A Last Blast From the Past: The Navis Nobilitae

Here is the last article I salvaged from the old Trollslayer.net site. It comes from the time when I was writing Wolfblade. As usual, it is not part of the official Warhammer 40,000 background save where parts of it have made their way into the book.

The Navigators

An extract from the basic training lectures of  Brother Guillame, Fabricator Scriptorum, Inquisition Library, Stalynheim.

Reference: Light of Knowledge

Clearance Level: Tertius

Unauthorised Viewing May Result In Termination of Library Privileges and Life.

Praise the Emperor.

Brothers, suffer not a mutant to live is one of the most ancient precepts of our order, but as we shall see it has not been applied in every case. Today we shall talk about another ancient institution of our Imperium, the Navigator Houses or Navis Nobilitae. They are one of the very few cases in which a mutation has been deemed so beneficial that it has not been stamped out.

Many claim, with some justification, that the Navigators are essential for our civilisation to survive. While it is true that some short-range interstellar travel would be possible without them, almost all long distance voyages would cease without their aid. To understand how the Navigator Houses got such a grip on the throat of our Imperium one must first understand something of how interstellar travel is accomplished.

All of our starships must pass through the Immaterium in order to make their journeys. This is an alternate dimension where time flows strangely. It is aligned contiguously with the fabric of our own space-time but within the Immaterium space is warped or curdled, so that a ship can enter it at one point in our universe, and emerge many hundreds of light years away. Passing through normal space, even at fractions of light speed such journeys would take centuries, if not millennia. Passing through the Immaterium journey times can normally be reduced to days or weeks.

Of course the Immaterium is not without its perils. In other areas of study, most notably daemonology, you will have heard it referred to as the Warp. Yes, brothers, the two are one and the same. The place through which our ships must pass is that same area from which our soul’s greatest perils emerge. This is not the time or the place to go into our understanding of why this is so. For the moment, take it on faith to be the truth.

Not only are daemons present within the Immaterium, but also there are other perils. Merely gazing upon it can, as you would expect, warp mind and soul and sometimes body. No normal man can look upon the Warp for an extended period of time and remain sane. Even to contemplate its structure upon navigational instruments can be injurious to spiritual and mental health.

It would appear that the mutation of Navigator’s makes them immune to these psychic perils. Moreover while normal souls, even shielded ones, are visible to daemons within the Immaterium, it seems that they cannot perceive Navigators- at least not with their psychic senses. (Presumably a manifest daemon with access to a normal range of senses would have no such problems but that is beyond the scope of this lecture.) It may also be that Navigators extend this protection at least in part to those ships under their care. Here, alas, we must plead ignorance.

Almost all Navigators bear the stigmata of the mutant, the third or pineal eye, which they claim lets them view the Immaterium. Why then do we take it on faith that the Navigators act in our best interests, and are not some foul pawn of the forces of Darkness? For the best of reasons- our Emperor believed this to be the case, and who are we to doubt his almighty word?

Indeed not only did he grant the charters of the Navigator Houses, he blessed them with a great boon. Of all humanity, and however reluctantly we do so, we must extend that description to the Navigators, they alone are capable of using the mighty psychic beacon of the Astronomicon to guide their vessels through the Warp. Yes, they have been granted the blessing of direct communion with the celestial choir that attends our Emperor in his throne. Does it not seem likely brothers that it is this that shields them from the perils of the void, the direct intercession of our lord on their behalf? So at least some of my colleagues believe.

Still let us not be deceived, the Navigator Houses, while they may enjoy the Emperor’s Blessing in this one thing, share all the common faults of humanity. The Navigator Houses are very old, very rich, very privileged, not a little decadent, and engaged in unending intrigue both against rival houses and within themselves, with all manner of cliques and factions struggling for power. Old hatreds and rivalries fester between the Navigator clans. These date back to before the Imperium and may have been deliberately fostered by the Emperor.

It has been speculated that one reason the Emperor in his wisdom granted charters with his seal to so many rival houses was to ensure that the Navigator’s virtual monopoly on starship transit did not become a real monopoly. With so many hereditary enemies involved, the system was designed to ensure that the Houses would always remain at each other’s throat and in competition with each other. Whatever the origins of these rivalries the Ecclesiarchy and various factions within the Imperium have done their best to maintain this situation to the present day.

