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The Priestess and the Warrior - Bottle of Smoke
Posted By: Jillybean<jbean_gotmuse@yahoo.co.uk>
Date: 20 January 2005, 11:31 PM

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The Priestess and the Warrior

Author: Jillybean

Bottle of Smoke

Twenty odd pods ripped through the atmosphere of the Graceful Wanderer, plunging into the orange dirt with the customary swoosh.

Orna' Fulsamee broke out of his blackened pod, shaking his head fiercely. The other soldiers were emerging from their metallic shells, each one silently counting those who made it.
       "See to the Prophets," he ordered, surveying the collection of scattered upright pods.
       Saia' Jalahass eased out of hers, blinking in the strong light. "By the Forerunner," she murmured. "I think I'm going to be sick."
       "It doesn't get any better," Galatash warned, rubbing his head. He crossed over to the two Prophets, collapsed by the side of the pods. "Noble Solitude."
       "This heat will kill him, Galatash," Solitude heaved himself to his feet. "It's nothing short of a miracle that Hope is not dead already."
       "Indeed," Galatash nodded to two of the soldiers. "Take the Prophets, we must hurry to find shade."
       Jalahass gazed up at the sky. "They'll know where we are."
       "Then we must move quickly," Galatash retorted. "Onwards!"

"Thank you," Jalahass spoke after a long while trudging.
       Fulsamee glanced at her, squinting in the bright sunlight. "I may disagree with you. I do not wish death upon you."
       A small, happy curve escaped her mandibles. "I am glad of that."
       Dropping back slightly, Fulsamee let the others pass them. Once he judged them to be far enough ahead, he lowered his voice and spoke privately with her. "You say you fabricated your vision, yes?"
       Jalahass didn't reply, uncomfortable with the topic.
       "Who is to say that it was not the Forerunners intent?"
       "What?" Jalahass turned to him. "Has the heat addled your brain?"
       "Listen, should the Gods desire something, surely they are powerful enough to make it happen, with or without an obvious vision."
       Contemplating this, Jalahass followed the soldiers. "Then, even though I had no vision, the Forerunners wished us to be bonded?"
       "Exactly," Fulsamee replied, pleased with himself.
       Jalahass grunted. "So much for free will."
       "I do not understand."
       Sighing deeply, Jalahass thought back to her teachings as a Priestess. "The purpose of the Great Journey is to sweep our souls off this mortal coil and into the heart of our Gods. Only those who are good may be carried away. If, as you say, the Gods are so powerful as to manipulate us without our knowledge, then why should there be any Heresy? Why should there be any wars?"
       "To test our faith," Fulsamee hazarded a guess.
       Jalahass smiled a little. "Why though? Why should an almighty being feel the need to test us so, in ways that he must surely be able to predict the outcome of? If I were a God, I would be doing far more interesting things than playing in the lives of my Priestesses."
       "Perhaps they find you interesting."
       "Yes," Jalahass drawled. "I'm sure my tiny world is quite fascinating."
       "Well something guided you to the Launch Bay on the Thunder, you'd never been there before."
       Jalahass frowned. "Actually, Nakaka took me on a tour. I was heading for the bays to commandeer a ship, but the fires got in my way. Is that all part of the Forerunners plan?"
       "Who is to say it is not?" Fulsamee asked.
       "So they toy with us, but they do not destroy us. How very sickening."
       "I do not wish to talk about this any more," Fulsamee announced.
       "See!" Jalahass exclaimed. "Your word and that's it, is it? Perhaps I wish to pursue the discussion."
       Stopping, Fulsamee turned to face her, exasperation clear in the way he held himself. "A dutiful mate is there to tend to the needs of the Warrior."
       "I am hot, tired and sore. I do not care for duty at the moment."


They camped by a small boulder with an overhang. The Sangheili had done their best to see the Prophets accommodated, but the conditions were not favourable.
       Galatash doubted that Hope would last the night.

