The Priestess and the Warrior - Debutante Freedom
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 2 January 2005, 5:42 PM
The Priestess and the Warrior
The lines of Elite soldiers were less substantial than Natanna would have liked, but there were some very good Sangheili in the crowd.
"Prophet on deck!" he called ceremoniously, smiling to himself as they snapped into rigid conformation. At the front, Natanna could see his prize student, Orna' Fulsamee.
"On this," the Prophet of Fury began, "most Holy of days, you Sangheili will march forth to serve the Prophets. For generations the Covenant have looked to this holy alliance . . ."
He would go far, that Orna' Fulsamee. Natanna could see greatness in him already. The Prophets may look him over, but all soldiers knew that true Honour comes from the battlefield, not from soothsaying.
Beside the rangy figure of Fulsamee, his friend Lia' Wuanna stood. Natanna could see the family of Wuanna sitting in the balconies, their high status affording them the best seats in the house.
"Fear is not a word the Sangheili understand," Fury was saying, gesturing expansively. "And indeed I owe my life many times over to the bravery and skill of the Elites in my service. Those I see before me today are set to carry on this fine tradition . . ."
Natanna could also see Supreme Commander Hans' Galatash in the gallery, watching his adopted charge. Galatash's eyes did not flicker from the young Elite at attention, not even when the best of the class were called up to receive their awards.
They walked down in their shining blue armour, holding their ceremonial energy swords tightly.
Lia' Wuanna was called up for a specific award in Naval Excellence. Walking tall he approached the Prophet, kneeling before him to receive the hilt of the energy sword. Such a weapon was not allowed in the hands of mere recruits. Accepting the hilt, Wuanna stood, stepping to the side and igniting the plasma. The light flickered over the blue helmet he wore and he returned to his comrades, nodding subtly to Fulsamee.
"Lastly, for the Award of General Excellence, Orna' Fulsamee."
Natanna roared the loudest as Fulsamee collected his sword, aware that a richer child would have been given a more respectful applause. Later, as the Prophet spoke at length with him about his new warriors, Natanna could see Fulsamee slipping away from the crowds. Staying barely long enough to pay his respects to Fury, Natanna hurried after him.
"Master Natanna," Fulsamee nodded his head. He stood on the balcony overlooking the great city of Soltashaa. His training complete, he would not be planet side for quite some time.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Natanna waved at the stars above them. "I have often thought that Sangheil was the most spectacular of the Covenant planets. Perhaps I am biased." He smiled, shaking his head. "Have you spoken with the Supreme Commander about your first post?"
"He says he is working on it," Fulsamee replied, swallowing.
Secretly laughing, Natanna managed a sober nod. "Do not be too disheartened, Orna'," he smiled at the use of the informal first name. "And I hope you will now consider me a friend, my Brother."
Orna' Fulsamee turned to him, his eyes bright. "That is the greatest Honour you could have awarded me . . . Brother."
"Congratulations!" Hans' Galatash's voice boomed over the balcony. He approached, resplendent in gold. "You are now a fully fledged Elite, Fulsamee. How does it feel?"
"It feels good," Fulsamee replied, smiling.
"Excellent," Galatash rested a hand on Fulsamee's shoulder. "I have arranged for a private party in your honour at my villa. Would you care to join us, Gui' Natanna?"
"I certainly would."
Fulsamee looked between the two, trying - and failing - to decipher their knowing smirks.
"Here," Lia' Wuanna wove his way through the aristocratic party goers with two glasses clutched in his hand. He reached Fulsamee at the window and pressed on into his grip. "To us."
"What is this?" Fulsamee sniffed the clear liquid and winced.
"Unggoy brew," Galatash answered for him, towering above Wuanna. "Really, just because you may now drink doesn't mean you cannot be Elites with taste."
"Yes, Excellency," Wuanna said, a little unsure of himself.
"Come," Galatash nodded to the nearby Kig-Yar to dispose of the glasses.
"This," Galatash reached a bureau, "is what Elites should drink. You'll have plenty time for Unggoy brew when you have to wile away the hours shipside." He removed a hooded bottle from inside the cabinet, setting it down. "Brandy, especially Jiralhanae stuff, that is acceptable. It would be preferable to drink a Sangheili whiskey." He lifted the hood from the bottle to reveal a light pink, incredibly fluid liquid.
