The Black Pilgrims by Guy Haley. A Black Templars Terminators short story, originally published by The Black Library, September 2014. Approx. 15 pages.
Out of the recent offerings of The Black Library's most recent short story theme, Space Marine Terminators, The Black Pilgrims most appealed to me for two reasons: firstly, it is penned by that whirling writing dervish, Guy Haley (who is churning out quality pages at a frighteningly prolific rate), and also, because it focuses on the Black Templars. What fan of a setting such as the Warhammer 40,000 universe could resist them? The Black Templars are an absolutely perfect symbol of a brutal, belligerent dogmatic regime; take the Lord's Knights and don them in the darkest black.
Essentially, Deus Vult 40,000.
Well, Black Templars fans, rejoice. This badass Chapter finds itself in Haley's capable hands. I was excited about the news that he has a Templars novel coming out in 2015, and then I took a moment and realized that he had already put out an impressive array of stories featuring them so far (got a lot of catching up to do).
Anyway, without further adieu, on to The Black Pilgrims....
After three centuries of being deemed lost, the Veritas Diras has reappeared from the warp. Considering the length of its absence, it is assumed that all the pilgrims aboard this cathedral ship have been lost. It falls to Castellan Adelard and his Templar sword-brothers to verify, and to ensure that this most holy ark does not fall from the Emperor's Light.
What this most Holy contingent finds is, of course, much more horrifying. There's no reason to really get into it now. This is a very quick little tale, and the enemy rears its head soon enough. The great thing is not in who the enemy is, but how Haley presents them. Haley is a highly logical and analytical author, so he focuses heavily on behavioral nuances, to a highly satisfactory result.
Now, the two areas in which Haley usually excels are in scene-building (especially planet-building), and bringing a rich vocabulary to bear. The Black Pilgrims is no exception. The action does not take place planetside, obviously. But the description we are given of the appearance and interior of a cathedral ship are excellent. The longtime 40K is familiar with the basic appearance of such a ship, that reader simply needs the details to be accurate. The way Haley describes it makes it welcoming to a new reader as well, allowing a 40K tyro to walk away saying "a cathedral ship fashioned out of an asteroid with gargoyle-shaped cannons? Wow, that's pretty sweet."
As for vocabulary, that is here too. This isn't a story where big words are used to impress, it is one where they are simply used well. Sometimes it is nice for a story to send you to the dictionary. Here, in the second paragraph alone, we find "marmoreal" and "albedo".
One last note of merit. Haley always writes good fight scenes, but the primary battle here is done exceptionally well. The blow by blow fight choreography is vivid and effective, and consideration is taken for the fact that some of the Templars go into battle using shield and melee weapon combinations. Also, Haley stresses the functional mechanics of the power armor, focusing on how it accentuates or stabilizes certain actions. This is important because, well, if the suit of armor itself is a central part of the theme, playing up its capabilities is part of the homework assignment.
As for characters, we get a strong central protagonist in Adelard. His sword brothers are realized enough to satisfy their functions and show a diverse array of weaponry. This is perfectly fine considering the length of of the story. The real question is whether or not the mentality of the Black Templars has been properly conveyed. On that note, Haley recently shared his perspective on Templar psychology here. Early on in this story, you don't notice anything in particular, since the Astartes are all business on the ingress. However, once they face their foe, the bombastic verbal fury is pretty spot-on.
All in all, what you have in The Black Pilgrims is one of the more enjoyable WH40K shorts I have read in a while. Slightly jarring is an extremely abrupt ending. Not bad, or incomplete, I mean once one thing is done, the whole story jerks to a complete stop. Still a solid yarn, though.
Here's what it is:
The Holy Knights of Terra face off against and enemy which is a contorted, mocking abomination of all that they hold divine and true. A most sanctified purge ensues.
I like how they credit this: icon by Kevin Chin. Everything I see by Chin I love, and this piece is no different. Why Games Workshop doesn't do much merchandising outside of the tabletop pieces, like shirts, pins, etc., is completely beyond me. Great detailing on this sword icon.
Cover Final Score: