Taking place in the final year of the Human-Covenant War, the Battle of Harpa was a thirteen-day conflict that saw some incredibly bloody fighting between a UNSC defence force and a small but well-equipped Covenant fleet that had stumbled upon the agricultural world by accident while scanning for Forerunner artefacts. While not a particularly important colony world from a strategic standpoint, Harpa was surprisingly well-defended and turned what was initially supposed to be a quick and decisive engagement into a slow and costly battle of attrition.
Following a battle that lasted nearly two weeks, Harpa was eventually evacuated at a heavy price, with the surviving Covenant invaders unable to pursue fleeing UNSC forces into slipspace. Though the world was eventually glassed when Covenant reinforcements arrived several days after the main battle, the terrible losses on both sides led to much debate later over whether or not it could be considered a stalemate.
The Covenant Destroyer Justicar, under the command of Shipmaster Felo 'Ranakee, arrived in-system on March 1st while sweeping for Forerunner relics and quickly reported a sizeable Human presence on Harpa's surface. As it prepared to engage a second ship, Divine Reclamation, emerged from slipspace to join it in assaulting the planet. Caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of two enemy vessels the Harpa Defence Fleet, which consisted of only four ship, split itself up to draw out the pair of Destroyers while it organised a proper defence on the ground. The Justicar made short work of Harpa's sole orbital defence platform before eliminating the UNSC Troy in a single volley of plasma torpedoes. It then moved straight in to attack Harpa's capital, Andama, with a massive ground deployment designed to overwhelm the city's defenders.
The UNSC Starhood met a similar fate to the Troy as it attempted to engage the Divine Reclamation, though its destruction allowed a Halcyon-class cruiser, the UNSC Konakli, to severely damage the Destroyer with a lucky MAC round before it too was gutted by a retaliatory strike. With both Covenant ships now forced to land, the battle of Harpa soon shifted to a purely ground-based engagement, with Shipmaster Ranakee directing troops from the Justicar's bridge. The sole surviving vessel of the Harpa Defence Fleet, the ageing UNSC Bright New Day, wisely refrained from engaging the better-armed enemy ships and instead set up a staging post on the planet's southern hemisphere as UNSC forces under the famed Brigadier General Richard Mack Senior rallied for a counter-attack against the Covenant invaders.
Siege of Andama
Using the fortified HAMMER Base as his headquarters, Mack immediately sent instructions for the SPARTAN-II Sigma Team to move in and intercept Covenant landing zones. The group had initially been stationed on Harpa while awaiting redeployment, and split into several up as they moved in to assist local Marine forces. As the colony world's primary population centre, the sprawling metropolis of Andama was immediately besieged by Covenant forces and saw the majority of fighting during the invasion. Master Chief Petty Officer Fenn-145 took charge of the city's defences upon Sigma's arrival, and had his subordinates spread out to lead troops into battle. Though they lacked the numbers to drive the Covenant back, the supersoldiers managed to inflict severe casualties via hit-and-run tactics.
Upon hearing reports of Spartans active inside the city, Shipmaster 'Ranakee doubled his efforts to take Andama and deployed thousands of new troops with orders to kill them at any cost. Many among his army, namely Sangheili officers, sought to challenge and defeat the supersoldiers in single combat. Sigma Team used this to their advantage, luring individual warriors into battle with one of their number before ambushing and killing them with explosives or nearby marksmen, depriving Covenant infantry of their commanders and leaving Unggoy and Kig-Yar soldiers as easy prey for further attacks. With his strategy of a quick elimination in tatters, the Shipmaster unleashed an armoured force of Wraith tanks, backed up by no less than five Scarab walkers with the intention of utterly crushing the amassed UNSC troops there while other detachments attacked smaller settlements across the continent.