In the past, there have been various attempts to unite the Navis Nobilitae or at least allow them to present a united front to the rest of the Universe. These cartels have often temporarily enjoyed a limited success, and during those periods the Navigators have enjoyed enormous influence in the Imperium, but, sooner or later, someone has always broken rank, and the endless intrigues and the endless cutthroat bidding for contracts has begun again. The Grand Conclave of the Houses, which acts as an arbitration centre and point of contact for the various Navis Nobilitae clans, while now virtually toothless, is a legacy of one of these intermittent periods of unity.

Sources within the Houses have told us that in private many Navigators see themselves as the secret masters of the Imperium-a view that some think has almost as much truth as hubris in it. Each of the Houses is ancient and enormously wealthy, and their very nature ensures that they have links with the greatest Merchant Trading Houses of the Imperium. Indeed many of these are fronts for the Navis Nobilitae, and used in their proxy wars and intrigues. Sadly the Navigators also wield a great deal of influence within the Ecclesiarchy, by virtue of their monopoly, and their enormous wealth, a damning testimony to how far our Imperium has fallen short of the Emperor’s original conception.

Each house maintains an enormous network of spies and intelligence gatherers that gives them a certain amount of leverage on the various potentates of the Imperial hierarchy. Were it not for the fact that most of the efforts of rival houses cancel each other out, they would be powers indeed within the Imperium.

Also many of Navigator Houses have links to specific Imperial Guard worlds, or Space Marine Chapters. House Belisarius for instance enjoys links with the Space Wolves, and the Lord Belisarius has his Fenrisian Guard, drawn from warriors said to be of Fenrisian stock, and captained by actual Space Wolves, under terms of an ancient pact between the House and the Chapter.

Enough of these matters let us consider the primary duty of a Navigator- guiding his ship through the warp. Bear in mind that some of this is highly speculative since our only sources are the Navigators themselves, and certain obscure mystical writings.

A Navigator is linked to his ship via command  neuro-links. It becomes an extension of his body when they fly. However once the ship is translated into the Immaterium this is a very minor consideration. The Navigator then spends most of his time seeking currents, flows, and pathways, and trying to avoid temporal whirlpools, stasis locks, and other hazards.

I must stress here that it seems every Navigator sees the Warp differently; a Navigator projects his own reference points and intellectual structures onto the Chaos of the Immaterium. Naturally this is shaped in part by his training, and how he is taught to visualise things. This means that Navigators from different houses may well see things very differently.

In most houses, it seems, Navigators begin their apprenticeship around the age of 3. Their basic training lasts 21 years.  This involved in its early stages seven years of training designed to discipline the mind through the medium of physical exercise and meditation rituals, and the study of basic martial arts for the same reason. Then comes seven years of mental training that involved the study of many disciplines including mathematics, hyper-spatial geometry, history, politics, economics. It also involves study of the design and construction of warp engines and starships in case the Navigator should be called on to supervise the repair of his vessel, and tactics of all sorts, for it is not uncommon for Navigators to become involved in battles, both in space and on the ground. Lastly there comes seven years of mystical training designed to stimulate the pineal eye, and open the mind to the paths of the Immaterium. In its last seven-year stage this apparently involves mysticism, drug use and study much like the forbidden arts of sorcery.

When a Navigator progresses to the next level, he continues his studies on the previous levels so that by the time he comes of age at 24, when his house may apply on his behalf for his Master Navigator’s ticket. It is at this point that as an Inquisitor your career and his may well intersect. Wisely the Ecclesiarchy insists that all Navigators are subjected to the most stringent mental and physical testing when they first seek their master’s ticket and every 5 years thereafter when they come to renew that ticket. Any Navigator whose travels have taken them beyond the reach of an Inquisitor for more than 5 years is required by law to present himself to the Ecclesiarchy or the nearest Inquisitor when he returns, as is any Navigator who has been exposed to abnormal influences, travelled beyond the Imperium in the company of a Rogue Trader or made contact with Xenogens or heretics of any kind. Any Navigator remiss in this duty may find himself handed over by his own house, most likely because if they fail to do so, they can be subject to a full scale Inquisitorial investigation.

As ever, when dealing with Navigators, as with all other elites of our Imperium, you must be careful to show neither fear nor favour. Do not be intimidated by threats of potential bans on future travel or daunted by the fact that during interstellar travel a Navigator will very often have your life and the life of your ship in his hands. Remember, there is no limit to Imperial justice, and no one is beyond our reach.

