// VEIL Initiative
Earth. Quiet and subdued. The Great War had ended long ago and humanity was in a state of disrepair. Endless tribulation tested and stretched thin the resolution of even the strongest, most battle-hardened souls. While hope had faded, despondency grew. Humanity was now trying to restore its self-image. Not only had it faced battles against a religiously motivated race intent on destroying the galaxy, it also faced opposition from a relentless foe, ageless and horrifying.
The Covenant: an enormous movement composed of races and classes soon torn apart from the inside by debate and politics surrounding ancient prophecies. They'd seen humanity as a disease - a heretical society that was dead set against its religious dogma, opposed to and actively hindering the fulfillment of those ancient prophecies.
The Flood: A genetic nightmare with unknown origin; a chaotic mix of hapless souls, victims of unfortunate curiosity, seeking to survive by any means necessary and led by a compound, bitter intelligence formed of those very same scraps of life.
With the prophecies shattered, civil war tore the Covenant apart. Separatists had begun fighting with humanity in an attempt to save the galaxy, rather than destroy it. It was a major shift in the Great War between Humanity and the Covenant. But at what cost?
What remained of humanity then forged a new relationship with those who had abandoned the Covenant. With the Great War eventually coming to an end, and with the Gravemind's demise, it was the remaining scattered Flood that was left as the rodent infestation yet to be exterminated. Even with the end of the Flood's compound intelligence, the very nature of the abhorrent mutation of life still remained - abominations of life that cannibalized life.
Survival of these galactic roommates boiled down to intense, short battles scattered around the galaxy, fighting for living space. Knowing this new enemy better than ever, Humanity and the Covenant separatists worked together to slowly clean up the scraps of Flood that still remained.
But, where the Flood won skirmishes here and there, devolving its victims into genetic zombies, it was only for a short time. The response was swift and lethal. Much like the effect of the ancient Rings but on a much smaller scale, the final resort against an infected planet was the destruction of all its sentient life. It was a dark time, and this galactic clean-up process was not supported by all.
In the midst of this new struggle for survival, humanity was scattered, picking up its pieces like a family searching for loved ones among the dead in a body-littered battlefield, always with one eye open in case an enemy re-appeared.
And yet, among this galactic cacophony of silent anguish was a rare glimmer of light, a naive and innocent young heart; unsoiled by pain and loss, fear and hate. Born long after the Great War. She sat, crouched in a thicket, trying to hide the sound of her gentle giggles.
Naira's long, wavy hair was tied back in two long braids. If it wasn't, it would puff out into a wild tangle of hair, as unkempt as the bush she was hiding under. Her eyes squinted, glancing left and right, watching for any sign of movement. Even squinting, her eyes reflected her namesake. They were large and full of wonder and potential, as if they were deep portals to unknown worlds themselves.
Naira often dreamed of such things. At night, she'd lay on a hillside and stare up at the sky wide-eyed, searching for planets and stars and constellations. She dreamed of the other worlds she'd only heard about, imagining majestic buildings filled with thriving, happy people, other children to play with, and new places to explore.
Naira had one sister. She was a few years older than Naira, but also had long, fluffy hair. She would tie it back in one ponytail though, unbraided, and so it puffed up over her back. When she wore her hair like this, it reminded Naira of a squirrel's big fluffy tail.
The two of them loved to play hide and seek, running around the nearby forest. Their parents often traveled, but didn't yet have the money to leave Earth. So as a family, they would travel the globe, visiting new countries and other cultures. When the sisters explored these new places, they often played hide and seek, taking turns counting and looking for little places to hide and explore while their parents went about their own business. They trusted the girls to go off alone, but told the older sister to take care of the younger one and not to go too far.
Naira loved exploring. Sometimes they'd visit ancient places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty - now protected as relics and tributes to an era long past. They'd even visited Stonehenge once, with its enormous stones still standing- a monument to the strength and endurance of humanity. These places each held secrets, stories and legends of people long gone. Her favorite places were old, dusty stone ruins with lots of little hiding places, caverns and rooms. There was still so much she hadn't seen, and that was just on Earth.
When she first heard of that installation of the ancients, where not a stone was in sight, and everything was made of shiny, glittering metal and glowing energy, her eyes grew even wider. That's when she really began to dream. She started asking questions, wanting to know more about the ancient ones people called the Forerunners. She learned about even more ancient ruins that were scattered all around the galaxy. Enormous rings in the sky, gateways and structures from ancient civilizations. She tried to imagine what those other ancient ruins looked like, and longed for the day she could see them up close.
They were only dreams, though. And so here she sat, patiently and excitedly waiting, curled up in a thicket.
She heard her sister's voice off in the distant, calling out the final numbers of the countdown, "3..2..1! Ready or not, here I come!"
Naira took a deep breath and tried not to make a sound, listening for the cracking twigs as her sister slowly tiptoed around the bushes, searching....
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