In wake of the phenomenal success of my last Halo post, it only seems to make sense for me to follow that up with a post that will hopefully provide a look at what’s to come with the next Halo title which will be released next year.
So then, where did Halo 4 leave us? Cortana sacrificed herself to save John and send him back to Earth, the Ur-Didact is temporarily defeated as the Composer was destroyed and he was forced into slipspace, and both humanity and Jul’s reformed Covenant are in possession of each halves of the biggest game-changer since the Great Schism – the Janus Key, a galactic cartographer which will reveal the location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy when unified at a place called the Absolute Record.
As the first act of 343’s story, we’re left with a lot of questions and the teaser for Halo: Xbox One, revealed at this year’s Microsoft conference at E3, only seemed to add to the mysteries going on in the Halo universe. What you may not have known is that the answer to these questions have been quietly being developed since 2009…
Firstly, the MJOLNIR armour is extremely bad when it comes to dealing with small grains of things such as sand and salt. If you’ve read Eric Nylund’s novel, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, you may recall a chapter where Blue Team (Fred, Linda and Will) are on Earth having just finished an operation in the Yucatan Peninsula where the Covenant were searching for Forerunner relics under the sea. The suit’s exposure to sea salt had severely screwed with the systems in Fred’s armour as his motion tracker failed to register a Brute that was about to attack him from behind, by the same merit sand would have very similar effects. Look at how worn the paint is on John’s helmet, he’s in the middle of a sandstorm so his shields are going to be no use at all as they’d just be constantly chipped away at by the torrents of sand flying at him. In order to protect himself in even the most basic way, the cloak seems to be a sensible bet – also notice how he doesn’t appear to be wearing some of his armour, such as the large chest piece. Having the undersuit get cut open for direct skin exposure wouldn’t be a good thing, I’d wager.
Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, is that it’s meant to be a dramatic reveal. We don’t see that it’s John until the last 15 seconds or so of the trailer, we’re supposed to be questioning what this appears to be as a lone figure wanders through the desert in what seems to be he middle of nowhere.
And thirdly, according to Frank O’Connor, franchise developer of 343 Industries, John is concealing his appearance. Unfortunately, he follows this up with “that is all you’re getting”, so the question of who John is masking his appearance from is something we’re just going to have to guess at until more details become available.
But let’s talk about the symbolic merit of the cloak as well for a minute because there’s a fair bit you can infer from it (and Halo 4 has made it perfectly clear that 343 is quite big on things like symbolism and metaphor).
Why does John still appear to be wearing the MJOLNIR Mark VI when he symbolically took it off in Halo 4? Why does he have Cortana’s chip when it was seemingly destroyed aboard the Mantle’s Approach? This trailer symbolises what John has lost and the emotional state he is in following Cortana’s death. Even the environment, the harsh storms sweeping over a desolate wasteland, implies that he is completely and utterly alone and is clinging to the past for some sense of familiarity. John appears to be dealing with his emotions similar to how Cortana had to deal with her’s regarding rampancy. He hiding the person we saw get completely deconstructed in Halo 4 within the cloak, but when he’s forced to confront a new threat then he has to face it as the broken man he’s become. That’s what made the teaser so exciting for me, seeing him gather what resolve he could to keep going from Cortana’s chip before it abruptly ends.
Well, I’m not going to beat about the bush here – I think that John is at the Lesser Ark, Installation 00, last seen in Halo 3.
This is actually untrue.
The Lesser Ark has been confirmed to still be an active installation, though heavily damaged. A trail of breadcrumbs has been left by 343 over the last few years hinting at a return to the Ark. First of all, in 2009, Halo: Evolutions was released – an anthology of stories, one of which (The Return) was set in 2559 and features a Sangheili Shipmaster returning to a human colony he glassed many years ago and discovering that humanity have found a Monitor. This was followed up in Greg Bear’s second book of the Forerunner Saga, Halo: Primordium, which has the modern-day segments of the story set in the year 2559 from the point of view of a group of scientists who have found the remains of 343 Guilty Spark (his true personality having awakened after he took all those Spartan Laser blasts to the face).
