The Priestess and the Warrior - Shorn in Half
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 31 October 2008, 2:14 pm
The Priestess and the Warrior
Shorn in Half
Graeme leaned back in the Sangheili designed seat, his feet dangling off the floor and his shoulders sliding down the smooth surface. 'Kristassi was perched neatly on top of hers. With the swivelling seat reversed, her backwards knees were accommodated for. He watched her as she drummed her long fingers off the control panel. She stared out of the viewport at the heaving space port they had landed in. Bulbous, brightly coloured Covenant ships remained with their docking tethers leading down into the seething mass of people walking between brightly covered stalls and merchants.
"It won't be long," she murmured, more to herself than to Graeme. "That stall over there, the one with the chequered cloth, used to sell the sweetest sugared fruits. When I came here to meet mother or father off a ship, we would buy some."
Graeme nodded appreciatively, even sitting up straighter to see the stall in question. "Can I ask something?"
"Hmm?" She glanced at him, then nodded. "Ask."
"What's attractive for an Elite? I mean all those guys out there," he waved to the masses, "they look all equally strange to me."
Turning to face the odd little human, 'Kristassi curved her mandibles in a smirk. "Are you planning on making an acquaintance?"
"Thinking ahead for marketing," he responded, grinning at her.
"It's difficult to say, I suppose. The traditional concepts of beauty have changed. We Sangheili favour a flat skull," she pressed a hand to her own skull, which was level.
"Are you beautiful?"
Blushing, 'Kristassi ducked her head. "I've been told so. My father's good looking. My mother is pretty I suppose. Um . . ." she tilted her head to the side, wracking her memory for every Sangheili she'd ever considered attractive. "I like slender mandibles, my mate had a broad thorax and . . ." she trailed off, watching Graeme from the corner of her eye. "I think you would be better discussing this with those who specialise in our culture. I can only tell you my preferences."
Graeme's eyes narrowed but he smiled and nodded at her. He continued to watch her until she looked away, back to the tableau outside. Even then she felt sure he was still watching her. Perhaps it was a human thing. She could feel her skin prickling nonetheless. The short flight had not endeared the human towards her. He made the air feel greasy. She longed to pop the hatch and feel the dry trade winds on her face. To calm her skipping heart beat she accessed the computer's databanks and the five classical pieces that seemed to be included with any software that had a playback facility. Her own runabout had a complete collection of Unggoy Rebellion era holtpo music, which her mate mocked her about relentlessly. Or used to.
"This is beautiful. It sounds almost like something from our databanks," Graeme was saying, closing his eyes as he listened. "Yes it's very sweet, very haunting, absolutely beautiful."
And would be more so if you shut up, 'Kristassi reflected, gaze falling upon the door lock as the readout bleeped. "Stay here," she ordered, rising from her chair and taking a pistol from under the console. The gun's barrels sprang apart and glowed as she removed the safety. She crossed to the door, placing a hand on the panel and waited with bated breath.
"'Kristassi? It's Hara."
She smiled at the sound of her older brother's voice. For her the loss of Karte had registered so much more than the loss of 'Lyueem. Much of 'Kristassi's early life had been in the convent, raised by her many poorer aunts and seeing her mother once a day, if the day was uneventful. 'Lyueem had been a passing presence, deeply involved in being a Priestess. When her first rites had gone so tragically wrong, 'Kristassi had been too old to join the Priestesses, even if she had wanted to. Karte was training, so was Hara and Kray, and she was alone, left defenceless without an institution. Truth and 'Talsamee had been there with their politics and she trained for the Council from then on. But while her parents retreated from their cause to lick their wounds they isolated themselves from her. And it was many years later, after Karte's heart breaking death, that her two remaining brothers brought her news of the birth of their youngest sister. Her brothers had attended her bonding ceremony, and not long after her father destroyed the sacred ring and it seemed as though all was lost.
Hara grinned rakishly when she opened the door. He was dressed plainly in a rough sarong and kaftan, looking much more like a traveller than a decorated warrior. If Graeme had wanted an idea of Sangheili sexual ideals he needn't have looked further than this example standing before him. The spiker slung over his hip only helped his rogue persona. He was well known as a heartbreaker, but less well known for being hopelessly devoted to an Honour Guard former Honour Guard, 'Kristassi reminded herself who quite sensibly refused to commit himself until Hara's wild ways ended.
Hara hooked elbows with her and then bumped foreheads in a sibling greeting. "You look awful," he commented breezily. "Greetings," he added to Graeme, barely batting an eyelid. "So this is your precious cargo?" he asked of 'Kristassi. "From your message I thought you were smuggling a Prophet in."
"What do you mean?"
Removing a cloak from his satchel, Hara tossed it to Graeme. "Come on, we'll pretend you're an ill hatchling."
"Wrap it over your head, like that," 'Kristassi told him.
