The Occupation of New Carthage - Chapter 1 - Homecoming
Posted By: RogueDragon1<email@example.com>
Date: 24 April 2014, 7:20 pm
Chapter 1 Homecoming
"The Terrestrial Legionnaire's were a development of the late Covenant military, founded during the most turbulent cycles of the 22nd Age of Doubt.
The Covenant Empire of this era had been immersed in a number of bloody conflicts across the Orion spiral arm for well over a generation. In the spinward regions of the empire the Covenant fleets were locked into a vicious and costly border war with the expansionist Pfhor Homogony, the dreaded raider fleets of the infamous Pfhor pirate states pushing ever closer to the Sangheili core worlds. As war raged across the spinward frontier Jiralhanae insurgents from Doisac to the Talakreche world's had simultaneously plunged the entire anti-spinward corridor into a sector wide rebellion against the ruling High Council.
The backbone of the Covenant Ground Forces during this period were the Interstellar Field Legions. Comprised of a battle hardened core of state funded professional Sangheili warriors and officers, the Field Legion's were augmented during wartime with auxiliary battalions of indentured warriors from the various Covenant client races. Despite their crack training and advanced technology, it is a simple (and brutal) reality of warfare that in a conflict spanning hundreds of systems and thousands of inhabited worlds, no volunteer army no matter how well disciplined or equipped can simultaneously protect every planet from the marauding armies of foreign states whilst combating the depravations of internal dissidents.
The Terrestrial Legion's were initially formed as a strategic reserve to support the Field Legions in times of planetary invasion or rebellion. Raised locally from Sangheili colonists, every able bodied male and female between the ages of 10 32 cycles was expected to serve for a minimum of five annual cycles. (For those human readers interested in the Covenant Ground Forces of this era, an annual cycle on Sangheilios is equal two standard human years on Earth. A ten year period of service for what effectively amounts to conscripted national service may seem unusually long however a Sangheili's standard life cycle is significantly greater than that of a human, with the average Sangheili living to over a hundred and fifty standard human years of age. The period of military service is therefore proportionate when taken into perspective.)
With the tactical flexibility that the Terrestrial Legion's offered, the combined Covenant military was able to regroup its beleaguered fleets and field armies before counterattacking in a series of centrally coordinated offensives. During the final cycles of the 22nd Age of Doubt the Covenant Empire inflicted a number of crushing defeats of the Pfhor fleets whilst the rebel worlds in the anti-spin corridor were gradually blockaded and stormed one by one. The Covenant Empire had weathered a time of great hardship and loss, and had emerged the stronger because of it.
The strategic value of the Terrestrial Legionnaire's was not to be overlooked by the Covenant leadership of future generations. Rather than being disbanded, the reserve legions were integrated into the existing Covenant Ground Forces. In the cycles that followed the Terrestrial Legionnaire's would increase their selection pool to the most far flung and isolated of Covenant colony world's and outposts, whilst the standard term of service would be reduced from five to three standard cycles, with conscripts given the option to defer their service by a minimum of three cycles to allow for prior commitments. Most importantly the Terrestrial Legionnaire's would be deployed off world to serve alongside their contemporary kin in the Field Legions. In the coming cycles the Terrestrials Legionnaire's would serve with distinction in the bloody Phfor & Xenotine rim wars, the latter Jiralhanae rebellions and off course the religiously motivated crusades against the distant and remote human enclaves on the edge of the spiral rim.
As an interesting side note, the Terrestrial Legionnaires were one of the few military units to maintain gender segregation amongst its warriors, with each legionary formation from legionnaire to Field Master (or Mistress) being comprised entirely of either males or females. A contemporary throwback to the ancient Sangheili Space Forces, when a clan's lineage was as deemed as precious a resource as raw materials are to a sovereign state today (and the implications of an unplanned pregnancy legitimate precedent to war), the practice nonetheless created a unique identify amongst the Terrestrial legions.
In retrospect the original intention of the custom was rendered moot by the necessities of war. In the countless deployment zones, troop transports and active pacifications zones, legions were marshalled with little consideration to clan or gender loyalties, warriors mixed and inevitably unplanned compilations developed. Suffice to say pregnancy control implants soon became mandatory for every single female terrestrial legionnaire.
- Exert from "Covenant Ground Forces of the Ages of Conversion Reclamation" by Han' Fulsamee (Umbrella Military Publishing circa 2749)"
Location: Covenant Colonized Sepherian System
Date: 02 / 01 / 2545 (Human Military Calendar)
90 Days prior to events of Prologue
The Covenant fleet breached slip-space on the very edge of the Sepherian system, three dozen lances of arching light piecing the dark void of space. Their rapid insertion trajectories curved them around the expansive debris fields that dotted the outer planets several thousands kilometre's anti-spinward from the system's capital world, Sepheria Luminare.
