Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Refusing To Pass By

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City: (IV)

The virus bombing of Istvaan III (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Istvaan III is dead.

This is, of course, a major historical event; the announcement of Horus' rebellion against his father. And such is its use in our Imperium; for those who know the word "Istvaan", it exists now only as a synonym for violent betrayal.

But it should be something more. Processing Istvaan III as a single event in a chain of historical developments - even an uniquely important enough - simply isn't enough. Istvaan III is dead. It isn't a date with a brief description attached to it.It's a death-toll of horrific proportions generated with unimaginable swiftness. It's millions of parents who died watching their children die. It's people and birds and reptiles and fish and insects and trees and flowers, dead and lost to us forever. Abaddon the Black could have killed ten thousand people for each of the ten thousand years since Horus' betrayal, and he still wouldn't have equalled the butcher's bill unleashed by his master on this single planet.

That it was a crime against the Imperium seems entirely beside the point. It was a crime against everything imaginable. It was a deliberate abdication from humanity itself, though even by saying that we focus too much on the murderer instead of his victims, lined up so wide and so deep they should block everything else from view.

What can we learn from picking over so many graves? What can we see there when the only human reaction is to weep?  We do not study Istvaan III. We do not explain it. We simply remember. It is the least we can do, and all we can do. Remembering Istvaan is how we remember who we are. Picking up a lasgun and marching into a Leviathan is not the only way to fight Chaos. We can simply choose to remember that the difference between the Warp and ourselves - the ourselves we should be - is that we can stop to consider the loss of others.

A pause, then, to consider the loss of Istvaan. It wasn't the largest planet in the Imperium, not the most diverse, and not the most strategically important. It wasn't the first planet claimed by humanity to be destroyed, not the last, nor the most populous.  It was unremarkable in almost every way.  None of which matters.  What matters is it once lived, and now does not.

We bypass that sad, awful fact at the cost of a little piece of our souls.


What Is

Well, that's that.  Istvaan III is now a dead world It's easily the most despicable act the series has thrown up so far. Does Counter sell the horror?

It was certainly plenty gory.

Too gory?

How dare you?

I don't mean too gory for you; I'm well aware of the kind of twisted stories you like to read.  I'm asking whether it jumped over the boundary of good taste, to the extent that either of us are remotely qualified to judge that.

I don't think so.  You need to get across just how horrible a weapon it is, so you get the scale of what's happened and just how far Horus is prepared to go. Did you think it crossed the line?

It was hard for me to read. I kept thibnking about all the children and puppies who the virus was chomping on.

They didn't mention that, though.

Yes, but it's an inescapable conclusion given what we did see.  Well, maybe not the puppies; I've no idea if there are dog breeders on Istvaan III. We can be sure about all those poor old tiny babies, though; it's awful.

The thing that kept jumping to my mind was rabbits.

Rabbits? Why?

It was that line about never expecting Astartes would scream.  You wouldn't think rabbits do either, until it happens.

Is this something about your childhood I should be nervously skirting round?

I think it's because of Watership Down.

That sounds right; that cartoon is completely messed up.

I meant the book. I had two copies of it as a kid, for some reason.

Maybe you needed a spare in case you cried so much over the first one it dissolved.

Why has the Warmaster decided to hold a private screening of his murder of an entire world?

Actually, the fact he's showing it to everyone makes perfect sense to me.  It's a clear political and military message: I will murder a planet full of people who've done nothing to me; what do you think I'll do to you if you cross me.  I can exterminate Astartes at the push of a button, imagine what I can do to you if you don't toe the line.

You mean he's gone from killing his enemies to killing anyone who doesn't explicitly sign up with him, and he's making that clear to everyone?


That makes some sense. This definitely feels like Horus announcing his rebellion.  But is he really going to let any of the remembrancers go?

I think he might let a few go, to spread the word about what happened.  He can't want to let them all go, otherwise he'd not have bothered to have the doors guarded. There's definitely going to be some killing.

I was about to ask whether that wouldn't just feel like a waste of ammo, but then I remembered that knives exist.

Yeah.  Definitely at least a few of the remembrancers are going to get it.

Body count strictly greater than zero; got it.

We talked a little while ago about which Astartes would end up on each side of a rebellion by Horus.  Are you surprised to see which side Lucius has ended up on?

I'm not sure what side he has ended up on.  Not wanting to get virus bombed does not translate into taking sides.  Lucius said himself that he can't believe Fulgrim would order him killed.  I think he's going to blame all of this on Eidolon - which is probably fair, in fact; I think Eidolon being afraid of Lucius' ambition still makes much more sense than it being about having Tarvitz as a friend. 

So if Lucius gets the chance to switch sides without having to follow Eidolon, I think he'd do it in a second.

You don't think seeing so many of his comrades murdered might sour him on the idea?

Nope.  He's always been about looking after number one. He didn't even bother warning any of the civilians about what was going to happen, though I suppose neither did Tarvitz.

I doubt there were any civilians left to be seen by the time Tarvitz caught up with the World Eaters. But yes, the civilians of the Choral City do seem to be pretty much entirely forgotten beyond their use as cannon fodder for the World Eaters to get stuck into. It's one of the reasons I'm uneasy about the way the virus bombs were described, we only ever hear about the smallfolk when they're being horribly killed.

It's reinforcing Sindermann's point about not trying to talk to the people they're attacking.

Yes, but it isn't just the Astartes doing it; it's the text itself.

Not just this text, the whole series.  Except for maybe the interex.

The interex, sure, but even the people of High City get at least a little time in our focus, even if their dislike of Karkasy/Imperial people in general made them pretty quiet and sullen.  It'd be nice to see something like that again.

