The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Prologue
Posted By: QuantumSheep<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 17 September 2008, 7:43 am
November 4th, 2552
For days they had been stuck on the holy Forerunner construct, isolated from the rest of the Covenant due to a lack of a working radio. They were tired, hungry and angry, angry at the way the disgusting Jiralhanae had been favoured by the Prophets than the Sangheili.
They were tired from having fought the Jiralhanae seemingly non-stop for days, ever since the civil war had begun. They were hungry from their lack of basic supplies, water being the only readily available resource.
Sleep was a rarity, a rarity they craved. They dared not fall asleep on guard duty as they could easily be dispatched by a Jiralhanae warrior and leave their comrades vulnerable to a surprise attack. Too many times had this happened and their numbers were dwindling. Soon enough, it seemed, there would only be a few of them left and could easily be finished by the superior numbers of Jiralhanae and Kig-Yar, as well as some Unggoy betrayers.
It seemed ironic to be fighting in such a beautiful environment, especially from the ridge they were on. It overlooked a large, jungle valley with a river and waterfalls cascading downriver, carving their way through the rock. Strange birds flew up high, watching their activities from above but too uncertain to come down for a closer look.
Ominous ancient structures loomed in the distance, most partially underground and sealed shut, having been that way for countless centuries. The sun was low on this part of Delta Halo and it would be nightfall soon, which was often when the Jiralhanae attacked.
The Brutes knew they were here and had known ever since the beginning of the civil war. The Prophets themselves had regarded the Sangheili as inferior and had fully backed up the Jiralhanae uprising, leaving countless Sangheili dead and others on the run, not to escape but to fight another day. No Sangheili warrior would dare run away, that would be cowardice; they would merely find a safer location to continue the fight.
This is what Arla `Sterlefomee had done. Rather than run away in fear and hide away like some animal, he had stood and fought as he watched numerous comrades fall in battle against the disgusting Brutes. He had been wounded himself, a painful wound in the left leg which hampered his movement, but he could get along with it fine. He was still alive, having taken his squad into the hills of Delta Halo's more lush, jungle areas. They had picked up more Sangheili along the way, many in the same position as Arla and many the sole survivors of their original groups. It proved that the Jiralhanae were dangerous, even a single one could take down a squad of Minor Sangheili warriors if those warriors were inexperienced (and often they were). Arla had been a Minor himself once, years ago, and thinking of that now brought back painful memories of battles fought long ago and of friends lost in battle.
They were on the high ground for the advantage it gave over their enemy. From here they could see in all directions, years of training had taught Arla that it was the high ground which gave defenders the upper hand. Years of training had also taught him never to rely on a high position as even the most obvious of enemies could be missed.
This is what had happened the past few days. The Jiralhanae would strike at dusk and at dawn, often coming and going within the dead of the night. Many of Arla's group were asleep from exhaustion by this time, having been kept up all day by Jiralhanae patrols which acted more as a ruse to keep them busy and wear them down so when the night attacks happened the Sangheili were near complete exhaustion.
Arla could feel it now, his muscles aching and this feeling of having no energy at all. He couldn't even be bothered standing up, preferring to sit at the base of a tree which was outside the small Forerunner structure they were using as a base camp.
The structure was small on the surface but larger underground, with wide open rooms and a deep artificial chasm that seemed to go on forever. Most of the group was inside; attempting to get to sleep from the previous day and night's fighting. A large number of the group were misplaced Minor Sangheili that Arla and the survivors of his squad had picked up on their way up here. The Minors were young and eager to prove themselves in battle, often too eager. Arla was getting quite sick and tired of seeing yet another casualty amongst the Minors, another young life wasted because of a civil war that should have never happened.
There were two more experienced Majors, Realas and Terlacè respectively. They were battle hardened and world weary soldiers that Arla could relate to and often found himself discussing whatever came to mind with them. As well as these two weary Majors, there was a Special Operations Officer they had found on their way here, having been wounded in the stomach and hidden himself amongst some undergrowth. Arla and his group had had medical supplies then and had easily patched him up but now they were out of any sort of medical item and often those who were wounded stayed wounded which would lead to infections and yet more pain
Arla grunted; his injured left leg had begun to ache again. Reaching for his thigh, he ripped off the golden armour plate, dirtied and scorched from the fighting of the past few days, and started unwrapping the three day old bandages which covered the wound. He was worried about an infection but he quickly quashed that worry when he saw that it was already infected. Jagged bits of torn flesh hung around the sides of the wound and pus oozed out, his nerves in that part of his body screaming at him in pain. He leaned forward slightly to get a closer look, a small trickle of dark purple blood oozing from the wound as he moved. He could just make out the bone, the wound having gone that deep. Days before he had managed to remove the Jiralhanae spike which had embedded itself there, having easily pierced his armour but now he was stuck with dirty bandages and no forms of medical chemicals to help ease the pain and kill the bacteria which was obviously thriving inside the torn flesh.
He cursed under his breath and leaned back against the tree trunk, wrapping the bandages back around his thigh and trying to figure out what he should do about it. He could always head to the river and wash it in the hopes of getting rid of the many grains of dirt stuck in the wound but there was an element of danger involved in heading through the jungle to the river, seeing as he could easily be jumped by a Jiralhanae warrior.
