Chapter One: Fated

23rd Age of Doubt, 58th Cycle
Sanghelios, Urs Prime System

Uros 'Oenairemee allowed himself a faint grin when the city of Rhei came into view. To be technical, he did not actually see the city itself—only the aura of Rhei's millions of glowing lights, as it was well past midnight.

Rhei was the capital of Ovarum; an island-state of respectable size, several kilometers off the northwest coast of the Yermo landmass. Many of Ovarum's commoners—the ones who did not join the Covenant military, for whatever reason—were fishermen by trade, or some other craft related to the sea, due to the island-state's maritime location.

As Uros noted when Rhei finally came completely into view, Sangheili cities were a strange mix of old and new. Buildings that looked like they belonged in the Feudal Era of ages past housed modern technology and accommodations. Hovercars sped down the cobblestone streets alongside nex-drawn carriages. Plasma torch-lanterns illuminated the main roads while the smaller streets were lit by lamps and candles, as well as shop lights.

Uros preferred the countryside to the city. As an Elder of the State of Oenairem, he resided in Oenairem Keep—the seat of power in his state—but he would much rather have lived in a private estate in the hills, insulated from the bustle of city life. Unfortunately, the Oenairem Kaidon considered Uros to be one of his best advisors, and so he requested that the Elder live in the keep.

While it had been nothing more than a request, Uros was not the sort to refuse. His personal preference was not a priority.

The engines of Uros's landspeeder blazed a brighter whitish-blue as the Elder floored the accelerator as far as it could go. Within the hour, he was off the highway and speeding down the main boulevard that ran straight through to the heart of Rhei, where Ovarum Keep was located.

The Keep itself was situated on top of a high knoll that overlooked the rest of the city. The Keep was almost its own village within a city—had the rest of the city been taken away, the Keep would still have been able to sustain itself with no real trouble. The same was true for most—if not all Keeps throughout the myriad States of the homeworld and the colonies.

Uros 'Oenairemee was in Rhei because he had been invited by Niro 'Ovarumee, his old friend and fellow veteran of the most recent crusade against the Heretics. It had been that campaign that had broken the back of the Heretics' forces and reduced them to splintered groups that had to resort to the dishonorable practices of guerilla warfare.

Niro was also the newly-elected Kaidon of Ovarum, after the previous Kaidon died of old age.

It took only a short while for Uros to make his way through the capital city—after all, the main boulevard was virtually empty at this time of night. In the early morning, a good amount of the city populace would wake and head out onto the straits while the rest of the city roused itself.

When Uros reached one of the Keep's gates, he checked in with a pair of State Guardsmen and gained entry to the compound. The Oenairem Elder slowed down and parked his landspeeder in the Keep's communal vehicle bay. He dismounted and removed his wind goggles, leaving them in the driver's seat. The Elder then locked the vehicle's controls and took his leave, stepping out of the bay's open front and into the Keep compound.

The Keep itself wasn't a single building, as its name would suggest—it was more of a small district than anything else. The homes of the Elders, the home of the Kaidon, and the Assembly building all collectively formed the 'Keep' of Ovarum State. Back in the old days, the Keep would have been a castle or a citadel in a walled city, but the need for castles had declined millenia ago with the rise of industry.

Uros looked to the east as he stepped out into the crisp, pre-dawn morning. The suns were starting to rise—already, he could see the bluish-pink glow of Urs, the largest of the three suns, creeping over the horizon, brightening the night. It had actually been that sun after which Uros had been named.

There were many homes in the Keep. The Ovarum Elders lived in the larger estates, while those who shared their lineage lived in the smaller homes. Not all of the Elders lived in the Keep—many of them had estates in the smaller cities or the countryside—but all of them were present today. After all, their new Kaidon was going to be officially inducted into office at noon. Such an event required all of the Elders to be present.

