The Priestess and the Warrior - Peace, Remembrance & a Heavy Price Paid
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 18 December 2008, 8:08 pm
The Priestess and the Warrior
Peace, Remembrance and a Heavy Price Paid
Saia turned to the human who'd addressed her, unclenching her mandibles long enough to tersely ask him "what?"
"It may be better for you to go inside," the marine informed her.
She looked away from him, back over to the water and the twisted wreckage of half the Dawn. The beautiful earth sunlight made the ocean sparkle like topaz and only the faint smell of boiling metal hung in the air like a spirit watching the proceedings. The workers who scurried over the hull of the carrier were using their torches to slice through the thick shielded plates. One of them shouted, a mechanical suit lumbering over to help him pry the deck plates apart. Saia leaned further out of the Pelican, her grasp on the webbing hand hold slipping. "Is it him?" she asked the marine, nausea rising in her gut.
"Ma'am, please come inside," the marine reached for her and she sprang from the Pelican's platform, arcing into a dive. She cut into the water like a knife, the height of her dive forcing down into the depths of the sea. Light flickered from within the Dawn as she kicked her way back up to the surface. She thought of every anniversary she put on hold for some ceremony or every mission Orna had taken instead of his full leave. Such regrets seem so obvious at the end.
Propelling herself from the water she moved up the hull, pushing aside the humans who tried to stall her.
Clutching his shoulder, Orna leapt from the Dawn's interior. He blinked in the strong light, casting around to note his surroundings. "Saia?" He sounded mildly perturbed to see her and he hesitated, looking to one of the humans for guidance.
"It's good to see you, sir," the human responded, patting his arm. "There's a dropship waiting to take you to the Silent Guardian for a med check-up."
"Orna?" Saia called his name, approaching him slowly. "Orna, do you hear me?"
He nodded absently, glancing back at the gaping hole in the Dawn's hull. "The Chief, he was in the hangar . . ."
The marine hesitated, checking his HUD for a status report. "Sir. Only half the Dawn made it through the portal," he said, looking to Saia for help. "It's a miracle you survived."
"The Chief," Orna repeated, gripping Saia's arm.
"We'll wait," she assured him, waving the Pelican down. "Come on inside, love. We'll wait for him."
"I have to know his name," Orna murmured, leaning on her shoulder. He ducked his head to protect it from the spray kicked up by the Pelican's descent.
"We will," she assured him, reaching up to help pull him into the Pelican's underbelly. "We'll wait right here until we know for certain."
"Councillor?" the Unggoy head of the house entered the study with a smile in her eyes, her mask covering the rest of her expression. "The Fleet of Retribution has just entered orbit."
'Kristassi hesitated, her fingers poised above the panel she'd been working on. "With the remaining Councillors?" she asked, not quite able to lift her gaze from the speech she had been composing.
"I believe so, Councillor. But I believe there is still a fleet around Earth. The holo-casts are calling it the Fleet of Particular Justice."
She had half risen from her seat but sank back down at this news, tears in the corners of her eyes. "Then . . . the Arbiter?"
"I cannot speculate," the old Unggoy said kindly, patting her arm. "However, I do know that the Fleet of Retribution is not headed by the Shadow of Intent."
Nodding, she noticed an icon blinking in the corner of her screen and she pressed it, watching the glowing specks of light reform themselves into a miniature version of San 'Kanal.
"Ship Commander San 'Kanal of the Carrier Refleciton, flagship of the Fleet of Retribution, wishing to speak with you," the AI announced, while 'Kanal shifted impatiently, the tiny figure shuffling along her mother's desk.
"Yes, I accept," she waved the AI aside, leaning in closer. "What's happening?"
"Your father's alive, the Fleet of Retribution returned to Earth," he said quickly, meeting her gaze. His features softened with a smile. "He's a little bruised, but he'll live. The first thing the Council did was reinstate him as Supreme Commander of the Fleet of Particular Justice. About three ships," he added in an aside, shaking his head. "And the Intent is badly damaged, something to do with High Charity I hear and . . ." he trailed off, leaning against an unseen support. "I was sent here to escort the Council to Sangheili. Hans 'Galatash is with me."
