A/N: Two years ... two long years, but now we're back at last. I want to offer my utmost thanks to my patient readers. Without you guys, things like this would not be possible. Just a quick bit of news, I can't promise daily updates, but I will try to stay regular with updates now that the ball is rolling again.
This is the prelude to the first story arc of Imperial Equestria, and the release of the primary prologue will soon follow, then the rewritten chapter one, and things go on as normal from there.
Thanks again guys, I hope you enjoy this little opener to big things ahead. Happy Halo 5!
Ilgana'ath system, Ulgethon - Remote Sangheili Colony
20 June 2551 Celestial Standard Calendar
On a parched cliff overlooking the desert floor, a solitary, silver-armored figure presided over unfolding events the likes of which the planet had not seen since the bloody formative years of the Covenant, long ago.
"On and on shall old war go. Without respite, my blood will flow. O'er your eyes 'til they cannot see. The impossibility of victory." Imperial Admiral Xytan 'Jar Wattinree of the Combined Fleet of Righteous Purpose growled and clicked his four mandibles together in bemusement.
As he donned his ornate helmet, his amber reptilian eyes surveyed the western horizon in front of him with a forbearance only a Sangheili commander of his high station could possess, the billowing of his cape only magnifying his impressive visage. "Hmph. I've lingered too long around the Lekgolo and their renowned war poetry, I think."
An intense mixture of vibrant yellow and orange hues accented by a fierce red streaked itself across the sky. White, green, and blue flashes illuminated the desert below as infantry and light attack vehicles of two sides exchanged bolts of superheated plasma and streams of accelerated particles for beams of concentrated magical bright matter and chemically-propelled projectiles. All visual echoes of the battle unfolding.
"The hooves of heathens, standing on Covenant soil. Shameful." Wattinree shifted his boots in the sand, slender fingers gravitating towards his energy sword, but staying their grasp for moment. The blade demanded heretic blood; there was sacred history here that was being reduced to glass and ash in the name of warfare and, as the admiral considered was beyond obvious, bitter retribution. But its time would come, for the Sangheili's eyes glistened with ripe intent.
Looming silhouettes of a trio of warships with arrowhead-shaped prows hung high in the stormclouds above the fighting, a sign of greater events yet to come.
Wattinree had seen such scenarios before dozens of times since the Writ of Inquisition was enacted by the Hierarchs to decimate the alien empires of the Solarian Concordat for impeding and endangering the Great Journey. For twenty six years, scores of worlds were sought out and assaulted, the majority of them human or equine and each one glassed of its cities and settlements just like those before it, their survivors forced into the Covenant or retreating to the safety of Concordat battle lines.
However, a number of worlds within the Covenant Empire's territory had and were meeting the same fate at the hands and hooves of heretic militants: either proxy entities of the Concordat or simple rogue groups, or both.
Whatever the case,
The Imperial Admiral could tell without a millisecond's doubt that none of the angular heavy cruisers were Covenant. Each enemy ship was capable singlehandedly of reducing half of a continent to molten glass in the breadth of an hour, and with so many holy fleets of war currently committed to conquering mainly human space, their sister ships had long since gained orbital superiority against the poorly-prepared Covenant defenses above.
Two of the vessels were firing on Covenant targets below, presumably to provide support to whatever allied forces that were still on the ground. Wattinree noticed several dropships coming and going from the third vessel in the battlegroup, and with vessels of that size, he had already foreseen what was coming.
Wattinree had to relink with his forces around the large natural rockslide behind him, and swiftly. He motioned to turn around, but as he did so, something odd about the air caught his finer senses and triggered the necessary alarms.
"...we've been recalled by fleet hierophant Cephorus," a commanding voice said, coming into Wattinree's auditory range. "The Covenant are breaking here, and we've gathered all we sought from this planet. Enough querying, we're off to the landing site!"
The admiral did turn around then, with a crackle of plasma and an ethereal blue glinting off his armor's silver, massive body hunched to present a smaller target and ready to bring his blade to bear.
His mind rapidfire, the Elite commander registered seven black and white-furred figures straight in front of him in tight formation one after the other, several meters away. Two in the lead side by side were on all fours and the rest were on their hind limbs, all well armed.
