The Priestess and the Warrior - Grave of the Solemn Thunder
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 14 January 2005, 7:05 PM
The Priestess and the Warrior
Grave of the Solemn Thunder
High Charity loomed in front of the third moon in the planet's atmosphere, surrounded by a hundred pin pricks that were the Covenant cruisers. Dwarfed by the city, their individual orbits blurred into a lazy defensive circuit.
The largest dot was slowly making its individuality known. Bristling with cannons and recently fitted with the very latest shielding technology, it drifted further from its comrades. Once at a safe distance, it welled, an enormous bubble of energy encompassing it, and stealing it away from normal space.
The Solemn Thunder was gone.
Orna' Fulsamee watched the nothingness of slipspace stare back at him from the Elite common room.
"If you look anymore depressed, Fulsamee, you'll have our latest recruits thinking the Thunder's not the best crew in the fleet," someone drawled.
The other Sangheili laughed. The oldest and most battle worn, Sian' Jaltamaa, a Special Operations member since before most of the others had been born, clicked his mandibles thoughtfully.
"With a mate as pretty as yours, I wouldn't be spending my off duty cycles in here." Tapping his claws against the chair, he stared into the back of Fulsamee's head. "Is there trouble already in the nest?"
Fulsamee knew, without turning his head, that the entire congregation was watching him. Repressing a sigh, he heaved himself up. "It's strange, Jaltamaa, all this time I thought you loved to mouth off. Yet you ask for the ability to be removed from you." He leaned closer, his jaws clicking together. "Permanently."
And now was a good time to retreat. He could not order his soldiers to stop talking about his personal life, especially when it was so high profile. He could maintain dignity . . . but for that sacrifices must be made.
His sacrifice would be to go see his mate for the first time since they had set underway.
Jalahass surveyed the boxed that filled the large, egg-shaped quarters on the Thunder. Although she had been unpacking for hours, nothing seemed to have been touched.
As kind and considerate as the Unggoy were, they had decided to mix her stuff from her chambers in the convent in with Fulsamee's possessions from his old quarters in the lower decks. Presumably, this would have been to make her feel even more bonded to him, because it certainly couldn't have been the easiest option for the little Grunts.
Her reluctance to move all of Fulsamee's belongings had intensified when she had found a beautiful, ceremonial green box. It had been carved from the green wood of the sacred halli tree, with intricate decorations emblazoned on the sides. She had opened it, curiosity getting the better of her, and found two nadier. Such a precious and personal item should not be shown to just anyone, and these were clearly well loved and cared for.
She knew nothing about him. Except that he was deadly.
"By the Prophets," she muttered under her breath. "There had to have been an easier solution to Solitude's problems than this."
The arching doors slid apart with a soft chime and Fulsamee entered, hulking over in his red armour.
"Ah . . . I am so glad you're back." She dropped the beautiful down-hair pillow that was part of a set, a gift from the Hierarchs. "You may unpack your things now."
Fulsamee watched as she retreated to the oval recession in the wall. It was a day bed, of sorts, though clearly intended for two Sangheili. "I see we were given the most luxurious suite."
Regarding him from her recline, Jalahass shrugged her mandibles. "I had no idea the Solemn Thunder catered to newly bonded couples."
"Nor had I." Fulsamee turned to the crates. Jalahass looked quite different without the imposing head dress and in less formal attire. Her beauty did not match Talsamee's, her skin was a little rougher and her body lankier.
Removing his helmet he set it aside on top of one of the crates and peered into the one Jalahass had been rooting through. The items in it were not his, he moved on to the next. Inside there were robes of Jalahass' . . . and some of his old trophies.
"I . . . but . . ." he turned to her, seeing her smug face. "You knew!"
Unfolding from her seat she circled the crate and pulled out a long azure dress. "Most of these are formal. Where's the wardrobe in this place?"
"You haven't found it yet?" Fulsamee asked. He could feel a twitch in one of his mandibles coming on.
Glowering, Jalahass scooped up an armful of fine fabrics and dumped them on the daybed. "You might not want to leave me doing the housekeeping. I left my home when I was a Hatchling, and we Priestesses don't do much tidying up."
There was that twitch again. Fulsamee tried not to look at the tangle of clothing strewn over the floor and crossed to the storage compartments concealed in the wall. "Here."
"How much space will you need?" Jalahass asked as she began folding haphazardly.
