|CCS-Class battlecruiser Undying Faith|
Sanghelios orbit, Urs System
48 Hours after the Joyous Exultation summit
"Shipmaster, we are receiving communications from Sanghelios."
"Put it through."
Shipmaster Felo 'Ranak sat back in his chair as a screen flashed up before him. A Sangheili warrior stood there, clad in the white armour of an Ultra.
"Shipmaster," he spoke, glancing at a nearby terminal. "We were not informed of your arrival. According to our records, your battlecruiser was to regroup with the Fleet of Blessed Veneration at High Charity."
So they haven't heard.
"Have any other warships returned from the front?" Felo asked.
"The last brought news of a great victory over a Human world a dozen cycles past. Why, has something happened?"
Felo sighed, and got to his feet. Those around him on the bridge glanced up as he clasped both hands behind his back and addressed the screen.
"Brother, the Prophets have betrayed us, and High Charity has fallen. It seems I am the first to return to Sanghelios with news."
The Ultra seemed utterly shaken by the news, and did not speak for several seconds. He soon regained his composure and after addressing a subordinate offscreen, turned back to Felo.
"This is troubling, to say the least. What of the Council? Of our fleets?"
"Dead, most likely. Killed by the Brutes."
"They did this?"
"The Prophets sought to supplant our kind with those animals, yes. Imperial Admiral 'Wattinree was assembling a massive host at Joyous Exultation when I first heard of this. Our ship's Prophet attempted to escape with his Brute bodyguards. He was not successful."
"You struck down a Prophet?" the Ultra sounded shocked, even with news of their kind's betrayal.
"I shall relay the news across Sanghelios, Shipmaster. There will be an uproar over this."
"I'm sure there will be. More ships will likely arrive soon, brother. Ensure that only those loyal to the Sangheili make it to orbit."
"Of course, Shipmaster. I'll clear a site for your ship to set down."
The screen deactivated, and Felo returned to his chair. The bridge's door opened and a large warrior strode through. His crimson armour was still spotted with Jiralhanae blood; he'd been busy interrogating their prisoners.
"Sur," Felo addressed his blood brother without turning. "Anything?"
"The Jir'aul are tough," Sur chuckled, "But even they have limits, when fur and hide and flesh are burnt away."
"Seems that the Jiralhanae were to accompany the Prophet of Truth on an important mission once they had dealt with us. Some Forerunner site of great value. The parasite's arrival on High Charity was not expected, however."
"Did he have anything else to say?"
"No, brother. I had the Kig-Yar dispose of his corpse."
A few Sangheili around the bridge shot Sur disapproving looks, though none met his gaze. Those who challenged him knew how vicious he was with those red-bladed swords of his; gifts from his days in the Special Warfare Group's Commando Unit. Felo merely nodded and turned to his helmsman.
"Take us down. There should be a landing zone in the state of Ranak. I'll provide the coordinates."
The rest of the descent was silent as the Undying Faith moved into Sanghelios' atmosphere, soaring high above several continents before coming in slowly above a sprawling spaceport in the planet's northern hemisphere. Felo knew it well; many years ago, he and his siblings had made a perilous journey across the mountains to reach it after their keep was besieged. He hadn't returned to his homeland in nearly two years now, and was eager to see his Keep again.
"Sur," Felo stood up to face his brother. "Get Rol and two dozen warriors. We're going home."
Sur nodded and walked away. The Shipmaster then looked across his bridge crew for someone trustworthy, and settled on a young Officer manning one of the weapon stations.
"Mal 'Sorol, is it?"
The Officer stood instantly. "Yes, Shipmaster."
"While I'm gone, you are in charge. Take care of any repairs as needed, and ensure that our crew remains loyal."
The younger Sangheili seemed delighted, and nodded enthusiastically. "Of course, Shipmaster. I will not disappoint."
Felo turned and began to leave. "No," he muttered. "You won't."
The journey from their ship to Ranak Keep was not a long one. Rol, Felo's youngest brother, had arranged for an escort of eight Banshees and two Spirits while their Phantoms made their way home. Each brother sat in a different dropship, just in case. Sur had grumbled at this, though Felo knew that Rol was merely looking ahead. With news of the Prophet's betrayal already sweeping across the planet, it was likely that some would denounce Felo as both a liar and a heretic, and move to attack him immediately.
"We're nearing the Keep," spoke Rol over the communicator.
"Have our escort break off. I don't want them to think they're being attacked."
