AN: I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported my story, from the beginning to now. Nearly forty reviews left for my last chapter, and a rating that surpassed 35,000 hits for the entire story. Not sure how much that's worth compared to other stories, but I consider it a big achievement. Once again, thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful day.
Also, if you have the time, please check out my newly published story, Exitus Acta Probat.
Disclaimer: I do not own any Halo or Gate - Jietal Kare no Chi nite, Kaku Tatakeri content. They belong to their respective owners.
The Rising Autumn
Chapter 5: The Marine and the Elf
Location: Koan Forest
Date: [September 19, 2552] [5:30 UNSC Standard Time]
Nothing but silence filled the chilly air.
On one side of the coin, two blonde Elves, Hodor and his daughter, Tuka, gave off confused stares. Their surrounding brethren kept their stances tense and ready, although they glanced at each other with some bewilderment. It was rather obvious that the blue woman's words were lost upon them, no matter how clear her translated voice was to them. On the other, the mix of Marines and a single Spartan faced the natives in a similiar manner, paying attention to the proceedings with calm discipline.
"U-N-S-C?" The unaccustomed acronym was jumbled on Hodor's tongue experimentally, twisting it slowly with his foreign accent.
"I'm afraid I am unfamiliar with such a nation." He glanced at Fire Team Charlie with a wary, but curious look, "Much less a group of humans associated with that title."
From the palm of the Master Chief, Cortana began to nod in understanding, "Of course, Hodor. However, you must begin to realize that we are not of this world. Our people merely come as visitors."
"And with no malicious intent towards us?" Hodor's eyes narrowed slightly.
Cortana smiled, "We merely wish to have diplomatic relations with the Elven people, nothing more. To better understand the exotic nature of this land would require your help, and it can be achieved in a much efficient and peaceful manner. Violence is an unnecessary alternative we would rather avoid."
The Chief didn't want to admit it, but Cortana was a surprisingly smooth talker. With nothing but a few impromptu words, she was able to appease an unknown group of non-human natives. A few words that achieved something that he or the Marines probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish in time. Once again, the Spartan was silently glad he had the company of the intelligent AI.
Had the situation been allowed to play in a different circumstance, the entire mission would have most likely ended in a much less favorable outcome.
Fortunately, the Elves didn't show any pernicious intent, at least not yet. He knew Captain Keyes would rather have it stay that way until a reasonable solution can be resolved. In the meantime, the Spartan wasn't going to hold in his breath.
"You say you have come from a different world." Hodor's expression didn't change at all, "What do you mean by this?"
Cortana's eyes twinkled, "I do not twist my words. We come from a place that goes far beyond the skies of this world, and even further out into the blackness of the night. We travel beyond the stars themselves, Hodor, that I can only say for now."
There was a deep silence as Hodor took it all in with a blank expression on his face. For a second, the AI was afraid that the male Elf wouldn't buy her answer. But her worries were relieved when he let out a heavy sigh after a few moments.
"That is a rather incredulous statement, fair Guardian. Nonetheless, it would explain the strange armor and weapons your soldiers carry, and the lack of knowledge of the continent your feet stand upon." The older Elf seemed to accept her claim rather easily.
Cortana crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes showing some amount of genuine interest, "May you indulge us, then?"
"Of course." Hodor respectfully nodded.
The Elf took a deep breath of air, calmly preparing himself to deliver his brief lecture, "You are presently in the vast land of Falmart. My people are currently a small, uncommon population of Elves in this part of the continent. We isolate ourselves within this forest in order to avoid contact with the other nations."
The Master Chief didn't fail to notice how the blonde Elf regarded the 'other nations' with a sense of disdain. It was subtle, almost imperceptible to a normal human, and it was hidden with a skill that spoke decades of practice.
He frowned from under his helmet.
Years of training and experience fighting against the Covenant had helped him develop a sixth sense of catching important detail. Even the smallest of aspects, regarding both potential allies and enemies alike, didn't miss his metaphorical net. Battle hardened instinct filled him with suspicion — and his augmented eyes narrowed at the male Elf warily.