"I'm not sure." He pulled out the next item on the agenda, a rebel Brute pelt, one of his first scalps of war.
"Oh that's . . ." Jalahass corrected herself off his look ". . . quite . . . interesting. Perhaps it would look better over there?"
Grumbling to himself, Fulsamee sent it sailing through the air. "I didn't even draw lines across the floor with my first bunkmate."
"Wait until you've shared chambers with someone under an Oath of Fasting, Fulsamee . . . that's torture." She shoved the rest of her robes into the alcove and pushed it closed. Approaching him again she grinned. "Of course, that might be my next promotion."
"When's that due?"
"As soon as possible."
"Hmm," Jalahass pulled out his old Jaheijagaj board. "Oh. Do you play?"
"You have to on this ship." Fulsamee was regarding a very old down brush. "Is this yours?"
Jalahass lunged across the room to take it from him. "Yes."
Fulsamee looked sceptical. "I'm sure you're far too old for that."
"I am. It has sentimental value." She placed it on the desk that was rapidly filled up with her junk. She had collected a lot of useless items over the years, but the down brush had stayed with her through all of them. She needed it here too.
Fulsamee sighed deeply, staggering back from the crates and collapsing onto his pelt. "This should be easier."
Nodding, Jalahass set the brush down and approached him, kneeling on the edge of the large furry rug. She watched as Fulsamee struggled to remove his armour, eventually shedding the metal and sitting in the more comfortable dermo-suit.
"You don't play Jaheijagaj?" he asked after a moment.
"No," Jalahass shook her head. "It wasn't taught to Priestesses."
The Unggoy glanced meaningfully at each other as they served dinner to the two Sangheili sitting on the pelt. The pyramid shaped Jaheijagaj board sat between them, its four classes of pieces scattered on the fur beside them.
"Jaheijagaj is as much about bravery and Honour as it is about skill and tactics," Fulsamee said as he sorted the last of the pieces out. "In a three or four player game, one wishes to have as many allies as possible. Being duplicitous will not aid you."
Looking slightly baffled, Jalahass caught some worms wriggling in her bowl and chewed thoughtfully. "So how do you start?"
Holding out one of each type of piece, Fulsamee set them out on the board. On each of the four sides he set out four pieces in a diamond shape. "Do you see on the bottom of the sets, your pieces are red, mine are blue."
"How very complicated," she retorted.
Grinning, Fulsamee paused to eat. "You might want to save the best of your witticisms for later, Priestess." Finished, he sat back. "Now. I cannot see your pieces and you cannot see mine. You can see the pieces on the boards on either side of you-"
"Not very well."
"Precisely. These are your Kiggyar, the half informed pieces. It's derived from Kig-Yar, yes." He smiled and thanked the Grunts as they left. "As there are only two of us playing they are not of much relevance . . . yet. The largest of your pieces is the strongest, but also the slowest. It may only move one space at a time, but it must be surrounded by enemy forces on all sides to be taken down."
Jalahass frowned and Fulsamee waited for her to reason something through. "There's not enough forces for you to take down this one. Even combined with the Kiggyar."
"These smaller pieces are your infantry. Three infantry clustered together spawn a fourth member."
"Why are there different sizes of infantry?"
"They represent your warrior's Honour. Those with greater Honour can overwhelm a warrior with less Honour. Now - to attack . . ."
Solitude approached the luxurious cot and peered down into the plush purple interior. An anti-grav cushion kept the Prophet of Hope from touching the sides of the bed, the effect only seemed to add to his fragility.
"I truly hope we may heal you Brother," he whispered. Turning away, he hobbled past the holographic displays of the Graceful Wanderer. The planet was one of the most remote colonies, closest to the sacred Healing Grounds in the nebula where the Prophets had first found evidence of the Forerunner. The official reason for the Thunder's voyage was that Saia' Jalahass would be visiting the Graceful Wanderer on a public relations tour. The delay at the planet was a necessary evil. Lying before the altar, Solitude prayed. "Oh Mighty Lords, listen to this old Prophet's plea. Grant us safe passage to the Healing Grounds . . . grant Hope strength. Great Forerunner, give me the time I need."
Jalahass groaned and rolled over as Solatta shook her awake for morning prayer.
"I'm not going!" she grumbled, grabbing the older Priestess and pulling her onto the sheets.
