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  • Subject: [Novel] True Sangheili (Part 38 available!) ~ 23 June
Subject: [Novel] True Sangheili (Part 38 available!) ~ 23 June

By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.

wulvurrs i r fan of ur store sinse the strat and i wantted to tell u tht if u dont rellese the next part soon i will nevur bead ur stories everrrrrrr again! also i have a numbre of ideas fror this story i wud like to see, if you dont include them you will be repurted

hav a pleasant day gud sir

  • 12.05.2012 11:50 AM PDT
Subject: [Novel] True Sangheili (Part 39 available!) ~ 18 December

Chapter 39 further down page.

[Edited on 12.17.2012 4:32 PM PST]

  • 12.06.2012 12:14 AM PDT
Subject: [Novel] True Sangheili (Part 38 available!) ~ 23 June


Posted by: Wolverfrog
Chapter 1337 - Platitude

Sorran woke up, it was a beautiful day on High Charity. He saw Ahkrin chilling out by the dreadnought and flew over to say hello; they went to get ice cream. Zharn and Savara happened to be visiting the shop too, and sat down at a table with them. It was a joyous time of revelry and reminiscence. The three hierarchs walked in and, seeing there was no rocky road, promptly fell onto a sortie of rusty, jagged ice-cream spoons.

The Covenant was free, and ice-cream for anyone. Then the Didact slipped on a banana peel, activated Halo, and accidentally the galaxy.

The end.


For half a second there I just saw "Chapter - Platitude" and I got an erection. Then I realized.

I almost cried, man.

  • 12.06.2012 7:49 AM PDT

In all seriousness, just chill guys. It'll be done when it's done; the chapter's pretty long (think Insurrection's epilogue) but I don't want to release it before I get to a certain point. If I don't reach that point soon, I'll post it anyway.

Ajw, I've told you before that this isn't slash fan fiction. Stop sending me those graphic private messages with your 'suggestions' - keep it in your head and in your bedroom. Thank you.

[Edited on 12.06.2012 8:14 AM PST]

  • 12.06.2012 8:12 AM PDT

By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.

Where did the banana peel come from? You just said that they had ice cream... Pfft! Trying to shoehorn in your best bit of Insurrection and not even doing it right.

  • 12.06.2012 8:57 AM PDT

Obviously the Didact wasn't in the ice-cream shop, that would be ridiculous.

  • 12.06.2012 8:58 AM PDT

"Life to you stepson and everlasting glory. " Thifes World.

Hey wolvers you write pretty well. I wonder if you rember me from the Writers Corner way back when. Good work so far.

Ive noticed many writers have a signature in the way they write and how they write. Well one of these days we should write one togeather.

OR if no its cool. Do you take ideas from the books ? or just hit the fresh farms in the back of your mind. I think you might have a mini cortana in the back of your skull.

Just kidding man. What i am asking is do you get inspired by music or other books, Movies Ect ?. I am glad to see you have a detailed imagination like my self.


Take life easy. Maybye one day i will buy your novel in the store say. Hey i know this guy.




  • 12.06.2012 5:39 PM PDT

Thanks for your kind words. I've never been too keen on the co-writing thing even when I had the time to do such a thing, but appreciate the offer.

With True Sangheili, I had to make up my own content more than I did with any other fan fiction before it - prior to the K5 trilogy, there was almost no detail on Covenant society and so most of it in this has been invented by me. I take inspiration from elsewhere all the time. Ahkrin, for example, was at first almost a carbon copy of the character Silk from David Edding's Belgariad, or at least my attempt to emulate him. After a few chapters I decided to move away from that and gave him his own development (as I did with all the other characters.)

These days as a writer, I tend not to be influenced directly by what I read, watch or listen to. Rather, I think about how something has affected me on an emotional or intellectual level etc, and then try to work similar traits into this if it fits the story arc. So yeah, most of this is, as you say, farmed from my own mind - aside from the general plot which is of course inspired by Halo.

  • 12.07.2012 12:18 AM PDT

"Life to you stepson and everlasting glory. " Thifes World.

Ya know i love the Covys just so little about them. Ive tried to add my touches but i understand that copying a char just is not the same as making him or her fresh.

Elites i find are interesting. Playing Halo Wars has given me more insight into the conflict. I have not read any of the books but i try to stay with things.

Yet no one can create in a vacuum. Conceptualization is a key to any writer. Stories with people in them. Ive had some flops but you know when something is truly great if it blows people away.

Every writer aspires to be as good as others. Many are humble who see that bringing fresh concepts or ideas with chars who are loved or cared about.

In the end is it not the Passion that drives us ?. Whelp sorry I have to bribe master chef to get me Halo 4 lol. Its all good man i was just seeing if you were interested is all.

[Edited on 12.07.2012 12:55 AM PST]

  • 12.07.2012 12:55 AM PDT

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle- victorious"

Just read through each chapter 3 times. Can't wait for the next chapter in this epic story.

  • 12.10.2012 3:34 PM PDT

Joy to the world, the chapter has come. See you this time next year.

Kidding.


Chapter 39 - Trials of Delphi

"A void jump?" Zharn groaned, feeling like death all over again. The acidic tang of vomit clung to his mouth, and he wiped it away with a shaky hand. Their small closet had been plunged into darkness; he could faintly make out the shape of Savara a few metres away, unmoving. Coughing his way to his knees, Zharn crawled over and rolled her onto her back. A pair of bright eyes slowly opened, and she stared at his face with confusion.

"... Sorran?" she whispered softly, bringing up a hand to his face. Zharn let it linger there for a moment, before pulling away and shaking his head.

"No, I'm still me," he corrected ruefully. "Are you okay?"

Savara sat up with a start, her momentary delusion fled. She looked about their small space, and whistled for a light; it did not come.

"What happened?" she asked him, her voice still low. Zharn leant his back against the wall opposite her, and it took all his will to stay awake. His gunshot wound still throbbed to the point of insanity; there was no pain like the pain of peeled flesh.

"Some idiot must have jumped the city without raising the impulse shields. Don't worry; the radiation isn't dangerous, but it can cause some disorientation and sickness for a while."

"Then it's the perfect time for us to leave," Savara asserted, jumping to her feet with the litheness of youth and moving for the door.

"Leave... where?" Zharn asked her pointedly, and he took no satisfaction from how his words stopped her in her tracks and etched self-doubt on her face.

"I don't know this station well," she confessed to him, and he felt the role of leader suddenly slide onto his shoulders; it was not a weight he wanted to bear, not here. "But we should be looking for Sorran."

"I've never been here either," Zharn told her. "And you need to give up this mummer's dream of Sorran. He's dead and rotting, you need to accept that and move on."

He saw her eyes tear up, but he steeled himself and continued regardless.

"My priority right now is to get you off this station and somewhere safe. The hierarchs aren't after you - not yet. But if you stay with me, and they'll hunt you for whatever reason they're hunting me."

"And then what will you do?" Savara demanded, and it was his turn to be flustered. He averted his gaze from her piercing eyes, guilty of his mind.

I intend to hunt down your bastard father and put an end to him, and his Ossoona puppeteer, he vowed darkly. Imperial Admiral Grymar'ee had been given his chance, and the man had turned cloak and shot him.

Zharn was done forgiving. It was a luxury he could no longer afford. But he did not say this aloud, and changed the subject.

"I have a friend waiting a mile south, a Jiralhanae by the name of Orpheus. We'll meet with him, and then assess our current situation," he laid out, hoping Orpheus hadn't been discovered. With any luck, the Jiralhanae had seen Pel and Grymar'ee fleeing and knew where they'd gone. "Once we find him, we'll head to my cousin's house, here on the station. He will take us in, until my fleet returns and we can leave this place."

"A Jiralhanae?" Savara demanded shrilly. "How can we trust such a thing?"

"That thing is a good and noble man, one who I would trust with my life," Zharn admonished, like a parent teaching a child to be open-minded. "I have known him some months now, and he has been nothing but loyal the entire time."

"So you replaced Sorran as brother with a brute?" Savara ground out, and her words cut deeper than she realised. Zharn shook his head.

"It's not like that. Sorran will always be as my brother, in this life and the next. Nothing will change that; not his death, not--"

"He's not dead," Savara insisted again, that stubborn pout about her mouth. If he'd had the energy, Zharn would have thrown his arms up in exasperation.

"Still you persist with this fantasy. Fine! I'll play along; he's alive. Whatever makes you feel better, Savara. Maybe he'll turn up at the door; hierarchical pardons, cake and a promotion for me to Supreme Commander in hand," he droned sarcastically, not caring for how he hurt her feelings. The girl had know Sorran for a few weeks and yet she acted like she knew him better than he did. He is my brother!

... present tense. Gods, her fervour was poisoning his mind. Savara had turned away from him, arms folded tightly. Zharn sighed theatrically, before gritting his teeth and climbing to his feet. A convulsion of pain racked down his spine, and the wound at his side felt hotter than a furnace. Sweat beaded his forehead, and he felt his world spin. His legs began to buckle, he felt himself falling--

A light hand caught him, taking some of his weight. He looked to his bearer, and saw Savara looking straight back. Slowly they edged towards the door, him leaning on her like some invalid cripple.

"You don't have to believe, Zharn," she whispered softly as the door opened. "I'll believe hard enough for the both of us."

*

They were challenged before they got one hundred metres within the door. Two hulking Mglekgolo advanced towards them, both standing twice as tall as any Sangheili. Ahkrin looked to Jeann'ee and saw that his face had balked. He would be dealing with this alone, it seemed.

"You. Halt." The words of the Mglekgolo were seldom more complex, save for the rare times when they'd break out into surprisingly touching poetry after a battle. Ahkrin obeyed the command, fixing his feet where they stood on the huge bridge.

The dreadnought towered over them, so close that Ahkrin could almost hear the melancholy song of the Forerunners preserved within. It was easy to see why they were revered as gods; even with all he knew, Ahkrin still felt a compulsion to kneel before the dreadnought's majesty.

"Yes?" Ahkrin demanded of the two Mglekgolo as they drew near. One of them came to the forefront and moved to mere inches away from him; the stench was indelible, a cloying aroma of rotting meat and the discharge the hive within the armour expelled.