Though they were massively outnumbered, UNSC forces within Andama forced the Covenant into a war of attrition, using guerrilla tactics to halt infantry advances before retreating in the face of heavy plasma bombardment. Sigma Team played a crucial role in the city's siege, with Marco-035, Nef-015, Resk-063 and Wulf-041 rallying the local Marines again and again as they made the Covenant fight for every inch of ground. Andama's siege - one that Felo 'Ranakee believed would last mere hours - turned into a gruelling week of urban warfare that reduced most of the city to rubble. Though the surviving UNSC troops and their Spartan allies were close to their breaking point, the enemy Shipmaster's patience ran out first. The Covenant army, which had lost a great deal of its morale in spite of their numbers, was forced to retreat. While Andama's defenders initially believed that this meant that they were fleeing Harpa itself, the battle-hardened Spartans realised that this was not a good sign and called for an immediate evacuation.
Just as Sigma Team had anticipated, the enemy retreat merely a prelude to a direct enemy orbital bombardment. Having destroyed all but one ship in Harpa's defence fleet, the super-destroyerJusticar fired everything it had at Andama, levelling the colony world's capital with plasma and reducing the city to twisted glass. Over a third of its defenders were lost in this attack, though many more were able to escape thanks to the timely arrival of a wave of dropships from HAMMER base. The fight for Andama had taken a heavy toll on both sides, though the loss of three precious Scarabs during the siege was a dark mark on Felo 'Ranakee's stellar battle record. While their existing forces re-organised, a fresh Covenant legion was deployed to hunt down the survivors, pursuing them over the dense jungles that covered most of Harpa's northern continent.
Battle of HAMMER Base
After losing Andama, all UNSC forces remaining on Harpa retreated towards HAMMER base, a heavily-fortified military base in the mountains. While en-route, the evacuation dropships came under heavy fire from enemy fighters, who shot down several before they were driven off by fast-attack aircraft. Among those Pelicans shot down was Wulf-041's. Though the Spartan survived the crash, Covenant troops soon closed in on the crash site, forcing him into hiding while they swept over the area in search of the 'Demon'. Wulf would continue to evade the enemy until he came across a Covenant armoured division heading towards HAMMER base, led by a single Type-47 Scarab. The Spartan was able to single-handedly scale the walker, kill its crew, and destroy it from the inside, halting the enemy advance momentarily before falling back to an evacuation site where he was picked up by Kane-098's Pelican.
With the entirety of Sigma Team and the planet's defence force gathered at HAMMER base, Brigadier General Richard Mack Senior began to organise its defence, intending to keep the Covenant at bay long enough for a proper escape route to be established offworld. Thanks to their efforts in keeping the Covenant's groundside forces occupied at Andama, most of Harpa's civilian populace had escaped, though that left very few spaceworthy vessels for the military to leave the planet on. With the UNSC Bright New Day as the only warship capable of slipspace travel on the planet, Mack was forced to draw attention towards HAMMER while a second evacuation was held for non-combat personnel. The area around the base was reinforced with minefields and anti-aircraft cannons, while an ageing Onager mass driver was set up to provide some defence against enemy warships.
As with his assault on Andama, Felo 'Ranakee prioritised the capture of enemy materials over simply destroying his foe from afar, and had the nearly arrived Jiralhanae Destroyer Divine Reclamation lead the attack. Once again, the Covenant relied on numbers and firepower to breach HAMMER base, taking heavy casualties as they tested its defences. After the initial frontal attack, they began to strike at weaknesses in the human defences, using Kig-Yar snipers and Special Operations teams to whittle down their foe before finally achieving a major breakthrough after an hour of non-stop fighting. After the destruction of a generator powering a number of automated turrets, the Jiralhanae charged into the stronghold, slaughtering all in their path and even giving members of Sigma Team trouble in melee combat. In spite of these losses, Mack and Fenn-145 were able to lead a successful counter-attack that gave their troops time to flee into a tunnel system that would lead them beneath the nearby mountains.
