Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Three Bouts

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (III)

Update: I forgot to mention this, but Black Library have re-released False Gods for your reading pleasure, so you no longer have no excuse to not wade through the twenty-three posts Fliss and I generated on the second book in this series.

Kharn, busy betraying (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

The final assault on the loyalist stronghold has begun, and the rebels are falling over each other in their haste to claim glory.

This, of course, is a problem.

Well, it isn't a problem for us. Indeed, whilst our species' weaknesses for cupidity and vainglory has resulted in a truly humiliating number of us swelling the ranks of Chaos, those same drives when untethered from obligation do not lend themselves towards disciplined soldiering. There is probably no more fundamental reason for why we are losing the Long War as slowly as we are. And here, in the dying moments of the war on Istvaan III, this tendency toward self-abnegation is everywhere.

There are three encounters we can base these observations around; the duels between first Loken and Kharn and then Tarvitz and Lucius, and the violent massacre perpetrated on the loyalist triage centre by Eidolon and his followers. Each of these encounters in their own way demonstrate the fundamental problem facing Chaos as an effective fighting force.

Consider Eidolon. Obviously his obscene delight in murdering the injured and helpless is disgusting, but that is not our point here. It is a profoundly sad fact that basic humanity can be so totally thrown aside in these circumstances, but a fact it remains, and always has. But even with the moral outrage set aside, spending critical time slaughtering the injured is just poor strategy. The most fundamental aspect of a surprise attack is speed. The most important targets need to be eliminated in the shortest amount of time possible. You don't waste time stopping to brutalised those too injured to fight. By definition, they are not an immediate concern. Leave a few guards to deal with any surprises, and then move along.

Instead, Eidolon allows Tarvitz time to rally his defenders and potentially further protract an already unacceptably lengthy campaign, simply so the Lord Commander can convince himself he's earning glory through the simple quantity of death he can dole out.  The body count became more important than victory.

There was never any real chance of Loken beating Kharn of the World Eaters Legion in what we might, in loose terms, describe as a fair fight. One might be tempted to suggest he might have pulled out a win in the same way he did when he first faced Lucius in the practice cages, but the comparison is flawed. Loken won there by entering a contest with specific rules -or at least norms - and wilfully violating them to demonstrate the foolishness of relying on your opponent to following the same code you do. It was a worthy lesson, but it can hardly be considered to apply here. The World Eaters have no code, just an addiction to violence. Loken could not beat Kharn by doing something Kharn wouldn't expect, because Kharn has no principles blinding him to any subset of strategies.  The basic Luna Wolves philosophy as described by Loken is to understand the enemy and do whatever it takes to win, but any degree of understanding the World Eaters makes clear that the way to beat them is to never under any circumstances find yourself in close combat with them.

And yet Loken survived the confrontation with what must have been one of the top five most prolific killers on Istvaan III. His escape seems like good fortune, and to some extent that's what it was. But that isn't the whole story. It never is. In this case Loken's good luck was only made possible by the mad dashing advance of the rebel forces, a pell-mell rush to get to grips with the enemy that ended up almost killing one of Angron's best troops in the scrabble for glory. We've already accepted that speed is critical in an attack like this, but speed needn't mean haste, and it certainly needn't mean failing to check your route of approach for friendlies.  The speed with which the enemy could be slaughtered became more important than victory.

There's a certain delicious irony in Lucius' failure to kill Tarvitz stemming from precisely the kind of team-work Lucius had dismissed so thoroughly. Much as with Loken, though, we need to dig deeper. Lucius could have killed Tarvitz the moment the loyalist captain arrived. It took him only seconds to realise what had happened, of course, but for a swordsman of Lucius' skill, that's more than enough time to strike a killing blow. And yet he didn't. Why? Surely not for honour's sake; betraying one's brothers in arms before murdering them in a surprise attack rather renders questions of honour irrelevant, even for Astartes as deluded as the higher echelons of the Emperor's Children often seem to be. This was about gloating and a need to prove superiority. Even when Lucius had the chance to kill Tarvitz in honest combat he didn't bother, preferring to play with his food. Ultimately that failure to push the advantage saved Lucius' foe, and very nearly got him killed. Gloating over the enemy became more important than victory.

We've discussed before the central self-defeating fact of Chaos; that you cannot construct an army from those who by their very nature chafe against authority and expect them to work towards the greater plan. A recruitment process so heavily geared toward exploiting arrogance and narcissism is bound to generate profound problems within the ranks. You cannot impose order with chaos as your starting point. Too many things end up becoming more important than victory. At this point the Warmaster can't even have his forces operate coherently.  The World Eaters and the Emperor's Children are attacking more or less independently, Throne alone knows what the Death Guard are up to on the other side of the city, and the Sons are Horus seem to be barely taking the field.

Before the Heresy has spread even from its planet of origin, things are falling apart. The strangest truth in all of this might be that whilst humanity is forever its worst enemy, our second-worst enemy is its own worst enemy as well.  Ultimately we may simply be in a race to see who can defeat themselves first.

Which is not to say, obviously, that there isn't plenty of fire crossing the space between our parallel paths downward. Which is as good a way as any of segueing into our main event.

It is time for the Mournival to convene, one final time.


What is

There's not much to go through this week; we're basically all about the duels. Well, and a massacre. But here's a burning question: what was cooler, Loken versus Kharn or Tarvitz versus Lucius?

I'm not sure. I wasn't exactly a massive fan of either. Can't the good guys win without subterfuge?

Loken didn't win through subterfuge, that was blind luck.

But it still wasn't talent, was it?

Indeed not.

I'm amazed the other Emperor's Children even went along with shooting Lucius. Don't they have rules about fighting the honourable way?