One thing that was common around here was weaponry, scavenging what they can from the corpses of both fallen Jiralhanae and Sangheili warriors. Dishonourable, yes, but it was their only way of ensuring they were armed and prepared for the next time they were attacked. Some of the weapons they found on fallen Jiralhanae warriors were human in origin and usually any Sangheili like himself would never use the weaponry of a hated enemy but the times, they seemed, were changing. More and more often they would be forced to use human "shotguns" and rifles.
Picking up the makeshift crutch Arla had built from a thick, fallen branch a short time after receiving his wound, he slowly rose onto his hooves, grunting from the pain which shot through his leg and almost unbalanced him. He felt like an old man with his "walking stick", limping around everywhere he went as if he had some sort of bone condition. An image of his ageing father came into view, since he hobbled around with only half of his right leg, having lost the bottom half in a grenade explosion years ago. Someone like his father would refuse an artificial limb and instead hobble around on a walking cane.
Arla decided he would wash his wound in the river, regardless of whatever dangers awaited him there. As well as that, he was due in for a proper wash since he hadn't done so for about a week and so stunk as bad as a Jiralhanae. He was sure either Realas or Terlacè would be willing to accompany him to the river, although he was fairly confident he could go himself. It was better to let them know where he was going, though, so he started limping his way over to Realas who stood guard by the eastern passage up the hill and to the structure.
Realas wasn't so much as "standing guard" as he was sitting fast asleep. He lay somewhere in between, jerking in his sleep as if ready to wake up at any moment and strike an imaginary opponent. Arla approached him, looking down on the sleeping Major and feeling some understanding for the exhausted warrior. Arla felt the same way but they could not rest for any moment for that would give any watching Jiralhanae scout an excuse to attack.
Realas sat up suddenly, his plasma rifle held firmly in his right hand as he pointed it straight at Arla's head. He frowned, took a quick glance around at his surrounding with his orange snake-like eyes before relaxing, lowering the rifle and looking up at the Field Commander.
"Commander, I am sorry if I looked like I was about to attack you
"It doesn't matter," Arla said, Realas trailing off mid sentence. The Major stood up and yawned, opening his quad-hinged jaw wide and stretching his arms.
"I am sorry if I was sleeping on the job
"Don't be sorry, Major," Arla said. He paused, waiting for Realas to finish his stretches before continuing. The Major lowered his arms and looked towards Arla, a tired look crossing his face.
"You shouldn't blame yourself for sleeping on guard duty," Arla said. He understood how the Major felt and had made it clear to him many times before but Realas was the modest type who often pointed out his own mistakes.
"We're all tired, Major," Arla continued, "I was also about to fall asleep but I managed to stop myself. Don't feel bad about it."
Realas clicked his lower mandibles, the equivalent of a shrug. He shifted where he stood, looking a little embarrassed but nodded anyway.
"Is there something you need, sir?"
Arla thought about his response for a moment, unsure of what he should say. His memory had begun to falter recently, most likely due to a lack of sleep and the stress he and the others had been under recently. It took him a few seconds to compose himself.
I need to go down to the river
" Arla said, feeling a sharp stab of pain in his thigh as his mind wandered back onto the matter of his injury, "I was thinking
could you accompany me? I'm not in much of a state to fight if I were to be attacked
Realas' eyes lit up. He smiled.
"Of course I will accompany you, sir," Realas said, "why would I refuse?"
"I just thought
" Arla trailed off. He didn't know how to respond but Realas didn't really seem to care. He was the type of Sangheili who would follow his orders to the letter, even if they weren't really "orders" and more like "requests".
Realas looked to his left, over at the sleeping Terlacè who lay against a stack of purple-metal crates. A thin trail of saliva hung from one of his lower mandibles, slowly oozing onto his chest armour as he breathed in and out.
The Major stirred where he lay, opening his eyes and slowly sitting up. He looked annoyed at the sudden interruption of his sleep and frowned at Realas.
"Keep watch here while the Commander and myself travel to the river for a while," Realas said, "remember, if you see anything
alert the others inside, yes, I know that," Terlacè said with a hint of annoyance, "you have told me that a dozen times, Realas. I think I would know what to do if we were attacked."
Realas didn't say anything else; he knew he didn't need to. Knowing Terlacè, the Sangheili had probably been dreaming about females and of home. Arla had been dreaming about his wife and daughter as well as all the friends he had left behind when he had been transferred to the Prophet of Regret's carrier, so it was only natural, he guessed, to dream about what you loved when you hadn't seen them for so long.
Realas started into the jungle, plasma rifle held in a relaxed position, walking at a steady pace so Arla could easily keep up in his limping state.
They trudged through the thick, lush greenery of the jungle for a few minutes, the only sounds being those of the unseen and often distant wildlife. The canopy above them filtered most of the sunlight, allowing it to get surprisingly cool down on the jungle floor.
Realas was the one to start a conversation, although he had guessed just by looking at him that Arla wasn't in much of a mood to have a light-hearted talk.
"It has been only a few days since I met you, sir," Realas said, glancing at Arla who hobbled alongside him, looking around every now and then in a way which implied that he was expecting them to get attacked, "and I barely know you. We have talked, but only about battles, previous operations
Arla turned and looked at him as they both walked along the jungle floor, the sounds of flowing water becoming louder as they neared the river and descended the hill. The Field Commander frowned, attempting to make himself look strong and authoritative but emerald green eyes betrayed the true emotions he was feeling. The Field Commander missed home, missed whoever he had there and was obviously sick of all the fighting.
"What do you wish to talk about then, Major?"
