ODSS Chapter 44
The ODSS and Shadows had made it most of the way to the main Keep but there had been more damage from the fall than Kathleen had expected. Most had bruises or aches that made the walking and jogging slow and painful. She and Blade had had a short conversation to decide what to do. In the end they had come to the decision that they needed to stop for a break. The day was ending so they chose a space in a small cave to rest for the night. They'd decided that it was best to risk the Kiadon finding out their true plan and just hope the leader sent his forces to the fourth farm.
Tym had lit a small fire about half way into the cave and most of the soldiers were huddled around the flames. Kathleen watched the assorted humans and Sangheili sit together, realizing how odd it looked. It wasn't even a year ago that they would have been trying to rip open each other's throats. Here they were sitting together, teammates. It struck her as odd really as she'd never really tried to train them in forgiveness, rather anger and violence. She looked over to Blade, who was standing beside her. Maybe he had caused them to be accepting. Well, not directly but he'd caused her to accept Sangheili as allies and her soldier seemed to mold to whatever she did or believed. She had started to treat Blade as a friend and her soldiers had mirrored, accepting the Shadows as friends.
"So, is this thing something I can eat?" Patrick asked, holding up what seemed to be a pastry. Kathleen wasn't absolutely sure if they really were but Blade had assured her all the food was edible.
"Of course you can eat it," Fang answered. "It's food. Eating is what you do with it." Fang bit into his own pastry. Kathleen looked away, finding the way Sangheili ate to be hard to watch. "All right, give me a damage report," she ordered the AI residing in her armor.
"Five damaged shield generators, most soldiers report some pain that is either a fracture or sprain. There may be more injuries but they are not reporting them. I do not have the proper equipment to tell in their armor if they are injured," Iceri reported. "They don't seem to have any head injuries as none are exhibiting symptoms that would hint to such injuries. Hopefully those augmentations have done some good."
"It better have done some good or else what's the point of them giving up their being natural if they aren't less injured when falling from a dropship," Kathleen said dryly. "What about our weapons?"
"A couple pistols and rifles lost but we managed to keep most of our spoils from the farm. Alduin and I have been discussing the situation with the weapons," Iceri informed her.
"We're well armed. Out firepower should be more than sufficient to take the Keep. Hell they can throw Tanks at us. We've got fuel rods now." Kathleen wished she'd grabbed a fuel rod for herself but she still had an energy sword and carbine. She also kept one plasma rifle that was tagged. She may need it as evidence to make a proper report about what she found.
"It is not our weapon strength that we have been discussing," Iceri corrected.
"We have been talking about the tagged weapons," Alduin interjected. "It is an interesting puzzle. Small marked arms but heavy weapons that aren't. It seems odd and thing to do. If you're going to mark weapons why not mark the most dangerous of the weapons."
"Small arms might spread further and give whoever marked them a better view of the flow of weapons," Kathleen theorized. "Seems unlikely, though. You would still mark a couple of the larger weapons." Her hand went down to the plasma rifle on her hip. "Or they came from completely different sources."
"That leaves the question of if they had purchased these weapons or had them given to them," Iceri said. "If we consider the heavy weapons are from a different source, perhaps taken from ships in the wake of the Covenant's fall. Why would they care about the flow of weapons?"
"Care? How would they even find out? Unless they were going to use them to find out when they're killing customers why mark weapons? It's a pointless endeavor," Alduin reasoned.
"Maybe they were looking to be sure they weren't selling them back to rebels at a higher price," Kathleen suggested. She considered some of the other things that had not sat well with her. "If they were sold to Kig Yar and then the Kig Yar turned around and sold them to this Keep might be possible but I don't know why a Kig Yar would get involved." Dealing with Sangheili just seemed to be the least profitable option.
"That does not explain why these weapons are not upgraded. If human rebels had had them then they should be adjusted for human use. These are still in original condition," Alduin pointed out.
"So someone who had Covenant weapons, marked them, and then gave them to the Sangheili. Though all of this seems unusual for Kig Yar if they are the in between." Kathleen scowled, thinking of the ship that had attacked the Arbiter's ships.
"It does seem out of character for a Kig Yar," Iceri agreed. "They are a pirate based society and it would be more likely they would sit back and watch the fighting then step in to take the scraps. They do not seem to be a confrontational species."
"It is possible that while with the Covenant they may have grown a more violent section of heir species that might attack but that seems highly unlikely. The Unggoy seemed more likely to cause a problem. I simply cannot see a Kig Yar stepping into a Sangheili civil war." Alduin's voice gave away frustration with the subject.