"Oomph!" Orna' Fulsamee was considerably heavier than Solatta and he landed on Jalahass' bed with a considerable thump.
"Fulsamee!" she gasped. She had never woken this quickly before in her life. Both Sangheili found themselves apologising, before Orna' cut her off with a gesture.
"The Grunts are wondering if you will be breaking your fast with the officers, or in your quarters," he said, his mandible twitching in amusement.
"Uh . . ." Jalahass glanced out at the window of nothing and grimaced. She stretched every muscle in her body, kicking off the covers and reaching for a robe. "Did you sleep well on the day bed?"
"Yes . . . where are you eating, Priestess?" Fulsamee handed her the robe she was looking for. "Did you have servants to do everything in the convent?"
"No. When I visited home I had servants to do everything." Shrugging the robe over her head, she smoothed the wrinkles of skin at the back of her neck and contemplated where to dine. "Are you going to be eating with the officers?"
"I had planed to eat with the crew, but I will go to the officers mess with you if you wish."
Chewing her mandible, Jalahass wondered how fair it would be to ask him to change his plans.
"Come," Fulsamee took her elbow and pulled her out the door. "We shall go eat now before my duty shift starts."
Nakaka was the only one in the private hall when Fulsamee and Jalahass arrived.
"A change of arrangements?" Fulsamee indicated the table he sat at. "You're not usually here."
"I had a meeting with the Brute captain," Nakaka spoke with great annoyance. He downed his warm stew and bowed his head to Jalahass. "A fine morning to you, Priestess."
"And you . . . Sol' Nakaka, am I correct?"
"You are indeed," Nakaka turned to the Unggoy service passage. "Come on out you lot! Mouths to feed!"
Jalahass sat down and sipped at the water that was laid out in a fine clay beaker. It was made by the Kig-Yar on their home planet, and was prized for its extremely delicate and patient detail work. Jalahass had seen a demonstration of it being made once, and she had been bored witless.
"We may have a new Jaheijagaj champion on our hands," Fulsamee said as he nibbled on dry flatbread.
Impressed, Nakaka bowed his head again to Jalahass. "Coming from the one reigning supreme, that's high praise, Priestess."
"I didn't win! I lost dismally." Jalahass smiled despite this. "I understand the rules, except when they keep changing. He assured me he wouldn't use the Kiggyar but he did."
"Yes, you must be very wary of Orna' Fulsamee in battle. He will do whatever it takes," Nakaka warned her.
"Is it legal?" Jalahass let the Grunt place the food on the table before she dived into it, surprisingly ravenous.
"Perfectly," Nakaka sighed. "My loss in Jaheijagaj, Priestess, is that I trust my opponents far too much."
Fulsamee laughed, slurping the last of the stew down his throat. "I must leave now," he announced, standing and stuffing more flatbread into his mouth. "My duty shift starts in . . ." glancing at the chronometer he twitched his mandibles. "I must leave now."
Nakaka and Jalahass laughed as he hurried off.
"Well, Priestess, I'm off duty. Have you toured the ship yet?"
"I have not. Would you be my guide?"
"I would be delighted to, Priestess."
High Charity Ninth Age of Reclamation
"My Noble Prophet," Glory inclined his head as Truth approached. "How may we help you?"
The darkened chamber suited the small eyes of the Prophet race, but there could be anything hiding in the shadows. Truth was always wary of the sanctum and always had his personal Brute guard with him when he spoke with the Hierarch.
"I was curious. Has the Solemn Thunder reported in yet?"
Glory eyed the young Prophet by Truth's side, but he slid his chair across the room, staring out into space. "Commander Galatash is brilliant tactician. It is unlikely that he will report in unless he is at the designated reporting co-ordinates."
"Of course," Truth bowed his head. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Regret's attention and made a slight motion. Watch me.
Approaching the older Grace, Truth affected his most likeable persona. "I fear for Hope, with only one ship . . ."
"It is a secret mission, any target on board would be Saia' Jalahass. No one knows of Hope on board." Mercy cut in, a little too quickly for Truth's liking. He hushed him with a look.
"Admittedly, Noble Mercy."
"And who," Grace turned to look at Truth, "would wish to target Saia' Jalahass?"
"Who indeed," Truth said, surprised. "I see no profit in it for the rebels, ah, if you pardon my pun."
"Should something happen to Hope," Grace faced him. "You would be a strong candidate for the next Hierarch."
