“Reclaimer, the genesong I placed within you contains many gifts…”
At the mid-point of Halo 4, the Master Chief comes face-to-face with the data ghost of the Librarian – the Forerunner who ensured life would continue after the Halos fired and gave humanity the status of ‘Reclaimer.’
She says that she seeded many hidden “gifts” within humanity, and that the Didact can only be defeated by unlocking this dormant potential in the Master Chief, granting him ‘immunity’ to the Composer.
But, in both Halo 4 and Halo 5, we see hints of other “gifts” awakening, which may also come into play in Halo Infinite…
It’s been a hot minute since I last wrote an article about Halo 4 (by which, I of course mean it’s been about a week), and I’ve recently been thinking about this particular story beat with the Librarian as a kind of connective tissue across the Reclaimer Saga.
While I have previously written (at great length) about how I feel this scene has been misinterpreted by many with regards to how it deals with the Chosen One trope, something I haven’t talked about in quite some time is the nature of the “many gifts” that the Librarian refers to.
Within the high-level structure of Halo 4’s plot, this is how the Master Chief becomes ‘immune’ to the later use of the Composer, something the Librarian says he cannot defeat the Didact without…
But there are at least two other “gifts” that we have seen take hold.
Before we get to those, let’s first break down what actually happens in this scene.
I feel it necessary to begin by stating that, within the context of the game’s story, the depth of specifics of what’s happening here don’t really matter.
For the average player, all you need to understand is that the Chief is experiencing some sort of vision, like the Cortana and Gravemind moments in Halo 3. It doesn’t have to go any further than that, no additional lore is needed to ‘get’ what the high-level situation is here.
The Didact wants a device called the Composer, which he will use to ‘imprison’ humanity in his Promethean war machines – making us his slave army. That’s the one-sentence summary.
But for those who are familiar with the expanded universe, particularly the Forerunner Saga, one can infer a lot more of the specific detail of what is actually happening in this scene.
The incredibly abstract and distorted imagery is very interesting in what it implies. We begin by seeing the Chief reach towards an orb of light, as soon as his hand touches it he begins to shatter, and at the very end we see veins of light course through the Chief after he accepts the Librarian’s ‘gift.’
In Halo: Rebirth, Chloe Bear’s marvellous epilogue to Halo: Silentium, receiving a geas (or ‘genesong’ – they’re the same thing) is described thusly:
“There are words and ideas you need to know,” the Lifeworker said, only then withdrawing her hand. She gave it a little shake which gratified him, and he curled his lips. Then she looked somber.
Uh-oh, he thought.
“You already have some knowledge,” she said, “A new kind of geas. Here is more.”
The radiant jewel grew. He tried to fend off its light, but something held him in place. He looked up at her steady, earnest face and forced himself to surrender without a scrap. Things were very different now as in other hard times he would have to be smart, and flexible, and think for all his people.
The jewel’s light drew up around his head, entered his eyes and ears, spread down through his neck into chest, and body. He lifted his arms and saw his veins glow. There were so many, so alive, beautiful! And Riser was not afraid.
The glow faded, his flesh turned opaque again. He stretched. He was different, but only a little. He did not remember the pain as sharply. That worried him. What else would he forget? [Halo: Rebirth]
This description pretty much exactly matches what we see in this cutscene, and the scene that follows where the Chief is in the Librarian’s chamber – his armour flowing with the same pulsing energy that the above passage describes.
On another occasion, in Halo: Primordium, Vinnevra (one of the main characters who acts as the group’s guide) recalls this in a similar fashion to how we see it in the game.
[Vinnevra’s] face was clear and calm and her eyes bright. “I think I understand now. This used to be a place for children. Forerunner children. A safe place to learn and play. And I know where my geas comes from,” she said. “It comes into my head like sunshine through the dark. It comes new and fresh when there is something important to tell me.” [Halo: Primordium, p. 276]
Vinnevra describes the geas as being “like sunshine through the dark.” This exact imagery is used in the cutscene, as the geas literally takes the form of a radiant, glowing orb that comes when there is something important – words and ideas – the Chief needs to know about the Didact’s plan regarding the Composer and humanity’s ancient past.
With that established, let’s cover what some of the other “gifts” we see take hold over the Master Chief are…
WHISPERS IN THE STORM
Throughout the latter half of Halo 4, after the meeting with the Librarian, the Master Chief starts to hear the Didact’s voice speaking directly to him.
Didact: “The Mantle of Responsibility for the galaxy shelters all, human. But only the Forerunners are its masters.”
Master Chief: “Cortana, where’s this coming from?”
Cortana: “Where’s what coming from?”
Master Chief: “The Didact’s voice.”
Cortana: “I’m not picking up anything, Chief.”
Master Chief: “He’s there. Keep trying.” [Halo 4, Shutdown]
This is an interesting story and character beat because deliberate attention is called to the fact that Cortana can’t hear the Didact. This suggests that the method of communication is not being transmitted through conventional means.