"Some people are calling for a cull of the Prophets. Crai 'Browdee has formed up a volunteer group of Honour Guards and they're protecting those that are left. But there are some former Guards on the other side too."
"Is Liftse among them?" she asked, concerned.
"Which side?" Hara asked darkly, thumping the side of the ship with his fist. "I told him we needed protection at home, but he laughed that off."
"Who needs protection?"
"'Nyahasea," Hara said, as though it was obvious. "And the servants at the house, the Unggoy. Mother had 'Browdee protect them, but he's satisfied that Kray will do it. No one has come close to harming us. We're more holy than the Hierarch ever were. But Liftse, Forerunner damn him, thinks that there are still some Prophets who need protecting."
"Don't you remember Solitude?" she pulled Graeme's hood further up over his head to cast his features in shadow. "He was good to our family, and to many Sangheili."
"Let's not talk politics, little sister. I presume that since you had me send for Lekl 'Baromee that this matter involves business."
"That it does." Following him into the streets she helped Graeme climb into the hovering selkie hardly an inconspicuous mode of transport. It was another of their father's and a top of the line personal transport vehicle. "I'll drive," she added, taking the controls.
Hara frowned at her. "Are you sure?"
"I am not having you driving up those mountain roads," she scolded him. "And besides, I've never driven this model."
The mountain villa had been purchased after Saia 'Jalahass and Orna 'Fulsamee had been bonded. When Orna had spent a considerable sum on the vacant building the society gossips had gone wild. Would 'Fulsamee squander away 'Jalahass's fortune? Impossible, it would take generations of poor spending to come to that conclusion.
Now the villa and its surrounding grounds was the statuesque dream home of any Sangheili. From the entrance, 'Kristassi could see the canyon stretching off into the distance, the balcony along the villa's north face hanging out over the yawning crevasse. The curving outer walls were lined with tinted glass, glistening against the bare yellow rock like a diamond half buried.
"Now this is impressive," Graeme announced as he threw the blanket back into the selkie's interior. "Cold though," he noted, wrapping his arms around his torso.
'Kristassi tilted her head back and took a deep breath of the sharp air.
"Feels good, doesn't it?" Hara murmured beside her, a smile gracing his handsome features. "Hey!" His tone warmed considerably and 'Kristassi turned to see a young hatchling running from the door.
"'Nyahasea," 'Kristassi murmured, taking a step backwards as her sister leapt into Hara's arms.
"Hello," the little Sangheili said, waving at her.
"Hello." Extending a hand to brush over the downy skin on 'Nyahasea's elbow, she couldn't help herself smiling. "My name is Saia 'Kristassi, I'm your sister."
"I know," 'Nyahasea sounded almost scornful at this explanation. "There are holos of you in the house." She turned back to Hara, pressing her mandibles against his shoulder and squealing in delight as he whirled her around. "I missed you, Kray said you might not come back!"
"Did he now?"
"And he said that if I didn't eat my dinner mother wouldn't come back either."
'Kristassi hesitated, catching sight of her other brother in the doorway. "Kray!"
"Wonderful," Hara drawled, reaching the warm insides of the house. "I leave you to look after her and she's traumatised."
"I'm not," 'Nyahasea protested, wriggling out from Hara's grasp. She clung to his hand still, eyes widening as she looked Graeme. She came up to his abdomen.
Kray rocked back on his heels, crossing his arms. "The Unggoy are worse than useless. They're barely cooking meals."
"Yes, how dare they react to the greatest schism our culture has ever known," 'Kristassi remarked sharply. She crouched beside 'Nyahasea. "Your mother and father are coming back," she said, placing her hands on the hatchling's shoulders. "They miss you very much and want you to be brave."
'Nyahasea leaned into Hara's thigh and sucked on one of her lower mandibles for a moment. "I'm not scared," she said defiantly. "Kray said I should be, but I'm not."
Glaring at her brother again, 'Kristassi pushed him on the shoulder. "You'll be a wonderful father. Is 'Baromee here yet?"
"Yes, she's sleeping." Leading the way into the parlour, Kray collapsed onto one of the daybeds, calling for an Unggoy. "Can I leave now?"
"No," Hara growled, taking a seat and allowing 'Nyahasea to curl up on his lap. "We're staying together until mother and father come back."
'Kristassi eased herself onto the Jiralhanae pelt on the floor and felt her limbs turn to lead as though a switch had been thrown. All the weariness of the past few days caught up with her and the thought of sleep was almost too much to resist.
'Baromee swept into the room, her short Lekgolo silk kimono being the only garment she wore. Graeme's eyes widened and he averted his gaze. 'Kristassi didn't bother correcting any social misdemeanours, letting 'Baromee's quick business speak wash over her. Soon, Graeme was joining in, arguing or agreeing, 'Kristassi wasn't quite sure.