"Well . . . " Truth began.
"I would not support you." Grace folded his arms.
Truth narrowed his eyes. "Is that so?"
"That is so."
"Then, Noble Grace, I take my leave. Regret!"
Grace watched the exit, and felt as though he had just lost a battle. He glanced to Mercy, the old fool smiling to himself.
"I suppose you're happy?"
"I would support him."
"You told him about the yoo-mans."
"And you told Solitude." Mercy clasped his hands and returned to his private chambers. "And we were both told not to let it slip to anyone."
"Perhaps Hope was the wisest after all," Grace replied.
Colonised world: Graceful Wanderer Ninth Age of Reclamation
Orna' Fulsamee gritted his four rows of teeth together as another Hatchling pawed his shining new armour.
"How many scalps do you have?" he asked, grinding his mandibles together, forcing out a sticky goo which seemed to gravitate to Fulsamee's breastplate.
"Enough . . ." he said, trying to disengage himself.
"How many!" the Hatchling wailed, thumping a sticky hand off Fulsamee's leg.
"Ahh, Excellency," the Unggoy teacher smiled at him. "You're a natural. You are a lucky one, Priestess."
Jalahass glanced over from the other side of the ceremonial hall where an older class was detailing their art projects.
"This is the space ship I will use," the little Sangheili told her gravely. "And with it I will burn out all heresy."
"What a brave little soldier." The expression of polite amusement was fixed so rigidly on her face it hurt.
The doors slid open, letting a little of the arid atmosphere in with a whoosh. Hans' Galatash smirked a little as he approached them.
Fulsamee growled under his breath. "Commander, do you require assistance?"
Galatash smiled, swooping one of the little Sangheili into his arms. It giggled and squealed in delight as Galatash tossed it up and down, much to the concern of the Grunt nurse maid who bounced around his ankles, eyes fixed on her precious charge.
"I'm afraid I must take your new friends away from you," he told his young audience. He scrubbed the down hair on the Hatchling's head and helped Jalahass to her feet, she swayed, the extra gravity on the Graceful Wanderer making her head-dress all the more cumbersome. "Are you well, Priestess?"
"Fine thanks," she replied. She tried not to giggle as Fulsamee escaped from his fan, and clapped her hands together. "Gather round, Hatchlings. I will bless you."
The children did so, curling into little balls before her.
"Very good," she said. "Let the Forerunner bless these Honourable warriors, giving each one the strength and courage they will need to defend their faith and their Lineage."
Once outside in the harsh wind, Fulsamee let out an explosive grunt of annoyance.
"You don't want children then?" Galatash asked.
"Not those children," he retorted.
"I used to live in a crèche like that," Jalahass pointed out, one hand steadying her ornate crown. "My nurse maid was a cantankerous old Elite with only one arm." She tripped over a loose stone and was caught by Galatash and Fulsamee. "Thanks. Would you hold this?" Pulling off the head dress she gave it to Fulsamee.
Fulsamee's eyes widened in surprise as he hoisted the heavy mass of metal and jewels. They continued over the orange dirt to the home of Hik 'Arumaa, the most influential Sangheili on Graceful Wanderer.
"Feel the weight in this." Fulsamee handed the head dress to Galatash.
"Hmm. You're stronger than you look, Priestess."
Jalahass shrugged, ducking under the cover of the walkway. Now in an artificial environment she breathed a sigh of relief. "It saved my life during my first rites. It was my only weapon."
"First rites?" Fulsamee handed her back the head dress and she righted it on her head.
"Yes. To show I was blessed by the Forerunner I was marooned on an uninhabited planet, much like this one, to survive for seven weeks." She saw the surprise on Fulsamee's face and grinned. "If being a Priestess was easy, everyone would be doing it."
'Arumaa had taken to decorating his palace in the style of the Prophets, with high backed chairs and tall tables.
Jalahass found this incredibly annoying. She preferred to sit on a rug on the floor and eat off low tables. She liked her line of sight to be uninterrupted with looming holograms of great historical figures. Most of all, she liked to eat in a way conducive to being polite. When eating off a high table, tipping food directly from the bowl to the mouth is remarkably hard.
'Arumaa actually toyed with his food, even removing it from his plate when he got too excited. It made her feel quite sick.
"And yourself, Priestess," his mate turned to her, smiling politely. "Have you started to make a home for yourself?"
