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The First Heretic (Novel)

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The First Heretic
The First Heretic--.jpg
Cover illustration by Neil Roberts
Author Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Publisher Black Library
Series Horus Heresy Series
Preceded by Nemesis (Novel)
Followed by Prospero Burns (Novel)
Released November 2010
Editions 2010:
ISBN 9781844168842

2010 ebook:
ISBN 9780857870452

The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is the fourteenth novel in the Horus Heresy Series.[1a] It was later included in "The Novels: Volume 3" eBook collection.

Plot Summary

Part One: Grey

The citizens of Monarchia, capital city of the planet Khur, are forced to evacuate by the Ultramarines Legion, who force the city to send a single distress call before annihilating it from orbit. Cyrene Valantion, a young woman of the city, is blinded by the orbital barrage. The Word Bearers Seventeenth Legio Astartes receive the distress call as the Legion that brought compliance to Khur and arrive to find the former site of Monarchia a ruined wasteland. Their primarch Lorgar confronts Malcador the Sigillite over the city's destruction upon his arrival but is bewildered and enraged by the Sigillite's attempts to explain and backhands him into the dirt. Malcador then sends a psychic message to the Emperor, who descends to the surface and chastises Lorgar for worshiping him as a god and lingering on his conquered worlds to convert them to that faith. He forces Lorgar and the entire Word Bearers Legion to kneel in the dust as humiliation and warns them against further worship before departing. Lorgar remains kneeling after his Legion rise and two marines, Captain Argel Tal of the Seventh Assault Company, Serrated Sun Chapter and Chaplain Xaphen of the same Chapter, lift him to his feet. Roboute Guilliman makes a condescending remark and Lorgar splits his breastplate with a blow from Illuminarum, but the Ultramarines primarch dismisses this as a tantrum and leaves with Malcador and his Astartes. In the aftermath of the event, as the Word Bearers return to their landing ships, Argel Tal detects movement in the wasteland and rescues Cyrene, half-starved and suffering from infected wounds, who collapses in his arms.[1a]

In conference with his advisers, First Chapter Master Kor Phaeron and First Chaplain Erebus, a despairing Lorgar finds solace in their explanation that the Word Bearers have been wrong to venerate the Emperor throughout their history as he is a flawed god, but is less pleased when they imply that the old religion of Colchis that they destroyed to make way for Lorgar's Imperial Creed may have been right after all, and seizes Kor Phaeron by the throat when he admits to allowing embers of religions that matched the Old Way of Colchis to survive on planets the Word Bearers have conquered. Placated by assurances of Kor Phaeron's good intentions and desperately seeking to learn the truth of gods in the galaxy, Lorgar is convinced by the pair to undertake the Pilgrimage, an ancient quest from Colchis's old religion to seek a fabled realm where gods and mortals meet.[1b]

The Word Bearers bring to compliance a world where the people have constructed automatons made of toughened glass that spew lightning from their mouths, against which they deploy the Legio Cybernetica machine Incarnadine, and are met by a contingent of twenty Adeptus Custodes assigned to watch over their Legion as they prosecute the Great Crusade. Lorgar dismisses the Custodes from a post-battle gathering of the Legion and informs his warriors that they will be undertaking the Pilgrimage, but that first they will be returning home.[1c]

The Word Bearers Legion return to their homeworld Colchis, where the people revere the survivors from Monarchia, Cyrene in particular, as martyrs. Argel Tal and his sergeants Malnor, Torgal and Dagotal escort her through the City of Grey Flowers whilst Lorgar returns to his tower sanctum to converse with his brother Magnus the Red. Lorgar questions Magnus about his voyages through the Warp, asking if he has ever encountered anything that could be considered a god, but Magnus evades Lorgar's questions and departs. In the aftermath of his departure Lorgar has Cyrene brought before him and asks her forgiveness for bringing destruction upon her city, before granting her request to be allowed to serve the Word Bearers and making her a Legion Confessor. He asks Argel Tal's permission to join the 1,301st Expedition Fleet, the fleet to which the Serrated Sun Chapter is attached, and declares that together he and the expedition will push the boundaries of Imperial space in their quest to undertake the Pilgrimage.[1d]

Part Two: Pilgrimage

Three years after the Word Bearers' departure from Colchis the 1,301st Expedition has traveled past the edge of known Imperial space and comes across a vast area where Warp energy bleeds into reality. At a meeting of expedition commanders the main astropath of the fleet flagship De Profundis tells them that a kind of psychic scream is emanating from a planet on the edge of the storm. Lorgar, with his limited psychic gifts, is able to inform the gathered commanders that the scream is not wordless: someone is shouting his name into the Warp.[1e]