CCS-class battle cruisers, auxiliary carriers, escort destroyers and twice as many support ships. From their entry point the fleet was shielded by the planets sole gas giant and largest planetary body, a classic attack strategy. Aboard his antique yet still fully function Command Carrier, the Fleet Master split his forces, the sleek tear dropped vessel's skimming Koreshla's atmosphere like the ancient whales of Sangheilios's oceans of times past.
In the inner system, the capital world's automated defences were already coming to bear on the interloper's fleet, as drifting plasma mines and defensive weapon platforms in high orbit activated their targeting systems. Colossal plasma cannons and mounted energy projectors built into the planet's orbital rings and artificial satellites swiftly targeted the approaching vessels as every single warship of the Covenant Armada on patrol in the system broke from their assigned patrol routes to intercept the invaders. Over four hundred and fifty capital ships were pulled back to defend what many considered to be the most vital colony world in the Covenant's expansive empire.
Aboard the interloper's flagship, with a throaty chuckle and more than a few panicked glances from his underling's the Fleet Master conceded the old game to the system's masters. Passing a wiry claw like hand over his personal command pedestal the Sangheili warrior transmitted the encryption codes known to only a handful within the Covenant's ruling hierarchy, moments before honour, regulation and tradition would seen his fleet obliterated. In a fraction of a second the encryption codes were received, authenticated and verified. Sepheria Luminare extensive defences deactivated one by one as the approaching ships were re-classified from unknown contacts to allied ships of the Covenant Armada.
The Fleet Master was an aged specimen. He had served during the Age of Doubt, the pacification wars of the Jiralhanae and the early cycles of the Covenant Empire's crusades against the blasphemous humans. Relegated to a ceremonial role, he did so immensely enjoy keeping the system's commander's on their hooves.
The Sangheili passengers flocked into the expansive observation deck of the cruiser Divine Judgement in their hundreds as the fleet cleared the upper atmosphere of the bloated gas giant, coming into clear view of the shining sphere that was Sepheria Luminare.
Gathered amongst her sister legionnaire's Suka' Nakitee felt a chocking flood of emotions swelling inside of her. Joy, awe and perhaps even a tinge of fear, a sensation felt no doubt by many of her kin. Sepheria Luminare was the birth world of many aboard that observation deck, and none had seen it in over three full cycles.
As the fleet pushed forward into the inner system, Sepheria Luminare solidified into a more recognizable planetoid. Under the crystal white atmosphere Nakitee could pick out vast continents and polar ice caps separated by an interwoven seabed of shimmering aqua oceans. It was every bit the gleaming jewel Nakitee had remembered during the last few cycles she had spent cooped up inside her shielded barracks, or patrolling the swamp infested borderlands between the Jiralhanae hunting tribes of the scattered Talakreche worlds.
A sharp nudge beneath her ribs drew Nakitee's attention back to the observation deck where another Sangheili female of slightly shorter build and structure had emerged from the tight press to stand beside her. Like Nakitee the Sangheili wore simple robes over her black military bodyglove and combat harness. Her skin bore a touch deeper shade then many aboard the ship, not the colour of someone born under Sepheria Luminare's star but that of a warmer world.
"So this is the shining beacon of the Covenant Empire" Falshree mused folding her arms in mock theatrics, "The first colony, gateway to the spinward worlds, mirror to the Holy City
"Your point is taken Zera" Nakitee countered waving her friend to silence, "Now swallow it before someone plasma weld's your mandibles shut."
Zera' Falshree grinned widely at her companions retort, cocking her head as she glanced towards the quickly expanding colony world.
"For all the talk sister" Falshree persisted, "For all the weeping females that first tour amongst the Jiralhanae's equatorial cities, I expected something, more."
"To you perhaps sister" Nakitee replied, "My family is down there. A home I have not seen for over three cycles. I've prayed many nights that I would make it home alive to see this world."
"And whilst you were praying for that" Falshree muttered, pretending to stifle a cough in her throat, "I was preying for something very different, and it was neither family nor home. Though he did have two legs and the most pleas
Nakitee's claw whipped out towards her friends head, Falshree chuckling as she ducked under the blow. It was the same old Falshree she had come to treasure almost as much as a blood kin these last three cycles. The observation deck was filled with Sangheili from her lance and the greater cohort. Every single one of them alive today she knew by name and had come to love them all as her sisters, as well as those who had not returned.
To her immediate right was a slim Sangheili named Zakamee. The unit's medical adjutant was watching the passing orbital traffic, her forearms resting on the observation decks protective rail. The slightly older female was known to be somewhat anxious at the best of times, always fretful about the hatchling she had birthed just before she had shipped out to begin her mandatory term of service.