"Leave it too long in the light and it evaporates," Galatash said, pouring three glasses.
The two Elites held theirs, not sure if drinking it would be tantamount to heresy.
"This is the drink of the Prophets, a very fine rum." Galatash swirled the glass, smelling its contents with a contented smile. Covering the bottle, he replaced it in its dark home and turned to the congregation.
"My fine Covenant," he began, waiting for them to focus their attention. "We gather here to congratulate the newest of our warriors-"
There were rowdy cheers from all the races gathered together, even the Prophets Fury and Solitude, who had deigned to visit the party.
"Yes, yes. Settle down . . . I see you there Holota, had a little too much to drink I think? As I was saying, we gather here to celebrate those like Lia' Wuanna, Orna' Fulsamee and their classmates. It gives me great pleasure to announce this now, as top of his class, Orna' Fulsamee has earned his way onto my cruiser, the Solemn Thunder . . ."
The rest of the speech and the tumultuous roars were lost to Fulsamee, who stared into his rum, trying to comprehend the magnitude of this. A posting on the Solemn Thunder was an honour far and beyond his station. Sangheili and Prophet alike approached him to offer their words of wisdom and congratulation. He managed a response, barely.
Swallowing, he downed the rum in one gulp, feeling it ignite all the way down his throat.
"You've done so well!" Lia' Wuanna hissed, grabbing his arm. "Celebrate!"
"I . . ." Fulsamee turned on him. "I have done nothing. Galatash has given me this."
"You've impressed him enough." Wuanna sipped his rum. "I'll be back, but my first night away from the facility deserves a far more attractive presence than yours."
"He has the right idea," a soft voice spoke by his shoulder.
Fulsamee turned to see a young Sangheili step forward, arching her neck as she watched Wuanna slip off into the mass of others. "Do you think so?" he asked, struggling for something to say.
"I do," she said, glancing up at him.
"I apologise, I do not think we have met," Fulsamee said to her, inclining his head.
She smiled. "Of course. Father speaks of you so often, I forget that I do not actually know you."
"You're - ?"
"Fera' Talsamee," she bowed her head, very close to his.
Fulsamee wracked his memory, coming up with the second oldest daughter of the union between Galatash and Fera' Kianall, the High Priestess. This child hadn't seen her mother in over six years, only spoken with her father on the most formal of occasions. Her rather forward attitude was typical of an aristocrat raised by servants. He doubted that she had ever not got her way.
"Your father has done me a great service, I owe him many thanks."
"Well then," she beamed. Her amber eyes matched the neatly tailored two piece robes she wore. "You can start by entertaining me. Tell me, do you dance?"
"Hans' Galatash!" Solitude hobbled across the floor, refusing to be reliant on his chair as age crept upon him.
"Noble Solitude," Galatash excused himself from his second in command and his new mate, choosing instead to guide Solitude to a comfortable seat. "How have you been?"
"Very well, thank you. I must say," Solitude smiled breathlessly at the room full of Sangheili. "I have not seen a party like this since Kianall left the running of your home to her daughter."
"Fera' Soffinna has done very well," Galatash agreed.
Nodding, Solitude seemed lost in thought. "Fera' Talsamee is getting on very well with your young ward," he murmured slyly. "I would watch that, if I were you."
"Would you, now?" Galatash frowned. "Talsamee is a very ambitious young lady, the Priestesses named her well. I worry that she does not have enough to channel her energies."
"Really?" Solitude paused in thought. "Have you thought about politics for her?"
"Politics?" Galatash repeated. "I hadn't. She is very young for such talk."
Penting his fingers, Solitude pursed his thin lips. "I do not think so. You must have heard the rumours Galatash."
"I have," the Elite spoke quietly, concentrating on his daughter on the floor. "But such signs . . . they are so far away? And we may not even know if a civilisation exists."
"I believe it does," Solitude turned to him. "I believe there is another race out there. Every piece of Forerunner evidence we have found speaks of a holy place, one uninhabited. That sector of the galaxy, unexplored and unforeseen . . . I sense a great revolution coming for our Covenant, Galatash. We will need all of the finest pieces on the board."