The Oenairem Elder was honored that the new Ovarum Kaidon had invited him to attend his Induction. Uros knew that his old friend would appreciate his presence—after everything they had both been through during the most recent conflict with the Heretics, they'd developed a close friendship. But Uros knew of another probable reason why his old friend would request his presence.

Kaidons were elected by the Elders of their state. However, there were usually Elders who dissented with who they elected as the new Kaidon. And in many cases, a dissenting Elder would send assassins to try and kill the newly-elected clan leader. It wasn't against the law, either; Elders had the right to attempt to assassinate a newly-elected Kaidon. The philosophy was that a leader who wasn't able to defend himself was unworthy of leading his clan. Therefore, if a Kaidon was killed in the assassination attempt, no action would be taken against the instigating Elder.

However, the axe bit both ways. Should the assassination attempt fail, the offending Elder was normally executed, along with his family. Although, sometimes the Kaidon would simply banish an offending Elder's family, rather than have them killed, depending on many factors, including the Kaidon's mood.

Such practices were not uncommon—Kaidons had been tested in this way since the Feudal Era, when Sanghelios had been ruled by warlords.

Niro 'Ovarumee was a newly-elected Kaidon, and Uros knew that not all of the Elders had supported his friend's ascension. The Oenairem Elder knew that there would likely be an attempt on his Niro's life.

Uros made his way up the hill, exchanging nods with the handful of other people he passed by along the way. The new Kaidon's home was similar to Uros's own—smaller than most of the other Elders' homes, and made of brick and wood, rather than stone and alloy. Smoke puffed from one of its chimneys, and the smell of breakfast wafted out from the open windows.

The Oenairem Elder's stomach rumbled as he caught a whiff of what he guessed were flatcakes and grahla bacon. He had been traveling since yesterday evening and was quite happy that he seemed to have arrived in time for a morning meal.

Uros walked up to the home's door and rapped on it three times. There was a slight scuffle inside as someone dropped what they were doing and hurried to the door. Uros backed up when he heard the snick of the door's bolt being slid out of its locked position.

The door opened, and Uros found himself staring down the glowing green barrel of a plasma pistol. The wielder of the pistol was a short, lean woman dressed in a simple blue robe. Her yellowish-green eyes were tinged a bloodshot purple with weariness—she obviously hadn't gotten much sleep lately. And with good reason.

"Is this how you welcome old friends into your household, Surra?" Uros raised his brow calluses, waiting patiently for the woman to realize who he was.

The woman faltered when she saw who she was pointing the weapon at, and her mandibles relaxed slightly in relief. "Our home is your home," she bowed her head slightly and stepped back, lowering the plasma pistol and allowing her visitor into the house. "You are early, Uros," she sighed as she headed back towards the kitchen. "My husband told me to expect you after sunrise.'

"From the smell of your cooking, I would say that I was right on time," Uros countered, drawing his mandibles back in a grin.

Surra's cheeks flushed mauve. "You flatter me," she chuckled. "Accept my apologies for the less-than-warm welcome… I feared you were someone else."

"Your apprehension was appropriate, but unnecessary," Uros replied. "If the assassins come, I doubt they will knock."

"The ears suggest the arrival of an old friend!" a low, gravelly voice called out from the upper floor of the house, accompanied by footsteps on the staircase. A tall, burly, light brown-skinned man stepped into the kitchen, tying his robe around himself. His mandibles drew back in a grin as he saw Uros, a friendly gleam coming to his orange eyes. "And the eyes reveal a witless bum, come to steal my wife's cooking."

"Niro, my old friend," Uros embraced his friend and clasped his hand in a handshake. "On the count of me being a witless bum, I fear you are mistaken. On the other count, however, I confess you speak the truth; I haven't had a meal for nearly a day."

"Well, let it never be said that a man went hungry in my household," Surra returned to the stove and finished making the breakfast that had been left incomplete from Uros's interruption. "Take a seat."

The two men sat at the table while Surra served both of them the flatcakes and grahla bacon she had been preparing. She then served herself and sat down next to her husband.