I'm not sure they do, I think Lucius' approach in the practice cages is pretty different to they actually make war. But more to the point, I suspect it all goes out the window when you see one of your brothers in arms has slaughtered a dozen or two of your best mates, and is standing in the middle of their bodies singing "Doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doing the evil dance!"

Dances can't be evil.

This one can.  The dance... OF BLADES!

The dance isn't evil, it's the heart of the person who's dancing.

Incorrect. There is an evil dance, and also a good dance. I believe the latter is a samba of some kind.

Where was I? What was I talking about?

The potential alignment of dancing.

No, before that. Before you sidetracked me.

How on Earth can I possibly know which parts of your streams of consciousness represent sidetracks?

That was it. It's a bit unimpressive that if Loken or Tarvitz had been in fair fights, they both would have lost.

I suppose there's a point being made here that the loyalists are stronger for co-operation, whereas the rebels are all about themselves.

Yeah, you got Lucius, you got Eidolon (and I can't wait to see what Tarvitz had planned for that idiot). Even Horus just sits up there shouting orders these days. 

Horus is the best example here.  At the very start of the trilogy he saves Loken in combat, and now he's sitting on the Vengeful Spirit ordering people to kill him. It's all about every man for yourself and getting others to do your dirty work.

So did Lucius murder all those guys and then let Eidolon through?

I don't know which came first, but basically, yeah.

So how can Eidolon possibly leave someone that unpleasant alive in his force?

I don't think he can, but it makes sense to wait until after the loyalists are all dead.  I was more surprised that he wasted so much time smashing up the wounded, rather than seeking out the higher-ups among the loyalists.

He just wants to kill as many people as possible, so he can show everybody. "Look at everybody who's dead because of me! La la la!"

Anything else?

Yeah. What's up with Kharn? Has someone done something to him  Something to make Kharn... wrathful?

Bonus points for a Star Trek pun. That can't have been easy for you.

What's the Path of Eight?

The Eightfold Path.  It's part of a recurring motif, but if it hasn't clicked yet I'll keep my mouth shut.

So has the Warp got to him?

Maybe. Or maybe he's got whatever Angron has inside him.

I thought he was just angry, was Angron. Angry Angron.

Well, he is, but the devices in his head stimulate that.

Yeah, but the description of how Kharn looked reminded me too much of Jubal. But then I thought Horus wanted to steer clear of the Warp until after Istvaan V?

The grinding endless bullshit on Istvaan III may have changed his mind. Or maybe Angron is just completely ignoring the Chief. He's been stuck behind his desk too long! Angron gets results, dammit!  And just like that, we have a new hit detective series.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I Have An Announcement To Make!

Sooty. A big fan of the blog. Maybe.
(Scroll down for this weeks post)

Due to the powers that be deciding the best time for me to forcibly insert knowledge into the brain-pans of today's youth, I'll be lecturing until 7pm every Tuesday. This, I suspect, will not put me in the right frame of mind for assembled witterings on the subject of Horus in my traditional last-minute panic when trying to craft something for a Wednesday morning.

We've therefore decided to change the post schedule.  Starting next week, Who The Heck Is Horus will update on a Tuesday morning at 8am, rather than the same time on a Wednesday.  Of course, this means you get your next fix a day earlier, so really this should be a time for celebration.


The Cradle Of The Best And Of The Worst

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (II)

Loyalist Emperor's Children during the war on Istvaan III
(copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Who could have predicted just a few short years ago, before Istvaan and Aureus, before Xenobia and Murder, that Captain Saul Tarvitz would rise to the position of leading elements of at least three companies spread over two Legions? Even the fact that he leads them against those he once called brothers and whom no-one could ever conceive of being less than absolutely loyal could be considered all that much more surprising.

But then, it had to be Saul, and not just because of the well-known Emperor's Children tendency towards insufferable arrogance and haughty superiority meant a Luna Wolf attempting to lead them could never work as well as the other way around. Tarvitz is the best of his Legion, and the best of the Astartes on the surface of Istvaan III. Where Torgaddon brings jokes, Tarvitz brings total focus. Where Loken would stand and see his force annihilated for the sake of pride, Tarvitz has hie eye on the long game.  Just as important, whilst it's hardly surprising neither realised it, both Torgaddon and Loken were compromised by their inclusion in the Mournival. The further up the ladder, the more power you possess to effect change, but the harder it is to see what changes are needed. The people you can pressure are the same people you know too well to want to apply pressure to. Ultimately that's why Loken responded to proof of a Chaos cult on the Vengeful Spirit was to try persuasion on Abaddon, whilst Tarvitz in short order lied to Rylanor, investigated the gun-decks of the Andronius, and stole a Thunderhawk in an attempt to thwart the Warmaster's plan.

Indeed, the very worst that can be said here is that having just witnessed the previously unthinkable rebellion of large numbers of Astartes, Tarvitz should have been more alert to the possibility of new mutiny breaking forth from the ranks.  There is some small truth to this, perhaps, but in fact it would be more sensible to praise Tarvitz for not allowing the loyalist forces - working far more coherently across three Legions than their attackers, remember - to not slide into paralysing mutual suspicion.

There is an ancient story of a bird that was common throughout northern Terra until it was brought low by the worst excesses of the second Chem Wars. This bird, the coleus, was famed for its obsession with bright, shiny objects, which they would steal and hoard whenever possible. After observing this bird for generations, the biologis experts of the time discovered the feathered creatures could be divided into two camps.  One sort stole anything it judged "unclaimed", but never ransacked the nests of their fellows when seeking fresh loot.  The second sort was only too happy to steal from their cousins whenever the opportunity presented itself.