On the other hand, one of Fire Team Charlie's members, Private Mendoza, chuckled at one small but noticeable detail.
"Falmart?" He scoffed amusingly at the translation, "What kind of fucking name is th—"
The poor Marine was cut off by the recon team's second in command, Sergeant Stacker, who roughly elbowed his side with a hard jab.
"You best shut your mouth, Mendoza!" He hissed quietly.
His subordinate did so immediately, but it was already too late. From the opposite end, the two Elves tilted their heads in confusion and concern. Having no prior knowledge of the modern English language, the non-human pair didn't understand, nor recognize the implications of what the Marine nearly spat out.
Cortana, the shrewd and canny AI she was, decided to use this to her advantage.
"No need for worry, Hodor. My charges are merely curious," She clarified with a smile, never taking her eyes off the Elves, "although even I am intrigued with the culture of this land. Tell me, why do you intend to isolate yourself from the outside world?"
It was a fair question, but the Spartan could see that didn't make it any more comfortable for the male Elf to come up with an answer, "We are the High Elves, a proud people that have been a part of these lands for countless generations. We pride ourselves as skilled hunters: our agility and elegance mixed with years of wisdom and grace,"
Hodor sighed, "However, because of our—" he paused for a moment, 'unique traits' and rare presence in the continent, we become a constant target for those who wish to exploit our abilities."
Cortana processed the details with the speed of a soaking sponge, swiftly working her fascinated mind with each new information.
"Unique traits?" She asked.
Almost immediately, the male High Elf nodded with a small smile, "Aye, Lady Cortana. Observe."
Hodor leaned over to say something into Tuka's ear. A moment later, the Elven girl eagerly nodded back with a cheerful smile.
Shifting to the right in an impressively sturdy stance, Tuka gracefully brought her personal bow to bear. She aimed her weapon at a nearby tree, nocking a single arrow from her quiver into place. Easily ignoring the resistance of the pulled string, she quietly whispered what the Chief thought to be a strange chant of some kind. A second later, the Elf finally released the string.
To say the least, the recon group were treated to a sight that they certainly did not expect to see.
By some unknown force, the arrow flew into the air at an incredibly accelerated speed to which even the eyes of the Marines could actually see the distortions of wind that surrounded the primitive projectile. Eventually, Newton's first law of motion took hold, and the super-sonic arrow was forcibly lodged into the tough bark of the tree. Splintered fragments of demolished wood scattered onto the ground like pieces of pencil shavings. The arrow itself was found to be surprisingly intact, by some means undamaged by the violent stop. The upper half of the tree, no longer able to support itself, fell to the ground in a heap of fluttered leaves and branches.
The quietness that followed was almost palpable to touch.
"What the fuck!"
Lowering her bow, the Elven girl turned back to see the small human group in an assortment of mixed reactions. Most, if not all, of the Marines stared at her, looking back and forth between the damaged tree and the grinning Elf. It was obvious with their wide eyes that the younger members of the team had trouble dealing with the fact that something as simple as an arrow could cause so much damage.
"Did you see that?"
"What the hell just happened?"
Some, Johnson and Stacker included, didn't bother to react at all. Instead, they showed their silent awe through their eyes and gave grudgingly impressed nods at the display. It didn't take much for the Chief to not physically react either. Given that his helmet's visor hid his face completely, no one managed to see the light surprise in his eyes and the slight downward tug of his mouth, when compared to his calm and motionless body language. However, his subtle tenseness betrayed a concern for something else in particular.
Looking down to his palm, the Spartan saw witness to an amusing sight that only he could see. Cortana's face trembled lightly, with a faint twitch of an eye that signified a small version of a glitch. A second later, she smoothly hid it as quickly as it had briefly appeared. If it was somehow possible, the poor AI looked as if she had a small stroke.
The Chief couldn't really blame her. What she had just observed practically threw many fundamental rules of physics out the window. As well as the fact that it happened in a matter of mere seconds, no less, probably made it all the more mind-boggling for the more science oriented AI.