What Will Be

What does Iacton Qruze have in mind for saving Sinderman, Keeler and Oliton?

Yeah, I didn't see that coming.

Iacton saving them?


Not like you to miss a trick.

I'd just completely forgotten about him. Or maybe I just figured he'd be on the planet.

I think that's the point.  It's not really a tremendously subtle point, actually; it's Horus being too arrogant to tick all of his boxes again.  He didn't pay enough attention to the remembrancers, and straight away afterwards he doesn't pay enough attention to Qruze.

But surely he'd end up on the planet, just by default.  Horus wanted to get rid of everyone who wouldn't definitely follow him, and surely he'd have at least ticked off all the captains.

I like to think of it as an administrative error.  You know, they drew up two lists that should have included everybody but Qruze got missed out entirely.  He's just wandering the halls now, waiting for orders.

So did you see it coming?

No, I'd completely forgotten about him.  He's like a 31st millennium Silence.

And now he's trying to escape.

Indeed.  How's that going to go?

I don't see how it ends.  He's going to steal a ship, but what then?  Get away?

It's not easy to see how. Whatever he swipes isn't going to be warp-capable, and Horus has interceptors far faster than anything that can carry four people.

Four people at least; who knows what other loiterers they'll pick up.


He could head for the planet?

Bit virusey.  And even if the pathogens have burned themselves out by the time they land, a few missiles aimed at the only Astartes vessel on the planet would soon sort them out.

They could try and hide with Eidolon's doctor.  Sanctuary in exchange for him getting to study Oliton's enhancements.

I think he'd be more likely to dissect Euphrati to figure out what makes her psychic powers tick.

Oh, that's a point. Escape by magic!


Yes.  From Qruze!


Sure.  The Emperor only banned magic recently, right?  So maybe he had powers and he's only just stopped using them.

Makes sense.  I mean, what other plausible candidate could there possibly be?

What are Titus Cassar and Jonah Aruken going to do when they see what's happening to the world outside?

I don't know. Depends who survives, doesn't it?  What I don't see is what the Dies Irae is doing on the surface.

How do you mean?

Well didn't they just soup it up? Why would Horus just do that if he was just going to have it destroyed?

It's not going to be destroyed; that's the whole point of locking the whole thing down.

Yeah, but that's not because Horus warned them.  It was only the message over the vox from Lucius that did that.

The messa- oh, I get you. Well then, yes, I guess we're going to have to wait to see how it pans out.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Dream Of Peace

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (III)

Honour Brothers Nathaniel Garro and Saul Tarvitz (copyright lilloise at 40kart)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

In an era of war, which itself begat an era of endless war, calls for peace were few and far between. Or, more precisely, calls for peace those in the Imperium got the chance to hear were few and far between, the endless choruses of our victims rarely reaching our ears. The final public comments of Iterator Kyril Sindermann, then, can be considered highly unusual for any number of reasons.

Only one copy of Sindermann's last speech is known to exist; a transcription from a recording made by a junior officer in the Imperial Army aboard an escort attached to the 63rd fleet.  Although ten millennia of time has partially corrupted the data-slate upon which the speech was entered, enough remains for us to consider the thrust of his words, and reflect upon how successful his appeal might have been, and to what extent it reflects an improvement in Sindermann's conception of the events surrounding him, as oppose to simply a change. With apologies to purists, and indeed to the memory of Sindermann himself, we have chosen to annotate the speech.

My friends, we live in strange times and there are events in motion which will shock you as they have shocked me. You have come to hear the words of the saint, but she has asked me to speak to you, that I may tell you of what she has seen and what all men and women of faith must do.

The Warmaster has betrayed the Emperor.

Obviously, this last comment is indisputable. We flag it here so as to return later to the question of what betraying the Emperor actually in fact means.

I know, I know. You think that such a thing is unthinkable and only a short time ago, I would have agreed, but it is true. I have seen it with my own eyes. The saint showed me her vision and it chilled my very soul to see it: war-tilled fields of the dead, winds that carry a cruel dust of bone and the sky-turned eyes of men who saw wonders and only dreamed of their children and friendship.

This is direct, uncomplicated rhetoric, of course, of a kind Sindermann must have found useful when addressing audiences about which he could make few assumptions. But it also contains one of the most beautiful phrases we have found in studying the era of the Horus Heresy. "The sky-turned eyes of men who saw wonders and only dreamed of their children and friendship". It stands out all the more for seemingly being unconnected with the imagery that precedes it - visions of ruin and war. For a moment, Sindermann steps out of the large-scale horrors of galactic war and pivots to the human level, which after all is all that truly matters. What does it profit us to acquire the infinite majesty of the Imperium if we risk our families and our friends to do so? How many mothers and fathers have lost their children to win new planets for an empire already too large and widely spread for us to defend? How many friends, lovers, confidants and comrades have died for the theory that humanity cannot survive wars with aliens without being beaten in wars against us first?

I tasted the air and it was heavy with blood, my friends, its stink reeking on the bodies of men we have learned to call the enemy. And for what? That they decided not to be part of our warmongering Imperium? Perhaps they saw more than we? Perhaps it takes the fresh eyes of an outsider to see what we have become blind to.

Perhaps it did, though the example of people like Ignace Karkasy suggests that there were dissenting voices for some time that were simply ignored as inconvenient, if not executed as traitors. But there is little point in berating Sindermann for the length of time it took him to reach enlightenment.  What matters is the nature of that enlightenment: that the Imperium is an instrument of war which has killed millions of people for the crime of wishing for freedom.

Of course, there is an implicit contradiction here. Sindermann is talking on behalf of a saint of the Emperor to followers of the Lectitio Divininatus, but his focus is on how the Imperium has become an instrument of terror and misery. How does the iterator square this circle?

