The Priestess and the Warrior - Serendipity
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 20 June 2008, 12:55 pm
The Priestess and the Warrior
Saia 'Lyeuum. A daughter. A beautiful, intelligent daughter with wit and grace. A daughter who Saia had spent so little time with.
Placing one foot in front of the other, on this alien planet, surrounded by Brutes, Saia dredged up memories that were fading with time and use. She remembered her daughter's body, rotting on that Gods forsaken planet that she had been murdered on. Saia remembered seeing the pistol in her hand. She remembered seeing the plasma burn on the little flesh that remained, and how her friends had tried to keep her away from it.
Things she had never allowed her mate to see. Not if she could spare him that.
The Jiralhanae reached forwards to push at her shoulder and she stepped up the pace, avoiding the force behind the movement. Her hooves tripped at the loose shale and she groaned, rolling her head backwards on her neck, feeling the muscles pop.
"Not used to this, are you?" Valitous asked her, his long loose gait eating the distance between them. He was walking beside her now, his trailing knuckles brushing over the scrub grass that was took root in the arid landscape. "You are pathetic."
With a wave of her hand, more suited to occasions of greeting her adoring crowd, she dismissed him. "I'm tired. We all get tired."
Valitous laughed, a guttural laugh that echoed in Saia's ears. He watched her side-on, beady eyes narrowing. "You're weak. You've spent your life in a tower."
"Your grasp of architecture astounds me. The convent is indeed built around seven spires."
Shaking his head slowly, Valitous allowed himself a huff of exasperation. "I was too young to fight in the rebellion, but my mother fought, I believe she had a right to. You, Priestess, have spent your life directing people to fight on your whims. When the Great Journey comes, you will receive justice for my people."
"The Great Journey is for devoted mothers," Saia retorted, "is that not what the Prophets teach? Some small heresy of yours. Pray the Forerunner look kindly upon it." She sidestepped Valitous's blow, and sped up to leave him behind her.
She had never thought of herself as a religious soul. She had been very young when she had discovered the Forerunner did not care what she did or whom she talked to. Once, as a child in the Convent, still forbidden from leaving its smooth walls, she had found herself in the great hall late at night. Her mentor, 'Solatta, had retired to bed early, feeling unwell.
It had been after the Festival of the Arbiter. Now, Saia knew that 'Solatta had drank a little too much wine and danced with too many Majors, but she had once been naïve enough to believe 'Solatta's explanation.
In the cool darkness of the vaulted hall, lit only by shivering holographic martyrs, she had found a lone Sangheili sprawled over the steps to the altar. He had a bottle by his side, and was humming softly as he languished in the night. She had approached him, wilfully ignoring the warnings she had been given in the past about Ultras and Honour Guards who might think above their station. She had seen older Priestesses with their preferred rank before. None of them had paid her any attention. She was too young, and their consorts would whisper as she passed that is Saia 'Jalahass and they would keep far from her, lest her family's ire cast a shadow upon their reputation.
This Sangheili had no such care. When he spied her skulking in the shadows he beckoned her over. "Well, little one?" he had asked her, tilting his head as though he had difficulty in seeing her. "Have you enjoyed the Festival?"
She had been so young, she still had down on her neck, she hadn't understood what it meant for him to have a brand over his right mandibles. Ignoring his question, she asked him what he was doing, and curiously, she had added that she hoped he wouldn't find trouble for his activities. She wasn't supposed to be in the great hall, but neither was he.
He had laughed, scratching at the old brand thoughtfully. "Sleep well, Priestess. Run along and don't worry about me."
"You're drunk." She accused him. She wouldn't have done so if she had known he was a convicted murderer.
"Yes I am. But I deserve to be. I have lived another day." Heaving to his feet, his loose robes rustling as he did so, he wavered for a moment before raising his bottle to the ghostly spectres that watched them from the pedestals. "Do you hear me, friends? I have lived while you wallow in the great waiting room for our Great Journey." Taking a deep swig from the bottle, he spilled droplets onto his neck. The bottle had been designed for Unggoy use, with a narrow neck, instead of the widened lip the Sangheili needed to use for their mandibles. Saia smelled the acrid alcohol and backed away, wanting to leave the poor soul alone. He saw her, his attention fixing upon her. "You don't know what service you provide to the likes of me," he said, mocking her with a sweeping bow and his insincere words.
She had always remembered the encounter. A little research on his brand told her the soldier was a murderer, with three unwarranted kills to his name. He had been most likely kept alive because he was a good soldier, though how he had made it into the Convent, she never guessed. When feeling particularly maudlin or heretical, she would think back to him and thank the Forerunner that he had not chosen to kill her. Now she did not believe, she had no one to ascribe the act of good fortune to. It was a moment of serendipity with no one to guide it.
