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.

No comments:

Post a Comment