouflage.
Its partner turned around, and he savored the look of terror which crossed its face. He stroked the hammer, activating its gravity functions. With a smashing blow, he propelled the beast into the side passage and into the sealed door, where it was subsequently fired upon by his Sangheili. He smiled as he heard its dying cries, and brushed pieces of skull off his hammer. Yes, he thought. It has been one long unit, but now the vicious beasts will pay for spilling our blood.
He slipped back into active camouflage, preparing to lead his warriors into the cargo hold, when his radio began to play what he assumed to be a message. However, pure static met his ears and he could discern no voice among it, although he could make out a few tones. "I do not hear you," he called into the radio. "Adjust your frequency if possible." He received no response. Deciding to ignore the transmission for now, he opened the door.
Omin 'Pirztikee was not happy. Not long after the Arbiter had left, the skies let loose a sudden torrential downpour. Although the Zealous Missionary shielded them from the rain itself, the water clattered down angrily not eight units away. The moisture so filled the air, he found it near impossible to smell anything. This excepted, of course, the stench of the Human pretending it was a Kig-Yar. "Damned Human," he muttered under his breath.
"What's that?" it asked in a whisper, its eyes sliding over to look at him. "You have something to say?"
Did it understand our language? he wondered. Perhaps it merely recognized its race's name and assumed an insult? "I have no words to speak to you," he growled in English.
"Look," it began, "I don't like you any more than you like me, but if we hold so much anger against each other it will hurt our functionality as a sniper team. Besides"
"Silence," Omin snapped, cutting off the Human in midsentence. His superior hearing had picked up something the Human's did not. "A Phantom approaches."
The Human appropriately fell silent. They waited, hugging the ground, as the dropship slowly slid into view. As soon as he saw it, he smashed the glass container and let the light-bending energy envelop him. Even with the added camouflage, he felt his insides quiver as the dropship drifted over to their plateau. If spotted, they would be burned away at once by the triple plasma cannons.
He willed himself to lie as flat as possible, while the Phantom hovered ominously overhead. After an eternity, the dropship drifted away to descend in the canyon near the lift. He let out a breath of air he had been holding inside his lungs. Now I shall do my duty, he thought, raising a monocular to his eye. The device amplified the present light, allowing Omin to see the dropship clearly.
"Two Minor Jiralhanae leaving the ship," he reported. "Behavior suggests reconnaissance." The two Jiralhanae spread out, inspecting the area. Jahnsen held his fire, waiting for their superiors to make themselves visible.
He watched through the powerful magnification scope as one of the Minors used a small handheld radio, certain their targets would soon appear. However, the Phantom simply rose in the air, flying back the way it came. The Minors stood on opposite sides of the lift, their crimson rifles at the ready. A trap to draw us out? The Human continued to wait.
After a few minutes had passed, he heard the approach of another Phantom. He momentarily lowered the monocular as he watched it come into view. This one held a large grey package under its belly; he assumed it was a collection of Wraiths. Examining it with the monocular, however, he realized it was actually leathery flesh.
Ten units above the ground, the Phantom dropped what he now realized was a monstrous creature. A loud thump echoed throughout the canyon as the creature impacted with the ground, spraying wet dirt over the canyon floor. It raised itself on its hind legs, reaching a height of nearly ten units. The Phantom rose and flew away, leaving the gigantic creature to slowly approach the lift.
"What the hell is that?" Jahnsen asked.
Never had he seen one, yet he knew its name instantly from his teachings. "That," he replied, not taking his eye off it, "Is a Sharquoi."
"Exceedingly," he answered, wondering how the Human could not have known simply at a glance.
"It's mine," the Human declared, firing its particle beam rifle.
Omin watched as the beam struck the creature's eye, causing it to stumble. It roared in pain, green blood dripping from its wound. His hearts sped up. That would have killed even the most robust Jiralhanae, but this creature seemed to defy such logic.