"Then if these weapons didn't come from Kig Yar where did they come from. I don't think the Prophets would get involved, or the Brutes. Unggoy wouldn't get involved either," Iceri stated.
"ONI," Kathleen proposed. "Small weapons given to rebels, tagged, and that ship shows up just in time to save the day. Not to mention the sloppy ground team and the scientist basically running away from his escort, and taking shelter in a place with the enemy." The more she thought about it the more she was sure there was something happening.
"That is a high possibility. Arming the enemy to attack a friend seems like something ONI would do," Alduin admitted.
"I find it hard to believe ONI would hand over heavy weapons," Iceri spoke up. "It seems like too big of a risk. Though only arming them with small arms is possible if they were supporting the rebellion but didn't want them to succeed."
"That is possible," Kathleen admitted. "An attempted coup that would fail but weaken your allies as well. That's why the ship arrived. I'd bet you it was ONI's idea that the ship come and help the Arbiter." Kathleen looked over to Blade who was staring out at the area around the mouth of the cave. She wondered if he would suspect such a thing or if she should tell him. She decided against it, not sure what effect it would have on the human-Sangheili relationship.
Kathleen furrowed her brow, noting that Blade was tensed, like a cat preparing to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse. He seemed on edge, like sitting still was painful. "You seem high strung," Kathleen commented. Blade's gaze turned toward her and for the first time in a long while his stare seemed hostile. "Wow, who shoved a stick up your ass?"
Blade narrowed his gaze at her. "Those words make no sense." The Sangheili turned away from her. Kathleen was surprised by the aggression in the words. He was usually annoyed but never angry.
Kathleen kicked out and her foot hit him lightly. "What's wrong with you, corkscrew? What aren't you telling me?" Blade grumbled and Kathleen crossed her arms before she kicked him again.
Blade deflected the third kick. "Fine," he snapped. "You know this was my old Keep?" Kathleen nodded. "I may have been born here, sired children here, but I have never agreed with this Keep's leaders. I mean it when I say those like the Kiadon of this Keep would keep us rooted in old ways, watch us crumble because we don't move forward." Blade glanced over to where the Swords sat alone. "This assault it a litter illustration of the steps forward beating down the old mistakes of the past." Blade slouched and his mandibles twitched in annoyance. "Besides, they have taken something very important from me."
"Are they the ones that stripped you of your honor?" Kathleen asked. Blade turned to her and his gaze narrowed. "I'm not stupid. Like any member of the Shadows isn't considered shamed, banished."
"No, I gave up my honor for a greater purpose," Blade answered. He turned away from her, as though suddenly the leaves of the trees were so interesting. Kathleen didn't know what he was trying to keep from her but if it had to do with his honor she'd leave it be. She understood that when it came to honor Sangheili were touchy.
"So what did they take from you?" Kathleen watched the Sangheili for any indication of what he was thinking. Blade made no sign of answering so Kathleen shrugged. "Fine, don't tell me anything."
"It is not as though you have been an open book," Blade snapped. "Why should I open up to you?"
Kathleen glared at him and her fist struck out, slamming into his shoulder. "Screw you, Melon Baller. I told you all about Fred, how is that not opening up? You won't tell me anything but I told you the most personal thing in my life but you won't tell me anything personal."
"I won't tell you anything? You've been just as distracted, and carrying around that plasma rifle." Blade pointed to the weapon on her hip. "I know you have no intention of using so why carry it?"
Kathleen kicked out and her foot hit Blade's side. "That's not at all the same. I don't have any proof about that, just theories, and it doesn't concern you. Your problem does. I need to know that you aren't compromised emotionally about our target. The closer we get the angrier you get."
Blade took a more aggressive posture. "Whatever you have a theory on is on my planet. How is that not my business?" He shifted and stood. Kathleen stood as well, realizing that he was challenging her. "I am angry but that has no bearing on our mission." The Sangheili took a step toward Kathleen.
"It is a human matter, and I'll handle it. Your anger is the only issue right now. If you're too eager to kill the Kiadon you might lead us into a trap or fall into one. I can't guarantee that you won't make a misstep and get someone on my team hurt or if you die that the Shadows will follow me."
"Why would they not? You are a Commander, and I am still thinking clearly. Besides, I fight better when I'm angry," Blade snapped.
"You're obviously not thinking clearly," Kathleen shot back. "I'm not a Commander, I'm a First Lieutenant. I'm human, how can you be sure they'll follow a human?" Blade tensed and his mandibles twitched in annoyance. "You forgot I wasn't Sangheili, didn't you? See, this is what I mean. You're so blinded by anger you can't even remember my species."