"Cortana!" He repeated sternly, and his concerned voice snapped Cortana out of her own stupor.
"Sorry, Chief," She apologized with a sheepish look, "I was just caught off guard, that's all."
The Spartan frowned with worry, not buying her dismissal. Nonetheless for her sake, he merely nodded as the AI turned back to the male Elf.
"What was that?" She managed to question evenly, switching back to the Elven tongue, "I've never seen anything like that before."
Hodor responded with a idle tilt of his head, "That was her spirit magic, fair Guardian. We can use one spell, like the one you saw before, to enchant our arrows to fly at much faster speeds by manipulating the wind around them."
The Elf picked up a small branch, and the humans watched him levitate the piece of wood from his hand like a light feather floating in the air, "Granted, it is nothing more than a common example of the many different ones that can be used among my people."
With a flick of his wrist, Hodor threw the stick with a short burst of his wind spell. Both parties watched the piece of wood spin into the air, gaining altitude before the branch reached a height that went further past the peak of the tallest trees. Gravity took hold eventually, and the stick landed in a nearby body of water with a small, anti-climatic splash.
Cortana never took her gaze off the stick, "That's incredible."
"Indeed it is," The Elf glanced at his daughter, not bothering to hide his proud smile, "it is our symbol of pride as a people, and without it, we wouldn't be where we are today."
Cortana respected his reasoning. Strange as their 'methods' were, it would make sense that the Elves have a familiar culture of strength underneath the pale skin and pointed ears. It wouldn't be fair to judge them if the poor tree on the ground had some sort of indication. In a bizarre way, the natives were a lot more human than the AI had given them credit for.
Hodor bowed respectfully, his sharp eyes inspecting the Chief for a moment, "If it is of no consequence, my daughter and I would like to speak to our comrades in private. I promise it will not take long."
Cortana glanced at the Spartan over her shoulder before nodding back, "Of course, Hodor. Go ahead."
"Thank you, Lady Cortana."
Sending a small smile of appreciation to the AI, Hodor and Tuka turn around to converse with the rest of the awaiting Elves. The bewildered Marines, with nothing else to do, mostly did the same. Those who were partially armored took the time to put on their discarded equipment. However there were mutual glances of wariness shot by both parties, despite the slight lift of tension that permitted the air. Cortana ignored it as she began to review her notes on the small demonstrations, humming to herself with pragmatic interest.
Behind her, the Master Chief thought to himself in silent disbelief. Here he was, going over the ridiculous notion of an Elf casually talking about 'spirit magic' as if the man was chatting about the weather.
He shook his head ever so slightly.
When constantly raised in a strictly military environment since he was a child, topics relating to magic or anything of the similar sort tend to be practically foreign to him. Whatever little were brought up about it, however, were quickly dismissed by his drill instructors as cheap parlor tricks, created solely for the enjoyment of the weaker minded. They were deemed redundant, unnecessary to his eventual role into warfare. Dr. Halsey, especially, emphasized this fact with a stern lecture about science over superstition.
The Spartan glanced at the communing Elves.
And yet, the status quo set long ago by facts and research was broken in a mere instant by these mysterious natives. The same supernatural entity that many scientists worked hard to disapprove as 'fantasy' actually existed, with an entire array of different 'spells' that can augment the lethality of the Elves' bows and arrows to an even higher extent.
The Chief's mind went back to the previous demonstrations.
If just one of these spells can make their weapons more potent, the Spartan didn't want to think of the implications regarding the rest of their unknown capabilities, cheap parlor tricks be damned. He didn't want to believe it. He shouldn't believe it, his training telling him to deny it as nothing more than a simple illusion. And yet, he couldn't deny the clearly real proof that was graciously shoved right into his face.
As one of his Spartan comrades had put it eloquently in the past, 'Seeing was believing.' Yes, he did see it with his own eyes — and it was painstakingly evident through the severed remains of the unfortunate tree. Now, it was just a matter of choice if he wanted to believe it or not.