"Is your duty over?" she asked, leaning back in her chair. "We would be delighted to have you and Hans over for dinner."
'Kanal tilted his head to the side, contemplating this for longer than she truly wanted him to. "I suppose this will be my only chance to come planetside," he mused cryptically. "We will be delighted. Shall I . . . inform anyone else of this?"
"No. Family and friends only," she announced. "I'll see you tonight," she added as he reached to end the call.
"Take care," he said, his image returning to the flat projection of her speech. She rubbed her forehead before leaving the study and searching the house keeper out, wondering what sort of a dinner party she could throw when the whole planet was changing underfoot.
R'tas 'Vadum entered the medical bay of the Silent Guardian with a slight limp. He bowed his head to Saia who stood from her chair to greet him. "It is good to see you again, Ambassador, I hear," he added, favouring her with a rare smile. Turning to the Sangheili on the bed, his smile grew genuine. "How are you, Orna?"
"Fine," Orna muttered. "I don't need to be here at all."
"Until your shoulder blade forms a working socket again, instead of shattered remnant of bone, you'll stay here," Saia ordered. "It won't take much longer," she added, glancing at the chronometer.
"It itches," Orna informed her, wriggling as best he could under the stasis field.
"'Kanal reached Sangheili," R'tas informed them "Thought it seems as though the fighting has ceased. We need to send diplomats to the Jiralhanae planets. At the moment there's a blockade."
"I've fought the Brutes for almost my whole life," Orna groaned. "I do not want to keep fighting them. We should allow them the chance to join and if they don't want to, they can back the hell off and stay in their space."
"The humans are attempting to form a coalition, a United Space-farer Organisation was the last name I heard for it. They don't want to join the Covenant, but they'd like for us to join them," she grimaced. "I promised myself I wouldn't talk business."
"Business won't wait." Orna sighed heavily. "I want marines in our academy," he said, closing his eyes. Possibly to avoid seeing R'tas's expression.
"Orna, don't you think - "
"I own half of the Yermo College, I'll do what I damn well please," Orna growled. "I want marines. In our academy."
"Yes, Arbiter," R'tas bowed his head again. "Rumours have reached us of riots in the outer colonies," he added, "I've dispatched some of the Fleet of the Righteous Justice back into that area. The commanders know it well, I felt they would be best suited to the task, leaving the Fleet of Retribution to guard the inner colonies."
"Fine," Orna muttered.
"Thank you, R'tas," Saia said pointedly, taking a step towards the door to show him out. "You've done exactly what Orna would have." As the door closed she turned back to her mate. "Almost."
"He's a good soul."
"I never said he wasn't but I've always said he was far too serious." Pulling the chair towards his bedside she lifted the reports she'd been working on. "I love you," she said abruptly, looking back down at the figures. "And I know you feel guilty, but if I had to choose, I would have chosen you over him any day."
Orna had his eyes closed, but they crinkled as though he was trying to stop himself from seeing. "I had a thought," he whispered. "Of teaching at the college with him by my side. Guest lectures. For everyone, graduates and students. I saw it so clearly."
Saia bent over him, pressing her forehead to his. "I'm sorry."
Reaching into the wardrobe once more, 'Kristassi flung one of her mother's robes onto the bed and dragged her hands over her scalp in frustration. "Does she have nothing casual?"
'Nyahasea popped her head up from one pile of discarded fabrics and clicked her mandibles. "The grey one is still prettiest." She dived back into the sea of tailoring and emerged with a large golden filigree bracelet that 'Kristassi had never seen before in her life. She wondered if some portal to another wardrobe existed under the bed.
"Society crumbles," 'Kristassi mused, staring at the vestments of her mother's life. "Blows away like dust. And we've only got the bare bones left. So we try to dress them up like a corpse, instead of interring them like we ought."
"I'm going to have stew tonight."
Jarred back to earth, 'Kristassi smiled at her sister. "Good. I think the stew will be very nice."
"Who's coming again?"
Turning back to the bed, 'Kristassi lifted the grey and silver sari from its resting place on the pillow. Wrapping the first swathe around her hips, she gratefully accepted 'Nyahasea's assistance. "It's only going to be Hans 'Galatash and one of the ship commanders."