A few paces away and towering above her sister legionnaire's stood Tasmansee, the lance's heavy weapons specialist. It was well known and frequently contested that she was the physically strongest warrior in the cohort. By her side was a lithe Sangheili named Ahrmonree, one of the lance's four designated sharp shooters and reputably Tasmansee's lover. The maverick female was known to instantly modify any weapons she got her claws on, religious regulations be damned.
Regrettably Elar' Putamee, their lance's commander and a seasoned warrior was laid out in the cruiser's infirmary, apparently suffering from a rare and quite aggressive strain of Talakreche flu. The ship's Healer's had told them that she would be laid low for a full quarter of a cycle, but that she should make a full recovery in time.
Sepheria Luminare was rapidly growing in size before them. Beyond the energy shielded viewing port Nakitee could begin to pick out the individual landmasses from between the oceans. Her home was on the peripheral edge of the globe. Sunrise would be soon and her family would awake if they had not already risen.
Sepheria Luminare was not any mere colony world in the Covenant's vast dominion of space. Being one of the first extra-solar colonies of the pre-covenant Sangheili Empire many millennia ago, it had become a triumphant symbol of her people's mastery of the stars, their first mark in an interstellar civilisation that would endure for millennia. Subsequent generations of space travel had forged the resource rich system into a focal point for every major trade route and supply line that wound their way through the ever expanding Covenant Empire. Today the system saw more inter-system travel then some of the homeworld's.
As the cruiser's approach vector brought them closer and closer to Luminare's orbit, Nakitee could make out the expansive network of spaceports, dry-docks and defence satellites that ringed the entire world in two halo like superstructures, one stretching over the equator and the other over the polar ice caps. Hundreds of Covenant warships from small CPV-class destroyers and corvettes to immense assault carriers were locked into the colossal dry docks built into the rings. Nakitee knew from her father's correspondence that the dry-docks were in continuous use all cycle as task forces arrived from the front lines, rearmed and departed in the ongoing wars against the humans.
"Your father's ship" Falshree asked, "Do you know which one it is?"
"No" Nakitee shook her head, "He took command of a Reverent-class heavy cruiser last cycle. It is one of a new classification, only forty have so far been constructed." She reached out and pointed towards one of the dry docks at the far side of the planet, "That could be it but I can't be sure from this distance."
An alert sounded throughout the ship cutting the two Sangheili off from their conversation. Nakitee recognized it as the warning given when the ship was on its final approach vector. Steadily and without rush the Sangheili began to vacate the observation deck.
Nakitee and Falshree collected their meagre possessions from their hold. Three full cycles of occupation duty on a smattering of backwater Jiralhanae colonies garnered few souvenirs. Saying a customary goodbye to the ship they departed to the cruiser's expansive hanger bays. Already a small but significant number of Sangheili were waiting there, vacuum sealed duffel bags slung over their shoulders. Clearly they were not the only ones who wanted to get off the ship fast.
Kig-yar in heavy radiation suits guided the females to Shadow-class dropship's waiting on the hanger deck to transport them to the surface. Nakitee and Falshree sat together towards the rear of the drop-ship's starboard fin.
"Ah, my favorite part" Falshree said as she strapped herself in.
"Gods" Nakitee muttered, "I hate space travel."
A moment later the drop-ship launched, and Nakitee could swear she felt her stomach trying to force its way up into her throat.
The northern continental spaceport was a bustling hive of activity as ships from every corner of the Covenant Empire docked, offloaded their cargo, refuelled and launched in an endless cycle of sunrise and sunset. Hundreds of thousands of Covenant citizens passed through the city sized space port everyday, and below the crowded upper levels a vast army of Yanme'e and Huragok engineers toiled to keep the miniature city's four plasma reactors running.
Suka' Nakitee's Spirit drop-ship touched down on the southern tip of one of the spaceports eight major landing pads along with four other low atmospheric transports. The females filed off in practiced military efficiency, Unggoy workers guiding them down the ramps that ringed the expansive landing pads.
It was for the first time in over three cycles that Nakitee felt the humid air brush against her skin whilst powerful rays from Sepheria's burning sun singed her brow and gently warmed the back of her neck. Taking a deep breath, Nakitee closed her eyes and allowed the air to fill her lungs. It was not the choking spores of some Forerunner forsaken swamp world or the stuffy recycled air of a starship but the clean familiar air of her birth world.
The female legionnaire's preceded through the arrival halls where they mixed with the vast crowds of new arrivals which were descending through the vast superstructure of the spaceport. Nakitee saw Sangheili merchants and bureaucrats, scribes and warriors on leave. Kig-yar traders were also amongst them and a small number of Jiralhanae could be seen working their way through the winding passages and bays which ran the length of the spaceport, like the arterial arteries of some great leviathan from the ocean.
