Posted By: Natalya Rice<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 9 August 2010, 6:41 pm
The hotel seemed deserted enough for Jason. Most of the other buildings in Vancouver were filled with either marines or Covenant forces. He did not want to tangle with either one. The Covenant would kill him outright, while the marines would force him to fight, and thereby kill him indirectly. Living for as long as he could was Jason's big goal.
The once luxurious interior of Hotel Vancouver was now choked with dust and debris. Though it did not appear as though any fighting had taken place within the hotel itself, errant explosions nearby had taken quite a toll. Jason did not care about that. For the moment, the fighting seemed to have died down. It would give him ample time to find somewhere in the hotel where he could hide out and sleep.
The past night had been a long one. Jason suspected that it had been a long night for just about everyone involved, but he only knew about his own night. It had been an exciting night, what with being separated from the rest of the orphanage and having to fend for himself on the war-torn streets. Personally, he wanted all the excitement to go away. Though, now with the Covenant here on Earth, that didn't seem likely to happen soon.
But that was all in the future, and though it was a very near future that Jason knew he was going to have to deal with, the present was a more pressing matter. The present called for rest, and unless he wanted to fall over from exhaustion he had to answer that call.
So Jason made his way up the gilded steps to the second floor. They creaked slightly beneath his shoes, causing him to slow his pace in caution. The last thing he wanted was to alert anyone else who might have decided to take refuge in the hotel.
Once Jason got to the second floor, he began to search for a room with a balcony. He wanted to be able to keep a watch of sorts on the street below, to be able to look down and see if it was time to get moving. Being caught by surprise was not high on his list of things that he wanted to do.
One door that was slightly ajar caught his attention. Jason peered inside. There was a balcony there all right. But the door that lead to it was blocked off. Someone had turned the bed in the room on its side and moved it in front of the balcony entrance.
Jason slowly opened the door and walked into the room. It was laced with shadows cast by the morning light. He moved through them with a bit of caution, looking over the bed at the street below as he did so. It was still empty. From where he was he could see a good deal of the city. Smoke rolled up from several parts of it, sending a dark cloud into the sky.
Jason kicked something with his foot. He froze when he looked down and saw what it was. A Covenant plasma rifle, it's blue polished surface gleaming up at him. The boy took a deep breath and began to slowly back away.
Suddenly something grabbed Jason from behind and threw him backwards. He hit the opposite wall hard. The blow knocked most of the wind out of him. A strong arm pinned him to where he was, slumped against the wall, and an energy sword ignited just inches away from his face.
Jason's eyes grew wide as he saw just who his attacker was. A Covenant Elite, eight foot tall and clad in white armor, was staring intently at him.
For a few moments, no sound came out of either of the two. Jason was frozen speechless out of pure fear, doing his best to keep calm and not soil himself. The Elite simply looked over the boy intently, studying him. What for Jason did not know. He expected that pure white blade to slice his neck at any moment, simply because the Elite so desired it.
The Elite warbled something. It took Jason a moment or so to realize that it was actually trying to talk to him. It wasn't doing any good though. Whatever the Elite had said was indecipherable to Jason.
"Wha...wha...what?" he stammered out, wanting to do his best to appease this creature and spare his life.
The Elite responded by picking Jason up bodily by his arm, growling the entire time. It kept the lethal blade in the boy's face.
"Hey hey hey!" Jason cried out, grabbing at the Elite with his free arm in an attempt to steady himself. "What do you want? What do you want?"
The Elite seemed to glare at him for a moment or so longer. "What is your name?" it asked, this time speaking in gruff English.
"Ja...Jason Ferris," the boy replied, kicking a little at the floor beneath him.
The Elite shook him once. It was not a terribly hard shake, but it was enough to still Jason's struggles. The boy gulped and kept his eyes focused on the sword that the Elite held. It crackled a little in the great creature's hand.
"Why have you come here, Jason Ferris?" the Elite asked, moving its great head closer to the boy.
"I... I... I was just looking for a spot... a spot to hide in," came the shaky reply. "I just wanted to catch some rest and move on. That's all."
He did not know why the Elite was even bothering to ask him questions. From what he had heard on the reports, the Covenant was not in the habit of taking prisoners, much less questioning at all. It worried him a little. All right, that was an understatement. It worried him a great deal.
The Elite kept looking him over with that same harsh glare. It was too piercing for Jason's liking. He wished that the Elite would think him not worth his time and let him go. It wasn't likely, but he still wished it.
At last, the Elite set him to the ground and let go of his arm. Jason immediately tried to turn and run for the door, but his captor picked him up and threw him towards the other side of the room. He hit the floor hard and winced at the pain.