"Ah . . ."
"Right now, Priestess Jalahass is under the Oath of Pilgrimage," Fulsamee interjected. He twitched his upper mandible at her in a reassuring gesture. "She is not allowed to settle down."
"Oh." 'Arumaa's mate looked quite surprised. "It wouldn't be me."
"If being a Priestess was easy, then all Sangheili would be one," he replied.
Jalahass choked on her flatbread, trying not to laugh at the beautifully veiled insult.
"Quite," 'Arumaa said. He brushed off his hands. "Now, tell me, Orna' Fulsamee. How much have you inherited through your bonding?"
"Well, I . . ." Fulsamee began, flustered by the question.
"Or is it too much for you to count!" 'Arumaa asked, getting his own back for insinuation that his mate was not good enough to be a Priestess.
Galatash glowered over the table, about to speak when Jalahass interrupted.
"Not quite so, 'Arumaa. I do believe my inheritance amounts to half of Sangheil, although Fulsamee and I have plans to expand. We do have holdings on the colonies, but Graceful Wanderer has enchanted me so much . . . I'm wondering how much you'd like for a few plantations?"
'Arumaa stuttered and spluttered, unable to formulate a polite rebuttal.
"Is the worth too much for you to count?" Galatash asked curiously.
Solemn Thunder Leaving Graceful Wanderer's Orbit Ninth Age of Reclamation
"Was that really necessary?" Fulsamee asked as he entered their new quarters.
Jalahass glanced at him, taking off her head-dress and shaking herself. "Was what necessary?"
"Did you feel it necessary to defend me?" Fulsamee asked.
Surprised, Jalahass stopped and regarded him. "Yes I did," she answered truthfully. "I was doing you a favour, Fulsamee."
He was silent, and he did not remove his armour.
Shrugging, Jalahass moved through to their private bath and slipped into the water. She surfaced, trilling in delight. "Ah to be clean again! I don't know how 'Arumaa copes with all that dirt."
In the main quarters, Fulsamee weaved through the still unpacked crates. "So you do not intend to purchase any land from him."
"What would I do with it?" Jalahass called. "They're not that profitable."
"Then you lied to him," Fulsamee sighed deeply.
Pausing in her ministrations, Jalahass swam to the edge of the bath. She could just see him behind a crate. "I did."
"Please do not lie again for my Honour," he grated.
"So why are you allowed to protect me, but I cannot do the same for you?"
"I did not deceive anyone."
"You have antiquated ideas," Jalahass retorted. She slipped underwater again, relaxing in the warmth. A shadow rippled over her and she surface, eyeing Fulsamee.
"The Forerunner do not advocate deception," he said. Crouching by the edge, he touched the water, testing the temperature.
Jalahass sighed, paddling backwards. "Yet we are only Sangheili, and some small deceptions are required." She closed her eyes. "Especially in politics."
This upset Fulsamee further and he stood, heading for the door.
"I won't be a trophy," Jalahass called to him.
"I won't be a trophy, Fulsamee." She stepped out from the pool, clenching and unclenching her fists. "If I had had the choice, I would not have chosen to bond with you. You are arrogant, pretentious, and you seem to think you know far more than a mere female."
Stalking across the chambers, Jalahass grabbed a fresh robe, shrugging it on angrily. "My name and position are not my only worth. "
"I would not have chosen you either," snapped Fulsamee. "I do not think of you as a 'mere female', but understand you replace an exceptional Sangheili-"
"'Exceptional'!" Jalahass grunted in annoyance. "She was Truth's plaything, Fulsamee. My role in this pairing is to protect you, Fulsamee. In the circles that you have no experience in."
Fulsamee straightened. "What?" he asked.
"To protect you," Jalahass repeated. She hesitated. "What is the matter?"
"And the Forerunners decreed this?" he turned to her. There was a strange, almost hopeful look in his eyes.
"No . . . the Forerunners didn't decree anything." Her eyes widened. "Did not Solitude tell you?"
Fulsamee sat down with a thump.
"I had no idea, Fulsamee . . . I was told to fabricate a vision . . . I-"
"You mock me!" He erupted, grabbing her arm and shaking her. "How dare you ridicule me so?"
"This is no joke!" Jalahass yelled back. She glared at him. "Let me go or, by the Prophets, I'll make you suffer."