"Hold, Valitous," one of the Jiralhanae said, raising his hand. "Do you hear that?"
Saia didn't. Her hearing was not so acute.
Valitous turned, the echo of his lumbering steps fading out as he stopped to listen. Only Saia saw the grass in front of them ripple, the heads of seed bending as something moved towards them. Saia stepped to her right, clearing the way for whatever it was to the Brutes behind her. Ducking to the ground, she crouched on the grass as a blur of a cloaking shield whipped over her head. The physical attack was unexpected and Valitous tumbled, roaring with fury. His fist connected against metal and the shield shorted out, revealing a special operations Sangheili, the hilt of his plasma sword gripped between his mandibles as he fastened both hands around Valitous's neck.
"Move!" a voice whispered by Saia's ear. Another Sangheili grabbed her arm, tugging her into the long grass. He was bleeding from under his helmet and his armour hissed occasionally. "I don't know what you're doing here," he said, handing her a pistol, "but I hope you can aim." Spinning, he fired at the advancing Brutes and unloaded a whole clip from his Needler. The Brute convulsed before falling, another of the Sangheili task force finishing him with a sword.
The battle was over quickly, Valitous falling last of all. He sprawled on the earth, his eyes rolling backwards into his skull while the black armoured Sangheili who killed him straightened slowly. He was still panting, wiping sweat from the skin that was revealed by his armour. "I don't know who you are," he drawled, his gaze sliding towards her, "but you better have a damn good reason for being here. Captured by the humans? Smuggled after your lover?"
She blinked, staring at the Sangheili. He was handsome enough, his orange eyes would have been very attractive had they not been narrowed with suspicion. His outer colony accent didn't make him sound slow like it did for others, and his fellows grouped beside him expectantly. Wrinkling her brow, she eyed him. "Do I look young enough to sneak after my lover?" she retorted.
He jerked his head to one of his subordinates, who took the unspoken order to leave. Saia presumed he was going to scout ahead. Placing the hilt of his plasma sword on his hip, he extended a hand for her to elbow. "Sen 'Nakomo," he introduced himself.
"'Nakomo?" she repeated, returning the gesture limply.
"I do not go by the Forerunner 'honorific'," he warned her. "What about you?"
"Saia 'Jalahass," she said, and while their minds made the leap from knowing to comprehending, she continued "And I'm not sure what part of my name is the honorific, and which is the Sangheili."
"Where'd you find him?"
Orna caught Commander Keyes' gaze and nodded, knowing she would rather greet her kinsman than him. Besides, he was about to infringe upon the human hospitality even further, and he didn't know how they would take it. The Kig Yar were notoriously difficult for sharing their medical supplies. Perhaps the humans would be the same.
The hangar had plenty of injured humans in it, and a bright red sign for the human health industry was daubed over one corner. He turned to help Usze from the Pelican to find that the diminutive human was already trying to prop him up.
"Hey, Mac!" shouted the human. "Do you reckon an anti-coagulant will work on Uzi, here?"
"Usze," Orna corrected, about to come to the other side of his comrade before N'tho beat him to it. The younger Sangheili's eyes were wide with concern and he looked to Orna for reassurance.
The human that had been addressed as Mac looked doubtful at first, but was already looking through his crates of equipment. "It should do, blood's blood, right?"
"Yeah." Lowering Usze onto an especially low pallet bed, the marine waited to make sure he wasn't about to topple over. "Sorry, what did I call you?"
"It's fine," Usze murmured, "I find your name difficult, Shann."
"Sean," the marine repeated, peeling his lips back in the human version of a smile. "What about you?" he asked, looking up at Orna.
"He has no name," N'tho said quickly, raising a hand to stop Sean from making a cultural blunder. He treated Sean like a child, Orna thought, though not especially skilfully. It was easy to see N'tho had no Hatchlings of his own.
"Here," Mac said to Usze. "Take off your armour. Let's see how this works."
"Wait here with him," Orna instructed N'tho. "Thank you," he said to the marines, turning and loping off after the Chief and Commander.
"The Prophet of Truth's ships breached the Lunar Perimeter. They smashed what's left of the home fleet," Keyes was saying. "Terrestial casualties from the subsequent bombardment were extreme. Truth could have landed anywhere, but he committed all his forces here, East Africa, the ruins of New Mombassa." Glancing to Orna she raised her head in acknowledgment of his presence. "Then he started digging."