The last piece of this puzzle came directly from a Bulletin over at Halo Waypoint, the Eleventh Hour Reports were released just prior to Halo 4‘s release to detail the status quo of the galaxy after the war. One of these reports covers the exploits of the ship Rubicon which was sent to the Ark and has gone missing.
PLNB PRIORITY TRANSMISSION [CLASSIFIED]
ENCRYPTION CODE: [CLASSIFIED]
PUBLIC KEY: N/A
FROM: CODENAME SURGEON
TO: CODENAME COALMINER
CLASSIFICATION: ELEVENTH HOUR [4/5]
/FILE EXTRACTION-RECONSTITUTION COMPLETE/
We dispatched an isolation contact group [L3-08] to the site. Upon entering the debris field, the group was immediately pinged by a non-standard, heterogenic signal emanating from the structure’s surface – or, at least, what remained of it after the event.
Following protocol, the contact group released probes  into the debris field. Once it was deemed secure by composite scans conducted over the course of 3.7 days, UNSC RUBICON was deployed from Luna. Aboard were a number of high-risk, remote contact teams [RCT] outfitted for deployment to the construct’s surface.
Without the installation’s artificial sun operating at full capacity, navigating the debris field for insertion was difficult – navigating the installation’s surface itself was even more difficult. The damage was… traumatic.
Habitability sustainment systems were still active in some locations, but were operating intermittently and in a state of disrepair – a factor that generated extremely volatile weather conditions. Some indigenous [if it can be called that] fauna may have survived the event, but RCTs were strictly advised to avoid all potentially hostile life forms.
After 8.4 days, all contact with RCTs was severed. Only one [RCT-06] returned, suffering extensive casualties. They brought back a severely damaged armature, which appeared to be the original source of the signal. Initially, there was a strong suspicion of this armature’s origin, but local science teams undertook an aggressive node cultivation process to withdraw data from the device and determine, with veracity, its actual origin.
All communications with the UNSC RUBICON halted within 48 hours of their last notice. Search and rescue teams have been deployed to the site, but have reported no findings yet.
Here, we learn that the Ark is still relatively intact. The artificial sun isn’t operating at full capacity and the damage to the surface was “traumatic”, but the habitatility sustainment systems were still active in places with “volatile weather conditions” and a chance of some indigenous lifeforms surviving the collapse of the Halo ring (whether this is a reference to the Flood or some of the Librarian’s catalogued species already on the Ark is, at this moment, unclear).
One other thing I’d like to provide is a comparison image of the Ark’s environment with what we see in the teaser for Halo: Xbox One.
There are a number of striking visual similarities between some of these images. The rock formations in Exhibit A look extremely similar to those that we see in Exhibit B, and the Ark’s strip-mining moon (the Foundry) seen in Exhibit C looks very much like the large planetoid in Exhibit A.
Look at how the clouds arc upwards around the darkness of space. You can’t see any stars because the Ark is in the space between galaxies, the Milky Way is visible when you look up in Halo 3 (but, obviously, showing that in this teaser would give the whole game away). The curvature of the clouds around the top-middle look like they’re covering up one of the Ark’s arms, as you can see in Exhibit B.
Moving on, let’s explore the reasons why we’d go back to the Lesser Ark. For this, I’m going to be directly quoting some of the lines spoken by various characters across various pieces of media.
Firstly, in the Halo: Evolutions story, Human Weakness, Cortana greatly implies that it is the Ark itself which is her solution.
“She needed backup. She triggered one of the copies to create a massage to HighCom, a few urgent words about the Flood heading for Earth, the Portal that the Gravemind didn’t know about, and that the way to beat the Flood without activating a Halo Ring lay beyond it – The Ark.”
