Some parts of the article may contain spoilers for Halo: Cryptum.
The Spartan walked down the shadowy hallway, the sound of his heavy footsteps echoing off the stone walls. Somewhere up ahead was his target, the Covenant Hierarch he had been pursuing. All throughout the ruins in the lake, he had been chasing a ghost, following a trail of holographic breadcrumbs… the broadcasted sermons of the Prophet. He had seen as the creature grew more and more confident, his diatribes growing increasingly pitched as the Spartan closed the distance between them.
Now the super-soldier was close… a few more turns and the target would be in view. The scattered corpses of the Covenant leader’s Honor Guard fell swiftly as the Spartan quickened his pace. As he rounded the final corner, he found himself in an open chamber, filled with arches, pillars, and a waterfall cascading into a pool of water. It was above this pool that the Prophet sat, his hovering throne levitating his frail form above the cold stone floor.
The Spartan had never seen a Prophet face to face, but recognized its horselike head perched at the end of a long serpentine neck, its hunched features, and the long flowing robes draped over its ungainly form. The soldier’s and Prophet’s eyes connected briefly as the Spartan broke into a sprint. The Prophet screamed angry threats at the rushing Spartan, but they fell on deaf ears. Reaching for its gravity throne’s combat system, the Hierarch hit a button on the left arm of its chair. Beams of light enveloped the throne before it disappeared in a flash of energy.
The Spartan hesitated for only a moment, thinking his target had disappeared, only to be hit from behind by a searing beam. Turning, the soldier saw the source of the attack was the Prophet, whose unknown teleportation ability gave it an unexpected tactical advantage. However, the Prophet was clearly no experienced war veteran. The move had gained it more time, and a better angle from which to fire upon his foe, but at the cost of distance. Recognizing this, the Spartan closed the distance between himself in a bounding stride, leaping into the air and grabbing the Prophet’s arm. Brittle bone shattered as the arm was pinched between the chair and the unrelenting hand of the Spartan. Not trusting the Prophet to remain where he was, the Spartan formed a fist with his free hand and smashed the Prophet’s teleportation controls. Looking into the creature’s face, the soldier saw that the look of utter defiance and enjoyment had changed to one of complete terror. The soldier did not pause as he brought his fist into contact with the creature’s face. Soft flesh caved in quickly under the Spartan’s powerful blow, and it was done. The Hierarch, a single being which had caused so much destruction and death, was finished easily. Escaping past the dead leader’s followers was another matter.
When Halo fans began the campaign of Halo 2, they were bombarded with images of the Covenant’s religious leaders, showing their influence on the war, on the playable characters, and on the universe as a whole. They are portrayed as shrewd scheming beings, bent on the outright destruction of our species, and on the activation of an array of weapons in place to destroy all life in the universe. We know their intent, and recognize them as a threat which must be eliminated.
But do we understand who these creatures are? The San’Shyuum have long been a part of the Halo fiction, but little is related about them other than surface facts. We as players have blindly accepted that the Prophets are just beings that must be destroyed, but their story is not one of unreasonable grudges against weaker enemies, nor is it the story of selfish beings looking to expand their own power. In the end, it is simply a story of distress. A story of one species pursuing salvation and redemption, to make amends for their past, and to save their future. A story, not of alien coldness, but of an immediately recognizable human emotion tied to survival… the emotion of fear.
The story of the San’Shyuum begins hundreds of thousands of year ago, back when the Forerunners reigned over the galaxy and the San’Shyuum were just beginning to take steps towards their present state within the fiction. At the time, they were already a spacefaring culture, although with a very limited reach. Their galactic society had expanded, until they encountered two other spacefaring species; the Forerunners, and humanity. This subspecies of humanity was an aggressive creature, expanding its galactic empire viciously. The Forerunners, having far more respect for the luxurious and peaceful goals and lifestyles of the San’Shyuum, allied with the San’Shyuum to halt the human threat to their dominance in the galaxy. The Forerunners believed that they alone were the only ones capable of holding the Mantle, a belief in their religions supposedly handed down by the Precursors, promoting peace and natural stability.
The Forerunners, detecting a threat to their primacy in the two young races, went to war against the humans. Some San’Shyuum worked alongside the humans, combining their strength to create a formidable opposition to the Forerunner. In the end, humanity was defeated, and crushed, their species reduced to nothing. The San’Shyuum were spared this fate. Because they were less stubborn than humanity, and also less honorable, they cut a deal, signing a treaty with the Forerunner, agreeing to a peaceful existence on the Forerunner’s terms. They were stripped of their slipspace technology by the Forerunner, and restricted to two planets in a single star system, which was watched over by Forerunner presence. Humanity, meanwhile, was subjected to the horrible fate of being de-evolved, reduced back to a primitive state, and sent to live on a natural preserve under the authority of a Lifeworker, a Forerunner whose purpose is the tending to and raising of intelligence.
