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|This article, Hephaestus (Specops306), was written by Specops306 and The All-knowing Sith'ari. Please do not edit this fiction without the writers' permission.|
The Great Schism was a period of massive fracture - as the Sangheili seceded from the Covenant, the Jiralhanae struck in a pre-emptive campaign of genocide before the Sangheili could do it to them. Their targets, however, were not all the same - some struck Sangheili targets, waging vicious, bloody but doomed fights against their hated enemies; others attacked vulnerable human outposts, seeking good sport or salvage; and still more struck Jiralhanae targets, reviving ancient rivalries. The reclusive Brotherhood of Ruskt withdrew to their future home, and as the Covenant collapsed around them some Jiralhanae saw the opportunity to make swift gains for themselves, carving out their own niches.
Hephaestus, hereditary Chieftain of the Varthaka Master-Pack, would be the largest and most successful figure on this ever-shifting political landscape. Between 2552 and 2555, he would carve out a sizeable amount of territory for himself and his pack, gathering warriors, slaves and weapons enough to build up his own small empire, naming himself the "Blood Covenant," able to withstand the combined assault by the Sangheili Armed Forces and United Nations Space Command, and fight the New Covenant on a second front, for another half decade. Hephaestus himself would not live to see the slow disintegration of all he had worked for, killed in Operation: TACK HAMMER in 2555. His legacy, however, would be remembered by other Jiralhanae among the New Covenant and Brotherhood of Ruskt - his pettiness, his greed, his vanity, but above all his success.
Most Jiralhanae are born on Doisac, or one of its colony moons, and even after the Human-Covenant War Doisac, now under New Covenant control, remained a Bastion of Jiralhaane culture and population. There were, however, other colonies and planets - after the Jiralhanae's discovery by the Covenant, many clans and tribes made their way out into the stars, hoping to create their own homeworlds to rival Doisac in size and strength, largely an extension of the civil wars they had just put behind them - the Vratheka Master-Pack, consisting of two million members, was the largest of these to make their way to their new home. The Master-Pack history claims that this was a noble venture, paving a path through the stars for the Jiralhanae as a species, and they regard themselves as pioneers in this respect - other clans remember that the Vratheka were the most vicious and petty of the clans, and that if they hadn't fled Doisac they would have been exterminated by a union of other clans, united in hatred of a common enemy. Whatever the case, Hephaestus was one of the first generation of Jiralhanae cubs born on the Vratheka's new home, Unmoving Virtue, an un-terraformed world populated with Doisac-native wildlife, as well as other lifeforms imported from other Covenant worlds - the Snarks and Jabberwocks of Ketesh being notable examples.
Born as the first of a new generation, Hephaest (yet to earn the -us prefix) was raised by the clan elders with the rest of the children as hunters, stalking, grappling and killing the most dangerous beasts of Unmoving Virtue's forests, deserts, tundras and mountains in preparation for their service in the Covenant. Even at a young age, Hephaest showed an adeptness at forms of cruelty, routinely taking his prey alive and torturing them for pleasure. He also showed a skill for forming and leading groups - at age 18 he killed his pack leader, Jastensus, taking his place and earning himself the right to name himself Hephaestus. By age thirty, he was already a warrior in the Covenant military, leading his pack on patrols on Covenant-occupied frontier colonies, keeping the "lesser races" in line, often brutally and sadistically as is often the case with the Jiralhanae as a race, but especially with Hephaestus.
When the Covenant declared their genocidal war against humanity, many saw a chance to earn the favour of the gods by slaughtering heretics who deserved annihilation. Hephaestus was never such a fool, and from the outset insisted that the humans, as primitive and frail as they were, had done nothing wrong to earn the displeasure of the gods. This does not mean he had any sympathy for them - in deployments on Draco III and Lefenyal, he and his clan (now much larger after killing the clan leader, Chieftain Volturus, assimilating a smaller pack from a rival clan through sheer dominance) would willing, and indeed gleefully, be deployed by Covenant Field Masters in civilian population centres as a tool of genocide, eagerly tearing unarmed men, women and children apart for sport and food. They narrowly avoided destruction on Draco III, and during the Battle of Lefenyal they were engaged by Indigo Team, losing thirteen members as they searched the streets of New Wellington for the elusive Spartans before being withdrawn. Indigo's discovery of the grisly evidence of human slaughter would return to haunt him, many years later.