Uros drenched his flatcakes in white syrup and wolfed them down. He would layer the grahla bacon on top of the flatcakes and eat them both at the same time. When he was finished, he licked his mandibles clean and washed everything down with some skyfruit juice.

The Oenairem Elder patted his belly and gave a quiet belch. Burping was encouraged in most parts of Yermo, as a gesture of gratitude for a good meal. "A breakfast fit for the Gods," he declared, rising from his seat and leaving his wooden plate and cup in the sink. "I pray I shall be able to taste one of your dinners before I return home."

"I see no reason why your prayers should go unanswered," Surra chuckled. "I think my dear husband could learn a thing or two from you; he never quite manages to match your level of flattery."

Niro cleared his throat loudly, getting up from the table as well. "Let us walk," he said to his old friend, turning to his wife as he stood up and telling her, "We'll take our leave."

"Please keep safe," Surra called after the two men.

Niro followed Uros out the door and closed it behind him. They walked across the back yard and into the thick woods that covered most of the western side of the Keep knoll. At this part of the Keep, everything was much quieter and more peaceful. The loudest noises were the chirruping of wildlife.

"Sometimes I wish the Elders would just make their move, already," Niro sighed, speaking only when the two men were deep in the woods, insulated by the trees. "Most of them support my ascension, but I know of a couple who might be motivated to take action against it… Kavil, Hren, N'thai… It has been driving Surra out of her mind with worry. She does her best to conceal it from me, but I know her too well."

"I would caution you to be careful what you wish for," Uros warned his friend. "Fate is not a thing to be tempted."

Niro 'Ovarumee snorted. "Bah, you are probably right. As usual. But enough about me and my plagues… How have you been faring, old friend?"

"Better," Uros admitted. "I have remained unpoisoned by alcohol for a full cycle, now…but her absence is still no less painful."

Uros's own wife had died three cycles ago of a rare genetic disease that the Prophets had yet to find a cure for. The Oenairem Elder had spent a cycle in a bottle of thax, and then another cycle recovering from his drunkenness after it nearly killed him. Though Uros had managed to at least mostly let her go and move on, not a day went by that he did not feel her absence. Her death was another reason why Uros did not enjoy living in his empty Elder's estate in Oenairem Keep.

"I need something different," Uros sighed. "I need the routine to be broken… I do not know how many more nights I will be able to spend alone in my house. Perhaps I need another war."

"Now it is you who should be careful what you wish for."

"That was idle speculation; not a true desire," Uros countered. He took a deep breath and regained his composure, clicking his mandibles once. "We should focus on your Induction. Noon will arrive on swift wings…"

Ten men—members of the Ovarum State Guard—stood on either side of the aisle running through the center of the Assembly chamber—five on each side. Each one of them held a long metal rod that crackled with electricity at the very tip. They stood so still they could easily have been mistaken as statues.

The Ovarum Elders occupied the stands on the ground level, surrounding the circular speaker's platform in the centre of the chamber. The upper tier was filled with spectators—families of the Elders and commoners, for the most part.

Standing on the speaker's platform was a wizened old man—his skin gray and his back stooped with age—dressed in robes of silver and white. He was Neran 'Ihranro, an Oracle Master, and he would be overseeing the Induction.

"May the man who is to become the new Kaidon of Ovarum State show himself," the Oracle Master spoke the moment it was noon. A hush fell over the Assembly chamber.

Uros was sitting in the upper tier on the opposite side of the chamber of the entrance, so he was able to see his old friend walk into the chamber. Niro 'Ovarumee was clad only in a loincloth, revealing his sinewy muscles and battle scars. He strode into the chamber with his head held high, and answered the Oracle Master's summons.

"Name yourself," the Oracle Master ordered.

"I am Niro 'Ovarumee, son of Nhalek 'Tahamai, Zealot of the Covenant Navy, Servant of the Prophets," Niro replied.

"Recite your oath and prove your fortitude."