"And thus let your soul be carried from this mortal plane and borne on the Great Journey."
Solatta waited for Jalahass to finish her first ever ceremony, watching the very young seventh level priestesses finish their prayers and get up to leave.
"Have a good night," Jalahass told the little ones, waiting until they had filed out before sighing with relief. "Oh, Solatta, that was terrifying!"
"You were very good at it," Solatta soothed her. She noted that the brown robes of a sixth level priestess had been cunningly tailored by her dorm mates to give it more shape. The emerald stitching on the cuffs looked buffed as well.
It was tradition for the sixth level priestesses to go out into the city of High Charity after their long years of internment in the convent. And it was also tradition for them to give their keeper the slip and pay penance for many days afterwards.
Solatta recalled quite clearly her own 'escape'. Though now she had a charge of her own, she wished she could erase the night from her memory. Her first alcoholic drinks figured prominently.
Duty and plain respect dictated that she take Saia' Jalahass into the city soon. The young Sangheili would be meeting her parents this next cycle for the first time in six years. It was unheard of for a priestess not to have gifts for her family upon her visitation.
These gifts were often plain, since the sixth level priestesses undertook the Oath of Poverty and were denied all but the most basic of essentials. Still, Solatta reflected, Jalahass did not suffer. With the full facilities of the convent at her disposal, it was only personal items that were limited. With no contact from the outside world since her arrival, her only possessions included a doll and a down brush that had been long outgrown.
The older priestess did not fail to notice Jalahass' slight pause at the window, nor the hint of resentment in her tone when she spoke.
"They were a very good audience."
"They were. Not so long ago you were one of them." Solatta smiled at the indignation on her charge's face. "It's true though. To me it feels like yesterday."
"Liar!" Jalahass chuckled, pushing the older Sangheili. "You've passed into the fourth level, and stopped growing since I got here!"
"Yes so you'd better not push me so much, these bones are older and far more fragile."
Giggling to themselves, they bowed respectfully at a passing second level Junior Priestess.
"I have a thought." Solatta took her hand. "This way!"
They navigated the winding corridors to the last great entranceway with the huge doors. A legion of Honour Guard stood rigid, their eyes sliding across the floor to watch the young priestess as she stared up at the only barrier to her freedom.
"I want to feel fresh air."
Solatta hesitated. "Technically, Jalahass, the air out there is just as recycled as it is in here." Off Jalahass' look, she shook her head. "But let's go." She nodded to the guard and waited for the purple doors to part.
The long arching bridge seemed like forever to Jalahass. Their sedate pace, a necessity to keep their head-dresses on, was terribly frustrating. Jalahass wanted to run!
They passed two sightseeing Unggoy with a serene wave, and headed for the main lift that led to the city's centre.
"Is it what you'd hoped for?" Solatta asked as the platform descended. The merchant city sprawled beneath them, filled with the richest denizens of High Charity.
Jalahass breathed in through her mandibles. "I want to eat out," she murmured. "Let's eat out!"
After some deliberation they chose to eat in a smaller establishment, not wishing to draw too much attention to themselves. Sitting in the tall seats, they ordered simple meal of spiced worms and, as a special treat for the younger Sangheili, Brandy Mucus to drink.
"You know," Solatta slurped the intestinal worms from her bowl. "They can say what the will about the cooks at the convent, but at least they manage to resurrect some taste."
Jalahass chuckled, wiping her mandibles over her tongue. "Thank you for taking me out, Solatta. I was beginning to wonder if you ever wood."
"Just remember," Solatta warned, "I've studied every escape method ever attempted. You won't get away from me so easily."
Jalahass sipped her Mucus. "I don't think I want to. I haven't seen my family in over six years, and if I'm paying penance I'll miss my first opportunity to visit them."
"Hmm," Solatta hummed. "Would you like to go out to the market?"
"Perhaps," Jalahass stood. "I'd quite like to visit the monuments to the Arbiter, I went once when I was very small."
Nodding, Solatta made to stand, before getting thumped over the head with a heavy, ornate crown.
Jalahass sighed as she watched her mentor fall to the floor in a heap. She crouched, pulling the money pouch from Solatta's belt.