Kathleen had expected some sort of comment back but she wasn't exactly expecting the Sangheili to lunge. Kathleen braced but the alien's full weight hit her and caused them both to slam onto the ground. Kathleen managed to tuck one of her legs between them and used it to hold his weight back. One of his hands was on her helmet and the other on her shoulder. Kathleen had one hand on his throat, holding back Blade's head to keep him from head butting her. She didn't make any move to attack him, just let him push her head against the ground and grip her shoulder in a death grip. Just as she had been furious during the coup and had sparred against him she would be ventilation for his own anger. She would let him attack her until his anger was gone.
His hand moved from her shoulder and balled into a fist, rising above her. She reacted on instinct, kicking out the foot between them and knocking him off of her. He jerked her head, his grip tight on her helmet but eventually slipping on the round metal. Kathleen rolled to the side and got to her feet. Blade was slower to get to his feet, but still just as angry. He charged again and Kathleen moved back toward the wall of the cave. When Blade slammed into her she was already against the wall, preventing her head from being slammed against the rock. The Sangheili's forearm pressed against Kathleen's throat, a bit more forceful than she liked but not really trying to hurt her. She stared into his eyes, the alien's pupils were dilated and his breathing was heavy. Kathleen patted the upper part of the arm against her throat. "Get it out of your system?"
Blade took a step back and the pressure on Kathleen's neck vanished. "No," he answered. "My anger will not be gone until Naro is dead." Kathleen cocked her head to the side, not recognizing the name. "Naro, the Kiadon. Do you not ever pay attention?"
"Hey, this is the first time I'm hearing his name. I've just been calling him ass hole Kiadon in my head and you only call him the Kiadon. Don't get on my back for not knowing your species politics." Kathleen stood from the wall and crossed her arms. "I like my names for him better anyway."
Blade huffed and turned away, pacing away from her and then back. "Have I really not said his name?" Kathleen shook her head. Blade paced away again. "It is not as though he deserves a name, not even a Shadow name."
"Shadow names are bad?" Kathleen hadn't really thought about it but the Shadows were shamed so it was likely that their names were another mark of dishonor. "Honestly I think being called Shadow Blade makes you cooler than before. In my species you'd have to be a skilled assassin to get a nickname like that and even then you still have to be called by your boring real name."
"Like…" Blade turned back to her and his mandibles twitched slightly and his body tensed. "What is your name?"
Kathleen stared at him, trying to tell if this was a joke or not. "You don't know my name?" Blade took a step back at the easily identified anger in Kathleen's voice. "You've actually forgotten my name?"
"Is it not Demon or Love?" the Sangheili asked. "I could have sworn you were Shadow Demon."
Kathleen glared at him dispute him not being able to see her face. "Yeah, my name is Demon. Glad you remembered, Enre." The Sangheili growled slightly at her. "I don't mind nicknames, Meat Cleaver, but you damn well better remember my name." Blade didn't move, didn't say anything, and made no sign that he was joking or teasing. Kathleen moved toward the Sangheili but he stayed put. Kathleen stopped when she was standing directly in front of him. "What is my name?"
"Ahwu," Blade spat out. Kathleen clenched her fists and she leaned toward him. Blade leaned in as well until their helmets touched. "Her name is Ahwu."
A bit of Kathleen's anger vanished, replaced by confusion. "Who's name is Ahwu?" Blade ignored her, moving back to their lookout spot. Kathleen moved over to stand beside him. "Who is Ahwu?"
"She is the reason why I am mad, why I forget your species, and why I forget your name." The Sangheili didn't look in her direction, just stared out at the forest. Kathleen crossed her arms and waited, knowing he would get around to it eventually. Or she'd have to hit him. Either was acceptable. "Ahwu is why I hate Naro." The Commander finally turned to her. "I know your name, Kathleen, but when we fight I think only of her."
"And Ahwu is..?" Kathleen tilted her head to the side, expecting the Sangheili to fill in the blank for her.
"She was my wife, until Naro had her killed." Blade didn't look away, his gaze locked in her. "When I fight you I see her."
Kathleen stared at the alien and sighed. "Fine," she relented. "I suppose wanting to avenge a dead wife is a good reason to be mad." She moved over and took a seat on one of the rocks at the cave entrance. "And it's creepy," she added. "It's creepy that I remind you of your dead wife."