The oath itself was not all that special, as oaths of office went. It was the procedure that accompanied it that made it stand out.

Niro walked forward, stepping between the first pair of State Guardsmen. "I offer my life to my clan. I offer my blood to my people. I offer my service to my State."

With that, the first two State Guardsmen—one on either side—hefted their electrified metal rods and jabbed them into Niro's back. The tips of the rods glowed bright and crackled loudly, and a faint smell of burning permeated throughout the chamber. Niro faltered and most of his muscles clenched up, but he kept his face expressionless.

The first two Guardsmen then withdrew their rods, allowing Niro to stumble forward.

The light brown-skinned man continued forward until he came to a stop between the second pair of State Guardsmen. He continued to recite his oath. "With my strength, I pledge service to my clan. With my mind, I would see my clan to victory. With my hands, I would see my enemies destroyed."

The second pair of Guardsmen pressed their spear-rods onto Niro's back even harder than their predecessors. Niro's mandibles twitched at the pain, but he still managed to remain firmly in control of himself, despite the pain. After a few seconds, the second pair of Guardsmen retracted their spears.

Niro's steps grew more shaky, but still he forged ahead until he reached the next two Guardsmen, halfway down the aisle. "With my blood, I pledge service to my clan. My blood exists to be spilled alongside that of my brothers. May I never return home without leaving my mark on a battlefield."

The third pair of Guardsmen struck Niro with their electrified spears. The crackling was louder this time—the intensity was probably higher. Niro lost his balance for a moment, thrown off by the waves of pain tearing through his body, but he held himself together through sheer force of will. By the time the third pair of Guardsmen relented, sweat was pouring down his back, and he was beginning to pant.

Niro 'Ovarumee slowly made his way up to the penultimate pair of Guardsmen, moistening his mandibles before continuing his oath. "With my honor, I pledge service to my clan. It shall ward me from trickery and deceit. It shall grace my friends and foes alike. Those who show honor shall receive honor. My honor is my foundation; without it, I would be a shell, worthy of neither trust nor respect. With my honor, I would uphold my clan's dignity. I would uphold our right to existence."

The fourth pair of Guardsmen thrust their spears forward, striking Niro once more. This time, Niro was driven to his knees, and he grunted at the even higher intensity of the pain compared to the previous jolt.

Surra was sitting right next to Uros. The Oenairem Elder could sense her tensing up. He offered her his hand, which she clasped in a grip of steel.

Niro rose shakily to his feet. He took a single step and nearly collapsed, but he was able to keep his balance after a few seconds of concentration. He slid one foot in front of the other, forcing his way forward. Muscle spasms were visible all over his body, and his mandibles were clicking together uncontrollably.

After what felt like an eternity of trying to walk with phantom dropships tied to his legs, Niro found himself between the final pair of Guardsmen. They continued to stand stone-still at attention, ready to fulfill their part in the Induction.

"I…I surrender my name to…to my clan," Niro spoke in breathy pants, now, fighting against the urge to crumple to the floor and close his eyes for a long time. "May I lead my people…wisely…and have my name be venerated. If I should rule without honor, however…may…may my name become a curse, a symbol of weakness."

The final pair of Guardsmen struck Niro, driving him back to his knees. They kept him in pain far longer than any of their predecessors. And once they were finished, they quickly hefted their spears and jabbed them down a second time.

Niro's mandibles were splayed out wide as he gave a raw-throated, defiant roar, drowning out the sharp crackling of the electrified spears doing their grim work.

By the time the fifth pair of guards had finished, another State Guardsman had stepped onto the speaker's platform, bearing an ancient sword. The sword's twin curved blades were covered in bloodstains—some were so old that they looked like rust, and others were…a little more recent. Niro would soon make the most recent addition.

The sword had once belonged to the Founder of Ovarum State, and it bore the blood of every Kaidon that had ruled in the State its previous master had created. The Oracle Master took the blade and turned back to Niro, who was on his hands and knees. He grasped the sword and pointed it down at Niro. "Add your essence to that of your ancestors. Offer your blood to their blade and join their legacy."

