The Priestess and the Warrior - Sangheili Rampant
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 13 August 2008, 3:32 pm
The Priestess and the Warrior
Orna grunted as the Phantom landed heavily on the deck of the Shadow of Intent. He raised a hand to ward off the Chief, aware that the weight of that armour would crush him, but the Spartan's reflexes were good: he barely shifted.
"Arbiter, the Ship Commander wants to see you," announced the deckmaster as the Pelican doors opened. The little Unggoy leapt backwards as two Engineers drifted past him, heading for the Pelican.
"Yes, of course," Orna said, turning his head to watch the others come out with him. "So long as he doesn't jump before our human counterparts agree on what to do," he began, getting an appreciative laugh from Johnson.
The Chief lifted his head fractionally before Orna had the wind knocked from him by another Sangheili pushing her forehead up against his and pressing her hand against his thorax in the most intimate gesture a Sangheili could make. Usze whooped crudely, while N'tho spluttered with shock. Around them Sangheili were laughing or cheering, the more prudish turning away to avoid the moment. Orna didn't care. He pressed his own hand over his mate's ribs, breathing in the smell of her though she was admittedly more singed and less clean than she usually was. "I don't know who to thank," he whispered, mandibles brushing hers because of their closeness.
She giggled. "We need new Gods, love."
"I thought you were dead." Pulling away to check she wasn't, he caught sight of Fera 'Talsamee behind his mate and growled, a hand reaching for his weapon.
He hesitated, unused to being addressed as such, and he felt Saia's hand withdraw. "Don't," she murmured, before turning to face their daughter.
"'Kristassi." He gaped at his Councillor daughter, shocked that he hadn't recognised her, for she had been there all along. Her usually dark skin tone was so flushed with blue and purple around the neck she looked like a Sangheili twice her age. She had lost her headdress and the fore-arms of her armour, the rest of it scuffed. Orna realised the silence was stretching on too long and glanced to his mate for help.
"I am afraid we have lost our son-in-law," she said to him, her voice respectful though her eyes burrowed the message into him. He was supposed to act as though he cared about the son of a kiggari who had helped 'Talsamee and Truth spirit their daughter away.
"I am sorry for your loss. Both of you," he amended for 'Talsamee. "I would not have had it that way."
"R'tas is waiting," Usze said to him, shrugging regretfully.
"Come, Saia," he began, using her name regardless of protocol.
"I can't," she pressed her forehead against his again. "Go. I have to stay. The councillors," she added under her breath. "Go. Go."
"Arbiter," Usze pressed.
"Our children are alive," she promised him, stepping away to join the Councillors. He glanced back at her as he was dragged away and she was struck by how old he looked. She smiled at him, not feeling as confident as she hoped she looked. She was aware of the silence in the hangar as the warriors filed out, 'Talsamee placing one hand on her daughter-in-law's shoulder. The older Sangheili leaned in to murmur something and Saia felt a prickling of annoyance. 'Kristassi met her gaze.
"Mother," 'Kristassi began, her voice coming out gravelly and hoarse.
"I'm here," Saia responded automatically. Her mind was racing ahead of her, trying to build a picture of how the Council had been arranged before High Charity had fallen. "'Kristassi, how many Councillors live?"
Her daughter blinked, glanced to 'Talsamee, then shrugged. "I can't say. There are ten on board, rescued from the Sacred Ring and the transport I the transport I was on," she forced the words out with barely a hiccup.
"We need to convene the Council, we're in danger of allowing the military too much power." She caught sight of Sen standing at ease, watching her much as her Honour Guard used to. "Sen, it would be a great help if you could round up the Councillors on this vessel. I don't think we'll be here long," she added to 'Talsamee, hoping the older Sangheili might give her more help. "Can you find out where the other Councillors are? I'll sort out transport for all of us."