"Your business?" it inquired, and although the creature had no eyes, Ahkrin felt as though every facet of his body was being scrutinised by a million of them. He looked at the Mglekgolo as if it were insane, and pointed skyward.

"See you not the human fleet hanging in the heavens?" he demanded, and absently muttered to Jeann'ee about 'idiot eels' as the two Mglekgolo followed his finger to see the ships about Harvest. "This is not the time for such formalities, worm."

"Not our concern," was the reply he received to that. Ahkrin took a huge risk, and slapped the creature about its face. It flinched from the blow, but did not retaliate.

"It is all our concern, you dolt!" he yelled, and noticed the other Mglekgolo shirk away out of the corner of his eye. "You were charged not just with the protection of this entrance to the dreadnought, but with what this vessel represents. It is the centre of High Charity and the centre of our Covenant! If those humans should lay a single scratch on it, I'll have every eel in your colony burned alive."

The two Mglekgolo shrank back as the divided colony communed, clearly confused. They'd probably spent their whole lives doing little more than letting by those with clearance and pointing their green cannons at those who didn't.

"But," it murmured gingerly, as if fearing another slap. "Your... your business?"

"Business of the sanctum," Ahkrin barked authoritatively, pushing past the Mglekgolo and striding towards the dreadnought's entrance. He heard Jeann'ee fall at his feet, and behind them a dim protest about required authorisation - he ignored them and carried on. His act seemed to have worked - no plasma bolts struck him in the back, anyway.

"Still have that infamous Descol'ee swagger, I see," Jeann'ee quipped slyly as he fell into stride with him, chuckling when he saw the Mglekgolo stare dumbly after them and then reman their posts. "You should have been in theatre."

"Where else do you think I learnt to act so well?" Ahkrin asked coolly, glancing around. "I wonder if this place is usually so deserted."

It was disconcerting in a strange way; an eye of the storm that was High Charity's constant noise - a tranquillity lay about the dreadnought and everything it watched.

"This is a place for the nobility," Jeann'ee spoke with derision. "No doubt they are all cowering in their bunkers, all the good it will do them."

"I am of a noble house, if you'll remember," Ahkrin pouted. "And do you see me in a bunker?"

"Descol' ceased being a noble house after your father disgraced it in the rebellion," Jeann'ee snorted. "Who is its patron now? Some distant, far-removed cousins of yours who can scarce rub a pair of coins together without one of them begged? My friend, your house is dying. Not even your children will be allowed to bear it's name--"

"The hierarchs promised they would restore it to former glory," Ahkrin sighed, unable to find himself angry at Jeann'ee words - the man was merely echoing what he himself thought all the time. "There is no chance of that happening now."

"Not under the current... dictatorship," Jeann'ee supplied, raising a brow as he looked over. "Another failing of this failed Covenant. Who are the San 'shyuum to fame and shame Sangheili houses thousands of years old, or interfere in matters of family--"

"Like proclaiming a bastard cannot be formally recognised?" Ahkrin extrapolated, and he saw Jeann'ee's shoulders drop. "Tell me that is not why you are on this ridiculous crusade."

"Of course not!" Jeann'ee flared, but his eyes suggested he wasn't being entirely truthful. "I am doing this for the betterment of trillions, that we might live apart from the unholy bonds of the Covenant."

  • 12.17.2012 4:17 PM PDT

"But I'm sure that if the Covenant does end, you'll be one of the first to motion that we change the decrees of the prophets... including the law of bastardy," Ahkrin cut right to the core, and was rewarded by a noncommittal shrug.

"Perhaps," Jeann'ee ground out. "But think, my friend--"

"I'm not--"

"Your house might become great once again. Its lands, allegiances and wealth restored. You would have your pick of the fairest women in the worlds. Or men."

"Wait, what?"

"You'd be amongst the greats of Sangheili society," Jeann'ee plowed on, ignoring Ahkrin. "We both would. All you need to do is help me convince the oracle that he must step in as he has never done before, to set aside these neophyte prophets and lead our people back to the Path."

I have no need of a machine's attributed divinity to end the Covenant, Ahkrin thought to himself. If I want to topple the hierarchs, all I need to do is broadcast the truths left on Restraint's data crystals. But at what price would that freedom come?

A price of blood and fire, undoubtedly. As much as Ahkrin wished he could trust the people to do the right thing, he knew all too well that people were collectively idiots. A great mind would not have his voice heard amongst a legion of fools. If he so quickly cut away all that kept those fools in line, there would be blood spilled aplenty and enough instability that the humans might achieve victory.

Then it would all be for nought. No, there was a proper way to go about this. Sow the seeds of doubt, wait for the crops to grow in the minds of the people and not be harvested before their time.

This was a view Jeann'ee did not share. Ahkrin did not dare tell him of the secrets he held, for he knew they would not be kept. Jeann'ee didn't care about how many people died in the process, as long as his goal was reached. And as long as he could cast aside his peasant-mother's name and take the noble one of his father's house. A petty jealousy of his mighty half-brother was what drove him, altruistic pretences be damned.

"That is a path you must walk alone," Ahkrin finally said, and he felt a little pang of guilt when he saw the disappointment in Jeann'ee's face. The man did not see things the way he did. He never had. That's why Ahkrin had finally quit the life Jeann'ee still lavished in; he never could lock away his conscience like his once-partner had been able to.

"So what do you want to see the Oracle for?" Jeann'ee quizzed, not for the first time. "I cannot figure it out."

"Scholarly interest," Ahkrin jested, and that earned a chuckle at least from Jeann'ee.

"The day you become a scholar is the day I become a magistrate. Fine, keep your secret. I will find out soon enough, once we see him."

"You might regret it afterwards," Ahkrin cautioned. I know I certainly will.

Before Jeann'ee could follow that up, they reached the south-eastern entrance to the dreadnought. For the first time in a long time, Ahkrin found himself beholding the beautifully simple architecture of the Forerunners up close. A great hatch stretched up to three times their height, making him wonder again how tall their 'gods' had been. Were the heights of their structures because they too were tall, or was it the result of a species-wide inferiority complex that prompted them to build so grand, much like the great pillars of fire the unggoy built on Balaho?

Whatever the original opening mechanism had been, it had been torn away due to a lack of compatibility and replaced with Covenant-issue magnetic sealers, activated by a standard panel rife throughout the empire. An unseemly bastardisation, almost as if they'd clawed their way inside.

Jeann'ee went over to the console, and input a code with practiced efficiency. A moment later there was a welcoming hum, and the doors slid open; a soft blue glow spilled out into the dark from within, throwing them both into a heavenly light.

"How did you know the code?"

"It involves kidnapping, torture, and a few friendly drinks after," Jeann'ee smirked, patting Ahkrin heartily on the back. "Not far now, brother. If the gods are on our side, we'll make it to the Oracle before the humans mobilise and kill us all."

Jeann'ee bounded forth into the dreadnought, and was soon lost within its blinding glow. Taking a final look up at the ominous view of the UNSC fleet, Ahkrin checked his weapons and followed after.

Don't worry, Jeann'ee. I'll kill you long before the humans do.

*

"Ahkrin?" Sorran dared over the wide-band frequency, encrypting the transmission as best he could with what he had. He waited a full minute, but there was no reply.

What a mess I've made, he lamented in his guilt as he heard screams of chaos throughout the once-quiet city, as thousands sought to find family and escape from the station. Still more accepted their fate, and merely stood with eyes facing the skies, waiting for that fateful moment when the UNSC ships would descend upon a near-helpless High Charity and raze it to the ground.

High Charity should have jumped with its guardian fleet; Sorran had configured the impulse drive so its radius would encapsulate the armada of destroyers and corvettes. He'd expected that upon arrival at Harvest, the humans would see the Covenant fleet and decide to wait for them to make the first move; a move the Covenant wouldn't make due to High Charity being at risk. It would sow some discord throughout the city; channels would become cluttered, and hopefully in the chaos he'd be able to find and rescue Savara with none being the wiser. If all had gone to plan, no blood would have been shed on either side.

But that damned Huragok... just as he'd been about to initiate the jump sequence, there had been a flash of neon and he'd found himself knocked aside by one of the deceptively docile-looking creatures assigned with watching over the engines. Before he'd been able to right himself and deal with it, the Huragok had already interfaced with the auxiliary drive and done its best to halt the void-jump.

Not well enough. Instead, all it had done had been to disable the extension field, so that when High Charity had jumped, it had left its guardian fleet behind. So now they were left hanging here in enemy space with damaged impulse drives and too-few Huragok to fix them in a timely manner, helpless until a relief fleet arrived.

Still... the humans hadn't made their move yet. Not even a scout craft had been sent forth to assess the situation. Did they know that High Charity was of the Covenant? No, of course they did. Even if it weren't for the recognisable architecture, all seamless curved lines and purple, they would have tagged the IFF as theirs.

Strange. Did they think the station was powerful? They'd be dead wrong; from the station's inception, it had been designed as a vessel of government and worship, not war.

It's been over an hour since High Charity jumped, and the humans haven't so much as sparked an engine. It's almost as if they're extenuating the crisis to its last possible instant, holding off from engaging for as long as possible. But why?

Sorran shook his head, dismissing the thoughts before they spiralled out of control. He'd been known to lose himself in his mind for hours in the past, and that wouldn't do now. His first priority was Savara.

"Ahkrin?" he chanced once more. No answer, but that didn't mean he hadn't been heard. "If you can hear, I'm sorry. I should have stayed with you, finished what we'd set out to do. But I could really use your help right now."

Still nothing. Sorran sighed despondently, and continued his stride down the street. He struggled to move with the crowd, painfully aware that the frenzied march of the panicking people could easily turn into a trample at any second; as soon as the humans made their move, the station would explode into anarchy.

  • 12.17.2012 4:17 PM PDT

I hope I can find a ride, or its going to be a long walk, he thought glumly. The Janjur Qom district was dozens of leagues away; even for a fit Sangheili at speed, that would take hours. In this mob, longer.

Time he couldn't afford, not while Savara was in Pel's clutches.

"Stop pushing!" an official bellowed from up high, perched upon the edge of a phantom. If it were Ahkrin in his place, he'd find a jump pack, leap up there and hi-jack the ship before anyone realised what was happening. All Sorran could do was stare forlornly at it. "Continue slowly and follow this phantom!"