Niro looked up, quivering with exhaustion, and pushed himself up onto his knees. He grasped the blades of the ancient sword with both hands, gripping the sharp metal tightly. He then drew his hands down the length of the blade, leaving his own blood smeared on the edges of the stained metal. The last two Guardsmen produced bandages and proceeded to bind the resulting lacerations on Niro's palms.

The Oracle Master smiled. "Now be clothed, and rise as Niro 'Ovarumee, Kaidon."

Two more State Guardsmen appeared behind Niro and waited for him to struggle to his feet. When he did, they clothed him in yellow and orange robes, and draped a sun-shaped pendant emblazoned with the Ovarum crest around his neck.

Niro then stepped onto the speaker's platform as the new Kaidon. Cheering swept through the Assembly chamber as the spectators looked upon their new leader. The Elders celebrated, too, but they simply stood and clapped. It would not be dignifying for them to cheer like commoners.

Uros did not do much more than clap, himself. He was cheering in his mind, and that was enough. Following tradition, the Kaidon would be allowed a night's rest, and the great feast celebrating his ascension would happen the following evening. After spending half a unit or so in the Assembly chamber getting congratulated by the Elders and the commoners who had attended, Niro took his leave.

Surra had bid her husband good night a short while ago and retired to their room for sleep. She would congratulate Niro properly on the morrow, when he was not about to drop dead from exhaustion.

Despite his exhaustion, however, Niro sat in one of the chairs on his home's porch, inviting Uros to do likewise. Both men took pipes out from the folds of their robes. Neither of them smoked very often, usually saving their pipeweed for special occasions—both of them obviously considered this to be a somewhat special occasion.

Uros clamped his pipe in between his left mandibles. "This was not the first Induction I have attended…but I must say, I have never quite grown accustomed to watching them."

"In the old days, they used to use heated iron spears," Niro chuckled, exhaling a cross-shaped breath of smoke. "Though the pain that a heated iron spear would have delivered is nothing in the face of what those shock-sticks dealt me. Though I suppose I am grateful that I will not have burns on my back for the rest of my days."

Uros took another puff from his pipe, releasing the smoke back into the air when he breathed out. The Prophets were the only other members of the Covenant who smoked, but they were fond of their fancy, flavored tobacco hookahs. Sangheili smoked much less often than their scientific and religious counterparts, and they preferred to use their own pipeweed.

"Though I may never grow accustomed to induction ceremonies, I confess I have grown rather fond of the feasts that follow them," the Oenairem Elder hummed. "With your wife's help, I suspect the feast tomorrow night will go down in history."

"Will you stay for it?"

Uros's chest rumbled with laughter. "Will I stay for the feast? The fact that you had to ask me is nearly offensive!"

Niro gave a soft chuckle as well. "Forgive me, old friend. In hindsight, I believe-"

The new Kaidon was suddenly interrupted by the sound of breaking glass and a thudding noise coming from upstairs. Niro froze, immediately falling silent. Uros stiffened as well—he had heard the sounds, too. Then Niro remembered that his wife was sleeping upstairs, and the thought sent a wave of adrenaline roaring through his body.

Uros followed his friend as the new Kaidon hurried into his house and up the stairs. When Niro kicked open the door, the new Kaidon had only a moment to take in the sight of his wife bleeding out on the floor before the blades of an energy sword came slicing towards his face.

Niro ducked the swipe. He rolled forward and swept the attacker's legs out from under him. The assassin fell to the ground with a grunt of pain. Niro was immediately on top of the attacker, pounding his wrist into the floor until he was forced to drop his energy sword.

The new Kaidon snatched the blade up before its failsafe could activate and plunged it into the assassin's chest. The attacker struggled at first, horrible gurgling noises coming from his mouth, but he finally lay still.

