Trial by Fire
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 12 July 2005, 3:28 pm
AN: Inspired by Pinkuh's drawing, here -
Here's a little story.
The Kig-Yar monks whispered hurried psalms when Ali reached the lip of the crater. Their beaks clacked in chorus, their gaze darting between the rocks and dust, anywhere but at the warrior before them.
Because she was a warrior.
The revelation made her laugh. It caught in her throat, the thin air burning the soft tissue there. All that came out was a hacking cough, causing the monks to withdraw in fear.
"Hallowed Forerunner lead us on your mighty Journey,"
Her head snapped around when she heard Honesty speaking. The Prophets stood under the shade of the gazebo, precious oxygen tanks resting beside them. The Unggoy escorting them leered at her, their faces bared in this cursed atmosphere.
"And pray that we not find Temptation, nor Heresy, and do your bidding as we ought," Honesty motioned for the Kig-Yar to approach her. "Bestow on us thine Strength and Glory, that we may better serve your Honour."
She steeled herself as the monks approached, unable to keep her tail from swishing. Their claw like fingers reached for her sabre, their heads bobbing from side to side as she forced herself to hand it over. The cool metal left her hands. As the Kig-Yar took it, packing the blade in the ceremonial Gylan wood box, she felt her strength ebb away.
A blast of oxygen in her lungs was the very essence of temptation right now. Sweat stuck the moulded armour to her skin, and the smell of blood clung to her, heavy and sickening. She eyed the air tanks hungrily.
She had come so far. She would not undo all her good work now for the sake of one, insignificant gasp of fresh air.
Honesty was watching her still, the heavily embroidered purple cloth that surrounded his three-walled tent fluttered in the almost non-existent breeze. Where the draught touched Ali's skin she felt chilled.
"Daughter of the Sangheili," Honesty said, respect colouring his voice. "You have survived the Trial of the Arbiter, what say you?"
Ali stared at him, her chest rising and falling with the passing heartbeats. She knew the appropriate response was tucked away in the back of her mind, but she couldn't think of it. Honesty and his cronies, Hope and Justice, stood before her, waiting.
"As my," she hesitated, choking on the words. "As my Father before me. As his Father before him. I have walked the path of a Warrior."
Honesty lifted his head to meet her gaze, the slightest flash of pride in his eyes. "You have walked the path of a Warrior."
She remembered it now, the words came easier. "As my sons shall do after me," she let them keep their silly sentiments. "I have Honour for my blood and kin."
"Ali." Honesty could never get the Sangheili pronunciation. "You have earned your blood a namesake." As he spoke her new name, her full, honourable name, her heart swelled in her chest.
Honesty smiled fully, spreading his arms. "Come, let us retreat from this dreadful heat." He and the other Prophets were quick to leave the planet's surface, creeping into the shade of the ship hovering close by. With the ceremony completed, they were eager to remove the heavy headdresses bearing down on them.
Ali waited for the monks to move past her. Behind her lay the canyon. Behind her lay the uncertain world of yesterday. As a Warrior, they could not take her Father's claim from her now. Her blood family would not go unfed.
Finally feeling the exhaustion, she had to be carried into the ship's belly.
She emerged from the pool when she heard Honesty enter the room. He called out her name, her new name, and waited politely, for her to come out of the chamber.
Grabbing the sari from the sideboard she wrapped it around her hips, slinging the sash over her should as she went to greet the Prophet. "Many thanks to you, Noble One," she said. "I know I would not even have got so far as to the ceremony without your aid."
Honesty laughed and waved her off. He manoeuvred his throne to rest beside the daybed, watching her. "You survived the Trial of the Arbiter. You were the one who gained the Honour."
Ali blushed, curling up on the daybed and tucking her tail in by her knees.
"So what now? What will the great Warrior do?" Honesty leaned forward, propping himself on one elbow. "Can we expect great things from you?"
Ali laughed, exhaling slowly. "No, no I think my days are done."