When we embarked upon this so-called "Great Crusade" it was to bring enlightenment and reason to the galaxy, and for a time that was what we did. But look at us now, my friends, when was the last time we approached a world with anything but murder in our hearts?  We bring so many forms of warfare with us, the tension of sieges and the battlefield of trenches soaked in mud and misery while the sky is ripped with gunfire. And the men who lead us are no better! What do we expect from cultures who are met by men named "Warmaster", "Widowmaker" and "The Twisted"? They see the Astartes, clad in their insect carapaces of plate armour, marching to the grim sounds of cocking bolters and roaring chainswords. What culture would not try to resist us?

He does it by shifting blame. The Emperor is blameless here, it is the Warmaster and his equerry, together their soldiers, who have brought us to this point. It's a neat rhetorical trick, no doubt, but it cannot stand up to scrutiny. "Warmaster" may be a name which promises war, but it was not Horus who awarded himself with it. It was bestowed by the Emperor. As to the charge that the Great Crusade no longer brings anything but war, we again must ask: thanks to whom?  There can be little doubt that the Emperor would have acted similarly had he been in command upon reaching Sixty-Three Nineteen or Murder, and we certainly cannot blame the Warmaster for the disintegration of talks upon Xenobia. This leaves us only with Davin, Aureus, and now Istvaan, two of which involved the suppressing of a rebellion headed by a treacherous Imperial commander.  Are we seriously to believe the Emperor would have treated either Temba or Praal with more leniency than his favourite Primarch?  The Emperor who not long before this speech had ordered the destruction of Magnus the Red's planet and Legion for the crime of disobeying him in an attempt to help him?

Which leaves us with Aureus. And yes, without question, that was a bad business, deliberately instigated by the Warmaster, which presumably Sindermann was aware of through Oliton. It is also just one planet at the end of centuries of bloodshed. There is simply no way to read Sindermann's speech and attribute his comments to that single war, bloody and needless though it was. The Crusade did not become corrupted despite the Emperor.  The Crusade was corrupted by the Emperor.

Look to what we leave behind us! So many memorials to our slaughters! Look to the Lupercal's Court, where we house the bloody weapons of war in bright halls and wonder at their cruel beauty as they hang waiting for their time to come again. We look at these weapons as curios, but we forget the actuality of the lives these savage instruments took. 

Ah yes, the memorials of the Crusade. Like the preserved specimen of a keylekid, a race exterminated by the Luna Wolves whilst the Emperor still walked amongst the stars with his Legions. Were the weapons used then not memorials of slaughter?

The fundamental problem here is that Sindermann has a problem with how the Crusade has failed to live up to its stated purpose, he has a concrete example of someone working against that purpose, and he is frantically trying to line the two problems up so they fit together perfectly.  And it simply can't be done.  It's clear that, like so many before him, Sindermann has realised it is better to be betrayed than be mistaken, and that, again like so many others, his response has been to redouble his commitment to his core principles. It isn't that the Emperor was wrong, it's that Horus is a traitor and the Emperor is a God.

It's a frustrating development, because Sindermann came so close to complete understanding. He diagnosed the problem almost perfectly, but refused to follow through on the cause.

The dead cannot speak to us, they cannot plead with us to seek peace while the remembrance of them fades and they are forgotten. Despite the ranks of graves, the triumphal arches and eternal flames, we forget them, for we are afraid to look at what they did lest we see it in ourselves.

By this point the dissonance is total, and Sindermann is telling the worshippers of the Emperor that the two hundred years of the Great Crusade have been squandered.  Which means, in fact, that Sindermann is betraying the Emperor whilst exhorting his followers to stand against another who is betraying the Emperor, albeit in a very different and unquestionably far more terrible way.  One can pray for peace whilst opposing Horus, but you can't do it whilst following the Emperor, not really. Either the dream of peace must be abandoned, or the Lord of Terra.

We have made war in the stars for two centuries, yet there are so many lessons we have never learned.  The dead should be our teachers, for they are the true witnesses. Only they know the horror and the ever repeating failure that is war; the sickness we return to generation after generation because we fail to hear the testament of those who were sacrificed to martial pride, greed or twisted ideology.

In truth, were Sindermann ever forced to make the choice, it would likely be the pursuit of peace. His disgust at the endless spiral of warfare is too clear here for it to be any other way.  He understands too well, at last, that the difference between his opponents who thought they were right and his colleagues who knew they were was never any difference at all. That every culture is better at justifying itself than listening to the perspective of others. That judging ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions is a hypocrisy's never far from generating a body count.

That there is never any worse an idea than insisting we have killed so many that we must continue killing, so that those already dead were lost for some purpose.  There is no way to follow that path without killing sooner or later becoming the purpose in itself.

We needed a better purpose. We needed to listen to the dead, and those still living with voices different to our own. If Sindermann truly understood that, he might have rejected the Emperor, but in the end that hardly matters; if Sindermann truly understood that, the name of the god he invoke in the pursuit of his vision could hardly matter less.  The dream would have remained everything, just as it always had for Sindermann and his fellows, as it did for the Emperor, as even it did for Horus, nightmarish though his dream was for us.

The only difference now is that Sindermann's dream allows for something no other one did: for other dreams to exist alongside if . For every man and woman to dream whatever they choose. Peace is freedom. Perhaps we have fallen too far for it to matter any more. But if humanity is ever to survive, and not simply die as slowly and angrily as possible, then some day we have no choice but to return to Sindermann's words. We must listen, and we must learn, and we must dream.

Let the battlefield dead take our hands in theirs and illuminate us with the most precious truth we can ever learn, that there must be peace instead of war!