With her orders given out she retreated to a display that the deckmaster showed her. He logged her into the system, the AI recognising her queries and working away to flag up the individuals on the other cruisers. She wished for a personal file to make notes in, or even an aide to voice her thoughts aloud to. Applying a history to each name on the screen taxed her mind, and she was sure she had confused one of them with their predecessor.
"'Jalahass?" Sen returned, grave faced. "You were right. All non-essential personnel are being moved off the Intent, we are to pursue Truth."
Nodding and clamping her mandibles down on the protests, she closed the screen down. "Do you have the Councillors?"
"Excellent, can you please - " Orna returned to the hangar deck, pausing only to seek her out. " the Councillors," she continued, a little lost as Orna headed straight for her. "See they're all on the same dropship, thank you. Orna, what's happening?" She grimaced as he pulled her away from Sen, further into the corner. "Tell me."
"We're following Truth, to the Ark," he hissed. Checking over his shoulder, he stiffened as the Demon walked in. "Get to Sangheil. Go there and stay there, we'll stop Truth. We'll stop the Flood."
"How?" she whispered, taking him by the arms. "Orna, how will you do it?"
"Their construct," he admitted, the prospect evidently not giving him much hope. "She is advanced. The . . . the Chief trusts her."
Her head snapping backwards, Saia stared at him. "You're trusting the Demon? And a construct? Orna, what's gotten into you?"
"A little faith," he muttered, shaking his head. "Please go home."
"What if I wanted to come with you?" She dismissed it off his look. "There's too much to do. I can't leave yet."
"The Councillors?" he guessed.
"Saia 'Jalahass!" Sen shouted over, waving his arm. "You have to leave now!"
Closing his eyes, Orna let his forehead touch hers, briefly. "The Hope of Reflection is staying behind to help defend Earth against anything else. She's an older cruiser, solid though, like the Solemn Thunder. They know who you are now, but how long . . ."
"How long I'll still be important?" she guessed.
"This is your opportunity to get home."
"And this is your opportunity to put down your armour." Satisfied by his silence, she made to move away, surprised when he caught her again. "Orna, please don't make this harder . . ."
"Bless me," he said quickly. "Demon, come here!" He shouted aloud, gesturing for the Demon to approach. "Indulge me, both of you."
"Bless you with what?" Saia asked, eyes wide as the hulking great metal clad form of the Spartan came to a stop in front of her. The helmet swivelled to look at Orna, before returning to Saia.
"Anything, I don't care." Orna crouched, pulling the Demon down with him. Saia had the impression that the Demon allowed this, rather like an adult allowed Hatchlings to pull on their arm.
Shaking that disquieting thought away the Demon should not have anything soulful about him she placed a hand on each of them. "You should have done this when I still had a faith," she muttered.
"Do it while we still have time," the Chief retorted.
Suppressing a grin, she sought inspiration by looking to the planet outside of the force field. "Peace," she began abruptly. "Resting place. You two are warriors of your peoples, upholders of faith. Not the blind faith that we would have believed, but faith in our souls and in our own ability." She glanced down at her mate. "This betrayal was a long time coming. And these allies a fitting friend to fight by our side." Relinquishing her grasp, she stepped backwards. "Now I have to go. Demon . . . I hope you find what you're looking for."
The helmet snapped up, the faceless visor staring at her. The gauntleted hand reached up for hers and she accepted it. "You are a soldier," she murmured, staring at him. "I see that in you, but your loss is . . . Orna fight for everything he has. You fight for everything you didn't have." The helmet turned away from her and the Demon rose to his feet. Saia turned to her mate. "Orna. Come back safe."
He nodded. "Don't change everything while I'm gone."
She couldn't look back as she headed for the dropship. "I'm only going to redecorate."
The face of the surviving Councillors were coloured with disbelief, even scepticism as she climbed into the Phantom. One went so far as to step aside, Scel 'Henidae curving her upper mandibles and turning her head away to murmur to her neighbour, "I've seen Unggoy with more honour," she hissed. "You can bet High Priestess 'Kianall would have died rather than leave her convent."