"Why?" Blade asked as he moved over to sit beside her. "You argue like her, hit like her, hate the Forerunners like her, and don't accept failure like her. How is it odd that you remind me of her?"
"Because she was your wife, someone you loved. It's just…"she didn't know how to explain it in a way that the alien could understand. Blade suddenly looked away, toward the trees around them. Kathleen turned to look but was blind-sided by Blade as he tackled her down to the ground and pinned her to the rock floor. "This, this is what's creepy."
"Shhh," Blade hissed before motioning to the shadows. Like that the light went out in the cave and Kathleen realized what was happening. Blade had seen enemies near, which wasn't good news. It meant the Kiadon might be smarter than Kathleen had anticipated and realized that the crash had all been a ruse. She lay completely still under the weight of the Sangheili, listening to the sounds around them. The other soldiers had all snuck deep into the shadows and fallen silent, waiting and watching.
She heard the wind through the trees, the deep steady breaths of Blade, and the calls of strange animals. It was a few seconds before she finally heard it, feet crushing plant life, and growing slowly closer. Then she heard voices. "I think he's nothing more than a fool," one voice grumbled. They were talking quietly, just barely above a whisper. "They went up in flames, we all saw it."
"Well Purg isn't so sure," a second voice replied, a tint of annoyance to his voice. Kathleen felt Blade's muscles tense but she didn't know why. "He wants us to search, we search. Just be glad you aren't rummaging through that burning metal."
"Purg is just paranoid. He's always been watching over his shoulder. He can't take anything at face value." Kathleen heard the footsteps start to move away. "We don't even know what were looking for. A small team, a squad, or for all we know it's a group of swordmasters. We're risking our lives for nothing."
"If you don't believe they're alive then what is there to worry about," the second Sangheili countered. "Now get moving or ill leave you behind and tell Purg he was right just to spite you." There was more footsteps and slowly the noise faded away.
Kathleen waited until she was sure that the two enemies were gone before she shoved at Blade to get him off her. The Sangheili didn't move, his eyes unfocused and staring blankly at the floor. Kathleen's hand smacked the side of his helmet and Blade came back to his senses. "Get off me, Butter Knife."
Without a word Blade moved and walked deeper into the cave. Kathleen sat up and just watched him move, noting that he was still tense and something seemed to be troubling him. She stood up and motioned to Peter and then the cave opening. Kathleen followed Blade until he finally came to a stop. They just stood in silence and she waited patiently for him to talk to her. It was a full minute before he finally turned to her. "We might have a problem."
"Exactly what kind of problem?" Kathleen asked. "I'm guessing it has to do with that Purg guy that those guys were talking about." Kathleen hadn't liked that way that Blade had reacted to the name and knew it was trouble.
"Purg is not an idiot," Blade explained. "He is a competent strategist and he could cause problems. While Naro might not look to the future Purg is not so blind. He may be at the Keep, waiting for us."
"All right, then tell me what you know about him. Maybe we can get a step ahead of him." Kathleen moved over and leaned against the wall of the cave.
"He is a Ship Master," Blade began. "He thinks ahead and destroyed plenty of human ships during the war. He was the only member of the Keep that I saw as a possible rival when I was looking to one day become Kiadon. He is ambitious, bough I've never known or understood his motives for wanting the position. He was one who spoke out against me when I voiced my belief that we should side with the Arbiter."
"So then he stands to benefit from the Kiadon's death," Kathleen reasoned. Blade tilted his head slightly to the side, considering the idea. "Think about it, he wants to be Kiadon and what better way than to let the current one die and then step in and be the big hero. Get himself make Kiadon. Or does he have more honor than that?"
"I am not sure," Blade admitted. "I am not sure how much he would align with the cowardly tactics that some of our fellow warriors have shown."
"Then our only option is to assume that once we've killed the Kiadon that he'll try something. Whatever he tries, we'll deal with it when we come to that. Until then we need to focus on just getting to the Keep. We can't be found or we won't even get a chance to kill Naro. Even if this Purg guy does attack us and kills us as long as we get the chance to kill the Kiadon then won't have failed the mission. It will still stand as a testament to what happens to the enemies of Vadam."
Blade nodded and moved back toward the rest of the soldiers. "Then for now we should prepare. Purg will have people searching at least until tomorrow. Come, I always enjoy convincing you to eat more Sangheili food." Kelly scowled but reluctantly followed him. The food always looked so gross and alien but when it came down to it most of it was easy enough to stomach. Though he wouldn't find the same satisfaction as she couldn't show the same weakness in front of her soldiers.