"San 'Kanalee . . . Kanal," 'Nyahasea corrected herself.
"Yes." Throwing the end of her sash over her shoulder, she reached for the silver headband and regarded her reflection with and without it.
"Is that them?" 'Nyahasea cocked her head to the side at the sound of someone moving around at the far side of the villa. She took the headband from 'Kristassi's hands and placed it over her head, scurrying away in a flurry of soft pink Jiralhanae wool. 'Kristassi followed along behind her, with one last swift glance at the mirror. She rounded the corner of the hallways in time to hear 'Nyahasea shriek with delight as Hans lifted her off her feet and tossed her into the air.
"You're too old for that, noble warrior," 'Kristassi said, her stomach lurching as much as 'Nyahasea's must be. "You'll drop her."
Currently dangling the once well-presented hatchling by the foot, Hans brow shot upwards. "I never dropped you."
Behind him, 'Kanal have a sharp bark of laughter. He stifled it with a hand over his throat, but his eyes sparkled. "I should very much have liked to see that."
"Stick around," Hara promised, brushing past 'Kristassi with Liftse, Crai and Kray in tow. "Come on, I'm starving, and we can hardly stand on protocol today. It's not going to be a seven course meal I'm afraid, though the Unggoy have done their best, it's just us, isn't it?"
'Kristassi nodded, hanging back to make sure she seated herself with 'Kanal. "We'll have to put up with my brother's hosting, it seems."
"I'll be sure to lament it," he returned, still grinning.
"These two argued ever since they were little," Hans announced, pointing to the siblings and leaning closer to Liftse.
"It's true." Crai was already ladling out food for 'Nyahasea. "'Kristassi was sick when she was a hatchling, and the boys refused to include her in any of their games. Kray would just run off but Hara always stops to argue."
"Sounds very familiar," Liftse observed, getting elbowed in the ribs for his trouble.
'Kristassi served out worms for herself and for 'Kanal, wondering how the Unggoy had managed so many dishes when stocks had been low. They must have gone to market today and scrounged and used every bit of weight Saia name carried to get fresh worms. "How was my father?" she asked, lowering her tone so 'Nyahasea wouldn't hear.
"Concussion, fractures, but nothing that won't be healed by now," 'Kanal promised. "And the Ambassador has been making slow progress, I believe she intends to return home with the Arbiter until the humans are satisfied. She seems to think that she's done all she needs to assure a profitable future for all." He leaned in closer, dropping his voice ever further. "I heard 'Baromee was planetside. Why would she need to be here I wonder?"
"Well High Charity has been destroyed."
Losing her patience, 'Kristassi set her bowl down. "What would lying to you accomplish, San? Besides embarrassing both of us? It'll come out in time."
"What are you two discussing, so secretly?" Hans asked, peering at them. "Speak up! Old ears aren't what they were."
Having ate more food than she'd seen since leaving High Charity, 'Kristassi found herself on the balcony in the frigid night air. She had come in search of 'Nyahasea and spotted her instantly, in the company of the one other missing soul. Her little sister had San 'Kanal's undivided attention and was explaining the seasons and the contours of the canyon to him. She glanced around when she heard 'Kristassi approaching and sighed regretfully. "You're going to tell me to go to bed," she said.
"It was going to be a suggestion, yes. It's also considered very rude to steal all of a Ship Master's time, you know. In polite society we try to spread the interesting conversation around."
"You said society was crumbling into dust," 'Nyahasea was quick to point out, prompting laughter from 'Kanal. Triumphant, the hatchling folded her arms. "And besides, mother says that anyone who plays by the rules at dinner deserves to be bored to tears."
Taken aback, and wondering what dinner had brought about this comment and 'Kristassi could just hear her mother's sharp tone 'Kristassi pointed inside. "Regardless, it's time for you to go to bed."
Thinking about it for a moment, 'Nyahasea came a little bit closer and reached up for 'Kristassi's hand. "When I wake up, will mother and father be home?"
Seeing 'Kristassi flounder, 'Kanal stepped in. "I don't think so, I'm afraid, but I hope it won't be long."
'Nyahasea accepted this with another small sigh. "Will you still be here?"