After 2536, with the fall of the humans' Outer Colonies, combat would become more elusive than it had been. Whereas the Vratheka Master-Pack had been able to hunt humans with impunity before, now they were used strictly as warriors, taking orders from Sangheili and deployed in offensive operations rather than traditional "hunts". Resentment against then-current Master Chieftain Herodotus began to foment, especially against his policy of "appeasement" of Sangheili demands. In actual fact, Herodotus was merely being realistic, and was already lobbying the Prophet-led elements of the High Council for a greater role, the only route available to him and the other Jiralhanae leaders. Hephaestus saw his opportunity - in 2548, he led a brutal overthrow of his Master-Pack's leadership, slaughtering the former rulers and keeping Herodotus alive for seven years in his torture chambers before dismembering him limb by limb, using stimulants to stave off death and to enhance the pain. Now the ruler of the Vratheka Master-Pack, Hephaestus would follow his "pioneer/rebellious" ancestors' lead - he gathered the few ships available to his race under his banner, attacking human worlds without even the permission of the High Council or the Hierarchs.
His first attack, against the Yerent colony, was an unqualified success - with the COM satellite relay destroyed, and "Covenant" cruisers moving in, the UNSC abandoned the colony, evacuating those they could and forced to abandon those they couldn't carry. Rather than glass population centres and slaughter the humans outright, Hephaestus deemed the planet a "human hunting preserve," allowing favoured Jiralhanae to lead hunts against badly armed human defenders. The colonists believed themselves to be waging a guerilla war - the Jiralhanae believed they were simply having a good time. When the UNSC retook the colony in 2551, Hephaestus lost much standing among the other Chieftains, but swore that he would restore it. His attack on the Beta Gabriel colony, sending a single ship to deal with the small outpost, was a disaster - the ship went renegade, its crew mutinying, and eventually they were killed by a UNSC Marine Corps assault force, though not before butchering the colony's scant population in frivolous hunts. Outraged, Hephaestus vowed never to let such a thing happen - the mates and children of the mutineers were put to death as an example to the rest of his warriors.
Hephaestus' recklessness earned him much enmity, among the Sangheili and San'Shyuum alike. Though the Sangheili resented the Jiralhanae taking a more active role, they were outraged that he was refusing even to go through proper channels, seeking neither advice nor permission of the Council of Masters. The Prophets themselves regarded him as a renegade, and indeed he seems never to have held much respect for his "superiors", except when faked for ceremonial purposes to increase his standing. Indeed, talk among the High Council of creating an Arbiter to deal with this wayward chieftain would eventually force other Jiralhanae clans to curb his activity, an action which he resented - he had become an embarrassment to the Jiralhanae cause, an example of precisely why the Sangheili kept them subordinate. If not for the Great Schism, it is likely that he would have been killed by a Covenant assassination team, if not by an Arbiter.
Carving Out a Niche
As the Schism raged, brother turned upon brother, alliances shattered, and the Covenant, the greatest military force the Orion Arm has seen since the days of the Forerunners, fragmented into a hundred factions, all vying for dominance. The Sangheili would unite under the banner of the Arbiter, united by a shared outrage at the Jiralhanae's betrayal and slaughter of the High Council. Many Jiralhanae would simply leave the conflict, setting themselves up as the Brotherhood of Ruskt, a reclusive religious sect, openly denouncing everyone else as barbarians. Others would remain loyal to the Prophets, joining the fledgling New Covenant, assisting in its unification and the suppression of their own dissidents. But by far the largest faction to emerge, if not in size or sophistication then in sheer numbers, would be the Blood Covenant, a "union" of Jiralhanae packs, clans and tribes, all ruled by Hephaestus. In theory, this "alliance" was for mutual benefit and defence - in practice, Hephaestus dominated his rivals brutally, forcing his commanders to accept his overlordship of their clans, holding their homes and families hostage. His methods may have been crude and crass, but the results were significant - under Hephaestus, three dozen small Jiralhanae colony worlds formed a military force large enough to threaten both the Sangheili and the UNSC, and even before the War of Vengeance he would send raiding cruisers and destroyers to attack Sangheili and UNSC merchant routes and minor outposts and colonies, hoping perhaps to stumble upon another Lefenyal to raise his status and rally Jiralhanae to his banner.
