|Mortarion, copyright Gang Zang|
Three Primarchs in one room. Representatives from almost a quarter of the Emperor's Legions. As a metaphor for the expanding reach of the Warmaster and the accelerating threat of the Heresy, it is pretty much perfect, if simplistic. It also demonstrates the fact that we are reaching the point where even the most precise deconstruction of the events from which the Heresy emerged will come up short in trying to track each contribution to the building storm. The earliest beats in our story are easy to identify: Lorgar's treachery, Erebus' theft, Fulgrim's temptation in the Laer temple. By the time our subjects have gathered in the Istvaan system, there are simply too many moving parts to identify and follow. What started as discrete pebbles set tumbling down a mountainside has become a roaring avalanche, a single mass of infinite complexity and danger.
This is made harder by our lack of knowledge. We know when Fulgrim first signed up to Horus' cause, but Angron is harder to place. Was it before the assault on the Iron Citadel, or after? Did he give the order to execute Varvaras, or did Horus? Is Horus in fact headed for the Conqueror to win Angron to his cause?
But the mystery of Angron is nothing compared to that of Mortarion. For the Primarch of the World Eaters, only the precise timing is unclear. The reasoning behind his decision could not be more obvious, to the point where we have questioned the Emperor's supposed ignorance on the issue. A obsessive commitment to butchery under all circumstances? It's faintly surprising the last scion of Nuceria didn't defect to the Orks. With Mortarion, though, we know almost nothing. When did he first chafe against the Emperor's will? When did he make his feelings known to Horus? At what point was the fatal decision made?
Mortarion remains one of the last true mysteries of the Horus Heresy. Eight other Primarchs turned to Chaos before or during the Heresy, and we know the motivations behind all of them. Horus and Fulgrim fill victim to pride, and Peturabo and Night Haunter to bitterness. Lorgar sought the love of the Chaos Gods, and Magnus their protection. Angron needed more leeway in who and what he could hack to pieces. Even the ever-mysterious Alpharius acted from identifiable motives, choosing a temporary ascendancy of evil over the agonising slow death the Imperium promised.
But Mortarion? Who can say. Scattered suggestions exist that he might have acted from a fear the Emperor had grown too powerful and tyrannical, but these second-hand reports strike us as more justifications after the fact than they do genuine explanation. We may well never know what precisely went on inside that pale, pocked head. And whilst some might argue that Mortarion's betrayal was inevitable from his form and temperament, we should avoid such lazy thinking. Whatever else Mortarion was, he spent centuries fighting for us. We are the poorer for his loss to Chaos, and we are the more endangered for being unable to see what flaw in ourselves Horus used to bring him to this pass.
Perhaps further clues might be found in a more detailed consideration of the Death Guard's final days as a unified loyalist force. Certainly that will be our focus once we finish charting the final moments of Captains Loken and Torgaddon on Istvaan III. For now, though, Mortarion must remain a mystery, his soul as hidden as his face. We must move on to other enigmas. The Chaos Gods themselves are about to speak.
Mortarion has arrived. That's our seventh Primarch, for those counting. How does he rank up amongst the ones you've seen so far?
He didn't seem to make the same impression as other Primarchs. On other people, I mean.
You mean Loken?
Yeah. This didn't have the "oooh" moment you got with all the others, the sense that this is someone special. Really the only thing you learned here is that he has huge things stuck in is head.
No he doesn't; that's Angron.
Oh. In that case, all we learn is that he's not Angron.
Mortarion is the one with the breathing mask.
(Fliss looks confused and reaches for the book).
Yes, see? Only one paragraph on him. Seven lines. He's bald, got a breathing thing, and bare armour. I'm sure the other Primarchs got much more on them than Montarion.
Mortarion. You can't even remember him when you're reading his first appearance.
And who's fault is that? Is he the first Primarch we meet in this book.
Then I think we all know what's happened.
I guess playing Devil's advocate I could argue that the whole point of the Death Guard is that they're not at all interested in adornments or gilding. They don't even go in for painting armour. Just a brass skull and the job's a good 'un. So maybe Counter is describing them in spare tones because that's how they think of themselves.