The crowd didn't even know where they were being led, and still they followed like sheep after a shepherd. True then, that a mob has the collective mentality of a small child. A raised voice from above is all that's needed to manipulate it into submission.

And indeed, Sorran felt like he were in a flock; boxed in by members of the constabulary - their faceless wall barricaded in the people, and he saw energy batons hanging from their sides as well as dormant shield barriers. They were ready for a riot.

"... served for five years, including instances of crowd control," he picked out the voice from the crowd, and looked over to it. A Sangheili of strong posture was conversing with one of the constabulary, and he wasn't being shoved away and growled at. Sorran picked through the dense wall of people to hear better.

"You sure you want to sign up for this?" one of the constabulary asked in disbelief. "It's chaos here."

"I have a duty to the Covenant," the Sangheili replied proudly. "In times of crisis, we must all do our part."

"Alright," the constable caved finally, turning to someone behind him. "Jaqu'ee, sort this man out with riot gear and brief him on the situation. He'll be helping us out."

"A civilian?" Sorran heard a voice come back skeptically, and saw the constable towards the front shake his head.

"A warrior on relief, so you show some respect. He has a ton more field experience than you, and actually knows how to hold a weapon. Now snap to it! We need every man we can get."

The soldier was ushered into the pack of Sangheili constables, and soon disappeared into their midst. Sorran took a look back at the crowd he was trapped in. Looks like I've found a way out.

He marched towards the constable who had just interned the soldier, and drew himself up to full height. The constable eyed him up and down, a brow raised behind his helm.

"Back in line, sir. Any questions you have will be answered once we reach the destination."

Sorran feigned offense, and looked about him with an air of arrogance he'd so often seen Hem wear; the casual cockiness of a man who knows he's better than others.

"Some gratitude you stationers have," he scowled. "Is that how you treat all warriors of the Covenant?"

The constable straightened immediately, and seemed to see Sorran for the first time. He felt appraising eyes roam up and down his body.

"Another?" he asked, as if he scarcely believed chosen warriors would lower themselves to offering help to the constabulary. "What's your class?"

Minor, Sorran almost said, but that life was dead and buried long ago. He was more than that, even after all that had happened in the last few days.

"Honour Guard," he uttered smugly, and smirked when he felt a dozen or so eyes suddenly fixate upon him. A chain of whispers swept amongst the nearby people, and he saw the constable's eyes widen.

"An... an honour guard?" he spluttered, as if he could scarcely believe it. And then, shrewdly: "Why aren't you protecting your master? I'm sure they could use you right now."

"My reasons are my own," Sorran impressed, throwing some grit into his voice. He saw a flash of fear across the constable's face, fear reflecting in the man's body language as his hands squirmed. "It has little bearing on the now. I am here, I am able, and I am willing. If you will have me."

"Of course, sir," the constable stammered out. The man had to be older than Sorran, but his address was that of a child to an elder. "Gladly, sir. I'll take you to my commanding officer right away, he'll want to see you."

I almost forgot how honour guards are viewed by the general populace, Sorran mused as he was escorted through a barrage of constables, leaving the sheep and its shepherd far behind. I doubt an honour guard has ever so much as spat in this man's direction, much less talk to him.

A considerable advantage, in this case. The constable babbled on to him about the current state of affairs; the station was a mess - minors were in positions of command, the aristocracy had gone to ground and most of the constabulary had been still in the academy not too long ago.

"It'll be good to have a man who knows what he's actually doing in charge," the constable yammered on. Sorran nodded curtly as he followed the man through hastily assembled barricades and outposts that had been erected around High Charity to deal with the crisis.

"Your commanding officer," Sorran began to ask. "Does he have access to any requisitions?"

"Yes sir," the constable reported. "We've got weapons aplenty; lethal and non-lethal, light ground vehicles and even a few aircraft. We haven't strictly been given clearance to use it all, but at a time like this you've got to do away with the red tape, right?"

"The councillor I serve would say otherwise," Sorran chastised, earning a bit of pleasure from how the constable suddenly went bright red. "But on this occasion you have my agreement. I'll puzzle out how best to distribute our resources with your commanding officer."

"Yes sir. Glad to hear it, sir; I didn't know what to do if the humans started attacking the city."

... You'll be fighting them off with one less banshee, when I'm gone. Sorry about that, constable, but needs must.

*

It was not the first time Pel had been subjected to an unshielded void rupture; the familiar queasiness had struck him, and he'd thrown himself on his hands and knees to vomit, steeling himself and straining to remain conscious.

After a few moments, the sensation had passed and he'd found himself the last man standing amongst a clutter of inert fools; even the great Imperial Admiral Grymar'ee had proved too weak to handle the naked jump, tongue hanging from his mouth like some slack-jawed fool as he lay atop the Jiralhanae he'd been struggling with.

Descol'ee, Pel decided, a gut instinct telling him it was the only answer; this was too well-timed to be an error of the staff, and if there had been an impulse jump planned he'd have known about it, as Knife of the hierarchs.

Former Knife, rather. He looked over at the motionless Jiralhanae who'd been sent to kill him - Tartarus' ilk, that much was clear. His pack distinguished themselves through their disgusting, unkempt hair and took pride in the fact that they didn't clothe themselves in power armour.

A pity for him; it might have provided some shielding against the void radiation. And then there was Orpheus. He looked vaguely familiar, but Pel couldn't quite place it. Whoever the man was, he'd saved their lives.

Time to get to work. Pel reached into a fold in his armour, and produced a hilt of smoothest steel. He touched a glyph and its tip quickly morphed into a keen and tapered end, sharp as any dagger forged by the finest of blacksmiths would be.

He proceeded to dance between the Jiralhanae with a practiced efficiency, sinking the blade into the jugular of each Jiralhanae; a soft gurgle escaped from each of their sleeping throats as they died. He stopped just short when the vermilion-stained blade reached Orpheus' neck, and decided against it. Not out of any compassion or gratitude, but curiosity. This most strange Jiralhanae had fought his own kind for them, a rare thing. No, Orpheus would live for now.

But Grymar'ee. Pel smiled slyly as he bounced over to the aged Sangheili, and in his unconscious state the man looked every one of his years: his lips curled back to reveal yellowed teeth, relaxed muscle sagged and his eyes seemed to sink into dull pits.

He laughed as he kicked Grymar'ee in his side. This would be a death he would not hesitate over. Pel positioned his blade above the man's eye, and prepared to drive it in as he would a chisel.

Suddenly, he saw Grymar'ee face contort and a spluttering came from his mouth; the man began to shift underneath Pel's weight, and he felt his phantom toes itch with fear. Pel quickly sprang to his feet and agonised for a few moments.

Ultimately, he decided to risk was too great; if his shielding was still active and his blade was knocked aside, it might snap Grymar'ee alert and then it would all be over. Instead, he holstered the weapon and backed away slowly.

Pel's stumble soon turned into a sprint away from the Janjur Qom district, and he wondered what his next move would be. His life as Truth's personal grim reaper was over, that much was clear. A petty part of him longed to take revenge upon the man who had ruined his life, but he knew that would be suicide - the sanctum was too heavily fortified.

His best move now was to leave this station, before the humans attacked.

... the humans.

Pel knew what to do, then. Find a ship, and leave this station. Head towards Harvest. He didn't need a knife to take his revenge on the hierarchs - all he needed were the secrets that the prophets would have him killed over.

I imagine the humans would pay handsomely for such information. It might change the war's tide, after all.

*

  • 12.17.2012 4:18 PM PDT

"Oh. I was not expecting visitors so soon," the Philologist quailed from over his scroll, droopy eyes examining the two armed Sangheili with a slight hint of alarm. Ahkrin faltered for a moment, and he betrayed himself by sharing a concerned glance with Jeann'ee.

"Seer," Ahkrin intoned with respect, thinking on the fly. "I did not think to see you here; you know High Charity is currently under threat?"

"Oh... yes. The human ships. Worry not, child, the Forerunners will protect us." the Philologist muttered softly, lowering his scroll and working his stone chair towards an aisle of other stacked rolls reaching up to the ceiling of the dreadnought.

"I try not to place my life in the hands of absent gods too often. I don't plan starting today," Jeann'ee said to that.

"That is yours to decide, child, but I'd rather you didn't speak such blasphemes inside this most holy of places. Sangheili in my day were never so rude. Of course, that was a long time ago."

Ahkrin raised an eyebrow and looked hard at the philologist. He had to be one of the oldest prophets he'd ever seen; he didn't so much sit in his stone chair as fold in it, and his dewy eyes were the colour of mist.

"Forgive me if I sound rude," he decided to impose. "But how old are you, noble priest?"

Even that seemed a herculean task for the philologist, who sat there for almost a minute muttering three-digit numbers under his breath whilst shaking his head. Finally, those milky eyes settled on him with an answer.

"I have seen two-hundred-thirteen commemorations of my birth," the philologist proclaimed, and the sharp intake of breath they both took wasn't feigned. "Yet the commemorations ceased many years ago."

"Surely you should be retired, seer?" Jeann'ee inquired, both of them realising that the priest posed no threat to their mission; it was doubtful he'd even be able to tell them what year it was, much less ask for their favour and authorisation.

"I was," the philologist croaked out. "In the latter years of last age, my apprentice succeeded me and took up the mantle of caring and interpreting for the Oracle. But then he ascended to the hierarchy with the other two, and I was recalled back to my post. They will not give me another apprentice and small wonder, now that the Oracle is in quarantine."

"Quarantine?" Ahkrin demanded a little too harshly, forgetting he was speaking to a far-too-old man for a moment. He cleared his throat, and added more softly: "I was not aware the Oracle was being kept in a quarantine."

"Yes, it's a tragic thing," the philologist droned back. "I fear my apprentice was not altogether responsible in his stewardship, and allowed the Oracle to come to some damage. I am... forbidden to see him."

He turned back to face them, and tears were glistening in his eyes. Age has addled this man's wits, Ahkrin decided, feeling a little pity for the old man, stranded in this pristine mausoleum with none for company.

"Mercy... he let the Oracle be harmed?" Jeann'ee asked then, and with a start Ahkrin remembered that indeed, before becoming the most venerable hierarch the prophet of Mercy had been the philologist of the dreadnought.

