- Fabled Legendary Member
Where to begin... he wondered, momentarily stunned by the range of controls before him. Whenever he usually left High Charity, he had someone to ferry him around. It had been years since he'd even ran a simulation for a seraph.
He was close to figuring it out when a red light began to blink above him; an incoming communication. As much as he wished to ignore it, he knew that doing so would bring a security team running before he so much as folded in the stabilising wings.
Begrudgingly, he flicked the light and the portrait of a Jiralhanae face appeared on his screen. His stomach did a back-flip, and then settled when he saw its neatly trimmed fur; this wasn't one of Tartarus' unkempt mongrels - not of those who were hunting him down.
"Sangheili," it intoned, low brow creasing harshly. Pel regarded the beast with an icy cold stare, locking his jaw. "My kig-yar tell me you've stolen an evacuation ship from them - you realise we are in a crisis?"
"Animals commanding animals... and the people wonder why the Covenant haven't won this war yet," Pel marveled, the Jiralhanae's position epitomising all that he thought wrong - they were taking over High Charity, with the Sangheili's occupation on the battlefield.
"Racism is ill-tolerated in our empire, Sangheili," the Jiralhanae had the gall to chide. "You can't take an entire seraph for yourself; I don't care who you are, it's not--"
"Then perhaps I'll relay your complaint to my direct superior... the Prophet of Truth," Pel murmured threateningly, and even through the monitor he could smell the Jiralhanae's sudden sweat. "What did you say your name was?"
There was a silence for several seconds, a staring contest between two alpha males reluctant to back down. Finally the beast broke, and looked away.
"Take it, then. But know that if the humans attack High Charity and she falls, the blood of many innocents who could have escaped will be on your hands."
"I doubt there's any room left," Pel remarked darkly, before flicking the light again - the screen died, and he was left alone.
That should buy me some time, but not much - even now, I'm sure he's inquiring about me. It won't take long for him to find out there's a price on my head.
He fired up the seraph, and dove out of High Charity's hangar bay. That was the easy part done. Reaching the humans at Harvest without being blown up - that was the challenge.
"Orpheus!" Zharn shouted through his communicator for the umpteenth time, and still received no reply. The Jiralhanae hadn't met them at the rendezvous point, and although they'd looked he hadn't been able to find him. Finally, they'd given up - Orpheus could take care of himself, and Zharn's priority was to get a pregnant woman to safety. So here they were.
Knock, knock, knock.
Zharn waited a full minute for an answer, but the door didn't open. He tried again, and had the same result.
"He should be here," he muttered.
"Unless he's fled the city already," Savara suggested, a notion that made Zharn laugh. He shook his head at her.
"The only ones leaving this city are the aristocracy and the theocracy," he explained. "The house 'Thierr may once have held considerable weight, but that reputation died with my father - my cousin's best chance is to stay here, where it's safest. Away from the inevitable riots."
"If your name means nothing, then how are you a fleetmaster?" Savara pressed, confused.
"I climbed through the ranks," was all he said. And I have devious friends. Growling with frustration, he hammered on the door again and bellowed: "'tis I, Zharn! Your cousin, Zharn Thierr'ee! Open up!"
He hoped to the gods that no others were near enough to hear that. His one saving grace right now was that none of the sanctum's ilk save for Pel knew of his presence on the station, and the Ossoona didn't seem to be in any position to report him. If the gods were good, he might even be able to escape back to his fleet before the sanctum became any wiser.
He looked back at Savara, grimacing under his helm.
I promised her I'd look for Sorran, and it is a vow I intend to uphold... once she and her unborn child are firmly out of harm's way. A night's rest wouldn't hurt either. And still the door hadn't opened. He lost his temper, drew out his blade, and thrust it through the lock mechanism. It liquefied almost instantly, and peeled away from the frame when he kicked what was left of the door down.
