Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Storm in a Teacup

The sandstorm howled through the streets, alleys and plaza's of Sandstorm City. Awnings and signs flapped frantically, people cowered behind closed doors and even ships were grounded. It was a bit of a misnomer calling the outpost a city, but it provided a function for the Brotherhood, an important station to look after new recruits. From his residence the Zealot Ezikial watched the power of the storm. He was not happy. But then when you incur the wrath of leader of your order, you did not expect a plum assignment. But this?

He opened a bottle of wine and whispered a brief prayer and poured a glass. Even that grated him, having to pour his own wine. Maybe that was part of the punishment, he was too.... comfortable with luxury. All had gone, his estate on Mobile Bay, his artwork, his books, his wine cellar. He groaned at the memory as his fellow zealots smashed every single bottle before his eyes, destroyed every piece of artwork, burnt most of the books. There were some that are just too holy to burn. And banished here.
"Are you sure this is the best wine you have?"
"Aaaah, my friend. You would not believe me when I said even a glass of water is a luxury to us. And this wine, which has so much waste when you make it, and fills the mind full of shadow and desire, it is not for us."
"Yes I know... you are a simple people...."
The figure sitting on the stone steps leading to the drained pool kept talking despite him.
"We are a simple people, we need only the desert and the gifts that she brings...."
"I swear, you were sent here to test me desert rat."
The figure laughed and picked up the glass of water from a nearby table and walked over to Ezikial.
"You see this? I have killed men before for such a glass, and you give it to me freely."
"I do. I don't have much.... but I offer it freely."
"You are a strange man, Ezikial of the True One. But your heart is in the right place."
In a blur of robes the desert rat leapt at Ezikial and lunged his weapon, at his heart, stopping mere inches from his chest. Ezikial sipped his wine.
"You would be dead if I was an enemy, you are too soft."
"Look down.... And I do hope you didn't spill your water."
The desert rat looked down at the heavy pistol that was also inches away from him, but from his stomach, his finger tight on the trigger.
"I wasn't sent here because I was soft...."

When the storm abated the sound of bells started ringing properly from the small church. People started to clear away the sand and assess the damages. Ezikial and the desert rat headed out into the outpost, watching the storm as it moved on. Slowly, over the course of twenty minutes the various guard posts reported in. All was well it seemed.
"My friend, I must go and perform my duties."
"It is as expected, I must speak with my people. And see if there is any progress."
"If there is no progress, then again I offer my house to you and yours."
"You are most gracious. I will see you soon."
Ezikial watched as the wiry desert man pulled his robes around him and ducked into an alley. He smiled and walked on, waving at various people he recognised and waving at those he didn't. They recognised him, at least if not who he was, at least what he was. And if there were any who knew what he had been, they kept their fear hidden well.

From a flat roof near the church, under a tattered awning the desert rat sat and waited. It wasn't long until several others arrived, like him, they had the look of the desert on them. They made their greetings first, after all the rituals had to be made and obeyed.
"What news?"
"It is grave. There is an army building, it came down during the storm."
"They are coming here?"
"Yes. Already their scouts have been seen. We have intercepted a few, but there must have been more."
"Why? Do we know?"
"The scouts we intercepted were paid by the Flagritzi, it is as we were warned."
"Flagritzi and the Dewiek, plus the other aliens. They warned us they would come."
"No, the old man did, not this one. He is too brazen, too soft. It may be well that he dies. He does not know how to rule."
"He is not a ruler, he is a leader though. And he is not soft."
"He is no leader, he was an inquisitor, a bad one. There is bad blood on him, and if you associate with him, then there will be bad blood with you. I speak now, from our mothers side, and you will listen."
The desert rat held up his hand in submission and then rubbed it over his stubbled chin.
"How long do we have?"
One of his companions pointed to the horizon, there were glimmers of sun on metal.
"Less time than you think."
"I speak now from our fathers side. I will stand by him. I care not what he was, I only know what he is and what he may become."
"You were warned."
"And would I be any less of a man for breaking bread with he who I call friend, and then leaving him to die? What honour do I have from that? I might as well be a water thief and join the northern clans than live righteous and true."
"You are the son of our mother and our father. Go brother, with honour and if you make it, we will judge then your friend."