What struck the learned men of the time as interesting was the behaviour of these two groups.  The first were trusting creatures, happy to leave other coleus birds near their nest whilst they searched for further trinkets. The second group were consumed by paranoia, unable to resume their foraging if another coleus bird was in the immediate vicinity, forcing them to surrender opportunities for new acquisitions whilst they engaged in exhaustive policing of the areas around their homes. They may have been stolen from less often, but it was the other group who got to have all the fun.

Whilst Tarvitz worked on cohesion and morale in some of the most desperate circumstances imaginable, those who followed the Warmaster were lapsing into the same desperate, paranoid panic of the coleus bird, only with the added dangers of having weapons close at hand.  The act of rebelling against their once most deeply-held beliefs has cast them all adrift to greater or lesser extents. Over time, this problem will only grow, and no Legion currently in the Istvaan system demonstrates this more clearly than does the Emperor's Children.  The act they have framed as throwing off the yoke of the oppressor in order to save the galaxy has immediately collapsed into an obsession with their own positions; guarding prestige and glory like trinkets in the nest. Fulgrim has reached such levels of disinterest and petulance that the master he swore himself to just months before is already forced to resort to flattery in order to gain obedience. Eidolon's obsession with proving himself superior leads him to strike a deal with a man who has already murdered many of his loyal troops, and who he has branded a traitor.

(Which in itself is hilarious, of course. Eidolon dares call someone a "traitor twice over" because they choose to join a rebellion you helped initiate later than you did? Clearly the Emperor's Children are well-versed in political double-think; it takes a special kind of mind to conclude that treachery consists of obeying the orders of the person you swore to obey the orders of).

The result is a Legion that not so much proves itself superior or inferior to the Sons of Horus as surrounds it on both sides.  With so much of the birth of the Heresy - along with essentially all human history - pouring from the intersection of pride and power, it's perhaps not surprising the III Legion ended up eclipsing the more pragmatic brawlers of the XI. Perhaps that explains the difficulty in telling the story of the Luna Wolves final days and their last stand without the Emperor's Children gradually squeezing Horus' sons from their own story. Heroes that are more heroic, and villains that are more villainous.

We should cover them in more detail, really.  But then there's the Eisenstein to consider.  And whilst Luna Wolves remain alive on Istvaan III, we should continue to focus upon them, as hard as that seems to be becoming. For the sake of form, if nothing else, we must continue to the final confrontation of the fractured Mournival.

First, though, some more Emperor's Children. Obviously.


What Is

Lots on the Emperor's Children again this time.  Does it seem odd that the focus has shifted so far from Horus' Legion? Or does widening the focus help make things more epic?

It doesn't seem odd at all.  We've been skipping around for the whole trilogy.

But it doesn't matter so much earlier on, we're talking about the finale here.

They need somewhere to go after this, though; this could all be set-up.

And my point is setting up new stories when you should be tying up the one you're running is a bad idea.

I think you're overstating the problem.  There was plenty of Horus in there, and Loken and Torgaddon.  They've hardly disappeared.

Even so.

We're not going to agree on this. Ask a more sensible question. Like about Istvaan V.

What about Istvaan V?

What the hell is Istvaan V?  Do they just name everything Istvaan now?

It's the name of the star. The numbers are the planets in order of distance outward.  It's a common enough system.

Never heard of it.

Yes you have.  It's been in Star Trek; you've watched that. "THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!"

Don't shout at me!

I'm not shouting; I'm quoting loudly.

Don't do that either.

Why do you think Tarvitz has been given overall control of the loyalists, and not Torgaddon?

Is it because Tarvitz has more experience fighting with more than one Legion?

That's a good point, but every time we've seen Tarvitz fight with the Luna Wolves we've seen Torgaddon fighting with the Emperor's Children.

Torgaddon didn't come down and warn them all about the betrayal, though.

You can't base promotions on gratitude, though, surely? I mean, it worked in Sharpe, but whatever that show was, it wasn't a reliable blueprint for building a sustainable military structure.

Maybe Torgaddon is a bit rubbish?

How dare you!

Well, you know; always just following Abaddon around.

That's ridiculous.

Sorry, not Abaddon; I meant Loken.

Oh. Oh, then fine.

Before Loken joined the Mournival, though, he must have been following someone else around. What else was there to do?

Fight! Kill things! Defend the honour of the Imperium! The dude was in charge of hundreds of Astartes and got into the Mournival on the ground floor.  Don't you knock him!

Fine; what's your bright idea here?

The best I've got is that Luna Wolves are more likely to follow an Emperor's Child than the other way round. What with the III Legion being such intolerable smug prickgizzards and all.

Oh. Well that works, I suppose.

This is the first time we've come across Fulgrim in private, as oppose to seeing him give stirring speeches to his men.  What are your initial impressions?

Didn't think much of him. It's hard to have much respect for someone when they're so totally having their tail handed to them on a plate.

Head on a plate, Fliss. Having your tail served to you on a plate

Either way, it wasn't much of a performance.

I don't know. It takes guts to tell Horus to fuck off.

He sounded like a small child! "But I don't waaaanna!"

Maybe, but he's not whining to his Dad here, he's doing it to an indescribably dangerous super-being who's just announced his plans to murder any of his brothers who don't toe the line.

Just because you're pissed off doesn't mean you're brave.

I guess. I'll admit to being terribly amused at how Horus keeps being surprised when the people he's just persuaded to rebel turn out to be rebellious.

Why was Horus bigging Eidolon up so much? "Oh, they don't need you down on the surface". Seems like a dangerous thing to say.

I don't think so. Horus can take Fulgrim directly, I should think, and if Fulgrim takes his frustrations out on Eidolon, why would Horus care? Hell, you could sell tickets to that.