The heavy hoof of the Elite rested on Jason's chest. He tried to struggle out from underneath it, but the alien simply kept applying pressure in order to keep him where he was. At last, Jason could struggle no more and simply lay back, exhausted, doing his best to catch a breath.
"You are done," the Elite said, leaning down. "Good."
Jason did his best to remain calm. While he did not have a lot of energy, what he did have was busy being used to keep from yelling out in fright. If he yelled, there was no telling what the alien would do to him.
"You are young for your race," the Elite continued, still looking the boy over. "No matter. I will find use for you."
There was no way that could be any good. "What... what do you mean?" Jason stammered.
"If I release you, will you stay and hear my tale?" the Elite inquired.
Had the big alien spared the boy only to tell him stories? This was all very strange. Jason really did not know what to think about it all. He did know though that the Elite was not likely to let him go much of anywhere until he had told the story. The big alien seemed rather forceful that way. Hopefully, once the story had been told, then Jason would be free to run off. The boy slowly nodded his head.
The Elite took his hoof off of Jason, then reached down and grabbed him by the shirt. He dragged him behind the bed, then slid to a sitting position beside him, taking up his plasma rifle as he did so. The alien smelled of scented oil and lacquer. Jason would have preferred to not be so close to it, but he did not think he had much of a choice in the matter.
The Elite stared directly ahead for a moment or so, his eyes narrowed as though he was in deep thought. Jason simply watched the alien, waiting for him to begin his tale. At last, the Elite sighed and started to speak.
"My name is Tras Ikanporamee," the alien said. "I am an Ultra, the highest rank a Sangheili foot soldier can attain."
"Wha... What's a Sangheili?" Jason asked.
"I am Sangheili," Tras replied, looking at the boy with a harsh expression. "It is the name of my race, though you call us Elites." This last part he said with quite a bit of disdain.
Jason nodded to indicate that he understood. Perhaps questions weren't quite wanted. "All right." He looked ahead again and shut his mouth.
Tras turned and looked straight ahead again. "I was a Special Operations officer. My brothers and I were tasked with helping to secure this city. And we performed admirably; according to our station, all without exception."
It couldn't help but cross Jason's mind that this meant the Elite had been killing quite a few humans. The boy tried not to let this development get the better of him and continued to listen to Tras's story.
"But tragedy, fell betrayal, struck us. For Jiralhanae, whom you call Brutes, came down in new ships. Before we had a chance to open communications, their foot patrols massacred us. At first we thought it was a Brute rebellion of sorts. Then, something even worse was realized. The Prophets themselves seemed to support this, for we received no aid when we asked for it. Instead, the Jiralhanae found us from where we called and massacred us there as well.
"All night they have been at this. I do not know how many Sangheili are left upon this world, but I do know that I am the last in this city. For even the ancient and secret ways of communication do not reveal any of my brethren. So I chose to hide in this building, to await whatever might come."
Tras stopped talking now, focusing all his attention on the wall ahead of him. Jason took a moment to let what the Elite had said sink in. "You mean, your own Covenant ditched you?" he asked, speaking up again.
"Betrayed us, yes. Betrayed the sacred Writ of Union in favor of mindless currs. I curse the Hierarchs now for that, for turning away the proud Sangheili race in favor of the coarse Jiralhanae."
The Elite turned and looked at Jason. "But I shall show them another sort of betrayal, a sort similar to what they showed me."
"What do you mean?" Jason asked.
"You should not be here, in this city," Tras stated simply. "It is a battlefield, and the young and untrained have no business on a battlefield. You need to get out, to find your way to somewhere safer, do you not?"
Jason nodded. He could not deny that this was what he needed. Heck, it was what he wanted. Get away from this war-torn place and try to keep alive. That was all he wanted out of life.
Tras nodded and kept his gaze on Jason. "I thought so. And I wish to show that things have changed, both to the Covenant I once knew, and to those who know me as its instrument of swift destruction. You shall be my example."
This was odd. "What do you mean?" Jason slowly asked.
"From this moment on, consider yourself my charge. I shall keep you safe from harm until I see fit to release you. If and when that time comes all depends on how long the Jiralhanae and the rest of the Covenant take to accomplish what they wish."
"What are you talking about?" Jason asked, a bit of fear creeping back into his voice again.
Tras turned around and looked over the bed for a moment at the city outside. He growled at something, though at what Jason could not be for sure. Then he looked down at Jason.