The earliest attempts at this did not even involve humanity - the small Sangheili garrison and their families were the first victims of Hephaestus' genocidal gamepark idea, and though most Sangheili warriors committed ritual suicide rather than become Jiralhanae slaves, their wives and children were not so lucky, put to work as slave labour, habitually slaughtered by bored Jiralhanae warriors, or set free in the forest and hunted down. Some attempts were made to acquire human "Stock", but none met with much in the way of success. Captured Sangheili merchant ships crews would be added to this population, and they were set to work at the Thrakakrathak Shipyards as menial workers and "sport" for the Jiralhanae overseers.
- Main article: Operation: TACK HAMMER
The result of his eagerness to attack his enemies would not be a great success - now warned that his faction presented a massive threat to their security if left unchecked, the UNSC and Sangheili would unite to wage a war of destruction against the Blood Covenant. The reasons for these were many - the UNSC hoped to acquire former Covenant technology by attacking Blood Covenant territory, deny this material to the enemy, and otherwise neutralise them as a threat; the Sangheili in their turn would unite behind the Arbiter against the symbol of their betray, waging a war of vengeance which would eventually give the war its name, not to mention the liberation of their enslaved brother (and sister) Sangheili. Both sides would wage their own independent campaigns, occasionally cooperating in defensive and offensive operation, but the beginning of the war, Operation: TACK HAMMER, was a mission conducted in total cooperation.
The timing of the operation was significant, because Hephaestus had chosen this time to stop off at Unmoving Virtue, the planet around which Thrakakrathak orbits, on his "tour" of his realms to monitor their obedience - ostensibly, this was a symbolic return home at the end of the subjugation of his rivals, though to Hephaestus it was an excuse to enjoy hunting unarmed, weakened and starving female and child Sangheili slaves. Timed perfectly, Operation: TACK HAMMER was largely a hammer blow against the Blood Covenant - Sangheili special operations teams would liberate the slave towns, inciting and arming a massive colony-wide revolt against the Jiralhanae. Human Army and Marine Corps forces, in particular Helljumper troopers from the 506th ODST Battalion, would attack the vital shipyards, destroying many ships before they could even take off, and demolishing the shipyards with well-placed explosive charges while fending off Blood Covenant mechanised infantry units. At the same time, the UNSC had launched a third strike force, consisting of Indigo Team, to assassinate key members of the Blood Covenant leadership. After observing the arrival and murder of a New Covenant diplomatic delegation by Hephaestus himself, Andrew-306 and Jeremy-068 engaged them at close range, assassinating Hephaestus and many of his high councillors at close range, with Laura-125 providing sniper fire. Hephaestus himself would die with Andrew's combat knife lodged in his throat, bleeding out slowly as Indigo slaughtered his councillors, alive long enough to see the explosions at the shipyards and the start of the Sangheili's glassing of Unmoving Virtue, dying in the certain knowledge that all his efforts would ultimately come to nothing. Indigo made sure of this.
