The Priestess and the Warrior - Touchdown
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 5 May 2008, 1:51 am
The Priestess and the Warrior
And the Forerunner were wise. And knew when to step back. The Forerunner knew to chose to leave the questions for the Impartial. In great need. They cast you as their Arbiter.
Re-entry had hot air blasting through the vents, raising the temperature of the metal. Saia 'Jalahass lay on her back, the air stung with the acrid smell of her formal High Priestess robes burning inside the loose armour she had borrowed. Her skin redistributed the warmth, Sanghelios was a naturally hot planet and her species had the mechanisms to cope with it.
The heavy footsteps of a Jiralhanae guard echoed up to her and she clenched her fists, waiting for him to pass. She caught herself praying that the fans would suck away the smell of her burning clothes. No more prayer, no more High Priestess, no more convent, no more Covenant. Let all that burn away. It would burn with far more flare and notice than her expensive fabrics. The whole galaxy would witness this fire.
The guard passed and she pushed the grate open, wriggling until she fell to the deck. Instantly the cool air wrapped around her, welcoming her as the Prophets preferred it. She pushed her palm up against a socket on the wall, crouching as she heard a beep requesting reassurance. If that guard appeared now, the former High Priestess would meet an ignoble end.
And not now, by all that was never holy, not now. She would never again have to tell a Sangheili mother that she should send her hatchlings to a crèche, because that was what the Prophets told her. She would never again tell a son that he would stand to gain nothing from the estate of his mother. No more idiotic headdresses that damaged the bones in her neck. She would stand up and tell the whole galaxy that she fully supported the actions of her mate.
Her beloved Orna. She redoubled her efforts to convince the ship that she needed this escape pod. Backdoors through the Covenant's battlenet was one of many talents her poor, orphan, treacherous, heretic mate had taught her. Orna 'Fulsamee, son of no one of any import, a Sangheili who had made his way with his wits and skills alone. Even married the eldest daughter of an old and noble family, one that owned half of Sanghelios. She had never pretended to be ashamed of her mate. Not even when he had been blamed for the death of Regret's brother. Not when he destroyed the sacred ring. Never. And if he was dead now, she would still not be ashamed of him, because he had died fighting this battle.
The escape pod opened, the ship remained unaware, and Saia crawled inside, letting the door close once more. She curled against the cool deck, the heat from her limbs being soaked away. Shrugging out of the armour, she scratched her bare scalp. Her long fingers curled around the intricate bracelets over her forearms and she pulled them off one at a time, dropping them to the floor. Each one jingled, rolling towards the window that flared with re-entry fire. The robes flowed around her arms and she ripped the fabric, fiddling with her two belts. The gold one unclipped easily but the broader, ruby studded under belt needed patience. Her maids would help her with this part of the ceremonial garb . . .
. . . she had left High Charity and all that behind, asking her dearest friends to flee. She had begged her personal Honour Guard to return to her home, to find her children. She had evacuated the poor and the vulnerable, she had protected her kind . .
. . . and all this had been done as the High Priestess. Removing her necklace, she ripped a shred of umber skirt and wrapped the platinum up. Her fingers stilled over the silk and she closed her eyes. She had never been more in need of ancestors and forebearers watching over her with the Forerunner. "Fera," she murmured, thinking of her predecessor. Everything the High Priestess had entrusted to Saia was now gone. Saia stripped off her robe, letting it pool like blood spilled in the name of Gods who never were. The shift she wore underneath was woven in the lightest fabrics that the Kig Yar could weave. Even the undergarments she wore could feed the poor.
Tilting her head back against the bulkhead of the escape pod, she closed her eyes and truly, for the first time in years, prayed.
"He's sleeping." The tiny human stood in the doorway, hands on hips as she glared up at 'Vadumee. "You can't see him."
'Vadumee towered over the frail woman. He drew in a breath that expanded his single lung, a classic warning to anyone versed in Sangheili fighting tactics. Miranda Keyes didn't step down. She didn't even flinch. Orna might have assumed she didn't know 'Vadumee was preparing to rip her limb from limb, but he didn't think she was so naïve.
He rolled off of his bed, splaying his palm over the deck. This class of cruiser had been commandeered mostly for Prophets so the living quarters for the commander were small. Keyes had worked from the desk, having to stand to access the panels with Fera 'Talsamee helping her. Two of the human marines had remained with Keyes, though to protect her from the Sangheili or from the Oracle, Orna wasn't sure. The blue orb hummed away while Keyes worked, not interested in the capacities of the Forerunner ship the Demon had stolen away on.
