Loken and the Depths of Suffering

Welcome, 40K fans, to a series of articles I am writing about some of the deeper aspects of Warhammer 40,000.

These articles are a thought exercise, and by writing them I hope to improve my thinking about 40K and its fiction (and maybe about much more). Topics in this series will be wide-ranging and will not shy away from moral or philosophical issues that some may consider sensitive or even controversial. I would rather risk the conversation, so while you or I may not agree, I look forward to hearing why. Consider yourself warned for lore spoilers as well. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles on gaming in 40K!

Video/Audio version available here!

In the last entry in this series, we spent a lot of time building the framework for the betrayal on a meta scale, then brought it down to Loken on a legion level. Now that the hammer of betrayal has fallen at Istvaan III, we will look a little bit more at Loken on a personal level, because it is at this point that he begins acting more as an individual and less like a cog in a legion-level machine.

Istvaan III and The Confrontation With Abaddon

Istvaan III was truly where it all came crashing down. Loken was able to see and listen to the words of his trusted friend, Saul Tarvitz, who figured out the reason for the strange deployment that no-one had sought to question. Horus was going to kill all of those who stayed loyal to the Emperor over himself. As unbelievable as the concept was to Horus’ still-loyal sons, Loken could no longer ignore the evidence of his own eyes as he saw the virus bombs and the bombardment begin. 

Months of war follow, and it leads to a final confrontation between the Mournival’s members; two loyal sons, two traitors. After all the fighting over the last three months, Loken finally gets to confront the face of one of his closest friends-turned-foes. Calling his foe ‘Betrayer,’ Loken finally gets to confront a mirror of his father. In front of him as his enemy was one who was supposed to be his close brother and ally, and who before then had been almost a legendary figure of admiration for Loken. Abaddon’s taunts before their duel twist the knife even further.

“I envy you this, Loken,’ continued Abaddon. ‘To you the galaxy must seem so simple. So long as there’s someone you can call enemy you’ll fight to the death and think you are right.’

‘I know I am right, Ezekyle!’ shouted Loken. ‘How can this be anything but wrong…? What has happened to you, Abaddon, to turn you into this?’

Galaxy In Flames (381 – 383).

This passage does a lot to show how Loken is clinging to the idea of Abaddon as he had idolized him to be instead of accepting the Abaddon in front of him. Abaddon made the choice to descend into betrayal willingly, dazzled by the lies of his father and of chaos but still staying true to his own desires that obviously mattered more to him than his oaths. Loken, holding on to a memory of a loyal legion, thinks that something had to have changed Abaddon to be this way, instead of facing the truth that Abaddon was this way all along. In this way (like in many others) Abaddon is acting as a proxy for Horus. All of Loken’s thinking and discussions with Sindermann in his attempts to develop himself allowed him to see enough of the corruption of the legion and not accept it, as evidenced by his assertion of knowing what was happening was wrong. Despite that, even as Loken grew, it forced him apart from those who had no interest in growing. Abaddon summarizes this gap in the following line from the same passage.

‘Winning is survival, Loken. You die, you lose, and nothing you ever believed ever meant anything. I live, I win, and you might as well have never existed. Victory, Loken. It’s the only thing in the galaxy that means anything. You should have spent more time being a soldier, maybe then you would have ended up on the winning side.’

Loken held up his sword, trying to gauge Abaddon’s movements. ‘There is always time to decide who wins.’ 

Galaxy In Flames (381 – 383).

There it is.  The gap between Loken and his peers. ‘You should have spent more time being a soldier.’ Loken actually took the time to develop himself, and it prepared him to say ‘no’ to something wrong, even when it came from people he admired. Abaddon eventually hammers his point home with a power fist to Loken’s chest. Loken was strong enough to see wrong when it presented itself and to reject it. Doing so cost him his father, his friends, his brothers (either in death or from betrayal), and eventually his sanity as the very foundation of his existence – the brotherhood and unity of the Legion – rejected him in turn. Loken’s inner temple of peace finally loses the last bits of integrity as Abaddon leaves him to be crushed by the cathedral of Istvaan III crashing down around them. Loken is both literally and figuratively left to die in the rubble of his good intentions.

A Contemporary Comparison

Coming apart at the seams

At the risk of taking this out of the grimdark for a moment, I want to make a comparison to this journey from a relatable perspective. This layout of events probably reminds you of someone you know. It might even remind you of you. Imagine a person living as comfortable a life as possible with their partner or trusted business companion. This is a fairly optimistic, trusting, and fundamentally naive person. It’s the type of person who looks at tragedy and betrayal and says “It’ll never happen to me.”

