Here’s a suitably obscure but important lore topic to kick off my first post of 2015.
The San’Shyuum, better known to the wider audience as ‘the Prophets’, are one of the most important parts of the Halo story in ways that I don’t think we even fully understand yet. From their ancient alliance with humanity to their stewardship of the Covenant, the San’Shyuum have wormed their way into many important events and have constantly provided us with a great deal of mystery.
This post will aim to examine some of those mysteries in detail, and perhaps shed some light not only on what happened to them after the fall of the Covenant in Halo 3 but also what future role they may play in the Reclaimer Saga.Firstly, this is a post that I’ve been dying to write up for a few years now. Recent additions to the lore have resulted in a resurgence of interest in this topic, and I should very much like to thank the Halo Archive community for some great discussions about it. If you’re interested in lore discussions and debates, or finding people to play multiplayer with, definitely look into the Archive.
Now then, let’s get some background established.
The San’Shyuum originate (as far as we know) from the world Janjur Qom, they were capable of remarkable technological feats and formed an alliance with ancient humanity back during the days when the Forerunners ruled the galaxy. They fought and died with the humans against the Flood during the first outbreak, but were forced to surrender to the Forerunners during the Human-Forerunner war and, as a result, the Human-San’Shyuum empire fell.
Where humanity was punished by means of having the technological clock turned back on their civilisation to a preindustrial state, the San’Shyuum faced comparatively less severe consequences. They were allowed to colonise and travel between two worlds in their home system which was kept under quarantine by a Promethean known as the Confirmer. Over time however, the Confirmer became lax in his duties and the San’Shyuum plotted an uprising by gradually hoarding weapons.
There was much commotion when a Forerunner as revered as the Librarian came to Janjur Qom to catalogue specimens of their species, and the elders of the San’Shyuum understood that something disastrous was coming. Immediately, they launched their assault on the present Forerunner forces – a rebellion which was short lived as Installation 07 appeared and fired over the planet. As we learn in the latest novel released, Broken Circle, the surface of Janjur Qom remained scarred by this event which led future generations to believe that they had indeed been punished by the Forerunners long ago.
However, the San’Shyuum were reseeded thanks to the Librarian’s efforts and were taken back to Janjur Qom. In the years that followed, they discovered that their world was saturated with Forerunner treasures and this led to a war between the Stoics (who only believed the technology should be worshipped) and the Reformists (who believed that the technology should be used). None of the treasures on their world quite matched up to the Keyship, what came to be known as the mighty Forerunner Dreadnaught, and the mysterious entity who occupied it.Yes, a fragment of Mendicant Bias remained on that Keyship and has been the key to a number of significant events in Halo’s lore. Mendicant inadvertently caused the Human-Covenant war when he told Ord Casto, Lod Mron, and Hod Rumt (better known to us as Truth, Regret, and Mercy) that the religion of the Covenant was based entirely on a lie – a misinterpretation of the word ‘reclamation’, which actually meant ‘Reclaimer’ and pointed to humanity being the heirs of the Forerunner legacy.
Knowing that this would split the Covenant if word ever got out, the three San’Shyuum ascended to become the hierarchs of the Covenant and ordered the extermination of humanity to prevent the truth from being known. Mendicant Bias attempted to launch the Keyship to go to Earth and take humanity to the Ark (for more on why, take a look at the Ark Theory), but was prevented from doing so and shut down – that is, until Halo 3 where the Keyship does go to the Ark and the two fragments are reunited.The first question I’d like to address is what happened to the San’Shyuum after Halo 3? As we know, though few in number they mysteriously vanished after the Covenant’s fall – it appears that they took a number of Huragok with them as well.
For this, let’s examine a passage from Halo 3’s Bestiarum:
The Prophets claim their homeworld was destroyed when its star went [nova] some 3200 years ago, but there is very little data regarding the actual location of their system of origin. Their reluctance to disclose this seemingly inconsequential bit of information could well be a holdover from their long period of hostility with the Sangheili. At any rate, the [commitment[?]] necessary to maintain such a conspiracy of that magnitude would tend to be prohibitive. Perhaps its longevity has worked in its favour, with [myth[?]] taught as fact to subsequent generations.
Rather interesting, no?
We know from Halo: Rebirth that the Forerunners personally saw to the reseeding of the galaxy, as the IsoDidact and the surviving group of Lifeworkers (including the likes of Chant to Green, the new Lifeshaper, and Growth Through Trial of Change) spent about two years after the Halos fired checking that the Halos had actually worked and that the Flood threat was over. As such, the Forerunners would surely have known that Janjur Qom’s star would go supernova – the only difficulty that Forerunners faced with stellar manipulation was taming young stars, outside of that they were able to work wonders with them to the point where stars essentially just became stellar ‘grenades’ in their war against the Flood.
