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Horus Heresy – An Alternative History?
13th Jan, 2010

I was discussing the Horus Heresy over on Dark Reign’s forum, when a heresy of my own popped into my head. Instead of the Primarchs betraying the Emperor, what if the Emperor betrayed the Primarchs! In this re-image the betrayed Primarchs would have to fight back with everything they have, seeing as the Emperor is so powerful, and this would drive the Primarchs into the arms of chaos. As they draw heavily on warp energies, in their desperation to survive, they become corrupted. This links into early descriptions of the Primarchs are being ‘warp enhanced’ (in strength, and special powers). So if they push their abilities, the assumed built in safeguards start to breakdown.

Now all I need is a good rationale as to why the Emperor would betray the Primarchs?

The Emperor is a magnitude of power greater than the Primarchs. The Emperor can see much of the future, and makes some very harsh choices based on what he sees coming down the line. Without detailed explanation others can not hope to understand, and even if explained it may not sit right with someone. This re-image could be quite complex, and perhaps draw upon Earth’s religious mythologies and fables and revamp them for a modern audience. The Primarchs would be much more the ‘angels who can not disobey’, until one does…

A good model for this type of thinking would be the saga involving Magnus and Russ. Where Magnus was not disloyal as such, but the Emperor sent the wolves in anyway, and was probably aware of the outcome.

Basing the Horus Heresy on this type of concept, it could be that Horus was loyal until ordered to do something he thought was utterly wrong; for a result he could not foresee?

Perhaps the Exterminatus of an ‘innocent’ world with no obvious, or un-obvious, reason? Perhaps Horus takes the order to be a whim, a mere ‘proof’ of obedience rather than part of a great master plan, and refuses?

Maybe Horus thinks the Emperor has gone mad.

If this was the case, once Horus refused he is denounced as a traitor and the other legions sent to bring him down, even if they were none to sure of what the Emperor was up to either. I would imagine that the Ultramarine would follow the Emperor without question, but legions like the Emperor’s Children may not see the ‘perfection’ in their father’s decisions. They may sympathise with Horus, and their Brother Lunar Wolves, and seek to play the middle man: only to find themselves on the wrong side of the fence too (and feel betrayed too).

I think this would have created a much stronger story, and tie the Horus Heresy to many of the myths of antiquity, and provide much stronger character base for the Primarchs. They do not fall to chaos out of weakness, they fall to chaos out of desperation to fight an ‘all powerful’ Emperor bent on their destruction. They came to this path as they followed their own mortality. They thought they were right and the Emperor was wrong (they sure had the egos), and this belief in themselves (and rational thinking) led to the erosion of their faith the Emperor. This could only happen if they though their morality and logic was just as valid as the Emperor’s, that they were just as worthy. In essence they fell for pride – the greatest of the classical sins.

It would also allow, in the stories, for the Emperor to be massively powerful with none of the (what I see) plot devices to purposely crippling him, and disadvantaging him, in the fight. The Emperor could raze whole worlds, the ‘traitors’ trying to stop him as he unleashes Armageddon hunting for the only beings in creation who could hope to challenge him. In their desperation, they turn to deeper powers within themselves (they are warp enhanced after all) and fight back for the greater good. This further provokes the Emperor to extreme acts. Some of the Primarch may even submit: horrified by the carnage, and what they had become to resist the Emperor (Konrad Curze).

It also makes chaos a bit more sympathetic than the usual pantomime villain. Chaos becomes the power of the ‘weak’ to change the order and fight back, and the order of the Imperium seems even less moral than ever before.

The Emperor is less ‘god’ and more ‘devil’, though neither is really fair. He simply sees all, and knowing that telling others of what he sees can change events, he keeps it to himself.

In the end, he may have seen this possible civil war, and provokes the ‘key stone’ to all the events, that being Horus. If Horus backed down maybe nothing would ever have happened and the Imperium would have flourished (or the civil war was minor, and to be won with Horus on side). If events were left to play out naturally, perhaps there was a strong possibility of the whole Imperium going up in flames, but if the gambit is played: it limited the outcomes to full victory, or at worse loosing half the legions (as opposed to loosing all).

So the Emperor played his hand, but got caught out in the end. Horus nearly kills him. I suppose a case of playing the odds rather than having faith in his beloved son (to cheat the odds).

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11 Responses

Hearing feedback is very important to me in developing my ideas. Much of my designs are inspired, and crafted, by chatting to fans on forums before snowballing into a full concept you'll find here. I would like to thank all those who have contributed critiques and participated in discussions over the years, and I would especially like to thank all those who commented on this specific topic. If you would like join in, you are most welcome!

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  1. Malika says:

    It would also allow, in the stories, for the Emperor to be massively powerful with none of the (what I see) plot devices to purposely crippling him, and disadvantaging him, in the fight. The Emperor could raze whole worlds, the ‘traitors’ trying to stop him as he unleashes Armageddon hunting for the only beings in creation who could hope to challenge him.

