Fear and the Fearless
28 November 2010 | 5th Edition
This essay by DA gamer FerociousBeast first appeared on the Bolter and Chainsword forum in September 2010. It is a well considered piece looking at the concept of Fear as a possible motivator and driver of Unforgiven doctrine.
I apologize for the essay's length. I realize that's probably putting some readers off and making it harder for others to get a grasp on what I'm trying to say. I am offering at least three fairly controversial ideas up for discussion.
It's always seemed to me that the Dark Angels rather over-react to the truth of the Fallen. After all, mostother chapters have had brethren fall to Chaos. There's even the suggestion in Codex Space Wolves that whole Great Companies have succumbed to Chaos over the millennia (see the fluff on the black stone representing the 13th Company). So why do the Dark Angels go so overboard when other chapters seem to take it in stride? This essay is an attempt to explore just that question.
Give it a read through as it's very thought-provoking.
The fearless nature of those of the Deathwing and the Inner Circle — and, to a lesser extent, that of their uninitiated brethren in the Battle Companies — is well known. A valiant brother of the Deathwing will think as little of falling back under the assault of a Bloodthirster as of a diminutive grot. Retreat is unthinkable. Even were it tactically advisable, a Dark Angel will refuse to give his enemy the satisfaction of seeing him fall back. No, for the brethren of the Deathwing, there are but two choices: victory or death. Of the majority of those throughout history who have known something of the Dark Angels' tenacity, their bravery was labelled insane after it brought them inexorably to the latter. Fortunately, the Chapter's continued existence for 10,000 years bears witness to their battle prowess having ensured they are brought just as inexorably to the former, time and time again. A glorious history of unbroken victory stretching back millennia, blemished with record of neither retreat nor fear.
And yet. And yet for all that. What other emotion could motivate such secrecy? What dictate could call the Unforgiven to suddenly leave allies alone to weather the coming firestorm? What source the impulse to hide truths from one's own battle brothers? From one's own self? What, if not fear?
What do the fearless fear, and in its face how can we, the students of the Unforgiven, reconcile such a paradox?
The beginnings, perhaps, of an answer may be found in the dark places of that ancient, world-spanning forest. As the truth of a thing can be glimpsed only in its source, so must we return to the source of all things of especial import to the Unforgiven. We return to Caliban. Under the permanent gloom of the thick and gnarled trees dashes an immense shape, loping from shadow to shadow, wild, bestial eyes peering through a tangled mane, seeking threat and prey. One of the great beasts of Caliban. A creature born of impossible artifice, able to tear a man apart or crush him with a blow. Life on Caliban is a constant struggle, even for one such as he. He is hungry.
Coming upon a path rough-hewn through the forest, he pauses, curious, considering the beings who must have claimed it, set its order apart from the tangle all about. He looks up and down its length, and all such ruminations are laid aside as he spies another of his order. A brotherhood of dissimilarity, a fellowship of mutual enmity and discord. As the other creature spies him in return and bellows its challenge, the great beast considers their kinship. A strange kinship, for they are alike in only one way, but that the most important. They are both utterly alone on this planet. In physical form, they are both unmatched. The great beast contrasts his four thick, muscular limbs with his opponent's seven scuttling legs and single claw-arm held aloft; his mane-crowned head with the other's snapping beak. In relationship, both are unclaimed. They hate all and are hated by all. They hunt alone, choosing their prey without prejudice or preference, and bringing their victims to bay without aid of pack or mate. In morals, both follow but one single law: kill or be killed.
