Date: 10 February 2010, 4:50 am
Sanctum of the Hierarch
Covenant Holy City, High Charity
Ninth Age of Reclamation
The inner hall was designed to intimidate, and it was fulfilling its purpose. The vaulted ceiling seemed to stretch into the heavens, as though it sought to forge a connection between this world and the next. From it hung a row of standards that depicted an unknown San 'Shyuum guiding the Covenant along the path of ascension. Above the far door was displayed the largest of these banners, adorned simply by the image of a prophets crown. Flanking either side of the elegant walkway were lines of Sangheili honour guards. Light from above reflected off their dull blades, bathing the room in schisms of white light. At the end of the walkway was an ornately decorated door. Unbeknown to most, its decoration was merely a façade. In truth, it was constructed of the same polymer material used for the hull of Covenant flagships.
The Prophet of Regret had been here may times, so he paid little heed as he passed now. As he neared the far door, a Sangheili in ceremonial dress appeared from the shadows. In well rehearsed fashion, the doorman bowed his head and removed a rectangular crystal from his robes. From within his own robes, Regret produced a similar crystal. Taking both objects in his hands, the doorman inserted them into a panel beside the door. After several moments, a mechanical rumble echoed throughout the hall. Despite its immense size and weight, the door parted seamlessly. Regret showed little care for any of this. Knowing that the crystal would be returned to him upon leaving, the Prophet ventured purposefully beyond the threshold and into the chamber beyond.
In contrast to the hall outside, this room was bathed in a gentle light. It came from small holes, recessed into the walls and floor. Regret had always considered this to give the chamber the illusion of a thin mist. In the centre of this 'mist' rose a large table. On it was a thin screen and several other items unworthy of note. Although three of the walls were bare, the fourth was comprised of a large window; which looked out over the Dreadnaught relic and the lower wards of High Charity. To those uninitiated, it gave the impression of a ruler observing the breadth of their empire. Of course, it really was a means by which the Hierarchs could observe and monitor the stability of the Covenant. It also inspired them to imagine and dream of the future.
Regret saw a figure standing by the window. Not until he came level with the table did the figure acknowledge his presence. He did so by turning suddenly from his vigil by the window. Whether by chance or design, the figure turned just as the door to the chamber slid silently closed.
"I am pleased to see you acknowledged my summons with such haste, brother." The Prophet of Truth spoke in a calculated tone. In response, Regret dismounted his throne and advanced towards his fellow San 'Shyuum. Though they did not embrace or make any contact, they stood evaluating one another for several moments. This was common practice when their species were in private. Eventually, Regret spoke.
"Indeed I have come, although the urgency of your tone would have made refusal a crime. Yet I trust that you would not have me hindered unnecessarily." As he spoke, Regret gave great care to the words he used. He did not desire to begin a joust of words with Truth; which all too often led to bitter descent between Hierarchs. Such action could only be counterproductive to the aspirations of the Covenant.
"Do not fear, brother. I shall not stay you for long. In fact, my words may well entice you to remain for longer; but we shall see." With these words, Truth walked to the table and activated the screen. The holographic image of a Sangheili in council garment appeared. Regret immediately recognised what he was seeing. After a moment, Truth continued.
"As you are undoubtedly aware Regret, we are nearing the start of the Great Journey. Soon we shall have the means to guide the rest of the believers along the righteous path to ultimate salvation. United, the Hierarchs shall fulfil the promise made many cycles ago. There shall be one final chance for those who serve the Gods to transcend this world. All that now remains is for the ancients to reveal the start of the path, and grant the worthy visage to pass along it." Regret listened intently, pretending that he had not heard this speech uttered many times before. He had learned long ago that it was better to allow Truth his theological indulgences.
"Yet just as foretold by the prophecy, we must face great strife in the time of our ultimate victory. Despite our noble intent, there will always be those who rebuke the Covenant and the Gods. Eventually, they shall be destroyed by the eternal fire of the sacred rings. For now though, it is our duty to root out heresy and quench it. If we ignore such a task, then everything we have worked to build will fall. We must also remember that are enemies are not just outside the Covenant, but within it."
Regret knew (or guessed) the intention of his fellow Hierarch. Fleetingly he allowed his gaze to pass over the holographic Sangheili. The councilmen, for indeed he was one, had begun making commanding gestures. He presently waved his arms to emphasise a point. Yes, the Prophet of Regret was certain of Truths intentions. But could it be done? Throwing caution to the wind, Regret decided to adopt a less diplomatic stance. At the very least, he would be able to return sooner to his duties.
"Do not waste my time with that which I already know. You may surpass me with the experience of age, but I am still a Hierarch. I know of your desire. When you speak of heresy and betrayal, you speak of him. " As he spoke the word "him", Regret gestured towards the holographic display. In response, Truth said nothing. Instead he began to nod his had meticulously and smile. Though it suggested loyalty and divulgence, Regret knew this smile to be disarming. A cruiser passed overhead and momentarily interrupted light from High Charity's artificial sun. The room was cast into deep shadow; the only light coming from the holographic projection. When the ship moved on and light returned, Truth began to speak.