All glory to the Emperor.

Another Blast From the Past: Rogue Traders

Here is another background piece I did back when I was writing Farseer. There is actually a Rogue Trader character in Fist of Demetrius so this may still be relevant. Once again, everything here is very old and none of it was ever part of the official 40K background save where it appears in Farseer.

An extract from the basic training lectures of  Brother Guillame, Fabricator Scriptorum, Inquisition Library, Stalynheim.

Reference: Light of Knowledge

Clearance Level: Tertius

Unauthorised Viewing May Result In Termination of Library Privileges and Life.

Praise the Emperor.

Brothers, our lesson today deals with those individuals variously known as merchant adventurers, free voyagers or more colloquially Rogue Traders. Most of us have heard of them. Some are great heroes of the Imperium. Who does not know the tale of how Cortezar Bale conquered the Nine Worlds of the Fiery Circle? How many could not name the Golden Tiger, famed ship of Dorian Hyde. These men are often presented in tales, plays and poems as great heroes, adventurers who have added new worlds to the Emperor’s realm, and new lustre to the glory of our Imperium. As we shall see the truth has always been more complex and many of these famous men have ended their days in one of our courts of extreme sanction.

First let us begin by defining our terms. A Rogue Trader is an individual who possesses a commission from the Imperium to trade freely in any area not specifically under Imperial Interdict, including worlds beyond the boundaries of the Imperium itself. This charter is usually known as a Warrant of Trade. Such Warrants are issued in the Emperor’s name, and are normally granted either by an organ of the Administratum or less commonly and legally by a planetary Governor.

The form of words used normally provides the bearer with the right and privilege of recruiting his own troops to act as his personal bodyguard, and to hire ships and navigators to facilitate the spread of mercantile enterprise beyond the boundaries of the Imperium- provided this is done in the approved manner. Once granted, the charter is irrevocable. However, as is stated on all Warrants, if the bearer should prove to be an apostate, a heretic or traitor to the Imperium, or if he should be found guilty of criminal activity in an Imperial court, or by an approved agent of Imperial Justice such as an Inquisitor, the Warrant may be confiscated and reallocated by the appropriate authority.

Warrants of Trade can be sold, traded or passed on to heirs and are valid beyond the life of the one to which they are issued. As you might imagine, all warrants can be seen as the keys to great riches, and in and of themselves are instruments of great value.

It would appear that the origins of these charters pre-date the Imperium itself, and date back to the time of the Great Crusade when they were granted by the Emperor himself in his own hand. Samples of these may be found in the Hall of Relics on Terra. In the time of the Great Crusade the divine wisdom of granting such charters cannot be questioned. The realm of man was smaller, embattled and the many worlds of humanity were isolated. Such traders bore the word of the Emperor to new worlds and joined those worlds in righteous trade. Prosperity provides strength, strength provides unity, unity is the bedrock of the Imperium.

The legal precedent for irrevocable general charters comes from the fact that the first charters were issued by the Emperor himself, often without mentioning the name of the bearer, who was presumably known to the Lord of Mankind himself. None among us has the authority to revoke something written in His Almighty Hand. Since the time of His Ascension there have been many corrupt servants of the Imperium who have enriched themselves by issuing general and irrevocable warrants, and lamentably many of these still exist. In your studies you will come across the example of Luigi The Obese who during the course of his vile career issued some 2000 warrants, far in excess of his sector quota, and used the proceeds to buy an entire planet, Perugia, from the Valerian Combines. Luigi died during the penance of the Thousand Blows. When he died he was the richest man in the Perugian graveyards.

There are records dating back to the Great Crusade of merchant adventurers leading armies numbering into the hundreds of thousands, and conquering entire industrial worlds in the name of the Emperor. Indeed many of our leading families of Imperial Commanders can trace their origins back to a Rogue Trader who brought their fief world into the fold of humanity.

As with many other things, the role of the Rogue Trader was changed by the wickedness and anarchy of the Horus Heresy. In that time, it was wisely seen that the military and naval wings of the Imperium should be kept separate. Private armies and private fleets that could conquer worlds were banned, for many of the traders fell into error and followed the Warmaster in his rebellion. After the Ascension of the Emperor into his golden throne, the Administratum wisely limited the number of followers in a Rogue Traders retinue to no more than one thousand soldiers. This restriction has been violated in a number of ways at a number of different times, but nonetheless, even its sporadic enforcement has helped maintain the stability of the Imperium from the earliest days to the present millennium.