"Make sure she gets back to the convent," Jalahass said, tossing some coins in the direction of the Lekgolo staff. "And tell her 'I doubt she studied my methods'."
She smiled down at the teacher. "I am sorry," she whispered, stepping over the clutching hands.
"Oh, and does one of you know of a good tailor?" she asked.
Glancing between each other, the Lekgolo chattered amongst themselves, then one jumped forward. "If you please," he hissed, leading her down the streets.
"And these are your quarters." The deckmaster on the Solemn Thunder eyed the young Elite. "I do hope they're satisfactory."
Gazing around the tiny two bunked room, Orna' Fulsamee couldn't imagine anything better. "I thank you, Excellency," he said respectfully.
With a snort of laughter, the deckmaster left him to it, muttering about 'Excellency' and unable to decide if the seldom used formality was a tease.
Glancing at the second bunk, Fulsamee slid his case under the cot, then he hesitated. What was there to do now? His duty call wasn't until the morning and there was no one in the cabin to tell him what to do.
He thought of Lia' Wuanna, shipped out to a post in the distant end of the galaxy. All his other classmates were out of reach too, no doubt finding their own path in the stars.
The long corridors of the Solemn Thunder were decked out in purple hues, the last of her repairs completed as they prepared to get under way. Orna' Fulsamee tried not to stare as he passed, the occasional Engineer fascinating him.
Pausing at a long window he looked out at the dockyards surrounding the Engineer homeworld, Dannchatta. Covenant Cruisers lit trails in the sky as the departed from their dock, and others crawled in, beaten and bruised from their latest tangle with the universe. Shuttles zipped between the stations, giving the hectic sky the appearance of solidity.
"Hey there," a blue clad Elite paused in the corridor, giving him the once-over. "New recruit, I'd wager my next rations on it."
"I am. My name is Orna' Fulsamee," Fulsamee bowed respectfully.
Nodding slowly, the Elite touched foreheads as Brothers did. "Come on, you're on the Solemn Thunder now. No better ship and no closer crew."
His new friend led him to a small common room where various Elites and Grunts were relaxing. There was a heated three-player game of Jaheijagaj in the corner where two Elites and an old special ops Grunt looked set to come to blows.
"Has' Lannay, Has' Yahnaa," Fulsamee's companion nodded to the two blue Elites in the middle of the room. "This is Orna' Fulsamee."
"I know that name," Yahnaa sat up straighter. "I believe you have taken the extra bunk in my cabin."
Fulsamee felt the urge to apologise, but he quashed it.
"Sit," Lannay ordered. "And tell us about yourself."
"What would you like to know?"
Lannay thought about this.
"Your favourite Jaheijagaj strategy might be an idea," Fulsamee's original companion glowered in the direction of the game.
"Oh silence, Rolamee." Yahnaa belted the Elite over his tender chest, protected by the armour he wore.
"May I ask . . ." Fulsamee began, startled when the others paid him his full attention. "I was warned that I may not get a warm reception on my first posting." He looked between them, realising that they looked completely blank.
"Fresh out of training?" An older Elite, dressed in the informal black gel-suit worn under the armour, approached them with a smile fixed on his mandibles. "Let me tell you, Son, that your training no longer applies."
"None of it?" Fulsamee snapped back, before he could help himself.
The Elite laughed, the rest of their audience with them. Now that the room's attention was on Fulsamee and the much larger spec-ops Elite, Fulsamee regretted his sarcastic tone.
"We're your teachers now," the Elite informed him. "Us and the Thunder. You'll have learned more by tomorrow than you have in all your years in training."
Saia' Jalahass eyed the two Honour Guard that were escorting her back to the convent. Surely . . . most likely . . . they could be subverted too. All the Elites she'd met in High Charity had been extremely helpful.
These Honour Guard were not so friendly, depositing her in the plush office of Fera' Kianall. Solatta stood by the door in respectful deference, but her eyes blazed with fury.
"You're not pleased with me," Jalahass deduced.
Kianall shook her head, her mind recalling the night of her escape with brilliant clarity. "I shall leave the terms of your punishment up to Solatta, you insolent child," she scolded. "You bring dishonour on us all."