His brother guards a freshly killed meal. A heaving heap of a long-necked, black animal, not yet dead, its four legs shorn at the knees. A smaller black-armored creature that had recently sat astride it, its helmed head pinced from its shoulders, its lifeless limbs twitching on the ground. The beast lacks the obvious killing appendages of his cousin, but he has immense strength in his hands and is swift of foot. And, most importantly, there is the fierce intelligence that shines behind his eyes. He knows from which side of his brother's lopsided body the attack will come, and with speed the other cannot hope to match rushes to the other. In vain his foe wards off the great beast's rush with his comparatively spindly legs, but the great beast brushes past, leaping astride his quarry's back in strange imitation of the fallen warrior over whose corpse the two titans wrestle. With a bunching of immense muscles, the beast rips his screaming cousin's claw arm from its socket, then severs its head with a single swipe of the claw's razor edge.
The beast pauses a moment to savor the manner of his victory, the weapon turned against its master, then turns his attention toward his prize, the horse and its fallen rider. For he is very hungry. The details of this feast, and countless others like it, will be lost in time as the great beast joins the human society on Caliban, learns the humans' language, enters the Order, and ascends its ranks, for the beast will never speak of those times again and will himself endeavor to forget them, to convince himself that he is one of those around him, separated at birth only by unhappy circumstance. But the lie convinces no one. The Lion, the Son of the Forest, is still a being apart. Separated from his comrades by his own towering superiority.
Though clothed in the manner of the Order, though of human figure and aspect, Lion el'Jonson yet resembles none on Caliban so much as the great beasts in the unescapable fact of his uniqueness. The most ferocious beast of them all, perhaps, but nevertheless a beast. And though he may strive to forget and deny, in his core he cannot. He knows. He knows what he was, what he did. He knows how it felt. To be free, unmatched, beholden to none. A creature of unrestrained violence and savage freedom. He knows that side of himself that he rejects and suppresses, and he fears it.
And with a resolution unmatched not only on Caliban, but among the galactic diaspora of humanity as well save for one luminous figure, he turns against what he fears and swears to wipe it from his sight. So begins the Great Crusade of Caliban, a microcosm of the Greater Crusade of the Emperor. The Lion joins the planet's clans to his side, rallying the knightly orders in his quest to build a better world, a world free from the fear of the great beasts, united in service to a glorious future. But known only to the Lion, he fights also to expunge a taint from his world that he cannot purge from himself.
For so long as he fights the great beasts, he cannot succumb to the lion within. The beasts cannot claim him as kin.
There is a resolution for the Son of the Forest, however. The truth, when it came, brought freedom. With the Emperor came tidings that the Lion was no longer alone, nor unexplainable. Though his past would forever haunt him, he could turn his resolute gaze to his glorious future among the heavens, secure in the knowledge that he was not a cursed creature of Caliban. His perfection was justly wrought, his existence had purpose. But the forest taught the young Primarch what to fear, and it taught him what to do with it.
Lessons his progeny learned well at the feet of their master. For when their brethren turned from the Emperor's path toward Chaos, the Dark Angels in wrath turned their hands against them. Swearing mighty oaths that have bound them for millennia on end, the Sons of the Lion hunt the Fallen as the ancient Order hunted the great beasts through the dark forests of Caliban. The Masters of the Rock will never rest until each of their fallen brothers are accounted for, just as the Lion 10,000 years prior never tired in his pursuit of the beasts of Caliban until each one had been erased. To do any less would be to stare into the faces of the Fallen Brethren, and see there their own visage staring back.
The implacable Deathwing care nothing for external threat. Death and pain are accepted in equal measure with life and glory. But the fearless yet know fear. Though quail they not before blade or bullet, within the secret places of their soul is hid knowledge most foul. A knowledge which must be resisted with all the desperation they can muster. A knowledge at odds with all they love and respect. They tread the narrow bridge over the chasm with steady step, but the void calls to them. They resist it with fire and blade and the crash of bolters and crimson blood drawn screaming from the flesh of traitors. For as long as they fight the manifestation of their guilt, they know they can never themselves fall.
But for the Unforgiven, there is no resolution. There is no truth waiting in the wings to set them free. For they betrayed the Emperor. If not they themselves, then those just like them, and in the deepest and darkest pits of their souls, they know the Fallen and they call them kin.