The Jiralhanae, unsure of Jahnsen's position, began firing roughly in their direction. The plasma splashed harmlessly against the cliff side units away. The Sharquoi growled, a sound reminiscent of Human aircraft, and turned its ugly round head to follow the path of fire. He watched as its healthy eye narrowed, feeling dread seep through him. It sees us!
With a flash, Jahnsen fired a particle beam directly into the Sharquoi's remaining eye, blinding it. Thank the Forerunners, he sighed in relief, as the beast stumbled and fell with a monstrous crash. However, that made him wonder: if the Forerunners guided a Human to help a member of the Covenant, then
the Humans are not wretched in their eyes.
This profound thought was put aside as he watched the Sharquoi stand up once more. It is blind and useless, he tried to reassure himself. Jahnsen fired once more, striking it in the center of its forehead.
Thick green blood dripped from all its wounds, creating the illusion it may have once possessed three eyes. It roared, sending the putrid smell of its breath in their direction, and then drove its hands into the wet ground. Pulling out hands full of soil, it began packing the mud together into a clump. A Sharquoi ritual?
"Well, damn," Jahnsen said with a hint of fear.
"What is it?" he queried, increasing magnification in hope of noticing what the Human had. However, the Sharquoi began to lift the mass of soil, and he had to decrease to see it properly.
"Run!" Jahnsen cried. Engaging his arm-shield, the Human stood and ran to the wider and less dry portion of the plateau.
Unknowing the threat, he decided to trust the Human (what an odd concept) and ran alongside him. He looked back at the Sharquoi, now holding the dirt clump back behind it head similar to how an Unggoy would prepare to throw a grenade. With shocking speed, the beast hurled the dirt clump directly where they had been moments before. It is true, he realized with shock. The Human is in touch with the will of the Forerunners.
His shields took a hit, and he turned to see the Jiralhanae firing at him. He realized the oddly warm rain now covered his body shield a subunit from his skin, creating a silhouette they could see. Fortunately, their accuracy was poor, and he was able to strafe and avoid the shots. He noticed they were not, however, firing at Jahnsen.
Do they think him a treasonous Kig-Yar? he wondered with amusement, looking at the Human hiding behind the golden shield. He then noticed he was trying to aim the rifle one-handed, using his left arm to hold the shield. "That is futile," he told him. "Not even Kig-Yar, Jackals, can do that." It was clear to him the Human was too small to operate the equipment in such a manner.
"Maybe you're right," Jahnsen admitted. "Kick at me. Don't hit me, but convince the Brutes that I'm a dead Jackal."
He paused. Such an act of deception would never be conceived of by a Sangheili. He wondered if that was good or bad. His shields took a hit, and he remembered to strafe again. Well, I doubt I could kill these things with only a plasma rifle, he thought, sharply kicking close over Jahnsen's head.
The Human quickly disengaged his shield and dropped to the ground. Slowly, to not reveal to the enemy he was alive, Jahnsen managed to creep into a sniping position. A flash from the barrel, and one of the Jiralhanae stopped firing. He chanced a pause to inspect the enemies with his monocular, and indeed one Jiralhanae was dead, the remaining one running to hide behind the immense bulk of the Sharquoi, which currently stumbled about the canyon blindly on all limbs.
"Can that hulk be killed with this rifle?" Jahnsen asked of him.
"I do not know," he admitted. "Warriors of my class do not interact with their race. However, I recall from my studies we dominated them through mass use of vehicle deployment."
Jahnsen let out a hiss through his teeth. "Always a new challenge to keep things interesting," he said sarcastically.
"Yes," he agreed, enjoying the odd humor. "The Jiralhanae would not want us to become weary."
He noticed the Sharquoi had managed to walk in a straight line, a line towards the gravity lift. "The Jiralhanae leads it!" He looked through the monocular, but could not see the fiend behind the great mass of the Sharquoi.
