Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Last Honest Soldier

False Gods: Crusade's End (III)

Angron (copyright unknown)

Welcome citizens, to the Truth.

Angron. Primarch of the World Eaters Legion. The Bloody One. The Red Angel. Gladiator and butcher. Genetically engineered and cybernetically altered. Of all the Primarchs who fell to Chaos during Horus' rebellion, only Magnus the Red perhaps provokes more sympathy. Also like the Lord of Prospero, one can only wonder how different history might read had Angron been able to overcome the circumstances of his upbringing and his subsequent clashes with the Emperor over the proper approach to war.

Which brings up another similarity between the Primarchs of the XII and XV Legions; both of them were lost to Chaos through no small fault of the Emperor himself.

We shall discuss fully the Emperor's role in Magnus' downfall when we reach the Burning of Prospero. For now we shall limit ourselves to saying that however great a share of the responsibility the Emperor must accept over Magnus' fate, it is completely eclipsed by the amount of blame he must shoulder regarding Angron.

A brief summary for those citizens who have never heard the long-suppressed story. Angron found himself on the civilised world of Nuceria after the Scattering, and came under attack by xenos almost immediately.  He slaughtered his foes but was left badly injured, and when the humans of the planet found him they nursed him back to health, but also drove into his skull the "Butcher's Nails", cybernetic implants which would stimulate his aggression and blood-lust. In this way they intended to make Angron into a more entertaining entrant into the gladiatorial combats that so obsessed the ruling class of the planet's capital, Desh'ea.

Even bloody-minded and violent as he was, Angron hated his life of enforced combat, and over the years led several failed slave revolts until one finally succeeded in freeing himself and many of his comrades. Swiftly Angron fled into the mountains with a poorly-equipped rag-tag army of former pit fighters. The resulting war quickly became a stalemate, with Desh'ea unable to defeat Angron in the field, and the Primarch in turn lacking the men or materiel to seriously threaten the city. Time was definitely against Angron, however; the barren slopes of his new home offered little sustenance for his tired, battered army, and the forces of Desh'ea were constantly closing in as they mustered more and more forces against the insurrection. Eventually, fully seven armies had surrounded Angron and his rebels, too many even for him to fight and win.

It was then that the Emperor jumped in-system.

With his son surrounded and mere hours from death, the Emperor teleported to the surface of Nuceria and offered to save Angron. The Twelfth Primarch, however, had no intention of abandoning his soldiers just before their final stand. Stunned by Angron's refusal, and seeing no other option, the Emperor teleported his son to his ship, where Angron could only watch helplessly as his followers were butchered by the armies of Desh'ea.

It would be supremely difficult to blame the Emperor for saving his son, of course. How many of us could stand by and watch our child throw their life away, even if that was they had specifically asked us to do? And whilst if history has recorded it, it has passed us by, we're prepared to assume that there was some compelling considering preventing the Emperor from sending down his Legions to crush Angron's foes for him - it's simply inconceivable given the bond he shared with his sons and the invasions he ordered against so many human worlds across the galaxy that in this case he would forebear an armed response otherwise. Perhaps somehow his only two choices really were between saving Angron alone and saving no-one at all.

So maybe we can forgive the Emperor's decision to overrule Angron's wishes and leave the Nuceria rebels to their fate. It was what came next we find difficult to forgive. Saving Angron we can understand, even though it involved ignoring his wishes and condemning his friends to death.  But having ignored his wishes and condemned his friends to death, one might have hoped Angron could be given space to breathe and grieve. The thought should have occurred in fact that abducting Angron - so he could serve in wars like the one the Emperor had just thrown to the enemy, no less - might have built a barrier between the two men that no amount of time could demolish. Sometimes there is simply no way from where you are from where you want to be.

If the Emperor had considered the Primarchs his sons first and his generals second, some of this might have been apparent. Alas, this was not the ordering of priorities during the Great Crusade. But even from a strictly military perspective, it should have been clear that Angron had no place leading troops on the battlefield.  He either would not or could not have the Butcher's Nails removed.  He brutally murdered more than one World Eaters captain (or War Hound captains, as they were at the time) who the Emperor sent to discuss Angron's ascension to leader. For all the undoubted power of a Primarch, a rebellious, unwilling general interested only in the most brutal and unthinking of assaults is not only a recipe for horrendous casualties, it is completely at odds with the Emperor's stated goal of bringing enlightenment to the human galaxy.  The bedrock assumption of the nascent Imperium was that each of the worlds colonised by mankind would be genuinely better off under the protection and secular principles of the Emperor's new order. It is somewhat difficult to square that belief with unleashing hordes of slavering butchers to callously tear apart people whose worst crime is wanting simply to be left alone, as the final battle on Aureus made only too clear.

