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Centuries before the Human-Covenant War would rage across the galaxy, a similar conflict erupted between the Prophets and the Elites—two alien races at odds over the sacred artifacts left by the powerful Forerunners, who disappeared eons ago. Although they would eventually form a stable alliance called the Covenant, there are those on both sides who question this fateful union. From an Elite splinter group rebelling against the Covenant during the time of its founding… to a brave Prophet caught in the machinations of the new leadership… to the root of the betrayal that would ultimately shatter the Covenant many years later, this is the untold chapter of the most unexpected heroes emerging from a realm filled with shocking treachery and ceaseless wonder.
The novel opens in c.860 BCE, during the San'Syuum-Sangheili War. Mken 'Scre'ah'ben, High Lord of Sacred Relics, is leading the defense of San'Syuum science teams as they research Forerunner relics on a Sangheili colony the San'Syuum call the "Planet of Blue and Red". Rather than coordinate the battle from orbit as is typical, Mken departs from the Forerunner dreadnought and lands on the surface to oversee the battle. Mken steps out with his Steward onto the Purple Line, a band on the planet where the planet's blue dwarf and red giant stars create a beautiful skyline. He finds stone engravings of the Forerunners, crafted by the planet's extinct inhabitants who's existence he suspects the Forerunner relics predate. Observing the display of religion, Mken thinks back to the San'Syuum Civil War which forced his people to abandon their homeworld of Janjur Qom due to persecution over willingness to interact with relics. The Sangheili too held this belief, and massacred a San'Syuum religious delegation for what they believed to be desecration.
Satisfied with all he has seen, Mken begins coordinating the defense of the Site One outpost, a Forerunner complex shielded by an energy dome. Lightly defended and with a large encampment of Sangheili nearby, Mken prepares Sentinels to attack. Observing the area further, he becomes interested in the Sangheili commander, Ussa 'Xellus. A young officer who quickly rose through the ranks to a senior field commander, 'Xellus was sent to the colony after the San'Syuum incursion to reorganise its defenses into a more effective force. Mken initially orders for his assassination by the Sentinels, but belays the order when he considers 'Xellus' keen mind to be of use in proselytizing the Sangheili race.
When the Sangheili finally go on the offensive, their three columns of infantry and tanks turn towards Mken's own position instead of Site One. The battle begins with the Sentinels and Sangheili infantry engaging one another, as predicted. Mken notices however that 'Xellus is not among them, and his Eyes spot him going down a ravine headed behind Site One's position, where Mken believes he is planning to take the San'Syuum by surprise. Mken however realises he underestimated Mken when an underground explosion knocks out power to the energy dome. Fleeing to his pod, he orders for a general evacuation.
'Xellus watches as Mken's pod enters orbit, which his lieutenant Ernicka the Scar-Maker fires wildly at to no effect. 'Xellus is confused by the evacuation, as he doubts they would use the Forerunner dreadnought as a last resort due to the army's proximity to the relics. He realises that the dreadnought, if firing lightly, could wipe out the army without any risk to the relics, and orders all forces in the firing zone to jump into the tunnels which run below the dome.
The dreadnought begins firing on Site One, but it becomes clear to Mken the Sangheili have largely escaped. In his frustration, he orders for the camp at Site Two to be destroyed as well; when informed they have been ordered to hide in their bunkers, there is no one left to shoot but stragglers. Mken receives a transmission from Kucknoi, chief of research at Site One, who is angry at him for ruining their work. Having also discovered the tunnels, Kucknoi believes they lead to a large reliquary. Not wanting to destroy the general landscape in case they become impossible to find, Mken is informed of shafts which the Sangheili could have escaped through. Mken considers sending a group of Sentinels to destroy them inside the tunnels, but relents as he suspects 'Xellus to have already escaped by now.
- Baelion system (First appearance)
- Creck (First appearance)
- High Charity
- Planet of Blue and Red
- Urs system