"You need not ask for mercy, my son. The Forerunners are as forgiving as they are great," the priest smiled.

"No, Mercy. The hierarch. Your former apprentice," Jeann'ee corrected with annoyance, looking over to Ahkrin impatiently. The philologist blinked with confusion.

"He took the name of Mercy?" he asked them, and when they nodded a rusted laugh escaped from his mouth. "An ironic choice. You see, before he served as my intern, my apprentice was best known as the sanctum's chief justice. That was of course before he was found guilty of corruption; he had sent many innocents to their death. He was given to me as penance for his crimes and was an able pupil, but he most certainly wasn't a man you could call merciful."

Mercy was the chief justice? He's kept that well-buried. The public see him as the wise counsel of the hierarchs; the counter-balance to Truth and Regret's sometimes rash youth.

"None of them are," Jeann'ee spat. "Philologist, it's of utmost importance that we see the Oracle. Can you help us?"

"I can," the philologist acknowledged, but he didn't move an inch. "... who did you say you were again?"

The temperature of the room dropped by a few degrees.

"We didn't," Ahkrin interjected before Jeann'ee could blow their cover with some impassioned speech about his noble goals. "I'm Descol'ee, my colleague is Jeann'ee. We've been sent by the sanctum, to ask the Oracle for guidance in this troubled time; our holy city sits in a pit of lions, and it shan't be long before they realise we've not brought our whip."

"Yes, the sanctum said they'd be sending people," the ancient seer said to that. "I didn't realise you'd be speaking to the Oracle, though. How exciting."

"... the sanctum told you people were coming?" Ahkrin demanded, suddenly feeling very uneasy. His fingers twitched as the philologist nodded.

"Of course. To reactivate the dreadnought's weapons. A momentous occasion indeed, one not seen since the time of Cabal. Curious though, that they sent you Sangheili."

"Curious? Why?" Ahkrin snapped, not liking where this was going at all. Jeann'ee was being awfully quiet...

"Because the sanctum told him to expect us," a new voice interrupted from behind, a baritone so instantly recognisable that his worst fears were realised. Not wasting a second, Ahkrin drew his weapon out and swung around his arm to fire.

He found it caught in a grip of steel, and it took all his training to hold back the screams as his bones cracked. Canines leered inches from his face, bearing the vile musk of blood and rotten meat; beyond them, he could see Jeann'ee pinned by the throat.

"Fortune that we should meet here, Descol'ee," Tartarus growled. "The hierarchs are most displeased with you."

*

A deathly silence had descended upon the halls of the Janjur Qom temple, juxtaposing with the death they saw all around them. Everywhere they walked, Sangheili were slumped against the walls; the foul stench of blood polluted the air. Zharn didn't seem at all bothered by the mangled corpses they found, merely giving them cursory glances and occasionally rattling out a little autopsy; clawed, teethed, torn apart. He spoke as though he was commenting upon the weather, apparently unaware that he was making her stomach turn. And his pace was not one accommodating her smaller size; he rushed along in a near-jog, and she found herself panting as she struggled to keep up with him.

Then with relief, Savara saw Zharn finally draw to a halt and, frowning, reach for a small device on his wrist. After a moment she recognised it as a communicator; standard issue throughout the military, no matter the rank.

"What is it?" she asked him. He looked up at her as if he'd forgotten she were there, and shook his head.

"Interference, I think," he answered in ponderous tones. "Strange, though; it's on a frequency band few know."

She didn't miss the wince as he saw her face brighten, but didn't let it deter her regardless.

"What if it's Sorran?" But why would he try to contact Zharn? Or even know he's here?

"It's not Sorran," he told her gently, and might as well have told he he was dead again for all his bluff. "Most like it's just random chatter falling into the wrong channels."

"But what if it isn't?"

"Then it's probably Ahkrin," he came back bluntly, and she found herself starting to dislike his candid demeanour; the man had no tact or empathy. Much like my father.

"From the way Pel spoke, it sounded like your friend was in more trouble than we are. What makes you so certain he is alive?" she demanded, and felt a small pang of satisfaction when she saw him flail for words.

"... I just know," he settled with lamely, stalking past her with hunched shoulders. "And yes, I'm aware of the hypocrisy in that. But I know Ahkrin better than I know myself; he's no wet-behind-the-ears sapling like Sorran is-- was. A mere Ossoona wouldn't get the best of him."

"Sorran was no 'sapling!'" she screeched at him, and if he wasn't wearing his fleetmaster's armour she would have slapped him about the head. "You do him no service."

"No service?" Zharn wheeled around on her, spluttering with disbelief. "I should be with my fleet; with my men! Instead, I'm baby-sitting my dead brother's..."

"Your dead brother's what?" she demanded shrilly. "His concubine? His whore?"

That earned her the death glare, but she paid it no mind and returned the stare. If he thought his stature and position intimidated her, he was wrong - she'd spent a lifetime standing up to her father, and Zharn was a mere infant compared to him. After what seemed like ages, he broke eye contact and sighed.

[Edited on 12.17.2012 4:20 PM PST]

  • 12.17.2012 4:20 PM PDT

"Actually, I was going to say lover. All I am saying is that if I didn't care for Sorran's memory, would I be here? Risking my life and freedom to get you to safety? Yet you appreciate none of what I am doing; instead, you languish in futile sanguine over a man you barely knew. Why hold on to this... lunacy? It's a great, big empire - surely there must be other eligible men worthy of your love, men who aren't months dead--"

"I'm carrying his child!" she blurted out, feeling tears trickle down her cheeks. She unfastened the lower half of her coat, showing him the slight swelling in her belly. Zharn said nothing; simply stood there staring dumbly at her pregnant state, blinking. It was as if a dam inside her had been thrown open, and all the emotions she'd kept bottled up for months poured out of her in a great flood. "I didn't notice until a few months ago, but then I took a test and it was positive. And a DNA test showed it was--"

"Sorran's," Zharn finally spoke, and for the first time he spoke the name without a trace of reluctance. "You're pregnant. With Sorran's child. You. Pregnant."

Gods, are all men so hopelessly awkward when it comes to the affairs of women?

"It's a boy," she told him, and that brought a foolish smile from him. "Healthy, and strong."

"I can scarcely believe..." Zharn muttered to himself, and it was as if the tension between them had never existed. "How many months along?"

"Could you not figure that one out yourself, Zharn? I haven't been with him since you three left to lay siege to the city of Eridanus II. Seven months."

"So around halfway?" Zharn asked uncertainly. "That is the gestation time, is it not?"

"You're not a complete idiot then," she smirked at him; for a minute, she'd wondered if he knew of anything other than war. "There are still some eight months to go, more or less."

"Sorran's son..." Zharn wondered, eyes glistening. He was looking at her in a whole new light. "Savara, you do not know how much this means to me. When he died, nothing ate at me so fiercely as the thought that it should have been me. He was so young, so inexperienced in life. To learn that he has left behind a legacy... it brings me some relief. I promise you will not be alone in raising the child. I will be as a father to him: I will teach him to be a true Sangheili."

"Take it easy there, uncle," she chided, and almost felt like laughing for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. "Have you forgotten we're being hunted by half the sanctum?"

"I dare any of the fools to cross our path," Zharn vowed, and some of the pride seemed to seep back into him - he stood up a little taller, and colour seemed to flood his face. His hand played about the energy sword at his hip. "I will ferry you and your unborn child away from here, if it kills me."

"And now do you see why I want to believe Sorran's alive?" she asked him, and saw his face cloud with shame. "He's not just the man I love; he's the father of my child. If there's any chance he's still alive, I can't rest until I find him. Even if that just means knowing for sure that he's dead."

An array of emotions played across his face, as he seemed to wrestle between his skepticism and his honour. From what Sorran had told her of Zharn in their brief time together, she knew which would win out in the end.

"... very well. Hear me clear: I'm not saying I believe he's alive, and I think you'll end up harming yourself through this endeavour. Still, you're right in one thing; if there exists the slightest chance, then we should follow it up. For your son's sake, if nothing else. I will help you find Sorran, but once my fleet arrives we are gone from this place regardless of what happens."

*

He was only a major, and as soon as Sorran saw the man he felt sorry for him. Communicators were blinking all around the make-shift office, and the major was clearly out of his depth. Such lower-ranked officers were usually only given the command of a lance or two. This man had been burdened with an entire evacuation effort.

Even so, he still straightened up when he saw Sorran approaching, snapping a quick salute across a sweating brow.

"You must be the honour guard," the major greeted, extending a hand. Sorran grabbed it; a firm grip. "I'm Puis Toul'ee.

"Well met," replied Sorran, looking about the room. A large section of it was taken up by a holographic representation of Harvest and its immediate area. Sorran had known it was guarded still by a small UNSC fleet, even though much of the planet had been glassed during the second siege under Regret last year. What surprised him was how much UNSC activity there was; a full fleet, including a destroyer.

"A bloody mess," Toul'ee remarked, seeing the object of Sorran's attention. "Sanctum told us it was an impulse drive malfunction - what a load of sh­it. First they tell us there's a plague outbreak, then we get reports of humans on the station! And now this. There's something bigger going on here, honour guard, and a fool could see it. Not to mention we jumped without Thierr'ee's fleet; I'm telling you, the hierarchs need to--"

"That fleet was Zharn Thierr'ee's?" Sorran questioned sharply.

"Apparently. Though to call him a fleetmaster is a bit of a stretch in my opinion; he only won his title through some outdated tradition. Even so, I'd rather have him here than no one. We're helpless."

Zharn was so close. No doubt his fleet is chasing after its lost ward as we speak. I've already revealed myself to Ahkrin, surely Zharn deserves as much?

No, that would be the wrong thing to do. He'd told Ahkrin the truth about the Journey, and now his brother was going to die because of a sudden crisis of conscience. Zharn had a good life; a fleetmaster, like his father had been. If Sorran told him the truth, it would ruin all that.

"The humans haven't moved yet," Sorran observed, more to himself than to Toul'ee. "It's almost as if they're... protecting the planet."

"Protecting Harvest?" Toul'ee asked skeptically. "Most of it's glasslands. They're probably just scared; they've never seen High Charity before."