In the process of initiating HAMMER's self-destruct countdown, Nef-015 was ambushed and badly wounded by a Jiralhanae Chieftain. Cut off from the escape tunnel, the SPARTAN-II fought his way out of the base with a HAVOK nuke and managed to hijack a banshee, flying all the way up into the Divine Reclamation's hangar bay on a suicide mission. Though Nef was fatally injured in the act of planting the HAVOK, he was able to detonate the device before dying and completely obliterated the Destroyer from the inside just as HAMMER base's reactors overloaded and destroyed the base. This pushed all local Covenant forces into disarray and left them unable to pursue Mack's forces into the mountains.
(Just adding this here so I know where I am with the rewrite.)
With the destruction of the Divine Reclamation due to the sacrifice Nef-015, Felo 'Ranakee began glassing Harpa's surface while the remainder of his attack force pursued the surviving UNSC forces towards the Jamitar Desert. At 0500 hours, on the 13th of March, 2552, all of the survivors had made it to the Bright New Day, and were beginning preparations to take off when the ship was attacked on all sides by Covenant forces. The defenders hit back, destroying several Spirits and Banshees. Down in the desert Ruins, Covenant forces began their search for The Keymaker, an ancient Forerunner artefact that contained the knowledge, to create, and the current locations of the remaining Forerunner Keyships.
Brigadier Richard Mack Senior led a force of several Scorpion tanks against the entrenched forces, who were setting up a large AA battery in the ruins. Along with the strike force was Jax-007. He took a platoon of ODST's into the ruins and engaged in close quarters combat with occupying troops, eventually coming into the main excavation site. With heavy losses, they wiped out the covenant and called for Pelican extraction to the Bright New Day, which was taking off at the time. Felo 'Ranakee, believing that the humans were defiling the holy relic, when in fact they did not know anything about it, and took several dropships of his personal bodyguard to the surface. Two were destroyed by the Frigate as they descended, the third making it to the planet with the Shipmaster on board. They began attacking the defending ODST's, taking heavy casualties in doing so. Jax-007 ordered the survivors to fall back to the pelicans while he held them off. He killed a squad of elites Before coming face to face with the shipmaster himself. Meanwhile, almost all of the humans had made it back to the ship, with the exception of Richard Mack Senior and Jax-007.
The veteran soldier gave the order to leave the planet, though Fenn initially refused to leave Mack and a fellow Spartan behind. Instead giving the order to stay at a safe height while several Pelicans were sent out to find them. The Sangeili Shipmaster drew his Energy Sword, and began attacking Jax-007, cutting his shotgun apart and knocking him down. Before he could kill the Spartan, Brigadier Mack began shooting the Shipmaster in the back. However, the bullets only damaged his energy shield, causing him to turn and face the aged soldier. After a brief fight, in which Ranakee fought toe-to-toe with Mack, he was able to stab him through the lower chest with his energy sword, letting him fall to the floor, severely wounded. When the Shipmaster ordered his bodyguards to finish him off, Mack was able to kill one with his combat knife and badly wound the other, prompting Ranakee to shoot him several times in the chest with a plasma pistol. After uttering a few words of defiance at his killer, Richard Mack Senior finally died.
Jax, who had been engaging three other Sangheili, became enraged, using this chance to leap up and grab an energy sword from one of Felo 'Ranakee's bodyguards and swing at him as he turned round, slashing the enemy across the face, wounding him. The it the second slash hit the shipmaster in the chest, knocking him down. As Jax turned to leave, the wounded elite spoke, asking the Spartan to give him an honourable death. Jax dropped his sword, and saw that several Spirits were heading towards his location. He began to walk away, hailing a pelican on his radio. To Ranakee's surprise, the Spartan let him live, giving little reason for doing so as he carried Mack's body away. Leaving the wounded and confused Sangheili behind, Jax boarded a Pelican and headed back to the Bright New Day.
(Rewrite has been finished below this point.)