What Is

Sindermann's speech on the virtues of peace is maybe an odd fit for a series of books about blowing everything up.  How well does Counter get across the "Give peace a chance!" message?

I'd say pretty badly, considering Sindermann just declared war on the Warmaster.

Refusing to follow your leader isn't the same things as declaring war, surely?

Nonsense. Sindermann just told a bunch of Emperor worshippers that their boss is about to betray their God.  There's no way that doesn't turn into a war.

Fair point.  But what else could Sindermann do? Usually when people say they're starting a war to guarantee peace they're transparently full of shit, but it's surely true occasionally, and this is one of those times.

He's just going to get everyone killed; they're up against Astartes.

That's true. I suppose Sindermann doesn't know every Astartes left in the fleet is backing Horus, but with Loken on the planet it's true Sindermann has exactly zero Astartes in mind he figures will back him.

It'd be better to try and assassinate Horus. Or even to try and talk to him.  Someone so fickle as to move from "I love the Emperor, he is all" to "I will kill the Emperor for ruining mankind and the galaxy" isn't someone you'd think would be unshakable on his new course, surely.

I don't know. It's much easier to turn love into hate than turn it back. It's one of the very many reasons humanity is as generally awful as it is. No-one is more fanatical than the fanatic who has changed sides.  I'm not sure the assassination idea has much in the way of legs either, actually. Even the rebel Astartes had to find a magic sword with a bespoke poisoning generator to threaten Horus' life.  What chance do mere mortals have?  Sindermann might very well be pursuing the best choice open to him here.  Which doesn't mean it's not all going to go horribly wrong, obviously.

So far we've had one big duel per book: first Loken and Jubal, then Horus and Temba.  How does Lucius versus Praal measure up here?  Does it get extra points for all that bizarre sonic weirdness? Or, I suppose, for including a Dreadnought?

You're not allowed to have a dreadnought in a duel! That's cheating!

He was only dealing with Praal's mooks, it doesn't count as interference.

I thought the sonic stuff was a nice idea, made things a bit different. I wasn't sure about the BOOM when Lucius chopped open Praal's tube, though.

Yeah, I caught that. I'm wondering if Counter figures sound travels through pipes the same way water does.  If the sound in the pipe is louder than the sound in the loudspeaker, you should be calling the loudspeaker something else.

Shouldn't the Astartes armour be able to withstand sound, though?

I confess I don't have a feel for how much sonic force you'd have to apply to upset someone in power armour. But it's definitely a suboptimal strategy. That's why we tend to go after tanks with high explosives rather than Metallica CDs. But I don't think they're using sound because they think it's an effective weapon.  I think they're just addicted to sound and are making use of it everywhere they can.  It would be like me trying to kill people by freezing cider into daggers.

Bollocks.  You'd never get round to stabbing people. At best you'd avoid cutting your tongue off eating your blade-shaped cider ice lollies.

Mmm. Tastes like danger.

Talking of Lucius, why is he down on the planet? You'd think Eidolon would want him on-board for the rebellion.

I can think of two reasons.  One is that Eidolon tried and got nowhere.  We know from his conversation with Tarvitz that the biological enhancement route is at least partially synonymous with being vetted for the rebellion, and I can't see how someone as already convinced of their own perfection as Lucius would be interested in the procedure. Or it might just be that Eidolon isn't sure which way he'll jump, so he's playing it safe.  It's never been mentioned, but I've always assumed anyone Eidolon/Horus/Mortarion/Angron was unsure about got sent down to the planet, because whoever is left in the fleet have to not just be relied upon to support the rebellion, but maintain support for it once they've seen billions of people and thousands of their brother Astartes murdered via pathogen.

Maybe Eidolon just thinks Lucius is too ambitious?

That's potential reason number three. Eidolon needs people with ambition for the rebellion of course, but a little goes a long way; anyone too ambitious is a threat to him, especially since they're about to break the cardinal rule of Astartes not killing other Astartes. Basically, Eidolon is looking for the sweet spot.

Aren't we all?

If you're referring to my unshakable impotence, I keep telling you it's because you won't wear the clown suit and flippers I bought you.  I need you to work with me, here.

Are you picking up any point to Loken's story down on Istvaan III at all?

No.  Nope.  Nah, guv.  You?

God no.

Nice. Care to elaborate?

That's supposed to be your job. But I guess the best I can come up with is that the pit of the dead in front of the statue of a false God is supposed to represent Loken's dedication to Horus. Piling up bodies for the sake of someone not worth bothering with is pretty much what Loken is doing right now, after all.

I suppose it relates back to the beginning of the chapter and Sindermann's speech, underlining how pointless this all is, though the combination is maybe overkill. Either way, there's a problem here, because it wasn't Horus who kicked everything off.  Sindermann is out there preaching about how Horus has ruined the Crusade, but it's the Emperor who started it; it's the Emperor who gave Horus the title "Warmaster" that Sindermann suddenly finds so awful.

Suppose that one awful day you're dragged out of bed, lobotomised, forced into surgery to replace various body parts with machinery, and forced to play the same song over and over forever.  What tune would you pick?

Presumably I wouldn't be allowed to pick, though.

It's a hypothetical, Fliss; we don't need to be strictly rigorous about it. Especially since I assume that by the thirty-first millennium pretty much all your karaoke favourites will have faded from memory. Though I always saw Karkasy as a Doors fan.

I think I'd have to go with "Bohemian Rhapsody", if only because it's so long it would minimise the number of times I'd have to replay it each day.

And comes in three distinct parts, for maximum variability.

Is there a song I could choose that would kill me and release me from the whole deal?

"Gloomy Sunday"? That's supposed to have a fairly hefty body-count, though I think it's rather sweet.