"Understood. Do you want to land first?"
"Yes. Inform our guards first, Rol."
Flanked by four bodyguards, Felo 'Ranak stepped towards the Phantom's gravity lift. Despite the potentially dire situation at hand, all he had on his mind was meeting with his wife, Tari. Their first son would be four years of age by now. Nearly be old enough to begin training, he thought. While most Sangheili never knew their fathers, with few rare exceptions, Felo enjoyed acting as an uncle to the children growing up in his Keep.
"Activating gravity lift," the Phantom pilot's voice sounded as the dropship's interior lighting went dark. Felo stepped forward, and found himself lowered slowly to the ground. His comrades followed, drawing weapons as they approached the nearby Keep. To their left and right, Sur and Rol's dropships were landing.
"Seems we've drawn a crowd," Rol remarked as he strode towards his brother.
"Perhaps they've been contacted already."
"Perhaps. Shall we go?"
Felo saw Sur approaching and nodded. The three brothers marched in perfect sync, just ahead of their warriors. A number of civilians had already gathered by the gates to Ranak Keep, which were heavily fortified even by regular standards. Parents looked at the warriors with watchful eyes while children stared in awe.
"Halt!" a familiar voice sounded out. A figure pushed through the crowd, clasping a plasma rifle.
"This is your fight, brother," Sur muttered, gently nudging him forward.
"What is the meaning of this- Felo?!"
Tari 'Ranak stood before the assembled warriors, staring at her husband. There was a long pause before she lowered the weapon. Felo crossed his arms.
"Hello, Tari. May we come in?"
Sur began to laugh. Tari nodded, and the civilians began to disperse as Felo and the others entered the Keep. It was more or less the same as he had last seen it two years ago, though at this time of year the local fields were teeming with fruit and Irukan. They'd arrived in the middle of harvest season.
"We did not expect you," Tari explained as she strode into the keep's main hall. Children and Servants scattered as they approached. "Or your brothers."
"Ah, then you have not heard."
"The breaking of our Covenant."
She did not reply until they reached Felo's personal quarters. The Shipmaster turned.
"Rol, Sur, have want our warriors guarding the Keep's perimeter, just in case. Get in contact with the Undying Faith as well. I want to know the moment any warships enter the system."
Felo closed the door behind them as his brothers rushed off, barking orders. Then they embraced, holding each other tightly for some time. When she eventually released him, Tari ran her hand across his face, pausing as she surveyed his mandibles. Two scars streaked across the right pair.
"You were wounded," she said, brushing her fingers over the scars.
"A minor injury, though one I cannot hide."
"How did it happen?"
Felo sat down nearby, pulling off his helmet and placing it on a table. "A Demon."
"Oh?" she sat beside him. "Are you telling me that a Demon bested my husband, the greatest fighter of his generation?"
"Had he truly bested me, I would have perished. He allowed me to live while he left, carrying the corpse of a fallen ally. Perhaps the Demon believed I would feel dishonoured by this. I have told no one, Tari. Not even Sur and Rol."
Tari nodded. "I won't say a word."
"I'd hope not," he chuckled. "If I cannot trust you, then there's no one I can rely on."
"I'd like to think so, Felo. Now, what has happened to the Covenant? Tell me everything."
For hours, he did. Everything he knew, from the Prophet's betrayal to the fall of High Charity to the Imperial Admiral's message. He could see how some might interpret it as a Sangheili revolt against the Covenant, even with 'Wattinree's involvement. The rumoured loss of the Unyielding Hierophant had been the start of their troubles, and with Jiralhanae-led fleets suddenly emerging around their holy city, Felo felt that he should have seen the warning signs. Nonetheless, he had been the first to return to Sanghelios, and could only sit and wait for the other Keeps to respond.
"Uncle Ordam is dead," he said suddenly. Their previous Kaidon had been part of the High Council, before the Brutes had murdered them. He hoped that the old warrior had died fighting.
"I'll call the Elders together," Tari stood and left, knowing what he was about to say.
It was nearly forty years since a young Felo had stood before the elders of Ranak Keep and nominated Shipmaster Ordam 'Ranakee as their new Kaidon. None argued with him, though many had assumed he wanted the position after Kaidon Yama 'Ranakee's demise. Ordam had saved their family from certain destruction, and had humbly accepted it. Few could fault him as a leader, for his years as Kaidon had brought peace and prosperity to the land even as the far-off war with the Humans raged. Now he was gone, there was only one person they would even consider.