How much of Lucius' message to the loyalists can we actually believe? And how long is it going to be before he and Eidolon are trying to murder each other?

I barely believe a word of it. We already know Horus and Abaddon are on some top-secret mission, they're probably on Istvaan V already. Or maybe in the top-secret medical place of Mr Psycho-Doc.

You mean Chief Apothecary Fabius Bile of the Emperor's Children?

Yes. That bloke. I bet Abaddon and Li'l Horus are over there right now getting all sorts of weird stuff done.

Having their tonsils removed... AND REPLACED WITH GRENADES! And Lucius and Eidolon?

Half a chapter. No, a chapter and a half.

There's only two chapters left.

Half a chapter.  I'm not sure who'd win. Lucius has his new Warsinger powers, but then Eidolon has a counter for that, hasn't he?

True, lots of singy-shouty going on these days.

I've always assumed Lucius is the better fighter.

I'm almost certain he is, but Eidolon would have minions.

Maybe the minions hate him as well.  They might prefer a bit of Lucius for a bit.

So rebel Astartes decide to rebel to help a double rebel.  How many levels of treachery is that.

I don't know, Eidolon lost me at the "twice traitor" thing. He didn't betray anyone, and that's only because no-one invited him to.

I know. It's not fair. He turned traitor as quick as he should, I'm sure. You know, once he'd chopped the right dude's head off.

What Will Be

So let's pretend Lucius' message is at least partially true, that would mean a final showdown with Garviel and Tarik taking on Ezekyle and Little Horus.  How would that fight go down?  Who wins, who loses, and who ends up dead?

Hmm.  Well Abaddon I always thought had some underhanded way of staying alive.


Because the Mournival has lost like thirteen members over the years and he's always made it out.

True, but then so has Tarik.

Fair enough.  We still don't know if Vipus is a traitor. Viper Vipus, as I shall call him if he turns his cloak.

You think he might tip the balance?

Probably not. You've got to figure Loken and Torgaddon would hear him following them, right?

Yeah, I don't think stealth is the Astartes' greatest contribution to the history of war.

Really, though, I don't think there'll be any fight. Even if Abaddon and Aximand do come down, they'd just plant a bomb and run away.

They wouldn't fight fair?

The whole point of the Sons of the Horus is that they
don't fight fair.

Good point. You're remembering all sorts of things this week.

It does happen occasionally.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pride Before The Fall

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (I)

Lucius (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Captain Lucius of the Emperor's Children. Lucius the Eternal.  Lucius the damned. Is there any other Astartes in the 31st Millennium whom can claim a poorer reason for having turned traitor?  For Lucius there was no active attempt to persuade the galaxy needed rebellion, no divided loyalty between Emperor and Primarch, not even the utterly unedifying but ultimately understandable urge to follow the Warmaster once the virus bombs had been unleashed and stepping out of line became something clearly pointless and punishable by death.  Even Erebus and his fellow Word Bearers could claim religious revelation forced their hands.

Lucius changed sides because he wanted more people to tell him how wonderful he was.

But there is great danger in simply dismissing Lucius as uniquely depraved and moving on. As always in such cases, whilst our subject might represent the far end of the bell curve of human behaviour, trying to separate him fully from that curve risks obscuring the fact that many others could be near as bad, or become near as bad. We comfort ourselves by demonising Lucius (and yes, we are aware of the irony in using that term) when we should be tracing the route his humanity took to lead him to so such extremes.

The first area to consider here is in how Lucius differed from his fellow Astartes. Astartes, remember, are generalists. Even the most lethal sharp-shooter in a Legion is expected to excel with the chainsword. The best tank commander in a battle group still needs to know how to pull ion a jump-pack,  Lucius showed no interest in this wide-ranging approach to combat preparation, however. Mastering his power sword was the only aspect of warfare in which he took interest. This is far from the approach expected of Astartes. Indeed, ironic as it given his ultimate fate as a champion of Slaanesh, Lucius' obsession resembles nothing so much as that of an Eldar Exarch.

It is no easy task for the human mind to grasp what motivates the Eldar, of course. It is difficult then to be certain how Lucius' approach led to such different results to that of those unable to abandon the Path of the Warrior. The most simplistic suggestion would be that Exarchs are protected from Slaanesh primarily by their full and horrible knowledge of what the Prince of Deceit represents. There are other explanations, however. Perhaps the most likely amongst them is that this is all a question of pride.

Strange as it might seem in this dark time, when the defenders of humanity and general and the Adeptus Astartes in particular can barely walk ten paces without announcing how proud they are of their responsibility and ability to destroy the enemies of mankind, but there was a time when pride was considered a serious flaw. It's not hard to understand why; take pride too far, and you reach levels of superiority within which you begin to stop seeing others as worth what you are. Fifty thousand years of recorded history has shown us how that works out, however patchy those records are.

A galaxy without pride is its own problem, of course; there needs to be some motivator to continual improvement. For the Eldar this is the mastery of themselves, and the furtherance of their race - or at least, those are the most palatable aspects of Eldar pride, there are many others far less laudable. What's key here is that we recognise what we take pride on is simply part of larger concerns. The balancing act is in ensuring we take pride in those areas in which we work hard and excel, without devaluing the areas in which we fail to impress. Lucius' failing was not necessarily in valuing his own duelling ability (though of course there is a long way to walk from taking pride in your skills and narcissistic personality disorder), but in finding nothing of worth in the actions of anyone else.