Just outside of central transport hub Falshree folded her claw like hand around Nakitee's arm and pulled her to one side.
"This is where I must leave you" Falshree said, her dark eyes gleaming in the luminous lighting of the walls.
"Sister, you know you are always welcome in my family's estate" Nakitee replied, "Why not come and stay with us for just a few rotations."
"You know that I can take care of myself Nakitee", Falshree grinned, "We will stay in touch. You have my comm.'s frequency, do you not?"
With a nod of her head Nakitee flicked her wrist, a small holo-unit built into her armguard expanded into a holographic dome above her palm. Nakitee navigated the holo-interface, checking that her friends contact frequency was loaded and saved before dismissing the holo-dome with another flick of her wrist.
The two sister legionnaire's lent into each other, clasping arms beneath their cloaks. Clicking her mandibles Falshree brushed past her friend and made her way towards on of the waiting grav transports.
"Contact me come sunrise" Nakitee called "We will arrange a time and place to meet."
"Better make that two sunrises" Falshree called back as she stepped onto the grav craft, "And bring the strongest flask of caffeine money can buy. My head will need the clarity after the night that I have planned."
Nakitee shook her head, "Just stay safe Falshree" she laughed, "Do not do anything foolish."
"And where would be the fun in that?"
After watching Falshree's own transport glide silently away on a single luminous grav line, Nakitee boarded her own waiting transport. Making her way down the steps that descended the spaceport's upper platforms and transport hubs she was greeted by a latticework of lush expansive gardens that ringed the outskirts of the spaceport's gates. The gardens were thronged with hundreds, perhaps thousands of Sangheili and attendant Unggoy servants. She scanned the sea of faces as she reached the base of the steps. It had been so very long.
She never saw the two younglings until they were almost under her hooves, bursting out from between the adult Sangheili before her. The children bounded into her legs with such force that Nakitee was almost knocked backwards. Biting down a curse at the back of her throat Nakitee reached down clasping each hatchling by the scruff of their necks and none to gently hoisting them from her legs.
"What in the Gods" she breathed, "What are you two
She suddenly stopped, her eyes narrowing as she looked the two younglings over. Three cycles was a long time indeed. The two hatchlings had been much smaller when she had seen them last newly emerged from their eggs, blind and deaf in her parent's birth crèche.
Kneeling down Nakitee hooked a powerful arm under each youngling and lifted them into the air. Her siblings giggled as she embraced them in a crushing bear hug.
"How you two have grown" Nakitee said as she deposited them both back to the ground.
The emergence of two other Sangheili from the pressing crowd drew Nakitee's attention from her siblings. One of them, a towering male was clad in the golden armour of a Ship Master, his imposing height and muscular build ensured the bunched crowd maintained a respectful distance. The second Sangheili was a female, a lither figure then her mate and clad in a simple yet expensively embroiled cloak and hood.
"My daughter" the Ship Master said, reaching towards Nakitee and clasping her in his huge arms, "By the Forerunners look at you! My child has become a full grown Sangheili of beauty and strength."
"Father" Nakitee replied, leaning into the Sangheili's chest, a chest she had not huddled into for over three long cycles. The armour had been silver then, Varo' Nakitee Commander but not the master of the ship he now captained.
Nakitee's mother approached, soothing the chuckling hatchlings with a claw on each of their shoulders. As her father released her from his chest, she turned towards the Sangheili that had hatched her.
"Suka" Essa' Nakitee said as she reached forward and hooked Nakitee's chin in her slender claws, "Oh how you have grown. You were but a child when you left us, and now you return not just an adult but a warrior, confident and disciplined."
Nakitee smiled, her mandibles parting in a gesture of affection. She had not yet communicated to her parents her desire to leave the military, but saw the unsaid understanding in her father's eyes. He had rarely spoken of his campaigns against the humans, but she knew he had seen things, committed acts we would never wish his children to have to witness for themselves.
Her parents led her to a private transport, a civilian model Spectre which was parked in one of the spaceports depots. Her sibling's played a game in the rear most seats concerning who could swipe hardest and who could duck their head out of the way of their brother's oncoming claws the fastest in an alternating pattern of giggles and yelps. The adults talked all the way back to the Nakitee family estate.
Varo' Nakitee met his old friend and colleague at the Temple of Sanctus in the late evening, just as Luminare's bloated sun was settling in the east far behind the great mountain chains. The Vestal Shrine was on the outskirts of the capital city's southern quarter nestled between the sloping marble avenues of the administrative district and the expansive fields of the continental plains.
Commander Taia' Korequee was knelt in silent prayer before the temple's central alter, his claw like hands folded across his chest and his head bowed humbly inside the sanctum's walls.