"I have to go as well. I expect new orders tomorrow." He met 'Kristassi's gaze over her head. "But I will think about you when I'm gone, like your mother and father do."
For a moment, 'Nyahasea quivered, her fingers tightening on 'Kristassi's hand. "They told me," she began in a quiet voice, "they told me father was my shame."
Before 'Kristassi could think of how to reply, 'Kanal was on his knees beside 'Nyahasea. "It's not true. You should be very proud of him."
"They said I'd be better off dead," 'Nyahasea whispered.
"They said the same to me," 'Kristassi murmured, lifting the hatchling up. "Do you think so?" As 'Nyahasea shook her head, 'Kristassi agreed with a soothing hum. "They're wrong, 'Nyahasea. And if anyone tells you that again you will come and tell me and I shall be very angry with them."
She returned to the balcony a short while after, to find that 'Kanal had breached one of the many stashes of Jiralhanae brandy about the villa. She grinned as she approached him, stifling a shiver. The others had retired, Hans 'Galatash taking the only bed she could have offered 'Kanal. "So you're leaving?" It was out before she had intended to ask him. Accepting the glass he gave her, she pressed it to her forehead.
"I expect I'll be posted near Jiralhanae space." Leaning over the balcony rail, 'Kanal grew sober. "You weren't wrong when you said society was crumbling. I heard about what you did when they came for the Prophet."
Taking a slow sip, 'Kristassi eyed the comfort of the parlour through the windows. "Word travels fast."
Setting his mandibles as though he didn't want to voice his thoughts, 'Kanal stared out at the stars.
"It exaggerates too," she added
"You're a much better diplomat than you are a councillor. You have experience with the Brutes and the Prophets but you're a Saia and you're beyond reproach." Straightening and looking at her directly, 'Kanal finished his drink. "If I am posted out there, I'd want someone like you with my fleet. Goodnight, 'Kristassi."
"Ship Commander," she said, smiling. "I'd offer you the daybed in the parlour but I don't think you'd take it."
He shook his head. "I've been away too long already. My ship will be missing me. But thank you. I think this will be the last moment of peace for some time." He bowed before leaving and 'Kristassi remained on the balcony, savouring the last of the brandy.
"I don't like this," Saia announced. She was sprawled over a Jiralhanae pelt in one of the private suites on the Intent. The Engineers had done their job well and the ship was clean and safe.
Orna looked up from the holo screen and took a quick stock of the room, trying to guess what was offending his mate. She looked comfortable enough, her work scattered around her. In fact, he thought she looked quite contented, calmly going behind the backs of humans and Sangheili alike to create a trade alliance that would last longer than any political making-nice. "I give up."
"You're working," she said, as though it was obvious. "You're barely back from the brink of death and you're sitting there working."
With a click of his mandible, Orna began saving the little work he'd managed. "What's your excuse?"
"Force of habit." She rolled onto her back and stared out at the stars framed by the soft purple lighting of the oval window. "'Baromee tells me that 'Kristassi is preparing to leave Sangheil soon."
"Leave for where?" Orna asked, closing the final document he'd been working on. As he stood, he caught sight of his armour shining in the corner. A shudder of anger surged through him, rapidly becoming familiar.
"I have no idea." Watching her mate as he left his work and came to join her, she narrowed her eyes. "I don't know if she will even tell me herself."
"We'll be home soon." Orna lay on the rug and stared up at the stars. "We'll be home very soon." Pushing her forehead against his, Saia hummed under her breath, her fingers playing with the deep fur of the pelt. It was like this that R'tas found them when he arrived to announce the time. Orna donned his armour quickly, his hands only shaking a little as he touched the shined metal. While Saia remained in simple robes and a small headdress that was nothing like the formal attire she would have worn if Priestesses still existed.
In the corridor, Saia joined N'tho and Usze, walking with them as Orna led the way to the transport. As Supreme Commander, Orna knew he ought to have worn his ceremonial armour, but nothing fit him like the old silvery shoulder plates of the Arbiter's final dress. Like Saia, when the fires came, he had not been hardened by the experience, but stripped bare. In many ways, the Prophets had been correct. A divine wind had swept over them, and like on Sangheil in late summer, it had brought the flames behind it to scorch the rocks and devour the life.