Realas paused, suddenly unsure of what to say. One way to start a conversation and have no clue how to continue it, he thought. As they walked along he rubbed some dirt off of his plasma rifle and gave another mandible-shrug.
"I am not too sure, sir, but maybe
Well, we could always talk about home
"Home?" Arla said, giving an uncertain expression, "you want to talk about home just so we can both miss it even more?"
Realas realized the Field Commander sounded a bit annoyed and thought he would try a slightly different approach.
"I am sorry if that annoys you, sir, but I thought
"Don't be sorry," Arla replied, cutting the Major off mid-sentence for the second time this afternoon, "I've been trying to keep my mind off of home and focusing on the task at hand
The task at hand being our fight for survival until somebody actually finds us
He stopped. Realas saw that the Field Commander had realized what he had said, about them being found. It was obvious Arla knew their chances of being located by anyone other than their enemies were slim and Realas had realized that as well, he just hadn't been game enough to say it.
"I just try not to think about what I miss when I'm out in the field, attempting to stay alive," Arla said, "in the past I've found it can hamper your judgement but at the same time give a new boost to your morale. For example, if you have a group of soldiers and they all believe they will be home in a short time, that group of soldiers will fight far more efficiently because they know they will be home to their loved ones soon enough.
"If you have a group of soldiers who all believe they have no chance of returning with their loved ones they tend to fight more aggressively, determined to pull through no matter what the cost. However, this newfound anger can also increase their chances of getting killed because of their clouded judgement during battle.
"So I try never to think of home, I try never to think of my wife, of my daughter, of my ageing parents
I attempt to make sure I don't think of any of this, that way I can think far more clearly in a combat situation and increase my chances of survival. I increase my chances of actually returning home, alive and well, to my loved ones
"Now that you've mentioned it, of whether or not I actually want to discuss my home and my family, I
I don't know what to do, I don't know what to say
" Arla faltered with his last sentence, trailing off while an uncertain Realas listened on.
The pair pushed through some undergrowth and came to the riverbank, a flock of birds fluttering out of the trees by the river as they came near, flying off into the distance. The sun bore down more so due to the lack of a leafy jungle canopy and Arla could feel the heat through his armour. Realas felt the same, the humidity finally starting to make the two of them sweat.
"I am confident I will return safely," Realas said, "the memories of my wife I keep with me give me more reason to live. I did not think you thought so highly of the matter
Arla leaned his wooden crutch against the trunk of a nearby tree and limped over to where the water met the riverbank. Looking down at his reflection in the pristine, fresh water, he could hardly recognize himself. He was battered, bruised and bloody. His armour was scorched and dented and Jiralhanae blood had stained his chest plate in places. His weary eyes proved to anyone who looked upon him that he had been without adequate sleep for a considerable amount of time.
"Different methods work for different people," Arla said, removing his chest and arm plates where he stood. He dropped them to the ground and removed the plating on his legs and took off his boots. Realas had sat himself down on a boulder on the riverbank, resting his plasma rifle on his lap and taking a moment to admire the beauty of the riverside.
"I am sure you are right, sir," Realas said. He paused, glancing over at Arla who had his back turned, stepping into the lukewarm water after removing the bandages from around his thigh.
"You mentioned you have a daughter," Realas said, "My wife wants children but I am worried that I will not be there to see them grow up
"You won't," Arla replied bluntly, glancing back at Realas. From where he sat, Realas could make out several scars of differing sizes on his muscular frame and wondered just how much the Field Commander had been through.
Arla began to rub his torso clean with water while he continued.
"You won't be there with your family unless you're in a civilian line of work, such as carpentry," Arla said, "where the military sends you are where you'll spend most of your time. I hardly get a chance to see my wife and daughter. When I do get a chance, it's not for a very long time so I always try and make the most of what little time I get."
Arla started to rub water into his wound, which began to throb dully. He shook his head, annoyed at how stubborn this otherwise minor wound was getting.
"I do not mean to be rude, sir, but you do not sound too positive
"I stopped trying to sound positive a long time ago," Arla replied, "when you've been in the military as long as I have, you'll learn that there isn't much to get positive about."
Realas was surprised at how negative Arla sounded but decided he wouldn't argue with the Field Commander, instead attempting to change the subject again.
"I suppose you would not care to hear the details of my family, then, sir?"
Arla turned around where he stood half submerged in the water, frowning.
"Go ahead, I'm listening."
Realas nodded in acknowledgement. It was better, he thought, then hearing the Commander be so negative about the whole thing.
"I met her about seven years ago, just after I returned from my first battle. I was a Minor then, she was there at the spaceport on Sanghelios, assigned as a servant to a high ranking zealot who had arrived at the spaceport the same day. I met her in the bar there, her name was Galena. It went on from there and we got married two years later."
"Two years later?"
"Why? Is it a bit long, sir?"
Arla grunted in agreement.
"I met Tilana years ago, when I was only twenty-nine. We married six months later."
Arla gave a mandible shrug. He didn't seem to think too highly of Realas' reaction.
"Our daughter, Sterlef'a, she's only nineteen. She intends on becoming a priestess, like her mother."
"Your wife was a priestess?"
"She is a priestess," Arla replied, correcting the Major's little mistake, "I met her in my hometown on Sanghelios. She was quite the looker when I met her and she still is now. Very contested over by the other males, but somehow I ended up with her."
Arla sounded pleased with himself and Realas couldn't help but smile as well. Finally the Field Commander actually sounded happy for once and so Realas decided to keep the Commander talking.