Within, a Sangheili gowned in expensive night-wear stared at the blade with wide eyes, letting out a girlish shriek. Zharn stepped through the doorway and retracted his sword with a flick of the wrist, removing his helmet with the other.
"Hey, coz," he greeted his uncle's son, glancing down at the battered door with a tinge of regret. Maybe he'd gone a little too far. "I did knock."
"I heard, I just didn't want to answer," his cousin stammered out, voice taking Zharn back to better days in the Keep of Thierr' on Sanghelios, where he, Ahkrin and his cousins had spent years roaming the backwater fields of his father's state, blissfully unaware of the looming empire that would soon domineer their lives. "Trouble follows you like no other. Usually in the form of Ahkrin."
"I am the kaidon of our house; that jurisdiction extends throughout all the empire, including this building," Zharn justified, looking around his cousin's home with a critical view. It was disgustingly well furnished, and clearly his cousin had many servants attending to its maintenance. "You seem to be living comfortably off our house's stipend."
"Things could be better," his cousin griped, even as he drew his robe of exotic silks around him to ward away the sudden draft that flew through the breach in the home. "Money I may have, but all the coin in the worlds will not buy reputation. I've offered bribes to almost every guard at every hangar, but none will offer me a place on a ship."
"You're a prisoner," Zharn surmised, whistling for lights. A blanket of luminosity fell upon the entrance hall, which managed to look even more extravagant under illumination. "The sanctum left Clan Thierr' enough affluence that we wouldn't cause trouble, but no status. To them, you're little more than a finely dressed unggoy."
"Is that why you joined the military?" his cousin shot back. "For status? I hear you go by fleetmaster these days - uncle would be ever so proud of you."
"A fleetmaster without a fleet, as of present," Zharn grumbled, not liking the way his cousin spoke of his father. "And your father? Would he be happy to see you living in sloth here?"
"He's not too active himself these days, if the physicians back on the homeworld are to be believed," his cousin shot back, speaking about his dying father like he would the weather. Zharn felt a pang of heart-break; the man had always been his favourite uncle. Zharn's cousin looked past him, and for the first time noticed Savara. His jaws compressed - a Sangheili smile.
"You've found a wife," the man noted. "Why was I not invited to the wedding?"
Savara stepped closer to Zharn, and his cousin whistled when he saw the bump in her belly, making some inane joke about the poor child, with Zharn as his father.
"The babe's not mine," Zharn snapped, tiring of his cousin's civilian foolishness. "And she's not my wife. Savara, I'm afraid this is my cousin, A'lci Thierr'. Notice the lack of any 'ee' suffix - he refuses the join the army on conscientious grounds. Coward."
"I could never take another's life," A'lci impressed to Savara in a rehearsed display of sincerity. "It would go against the very mantle our gods left behind."
"The Forerunners killed," Zharn scorned. "There's a reason the dreadnought possesses the firepower it does."
"What is a god, but the sum of all aspects of mortality? Surely if we can succumb to our lesser desires, they can too--"
"I don't mean to be rude, but this is no time for a theological debate," Savara interrupted, storming past them both inside. She turned her head to A'lci. "Zharn is too proud to ask, but we need a place to stay, and we can't have anyone know we're here. Would you grant us your hospitality?"
Zharn frowned, and puffed himself up. "Actually Savara, I'm the kaidon of Thierr', so I think you'll find it's not his call as to whether or not we can--"
"Of course, my lady," A'lci simpered in tones as slippery as butter, taking her hand and drawing her out of the entrance and towards the front room. "I would be honoured to have as my personal guest. Would you mind putting the door back, coz? There's a terrible drought."
Zharn watched them leave, let out a theatrical sigh and stooped down to pick up the heavy lump of metal by his feet. Savara would be safe here, unless the humans attacked.
My shipmasters had best be making haste, or I'll have them flayed. Still, every minute they spent in the void was a minute Zharn had on the station, free to look for a dead man.