Judging by their postures and pace, they were on patrol and had not yet registered Wattinree's presence, their gazes held almost exclusively in front of them.
Wattinree gave a low growl to himself as he studied the aliens. These were of one of the more common Heretic species the Prophets had ordered subdued, he recollected. What the humans called 'zebras.'
While the San'Shyuum bureaucrats scrambled and squabbled with one another over their attempts to categorize, map, and fully understand the complex webs of institutions and multi-species alliances that composed the Covenant's greatest rival power in its portion of the galaxy, Wattinree himself knew his individual races well. For some high ranking Sangheili such as himself, simplicity was concision, which in turn was an organ of pragmatism.
Zebras' figures were not at all intimidating by Sangheili standards. But, if these were a more tribal variety as Wattinree expected, then their ability to fight both quadrupedally and bipedally combined with their propensity for extreme acts of ruthless brutality left them as oftentimes unpredictable foes.
Five were clad in varied or no headgear and light, minimalist scarlet armor that exposed the legs and flanks, likely supplemented by minor shielding powered by the Heretics' wicked sorcerery. The sixth currently on all fours had lustrous white armor that afforded more protection, while the seventh – their evident chief leader – sported the same white armor that shielded their entire body, topped by a helmet whose elaborate crest seemed to suggest the rays of a rising sun.
If a Sangheili swordsman was a cold and calculated blade, then these creatures must have been blood-coated flails, as far as the Admiral was concerned.
"Yellow suns on the chest plates, linear rays," Wattinree stated to himself softly, "not one of the equine empires, so they are Eternal Dawn: cultist animals. The battle network's whispers were correct."
Without further ado, Xytan 'Jar Wattinree charged to meet his foes head-on, back hunched forward and energy sword poised in his right hand. "No matter," his baritone voice picked up, forming into a battle cry, "infidels who will die infidels' deaths all the same!"
One of the armored zebra cultists who noticed him first reeled back, with widened magenta eyes of unadulterated shock. "Argh, Sol above, you startled me!" he said to Wattinree.
"That armor, a Sangheili general!" his nearest comrade added.
"I've never seen armor like that before…"
"Sol Invictus light my path! Come then, Elite. Come, come, die a warrior's death!" came the thick voice of a third cultist in a fervent war cry, rapidly lashing out towards Wattinree with an animalistic "Aieee!,' rifle bayonet poised to spear as the rest of his squadmates scarcely had the time to ready their weapons.
The two white-armored zebras reached for their gladiuses, but otherwise stoically stood their ground as the rest of the squad animated frantically.
Just as the first few bolts of magical bright were fired blindly into the sky and every which way by clumsy rifle toters, Wattinree side-stepped the bayonet charger and drove a heavy fist into the insurgent's skull, cracking it like an egg. The Elite then proceeded to toss the zebra like a rag doll towards three of his comrades, toppling them all over in a heap of flailing legs.
The fifth regular cultist managed to aim down his sights and fire a few bolts from his white-glowing rifle. Two of the three bolts of energy hit their mark, causing the Admiral's shields to flicker around his body in a cobalt aura, reduced in strength only by a quarter.
Neither of the impacts did anything to stop Wattinree's sword from making a clean stab through the zebra's gut when in reach, lifting the alien off the sandy ground.
By now, three of the downed squad members had regained their bearings, and as their pair of officers continued to simply observe with dour faces, the trio decided to attack Wattinree in unison. The middle one charged with his bayonet like the first attacker had, while the other two charged as well, firing rapidly all the while.
Wattinree drew his plasma rifle from his left hip with his free hand and snarled, returning fire.
The bayonet charger crumpled to the ground as his energy shield collapsed and his coat burned clean through, another of the trio meeting the same fate. The air filled with the foul, ripening stench of burnt fur and skin. By now, the Elite's own shielding was nearing depletion as his combat harness' armor systems chimed.
"Ulgethon's hours are numbered and our missioned fulfilled, your fight here is in vain!" the last of the plain-armored soldiers spat as he came to a stop one meter from the towering Elite. He had lost his helmet from the collision of his squadmate, and his raven mane was a wiry mess upon his muzzled head.
"Yet you cannot count even one hour to the remainder of your life, Heretic. Your own officers stand idly by." Wattinree chuckled derisively as he addressed all three of his remaining foes. "The Path is broad, but the unworthy have no place upon it."