"What is she like, sir?"
"What's she like?" Arla repeated, pausing for a moment before chuckling to himself. "She's beautiful, she has a great personality and the most beautiful pair of eyes I have ever seen. Her body's great as well, but that's besides the point
Realas noticed how much Arla's mood had changed from the disgruntled Field Commander to the happily married male. His posture had changed as well and he was happily scrubbing away the dirt from his body.
"Our daughter's much the same, albeit younger, more innocent," Arla continued, "she'll grow up to be like her mother, although she has hints of my sterner personality in her. The best of myself and her mother, I guess."
Realas nodded, although Arla wasn't really looking at him as he spoke. He was too intent on cleaning himself and his nasty spiker weapon wound. Realas figured he would keep the conversation going.
"Was she your first one?" He asked.
Arla stopped what he was doing, as if something quite major had just occurred to him. He looked towards Realas, a solemn expression crossing his face.
"My first what?"
"Your first female," Realas said, noticing how the Field Commander had reacted.
Arla took a while to answer, lowering his head as memories ran through his mind, both good ones and not-so-good ones.
"She wasn't the first," Arla said, "she was the second." He fell silent, trying to remember. He couldn't, but he knew the memory would come back soon enough.
"What about Tilana, sir? Did she ever do anything you did not like?"
Arla smiled, gazing at Reala for a moment.
"Never," he replied simply.
"I hear you've been through a lot," she said in a soothing voice, "and I know I'm not the first one... A hand fell onto his thigh and he shifted where he sat, suddenly feeling nervous.
I lost someone during those times
" Arla said, putting his hand onto the one of hers which she had placed onto his thigh. Tilana sat next to him, sitting at an angle so that she faced him. Her legs were curled up on the sofa and she was in a blue night robe. They had spent the day out together; it would only be another week before Arla was back on duty. Tilana had decided to find out more about him and had dug up his files out of Covenant databases.
Usually Arla would feel that his privacy had been invaded if someone had done this but it was Tilana and her overwhelming sense of curiosity that had done it, not some high ranking Sangheili officer trying to dig up dirt from his past.
"You loved her, didn't you?"
Arla nodded, moving closer to her, able to smell her perfume
The pair gazed at each other for a moment, Arla finding himself lost in her beautiful blue eyes for a moment before bringing himself out of the semi-trance state.
"It doesn't matter about her, that was seven years ago," Arla said, "you're the one for me now
I know it may be a bit early, we've only known each other for a short time, but I truly love you
I can't think of anyone else to spend the rest of my life with other than you."
Tilana looked taken aback but quickly composed herself. She smiled, putting her other arm around Arla. To her, he looked very, very handsome, especially at this moment in time.
"Do you love me, Tilana?" Arla asked, feeling his hearts skip a beat as he awaited the answer.
She didn't answer verbally, there was no need. Rather, she leaned forwards and put the tips of his mandibles against his. They stayed this way for a few seconds before Arla had his arms around her and they were locked in a complete kiss while Arla slowly began to slide off her robes. She lay back on the sofa, giggling quietly as she started to work on her boyfriend's armour, stripping away the chest and arm plates, letting them drop onto the floor. Arla could feel his heart rate run wild as he put his hands on her sides, smelling her sweet perfume and kissing her on the neck while she tilted her head back.
Arla paused for a moment, reaching down and removing what armour plating was left on him. He needed help with his under-suit and Tilana happily removed it for him, throwing it to the floor as he seductively ran the tips of his mandibles down her chest
"Everything always went along well with her," Arla remembered with a slight grin, realizing it must have been about a minute before his reply. Realas didn't seem to notice or care and remained where he sat; admiring the peaceful serenity of the river and the many birds they flew overhead. The sound of running water added to the serene feel, easily making anyone who came here feel safe and relaxed. Arla certainly felt that way and so continued with washing himself, deciding he would take his time. He wouldn't be about to return to base camp and go back to waiting around, merely waiting for an attack to be launched by the Jiralhanae.
One of those attacks, he knew, would be the death of him. Unless they received help, he doubted they would survive for much longer. They were all tired and weary, Arla especially. He seemed to have been the one who did the most killing, although it was hard to tell such a thing during the heat of a battle.
It was about ten minutes before Arla decided he would get dressed and he and Realas would return to base camp. Stepping back up onto the riverbank, he promptly put back on his golden armour, clipping his helmet to his waist. It was too hot to wear such a thing and he firmly believed it interfered with his aim, he felt somehow restricted whenever he wore it and it did indeed restrict the movement of his mandibles with the way it attached to them.
The walk back to base camp through the lush jungle greenery was uneventful, although upon arriving at the Forerunner structure they found Terlacè standing behind a stack of crates, staring down at something.
Arla stopped, sensing something had happened. Realas stopped where he was as well and turned to the Field Commander, an uncertain expression on his face.
"There has been an attack
"I thought as much," Arla said, cutting off Realas who was only stating the obvious anyway.
The pair continued to where Terlacè stood and found him wearing a grim expression. Lying on the ground at his feet was a Minor Elite whom Arla recognized as the one called Zehras. He lay in a pool of his own blood, writhing in obvious agony from a large, jagged projectile wound in his stomach. He was bleeding to death and Terlacè was powerless to stop it.