How does one acquire a charter? The answer is simple. One either acquires an extant Warrant of Trade or one petitions the Administratum for a new one. If one is judged worthy and the quota of warrants for that decade has not been exceeded, a Warrant is awarded. Naturally, such a great privilege is not granted to everybody. The task of exploring beyond the Imperium, of bringing new worlds into the fold of mankind, and bringing trade to those who have not known the benefits of being part of the Imperial community is not one that can be entrusted to just anybody. One must be judged tough enough to survive the physical and mental rigours of the task. One must be capable of leading men in battle, and negotiating trade pacts that may later be ratified by the Imperium. One must be a fit representative of Imperial civilisation.  One must pass many tests of fitness, and be subject to the most stringent physical and mental examination to prove that one is free from the taint of heresy and the stigmata of mutation. These tests would seem to explain why so many Rogue Traders come from within the ranks of the Adeptus Terra or the military.

Sadly our investigations have uncovered many hundreds of instances where charters were granted in return for huge bribes, or as a result of blackmail or other forms of political pressure. In fairness, it has to be said that some of the greatest and most pious of all the free captains gained their charters by such disreputable means but nonetheless we must frown on such activities and stamp them out whenever we come across them.

It also must be added that in certain times, and at certain places, Imperial Commanders have taken it upon themselves to provide charters to merchants from their worlds. Such charters may not have been strictly legal, but their possessors were shielded by the might of a planetary governor, who used his power and influence to protect them, and thus illegally acquire access to fleets of ships for their own military. It has to be said that where the Commanders were loyal, devout and just men, our Inquisition has often turned a blind eye to such abuses, foolishly in my opinion, for none can be seen to be so mighty as to be above the law, as the Emperor himself remarked when pronouncing sentence on Horus. Once again, several of the most famous of Rogue Traders have been possessors only of such charters, and the two types of charter have become confused in the minds of the public, if not in the eye of Imperial law.

Finally a number of Rogue Traders simply claim the title or acquire false warrants or forge them themselves. Needless to say laying false claim to the possession of a warrant of trade is a crime punishable by ultimate sanction. Forging Warrants of Trade is a capital crime.

Once in possession of a charter, the bearer is free to purchase his own ships, recruit his own men, and chart his own course between the worlds of the Imperium and beyond. Of course, it is the nature of such men that they often already possess ships, or lead great mercenary companies before they apply for their charters. Many have been drawn from the ranks of Adeptus Terra, disgraced nobles who have carved out new fortunes and destinies for themselves in the worlds beyond the Imperium.

Another very common occurrence is for the owner of a Warrant to be merely the front man for a cartel of merchants who receive a share of the profits from any voyages undertaken by the Trader. In and of itself this would superficially seem to be of no concern. After all the money to underwrite these ventures must be found somewhere and this way there is no drain to the coffers of the Imperium itself. However, it should be noted that such men are often more concerned with profit than with the security of the Imperium, and this in itself presents problems.

For, of course, once beyond the pale of our noble realm, many Rogue Traders are exposed to heresy, and the temptations of power without the restriction of Imperial Law. Many have gone rogue themselves, setting themselves up as petty kings on backward worlds, others have become vectors of heresy, bringing the taint of Chaos and xenogen contact back within the fold of the Imperium itself. It is because of this that all such individuals should be investigated and subject to rigorous checks upon return from their voyages.

In the course of your Inquisitorial careers, you may be called upon to confront a Rogue Trader-do not be daunted by his wealth, or his force, or even the fact that he may possess a Warrant of Trade inscribed in the hand of the Emperor himself. Bear in mind that the legitimacy of his possessing that charter is based entirely on the character of its owner- if the bearer is unworthy, it is entirely within your authority to confiscate it and deal summarily with its former owner.

Here endeth this lesson.

All glory to the Emperor.

Drinking With Wolves

For those of you considering having a beer with the Wolves of Space, a dire warning. Leo, one of the Imperial Guard heroes of Fist of Demetrius, has had some experience in this field.