It was then that Wattinree flung the stabbed zebra to the ground with one motion, and in a further blur of motion, spun like a whirlwind, bludgeoning the lesser officer with the mass of his plasma rifle and removing the head of the last soldier with his sword, whom had both decided to charge in unison. The melee attacks shattered the zebra shields effortlessly, while Wattinree's own had already since recharged.
While a gladius and rifle both clattered to the ground, Wattinree trained his eyes on his sole remaining enemy; the officer's forbearance had finally shattered as he remained in his quadruped stance. The severe expression had given way to a careless grin full of poorly-kept rotting teeth, before his lips move to speak.
"As a son of Equis… of the empire of Roam, I spit upon your Covenant for starting this war." With gladius still in hoof, the zebra rose on his hindlegs and elevated his head, staring down his muzzle despite the height of his counterpart. "But as a warrior of the Eternal Dawn who has embraced Sol's unconquered light and a more enlightened form of Celestia's flawed philosophies, I thank your Covenant for the opportunities it provides us as it and the Concordat destroy each other. "
Seeing a familiar glint in the rockslide behind the centurion, Wattinree simply snorted and muttered something in Sangheili. He stared the striped equine down with a glare that could rot fruit that the centurion should have made part of his regular diet as a distant particle beam pierced the zebra's chest.
"Imperial Admiral, have you need of aid?" a feminine voice called out from the direction of the sniper fire. "I ask out of only procedure, of course!"
Wattinree's features softened substantially at the voice. He turned to behold a female Sangheili in the grey combat harness of an Elite ultra approaching him with a venting beam rifle in her hands. Rocks and loose pebbles gave way under her hast-filled approach; she was accompanied by a lazy-looking pair of Ruuhtian Kig-Yar spotters, their right eyes covered by optical gear and pistols on their hips.
"I am as battle-ready as always, Sanj'ik. These striped beasts seem to think their tongues can make up as weapons for where their martial skills falter."
Sanj'ik's mandibles formed a smile of sorts as her eyes intelligently scanned the slain Eternal Dawn cultists, still smoking from plasma. "Indeed." She gestured at a Spectre parked behind a pair of boulders that fringed the way to a spacious, vehicle-friendly gap in the low mesas. "We should be off, our soldiers eagerly await your final briefing before we depart this soon-to-be fallen world."
As the terrestrial fighting dragged on in the far distance, a large infantry lance of Covenant warriors – Special Operations Elites, Unggoy, and Kig-Yar, all – stood congregating at the spacious foot of a towering granite mesa.
The lightly fortified and heavily-cloaked location had a wide, sweeping stone floor that had been artificially smoothened by something powerful that was now long since absent from the planet of Ulgethon. In the center of the congregation were five Elites: three spec-ops commanders with their sloping helmets, Sanj'ik, and Wattinree himself. He towered over his subordinates easily as he gave his address.
"Brothers, we stand here in the footprint of the holy Dreadnought for one purpose: the outlining of the holy quest the Hierarchs have decreed of us, the most elite warriors of our Covenant! Weapons Master Kusovaiee." Wattinree produced a holo-projector in his slender hand and gave it to Sanj'ik.
The female deftly activated the device, and the entire lance was dazzled by the sight of a large three dimensional star system, as well as two equally sizeable holy projections that caused some amongst the assembly to bow instantly upon sighting.
"At this very hour, the Fringe of our Covenant is secure no more." Wattinree gestured to the planet itself around them. "Our enemies search with tooth and claw for High Charity just as we seek to break through to Erde Tyrene, and learn the location of the true heart of the Concordat. A stalemate unending, but, from the sudden murmurings of the Oracle, the Prophets have made a discovery that will not only gain us uncontested advantage in this holy conflict, but will also substantiate our faith to the Heretics, now and for all time. So says the Prophet of Mercy himself!"
"Say it is so, say it is so!" a number of the Unggoy chanted disruptively before some Sangheili quickly rebuked them.
"Brothers, a shield world guarding the way to a Sacred Ring has been found!"
With that, the crowd broke into a combined roar of devotion and affirmation.
