Monday, July 11, 2022

Stories told by Monsters - Part 5.1 Fabius Bile - The Apothecary will see you now

The following is the eighth entry in a 13-part article series. Click here for an overview and a table of contents with links to the various parts.

Fabius Bile – Striving against stories

Similar to Lukas the Trickster, both of Josh Reynolds’ novels about Fabius Bile, Primogenitor (2016) and Clonelord (2017), offer a multitude of opportunities to exemplify concepts and practices of narrative therapy. Both novels can be seen as exemplifying the powerful hold narrative patterns can have on people, how people strive against binding stories and how they can still be ensnared by them.

To make sense of the plot of the two novels, a more extensive summary of the fictional background of Fabius Bile, the Emperor’s Children and their Primarch Fulgrim is necessary. After that, the plot of both novels will be summarized, after which an analysis with focus on the narrative themes and concepts present throughout both novels is provided.

A note from 2022: Josh Reynolds completed the Fabius Bile-trilogy in 2020 with the release of a third novel: Manflayer. While I have ideas for extending my analysis to this third entry, it's so far not part of the following discussion.

The Emperor’s Children and Chief-Apothecary Fabius Bile

“What do I want, Fabius? I want everything. I want to snuff the stars, and strangle the fates for all that they promised. I want to feel the heat of a dying sun on my face, and to write my story across the skin of a newborn world. I want you to be there, when I reach into the dark and find perfection.” – Kasperos Telmar, “the Radiant King”, warlord of the 12th company of the Emperor’s Children (Primogenitor Lt. Ed., p. 210)

The Third Legion of the Legiones Astartes, the Emperor’s Children, have been a staple of the forces of Chaos since Warhammer 40.000’s first Edition, when the Dark Gods and their servants were introduced for both Warhammer and Warhammer 40.000 in the two Realm of Chaos-books (Realm of Chaos - Slaves to Darkness, 1988; Realm of Chaos - The Lost and the Damned, 1990). Besides the Traitor Legions of the World Eaters, the Death Guard and the Thousand Sons, the Emperor’s Children are the fourth Legion of Chaos Space Marines designed as devotees to a single God of Chaos: Slaanesh, the God of Excess, also known as the Lord of Dark Delights, Prince of Pleasures, She Who Thirsts or The Youngest God.

Where the World Eaters storm into battle to collect worthy skulls for the Blood God’s Skull Throne and the Death Guard spread the “gifts” of the joyous Grandfather of Plagues, the Emperor’s Children use war as a means to stimulate their own stunted senses, the rush of battle and the infliction of pain on others and themselves one of the last ways for them to feel anything at all (Codex: Chaos 2nd Edition, 1996, p. 15). Their trademark unit type are Noise Marines, Chaos Space Marines that are only able to perceive the most extreme of sensations and walk into battle with sonic weapons able to shred tanks with the music of the apocalypse (Codex: Chaos 2nd Edition, 1996, p. 32).

The ranks of the Emperor’s Children count some of the most recognizable and infamous characters of the setting among them, like the immortal soul-thief Lucius the Eternal or the soon-to-be-discussed mad scientist Fabius Bile.

Despite not having as much literature written about them as the Space Wolves have, the Emperor’s Children have nevertheless been explored in great detail since the release of Graham McNeill’s Fulgrim in 2007, the fifth entry of the then-burgeoning Horus Heresy-series. The Third Legion’s fall has since then been chronicled throughout the Heresy-series in several stories as protagonists (Angel Exterminatus, 2012; Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix, 2017; others) and, more often, antagonists (Scorched Earth, 2013; Damnation of Pythos, 2014; The Path of Heaven, 2016; others).

In 2017, Josh Reynolds wrote Fulgrim - The Palatine Phoenix, Fulgrim’s entry to the developing Primarchs-series, a novel-series dedicated to showcase the character of each of the eighteen known Primarchs, usually set before the events of the Heresy. The Emperor’s Children also feature in a host of novels set in the current time-line of Warhammer 40.000 (Xenos, 2001; Wrath of Iron, 2012; Talon of Horus, 2014; Primogenitor, 2016; Lucius - The Faultless Blade, 2017; Clonelord, 2017; others).