"It is fortunate that you arrived when you did, Felo," spoke Yuen 'Ranak, a former warrior Felo recalled as looking elderly even in his youth. "We've heard dark tidings from other keeps."
"Betrayal and murder, more like," Rega 'Ranak muttered. "Those treacherous worms always plotted against us."
Another Elder, Tynox 'Ranak, shot Rega a nasty glare. "The holy Prophets had no reason to betray us, Rega. What you say borders on heresy."
"Bah!" the other Sangheili spat.
Felo stepped forward. "Elders, had I been told such things by someone barely a dozen cycles ago, I would have cut them down as a blasphemer. However I have seen their treachery with my own eyes. We must stand now and unite against both the Prophets and those still kneeling at their feet."
"Can we do so?" Tynox asked. "The Covenant was what bound us, Felo. Who among the Sangheili will take charge?"
Yuen nodded. "He's right. I've heard of this Imperial Admiral you speak of, but his rank and status does not guarantee unity. Some may proclaim you a worthy leader for being the first to return to Sanghelios."
"That is not something I desire," Felo snapped.
"Or they may think you a coward for not standing with the others and fighting."
"What? Should he be wrong, then Felo has shamed the entire Ranak clan with his actions."
Felo was about to speak when the doors to the keep's meeting hall were flung open. He was about to draw his sword when he saw it was Sur.
"Brother!" he called. "Two friendly Destroyers just arrived with news: Wattinree is dead, and his entire fleet destroyed!"
"Some kind of explosive device. Whatever it was, it vaporised the entire fleet and razed Joyous Exultation's surface."
Sur shrugged. "Possibly. Many of the ships present had recently arrived from battles against the Humans, after all."
"Who remains in charge, then?"
"Shipmaster Rtas 'Vadum and Arbiter Thel 'Vadam, brother. Their ships are working to contain the Flood."
This was another surprising turn of events. Felo had worked under Rtas 'Vadum in his early days in the Special Warfare Group, and most in the Covenant military had heard of the legendary Thel 'Vadam - shamed though he was after losing the first Halo ring.
"Thank you, Sur. Is there anything else?"
"Yes, brother. It would appear that they have undergone a truce of sorts with the Humans. The threat of the Prophets and Flood seems to have made an alliance of sorts necessary. According to them, they are spreading news that the Great Journey is false; an invention of the Prophets."
"How would they know?"
"This is only what we've been told. Shall I prepare your Phantom?"
Felo thought about it for a moment. "No, I will remain here. Keep on your guard, Sur."
"Of course," his brother bowed and exited. Felo turned to the assembled Elders.
"Does this lend credence to my claims, Elders?"
There was little more to say. Yuen glanced from side to side before stepping forward. The others knelt before Felo.
"As Elders of the clan of Ranak, we declare you, Felo, our three-hundred and eighth Kaidon. May you lead our people to prosperity with honour and dignity."
"On the blood of our fathers," chanted the rest of the assembled elders, "On the blood of our sons."
Felo 'Ranak bowed low, and when he stood up he felt a little taller than usual. As the Elders went their separate ways, he turned to see Tari and Rol watching him from the side of the room.
"This is usually a private ceremony," he said jokingly.
"I couldn't help but watch, brother. Congratulations." Rol patted Felo on the shoulder. "I'll return to my post."
"Of course. Be well, brother."
Tari seemed to radiate with pride as she hugged Felo once more.
"What now, Kaidon?" she asked.
"Now? Some sleep." He had hardly rested at all since news of the Prophet's betrayal, and he had begun to feel lightheaded. "Tomorrow, we will announce our intentions to the keep."
When the assassins came, Felo was woken by the sound of splintering wood. He rolled out of bed before his eyes had even opened, snatching the handle of his energy sword just as another blade sliced into the space he'd been occupying barely a second before. Now ignited, the shining weapon met that of a black-armoured foe, whose thrust was easily parried, allowing Felo to decapitate him with his second strike. A crash from the next room alerted him.
Felo darted through to find three more assassins; one lay dead, having crashed through the table with a plasma bolt sizzling through his brain. Another was bleeding, and had been struck repeatedly with a chair if the shattered mess in the corner of the room was any indication. The third seemed fine, and turned away from Tari as Felo charged forward. This one managed to dodge the Kaidon's initial swipe, though a well-aimed kick staggered him for just long enough that Felo could impale him against the wall.
