The Priestess and the Warrior - Sacrifices
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 9 March 2005, 3:53 PM
The Priestess and the Warrior
"My son is dead."
Saia' Jalahass, her neck aching from supporting her elaborate crown all day, and her stomach grumbling for food, paused in one of the long corridors. She regarded the troubled soldier before her, and gave a discreet signal to her assistants. They fell back, reluctantly it may be said, leaving only the two Honour Guard.
"Was it the war?" Jalahass asked.
The soldier leaned against the bulbous walls, resting his head in a clawed hand. "He was my world."
"I have three sons. I love them dearly." Jalahass told him.
Glancing up, her nameless companion glared at her fiercely. "Your sons are not dead."
"No, but one has just joined a training camp. The other two have been posted on ships." She trailed off when she noticed the glint in the soldier's eye.
The Honour Guard shifted closer. Jalahass raised a hand to placate them.
Shaking his head, the soldier's anger melted away. "He was so young. My only child."
"He has undertaken his own Great Journey." The High Priestess rubbed her neck. "Do you believe he has gone to a better place?"
"Was he a good son? A loving son? Did he fight well, with Honour and Glory?" Jalahass placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Yes. Yes, he was perfect. And he was stolen from me."
"This war against the Brutes has taken many from our side. Our own Noble Regret lost a brother."
"A brother is not a son." The soldier shook free. "No. We know how Prophets breed. Regret's spawn are not loved. Why did the Forerunners choose my son over one of Regret's?"
"Perhaps they treasure the loved, far more than scum." Jalahass spoke very quietly, though she knew her faithful Guard could hear.
Still unsettled, the soldier stumbled away.
"Can you make sure he gets home? Or wherever it is he's staying." Jalahass asked the tall Sangheili to her right.
"Certainly, High Priestess. It would be his barrack, I judge." The Honour Guard slipped away, and another materialised with her returning assistants.
"You offer them great comfort," the other Guard told her quietly.
Council Chambers High Charity, Orbiting Sangheil in the Heart of Covenant Controlled Territories The Ninth Age of Reclamation
"And although the destruction of the Holy Gale was an unfortunate event," Truth folded his hands in his lap as he said this.
Unfortunate. Jalahass gripped the arms of the chair she sat in. Unfortunate! Sol' Nakaka was dead and it was called 'unfortunate'.
"We are close to victory. The Brutes are willing to see the light of our Holy Path. I, myself, have been in discussions with Brute Chieftain Tartarus."
Crai' Browdee, her faithful Honour Guard, curled his claws tightly around the spear. Jalahass could see him from the corner of her eye.
Browdee would die before he allowed Tartarus near his charge. The High Priestess was Browdee's life, he understood what every mandible twitch, every sideways glance meant. Although, when Saia' Jalahass had first met Tartarus, Browdee didn't need to decipher any code to see abject fear.
"Above Sangheil, a new treaty shall be forged. And we shall rise as a new Covenant, with our Brute Brothers by our side, to annihilate these humans from the Universe!"
Applause radiated from the Councillors, and Jalahass clicked her mandibles in a forced sign of approval. Anything else would have been beyond her acting abilities.
Tartarus nodded to her from Truth's side.
"High Priestess," Browdee murmured.
"Leave it," she whispered.
With a nod to collect Tartarus, Truth approached the High Priestess. He smiled disarmingly.
"High Priestess, doubtlessly you welcome this new alliance," he said.
Aware that Browdee and his colleague were ganging up behind her, Jalahass bowed her head politely. "I believe it has some merits."
"Some merits?" Tartarus asked.
"I'm surprised at you, Chieftain," Jalahass said. "You always seemed so devoted to your cause."
Folding his massive arms, Tartarus gazed down benevolently. "And I still am, but the Covenant have come to understand our point of view."
"Yes," Jalahass smiled tightly. "Yet, your females are still not allowed to fight, much to their chagrin, and you have not won the larger slice of the ore trade, which were the Rebellion's two issues. I see how very much the Covenant have come to understand your point of view."
Tartarus leaned closer, and although Jalahass didn't flinch, the Honour Guard casually brought the tips of their spears to Tartarus' neck.
Eyeing the Sangheili Guard, Tartarus snorted. "One day, Brutes will be guarding you, Priestess."
"Over my dead body," Browdee said, very quietly.
"Ah hah!" Tartarus grinned. "The mutes speak!"