Fulsamee approached his old friend, his muscles aching under the strain of being active for so long. The night time sky was alight with stars, and so far only stars. That was a good sign.
       "I think it was 'Arumaa who tipped off the Brutes," Galatash said. "He would stand to gain from such an alliance. Protection for his colony from the rebels, and further Glory from the Hierarchs for being the one to salvage the Thunder." He shook with rage at the thought of his ship being crawled over by Arumaa and his filthy servants.
       Fulsamee hesitated, not wishing to speak of his dark thoughts. "Could . . . Truth . . . have had a hand in this?"
       Galatash breathed in deeply. "I do not know, Orna'. If he did, he would not have attacked Hope outright. I . . . fear . . . he suggested that 'Arumaa targeted Jalahass."
       "You're talking about me," Jalahass spoke quietly as she approached them. Glancing between their downcast expressions, she gathered they had come to her conclusion. "I think I ought to visit Hik 'Arumaa, do not you?"
       "No," Galatash snapped. "I do not! He could slay you on the spot."
       "He would not dare," Fulsamee hissed.
       "Wouldn't he? This conclusion is easily reached. He will not chance Jalahass' survival."
       "He has ships, he has food, he has shelter," Jalahass pressed. "If Fulsamee and I were to arrive on his doorstep . . ."
       "We may be able to save Hope," Fulsamee added eagerly.
       Hesitating, Galatash prayed. "Go then. Be swift and be careful." He touched foreheads with Orna'. "Do not be foolish, Orna'."

"Tartarus," the Brute Chieftain stared down at his son, his skin burned black. "Who did this to you?"

From the eaves, 'Arumaa pulled at the skin around his throat anxiously. The low trilling sound he made only heightened the state of tension amongst the Unggoy who were serving him.
       The Brutes on his estate blamed him for the huge numbers of casualties they had sustained. 'Arumaa wondered what they'd expected to happen when they blew up one of their own ships inside the Solemn Thunder.
       He feared the outcome of this day. He thought about taking his mate and running, but he had chosen this path. Betraying a Priestess . . . the possibility of her survival made it feel all the more blasphemous. Truth had promised him absolution.
       There was something wrong when it was a Sangheili you were turning upon.

"That Priestess . . ." Tartarus gurgled.
       "We shall heal you," his father promised. He leaned closer, his paw hovering over his sons burns. "She will pay for her actions."

The endless sand dunes were beginning to wear on Jalahass, and even in the cool night, she felt in desperate need of a bath,
       Fulsamee trudged onwards, slightly ahead of her. Whatever military focus he was using, it was a meditation far and above anything she had been taught. Perhaps it was simple pig headedness.
       "Fulsamee, can we stop for a moment?" she begged. Pausing, she kneeled on the dirt. "I'm not used to this."
       Turning, Fulsamee regarded her for a moment. He was breathing heavily, the strong gravity taking its toll on him too. "Yes. We'll break for now." He sat down, a little away from her, sucking in deep lungfuls of air.
       "Are you well?" Jalahass asked, frowning slightly.
       He nodded, expression tightly closed off.
       "You're not."
       "A little burned. I'll be fine." He chuckled suddenly. "Perhaps next time, you should be the soldier. You seem to have come out of it better."
       Jalahass stayed silent for a while, thinking back to her time on the dying Thunder. Involuntarily, she shuddered, remembering the burning Brutes. "What made you decide on becoming a soldier?"
       "Shall we continue?" Fulsamee asked, standing up. He extended a hand to help her to her feet. "What else is there to be?"
       "You're clever," Jalahass told him as they walked. "A brilliant tactician. You could have been a Councillor. A merchant. A farmer. Yet you chose to fight. I find it odd."
       "The greatest Honour is to defend the Covenant. I was good enough to be accepted into the Sangheil Training Facility. It was my only ambition." He glanced down at her. "Why did you choose to become a Priestess?"
       "I didn't. It was chosen for me. I think I would have liked to have become a soldier."
       Fulsamee laughed. "You can't, you're female."
       "Well - next time, I'll be the warrior and you can be the Priestess, shall we agree?"

They reached the city just before dawn broke over the horizon. The denizens of Graceful Wanderer were going about their business, the streets fairly empty at this hour, and they did their best not to stare at the two Sangheili striding into town.
       "Something is very wrong here," Fulsamee murmured. "Stay close."
       Jalahass eyed the beings in the streets and shrugged. "They seem fine to me."
       "Precisely that." He stopped, a hand on her arm. "We'll go to 'Arumaa's as planned, but there's going to be Brutes there, I bet my scalp on it."
       "So," Jalahass murmured, "if you're wrong I get my first scalp of war?"
       His mandibles stretched in an unconscious grin. "I told you - I'm good at this."