However, many thousands of years later, a threat returned from outside the galaxy. The Flood once again began its sweeping consumption of all sentient life. To counter this, the Forerunners began using the Halos. They tested them first on human worlds, decimating them with a limited burst of power. Then, the same fate was brought down on the peaceful San’Shyuum. Shortly prior to the destruction of their two homeworlds, the Librarian visited the San’Shyuum, and took members of their species away to the Ark, along with genetic samples. All San’Shyuum remaining on the two planets were destroyed. All that remained of their once proud race was now on the Ark.
At some point the entire Halo Array fired, killing all life in the galaxy capable of intelligence. The reseeding of the galaxy began shortly after. The San’Shyuum were likely transplanted to a new planet, with similar living conditions to their original homeworld. Their populations reduced, reinstituted, and stripped of all knowledge of the Halo event or their involvement with the Forerunners, the San’Shyuum were left to pursue a new history and a new beginning for themselves. It is unknown if it was during this time or some other point that a Forerunner dreadnought came to rest somewhere on the planet’s surface. However, we know now that in addition to its usage as a warship and keyship, another primary purpose of the dreadnought was to store specimens from the Halo effect, and to reseed life in the galaxy. In a brief clip in Origins, we see a dreadnought doing the same for the San’Shyuum world.
For the longest time, I considered this representation to simply represent the Flood-infested High Charity, as the Beastiarium only showed the upper hemisphere of the planet. But when I purchased the Halo Encyclopedia, I saw the image in full. Later on, the release of Halo Legends showed this image used again in Origins: Part I, as the Halos figuratively appeared above each alien race’s homeworld. Later on, we see the young San’Shyuum race, after the firing of the Halo Array and during the repopulation of worlds, stepping out from under the base of a Forerunner Dreadnought. The surface of the planet they are stepping out onto is rocky, with a few low-lying clouds. I took this further to mean that the planet shown in the Encyclopedia and Beastiarium was a rocky planet, with either heavy tectonic actions to create the strange features shown on it, or simply a planet with a strong nearby gravitational pull, such as a dense satellite. But eventually, certain things came to my attention about the episode, and then about the representation of the planet as a whole.
First off, the reusing of the Halo 2 New Mombasa destroyed megastructure from the E3 demo in 2002 as a Flood consumed Forerunner structure, clearly doesn’t mean that the Forerunners built a structure in New Mombasa which humans then used thousands of years in the future. Many images from Halo’s past which were never fully realized, such as bits and pieces of trashed concept art, have been reused in this episode. Flood forms roamed the corridors of the Forerunner cities after their invasion and subsequent infection that were originally thought up for the first game, but later scrapped. This does not, however, mean that these creatures truly existed, or that they ever will. Many of the episodes of Legends use heavy artistic interpretation and stylization to portray their stories, and appearances should not be taken liberally as truth and canon.
Comments from other fans suggest that many think the extra materials such as the Encyclopedia are a waste of paper, having been quickly churned out as moneymaking ventures. In the Encyclopedia, images are used in the wrong context, words are misspelled, and some of the pages don’t represent the level of quality which we’ve come to expect from Halo; all of these factors convince me that the San’Shyuum homeworld represented in the extra materials is a non-canonical representation of the planet, simply misused and misleading to us fans. It is still possible, however, that Halo showrunner 343 Industries will come out and confirm that it is now its own material, instead of a reused overhead view of High Charity.
Other than inaccurate visuals, the San’Shyuum homeworld is referenced as being possessive of a low gravity, which would have greatly effected the San’Shyuum’s evolution. Their long fingers tend to suggest an arboreal species, while their wattles and large eyelashes lean towards a creature developed to live in the desert, with fat stores and protection from sand blowing into their eyes. Also, the sheer size of their eyes and ocular cavities seem to suggest a creature suited for nocturnal activity.
When you put all of this together, a confusing picture is painted. I see a group of mammalian creatures clinging to a tree during the day while they sleep, covered from one of the vicious dust storms which sweep across their planet frequently, their long eyelashes sheltering their large and fragile eyes from stinging particles. The hostile conditions on the ground, or even the lack of viable food sources could have kept them to the trees or higher elevations, allowing their society to develop above the ground. This would explain why they never lost their long fingers and never developed better legs for walking on the ground, which explains the gravity thrones and their inability to walk well on land (assuming that this didn’t stem from constricting robes when seen in Halo 3). At night, the tympanic membranes located on the back of their skull would have served to alert to danger from behind, while a long neck allowed them to keep a lookout in all directions.