Surely I can't actually do the deed, if I've been reprogrammed.

No, but if you're lucky you'd take enough of your operators out with your Hungarian mope-fest that eventually you'd break down for lack of maintenance.

That'd take too long. I want a song that literally blows my own brains out.

I don't think there is one of those.

Well not now, obviously.  But in the future.

Yes, who knows what notes we will invent as human knowledge expands. I bet H sharp will get the job done, once all these damn musicians stop resting on their laurels.

What Will Be

If Euphrati is so sure Horus' meeting is a trap, why is she heading over there? Is she planning to martyr herself already? And what good does it do Sindermann and Mersadie if they see Horus' betrayal for themselves seconds before it gets them killed?

I don't get that.  Maybe she knows something we don't. I wondered if she was going to try and assassinate Horus at the meeting, but then that just makes him a martyr. No-one would ever know the truth.

She could wait until Horus tries to pull whatever he plans to pull.

But then the remembrancers would still be surrounded by Astartes. No-one is going to be able to get out of that with the real story. 

Fair enough. I do like the idea that the Emperor would be devastated that Horus had been assassinated, with no idea as to how close the Warmaster came to rebelling against him.

Alternatively, maybe she's been taken over by the Warp.

But she's a saint!

So? Why does that preclude her from being taken over by the Warp? She miraculously woke up from a coma, but maybe that's what the Warp wanted.

What would Chaos get out of sending her to see Horus?

She's taking Mersadie and Sindermann with her. Maybe she wants to wipe out the entirety of the church's movement in one go. Though I still think Mersadie is more like to be secretly evil than Euphrati.  I still want to know where's she was through the first part of the book.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Birth Of Serpents

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (II)

Saint Celestine, believed by some
to in fact be Euphrati Keeler (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Far back in the deepest annals of human history, before the Long Night, perhaps even before the First Age of Technology, people had a saying: "Faith can move mountains". Here in the forty-first millennium, shifting rock structures might seem one of the very least impressive things faith can do.  Flight, invisibility, time-distortion; the powers demonstrated by our saints are as varied as they are awe-inspiring. Such gifts are so rare and offered to those so virtuous that it might seem unforgivable to pick at the reasons why and how such gifts are given. Nevertheless, such study is necessary, because the one thing we can be quite sure about is that these powers are not granted to us by the Emperor.

Our proof of this is the First Saint, Euphrati Keeler herself. Firstly, we have the fact that the Emperor had still to ascend to his Golden Throne, denying him the direct access to the Warp commonly cited as the mechanism by which his will is now enacted. Rather more crucially, though, we can assume the Emperor was not involved in providing Saint Euphrati with psychic help from across the stars is simply because if it had been the Emperor guiding events, it would represent one of the greatest errors in judgement in Imperial history.

But if the Ruler of Mankind can be eliminated as the source of Euphrati's abilities, and so by extension those of at least some of the saints mankind so venerates, what exactly is responsible? With so many saints across the ten thousand years and hundred thousand light years (and how strange to think that light from the outer reaches of Segmentum Pacificus has reached a tenth of the way to the Eastern Fringe since the Siege of the Emperor's Palace), it's entirely possible that multiple reasons can simultaneously exist. For many, it seems most plausible that they were simply latent psykers whose talents activated in a context where they could be declared holy.  The ridiculous process by which Imperial citizens can persuade themselves psykers are abhorrent and miracle-performing saints are beyond reproach is perhaps a topic for another time - though in short this phenomenon is just one more expression of the grotesque, blood-stained hypocrisy man specialises in that will both doom us and demonstrate that we deserve to be doomed. Instead, let's move on to other explanations.

Doing so raises an implicit question, of course; why do we need another explanation? Can't the Emperor's Will and fortuitous psychic activity (where he we read "fortuitous" as "not resulting in being condemned to violent military service, death, or agonising torture followed by agonising death) cover all eventualities? Actually, no. Not here. Consider the moment Saint Keeler awakens.  The timing is almost perfect; too late to warn the loyalist Astartes before their final drop, and too early to for Horus to have the attention to spare to lock down the fleet and prevent the saint's escape.

What's interesting here is that Saint Euphrati stirs herself in the middle ground between two scenarios which could both plausibly shorten the war.  We have suggested already that Horus might well have lost his rebellion before he even left Istvaan III's orbit. so long did it take to crush the resistance offered by Loken, Tarvitz, Ehrlen and their comrades.  Imagine how much more disastrous would have been a space engagement featuring elements of four fleets, each split in two with no clear method for identifying the true leanings of almost any given ship, and in which the unstoppable forces of Anfron, Mortarion and the Dies Irae would find their uses severely limited.  Aside from anything else, it would quite simply have been impossible to prevent loyalist breakouts from the system, offering the Emperor not just additional forces for the coming war, but a raft of additional intelligence on Horus' plans. Any Emperor's Children escaping with word of Fulgrim's mysterious mission to the 52nd Expeditionary Fleet might have led the Emperor to reconsider how far the rot might have spread, for example.

On the other hand, had Keeler recovered much later than she did, she might never have made it, along with Iacton Qruze, to the Eisenstein, significantly reducing the chances that Dorn would ever have heard or credited Garro's message. Without this forewarning, Horus' dalliance above Istvaan III becomes a far less serious problem, and his original plan of a swift, crushing victory brought about by speed and surprise once more becomes a possibility.

What does all this mean?  Two things, in fact. First, the timing of Euphrati's vision and awakening are so precise that any suggestion they were random is difficult to credit. Second, whatever force chose that moment to act through the former remembrancer did not do so to aid one side or the other, but to prolong the conflict between them as long as possible.