A Word Bearers landing force touches down in the only area of wasteland on the planet and is met by the primitive tribespeople who live there. The tribespeople wear pelts of human skin, are tattooed with symbols that match the constellations of Colchis used as Chapter symbols by the Word Bearers and speak a language that Argel Tal identifies as Colchisian, though Vendatha, one of the five Custodes attached to the expedition, disagrees. Their leader, a girl named Ingethel, greets the Word Bearers with claims that their coming was prophecised and welcomes them to the planet, Cadia. Over the following week the Word Bearers learn about and document the tribes' society, finding many connections to the culture of old Colchis, but the Custodes attached the the expedition, led by Aquillon, are at a loss as to why the Word Bearers do not simply destroy the obviously deviant society which worships gods that reside in the Warp. Argel Tal, Xaphen and Vendatha join Lorgar at an underground ritual and are horrified to find nine tribespeople impaled on spears as sacrifices whilst Ingethel dances naked. Lorgar is promised that this ritual will reveal to him the truth about gods in the universe, but when he is told that he must choose the tenth sacrifice Vendatha demands that the ritual cease and attempts to arrest Lorgar. Violence breaks out and Vendatha kills Deumos, Chapter Master of the Serrated Sun, as well as two other Word Bearers before being gunned down by Xaphen and impaled through the mouth by Argel Tal. Tal implores Lorgar to stop before things get even more out of hand but he refuses and has Vendatha, who is still just alive, impaled on the tenth spear as his sacrifice. Vendatha's death serves as the catalyst for the ritual and Ingethel transforms into a hideous daemon. Ingethel the Ascended promises to show Lorgar the truth of the galaxy but demands that he sacrifice some of his sons so that they may be shown the truth first, and though reluctant Lorgar puts his mission before his sons' safety and chooses Argel Tal and his Seventh Assault Company.[1f]

A small fighter vessel, the Orfeo's Lament, is chosen to carry Tal's company into the vast Warp-storm and Ingethel is brought on board, to the discomfort of the bridge crew. The Word Bearers move Ingethel to the observation deck after its presence causes one officer to murder another and as the ship travels deeper into the storm Ingethel shows Argel Tal, Xaphen, Malnor, Torgal and Dagotal as well as by extension the rest of the company many visions, transporting them via Warp sorcery to various places in the past. They witness an Eldar world overtaken by the Warp-maelstrom's expansion and Ingethel relates to them the Eldar legend of the Fall, warning that the Eldar's failure to embrace the Primordial Truth led to their destruction and that the same fate will befall humanity if they make the same mistake. Next, Ingethel takes them to Terra and the subterranean cavern that houses the Emperor's primarch project, where they witness the primarchs in their cryo-pods and the creation of the first Astartes gene-seed and discuss the fates of the Second and Eleventh primarchs. Ingethel reveals to them that the Emperor has masterminded a vast deception, having bargained with the gods of the Warp in order to create the primarchs and then forged an empire that denies the existence of divinity. Betrayed to their cores, the Word Bearers turn against the Emperor and Argel Tal uses his red iron swords to smash the cavern's Geller field generator, facilitating the cataclysm that flung the primarchs to every corner of the galaxy. Returning briefly to the observation deck of the Orfeo's Lament Tal witnesses the landing of several of the primarchs' life-pods on their adoptive homeworlds before coming back for good. Knowing that it has brought them to the point they needed to reach, Ingethel asks the Word Bearers to lower the ship's Geller field and embrace the truth they must bring to humanity. Argel Tal orders it done, and the second it happens Ingethel turns on them and butchers them all. Their corpses possessed by daemons of the Warp, the Seventh Assault Company come back to life with dormant daemons inside them and endure a hellish, seven-month journey out of the storm in which they are forced to eat the corpses of the crew and kill each other so they can drink each other's blood to survive. Less than half the company remains alive by the time they reach the 1,301st expedition, and they are shocked to learn that, while more than half a year has passed for them, only a few seconds have gone by for the rest of the fleet. Lorgar immediately detects the daemons inside them and has them all imprisoned. Visiting Argel Tal to hear his story, Lorgar writes down everything he experienced before deciding his fate.[1g]

The survivors of the Seventh Company are released back into the fleet, Logar having decided to embrace the truth about the galaxy, however ugly, and preparing to undertake his own journey through the Eye of Terror accompanied by Ingethel. On Lorgar's orders Argel Tal has the Cadian tribes wiped out from orbit to cover their tracks, and when training with Aquillon he delivers a lie about the circumstances of Vendatha's death. Aquillon thanks him for his supposed actions before congratulating him on his promotion to Chapter Master. Shortly before his departure from the fleet Lorgar presides over Argel Tal's promotion ceremony, declaring Tal and Xaphen the new leaders of the Serrated Sun and the Gal Vorbak, its elite core formed of the survivors from the Orfeo's Lament. In secret, he orders them keep their possessed nature hidden until the time comes to declare their rebellion against the Imperium and to block any reports Aquillon sends back to Terra.[1h]