The Unggoy servants fell over themselves trying to simultaneously escort the two Sangheili up the path to 'Arumaa's villa, and warn 'Arumaa that the two Sangheili were coming up the path to his villa.
       "Try to stay calm," Fulsamee instructed as they entered the hallway. He fixed a polite expression on his face as 'Arumaa approached, arms wide and mandibles smiling.
       "Why! Orna' Fulsamee, we did not expect to see you here so soon! Haven't you left orbit?"
       Fulsamee pulled the plasma pistol out, aiming directly at 'Arumaa's forehead. "Strange, but even on this wretched, backwater planet, you'd have seen the blaze of Glory that was the Thunder's grave."
       "Ahh," 'Arumaa glanced to Jalahass, then back to the overcharging pistol. "Saia' Jalahass! What is this you speak of?"
       "Fulsamee . . ." Jalahass shifted, uncomfortable with this new turn of events. "Weren't we going to stay calm?"
       "New plan." Fulsamee sneered at his victim. "Tell me how many Brutes you're hiding here, 'Arumaa. Then tell me who was behind this. I know it wasn't you."
       Jalahass sidled forwards, patting down 'Arumaa's robes and removing a pistol from him.
       "I . . ." the Sangheili closed his eyes briefly. "They're in the back, in the gardens. Ten score. Please don't hurt me."
       "Who was behind this?" Fulsamee repeated.
       'Arumaa sunk to his knees, his breath coming in ragged gasps. "I was only asked to dispose of the Priestess! I've known the Rebels for some time! Please! Please do not kill me!"
       Fulsamee gritted his four sets of teeth together. "What do you say?"
       Opening his eyes in surprise, 'Arumaa gaped up at him.
       "Say 'sorry'."
       "I am so sorry," 'Arumaa grabbed at Fulsamee's legs. "So very sorry."
       "Give me that pistol," Fulsamee ordered. "I won't be long."
       "Be careful," Jalahass murmured, detaching 'Arumaa and flinging him aside.
       Fulsamee hesitated, the first pistol now truly overcharged. "If I'm not back-"
       "I'll run," she said pleasantly. "But it's okay. You're good at this."

Fulsamee crossed the hall and made it through the villa's airy rooms with little incident. He overcharged the second pistol, making an effort to hold on to both. He was confident in his ability to take out ten Brutes.
       He was not confident in 'Arumaa.
       Crouching behind a pillar, he looked out onto the long, rolling garden. It was carefully cultivated, serviced by many Unggoy workers. The Brutes were there, nine of them, and one badly injured. The others seemed to be caring for it.

Jalahass glanced up as the sound of plasma blazing echoed through the villa. She stooped, physically lifting 'Arumaa by the scruff of his neck.
       "You and I," she grunted, "we're leaving."
       The older Sangheili twisted, cutting into her wrist with two sets of teeth. He broke free, pushing her down and pinning her to the floor. "The Brutes really want your neck, Priestess," he spat.
       Jalahass struggled, finding it difficult with claws implanted firmly in her back. "Let me go!"
       "Truth really wanted you removed, you know," he hissed closer to her ear. His smooth, well-cared for skin rubbed against the back of her skull, sending shivers down her spine. "You endanger our Great Journey."
       "I'm gonna endanger yours . . ." she fought against the heavy gravity to say. "Get off."
       "Fulsamee won't last long," 'Arumaa placed all of his weight on her rib cage, compromising her large singular lung. A Sangheili's armour was designed to protect against crush injuries, for as well evolved as the Sangheili were, they had very few redundant organs, and rarely survived damage to their large, multichambered lung.
       'Arumaa pushed her face closer to the floor, grinding her skin against the stone. "Now, do you know how much of your internal functions can be compromised before you depart this mortal plane?"
       Ninety three percent. Jalahass remembered dusty old parchments explaining the sturdy, enduring Sangheili build.
       "Does it hurt yet?" 'Arumaa whispered.
       She freed her left arm from his grip and ripped through his face like plasma through tissue.
       He roared, rearing upwards and losing his balance. She surged forward, spinning to confront him. He was still lurching from side to side, half his eyeball hanging on Jalahass' claws.
       "Kiggari!" she spat.
       He slipped on his finely polished marble floor, wailing as he landed.
       She had no chance to make good on her threat, foot steps were approaching. She backed up, casting wildly around for a hiding place.
       "Jalahass!" Fulsamee rounded the corner, pistols in hand. "What happened?"
       "The Brutes, did you get them?" Jalahass ignored his question.
       "Get down," Fulsamee growled, pushing her down under the archway.