"My father guarded the convent, his father guarded the convent, and his father. There has never been a son in my family not in the service of the Honour Guard." Browdee shook his head. "Brutes will not guard the High Priestess."
Truth hovered closer, a self satisfied expression on his face. "High Priestess, I was hoping that you would accept the first Brute Priestesses into your convent as a mark of trust between our races."
Jalahass clasped her hands together. "Oh, I would take all who showed an aptitude, Noble Truth, but you yourself refused to allow that charming Unggoy to join my convent. I believe you said 'no lesser race should be so deeply involved with the Forerunner'. I'm almost sure those were your words."
Truth raised an eyebrow. "Quite."
"I thought you handled that well," Browdee told her as they returned to the convent.
"Thank you, Crai'. I think if you ever want a career in politics, you'd be excellent at it."
"High Priestess?" One of Jalahass' assistants hurried to catch up with her. "The Training Facility on Sangheil reports that Kray' Jalahass has arrived and is safe."
Composing herself carefully, Jalahass thanked the assistant and kept on walking. "Any news from Hara' or Karte'?"
"None, High Priestess, other than their shipping orders."
"Of course not," Jalahass said. "You're all dismissed. I imagine you're tired, it's been a long day."
She watched her entourage dissipate, and politely made her excuses to the crowds. Leaving the Council chambers, she made the long walk to the convent, her muscles aching.
"We've lost so many," she murmured. "I miss Nakaka."
Crai' Browdee and his comrades were silent, they were well trained in their art of protection.
"His death was needless." She paused by the great doors to the convent, turning to one of the younger Guard. "Could you, perhaps, fetch Hass' Najamee for me?"
"Yes, High Priestess."
"And could someone else fetch me my daughters?" She waited until it was just her and Crais' and the walls, before she ripped off the headdress and the suffocating heavy robes.
Once safely in her study, she changed into a lighter tunic, feeling the need for a good, long bath.
"May I ask something, High Priestess?" Browdee asked from his position at the door.
"Hmm?" Jalahass crossed the floor, pouring herself a glass of rum. "Of course you can, old friend."
Clearing his throat and keeping his eyes dead ahead, Browdee asked; "why do you wish to see Najamee? He is not a member of your Guard."
"No." Jalahass downed the rum. "But you know why Browdee."
"The Prophets would not approve."
Regarding Nakaka's possessions, left in her care as Nakaka had dictated, Jalahass felt anger bubbling inside of her. "And would you do differently?"
"No, High Priestess, I would not."
Saia' Lyueem and Saia' Kristassi entered a few minutes later. Lyueem smiled at her mother, smoothing down her Seventh Level Priestess robes.
Kristassi, on the other hand, blinked unhappily at her mother, drooling slightly.
"Oh, love," Jalahass crouched, wiping at Kristassi's mandibles. "You're still not feeling better?" She pulled her daughter's head this way and that, noting that the infection in her throat was still not clearing up. "I think, at this rate, we ought to send you to stay with Noble Solitude."
"Wouldn't that be nice, Kristassi?" Lyueem prompted, smiling at her younger sister.
The sibling sniffed slightly and asked to be excused.
"Of course." Jalahass watched the polite little child leave, and felt her resolve waver.
"Mother . . ." Lyueem sighed, scratching at the last of the down on her neck. "Kristassi is just ill, do not take it personally."
"At least you, Karte' and Hara' spent some time with Orna'," Jalahass said. "But none of you have spent time with me. Kristassi barely knows her parents."
"There's a war on." Lyueem swallowed, glancing at the Honour Guard tentatively. "Mother . . . do you know when Father will return from the outskirts?"
"No." Collapsing on the day bed, Jalahass beckoned her daughter over. "No. With the fall of the Holy Gale he has to stay out longer, to show some presence. Why?"
Lyueem played with the tassels on the cushion, her chest tight. "Priestess Hera' Solatta says I must begin to prepare for my First Rites." She blinked at her mother. "Are you angry?"
Before Jalahass could reply, one of the Honour Guard approached.
"High Priestess, Hass' Najamee is here to see you," he said, bowing his head.
"Ah," Lyueem nodded sagely. "We'll speak of this later, Mother, yes?"
"You are such a good girl," Jalahass told her. She took her daughters hands, getting the affectionate bump on the forehead. "Thank you," she stressed.