Fabius Bile, the protagonist of the two novels that serve as objects for the following analysis, has been around since Warhammer 40.000’s 2nd Edition (Codex: Chaos 2nd Edition, 1996, p. 102). Fabius used to serve his Legion as an Apothecary, a Space Marine combining functions of field medic, medical researcher and, most importantly, overseer and expert for the process of transformation from boys to Space Marines through genetic engineering and organ-implantation. Fabius had the rank of Chief-Apothecary and Lieutenant-Commander of the Third Legion until the splintering of the Legion after the Traitors’ defeat at the Siege of Terra.

Fabius is at once an exception to and the epitome of the Third’s pursuit of excess: while not caring for the hedonistic indulgences the Emperor’s Children are known for, he shows the same lack of inhibition in his scientific pursuits as his brothers do in their craving for new experiences. Whole planetary systems serve as Petri dishes for his experiments on human nature, and he is as much hailed as a genius bending the limits of genetic science as he is feared as a madman creating armies of monsters.

Over the millennia, he has accumulated a host of nick-names: Primogenitor, Clonelord, Manflayer, the Spider, Pater Mutatis and Father of Monsters, to name just a few. He is at once one of the most hated individuals amongst the Chaos Space Marines living in the Eye of Terror and at the same time instrumental in their continuing existence, having provided not a few Legions and war-bands with the genetic means to refresh their dwindling ranks.

Josh Reynolds’ interpretation of Fabius Bile

“I do it all for mankind. A better mankind, one able to easily weather the storm of madness that even now batters down the walls of reality. I may not live to see it flourish, but I will build its foundations on all of our bones if I must.” – Fabius Bile (Primogenitor Lt. Ed., p. 212)

The basic idea of Fabius Bile as Warhammer 40.000’s version of a mad scientist in the vein of Viktor Frankenstein (Shelley, 1818) and Dr. Moreau (Wells, 1896) has since 1996’s Codex Chaos been interpreted and adapted in various ways, from cackling madman to cynical sadist (Codex: Chaos Space Marines 4th Edition, 2007; Fulgrim, 2007; Blood Angels – Red Fury, 2008; Imperfect, 2014; Chirurgeon, 2015; Lucius: The Faultess Blade, 2017).

When Josh Reynolds started working on Primogenitor, the first of a planned trilogy about the infamous Chief-Apothecary, he began as usual with figuring out “what the characters want, why they want it, and how they go about getting it”. In an Author’s Note in the Limited Edition of Primogenitor, Reynolds writes about the process of finding the driving motivation for Fabius’ character:

“I considered sadism [...] but discarded it almost immediately. Sadism is too simplistic. [...] Bile doesn’t enjoy torture. It’s simply a means to an end. But what end? And then, just like that, there it was.

Altruism. A twisted altruism, to be sure. Selflessness bent out of shape and twisted into a sort of selfishness. A desire to improve the lot of others, corrupted into an overriding obsession with perfecting the species. A grand megalomania. [...] Fabius sees himself as ushering in a new age of gods and monsters. An age designed according to his specifications.

In his mind, Bile is a hero – a man forced by circumstances into making hard decisions, for the benefit of the whole. He alone is capable of understanding what must be done in order to preserve humanity – or a variation thereof. And he intends to do so, no matter the cost.”

Reynolds’ Fabius Bile is a driven man, cynical and derisive to most of his peers amongst the Astartes, but showing a curious amount of affectation and gentleness towards his creations. He is a staunch adherent to the old creed of the Great Crusade, the atheistic Imperial Truth. When Fabius’ student Oleander mentions the well-known preference of the Prince of Pleasures for the souls of Aeldari, Fabius chides him: “Do we [know that]? Or is that another of those quaint superstitions that warp-brained fools pass along as if it were scientific fact? [...] It is the height of folly to attribute motive to a random confluence of phenomena, Oleander. Slaanesh is not a who, it is a what, and thus can value nothing, least of all individuals” (Primogenitor Lt. Ed., p. 80). He is the last sane man in an insane galaxy, an atheist in the realm of the gods, “owing allegiance to nothing and no one save his obsession” (Author’s Note to Primogenitor, 2016).

He doesn’t fear death, but is merely frustrated by it: he cheats death on a regular basis by transferring his mind to clones of his body hidden throughout the universe, either by brain-transplantation or by more advanced means as the series progresses, a process he has to undertake more and more often as all of his bodies are still affected by a genetic blight that plagued the first generations of Emperor’s Children.