"I can't get a shot on 'em," Jahnsen reported, firing instead on the titan's wrist.
It reared back on its legs, roaring as green blood flowed freely from the wound. The Jiralhanae became visible, a streak of brown between the creature's legs. Jahnsen fired, catching the Jiralhanae in its belly and causing it to stumble back where it was out of sight. The Sharquoi brought its wrist to its mouth, and began to lick at its wound with a long black tongue. Its saliva acts as a coagulant, he realized as the blood slowed.
"Do you see it?" Jahnsen asked.
He was about to comment on the Sharquoi's interesting biology before realizing Jahnsen, of course, was referring to the Jiralhanae. He decreased magnification, and spotted their prey crouching behind a small boulder on the other side of the gravity lift. He relayed this to Jahnsen, who fired a shot upon it. The beam sliced into its lower neck, and with a cry of pain, the Jiralhanae fell. "It has fallen."
"Two down," he replied.
Omin started to question the Human's meaning, when he realized the Sharquoi was walking toward the gravity lift. Following the sound of the cry. Jahnsen fired upon the base of its neck, causing it to stumble. However, the creature was strong enough to make it onto the lift's base. "No!" he exclaimed as it began to rise.
While Jahnsen made another futile attempt to kill it, he activated his radio. Adjusting it to send directly to the Arbiter, he called, "Arbiter, a Sharquoi comes for you!" However, nothing greeted his ears but sharp static.
In the gravity lift's cargo hold, Jitji waited beside a parked Shadow. Guard duty was a common task assigned to Unggoy, and he was quite accustomed to it. Normally he would pace back and forth to ensure he would not slip into unconsciousness; however, now all of the tiredness he once had was stolen from him, so he instead stood in thought.
He thought about the Arbiter's story of an Unggoy rebellion, of his kind forced to drink the Milk as punishment for attacking the Hierarchs. An incredible tale. It was no secret his race was disorganized and cowardly compared to the Sangheili, which made the concept of Unggoy assaulting the Hierarchs seem quite doubtful.
"The Prophets created the Milk to bind your race to the Covenant forever," he remembered the Arbiter telling him. "Within it, they wove obedience and honor. However, I have learned facts from the Oracle which undermine what I have been taught. The Milk carries no magic, it is merely designed to feed and humiliate your race." Thus were the Arbiter's words before letting loose their bonds to the food-nipple.
The notion of Sangheili historical teachings being inaccurate intrigued him. If this tale is at least partially false, what else may be? he wondered. He felt a desire to speak to the Oracle himself to ask it about other tales, but this was certainly impossible for an Unggoy even a 'blessed' one.
His recent escape from drowsiness also intrigued him. While he had assumed it was a gift of the Arbiter's, now he became unsure. As the Unggoy in the pit had said, nothing like this had happened before. So how was an Unggoy to know it was the Arbiter and not something else?
It was surely not a sign of being blessed, so he wondered if perhaps the Kig-Yar meat had something to do with it. In forcing us to drink Milk, the Hierarchs could have meant to keep us from it. If the meat made Unggoy more aware, he could understand how constricting their food supply would protect the Prophets from insurgents.
Why would they have attacked the Hierarchs anyway? He wondered nervously if the meat had driven them to madness. Would he go mad and fire upon a fellow member of the Covenant?
If I'm even right about half of this, he chided himself. Maybe I should ask the Arbiter? The thought unsettled him. Maybe another Sangheili?
He walked over to 'Derolee, who stood on the other side of the Shadow, and hesitantly asked, "Excellency, may me ask question?"
'Derolee scowled down at him. "Speak, Unggoy," the Sangheili said, saying the name of his race as though it was profane.
This was a bad idea
"Excellency, why did Unggoy attack Hierarchs?" he nervously asked.