Glancing to her predecessor's daughter, Saia forced herself to smile reassuringly. She wondered if the old High Priestess could have known, when she had taken her vow of privacy to atone for a mistake she thought she had made, that the ramifications would still be affecting her family. She wondered if Truth had known that ''Kianall's slow assassination would have offered Saia this position of power, or if Truth had hoped being a High Priestess would overcome Saia. Certainly Truth had expected the bloodless hero of the Jiralhanae rebellion would have joined his Honour Guard. Hans 'Galatash, mate to the High Priestess, had sponsored Orna 'Fulsamee and what a perfect ending it was to the story. It was heart warming that Supreme Commander 'Galatash's daughter was going to join with the urchin who had distinguished himself.
No one would have suspected that the Forerunner would intervene directly to change the course of that ceremony. And when the Sangheili gathered to watch it on the holo-screens, it was the first daughter of Sangheil's richest family who was joining hands with the hero of the poor. They loved that more. The Prophets couldn't argue. Truth couldn't touch Orna 'Fulsamee, couldn't force him into the Honour Guard. Saia 'Jalahass was well placed to become High Priestess when Fera 'Kianall finally succumbed to Truth's poisoning.
But Fera 'Talsamee was left broken hearted. Saia didn't think the Councillor had ever stopped loving her stolen mate.
The Councillor was leaning backwards in her seat, eyes closed as the Phantom powered away from the Shadow of Intent. 'Kristassi sat beside her, one hand clasped over her mother-in-law's. Who was reassuring who, Saia wasn't sure.
The note of the Phantom's engines changed as it was escorted into the belly of the Reflection by a trio of Banshee's. Some of the Councillors looked a little ill, showing their fear of space travel when not in their expensive sporty ships. She thought of the Bottle of Smoke Orna's prized baby. Even that would have been too old for these Sangheili. She doubted that they would spend hours tinkering with it like Orna did.
Saia jumped at the greeting. Closest to the door, she was too close to Jen 'Konenkee's enthusiastic shout. He stood on the deck of the Reflection, arms spread wide to better show off his shining unmarked armour. When he saw her, he changed tact, clapping his hands together to summon two Unggoy.
"Saia 'Jalahass! Your family will be delighted to know you are well. Escort her to some chambers, suited to her status," he ordered the Unggoy closest to him. "Make sure she's comfortable."
"I'm comfortable here," she snapped, raising her hand to stall the Unggoy.
Jen 'Konenkee stepped forwards to help Fera 'Talsamee from the Phantom. He held her arm as she managed the large step down onto the deck. "Well I'm afraid you will have to entertain yourself, 'Jalahass. We have an emergency convening of the Council."
"Which I'm coming to," 'Jalahass said firmly, keeping her voice low as she made her own way off the Phantom.
'Konenkee turned, forgetting his considerate act as he stepped forwards into her space. "You are not a Councillor, 'Jalahass. You are not a Priestess. You are not a military advisor. You are not coming." His leaned closer to her, showing his teeth.
"I may not be a Priestess any longer but I am undoubtedly a part of life in the Covenant and I do have tactical information."
"And if I may," one of the Unggoy interrupted. "But Saia 'Jalahass has long had the support of the Unggoy Matriarchs."
Ish 'Manatee came to stand behind 'Jalahass, his head held higher than usual. "Not to mention the Kig-Yar Monasteries, which Saia 'Jalahass worked hard on her whole career."
"The Kig-yar have not joined us," 'Konenkee snapped. "And 'Jalahass also worked in close coalition with the Hierarch."
"I would not have been a very good High Priestess if I didn't," she said in a clipped voice.
"My mother is too modest," 'Kristassi announced, her hoarse voice cracking with the effort of speaking loudly. "That so many Sangheili escaped High Charity is because of my mother. The convent has always supported those incapable of supporting themselves. Many Sangheili are alive because she risked her life, her position and her honour to provide shelter for those without family." She shifted under the studied gaze of the other Councillors. "She is no traitor. She has fought Truth all my life."