Unfortunately, the assassin hadn't been alone. There had been three of them total. While Niro killed the one by the door, the one wielding the dagger that had been used to stab Surra made for the broken window through which the assassins had gained entry to the room.

Uros leaped forward and grabbed the fleeing assassin by the ankle, tripping him up and causing him to crash to the floor. The man flipped around and struck at the Oenairem Elder. He actually managed to score a small hit—Uros had twisted away from the dagger thrust, but he hadn't been fast enough to avoid getting sliced.

By then, Niro had gotten back to his feet. He saw his friend wrestling with the second assassin, and he quickly stepped over and sank the energy sword into the would-be killer's back. The man howled as the superheated plasma burned through his skin and organs, falling limp to the floor next to his deceased comrade.

The third assassin wielded an energy sword as well, and he let out a raw-throated yell and charged Niro. Uros moved to help, but Niro shoved him back. "His life is mine!" the Kaidon snarled.

The two opponents—Kaidon and Assassin—dueled each other for nearly a full minute. The third assassin was a much better fighter than his comrades, but even he was unable to defeat Niro in a swordfight. The Kaidon finally managed to get past his attacker's guard and landed a sharp kick on the assassin's knee, knocking him to the ground.

The Kaidon seized the assassin by the throat and raised his energy sword, ready to deliver the final blow, when Uros grabbed his wrist and stopped him at the last second. "Do not end him, yet!" the Oenairem Elder shouted, struggling to restrain his old friend. "We need him alive! See to your wife!"

The mention of his wife was enough to bring the Kaidon back to reality. He deactivated the energy sword and let it fall to the floor. He could hear State Guardsmen not too far away, no doubt hurrying to investigate the sounds of fighting at the Kaidon's home, but he paid them no heed.

Surra lay on the floor next to the bed, a deep wound in her chest. The stab wound looked like it had pierced one of her lungs and ruptured a main artery, but it hadn't hit either of her hearts. Still…if she was not cared for, she would most definitely die.

By now, she had lost consciousness. Niro swore, tearing off a strip of her robes and applying pressure to the wound, trying to stop the blood flow.

Qom 'Rhalifee, the Marshal of the Ovarum State Guard, was personally leading the detachment of Guardsmen which was currently securing the Kaidon's home. The Marshal had had a suspicious feeling that an assassination attempt would be made tonight, and those suspicions were proving to be correct.

Upon bursting into the Kaidon's room, the Marshal took in the sight of the bleeding woman on the floor and motioned for two of his men to enter. "Move the Kaidon's wife to the landspeeder," he ordered. "With your permission, Kaidon, we will have her sent to a doctor."

Niro hesitated. "A…a doctor?" he murmured. It was considered dishonorable to see a doctor in many parts of Sanghelios. This was rooted in the ancient belief that the blood of a warrior is his essence, and to spill it would be to lose honor. Doctors were viewed as people who caused warriors to bleed without honor.

The Sangheili were slowly overcoming this superstition, but it would be a long time until they fully embraced medical science. But it was this deeply-rooted belief which made the Kaidon hesitate when he was informed his wife would have to see a doctor.

What the Kaidon's ultimate decision would have been, no one could say, for Uros grasped his old friend by the arms and warned, "If you do not do everything in your power to save Surra's life, you will never sleep again. Send her to the doctor."

If Niro had been teetering on his decision, his old friend's warning was enough for him to make up his mind. He gave the Marshal a nod. 'Take her," he ordered.

Two State Guardsmen gently lifted Surra from the floor and carried her from the room.

Niro watched her go. A cold rage erupted in the pits of his hearts. An attack on his own life, he would have been okay with. He had been expecting it, after all. But when it was his wife who ended up taking the knife intended for him…the Kaidon had to struggle to keep his rage in check.

When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm and reasonable…but Uros could sense the burning anger simmering just barely beneath the surface. And so, the Oenairem Elder was sure, could the third assassin.