Suddenly, they find out that their partner or friend betrayed them in a serious way. Maybe it was an affair. Maybe it was an abuse of body and/or the mind. Maybe it was a bad business deal. All of a sudden this person is faced with incredible loss, and they scramble to keep the pieces together until the dust finally settles. This person who they trusted uses any means necessary to come out of the separation on top. Maybe this looks like a divorce, and this person is sitting on the ashes of the relationship that defined their life’s purpose. Perhaps this comes with forced separation from their children, homes, place of employment, or lifelong savings. Perhaps it is losing a family business or the product of their own hands due to lies and fine-print thievery. 

This experience changes them forever. The optimism and the naivete are gone, replaced by mistrust, cynicism, and bitterness. It affects every aspect of their lives, and they look at everyone – even other close friends – as people who may hurt them. Everything reminds them of what they have lost. They may descend into self-destructive tendencies, abandoning or rejecting people who seek to help or comfort them. Their life revolves around their damage. Does this sound familiar?

Loken and the Beast

For many fans of the Heresy, that was the point where we truly thought Loken was dead. It had been years since he had been featured in a story, and we had no reason to believe that anyone had survived the betrayal at Istvaan III. Then, years later, we find out that Loken lived through what happened to him there, though to call it a survival seems generous. 

The story that unfolds sees Nathaniel Garro, now working for Malcador the Sigillite to find warriors for a mysterious purpose, taking a small group of warriors to find another lost soul. The Sigillite, ever cryptic, doesn’t tell Garro much about what he can expect when he returns to Istvaan III. Seeking a warrior, Garro finds the Beast instead. Consumed by madness, grief, and loss, the Beast attacks those who come to rescue him. 

The Beast is what Loken became as he was forced to live and relive the consequences of the betrayal. It is also more complicated than simply saying that something bad happened to him and he went crazy. That’s too simplistic. Loken, like any person building themselves up from the ashes of a former life, isn’t just thinking about the wrongs that happened to him (which isn’t an insignificant amount of bad). He is also thinking about all the ways that he could have stopped it, but naively ignored the warning signs by saying “it would never happen.” The betrayal, the guilt of surviving, and being aware of all the mistakes he made that allowed the betrayal to happen have taken him to a dark place. Surrounded by reminders of his loss, the Beast lashes out at the world around him, even at former friends, in his grief and loss. Sound familiar? Leave it to Warhammer to find a suitably dark way to weaponize someone’s damage.

Garro is able to reach Loken from the perspective of another who survived the betrayal and came out on the other side, showing Loken purpose and a hope for a future. I want to point out, however, that this is framed in a way that makes Loken the one who allows himself to be saved instead of him being ‘rescued’ by an outside source. This is an important point to make because we operate in the same way. Astartes are more human than they like to admit, and just like a baseline mortal, Loken has to desire and make the decision to change in order for it to have any meaning. Even so, it was necessary for him to get out of the place that he lost everything physically before he could get out of the bad mental place he was in. Leaving Istvaan III with Garro was as symbolic a mental journey as it was a physical one. 

This is the beginning of Loken’s recovery, which will require Loken to confront all of the things he’s punished himself for and with during his time as the Beast. We’ll get into that process more in the next article in the series. As one final thing, I want to call back to what Abaddon said to Loken in their duel.

“Winning is survival, Loken. You die, you lose, and nothing you ever believed ever meant anything. I live, I win, and you might as well have never existed. Victory, Loken. It’s the only thing in the galaxy that means anything.”

Abaddon’s words here accidentally set the stage for Loken’s rebuilding of himself. By surviving, he has won an important victory, and as long as he’s alive he can still win in the end. I’d like to leave this somewhat bleak journey with that note to anyone out there who is living as the Beast. By living, your enemies (in whatever form they might take) must acknowledge your victory.

An Ongoing Conversation

If you found this interesting, please check out my page Captain Morgan’s Librarius. You can also check out the content on my new YouTube channel for audio versions of my articles and other 40K videos. These are the spaces where I test these ideas in their first drafts and also talk about all the other parts of the hobby that I enjoy from painting, community, and gaming to all the rest. It’s also the best place to converse with me about this and many other topics in 40K. Likes and shares are appreciated. I hope you enjoyed this week’s read, and I’ll see you again next time!

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About Chris Morgan

40K philosopher, LVO Judge, Chief Librarian of Forge the Narrative, Blood Angel enthusiast extraordinaire, and slayer of traitors, xenos, and heretics; I'd rather be playing 30k right now or neck-deep in a good book. Follow me on my FB page - Captain Morgan's Librarius

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