"Hey," Hara nudged her with his toe.
She blinked, surprised to find that she had dozed off. Her brother was standing above her, holding 'Nyahasea in his arms. She too was sleeping, a little drool seeping onto Hara's tunic.
"Sleep in father's room," Hara advised. "It's free."
Too tired to argue, she clambered to her feet and pressed her forehead to his to bid him a goodnight. She did the same to 'Nyahasea, though she slept through the gesture. Her parent's room had changed somewhat since she'd last seen it. The glass wall that looked over the canyon was shaded with several holos, Hara's promotion ceremony, 'Nyahasea when she was just hatched . . . and 'Lyueem in her Priestess garb, Karte in his armour. The circular bed had a patchwork quilt on it, the greens and blues identifying it as having been made by Sangheili traditional methods. 'Kristassi stripped off her clothes and crawled under the covers, noticing a holo of herself in a Council ceremony on the bedside table. Wrapping the quilt over her shoulders, she drifted off to sleep.
Scooping a handful of snow off the ground, Orna pressed it to the underside of his mandibles, feeling blood seep into the cool compress. He whirled, dropping his hands to his carbine and firing at the approaching Flood. The decaying body lumbered backwards. "Move!" Orna roared at the Chief, the words hurting his raw throat.
"Don't let this ring be the end of us, Chief!" Cortana's voice echoed over the radios as the Chief picked himself up off the ground, his armour shaking as he brought himself upwards.
"Come on," Orna growled. "Come on . . ."
'Kristassi awoke to Hara crouched over her bed. He placed a hand on her throat to stifle any noise she made. "Quickly," he murmured. "We have . . . we have a problem."
His sombre face sent chills straight down her spine and she flung the covers aside, clambering off the bed. "What's the matter?"
Hara handed her the skin suit she'd been wearing. She noticed that he was wearing his maroon armour, sans helmet, and a plasma sword hung on his hip. "Justice," Hara said darkly. "They want it."
"Who's they?" she asked, tugging her suit back on. The stench of her own sweat repulsed her.
"Half of Sangheil."
In the corridor she was met by Crai 'Browdee, seemingly so exposed without his Honour Guard uniform. He wore battered blue armour, borrowed from some Sangheili who was miraculously as large as he was. He greeted her with a gruff grunt, lowering his plasma rifle as he spoke to her. "Keep away from the windows."
"Where's 'Nyahasea?" 'Kristassi asked, raising a hand to stop Hara from hustling her away.
"In the servants quarters with the Unggoy, it's safer."
"What's happening here?"
Hara and 'Browdee exchanged a dark look before Hara took a deep breath and met her gaze. "I told you Liftse was guarding a Prophet. He had to bring it here. They want to hang it."
"He endangered all of you," 'Browdee murmured. "But his only other choice was to let them tear Deliverance limb from limb."
Placing a hand over Hara's forearm, 'Kristassi nodded. "He did the right thing." As her brother looked as though he was going to argue she shook her head. "He did the right thing, Hara. Deliverance deserves trial for any crimes he may have committed."
Ducking his head, Hara leaned in closer. "They will burn this place to the ground before they leave without him."
Led to the pyre.
"Is the Smoke in the hangar?" 'Kristassi asked, ignoring the treacherous inner voice.
"Yes, but they cut off access," 'Browdee reported, standing to attention. "We have Deliverance in the parlour because if they breach the perimeter, we'll be able to lead them away from the servants quarters, where the Unggoy, 'Baromee and your human are."
She nodded. "They're at the front?"
Burned on the pyre long ago.
"Then take me to them," she said, forestalling Hara's complaints with a raised hands. "They won't go by themselves, Hara. If worst comes to worst, you take 'Nyahasea, the human and 'Baromee and you get to the Smoke, do you understand me?"
"No," Hara ground his mandibles together. "I refuse."
"Kray can't do it, you know what he's like. You could." She pulled him closer, bumping foreheads. "Go now. Go."
"This could all be for nothing," he whispered. "You know that . . ."
"We paid too heavy a price for it all to have been for nothing." She stepped away from him and nodded to 'Browdee. "Let's go. Now."
The Honour Guard who had accompanied her mother on so many missions led her through the house of her youth towards the front entrance. She could hear the steady chanting of her people, a rumble that shook the vases on their stands as she stood in the hallway. Kray and Liftse stood at the windows, fearsome guns aimed through the glass. Outside it seemed only to be a mass of bodies, grey and brown Sangheili, Unggoy eyes glowing underneath.
"Open the door," she murmured.
Kray glanced to Browdee before obeying, and the three soldiers stepped out first, invoking further rage in the crowd. The hot red anger of the crowd rolled over 'Kristassi like a wave, singing her skin. She stepped forwards, raising her hands. "I'm unarmed," she shouted, her voice scraping her throat. "I'm unarmed!"
