Last Skirmisher Standing

March 7th, 2558

Kal'Shayar was covered with red and purple blood, much of which had begun to dry up. It stuck to his skin like glue, a problem exacerbated by the fact that he still lacked anything on his upper torso. All he wore was a pair of ragged trousers that were torn and stained with the blood of others. He felt weary, but knew he must press on, having since emerged from the laboratory. He had stepped out into the harsh desert sun and felt the heat beating down upon him unrelentingly. The grounds ahead of him, all sandy-coloured with stone walls and wooden shutters over the windows, were covered with assorted litter. Somewhere nearby, a plasma mortar struck and blew away a chunk of the outer wall. The ground around the impact zone shook violently. It appeared that the Sangheili forces had started to lay waste to the fortress, though it was hard to tell exactly which side was attacking, whether it be the loyalists or rebels.

High above, a trio of Banshees zoomed overhead, streaking across the sky like vultures. They broke out of their triangular formation and started heading for one of the guard posts outside of the fortress. Their plasma cannons fired searing blue bolts of energy that obliterated the guard position and caused the mercenaries posted there to start running. Kal'Shayar was not immediately concerned by the attack, though he did find its occurrence unsurprising since the civil war had been going on in a city only kilometres from the fortress. Now one side had clearly gained the upper hand and pushed ahead as they had crossed the desert and found this fortress. To them, it was an enemy position.

Elise stood near him. Her jacket was covered with dust and a few patches of blood, though none of it was her own. She had acquired a pistol from a fallen mercenary and was scanning their surroundings for threats with her eyes. Kal'Shayar could see none but his focus was towards one objective only: to find Lev'Kanar. He would most likely still be inside the fortress, although even he could not be certain where within it exactly. Nonetheless, he started to move, an M6D 'hand cannon' gripped in his right hand. He had picked up a smaller civilian model pistol from a fallen mercenary that he now held in his left hand, keeping at least one held at the ready as he worked his way around a stone half-wall and up a slight incline that took him to another level of the fortress. There was old Sangheili propaganda pasted across the walls here, claiming that the war against humanity years before had been a 'holy crusade'. It was typical fare for such things and not something Kal'Shayar paid a lot of attention too, despite having fought in that very war under the illusion that it had been a crusade. Now he crusaded for something different; for justice and revenge, a means to clear his name and ensure that his son received the punishment due to him.

There were two of the human mercenaries up here, both armed with DMRs. With no cover close-by, Kal'Shayar simply ducked and raised his M6D. Behind him, Elise took aim and opened fire, catching the attention of both mercenaries. One of them went down, spurts of blood erupting from his chest while the other let off a few shots that pounded into the stone near Kal'Shayar's feet. Kal'Shayar fired once, the high-powered round blowing a fist sized hole through the mercenary's chest. He fell backwards and disappeared down a brief flight of steps before landing in a heap at the bottom.

Kal'Shayar stood up and walked towards the steps that went to a low walkway, one that ran between two of the fortress' main buildings. It continued around a corner and to a ledge overlooking a wide passage that ran through the fortress' centre. There was an open set of double doors across the passage, leading into a dimly lit stone building. Three mercenaries were there, packing equipment away into cases. They were clearing out by the look of things and were oblivious to the presence of the Skirmisher who stood watching them over the ledge's stone barrier.

Kal'Shayar shot one, the bullet blowing out a lung and sending the mercenary stumbling backwards before she fell against a stack of metal crates. The impact knocked some of them over and the mercenary disappeared under them all. The other two mercenaries were quick to react, drawing their side-arms as they turned to face the Skirmisher.

Elise stepped up alongside Kal'Shayar and the pair both started shooting, cutting the two mercenaries down where they stood. Pausing for a moment as the dust settled and the smell of gun-smoke faded, Kal'Shayar reloaded his M6D, sliding the last magazine he had for the weapon home into the base of its grip. He then proceeded to climb over the short stone barrier, falling a few metres before landing at the base of the ledge. Elise followed suit, though he made sure to help her down.

