With a universe as jam-packed full of complex lore as Halo's, it's hard to believe that there was a time when the Milky Way galaxy was barren. However, that is exactly the case. There was a period in which nothing lived; the entirety of the galaxy was devoid of life. It was not until the arrival of the Precursors that the Milky Way became a home for biological life forms.
The Precursors: A species unlike any other
The Precursors were the closest thing to divine beings in the Halo canon.
The Precursors were described as being "trans-sentient", or beings that were able to connect with the very fabric of the universe. Possessing the ability to travel seamlessly through the universe, they arrived at the Milky Way, only to find it completely empty. Using their advanced powers, they seeded the galaxy with life.
As time went on, the Precursors decided to give the most technologically advanced species they created something called the "Mantle of Responsibility," an honorable and noble position, in which the species would act as the protectors and guides for the lesser races in the galaxy. Their first species chosen for this role was the Forerunners.
The Forerunners were considered to be the most advanced race in existence, after the Precursors.
The Forerunners were determined to be nearly as intelligent and advanced as the Precursors themselves. Because of this, they were the race chosen to hold the Mantle. Initially, the Precursors saw the Forerunners as the pinnacle of galactic society, and for a time the Forerunners held the Mantle and maintained order throughout the galaxy, watching over all sentient species. However, over time, the Forerunners became arrogant and corrupted, believing themselves to be superior to every other species. While this may have been true from a factual standpoint, an egotistical and selfish rule was not what the Precursors had intended the Mantle's holders to create and enforce. Therefore, the Precursors stripped the Forerunners of their possession of the Mantle, and instead looked towards ancient humanity to see if they were worthy to hold the Mantle. While less advanced than the Forerunners, ancient humanity was considered humble and responsible enough to possess the Mantle.
Forerunner betrayal: A savage and selfish act
In response to the change of power, the Forerunners launched a brutal revenge strike against the Precursors for stripping them of the Mantle. Despite the Precursors' superiority in almost every way, the Forerunner betrayal took them completely by surprise. Before the Precursors could make a defensive stand, the Forerunners slaughtered almost every single one of their creators. The Precursors had gone from being the ultimate power in the galaxy to a shell of their former selves in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
Upon the conclusion of the Forerunners' rebellion against the Precursors, the galaxy entered an era of relative peace. Aside from occasional civil wars that occurred in sections of the Forerunner empire, the Forerunners continued their role as the Mantle's holders.
At the same time, the last few remaining Precursors used their abilities to transform themselves into a kind of molecular dust. In this form, the Precursors intended to wait millions of years, hiding from their killers and waiting for the perfect opportunity to return to their past forms and exact revenge on the Forerunners. However, the DNA compositions of the powder became corrupted over time, and as a result, life forms that came into contact with it would experience insanity and even physical mutations. This was the very first form of the Flood, a parasitic life form that the Precursor dust would eventually mutate into upon coming into contact with humanity.
Humanity comes into contact with the Flood — and the Primordial
The Flood mutated into their current state by infecting domesticated human animals.
Ten million years after the conflict between the Forerunners and the Precursors, ancient humanity came into contact with the Precursor dust. When given to domesticated animals, the powder appeared to improve the behavior of the pets, making them more docile. However, humanity was unaware that the dust retained the sentience and intelligence of the Precursors and was only improving the behavior of the animals to mask their true actions: altering and mutating the genetic code of the pets.
Once the dust fully took control of the animals, the now Flood-controlled pets began to kill and infect their human masters. This was the beginning of the first Flood outbreak. Attacking with unexpected and sudden ferocity, humanity's empire quickly began to fall to the parasite.
The Primordial was the last surviving Precursor, an ancient being from an ancient time that humanity hoped would provide answers and solutions.
At the same time, the humans discovered a being known as the Primordial, the last surviving Precursor, in a capsule located within the center of a planet. Unlike the rest of the Precursors who had become molecular dust, the Primordial chose to seal itself away, mutating its form over time to survive for eons. Human scientists brought it to the human capital world of Charum Hakkor to study it. When asked about the Flood, however, the answer was apparently so horrifying to the humans that they committed suicide.
With the Primordial not offering anything that could help them against the Flood (likely because the Flood were previously Precursors and thus would be on the same side as the Primordial) and knowing conventionally that they couldn't defeat the Flood, the humans chose instead to flee — directly into Forerunner-controlled space.
Human-Forerunner war: A desperate, bloody conflict
The Human-Forerunner War was a conflict of misunderstanding, caused by Flood manipulation.
When the Forerunners saw humanity entering their territory with a massive fleet, they assumed it to be an act of war. Mobilizing its army of warriors, the Forerunners assaulted the incoming forces.
Humanity, in a desperate struggle, fought the Forerunners with an unparalleled fierceness, leading to heavy Forerunner casualties. Meanwhile, the Flood chose to withdraw from their conflict with humanity, tricking the Forerunners into believing that humanity had driven them off. In fact, due to their sudden withdrawal at the start of the Human-Forerunner War, many Forerunners found the Flood as nothing more than an excuse for humanity's expansion into their territory.
The Flood did this for two reasons. One reason was that the Flood (with Precursor motives) felt that the time to test humanity for the position of Mantle holder was not right. Another was that they wanted to disappear, throwing off Forerunner investigation into the Flood and making them believe the threat was not nearly as dangerous as it was. The Flood's hope was that through this sudden retreat, the Forerunners would be ignorant of the Flood's power and thus be ill-prepared when the Flood exacted revenge on them for the Precursor genocide millions of years prior.
Downfall of ancient humanity
The Forerunners assaulted and subsequently conquered every human world, leaving no survivors in their wake.
Following the Flood retreat, humanity was left to face a race that was superior to them in every way. Despite fighting them ruthlessly, the Forerunners hunted humanity to extinction for its assumed invasion of Forerunner space. One by one, human strongholds fell, until finally, humanity was ultimately defeated on its homeworld Charum Hakkor. While there, the Didact (the leader of the Forerunner military) discovered the Primordial that humanity had captured. The Didact proceeded to interrogate it, and he chose to keep the dialogue between them secret from everyone. After this, the Forerunners decided to keep the Primordial trapped in the stasis capsule it was found in.
As punishment for what the Forerunners saw as an act of aggression on their homes, humanity was stripped of their advancements and regressed back to their origins of hunter-gathering and cave-dwelling. The Forerunners seeded humanity on their homeworld of Earth, where they would be forced to evolve again. This effectively marked the end of the ancient human empire.
A peaceful era
After the defeat of the humans, the galaxy entered another age of relative peace. While arrogant and self-centered, the Forerunners nonetheless served their duties as holders of the Mantle by watching over the rest of the galaxy. For most Forerunners, the Flood were nothing but a hoax, a misleading lie that was meant to distract them from seeing humanity as the real threat. However, some Forerunner leaders secretly knew that the Flood were very real, and as such, remained watchful for the return of the parasite.
The Flood themselves would remain poised at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, biding their time and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike down the Forerunners and exact revenge on them for their genocidal actions.
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