Such conditions don’t seem to be the sort which supports intelligence, let alone society, but it has also been suggested that after their reseeding, the Forerunner technology left on the planet did something to speed up the evolution of the San ‘Shyuum. Does this mean it encouraged the development of society in an area where society would not normally be found, or supported the San’Shyuum through some other means? The picture is too confusing at this point to properly assume anything. Hopefully at some point in the future of Halo, more information will be revealed to us about the nature of the San’Shyuum.
Nevertheless, at one point in the past the Forerunner took interest in the planet and colonized it, likely in their search and cultivation of sentient life. It is unknown how much interaction the primitive San’Shyuum had with the Forerunners, if any at all, but at some point the Halo Array fired, and the reseeding of the galaxy began shortly after. It is unknown if it was during this time or some other point that a Forerunner dreadnought came to rest somewhere on the planet’s surface. However, we know now that in addition to its usage as a warship and keyship, another primary purpose of the dreadnought was to store specimens from the Halo effect, and to reseed life in the galaxy. In a brief clip in Origins, we see a dreadnought doing the same for the San’Shyuum homeworld. It’s possible this was unintended–that the ship suffered from some sort of failure and did not take off– or perhaps these relics were intentionally left behind on all the reseeded planets. Either way, as the San’Shyuum matured from a simple people in their own bronze age towards a space age, they developed intellectually and spiritually, maturing in the presence of this relic from another age.
For a while, the Dreadnought was worshipped. Then, when free thought took over religion in the San’Shyuum’s own Renaissance age, individuals likely began to question the dogmatic assertions that the relic was related to the gods they worshipped. Was it instead possible, they asked, that they had themselves created it long ago? Just as humans wondered about the pyramids and the temples and the calendars of our ancient world, so too did the San’Shyuum come to question their origins and their place in the galaxy. Eventually the wise ‘men’ of their age determined that the relic was indeed left behind by a race of beings far more powerful than themselves.
Had the San’Shyuum been left behind? Did their gods not see them as worthy? Why had they not returned?
In its holiness, the Forerunner relic was never touched, never explored. Eventually, a radical idea emerged. One small group of San’Shyuum concluded that the device was indeed left behind by their gods, and that in order to understand more about the nature of their existence, they should enter the holy relic and study it. Their ideas were scolded by the majority of the population, dismissed as unthinkably heretical. When those attempting to reform the religion pushed further for a study of the relic, hostilities broke out, and war erupted.
One hundred years passed, and the San’Shyuums’ civil war raged. The radicals, labeling themselves as Reformers, squared off against the Stoics, who represented the majority of the population that opposed their views. The Reformists were hammered and beaten until at the climax of the war, only a thousand remained. Their tacticians thought and reasoned and decided that their defeat was inevitable unless radical solutions were approached. They entered the Dreadnought and sealed themselves inside to study the workings of the ship and the remaining Forerunner technology. The Stoics, unwilling to enter or destroy the holy relic for fear of the wrath of their gods, sent threatening messages that the Reformists would be damned for their transgressions, but otherwise made no other hostile movements against the Reformers or the relic. Whilst on board, the Reformers made a startling discovery. A creation of their gods, a computer construct, had been left behind in the ship as well. This was the fragmented and rampant AI construct Mendicant Bias, who had been captured and stored there by Offensive Bias at the conclusion of the Forerunner-Flood War.
Although there was likely little interaction between the Reformists and Mendicant Bias due to the construct’s dormant nature, they recognizing the AI as a being strongly tied to their gods, and labeled it an Oracle. There were also advanced computer terminals there, which allowed access to information about their gods, and which revealed them to have once been not unlike the San’Shyuum themselves; it also detailed the existence of objects, known as Halos. The terminals were so advanced that they allowed the user to understand the Forerunner glyphs as they most closely applied to their own language, literally allowing the user to read the Forerunner history in their own alphabet, as closely as the computer terminals could interpret it through the minds of the San’Shyuum. Unfortunately, this allowed for a lot of vast misinterpretation, as some of the phrases and terms used in the ancient Forerunner language did not apply appropriately to the San’Shyuum’s one, and their history was misread. The Reformists wrongly assumed that the literally translated ‘Great Journey’ used in the text, was a religious pilgrimage to godhood, attained through the usage of the Halos. Interest was sparked, and the group now had a purpose. They would follow in the footsteps of their gods, and attain their own transcendence to godhood through the Halos.