"It's true," Fera 'Talsamee murmured. "And if anyone should be punished for supporting him, it ought to be me."
"That is not the point," 'Konenkee said to her softly, his expression changing as he looked to the other Councillor. "You are a Councillor."
"A post bought with money, like all ours. My mother is here because the Covenant loves her and she loves the Covenant." 'Kristassi averted her eyes when Saia looked at her. "We need her more than she needs us. She could overturn our fragile government with a word." Even as she spoke, the Unggoy were nodding.
"Then let her sit in," 'Konenkee relaxed abruptly, shaking his hand in her direction. "I have more important things to worry about. Come, my friends. Food and drink will be provided for us, I have a room arranged. We must start work now, friends. We are so far from Sangheil."
Saia fell into step with the others, grateful to find Ish 'Manatee locked in on her left side. She had never thought much about the Councillor. A perpetual bachelor, not for lack of a dowry, he was thought of as a simple soul who was never going to cause trouble for anyone. She liked Ish enough, had invited him to dinner parties when she needed a space filled by someone inoffensive. She hadn't counted him as an ally. He walked beside her now with his shoulders dropped low, as though he was about to walk into battle. Likewise, 'Kristassi had her head close to her chest, claws extended.
'Konenkee had evidently been planning this meeting for longer than Saia had. He had retrofitted one of the mess halls, arranging the tables in a long line and allowing for Sangheili style benches to sit on. It was a significant change from the Council chambers on High Charity, where the Prophets had styled the chambers in their own way, making for an uncomfortable session. Along the table military style rations were set out in the plain metal bowls that were a trademark of the Covenant army. Saia's own stomach grumbled in sight of the worms and she heard some of the Councillors sighing in relief as they saw what was expected of them. Wine and water was set out in decanters, more wine than water, and nothing more flavoursome than either. Catching the little Unggoy before she sat down, Saia leaned forwards to speak quietly. "Can you fetch us tea? We'll need something to clear our heads."
"I was told not to," the Unggoy murmured. "I'll get it now."
Taking a seat near the head of the table, and having a silent fight with another Councillor for it, Saia took a quick head count. Eighteen Councillors were present, and herself. Some, like 'Konenkee, were in better condition than those who had escaped High Charity or been imprisoned on the Sacred Ring. She wondered how they'd got out and could have kicked herself when she realised that she had told her Honour Guard, Crai 'Browdee to evacuate everyone he could from her Convent. Many Priestesses had friends or family involved with the Council. 'Konenkee was likely only here because of her.
The little Unggoy had worked fast and several entered with fine clay tea pots, no doubt taken from the Ship Commander's personal store. They were greeted with delight by the Councillors who were making themselves comfortable and any proceedings were delayed as the Councillors unanimously dealt with their needs first.
"Fellow Councillors," 'Konenkee said at last. He had not eaten, evidently having sated himself beforehand. "I believe we have one goal here today. We must return to Sangheil, centralise our government, and focus on repairing the damage done to our people."
Saia spread her hands on the table and pushed to her feet, her limbs feeling like lead. She chose not to look at 'Konenkee, instead focussing her attention down the row of Councillors. "Our people consist of more than the Sangheili. Only a handful of Lekgolo followed Truth. The Unggoy are divided. The Kig-Yar may be a lost cause, and the Jiralhanae, but there are civilians there too."
"I knew this would happen," 'Konenkee muttered. "Let us discuss this now, then, friends, if we must. We are Sangheili. We must care for our own!"
"We are lightyears from Sangheil," Saia snapped back.
"And these humans are our last line of defence," 'Manatee added. "We would be cruel to leave them."
"Ish 'Manatee is correct," an older Councillor spoke up. "We are committed to this planet."
"Why?" 'Konenkee shrugged. "This is a dangerous place to be. The portal is here."