"Humans don't scare easy," Sorran contested. "In first contact, a vessel of kig-yar pirates boarded one of their trade ships. The humans responded with a strike team, killing the kig-yar and destroying their ship. Even we were not so brave, when the prophets first arrived on Sanghelios with the keyship."

"You sound more like a scholar than an honour guard," Toul'ee grumbled, obviously taking issue with being second guessed. How right you are. "Alright then, let's run with your theory. They're protecting Harvest. Why?"

Sorran had already moved around the other side of the holographic planet, feeling that something was off. He spun from one side to the next, and finally realised what was wrong.

"This hologram is looped," he told Toul'ee matter-of-factly. "Look. The northern pole is mirrored on the southern pole. Our deep-scans are being scrambled."

"What?" Toul'ee demanded, pushing past him to look for himself. "Why are they shrouding the bottom point--"

"The south pole," Sorran corrected.

"The south pole from our scans? Are they hiding something there?"

"Possibly," Sorran remarked ambiguously, knowing full well it was true. "It would explain the unusual UNSC presence."

"Good work. I'll forward this to the sanctum," Toul'ee decided, moving across to a terminal. Sorran decided not to tell him it would be pointless; they were in no position to investigate now, and by the time they returned at a more opportune time whatever the humans were doing would be long-buried. Still, anything to distract the sanctum was a good thing in his books. Toul'ee looked up from the terminal as he pressed buttons. "Did you serve in the army, or have you always been in the guard?"

"I've seen my share of battle," Sorran answered. "I've killed humans." I've killed Covenant.

"I've never left this station," Toul'ee confessed sheepishly, looking around at all the evacuation maps and communication tethers around him with despair. "Space travel terrifies me."

"... but--"

"Yes, I am aware High Charity is a space station. Much in the same way a planet is just a ball of rock in space. It's not the same as a ship; there's a natural atmosphere, buildings, a sky. This is all the home I've ever known, honour guard. If it's destroyed..."

"That won't happen," Sorran found himself saying, and checked himself. He wasn't here to help out a beleaguered major. He was here to find a banshee, rescue Savara, and keep a promise to Restraint. That last one is going to be difficult.

Yet... he couldn't just leave this poor man to it, especially with this all being Sorran's fault. Not without leaving a little help behind, at least. I was a scholar, once. I can handle the logistics needed to co-ordinate the evacuation so much better than Toul'ee.

"Brief me on the situation," he ordered, decision made. "And I'll need a rundown of all statistics - population, route numbers, force count, threat assessment."

"... they teach you to interpret all that as an honour guard?" Toul'ee asked uncertainly.

"Sure," Sorran lied. "We do more than hold fancy sticks. The name's Sorran. You're lucky I was in the area."

  • 12.17.2012 4:21 PM PDT

*

Pel had never seen a hangar bay so busy. Barely a square metre was unoccupied by people, every one of them straining to find a ship loaded with impulse drives. He recognised the crests of noble Sangheili houses emblazoned on the chests of many; councillors, most of them. A few San 'Shyuum shuffled about the place, those ministers too lowly to be granted a place on the grandiose evacuation ship of the hierarchs.

By now, the triumvirate had most likely left this system, and High Charity behind it. If the station fell, the only ones who would perish would be the common folk - those not high enough up the political food chain to be granted passage.

Fortunately, the sanctum had neglected the revoke Pel's authorisation. He'd passed several checkpoints unchallenged, and only one pair of Truth's Jiralhanae had been unlucky enough to stumble upon him.

"Pel," he heard from behind him. His body tensed, and he readied a knife concealed up his sleeve as he turned. When he saw who it was, he relaxed and let a smile flash across his face.

"Ahm," he greeted, grabbing the Light of Helios' extended arm. "I am surprised to see you here; I'd have thought you'd be with Regret."

"In a manner of speaking," Ahm replied, motioning to his waist. Pel peered down and saw a small San 'shyuum child staring up shyly, eyes wide. "This is Regret's son, Chywm. I'm taking him to safety, just in case the worst comes to worst."

The true-names of the prophets couldn't be properly pronounced by any tongues but their own, and Ahm's throat wrestled with the sounds of the boy's name - theirs was a beautiful and innately complex language, understood by few outside their people and used only in religious sermons. This was the main reason the prophets adopted titles as their names once they were of age.

Ah. So this is Restraint's ill-begotten bastard, Pel mused to himself, and upon close inspection he could certainly see traces of the former hierarch's face in the boy's.

"Well met," Pel spoke formally, as was proper. "I look forward to one day serving you as I serve your sire, the noble Regret."

"You work for my father?" Chywm asked, the curiosity of a young child overcoming his shyness. Pel nodded.

"Yes, although usually indirectly. I report directly to his brother-hierarch, Truth." Or at least, I did.

"You are leaving High Charity too, then?" Ahm queried, and after a moment's hesitation Pel nodded his affirmation. Ahm sighed. "A precautionary measure, I'm sure.

Then the Light leaned in closer, and in conspiratorial tones, whispered: "Regret has managed to convince the council to authorise the keyship's re-activation; it's weapons are being brought online as we speak. They will make short work of the human fleet."

Pel stiffened. The dreadnought had been dormant for millennia; one of the primary articles in the Writ of Union decreed that its weapons be laid to rest for all time. And ever since their accession, access to the dreadnought had been limited to the philologist and the lekgolo who trowelled its bowels for secrets left behind by the Forerunners. There was something in there the hierarchs didn't want anyone to see; Truth had all but admitted this to him when Pel had dared to ask about the matter a couple of years ago.

"I am surprised the Sangheili councillors agreed to this," Pel worded carefully. "Especially with the hierarchs fled - to allow such power to be unleashed without a firm hand--"

"Not all the hierarchs have... evacuated," Ahm countered, and it seemed as though he wished to use a far less flattering word. "Regret has remained upon the station, to oversee the keyship's weaponisation."

Always did fancy himself a warrior, that one, with his bravery and daring. Still, no matter how much a San 'shyuum may train, he will never be stronger than even the weakest Sangheili. And therein lies a crucial flaw in our Covenant - difficult to maintain a creed of equality when some are born better and stronger than others.

"May he find success," was all Pel said to that, looking about the hangar in search of an impulse-drive carrying vessel he could appropriate. Ahm noticed his roaming eyes.

"You are welcome to share our ship," the Light invited with a warm smile. "Honour guard or no, we are all servants of the hierarchs. I would not have you packed in with a cluster of piss-stained deacons."

Pel looked over to the group of shuffling prophets boarding a rickety old vessel, not so much sitting in their chairs as sprawling on them. Many had unggoy attending them; deacons served for life, even after age made them infirm. He looked back to Ahm with an icy glare.

"You may be a Light of Helios, but don't think yourself better than me, Ahm. I've done far more for the hierarchs than you ever will," he snapped, not appreciating the implication behind the other Sangheili's words. "As it happens, I am on a mission for the hierarchs at this very moment - one that involves more than being a handsomely dressed baby-sitter."

"My friend, I meant no offence--" Ahm started to object, but Pel waved his hand dismissively.

"I know, I'm sorry for lashing out. You're one of the good ones, Ahm. I hope your journey is a safe one," he bid farewell formally, nodding respectfully down at Chywm. "May our paths cross again, your highness." Like as not, Restraint's bastard would be hierarch one day. If the stars were kind, a hierarch Pel could serve once the current leaders were retired.

But that day was not today. He had more pressing matters on his mind; the preservation of his own skin. He whisked himself away from a confused Ahm, soon losing himself in the masses as he pushed his way towards a seraph he'd spied in the distance. He heard cries of protest as he shoved people aside, cutting to the front of the queue that he formed.

"Move aside," he commanded to the two kig-yar who had evidently been charged with admitting evacuees on board. Their ugly bulbous eyes gleamed up at him suspiciously, and he saw their talons playing about the plasma pistols strapped to their sides.

One of them squawked at him harshly, and it took a few moments for his translator to convert the guttural language. Their vocal chords were unable to properly replicate the main tongue used throughout the empire, and so relied on automated translators to speak for them.

"You will join the line and wait," one of them dictated; the creature was plumed in rows of crimson spines, and Pel noticed them rise a little - a primal display of authority. "After seven jumps, it will be your turn to board the seraph."

Seven jumps? High Charity could well be cinders by then, or shaken to pieces by the firing of the dreadnought. There are too many people here and not enough ships... I almost feel guilty for what I am about to do.

"I'm seizing this vessel in the name of the most blessed hierarchs Truth, Mercy and Regret," he announced formally, to both the kig-yar chaperones and the queue of Sangheili and the few lesser races amongst them. He produced identification and beamed it before the kig-yars' incredulous faces, and could almost hear them swallow with fear when they saw who he was. "You should all seek other passage from the station or better yet, grow a spine and defend your home!"

That didn't go down so well with the people, but he didn't care. Amidst a sea of crude expletives and threats, he shoved the kig-yar aside and bounded up the stairs into the seraph. He paused when he saw a few passengers already on board - an old Sangheili staring up at him with lost eyes, and two children who he drew close.

"You need to find other transport, sir," Pel told the grandfather apologetically, and saw the old man's brow furrow. "Now."

The older Sangheili muttered a few reassuring words to the children, and rose to his feet, drawing a cane from his person and letting his weight fall on it - it looked as though every step was one of pain, judging by the winces he saw. Shooting Pel looks of confusion, he shuffled towards the exit with his grandchildren in tow.

"Wait," Pel stopped them, unable to let his conscience be burdened any further. He drew out his ID card from his pocket, and pressed it into the old man's hand. It wasn't as though he'd be needing it any longer. "Show this to the guards of another transport and they'll let you all on, no questions asked. Now leave."

The grandfather thanked him earnestly, as if Pel hadn't just kicked him and his grandchildren off an evacuation ship. Pel took another look at the crowd outside, slowly dispersing, and felt a knot twist in his stomach.

Am I really worth all these people? he wondered, and found it was a quandary he didn't want to explore too deeply. When he'd been working for the hierarchs, he'd been able to shield against every act of questionable morality with their authority and presence. But now...

Best not to think too much on this one.