We see this play out in the previous mission, Reclaimer, where Cortana is snatched from the particle cannon system by the Librarian. This happened because the Librarian needed access to the Chief’s neural interface.
This is also why, upon reporting back to Del Rio, he refers to these events as “the delusions of an ageing Spartan.” Nothing observable happened during this exchange, it was purely within the mind (as we further see in Spartan Ops, when Halsey also communicates with the Librarian).
Of course, we have to remember that Cortana’s rampancy is a factor here. I would contend, however, that her not being able to hear the Didact comes up multiple times throughout this level – during moments where she is fully aware, not experiencing any outbursts of rampancy – in a purposeful effort to highlight this growing connection between protagonist and antagonist.
As has always been clear throughout the series, the Forerunners’ means of communications are incredibly sophisticated. Light, radio, and microwaves carry too great a risk of interference and latency issues, so they ceased communicating across the EM spectrum and developed various other means.
In Halo: Cryptum, we get a glimpse of this as Bornstellar experiences a memory of the Didact’s which is tied to the realisation that advanced Forerunners quite literally experience objective reality differently.
Soon, I was jittering and plunging my way through a great space battle, events moving far too quickly for me to make much sense of it. I had no idea where or when this was – I could not correlate these events with any historical record. Complicating the recovery was many hundreds of points of view, threading through and around the central events, chopping and intercutting – and a remarkably different perception of objective reality. As a Promethean, the Didact simply saw things differently.
Clearly, a thousand years ago, when entering battle, the Didact had plugged into the full sensory experience of thousands of his warriors… something I could barely imagine and certainly not control.” [Halo: Cryptum, page 162]
With 343’s initial premise of the Didact being the personal ‘nemesis’ for the Master Chief, it seems that this particular thread was something that would have connected the two characters across the then-planned ‘Reclaimer Trilogy.’
One can quite easily imagine an alternate Halo 5 where the Master Chief is drawn away from the UNSC by whispers from across the galaxy that only he can hear, realising that the Didact is still out there as the conflict between them becomes more of a personal matter. Indeed, over the next decade, some version of this may yet play out…
That’s everything from Halo 4, so what about Halo 5?
CONTACT THE DOMAIN
The Domain is a vast and mysterious repository for information that was used by the Forerunners, and the Precursors before them. It is the record of life’s interaction with the cosmos, the closest analogy to an ‘afterlife’ in the Halo universe, and it is also ‘alive’ in some sense – bound by a set of rules that it sometimes chooses to break.
When the Halos were fired, the final victory of the Gravemind was that the Domain was annihilated.
It wasn’t just all sentient life in the galaxy that perished, but the wisdom and knowledge of a hundred billion years stored within the Domain was wiped clean.
With that living data repository lost, the Domain functionally exists now with a more dangerous and pragmatic use: a galaxy-spanning network that enables control over Forerunner technology.
This is what enabled Cortana to awaken and exercise control over the Guardians in Halo 5. Part of this also ties into what the Librarian did to the Master Chief in Halo 4.
In Halo: Cryptum, we learn that Forerunners physically mutate themselves as part of their maturation process. This helps mould them into their roles within their caste-based society – Builder, Miner, Lifeworker, Warrior-Servant, Engineer, Juridical…
You might note that this sounds quite similar to Spartan augmentations, which is indeed a direct parallel that is drawn between humans and Forerunners – part of the Librarian’s plan to mould our civilisation. The Warden Eternal calls the Master Chief a “Warrior-Servant” in Halo 5, emphasising that connection.
As an aside: back in 2015, Frank O’Connor posed this question to us on Twitter, which has seen a rather definitive answer. Her plan is for humanity as a whole, sculpting our society and technology to be similar to their own.
This mutation was also necessary for Forerunners to be able to mentally link with the Domain, which existed – literally and spiritually – at the heart of their society and culture. That connection was assisted by their personal AIs, known as ‘ancillas,’ through their personal armour.
Throughout Cryptum, Bornstellar experiences some unique shenanigans with the Domain. Its widespread use has been suppressed by Mendicant Bias, who has allied with the Flood, so the Domain breaks its own rules to directly connect to Bornstellar – warning him of the impending fall of the Forerunners, showing him a Halo ring, and telling him to “preserve” (alluding to the Conservation Measure).
It was now that the Domain opened to me, without benefit of ancilla, interface, or past experience. It was new, deep, appropriately shapeless – that made sense. I was dying, after all. Then, it assumed a form, rising around me like a beautiful building with gleaming, indefinite architecture, not quite seen but definitely sensed, felt – a lightness that carried its own sombre joy.
Here comes everybody, I thought.
And everybody who had ever visited the Domain said to me: Preserve.
The lightness vanished instantly. The building was being carved apart just as our ship had died.
This time is coming to an end.
The history of Forerunners will soon conclude.
These came with a rising scream of anguish, as if I had plugged into a chamber where essences were pouring forth more than recall and knowledge – pouring forth frustration, horror, pain.
