Wednesday, 17 December 2014

I Wear My Scars On The Inside

Flight Of The Eisenstein: The Blinded Star (III)

Attilan Rough Riders: strangely unwilling to answer whether
they cut open their cheeks to store food in, like some terrifying inverse gerbil

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Scars are serious business.

With the human race arguably never so populous, and certainly never before with such numbers embroiled in warfare, it is quite possible that there are more scars being carried by mankind today than at any point in our millennia of history. The vast majority of these historical markers for savage wounds will have been incurred as we fought our enemies within, without, and beyond.

Not all of them, however. Some scars, we give to ourselves.

Scarification is a ritualistic practice that dates back to the Dark Age of Technology, and almost certainly earlier. The plains of Afrique, the forest nations south of Nordafrik; reports can be found from all over Ancient Terra, and the practice continues today, most obviously amongst the savage horsemen of the steppes of Attila. The reasons for scarring oneself are as varied and peculiar as the languages humanity once spoke - as we still speak, when we can escape the tyranny of Low Gothic. Language is a fine metaphor here, in fact, because scarification at heart is intended as message delivery. And, again like a language, the message is one of inclusion: we belong here, you do not.

The criteria through which one is included or otherwise obviously depends on context - scars can mean anything from the right to be heard in council to being prepared for motherhood - but whatever the difference between the haves and the have-nots, the unifying feature is that the scars double as a form of advertising; "join us and this can be yours". Those without, the theory goes, should envy those with, and those with can find satisfaction in entering a select assemblage. When those scars are earned in the metallic blur of battle (either directly, or as with the Attilans, by celebrating an ascension to adulthood which can only have been made possible by reaching a certain threshold of martial skill) the result is a kind of horizontal brotherhood that overrides barriers of rank (much like the Warrior Lodges to which we must soon return) or even species. An unofficial organisation of interstellar murderous bastards. "We are something to be feared" is the entirely unsubtle message. "If we're willing to do this to ourselves, imagine, what we're prepared to do to you".

This concept of scarification as an endurance test to demonstrate fortitude and a tolerance for pain seems entirely obvious as a warning to the enemy. But what are we to make of an army - of a brotherhood - whose endurance test leaves no external trace?

To deal with the obvious first: yes, Mortarion's poison ritual qualifies as scarification. The act centres on a display of toughness, endurance, and resolve, placing it squarely within the tradition of such practices, and we must assume some kind of permanent cosmetic damage results.  There's a reason no-one is ever asked to prove their worth as a warrior by stubbing their toe or suffering a paper cut.  The fact that those who bear witness are required to remember what they saw simply adds to the feeling of exclusivity.

But that feeling isn't the only reason to keep your men's scars on the inside. Indeed, it can scarcely be even the main reason, Mortarion not seemingly being one to spend his time worrying about how to strengthen the bonds between his warriors.  Not without some ulterior motive, anyway. So what other function is being served here? What use is a ritual of endurance designed so those who have endureed less never get to see either it or its effects?  The simplest answer here would be to argue that the Death Guard simply couldn't care less about what anyone else thinks; that a scarification ritual which is private and unverifiable by outsiders demonstrates complete contempt for the enemy: "We know we will beat you with ease; who cares if you realise that ahead of time?"

There is good reason to treat this theory as plausible. It reflects not only the general arrogance of the Astartes (whichever millennia one is in), but the insular, impenetrable nature of the Death Guard in particular. Mortarion, remember, is the Primarch about whom we know the least about his reasons for defection. Even the perennially-secretive Alpharius has given us more clues as to his motives than has the father of the XIV Legion. Isn't a total lockdown on information entirely in character?

Well, no. Not entirely. More so than any other Legion outside of the Night Lords, Mortarion's Legion centred its tactics around the use of fear as a weapon (it still does, of course, though since the Heresy the VIII and XIV Legions have somewhat more competition in that area). And you cannot promote fear through the total absence of information.  For everyone but the most paranoid of cowards, the enemies you fear are those you can't see or understand, not those you don't even know exist.  Terrifying those you wish to defeat requires not that nothing be discovered about you, but that nothing can be verified. A smartly managed stew of rumour, hyperbole and misinformation can be vastly more effective than total silence.

Of course, for such a campaign to be successful you need information to slowly seep out. You need vectors for your rumours and propaganda.  You need people who are just enough part of the Legion to understand what goes on, just separate enough from it to not feel like they quite belong, with just enough strength of mind to comment on what they see, and who are in non-combat roles which maximise the amount of time they will spend with people from outside their Legion.

And which is the Legion that maintains a tradition of choosing housecarls from Astartes aspirants who fail the tests on their homeworld, bringing them partially into the Legion without the mind-scrubbing practised elsewhere? Perhaps Ignatius Grulgor was right all along. Mortarion did favour Garro over him. It takes a lot of effort to maintain an aura of terrifying mystery across an entire galaxy, after all. The one thing Astartes shouldn't be wanting to shoot - or to leave to die of exposure on frozen planetoids - is the messenger.