Of course, what does that prove, except that the rhetoric of the Great Crusade could never possibly match up to the reality. Which was always inevitable, of course.  The dirty little secret here is that the Emperor needed someone like Angron and his World Eaters.  Not every war can be won prettily, which means your only options are to find other alternatives to war, or other alternatives to prettiness.  We already know what the Emperor chose.  He had enough decency to decry butchery, but not enough to actually bring it to an end. Oh, he ordered Angron to end his cerebral mutilation of his warriors.  The Primarch he couldn't trust to obey him, the Primarch whose brain was fully under the influence of the very machinery the Emperor wanted to outlaw. The Emperor expressed his will and then moved on. And what is more likely? That he did so because it didn't occur to him that Angron could possibly refuse the order? Or because all that mattered was that the Emperor be seen to be against reducing Astartes to frothing killers, whilst also maintaining his access to them whenever they were required, as he knew they would be?

All of which left Angron as the last honest soldier. Whilst the other Primarchs waxed lyrical about the glorious destiny of a united, peaceful humanity, or sunk into various schemes of self-aggrandisement and treachery, Angron was never more than what he always was or claimed to be: a remorseless killer, addicted to bloodshed. When he ultimately signed up to Horus' rebellion, there was no more honest choice he could have made. He joined aginst the man who responsible for the death of hundreds of his friends, and he did it because Horus offered him the chance to fight out in the open in the way wars sometimes need to be fought, if they are to be fought at all. Every war will breed its share of Angron's spiritual brothers; there is no way to avoid it, save to refuse war entirely. And if it inevitable that an Angron will appear, it is scarcely any less inevitable that when you tell them to stop killing, or to stop killing the way they want to do their killing, you will not get the answer you're hoping for. Killers may kill for a cause, but when the cause needs no more killing, it's the cause that will be discarded.

Soon, the Emperor would have wanted Angron to stop killing. He would lie to Angron that war was no longer necessary, and lie to himself that Angron could ever believe that for even a moment.  It could never work out that way.  Once every enemy was dead, Angron had no choice but to make enemies out of his friends.  In the final analysis, Angron could not afford to care whence the blood flowed.

The only way for him to go was to take a route even more truthful than the one he had carved out under the Emperor. It was time to follow the path of the master to whom he had always truly belonged.

It was time to follow the path of Khorne.


What Is

Angron is the seventh Primarch we've come across since the series started.  We don't see him for long here, but he certainly makes a big impression. Did anything about him jump out at you?

He jumped out at me.

No he didn't. If he had, you'd be ginger pâté. What do you think of him as a character, is my point, and by "character" I mean "whirling dervish of unnecessary death".

It's hard to get a grip on a character who doesn't talk, just kills.

I think that's supposed to be his character. When a general forgoes stirring speeches for screaming up a hill murdering everyone within range, that tells you at least a little.

Does he really need all those weapons?

It's important to not get caught short in battle.  Especially when you have so much need to stab everybody to death. This is the guy who does bring a knife to a gunfight, along with eighty-eight other knives. And huge axes.

So how come the World Eaters don't get used more often if they're this effective.

Well, as Sedirae said last chapter, not everyone is happy with the World Eater methods.

So why not keep him under closer watch? Keep a Primarch with him.

Horus explained that to Fulgrim.

No, I mean earlier in the Crusade.  Has he just been going around massacring anyone he feels like all this time.

I think so.

Why?  Has he been slaughtering xenos all this time, and so no-one cares.

In part at least, probably. But I think there might be some plausible deniability going on as well.

With this being the penultimate chapter, the assault on the Iron Citadel is the big set-piece conclusion to the novel.  Is it sufficiently exciting/explosive/vicious to function as such?

There was certainly an explosion.

Good. That's that box ticked.

Apparently it was violent, but then we didn't see much of it again.

You wanted more details of the horrific slaughter, did you?

Yes, obviously.
Have you considered the possibility that you might just be wrong in the head.

No. You want to show me war, then show me war.

I suppose there is a tendency in places for the prose to boil down to "And then some dudes got killed".

Yes. Which is unacceptable.  Don't tell me soldiers are horrified when they see a slaughter.  Tell me what the slaughter looks like.

I am beginning to wonder if this project is good for you.

I wonder if the bomb was set by Horus.

It does seem like immensely convenient timing, having Angron escape and start killing just as the Brotherhood have all surrendered and helpfully lined up.  But I don't see how Horus could have set the charge.

Fair enough. Horus must have known it was likely the defenders would have mined the wall, though. Maybe he just didn't warn Angron.  He gets Angron all riled up for the final slaughter, and he presumably takes out a healthy chunk of the World Eater high command, who he can then replace with people more loyal to him.