"Pilot!" he barked sharply, and saw the door to the seraph's cockpit slide open to reveal a confused kig-yar. "Pel, Ossoona of the prime echelon. I'm commandeering this vessel and your services are not required. Surrender control to me, and then leave."

It looked as though the kig-yar pilot was going to be contentious, but then its bulbous eyes glinted with fear when it saw the weapons strapped to Pel's person, and the creature left with little protest. The hatch hissed shut behind it, and the seraph fell into a blissful score of silence.

Pel clambered his way to the front of the seraph, and as he eased himself into the pilot's seat noticed that its architecture was not designed for a Sangheili's bone structure; ridges pressed into his back uncomfortably, and there was nowhere to rest his head. An unpleasant stench from the lesser races clung to the material of the chair; he brought up his visor, and engaged air filtering.

  • 12.17.2012 4:22 PM PDT

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.

  • 12.17.2012 4:23 PM PDT

*

I'm far too old to be waking up like this.

Imperial Admiral Grymar'ee pushed himself up onto his knees, tried to fight his heaving stomach, and failed. Yesterday's dinner pooled out onto the ground, mixing in with a sticky crimson-blue blood - the resulting odour was appalling, enough to make him gag again. He crawled away from it, and found himself staring into the dead eyes of a Jiralhanae. Fledgling Yan'me buzzed around the open wounds in its gashed throat, dispersing when they saw Grymar'ee approached - even as young and underdeveloped as they were, the larvae knew an Imperial Admiral when they saw one.

He staggered to his feet, head still reeling from what he gathered had been a raw jump. Void leaps never sat with him under the best of circumstances; to do so without the protection of an impulse-shield was an ugly thought indeed.

All around him, Jiralhanae lay dead - each one of them with their throats slashed. It didn't take him long to figure out what had happened.

"That damn Ossoona," he muttered aloud, checking his vocal chords were still working. Miraculously, everything seemed to be in place - a relief; once you reached his age, broken bones stopped mending so quickly.

He looked about wildly, and saw no trace of Pel. The coward had fled the Janjur Qom district, and with him any hope of finding his daughter. Not that she'd want him to find her.

What have I become? he despaired, thinking back to all he had done. Killing civilians to galvanise an ailing public, shooting promising young fleetmasters... I was once an honourable man.

Grymar'ee looked up to the skies, and felt his blood run cold when he saw a planet he'd commanded glassed years ago. It glared down at him with hatred, an array of vengeful harpies assembled around its dying husk.

Harvest, and a human fleet. He should have been shocked, but after all that had transpired in the last few days he couldn't even find a gasp within him. All that remained was a numbing sensation and a tight constriction in his throat.

He'd once been hailed as the best tactician in the Covenant armadas - he'd defeated enemies of greater number, greater strength and, his crowning glory, he'd tamed the fierce Hunters. He still remembered the surreal awe that had coursed through him when the Domilekgolo, hundreds of feet tall, had sank to its knees before him and begged for mercy.

But the humans... they were unlike any enemy he'd faced before. He won against them more often than not, true. That was down to sheer technological superiority, though. And whatever he did, never could he divine the location of their homeworld.

The longer this war wages, the more difficult it will become. They're more intelligent than we are, and I'm not too proud to admit that. Eventually they'll crack our technology, and then we'll be the ones on the run.

The thought of a demon wielding tech greater than a Sangheili's was enough to send a chill coursing down his spine. They were terrifying enough with their stones and clubs. If they forged swords, they'd be unstoppable.

It scared him. He'd looked into the maw of humanity like few others, and for the first time in his life realised the empire he cherished beyond all else wasn't invincible. Grymar'ee knew the humans had their Cole Protocol to prevent seizure of their ships, and nothing displayed the arrogance of the sanctum more than the lack of such a protocol for their own fleets - if the humans ever stole one of their ships and put one of their ingenious AIs in there... they'd know everything.

That is why I did what I did. Because of fear. Fear that we will not only fail to win this war, but that we may actually lose it.

That self-epiphany hit him hard, and he'd never felt more mortal than he did then. He fell back down to the ground and sat for a few minutes, silently contemplating as he stared up at - or simply at, seeing as how space was without dimensions - the UNSC ships. They didn't move, and neither did he.

A sudden spluttering of coughing snapped him out of his trance, and he reached for a rifle that wasn't there. He saw it a second later some metres away, half-buried in rubble. Even ten years ago, he would have never made such a schoolboy error. Age was dulling his wits.

He scrambled towards the rifle, dusted it off and levied it at the source of the wheezing. Another Jiralhanae, the one who'd come to his and Pel's rescue earlier. What had his name been? Orpium? Ophius?

Orpheus.

Taking caution, he slowly advanced towards the awakening Jiralhanae - he'd found out earlier just how freakishly powerful their kind were.

"Slow, Jiralhanae," he commanded in the deep, resonant tones that he found so often instilled obedience in people. "Reach for a weapon and I will shoot you down."

Orpheus' eyes opened with a flicker, a startling amount of intelligence held within their vermilion depths. Contrary to the stereotyping of his species, the 'brute' didn't rise roaring and snarling. Instead, Orpheus slowly sat up, turned to face him and eyed the plasma rifle with a weary stare.

"A fine way to greet your saviour," Orpheus ground out in a level cadence, running a trimmed paw through his greying hair. Grymar'ee had always found hair a curious thing of little purpose - the San 'Shyuum had their gobbets of tattered whiskers, the Jiralhanae their hulking coats and even the humans had their hats. Some wore rings of it around their mouths, and he'd seen their males covered in an utterly useless coating of thin, fine wisps. An unhygienic mess, all of it.

"That, I remain doubtful of," Grymar'ee shot back, allowing Orpheus to rise to his feet but keeping sure the man was several metres away; the Jiralhanae looked slow, but they could move faster than any Sangheili. Recognition suddenly struck him. "You were with Thierr'ee, before."

"Just so," Orpheus replied, looking hard at Grymar'ee. "Where is he?"

A flashback played through his mind, the smell of burning flesh as Grymar'ee plasma rifle had fired rounds into Thierr'ee's chest. There was no way he'd survive that, not without medical assistance.

"Killed, by Pel's hand," Grymar'ee answered. Not strictly a lie - it had been Pel who'd blackmailed him into shooting the young fleetmaster. The skin around Orpheus' heavy face pulled tight, and and what looked like grief softened the hard red rubies that were his eyes. It was always hard to read body language with their kind, though.

"What happened?"

"The Ossoona was waiting, and ambushed us. Thierr'ee had no chance; he was dead before he knew it."

Orpheus looked down to the ground, and stared at his feet for a long time. Finally, his eyes rose and stared at Grymar'ee accusingly.

"You didn't do anything," the Jiralhanae growled, and Grymar'ee shrugged, already easing back into the role of helpless craven.

"I am an old man," he defended weakly. "You may kill your leaders when they grow feeble, but in our society elders are treated with respect--"

"I don't believe you," Orpheus stared sharply. "You might have fooled Zharn, but I didn't think you a helpless old man for a single moment. I saw you fighting my kind before, and you fought well. You could have saved him. Why not?"

Grymar'ee swallowed hard for a second, the hand holding his rifle itching at the possibility of looming combat.

"Thierr'ee served as ample distraction," Grymar'ee stated curtly, wondering if he was weaving his fable too deep here. "I took Pel prisoner when his attentions were elsewhere. He was taking me to my daughter when these Jiralhanae beset upon us. There were too many, even for me. A good thing you came."

Believable enough. He can't blame me for putting my child's well-fare over that of a man I hardly knew.

Orpheus looked around, and raised a brow when he saw the dead corpses of Jiralhanae, with their slit throats.

"You shouldn't have killed them in this way," he chastised like a father would a child. "They deserved a noble death."

"It wasn't me," Grymar'ee argued. "Pel must have awoken first and done the deed. Where he is now, I know not. Long gone, I imagine."

Orpheus just stared in a deceptively vacant way, before nodding curtly.

"Very well. I know you to be a dangerous man, and you know me to be one too. I'm sure we could tear each other to pieces here, and it would be a duel the bards would sing of for years. However, I'm more inclined to live."

"A sentiment I can agree with," Grymar'ee responded in kind, admiring the Jiralhanae's sensibility. "What do you plan?"

"If Zharn is dead, then I should find Ahkrin - his friend. Deliver him safely from this place. After that debt is paid, I know not. Yourself?"

"I plan still to find my daughter," Grymar'ee vowed, and suddenly remembered something. Pel spoke of this 'Ahkrin' as if he were in his employ. Perhaps he knows where Savara is. "I have a hunch your Ahkrin may know something of her; I will help you find him, if you'll have me. Any leads?"

"Ahkrin's a slippery character at the best of times," Orpheus lamented, and Grymar'ee sensed some tension there. "If he's gone dark, he'll stay dark until he wants to come out."

"Has he any contacts on this station? Family, or friends?"

"As far as I know, his family's dead. He's of the house Descol'ee.

Oh. The poor man.

  • 12.17.2012 4:24 PM PDT

"As for friends," Orpheus continued thoughtfully, "he's not exactly a friendly person. Outside his two Sangheili brothers, he keeps most at a distance. And now both of them dead... I worry he'll fall back into his criminal ways without their influence."

"He was a criminal?" Grymar'ee questioned sharply.

"If there's a law, chances are he's broken it at some point. Or forced the Covenant to create new laws. He used to be an assassin-for-hire, with Relic's Shadow."

Relic... there could be something there, Grymar'ee realised then, thinking back on all the crime reports he'd ever read about High Charity.

"That cult was eradicated years ago," Grymar'ee lectured the Jiralhanae, pacing in thought. "But one of their lieutenants founded another syndicate, which by all reports controls the underworld of High Charity. I've had petitions to wipe it out, but the hierarchs tolerate its presence - better thieves and killers are bound by a creed than renegade. If Ahkrin was truly in the Relic, then he must have contacts there."

"Do you know where they're based?" Orpheus asked. Grymar'ee shrugged with nonchalance.

"Most everyone does. They all but have a blessing from the hierarchs; the constabulary don't touch them. I think it'd be our best bet to find your friend, but it'll be dangerous."

"What isn't on this accursed station? Is it far?"

"Not especially, but a vehicle wouldn't go amiss. I saw a depot of spectres as we came into the district. I think we can take one."