"Major, what happened?" Arla asked, looking around at the rest of the camp. A pair of Minor Sangheili sat exhausted behind a stack of metal crates which they had been using as a barricade, ahead of it by several metres lay a pair of dead brown furred Jiralhanae warriors. Another dead brute lay close to where Zehras was, still clutching a human "shotgun" which was the obvious culprit of Zehras' wound.
"It was only a small patrol," Terlacè answered, his voice croaky as if he was about to cry. Too often had Arla seen Sangheili like him break up at the death of a comrade, whether they be friend or not and he was afraid Terlacè would do the same.
"They surprised us," the Major continued, his voice going down in volume. He fell silent and stepped back against the walls of the Forerunner structure behind, slumping down against the wall into a sitting position and burying his face in his hands.
Arla looked down at the dying Minor, seeing the youngster's eye brighten as he bent down.
I am sorry
Arla had heard plenty of last words in his years in the military but as always he played along with whoever was saying them. Most of the time they weren't anything memorable and Arla was worried that when his time came, he wouldn't be able to think of anything memorable to say.
"Sorry about what?" Arla asked, putting his hand to the youngster's wound, trying to see the extent of it. The blood came back thick and sticky and the Field Commander could see the many pellets from the human weapon had easily torn through the flesh.
for getting hurt
Arla's eyes met with the Minor's and realizing the hopelessness of the youngster's predicament but not willing to show it, he smiled. It was obvious Zehras would be dead soon enough, but there was no point making that obvious to him.
"I'll get you something to help with your injuries," Arla said, trying to sound confident but not doing a good job of it, "I'll be able to fix you up and you'll be able to fight another day
Zehras merely shook his head.
Don't lie to me, sir
" Zehras croaked, "I know
we have no
medical supplies left
The Minor smiled slightly before his muscles relaxed and his head dropped to one side, his eyes closing. Arla shook his head, annoyed at the lack of help they gave the dying Minor and annoyed at himself for not saying anything better.
"Damn it!" Arla exclaimed as he stood back up, "we're down to only five of us! Five!"
He looked at Terlacè, who sat silently weeping at their whole situation. There was no hope for them, at least it seemed that way to the Major who didn't even look up when Arla angrily threw his helmet at the Sangheili.
"I am tired of all of this!" Arla slammed his fist loudly on the top of a nearby set of crates, noticing how Realas and the two Minors stood watching his outburst.
Arla kicked at the dirt in his frustration, pushing over the crates and starting towards the structure's entrance. He would make sure this was their last casualty and if he did actually get out of this whole thing alive, if indeed, he would make sure he never fired a shot, at anyone, ever again.
A big promise to himself, he realized that, but he didn't know how much he could take. The day had been fine up until now, until Realas got him thinking about his family and of home. That was all he needed, thoughts about those things on his mind which would impede his judgement. He swore loudly to himself as he entered the ancient structure, feeling both tired and hungry but knowing he could fix neither of those things up.
Arla woke up with a start, not for the first time today but he noticed that this time, things seemed different. He hadn't realized he had fallen asleep behind one of the barricades, although he knew he was tired enough to simply doze off without him even knowing it.
Looking around, he could see that Terlacè was also asleep, Realas and the remaining Minors inside the structure, probably asleep as well. It was quite dark, the only light being from the stars that shone overhead and the nearby planetary bodies.
The jungle seemed like an entirely different place during the night, the night being when all sorts of creatures came out. He had heard reports of a Flood outbreak on another part of the ring but he wasn't about to let thoughts about that disgusting parasitic race get to him. He needed to concentrate and so standing up, he raised his plasma rifle in a ready to fire position, looking towards the start of the jungle several metres ahead.
He dared not make a sound for he may simply attract whatever had woken him up straight to him. He remained still, aiming down his plasma rifle, attempting to spot whatever it had been which had made the sound.
There was a noise behind him and swivelling 180° degrees on the spot, he half expected to see a Jiralhanae warrior somewhere behind him but was surprised to find the noise had merely been Terlacè's snoring, which tended to increase in volume suddenly before not being able to be heard altogether.
Turning back around, Arla gripped his plasma rifle tight as he saw movement in the trees ahead. His hearts racing, he decided he would break his silence and get this little confrontation over and done with.
"Who's there?" He shouted into the darkness, "come out and maybe I won't shoot!"
There was no response, somewhat unsurprisingly. The only sound was that of the wind blowing through the trees, a simple but ominous quiet rustling of the leaves.
"Damn it, come out!" He shouted again, this time louder. He heard Terlacè stir behind him, the Major slowly opening his eyes and looking towards Arla.
"Quieten down, Commander," Terlacè said, "you will lead the enemy straight to us
Arla realized that he was overreacting and so ceased his shouting, merely standing where he was, his plasma rifle still held in a firing position.
He stood there for about a minute, facing the trees and undergrowth, waiting for something to happen. He wasn't disappointed, though, since something did happen, just not what he was expecting.
A sudden white light appeared from amongst the trees and the shaft of light hit Arla square in the face. He grunted, temporarily blinded and put off guard.
Was this some kind of Jiralhanae trick, using light to put him off balance? He soon recovered and was about to readjust his aim and fire when he saw who was holding the light.
It took him a moment to realize they weren't a threat, so lowering his plasma rifle he carefully saluted the familiar Sangheili that approached him, who was followed in turn by a few Minors.
"Arbiter, I didn't know
Arla had immediately known it was the Arbiter holding the human flashlight from the grey, ornate armour that the Sangheili had been wearing. Arla had once known the Arbiter, long before he was removed from his command and branded a heretic. You see, Arla was the Arbiter's younger brother.