The villa shook as it was pummelled by plasma fire. The ornate cornices came loose, shattering on the floor when they fell.
       "Come on," Fulsamee grabbed her hand and dragged her through the home to the hangar bay. The long, flashy sport ship waited impatiently for them, hovering on its anti-grav.
       "Looks like 'Arumaa was just about to leave," Jalahass gasped as they ran up the gangplank.
       "Hmm," Fulsamee sat by the controls. "Let's hope he's as arrogant in is piloting as he is in every other walk of life . . . yes, no pass code."
       The ship flared into life, escaping from the hangar and eluding the Brute ship easily.

The arrow shaped glimmer broke free from the atmosphere, looping gracefully in the vacuum of space before it plummeted back to the dirt, firing rapidly on the Brute ship. The resulting explosion lit up the town in the murky dawn.
       Fulsamee whooped, turning around to grin at his mate. "Isn't she brilliant?"
       Looking a little blue around the food sacks, Jalahass managed to twitch one mandible in response. "Could we turn up the inertial dampeners a little?"

'Arumaa's villa and his servants became theirs, and shortly after returning from the desert with Hope, Fulsamee and Galatash were scheming in the dining room.
       "Thank you," Galatash grunted at the Kig-Yar who brought them a bowl of fruit. He pointed to the holographic star chart that hovered above the varnished wood. "We still have to cross the Starran Nebula before we can reach the Healing Grounds."
       "No chance of flying around?" asked a blue armoured Sangheili.
       "None," Galatash shook his head. He picked up a piece of sliced hallem and chewed thoughtfully. "And crossing it is perilous at best."
      "I think that Peace Class star hopper in the hangar could manage it," Fulsamee pointed out.
       Nakaka grinned. "Smitten as you are, Orna', that hopper is a sports vehicle. It's not designed for long journeys."
       One of the youngest recruits glanced up, about to say something. He thought better of it, and returned his gaze to the ground.
       "'Sanamol?" Galatash eyed him. "Do you have something to contribute?"
       "Uh . . ." Sanamol leapt to his feet, bowing his head. "Excellency, I do. Father has recently purchased a Peace Class ship, he says it's the fastest, most robust ship of its class."
       Galatash smiled. "It's a fine . . . and expensive . . . ship. Still, the Solemn Thunder was taking a risk flying through the nebula, the hopper wouldn't make it."
       "Hans'," Fulsamee held up a mandible to contradict him. "It's much faster, and has less volume than the Thunder. It's weapons are also . . . pretty incredible."
       "Even if," Galatash began, pausing when he spied Jalahass at the entrance.

The Priestess walked in, tired but pleased with herself. "Hope is resting, Solitude is with him now. I don't know if it's just me, but he seems to be improving. Perhaps all this excitement is good for him." She waited as a soldier vacated his chair and she sat down heavily. "The Sangheili maids tell me that 'Arumaa's mate is not willing to talk to us. She thinks we are, now let me get this right, 'Kiggari scum, sons of Unggoy and muck on her put'tah'."
       "Charming," Nakaka drawled.
       Jalahass held her hand over her mouth to hide her amusement. She failed miserably. "The maids also tell me that 'Arumaa bought that ship recently, after many meetings with some unsavoury Brutes." She sighed and stretched for a long, captivating moment. Tucking her legs under her, she smiled wearily at the others. "Basically I think that he was doing this . . . for protection. If 'Arumaa gave the Brutes a safe planet here, then they would leave him along. He decided to sell them me when the visit was announced, and bought the ship the next day."
       "I'd sell you for a ship like that," Fulsamee replied. "Don't take it personally."
       Jalahass blinked. "I'll try not to."