The Spartan looked down to the AI, "Did he say magic, Cortana?"
"Oh yeah, he did," She raised a hand to her chin, "We clearly saw their 'magic' in full effect, or at least what the Elves see it as. It's interesting really, although that's not the only thing. There's something else of interesting note I've noticed."
She brought up a holographic display, "See this?"
With a wave of her hand, she manipulated it until two screens was shown side by side. One showed a chart filled to the brim with analytic data, while the other showed a video of Tuka showing off her wind magic.
"Watch it," She started the video in a slower speed.
The Chief watched the clip closely. Up to the point where the Elven girl raised her bow and whispered the indistinct chant, he began to notice something. Next to the video, the chart that was previously blank suddenly erupted with fluctuating lines. It was not unlike that of a seismograph, he noted. The columns of data underneath the chart began to change as well, at a rapid speed unreadable to the normal human eye. Although thanks to his ocular augmentations, he was able to read them with ease.
To his interest, the Spartan noted how each increasing fluctuation would cause the numbers to rise correspondingly. When the demonstration ended, on the other hand, both the fluctuations and numbers quickly leveled back to its former state.
"When our Elven friend here used her spirit magic, I've detected a sudden increase of the energy signature within her."
Cortnan switched the video, "Check this out too."
The video played, showing Hodor levitating the small branch in the air. Like before the chart showed numerous fluctuations, with a respective increase of numbers to go with it. However, compared to the last one, the changes appear to be less considerable at best.
"Not only that, but they can actually control the amount of that energy flowing in their bodies. Subtle circulation into their spells and whatever capabilities they have with them. These Elves are like mini fusion reactors, to put it in different terms."
The Master Chief widened his eyes, "How is that possible?"
"Through their biology, most likely." Cortana answered with a shrug, "In a way, their magic works in a similar manner to how a MAC gun does."
The AI reflected through the abundance of theories in her head, "Shipboard MACs, like the one on the Autumn, draw their power from the ship's reactor in order to fire. The spells used by the Elves function at the same principle. Both alter their flow of energy depending on the amount they precisely want to use."
She shook her head, "Although, the fact that these people can do on such a small-scale with an unprecedented level of control is astonishing. It's almost unbelievable to fathom."
"Assuming they can do more than just sever a tree in half." The Spartan deadpanned. His voice held no small amount of skepticism.
"Possibly, but unlikely." Cortana explained, "The energy generation must be immense. And if I have to guess, it won't be viable for them to circulate more power for their more powerful spells unless they really have to. The sheer amount of energy expended in a short amount of time would most likely tire them out, doing more harm then good. It's also the same concept for our MACs — It would be slow and inefficient."
The Chief didn't hesitate to agree. If there was one thing Spartans, and the UNSC as a whole, emphasized above all else during combat, it would be speed and efficiency. When fighting against something as dangerous as an Elite, one couldn't afford to be one or the other. He felt a slight notch of respect for the Elves, non-humans or not.
"How does this fit with our mission then?" He asked. It was more of a statement than a question, if anything else.
"Well, we did technically find the energy signatures." His AI smirked playfully, "Now it's just a matter of extending our mission's parameters."
Cortana looked up to him, putting a hand to her hip, "Hope you don't mind for a little more diplomacy?"
The Spartan snorted faintly. If the idea of mythical humanoids didn't amaze him more than the peculiar dynamic of the relationship he shared with the AI, then he didn't know what will. He allowed the thought to amuse him for a moment.
"I'm more of an—" The Chief paused for the briefest moment, "—aggressive negotiator." He added dryly.
Cortana gave an amused roll of her eyes, "Of course you are."
Something caught her distant attention, "Hold on for a moment."
She changed the holographic display with a swipe of her hand, and gave a relieved smile as she carefully read the text.
"Ah, there we go! The translation software should be fully complete now."
She pointed to one of the tactical pouches above his hip, "There are a couple of translator headsets in one of your pouch's compartments. Can you take out two for me?"