Extracted from the first draft of Fist of Demetrius

“Kill me now,” I said. The room seemed to be whirling around as if someone had placed a gravitic rotator under my bed. It felt as if one of the Adeptus Astartes was banging on my head with a Thunder Hammer. My throat felt raw. My stomach churned as if I had the Brontovan Trots.

“You saw Space Wolves,” said Anton. The skinny bastard was practically dancing with excitement. “You drank with Space Wolves.”

“You pointed a shotgun at Space Wolves,” said Ivan, the light reflecting brilliantly on the metal of his face. I considered asking him to switch it off then realised that made no sense. “Your stupidity is impressive.”

“Don’t worry. They got their revenge. They decided a bolter shell was too quick so they tried to kill me with alcohol poisoning. I think they are on the verge of success. Ivan, if I die, you can have my shotgun.”

“I wanted that,” said Anton.

“Ivan, you have my permission to give Anton the shotgun — full bore, in the face,” I said. “Make sure it’s loaded with manstopper rounds. You’ll need them to breach his thick skull.”

“Hark at the man who tried to outdrink a Space Wolf,” said Anton. “He is calling me stupid.”

“I wasn’t trying to outdrink him,” I said, pausing to throw up in the bucket that Ivan had helpfully placed by the side of the bed. “I just decided it would be more dangerous to refuse him than to drink the bloody thing. Of course, I might have been wrong about that.”

“I hope you did not let the side down,” said Anton. “I would not want them thinking the boys from Belial can’t hold their drink.”

“Anton,” I said, dry heaving for a bit before continuing. “Compared to a Space Wolf, a mastodon can’t hold its booze. One of them could outdrink an alcholic Ogryn and its in-bred cousin, probably its whole alcoholic clan.”

I had flashbacks to last nights drinking session, just images really, because after I had accepted Grimfang’s proffered glass my memory of things shattered into a thousand glittering booze-soaked pieces. I recalled the High Command of Macharius’s army drinking toasts to the Adeptus Astartes, sensibly using thimble sized shot-glasses of spirit, while the Space Wolves guzzled tankards of the stuff. Only I had been dumb enough to try the tankard.

I remembered speeches being given and songs being sung  and over everything a looming sense of unreality hovering. It seemed so unlikely that we could be in the presence of these creatures of legend, that they would be present on the Crusade.  I remembered howling war-cries and tales of battle and a skald singing something in an odd chant that told of ancient battles under bloody suns against foes worthy of Wolves.

I remembered Macharius reeling to his feet and speaking of the wars of his youth, not boasting, simply talking about old comrades, now gone and battles long won. I remembered Constantine of all people toasting Macharius and their friendship.

Most of all I remembered what Grimfang had whispered, about the way Anna’s scent clung to me. The Great Wolf knew about the Imperial Assassin. He suspected her. Not without good reason. The question troubling me was what she would do when she found out, as she undoubtedly would.

Extracted from the first draft of Fist of Demetrius

Wolfblades: Yet Another Blast From The Past

In honour of Macharius’s recent encounter with the Wolves of Space I have decided to reprint yet another old post of mine from the Trollslayer.net website. (And yes, I admit it, because I am feeling lazy.) Once again, I would like to thank Jimmy Carmine for pointing me in the direction of the archive.org and allowing me to retrieve this post from oblivion. Once again, I would just like to make it clear that none of this stuff is an official part of the background save where it actually appears in the Space Wolf novels and has not been superceded by new developments. I would also like to state that it is entirely possible, indeed extremely likely, that Macharius will encounter some Wolfblades in The Fist of Demetrius.


An extract from the basic training lectures of  Brother Guillame, Fabricator Scriptorum, Inquisition Library, Stalynheim.

Reference: Light of Knowledge

Clearance Level: Tertius

Unauthorised Viewing May Result In Termination of Library Privileges and Life.

Praise the Emperor.

Brothers, it is often said that there is not one Imperium but many. Putting aside for the moment the seemingly inherent heresy of that thought, we shall see that it reveals one facet of the truth. Many consider our Imperium to be a vast monolithic bloc with every arm of Imperial government and policy acting in one accord. Laudable as that thought is, it is simply not true. In some places our Imperium is more like a patchwork of alliances between many factions, all of whom believe it is in their best interests to ensure its continuance.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than by the Adeptus Astartes and the Navigator House. You will immediately notice some similarities. Both consist of a number of factions, each with its own culture, interests, policies and goals. Both predate the Imperium itself, and by virtue of their ancient histories lay claim to perquisites and privileges that make them exempt from many aspects of Imperial Law. Both can make superficially convincing claims that these exemptions are validated by the mandate of the Emperor himself. Within the Imperium they are allowed to act with a certain autonomy not granted to others. Even our own Inquisition grants them a latitude that would seem almost indulgent of heresy if it were allowed to anyone else.