A thousand San’Shyuum populated and dwelled within the Forerunner ship, studying it, reforming their religion, and living out their lives until they were ready. Finally the time came, and the one thousands San’Shyuum emerged, this time with advanced weaponry and understanding. They proceeded to demolish their opposition until the inevitable was decided upon. They would leave their home planet, where they were no longer accepted, and seek refuge out among the stars, where their ideas would be more welcome. And so, they reactivated the long dormant flight programming, and departed from their planet. The Dreadnought, lodged for so long in the surface of the planet, had become fused with it, and so, when the Reformists fled, they took a small portion of their homeworld with them.
Once on their own, however, the remaining Reformists quickly recognized some of the error of their ways. They had failed to plan accordingly, and as a result, were left with a limited population, and therefore a limited gene pool. The fact that San’Shyuum females were only fertile for a limited amount of time, with each fertility period spaced out by even more time in between, compounded the problem significantly. Even in their normal society on their homeplanet, offspring had been rare. But now, out in space and with only a limited number of San’Shyuum with which to reproduce, their entire society was threatened. If they were to have a new start for the San’Shyuum, in a society founded on exploration and discovery, they would need their lines to survive. Strict breeding programs ensued, and continued until the present date within the fiction. The latest example of this was from 2524, when the High Prophet of Restraint, on the Roll of Celibates and therefore outlawed from breeding due to defective genes, impregnated a female, causing political uproar for his inappropriate actions.
Abundant resources available from the chunk of surface pulled from their planet, and within the Dreadnought itself, served them perfectly for survival. Other technological marvels found aboard the massive ship furthered their understanding of their gods, while also enhancing their technological prowess. Among these was the discovery of a computer terminal, a Luminary, which allowed the Reformers to locate more Forerunner technological reliquaries spread throughout the galaxy. And so with this, and their survival tentatively established, the remaining San’Shyuum set out into the galaxy, and began to search for Forerunner relics, to further their understanding of the universe and their technology. More than a thousand years passed, and their technology and society established itself solely around this desire to discover more.
Then, in 938 BCE, after 1162 years of travel in space, the San’Shyuum stumbled across another race of aliens on the planet Sangheilios, another vast reliquary. They called themselves the Sangheili, and to the San’Shyuums’ despair, the Sangheili also believed that the relics which existed around them were to be worshipped and not interfered with, echoing the beliefs of the Stoics out of the San’Shyuums’ distant and bloody past. The Sangheili, existing under a martial society and government, were quick to openly engage the San’Shyuum who threatened their way of life.
The Sangheili, physically superior to the feeble San’Shyuum, dominated their forces in ground action, but in naval engagements the San’Shyuum were almost always victorious. Their possession of the Dreadnought, as well as of superior Forerunner technology, allowed them to hammer the Sangheili war forces. Using hit-and-run tactics, they pounded the Sangheilian War Fleet into dust. After 62 years of combat, the Sangheili tacticians and political leaders, realizing what needed to be done in order to expand their military might and ensure their survival, chose to rethink their religious approaches. It seemed that they would indeed need to tamper with and research the Forerunner technology available to them, and incorporate it into their ships, armor, and weapons. The tide of the battle began to turn.
The San’Shyuum, aware that they could not counter the might of the Sangheili in possession of such advanced weaponry, and aware that another encounter with such a physically superior race in the future could also result in their destruction, debated amongst each other. Finally, after another 24 years of battle, they decided on a solution. They would extend a peace offering, and end their long and vicious war.
An understanding was reached. Because both species worshipped the same gods, the San’Shyuum shared with them the information they had gleaned from the Forerunner technology researched over the years, detailing their belief in the Forerunner’s transcendence. The Sangheili, now eager with the promises of godhood and better military technology, accepted the peace. Together, the two species worked out a suitable agreement. The Sangheili, far superior in military might to the San’Shyuum, would protect the San’Shyuum – their Prophets – in exchange for enhanced technology for use in their wars and the wars of the alien union, and salvation. They began to form a unifying government, and under it, a Council of Concordance, to ensure the future peaceful relations of all involved parties. Under this new council, they wrote the Writ of Union in 852 BCE, one of the founding documents of their future empire:
So full of hate were our eyes that none of us could see.
Our war would yield countless dead, but never victory.
So let us cast arms aside, and like discard our wrath.
Thou, in faith, will keep us safe, whilst we find the Path.
Another entry of this, goes as follows:
On and on shall old war go.
Without respite my blood will flow.
O’er your eyes ’til they cannot see,
The impossibility of victory.
And again, this time from the Sangheili’s perspective:
When we joined the Covenant, we took an Oath!
According to our station! All without exception!
On the blood of our fathers… on the blood of our sons, we swore to uphold the Covenant!
Even to our dying breath!
Those who would break this Oath are Heretics, worthy of neither pity nor mercy.
We shall grind them into dust, scrape them as excrement from our boots.
And continue our march to glorious salvation!