Colonised Planet Furious Revealer Ninth Age of Reclamation

Truth gripped the arm rest of his throne and tried to compose himself.
       "Really, Brother Grace, I'm . . . shocked to hear of it."
       "I'm sure you are," the Prophet hologram flickered as some interference broke the transmission. "Being in a completely different sector at the time."
       Truth raised an eyebrow. "Brother Grace, the Solemn Thunder's destruction is terrible, terrible news! I am delighted to hear that Commander Galatash has reported in with the Noble Hope unharmed."
       The transmission signed off and Truth screamed in frustration, startling the Brute guard.
       "Where is that incompetent 'Arumaa!"

Colonised Planet Graceful Wanderer Ninth Age of Reclamation

Jalahass inspected the star hopper and turned to her Mate, unsure what she was meant to do.
       "Would you feel safe travelling in it through the nebula?" Fulsamee pressed.
       "I'm unsure . . . it's very small." She crept inside, sneaking a look at the private quarters. "I'm not sure I could stand being cooped up inside here with only Solitude, Hope and a few soldiers for company."
       "Close quarters, yes," Fulsamee glanced around the main suite and shrugged it off. "Hope and Solitude could survive in here, the Sangheili would have to take the crew bunker."
       Suppressing a sigh, Jalahass glanced at him. "How many others would we be sharing with?"
       "Galatash and Nakaka are waiting here, I've chosen a security team of three soldiers."
       "I hate being a Priestess," Jalahass muttered. "If I was a Councillor I could stay on the nice planet too."
       Placing a comforting hand on her forehead, Fulsamee grinned at her. "You hate the planet, Jalahass, it's too hot."
       "Oh you know me so well," she quipped.

Stepping back out into the hangar, Fulsamee made a chirping noise and dashed back inside.
       Jalahass groaned in frustration. "Can't you bear to be parted with it for one more night?"
       He shook his head in mock disgust as he returned. "I took the ship up to inspect the Thunder's wreckage with Galatash today."
       "And I brought back this." He handed her the down brush. "I thought you might want it."
       Jalahass stared down at the soft wooden handle, with its few bristles still remaining. There were the tiny, crude initials she had carved into its hilt when she had undertaken her Oath of Privacy. In the times she had worried she would forget who she was.
       "Are you going to name it?"
       "The brush?" she asked, surprised.
       "No, silly!" Fulsamee grinned, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and turning her around. "The ship! We can't go around calling her 'it'. That's not very polite."
       Blinking, Jalahass felt the groan threaten to slip past her throat again. She stopped it, refusing to make the noise a third time. "I . . . what do you want it to be called?"
       "You have to choose. It's bad luck if a Priestess doesn't name a ship," Fulsamee told her. "Try to make it something we can sing about."
       "Wha . . . ?"
       "Every ship eventually gets a song dedicated to her by the crew," Fulsamee explained. He led them back through the villa where the Unggoy were laying out a meal.
       "What was the Thunder's song?"
       Galatash glanced up from his seat. "The Thunder's song?"
       "Orna' wants me to name his ship."
       For some reason, unknown to Fulsamee and Jalahass, Galatash seemed to take this very well indeed.
       "'Twas a wonderful craft
She was rigged fore and aft
And oh, how the solar wind drove her
She stood several blasts
She had twenty seven decks
And they called her The Solemn Thunder!"

Jalahass finished her stew after the crewmates had entertained her with another of the numerous songs they knew. "I had no idea you were all so musical."
       "It can get very tiring on a ship the size of the Thunder, on a long voyage," Nakaka explained.
       "Jaheijagaj tournaments," said the young Sanamol.
       "Ship wide pranks," Galatash grinned at Fulsamee.
       "Brute baiting," Fulsamee added. "But after a while it can get . . . boring."
       "I can imagine," Jalahass frowned. "And you never talk of theology?" She caught the look that Fulsamee tried to hide, out of respect of their new-found alliance. Trying to show him the same respect, she dropped the subject when they replied that they never did.