Could it be then that the San’Shyuum did lie about Janjur Qom’s star going nova? In the Evolutions story Wages of Sin, the Minister of Discovery discloses that the San’Shyuum lied about a great many things to the Sangheili and other client races. They knew that the Great Journey was false all along, but, more interestingly, they knew about the Mantle.
“Or, as I fear, are they to reclaim the mantle we so terribly squandered? The responsibility the Forerunners left us was a magnificent one, but perhaps beyond our means and character. We are a greedy, squabbling lot. We clamber over each other for rank and privilege, and kill, maim, or betray for power. The Forerunner mantle was one of responsibility, it seems. Perhaps we were intended to nurture rather than conquer.”
More than just knowing about it, they believe that it was given to them by the Forerunners. Of course, we know that this isn’t the least bit true since the Librarian and IsoDidact have planned for humanity to inherit responsibility over the galaxy, so what could have led the San’Shyuum to this conclusion?Well, the Keyship seems to be the… er, key to all this.
“The ship is and has always been the key. It once stood on our secret world, just as majestic and mysterious as it is now, an enigma that drove our civilization to greatness— the seed of all our discoveries. Our world— our true world— had been unkind to us, or I suppose, we to it. The ship liberated us from the toxins and ash of our own endeavours, sanctifying our path. From it, we learned of the Forerunner legacy, the ubiquitous scatterings of their wake. So many worlds contain their leavings and their structures, but only ours was blessed with a Ship, a teacher. It taught us all how to unlock the secrets of space and time, to build ships of our own that sail the stars to spread the word. But it also seemed to ever nudge us in a direction, to build weapons of war—energy that could burn or sear flesh, vaporize bone. Technology that oft ekes conflagration from vacuum.”
This is the most interesting passage of all, I think. The Keyship was a ‘teacher’ to the San’Shyuum, and it ‘nudged’ them to build what we now know to be plasma-based weaponry – sounds almost like a geas to me. Weapons that could “burn or sear flesh” and “vaporize bone”? Hmm, I wonder what enemy that could be useful against?
See where I’m going with this yet?
Isn’t it such an odd coincidence that humanity is given a portal to the Ark and the San’Shyuum the one and only key left in the galaxy (at least, that we know of)? What’s more, that Keyship just happened to have a fragment of Mendicant Bias who seeks to atone for his betrayal of the Forerunners – the same people who kept him around in case the Flood one day returned so that he could be sought out due to his intimate knowledge about them. Already, this is tying in rather nicely with the Ark Theory…The San’Shyuum and humanity were once allied and were believed to have found a cure to the Flood. The Timeless One denies the existence of such a cure to the IsoDidact, but (and this could be a whole post in itself) there are a good number of hints that a cure to the Flood did exist because humans were coming back from the Palace of Pain on Installation 07 after being subjected to the Flood and exhibiting no signs of infection. Likewise, we’ve a contemporary example of Flood immunity through Sergeant Avery Johnson, the subject of his immunity is a key aspect of the novel First Strike where Halsey presents the Master Chief with a choice – tell ONI about Johnson’s immunity, resulting in him being killed and dissected for a million-in-one chance of replicating that, or tell them nothing. It’s a great moral dilemma for John over the course of the novel and, in the end, he chooses not to tell ONI the truth.
To me, and this will answer the second question of what potential role the San’Shyuum may play in the future, it seems like the Forerunners were planning to create a new alliance between humanity and the San’Shyuum to potentially bring about a cure for the Flood, or at the very least work together when they came looming over the galaxy’s horizon once more.
The IsoDidact knew this would happen, as the Timeless One itself told him that humanity would be tested next for the Mantle at the end of Primordium.
“The decision is final. Humans will replace you. Humans will be tested next. […] It is the way of those who seek out the truth of the Mantle. Humans will rise again in arrogance and defiance. The Flood will return when they are ripe – and bring them unity. […] Misery is sweetness. Forerunners will fail as you have failed before. Humans will rise. Whether they will also fail has not yet been decided. […] We are the Flood. There is no difference. Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds… no end to war, grief, or pain. In a hundred and one thousand [years]… unity again, and wisdom. Until then – sweetness.”