The list of sentients both desiring that outcome and capable of obtaining it via Saint Euphrati is small indeed.  The psi-null Necrons lack the necessary capabilities, if indeed any of them were awake at the time.  The Ork's wouldn't ave the first idea of how to gain access to a saint's mind, still less what to do with that access, save for sniggering loudly when the poor human's head explodes. There is only one truly plausible culprit here: Chaos.  Chaos might want victory, but as we've argued, they do not necessarily want it quickly.  You cannot feed once all the cattle are dead, after all.  Neither can you defile once all the believers are gone.  What use is a burning grudge against the puny lapdogs of the Emperor if those followers could take or leave expressions of worship in any case?  To a certain extent you can maintain religion through oppressive force of arms, but to truly breed faith - to truly build something Chaos would find worthwhile knocking down - one requires miracles.

Slow victories keep you fed and the cattle breeding.  Saints keep the cattle fat and tasty. Desecrating the icons of atheism, is difficult and unsatisfying.  If the Imperium had not the Divine Emperor - which originally they didn't - it would be necessary to invent him - which in fact Chaos essentially did.  The idea that the creatures of the Empyrean may have impacted the basics tenets of our religion in more ways than through that greatest of outrages is a chilling one, but this universe has never let an idea's unattractiveness prevent it from being true. Chaos has the means and the motive. Saint Keeler never showed any signs of being beyond the ordinary before she first met a daemon, just as the Warp was sliding towards a footing of total war.  The evidence is circumstantial, but far from easy to immediately dismiss. What if that was truly how it happened? How many more times did Chaos take a hand in defining and delineating our religion? How many of our saints were actually, knowingly or not, nothing more than serpents in the garden, delivering us unto evil? How long have we been manipulated by forces fuelling both sides of this ugly, endless war?

And if even our miracles might simply be tools of the Great Enemy, then just what is it we should be praying for that might somehow allow us to win?


What Is

This is the second chapter now which is dominated by Counter's extended multi-viewpoint action sequence as three Legions (well, four, but who knows what the Death Guard are up to) attack the Choral City.  Since a lot of this section is going to rely on how successful Counter is at this approach, this is a good time to ask, um, is he?

Jumping between viewpoints is definitely working. There's been far too much single-viewpoint chapters since Martin got popular.

"Third-person limited".

No-one cares. The point is it makes things drag on if you're not careful, as well as pretty much guaranteeing whoever's watching events is going to survive, unless you're actually reading Martin himself.

Actually, prologues and epilogues aside, he's only actually killed one character in a chapter from their perspective. True fact. But I digress.

So I'm enjoying how fast it's going, and how it's clearly building up to a climax.  There's still the feeling that I don't really know any of these characters, though. Tarvitz is about the only character in this book I feel we've gotten ino the head of, and he isn't even in this big set-piece.

Do you really need to know much about Lucius to enjoy him murdering faceless goons, though? Or find it interesting, at least?

Well, it's not like we can really empathise with him.  If we did, it would suggest there was something wrong with us.  We've no reason to engage with him, or with the enemy; it's just two groups of people killing each other at great length for no reason. We also seem to have entirely lost the Death Eaters.

There's a reason for that; they're all in Harry Potter. You mean the Death Guard and/or the World Eaters.

Yeah, where did they all go?  We heard they were in a fight for their life, and then nothing.

I'm sure they'll show up once they've finished shooting an entire city's worth of civilians.  Whatever else it might be, that can't be a quick job.

Saul Tarvitz has had far less page-time than Loken up to this point.  Why is it he's been given the "warn the loyalists" plot-line, whilst Loken just gets to try and fulfil the orders of his treacherous boss whilst bogged down on the planet?

Because Loken wouldn't do anything? Even if he saw the damn missiles, he'd just have a quick grumble and shuffle on.

Is that really how you see him?

I thought that's how you saw him.

It is, though somewhat less upon this re-read. But that's hardly the point.

He's definitely let a lot go by without doing anything about it.  All he's done has stolen a book, and he gave that back.

That's a good point.

Plus, on just a basic plot level, everyone's watching Loken to see what he'll do.  He wouldn't be able to go sneaking around like Tarvitz.

True.  There might even be some kind of ludicrously heavy-handed metaphor here about how Loken is trapped on the surface and also by his own moral compromises whilst Tarvitz can fly free because he's escaped from making the same mistake.

Sure you're not giving Counter too much credit there?

I'm honestly not sure if I'm giving too much credit or just being insulting. Though of course previous experience would heavily suggest the latter.

What Will Be

So, you're Nathaniel Garro.  You've got a frigate staffed with potential traitors, a blood-debt to a fugitive, and an upcoming rap for shooting down your own side's interceptors.  Oh, and you only have one leg.  What are you going to do next?

Don't have a go at him for missing a leg!

I'm not dissing the guy! I'm just saying if I find out my boss is about to massacre thousands of my friends and try to kill me too, I'd like to have both legs working for maximum running away options.

Is he going to run away? How's he going to explain that when he meets up with Dorn or Magnus Magnusson? "I found out all my mates were about to get virus-bombed so I legged it."

He can't do anything, though.  Not in a frigate.

Yeah, I have no idea what that is.

Never mind. The point is someone has to go warn the Emperor.

Surely he already knows?

How do you figure that?

Clearly it's him who's sending Euphrati the visions.

Really? He's picked a hell of a time to start with the video feed, hasn't he?

It's not his fault she's in a coma; her puny brain can't handle the strain.

Sounds like it is his fault, then, and either way I'd have thought some phone calls to the hideously beweaponed battlecruisers stuffing the system would be preferable to rely on a coma patient waking.

Horus is going to have cut the phone lines, Ric; come on.