This is what caught out Lucius. The actual utility of his skill at arms became completely forgotten in his drive to become better. The aims of the Great Crusade became utterly irrelevant so long as it afforded a chance for him to swing his sword arm. But then, this can hardly be considered a surprise.  There can be little doubt that Lucius is suffering from a fairly classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. It is shielded from sight only by Lucius' deliberate scarring of his own face, which rather violates the central manifestation of the condition as it generally manifests. Narcissists are not necessarily obsessed with their looks, however; a driving need for power or prestige falls in the same category.

It is worth it at this point to consider the most common symptoms associated with the disorder, according to the most up-to-date information available from Imperial physikers:
  • Expects recognition of superiority, irrespective of their actual accomplishments;
  • Expects to be constantly admired and complimented;
  • Envies others and assumes they envy him/her;
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of great success;
  • Cannot empathise;
  • Is arrogant;
  • Expects special treatment that is unrealistic.
At the barest minimum, five of these parallel Luicus' nature perfectly, and those that don't only fail to completely match because Lucius really is at least approximately as good as he thinks he is.

But does this remote diagnosis, hundreds of light years and thousands of years from the patient in question, allow us to feel any sympathy for Lucius? If, indeed, he was suffering from a disorder, does that mitigate the horror of what he did on Istvaan III? Alas, surely not.  Even if we were to forgive Lucius' self-absorption and truculence and his inability to follow the orders of his superior in accordance with the fundamental rules of the armed force he volunteered to join, his obsession with receiving due respect for his skill with a sword and receiving command because of it had an obvious route available to him: challenge Tarvitz for command via a sword fight. I'd hope we can at least agree that if one's personality disorder drives you to try and oust your superior, you should do it for the reasons your disorder fixates on, using the methods your disorder insists you excel in.  Condemning thousands to death because it might keep you alive longer is grotesque cowardice whatever your motivation up to that point.

Like every other narcissist, diagnosable or not, Lucius is a past master at deciding what he wants and spinning justifications around them later. We should not feel compelled to play that game. No-one should require that our heroes be good company, or always willing to fall in line immediately, or even be in any way tolerable at all. And what would it even mean to demand psychological "normalcy" from those we genetically alter to run screaming towards towering greenskins, indestructible automatons, or gibbering daemons?

But let's at least demand those that want to be seen as better show themselves to be better. There is no limit to the problems mankind suffers from we could curb or even eradicate, if only that one rule could be followed.  It's not a likely scenario - man's self-obsession and omnidirectional bitterness is probably more eternal than Lucius himself is.  But it's something to aim for.

And in the end, what we've aimed for is the only thing that will matter at all.


(Bit of a short one this week, what with this chapter consisting almost entirely of Lucius being in a fight, then betraying Tarvitz. More next week, I hope.)

What Was

If the Emperor was so utterly dead set against religion, why do the Emperor's Children have chaplains?

Maybe it's just a title.

They must do something, though. They get black armour. No-one else gets black armour. Well, the Raven Guard and the Iron Hands. And the Dark Angels.  And Abaddon's mob. But not the Emperor' Children.

Perhaps they bury the dead.

And say what? "We're all super bummed out Frank is dead, but let's remember that the idea there's a soul is laughable and he clearly was just meat that's stopped moving now." I can just about see how you could have people charged with the spiritual well-being of atheists-

Or their mental well-being, like psychiatrists.

-Or that, yes, but when I think of someone flying around in space offering comfort devoid of religious trappings, you know who comes to mind? Counsellor Troi. Not really the sort of person you'd think would fit in with battle-crazed Astartes.

She got on fine with Klingons.

With Worf, maybe.  He might have talked a good game, but he hardly ever killed anyone.

"Hardly ever killed anyone".

I'm serious.  The dude is famous for failing to kill people.  There's entire Youtube videos dedicated to it.

He must have occasionally killed someone.

I must check this immediately!  There must be an answer to hand; this is the internet.  A-ha! According to this, he managed precisely 22 kills during TNG, but of those only 14 were a) deliberate, b) done when he could see his foe, c) something actually alive rather than a hologram, and d) not done whilst he was mutated in that freaking ridiculous episode where Murdock turned into a spider.  Also, only four of those 14 weren't Borg drones.

But how many kills did the rest of the cast manage?

That's not important.  The point is that any given Emperor's Child could crank out four brutal murders before their first coffee. Troi would be vomiting in horror before she could say "He's hiding something".

I'd have a thought a Chaplain's job would be covered by Sindermann and his mates, anyway.

Good point. But maybe that's what the Chaplains are. Remembrancers for Astartes.  Following the other Astartes around in battle and saying "Ouch; that looks like it must hurt.  Hope it hasn't made you believe in God."

Maybe they just knock heads on new worlds until all the religion falls out?

Ah maybe. I think that was mentioned in False Gods, actually. So this whole discussion has been pointless, even by our standards. Sorry.

What Is

I'm not sure there's much point talking about anything this week other than Lucius.  I know you're not surprised by his betrayal, but was it inevitable? Was there anything Tarvitz or Loken could have done to forestall or prevent it?  And can we have any sympathy for Lucius at all?

Ah.  Lucius.

Also known as "Lucius the dick".

Not by everyone.

Really? There's the people who think he's betrayed them, and the people he's about to betray.  I don't see many people who are going to put their cross in the "non-dick" box.

Fair point. Tarvitz is definitely about to end his undecided streak, at least.

Is there any way Tarvitz could have headed this off at the pass?

I don't think so.

Even if he gave Lucius command?

No. First of all, Lucius essentially already has command; I don't even know what Tarvitz is doing. 

Liaising, I think. But yeah, it's far from clear.

And second of all, you yourself said "give" Lucius command.  Lucius doesn't want that.  It'll just piss him off even more.

True. Even if Tarvitz spun some BS about how Lucius clearly deserved it more and Tarvitz had no right to give orders, I think Lucius would still sulk about it.