Going into the stone structure seemed the next logical step. There was a tall sandstone-coloured tower next to it, a darkened hole broken into its side at the top. It took Kal'Shayar a moment to see the glint of a rifle scope in the sunlight and he was quick to grab Elise and throw her to the ground as the mercenary in the tower fired his rifle. Kal'Shayar dived as the sniper shot slammed into the wall behind close by, causing an explosion of sandstone dust that rained upon him. Turning to face the sniper in the vantage point, Kal'Shayar could make out the shape of a Skirmisher, crouched in the dim light behind the hole at the top of the tower. The sniper was armed with a human S2 AM rifle and was about to take another shot.

Kal'Shayar took aim and let fly with a few shots from his M6D. The first one grazed the Skirmisher in the left arm, throwing off his aim completely and causing him to screech loudly in pain. The second caught him in the chest, blowing through his heart. He fell forwards and landed with half of him dangling through the hole but not enough for gravity to push him out of the tower. His arms dangled freely over the fortress, purple blood dripping from his wounds and landing upon the sandy ground below.

Kal'Shayar was the first inside the stone structure. It was fairly cool within, the air musty as he walked by a stack of metal boxes and found a short set of stairs leading into the heart of the structure. The wind whistled inside, causing canvas sheets that hung from a set of scaffolding in the central room to flap about haphazardly. The central room was fairly large, with several purple metal crates lying around as well as a number of sleeping mats positioned at the other side of the room. There was a laptop computer situated on a table in the corner, evidence that the building had been used as some sort of base of operations. One thing the Skirmisher noticed as he walked inside was the silence: save for the whistle of the outside breeze and the flapping of canvas, there was little other sound. Occasionally there would be the distant thump of an explosion from the battle outside and the ground would shake, trails of dust falling from the ceiling. Other than that, it was quiet. Unnervingly so.

Elise was a few steps behind him and took in the room with a careful gaze, wary of any surprises. She walked past him before taking a look down one of the hallways that branched off of the room. Kal'Shayar lowered his pistol momentarily, feeling some disappointment that Lev'Kanar was not inside. He had no idea where his son was, or if he was even still in the fortress. He was not one to run away from a fight, so it was very likely that he was still within the compound. The difficulty would be in finding him and not getting shot by anyone in the process.

There was movement from behind one of the boxes at the far end of the room. Lir'Vak emerged with a sidearm and Kal'Shayar was quick to raise his weapon in response. She fired at the same time he did, though her aim was not directed at the Skirmisher: rather, it had been towards Elise, who had had her back turned at that very moment.

Lir'Vak stumbled as the high-powered round blew into her left hand, blasting most of it away in a sickly spray of dark purple blood and chunks of flesh and bone. The bullet did not stop at that: it went through her hand and into her stomach before shattering inside, sending multiple razor sharp shards tearing through her. The exit wound that exploded out of her back was large and jagged, splattering dark purple blood onto the wall behind her. She dropped her pistol and stumbled backwards, looking down at her wounds with a surprised and terrified look forming on her face.

Kal'Shayar turned his attention to Elise, who had slumped against the wall, red blood forming around a bullet-hole in her back in line with her upper chest. Rushing towards her, Kal'Shayar grabbed her by both arms, stowing his pistols away at his waist as he held her close and lay her flat onto the floor. A mix of emotions flowed through him: worry, fear, anger. He did not want to lose her, certainly not like this.

"Kal," she said, her voice strained. She looked into his eyes as she put a hand to the exit wound at her chest. As far as Kal'Shayar could tell, the bullet had gone straight through. He was not an expert on human anatomy but it was clear to him that the shot had not struck anything significant. She moved her other hand to his face and caressed it gently.

"Elise," Kal'Shayar said, his usually level tone faltering. "I said I would protect you..."

"And you did. Just get me that first aid kit, over there." Elise pointed with one finger to the table where the laptop was located, at the corner. There was a first aid kit lying by it, along with a few other odds and ends, among them a radio and field manual.