The legacy of Hephaestus is one of brutality and barbarity, but it is also one of success. While other Jiralhanae clans slaughtered each other in their bid for dominance, each hoping to carve out their own niche in the galaxy, only Hephaestus was successful in this goal, gathering together a force that could, if left long enough, have become a disastrous threat to both the Sangheili and the UNSC. Though the Brotherhood of Ruskt has always detested his methods and the results they produced, others have looked back on Hephaestus' short reign as a Jiralhanae golden age, seeking a return to form in the Governors of Contrition, the Governors' promise of unending hunts on human worlds being the dominant reason why most remained with the Governors of Contrition as they usurped the Prophets themselves. The Sangheili and UNSC regard Hephaestus as a genocidal murderer, and though many have called for a Extraterrestrial War Crimes Tribunal to be set up, both the UNSC have resolutely refused the notion - the UNSC regarding a bullet to the head as a merciful sentence, the Sangheili uneager to see their own race in such a court after their own deeds. Long after his death, Hephaestus would be regarded as the ultimate symbol of Jiralhanae ethic - brutal, xenocidal and terrible, but unbelievably successful, and all the more terrifying for it.
In human terms, Hephaestus was a hedonistic sadist, seeking always to enhance his pleasure through others' pain. His need for control extended over dozens of world and millions of Jiralhanae, Unggoy and Kig-yar, and it was not without some relief that news of his death was received. yet at the same time, he was also one of the leading thinkers and leaders of his time - he saw early on the false nature of the Prophets, and when the Schism erupted quickly abandoned the supposedly holy spiritual leaders he had "devoted" himself to serving. Throughout his life, he has viewed even his other Jiralhanae as a commodity, to be spent as needed for benefits for himself - either the ascension of rank, the destruction of an enemy, or simply for sheer enjoyment - Sangheili were not the only slaves to see the inside of Hephaestus' torture chamber, and his predecessor, Herodotus, lives for seven years in torment before a guard finally took pity on the elderly Jiralhanae and put him out of his misery - an act for which the guard himself was put in Herodotus' place, the torment increased threefold.
Although the term has since fallen out of use in human psychology, Hephaestus also possesses the classic definition of a psychopath - a distinct lack of empathy and an ability to act entirely normal despite this. While empathy could never be used as a descriptor of the Jiralhanae species, even Hephaestus possessed no regard for his fellow Jiralhanae, and has never shown anything in the range of guilt or remorse for his actions, even against his own people. He also possessed another trait of psychopathy - tremendous superficial charm. He never overcame the species barrier between himself and Sangheili, but Prophets and other Jiralhanae were often taken aback by his intelligence and wit, especially compared with his appallingly brutal war record. He also matches Robert Hare's description of psychopaths as "intraspecies predators," a part of his personality embodied by Herodotus' fate.
- "We stepped off the Pelican on Lefenyal, and the smell was just appalling. We thought we'd find rotting corpses - turns out it was just their latrines. The real slaughter ground was much worse. A lot of us...couldn't take it."
- "The Brute carved out his own empire, slaughtered thousands of enemies and even allies, and otherwise showed no concern for his reactions. Even to the end, he couldn't accept that he was really under attack. I'm sure Indigo made the kill clean, but that didn't mean the made it quick. Spartans feel wrath too."
- "When you look at his record, you really think that this is what all Brutes are like. But look at Vlad Tepes - he did pretty much the same thing to his own people, and he's a friggin' hero to Transylvanians. Maybe he's the Brute version of Dracula?"
- "His barbarism was exceeded only by his gluttony. He did not feed on flesh - rumour claims he ate only vegetables and fruit. His diet was pain, and his drink was suffering. Truly a symbol of the whole contemptible Jiralhanae race."
Behind the Scenes
- Hephaestus was the first character by Specops306 to bear the name, but he would not be the last - at least one Aeneas-class ship bears the name, as well as the Project Head for Project EXCALIBUR, as well as Project HEPHAESTUS of Operation: VORAUSSICHT. The four should not be confused.
- Parts of the War of Vengeance were adopted for LOMI's Great Schism, including the Blood Covenant and Hephaestus. In the Necrosverse version of events, Hephaestus is killed by Cassius, a servant of the Prophet of Devotion, much later in the war. LOMI's version of Hephaestus is far more noble than mine, motivated by desire for vengeance, rather than greed.