Varo paused at the edge of the temple, taking a moment to admire the age old structure. It was not among the grandest of temples on Sepheria Luminare's soil. The rich Sangheili colony world was hardly short of majestic and elaborate shrine's as wealthy pilgrims provided a large proportion of the planet's annual income. For those who attended its holy ground's that evening, the temple was a place of quite refuge and sanctuary in an otherwise cruel and chaotic universe.
Korequee breathed in deeply, his conjoined lung expanding under his rib cage as he opened his eyes, his body still.
"How long has it been Nakitee" he asked without turning around "three cycles? And when?"
"Our engagement above their agricultural world" Varo replied with a click of his lower mandibles, "What did the humans call it?" he asked rhetorically, titling his head towards the sky.
"Kholo" Korequee replied in deeply accented Sangheili. Slowly the Special Operation's Commander rose to his full height and stretched his shoulders before clasping his hands behind his back. He had not yet turned from the alter.
"I hope you have not been waiting their long Ship Master."
Varo shook his head in amusement, "It is impolite to disturb the contemplation of another in a place of worship."
"Utter drivel" Korequee retorted throatily, "Prolonged exposure to my rhetoric already drives a good portion of our cadet's to near suicide each cycle. What I am doing here to our Lord's must amount to the greatest sacrilege of all my brother."
Varo stared at Korequee, his mandibles clenching tightly. What his old friend had just said was borderline heresy, but he could not hold it in any longer.
Varo sniggered, clasping a clawed hand over his mouth as he tried to stifle further laughter, tried and failed. Korequee chuckled, his deep throaty chortle wringed throughout the Temple preceding the rumbling laughter of the two warriors which drew sharp glares from the other worshipers there that evening.
They speedily vacated the Temple of Sanctus in due haste, finding a quite tavern which overlooked the sprawling plains on the edge of the city. Varo hailed the attending Unggoy waiter and ordered two thick sacra ale's, tipping the creature two antiquated metal coins. The two Sangheili found seats and a table on the very edge of the street where they caught the most of the sun, the little Unggoy servant returning with their drinks a moment later.
"A fine cruiser" Korequee commented as he picked up his flagon of ale, "the Eternal Luminance."
Varo paused, cocking his head towards the Commander, "My promotion has not yet been made official. How in the Heaven's did you know?"
"I have my sources Nakitee. And while I am not naming any names, your tactical officer becomes quite talkative after a few dozens drinks."
Varo clicked his lower mandibles, "I'll discuss Valkuriee's liberal interpretation of confidentially with him upon my return, but enough of business. I have cause for celebration this sunrise."
"Your daughter" Korequee said, clicking his clawed fingers, "Suka?"
Varo nodded as he took a sip of his ale, "She returned early this morning. I have not left the family estate all day."
"How many cycles is she now, twelve?"
"Your bond mate must be glad she has returned" Korequee said, "If there is certainly one thing the Jiralhanae are worse at then being allies, it's subjects."
"I think I preferred them as enemies" Varo replied, "The Jiralhanae are now free to carry weapons in their own cities, and ever since the amalgamation our soldiers cannot fire without provocation, true provocation I mean."
"You mean an obstinate glare is no longer justification for a beating" Korequee asked rhetorically, "May just happen that the hairy primate is related to the local tribal Chieftain."
"Their leaders plead to the High Council of their insecurity" Varo hissed, "They beg us to support their claims then tie the hands of our warriors before they have even set hooves upon the Jiralhanae's infernal worlds. It put's our young at risk."
Shrugging his shoulders Korequee drained the last of his flagon in one long mouthful before rising to his hooves and stretching his neck, "Has your daughter decided what to do now she has returned to your estate?"
"Her mandatory term of service is now complete" Varo replied, returning his now empty flagon to the table, "She was never keen on pursuing a military career past her compulsory service. Before she left for the Talakreche world's the Ministry of Fortitude had already offered her a position within the Central Archives and Account's."
"A respectable position" Korequee agreed, "Close to the capital and well paid." He scratched at his lower mandibles, staring at the far mountain ranges to the west, "I still remember our own service, the Y'Deio system."
"Blasted Kig-yar and their infernal satellite colonies" Varo hissed as he rose from his seat, "Couldn't have colonized actual planets like a normal race."
"Then straight after our mandatory service was complete, we were thrust into those bloody skirmishes with the Pfhor in the Qual'tek systems" Korequee continued, turning towards Varo and folding his arms, "phony war my hind. We lost almost a hundred ships. The Fleet of Valiant Prudence was mauled to the bone, whilst the Pfhor had landed almost twenty legions planetside before we cut them off from their supply lines."