"Tell Najamee that I . . ." Lyueem trailed off, glancing at the Honour Guard. "Tell him I'm sorry for his loss."
"I will," Jalahass said.
Hass 'Najamee, a long time Honour Guard, and very close acquaintance of Jalahass, entered her office a broken Sangheili. She could see it in the way he shuffled forwards, and bowed so forlornly before her.
"Leave us," she murmured to the other Guards, even Browdee.
"I sin," Najamee whispered, his eyes focussed on the floor. "I would rather be dead than live without him, High Priestess."
I know, I know! Oh I understand how you feel, and if I lost Orna' or my sons or my daughters I'd lose my mind. I can tell you they have gone to a better place, and I can placate a thousand fathers, soothe a hundred lovers, but I can never return the ones you have lost. For that I hate myself.
Jalahass swallowed. "He has joined a Great Journey, Najamee, you and I both know he is the better for it."
Najamee clenched his mandibles closer together and nodded. "I cannot imagine life without him, Jalahass."
No. Nor can I.
"He was a great Warrior."
"I don't want to hear that," Najamee croaked. He glanced up at her, imploring her to react, to show some emotion other than this effortless calm.
Shout at me. Attack me if you must. But please, please don't ask me to grieve, Najamee. I can't do that.
"Do you wish me to pray for him?" Jalahass' voice quavered as she spoke.
"Priestess," Najamee murmured, "whatever makes you happy. I must go now."
"Wait- " Jalahass leapt to her feet, reached out to catch his claw. She found herself staring into his eyes, deep accusing pools of sorrow. "I have some of Nakaka's possessions. He wanted you to have them."
"I have no need of them," Najamee said.
Jalahass watched him retreat, feeling her throat constrict. She knew what was going to happen, and she hated herself for letting him walk out, unaccompanied.
I should be with you, Najamee. I should be helping you.
The Justified Viper The Ninth Age of Reclamation
Orna' Fulsamee, Hans' Galatash and Hro' Salee stood together, touching their glasses to their foreheads.
"Those who are no longer with us," Galatash was saying.
"And those who still are," Salee muttered wryly. "Unfortunately."
Fulsamee slugged his drink, collapsing onto the rug and yawning. "I've had my share of the politics, Salee. I couldn't care less anymore."
"Hah," Salee shook his head. "Politics still has a share in you, my friend. You fought well in this war." His left hand, or what was left of it, twitched in the memory of the sacrifices they had all made.
"Have you heard?" Galatash asked. "We are to begin an offensive against these Humans."
"Why?" Salee asked. "Our armies are depleted and demoralised."
"They affront the Forerunner," Galatash shrugged. He sipped at the rum. "I was speaking with Noble Solitude and he tells me that our surveillance has shown some Forerunner Artefacts in the hands of the Humans."
Frowning, Fulsamee sat up a little. "They are chosen ones?"
"Apparently not," Galatash said. "I thought that odd too. According to the Hierarch, they are defiling the artefacts."
"Then we must protect the virtuous Forerunner," Salee said gravely, "because they have done so much for Sangheili kind lately."
"Speak wisely friend," Galatash eyed him. "Even bulkheads have ears these days."
"They may have tried Sei' Batamee for Heresy," Salee growled, "but he was no more a Heretic than your lovely Mate, Fulsamee!"
Galatash and Fulsamee were quiet, they all knew why Batamee had been executed, and they knew that deep down they almost, almost sympathised with him.
"I'm tired of lying," Salee announced. "Batamee was a separatist. He didn't like the way the Hierarch were handling things and he was trying to convince the Sangheili to leave the Covenant!"
"Quiet, Salee!" Fulsamee snapped. "I wish to return to see my children!"
"As well you might," Salee growled. He flung his glass aside and stalked to the door. "I am going to get shuttled back to my ship, Fulsamee. I hope you both think about what I have said."
Galatash twitched a mandible. "We shall surely think upon your drunken ramblings, my friend."
"Get going, Salee," Fulsamee added, his humour restored by Galatash's calm demeanour. "We'll speak in the morning."
After Salee had stumbled off, Galatash let out an explosive sigh.
"He is right though."
"Hans', please do not." Fulsamee shifted uncomfortably.
"My daughter told me as much." Standing, Galatash swayed, unsteady on his feet. "May I beg accommodation off of yourself tonight, my old friend?"