If the Emperor can dial up Euphrati, he can dial up Loken.

Astartes too closed-minded.

You're too closed-minded. Astartes are all very different. Except if they're from the same reason. Then they're indistinguishable.

Either way, they won't have had all that freaky stuff done to them that remembrancers have.

Well, maybe. But let's move on; I'm bored of talking about Euphrati.

Euphrati Keeler has chosen a hell of a time to wake up.  Is there any time left for her to do anything useful?  What does fate have in store for her pitiful little band? Rousing the fleet to action? Or lined up against the wall and shot?

She'll be martyred, obviously.

Well, obviously.  Martyring is what saints are all about.  The question is how?

She'll be lined up against the wall and shot.

I may have led the witness a bit there, actually.  Anything a bit less obvious?

Er.... Sindermann becomes a zombie.


Everyone says how he's gotten thin and frail.

That's not how you become a zombie!

Good point. So he's already a zombie!

Oh, for God's sake.

And the visions come attached to a terrible curse that kills everyone who sees them, or really who hears about them at all. How's that?

A terrible view into your psyche. Please don't murder me as I sleep for saying so.

I promise nothing.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Descent Of Angels

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (I)

The Death Guard in Choral City (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

One of the strangest aspects of piecing together the story of the past from ten thousands years further down the road is that it can start to feel just like that - a story. So much is contradictory, or passionately written, or even allegorical, that the assembled image feels not like the flat, hard image of a pict-capture, but a contradictory patchwork statue, carved in the dark by a thousand hands in a hundred locations. A million lies designed to approximate truth. Which is to say, a story.

But really, what is history but the stories the powerful write for themselves, and the stories they force upon everyone else.  The endless struggle for freedom across human existence is ultimately about the right to be first author.  So if, on occasion, we read our history and see it studded with literary allusions, are our subconscious minds playing tricks on us, or are the writers of history no less prone to the rhetorical flourish than any other author?

Either way, as the first battle for Istvaan III begins, every indication is that this is becoming a story about the perils of descent.

This has been true since the very beginning of course, at least concerning Horus. Now, though, everyone else in the Imperial warfleet above Istvaan III is being brought down alongside him. Whether they know it or not - and ironically those risking most for his plan are those who understand it least, though is that not always the way of war? - every Astartes involved in the subjugation of the planet are assisting Horus with his plan for rebellion.  They have dived headlong into a pit dug by the Warmaster, a pit that taints and compromises all who enter it.  It doesn't even really matter that so many who have leaped into the pit believe they are massacring their fellow humans in the name of the Emperor.  The Great Crusade has been morally compromised since its very beginning, and the problem as only grown worse over time. Every drop into combat was another jump into this exact same pit.  It's simply that this time there is no opportunity for escape. The deploying Astartes have been denied Stormbirds because their role has been changed.  No longer can they pose as avenging angels of one man's justice, now they are forced to play the part of their erstwhile victims, under attack from unstoppable descending starships for the crime of holding to their long-established beliefs iun the face of new, incomprehensible developments.

The Astartes have travelled downwards so long there is not longer any chance of them rising again.  Their doom lies both in them never realising how far their descent went, and in missing entirely that their leaders had fallen further still. Two centuries of learning that one serves those who will not blindly follow you with total catastrophe. What else could anyone else expect? The birth of the Heresy was guaranteed when no-one thought to answer or even ask the most important question: why did the Emperor believe that he could push his sons forever downwards and yet somehow ensure he never pushed them too far?

And so the mighty vessels of Horus' fleet drift slowly downwards towards Istvaan III, and the comrades they will soon betray. They have to descend, of course.  You have to fall a certain amount to unleash an invading army on a local populace, but you have to fall still further to wipe out all life on a planet.  Allegory must be served.

Speaking of which, consider the Sons of Horus sent via drop-pod to enact the Warmaster's will.  They too are descending, as we've argued, but not so far as Horus.  Recognising, even if only subconsciously, that Loken and his fellow loyalists occupy some metaphorical space above him, Horus must construct a plan that will rid him of them. The result is the false programming of the drop pods so that they do not descend as far as they should.  If the loyalists enjoy standing above everything, refusing to dirty their hands with the necessary act of rebellion, then that's what Horus will give them; a chance to die uncomprehending above the true struggle.

All of which makes it so deeply painful that when Squad Locasta's drop-pod survives its collision and its occupants find themselves stranded above the fray, Loken wants nothing more than the chance to descend further. He is willing to put his growing knowledge of Horus' fall aside so he - in the name of giving the Warmaster exactly what he wants - can scrabble down to the level he feels most comfortable with.  The same level as Lucius of the Emperor's Children, which is a thought that should give anyone pause; a level so low even the witch-worshipping rebels of Choral City can take to the air and strike at them from above.
So does fully one third of four entire Legions present themselves for death, by refusing to consider how far they have fallen.  To refuse, in fact, to ever look up.


Exciting fun times! The waving of flags! This missive represents Fliss' fiftieth chapter in her ongoing journey of discovery.  Has it been a success so far? Has Fliss fallen in love with the 30th Millennium?  Or is she one Primarch away from trying to beat me to death with my resin drop-pod?

1. Fifty chapters in, Fliss. Eight and a bit parts. Two and a half novels.  A thousand pages, give or take. Pretty much a year exactly, Are you enjoying the experience? How close is the reality of the series to what you were imagining when I suggested all this?

Erm... Well, they're readable. They're not at the level where I'd be refusing to finish them if we weren't doing this blog.  In fact on rare occasions I do get frustrated that I can't just keep reading and have to stop so we can chat about each chapter separately.

That's a good sign, isn't it? That sometimes you're so wrapped up in it you want to keep going?