Kal'Shayar stood up, leaving Elise to sit against the crates as he started towards the desk. His attention went back to Lir'Vak, who was now leaning against the wall whilst trying to hold her guts in with her one good hand. She was muttering under her breath, her hackles raised in anxiety and rage. Kal'Shayar thought little of her as he went towards the desk, though he did not notice the other Skirmisher emerging from a hallway behind him.

This one, one of the many that had been working for Lev'Kanar, was outfitted in a typically rugged grey set of armour. He held an equally rugged civilian side-arm and raised it as Kal'Shayar stopped by the desk, his back turned. Elise, in her somewhat dazed state, saw the threat and shouted.

Kal'Shayar turned around and drew his weapon in a single fluid movement, but the other Skirmisher fired. The shot hit Kal'Shayar in the left side of the neck, passing straight through it and sending a searing hot pain piercing through his head. He stumbled but was able to raise his weapon anyway and was able to shoot the Skirmisher twice in the chest. The Skirmisher fell against the wall to his left before slumping down it, staining the surface with a sizeable smear of blood.

Elise had started bleeding out, the front and back of her shirt and jacket having become soaked with blood. Kal'Shayar, clutching his throat with his left hand and aware that the simple act of breathing had suddenly become more difficult, still managed to grab the first aid kit and focus on the task at hand despite his condition. He walked over to Elise before he knelt by her and opened the kit. He found a vial of bio-foam within, just the thing he needed. Doing his best to ignore the pain, he used one hand to pull the jacket from Elise's form. She was falling into unconsciousness, something that worried him greatly. He himself suddenly found it increasingly hard to focus, his movements becoming slower and less coordinated as his own blood dribbled down his neck. Regardless, he sprayed a large amount of the bio-foam into Elise's wound, on her front and her back, stemming the blood-flow and hopefully stabilizing her condition.

Kal'Shayar stood up, aware that Lir'Vak had started moving towards him. She was unsteady on her feet, her one good hand clutching her bleeding stomach. He pulled his M6D on her, but felt he could not pull the trigger, not when she was in her current state. She was wrought with anger, her mouth open wide and jagged teeth visible as she moved towards him.

"I'll kill you," she screamed, lunging at the wounded Skirmisher. Kal'Shayar pushed her off of him with one hand, his balance faltering momentarily as he put his free-hand back to holding his bleeding neck. As she stumbled off of him, another gunshot rang out from nearby. Kal'Shayar felt the bullet collide with his right arm, making him fall backwards as the pain shot all the way up to his shoulder and caused him to drop his pistol. He turned his head, seeing another one of Lev'Kanar's Kig-Yar followers standing at the top of the short flight of stairs. Seemingly satisfied with the result of his shot, the Jackal began to approach, holding a small pistol.

Kal'Shayar hit the wall, his right arm hanging limply by his side. Taking his left one away from his wounded neck, he pulled out the other sidearm he had been carrying at his waist and quickly took aim. He was equally quick on the trigger and fired again and again, planting four rounds into the approaching Kig-Yar, two of which struck the foe in the head and sent him falling limply onto the floor.

His neck and arm burning, Kal'Shayar rose to his feet. Elise lay unconscious against the nearby crates and Lir'Vak lay on the floor, heaving violently and coughing blood. Kal'Shayar's mind was on one thing only as he walked up to her and shot her in the back of the head, blowing her brains out. Continuing past her, he made an unconscious decision to take the nearest corridor which he followed out of the building and into a courtyard area.

As he stepped through the exit, Lev'Kanar appeared on his side with a large plank of wood clutched in his hands. He struck his father across the head with considerable force, throwing Kal'Shayar's entire coordination askew. The elder Skirmisher stumbled and floundered, his arms going out to balance himself, finding grip on a nearby sandstone wall as his head throbbed and lights danced around in his vision. The world spun around him and everything blurred, with the voice of his son sounding distant despite him standing only a few metres away.

"Father, you are persistent," Lev'Kanar said as he watched the elder Skirmisher stumble. "I like to think I am much the same. You taught me everything, after all. You taught me how to fight and how to shoot, from the moment I was old enough to pick up a blade or even a rifle."