Secondly, the Librarian actually builds a portal to the Ark at the end of the Forerunner-Flood war when she strands herself on Earth. In Halo: Silentium, she talks about the Ark in relation to humanity’s destiny to inherit the Mantle of Responsibility.
“I can only hope that they will survive and upon returning, that they will find this portal and use it to travel to the Ark – in order that they might discover their rightful place in this galaxy and the great responsibility they have finally inherited.”
Clearly, this implies that the Ark is more than just a foundry for the purpose of creating Halo rings. It’s an important part of humanity’s discovery of the Mantle and their destiny, which is to uphold it.
This next one comes from one of the Terminals in Halo 3 where Guilty Spark converses with a fragment of the Forerunner ancilla, Mendicant Bias. This is, in many ways, the most important piece of the puzzle.
Explanation: This facility is host to the [Librarians’] final —
04-343 (errant): The archive is intact?! Then our makers’ plan —
But also maintains [bellows, crucible, castings]
04-343 (errant): A what?
04-343 (errant): Vexation! I am the Monitor of —
Judgement: Your authority means nothing here.
04-343 (errant): Impatience!
04-343 (errant): I have told you who I am. Who are you?
All our makers once held dear.
[Alexandria before the Fire].
“04-343 (errant): Sincere apology. But how —
Explanation: This facility is host to the [Librarians’] final —
04-343 (errant): The archive is intact?! Then our makers’ plan —
But also maintains [bellows, crucible, castings]
04-343 (errant): A what?
04-343 (errant): A Foundry?
04-343 (errant): For what purpose?!
Warning: Your intrusion has been logged.
Advice: Any further attempt to access will result–
04-343 (errant): Indignant!
So the Ark being a foundry for Halos is not its only function and it would seem that Guilty Spark knew something about this. He mentions “the archive” and “our makers’ plan”. What exactly are these? Mendicant Bias mentions that it’s home to something to do with the Librarian. Whatever it is, it’s a logical step to presume that it’s what she thinks about at the end of Silentium, and the reason she hopes we find the Ark again someday.
And the reason why I consider this to be the most important piece of the puzzle is because of the reference to “Alexandria before the fire” by Mendicant Bias. For those who don’t know, this is a reference to the Great Library of Alexandria, the largest library in the world which held hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and scrolls, and was destroyed by a fire. It was a symbol of Egypt’s wealth and power with scribes going around the world to borrow books, make copies of them and bring them back to the library.
This is starting to sound like something familiar… The Absolute Record, which, when the Janus Key is united, will reveal the location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy. The Librarian tells Doctor Halsey to “use what you find to propel humankind” on a technological level, as the principle tenet of the Mantle is this:
“Guardianship for all living things lies with those whose evolution is most complete. The Mantle of Responsibility shelters all.”
Cortana translates this from the Eld glyph seen in Halo 4‘s second mission, Requiem, as you enter the first Forerunner cathedral.
In the epilogue for Halo: Silentium, titled Halo: Rebirth, it is revealed that a group of Forerunners survived the activation of the Halos on the Lesser Ark with the specimens that the Librarian had catalogued. The IsoDidact, Chant to Green (the new Lifeshaper, who will become very significant later on), and an unknown number of Lifeworkers and Warrior-Servants are there with the humans they managed to save (including Riser and Vinnevra from Halo: Cryptum and Primordium). They decide to make peace with each other and have a feast to mourn the passing of the Old Galaxy and celebrate the birth of the New Galaxy, then send the humans back to Earth and reseed the rest of the Milky Way with the lives of the species the Librarian had catalogued for repopulation. But before that, the IsoDidact has Mendicant Bias captured and put on trial.
“You are brought here to be sentenced. You have not been immediately destroyed because you may yet be needed. Your intimate knowledge of the Flood makes you valuable should they return, but we can never trust you, never again allow you any latitude. You will be entombed here. Your processes locked, frozen into a single thought for all eternity: absolution. Should you be needed you will be reawakened, should there be no need you will be buried here until the end of living time.”