"A roadtrip," Orpheus smiled slightly, walking with Grymar'ee towards the district's exit. "Glad to see we've made such good friends already."

That remains to be seen.

*

"I cannot thank you enough for this," Puis said once again, taking Sorran's hand and shaking it firmly. "I'll have my men enact this new evacuation protocol you've drawn up instantly."

"It was no trouble," Sorran replied, feeling no small satisfaction in the man's gratitude. "Truth be told, it was good to know my skills as a thinker haven't been dulled by the toils of war."

"If you ever tire of the honour guard, you would make a brilliant commander," Puis told him sincerely. "I've met Imperial Admirals less able to think under pressure than you."

"I don't think I'd make a good Imperial Admiral," Sorran disagreed, smiling. "I hate shouting." And I'm not exactly on great terms with the Covenant right now.

"A pity," Puis replied absently, moving back to his console and manipulating the hard-light screen it projected. "Support for this war is ailing; it could use more decent men like you. "

"I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm content to spend my days serving my minister," Sorran said, putting an end to the discussion. "Now, about that banshee I mentioned..."

Puis looked up, looking as though he was wrestling with a decision.

"It's yours," he decided finally, smiling. "Your new protocol will do more good than one banshee could have ever done. I'd be a little happier if you'd tell me why you need it."

"Business of the guard," Sorran lied deftly. "It's nothing serious, but I'd be breaking my oath if I divulged my minister's personal business."

"I understand," Puis said, sounding a little disappointed. The major fished around at his side, and threw an object to Sorran. He caught it and held it up for inspection; a set of keys.

"Banshee's parked out in the back. No one else is out there aside from a few Huragok; they won't bother you."

"You have my thanks, Puis. You're doing a good job here, keep at it. If the sanctum do not promote you after this, I will have my minister write them a scalding letter."

Puis laughed, and moved to show Sorran out. They reached the door, and it opened to reveal a scarcely populated hangar bay with no aircraft save for a seraph in poor repair, and the banshee that would soon be Sorran's.

"I'd appreciate it," he said from the door, as Sorran walked down the stairs. "Oh, and Sorran?"

"Yes?" Sorran asked, pausing in his tracks. There was a silence between them for a few moments, and finally Puis spoke.

"This is awkward, but I was just sent a general alert and... well, you wouldn't happen to be the same Sorran wanted by the sanctum for High Councillor Restraint's murder, would--"

Sorran drew out his gun and threw himself back towards Puis, jamming the pistol in the man's neck and driving him back inside the office. Puis simply stared at him with calm.

"You don't know how much I wish you hadn't said that," Sorran told him ruefully, knowing the only way he'd get out of this would be to kill Puis, something he was extremely loath to do.

"I'd look down before doing anything rash," Puis told him in an steady voice. Frowning, Sorran glanced down and saw it. The hilt of an energy sword hilt, inches from his stomach.

"You really do need a promotion," Sorran admired the man's skill.

"And you need to leave, before another constable comes in here and recognises you," Puis told him firmly. Sorran frowned.

"You're letting me go?" he asked, puzzled by the man's actions.

"If you really had killed Restraint as the sanctum says, you wouldn't have taken a few hours out of your evil day to help a constable save some lives," Puis reasoned. "You'd be on the run, and you'd be killing anyone who got in your way. I won't pretend to know what's really going on, and I don't want to know, but I don't think you murdered a High Councillor, Sorran. If I'm wrong, then that guilt will be on my head and I'll have to live with that. But I'm willing to bet that possibility on the belief you didn't."

"I didn't," Sorran affirmed, looking him squarely in the eyes and lowering his weapon. The two stepped away from each other. "I swear to you on my father's grave, Puis."

"You're wasting time," was all Puis said, ushering him back out into the hangar. "Just promise me one thing, okay?"

"What's that?"

"If they catch you, don't mention my name. I have a family to care for."

"Not even with my dying breath," Sorran swore, a little overwhelmed by the trust Puis was putting into him. They walked together towards the banshee.

"Whatever it is you're doing, Sorran, I wish you luck. As I said before, there aren't enough truly decent men in this world. And if you ever sort this mess out, seek me out again. I would know you better, given the chance."

"May that chance come one day," Sorran wished, grasping Puis' hand once more. "Good luck."

"And you."

Sorran clambered into the banshee, his muscle memory recalling simulation and easing onto the controls as if it were instinct. He kicked it alive, and took off through the roof into the skies of High Charity.

*

  • 12.17.2012 4:25 PM PDT

We're fuc­ked.

Jeann'ee had never been one for field work; he could plan, he could order, but he couldn't do. He didn't know how to break out of the bone-crushing grip one of Tartarus' brutes had locked him in, nor where to strike with a knife, or even interpret their body language. Moreover, he didn't know how to surprise the panic building inside him. All he could do was listen, and hope he thought of a way out of this. Tartarus was speaking to the philologist once more, who seemed a little more lucid now he'd been stirred from his elderly daze.

"You are certain the Oracle is disconnected from the ship?" he spoke down to the elderly prophet. The philologist was in a gravity chair, unable to otherwise keep pace with the Jiralhanae - even Jeann'ee was struggling to match their long strides, and found himself shoved roughly onwards when he fell behind. He'd been with their kind before - worked with them - but Tartarus' pack were something else; each stood at least two heads taller than him, and vein-popping muscle could be seen even through the thick shaggy brown and black coats they all wore. He didn't doubt one could knock his head off with a swipe.

"The sanctum placed him behind an isolation-bolt," the philologist finally answered, and when Tartarus frowned decided to further elaborate. "A lock, effectively cutting the Oracle from anything technological even if he should be reactivated."

"If it interfaces with the ship, it could try and leave again. It would tear High Charity apart, and leave us defenceless."

"The Oracle is not an 'it!" the philologist snapped, and seemed to rise a few feet in that moment. "He is the instrument of our lords, and you will show him the proper respect."

To Jeann'ee surprise, Tartarus didn't bite the San 'Shyuum's head off in response. Instead, the elder brute inclined his head with respect.

"My apologies, seer. It was not my intent to blaspheme."

"Forgiven, my son," the philologist replied, reverting back to that fatherly tone he seemed to live in. The prophet then looked back, and his milky eyes locked with Jeann'ee's. He spoke again to Tartarus. "What will you do with your prisoner?"

"What do you think?" Tartarus huffed, and the promise of death was held in that exhalation.

"Not in the keyship," the philologist dictated in no uncertain terms. "You will not sully these holy grounds with your brutality."

"As you wish, seer. We will dispose of them elsewhere."

Wonderful. At least our deaths won't upset the Forerunners. Jeann'ee tried to distract himself from impending death by looking at the halls they walked past; he'd never seen the inside of the dreadnought, and was disappointed by the reality. It looked little different to any Covenant ship he'd seen save for deviation in aesthetics and materials. There were corridors, glyphs, overhangs, doorways. It all looked very... mortal. He didn't have long to ponder this, for what the philologist said next interrupted everyone's train of thought.

"Them?" the philologist quizzed. "But you only have the one prisoner."

It was as though the world went silent, even the ship. Tartarus frowned into widened eyes, his muzzle hung ajar and his fists clenched as he spun around, looking first at Jeann'ee and then the space several yards behind him.

Ahkrin was gone, and so were his two escorts. The Jiralhanae who had been directly in front of them stood frozen, wondering how they hadn't noticed their absence. Tartarus pushed through his pack and looked around wildly, as if he'd find Descol'ee hiding behind one of them.

"Find him!" Tartarus roared, a bellow that seemed almost sacrilegious in the otherwise tranquil halls. "Find Descol'ee, and bring me his head!"

I love you, Descol'ee, Jeann'ee thought, fighting to stave off a grin. Perhaps Tartarus saw something dancing in his eyes though, because in the next instant the chieftain shot a hand out at his neck and nearly lifted him from the ground.

"Where is he?" Tartarus demanded, spittle hitting Jeann'ee in the face. He kept his mandibles tightly shut, terrified of the foul-smelling saliva getting into his mouth.

"I don't know," he said, once the bombardment had ceased. "Knowing Descol'ee, probably in the one place he can cause you the most trouble."

Tartarus roared again, and threw him to one side. Another Jiralhanae stopped him from flattening against the bulkhead, wrapping a tree-trunk sized arm around his neck. The others in the pack had fanned out through the ship in a searching formation, chattering amongst each other in their languages of hoots and calls.

The philologist was examining all the chaos with a disapproving expression, as if he disliked the racket the brutes were making in the gods' vessel. Jeann'ee worried the prophet would say something to Tartarus - in his rage, the brute might forget his place and strike out.

"Packmaster, we've found two bodies. Titus and Perseph," a shout came, some hundred metes further down.

Perseph, no -us suffix. Not even a fully grown man, then. Jeann'ee felt a little sorry for the dead youth, robbed of life before his prime. But it was hard to keep any lingering upset over the killing of a brute.

"How were they killed?" Tartarus yelled back; interestingly, the Jiralhanae seemed to dislike using communicators when possible. A remnant of their pre-Covenant aversion to technology, perhaps. Bombing yourselves back to the dark ages would do that.

Jeann'ee zoned out as the Jiralhanae relayed back the details; broken spine, snapped neck, both deaths instantaneous; classic Descol'ee. Tartarus seemed to take the ease with which his men had been dispatched as a personal insult.

"I'll look for him myself," the elder brute decided, drawing out his stone hammer and lumbering down the halls. He turned back to the philologist and the Jiralhanae who held Jeann'ee. "Carry on to the Oracle, but do not enter without me. I will be the one to speak with Him. If you see Descol'ee, kill him."

Jeann'ee's captor nodded, and pushed him ahead, wielding his gun like a cattle prod. The Jiralhanae turned to the philologist.

"Lead on, seer. The humans could attack at any moment, we must activate the dreadnought's weapons."

As they walked, the philologist took a contemptuous sniff.

"You think the oracle will do that?" the philologist asked. "He is not a computer program to be ordered around, he is an Oracle. They serve none but the Forerunners. You will have to activate the weapons manually."

"That will take days!" the Jiralhanae whispered harshly. "Time we do not have. The Oracle could activate them instantly - he will comply, or when the station falls he will perish along with it."
"By all means, try," the philologist surrendered as he glided beside them. "But don't be disappointed if he does not stir; his concerns are greater than our mortal affairs."