All who walk the blessed path will find salvation… even in death.
Out of darkness, these blades will light our way.
Glory and honor guide our ascension.
On the blood of our fathers. On the blood of our sons.
The true devotee honors our name with actions, not words.
Victory is secured, not from the throne, but from the front lines.
With the sacrament of blood we journey into the Divine Beyond.
As a show of good faith, the ship and weapon which had caused the Sangheili so much pain and death at the hands of the San’Shyuum was decommissioned and stripped of all its weapons, planted in the center of a new construct, High Charity. They used the Dreadnought’s vast engine power and coupled it into the newly built city, using only a small percentage of its capacity to power their entire citystate. The mobile High Charity became slipspace capable.
Thus the Covenant was born.
Shortly after 648 BCE, the San’Shyuum became aware of a horrible catastrophe. The Luminaries in their possession which had been reconfigured from the original discovered aboard the Dreadnought functioned to highlight every major planet and station that the Forerunners had had in the past, as well as detailing the relics on each. It is very likely that through this computer terminal they had previously found their own home system from which they had been banished so long ago. Through the Luminary, it is likely that they could monitor the ongoing events of all the systems, and so through this became aware of the impending destruction of their homeworld, through the stellar collapse of the sun their planet orbited.
Little is known about the inner workings and decisions involved with this event, as the San’Shyuum’s internal affairs have always been kept secret, even from the other members of the Covenant. This realization would have likely placed much strain on the council of the San’Shyuum, however. Internally, it would have been debated whether to attempt a rescue of their remaining brethren, or to leave them to their fate.
Just as in human politics, the opinions of the San’Shyuum were likely split, but culminated in the ultimate acceptance of the fact that they had had poor relations with the other San’Shyuum, on top of the fact that they could not support even a minority of the surviving population from their home planet. And perhaps still, the Reformists viewed their banishment from their homeworld as a result of the wrong doings of the Stoics, who had been execrated throughout the course of their history since the splitting of the San’Shyuum. Perhaps the San’Shyuum were fully aware of how they could help, yet through their anger, chose to do nothing.
The time for rescue came and went. The planet was destroyed.
They were now the last of their kind. With no place to call home, and no where else to go, they, along with the Sangheili, helped to turn the recently founded Covenant’s High Charity into the new capitol city, as well as what would become the San’Shyuum’s final homeworld.
By this point, the San’Shyuum population likely numbered little higher than its original count of one thousand individuals. With the news of their homeworld’s destruction, the San’Shyuum would have been faced with much extra pressure, and the threat of extinction would have become more prevalent in the minds of the Covenant’s Prophets. More and more, focus would have been spent on researching the means towards their ascension, to transcend their physical form and free themselves from the burden of their troubled existence. Little did the other newly converted members of the Covenant realize, but they were not following prophetic leaders who wished to extend an offering of godhood to all other species, but instead were following creatures who had their own extinction looming over their heads, and who were fervently pursuing any means to remove this threat from their burdened society.
In the year 1552 CE this manifested itself physically when the San’Shyuum began developing technologies that would extend their lives, allowing individuals to live longer and fuller. After years and years of careful management to avoid inbreeding, all the while using technology to sustain their gradually declining lives, the San’Shyuum had become physically weakened. Their anti-gravity belts and thrones kept them suspended above the ground, weakening their legs and backs further. Time spent in sitting positions caused bad posture, and constant drug and medicine usage created a weakness that could not be reversed. The San’Shyuum were tired, feeble, and on the verge of extinction.
Then, in 2525, the Covenant made contact with a new species of alien. Referring to itself as humanity, the discovery of this alien species would have such widespread consequences, and would ultimately be the undoing of the entire Covenant as a whole, which, at its conclusion, will have existed for near around 3,400 years.
In February of that year, a Covenant missionary ship tasked with scouting for Forerunner relics and under the command of a San’Shyuum known as the Vice Minister of Tranquility made contact with and was destroyed by the hostile alien forces. Before it was destroyed however, the ship was able to make a scan of the alien’s planet, and discovered something amazing. The planet was a vast reliquary for Forerunner artifacts. Literally millions of glyphs presented themselves on the holographic Luminary aboard the ship, all of them showing one symbol, which the Covenant thought to mean ‘Reclamation’.
A transmission from the ship, sent before its destruction, was communicated back to the Prophet of Tranquility. There, the ambitious young San’Shyuum received the communication. This San’Shyuum would use this new discovery in an elaborate plot which he had already begun planning which would ultimately place him in the seat of a Hierarch.