"You were not the one who attacked an unarmed woman," Niro hissed, crouching over the third assassin, who was now being restrained by another two State Guardsmen. "You fought me with honor rather than turning tail and attempting to flee. Those who show honor shall receive honor; I will grant you safe passage from my home if you tell me which of the Elders is responsible for your deeds. I will not offer you this twice, so choose your next words very carefully."

The assassin hesitated at first. Normally a Kaidon would execute him either way, but the assassin could tell that Niro 'Ovarumee was being fueled by a terrible rage, and this seemed to be driving him to do things considered abnormal. The assassin could sense that the Kaidon was willing to do nearly anything in order to find who was responsible for his wife getting stabbed…and if that involved turning loose an assassin, so be it.

And so, the assassin decided to take the lifeline. "It was Kavil," was all the assassin said in reply. "We were sent by the Elder Kavil."

Niro gave a single nod. Kavil 'Ovarum had been one of the Elders whom the Kaidon had suspected would make an attempt on his life. Niro had never liked the man—he'd often twisted the truth to serve his agendas, and he'd never had the bravery to serve in the military. Well, the dislike had just grown into full-blown hatred.

"Gather your men outside, Marshal," the Kaidon said to Qom 'Rhalifee. "We are going to pay Elder Kavil a visit. As for you…" Niro turned back to the assassin. "If you are seen on my island past dusk tomorrow, I can assure you that your fate will not be a pleasant one. Now get out of my sight."

Uros and Niro hadn't even bothered to put on their armor. They had simply grabbed their energy blades before joining 'Rhalifee's force of State Guardsmen. The angry Kaidon led the way across Ovarum Keep to the estate of Kavil 'Ovarum. As they passed by the numerous other households of the Keep, windows were closed and doors were locked. The residents of the Keep were able to quickly piece together what had happened…and once they did that, they knew what the Kaidon was about to do.

Kavil 'Ovarum's estate was very quiet. As Niro led the Marshal and his State Gaurdsmen across the front lawn, there was no challenge. No one even seemed to rouse within the household.

When the Kaidon drew his energy blade and kicked down the door all he was greeted with was a cold silence.

The State Guardsmen filed into the house and performed a quick search, but Niro already knew that they would not find the wayward Elder. Kavil 'Ovarum's estate was completely empty.

"He has fled," the Kaidon hissed, his mandibles quivering with his anger. He took another deep breath and turned back around to face the Marshal of the Guard. "I want you to educate all of the State Guard across the island of Kavil 'Ovarum's malefactions. The man acts like vermin, so he shall be hunted down like vermin."

Qom 'Rhalifee clasped his right fist to his left heart and bowed his head in a salute to his superior. "As you command, Kaidon."

"I will see his lineage extinguished for this…" Niro murmured to his friend after the State Guardsmen left.

"That is your right," Uros agreed, although the Oenairem Elder felt this was Niro's anger talking—not the Kaidon himself. Uros decided that Niro needed to rest and recover. He needed to give his anger a chance to cool. Men driven by anger were prone to great folly.

Before Uros could suggest they leave, however, both men heard a muffled, high-pitched cry coming from somewhere below their feet. The house, as they had once thought, did not appear to be empty.

"Perhaps he cowers in the basement," Niro surmised, activating his energy sword. The twin blades of plasma energy snapped into existence as the Kaidon strode through the household to the stairs that led down into the cellar.

Niro headed down the steps, aware of the sound of someone sniffling in the darkness. Because of that darkness, however, he could not see what was causing it. "Show yourself, coward!" he shouted into the darkness.

Uros decided to take one of the flickering plasma lamps off of the wall before following his old friend. Just as the Kaidon was shouting at the darkness, Uros headed down the stairs and into the cellar, lighting the darkness with the plasma lamp.

Niro saw the source of the noise on the floor on the opposite side of the cellar, and his anger quickly began to drain away. Lying on the cold, hard stone floor was a dark brown-skinned infant, still half-asleep despite the commotion caused by the Kaidon not ten seconds ago.