This was not the same Orna 'Fulsamee who had joined the academy hoping to claim some honour for himself, for his unknown mother's Lineage. He was barely the same Orna 'Fulsamee who had climbed from the wreckage of the Dawn. He had seen good souls die, and he had seen some die who deserved it.
He knew loss. Seeing the 117 carved into the hull plate, roughly embedded in the Earth's soil, he knew loss well. Saia met his gaze over the heads of the humans gathered to remember the dead and he crossed his left mandibles. She responded in kind.
The sword of the prophets. The ender of wars.
The leader of the Covenant.
He shook that last thought from his mind, listening to the gunfire echoing over the flats. Hood was watching him, intent on a meeting, or to chase him off this planet. He glanced around as N'tho and Usze approached, the sunset glinting off their armour and making his eyes ache. Usze went straight for the marines he knew, while N'tho hung back, smiling none the less when one human approached him with an extended hand.
"Supreme Commander," Hood coughed, walking towards him with two armed aides following along behind.
"Arbiter," Orna corrected. "I was stripped of my rank and I don't acknowledge the council."
Hood's eyebrows arched but he made no comment, looking instead to where Usze was participating in a human ritual, huddled together with several smaller marines. "I remember how this war started. What your kind did to mine. I can't forgive you. But you have my thanks, for standing by him to the end."
Taking his hand, Orna bowed his head.
"It's hard to believe he's dead."
Saia was approaching the Phantom, leaving her human companions behind as she slipped into the shadows. Orna tilted his head backwards, looking up to the Intent and the promise of home. Did he really refuse to acknowledge the council? It was the first he'd heard of it, but it rang true. The council were nothing, they had never been anything. The power was all wrong, held by the wrong hands. And now he could change it, not as the Supreme Commander . . . but as the Arbiter?
Hood was trying small talk, he ought to reply and commiserate over the fallen companion. All the same, his son had died in this war. Sent to his death by people like Truth and Hood, while Orna had known Spartan 117 better than any commander who thought he was just a soldier with exceptional kill rate. Known him but not known his name. He looked to Hood and nodded. "Were it so easy."
Jiralhanae planet Thunder
Age of Rebirth
Spuria rose from her chair slowly, staring at 'Kristassi through a dark matt of hair. "What guarantee do I have that anything you say will be upheld? Do you even know who's in charge of your planet?" she asked, clenching her fists and resting them atop the table.
Behind 'Kristassi, the other Sangheili bristled at the perceived insult. 'Kristassi shrugged her shoulders, drawing the drafted agreement towards her. "Well the Arbiter is my father," she said.
Spuria glanced back, her eyes narrowing. "I met your mother once," she said, straightening the Chieftain sash around her shoulders. "After the first agreement was drawn. She visited my planet on a tour of force I think."
"I'll ask her about it," 'Kristassi responded pleasantly.
"Yes I tried to kill her. She took it very well. I was sentenced to death." Spuria laughed, a full throated Jiralhanae roar. "If your father's government stays around, maybe we will be able to work together. But not with the humans."
Standing, 'Kristassi clasped the documents to her thorax. "You may find it difficult to live without them," she said, ignoring Spuria's snort of disagreement. "Until next time." Tightening her fingers around the edge of document viewer, she waited for Spuria to exit the bunker, followed by her guards.
"Ambassador?" Usze stepped forwards, his plasma sword's hilt still clasped in his hand. "The Ship Commander wanted a report the moment the Jiralhanae left."
"Then shouldn't you be communicating with the patrols?" she asked, leaning on the table to annotate her notes. Her report would be seen by the Arbiter and his Parliament, and in a less official capacity by the Ambassador to Earth who was in the middle of a troublesome lawsuit regarding the legality of establishing trade between two bodies who had no idea of how to recognise each other, despite the fact that trade was doing so well. Not that 'Jalahass seemed interested in the oncoming legal difficulties. She seemed more interested in corresponding frequently with 'Kristassi regarding the unification of the now fragmented Covenant. So much so that 'Kristassi wondered if her mother wouldn't rather be doing this than dealing with the argumentative, but ultimately useful humans. Everyone agreed with Saia 'Jalahass these days. It was her daughter who was considered the long shot, still negotiating with the Jiralhanae on the borders. What an odd young Sangheili she was.