In some cases these organisations have made pacts with each other, which had they not been mandated by the Emperor and did they not predate the foundation of the Ecclesiarchy, would be illegal. Probably the best known such pact is the one between the Space Wolves and the House of Belisarius, the so-called Wolfblade accord.

The origins of this pact are lost in legend, but the most commonly accepted version of the story dates it from the time of the Great Crusade and the friendship that existed between Leman Russ and Alexander Belisarius. Belisarius was a Navigator of genius who aided Russ on many of his adventures and is said to have disappeared with him on his last fatal voyage. On the day of the Feast of the Founding, they are said to have sworn a pact of eternal friendship. As a sign of this friendship, the Belisarians agreed to provide Navigators for the Chapter in perpetuam. In return they would enjoy the military protection of the Space Wolves themselves. The pledge of this would be that an entire pack of Wolves would accompany the Celestarch as his bodyguard. Given the fractious nature of the Navigator Houses, and a commercial rivalry which at that time could result in conflicts that can only be described as wars, this was an alliance of considerable importance.

I see some of you are shocked. When considering this you have to remember that the Imperium did not exist when the accord was made. There was no formal legal apparatus as such for resolving disputes, no strong central authority that could impose the rule of law upon malefactors and those who broke the peace. True, there was the Emperor and his allies, but at the time, they were too busy expanding the rule of mankind through the heavens to give their full attention to policing the worlds they brought into the fold of civilisation. In these essentially lawless times such an alliance was of great value to both parties.

Such archaisms should have been superseded with the founding of the Imperium, but they were not. Of course, as is the wont of such things, the nature of the relationship has changed over the millennia. The Wolfblades no longer act as simple bodyguards for the Celestarch of Belisarius. These days, that is but one of their duties. Nowadays they act as his confidential agents, the leaders of his house troops and upon occasion, it is said, his personal assassins.

It may be also that they perform another role. Because of their connection with Belisarius, the Space Wolves are one of the few Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes to have maintained a continuous presence on the surface of Terra since the time of the Great Heresy. It is a small presence to be sure, but it is one, in a part of our galaxy where the Astartes are by no means popular and are in some cases forbidden by law. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the longevity of the relationship between the two factions. I do not think we should underestimate the importance of having eyes and ears, and occasionally blades, among the wealthy and influential elites of Terra.

We can take this line of reasoning one step further. The Navigator Houses extend their tentacles everywhere. They are vastly wealthy, hugely influential and extremely adroit at the collection of information. You can imagine the advantages to a Chapter based on the fringes of the Imperium, in having its own agents, at the very centre of this vast web. Of course this is speculation. Even if it were so, no Space Wolf would ever admit to it. They pride themselves on their primitive code of honour.

Lastly, it is worth bearing in mind that such bodyguards are a two-edged sword. Who can predict what would happen to a Celestarch who failed to honour his commitments to provide Navigators to the Wolves. In this one case, I don’t think any of us need be prescient to foresee the outcome.

The advantages to the Wolves are obvious but what do the Navigators get from this agreement. The answer by now should also be obvious. They have a visible symbol of an alliance with one of the oldest and most powerful Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes. A Chapter moreover famed for its disregard for the niceties of Imperial politics. No one doubts that if the Celestarch truly required their aid, they would come. There have been many examples in history of Space Wolf units coming to the aid of Belisarian traders. In the festering cesspit of rivalry, assassination and factional, commercial strife that is Navigator politics, this has been a huge advantage.

The alliance then is a very real one, and valuable to both sides. The question is for how much longer should it be allowed to exist?


Back To The Crusade

My current 40K novel, The Fist of Demetrius, is starting to shape up. I am about 25000 words in. An ominous cloud of intrigue looms over Macharius as he reaches the absolute zenith of his power at the height of the Crusade. The Dark Eldar are moving across the event horizon. Multiple conflicts loom, with the xenos, with ambitious generals and corrupt Imperial politicians. Macharius ,although he does not know it, is about to experience the pivotal event of his life, a confrontation with something that will turn him from the golden reflection of Alexander the Great into the dark, ruthless fanatic we know from the background texts.

