Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Let’s Talk About Abaddon

In recent months, as The Talon of Horus rolls ever onward, I’ve spilled a wealth of words on Ezekyle Abaddon and the Black Legion over emails and hastily-chucked notes to various other authors and IP-tastic souls in the dark conclave of Those Who Contribute to 40K.

This is a difficult book, not only because of the wealth of lore (much of which subtly shifts from edition to edition, meaning you need to choose what to focus on and run with that), but also because of the 40K comedy memes that do the rounds, just like in any fandom. Abaddon, however, gets hit hardest by a barrage of misunderstandings, and lore that remained fairly vague in the past. I hope you’ll forgive me for focusing on the positive and the reality behind the curtain, but I already spend long enough worrying about, and discussing, the negative perceptions. I can’t bring myself to commit several hours hashing them all up again here and now. Besides, they’re already out there. What I can offer today is something a little fresher. From the source, so to speak.

Over the course of all these exchanges with various people (who thankfully took the time to lay out a bajillion words and share their insights with me), a lot of the back and forth discussions revolved around just what it means to be Warmaster of Chaos. Everyone mostly said the same thing in different words, which matched my plans down the line, and that was a pleasant slice of reassurance, let me tell you. I’m sitting on tens of thousands of words from various people about Abaddon, the Eye of Terror, and Chaos Marines in general, as well as practically every word printed about the Black Legion since Rick Priestley and co. first said “Hang on a minute, I’ve got an idea…”

In short, this project has been an absolute dream to research. The more people you talk to, the more perspective and insight you get, and this has been freaking killer. I’ve learned a lot about stuff I already thought I had a brilliant angle on. I’ve had some of my best lore discussions over all of this madness. The really bizarre thing is that all these discussions have made Heresy meetings look like the easiest and smoothest thing in the world. No, really. I can’t overstate the number of times I’ve almost called Dan, Gav or Graham in shrieking tears, demanding they fly over and hold me in their arms until the scary times go away.

Okay, maybe not. But there’s an image for you, nevertheless. The reality is that I wanted to call Alan Merrett – GW’s IP overlord – but he’s really scary and would never hug me.

As an interesting extract, here’s something from one of the longer back-and-forth barrages, which managed to stand out as so painfully inspiring that I had to go make a cup of tea and sit down in the garden to recover, like the weakling Englishman I am.

Note:- Of course, because it’s Ireland, it was raining, so I came back inside almost immediately. Me – and my cup of tea – calmed down in the living room while Shakes watched Jake and the Neverland Pirates, but let’s just move on and stop slaying my quintessentially English reaction.

So, here. These aren’t my words – they’re from The Archive to End All Archives. The crowning jewel of said archive, as it happens. It aligns with the general consensus on Abaddon, but how it was phrased just resonated with me like nothing else quite had before.

Hope you find it as intriguing and inspiring as I do.

“Horus was weak. Horus was a fool.” 

It sums up Abaddon. Horus allowed himself to be used by Chaos – Horus is the Chaos Powers’ dupe to get back at the Emperor. Abaddon will never let this happen. He will never allow himself to be a Pawn of Chaos. Simply surviving without choosing one as a patron is a massive achievement. Never succumbing to the temptation of becoming a daemon prince is a second. Seriously, Abaddon is so driven he’d rather battle and scrape and bite and claw his way up to achieve his goals on his own terms than achieve immortality and virtually limitless power, because the alternative is to open the slightest chink in his independence that the Chaos Gods will exploit. 

If Horus was the vessel that all of the Gods poured their power into (right up until they abandoned him at the end), then Abbadon has become the vessel that the gods want to have for themselves but haven’t been able to claim. They’ve all offered him a chance to be their regent, to rule in their name, and he has turned them all down, playing them off each other. He is the New Emperor in a way that Horus never was or would have been. Abaddon has, through sheer force of will and dominance, made himself more than a pawn, he has made himself kingmaker. If he were to choose one god to serve, if he dedicated the Black Legion to a single power in his name, that God would crush his rivals almost to the point of victory.