As a gesture of good faith, Orna had removed the sacred armour of the Arbiter. It shouldn't have happened until he had died, and his body would have been entombed anonymously with his kindred Arbiters. He had lowered his bruised body onto the bed and slept, not to prove his trust in this new alliance, but to close his dry, pained eyes.
"Rtas," he growled, heaving to his feet. He ached everywhere. Ballistics fired from Keyes's gun had punctured his shoulder, hastily patched up by his medics.
Fera 'Talsamee whirled when he spoke, lifting her head. Her amber eyes flashed with something and she stepped forwards reaching for him. "No, Orna, you're not well."
Rtas stepped forwards, squeezing past Miranda and causing the marines to shift restlessly. His armour had been buffed out and cleaned. 'Talsamee, by contrast, hadn't removed her cracked headdress. Her silvery armour still possessed blood stains. Orna couldn't help the thought that she was waiting for a holocapture so she could pose for a moment. The caption would be something like 'heroic Councillor, daughter of former Supreme Commander Hans 'Galatash, forges valiant truce with human kind'. She flexed her thumbs on her right hand, reaching towards Orna before Rtas glared at her. He scowled at her, peeling his upper mandibles back. "Pardon me, Councillor, but when I last checked you were nothing more than Truth's pawn!"
"Rtas!" Orna shouted to be heard over the commander's raised voice. He saw Keyes raise a hand to stall her marines. "Politics aside, we have greater problems," he said. "I assume you didn't come here to wake me up." 'Talsamee stepped to the side, her mandibles tightly clenched. Her hand rested under Orna's shoulder blade, the touch light through his protective suit. Orna stepped away from it, raising his head to give him added height over Rtas.
With a sigh that whistled through his deformed mouth, Rtas swivelled to include Keyes in the discussion. "Your Sergeant calls for you. We are nearing Earth and he thinks your codes will be more acceptable to the MAC guns than his." He clicked at her, waiting for a reply.
This would be harder than you or I ever imagined mused a voice in his head, one that had followed him throughout his promising career. The humans have no idea how much we rely on blood, and how little value we place on sweat.
He cleared his throat, clicking back to appease the commander. "I will meet you on the bridge," he said to them. Bowing his head to Keyes he held her gaze for a moment. "Is this acceptable?"
Her pale, featureless face crinkled around the edges before she nodded. If the expression was one of amusement or fear, Orna couldn't tell.
Well done. Accord her an honour that it would be polite to bestow on even me, and take no offence that she does not receive it properly. It rams the point home to all.
He smiled to himself. The inner voice sounded pleased.
The humans left with Rtas, the Oracle following in an absent manner, barely making it through the doors before they hissed closed. The holopad closed down, allowing the purple safety lighting along the walls to cast the quarters in dark shades.
'Talsamee stooped to lift the intricately etched helmet of the Arbiter from the deck. She straightened slowly, turning it over in her hands. "Who would have thought, Orna?" she murmured, drawing the tips of her fingers over the symbols.
Caution urged him to skirt along the outside of the room to the bath. He scrubbed his face with cold water and dropped the cloth back into the porcelain bowl. It unfurled slowly, dirt spiralling away. Dirt from another Halo. A speck of blood that could have been from Tartarus.
He turned to see that 'Talsamee was closer. Evading her once more, he picked up the first shin guard and strapped it to his leg, hearing the hiss as it sealed to his suit. Taking the next, he sat on the edge of the bed, studying the deck instead of meeting her gaze.
"Orna . . ." She crouched beside him, compassion flooding her face. Resting her hand on his knee, she closed her eyes briefly. "High Charity is lost."
"So many ships got out in time." The harshness in his own voice surprised him.
"And so many did not." Her hand tightened on her knee, dislodged as he lowered the armour into place. "She is most likely dead."
Orna waited for that inner voice. Be it his conscience, his inner demons, or even a message from the Forerunners taking the tone of his wife's voice, he had always looked to it in times of need.
The voice said nothing.
"Shouldn't you think of your children?" 'Talsamee whispered, standing as he did. She held his helmet in her hands still. "This isn't your fight, Orna. Your fight . . . our fight . . . it's back home."