"You were two..." Kal'Shayar muttered, remembering it vividly. Past memories were strangely more visible to him now compared to his view on his current reality, where things no longer seemed quite real. Lev'Kanar approached him and grabbed him by one shoulder, turning him around as he tossed the broken plank of wood aside. He punched his father in the gut, winding him before he threw him back against the wall and laughed.

Kal'Shayar had dropped his pistol again, though it lay only a short distance away. He fell to his knees and went for it, receiving a powerful kick from Lev'Kanar for his trouble. He groaned as the pain overtook him momentarily, causing him to cough up blood.

"You should just swallow your pride for once," Lev'Kanar said, standing over him. Kal'Shayar looked up at his son, his mind going back to the times he had spent raising the boy, teaching him how to fight, how to shoot, only for him to go completely off the rails. It was distressing, though these memories were all he really had. The Skirmisher standing over him was not his son, not anymore.

"Give it up. This whole thing is finished. I tried to reason with you, father. I tried to make you see things the way I did. But your stubbornness once again impairs your better judgement. That is another thing I inherited from you. Thank you, by the way." This last sentence was said sarcastically. Kal'Shayar could hardly tell in his partially dazed state.

He could see the gun lying just out of reach. There was no chance his son would allow him near it, but he had little other option. He felt so weak, drenched in the blood of his enemies while plenty of his own had started flowing down his chest. His right arm had been rendered useless and hung limp at his side, the elbow joint a jagged mess of flesh and broken bone. The pain had started to return; the adrenaline that had been flowing through his system had begun to subside.

"Your plan..." Kal'Shayar said weakly, turning his head to look up at his son. "It has been stopped. There will be no war, no super soldiers of your own."

"That no longer matters. Even without Caine, the humans would have gone to war anyway. They are a barbaric race and I am surprised you do not see that. Instead, you fall in love with one their kind. What would mother think?"

"You have no right to mention her," Kal'Shayar spat. He could taste blood in his mouth. "You left home. You stopped being part of our family years ago. You caused your mother so much grief..."

"No, you did, father. You were never there for her. For me. For Jeril."

"I trained you..."

"Only during the short times you were home. Instead, you went to fight in the war and left Jeril and I with mother. And then when she died, when you should have just come home to look after your own two children, you instead went out to war again."

"It was my duty..."

"Your duty was to your family!" Lev'Kanar lost his temper for the first time in a long while, yelling as he pelted his father with a few powerful kicks.

Kal'Shayar fell onto all fours as his son continued to strike him. He grunted from the increasing agony but through it all he found that he could reach the pistol now. His left hand wrapped around its hilt. Lev'Kanar saw this and went to react but his father was fast, rolling onto his back and firing. There were only two rounds left in the magazine: one pierced through the armoured vest and travelled into the younger Skirmisher's chest while the other struck him in the stomach.

Kal'Shayar watched with a feeling of dreadful realization as his son stumbled backwards, his hands going to his stomach. Kal'Shayar slowly rose to his feet before he tossed the empty gun aside, almost as if the object disgusted him.

Lev'Kanar had an almost impassionate gaze on his face. He remained standing, despite the purple blood that poured out of his wounds. He looked his father in the eyes, a hint of anger appearing within his yellow irises before he started to take a few steps forwards.

Kal'Shayar was surprised when his son lunged for him violently, pushing him against the sandstone wall behind them. Lev'Kanar slugged his father across the face, snapping his head back and knocking loose a tooth. Kal'Shayar struggled to stand up against the strength of his son as he felt utterly weak in comparison. Another blow caught him in the neck, compounding the pain from the bullet wound there, sending agony shooting through his skull. Kal'Shayar put out one hand, searching for anything he could use as a weapon. His grip fell upon a metal pole, part of some scaffolding that had been set up against the wall. He pulled and ripped a length of the pole free, managing to slam it into the side of Lev'Kanar's head while the younger Skirmisher pummelled him with blows.