    Now this idea I like! In that Horus Heresy short story ‘Last Church’ the Emperor is represented as quite the megalomaniac. I think that the Emperor might actually believe that he is the only possible saviour for humanity (or would he truly be that cynic to only desire power, like the Party in 1984?). He believes he could only protect humanity from extinction through conquering the entire galaxy and remain in power for all eternity. In order to secure this power he would need to remove any potential threat (another motivation for the Great Crusade) but also make sacrifices, such as creating a son which would eventually be trapped into the Golden Throne (Magnus). Also the sentiments some of the Space Marines and Primarch had during the Crusade that they would be cast away after the galaxy was conquered could be actually true. The Emperor would view all those around him as expendable. The Emperor perhaps even desired to become a God (eventhough openly denying this of course!), and maybe had commissioned Lorgar write the Lectio Divinitus, and thus provide the pretence that it’s not the Emperor who declares himself to be a God but that it is done through the will of the people or something.

    Another possible scenario which could exist in combination with this one is more based on Leto II’s empire in Dune, namely that the Emperor actually wanted Horus to rebel against him (kinda similar to the Judas scrolls which stated it was Jesus Christ’s plan to be betrayed by Judas) so that his empire would then fall and explode, spreading humanity all across the galaxy, securing the survival of the species. This plan however failed due to Horus rebelling earlier than planned.

    • Philip S says:

      Your Dune idea sounds like a good base for the politics. I do like the idea that the Emperor desires power above all things, and once aware of the chaos power may actually be jealous of their power, as he is one of the few people who could see the influence of the warp, and chaos, in everything.

      Also the sentiments some of the Space Marines and Primarch had during the Crusade that they would be cast away after the galaxy was conquered could be actually true.

      In my version of 40K, Philverse, the Emperor is a god, or more specifically is the Thunder God of all ancient earth cultures – Zeus, Jupiter, Xolotl, Xevioso (List of Thunder Gods). This makes him fantastically power, but really in this incarnation he is merely a gestalt Alpha Class (many Alpha classes combined) Psyker. If you want to see this being in action read all about Greek mythology!

      This then plays into my story of the Primarchs.

      The Emperor has a gestalt soul, many Alpha class psykers combined, and in creating the Primarch he removes souls from the gestalt collective and implants them into modified clone bodies. Each soul then shapes the body, and is bound within the body (restricted). This obviously weakens the Emperor, he is not as strong as he once was, but in his mind this would be temporary.

      Using this framework, I imagine the Emperor would not cast aside the Primarchs at the end of the great crusade, he was going to re-consume them! Horus was not obliterated, he was dragged back to the collective kicking and screaming, Sanguinius was re-consumed.

      The Emperor is not ‘dead’ he is transforming.

      I wonder if the Primarch would remember their past lives on ancient Terra, before being consumed by Zeus, and in the back of their minds some may wish to rebel and stand up from what is right. Perhaps the Chaos Gods managed to engineer the situation exactly as they wanted, separating powerful souls from the Emperor by telling them ‘the truth’ and offering them godhood. These missing souls could affect the type of god the Emperor transforms into. A god of vengeance?

      I’m sure that missing the souls of the Primarchs from his make up would affect his judgement, his power, and maybe even his drives and motivations?

      Baron Acton“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

      • Malika says:

        Hmm, to return to this topic! I like the idea that the Emperor kind of “split his soul” in creating the Primarchs with him planning to re-devour them once done with his Crusade. Maybe Horus found out about this? Or perhaps it was Lorgar who figured this out in his worshipping of the Emperor and then set the pieces in motion to prevent this by tempting the other Primarchs to rebel. In order for them to rebel again the Emperor he would need to get Horus on his side, which is the story we all know.

        Another possibility might be that Magnus found out about the Emperor’s plans and tried to persuade the Emperor to change his mind. However, the Emperor refused to accept that and sent the Space Wolves to Prospero to take care of Magnus. This means that the Emperor fully knew that Leman Russ was going to kill Magnus (he ordered it!). This was later on justified/altered into the story we know today of Magnus betraying the Emperor’s trust by using illegal sorcery. The Emperor then ordered for his arrest and then blame Horus for manipulating Leman Russ into killing Magnus while in truth it was the Emperor all along who ordered Magnus’ execution.

        Same scenario might have occurred with the Night Lords, Konrad Curze already knew what the Emperor had planned for him and his brothers but chose to join the Great Crusade anyway, perhaps in an attempt to find an escape from the Emperor, or perhaps he had already accepted his fate. Perhaps these two options are part of the schizophrenic nature of the Primarch, he was described as having a very dual personality. When the Emperor (or perhaps the High Lords acting in his name) sent the assassin M’Shen to kill Curze, she was ordered to retrieve the Corona Nox. This device might have been Curze’s way of preserving his soul (kind of akin to the Eldar spirit stones?), the Emperor wants it so he can devour his son. The other members of the Night Lords want it since it harnesses the power of their Primarch. If I recall correctly the Eldar also wanted it for their own reasons.

        But yeah…there you go! More food for thought!