Uros set the lamp on the floor and hurried over to the infant, picking it up off of the cold floor and holding it in his arms. Upon closer inspection, Uros determined that it was a boy. As he gathered the child into his arms, the infant was woken up by the movement, and he opened his eyes.

Uros stared into the child's deep maroon eyes, and a small lump formed in his throat. His wife's eyes had been the same color.

"Put the boy down, Uros," Niro 'Ovarumee raised his plasma blade. "You know as well as I what needs to be done."

"Why must the child die for the sins of his father?" Uros protested. "Kavil's family does not have dark skin, either; this boy must be a Swordsman's child. He shares no blood with the former Elder."

"He is still a member of Kavil's lineage," Niro reaffirmed adamantly. "His life is mine."

"Kavil and his ilk abandoned him," Uros still refused to budge. "They ran for their own lives and left a newborn here to die; any claim they may have had on this child, they severed with their cowardice. I am sorry, but I will not give you the boy's life."

"What would you have me do, then?" Niro snapped, keeping his sword level. "Consider what sort of life he would have. He would be a pariah. Dishonored by my mercy and a member of a tainted lineage. No one would want anything to do with him. Better he was never born…"

Uros was silent for a short period of time, deep in thought. His old friend made a valid point, but… The Oenairem Elder had seen enough death, tonight. "Then send him out of your State. He can grow up far away from here, far away from place of his family's dishonor. He can shed his old family and take a new name. He can begin anew."

"And who exactly do you think would take someone like this in? No one would take an unknown child without asking questions, especially in this day and age," Niro sighed, lowering his sword and finally deactivating it, slipping it into his belt. When all he got in response from his old friend was a raised brow callus, he finally saw what Uros was driving at. "You would do this?"

"My home was once a lively place…now it is cold and empty," Uros said quietly, hoisting the infant up so that its head rested on his shoulder. "Perhaps I can make it a home once more."

"Very well…" Niro gave a single nod. "I revoke this child's name, as you are my witness. The boy's blood is now your blood. I hope you know what you are doing… I am sorry, Uros, but I am afraid you must leave, now."

"Indeed," Uros grunted in agreement, heading back up the stairs. "The sight of me with an infant would no doubt provoke the asking of questions which would best be left unanswered."

"Or, better yet; unasked," Niro corrected, closing the door to the basement and following his old friend outside. The two men stood outside the house of the Elder who had caused them so much grief. Niro extended his hand. "I pray tonight's events have not poisoned our friendship."

"Your wife was nearly killed, old friend," Uros clasped Niro's hand and shook it before stepping away. "A surge of your temper is hardly an unforgivable offense. Do give my regards to Surra…next time I visit your home, I pray I will be able to enjoy one of her dinners in peace."

The two friends exchanged swift goodbyes and went their separate ways.

The youngling had thankfully fallen back asleep, slumped against the Oenairem Elder's shoulder, breathing heavily down his back. Uros silently made his way back to his landspeeder in the Keep's garage.

Everything after the Induction had just happened so fast…when Uros tried to think about it, all he could really think of was a huge blur. Things had definitely not turned out the way Uros had expected them to.

Who would have imagined that when he departed from his home that he would end up returning with a youngling? It had been a spur of the moment decision for Uros. It had been spur of the moment decision…but it had not been difficult decision; had the youngling not been claimed by the Oenairem Elder, Niro would have killed him. It was as simple as that.

As he climbed into his landspeeder, Uros lay the infant in the small storage compartment, wrapping him in the blanket that he usually covered the seat with. He, at least, would be comfortable for the journey.

During his walk back to the garage, Uros had thought deeply on what the child's name should be. Ultimately, there had been one name that had kept on coming back to him: Fated. After it entered his thoughts several times, Uros decided it would be a fitting name for the newest addition to his clan.

Uros scratched under the infant's mandibles affectionately as he started the engine of his landspeeder.

"Welcome to life, Aten."

Author's Note

Well, uh...let's give the Elites a try, shall we?