[…] Vaguely I wondered about the giant ring. Had I imagined it? It had seemed so real. Then a word flashed into my revived mind, echoing from the image I had just seen or imagined or conjured up from anoxia.
That single word connected intimately with the precious little the Domain had revealed to me: Death. Destruction. Massive power.
That word was Halo. [Cryptum, p. 201-202]
We see a direct parallel to this play out in Halo 5.
In the second mission, Blue Team, there is a moment where the Chief falls several dozen feet after a Hunter bursts through a wall and destroys the walkway he’s standing on.
The screen fades to black and the Chief suddenly finds himself in a strange-looking cave (certainly not something that typically appears on a space station), where he is contacted by Cortana and warned:
“The Domain is open. Meridian is next. John, the Reclamation is about to begin.” [Cortana, Halo 5 – Blue Team]
What we are seeing in this scene is the Domain, wiped of its living knowledge, existing as a barren wasteland.
This is another of the Librarian’s “gifts” that was seeded within humanity, the potential to access the Domain – supplemented here by an ancilla, Cortana.
The Chief has already undergone extensive biological modification through the process of becoming a Spartan-II (to the point where he’s regarded as a Warrior-Servant), but he also experiences further physical changes in Halo 4 after his encounter with the Librarian.
“Chief, what happened? Your bio readings are all over the map.” [Cortana, Halo 4 – Reclaimer]
At the end of Halo 5, Cortana’s plan for Blue Team is revealed. She intends to seal them in a Cryptum for ten thousand years while the Created reshape the galaxy.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because this draws a parallel with what the Librarian did to the Didact. She hoped that he would spend the millennia ahead of him meditating in the Domain, that it would heal his mind, before it was revealed by the Gravemind that the Halos would destroy the Domain and he’d be left to stew in his madness for 100,000 years.
Similarly here, while the Chief would emerge from the Cryptum pretty much fine after 10,000 years because he’s able to access the now-reawakened Domain, the rest of Blue Team have not had their genesongs ‘unlocked.’ They would emerge from this long sojourn probably more in-line with the kind of experience the Didact had…
While there is much from Halo 4 that its sequel sidelines, shelves, or otherwise ignores, the Librarian scene is one particular aspect that is integral to the mechanics of how certain aspects of Halo 5’s story works.
This leaves the question of how these things might come together in Halo Infinite.
Considering how little we know about the story of Halo Infinite, it’s hard to say exactly what impact this particular story beat will have. But I think there’s some educated speculation to be had.
The first thing of note is that this is a plot point from an almost nine-year-old game.
Looking at things realistically, we can say with some certainty that this isn’t exactly going to be the fulcrum of Infinite’s story.
This will be the first mainline Halo game to release in six years, opening the universe up to a whole new generation of players. It’s fair to say, and entirely understandable, that providing an accessible story experience for series newcomers (and those who have maybe been out of the loop for a while) is 343’s main priority. That is the foundation that must be laid for the next ten years.
However, these things are often a matter of presentation. I don’t believe that there is anything you can’t include from the expanded universe, it is purely a question of how 343 articulates them for players.
I would wager that we’ll see these elements – the Domain, the effects we’ve covered of the Librarian’s genesong – serve as the narrative layer for some of the deeper story and lore elements of Halo Infinite.
As shown in the image above (where the Chief sees what looks like a hologram of the moment Installation 07 shattered at the climax of whatever cataclysmic battle took place), we may well have moments like these presented to us as something filtered through the Domain.
It is my inference that these ‘memories’ will detail the bigger picture of what happened with the Created. With Infinite’s open-world, this may even be 343’s answer to more immersive Terminals. The difference with what they can do now is present them as something that plays out in the game itself, not as a separate motion comic.
That would leave room for 343 to focus on telling a new, simple story with the Banished as the main throughline of the campaign, while also engaging players with optional story content that puts together the larger pieces of what’s been going on.
Alternatively, I could well be wrong on all counts. There may well be something entirely different going on. I am simply looking at how these unresolved story beats might be interwoven with the strategy 343 has landed on to move the Halo universe forward.
Juggling these things – which come from such deep and esoteric lore – in a game that has to satisfy legacy players of the franchise in so many ways, while also getting its hooks into the new generation of players that will form the bulk of its population, is a tremendously challenging endeavor.
We really have to come to terms with the fact that… it’s not really about us any more.
That’s not a defeatist statement, and it’s not saying that we simply don’t matter. It’s just realising that we – as Halo fans – exist within a much larger context in a market that is radically different and far more competitive now than it ever was in what is looked back on as the halcyon days of Halo 2 and 3.
There will be decisions we disagree with. There will be things they do with the story, gameplay, and overall direction that isn’t to our hopes and sensibilities. But there will also be more of an opportunity than ever for our feedback to help steer the ship as Halo Infinite is built upon as an ongoing experience.
And throughout it all, I’ll be here, as ever, in pursuit of truth and reconciliation in these narratives.
Stay safe out there, Spartans.