"There won't be a home if Truth gets his way." Taking the helmet, he hesitated, looking down at his once betrothed. He softened his voice. "Should I die, would you look after my children?"
'Talsamee moved forwards then, pushing her forehead against his chest. "It pains me to think you need ask." She stepped away, whirling around so he could not see her face. Her decorative armour shone in the dim light, hiding the battle scars.
Fitting the helmet snugly to his head, he made for the bridge.
Miranda glanced around as the Arbiter entered, suited and booted and every inch the enemy. She schooled her face into an impassive expression, returning to Hood's visage with her body controlled. "This is the Arbiter," she extended her hand towards the Elite, holding her breath as she felt his presence. His armour bent the air, much like the Chief's seemed to do. The physical presence of the shield tingled. She had heard marines talk about it, had experienced it herself when an Elite was dying and its shielding gave out. The tangible relief of her own held breath mixed with the soothing of her skin as the ions returned to their calm state.
"I wish I had the time to argue with you, Keyes," Hood said, glancing to his side as an aide approached. The other human was fuzzy on the imager and Miranda couldn't make out the face.
"Do we have permission to land, sir?"
"Southern Kenya, yes," Hood began. He swore as his surroundings shook. "Damn it!"
Orna looked away, scanning the readouts the cruiser was displaying over its walls. Miranda saw his eyes narrowing. "Sir," she began for Hood. "More Elites are on their way, what should we do?"
The Arbiter moved, grabbing the purple armour of a nearby alien. "Name?" he demanded coarsely, reaching out to draw his fingers over the displays. They changed willingly.
This . . . thing . . . had killed so many humans from a bridge like this one. Miranda swallowed.
"Usze 'Taham," the Elite responded willingly, eagerly even. His eyes seemed to glow and the skin on his mandibles flushed blue.
The Arbiter hesitated, doing a double take. Miranda wondered if he was smiling. His expression certainly changed, however indefinable.
"'Taham?" he repeated, his voice growing warmer. "'Taham, are you comfortable with target mapping?"
"Arbiter?" Miranda interrupted, satisfied when he at least turned towards her.
"We can target those cruisers," he said, gesturing to the two depicted over the moon. "We can take them out before they can return fire, if we act quickly. The Dreadnought is too heavily armoured and already entering the atmosphere, we can't - "
"The Chief's on that ship," Miranda told him. "Lord Hood's held off."
"Keyes." Hood's voice was low. "The Chief's about to leave that thing, if you can get down there, you can help him. There are Covenant . . ." he hesitated, glancing down, "Loyalists down there."
"We will help you," Rtas said simply. "N'tho 'Sraom has been preparing a data file for your soldiers. The Loyalists are nothing to us." He latched upon the phrase.
Again, the Arbiter seemed amused by something. He approached Miranda once more, crouching to meet her eyeline. "I will be of more use to you on the ground. Let Rtas command this ship with you. I will go with your marines."
Miranda could felt that crackle again, that jolt of static across her skin. "I need a cool head here," she said. "And you seem to know your way about a ship." As he drew breath to protest, she reached out to put her hand on his suit. It stung for a moment, the discharge of energy, before it settled. "Arbiter. You fought bravely on Halo, but Councillor 'Talsamee told me a little of your history, mentioned that you might have some score to settle with the Prophets."
The Arbiter stiffened, straightening slowly. "Do you know what I am?" he asked, his voice dropping an octave. "I am the Arbiter. I am the Blade of the Prophets. I am all that the Covenant aspires to and I am all that shall be forgiven. I am atonement. I am the dervish of justice and reason that shall sweep infidels and heresy from this earth. I am shamed and I am ascended from that shame. I am also a father, and a mate, and a son of a Sangheili no one cared for. My daughter is dead. I have sons fighting somewhere, sons who will undoubtedly be targeted for who I am. No one, no human, no Sangheili and no Forerunner shall hold me back from my vengeance. I will have the Prophets' heads. I will have Truth's head." He glared at her, his stony gaze belying no sympathy for her mere concerns for her species.
Miranda counted silently, waiting until five. She could feel a smile tugging at her lips. "Well I guess I can't stop you. Take one of those U-Boat dropships of yours and get going. Recover the Master Chief. Take out the Prophets. And Arbiter? Good luck."