With a nod, the Spartan used his unoccupied hand to unhook the soft case. He looked through the small but organized compartment with the idle precision of a surgeon. After a moment he removed his hand from the case, producing a pair of standard-issue translator headsets.
"Perfect." Cortana hummed in satisfaction.
A moment later, she shifted her gaze to the Elves. They were done with their little meeting, waiting for her in an unsurprisingly anxious silence. She couldn't help but note the noticeable change in their stances.
"A consensus has been reached between me and my colleagues." Hodor stepped up from the mass. His tense posture was replaced with a slightly more confident and certain poise.
"After a few disagreements and careful considerations, we feel like it would be more wise to discuss the terms of our diplomatic relationship in a more—"
He paused briefly to view the surrounding clearing, "—private setting. You are unlike any other groups we've encountered before, and the lack of retaliation from your soldiers proves that we can at least trust your intentions."
That actually surprised the members of the UNSC.
With the tense stand-off that ensued minutes prior, the humans hadn't expected the excessively prudent Elves to very much take their word for it. Even then, it was also clear that the natives didn't take their beneficence without a small grain of salt. It was strange to think that these people would change their minds so easily on the basis of their foreign nature, much less on the fact that a Marine's trigger finger luckily hadn't started a full-blown shootout.
They didn't know whether to feel perplexed or relieved.
Cortana smiled at his honesty, "I didn't believe you would think of us that way. Thank you."
"On the contrary, you should be thanking my daughter." Hodor shook his head, "If it were not for her counsel, I would've ordered your group shot on sight, regardless of your intentions."
Almost immediately the Chief and Fire Team Charlie felt their bodies instinctively tense with caution, with the Marines barely raising their weapons at the ready. Tuka scowled at her father, her face beet red with embarrassment. She smacked him on the head with a hard swing of her fist. Looking sheepish, the blond Elf rubbed the sore spot and gave a calming wave of his hand.
"Calm yourselves. I merely jest." He allowed himself a small chuckle.
Tuka crossed her arms with an exasperated pout, while Cortana offered an amused laugh of her own. The members of the recon group relaxed their muscles, with obvious expressions of discomfort and slight annoyance. None of them took that threat lightly, and given by what they had just seen minutes ago, it was somewhat justifiable on their part. Sheer discipline narrowly stopped them from acting on their own instincts — and doing something that could be potentially more drastic than necessary.
The Chief felt no more pleased than the Marines, and whatever little respect he had for the male Elf plummeted back into a cold, calculated abyss. He felt his teeth grate against each other in displeasure.
"Cortana." The edge in his voice said it all.
The AI retracted her smile at the Spartan's tone, but she gave her carrier a calming look, "Don't worry, Chief, we're almost done. Can you hang on for me in a little bit?"
There was no vocal response, but a slight nod from the Chief's helmet told her enough.
She mouthed a silent 'Thank you' to the Spartan before switching her attention to Hodor, "Where are we going to go?"
"To my home — the Kowan village." The Elf pointed behind him, "It is not far from here. A walking journey should take us there within half an hour, less if we hasten our pace."
Putting his irritation aside, the Spartan thought about what the Elf had shared. Thirty minutes of walking wasn't too bad, especially now that the recon group have obtained a reliable guide to some degree. Not only that, but it put their timetable around the planned arrival of Foe Hammer, along with the rest of their additional requisitions in tow. Two birds taken out with one figurative stone. Cortana apparently had the same thought, if the hand under her chin showed some indication.
"Yes, that will work. But before we go, may I ask you a favor?"
The Elven father and daughter pair glanced at each other, "What is your request, fair Guardian?" The male Elf gave the AI a questioning look.
Cortana gestured to the devices in the Chief's palm, "I have gifts for you."
The Spartan took his queue as he tentatively stepped in front of the two Elves. He reached out with his other hand, revealing to them a pair of UNSC translator earpieces. The silver, tooth-shaped devices looked strange to the Elves, causing their heads to tilt in disjointed curiosity.
"Take them." Cortana's voice shifted their attention to her, "Place them in the inside of your right ear."