Lev'Kanar was knocked onto the ground by the force of the blow and his father, bloodied and bruised, went to hit him again. Lev'Kanar instead jumped back onto his feet, his balance looking a bit off as his wounds began to get the better of him. He lunged for Kal'Shayar again, but the elder Skirmisher side-stepped him before pushing him into the wall.

Lev'Kanar recovered quickly and turned around, charging after his father with reckless abandon, his eyes wide in anger. Kal'Shayar raised the metal pole and felt his son's weight against it, though he stood his ground, realizing what he had just done.

The pole had gone straight through his son's throat and out the back of his neck. Blood oozed out of it freely while Lev'Kanar choked and gargled. Even so, he took a step closer and put a hand to his father's shoulder, the look in his eyes almost a pleading one before he finally lost his balance and slumped against his father, no longer breathing.

Kal'Shayar put his arms around his son and held him close for a minute, oblivious to the sounds of battle that closed in from nearby. Sangheili soldiers had begun to blast their way into the fortress, wasting the mercenaries posted on guard.

Easing his son's body down to the ground, Kal'Shayar made his way back inside the main building. Elise was where he had left her and a quick check of her pulse confirmed that she was still alive. Kal'Shayar sat down next to her, letting his weariness get the better of him. He placed an arm around his human lover and held her close, though it was only a brief respite as he fell into unconsciousness minutes later.


March 16th, 2558

Deval was an ageing Skirmisher, an old and experienced warrior who had gone into a quiet retirement on Sauem. Recent events had brought him out of that retirement, especially when he had heard of Kal'Shayar's involvement. Now he was on board a Covenant cruiser on the edge of Kig-Yar space, sent with a very specific purpose as his own squad of soldiers searched though the ruins of the fortress on Decided Heart.

Medical facilities on a Covenant-built ship were not terribly elaborate, though the Kig-Yar working here had done their best to make them at least decent. Sangheili, who were the majority on board, were overly superstitious about medicine and so there were few times when they would willingly come here for medical help. The Kig-Yar and their Skirmisher counterparts were a bit more accepting of medical science and it had taken some months since the end of the war for their medical practices to get back on track, as the Covenant had sorely limited their developments in medicine. Certain human organizations had been willing to help and supplied medical equipment. Most of the scientists that were sent had been more interested in dissecting aliens and learning about their physiology rather than actually training the Kig-Yar doctors, or 'healers' as they were often called.

Kal'Shayar had bandages around his neck and one arm in a sling. He sat up on one of the somewhat soft beds inside the ship's medical bay, staring into space as he pondered all that had occurred. Elise stood near him and she had his good hand in her own. Her fingers teased the plume of feathers on that arm, not that he minded. He enjoyed her touch and could think of only one thing he wanted to do with her when he was finally fit enough to leave.

Elise had voiced concern over him, asking him if he wanted to talk about what had happened to Lev'Kanar. Kal'Shayar had accepted what he had done with solemnity. He knew now that he had no more family and no reason to ever return to his old life. There was something appealing about staying with Elise, a possibility that had become more appealing when they had received a visit from an ONI official the day before. He had told them that they should stay away from Earth. Caine had caused a lot of damage by what he had done and there were still plenty of his supporters in positions of power. War was brewing and Kal'Shayar knew that his son had had a point when he had said that the humans would go to war, regardless of whether Caine had taken power or not: there were plenty of humans who wanted one and plenty of Sangheili (and Kig-Yar) who thought similarly. The humans were in a position to go to war, one they could very well win, even if it was likely that the cost on both sides would be staggering.

Kal'Shayar's head still hurt badly, a result of the blow he had received from Lev'Kanar and a certain plank of wood. He had been told that the blow had caused some minor internal damage, leaving him with a nasty scar above one eye and sporadic headaches.

"I was thinking," Elise said, looking down at him. She was in a clean jacket now, her wounds minor save for the bullet wound that had almost hit her in the heart. It was hidden underneath her clothes and would leave a notable scar, but little else. "About us. Where should we go? Not Earth, that's for sure. And you said that there's nothing for you on Sauem."