Slowly, a bit at a time, a book is coming into being. It’s fun to watch and at the same time frustrating, because writing always happens slower than you want it to. I have all these exciting scenes in my mind. I want them written down. NOW! I want the story rolling along. I want to see how it all works out. And yet it is arriving in the only way stories do, one phrase at a time, over a period of minutes and hours and days and months.

I keep going back and rewriting earlier sections in the light of what has been revealed by later events, working in foreshadowing and even just bits of knowledge I did not have then. All sorts of strange connections emerge. One of Macharius’s adversaries, an enormously powerful Imperial bureacrat was once his tutor.That just came out in conversation so now I have to go back and figure out what that means.

I could just take out the bit of dialogue, of course, but it’s interesting, and it has the appeal of a puzzle, and I have to trust that the character said this for a reason, even if only my subconsciousness knows why at the moment. In part I know it’s a reference to Alexander who was taught by some of the brightest and best of his time, but how in the name of the Emperor did a famous philosopher become a corrupt Imperial administrator?  Still, it makes him a very distinctive character. It makes him different and more real. It gives the villain and the hero a personal connection which is always useful.

So far it’s been a book where my subconsciousness has been running ahead of my plotting, or rather interacting with it. A Rogue Trader walked on stage in one of the earlier chapters and I wondered why the hell I was putting so much effort into describing a character who did not even appear in my outline. I stuck with it though and today I realised that the Rogue Trader might not have been there in the plot synopsis, but a powerful ship was, one that was needed to carry Macharius on a secret mission and, hey, a Rogue Trader could provide that. Even better, the mission took Macharius to a lost world on the fringes of the Crusade and who better to provide guidance than one of these Imperially sanctioned merchant adventurers?

Do these sort of connections always work out? Of course not.

Sometimes they are simply dead ends and mean nothing. Sometimes they just end up lying there on the page, an extra bit of detail that does not contribute anything to the ongoing storyline but makes a character or a place or a situation more real. Orwell once said that it was the unnecessary detail that characterised the work, specifically the descriptions, of Dickens. As with so much Mr Blair wrote, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing at once. I usually try and remove anything that does not advance the story, inform the reader or develop character. It’s the thing writers are always told to do, and in general it is good advise but there are times when sometimes the strangeness of the unneeded detail provides an echo of the very real strangeness of life and that seems to me to be a good time to leave it in. And sometimes that seemingly unnecessary detail actually does provide some insight into the character or the world and at that point it ceases to be unnecessary and becomes just a detail.

And now I am going back to worrying about how Macharius’s tutor became his enemy. I might have worked this out by the time Black Library Live rolls around on Saturday. Maybe I will see you there.

Also I would just like to remind you that Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.

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Two Different Paths

I have been experimenting with writing 2000 words of new fiction every working day since the New Year. This is in addition to outlining, planning, revising and producing new ebooks. It’s led to some interesting (for me, at least) consequences. Right now I am working on two different projects and my methods are about as different as I can possibly imagine.

The first is The Fist of Demetrius, my second Macharius novel for Warhammer 40K. This started off last year as a simple first person narrative and mutated into something else as it progressed. The second project is my sword and sorcery novel The Stealer of Flesh about a monster hunter named Kormak.

The Macharius book is part of a series within a greater series. It fits into Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40000 universe which has an enormous amount of background lore and shared storylines. It tells the tale of the great Imperial hero Lord High Commander Solar Macharius as seen from the point of view of his various subordinates. It needs to be slotted into a background that is already familiar to millions of readers and at the same time reveal some new facets of that mythos.

The Kormak novel is something I am writing for my own amusement. It has grown out of short story I wrote many years ago The Guardian of the Dawn. When I began work on that I had a vague idea that I would develop the world and the series through the writing of it. I would not set down too much background. I would explore the world as I wrote, seeing it through the eyes of the hero as I went, and hopefully, gain some sense of revelation and wonder through the process.