"I am saying that you and I must fight together until my brothers from elsewhere come," he said. "I do not doubt that they will. For I heard, before all went dark, that Truth himself was coming here. And if Truth comes, then they will be sure to follow. For I do not doubt that this has happened elsewhere, this betrayal. My brothers will seek blood for it, his blood. And then they will find us, and we shall be delivered."
Jason shook his head at this. "What makes you think that I am going to go with you?" A bit of courage was returning to him now.
A hard look from Tras threatened to chase it all away again. "Do you think I like it any more than you do? You are only human, and only a young one at that. But I need someone to go with me, someone to watch out for me because in return I watch out for him. By coming with me, you will ensure your own survival."
Jason didn't know what to do. He wanted to refuse this, to throw back all the glassed colonies in-between here and Harvest in Tras's face and ask him just why he should trust him. But he was still too afraid for that. All he could manage was a glare that tried to sneer.
The glare that Tras gave him in return was far more intimidating. "Sometimes one does not know he has sinned until he glimpses the gates of Perdition itself," he growled. "What our sin has been I do not know. But I shall conduct myself in accordance with my best guess."
"What's that?" Jason's voice was more level now. The fear and the hate were beginning to balance each other out.
The Elite turned and looked back outside. "Take the rest you need," he said to Jason, ignoring the boy's question. "When nightfall comes, we go forth."
Jason wanted to press the issue and find out just what the alien was talking about when it said it's "sin". But he remembered how effortlessly Tras had tossed him around just a little bit ago and decided it would not be in his best interests. At the moment, the Sangheili seemed content to let him live and had even said he could sleep. Better to keep quiet and enjoy those few luxuries than speak up and be hurt somehow.
So Jason leaned back against the bed and did his best to try to sleep. It was hard. After all, there was an Elite, a high-ranking foot soldier of the enemy, just a few feet away from him. It would be hard for anyone to sleep in those circumstances, let alone an orphaned teenager. But, soon enough, he found an uneasy sleep filled with fire and whirling plasma swords. It was not much, but it would have to do.
Something struck Jason's foot. He shook his head and awoke with a start. The large form of Tras was leaning over him.
"Night has come," he rumbled, looking up over the bed and out the window. "On your feet, Jason Ferris. I do not wish to tarry here."
The boy slowly got to his feet. The room was significantly darker. By the looks of the shadows outside, the sun had only just set. The sky was still light, but it grew dimmer and dimmer by the minute. Soon, total darkness would descend upon the ruined city of Vancouver.
Tras turned away from the window and moved towards the door. His steps were those of a practiced warrior, carefully measured. He slowly stuck his head out the door and looked down the hall both ways. Satisfied with whatever he did or did not see, he turned back to Jason.
"Follow me," he said. "Do not speak unless it is necessary. Do not attempt to run. If you did, you would not get very far. And even if you did, the Jiralhanae would find you. And I assure you that whatever they would do to you would be worse than what I would do."
Jason did not quite know how to take that last part. The ferocity and brutality of the Elites was well known to him from the reports of the war, while he had not even seen what one of these "Jiralhanae" looked like. Still, something told him that the Elite was not the type to lie about much of anything. He didn't really seem like he needed to.
So when Tras began to move out, Jason followed after him. It was slow following, but it was following nonetheless. The two made their way down the hallway to the staircase. When they arrived there the Elite paused to allow Jason a moment to catch up to him.
"Quicken your pace," he growled. "Go ahead of me down these stairs. I will cover your advance."
The criticism of his speed made Jason glare a little. He did not particularly care for the way that Tras did not seem to see his predicament. Whether or not the Elite saw this in the shadowed light was unknown. In any case, he acted like he did not.
The boy descended the stairs as quietly and as quickly as he could. He about tripped over his own feet in the dark and cursed under his breath. Tras did not seem to make any notice of this, but merely watched the front doors of the hotel. He held his plasma rifle at the ready.
When Jason reached the bottom of the stairs he considered making a run for it. If he could get outside, he might be able to get away. There was some rubble nearby, or so he remembered from when he had come into the building the first time. He could hide there and hope that the Elite would move on. But something told him it would not be that simple. Tras seemed to have taken an interest in him. And Jason doubted that the alien would just let something he had taken an interest in run away. So he stayed put.
The Elite moved swiftly and silently down the stairs now, still keeping his plasma rifle trained on the front doors. Jason simply waited in silence as Tras made his way over to him. When he had reached the boy, he gave him a low growl.
"If you must walk like an oaf, do so quietly next time."
Jason glared but said nothing. Tras moved forward to take the lead again, motioning the boy after him. Jason moved along, inwardly grumbling to himself about how he had gotten into this predicament. He did not know which was worse, this, or being alone on the streets. He suspected the latter, at least this way there was someone who said they were watching out for him, but his pride did not want to accept that.