"Bottle of Smoke," she said as Fulsamee poured himself a glass of rum.
       They had commandeered the guest room they had been offered previously. It was really very spacious, they had only declined it previously because it meant spending more time with 'Arumaa. The balconette had a view of the desert and the two moons, which yesterday they had been crawling through.
       Fulsamee frowned, attempting to connect smoke with rum. "It's a Prophet drink."
       "No," Jalahass laughed, closing the shutters. "Your ship. Bottle of Smoke."
       Fulsamee mulled it over, then nodded. "I like it."
       "Of course you do. I chose it."
       A small chuckle escaped from the warrior as he shrugged out of his armour. He sipped from his glass. "Do you want a drink?"
       "Rum?" Jalahass grinned. "I got very, very drunk on that stuff after my First Rites. Please."
       Pouring her a glass, Fulsamee hesitated.
       "To the Bottle of Smoke?" she asked, touching the glass to his forehead in a time honoured tradition.
       "To us. Surviving. Despite having tried to kill each other." He brushed the crystal over her forehead and they both drank.

High Charity, Orbiting Furious Revealer Festival of Arbitration Ninth Age of Reclamation

Fera' Talsamee smoothed the front of her finest robes, trying to ignore the holosnappers as their Unggoy directors zoomed in on her.
       "Councillor Talsamee, you look fabulous," one of the Priestesses said to her. Hera' Solatta approached, touching a claw to Talsamee's forehead in the most formal of greetings. "It is a mercy indeed that the destruction of the Solemn Thunder did not dampen the spirits of the party goers, is it not?"
       Glancing around High Charity's thriving Great Hall, Talsamee had to agree. "The news of Saia' Jalahass' survival is heartening," she spoke pleasantly enough, but her fists involuntarily clenched. "This celebration of the Arbiter is very important, do you not agree?"
       "Of course," Solatta exclaimed. "The Festival of Arbitrationis one of our most prestigious events. I have never heard of it being called off, even during the Taming of the Hunters."
       Talsamee smiled, extending her arm to support Solatta. "You and I have much to talk about . . ."

Bottle of Smoke The Forbidden Sectors Ninth Age of Reclamation

Fulsamee didn't flinch as Jalahass slammed her palm onto the control panel for the cockpit door. The mechanism hissed and they were sealed inside the spacious, sporty piloting space, sounds of a rabble breaking out behind the bulkhead.
       "Jaheijagaj isn't worth it," she grumbled, sinking into the co-pilots seat. "Are we there yet?"
       "No," Fulsamee replied with a smile. "Not yet."
       "Why not?" Jalahass wailed, her head sinking onto the dash. "We passed through the nebula days ago!"
       "Just a little while longer - ow!" He grinned at her. "Don't hit me!"
       "How much longer?" she sulked, smiling despite herself.
       "A few hours."
       "Let's hope the Healing Grounds work."

Since the first Ages, the Healing Grounds had been a mysterious and seldom understood phenomena. The planet, an inhospitable rock orbiting the tiny sun of Gaua, was regarded as sacred by the Covenant. The surrounding sectors of space had been closed off.
       And it was here that lay the only chance for Hope.

Saia' Jalahass shook as she blindfolded Fulsamee, hesitating as she tied the final knot. "If you hear me screaming . . . it's an ambush. Please consider that as a formal invocation of the Gods for your aid."
       Fulsamee smiled a little, catching her hand. "The Brutes would not dare to set foot here."
       Jalahass glanced around at the other soldiers, each blindfolded and bound. "Here me Forerunners, I am but one glorious soul. I beg of you, grant this Priestess passage through your Holy Ground. Bequeath unto me thine knowledge and thy power, and aid me in my steps. Protect these Warriors, your Honourable Vanguard, and hold back the spirits from which the have no protection."
      Swallowing, she stood, her hand brushing Fulsamee's armour, though he would not feel it. "Noble Solitude, I am ready."

Solitude hobbled down the gangplank of the Bottle of Smoke, while the Priestess followed. In her arms she held the limp body of Hope, her claws tightening as she descended into the thin atmosphere.
       Whisps of grey gases curled around her robes and headdress.
       "The Spirits," Solitude murmured. "Be brave, Priestess."