The Covenant history had been broken up into many different ages, determined based on the will of the Covenant’s people as a whole, the amount of Forerunner artifacts being recovered by their religious and scientific effort, and on any other major events. For example, before the Covenant was even founded, their recorded history dictated an Age of Abandonment. This was the period in which the Forerunners lit the Halo rings, and ascended to godhood, abandoning all other creatures because they were not worthy enough to transcend. Then came the Age of Conflict, during which the San’Shyuum civil war, and the San’Shyuum/Sangheili war raged. After this came the Ages of Discovery and Reconciliation, the beginning of which was marked by the founding of the Covenant at the end of the Sangheili/San’Shyuum war. During this period, many discoveries were made about the Forerunners, and a reconciliation was made concerning the ages of conflict which had preceded it. The Age of Conversion followed, during which the Covenant converted other species to their cause.
During these overarching ages, there were also many minor ages as well. Another Age of Conflict, recorded as the 39th, arose during the Unggoy (or Grunt) Rebellion, which was quelled by an Arbiter, but which led into an Age of Doubt, during which the Covenant people doubted their Prophet’s leadership.
During the events of first contact with humanity, the Covenant were in the middle of their 23rd Age of Doubt. The Prophet’s leadership was being questioned, as were their promises of transcendence. In this state, already overburdened with their weakened physical existence, the San’Shyuum’s place within the Covenant was once again in a tentative hold. Constantly under scrutiny, the San’Shyuum had to be more careful than usual concerning political matters, as any moves that would support the doubts of the people could likely lead to their exile from the Covenant, and the San’Shyuum would once again be left defenseless and without a place to call home. During this Age of Doubt, as was likely in the ones before it, the Prophets were forced to discuss their political operations and plans in whispers. Individuals met in the shadows, planning how to pull the Covenant out of this Age of Doubt, to once again ensure the San’Shyuum’s survival.
One of these individuals happened to be the Vice Minister of Tranquility, and when the news reached him about the discovery of artifacts labeled with the glyph for ‘Reclamation’, he told no one of the news until he could be sure of its proper usage to politically manipulate the San’Shyuum into a higher favor within the Covenant, as well as to grant himself a higher seat in politics. The Prophet of Fortitude (who he intended to share the news with), at the time of his receiving of this signal, however, was in the middle of the last meeting of his day, and would have retired to his private chambers immediately afterwards. The Prophet of Tranquility was forced to wait until the following day, when he contacted Fortitude early in the morning, as he was once again leaving his private chambers. In order to grab Fortitude’s attention and make him aware of the importance of their meeting, Tranquility quickly stated that one of the missionary vessels under his command had detected a reliquary via their onboard Luminary, and boldly sent the holy glyph to Fortitude’s gravity throne while he was on his way to a morning appointment. Fortitude was taken aback by how willing Tranquility was to flash a holy symbol out in the open, especially during a time of such political unrest, as knews of such an important glyphs’ Lumination could have widespread political implications. Fortitude ordered Tranquility to meet him in his chambers immediately, and canceled his morning appointment. This was far more important.
Upon his arrival in the Minister’s chambers, the Vice Minister of Tranquility informed Fortitude that the Luminary had detected thousands of these Luminations, and that he was the first to hear this news. Even Tranquility’s own Minister was not informed, a disloyal act which could have provoked a severe punishment, were it found out. The reason for this, as Tranquility shortly revealed, was that he had taken note of the Minister’s political decisions following the Unggoy Rebellion in redistributing technologies to settle the crisis. In the end, the Minister had done more to quell the uprising than even the three High Prophets themselves.
Upon relaying this to Fortitude, Tranquility had removed his cover, and thus stated his intent:
“We find ourselves at the dawning of a new Age of Reclamation.” The Vice Minister coaxed his chair around the glyph. “You are the one to lead us through it, and I – by merit of my current discretion and pledge of steadfast devotion hence forth – humbly request to sit by your side.” Tranquility stopped his chair directly before the Minister’s, bowed deeply at the waist, and spread wide his arms. “To assume with you the mantle of Hierarch.”
Ambitions laid bare, Tranquillity was at the mercy of Fortitude. Ultimately, the fate of Tranquility would rest in his hands, as he had just detailed his plot to unseat the current government, and place themselves at its head. The decision was made. It was worth the risk, Fortitude agreed, stating that first the Luminations must be confirmed as accurate before any further plotting was done.
Official contact was made shortly afterwards between humanity and the Covenant. The Covenant requested that humanity hand over their Forerunner artifacts, thinking still that the glyph reported had meant ‘Reclamation’. The humans were unable to comply, not aware of what the aliens were referring to. When an Unggoy slipped up from fear and let a weapon fire on accident, a short firefight broke out, forcing the Covenant greeting party to flee. Upon their ship shortly after, they made another discovery. The Luminary had picked up on another object, which happened to be the planet’s defense AI. The Covenant took this to mean that nearby there was an Oracle, similar to the first one discovered aboard the Forerunner Dreadnought so many years ago. The importance of the find increased in the Covenant’s confused eyes. But the Luminations were confirmed.