Almost.

Because Chaos can never win against itself, of course, and Abaddon has seen the truth of this. He knows that Chaos is a process, a state, not a goal, and the moment anyone surrenders to the journey and forgets the destination is the moment their worldly ambitions are forgotten and their spirit becomes simply a part of the Chaos Powers. Abaddon is utterly relentless in his pursuit of what he wants – whatever that may actually be. Revenge on the Emperor? Too petty. Vengeance for Horus? Too sentimental. Power? Yes. What kind of power? Mortal power. He could have all the immortal power he can handle if he but asks for it, but that is not what drives him. He sees the Primarchs disappear, fade, die or simply not care anymore and he understands that only a man can really rule other men. Abaddon doesn’t want to destroy the Imperium, he wants to succeed where Horus failed. He wants to be Emperor and have Mankind bow beneath his rule.

His rule, not the rule of the Chaos gods.

Abaddon has not failed because he is wilful or incompetent. He has mustered the greatest armies since the Heresy and unleashed them upon the material universe. He has amassed power and influence within the Eye of Terror greater than any primarch. He has done this through feat of arms and personality, but the one thing he can never truly do, because it is anathema to Chaos, is truly unite the ruinous powers. They can only come together in dominance, not subservience. Whenever Abaddon has been on the brink of victory his backers break ranks, seeking to gain some last-minute short-term advantage.

Ultimately, a win for Abaddon is a loss for Chaos. If he becomes Emperor he has everything he desires and they can hold nothing over him. And so they continue to dangle the carrot, continue to be his patrons, giving him daemonic power and servants, ordering their mortal representatives to debase themselves and serve his will, all in the hope of snatching the final victory of Abaddon for themselves.

It is the Office Politics of Hell. Literally… One of the beliefs surrounding Satan in many Christian theologies is that his defiance of God was his refusal to bow to Man when they were created. In refusing to submit to the rule of mortals, Abaddon carries this analogy perfectly – the Legiones Astartes were created by a god and were never meant to be corralled and curtailed by purely mortal ambitions. As Angels they have a higher purpose – and once had a higher regard in the eyes of their creator, who shunned them.

Quite how much of this Abaddon realises when Horus fails and how much he learns over the next ten thousand years (or three days, depending on warp time) is narratively elastic…

Bearing in mind the warp/ real interface, being the bearer of the Mark of Chaos Ascendant is not just having a shiny star of Chaos imprinted in one’s forehead. It is, when the Chaos gods are bestowing their blessing/ energy, to be the centre of a blazing star, to be surrounded by a coil of ever-replenshing Chaos energy, heralded by choirs of daemons of all powers, suffused with the essence of the four great Chaos Gods. To each worshipper and follower he appears different (much like the Emperor…). He is a schemer, a warrior, a self-centred iconoclast and a survivor. 

But there are the times, after the effort, the glory, of being the conduit of so much power, when he teeters on the precipice of doubt, madness and physical corruption. He stands between mortals and immortals, his ambitions far beyond the understanding of the first, yet incomprehensibly alien to the second; constantly he is failed by the inherent weaknesses of both. 

His enemies circle, material and immaterial, sensing potential weakness. His allies start to disappear. For a while the Chaos Powers are disinterested, choosing to split, becoming self-serving once more, raising up their champions, sometimes alone, sometimes together, hoping that these mortals will rival Abaddon. Yet they never do.

And he wonders if it is vanity. He wonders if he is deserving. He wonders if what he wants is possible.

And then the Powers come back, trying once more to win him to their cause, taunting, threatening, cajoling and coercing Abaddon to become theirs and theirs alone. And he listens, and he wonders. And always, from somewhere deep in his soul, from the darkest yet strongest place in his mind, the answer comes back, hesitant but growing louder with every beat of his twin hearts. 

Yes.   

Yes, one day it will all be yours. 

And he starts the struggle again. The Long War continues. 

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 83 Comments