Bravery. An odd concept. Jalahass couldn't close her eyes, she had to watch her step on the slippery rocks. Bravery was essentially foolishness. Fear was a mechanism. Animal feared. Sangheili ought to rise above it, above the animals. Fear is a disloyal emotion, it will betray you. Build your Honour on your Bravery.
       The First Rites bubbled down to this. Controlling fear. There is no place for fear in a Holy Priestess.
       Discipline. Strength. The Oaths of the Prophets instilled fierce regime into the Sangheili Priestesses from the beginning. Duty is beyond all desire.
       Duty bound her to her new Mate, Duty bound her to this terrifying parade through the mists.

The bleak, blue murk that surrounded her did not ease with the muttered prayers that she and Solitude repeated. Their mantra continued as they set up the ritual around Hope's prone form, waiting.
       She would not be scared out of her wits by cloying tendrils of smoke. Gases she could explain easily. Her apprehension was a learned response, her fear a knee-jerk reaction despite her vast knowledge.
       Reading about the Holy Grounds in the safety of the convent she knew this was where the first Forerunner artefact had been uncovered.
       A Holy place should not scare.

She glanced down at Hope, seeing the last breath escape his body.
       "He has passed, Noble Solitude."
       The old Prophet's shoulders shook. "We . . . we shall leave him here," he choked, sniffing a little. "We shall leave him here for the Spirits to take."

High Charity The Ninth Age of Reclamation

Jalahass watched the last explosions, signifying Hope's first step on the Great Journey. It seemed strange, but the somber Covenant members who had turned out in High Charity's cloaked streets to see the Last Ceremonies, seemed to be fewer in number than those who had celebrated her Bonding.
       A vain, but accurate thought.
       Fera' Talsamee was standing with the other Councillors, resplendent in the fine silver armour they all wore. She too focussed on the colourful display out in space.
       By Jalahass' side, Fulsamee glanced once at the Councillor, before returning his gaze to the memorial.

Truth was patient. The position in the Hierarch was open, and the competition was between him and Solitude. Mercy and Grace. High Priestess Fera' Kianall, conducting the ceremony, appeared to be regaining her strength. There were still two dedicated Priestesses by her side at all times.
       Now was the time to ease back, to let the board play out and to watch how the other players moved.
       Still, Truth reflected as the congregation broke apart, there was one task he still wished to perform.

The soft whir of a throne approaching turned Fulsamee's head. He bowed to Truth, his scarlet armour polished to its highest sheen.
       "Where is your lovely Mate on this sad day?" Truth asked, his quizzical expression almost comical. "I do believe I saw you two standing together."
       "Indeed," Fulsamee replied. "Noble Mercy wished to speak with her." He heard then, in his mind, Jalahass' frustrated snort of disbelief. Of course, he realised, Truth must already know this.
       "Ah, is that so? I must speak with her before we leave, she is a very promising young Priestess."
       "I will try to be there."
       Truth eyed him, the hesitation so brief it was not noticeable. "Indeed." It may be that you are already spoiled, young one. Unfortunate. "Ah! Talsamee! Come over here, dear child."
       Fera' Talsamee approached, bowing her head in respect to Fulsamee. "Orna' . . ." she murmured. "Glory and Honour on this day."
       "Talsamee," he replied.
       The female Sangheili swallowed. "Surely," she glanced at Truth and he respectfully gave them some room. "Surely you know me well enough to use my first name, Orna'."
       Fulsamee hesitated. "I believe . . . I believe very much in the code of Honour that I was taught by my father. I do not know you well enough to use your given name, Talsamee, I don't know if I ever will." He leaned down to touch her forehead with his. "My father never once called my mother by her given name-"
       "Mine neither," Talsamee croaked. "Not in front of me at any rate. We could have been so different Orna'."
       "But we're not." Fulsamee sighed. "And I can not . . . will not betray Saia' Jalahass."
       Growling low in her throat, Talsamee pressed closer. "And you do not think that perhaps she would betray you? That perhaps she already has? She's vain, Orna', and spoiled. Truth tells me he does not believe our engagement was broke fairly." She glanced up, eyes sparkling. "He wants to speak with you about it. He thinks he can persecute her for blasphemy."
       "Talsamee . . ."
       "And we could be together."
       Orna' hesitated.
       "Just . . . think about it, Orna', for us." Talsamee left.

Galatash frowned as he watched his daughter depart. "What was that?" he asked, handing Fulsamee a glass.
       "Temptation," Fulsamee replied.