"Then why do we venerate him?" Jeann'ee wondered. "If he cares not for our Covenant's future, then he is no oracle."

"That's heresy!" the Jiralhanae behind him growled, and Jeann'ee braced himself for a slap about the head. Before he could, the philologist put up a hand.

"Blind acceptance is heresy, brute," the aged San 'Shyuum disagreed. "Our Lords did not want us to follow all they left behind without question; they left us tests, that we might prove ourselves worthy - the holy warriors who guard their treasures; the parasite. Perhaps that their oracles are so tight-lipped is no less a crucible."

A crucible I intend to surmount, Jeann'ee vowed, wondering if he'd get a chance to speak with the oracle himself. Come on, Descol'ee.

Had Ahkrin just left him? Abandoned his own reasons for seeking the oracle and fled with his life? I know we're not friends anymore, in the strictest sense, but surely he wouldn't leave me to these brutes?

His Jiralhanae captor stole a glance at the philologist and, confident the San 'Shyuum was out of hearing-range, leaned in to whisper in Jeann'ee's ear.

"As soon as the Oracle brings the dreadnought online, we're going to take you home and torture every last morsel of information out of you," the brute promised him, and Jeann'ee felt a shiver go down his spine. "You will tell us where Restraint's last guard is, and where he's taken the former-hierarch's data."

"Last guard?" Jeann'ee wondered, trying to keep fear out of his voice. "You mean that boy, Sorran? I have no idea where he has gone. Ahkrin might have had a notion, but it seems like he's slipped your net."

"The assassin will either give himself up, or we'll tear you limb from limb."

"You're holding the completely wrong man hostage," Jeann'ee told the Jiralhanae, and he would have laughed if his life hadn't been in such perilous danger. "He'd probably pay to watch that."

"Then why are you here together?"

"I was in the souvenir shop, he was looking for the nearest public toilet. We were just exchanging pleasantries when you all strolled in."

"Funny," the Jiralhanae answered in a tone which said he hadn't found it funny at all. "Philologist, are you quite sure I can't kill this one here? Surely the Forerunners find its griping more offensive than a bit of blood."

"If you want the Oracle to grant you a boon, defiling his sanctuary is not the way to go about it," the philologist impressed. "We have prisons. Why not throw him in one? The last I knew, Jiralhanae did not have permission to kill Sangheili as they saw fit."

  • 12.17.2012 4:25 PM PDT
Subject: [Novel] True Sangheili (Part 39 available!) ~ 18 December

"Perhaps you should take your nose out from your books more often, seer. Our Covenant is changing; the Sangheili will not have their power for much longer, I guarantee--"

"So let us cast our arms aside, and like discard our wrath. Thou in faith will keep us safe, whilst we find the path. You know these words, brute?" the philologist asked, quoting scripture like it was a second language.

"The Writ of Union," the Jiralhanae answered almost immediately.

"A Writ we signed many thousands of years ago, with the Sangheili. Not the Jiralhanae. The San 'Shyuum seek the sacred rings, and the Sangheili protect us. It has always been so, and will always be so. You and all the other races but are guests of our peoples' Journey, and should show respect to the Sangheili as well; not just the prophets."

"Holy seer, I have nothing but the utmost reverence for our holy crusade and the prophets who guide us, but the Sangheili--"

"Fall back some, brute; I have tired of you. And leave this Sangheili next to me. He's manacled, and I'm sure that barbaric weapon of yours will work just as well from a short distance as it will jammed into his back. That is a clerical command."

"By your word, philologist," the Jiralhanae muttered reluctantly, shooting Jeann'ee a venomous look before falling behind them several metres. The philologist glided closer to Jeann'ee, seemingly unafraid of a man branded as a criminal.

"When you reach my age, you stop fearing the possibility of harm so much," the philologist said to him, as if reading his mind. "I am interested to hear your side of the story, Sangheili. What is your name?"

"Kal Jeann'ee. Well, that is the name my mother gave me. As a bastard, I am forbidden to use the name of my noble father's house."

"Do not be embarrassed of that, my son. You could not change the happenstance of your birth; your father begot you upon one who was not his wife. That is his shame, not yours. Now tell me; why do these Jiralhanae name you a criminal?"

"Well, I am one," Jeann'ee confessed, feeling no reason to lie. "I sort of helm High Charity's underground. But that's not why these Jiralhanae are here. They're after Descol'ee."

"Your absent friend causing so much trouble," the philologist filled in. "Do you know why?"

"Descol'ee sought me out just less than a week ago, seeking sanctuary from the Covenant. He told me the High Councillor Restraint had been murdered, and that he could prove Truth had been the one to order the deed."

"A matter of politics, then," the philologist sighed. "They all slit each others throats up there, but it's rare they leave behind evidence that can be pinned on them. I imagine Truth has sent these Jiralhanae then, to clean up his mess."

"It must be so," Jeann'ee surmised. "And I've been caught up on his treachery. Of all the crimes I thought I'd one day die for, helping Ahkrin Descol'ee was never one of them."

"But why are you here?" the philologist pressed. "Why did you want to see the Oracle?"

"I don't know why Descol'ee wants to see him," Jeann'ee shrugged. And I don't think I'll reveal my own motivations for coming to this dreadnought just yet. "Simple curiosity is the reason I'm here. Hearing the Oracle speak was a prospect I couldn't pass up."

"An understandable wish," the philologist said. "But a foolhardy one. The Oracle does not speak, and he has never done so. As I said, he has matters more pressing than our own mortal ones. Kal Jeann'ee, you seem a good sort regardless of your deeds. I will try my best to have the brutes spare your life, but if the sanctum declares otherwise then there is little I can do. My reach does not exert far outside these halls."

"Thank you, seer," Jeann'ee said back, and he meant it. "Even if your efforts fail, I will appreciate them all the same."

They stopped at an elevator, and the Jiralhanae caught up. He gave them both a suspicious glance, before grunting and swaggered onto the disc. The elevator was caught by an anti-gravity beam, and began to steadily rise.

"This will take us to the Oracle?" the brute demanded of the philologist bluntly, still upset over being dismissed so readily.

"He is sealed in a special chamber, behind the isolation bolt. This elevator leads almost directly to it."

"Good. The sooner the dreadnought's guns are activated, the better. I cannot breathe easy knowing the humans are so close, with us vulnerable."

"How do you think I feel, with you pointing that monstrosity at me?" Jeann'ee asked pointedly, eyeing the spiker rifle that was so close to his face he could smell the blood stained on it. He brought up his chained hands. "I am bound, what are you so scared of?"

"I would not be scared of a maggot like you even if you were armed to the teeth," the Jiralhanae swore, but he lowered his weapon all the same.

The elevator stopped, opening up into a long hallway. A barrier glimmered fiercely at the end of it, its blinding light dominating the room. The three of them stepped out and began to walk towards it.

"This is the isolation bolt you spoke of?" the Jiralhanae asked of the philologist, who nodded slowly. "Can you disable it?"

"Yes," the philologist replied. "But if I do, you must surrender this Sangheili over to my authority. I will have the dreadnought's guards process him accordingly, and by the book."

A great frown descended upon the Jiralhanae's face, and Jeann'ee was shot a filthy glare. The beast scowled, and threw up his hands in submission.

"Fine, if it pleases you so. This one means nothing to us; make him your steward for all I care. Until we're gone though, he remains bound."

"That is fair enough," the philologist agreed. "I will open the bolt--"

The San 'Shyuum cut off mid-sentence, mouth hanging ajar. The Jiralhanae looked at him with puzzlement, and then through the slightly translucent light of the bolt. His blood-red eyes widened in surprise, teeth baring in anger.

"Packmaster, you need to get up here," the Jiralhanae spoke urgently into his communicator, not taking his eyes of the bolt. "Now. It's him. No, I don't know how!"

If it were any other, I wouldn't believe my eyes, Jeann'ee marveled, a grin breaking across his face. Through the haze of the isolation bolt, a figure was bent over the Oracle's pedestal. At the Jiralhanae's voice, the figure turned around, and their eyes met.

Behind the barrier, Ahkrin winked. And in a sudden wash of gentle green, the Oracle came to life.

[Edited on 12.17.2012 4:31 PM PST]

  • 12.17.2012 4:29 PM PDT

Why hello there.

Microwave ovens are quite large.

WORT, WORT,WORT!

-NUMS!

Great chapter!

So much going on now, and Sorran junior!

[Edited on 12.18.2012 2:18 PM PST]

  • 12.17.2012 9:17 PM PDT

Puis laughed, and moved to show Sorran out. They reached the door, and it opened to reveal a scarcely populated hangar bay with no aircraft save for a seraph in poor repair, and the banshee that would soon be Sorran's.

"I'd appreciate it," he said from the door, as Sorran walked down the stairs. "Oh, and Sorran?"

"Yes?" Sorran asked, pausing in his tracks. There was a silence between them for a few moments, and finally Puis spoke.

"This is awkward, but I was just sent a general alert and... well, you wouldn't happen to be the same Sorran wanted by the sanctum for High Councillor Restraint's murder, would--"

Sorran drew out his gun and threw himself back towards Puis, jamming the pistol in the man's neck and driving him back inside the office. Puis simply stared at him with calm.

This is now among my most favorite moments of all books I've ever read; ever.

Amazing work, Wolvers!

  • 12.19.2012 12:03 AM PDT

That was a last-minute inclusion, because I felt Sorran needed a scene to get him on his way this chapter. Glad you enjoyed it.

Thinking of making a True Sangheili/Wolverfrog account on Twitter, purely for the purposes of sending everyone an alert when a new chapter's posted (which I'm guessing can be done, I don't use it personally). After a near sixth month wait, understandably people won't be checking for a new chapter every day and so I feel it'd be quite useful in the future, so you don't miss it.

Don't know how many of you guys use Twitter but if enough of you wouldn't mind following an account for that reason, I'd be happy to make one. Let me know.

[Edited on 12.19.2012 4:23 PM PST]

  • 12.19.2012 4:22 PM PDT

Amazing new chapter Wolverfrog. Awesome work!

  • 12.19.2012 4:34 PM PDT