Part Three: Crimson

Forty years have passed since the Word Bearers' experiences in the Eye of Terror. Argel Tal now leads the 1,301st Expedition and is known as 'the Crimson Lord'. Xaphen returns to the fleet after four years away cultivating the warrior lodges within the Iron Warriors Legion and discusses the vast conspiracy their Legion is weaving with Argel Tal. The Serrated Sun Chapter, now larger than ever, makes war on a non-compliant human world. Argel Tal and Aquillon fight side-by-side through the corridors of the enemy palace, working effectively together thanks to years of sparring. During the assault all the members of the Gal Vorbak are simultaneously incapacitated by the awakening of the daemons within them, but quickly recover and finish the fight. This strange occurrence is soon eclipsed when news reaches the expedition that Horus has betrayed the Imperium and rebelled against the Emperor.[1i]

The Word Bearers Legion gathers at Isstvan V along with the Iron Warriors, Night Lords and Alpha Legion. The leaders of the four secretly traitor legions convene aboard the Fidelitas Lex and the primarchs brief their captains on the battle raging below between the Iron Hands, Salamanders and Raven Guard loyalists and Horus's rebel legions. Now awakened, Argel Tal's symbiotic daemon Raum begins speaking to him, telling him of the nature of their relationship and delivering the prophecy that they 'die in the shadow of great wings'. United by Lorgar's rhetoric and their shared purpose, the four second second wave legions touch down on Isstvan V and fortify the drop site. Argel Tal and the Gal Vorbak are at the forefront of the Word Bearers' lines when the retreating Raven Guard reach them. Reflecting on his long-dead human family and the many changes he has undergone since the day he was recruited for the Emperor's Astartes, Tal silently asks his family's forgiveness before giving the order to open fire.[1j]

The Word Bearers participate in the drop site massacre, the daemons within the Gal Vorbak coming to the forefront and taking over their minds and bodies as they transform into hideous battle-forms and butcher the loyalists. Corax attacks the Gal Vorbak and kills half of them before being confronted by Lorgar. The two primarchs fight an apocalyptic duel which awakens Argel Tal's full daemonic potential, morphing him into a huge bestial monster. Lorgar is nearly killed, but Konrad Curze intervenes to save his life and Corax retreats to defend his legionnaires elsewhere on the battlefield. Dagotal is incinerated by Raven Guard with flamers and Argel Tal feels his death. The battle concludes with the loyalists massacred and the Gal Vorbak, now numbering just eleven, return to the fleet with the rest of the traitor marines. Aquillon and his three Custodes brothers arrive in the system after having been deliberately delayed and arrive on De Profundis where they are shown evidence of the Word Bearers' treachery. Filled with wrath, Aquillon vows to get the truth out of Cyrene, who has been hearing Word Bearers' sins for forty-three years. They arrive at her apartment to find Incarnadine posted to defend her and one of the Custodes is killed, but Incarnadine is destroyed in return and Aquillon murders Cyrene. Argel Tal arrives too late and she dies in his arms. Enraged and battling with Raum for control of their shared form Tal pursues the Custodes through the ship and sees them escape in a Thunderhawk which he orders shot down. The Gal Vorbak pursue the Custodes to the surface of Isstvan V and find them at the crash site. The two groups engage in a final showdown in which one of the Custodes cuts Malnor to pieces ad is killed by Torgal and Argel Tal tears off Aquillon's head, before the final Custodes chooses to throw his Guardian spear at Xaphen, impaling him with devastating effect, then breaks his vow of silence just long enough to express his hatred of the dead Chaplain before being torn to pieces by the remaining Gal Vorbak.[1k]

Alone in his room, Argel Tal mourns the loss of his brothers Aquillon and Xaphen as the Word Bearers make for Calth to ambush the Ultramarines. Speaking inside his head, Raum delcares that he is Argel Tal's brother now.[1l]

List of Characters

  • Aquillon, Legio Custodes commander, 'Eyes of the Emperor'
    • Vendatha, Custodes
    • Nirallus, Custodes
    • Kalhin, Custodes
    • Sythran, Custodes

Trivia

There has been some debate over the identity of the titular 'First Heretic'. Lorgar and Argel Tal are the novel's main protagonists and both become 'heretics' over the course of the story, but chronologically Erebus and Kor Phaeron both acted in the interests of Chaos long before the book begins.

Sources

  • 1: The First Heretic (Novel)
    • 1a: Chapters 1-4
    • 1b: Chapter 5
    • 1c: Chapters 7-8
    • 1d: Chapters 10-11
    • 1e: Chapter 13
    • 1f: Chapters 14-15
    • 1g: Chapters 16-18
    • 1h: Chapter 19
    • 1i: Chapters 21-22
    • 1j: Chapters 24-25
    • 1k: Chapters 26-29
    • 1l: Epilogue