The two made their way to the front door. A few streetlights were still on, but most of them had been busted out during the conflict. This caused some parts of the street to be obscured in total darkness, with no clue as to what might lurk there in the shadows.
"Cheery," Jason whispered.
Tras growled and opened the door. Whether the boy's attempt at sarcasm had made any impression on him was not apparent. The alien appeared so intent on the task before him that nothing else really seemed to matter.
The two left the Hotel Vancouver and made their way onto the sidewalk. From what Jason could tell in the darkness, not much had changed since he had stumbled in earlier that morning. Except now, humming about in the distance, were the sounds of strange, alien engines. He had seen enough of what made them to know what they where: Covenant dropships, the ones called Phantoms. He didn't need Tras to tell him that they were bad news.
"They are patrolling," the Elite said, looking around in the night sky. "They intend to hold this city, I think."
"Why is that?" Jason asked.
To his surprise Tras did not answer simply with a growl. "They have deemed it necessary to the continued occupation of your world, is my guess."
"You're occupying Earth? Why not just glass it like you've done to everything else?"
Tras turned and looked hard at Jason. There was the hint of a glare, but it was only a hint. "Do not speak as though I am still a part of the Covenant. I and my brothers have been found not fit to be in it. Whether this is a curse or a blessing I do not know. But, I am no longer Covenant. And, it does not bother me. I will not belong to something that has betrayed me like this."
Jason nodded. Even to him, it seemed fair enough. He could not say that he would not behave in the same way, were he the one in Tras's position. "So, then why are they occupying here?"
"To tell you the full reason would take far too much time tonight," Tras said, looking down the street intently. "Ask me again when time is better. The betrayal is too soon for me to tell you now."
Jason simply shrugged his shoulders and followed after the Elite. He didn't feel too much like pressing the issue, mostly because it seemed like Tras was being a little gracious with him. That wasn't something that he wanted to squander. In this situation, Jason knew that he was going to have to take what he could get.
The two continued on through the night, slowly picking their way through the silent wreckage of Vancouver. All around them the fact that the war had at last come here to Earth was very evident. Buildings that were half gone, burned out wrecks of cars, plasma scorches and drops of blood, all said that humanity was now fighting on her own turf better than any words could have.
Jason tried not to look at most of it. He took special care to avert his eyes from any sign of dead bodies. His artist's imagination would probably piece together their last moments for him. That was something that he did not need at this moment. Right now, he needed to keep his head and keep up with Tras.
The Elite seemed unbothered by all of the carnage around him. Years of combat experience must have given him a bit of familiarity with this sort of setting. This thought made Jason feel a little cold. While it was nice to be with someone who was quite experienced with this sort of thing, it was also a very unsettling feeling. Especially since, only a few hours ago, he had considered the Elites to be his enemies. He still felt that way, though the fact that Tras had not yet ripped his head from his shoulders did a lot to help convince him that the alien's story was true.
Tras held his hand up to indicate to Jason that there was a need to stop. The boy came to a halt, hunkering down beside a chunk of concrete. Several times the pair had almost been spotted by Covenant patrols. Once it had almost been due to Jason not paying attention. Tras had cuffed him hard for that, once the danger had passed. He was determined not to give the Elite an excuse to do that again.
"Come forward," Tras said slowly.
Jason crept towards Tras, trying to stay low and silent as he did so. Whether the Elite had taken notice of the boy's extra effort was yet to be determined. At the moment, he was looking ahead at a small heap of bodies. Jason took up a position beside Tras and tried to see just what it was that the Elite was looking at. At last, he got a good look. It was a pile of Elite corpses, some charred with plasma scouring, some with wicked looking spikes sticking out of them, and others that looked as though they had been ripped apart by some monstrous thing.
"Remove all doubt from your mind as to the allegiance of the Sangheili now," Tras said in a low and solemn voice.
It was hard to argue against the Elite's story now. So many, all killed so horribly. If these Brutes, whatever they were, were truly responsible for this, then what could that mean for someone like Jason? After all, these were no doubt seasoned warriors. And even they had fallen, died cruelly and with confusion and fear ruling their minds. What was his fate to be? Would it indeed be worse than these?
Strangely enough, Tras did not appear outwardly affected by all of this. He merely looked forward intently. After a moment, he resumed the movement of the pair again. It wasn't until Jason followed in his wake that he noticed the gouges that the Elite had dug into the earth as he had looked at the bodies. He kept that to himself. No telling what Tras would do if he chose to inquire about it.