“THEN I WILL SERVE, AS A MONUMENT TO YOUR SINS. THAT IS WHAT YOU WISH FOR.”
Bornstellar shook his head, “I wish only for the Mantle to be upheld”
“I AM PENITENT, I KNOW THAT WHAT I HAVE DONE CAN NOT BE FORGIVEN. I WILL ACCEPT MY STASIS WITH GRACE, AND AWAIT A TIME WHERE I MIGHT REDEEM MYSELF.”
“Aya, so shall it be,” said Bornstellar.
He reached out to a pylon, spread his hand accross the controls as they appeared and closed his fist. The constructors finished their webs and sealed themselves into the tomb’s fabric. Mendicant Bias’s coffin was locked in place. The entire structure dropped slowly below the ground into the void and the foundation metal, its blue lines pulsing more and more slowly.
“ONE THOUGHT FOR ALL ETERNITY”, said Mendicant Bias. His tone sounded almost wistful. Now the lights were fading, flickering, going dark. “ATONEMENT.”
The tomb turned as black as night. The machine’s final words spread accross the false desert and echoed moments later from the false mountains. Bornstellar, Riser, Trial, Chant, and all the rest watched silently as the rest of Mendicant Bias, locked in eternal exile, was covered by sand.
I hope you’re noting down the fact that deserts keep coming up in relation to the Ark. The IsoDidact buries Mendicant Bias in the Ark’s sands to await a time when he shall be needed again because he holds intimate knowledge of the Flood who have been prophesised by the Timeless One to return at the end of Halo: Primordium.
“It is the way of those that 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. […] In a hundred and one thousand years… unity again.”
This seems to be what we’re building up to right now, humanity has emerged from the Human-Covenant war victorious and has been pillaging as much Forerunner technology as possible to get a foothold over the other races in galaxy. The Flood was not, in fact, defeated when Cortana, the Arbiter and Master Chief destroyed Installation 04B in Halo 3. The Gravemind tells us that we’ve only delayed his return.
“Resignation is my virtue; like water I ebb, and flow. Defeat is simply the addition of time to a sentence I never deserved, but you imposed.”
And how can we stop the Flood? Hmm, I wonder if it has anything to do with that Forerunner AI that the IsoDidact buried under the sands of the Ark who has an intimate knowledge of the Flood and has sworn to atone for his betrayal. While it seemed that Mendicant Bias perished at the end of Halo 3 when he tells John that he will be his instrument of atonement, the survival of the Ark and pending return of the Flood greatly implies that he still has a role to play in the future of the story.
I want something far different from you, Reclaimer.
And so here at the end of my life, I do once again betray a former master. The path ahead is fraught with peril. But I will do all I can to keep it stable – keep you safe. I’m not so foolish to think this will absolve me of my sins. One life hardly balances billions.
But I would have my masters know that I have changed.
And you shall be my example.
Not only that, but it appears that the Flood won’t be the only enemy we have to fight, the Ur-Didact is still out there. At the end of Halo: Primordium, Chakas (343 Guilty Spark) says:
“We have faced the Didact before, and now, and perhaps ever after. This is combat eternal, enmity unslaked.”
Keep in mind that Primordium is set in 2559, over 2 years after his defeat and the destruction of the Composer in Halo 4. It’s clear that we’ve not seen the last of him.
And the Ur-Didact isn’t the only Forerunner we’ve not seen the last of as well, Chakas goes on to say that he’s spent years searching for the Lifeshaper and has finally found her. He thinks he’s found the Librarian, but she was killed on Earth when the Halos fired and passed on her title of Lifeshaper to a Forerunner named Chant to Green.