  2. Kage2020 says:

    At the time when I was feeling contrary to all the nay-sayers out there that felt that you can never create RPG statistics for a “story element” like the Emperor*, I posted some interpretations of the Emperor that I felt were interesting and characterful for the ‘ole chappie. Six interpretations of the Emperor were thrown out there in true Amber DRPG style**—three for the pre-Golden Throne Emperor, and three for the post-incarceration Emperor. For the pre-Golden Throne Emperor you had the God (common interpretation of Emperor as uber-everything, Hercules-esque), Scientist (the more benevolent Emperor “guiding” Emperor), and the Trickster (the version that was manipulative, both politically and in terms of psychic illusion).

    For the post-incarceration Emperor there was the Child (the Emperor-as-Star Child), the Twin (the idea that an “evil” version of the Emperor is forming in the Warp), and the Corpse (the trapped Emperor on the Golden Throne).***

    Just thought that I would mention it for the sake of interest. :D

    * You can nearly always produce RPG statistics even for a “story character.” It’s just normally an issue of why you would bother. As they say, though:

    Q: “Why climb Everest?”

    A: “Because I can.”

    ** If you don’t know or are not familiar with Amber DRPG‘s approach to interpreting the powerful characters in Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles, you might want to check it out. Well, if that’s your bag, that is. :D

    *** I actually work on the principle that it is all three of these working together, but that’s not part of the structure for the aforementioned Amber DRPG.

    Kage

    • Philip S says:

      Having an idea of the limits to a character’s power, can be useful in defining that character’s parameters in stories. What exactly they can and can’t do in theory.

  3. Malika says:

    Hmm, another interesting twist in all this is the Cabal and the Alpha Legion. What if they truly know about what kind of threat the Emperor (and potentially humanity) might be for the universe? If the Cabal follow the original programme laid out by the Slann and/or Old Ones, they would still be in war with Chaos and the Necrons/C’tan. Humanity is very sensitive to both. The Cabal knows that if the Emperor would succeed they would all be killed (the Emperor being the xenophobe that he is) or humanity would be easy pickings for the C’tan (Pariah Gene, Deceiver, the Emperor’s link with the Void Dragon). The Cabal would try to prevent this, and by doing so they realise they would need to remove the Emperor from power. For this reason they might have tried to get the Alpha Legion to join Horus’ rebellion. Or maybe Alpharius learns of this on his own and figures out that the Emperor isn’t that good for humanity.

  4. Green Knight says:

    The best thing about it is that it could have gone down that way. It need not be ‘alternate history’ at all. The Emperor won and the Imperium has had 10.000 years to tell the people how things ‘really’ went down.

    • Philip S says:

      Too true. The background is all lies, myth, rumour and half-truths and that’s the canon take!

      The background as always been built on sand, and constantly changes, because it’s merely a version of history as being told for the game in question. It’s an odd property of 40K, but as time goes on it seems 40K has a ‘fossil record’, you could almost go about the background as an archaeologist and dig deep, back to the first edition: Rogue Trader. Marines could still be chemically enhanced psycho – all the knight stuff may be complete lies.

  5. Malika says:

    Hey Phil, do you have a link to that discussion on the Horus Heresy of Dark Reign? Is there also extra mention of the Alpha Legion? With the upcoming revival of the Anargo Sector Project I’m really tempted to start an Alpha Legion modelling project, but don’t know yet which direction to go into, so it would probably be a mixture of the ASP’s interpretation of the Alpha Legion on how they operate there and some Philverse ideas (if you have any).

    The models would all the TFM material, but yeah…this means I’d still have to wait until some AFG models will be made… But then again, we tend to be of the long term project nature! ;)

    • Kage2020 says:

      Erm, well the status of the Alpha Legion is also up for grabs, as is the Ultramarine contribution to the history, the presence of the Maledictors, many of the alien races, etc. Again, all of this is currently in the works, but eventually there’s going to be a point where we cannot find information (because it remains on a single hard-drive that isn’t being shared), so we’ll be starting from scratch and removing some of the more hokey concepts.

      Just throwing that out there.

      With that said, there will likely be room for discussion on the specifics of certain parts of Anargo history. Working with the Explore CMS will mean that it will be possible to quickly find this information and begin to add ones contributions to it.

      In short, as per your comments on the ASP forums, the Alpha Legion should be something that can be fitted into the sector, but with the likely changes to Sargassos (to remove clichés) it is not certain that they are going to have the same kind of prominence previously associated with them. As always, though, everything is up for discussion once the new “narrative plan” is presented.

      Kage

      PS:I’m also reminded that a ‘blog is not really the place to be having coherent discussions. :D

    • Philip S says:

      The only mention of the Alpha Legion on my site is ‘The Dragons‘, it implies they are an Alpha Legion cell who have usurped loyalist chapter. It could go either way, there are many elements that make them look suspicious, but they may be perfectly loyal and enforcing their autonomy.

      Secrecy breeds suspicions and the Inquisition do not like being told ‘no’. Unfortunately the Dragons seem to be one step ahead all the time, and spend as much time defeating elements and factions within the Imperium as they do hunting enemies of the Imperium. I suspect a lot prominent figures within the Imperium have been taken out by the Dragons, but nothing can be proven (to the other chapters), and it always seems politically expedient to side with the Dragons.

      Are they Alpha Legion?

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