The two passed along the edge of a park. As they moved along, Jason became aware of voices somewhere nearby. They were like nothing the boy had ever heard before, deep and guttural. Tras motioned for a stop. Jason kept moving long enough to get right beside the alien.
"Are those Brutes?" he asked in as soft a whisper as he could.
A slight huff came from Tras. "You have some sense in you at last," came a quiet response. "Indeed, those are Brutes. I suspect they have made a small camp just on the other side of this nearby building. Come, we shall sneak through and I will show to you this new enemy."
Jason nodded. He didn't know what good seeing one of these Brutes was going to do him, but he didn't know what harm it could do either. Tras moved into the building he had indicated, a smaller one that appeared to have been partially gutted by a fire. Jason was not too far behind.
They crept along through the ashes and the cinders towards where the voices were coming from. As they got closer, tones of anger and violence became more apparent to the ears of the boy and the Elite. It made Jason shake a little. Only a desire to not look like any more of a fool pressed him onward. It couldn't be that bad, he said to himself. It couldn't be any worse than the pile of bodies that he had already seen.
At last, the two of them arrived at a vantage point of sorts, a place where a small opening in the building overlooked a large hole that had recently been made by what was probably an errant bomb. From here, the Brutes could be seen very well in the light of a fire that they had made. Jason curled a lip at their appearance, large ape-like creatures covered in fur and with mouths of viscous teeth.
There were a couple of what looked like racks beside the fire as well, with some odd looking slabs of meat on them. This distracted Jason for a moment. He had never seen meat like that. Was it some kind of animal that they had brought along for nourishment?
A moment or two more of looking though, told him that this was most definitely not the case. For the boy soon realized just what he was looking at. Human limbs, all strung up like the bits of a pig that had just been slaughtered. The slow horror sunk in more as he saw that the Brutes were already feasting on some of them, tearing at the flesh and gnawing on the bones.
It was too much. Jason turned away, shutting his eyes against what he saw. But the sight still lingered there. As slowly as he could the boy crawled away. He never wanted to see something like that again. He would rather die before having to see something so awful as those creatures.
Jason crawled out of the doorway of the building and sat against it with his head in his hands. He did not care about being seen at the moment. All that he wanted to do was put out of his mind what he had seen, to erase the image from his head. But his look had been too intent and he had seen it in too much detail. Forgetting was going to be hard to do.
Tras appeared and crouched down beside him. Jason did not want to look at him. He knew that the Elite was probably glaring at him, and only withholding a scolding because of how close the enemy was. The last thing the boy felt he needed was the alien's disapproval.
But, to Jason's great surprise, Tras put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "It would seem, Jason Ferris, that you and I are brothers in our losses," he said. "The Jiralhanae butcher both our races, and in that we find cause to mourn."
Jason slowly looked to Tras. The Elite's eyes weren't exactly sad looking, but neither were they nearly as hard as they had been before. They were thoughtful and reflective.
"Why are they like that?" Jason asked. He did not cry as he asked it, like a little boy might have. He asked it in the most even voice that he could muster up.
"They are animals," Tras replied. "And they shall behave as animals behave, to the detriment of us all."
Jason shook his head. "I... I don't know if I can go on. Not after seeing that. They'll do that to us, you know. Or worse."
"I know that fact far better than you do, Jason Ferris." Tras put his other hand on Jason's other shoulder, looking him right in the face. "But you and I must go on. For if we simply stay here and give up, their victory will be all the more complete. We must not allow the fear they spread to defeat us before we ever engage them. We must go on."
"We watch for each other," Tras simply replied. He looked away, as though he were considering something particularly difficult. Jason braced himself for whatever it might be. "We trust each other to see ourselves through this, so that vengeance may be found when the time is right."
"You want me to trust you?" Jason asked.
"I have to trust you as well," Tras said. "It is just as hard for me as it is for you. But it is necessary for our survival."
That was a fact that Jason couldn't deny. He no longer doubted the Elite's story about betrayal. And he himself had seen first hand the enormity of what the Brutes were capable of. It would be nice to have one as skilled as Tras watching out for him. But, could Jason outright trust a being that, only a few days ago, had desired for the utter destruction of humanity?
"I can't say I can fully do that right now," he replied at last. "But, I can work at it."
"To trust fully so soon would be fool-hardy," Tras said. "But I shall attempt it as well. I will even do what I can to teach you how to survive, should I pass on before this is all over."
That sounded all right to Jason. He held out his hand. "Then, I think I can manage."
The Elite took Jason's hand wordlessly. The two shook there, in the shadows, and sealed their deal silently. Then, they moved on, Tras leading the way, and Jason following after him as best he could.