Back on High Charity, the Prophets of Tranquility and Fortitude sped towards the Dreadnought at the center of the city, eager to receive the blessing of the Oracle, a process which (through the continued dormancy of the Forerunner AI), usually meant a bribe or payoff of the Philologist. Fortitude had expected to offer up a small portion of the reliquary in exchange for this favor. But instead, something amazing happened.
When the Philologist inserted the circuitry wafer containing the information on the Luminations into the computers which were hooked to the Oracle, a process done out of formality, the Oracle blazed to life for the first time in ages. Most of us know the words which followed:
“FOR EONS I HAVE WATCHED” The Oracle’s deep voice reverberated inside its casing. Its eye-beam flickered with the cadence of its words as it pronounced in the San’Shyuum tongue. “LISTENED TO YOU MISINTERPRET”…
…”Blessed Herald of the Journey!” the Philologist wailed, neck low and arms spread wide. “Tell us the error of our ways!”
The Oracle’s eye dimmed. For a moment it looked as though it might resume its long silence. But then it blazed anew, projecting a hologram of the reclamation glyph recorded by Rapid Conversion’s Luminary.
“THIS IS NOT RECLAMATION” the Oracle boomed.”THIS IS RECLAIMER”
Slowly the glyph turned upside down, and its central shapes – the concentric circles, one low inside the other, connected by a thin line – took on a different aspect. The shapes’ previous arrangement had resembled the pendulum of a clock. Inverted, the glyph now looked like a creature with two curved arms locked above its head. The glyph shrunk in size as the hologram zoomed out to show the entire alien world, covered with thousands of these newly oriented Luminations.
“AND THOSE IS REPRESENTS ARE MY MAKERS”
The Oracle was then disconnected when it attempted to power up the Dreadnought and flee to find the humans, the Reclaimers. In the wake of this, the three San’Shyuum witnesses were stunned. The revelation that some Forerunners had actually been left behind completely disregarded the belief which formed the entire foundation for the Covenant. If the rest of the people were to find out about this, Fortitude realized, the position of the San’Shyuum within the Covenant would instantly be at risk. The people would think – or rather, realize – that the Prophet’s had been manipulating them the entire time, under a false belief in godhood. Thinking quickly, Fortitude decided on the spot to keep the revelation hushed up.
“We must take no chances with these… Reclaimers.” Fortitude could not bring himself to say “Forerunners.” He grabbed his wattle and gave it a steady tug. “They must be expunged. Before anyone else knows of their existence.”
The Vice Minister’s lower lip quavered. “Are you serious?”
In order to keep the matter quite, they accepted the only other witness, the elderly San’Shyuum Philologist, to become the third Hierarch to ascend to the High Council with them. Also, Lekgolo (the individual worms which comprise a Mgalekgolo Hunter unit) which were working in the Dreadnought’s circuitry at the time became aware of some of the Oracle’s knowledge when the energy surge swept through the ship. With this knowledge, they discovered that the seven holy Halo rings were in fact real, and not just things of legend, and also were alerted to the location of artifacts which would help them discover the location of these holy objects. On the day of their ascension, when the previous Hierarchs stepped down and allowed them to take their places, they announced this discovery. Therefore, the three of them ushered in the Ninth Age of Reclamation to much fanfare and rejoice, finally ending their long Age of Doubt. But this was not, as they believed, the beginning of a glorious new era. It would in fact mark the beginning of the end of their race as a whole.
When they (the newly renamed Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret) finally did discover their first Halo ring after many more years of intense searching, it was in 2552, the final year of the Human/Covenant War. The Covenant fleet had just finished glassing the planet Reach, when the lone ship called the Pillar of Autumn fled, making a ‘random’ jump, actually following a set of coordinates Cortana recalled from a Forerunner ruin recovered on Sigma Octanus VI. This led them to Halo, where they waged war with the local human forces across the surface of the relic, accidentally unleashing the monstrous Flood. While there, Spartan John-117 discovered the horrible truth about the Forerunners and the Halos, told to him through the installation’s ‘Oracle’, 343 Guilty Spark. With this knowledge, he proceeded to destroy the ring using a wildcat destabilization of the crashed Pillar of Autumn’s engines, eliminating the threat it and the Flood posed to the galaxy, before heading back to Earth (see First Strike).