Usze gritted his mandibles. Sent by her father, he had been quickly assigned to every mission she had and she couldn't shake the feeling it was a ploy hatched by 'Kanal and the Arbiter to make sure she was never too far out of sight. It could be much fun for the war hero though. He stalked off to check with the reconnaissance unit and confirm that the Jiralhanae contingent was gone. She retreated to the grav lift, knowing it wouldn't be powered up until the risk of the Jiralhanae overtaking it were completely minimised, and sat down to inform the Ship Commander of the day's progress.
San 'Kanal's hologram didn't seem to have slept since she'd left him, and she wouldn't be surprised. He frowned up at her before releasing an explosive sigh. "Are you coming back?"
"Soon. She seemed . . . prepared to do business, if I'm going to be optimistic, and I feel like being optimistic today."
"Good." He leaned against something unseen and raised a glass to his mouth. "See you soon then."
"See you soon," she responded cheerfully, shutting off the communication as Usze returned. As much as she felt sorry for him, she wasn't going to make his job any easier. If the family was spying on her, well her mother would have to find gossip some other way. Grinning at Usze, she indicated the grav lift. "When are we going back?"
A human helmet with faded green paint and more than a few bumps and scrapes had pride of place above the fire grate in Saia's villa. The orange visor shone when the flames danced off the wall. Everyone who entered this room remarked upon it, how it stood out from the Unggoy clan paintings and the Jiralhanae pelts that were kept despite their politically incorrect nature. Mjolnir they were told.
It had taken a few months to obtain, a few favours promised, but it was an old helmet of a man who had once been called 117.
Saia passed it by, raising the bottle of brandy to it in deference. Pushing the door to the veranda open with her hip, she clinked the glasses off the bottle to draw Orna's attention. He glanced around, his head tilting to the side as he read the vintage scratched on the glass. "Where did you get that?"
"Hans. He had a private stock which the physician said I ought to confiscate. It was me or Fera 'Talsamee and I thought we deserved to celebrate."
"Celebrate what?" Taking one glass from her, he held it out for her to pour the bright pink liquid.
Crouching to set the bottle on the floor, Saia raised her glass to his. "To your becoming the Arbiter."
Suppressing a smile, Orna leaned against the railing. "Do you remember the large festival, with the fireworks and the show of banshees and the entire fleet orbiting Sangheil? Do you remember that speech you agonised over?"
Scowling at him, Saia shook her head. "I don't mean your new appointment, dear, I mean the first time," she said. "In front of everyone." Laying a hand over the brand concealed under his loose shirt, she sighed softly. "When the world was it's darkest. I think we should celebrate that."
"Okay . . ." Narrowing his eyes, he raised his glass and tipped his head back, drinking as she did. He took the bottle up and poured a second glass. "May I ask why?"
His mate contemplated the second pouring. "Some might say the Forerunner work in mysterious ways. And I chose to save myself, to save our family, and those we cared about. I disowned you then."
"It was for the best."
Knocking back the second drink, Saia nodded, pouring again. "I know. But still I did that. And you never disowned me, not when I was accused of heresy, or when the Hierarchs wanted me gone, or when I took risks that endangered all of us."
Orna cut her off by pushing his forehead against hers, sighing against her scalp. "That was different and you know it."
"Perhaps." Peering up at him, she blinked a few times before pouring another glass. "So I'm celebrating that. You, Orna 'Fulsamee, became the Arbiter on that day. And I acknowledge that, I acknowledge you."
Orna smiled. "Thank you, Priestess, for the unnecessary, but appreciated gesture."
"Well I can think of a better gesture," she said, rocking back on her heels and grinning. Waving the bottle between them, she pointed to the lights of the city in valley below. "Your parliament slumbers, like your youngest daughter, the Unggoy are off duty and the soldiers at rest in the docks, spending their pay. The traders are making business, the faithful recouping, and the humans and our galaxy is at peace and is safe. For tonight at least, we have some time to ourselves. Come here."