"So you win your title and move on?" Honesty said.
"I've got what I came for." She stood and moved across the room to pour wine from the clay pitcher. "Would you like a glass?"
Honesty accepted the drink, but he did not sip from it. He kept his eyes trained on hers. "Back to your little farm?"
"I have my Honour." She did not sit. "And now my sisters have Honour. They can give that to their sons, my blood family is safe. We have our land. I cannot ask more." She tipped her head back and downed the wine. "I will not ask for more."
"When you came to me," Honesty said calmly, "you had nothing. I took pity on you, I got you training, and I secured you a Trial."
"For which I am thankful," she stressed.
"And after all you have been through you will be content to go back to dirt?" Honesty shook his head, mulling over his drink. "I do not believe that of you."
"Then perhaps you do not know me as you ought." The Sangheili's mandibles twitched in poorly concealed annoyance.
Switching tact, Honesty set his drink aside, looking to the stars drifting past outside the window. "I intend to build a city."
Saying nothing for a few moments, Ali eventually had to ask him to continue.
"It shall not be of dust and rock." Honesty seemed to be staring past the stars. "It shall be holy, a great place of learning and wisdom and prayer. It shall sail through the stars as easily as you and I. I shall use the Forerunner ship to power it and it shall be . . ." he hesitated, searching for the word.
"Magnificent," Ali said gently. "It sounds . . . glorious. A kingdom on high."
"Yes," he nodded, glancing at her shrewdly. "You understand vision, Ali. You came from an orphan to an honourable elite Sangheili. I do not think my city shall be seen by my eyes. Or even the eyes of my sons, or their sons . . . but perhaps their sons shall see this glorious holy city." He sparkled at the thought. "And when they do, they can lead our group of races, our . . . covenant . . . to carry on the work of the Forerunner, as is our Holy duty."
"It all sounds . . ." she whuffed gently. "Impossible."
"Impossible?" Honesty asked.
The Sangheili paced. "You would never get the Unggoy to formalise a ceasefire. And Forerunner knows the Sangheili are too proud to accept that any vision other than their own. They say we head to another war." Her green eyes trained on him. "That our civility is breaking down."
Honesty shook his head. "They are wrong. My city will unite all races. The Arbiter has agreed to this, and with him on my side I hold the military factions of the Sangheili in the palm of my hand."
Her tail swished in surprise. She had not thought of the Arbiter as a political tool. Nodding slowly, she said, "but you have no control over the civilians."
"None but that the Forerunner grant me." Truth spread his hands, palms upwards in a gesture of innocence. "But if I had a religious figurehead, a Sangheili with ties to the great estates, the aristocracy. Someone who had earned their respect, yet was not slave to their petty grievances . . ."
"What do you ask of me?"
Honesty smiled. "I intend to establish a convent in my city, with Priestesses. Only Sangheili."
"To keep the aristocracy in line?" Ali sneered. "I'm sorry, Noble One, but I shall not be your pawn."
"This is your part in history!" Honesty exclaimed. He zoomed towards her. "How many times have you railed against the injustices done to your people by the elite? This is your chance to ensure no more of your people starve because their family has earned no Honour!"
She hesitated, clenching her fists, her tail swishing.
"Think on it tonight," he advised, recovering himself. "But remember, not all of your kind can survive a trial of fire like you can." He bid her a good night and left her to her solitude.
She fixed her sari, correcting the line over her hips, though she had no need to. Breathing out shakily, she glanced around her luxurious quarters. A city in the sky sounded tempting enough. But a religious figurehead? When had the Forerunner ever guided her?
Still, someone was watching over her. She had survived the Trial of the Arbiter and now she was being offered a position with more Honour and respect than she ever could deserve. Was that the Forerunners way of suggesting something?
And what could this mean for her family? Ali Jalahass did not like to speculate, but she knew she would take what Truth offered. A holy Covenant of races.
It did not sound such a bad idea.