Shortly after this, the Prophet of Regret, in an effort to continue his searching for the Holy Rings, went behind the other two Hierarch’s backs and prepared his own military force, sending a fleet of ships to a previously unknown planet to look for information regarding the Halo rings. When he arrived there, however, he discovered that it was in fact Earth, the homeplanet of humanity. Although the planet was heavily defended, Regret proceeded with his plan to recover more Forerunner relics and the location of the next Halo. Landing in East Africa, in the city of New Mombasa, the Prophet’s forces discovered what they were looking for; the coordinates for another Halo ring. Realizing that he risked complete destruction by lingering any longer, Regret made a tactical slipspace jump while inside the atmosphere of the planet, doing damage to the city and its surrounding structures. Little known to Regret, the human ship In Amber Clad had followed Regret’s flagship through the slipspace rift, and had ended up at Delta Halo alongside Regret’s forces a few days later.
It was here that the final steps towards the San’Shyuums annihilation took place, beginning with the assassination of Regret by the Master Chief. But this would not, in fact, be the final death of the Prophet. For after his assassination, he would be absorbed by the Flood, the first of many San’Shyuum to meet this fate, and his memories slowly transferred over to the collective consciousness of the Gravemind. Through him, the Flood became aware of High Charity, and devised a plan to reach this slipspace capable city in order to send its forces to the Ark, where it would attempt to halt the firing of the Halo rings once again.
While using the Master Chief and the newly created Arbiter (who would ultimately defect to the side of humanity) to secure items for its success, the Gravemind captured the In Amber Clad, using it to transport a large number of Flood to High Charity, which was now in near orbit and had arrived shortly after the assassination of Regret. The Flood aboard In Amber Clad crashed on the Covenant capitol city, and began their spread.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Truth and Mercy headed to their Phantom dropships, but it would ultimately be too late for one of them. Mercy was killed when a Flood infection form broke through their ranks and began to prepare him for absorption into the Gravemind, not instantly converting him into a combat form. The remaining Prophet, Truth, fled in the nick of time, headed for the Dreadnought at the center of High Charity. In it, he took flight, leaving the rest of High Charity without power and at the mercy of the Flood, realizing that it would be doomed anyway. It was there that all the remaining San’Shyuum not currently on board ships elsewhere were consumed, and absorbed into the Flood. Also, with all females of breeding age likely onboard High Charity at the time of its infestation, the extinction of their race was no longer a simple fear. It had nearly come to pass.
Truth was now one of the last remaining San’Shyuum, save for those that were onboard other ships at the time of High Charity’s infestation, although these too were likely slaughtered at the hands of the Elites, after having learned of their betrayal. Now completely alone, he fled to the Ark, his beliefs in transcendence having for so long been a part of his conscious, that he now believed it himself. Literally driven insane by the knowledge of the extinction of his species, and himself being one of the last of his kind, his mind gave in to his own lies of transcendence. He was, through the beliefs his own insanity, on the pedestal of his ascension, when he was cut down by the Arbiter, now allied with humanity.
And so, at the hands of the Arbiter, the last known of the Covenant’s Prophets fell.
The tale of the San’Shyuum is a tragic story, where one race is banished by their brothers, and through their hatred, don’t make amends for this as they watched their homeworld burn. Afterwards, they felt the effects of this, as they payed for their karma tenfold, living to watch as their species withered and crumbled, before finally being dealt the killing blow.
Or were they?
We know from the Halo fiction that the Reformists and Stoics separated, with the Reformists fleeing and standing by as their world was destroyed by a supernova sun, but other than this there is little information available to us as to what actually happened before this event. Did the San’Shyuum, for example, ever return to their world, perhaps many years later? There is a time period of about 4,652 years, during which the Prophets internal working were kept secret from the Covenant and the rest of the galaxy. With the absorption of most of the Prophets into the Gravemind, that creature was the only known entity to become aware of the Reformists true history, through the memories of all the absorbed Prophets. But it met its demise at the hands of the Master Chief as well, on the same metaphoric pedestal as the Prophet of Truth; The Ark. What then, became of the ancient Stoics, who had a higher population count than the fled Reformists to begin with? Did they stubbornly hold to their ways, refusing to accept that the Forerunner’s gifts of technology could free them from their fate? Perhaps they held fast to their faith, and pursued space travel on their own, just as humanity did. Or did they realize the error of their ways, and also begin to study the relics left behind, leaving into space and colonizing other worlds?
No one, at this point can say. While the story of the Reformists is over, the story of the Stoics has not yet been fully explored. It begins, with all the San’Shyuum, in an invariably grey area, slowly forming out of the remains of the Forerunner’s great civilization, before fading back away into that nebulous obscurity with the flight of the Reformers.
Like all aspects of the Halo universe, this provides a rich backdrop for another amazing tale, one which is simply waiting to be explored.