Of course, there are multiple dimensions to this grand plan that the Librarian had. Plans within plans within plans…
Originally, the Ur-Didact was meant to awaken from his Cryptum with his mind cleansed of the Gravemind’s malediction so he could champion humanity’s ascension and teach them how to not fall prey to the mistakes that the Forerunners made. A major part of this plan was the Janus Key (lots of ‘keys’ in this plan, all highlighting one particular ‘door’ on Earth…) which reveals the location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy.What ties this together, you may ask? Well, cast your mind back about 8 years ago to Halo 3’s ARG, known as IRIS. As I’ve talked extensively about before, this ARG has so many elements which the Reclaimer Saga has adopted into its narrative, and none are quite so relevant as this:
Failure is for those who don’t know the sound of darkness.
Those so blinded that they use all diverging paths.
And make no mistake, progress can blind you.
Just like now, pieces seem to be coming together- bit by bit, slice by surgical slice.
Then, all of a sudden- endless calm.
There was a lack of… a failure in judgement.
You must understand: not all life deserves a chance,
even the artifice passing as my own.
Now there is a lesson to spend a millennium lingering upon, waiting for a redemptive hand to turn the keys.
Leading to this symbiotic relationship which benefits both our futures.
I will guide your movements, and you will lead me to atonement.
This is quite evidently spoken by Mendicant Bias, the mention of him being guided to atonement makes that plainly clear. But note the indirect mention of the Ur-Didact here, the “redemptive hand” who we await “to turn the keys”. The Janus Key that was left to him which would reveal the location of the last Keyship in the galaxy and the portal which it would open to take humanity to the Ark.
This symbiotic relationship which would benefit both humanity and Mendicant Bias. Humanity could fulfil the destiny laid before it in reclaiming the Mantle of Responsibility under the Ur-Didact’s guidance, and Mendicant Bias would finally achieve the atonement he has sought for 100,000 years by providing humanity with the information it knows about the Flood so they can be beaten upon their return. It’s a perfect plan on paper, right?
Sadly, some things have rather complicated this…For one, the Ur-Didact is insane. The firing of the Halo array destroyed the Domain – the means through which his mind would be healed to then enable the Librarian’s plan to come to fruition. This single event has sent everything into jeopardy.
The Janus Key is split. The UNSC has one half, Jul ‘Mdama and Catherine Halsey have the other.
The San’Shyuum ended up ruling a religious cult that ended up working to exterminate humanity instead of allying with them, and they’ve now mysteriously disappeared with a number of technological miracle workers.
It’s all looking like a bit of a mess, isn’t it?
Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention something of a major plot development brought up by the most recently released novel Broken Circle. There was a Luminary on Janjur Qom which revealed the location of the Halo rings that ended up being lost because Mken, one of the novel’s protagonists, chose to rescue a San’Shyuum female instead and the Luminary resultantly fell from orbit. Odd how that too was on their world along with the Keyship, eh?
So how can the Librarian’s plan potentially adapt to the current situation that the Halo universe is in? (With great difficulty for all the characters involved, that much is for sure.)We need to find the San’Shyuum. I have a distinct feeling that we’re building up to their return, and we’re going to find out the location of Janjur Qom. It’s intrinsically tied to ancient humanity’s past, and in Broken Circle there is even a statue of one standing with a San’Shyuum.
“The bas-relief carving was divided in two, a row of figures seen on the right and left, in hieroglyphic profile, both groups facing inward toward a circular form enclosing a star. The cavern figures on the left were bipedal, vaguely hominid in shape. Their skulls and jaws seemed different from Sangheili or San’Shyuum, to Vil; it was difficult to see in the uneven light. The figures on the right were clearly San’Shyuum, though without antigrav chairs. They stood more upright than the San’Shyuum of the Dreadnought and seemed more elegantly shaped.”
The Forerunners eradicated most traces of ancient humanity when their war came to a close, but Janjur Qom holds some record of that time. While we’ve known about ancient humanity in the story for years now, it’s only in Halo 4 that the games have directly acknowledged it so it’s a somewhat new development. Given the significance of humanity’s history with the San’Shyuum in relation to the Forerunners and the Flood, it’s very easy to see how these seem to be deliberately constructed puzzle pieces that are just waiting to be fitted together.
As ever, it pays to be vigilant when it comes to 343 and their propensity for taking seemingly meaningless things in Halo’s lore and transforming them into absolutely pivotal aspects of the story. The San’Shyuum’s recent spike in prominence within the lore (from the Forerunner Saga and Broken Circle, tying all the way back to Evolutions in 2009) may well be part of a long game that 343 is playing. As such, I wouldn’t expect any answers on this front too soon, but you should keep a weather eye on the current issues of Halo: Escalation as the current story arc is focused on Jul and Halsey attempting to gain control of the UNSC’s half of the Janus Key – expect some potentially major developments to come of that over the next two months.
Stay tuned, Spartans!