Fabius’ newest variation of humanity as per Primogenitor, the gland-hounds, are a long shot from the brutish New Men mentioned in the Codices. Elevated in mind and body above regular humans, in combat they are individually no match for a Space Marine, but nevertheless hunt them as their favourite prey; hunting Marines down by working in packs, they are named “gland-hounds” after the Betcher’s Glands they extract from killed Marines as trophies and materials for their “Benefactor”.

The “first of the gland-hounds” is Igori, one of Fabius’ favourite subjects and intended quite literally as “a mother to a new race”, as the gland-hounds, contrary to Space Marines, are able to reproduce naturally.

Reynolds also invented the Consortium, a conclave of renegade Apothecaries that reside upon Fabius’ hidden world Urum in the Eye of Terror. Loosely allied and hailing from all kinds of different backgrounds, they are united in their desire to learn from the Clonelord, each working on their own projects, sharing or stealing knowledge from each other and occasionally accompanying Fabius on his expeditions or going on missions for him.

Pride goeth before the Fall – The story of the Emperor’s Children

‘How like us, to cloak ourselves in the glories of others.’ [Fabius] crossed his arms. ‘A trait passed along from our gene-father. Fulgrim was always so greedy. That was his problem. He swallowed a serpent, and it devoured him from the inside out.’

‘It devoured us all.’ Oleander said.” (*Primogenitor Lt. Ed., *p. 171)

Of all the Space Marine Legions that fell from the Emperors’ light, perhaps no other fell as deep, as hard and as fast as the Third Legion, known as the Emperor’s Children. A Legion striving for perfection in all things, the Third was known amongst the exploration fleets of the Great Crusade as a Legion of poets, philosophers and artists as well as warriors. Wearing royal purple, the Imperial Aquila proudly displayed on their polished armour, the Legion elevated war to an art-form, with hours spent meticulously planning the perfect approach to a given strategic problem and training obsessively to become the best of the best in all the ways of war. Their Primarch, Fulgrim, called the Phoenician or the Palatine Phoenix, was renowned as the most accomplished swordsman of his demigod-brotherhood, a lover of the arts and himself beautiful beyond imagination.

Fulgrim and his Legion walked a tightrope between justified bravado and pompous arrogance, looked down upon by some as vain peacocks and hailed by others as prime examples for everything the Great Crusade and the Legiones Astartes should stand for.

Fabius Bile had served the Legion since the early days of the Great Crusade, even before the re-discovery of their Primarch Fulgrim, and was one of the last survivors of a genetic blight that nearly wiped the Third Legion out upon inception. Fabius worked feverishly to cure the blight (Imperfect, 2014), but was unable to halt its devastating effects until the Legion, reduced to a mere two-hundred warriors, was reunited with their Primarch, whose discovery allowed for the generation of fresh gene-seed. The saving and subsequent re-building of his Legion from the brink of annihilation earned Fulgrim the moniker “the Phoenician” and Fabius the promotion to Chief-Apothecary, but left Fabius as a cynical and distanced individual.

The eventual fall from grace of the Emperor’s Children was indeed a deep one. Fulgrim was deceived by the insidious whispers of a daemon, a splinter of Slaanesh, the Chaos-God of Excess (Fulgrim, 2007). Slowly, the Third’s strive for perfection was twisted into a disturbing parody of itself. Warriors of the Third went to ever increasing lengths to heighten their combat abilities, the Emperors’ bans on tinkering with alien DNA and meddling with the gene-seed of the Space Marines being, with Fulgrim’s permission, more and more ignored by the Third’s Apothecaries. The first to be tasked with these experiments was Chief-Apothecary Fabius, who took with enthusiasm to the opportunity to improve upon the Emperor’s work.

One of the first experiments he undertook to improve the Third’s combat capabilities was connecting the pain receptors of (mostly) volunteering warriors with the parts of the brain responsible for euphoria. This led to altered warriors becoming incredibly tolerant to pain, but also getting addicted to battle as a means of stimulation, craving for more and more extreme experiences. The Third slowly slid down the slope to limitless hedonism and worship of the God of Excess and was one the first to openly join Horus’ rebellion against the Imperium.

On the killing fields of Isstvan V, Fulgrim slew his most beloved brother, the Primarch of the Tenth Legion Ferrus Manus, and he and most of his warriors lost their last shreds of decency in the ecstasy of slaughtering their former allies.