Both Hodor and Tuka frowned at the odd request, but the two acquiesced to her instructions nonetheless. Accepting the devices from the Spartan's palm, the two natives quickly inspected the tiny objects in their hands before placing them in their respective ears. Despite the fact that the headsets were mainly designed for human use, the devices were able to fit into their ears rather comfortably.
Next, Cortana began the process of calibrating the headsets. It took a whole five seconds for the AI to finish completely, but the Chief could see the anticipating smile that betrayed her growing excitement.
"Alright. Can you two still understand me?" The AI asked.
The male Elf arched a puzzled eyebrow, "Yes, I can."
Instead of the incomprehensible sounds of the Elven language, the inflected words of modern day English escaped Hodor's frown. The words didn't naturally sync with the movements of the Elf's mouth, nor did his strange accent quite mix with the artificial tone of the translation. Nevertheless, the members of the recon group were able to hear the words through the updated software in their helmets. They could perfectly understand him as if he was naturally fluent.
"What about you, Tuka?" Cortana switched her gaze to the Elven girl.
The Elven girl had a look of discomfort, the ear containing the device twitching faintly, "It feels rather strange, but I think I can get use to it."
Like her father the translation software filtered her native language in real time, producing a highly accented and synthesized speech of understandable English. If Tuka was aware of the sudden change in her dialect, she didn't bother to show it. Cortana smiled at the Elves, secretly reveling in the fruits of her labor.
"That's good." the AI smirked, "You may not realize it, but we can hear as if you are speaking in our own language. The devices in your ears allow this to happen."
The sheer amount of fascination emanating from the Elves was almost palpable. With an expression of pure wonder, Tuka brought a hand up to her ear,. She began to touch the small earpiece in a gentle, almost reverent manner, "Amazing. What kind of magic is this?"
Cortana shook her head. She was almost glad that the Elves haven't looked at the gift horse in the mouth.
"Not magic." She allowed a smile to grace her lips, "It's technology."
Hodor and Tuka tilted their heads in confusion, unfamiliar with the term.
"I have no knowledge of such a thing." The male Elf admitted with an honest frown.
"And I don't expect you to." the AI shrugged in a conceding fashion, "Although, I'll be happy to provide more information regarding it, if we have the chance to continue our talks elsewhere."
Hodor seemed relieved at the topic change, "That is fair enough, Lady Cortana. We'll be waiting for you by the edge of the clearing."
Cortana nodded, allowing herself a silent pat on the back for the immense progress being made. Turning to her waiting carrier, the AI gave the Chief a teasing look.
"Ready to get back to work?" She asked.
Had the helmet's golden visor been de-polarized, she would have seen the faint, nearly invisible traces of a smirk on the Spartan's face.
"I thought you'd never ask."
To say that Jenkins was experiencing one hell of a day would had been a tremendous understatement.
The Marine tapped his fingers on the metal rim of his DMR, the thrums of flesh against metal sounding almost therapeutic to him. Standing guard, he quietly watched the rest of his fellow jarheads begin the process of packing up the camp. They were apparently relocating to the supposed village of the newly discovered Elves, according to the AI attached to their team. Taking back to the proceedings minutes prior, he attentively remembered how it was mostly a back-and-forth session between Cortana, and the blonde Elf the recon team were able to identify as Hodor.
It was an enlightening experience, to say the least.
Jenkins wouldn't lie to himself and not mention the few times where he thought the situation would have gone utterly FUBAR. The sheer tenseness between the two opposing parties had locked his knees with unease, and the one moment where the male Elf had bluntly revealed his intentions beforehand nearly made the PFC raise his rifle and pull the trigger.
He didn't even want to fathom the thought of being on the receiving end of those super-sonic missiles the Elves called 'arrows'. Between fighting Covies and the showdown that happened mere minutes ago, the Marine didn't know which one made him more nervous.
He couldn't really give a damn at this point.
"Alright, let's hurry up, Marines! We don't have all day!"