She managed to wait until both junior priestesses had left her office before she collapsed into helpless snorts of laughter. The Honour Guard eyed her, a twitch forming at the corner of his mouth.
"Where on earth did you find her?" Kianall asked, standing and righting her headdress.
The Honour Guard hesitated. "A brothel, my Lady. I do believe she was attempting to liberate her Sister Sangheili."
Kianall pinched her mandibles to keep from laughing again. "And did she succeed?"
"We do have a bill for damages . . ."
"I am outraged!" Solatta paced in front of the altar. "That you would so blatantly go against my wishes!"
Jalahass kept her eyes slightly closed. Unggoy Brew was not the drink of choice from now on.
"And to attack me!" Solatta paused for a moment, regarding her young charge. "I don't understand though . . . why waste this opportunity to see your family?"
Jalahass let one eye slide open. She inched herself off the floor, forgoing her forgiveness prayer for the answer. "I'll see them next cycle. I've waited six years, Solatta, another month will not kill me."
Solatta frowned, folding her arms. "Continue your prayers," she ordered, but she did not shout. "I'll be back later with food."
Fulsamee felt the fabric around his head tighten and the ropes secure his arms to his body before he was fully awake.
He struggled, kicking out at his assailants, but strong arms pinned him down.
"Move it, Narnay!" hissed the voice of Fulsamee's bunkmate.
"Get the paint!" That was definitely Rolamee. The actions became clear to Fulsamee and he relaxed. This was a prank.
"Oh I wouldn't get too comfortable," an Elite whispered in his ear, mandibles brushing Fulsamee's skin.
"What do you plan on doing?" Fulsamee asked before a wad of fabric was tightened around his throat, impeding his speech.
He was lifted from his bed, blind and mute, and carried down what he felt sure were the hallways of the Solemn Thunder. He tried to keep track of the twists and turns, but his captors doubled back several times and sang rowdy drinking songs to deafen him to the Thunder's unique noises.
At one point he heard a Jiralhanae grunt "Elites," in a tone of utter contempt. This worried Fulsamee. He had no wish to appear naked and painted with obscene symbols in the middle of the Brutes common room. The Jackals or Drones he could handle, but he feared the great oafs that made up the Brute nation.
Narnay, the spec-ops Grunt, was tickling his underside, making him wriggle in the grasp of his captors. One of the Elites carrying him pretended to drop him, and it felt like a long way before Fulsamee was caught once more.
"Hey!" shouted an Elite, Fulsamee recognised the voice as one of the old spec op leaders. The Elites started chanting, obviously liking whatever plan the spec-ops leader had gestured to.
"Ohhhhh - My - Brute shot got no shot, no shot, the shot not got my Brute shot not,
All around the deck hands sing
About the Brute shot not got shot no Brutes!"
Fulsamee truly wished that they were not carrying him to the Brute halls.
He was roughly dragged through long narrow shafts, he assumed they were the Grunt passageways, before he could make out the tiniest chinks of light through his blindfold.
"Oh the Supreme Commander will be furious," cackled another one of the Grunts.
This was worse than the Brute halls.
Fulsamee tried to protest, muffled though his voice was, but the Grunts pushed him through a vent and let him fall.
Hans' Galatash looked up from the dinner their chef had set out and was infinitely glad that his ceremonial helmet hid the expression on his face.
Across the table the minor Prophet brothers looked completely stunned, choice segments of their dinner hanging off their ears.
The poor, young Sangheili who had falled from the ceiling vents was trussed up tight, with many a strange and misspelled expression painted on his body with . . . what looked, to Galatash . . . to be deck paint.
"Is that . . ." the Prophet of Honour lifted his long fork and used it to prod the Elite, eliciting a pained jerk from the body trying to play dead.
Coughing slightly, Galatash nodded to the two other Elites at the table. Please, please realise what I'm doing, he prayed under his breath. Fera' Kianall if you could use your way with the Forerunners now . . .
Galatash sipped his rum, holding a hand up for the Grunt servants. "Another bowl of gasoh please, this one is quite finished."
Sol' Nakaka, the Ship Master, spluttered violently, managing to hide his face in the bowl of mucus worms he had.
Honour and Glory stared at the Ship Master as he resurfaced, face dripping mucus. "Is . . . is this normal, Sol' Nakaka?"
