|The virus bombing of Istvaan III (copyright unknown)|
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.
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.
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.
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.