Unexpectedly, a bunch of shorter but recognisable figures followed the Sangheili out of the trees. They were human marines, many in the armour that their type usually wore. One was darker skinned than the rest and was wearing a cap rather than a helmet, stern expression on his face and assault rifle in hands. The flashlight on the rifle was switched on and he playfully shone it into Arla's face, chuckling.
"You still look damn ugly when it's dark," the human said, chewing on something brown and smoking which jutted from the corner of his mouth.
What was the Arbiter doing with these humans? This was heresy, Arla
knew that, but he couldn't really say anything to protest considering his brother knew all too well about his past and what had happened many years ago, the very events which had convinced Arla that maybe the humans weren't so bad after all
The Arbiter stopped a metre from his younger brother and took a moment to recognize him. He didn't look too excited; keeping that same, grim expression Arla was all too familiar with.
"Brother, what are you doing here?" The Arbiter asked, frowning, "I didn't expect to find you on this ring
Arla gave a mandible shrug. He was glad to see someone he knew well and not be stuck talking to inexperienced Minors which had been the case for most of the last few days.
"You look exhausted, Arla," the Arbiter said.
"I am exhausted," the Field Commander replied, "as well as that, I wasn't expecting to find you on this ring
"So we both have a story to tell," the Arbiter added. He paused and turned to Terlacè, who had by now woken up and was standing a few metres to Arla's right.
"What are you doing with these humans, Arbiter?" Arla couldn't help but voice his surprise at the sudden change. What were Sangheili like his brother doing with human soldiers?
The Arbiter glanced at the lead human, the dark skinned one, and that human seemed to take that as a signal to start talking.
"Well four-jaw," the dark skinned human said, stepping up to Arla and carelessly puffing smoke into the Field Commander's face with little care for his reaction via the cigar, "me and my men, we're working with you guys now. So you better get used to it."
"Let me explain it to you in more detail, Arla," the Arbiter said, gesturing to his brother to follow him. He started following the Arbiter into the ancient Forerunner structure, hearing the humans start talking amongst themselves and laughing loudly. Somehow, Arla didn't particularly like the dark skinned human.
They stopped in the main underground room inside the structure, the interior lit up be small lights embedded in the floors and ceiling. The walls were made of a blue-grey metal/stone hybrid and it was rather warm inside, which made a change from the freezing cold nights that Arla had been forced to put up with for the last couple of days.
Arla looked at his eldest brother, who was only about two years older than him so it wasn't a big difference. Of the family, the Arbiter had been the one who had been their father's favourite seeing as their father had believed that the Arbiter would amount to something important in his life.
Arla had been the child in the middle since he and the Arbiter had a younger sister who, thinking about her now, he realized he hadn't seen her for quite a number of years. Arla had been the one who visited his parents as often as he could while the Arbiter had always come up with some excuse for not visiting, always busy or something
"How is our mother?" The Arbiter asked as they stopped in the corner of the room. Arla pulled up a crate and sat himself down. The Arbiter, as usual, preferred to stand.
It must have been at least five years since the Arbiter last visited their parents. Arla always found time every few months, which he thought just goes to show how estranged from their family the eldest child had gotten.
"Our mother was fine the last time I saw her," Arla said, leaning back against the wall. He glanced up at his brother's face and noticed a tinge of regret showing on his features.
"Do you want to know about our father as well?" Arla asked. For some reason he could feel a bit of anger welling up in him, he wasn't too sure why but now that he had finally come face-to-face with the "popular" child he felt he could voice what he had been thinking for all of these years. How his father had always centred his attention on the Arbiter, leaving Arla and his sister in the dark. Luckily their mother had been there for them and she was always voicing her annoyance at the way her husband made sure that the Arbiter was always getting the best of everything while leaving their other two children in her care.
"He's fine as well, although he is getting old," Arla said, "and do you know how I found this out?"
The Arbiter didn't reply. He was listening, but Arla guessed that he probably knew what was coming.
"Because I actually visit them, brother," Arla said, his voice taking on an angrier tone, "I actually go to see our parents, Arbiter. I'm a Field Commander, I have a busy schedule, but yet I still find the time to see our parents.
"You, on the other hand, always have some sort of excuse, even though you're not much of a higher rank than me. And yet, our father still likes you the most. I simply can't work it out. All of these years and you're still the most popular one, Arbiter."
The Arbiter stood listening and nodded when he felt that Arla was done. He looked uncertain on what to say.
I'm sorry if you feel angry at me, Arla, but
The Arbiter simply shook his head.
"If you want to discuss family matters, we can do that later," he said, "now, I think you should know what is going on."
Arla nodded. The anger he had kept inside him for all of these years would have to wait.
"Our beliefs, Arla
They're all just a lie."
Arla clicked his left mandibles, the equivalent of a surprise and a raised eyebrow.
they are not gateways to the afterlife. They are merely alien constructs, built to study and contain the Flood."
Arla wasn't sure what his brother was getting at but sat listening anyway. Most of it was already heresy but strangely enough Arla didn't care.
"The very belief of the Great Journey is a lie. If we were to activate this ring, we would all die. All life in the galaxy would be wiped out, just so the Flood have no source of food and go into hibernation
"The Great Journey is a lie?" Arla asked. He tried to wrap his head around the thought. He couldn't. All of these years, all of these beliefs pressed onto him and now his brother, who wasn't insane as far as he could tell, was telling him that the very basis of his beliefs weren't true. It would take some time to get used to it if this was the case.