Plus, it's not like Lucius couldn't have challenged Tarvitz for command directly, instead of all the passive-aggressive moaning, 

So no sympathy for Lucius at all, then?

If I do have any, it's only because something has clearly got in his head after that fight with the Warsinger.

I think you mean Vardus Praal.

Whatever.  It might even be that Eidolon sent Lucius down there to take hold of whatever powers Praal had.

That's a cool idea, though of course even if Eidolon is directly responsible for what's gotten into Lucius, that only works as an excuse for the final few steps of Lucius' long sachet into the realm of Unconscionable Dickitude.

Actually, what I'd really like would be if Lucius is actually planning on attempting an assassination.

You mean a double-double-cross?

Basically.  He might want to get close to Horus so he can try and kill him, and get the Warmaster's rank in the process.

That's a lovely idea, though it doesn't fit in with that line about Lucius (briefly) feeling guilty about what he's about to do.

Maybe he really is going to hand over Tarvitz, though, to strengthen the deception.

Maybe. Or maybe he has narcissistic personality disorder. I figured that out when writing the other half of this post, and found the seven classic signs.

How many does Lucius fit?

Between five and seven, depending on how you look at it.

And how many do you fit?

How dare you! Absolutely no more than, er, six.  Probably. It might be seven.

(I couldn't really admit to this it in the top half of this post, but I'm indebted to Wikipedia for information about narcissistic personality disorder).

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

False Gods

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (VII)

Full-scale internicine war breaks out
 on Istvaan III (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Poor Titus Cassar. He never saw it coming.

There is a school of thought that would ask how he ever could have, of course. Who could have imagined Jonah Aruken had no need for the Emperor as a god because he was already worshipping at the altar of the war machine he helped to pilot. But thinking along those lines provides us with only a partial answer. The mistake Cassar made with Aruken was not to mistake the direction of his worship, but the desire behind it.

There are as many approaches to religion as there are believers, of course, but the events on and above Istvaan III bring two broad approaches into focus. There are those who identify a being as their god because their power gives them the force of moral authority (or perhaps this causality is reversed, or deemed circular), and those who associate themselves out of the hope that their God's power can in some way be utilised or inherited by themselves. This is a simplification, obviously, and there is no shortage of overlaps between the two positions (the formulation that might makes right practically demands equivalence, for example), but there is certainly great distance between the two positions at their furthest ends, which is all we require for our purposes.

Titus Cassar is fairly clearly of the first persuasion, and Titus Aruken the second, and it is there that the true conflict lies. There's an underlying pragmatism to the Aruken approach that is inconceivable to Cassar. If a new and more powerful god arises, those hungry for power will happily switch their allegiance.  It is far harder to conceive of someone changing the being they worship because a new god has proven to be more moral, not least because morality is so much more subjective than the exercise of power, and because one's own morality is so heavily shaped by outside forces that recognising a wholly alien philosophy as being superior is almost impossible.

Indeed, this pragmatism extends to the point of not even really needing a god at all. Or to be more precise, to not need a god as any more than a figurehead. When the exercise of power is your goal, it's helpful to have genuine supernatural firepower to call upon (as Horus himself decided), but ordnance is only one form of power; in its more general form it the ability to control, something that can be managed with no more than the threat of retribution.

Which means anyone can approach apotheosis with access to enough power, and anyone can gain all the power they want by persuading those under them their comfort or their very life is dependant upon the sufferance of someone, somewhere. It is in understanding this process that so much of the evil done in the name of religion is actually generated, through propping up hierarchies so power can be enjoyed, and by declaring the least powerful groups enemies of god to give those who might otherwise be able to overthrow those hierarchies someone to occupy their time hating. We see the latter in today's Imperium in the frothing scramble to find and murder mutants, irrespective of the threat they could possibly pose to us, but we could just as easily point to a coterie of poets, painters and composers being considered so great a problem to the Warmaster that an outrageous massacre was judged an appropriate response.

Thus can even religions founded on the most rigorous of philosophical constructions collapse into self-perpetuating structures of amoral control.  Which in truth was the result the Imperium was spiralling downwards towards in any case, but Horus put a lot of effort into accelerating the process. Aided, of course, by people like Aruken, looking to devote themselves to whatever cause happens to provide them with the greatest leg up. Willing to use their false gods for a chance at real power.

Which, when you think about it, was what the Emperor was always trying to avoid, despite using a strategy that would eventually guarantee it would happen. The universe is full of such ironies. Some of them, as we've learned, can prove fatal.

Poor Titus Cassar. He never saw it coming.


What Is

This chapter brings us to the end of part two of the book. How did this section, basically one long action sequence from the first invasion to the second, work out for you?

There's certainly a lot going on. I've said before that it's not as immersive as I'd like, but at least it's lovely and gruesome.

Did it justify what you saw as a slow start?

Yes. Well, a bit, anyway. There was definitely a lot of set-up needed, what with two new Legions to introduce. Especially Nathan the Death Guard. But we're coming to the end of the trilogy and there's still a lot of things I wished we could get more detail on.

Such as?

How the Astartes get made in the first place. That's a pretty basic element of a story about superhumans; where they came from. I want more on Magnus Magnusson too.

You did get a lot of this coming in later, of course. Particularly on Magnus.

I know that's just the nature of a series of books, but it's still annoying.

Is there anything in there that it could obviously have done without?

There's nothing obvious. Maybe it could have cut back on the fighting a little; we might not have needed all that.

That is kind of the fundamental point of all this, though.

True, and I realise you've got so many people to follow here you need space for them all.

A favourite bit?

Can I answer that? With so unpleasant a section can I really have a "favourite bit"?