Why did Loken and Torgaddon get themselves the honour of supporting the assault?

Well, like Loken said, it's presumably to get them killed.

Loken said thaat?

When they were talking about trying to stay alive, and how they'd need each other's support if they survived.

Oh, got you. I guess it hadn't occurred to me that they were directly referencing a problem with the battle order.  They still seemed to think it was an honour.

Yes, but Torgaddon at least seems to be smelling a rat. He seems quite depressed, at least until the battle ends. And of course we know he's aware of the plot to discredit Loken.  I don't understand why he hasn't mentioned that, actually.

How much of a point does Loken have when he gets pissed off about the incoming human troops looking in horror at the massacre.  Is this genuinely just what war has to entail, and what soldiers have to do?

Have the soldiers really never seen this level of slaughter from the Astartes before?  What about back on the planet when Jubal went mad?

I don't know. I guess maybe the Astartes are usually better at letting people surrender? Though there's no reason to believe the Brotherhood had wanted to surrender until the point that they did, and I certainly don't see how the incoming Janizars would have known that fact in any case.

It might be that they're shocked that the Sons of Horus started acting like World Eaters.  Or maybe there's genuinely a noticeable difference in the way the Astartes kill people when they're pissed off about a Primarch being exploded.

The tearing off of limbs and use of same as clubs is probably increased.

But to answer your original question, yes I have sympathy with Loken's position, but then he's the protagonist; that's the point.

Maybe, but it's not like he's never wrong.

He's right here, though, at least in part.  I mean, he was created specifically for this.  They all were.

So they should be disgusted at the Emperor, really.

Yes.  Or find another line of work.

That's a bit harsh. It's pretty clear they've all been completely pummelled by the Imperial propaganda that the Astartes are noble examplars of war.  It's no wonder they're not dealing well with what they're seeing now.

I respond with "meh".


Who shot Hektor Varvaras?

Wouldn't it be ZOMG! if it turned out to be Vipus.


You did say he wasn't at the last Lodge meeting.  Neither was Torgaddon, now I think about it. Either of them could have killed Varvaras.

To what end?

To save Loken from being fed to him.

How devious.

It could have been someone acting on Horus' orders, too, though since the plan was to use him to get rid of Loken, it's a bit premature to splat him right now.

Maybe they changed their plan after Torgaddon refused to go along with the old one.

Perhaps. I don't see why Torgaddon hasn't told him about that, actually.

Eh, divided loyalties. What you gonna do?

Are we sure it wasn't a Brotherhood member? Or just friendly fire. Like, accidental friendly fire.

No, those are both distinct possibilities.  I just figured your suspicious, paranoid mind would have leaped to darker conclusions.

What Will Be

What's Fulgrim going to get up to with the anathame?

He's going to kill someone, obviously.

Yes. Yes, that is obvious. Anything more penetrating coming to mind?

At the minute I'm more interested in how Fulgrim learned about the sword in the first place.

You think the Horus seal was faked?

I don't see how Horus could have known the weapon was retrieved. He was rather indisposed at the time.  So who did know?

Loken, Torgaddon, Vipus; the whole of Locasta Squad.  And Vaddon, of course.

Who was genuinely annoyed to have had to give the sword up; I don't think it was him.

I presume Erebus knows too. He probably put two and two together when Torgaddon tried to bring him to book at the Lodge meeting.  He must know it wasn't on Davin's moon anymore; he must have gone down and checked. I'm amazed he didn't remove it before Loken and Torgaddon got to it, actually. And if Erebus knows, Horus will too.

You think Erebus will fess up to having stolen the sword from the interex?

He doesn't have to say that, just note that the weapon that almost killed Horus is now on the Vengeful Spirit ready to be made use of. Which brings me back to my original question: what use is Fulgrim going to get out of it?

He's going to kill someone, obviously.

I think I can hear my recursion alarm going off.

Fine. Er... Sanguinius. He's going to kill Sanguinius. Or the Emperor. No, Sanguinius makes more sense.


Because killing Sanguinius would piss everyone off.

Whereas stabbing the Emperor is, what, a ticker-tape parade?

Fine. Killing Sanguinius would be easier.  Or Dorne. Or Magnus Magnusson.

So basically he's going after a Primarch.

Not any Primarch. One we've already met. Sanguinius, to throw everything into chaos and get up to other naughtiness whilst the Emperor is distracted. Or Dorne, because he's protecting the Emperor right now and it would be useful to be rid of him. Or Magnus, to guarantee he can't spill the beans regarding what happened on Davin when he gets back to Earth.  It has to be someone we've already seen; it'd be crappy plotting if he's off to chop up someone we've never seen before.

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