"Burn the Prophets!"
"Stop!" she called out to them. "You'd undo everything we've ever achieved to claim your vengeance. Deliverance will pay for what he's done. He will pay in front of all of us. Sangheili. Unggoy." She saw two hulking forms in the midst of the crowd. "Lekgolo! But it has to be in front of all of us!"
"Who are you?" someone shouted.
Her pride stung and she wondered if her ego could have grown any bigger. "I am Councillor Saia 'Kristassi," she shouted into the mumbled roar of the crowd. "I am an official of your government. You will heed me."
"Councillors! You're no better than Truth!"
"My family is dead!"
"Do you forget our family?" she hollered back at the distressed female. Pointing a talon at the individual, she shook her head. "Do you forget the name of my sister? Of my brother?" She placed a hand on Kray's shoulder. "My family is in this building, they're laying their lives down to protect - "
"To protect a Prophet! You're traitors like the rest of them!"
"To protect our society!" she countered, whirling to see that anonymous commentator. "If you mete out your punishment on Deliverance, then you turn yourselves back into what we were before we rose up. Is everything you see abhorrent? Did our belief in the Forerunner . . . in the Covenant . . . did it bring us nothing?"
"You can leave!"
"Let 'Fulsamee's family leave!"
"Safe passage," someone closer to the front added.
"No." She drew herself up to her full height. "We're not leaving. This is our home. We are waiting here for our parents to return. When Saia 'Jalahass returns to her children after forging peace with the humans. When Orna 'Fulsamee returns to us after bringing Truth to justice. We will be here in our home. Our family will remain here!" She was shaking now, blood dripping from her palm where her talons were cutting into her flesh. "I won't have them return to find that all they fought for has been ripped apart by those thuggish individuals who felt the need to pass some time." She stared around at the crowd, feeling the cool breeze blow in from the canyon. "Kray," she said in an undertone. "Go to the Unggoy, tell them to start boiling tea, now." Raising her voice once more, she addressed the crowd who were beginning to mill uncertainly. "I know some of you have come a long way. We'll do our best to offer you refreshments. Let it never be said this house refused hospitality." Was it her imagination or was the crowd beginning to break up. "I will also authorise the use of our own vehicles to help some of you return to the valley."
"Councillor?" One of the Unggoy raised its hand.
"Yes, matriarch?" she asked, recognising the paint on the creature's head.
"What provision will be made for us?"
"For the Unggoy?" she repeated, floundering in the sea of expectant faces turned her way. "The Covenant . . . the Covenant has had an important role in protecting the Unggoy . . . however . . . it may be said that some Unggoy have been exploited. Some of you may know," she added, raising her voice again, "that my mother has always insisted upon fair wages for our house staff. Our Unggoy house keeper is paid equal to what a Sangheili would earn. Fairness . . . partnership. That is what the Covenant should represent."
"And inheritance laws?" asked a young male Sangheili.
"You're talking legal and social overhaul," she said, stepping aside to allow the first of the servants to start passing beakers around. It looked as though every cup, mug, glass and carafe in the house had been commissioned into service.
"I inherited nothing when my mother died," snapped the young Sangheili. "I had to join the army or live on the streets."
"You know my father has set up many funds," 'Kristassi nodded along to his plight. "I myself campaigned for a change in the law, you may know that it is my younger sister who will inherit, as when I was born and named I still had an older sister. Her death, a tragedy, also meant that I and my brothers were cut off from the Saia fortune. 'Nyahasea is now in charge of our wealth should something happen to our family. We know the system is not fair. We also know that it has its roots in our history, we can't simply throw all that away." She stepped off of the porch and onto the dirt road, reaching her people in a stride. "What else?"
Gunning the ignition on the Warthog, Orna sailed the gap, the wheels whirring over the thin air between them and a long, sticky death. He didn't dare look behind him to see how the Chief was coping. The first time the Hog had tumbled he had thought it would be their end, until he saw another, dropped by the Dawn, and he had sprinted for it while the Chief righted the other.
His Hog hit the deck with a scream of torn metal and he vaulted from the wreckage, stumbling to escape the incoming approach of the Chief. Metal howled again and he twisted to see a Scorpion escape its bindings. Lurching behind crates he huddled as the tank slid into his refuge, the buffer of the reinforced storage crates. Hauling himself over the Scorpion's tread he glanced back for the Chief, nodding to him before heading for the bridge. His lung ached with the effort of the run, the recycled ship's air drying his throat. Static discharges ran along the length of the bulkheads, leaping to his armour and flowing over his shields. He collapsed into the pilot's chair, taking thruster control from Cortana and pushing the Dawn into the portal. The blue light played over the dark entrance way.
"If I don't make it . . ."he murmured.
You'll make it.
He clenched the arms of the chair as the static crackled around him, burning the air to cinders.
"I'll miss you."