"Should our fleet lose we are lost anyway," the Councillor continued. "I know more than the rest of you about this Flood, my son was one of those to escape the first Sacred Ring." He glanced to Saia for a moment, eyes narrowing. "He knows about the Flood first hand. Should the Flood escape to the rest of the galaxy, we are all dead."
"We must assume the Flood will not escape," 'Konenkee said firmly. "Or all this is for nothing."
"Agreed," the old Councillor continued. He remained sitting down, but his presence was a sink hole in space, captivating the audience. "But that is not a reason to flee back to Sangheil. There is no reason to return to our homeworld. Even if we choose to protect our own species above and beyond any other, we are spread out over four main planets and a dozen other colonies that are mixed. Not to mention the smaller presences we have on maybe twenty other worlds. Our space is vast. We governed from High Charity before. There is no need to run. We can rule effectively here." The Councillor folded his arms and waited for someone else to speak.
Saia 'Kristassi rose to her feet, waiting for 'Konenkee to acknowledge her. "I for one believe we have to protect those races who sided with us." A general murmur of assent greeted this and 'Kristassi sat down. Another Councillor, a young male, leapt up to second.
"Fine," 'Konenkee snapped. "We stay here. We rule for those left."
"Do we?" 'Kristassi asked, her gaze darting towards him. Sheer loathing seemed to fill her for a moment as she rose to her feet once more. "I will be the first to admit that I was never a ruler before. I voted for my own reasons, not for the good of the races I supposedly represented. I bought my status, with money hard earned not by me, not by my blood. I am everything that should be weeded out from this system."
Saia stared at her daughter, a hollow feeling rising up in her throat. This was not the 'Kristassi who had advocated belief in the Forerunner, who bent over backwards to accommodate Truth. Saia suddenly wished she had known her son-in-law better. After all, he was the grandson of Hans 'Galatash. He couldn't have been all bad.
"What are you implying?" Neth 'Theanalass asked her. "My family has held this seat for generations."
"Precisely!" 'Kristassi interrupted. "It's wrong! All of it! Wrong! My mate," she sagged against the table. "Only one of us could reach the transport ship. He said I could do good. But if I died, he would have had nothing!"
"Saia 'Kristassi is grieving," 'Konenkee said soothingly. "I am sure she doesn't mean what she says."
"I'm sure she does," Ish 'Manatee murmured. "But that is not the matter at hand."
"We need to think about what is happening now," 'Konenkee agreed. "I propose a strategic withdrawal from human space. I believe we are over extended. I am concerned that the humans will use this opportunity to strike at us. By withdrawing, by solidifying our defensive abilities, we can return again to finish them off."
"I disagree," Saia said quickly, realising too late she had overstepped the mark. It would have been better to let her allies tackle this. Still, now she was committed . . . "We are not going to attack these humans. We are allies now. We won't betray them. Maybe they will join us."
"Join us?" spat 'Konenkee. "Why?"
'Talsamee rose to her feet, clasping one hand over the back of her neck. "My family's riches come from mining, now we may be an offshoot of that branch of the family, and like Saia 'Kristassi I bought my place here with money that was not my own. However, I have continuously used my position to advance the rights of my family, my aunts and cousins who contribute to the familial wealth. With this . . . schism . . . we are weakened, financially, economically. We took heavy losses during the Jiralhanae Rebellion and we have been fighting to put up with an influx of Jiralhanae workers, including the Council funded subsidiaries to promote Jiralhanae abilities. Now the humans have a fully functioning infrastructure. They are a whole new market, one that if we open to trade we will stand to make a good profit. For almost an entire Age we have been gearing our trade for war, first with the Jiralhanae, then with the humans. The growth is unsustainable. We can either keep fighting with the humans, we can absorb the humans, or we can work with and against them, promote competition and save our own businesses." She gestured to another Councillor further along the table. "Ili 'Lananee will be a better judge of internal markets than I am, he has long since ruled over the Ministry of Commerce with an iron fist."
'Lananee stood up. "I concur with 'Talsamee. We need to sustain our market by opening negotiations with the humans. However, I'm not sure how well they will receive this."