Maybe. But you've got to give us something. I didn't pick up on the idea at all that they're anti-bling.
That's the problem with that approach, I guess. If you're too minimalist about the minimalism people might miss the minimalism of the minimalists.
The use of scary recordings to build tension is a well-established horror trope. Are you intrigued by what's going on down on Isstvan III?
Yes. Mainly because I'm wondering what the hell Horus is up to now.
How do you mean?
Well, is the recording even real? Is it really two years old? Maybe Horus set this whole thing up as an excuse to go down there and kill this guy (Praal). Could Mersadie Oliton have been helping him fake pictures. She probably knows how, and she was missing for an awful lot of the end of the last book.
But it wasn't Horus who found this recording; it was Mortarion.
It could still have been planted.
He says its two years old.
He guestimated that. It could all be faked.
Mortarion said it was just coincidence that his ship happened to drop out of the Warp and pick up the transmission.
And how suspicious is that?
It seems quite hard to arrange, though, doesn't it?
Why? They had to leave the Warp because they were in trouble. And Horus is bestest friends with the things in the Warp these days.
So you don't think what we saw was real.
Well, maybe. It did look like an attack by the things in the Warp.
So if it was, did it work in terms of creepiness? I know you weren't impressed by the last attack.
I think you need to work harder to freak me out. I've become quite immune to horror these days. Though reading this on a packed commuter train to Birmingham New Street probably didn't help.
No indeed. Not with that amount of true horror surrounding you.
(I shall by the way be testing Fliss' apparent resistance to horror come this year's Halloweenapalooza. Ten quid says she spends so much of the triple bill with her face in her panda pillow she'll taste the bamboo.)
Whilst we're on the subject of Horus' deceptions, what do you think Horus' plan here is?
I can believe there's actually a Warp attack going on down there. Is Horus hoping to grab some of the Warp energy? Is that something that can happen? Is that how it works?
Maybe, though it's not clear to me how he would manage that without anyone noticing.
Who does he need to hide it from?
Loken and Torgaddon.
Who's been given the death signal.
Torgaddon said Vipus was the only person other than Loken that Torgaddon can trust. That means he'll be dead by the end of next chapter. Or turn out to be a traitor.
I can't deny that the basic rules of drama require something to go wrong after such a statement.
Horus might be looking to get rid of Vipus. And Loken and Torgaddon too. I'm just not sure how he's going to do it.
How come Abaddon and Eidolon have started getting on so well?
I don't know. Who's been teaching Eidolon diplomacy? Maybe Horus and/or Fulgrim beat it into him after Murder. And Abaddon got into trouble over his lack of diplomacy with the interex. Maybe they've bonded over that.
Ah, the Brotherhood of Butthurt. A powerful organisation, if a little paranoid.
Plus of course they need to start getting people onside. And Abaddon is probably treading carefully. He knows that he'd be in real trouble if word gets out that he let Horus be healed in the Serpent Lodge. I assume the other Primarchs would be interested in that little tit-bit?
Depends on the Primarch. Dorn would be pretty furious at least, I'd imagine. Any other thoughts on why the two of them are being so kissy-kissy?
I don't think they're having an affair, if that's what you're implying.
Too bad. That's just the kind of twist this story needs to pep it up.
I wonder if Abaddon has suggested Eidolon murder Torgaddon? That way Eidolon gets revenge, and Abaddon gets plausible deniability.
I'm accidentally improving the story again, aren't I?
I can say no more. My tears must speak for me.
What Will Be
Who's going to win the race, Sindermann or Maggard? Or are they going to show up together for maximum hi-jinks?
I figure Maggard the Haggard* will get there first, and the others will catch him in the act. Then he'll try to kill him.
Who will try to kill whom?
The Titan guy. Guys. They'll try to shoot Maggard.
That doesn't sound like it will end well.
For anyone not named Maggard.
Except the saint will wake up and save them. Obviously.
* I was going to cut this nickname out since Fliss literally uses it every time now. But I figured I'd let one through. After all, so much hurried genetic manipulation to bulk him out to Astartes-esque levels is probably leaving him more than a little tired and scruffy.