Startled perhaps that he was hurting her, Fulsamee let go. He stepped backwards and with a tight bow of his head, he mustered enough control to speak. "I will part company with you now. Sleep well, Priestess."
"Don't you dare!" Jalahass shrieked as he made to leave. She grabbed at his armour, jerking him around to face her. Off balance, they upset a crate, spilling bonding gifts across the floor. "Don't walk out because I did what I had to do-"
"You had to blasphemy?" Fulsamee retorted. He stumbled over an ornament, and kicked it away from him in fury. "You made a mockery of me and of my faith- you-"
"And what of me?" A guttural scream escaped her and she turned away from him. "Did you think of what it meant to me?"
"To you? Yes, such a trial it must have been for you," he sneered. "Poor little Priestess with all her Lineage and Power, suffers because she has another piece to play with on her board."
"You think so little of me," she said softly. Facing him once more he was startled to see tears. "I envy you, Fulsamee."
"Do not patronise me," he growled, storming across the room.
"Then show me the same respect!" She followed him, running to catch up. Her foot caught on the shards of the ornament and she swore, hopping up and down.
"So then, how has your life rivalled mine, Priestess?"
"You were loved, weren't you?" she snapped, sitting heavily on the day bed. She plucked the shard of clay from her cloven sole and rubbed the wound. "Look around you. Presents from Galatash, from Nakaka. They are gifts chosen personally for you."
"Your family gifted you with an entire estate on the colonies."
"Yes," she drawled. "What a touching gift. A bit of dirt."
"Poor little rich Priestess," he replied, equally sarcastic.
"You are so good at what you do you need my name to protect you." Jalahass slumped against the pillows. "I left all that I have ever known since I was a Hatchling, the only family that have ever shown love to me . . . my mentor, Hera' Solatta. I left it because someone I never met had to be protected."
"We all must do our duty to the Gods."
"Your faith is so strong. I envy you that too."
"Why should it not be strong?" he asked.
Jalahass hesitated. Because they have never punished me for my sins.
The Solemn Thunder shook violently, flinging them both to the deck.
"Are you okay?" Fulsamee yelled over the sound of frightened alarms.
"Yes," she yelled back, eyeing the shard of ornament that landing on his armour had protected her from.
"What's going on?" Fulsamee stumbled as he entered the control room. Even this deep into the ship they were not protected.
"Brutes!" Nakaka shouted at him from the central island. "We're surrounded, three ships to one."
Fulsamee sprinted to the panels, checking the read outs worriedly. "Where's Galatash?"
Nakaka crouched as another shockwave pummelled the ship. "He's securing Hope. It's you and I."
"Those cannons are killing us," Fulsamee grunted. He stared at the figures scrolling quickly across the displays. Quickly rerouting some Engineers to more vital systems, he ordered the AI to continuously fire.
"Oh, those sons of Grunts!" Nakaka yelled. "They've taken out our processing core! How did they sneak up on us like this?"
"Who was here when you came in?"
The door opened and Jalahass entered, two more Sangheili following her.
"You!" Fulsamee yelled, pointing at the two crew. "Here and here. Jalahass, get back into the quarters."
"Thank you, but no. I'll stay on the safest part of the ship. Grant me access."
"Our targeting scanners are off-line," reported one of the crew.
"Fire randomly," Nakaka snapped. "Jalahass, I've given you access to the Thunder's systems. You reroute personnel. Everything's down, people, we have to do it all ourselves. Lay out covering fire, I don't care if you can't target. Cycle our shields regularly. Fulsamee, you and I will attempt some evasive manoeuvres."
The huge Solemn Thunder curved away from her assailants, reeling from the relentless plasma burns scorching her silver sides.
The hulking mix of rebel ships followed her. The two on her tail focussed on her engines, while the lightest and fastest circled her, hitting her vital systems intermittently.
With her impulse engines crippled, the Thunder limped in her downwards spiral, thrusters bursting with their dying gasps.
The biggest Brute ship circled, still only half the size of the cruiser. It snuggly hid beneath the Thunder's belly, then forced itself upwards. The shields flickered against each other, but failed completely. The two ships collided together in one, irreconcilable lump.
The lights in the control room flickered out.
"I'll hold the control room for as long as I can," Nakaka said softly. "Put out a ship wide call to evacuate."
Fulsamee reached under the island for a plasma sword, letting its fiery blade illuminate the bridge. "I will find Galatash." He stepped closer to Jalahass. "Go to the life pods. Get out of here."
