A Covenant Primer: The Best of the Bestiary
Lots of people want to know more about the Covenant. Who are they? What drives them? Where do they get off invading Earth and attacking folks? Well, it's a long and complex story. So here goes:
What is the Covenant?
The Covenant is a technologically advanced collective of cooperating alien races, which controls a large portion of the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Naturally this means that in relative terms, the Human race is close to their turf. And as humans began to explore space, it was only a matter of time before our paths crossed.
Originally, the Covenant was a small collection of "client" species, held together by collective need and complimentary abilities and technologies. As this societal model succeeded, so too did the reach of the Covenant, and its technology, culture and belief system began to coalesce into a single hegemonistic culture. It is a culture with a distinct caste system.
The very name "Covenant," originated with a pact between the two senior species - the Prophets and the Elites. To follow, is the Covenant Hierarchy It is important to note, that other than the Prophets, the Covenant species' names are those chosen by humans. We simply don't know their true names.
The Covenant believes that the Forerunners, a long-since vanished and utterly mysterious civilization, are god-like, but not literally their gods. Rather, the Forerunners represent a level of being that must be attained, or at least attempted. This belief system is underpinned by the existence of numerous abandoned Forerunner artifacts, objects and installations, of which the artificial world Halo, is just one example. The evident technological perfection of Forerunner objects, and the awesome, and unknowable purpose for which these artifacts exist, has powered the Covenant theology for millennia.
There's nothing like evidence for the existence of god, than finding his abandoned toys scattered throughout your backyard. However, the Forerunner technology is as obtuse as it is arcane. The Covenant can only guess at its true purpose and origin, and much of their belief system is based on speculation and dogma. That said, they have been able to incorporate some Forerunner advancements into their weapon and transport technology.
The role of the Prophets, for as long as can be recalled, is to archive, explore and locate Forerunner technology and artifacts. These intelligent, highly evolved beings are physically weak, hence their need for Elite allies. The pact allows the prophets to advance their search through conquest and occasionally assimilation of species whose homeworlds or solar systems contain Forerunner architecture or technology, often unguessed at by the resident species. Prophet ceremony and purpose is not generally known to the Covenant population, most of whom simply trust in their wisdom to further the goals and territory of the Covenant.
This proud, warlike species is tenacious, aggressive and powerful. Although Elites tend to hunt in packs, they also excel in individual combat. Covenant military promotion is by merit. A Covenant soldier must succeed to advance. Success is often measured in scalps. A Covenant of "Admiral" or equivalent rank, may have personally slaughtered thousands of individuals.
Rank is indicated by uniform color - purple being that of an Elite footsoldier, red that of a veteran and so on up the chain of command. A black, or gold-suited Elite is a very dangerous opponent indeed.
Fast, agile and incredibly strong, Elites augment their natural physical abilities with advanced weapons and defensive technology. Elites wear full-body energy shields, and occasionally use light-refracting camouflage against species whose vision makes this technique effective.
Elites coexist with Prophets uneasily. They need access to the Forerunner technology parsed and reverse engineered by the Prophets, and certainly demonstrably share some religious beliefs. But the Elites prefer to demonstrate their faith on the battlefield not the temple. They have little patience for those who believe that liturgical pomp, rather than conquest, is what the Gods require.
Little is known about these giant fur-covered aliens other than they have strength and agility comparable to that of Elites, and that their preferred weapon is different to any yet encountered in Covenant skirmishes. Their political and social status is unknown. We expect updated intelligence, soon.
This most mysterious of Covenant client species, seem almost barely tolerant of their Covenant "masters" and remarkably little is known about their civilization, history or even biology. They work hard in their role as Covenant muscle, and never disobey orders. However, their commitment to the Covenant religion has always been in question, since they continue to maintain their ancient cultural traditions.
The massive bulk of a Hunter is impossible to mistake, and the fact that they always hunt in pairs makes them even more memorable - although few human/Hunter interactions have ended with anyone left alive to remember anything.
Hunters are dismissive and contemptuous of their foes, and in fact, they will only associate with Elites, recognizing and respecting perhaps a similar warrior mentality. Hunters are deployed almost like heavy munitions, and other Covenant will often clear the area of deployment, since Hunters are unconcerned with collateral damage. Huge impenetrable shields, powerful Fuel Rod Guns and tactical brilliance are the hallmarks of Hunter combat.
These creatures are not encountered in Halo, but they play a vital role in the Covenant hierarchy. While the Prophets guide, direct and manage Forerunner research, it is the Engineer caste who must excavate, unlock and transport Forerunner artifacts. These remarkable aliens are patient, almost completely silent and utterly focused on their task and its religious implications.
Their concentration has been described as "a trance-like reverie" by the few who have witnessed it. They communicate only with Prophets - a fact that may contribute to the balance of power between Elites and Prophets - and in fact will usually ignore anything that is neither a Prophet nor a Forerunner artifact. One observed exception to this fact is a high-pitched, keening wail that Engineers will emit should Forerunner objects or structures be threatened.
Although technically they exist on the same social strata as Grunts, both species feel that the other is their lesser. Jackals, while not quite as resilient as Grunts, are certainly faster and possess far superior senses. This makes them excellent stalkers and snipers, and as such, they tend to have "better" battlefield positions.
Often described as "birdlike" certainly in terms of their darting, staccato motions, the Jackals can vary in appearance, sometimes appearing with flat, bone-ridged skulls, or sometimes with a distinct, Mohawk shaped plumage. It is unclear whether this variance is based on age, gender or both. Ferocious, unpredictable combatants, the Jackals typically present much more of a challenge than their grunt cohorts, and should be regarded with caution.
Undoubtedly on the lowest rung of the Covenant hierarchy, the Grunts seem happy with their lot. Obedient, subservient and perfectly suited to menial and dangerous tasks, the Grunts make perfect conscripts to the Covenant cause. Although they lack physical prowess, their pack mentality makes these creatures formidable in numbers. However, should their pack leader (Grunt or otherwise) be killed or injured, discipline and courage can often fail.
What they lack in ability and intelligence, they more than make up for in numbers and sheer toughness. Grunts breed prodigiously, and are among the most populous Covenant species. They hail from a cold planet, with a Methane atmosphere, hence the rebreathers attached to their faces.