"Of course, Hans'. The Kig-Yar will show you the way."
I just want to go home and see my family.
Admit it, Fulsamee. The idea of a separatist movement is not unwelcome to you.
The Forerunners should punish me for these thoughts.
They never have. Despite all your blasphemous thoughts and actions, your entire family has survived the Brute integration. Isn't that something to be proud of?
Yes! Oh, if your Mother could see you today.
She was a devoutly religious Sangheili. She would be ashamed.
She lived her life in fear. You live your life in love.
I just want to go home and see Saia' once more. I want to speak with my daughters. I've never even seen Kristassi, and I've met Kray' only once.
It is remarkable that so many of your children have survived infancy.
Well, Kristassi has always been a sickly child.
Further proof, I say, that the Forerunners do not punish you.
Perhaps you are right.
Sangheili Training Facility Sangheil The Ninth Age of Reclamation
Kray' Jalahass turned around, eyeing the two Sangheili children who approached him.
"You're the son of Orna' Fulsamee, aren't you?" questioned the first one.
Drawing himself up to his full height, four year old Kray' Jalahass nodded. "I am."
"Wow," the second child breathed. "My father speaks very highly of his Excellency Orna' Fulsamee."
Kray' lifted his head, stretching his mandibles in a dreadfully important fashion. "Well my Father single handedly saved the Prophet of Hope once."
"Didn't that Prophet die?"
"Shut up," another classmate elbowed the rebel firmly in the ribs.
Sniffing, Kray' nodded. "And my Father was responsible for the final surrender of the Brute Chieftain."
From the back of the small crowd that had gathered, a diminutive little Sangheili coughed politely. "My Father says that it was staged and that Tartarus got 'his due for it'."
The children reflected on this odd statement and decided that Fulsamee was still a hero - even is Tartarus was 'due for it'.
Bottle of Smoke En route to the Holy Planet, Sacrifice The Ninth Age of Reclamation
Lyueem snapped awake, cold fear grabbing at her heart, and very real fingers closing over her throat, inhibiting speech. She blinked up at her mother, steadying her breathing.
Slowly, Jalahass released her daughter, quietly handing her a plasma pistol.
"Mother . . ." Running her hands over the smooth metal, Lyueem knew she had to accept the gift.
Jalahass stared at her daughter intently. "It was the best I could do."
"I know. I love you."
"I love you too."
The High Priestess retreated from the tiny cabin and Lyueem closed her eyes, secreting the pistol underneath her robes. Her heart was pumping fast, and she wished that she had been able to say good bye to her father.
Just before I left.
Just one last time.
Exhaling shakily, Lyueem's thoughts were confirmed. Hera' Solatta may have suggested that Lyueem undertake the First Rites now, but had it been left up to her mother, Lyueem would never have been allowed to go.
From the planet's surface, Lyueem watched the Bottle of Smoke retreat, knowing that it would be back.
Clinging to the fact it would be back.
The desert was far warmer than the insides of the ship had let on. Lyueem struggled with her heavy robes, removing great swathes of cloth before she felt cool in the short under tunic. Shaking her headdress off, she searched among the fabric for her pistol, straightening with in in her claws.
"And from now on . . ." she looked over the arid, inhospitable landscape. "It's just me and you."
The Convent High Charity The Ninth Age of Reclamation
Jalahass allowed the Honour Guard to escort her into her office, but once there, she dismissed them. She could help the little smile creeping over her mandibles as she saw Fulsamee, stretched out on the day bed, fast asleep.
"Hey," she murmured, crouching beside him.
Blinking, he sat upright. "Has Lyueem gone already?" Rubbing at his eyes, he swung his legs over the side of the day bed. "Kristassi said you were taking her . . ."
"For her First Rites."
They were silent for a moment, before they embraced, and cried.
Holy Planet, Sacrifice The Ninth Age of Reclamation
Lyueem grimaced as she saw the sun creeping towards the horizon. She was parched, and she could do no travelling at night, the large predators had too much of an advantage over her.
She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she could risk another few hours travelling, or if she would do better to set up a camp immediately.
"And how is anyone supposed to be enlightened on this thing, anyway?" she grumbled aloud.
The sounds of a spacecraft in re-entry answered her. As long as the time spent on the planet had been, Lyueem knew it was nothing close to the mandatory seven weeks. Her fingers closed over the grip of her plasma pistol, the knuckles bleeding as she tore the tight, burned skin.