While she filled in the Chief, Orna let his mind detach. All his limbs were present and accounted for, working well and not too sore. His shoulder, an old injury that acted up from time to time, was working well in the humidity. He caught sight of a marine working with an Engineer, the purple blob of a creature humming contentedly with itself as it worked. "Are you watching it?" he demanded of the human, pointing to the Engineer as it lifted a human tool and produced sparks from one end.
"Yeah, but," the marine shrugged, "I have no idea if this is good or bad? It left me behind half an hour ago. It brought our generators back up though. Your Ship Commander said we could trust it. He said they only care about fixing things?"
"That is true." Keeping his gaze on the creature's activities, Orna huffed in dissatisfaction. "Be careful. They do not register bugs or explosives. They make sure it works. They make sure everything works."
"Yes sir," the marine responded automatically.
Sir. Trying not to smirk at the human's assumption of command, Orna turned back to those who were in charge. The Chief was waiting, his armour giving no sense of the kinetic energy the creature inside could generate. Orna had seen him rarely, but watched the holovids religiously. He had formed a think tank to combat the Spartans, the Demons of Unggoy legend, something else he would neglect to tell the humans.
The Chief was asking the right questions, briefing himself as quickly as possible on their situation. Orna couldn't have asked for a better soldier. When the lights went down, the Chief was quick to thumb on his torch, his visor glinting as he twisted to look to Orna.
"You are all of you vermin," Truth's visage flickered on screen.
The humans tensed or swore or joked, as their personalities dictated their reactions to this apparition. Orna clenched his fists, digging his talons into the flesh of his palm. He felt his warm blood pulsing against his fingertips.
He would feel Truth's blood pumping under his hands . . .
The humans were quick to regain control, banishing Truth from the room.
"Cocky bastard," Johnson muttered, holding Orna's gaze. "Always loves to run his mouth."
Forcing himself to nod in agreement, Orna made a conscious effort to relax his fists.
"Does he usually mention me?" the Chief asked quietly.
Orna's head snapped around so fast he could hear his neck crack.
"Give the order, we're closing shop," Keyes was saying, brushing past him to reach her marines. She lifted a gun, firing out orders as she went. Orna grimaced, following along behind. Though what good he would be, he wasn't sure. He was just the sword of the Prophets, after all.
"Your mate is out of communication range," Sen said to Saia, dropping into a crouch by the stream. The gravel under his hooves crunched together and he reached into the clear water to run his hands through it. "A phantom will come to pick us up soon."
She nodded as she listened, not paying him much attention. The human weapons that Sen and his team had incorporated into their arsenal looked like a mere military necessity when she had first cast eyes upon them. She didn't think anything of a rifle here or shotgun there. It had been the pride in Sen's eyes when he had told her of this alliance with the humans, an alliance that Orna spearheaded. Easing herself down onto a boulder that received some shade from the tree's sparse foliage, she turned to watch him. "You seem pleased about these humans working with us."
Sen shrugged a shoulder and instead of watching her, watched his team as they cleaned up. "It's a better alliance that the one with the Prophets, Priestess."
"I'm not a Priestess any more," she said, the words tasting of dirt.
"Jalahass," Sen conceded. It seemed grossly informal. "After this you will be able to retire." A grin coloured his features as he thought about it. "Do you have any hobbies you can take up?"
Bristling, she bit back her answers and looked up at the clouds drawing in. "Do you really think there will be an 'after this'?" she asked him.
"It's always been about after this," Sen told her. Splashing his face with the water, he nodded to his soldiers. "Come on. Let's get out of the open." Waiting for her to get to her feet, he extended an arm to help. "You may not know it, Jalahass, but some of us have been thinking along these lines for years."
Gritting her rows of teeth together, Saia nodded. "Perhaps you can educate me back on the cruiser."
The sight of Usze and N'tho prompted a cheer among the marines Orna was with. He glanced back at them as he coaxed their battered 'Hog up the incline to where reinforcements were waiting. The engine sputtered out as they reached their companions, Orna slamming the brakes before clambering out onto the tarmac. The Chief and the others had cleared enough for the Pelicans to land and they hovered among the wrecked signs and shipping crates like kiigg hesitant to perch.
"Sir!" Sean greeted him with a sharp salute. "We're about to head into the city, to take it back from Truth."
Orna nodded vaguely, waving him away. He could see the Chief, staring out over the plateau to the Dreadnought. Whenever the Demon stopped moving, he looked to Orna like a statue.
"Arbiter?" Usze pressed, his voice lower in pitch than the humans.
"We'll wait for our orders," Orna told him. He saw the Chief move fractionally. "Join up with the others," he informed the marines he'd been travelling with. Stay away from me.