"May I suggest we send Saia 'Jalahass to be our . . . emissary?" 'Theanalass asked. "She is bonded to the Arbiter, a prominent figure that the humans can identify. She has a good grasp of our own politics and is currently in need of a position out of our way, if she won't retire gracefully."
"If you think I'm stepping back," Saia began, spittle flying, before 'Manatee tugged her back into her seat.
'Talsamee nodded. "An Ambassador perhaps. But it needs to be an official position, one that carries weight, or we insult the humans and invalidate ourselves as a government."
"How much power should such a post wield?" 'Konankee shook his head. "I'm uncomfortable with giving her power."
The doors opened as the Councillors raised their voices to be heard over one another. The Ship Master entered, escorted by two zealots, a plasma sword hanging on his hip. He sought Saia out, smiling when he saw her. "Priestess 'Jalahass, it is good to see you once more."
Saia grinned. "'Kanalee!"
"Call me 'Kanal, I have given up the honorific." San 'Kanal shrugged it off. "'Fulsamee sent word that I should look out for you. I am sorry I didn't come earlier, I didn't expect you in this hive." He gestured to the Councillors.
"Outrageous!" Scel 'Henidae bridled at the insinuation.
"Shut up," 'Kanal snapped. "As far as I'm concerned you're all traitors. I was one of 'Fulsamee's recruits, I stayed loyal when he was accused. You stood by and did nothing." He turned to one of the zealots beside him and murmured an unheard command. "You Councillors hold no sway over me. It's why I was chosen to stay behind. This crew is loyal to me. And I am loyal to Orna 'Fulsamee."
More than loyal, Saia thought, she remembered 'Kanal well. He had been a friend to Orna when Orna had been at his worse.
"I'm here to consult you, 'Jalahass," 'Kanal continued. "The human commander, Lord Hood, has contacted us. He wants a meeting on Earth, he wants reassurances."
"What if we assign 'Jalahass to that," 'Konenkee said quickly, "fully ratified by the Council."
"Thus granting us legitimacy," 'Kristassi added darkly.
"I'll speak to the humans," Saia agreed. "But I need authority to bargain with, or it is an insult."
'Manatee rose to his feet beside her. "I recommend we keep 'Jalahass's autonomy. As High Priestess she was influential but not part of the Council. This way treads on less toes."
"I can't go to the humans as a spiritual leader," Saia said.
"No, but you can go as Ambassador, and we will listen to you as an Ambassador."
"Providing I listen to you," 'Kanal muttered.
"A military dictatorship is not what we need right now," 'Talsamee growled. "You would invalidate us, Ship Commander."
"You deserve little better."
Saia glared at him, clearing her throat. "This squabbling is getting us nowhere. I'll retreat from your battlefield, 'Konenkee. I'll go to Earth."
The Councillor relaxed, gesturing for his fellows to sit down. "The Council moves to create the post of Ambassador, tied to the Ministry of Concert. We propose former High Priestess Saia 'Jalahass for this post, her previous experience as High Priestess and knowledge of the Ministry's work make her an ideal candidate. Objections?"
None. Saia bowed to the Councillors, retreating from their table and following 'Kanal out of the room. "Watch over them," she murmured in the empty hallways.
"Like a Kig-Yar sniper," he responded, his tone equally dark. "I have a score of volunteers to escort you planetside, Pri-" he cut himself off. "Ambassador." Subtly guiding her through the confusing maze of corridors, he brought her to what she recognised as his quarters. "Everything you need to freshen up is inside," he informed her, standing to attention. "I'll have your new Honour Guard waiting for you."
"New Honour Guard?" she asked, grinning. "I don't want Honour Guard."
"Protectors then," he said, bowing his head slightly.
"Thank you, 'Kanal." Impulsively she reached forwards to brush her forehead over his. "You have been a good friend to my family."
"Well without you, Ambassador, I wouldn't be here. I'd be nothing." He blushed all the same.