'Derolee closed his mandibles in surprise. Clearly he did not expect Jitji to ask such a question. Finally, he began to explain in a harsh tone, "
In the first Age of Doubt, a large group of Unggoy refused to believe in the Great Journey, even daring to claim it was fabricated by the Prophets as a ruse! Ensnared by this delusion, they launched an assault upon the Towers of Serenity. Before they were quelled, the treacherous beasts managed to slay the 15th incarnation of the High Prophet of Truth! Were there no living High Prophets present to take the Rite of Ascension, the Covenant itself may have ended that unit!"
Jitji trembled from the Sangheili's voice, at the rage used in his words. To think my ancestors could have been so evil
However, it seemed clear 'Derolee did not know the true source of their madness. "Excellency, me know Prophets true," he assured him. "Me not crazy like them."
"Yet," 'Derolee said with rising anger, "You betrayed us, killed several of your brethren, merely to fill your stomach. You have convinced the Arbiter to free your kind from the fidelity of the Milk. Now you question me of the Unggoy Rebellion? What are you planning, Unggoy?!"
"Me plan nothing, Excellency," he insisted, fear beginning to rise. He shifted the heavy fuel rod cannon in preparation to drop it and run.
However, 'Derolee misunderstood and raised his rifle threateningly. "Take care, Unggoy. I could send you to the Shadow World before your finger could even begin to pull the trigger."
This is not going well at all! "Me not traitor," he tried to tell him. "Arbiter see truth, he forgive."
"The Arbiter has taken leave of his senses," 'Derolee responded. "He believes even Humans to be virtuous! I shall not
" He trailed off as the lift plate in the center of the room opened. "
If you doubt your loyalty, know the Jiralhanae shall not be merciful," he noted swiftly, engaging his active camouflage.
Jitji hurriedly activated his own, thankful for the new capability his armor provided. Maybe if I attack the Jiralhanae, Excellency will know I am loyal? To his surprise and fear, the lift's occupant was not any race he knew, but a gigantic grey creature so large it had to squeeze through the lift door! Despite his terror, he managed to notice its eyes leaked the same green blood which coated its right wrist. Attacked by Jahnsen, no doubt.
Its huge bulk scraped the ceiling, and threatened to crush Jitji as it spread throughout the hold. So he did what any Unggoy would do: he fled. Clutching onto his cannon, he ran for the open doorway.
He overheard the sound of plasma fire as he ran. When he reached the safety of the hallway, he looked back to see 'Derolee sitting in the Shadow's turret, firing upon the creature. The creature, pieces of its flesh melting from the assault, reached out and grabbed 'Derolee from the turret.
" the creature rumbled, gesturing toward itself with the claw that clutched 'Derolee. It then smashed the Sangheili against the floor, leaving a nasty smear of purple blood.
Jitji yelped in horror at the sight, and then cursed his tongue as the creature (Drinol?) turned at the sound. I'll run, he thought as the head faced him. I'll seek out the Arbiter and
No, he told himself instead. I shall not run like a cowardly Unggoy, I shall fight and die as a Sangheili would. The Forerunners shall forever recognize me as a warrior, and I shall serve the Prophets themselves in the next life. Drinol's mouth opened, his head rushing toward him as if to swallow him whole.
"Unstoppable!" he shouted the Sangheili war cry. "Aaahh!"
The cannon rocked violently as he fired it, filling his shoulder with pain. The rod flew past rows of sharp teeth to impact against Drinol's throat. An explosive green blast severed Drinol's head from his body, and Jitji leaped to the side as the head flew by to impact the wall behind him.
Slowly, hesitantly, Jitji approached the head. Drinol is dead
by my hand! Amazed he accomplished such a thing, he reached out to touch the thick, warm blood which streamed out of its neck to pool on the floor.
The blood sparkled on his fingertips, its creamy green a stark contrast to the rough blue of his own flesh. Yet, he could see a strange sort of beauty in the liquid. I have killed Drinol, my prey, he thought with a new pride and delight. I am a warrior.