With Fist of Demetrius I am following my usual method of planning everything in outline and then executing the storyline afterwards. The story arc has already been implied from Book One and is generally known from the background of the 40K universe. All I am required to do is flesh it out. There are some technical problems that need to be resolved and some issues of structure that need to be addressed but there will be no great flights of improvisation except in the smaller aspects of the story. One odd thing is the structure of the narrative itself; it has a meta-structure.

As is made clear in the very first line of Book One in the series, Angel of Fire, this is not quite a simple first person narrative. The assembled text is actually documentary evidence for a two part investigation being conducted by the Imperium to consider the canonisation of Macharius as an Imperial Saint and the prosecution of High Inquisitor Drake for heresy and treason. The piece of first person testimony we are reading is actually an autobiographical fragment set down by an Imperial Guard Sergeant by the name of Leo Lemuel who, as becomes clear from his testimony as we read, knew both Macharius and Drake. Leo’s is not the only narrative in the book. There are two conjoined storylines from the point of view of Drake, one consisting of his reports to the Imperium, and the other being a very different set of extracts from his personal journal that make it clear that Drake is a man with his own agenda quite different from that presented in his official reports. Rounding out the book are other pieces of corroborative evidence such as casualty lists and other official documentation.

Obviously the book is a novel. It tells a story and I hope an exciting one, but there is another implied structure here. All of this data is being assembled by someone, and with a very specific purposes in mind. The reader is being placed in the position not only of reading the narrative but of scanning the Imperial reports and reading between their lines. This is a deployment of  multiple unreliable narrators as they are known in the trade. The narrative is made doubly ambiguous because we know that a case for prosecution is being presented here within the assembled documents. I hope also it allows for the presentation of multiple, partially contradictory points of view of Macharius and adds an air of historical realism to the whole proceeding.

In Book Two this is going to be developed. There will be more reports from eye-witnesses including Leo and Drake but also some from the point of view of an Imperial Assassin, a very dangerous woman called, perhaps, Anna, who we first encountered in Angel of Fire. The other point of view is that of an as yet un-named Dark Eldar. This is quite a rare thing to tackle in the 40K universe. When I started working on the Black Library fiction line many, many years ago there was an actual proscription against telling stories from the point of view of non-human characters because they were simply too alien to be handled realistically. I plan on getting round this in Fist of Demetrius by the use of a simple device which fits into the established background of the series. What we will be seeing are more Imperial records, this time transcriptions from Dark Eldar memory crystals by an Imperial Psyker who has since gone mad. We will get the Dark Eldar point of view as mediated through the mind of a loyal Imperial citizen. I like this idea and I think it is something that the book really needs since the Dark Eldar provide the main opposition in the book and I would at least like to try and show their side of things. Obviously all of this is will require precise plotting and a lot of thought. The case for the prosecution continues to unfold as the story does.

At the same time as I am preparing all this, I am writing the Kormak novel in an utterly different fashion, by winging it. This book started out as a short story, The Stealer of Flesh, which grew into a novella. By the time I had finished it, I realised that it was actually the climax of a series of stories about the hunt for a body-switching demon, so I went back and wrote the first story in the sequence, Shelter from the Storm, in which the demon lord is freed and the chase begins. Since then I have written another story in the sequence, The Wolves of War, set in a balkanised land where some werewolves are doing a bit of ethnic cleansing.

Right now I am at work on the fourth story, tentatively titled Drinker of Blood which opens up with Kormak riding across a icy lake full of frozen bodies in the company of a female Old One who seems to be a cross between a vampire and a Japanese fox spirit. The astonishing thing (for me at least) about all of these stories is that I usually have no idea what they are going to be about when I start them. Sometimes I have an image in mind, like the frozen lake, or a vague idea such as ethnic cleansing werewolves or the idea that this is the story in which a demon is going to be freed. I know where the overall storyline is going because I have already written the last story in the sequence and I know all of these stories are going to have to build on one another and get me to that destination. And that is all I know.

In the end I want to release the whole collection as a book. I also know that each story has to be readable as a standalone work.  For a writer such as myself who believes in planning this is something of a departure. There is a tremendous amount of freedom with all the possibilities both for success and failure that brings. It’s been a very long time since I wrote so many short stories one after the other, and I find I am enjoying it. To add to the fun I am revising Mask of the Necromancer, another Kormak book at the same time and I have to keep rewriting it as new bits of information are revealed.

It’s all a tremendous challenge and a lot of fun. Hopefully we’ll see some of the fruits of it in the not too distant future.