Varo shook his head at the thought, "I remember. God's if the Seeker of Truth hadn't made that last assault run against their battleships, their storm troops could have overrun us. They nearly did as it was. It did seem the Hierarchs and the High Council were out to kill us that cycle."
"And now we find ourselves immersed in yet another war" Korequee said as he leant back against the taverns outer wall, "Be thankful your daughter's service is finally at an end."
"The Humans" Varo snorted with a derisive shake of his head, "You cannot compare our campaign's against the infidel's to the slaughter and raiding our people suffered at the hands of the Pfhor. The humans cannot threaten our worlds and we continue sweep aside their defenses cycle after cycle, scattering their fleets wherever they mass. They cannot stand before us."
"In space your argument holds true" Korequee conceded, "yet it is a different story entirely planet side. Our clashes with the Pfhor, even our wars against Jiralhanae insurrectionists had rules and boundaries, dictated by our simple desire for conquest. Our crusade against the humans allows for no such rules, our only objective is their complete extermination, and they know this. Eradication impels an enemy to fight harder then any other and can make the most inferior of races dangerous beyond all measure."
"Our crusade with there kind is nearly ended" Varo pressed, "Every Ship Master anti-spinward of Sangheilios knows this. We press closer and closer to their home systems with each passing cycle, confining them to ever tightening pocket. Soon we will be able to draw the bulk of their ships into a single decisive engagement and eradicate their fleet once and for all."
"I would not be so eager to engage them in a mainline battle" Korequee countered waiving a clawed forefinger in front of his friend, "even with their crude weaponry and propulsion technologies, they have shown a tenacity that verges on suicidal genius at times. They inflicted crippling losses on our forces at Minoris and Miridem even if we were able to glass their worlds, and their Fleet Commander's entrapment of our ships at Psi Serpentis was nothing short of sheer tactical brilliance."
"Fleet Master Zakukree was beyond incompetent" Varo growled, "I understand that his two daughters have been forbidden from breeding and had he survived his defeat the High Council would have strung him up by his entrails. It matters little, the humans infernal Admiral, this Cole perished in the battle. Wattinree will ensure Psi Serpentis isn't repeated."
"He would be best not to" Korequee said, "We can ill afford the loss of so many trained warriors again. It is exactly this kind of kind of incident that would make your daughters military record so appetising to the Ministry of Resources."
"Conscription?" Varo paused before shaking his head, "They wouldn't dare. Her generation have served their three cycles in armour, and they would have to come through me first. Let them draw their resources from the next pool of draftees, we are hardly short of young warriors."
Korequee glanced back towards the distant mountains, letting the evening sun gently bake the skin on his face, "How long are you back for?"
"I'm not sure. Half the fleet of Particular Justice is docked in high orbit along with the vessels of Vigilance, Prudence and a dozen others. I'm on leave until further notice."
"Interesting" Korequee mused, massaging his lower mandibles with a knuckle, "Over forty Special Operation Brigades have been recalled so far, thousands of warriors are returning daily. The Academy is literally awash with returned warriors cooling their hooves. I've already heard every brewery from here to the southern polar caps has been emptied. Not even the merchants new so many were returning."
"Then you believe the High Council is preparing for a major offensive?"
Korequee didn't respond right away, pondering his friends words, "Or at least a significant redeployment of our available assets to pre-empt a multiple system advance. But the rearming of our fleet alone will keep us busy until the end of the cycle and I would wager the humans still have a sizable fleet between us and their homeworld, wherever in this spiral arm that may be."
"We can wait" Varo decided, "After all. Time is our ally and our enemy's adversary. Even if it takes another ten cycles we will see the beginning of the Great Journey within our lifetimes, within my children's lifetimes."
Korequee turned back towards him, his mandibles clenching tightly and his eyes sober. All at once Varo knew the memory he had disturbed, the one his friend had tried so hard to suppress.
"I still remember that day in the hatchery" Korequee said, "Orsi delivering the hatchling, passing her to Essa
Korequee faltered, his claws curling around the empty flagon in his hand.
"She loved you Taia" Varo said, clasping his hand over Korequee shoulder guard, "With all her heart. Had it not been for your partner, my own child, possibly even Essa may not be here now. I owe your family a debt that I can never repay."
"Her passing was the hardest cycle of my life" Korequee said, "But it was also the same day that your daughter was born Nakitee. Orsi loved your family. She'd have wanted this day to be one of happiness, for both of us."
The Sangheili Special Operation's Group possessed a bond stronger then blood.
They were the best of all arms of the combined Covenant military. They were experienced, they were battle hardened and they drilled until they psychically bled. As a result their pay was high, their unit's small and their deployments long.