I said on rare occasions. Which are getting rarer.


As to preconceptions; all I really had to go on were those giant robot dude figures you're always painting.

Has the series delivered from the giant robot dude perspective.

Kind of. I can never get a decent picture of them in my head.

There are pictures on the front covers!

But they never entirely mesh with the descriptions in the books.

Fair enough. Mainly I just want to check you're not hating all this so much that you're thinking of leaving me.

No. Well, not for that reason.

2. Who's your favourite character of the series so far?

Magnus Magnusson, because he can turn into a wolf.

That's it? That's really it?

He's awesome! He might be able to turn into other animals too!

He might not be able to turn into anything, it might just have been a vision.

(Fliss ponders this for a few seconds. She looks very sad.)

Karkasy reminds me a bit of you. Mainly the writing. And the drinking.  And the womanising?


He did loads of womanising.

I know he did.  How does that remind you of me?

I thought it might be something you'd want to write in the blog.

No-one will believe it.

You womanised

I seduced you; that's very different.

Did you? Is that what we should call it?

I don't know; I was drunk for, you know,  pretty much all of it.

3. If you could change just one thing about the first fifty chapters, what would it be?

I think the whole switchover was far too fast.


From Horus the good guy to Horus the shit.

Any ideas on how to improve that?

You need an extra book. You need him having some adventures that lead him to question the Emperor properly, not just be fed stuff in a dream invaded by a liar.  Neil's idea was a good one; a book completely from Horus' perspective.

Alternatively, I'd add in more remembrancers.  We spend too much time seeing things from the Astartes perspective, which is too distant.  I need human feelings to help me connect to the story.

4. Games Workshop have already released a CGI film set in this fictional universe, starring John Hurt and Terence Stamp. If they wanted to do another one covering the trilogy, who should they get to play Loken, Horus, Abaddon, etc.?

Andy Serkis?

No. He's a dab hand with Gollums and chimps, but an Astartes requires a slightly different tone.

He's a master of CGI films!

At doing the actions! No-one's going to actually be chainswording people! We just need someone with deep and sonorous tones.

Joe Pasquale?

Take this seriously.

Brian Blessed?

That's more like it.  Who gets to be played by Brian Blessed?

Some guy in the crowd outside the Serpent Lodge.  "Horus' alive!"

...OK, that's pretty funny. But it's still a no.

Billy Connelly could be Sindermann. He has more gravitas than you'd think. He can be very convincing.  Or maybe he could be all drunk and sweary and be Karkasy.

I'm going to have to tie you down to one or the other.

Well, David Bowie could be Karkasy, and David Attenborough could be Sindermann.  Connelly can have the other one.

And for the Astartes?

Samuel L. Jackson for Horus.  Obviously.  And, er, Errol Brown.

The guy from Hot Chocolate?

Yeah. He could be Sanguinius.  He has that lovely lilting voice.

I love that all the Primarchs are getting black actors.  I've said this before, but this blog is pissing off all the right people. We should really cast Loken, what with him being the main character.

Let's go with Daniel Craig, to be boring.

You mean boring as in obvious, or just plain boring?

The first one, though now you mention it...

Onto questions about the chapter itself:

5. Let's talk about Tarvitz's horrifying discovery. Were you suprised to learn the Astartes have acccess to such horrifying weaponry.

Well, yes, but only because I've had thought if Horus had these weapons he'd never have wasted all that time fighting the megarachnids.  Why not just pull out and virus bomb the whole place?

Nerve gas the whole goddam nest, huh? That might rather render the planet rather useless, is the problem there.

The Imperials don't have some kind of device for restarting planets? Some kind of seed device?

That's a different franchise.  The scientists of the Imperium aren't going to slap together anything like that unless it'll annoy the Eldar somehow. Which, actually, I suppose it would, so I don't know where I'm going with any of this.

Also, it makes me think less of the Astartes, if they can just run off and drop these things when fights go badly.

Sometimes taking off and nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure.

Are you OK? You're sounding kind of weird today.

It's fine.

Can these things kill Astartes, then? I thought they were supposed to be immune to everything.

You've probably got to put your back into it if you want to put something together that'll kill them, but I'm sure science has the answer. In fact, I wonder if one of the experiments Bile has been running was specifically to make sure the virus bombs would work. Be a bit awkward otherwise. It's worth a try, but they don't even know if it's going to affect them.

Stop saying weird things! Are you telling me that in all the years these people have been running around the galaxy not once has one of these bombsgone off in range of an Astartes?

They don't break this stuff out very often, and they're probably a funny about trying it with Astartes nearby. I'm sure they know it works on the Imperial Army, though.

I thought the experiments would be based on trying to make Astartes immune, if anything.

So they could head down to the planet and check everything is going according to plan?

And so at the end of it all Horus has some survivors that can spin their story any way he wants.

Very cunning. I was planning on asking you if your Nero Vipus conspiracy theory still holds up, actually, but I can probably guess your answer now.

Well, ask me anyway.

OK. Pass me the bag of bold letters. Ahem...

6. Does your Nero Vipus conspiracy theory hold up?

I don't know.

What? Then why did you - oh, never mind. Pray continue.

At first I thought he was finally showing his true colours when he guided the drop-pod into the tower, but then he didn't kill Loken whilst he was asleep, so I'm confused. Though I guess Vipus might just not think finishing Loken off that way is sufficiently honorable.

I'd have thought that "honorable" was rather out the door once you set your mind on murdering your best friend and commanding officer. But I guess a man must have a code.

I can't believe he'd be planning to betray Loken if he knew about the virus bombs, though. It's far too much effort killing your best friend if they're about to die anyway.

Yeah, I think I saw that on a fridge magnet once.