The civil war led the Emperor’s Children ever down the path of debauchery, with Fulgrim shedding his mortal body to become a daemon of Slaanesh (Angel Exterminatus, 2012) and the Third abandoning all pretences of strategic unity at the climatic Siege of Terra to maraud and pillage amongst the civilian population of humanity’s birth-world (Visions of Heresy, 2013, p. 364).

After Horus’ death at the hands of the Emperor, the Traitor Legions abandoned the Siege and fled into the Eye of Terror, the region of space where Warp and Materium meet and converge. Save from Imperial retribution, the Traitor Legions spent centuries waging war upon each other for resources, slaves and the settling of old feuds, losing cohesion and splintering into roaming war-bands. Until the days of the 41st millennium, the remnants of the Third Legion have retained the name “Emperor’s Children” as a mockery of the vows and virtues they abandoned so long ago.

For Fabius Bile, Horus’ rebellion and the ensuing civil war were largely an opportunity to work freely on his self-proclaimed purpose: to improve upon the Emperor’s work in creating the next stage of human evolution and create a New Humanity. He experimented on the genetics of humans, Space Marines and even Primarchs, and after Horus’ death led what would be the last concerted effort of the Emperor’s Children as a Legion: attacking the hideaway of the Sons of Horus and stealing the Warmaster’s body.

He brought Horus’ body to Canticle City and worked feverishly on deciphering the Primarchs’ genetic code, trying to recreate the Emperor’s work and clone his demi-god sons. Fabius even succeeded in cloning the late Horus, but Abaddon, Horus’ former right hand and rising Warmaster of Chaos, led the newly founded Black Legion into a devastating assault on Fabius’ cloning facilities, laying waste to Canticle City and killing Horus’ clone with his own hands (Talon of Horus, 2014).

The Emperor’s Children were scattered and Fabius fled Abaddon’s vengeance and his own Legion’s retribution for his failure, becoming infamous in the centuries to come as a master of cloning and genetic experimentation, with as many warlords of the Eye approaching him for the creation of warriors and monsters as there were those seeking his death.

Summary of Josh Reynolds’ Fabius Bile-novels

The Chief-Apothecary will see you now – Summary of Primogenitor

Primogenitor is set somewhere in the 34st millennium, several centuries after the destruction of Canticle City. It begins with Oleander, a former student of Fabius, returning to his old master on the hidden world of Urum with a proposal from Kasperos Telmar, the current commander of what used to be the 12th company of the Emperor’s Children. Kasperos calls himself nowadays “The Radiant King” and seeks apotheosis to daemonhood. Oleander asks Fabius for help in raiding Lugganath, an Aeldari Craftworld, for which he offers Fabius access to rare materials available for plunder during the raid. Despite him and Oleander not having parted on good terms, Fabius accepts Oleanders offer and accompanies him together with a few members of the Consortium: his right-hand man Arrian, the silent Tzimiskes, the captive daemonologist Saqqara as well as Fabius’ favourite creation Igori, her gland-hounds and a small army of Fabius’ experiments.

They first travel on Fabius’ spaceship, the Vesalius, to the world Sublime, intending to capture an Aeldari corsair to use as a guide to the Craftworld. During the attempt at abduction, a group of Aeldari Harlequins attacks the group and the reader learns that Oleander is secretly working together with them. After evading the Harlequins and extracting the needed knowledge from the captured corsair, Fabius’ group meets “the Radiant” on his flagship. Oleander admits to Fabius that he didn’t seek Fabius out on orders of the Radiant, but by his own initiative. Fabius nevertheless agrees to pretend that he came to the Radiant on his own behalf, and offers the Radiant help in raiding the Craftworld the Radiant desires in exchange for the opportunity to plunder certain materials. The Radiant accepts gladly, but insists on punishing Oleander for leaving without permission; Fabius saves Oleander from being beaten to death. Oleander again meets up with the Harlequins, and it is revealed that both parties want the Radiant dead and Fabius in command of the 12th company.

During the raid on the Craftworld, the Harlequins attack the Radiant during his transformation into a daemon and destroy him. When Fabius reaches the Aeldari shrine he wants to plunder, the Harlequins show him a barrage of possible futures, all either ending with him taking command of the Third Legion or dying. Later, the Harlequins try to assassinate Oleander and Tzimiskes sacrifices himself to save him. The Harlequins and Oleander reveal their intent for Fabius to take back command of the Third Legion and rebuild it. Fabius is tempted, but refuses: he can allow no distraction from his great work of creating a New Humanity. The group fights off the enraged Harlequins, leave Oleander on the Craftworld and retreat with the Radiant’s flagship, their spoils of war and parts of the 12th company.