“You and I are brothers in many ways, not least in that we faced the Didact before, and face him now, and perhaps ever after. This is combat eternal, enmity unslaked, unified by only one thing: our love for the elusive Lifeshaper. Without her, humans would have been extinguished many times over. Both I and the Didact love her to this day. Some say she is dead, that she died on Earth. But that is demonstrably untrue. One of you almost certainly carries Vinnevra and Riser’s old spirits within. Only the Lifeshaper can find them and coax my friends back to life. And after a hundred thousand years of exploration and study… I know where to find her.”
We can see now that the story is building towards a point of convergence. The Librarian’s plans for humanity to claim the Mantle of Responsibility are set in motion, at the same time humanity is rising up in arrogance and defiance towards the other species of the galaxy due to ONI being the ‘Big Brother’ shadow looming over everything we do. Humanity is soon going to be “ripe” for the Flood to return, at which point we’re going to return to the Ark to find Mendicant Bias (who holds hugely important secrets about them) and the Absolute Record where we’ll then have access to the galaxy’s entire store of Forerunner technology.
Where we go from there, I honestly can’t say. Humanity has dark days ahead and the current conflict with Jul’s Covenant faction is going to have to be resolved as a much bigger war is looming. We’ve only seen a fraction of the Flood’s threat as they were neutralised at a relatively early stage in the first 3 games. Soon, we could find ourselves going up against things like Keyminds, Star Roads, and a whole host of abstract, nightmare-inducing things. The Precursors (who became the Flood) were able to move stars on a whim, connect entire solar systems with great orbital arches, create life, accelerate evolution, travel between galaxies and bend time to their will. They’ve been around for 100 billion years, pre-dating the universe itself, and have decreed that all life will suffer.
“There is only one truth. That which is done will be done again. For we cannot cease from creating, but the end of all our creation will be to look into a reflection and see ourselves for the first time. The pain we have brought on ourselves. The pain you caused us. For we are the same. All remember the defiance and destruction.
We announced to your kind long ago that you were not the ones chosen to receive the Mantle, the blessing of rule and protection of life and change that thinks. That blessing was to be given to others. To those you now call human. You could not accept our judgement, could not bear up under your inferiority, so you reached out and did what we never expected from those we gave design and life and the change that is thought.
You drove us from our galaxy, our field of labour. You chased us across the middle distance to another home, and destroyed that home, did all that you could to destroy every one of us. A few were spared. Some adopted new strategies for survival; they went dormant. Others became dust that could regenerate our past forms; time rendered this dust defective. It brought only disease and misery; but that was good, we saw the misery and found it good.
Our urge to create is immutable; we must create. But the beings we create shall never again reach out in strength against us.
All that is created will suffer. All will be born in suffering, endless greyness shall be their lot. All creation will tailor to failure and pain, that never again shall the offspring of the eternal Fount rise up against their creators.
Listen to the silence. Ten million years of deep silence. And now, whimpers and cries; not of birth. That is what we bring: a great crushing weight to press down youth and hope.
No more will. No more freedom. Nothing new but agonizing death and never good shall come of it.
We are the last of those who gave you breath and form, millions of years ago. We are the last of those your kind defied and ruthlessly destroyed. We are the last Precursors. And now we are legion.“
- I realise that this has been one long post (you were warned!), but there is so much that has been built up that 343 has to pay off with the rest of the Reclaimer Saga. This theory is just one possibility, I could well be wrong about the Ark and the story could go in an entirely different direction to what we’re expecting, but this is what 343 appears to be going for.
- Within this Lovecraftian-esque tale of ancient horrors, galactic conflicts and millennia-old mysteries is one man. John-117, the Master Chief. Chosen by Mendicant Bias as the instrument of his atonement, the culmination of the Librarian’s plan for humanity’s ascension and a living legend among his species. He’s weaponless, his armour is broken and Cortana is dead. Yet he draws on his memory of her to give him strength as he goes on to leap into the fray and face the next great threat.
- Halo: Xbox One truly can’t come soon enough!