"The Prophets had us all under their control, merely to wipe out a whole race. Everything about the Covenant is a lie, Arla. I know it might be hard for you to accept, but I and my allies know this is true. Now the Prophets want us dead so they can replace us with the disgusting Jiralhanae."
Arla shook his head. He couldn't just accept all of these sensationalist claims on the spot. Sure, he knew how the Prophets wanted them dead, but these claims about their religion
It was all too hard to accept. Arla could feel his left hand shaking, realizing just how mighty these claims were.
Before the Arbiter could continue, a group of human soldiers noisily made their way into the structure, lead by the dark skinned human soldier that Arla didn't really like.
"Who's that?" He asked.
"The human soldier, the one with the dark skin
The Arbiter glanced over at the humans, just to make sure he knew which one Arla was talking about.
"He's the one called 'Sergeant Johnson'. He has a bit of a
"Attitude?" Arla asked.
"Yes," his brother replied, "but he is a good fighter."
He turned back to face Arla, who looked solemn enough. The Arbiter must have realized how mighty the claims he was making were, so he decided on a different approach.
"If our religion was indeed true," the Arbiter continued, "why didn't the Prophets try and accept the humans into the Covenant?"
"I never really thought about that
"Our beliefs are lies, brother, forced onto us by the Prophets. You will do good to accept what I am saying, even if it takes you a long time."
The Arbiter paused and looked around the room, trying to think of something else to say.
"It's getting late," he said, "I'll talk with you in the morning. Until then, goodnight, brother."
The Arbiter turned around and started to walk away, heading back outside, leaving his brother to squander what he had been told. Arla had never been too faithful in the Great Journey but even so, it seemed very hard to accept that it was a lie.
One of the humans walked over to Arla. He looked young for their species and had light brown hair. Arla half-expected the human to stare at him like some sort of zoo exhibit but instead the human began to talk. Arla didn't think his type would have been game enough to talk to a Sangheili, a Sangheili who really wasn't in the mood to talk.
"You must be in charge here," the human said. He held out his right hand. Arla merely glanced at it and the human took it back.
"What do you want, human?" Arla asked, "I'm not in the mood
"I just saw you sitting here, looking like shit, so I thought I'd try cheering you up."
Arla really didn't want to talk to the human and so glared at the youngster, hoping he could scare him off. The last thing he needed was a human, of all things, trying to make him feel happy. After all, it had been a long day.
"Leave me alone, human," Arla said, "I'm tired
"You don't need to call me 'human'," the human said, "I'm Corporal Roland Haverson. I'm guessing you have a name
Arla really couldn't care about the human's name and he wasn't about to tell this "Corporal" his.
"I don't want to tell you my name, human," Arla said, "now, leave me alone."
The Corporal shrugged.
"You can't please everybody," he said, turning around and leaving Field Commander Arla 'Sterlefomee to his thoughts.
Arla spent most of the next day catching up on most of his missed sleep, waking up at about midday to eat before drifting back off to sleep again. It was another sunny, warm day on this part of the ring and so he slept outside in the sun with no worries about getting attacked. All the Jiralhanae in the area had either been killed or forced away by the other Sangheili and their new human allies. All he needed to do now was to figure out a way to get off of the ring and he had a feeling that's exactly what everybody else was trying to do.
He awoke again in the afternoon and found, to his surprise, that the Arbiter's group had one of the Forerunner Oracles with them, a small, blue metal artificial intelligence with a bright light in the centre and annoying personality. After hearing the truth from the Oracle about the rings and how they could wipe out all life in the galaxy when activated, Arla sat himself down on a crate and began trying to accept it.
For all these years these beliefs of the Great Journey had been forced onto him, he had grown to believe them, just like anybody else in the Covenant. Now, all of a sudden, he was being told they weren't true. It seemed too much of a mental burden and he spent his time sitting outside in silence, busy thinking about it, trying to piece together all the other details.
It seemed that the Prophets had gladly forced him and every other Covenant species to go to war with the humans, claiming them as defilers of holy ground and non-believers. It had seemed all well and good back when it had started, but as the war had worn on and the Covenant became more and more strapped of resources, many had began to voice their doubts on the war. Many of those that had done this had been executed as heretics so Arla had learned to keep his mouth shut about the matter. After all, he had only been doing his job as a soldier.
Arla had always made sure to get himself assigned to the positions that didn't involve fighting humans but fighting the Covenant's other enemies, such as rogue Jiralhanae. He had always had a feeling that something didn't quite add up in their religion and this assumption had been proven correct today.
To top things off, the annoying Corporal from the day before came over to him and sat on a crate across from him. Unlike the other human marines who preferred to keep their distance from the Sangheili soldiers, this particular human had been going around to some of the Minors as well as Realas and Terlacè, talking with them, attempting to befriend them. Arla had to hand it to the Corporal, he was brave but he doubted his attempts at making friends with members of another species would prove to be successful.
"I see you've finally woken up," the Corporal said, "been a long week for you, hasn't it?"
Arla simply glanced at the human, giving him an uninterested look.
"Go away, Corporal," Arla said, "I have got a lot of things on my mind
"Doesn't everybody?" The Corporal said, smiling. There was an awkward silence for about a minute, Arla not in any mood to talk. This silence was abruptly broken by the sound of footsteps behind the Field Commander and a familiar voice.