And that ship was not the Smoke. It was a Phantom.
She had no cover, and no way of evading the guns. Still, if this was an assassin squad, they wouldn't be so foolish as to kill her obviously. They'd get closer, pretend to be picking her up.
Although she was shaking with anticipation, Lyueem listened to the voice of reason, which sounded suspiciously like her father. She lowered the pistol, hiding in the folds of her tunic, and waited for the Phantom to land.
"Dear child!" The Prophet of Regret hovered out, waving his arms in the expansive gestures he was prone to making. "Congratulations!"
The Brute guards he had with him leered down at the little Priestess.
"Seven weeks already?" Lyueem asked. Her voice surprised her, keeping calm and almost mocking the Prophet with this blatant lie.
"Well," Regret dismissed her concerns with a sniff, "time flows differently when you are cut off from civilisation."
"And I suppose you are civilisation?" Lyueem backed up a little.
"Child . . ." the Prophet's voice had taken on a tone of warning.
"My mother said she would collect me and I have no reason to doubt that. You, I do not trust."
The Prophet sneered and the Brutes lunged forward.
Lyueem darted to the side, her small size made her a difficult target to catch. She spun as she ducked, pulling out her pistol and squeezing off three quick shots. All of them missed, but the Brutes suddenly realised she was much more of a threat than before.
"Take your time when firing, because random shots never hit," her father had explained to her when she was a child, living on the deep space cruiser Grave Leanings. She, Hara' and Karte' had all learned how to fight there, and she remembered imparting similar advice to her youngest brother Kray', before he left to join the army.
Dropping to one knee she aimed and pulled the trigger, letting a huge ball of plasma accumulate before she fired on the Brute bearing down on her. The hot plasma, at point blank range, stunned the Brute. He staggered, falling to the ground beside her.
She scrabbled away, firing off more random shots behind her. They deterred the furred hand that had been reaching towards her, but the suspicious fitz noise that her pistol made told her there was only one good shot left.
The Brutes stood together, rubbing at their plasma burns. One of them howled, a ferocious, terrifying scream of rage.
Lyueem eyed them, backing up slowly.
"Don't make this difficult," Regret growled from the shade of the Phantom.
Lyueem looked between the two Brutes, and then down at the pistol her mother had given her.
The Brutes were coming closer.
Lifting the pistol, Lyueem turned it towards her chest.
You won't find me unmarked, lost to noble Sacrifice, doing my duty as a Priestess to appease the Forerunners. You will find me as I am - a victim.
High Charity the Ninth Age of Reclamation
Truth approached the four children of Orna' Fulsamee and Saia' Jalahass, and he extended his hand out for them to touch.
"Words cannot describe your sorrow," he said.
Saia' Kristassi nodded, accepting his hand. "Thank you, Noble Truth."
The brothers could not bring themselves to look at the Prophet. They'd seen their sisters body lain out on the altar, before it had been burned away.
"If there's anything I could do for you, Kristassi," Truth's fingers brushed her forehead, "I would only be too grateful."
The Prophet passed on, and before the next official could come up to them, touting his grief, the brothers turned on their sister.
"Did you not see your sister lying there?" Hara' hissed at her.
"I don't want the same to happen to me," Kristassi hissed back. "And if I have to befriend Truth then that's what I'll do."
"My friends," Councillor Ara' Manaten stood before them. "Let her be carried on the Great Journey."
Jalahass and Fulsamee stood at the end of the line, flanked by Galatash and Haelaay.
"High Priestess," Truth said as he approached them. The other two Prophet Hierarchs stayed behind him. "I cannot imagine your loss."
Blinking several times, Jalahass couldn't say anything.
"What could we have done?" Fulsamee spoke, his voice cracking, as though it was the first time he'd spoken since he'd learned of his daughters death. "Truth, what could we have done to anger the Forerunners so?"
"Sometimes," Truth's eyes slid to the warrior, "the Forerunners actions are a mystery. Even to myself."
Bowing his head, Fulsamee took the Prophet's hands. "I would like to repent, if you knew of a way to help me . . . ?"
Smiling benevolently, Truth nodded. "I can help you both."
Jalahass growled low in her throat. "I need no absolution." She stalked away, sending a ripple of shock through the congregation.
Looking up at Truth, Fulsamee remained bowed before him. "Help me."