"You are young and eager, brother. Of course, you are correct in your assumption. Although I must confess to you that a degree of distain would serve you better in future. But in my confidence, I encourage you to speak your mind." Truth paused briefly before he continued. "You are correct, at least partly so. I do not call him a heretic, not yet. But what I do say is that his outspoken opinion puts into question the ideals on which our Covenant was formed. He has gone as far as to question the very office of High Prophet. Neither of us can allow such dangerous words to go unchallenged. He is a threat to everything we have worked to achieve.
'He', as both Prophets were well aware, was Ando 'Samulee. Most knew him simply as the Prophet of Faith. As a gesture of compliance during the last council crisis, Truth had appointed Ando to be the first Sangheili to hold the rank of Prophet. Excluding political motivation, he was appointed for his unwavering military and philosophical conviction to the Covenant. However, the appointment had backfired significantly. With his new position, the Prophet of Faith had begun to encourage free-thought among Sangheili and some of the lower species. He had even proposed that the Unggoy could eventually be allowed to govern themselves. It was not long before his name was spoken with contempt amongst the three High Prophets.
Regret knew the course that Truth wished to take. Though he knew the inevitable outcome, it was his obligation to present an alternative viewpoint. So Regret decided to do so, with little conviction.
"I appreciate that Faith can be outspoken on occasion, but I do not believe that he has yet done anything to compromise our Covenant, at least not with intent to do so."
Truth smiled even more. He was obviously enjoying the role that Regret was playing. "I agree with you, brother," Truth said. "But Faith's latest edict (Truth gestured at the hologram) is a direct challenge to the authority of the Hierarchs. We have long led this Covenant with unity, but his ideals would split our union. If he know challenges us, it is likely that in time he will come to challenge the very gods themselves. For that reason we must take action and be unwavering in our conviction."
The holographic version of Ando 'Samulee bowed its head as the speech concluded. The projection then flickered and vanished. For a moment, Regret was silent. He had just realised his purpose here. It was he who had first recommended that Ando be given the rank of Prophet. Was Truth blaming him for Faith's outspoken nature? As this revelation dawned on Regret, he became increasingly aware of Truth's gaze. Even if he wanted to object, it was obvious that Truth intended to get what he desired.
Ensuring that his voice was laced with the correct undertone of resignation, Regret asked the question; "So brother, what do you propose be done?"
Truth responded almost instantly. "When the ancients discovered the vile parasite, they were forced to kill millions of their own in order to prevent its spread. Demonstrating unwavering conviction and strength, they did what was necessary. I deem that now is the time to emulate the Gods. In order to prevent the spread of heresy, and eliminate threats to the office we hold, it is our duty to eradicate the source of such heresy. Ando Samulee must be killed."
Silence descended on the chamber. Truth walked to a suspended cabinet and poured himself a cocktail of some blue liquid. After drinking it he returned to looking out of the large window. The silence was broken suddenly by a nearby siren, promptly followed by the muffled sound of clattering metal beyond the chambers door. Outside, the second cycle guard were returning to their barracks in the lower wards. A minute later, the new guard assembled in the vaulted hallway. Both Hierarchs were oblivious to this.
After several minutes, and much calculation, Regret spoke. "If we were to agree to such a course as this, how would it be done?" Truth turned away from the window as if only just remembering that he was not alone. Slowly, Truth walked to the table and inserted a capsule into the holographic screen. Presently, the screen displayed the image of a second Sangheili. This one was strongly built, and bore the armour of a Spec-Ops commander. It took several moments for Regret to recall the name of this particular individual. When he did so, he understood everything.
"He," Truth said. "Is the key to everything. It is he who shall kill Faith."
Several hours passed. The light that penetrated through the vaulted hallway slowly dimmed, as artificial night began. Sounds of hurried activity that permeated from the lower wards died down. Eventually, the door to the Sanctum opened and Regret appeared. Without addressing anyone, Regret received his crystal from the doorman and returned to his private chambers. On the way he considered all that Truth had said. If their plan succeeded, then any threat to the office of High Prophet would be eliminated. The Covenant would finally be able to embark upon the Great Journey, with Ando 'Samulee as its martyr. After a few moments, Regret had concluded that the life of Prophet Faith was insignificant, compared to all that would be gained.
"And what if it fails?" Regret found himself asking. "Then Truth and I shall be branded as heretics."
As he entered his heated chamber, Regret shivered. To think that the great Covenant Empire would endure or fall, on the actions of one Sangheili. For all their great aspirations and designs of transcendence, the ultimate fate of the Hierarchs would be determined by one who served them.
"He is the key to everything," Regret muttered to himself.