Jalahass let him shove her down the appropriate corridor before she stopped and ran the other way. She found a selection of special operations warriors preparing to fight.
"Listen to me," she called to them. "The Brutes can't know we have Hope. We are going to distract them."
The lead Elite stared at her, strapping on the last of his armour. "And how, Priestess, will we be doing this?"
Jalahass spread her arms. "Bait."
Sian' Jaltamaa grinned, lifting a second plasma rifle. "I like that plan. Elites! Fall in!"
"Fulsamee!" Galatash halted his twenty strong company and nodded to the younger Elite. "We have to get to the escape pods."
Taking a glance at the unit in the corridor, Fulsamee knew their chances were slim. The best fighters they may be, but they guarded two weak and old Prophets. He noted that Solitude looked him right in the eye, as though he had not lied to Fulsamee at all.
"We must have been compromised for this to happen," Fulsamee whispered. "A Brute rebel perhaps."
"Indeed," Galatash replied. "Where is Nakaka?"
"In the control room. Excellency, I do not believe we can escape with the pods."
"What else do you suggest?"
Fulsamee's face lit up. "How far are we from Graceful Wanderer?"
"Ten minutes," Galatash suggested. "Providing our engines are not completely compromised, why?"
"You," Fulsamee pointed. "Co-ordinate the Engineers. Make this ship fly. You," he pointed to another. "Return to the Control Room and defend it. Tell Nakaka we need to orbit Graceful Wanderer."
"I know what you're thinking," Galatash said, falling in. "It's ludicrous. Hope will never survive."
"He'll never survive the escape pod being blasted into nothingness either," Fulsamee grunted, he hesitated.
"It's Jalahass. I told her to go to an escape pod."
"All the crew has," Galatash gripped Fulsamee's shoulder. "Pray. The Prophets are our concern."
Tartarus led his small unit with pride. It was pride, and only pride, which had got him this position. He had argued for this and killed for this command. Now he would take the Solemn Thunder's control room and he would be richly rewarded. Once he had the control room, the Priestess would be found easily.
To their right, a blur of movement suggested fleeing Elites and in the crowd he noticed one without a weapon and dressed in the finest robes.
"Halt!" he shouted, holding up his mace. "After them!"
"But our orders-"
Tartarus slammed the mace into the rebel's head. "I said . . ." he growled. "After them!"
"It worked," Jaltamaa growled, shoving the Priestess into a grav lift. They zoomed upwards as the Brutes round the corners, igniting the dark corridors with plasma fire.
"When we get to the top," ordered another spec ops Elite, "make sure you move quickly to the common room. Continue through it."
Jalahass didn't reply, priming herself for the sprint down the long corridor.
The purple field spat them out by their ambush team and she pushed past, heart racing as she heard plasma burn behind her. She skidded under the opening door and through the upturned tables. Once in the kitchens she found the time to breath again.
A small group of dedicated Brutes finished their work on the craft they had used to ram the the Solemn Thunder. They did not contact their team mates, they were expecting it anyway.
The engines of the small, misshapen body inside the Thunder's hull overloaded, building energy.
The Thunder didn't stand a chance as the Brute ship exploded, ripping her hull apart like a Hatchling would rip its shell.
"What in the name of the Forerunner was that?" Solitude yelped, clinging to a Sangheili in order to stay upright.
Fulsamee picked himself up off the floor, sucking in a deep breath of air. "We're losing atmosphere."
"And quickly," Galatash agreed. "They must have detonated their ship inside the Thunder. Hurry - to the launch bay!"
Nakaka gripped the pillar supporting the holographic panels. The gravity on the Thunder was failing on this deck, and the flickering holograms were going to be next.
"This is Sol' Nakaka to all hands," he thumbed the audio. "Abandon ship, I repeat, abandon ship." Then, to make sure they got the point. "Engineers, that means you too. You can't save her now."
"Foolish creatures." A large Brute floated in, aiming a Brute shot at Nakaka.
The gold armoured Sangheili circled away, almost lazily. "The structural integrity of this part of the ship is very weak. I would not fire that weapon, if I were you."
The Brute peeled back his lips from his yellow teeth, revealing a fierce sneer. "And if I were you I would be afraid too, Sangheili."