Seldom did a cohort much less an entire brigade receive indefinite leave on colony world as affluent and prosperous as Sepheria Luminare. In was a time honoured tradition that when the Forerunners graced the warriors of the vaunted Special Operation's Group with such a bounty, they would drink their host city dry, or be rushed the nearest field hospital trying.
Juha' Relusee estimated he was about half way there. Then he recalled he was extremely drunk, and really shouldn't be listening to himself.
His immediate fourunit milled around the table in various states of consciousness. Across the table Zel' Tasolmee, a thickly set bullish warrior grappled with a returning terrestrial legionnaire by the name of Zera' Falshree. The two were teetering on the edge of the same chair and had not parted mandibles for the past few units. Relusee knew Tasolmee was not perfect in abiding by the Covenant's traditionally stringent ethics on mating, but in all likelihood the female had gone longer without seeing a male of her own species then vise versa.
Beside him Kalu' Texlusee, a female of patrician beauty and the reflexes of a blood wolf sat poised with her back to the wall and her eyes closed. Despite the aristocratic Sangheili's cold exterior and unsettling demeanour, the entire unit knew the female could place a carbine round between the eyes of a swamp rodent from a thousand meters, even when her head was clouded by the haze of a dozen shots of spirited alcohol.
Relusee glanced back towards the open bar, searching for the newest member of their fourunit. The club was full to bursting point with the heave of towering Sangheili warriors on leave drinking and laughing, and even a handful Jiralhanae milled in small groups. A smattering of panicked Unggoy servants scrambled between the mass of warriors trying desperately to deliver their trays of drinks and avoid the heavy hooves of the drunken Sangheili. Relusee found Varu' Kilshree not far from their table, in a heated argument with a pillar.
Relusee shook his head, looking again. He had not been mistaken. The headstrong male was standing, flagon in hand screaming bloody obscenities at a plassteel support pillar, another Sangheili beside him agreeing with every insult he hurtled.
The tavern was not particularly special. Adequate liquor, if not overpriced. Expedient service, if not always accurate yet with hundreds of thousands of warriors returning to Sepheria Luminare, such drinking holes were in short supply. Outside the street teemed with dozens more Sangheili and more then a few Jiralhanae. A large number of bouncers, thickly set former military Sangheili clad in heavy grey armour and wielding shock mauls patrolled the street breaking up clashes between crowds of rowdy off-duty soldiers.
A sequenced chime drew Relusee's attention down to the holo-unit built into his wrist gauntlet. With a flick of his claw like hand a blue hollow bubble expanded across his grey palm. With a groan he recognized the order that had been transmitted to him, a primary level report order. He had only received such an order once, shortly after the disastrous battle of Psi Serpentis and with new clarity he realized what it meant. Return to your marshal point with immediate effect no matter your rank, location or condition. Failure to report will result in the severest of punishments.
Looking up, Relusee realized he was not the only one to have received the message. Tasolmee, Texlusee, Kilshree and even Falshree were each looking at their own wrist mounted holographic interfaces, their faces suddenly sober. Not just them, Relusee realized. The tavern had fallen silent, every Sangheili looking into the blue holographic bubble across their hand. Outside dozens of glowing blue globes illuminated the night.
Word spread like wildfire across the capital. The returning Covenant legions were marching to war.
Suka' Nakitee awoke sometime deep into the night, an icy knot she had not felt since she was among the Talakreche worlds twisting painfully at her insides.
She fumbled in the darkness as her eyes adjusted to the Sepherian midnight, a searing pain spreading across her temples. Discarding the soft quilted covers Nakitee swung her legs over the edge of the bed, kneeled forward and massaged her brow. Her claws came away coated in sweat.
Something was terribly wrong. She could feel it all the way down to her bones.
Nakitee gave herself a precious few moments to compose herself, taking slow deep breaths to circulate her blood flow to every corner of her body. Gradually her head stopped spinning and the pain receded, her vision returning. Rising from her bed she strolled across her room, dispatching the holo-blind with a gentle wave of her hand. Luminare's sole moon glistened like a golden sphere high above the mainland, its gentle amber glow illuminating the capital city in place of its daily counterpart. From her family's estate Nakitee could make out the Leymor lake at the edge of the city's boundaries, the water rippling in the calm night breeze.
Standing by the window, the moon's ochre hue illuminating her skin brought another realization to the returned warrior, she was stark naked.
On the Talakreche world's she had always slept in her bodyglove, if not in her full armour during the weeks the locals were feeling that extra tad bit tenacious. Had she really been that tired the night before?
She had not felt that safe in cycles.
Wrapping herself in a simple gown of silk Nakitee made her way towards the landing, gently easing her doorway open. The corridors were shrouded in darkness that night, the automated holo-blinds allowing only the slimmest rays of moonlight to penetrate the gloom that enveloped the Nakitee household.
