Monday, 7 January 2013

Legion of the Damned - The Emperor's Will?

“It was right after the fifth night we saw them. We already knew something had changed when the sunrise wasn’t accompanied by mortar shells from the traitors. The fact the entire frakking city of rebels had gone quiet was a bigger clue something was up.

Some of us had tried to pull out there and then, take our chances and escape across the open ground covered by their guns, but we still had our orders. The commissar made sure none who ran got far. What was left of the 48th stormed into the city searching for any signs of them. They didn’t take long to find. Every last one had been gathered in the square and killed; the entire force, every cultist and bastard son of the Emperor. The whole damn cabal of the red fist gone in one night! They’d not gone down fighting either. We’d found very last one kneeling where he’d died, and a blade put through their throat.

I’ve seen some massacres in my time, both us and them. That wasn’t any bloodbath, wasn’t even a fight. That was an execution.” – Anonymous member of the Araman 48th Assault Corps.


Yeah bland I know, but I don't get the chance to write fiction much these days. This is another thought post rather than a review and a few ideas which have come to mind of late relating to the Legion of the Damned.
For those of you not in the know, the Legion of the Damned was a group of space marines strongly hinted to be a chapter known as the Fire Hawks. A chapter which had disappeared and been lost in the Warp, only to return and slowly be dying out from some Warp contagion which was slowly killing them. They were effectively space marine zombies, barely sane or coherent but with enough sense of loyalty left to have them die fighting the Emperor's enemies. At least that was the old fluff.

In their last few appearances some aspects of the Legion have strongly been suggested to have changed. The Legion still does what it did before, turn up and assist bedraggled Imperial defenders on the verge of defeat, but they're suggested to be something much more. In the novel the The Chapter's Due by Lord Graham of McNeill, an event very late on has a group of spectral astartes show up in a tomb to massacre the Iron Warriors fighting against the Ultramarines and Raven Guard. While they're not called the Legion by name they're noted to bear both their colours and iconography. At no point did they seem to have any physical presence and passed through solid objects.

This factor was kept in Rob Sanders' novel Legion of the Damned, and yes to those who asked we will be getting to that later this month, in which they act as ghosts in all but name. Performing hit and fade attacks on a much larger force, phasing through anything in their path and acting more as an extension of the Emperor's will rather than a semi-mad force of superhuman lepers.

The old zombified Legion of the Damned seemed to be more of a metaphor for the state of the Imperium as a whole by the 42nd millennium. Corrupt, dying and dwindling in number to the point where it was only a fraction of its previous strength.but still loyal and driven in their desire to fight in His name. It seemed to be more in line with the idea that the whole of the galaxy was in the state where it was on the brink of falling to Chaos. Also that the space marines themselves, while capable of fighting to the bitter end to protect it, would only be able to turn up and assist those in the most dire need of help. They were a decayed remnant of a much stronger force brought low by sheer fluke and rather than being a divine force of the Emperor's will they were just a group of warriors fighting to the last. Something which was definitely more in line with what is usually seen in 40K.

The new spectral Legion of the Damned however seem to be more complex but have lost a lot of what made the old one so iconic. Notably they don't seem to be dying out anymore or suffering casualties, removing their ability to serve as a metaphor as before. What they have gained however is a new status representing the space marines as they regard themselves - silent immortal warriors watching over humanity and defending it against the worst of threats. They're seemingly invulnerable, few in number and act as a power unto themselves. Fighting for the Imperium but not necessarily obeying its rulers. This is, however, not the most interesting part of their new identity. No that comes in the form of their warriors.

In both novels there were suggestions of dead space marines from other chapters outside the Fire Hawks being a part of the Legion. While neither is outright said, one spectre in The Chapter's Due seems to acknowledge it being a Ultramarines captain from the time of the Horus Heresy when questioned. This means that the Legion itself could be something far more than a chapter of unfortunate space marines lost in the Warp and altered from their experiences. Literal spirits of fallen astartes from multiple chapters still finding some way to fight on and serve the Emperor from beyond the grave, even in some cases ten thousand years after their death.
It also leaves the possibility open for a very interesting idea surrounding a link between the group and the Emperor.

There are a number of instances of psykers summoning ghosts of the dead from the Warp intentionally or otherwise, even a good few loyalist examples of this. Using their own power to sustain echoes of their dead comrades or images of them. The Legion itself constantly responds to those most desperately in need of help, those praying to the Emperor and (admittedly going by the old canon) with some members using the tarot to interpret His will and obey His commands. 
While it's no solid fact, it leaves the idea open for the ghosts of the Legion to be sustained and projected by the Emperor just as previous examples did and perhaps for him to have more conscious presence in the galaxy than previously thought. Even giving credence to the theory of the Emperor having servants existing in the Warp, just as the Chaos gods have their daemons. Then again with the old Legion having used the tarot as well, and being sustained far longer than they potentially should have, you could probably make the same argument about them.

Which fluff you prefer is to your own preference, one which is more in line with the decline and slow failure of the Imperium or one which seems to suggest some forlorn hope for humanity. However it simply seems that there is a good deal of untapped potential within this largely overlooked factor of the universe. One which can be used to give the impression of mystery and the chance for the Emperor to have some form of definitive power outside of the Saints, which doesn't involve a fan character Matt Ward wrote when he was twelve punching Khorne in the face and teabagging Lords of Change. Argh!

Minor tangential rant aside i'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of this and if they have had any similar ideas surrounding the Legion. As such please feel free to add your own criticisms or comments to this below.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

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