Nakaka growled. "This ship is going to explode. We are very close to the planet and if we leave now we might make it to the escape pods in time. I'm giving you one chance . . ."
The grenade fired from the gun, and Nakaka kicked off the pillar, spinning crazily. Luckily the Brute was also out of control, bouncing off the walls.
Nakaka drew the plasma sword from his belt, keeping it deactivated as he secured it in his palm. He bumped off the ceiling and kicked hard, propelling himself to the disgruntled beast below. As he passed, he ignited the sword, letting his momentum rip the blade through the flesh of the creature. It roared in pain, twisting and grabbing for him. Nakaka let its fleshy grasp find purchase on his arm, before swinging around and driving the blade through the Brute's heart.
"Filth," he spat, deactivating the blade and propelling himself for the hallways.
Tartarus snapped the neck of the last Elite warrior, surveying his ragged troops. "Come on, the Priestess is here somewhere." He pulled himself through the corridor of corpses, hefting the mace in his grip.
The doors to the common room groaned open, the lights inside flickering. "Fan out," he ordered his two remaining soldiers. "She won't be far."
Jalahass, perched above him on the support struts, swallowed the squeak that threatened to give her away. Her arms ached from holding onto the smooth beams.
Only a little further.
She watched the Brutes venture closer to the door at the opposite end, the smallest one stepping forward to activate the mechanism. It was hard to tell whether he screamed before or after the backdraft of flames set him and his companions alight. Either way, they were both dead when they hit the ground.
Jalahass dropped to the floor, steadying herself. The largest Brute was screaming in agony, writhing on the deck. His fur and skin had been burned off, hanging off him in gelatinous globs.
He would die soon enough, and Nakaka had called for ship wide evacuation. Time to move.
There was a rhythmic sound of footsteps running down the corridor, and Nakaka growled under his breath. He ducked behind a bulkhead, igniting his sword and waiting for them to round the corner . . .
"You're okay," Galatash breathed. "We're going to the pod launch bay, we have-"
"Fires have broken out that way. There's no way we'll get past," Nakaka reported. He deactivated his sword and leaned against the walls, panting. His armour bore scorch marks and there was blood seeping from a cut in his suit around his abdomen. "Wait- the Orbital Insertion Pods?"
Fulsamee nodded. "They're small enough, they might get past the Rebel fire. The life pods won't and Hope is too valuable."
Mind racing, Nakaka nodded. "Well we might get that far. There's a Grunt access tube here. There's no other way to reach the bay."
"Sorry, your Excellency," Fulsamee said as he patted Solitude on the shoulder. "This won't be dignified."
"The Great Journey will have to wait a little longer for me," Solitude gritted his teeth. "Lead the way."
The cramped and pitch black corridor was an incinerator. The heat emanating from the walls was hot enough to begin melting the armour on their backs as they crawled.
"Here we go, your Excellency," Fulsamee slipped out from the hatch and helped the Prophets down. "Choose a pod."
"I've never done this before," Solitude said as he was hurried over the deck and scooped up, deposited unceremoniously into a pod.
"It's very easy," Fulsamee lied. "You won't feel a thing." Securing the pod he groaned. "Forerunners forgive me."
"This is madness," Nakaka announced. He surveyed the bay as their remaining Elites stepped in.
"Just set the controls," Galatash snapped. "Hope and Solitude are secure?"
"Good - Fulsamee, what are you doing?" Galatash paused, half inside his pod. His young friend was studying an alert panel. It was signalling an attempt to break the seal in the outer doors. Fulsamee's expression was hidden by his helmet, although his mandibles were set in a tight line.
"How long before the pods launch?" he asked.
Nakaka hesitated, already standing in his. "Four minutes but they need to be in the tubes by then."
"Go," he said, heading for the door.
Fulsamee broke through into the corridor, raising an arm to shield himself from the fires that blazed. He fought past the flames to the next set of doors, slamming his palm onto the blinking lights.
It opened and Jalahass fell through.
"How did you-"
"Your access code wasn't high enough," he shouted over the roar of the inferno. "One of the panels inside wanted to let you in."
The ducked past the flames, sprinting through the bay to the remaining pods.
"This doesn't look safe!"
"And the Thunder does?" Securing the pod from outside, Fulsamee leapt into his as it began to close. He managed to right himself as the pod sealed and shot down to the launch tubes. A tiny counter ticked down rapidly and then his world spun.