"There is Reach," Kal'Shayar replied. He had given the matter a lot of thought lately, as the one good thing about being stuck in a hospital bed was that one had plenty of time to think. "The population there is small and they need help rebuilding the colony."

Elise nodded in agreement.

"I might still have some respect there. You and I could build a house for ourselves in the hills outside Pike's Creek." It was a spontaneous suggestion, but an appealing one no less.

"That would be good."

They both fell silent. Kal'Shayar occasionally thought about Leon, the Spartan-III who had single-handedly killed Caine and Serena. The Sangheili, on their rampage through the desert, had gone to Caine's outpost, the one that had sat in the desert valley a kilometre from the fortress. There, they had found most of the mercenaries had packed up and left while Caine and Serena lay dead, their bodies where they had fallen. Leon had not been found and a search of the surrounding area had uncovered nothing. Whether or not he had fled into the desert or somehow gotten off-world was unknown. Kal'Shayar hoped he had survived, but it seemed unlikely.

Deval entered the room at that point, outfitted in the armour of a Champion save for his helmet. Kal'Shayar was surprised to see him here and in uniform but Deval was quick to address his friend's noticeable surprise.

"I was brought out of retirement to lead a strike-force," Deval explained. "They wanted me to go on your trail, so I did. Apparently our government actually cares enough about you and the actions of your son to send me and some of our own after you."

His gaze went to Elise and he bowed his head slightly in greeting.

"You must be Commander McGillon. My name is Deval. I am a friend of Kal'Shayar. I was notified of your involvement in the battle on Decided Heart." He regarded the both of them. "You two were lucky that the Sangheili rebels found you, for if the loyalists had you would surely have been executed."

Elise nodded in acknowledgement. Deval approached Kal'Shayar's bed, standing a short distance by its side as he regarded the younger Skirmisher.

"I was told to speak to you, but my superiors would much rather me question you as to what your son was doing on Decided Heart," Deval said. "My soldiers have searched the fortress and found evidence of Forerunner technology that had been in use." He paused, an uncertain look appearing on his face. "Our government would very much like to acquire the technology in question, as some of the mercenaries the rebels captured spoke of technology capable of infusing individuals with enhanced abilities. Is this true?"

Kal'Shayar narrowed his gaze. Deval cleared his throat.

"Of course, since the technology was destroyed, my soldiers surely cannot return anything of use to the home-world." Deval gave his species' version of a smile. "I am sure our government will be most disappointed."

Deval nodded towards Kal'Shayar, who returned the nod. He had always been able to trust Deval.

"I am sorry to hear about your son," he added.

Kal'Shayar shook his head.

"I have accepted his death and moved on."

"Very well." Deval looked at each of them in turn. "Kal, I get the impression you may not be returning to Sauem. I could arrange to have your valuables brought here for you, from your home."

"I would be most grateful for that."

Deval bowed slightly to the both of them before he turned around and left the room. Kal'Shayar felt another headache coming on but he ignored it and instead turned his attention towards Elise.

"Do you think there'll be a war?" She asked.

"Maybe." Kal'Shayar did not know what to think. Would the humans and Sangheili be foolish enough to fight one another again? There were renegade factions on both sides who could very easily ignite a full-scale conflict.

"I know for certain that I do not wish to be a part of it," Kal'Shayar said. He looked up to Elise, taking her hands in his own. "Once we can leave here, I would very much like for us to go and build that house on Reach, in the hills over Pike's Creek." She could easily get a job there, resume her work as a Commander. He could live quietly once again, even if part of him regretted not being able to give her children. Of course, that would not stop him from trying.

He at least had a future he could look forward to now, far more than what he had before meeting Elise.

Kal'Shayar felt content for the first time in a long time. There was a new chapter of his life ahead of him. In a way, it was a second chance, something very few people ever got. He would make sure to gain the absolute most from it.


END.


Author's Note: And that's it. I do hope you enjoyed this story. Feel free to comment on it as a whole, if you wish.