Jenkins turned his head to see Staff Sergeant Johnson bark out a gruff command, and his surrounding comrades immediately picked up the pace with quiet efficiency. Armor was donned, gear and weapons were checked, and whatever ration wrappings left on the ground were cleaned up at the request of the rather tidy Elves. It wasn't even two minutes until the clearing was void of any signs of settlement, and the members of the recon team began to finish up the final touches of their inspections.
That was Marine Corps discipline for you, Jenkins thought with a small smile.
The PFC considered the thought of joining them when he suddenly heard the faint sound of footsteps from behind him. Turning around, he was greeted with the sight of the Elven girl, Tuka. She looked as if she was trying her hardest to not look at him in the eye. The Marine tensed for a moment, his DMR raised ever so slightly. Jenkins watched as she stopped in front of him, her head lowered at an angle to which her luscious bangs covered the top part of her face.
In her delicate hands was his discarded helmet, nearly forgotten during the prior commotion. Jenkins became surprised when she quickly held it out to him as an offering of some sort.
"Here." Tuka stammered meekly, "I believe this belongs to you."
Given by her slight shaking, the Elf looked more ready to give up a sacrifice instead of returning his belongings. The thought of such a thing amused Jenkins for a moment. Lowering his weapon, he tentatively accepted the helmet with his free hand and gave a nod of appreciation for the kind gesture. It wouldn't hurt to be polite, after all.
"Thank you." He smiled weakly.
The Marine proceeded to put on the helmet, firmly securing it over his head. Feeling the familiar force of the internal cushions pressing against his temple, he waited for a moment until the helmet eventually readjusted around his head to a more comfortable level. Letting a sigh of relief, Jenkins opened his eyes to gaze at Tuka. She was looking at him in a mix of curiosity and nervousness.
An uncomfortable silence passed between the two, pools of teal blue meeting in the awkward middle with warm brown eyes. With nothing else to say, the Marine moved to break the ice until the blonde Elf suddenly beat him to it.
"I want to apologize." She murmured ruefully.
Jenkins blinked, nearly stunned by the sheer amount of guilt in her voice, "Huh? What for?"
"By causing you so much trouble," Tuka looked up before sighing faintly, "I allowed my curiosity to overcome my better judgement, and nearly started a conflict between both our people because of my carelessness. It was never my intention."
She bent her head to the Marine, "For that, I'm truly sorry. Please forgive me."
The PFC merely stared, surprised beyond words It was quite evident that Jenkins wasn't ready to hear such a statement from her. He narrowed his eyes, and opted to study the bowing girl in front of him.
In addition to his excellent skills at sharpshooting, the Marine was also a good judge of character. So he quickly decided to put that to the test. Body language, subtle shifting, rate of breathing, Jenkins checked for anything that might be hiding any underlying sense of deception within her apology.
He found absolutely nothing.
Jenkins couldn't help but sigh with relief. Either she was actually being sincere with her words or she was a really good liar. For both their sakes, he silently hoped the reason wasn't the latter.
"Look...Tuka, was it?" He questioned, causing the Elven girl to perk up, "I know you feel bad about what happened back there, but it wasn't really your fault."
Surprised, the culpable Tuka began to protest, "But—"
She was cut off when Jenkins interrupted her with a raised hand.
"Let me say this: Everyone makes mistakes. You or me, it doesn't matter." The Marine frowned, "All that matters, however, is if you're willing to learn from those mistakes, and not repeat them in the near future."
The Marine gave the Elf a stern look, "You get me?"
For a moment, Tuka widened her eyes and said nothing. She processed the Marine's statement like a dry sponge soaking up excess water.
"I...think I do." The Elven girl closed her mouth and nodded quietly.
Jenkins sighed deeply, "Like I said, what happened a few minutes ago wasn't your fault. There's nothing inherently wrong with being curious. Trust me, I've been there before."
He gave a small smile, "Hell, you even put yourself in the line of fire. And even then, you somehow convinced your father to not send me and my team straight into the afterlife. I think that deserves a few checkmarks in my book."