"Humans, your planet is lost, your forces scattered and your ship defenceless. However, I will give you an opportunity to survive this day, for giving us such a glorious battle. Bring me your vessel's navigation data, carried by one of your Demons, and I will let the rest live. Make your decision"
―Felo 'Ranakee's ultimatum to the UNSC survivors
The frigate, having rescued everyone it could, took off from Harpa's surface as the Covenant Destroyer moved towards it. When Jax-007 reached the bridge, he asked Captain Maxon to open fire on the ruins. The naval officer complied with the Spartan and obliterated the site with a volley of missiles. While he hoped that would be enough to kill Felo 'Ranakee, the Shipmaster had escaped and contacted the Bright New Day personally, promising that he would allow their escape if a Spartan brought them navigational data. As Sigma's leader, Fenn took it upon himself to do so, though he had no intention whatsoever of giving the Covenant vital information and easily saw through what was obviously a trap. However, with the Day's limited armament and no way to escape the Justicar and its plasma weaponry, he chose to sacrifice himself by taking several SHIVA nuclear weapons across in an unarmed shuttle.
While his comrades protested, Fenn ignored them and gathered his weaponry for a suicide attack. En-route, he was approached by Lieutenant Martin Keel, one of the ship's ODST's. Keel had been badly wounded during the retreat across the desert and although medics had patched up his wounds with biofoam he would not last more than a few hours without serious medical assitance. As such, he offered to ferry the Spartan over towards the ship and go out with a bang. Master Chief Petty Officer Fenn-145 said his final goodbyes to the five other members of Sigma-Alpha in the ship's hangar bay before departing with his deadly cargo, seemingly without regrets.
Still aboard a dropship, Felo 'Ranakee had been recuperating from the wounds he suffered fighting Jax and was en-route to the Justicar when news of the human ship's approach reached him. His plan was to personally kill the Demon after seizing the data before having the Destroyer blow the enemy vessel apart, cementing his victory on Harpa despite the absolutely tremendous cost in lives it had taken to take Harpa. Ordering a group of well-armed Sangheili and Mgalekgolo to surround and detain the Spartan the moment he left the dropship, the Shipmaster was sure of his victory until a brief, panicked transmission from one of his officers reached him; Fenn had stepped out of his shuttle, held up the detonator for the assembled force to see, then set off the nukes. The Justicar was blown apart from the inside by the blast, which vaporised most of the warship in seconds along with most of the Shipmaster's remaining troops. With the way now clear, the UNSC Bright New Day immediately jumped to slipspace, leaving Felo 'Ranak trapped on Harpa alongside the remnants of his army.
"Nobody won Harpa."
―a phrase commonly associated with the battle post-war
It was not until two days later that four CCS-class battlecruisers arrived in search of find Felo 'Ranakee. The Shipmaster, who knew the price of failure well, had compiled a detailed report that indicated the deaths of not only Richard Mack Senior - one of few Human military commanders known to the Covenant - but of Nef-015 and Fenn-145 as well. His hopes that the death of several high-value targets would save him from exile of execution came true after a brief judiciary hearing in High Charity, though due to his failure it was clear that Felo 'Ranak would likely never advance beyond his current rank. With the Forerunner ruins on Harpa destroyed, the Covenant fleet then glassed the entire planet, both as a sign of their supremacy and to burn away any memory of the grievous losses suffered there.
The UNSC Bright New Day spent several weeks in transit before arriving on Sigma Octanus IV to report what had happened at Harpa. The near-total loss of its defence force, alongside two irreplaceable SPARTAN-II's and Richard Mack Senior, was a heavy blow to the UNSC. Kane-098 was made Sigma Team's new commanding officer after the group returned to Reach, while Mack Senior's body was brought to Earth for burial; a rare privilege so late in the war. With Harpa gone, the UNSC was pressed further back through the Inner Colonies, with only Reach and Earth itself standing as its major military centres.
The Battle of Harpa was this author's first ever fanon article on the wiki, and provided the basis for the rest of the Sigmaverse to form around.