You're already on record as loving things as gruesome as possible, it's a bit late to come over all coy now.

Fine. I liked it when the skin was falling off everybody. 

That's my girl.

Were you surprised by which way Jonah Aruken went? Or was he too obviously all about red-hot Titan love?

Yeah, I wasn't really surprised. He'd been too weird about the whole Emperor cult throughout.

I guess when you decide your giant war-robot is basically your God, you don't have time for any others.

I should note at this point that I don't think Cassar is actually dead.

Really? Why?

Because any competent writer would have specifically stated he was dead, not just mentioned the shots.

So what do you think is happening?

One of two things. Either Aruken is shooting at someone else, or he's faking.

Because he knows Turnet is listening in?

Exactly. Or, as an alternative, Aruken has shot Cassar, and the moment the Moderati comes back in he'll shoot him too, then claim the two of them shot each other and regrettably that puts him in charge now.

Full marks for quessing Qruze would kill Maggard, but only with someone's help. Does it make sense it was Sindermann? Are we glad he's dead? And who else might not be making it to the end of the book?

Definitely glad he's dead. He had it coming, the little worm. Well, big worm. Snake.

A snake isn't just a big worm, you realise. There's a spinal column, teeth.

A head.

I like to think worms have a head. Filled with little wormy thoughts.

I'd rather it had been one of the women.  Mersadie would have been best.

Because Euphrati has already got her super-duper mind powers?

Yes. I'm sure you've already had a big rant about feminism at this point.

Not actually, but I was definitely thinking it.

So who else is going to die? Ideally Abaddon, but I think Torgaddon is more likely.  Torgaddon gets killed and it spurs Loken into doing something. I've suggested the Moderati already. And, um, I really want rid of Lucius, but I doubt that's happening either.  Actually, why is Erebus still alive?

What do you mean?

Well, given Horus seems so fed up with him. The Warmaster's murdering people left right and centre. Why not Erebus?

I guess Horus thinks he needs him.


As an operator to the phone calls Horus needs to make to the Chaos gods. Indeed that's probably why Horus is so annoyed with him; he's pissed off about having to rely on him.

Let's give marks out of ten for Torgaddon's plan to turn the planet into a war zone. Is it a remotely sensible idea? And is there anything else they could be doing anyway?

I'll give it a seven.  There's not much they can really do, but they should at least be setting up an ambush as they retreat.

That might have been the next step, of course.

I might be tempted to try and steal a ship.

Tricky. You'd have to nick an atmosphere-capable craft, and then also steal a Warp-capable craft in orbit.

Well I'm not a strategigist. A militarian strategigist. Whatever. Translate that into English for me.

Absolutely. No problem.

What Will Be

I know you're not a fan of me demanding predictions from you, but since we're about to embark on the last part of the opening trilogy, this is probably the best opportunity we have. So: what might happen in these last four chapters?

Badly. I can't imagine it will end well.  And by "end well", I mean "end". I'm sure it will end on a cliffhanger. Or someone's death, or lack thereof.

Amazing. Somehow you've worked out the story will conclude either with someone dying or no-one dying.

Are we finally going to see the Emperor?

That would certainly fulfil the definition of cliffhanger.

Or find out he's dead.

So, to be clear; someone will die or not die, and that person either will or wll not be the Emperor?

No, he won't die, we'll just only be finding out now that he's dead.  Or, um...

Not dead?



Wednesday, 3 September 2014

By Such Terrible Devices

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (V)

Angron: clear winner of the final "Primarch
most likely to fall to Chaos" Award, M31.

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Horus' opening statements are over. The rebellion has officially begun.

Amongst the almost infinite approaches to rebellion mankind has dreamed up since we first realised stabbing someone is easier once their backs are turned, there are it seems to us general similarities that surface over and over. One of them is this: their first actions as newly-minted rebels are always those things they had been most wanting to do.

So then, what are we to make of Horus's decision to unleash the virus bombs upon Istvaan III? It certainly wasn't the only way to deal with those Astartes he judged incorruptable. Targeted cyclonic strikes or nuclear detonations would have had the same effect. He could even have simply left, trusting an entire planet of psyker-dominated warriors to grind down a Space Marine force without transport of heavy armour.  Even if the virus bombs were necessary for some reason, there was not a single Astartes more than a few kilometres outside Choral City, meaning the overlapping fire patterns which obliterated all life on the planet was the most horrifically literal form of overkill.

Horus disintegrated all life on a planet because he wanted to. He burned away the atmosphere of a planet because he wanted to.

And then there is Angron.

Given the quality of the sources we have - at great risk - succeeded in obtaining, there can be little doubt that Horus did indeed order Angron to stay in orbit rather than attack the remnants of his loyalist soldiers on the ruined planet below. Beyond that, though, Horus' response is deeply surprising. On a purely strategic level, there is no reason for a major change of plan. Let Angron enjoy himself murdering World Eaters, and head to Istvaan V to prepare the trap, leaving a few vessels with virus-bombs loaded in Istvaan III's orbit.  If Angron wipes out the loyalists before the Emperor's forces arrive, then nothing changes. If not, the ships on-station can bomb the survivors and retreat to the Istvaan V mustering point before the incoming fleets can so much as load their docking bays.  At absolute worst, this might cost Angron and his coterie their lives - assuming that even Primarch of the XII Legion could be so far gone as to ignore impending death at the metaphorical hands of an enemy he cannot swing his chainaxes towards - but then that was the only alternative Horus entertained to a prolonged ground war in any case.