Wattinree allotted them several moments before provoking instant silence with a slight raise of his hand. He approached the star system and manipulated the projections to focus on a gas giant and a neighboring habitable world of seemingly perpetual winter. "The Prophets posit it to be the Primal Halo, the Sacred Ring of the Alicorn Goddess Iuz'iina. It lies in custodial range of Aurora, the greatest of the Gods' ancient warrior keeps. Our quest is nothing less than to seek them out and claim them both for the Journey!"
The two holy images were brought into focus by Sanj'ik and the Spec-Ops commanders' input before all four promptly fell on bended knee. Holograms of an ancient glyph in the general form of a crossed wing and horn, and a ring-shaped construct both greeted the eyes of all with flickering cyan light given shape.
"Iuz'iina." the lance collectively murmured in deep reverence.
"The Oracle's newfound knowledge is providence, brothers! The Forerunners and mighty Alicorns above them have seen fit to show the Prophets our way to salvation, and we shall gladly follow in their footsteps to this system!" Wattinree thundered, before he joined with the last of the lance in prayer as the projections were replaced by the recording of a meditating San'Shyuum.
As the prayer drew to a close, the shadow of a waiting Lich transport appeared over the stone plateau.
When the Lich's gravity lift cut out with the last of lance safely aboard, the heavy deployment vessel speed off into the atmosphere. After passing though a thick bank of violent red clouds, the pilots were the first to behold the welcoming sight of a CAR-class frigate that had been holding covert position near Wattinree's briefing site.
Upon docking with the warship, Wattinree and Weapons Master Sanj'ik were quick to make their way to its command center.
"Imperial Admiral!" the frigate's Sangheili shipmaster arose from his gravity throne in an instant to greet him, a fist pressed against his breast. Wattinree returned the salute before brushing aside his cape and surveying the command center.
Besides a lone huragok busy with an open maintenance panel on the ceiling above, the only sights of note to Wattinree were several of the command group nearby watching exterior video feeds on their terminals provided by surviving satellites and probes in orbit, the majority of them focused on the enemy heavy cruisers in low orbit, discharging their ventral weaponry on no specific targets but the surface itself.
White-gold globules of energy miles across were ballooning on the terrain beneath the warships, reducing anything in range to glass, magma, and molten slag.
"There will be a reckoning," Sanj'ik remarked coldly as a burning hatred writhed in her chest for the heretics, sharing Wattinree's view of the screens. There was a general but quiet murmuring of assent from some of the others.
The Admiral said nothing to Sanj'ik in turn, merely waving a hand gently in her direction before removing his ornate helmet. The ground battle Wattinree had been observing an hour earlier had died down, the victor unclear but irrelevant as the battlefield itself became yet another target of the ongoing bright matter orbital bombardment.
As the bombardment at last reached and immolated the unique region their Lich had departed from, the ship master once again addressed Wattinree.
"Admiral, we must soon depart before we are discovered by Eternal Dawn ships!"
"Ungulate vermin… Plot a jump out of the system; we are relinking with the Sublime Transcendence and the Combined Fleet of Righteous Purpose at Joyous Exultation."
The shipmaster nodded and returned to his chair and screens, repeating the order to his helmsman and navigators. "Joyous Exultation, with supreme haste!"
"Once more unto the breach," Sanj'ik commented to Wattinree, toying with one of her pauldrons.
"No, Weapons Master," Xytan 'Jar Wattinree chuckled, flicking at the crown of his head before putting his helmet back on. "Once more unto Sublime Transcendence."
Sanj'ik Kusovaiee allowed herself to answer with a dry chuckle of her own, but having served under the Imperial Admiral since the disappearance of the Arbiter Ripa 'Moramee at a shield world twenty years earlier, she had come to learn that such unusual bouts of humour were more often than not mechanisms to conceal Xytan's instinctual feelings of suspicion towards all major events that crossed his path
As Wattinree walked out of the command center of the frigate, Sanj'ik lingered for a moment, deep in thought.
Whatever truly awaited them in the system everyone was now dubbing "Iuz'iina's Rest," Wattinree must have considered the discovery of both an Alicorn shield world and a Halo in unison too great to be a mere coincidence.
With her own scruples still extant from the Prophet of Regret's role in the unknown fate of the previous Arbiter, Sanj'ik could not help but feel the same.