"Arla? Is that you?"
Arla took a look behind him and saw a slightly familiar white armoured Sangheili, with emerald green eyes and one discerning feature: the Special Operations Commander's left mandibles were missing, severed in battle some time ago.
"The Arbiter mentioned you were here," Rtas 'Vadumee said,
"Although he didn't seem too pleased with your presence
"Family issues," Arla replied. It had been years since he had last saw Rtas, the last time being when Rtas was a Special Operations Officer, about four years ago. They had been good friends in their early military years, having been born and raised in the same settlement on Sanghelios and growing up together. They had even been in the same unit when they had first joined up.
"It's been a while, Rtas," Arla said. He noticed the Corporal sat watching them, his pistol in his right hand, attempting to spin it around but failing all his attempts, dropping it almost every time he tried. It was obvious the Corporal now felt left out and so had decided to preoccupy himself with some pointless activity.
"I hear you're quite the ladies man, Rtas," Arla said, trying to get the conversation going, "all the females I meet now are always going on about the handsome Special Operations Commander with no left mandibles
I guess the females find that attractive
"Is that so?" Rtas asked, acting surprised. He chuckled, obviously aware of his fame amongst the females. "I try not to let it get to my head
The Special Operations Commander paused and glanced over at the Corporal.
"I see he's trying to befriend you as well?" Rtas asked in the Sangheili native tongue so the Corporal wouldn't be able to understand.
"Quite an annoyance," Arla answered. Their conversation was then interrupted by the Corporal who sounded rather excited.
"Hey, watch this!" The Corporal exclaimed, Arla turning around to watch the Corporal spin the human pistol around in his right hand, only to drop it.
Arla shook his head, bent down and picked up the weapon, weighing it in his hand. It was lightweight and probably not even loaded with the projectiles that most human weapons seemed to use. It was a bit awkward fitting his fingers through the weapon but once they were through it was easy enough to move them around.
"What are you doing?" The Corporal asked, beating Rtas to asking the question. They exchanged glances and watched as Arla confidently spun the pistol around in his hand, backwards and forwards before launching it out of his hand and catching it with perfect precision. Grinning, he handed the weapon back to the Corporal.
The Corporal frowned and then looked straight at Arla, an eyebrow raised.
"Shit, where'd you learn to do that?"
"Yes, indeed where, brother?"
Arla hadn't noticed that the Arbiter had been approaching as he had done the pistol tricks and he turned to see his eldest brother standing to his left, an inquisitive expression on his face.
Arla and Rtas exchanged glances, the pair only knew too well where he had learned to do that.
"I'm curious," the Arbiter said, sitting down, "I didn't think somebody like you would have proficiency with human weapons. Unless, of course, there's something you're not telling me."
Memories came flooding back into Arla's mind, memories of something he had gone through after he had first joined. Rtas had been there with him for most of the time and the two of them had received many wounds and other types of injuries. It had been the very reason why Arla had vowed never to harm another human again, the very reason he had decided to assign himself to fight the Covenant's other enemies.
"I was only twenty-two years old," Arla said. He was rudely interrupted yet again when the dark-skinned human Sergeant joined the group, puffing smoke from the cigar in his mouth.
"Why's this guy so popular?" He asked, sounding irritated,
"Everybody seems to be sitting with him, so I think I'll do the same."
He was obviously referring to Arla and so sat down next to the Corporal, taking out a rations bar and biting into it. "Everybody seems to be sitting with him, so I think I'll do the same."
"Is this one of those groups where we tell each other funny stories?" Sergeant Johnson asked, "If it is, maybe I should start. After all, I am the funniest man here."
He laughed to himself, expecting others to follow. Nobody did so he nudged the Corporal in the side who started to laugh with him, taking a hint.
"I remember back in '37, we had this asshole of a Major, some guy called Vance, he went missing back in September, but anyway, as I was saying
"Johnson," the Arbiter said, interrupting the Sergeant. Johnson looked over to where the Arbiter sat.
Johnson laughed rather than fall silent, puffing smoke into the Arbiter's direction.
"That's not something you would usually say, am I right?" Johnson asked, "If I am, maybe us humans are finally influencing you in some way. Before you know it, you'll be swearing like a sailor
The Arbiter looked put off, but quickly composed himself, returning to his usual formality.
"Be quiet," he said and this time Johnson did fall silent, busy puffing on his cigar.
Rtas sat on Arla's left, turning to the Field Commander. The two of them knew what this was about and it would be up to them to tell the story at the best of their ability.
Arla noticed that the sun was falling low on the sky and they were rapidly approaching twilight, creating a rather atmospheric mood as the sky turned orange, and the clouds were becoming shades of purple or orange. A lot of things Arla had stored away in the deepest reaches of his mind started coming back, put there so he would never really remember them, usually the more painful memories. Rtas was probably going through the same thing but Johnson, unsurprisingly, interrupted the silence.
"Well, are you going to talk or what?" He asked, "Otherwise I'll just leave and make myself dinner
"I'll start," Arla said, "Rtas, be sure to correct any mistakes I make and fill us in on your side of the story. It's been a long time coming, but I think I'll feel better if I let it all out."
"I agree," Johnson said, "at least, my psychiatrist's always telling me that."
For the rest of that night, to pass the time away, Arla and his old friend Rtas sat and told the small group about what had happened on an isolated world where two human factions were fighting it out and how a small Covenant party was to get stuck in the middle