"Felo, behind you!" Tari yelled, having drawn a second plasma pistol while the first recovered from an overcharged shot.
He ducked just in time to avoid an igniting blade, which sizzled through the air overhead. Having lost the element of surprise, this assassin deactivated his active camouflage, and had the decency to nod before launching his attack. The remaining one seemed unsure of who to go for, as Tari pointed both pistols at him. Eventually he attempted a flying leap towards her, taking both blasts to his armour. Though it did not kill him, he howled with pain and crashed past Tari. Scrambling to his feet, he staggered towards the door.
"Coward!" she called after him, throwing aside a spent pistol.
Though this foe was clearly better-trained than his comrades, Felo's masterful swordsmanship made blocking each blow easy as he slowly drove the assassin back across the room. As their blades clashed, he attempted to overpower the Kaidon with his size, driving Felo back slightly before a globule of sizzling green energy struck him in the side. The grip on his sword eased for a fraction of a second, giving Felo the opportunity he needed to deliver a fatal blow to the stomach. The assassin collapsed wordlessly to the floor.
"You have my thanks," panted Felo as he kicked the body. Tari gave a shrug, as though this was an everyday occurrence.
Felo and Tari made their way out of their quarters, following splashes of the final assassin's blood to the main hall, where he lay dead at Sur 'Ranak's feet. His crimson blades glowed in the darkness as he looked up from the corpse towards his brother.
"Who was it?" he asked. For those dissatisfied with a new Kaidon's appointment, sending assassins was the traditional method of removing an unwanted leader.
"I have a good idea. Bring me-"
The main hall's doors opened, and Rol walked in beside several others. Being dragged between two of them was Yuen 'Ranak.
"Yuen?!" Felo called in surprise.
"He was attempting to leave the Keep with several of his kin," Rol explained. "They fought to the death. He did not."
"I would have expected-"
"Tynox?" Yuen began to laugh, only for it to break down into a hacking cough. "He may have disagreed with you at first, but truly believed that you were the right candidate to lead our clan once your claims were proven true."
"Why then, Yuen?" Felo strode forward, sword still lit. "Why would you try to have me killed?"
"Because I was the only one to see your intentions, boy. You would join this Arbiter and ally with the Humans despite years of conflict with them, wouldn't you?"
There was a long pause. "Yes, I would."
Yuen glared at him. "I thought so. I have lived through five Kaidons, but none will bring us to ruin as you will. Without the Covenant, we Sangheili have a chance to forge our own path in the galaxy, not stand by some weakling race. You would abandon reason just as easily as you abandon our religion, Felo."
"You're right," Felo said. "We do need to forge our own path, but not as butchers who slaughter the innocent, or slaves bound to the whims of creatures like the Prophets. You have lived for far too long under such beliefs, Yuen. I will free you from those chains."
With that, he plunged his sword through Yuen 'Ranak's chest. The Elder shuddered for a moment, then died.
"Double the guard," Felo said to Rol. "Have the corpses removed from my quarters and relay the message that I am Kaidon of Ranak now. Furthermore, inform the state of Vadam that we will stand with their Kaidon, should he return to Sanghelios."
Felo turned away, and walked up the darkened hall towards the keep's traditional throne room. Across one side of the cavernous chamber sat the Ranak clan's saga wall, dating back well over a thousand years. He had once heard it estimated that it would be at least another thousand years before the wall covered the entire room. Observing the written accomplishments of his ancestors, Felo stopped at the last entry. Since the beginning of their war with the Humans, many lines had been added commemorating the deeds of he and his clanmates. Now they would have to record the events of the past few weeks. He sighed, and looked towards the throne each Kaidon had sat on upon his ascension. Usually there was some kind of ceremony to celebrate the election of a new leader. Now though, the hall was empty, and lit only by a few lamps.
We shall see if Yuen is right, Felo thought as he ascended the steps. This entire war seems so meaningless now, without the righteous fury of blind faith to guide us.
Perhaps he was the only one who felt this way, and that Vadam and Vadum's truce was merely a ruse so they could continue waging war against the Humans. His thoughts drifted back to the Human leader he had slain not long ago, as they had done repeatedly over the past year.
A warrior should not regret his actions, yet my heart is conflicted.
Sitting on his throne, Kaidon Felo 'Ranak would just have to wait and see how the rest of the war would play out; a gamble that would decide not only his fate, but the fate of his entire clan.