Ezikial was in the middle of a benediction when the desert rat burst in to the church and ran up towards him. Already from both sides of the church guards were standing and raising their weapons.
"Peace brothers I plead it. Ezikial my friend, we must go. Now!"
A thousand words filled his head and he could feel his hand shaking from anger, that he would dare to burst in like this. But, from what he knew of the man, he would not do it. Unless it was necessary.
"What is wrong my friend?"
"Enemies are coming. Lots of them. We need to leave."
"No. I will not leave my...."
The first sounds of gunfire started to be heard, and then the sound of heavier weapons, lots of them. Almost as one, the guards and several of the congregation raised a hand to their ears and listened. Several headed out the door, others went to the exits and looked out, weapons ready.
"A mercenary army is attacking us. You are heavily outnumbered."
"We are the Brotherhood, the unfaithful always outnumber us."
One of the guards came down the bell tower and saluted.
"Sir, it's bad. Tanks and troops, thousands of them."
"Tanks or troops?"
"Sir, thousands of tanks... thousands of troops. Probably about four thousand, coming straight at us, but with pincers moving either side. Our outer defences are already heavily engaged and there are reports of squads of them breaking through."
"Sir, movement in the street, looks like a lot of troops, they are not ours."
"How can you be sure?"
"They are alien?"
Ezikial pulled out his pistol and took a combat staff from one of the guards.
"Are you with me, Desert Rat? Will you fight with us?"
"You need to ask? I am with you, by this fight I call you brother and will introduce you so to my clan.... if we survive."
"If we survive. Blessed be, brother."

The mercenary unit moved into position around the church while their leader kicked in the door.
"In the Flagritz...."
A shot took him in the throat, throwing him back and a black sphere followed, scattering the troops before it exploded. Screams and oaths were shouted followed by a scream of fury from the church. Ezikial leading his small band engaged the mercenaries in vicious hand to hand fighting. Blasts from his pistol and the scything arc of this combat staff knocked the merc back despite their weaponry. He stood, breathing heavy and threw his staff away, checking his pistol and pulling out a curved dagger. One of the surviving guards pulled out a tac map and checked it briefly.
"Sir, our defences have crumbled, our people are fighting to the last and making it very costly for the enemy."
"Ezikial, we must flee, this outpost is lost. It never had a chance. But we can escape and we can come back better armed and ready for them!"
"I will not leave my people to die to an alien horde! I owe them better than that!"
"The people will mourn your death and then you will be forgotten!"
"Better to die with honour than fight a dishonest war!"
"May your True One damn you for a slow brained moron! How do you think they were able to attack without the HBO stepping in? They are only attacking you! The civilians are not being targetted!"
Ezikial stopped for a moment.
"Aaaah, I see that got through to you. You are not fighting individual people, you are no longer an Inquisitor, you are only a functionary, a government lacky. And you failed at that! People are dying because you do not recognise that there is no hope here!"
"There is always hope!"
"Sir,"one of the guards pulled him back into the ley of a house,"It's been confirmed over the net, the HBO sees this as a fight between two opposing cultures. There has been no orbital bombardment, damage is being limited to a minumum."

For a moment he was lost in thought. The enormity of what had happened was now only beginning to get through to him. He pulled out his communicator and switched it to a wide band transmission.
"This is Zealot Ezikial, acting governor of Sandstorm City. All Brotherhood troops will attempt to break out of the city and escape into the desert. If you are not Brotherhood you will not be targetted. For your safety, stay in doors. I repeat, all Brotherhood troops break out and escape into the desert."
He closed the communicator and sighed.
"Forgive me, my friend. Let us escape before there truly is no hope."

Several hours later Ezikial looked down from the bluff overlooking the outpost of Sandstorm City. There were still sporadic firefights within the city limits, but the majority of fighting had stopped. He had seen a large motorised convoy leaving fast heading away under heavy fire, but it had also escaped. The desert rat placed his hand on Ezikials shoulder.
"My friend, there was nothing we could do. There were simply too many of them."
"I failed them. Do you understand how much I have failed? Do you have any idea?"
"Yes. I told you, we are a simple people. This... is bad. But we are alive. And that is good. Now come, there is another sandstorm coming, we can hide in there while it comes and then I will take you to my home. You will be my guest."
"I will return here. One day, some how."
"Yes, but not today. Now come, let me tell you about home...."

Far, far away in her office in the monestary complex on Mobile Bay Penitant Inquisitor D'morenta looked at a folder she was handed. It was labelled simply 'Battle: Persian - Mithras'. She opened it and read it, frowned and then handed it back to her assistant.
"Burn it. Send out a warning to all acolytes in Halo that their training facility has fallen."
"Shall we mount a force to retake the outpost?"
"No. My man on the ground will have to make do with what he has there. We can't go sending the fleet out for every storm in a teacup."
As soon as her assistant had gone she sat down at the computer console and brought up the excommunication proceedings for Inquisitor Ezikial and started reading.

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