February 22, 2021
A man wakes up to discover he has been extensively worked up. As he settles into escape mode, we learn who he is, and who has captured him.
As we gear up to read the latest Uriel Ventris novel, I have been on the lookout for short stories. After Graham McNeill nonchalantly slid “The Death of Uriel Ventris” into the Warriors and Warlords anthology last year, one has to be vigilant. “The Death of Uriel Ventris” was such a beautiful, poignant story, I doubted McNeill could top it. Turns out, he absolutely can. “The Labyrinth of Lost Souls” hit me in the feelers in an entirely different way. And also poses an interesting idea, which I will indicate with spoiler warning.
A Rude Awakening
We know, from previous tales, that the primaris upgrade is not simple. In fact, it’s brutal AF, and involves pretty much unmaking an Astartes from tip to toe. Oddly “The Death of Uriel Ventris” painted this as a mentally beautiful and poignant journey, with the man figuratively saying goodbye to his old life to embrace the new. “The Labyrinth of Lost Souls” disabuses us of the notion that one merely dies and comes back.
Our nameless space marine awakens to discover his entire body has been stitched back together. The pain coursing through his body is immense. He has no memory or understanding of where he is. The logical conclusion is that he has been captured and tortured. Obviously we know this man has undergone the rubricon, and we can guess as to his identity, but the terror and rage is real. As he tears his way through the titular labyrinth of lost souls, watching this creature of death on a rampage is both exhilarating AND scary.
It is apparent, from early on, that the Belisarian Furnace has triggered. The pain and stress to the marine’s body was so great that the furnace interpreted it as being near death. What is interesting though is how completely mad it drives the marine. The Belisarian Furnace is, arguably, one of the most interesting additions to the primaris. We’ve seen it in action before, as that last adrenal kick to help a marine finish his duty.
Watching this proud warrior unable to interpret data, faces, and words in his furnace haze though has damn interesting implications. He is, at that point, a scant step away from being a berserker—one of Khârn’s defining characteristics is his inability to sense friend from foe. The Blood God cares not from where the blood flows, so long as it flows. Apparently, the Furnace also subscribes to this notion. This is one of those things that is clearly thrown in for dramatic purposes but has very concerning implications.
In all honestly, this story definitely falls under “fan service.” I doubt it’ll be required pre-The Swords of Calth reading, but that’s not the point. The point is that Graham McNeill is back. He spent a lot of time in the Heresy and AoS world in the past few years. It’s nice to see that he not only has a soft spot still for his 40k marines, but that he hasn’t lost his character-driven touch. Do yourself a favor and pick up “The Labyrinth of Lost Souls.”