Until my work is done - Summary of Clonelord

At the start of the second novel, set an unspecified number of decades after the end of Primogenitor, Fabius is in the process of reanimation, troubled by dreams of the past and possibly visions of the future. He awakes to an attempt at mutiny from the members of the 12th company that he had picked up in the wake of the Radiant’s death and the aborted raid on the Craftworld. After Fabius is successfully resurrected into a fresh body, the mutiny is quickly stricken down and the mutineers brought back in line. An aged Igori is still at the head of the gland-hounds, who have multiplied in number after several generations. Present besides Arrian and Saqqara are two other members of the Consortium, filling the empty places left by Oleander and Tzimiskes, Skalagrim “the twice-damned” and Khorag, a worshipper of the Plague God, as well as some notable members of the 12th company like the female champion Savona and the death-seeking Ancient Diomat.

While exploring the ruins of another Craftworld, Fabius and company again get ambushed by the Harlequins. They only escape thanks to the intervention of ships of the Third Legion led by Flavius Alkenex. Alkenex was sent by Lord-Commander Eidolon to bring Fabius to Eidolon’s base in the ruins of Canticle City, the place where Fabius had tried to clone the Primarchs.

After arriving there, Eidolon reveals to Fabius that Alkenex knows the location of a storage of clean, uncorrupted Third Legion gene-seed thought lost since the Great Crusade. Eidolon wants Fabius to retrieve the gene-seed and help rebuild the Third Legion with it. Despite serious concerns, Fabius is not willing to let the opportunity to work on pure gene-seed pass and agrees to retrieve it together with Alkenex.

While exploring the ruins of his former labs, quite possibly being led by the Harlequins or some other shadowy agency, Fabius discovers the remnants of his Primarch-project – as well as a healthy, fully functioning, infant clone of Fulgrim. After contemplating to destroy it, he hides the clone from everybody else on the Vesalius and begins their journey for the gene-seed. During the journey, the clone quickly grows to a young, seemingly uncorrupted Fulgrim, with Fabius teaching him about the fall and state of the original Fulgrim and his Legion. The clone vows to never repeat those mistakes and become the Fulgrim that the original could have been. He swiftly grows in intellect and capability and, unbeknownst to Fabius, starts to install himself as the leader of the creatures living in the underbelly of the Vesalius. Alkenex and his warriors scheme to take out Fabius for good and take over his ship as soon as they have acquired the gene-seed.

They arrive at the world of Solemnace, an artificial world created by the ancient race of the Necrons. Fabius and a few others make planetfall to find the storage, while Alkenex and Arrian stay on the Vesalius. Igori secretly gets tasked by Fabius to watch out for Fulgrim’s clone. The members of the landing party get attacked by Necron-constructs and discover that the whole planet is a giant vault containing the collection of Trazyn the Infinite, a Necron trying to archive the history of the universe itself. Trazyn wants to take Fabius – or, rather, a clone of him – as a unique piece for his collection, offering the gene-seed in exchange.

On the Vesalius, Alkenex and his warriors make their move to take over the ship, trusting for the warriors in Fabius’ landing party to kill him and take the gene-seed for themselves. Fulgrim’s clone convinces Igori to let him lead the gland-hounds and the creatures of the Vesalius in defence of the ship. In the ensuing bloodshed, Alkenex and his warriors don’t stand a chance against the fully grown Fulgrim, but Igori gets seriously injured. Ignorant of these events, Fabius offers Trazyn a chance to collect some of the Harlequins that still trail Fabius if Trazyn transports him back to his ship. After doing so, Fabius witnesses the slaughter on his bridge, Igori close to death and Fulgrim’s clone at the head of an army, Alkenex and his warriors bowing their knees to their re-born Primarch. Fabius realizes that he has allowed himself and his creations to again be slaved to the whims of a Primarch. He tells Trazyn to take the confused and shocked clone of Fulgrim as well as Alkenex and his warriors, instead of the agreed upon clone of Fabius, for his collection. In the end, a heart-broken Fabius gets visited by the leader of the Harlequins, who offers him one last chance for an end to his story: a map of the route to Commorragh, the hidden city of the Drukhari.

Continue with 5.2 Divine Rebellion

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