Suka checked on her younger siblings first, feeling with her hand for the door in the darkness. The two younglings were sound asleep, curled beneath their blankets in their joined room. An aged Unggoy housemaid was coiled on the chair in the far corner of the room, slumbering in the servant races classic sleeping position.
Ensuring the door was closed tightly behind her Nakitee made her way downstairs, descending the winding staircase that twisted its way up the spine of the old manor house. She could hear a lower murmur coming from the ground floor, the deep clipped voices of two adult Sangheili. She paused on the lower landing which overlooked the kitchen, straining to make out the words.
"Why was it not glassed!" she heard her mother scream.
She could hear her father, his voice hushed as he tried to keep their argument confined to the lower floor. Whatever it was he said, it seemed to do little to calm Nakitee's mother down.
"She's served her three cycles. The council could never enforce this order!"
Nakitee descended the final flight of steps, straining to hear what her father was saying. Something about mineral deposits, 'strategic point' she heard Varo mention.
Her mother hissed, bringing her voice down as she tried to exercise some control lest she wake the entire household. She said something about 'Unggoy workers', 'indentured labour.'
Walking across the hallway Nakitee pressed her palm to the activation crystal, the arched doorway beside her sliding silently open and illuminating the lower hallway with the kitchens artificial lighting.
"Humans should be
" her mothers words evaporated in her throat as her daughter entered the room, both parents twisting to face their first born child.
"Suka" her father said, "You're awake."
"What has happened?" she asked.
Her father parted his mandibles to speak but paused, unable to summon the words. Nakitee turned towards her mother, the family matriarch averting her eyes from her daughter, her grey claws curling around a freshly replicated parchment of transcript.
"What are you holding?"
"It's nothing" Essa lied.
"You must show her Essa" Varo said.
"Essa!" Varo barked.
With a vehement hiss Essa slapped the parchment down on the kitchen table, scowling at Varo as she did so, her eyes screaming bloody murder.
Nakitee reached forward and took the parchment from the table, the scroll emitting a soft crackle of energy as her claws creased the thin plasma field which enveloped the holo-glyph's. She scanned the document, taking note of the official emblem of the Ministry of Resource. Much of the text was regular regurgitated bureaucracy. A small part detailed the strategic necessity of access to raw materials in relation to internal security, the Covenant's various obligations to the defence of its members and allies, the untrustworthiness of their neighbouring states, and off course the ongoing crusade against the human infidels. Nakitee quickly found the origin of her parent's distress, her mandibles parting as she read the words.
First Daughter of House Nakitee
By order of the Ministry of Resource, you have been hereby selected for your previous combat experience by the Fleet of Furious Redemption.
Nakitee scanned through the rest of the document, the words burning against the inside of her skull.
Interplanetary Security Force
Occupation and Administrative Zone's
Deployment imminent. Coordinates for embarkation will follow; immediate haste must be made to such provided coordinates, no exceptions. Any violation of these orders will be punishable by death.
By order of the Prophet of Penance.
Nakitee read through the parchment a second time, and then a third time just to be certain that her eyes were not deceiving her. All was once again quite in the Sangheili household, for one brief moment.
"It's unprecedented" Essa breathed. Suka could see blood dripping from her curled fists where her mother sharp claws her were digging into her palms.
She was truly enraged.
"You don't have to go Suka."
"Essa" her father cautioned.
"She doesn't" the Sangheili woman almost screamed, "We have money and influence. What good is such wealth if you cannot use it. Whatever they want we will give it!"
Nakitee looked towards her father. He blanched, what they were discussing was illegal, the repercussions severe.
"It could be done" he replied solemnly "We have friends within the High Command, but if we are to do this I must act now."
Nakitee paused, considering the question for just one moment. That was all it took to make up her mind, "No!"
"Suka!" her mother hissed.
"My life is no more precious then any others" she replied firmly, "and I will not bring shame to your name by using its association to shirk my duty whilst others risk their lives."
"You have served your time child" Essa pleaded, "You have done no less than the empire asked of myself and your father in our youth."
"There will be others Suka" Varo said, "Without shame they will use their family's power and influence to avoid this order."
"That is their misdeed father" Nakitee replied "and it would not alleviate my own were I to follow suit. For every son or daughter to evade this order there will be many more who cannot or will not. I will not discuss this notion any further."
Her father paused, exhaling deeply, something that may well have passed for admiration crossing his face. Her mother looked like she was going to continue the argument but Suka stalled her by raising her spread hand.
"The subsequent deployment orders could come through at any moment. I must get ready to leave, possibly at first light."
She turned on her heel, walking towards the kitchen door.
"Where are you going?" her mother asked.
"To say goodbye to my brothers. I don't know when I may see them again."