Nakaka put on a brilliant show of ignorance. "The gasoh going off? Well it is a very delicate meal. Our cooks are quite heavenly," he added, enjoying himself now.
"Indeed," the field master Saammee proffered a napkin to Nakaka. "Some may think it trivial, I say an army marches on its stomach. Especially a Grunt one!"
All the Elites laughed at this.
The only other member of the table was a Brute Chief, Gorgon. Gorgon's inclusion had not been Galatash's choice, but the will of the Prophets. Galatash found that Brutes rarely made entertaining dinner guests and Gorgon was no exception. Even now, he ignored the Prophets polite disbelief and stood, circling the table to get a view of the young Elite.
"Is your food quite palatable?" Galatash asked.
Gorgon sneered at him, grabbing the Elite on the table and wrenching him off, flinging him to the floor. "This is a Sangheili!" he snorted.
Galatash hesitated, he knew he shouldn't say this. Finishing his rum he set the glass down and tented his fingers. "Is it? I hadn't noticed."
Fulsamee was miserable as Sol' Nakaka removed the last of his bonds.
"There, good as new. Well," Nakaka frowned quizzically, "except for the paint."
"Spectacular," Saammee added, bumping foreheads with Fulsamee. "I have had a wonderful dinner, haven't you Hans'?"
Hans' Galatash paused at the door to his private office, looking at his young ward. "Fulsamee," he growled. "What did you think you were doing."
Fulsamee slumped, mustering enough respect for his commanding officer to stand and bow. "I am . . . ashamed for myself, Excellency."
Pulling off his helmet, Galatash grinned. "Don't be! We'll be talking about that for years!"
Cheering, the other Elites started to scrub the paint off. "The Thunder really knows how to pick her warriors, doesn't she?" Saammee said, scrubbing so hard it hurt Fulsamee's skin.
"You're not . . . you do not feel anger?"
Galatash crouched beside him, bumping foreheads. "Understand this, Orna', we have our work cut out for us to placate the Prophets . . . but we laughed and we became Brothers for it. That is a reward too great to be angry with."
Fulsamee hesitated, there was one question he wanted to ask, but he wasn't sure if it were allowed.
"You're wondering about the Brute Shot song that's been scribed all over your legs," Nakaka surmised, a smile gracing his features.
"Oh!" Galatash cackled at the thought. "Ooohhhh myyyyyyyy Brute shot got no shot, no shot, the shot not got my Brute shot not,
All around the deck hands sing
About the Brute shot not got shot no Brutes!
They tell about that shotless Brute with got not shot that Brute shot not
And asked about that not shot Brute got not
I said shot not Brute did the Brute shot, but the Brute shot hot the Brute not shot but Brute not shot shot!"
Fulsamee's eyes widened. "Shotshot," he mumbled. "Isn't that . . ."
"Incredibly rude in the Jiralhanae language?" Nakaka grinned. "Well - had we known, I'm sure it would never have become a traditional drinking song . . ."
The transport set down on the landing pad and the passengers disembarked, all off to their own business.
For Jalahass this was the first time she'd set foot on Sangheil since she had been a child. Though many still would consider her a child. Sangheil's sweeping orbit around her sun was far longer than any of the other Covenant homeworlds, and the Elites still counted time in those long years.
She gazed around the platform, wondering if her parents were there. She barely recalled their faces.
There were no other priestesses standing on the platform as the commuters moved away. Surely her mother and father would recognise her. Would speak with her.
Her mother would hold her, her father would lift her upwards.
"Saia' Jalahass?" questioned a richly adorned male Sangheili. He inspected her. "You've grown rather scrawnier than one would have hoped."
Jalahass swallowed. "Father?"
A second Sangheili joined them, her expression pinched. "Saia' Jalahass. We were glad to hear of your survival."
Jalahass looked upon her mother, Saia' Sorenza, and felt an odd calm descend upon her. "I was glad also to be able to speak with you once more," she waited, head held high for her parents to remember their manners and bow to the sixth level priestess.
"Priestess Saia' Jalahass," Sorenza corrected herself. "Would you care to meet your siblings?"
"Yes." Jalahass followed them, resolutely determined not to cry.