Tuka's cheeks reddened at the praise, "I-I merely did what I felt was right. You didn't hurt me, so it wouldn't be fair for your people to deserve such a fate."
Without a fight? Highly doubtful, Jenkins thought bitterly.
If a conflict had broken out, it would have been an undeniably messy situation for both sides. It would be especially true for the Elves if the Spartan had intervened. However, as the Marine looked at the timid visage of the Elven girl in front of him, he was silently glad it hadn't come to that.
Plus, it would have made for an embarrassing tombstone description if he died from a freaking arrow of all things.
"I agree. I'm glad our people were able to compromise." Jenkins grinned in an attempt to lighten the mood, "Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to have this conversation in the first place."
Tuka let out a genuine smile before her pointy ears began to droop down. "I do, too. Although, I wish we were able to meet in better circumstances."
Jenkins frowned. It was true that their first meeting hadn't exactly started off in the best of terms, but he knew there was no point lamenting on what cannot be changed. No use crying over spilled milk, after all.
"Then we'll ignore what happened before. Let's start all over." The Marine held out his unoccupied hand.
The Elven girl tilted her head slightly as she stared at his gloved palm in blatant confusion. It was clear that she was unsure of what to do. Jenkins nearly smacked himself on the head. Right, different planet would mean a different culture. Grimacing lightly, he prayed to whatever deity that no one in the recon team had witnessed his little misstep.
"You're supposed to take my hand and shake it." Jenkins explained.
Tuka parted her mouth into an 'O' shape before she took his hand tentatively. Once she grasped his hand, the PFC became surprised at how firm her grip was. It held a subtle sense of strength, in contrary to her rather delicate appearance. Maybe there was a chance that he underestimated the Elf's character. Regardless, the Marine couldn't help but feel a sense of respect for Tuka as the two shook their grasped hands into a proper handshake.
"Wallace Jenkins, Private First Class, member of the UNSC Marine Corps. And you?" He introduced himself.
The Elven girl smiled and started to play along, "Tuka Luna Marceau, daughter of Hodor Marceau and resident of the Kowan Village."
"It's nice to meet you, Tuka. I hope we can get along." Jenkins grinned lightly.
Tuka brought a hand up to her mouth and giggled, "It's nice to meet you too, Jenkins. I hope we can get along as well."
"Friends?" The Marine raised an expectant eyebrow.
The Elf nodded with resolute, "Friends."
Once the two finished their introductions, they slowly released their grasped hands. They began to smile at each other. Watching the Elven girl beam in front of him made Jenkins rub the back of his helmet, and the Marine felt a growing happiness he had not felt since joining the Corps. Whether it was from Tuka's contagious smile or from their newfound friendship, the PFC didn't really know. And he honestly could care less at the moment. He made a friend, a non-human one at that, and even avoided getting killed in the process.
If that wasn't considered a huge achievement, then he didn't know what will.
Before the two could let out another word, a gruff voice suddenly interrupted their short-lived conversation.
Slightly startled, both Jenkins and Tuka quickly turned their heads to see the culprit, Staff Sergeant Johnson, saunter towards them.
"Get your ass moving! We're heading out!" Johnson gave a brief glance at Tuka, "And bring your new friend with you, too."
Jenkins saluted sharply, "Yes, sir!"
"We're leaving in one. Be ready to Oscar mike." Johnson nodded briskly.
Once the Staff Sergeant walked away, the PFC closed his eyes and sighed in relief. He couldn't help but feel relieved that his superior hadn't chewed him out for his little session with the Elven girl. When the Marine opened his eyes, he turned to glance at Tuka. She was gazing at him in a combination of both her characteristic curiosity and a tiny tinge of amusement.
It was quite endearing, in a strange sort of way.
"So..." He held his DMR across his chest. It wouldn't hurt to show off a bit, "are you ready to go?"
The only response he received was the faint twinkle of teal blue eyes, and a glowing smile that was bright enough to light the entire sky.
"Lead the way."
That's Chapter 5! Hoped you enjoyed it! :)