What Was

I think this is the first real mention of the fact that new Astartes are made at least in part by stealing organs from dead Astartes and implanting them in new recruits. A good idea? A grim idea? Both?  You usually say both.

It feels inefficient. And weird. Mainly weird.

It's the 31st Millenniun, everything is going to be weird.  The question is whether it's good weird, or bad weird.

I don't know.

Is it really all that different from organ donation? Maybe Astartes armour comes with a filled in donor card as standard.

Of course it's different. Organ donation doesn't create new forms of life.

I dunno. If you've been born with a dodgy liver and someone gifts you a new one, I suspect you're going to find yourself able to do all kinds of new things.

If it's organ donation, then that's probably fine. Depending of course on which organs we're talking about. You know I've got issues with certain bits of me being passed down the line.

You mean your eyes?


Your groaning, wheezing, coal-powered eyes, constantly on the verge of total collapse.

I can still see well enough to slap you.

It won't be any actual organ we have, Fliss.  It's some new sci-fi extra organ.

That still might freak me out.

How? How can removing organ that doesn't even exist freak you out?

The organ could turn into a cobra the instant it's exposed to air.

...Yes, I suppose that would freak you out. I hadn't considered this from quite so lunatic an angle.

So now I'm useless and a lunatic?

I didn't say you're useless.  I said your eyes are useless.  But yes, you're a lunatic. A lunatic on the verge of blindness.

What Is

On a scale of one to ten, how surprised are you that the Death Guard have their own lodge, and how big a part do you think the lodge will play in the Legion's eventual betrayal?

Um... two.

Fair enough. Just out of interest, what would they have had to do for you to give a score of one?

Shown Garro was a member last book.

I was going to go with the book being called "The Treacherous Adventures of Mortarion's Naughty Lodge".

I think the Lodge will play some role here.  Not as big as it did with the Sons of Horus.  Otherwise Garro would have been sent to the surface instead of getting a place of honour.

I'm not sure the Eisenstein would count as a place of honour, but yeah; it doesn't seem like Lodge membership is a necessary condition of survival like it was with the XVI Legion.

I could tell that bloke the housecarl bared his soul to was going to turn out to be Lodge member.

Yeah, I liked that.  It was going to call it a twist, but it's probably not all that surprising. It's basically Torgaddon all over again.

With Garro basically being Loken.  I've not noticed any differences between them yet.

Maybe that will come with time.  I mean, do you think Loken and Saul Tarvitz are basically the same character?



But I keep coming back to what Mortarion's thinking is.

Well, since we're on the subject...

It feels like maybe Garro was being tested here. Indeed, he might have been being tested twice, once by the Silent Sisters, and once by his Primarch.  But were they tests? And did Garro pass?

As I say, I've not worked Mortarion out.  I'd have said Garro definitely failed, except that Mortarion didn't seem to punish him at all.

I wonder if Mortarion is just a bit more subtle than the Warmaster. Rather than just dividing everyone into two boxes - "with" and "against" - he's got the lost causes to send to Istvaan, the definite toadies to give the first lot a good kicking, and question marks like Garro shuffled to places where they can't do much damage if they choose to stick with the Emperor.

But he's one of Mortarion's best warriors; a captain of a company.

All the more reason to keep him from anywhere he could stick his superhuman oar in.

With the Silent Sister, I'm torn as well.  I can basically see three possibilities. Option one, they genuinely do just want to know if the alien told something to Garro, because they can't hear psykers themselves. Option two, the only way to hear the alien is if you're a psyker yourself, so Garro just accidentally revealed himself as one.

And option three?

Option three us that the Sisters are with Horus and they're sounding Astartes out.

Plausible deniability. Nice theory. Lips sealed.

What do you make of the ritualistic poison-drinking? A nice bit of world-building, or just three stupid guys drinking stupid things stupidly?

They like their poisons, do these guys.

A throwback to their polluted homeworld. They remind me of my fellow Teessiders, actually.

In that this is basically two men challenging each other to drink the mankiest top-shelf booze in the pub?

Hey! I can say this stuff, you can't. But actually, good point. It's all just one more type of endurance test.

I was going to say one more alternative to whipping them out and slapping them on the table.  Though maybe those glands being stuck in you makes your penis really small.

Maybe.  I always wondered if it led to an advanced form of that steroid thing where your dick gets tiny.  I don't know the medical term; I've never had to check.

Really? That's what you always wondered?

I think about a lot of strange things.

Doesn't it make your balls grow? Or shrink? Or turn into raisins?

Not really my area. I know what you mean, though.  I reckon at least 90% of what goes on in the Great Crusade boils down to penis envy and dick compensating. I mean, boarding torpedoes rather gives the game away.  What's wrong with getting in a shuttle, man?

So if this is all about demonstrating strength by not being poisoned, and people are pissed off with Garro because he got poisoned and they didn't, does that mean when the virus bombs get set off on the planet later loads of Death Guard will be pissed off that they didn't get to join in?

The Death Guard begging for disease? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?

Compared to what? Kidneys that turn into cobras?

Fair point.

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