Which leads to a rather simple conclusion: the rebel Astartes invaded Istvaan III because, consciously or not, that was what Horus wanted. The chaos of the virus, the chaos of the conflagration, and now the chaos of combat. When we rebel we do what we've always wanted to do. The one constant amongst almost every Legion that fell to Chaos during the Heresy is that the Emperor was ultimately unable to curb their desires for excess, be that knowledge, bloodshed, or aesthetic perfection. Horus' vice, it now seems, is the utterly unnecessary act of war. After so many decades of holding back, of seeking the diplomatic solution or the surgical strike, the desire to simply cut loose with the terrible power under his command and wipe his enemies from the face of the galaxy finally became too much to restrain.

I suppose we could say the Warmaster decided to master the only method of war he had not yet had the opportunity to try. The desire to try the forbidden and the need to relinquish control.  These are the things Chaos has relied upon to ensnare us from the very beginning. For all the surprising rapidity with which Horus tumbled from a noble defender of humanity to a mass-murdering monster, it may well be that the fall never so far nor so quick as it might have seemed.


What Is

What's worse; being eaten by a flesh-melting virus or cooking alive inside a giant robot?

Well, the virus was quicker.  But also agonising. How can I possibly choose?

You could use your imagination.

Nonsense.  This requires full-on scientific experimentation.  Though we lack the credentials. Or materials. Or test subjects.

I dunno.  We really just need an oven, some concentrated acid, and a few of those squirrels that keep nicking our bird feed.

How can we possibly tell which squirrel is enjoying itself less?

Um... volume of screaming?

Yeah, but different squirrels will have different volumes anyway.

Well, obviously; that's why we'll need replicates. Fifty, sixty squirrels, minimum.

We can't kill that many squirrels; we'll have the animal rights people round.

Ugh. I hate those guys.

While we're on the subject of Des'ree.

You mean the Dies Irae?

Which is pronounced how?

Dees Earey. No, Diyez Earey. Eyeray? Diyez Eyerye?

So whilst we're on the subject of Des'ree...


Did I mention last week about how they might have put the stabilisers on specifically for the attack?


But that's an obvious conclusion!

I know.

Why didn't you suggest it?

I concluded it was obvious.

I hate you.

What's worse; being eaten by a flesh-melting virus or being disemboweled led by a ten-foot psychopath with filthy chainsaw axes?

Yeah, whose going to win that: World Eaters vs World Eaters.

I'm going to go with whichever bunch has a Primarch.

But the other side has Tarvitz.

Hey, I love Saul, but against Angron, he's basically a toothpick in unnecessarily shiny armour. But to return to the question...

Depends.  Does he kill you quick?

Possibly. But we can't take it as a given.

But that's the whole thing.  Do you die of blood loss almost immediately, or are you left to poo yourself to death-


Well, not literally.  But feces would pump into your blood and internal organs.

That does sound pretty much like pooing yourself to death.

No, it's not pooing unless it comes directly from your bum.

I love the time we get to spend together talking like this.

This was your question!

I didn't tell you to focus on the feces! I've never told anyone to focus on the feces!  I thought we could have a lighthearted conversation about how the axes wouldn't be hygienic and you might get tetanus.  Poisoning people's blood with shit never occurred to me.

Perhaps we should move on.

Yes. That, or split up.

Anything to say on the ongoing nightmare of Istvaan III?

How did the World Eaters build those bunkers so quickly?

They didn't.

But they said they did!

I think they mean the Imperium in general, from back during the original pacification.

They've been there before?

Yes. The Raven Guard did it decades ago. Now it's in rebellion.

That was Davin!

Ah, I see what's happened. Perfectly understandable. Davin was pacified by the Luna Wolves, who then installed an Imperial governor who rebelled and formed part of Chaos' plan to destroy the Emperor.  Istvaan III was pacified by the Raven Guard, who then installed an Imperial governor who rebelled and formed part of Chaos' plan to destroy the Emperor.  Apologies for any confusion.

Also, where's Loken?

Where indeed? Did he reach safety in the catacombs?  Or is he dead? Who can say? WHO CAN SAY?

What Will Be

Horus is suddenly being very coy about his plans. What do you think Abaddon is going to be sent to do?

Kill Loken. Or Erebus. Or somebody.  It's definitely killing someone.

Why Erebus?

Because he can't keep his mouth shut. Also, he tried to have Horus killed. Maybe he needs Abaddon to head down to the planet and sift through the goop for something.

You think you need someone of Abaddon's rank and experience for goop-sifting duties?

It needs to be someone Horus can trust, maybe.

I don't know. I think if Abaddon gets handed a sieve and a peg for his nose he's liable to switch sides again.

True.  Maybe he's being sent to give the Emperor a message.

I would like to see that. The words "swivel on this, punk" presumably have particular weight when you're giving someone the middle finger in a power claw.

Iacton Qruze versus Maggard the Haggard. Place your bet.

Haven't we killed Maggard already?

No. Euphrati froze him with her saintly powers, but he got better.

Where did the golden armour come from?

A gift from Horus, I guess. He can afford it, what with all the money for life support he can cut back on now the remembrancers are dead.

Surely Maggard can't come out of this killing everyone. That's too grim even for this. I'm not sure Iacton can win without a bit of help. Though he's still an Astartes, isn't he?

A very old one.

You're saying even an old Astartes can't just run over a slightly modified human?

Depends on how slight the slight modifications are. It might be a fairer fight than you think.

If they even fight.  Maybe Haggard has had enough moving from mad master to mad master.

He's probably still seeing this as a promotion. Unwanted sexytimes will have been much reduced, if nothing else.

How do you know? Horus might totally be into that.

Very true, though I'd be surprised if he was doing it with a human.  Though actually I guess it depends just where and how Maggard has been enhanced.  He could maybe be giving Magnus the Rod a run for his money.