Saturday, 21 August 2021

Trailing Corposant 5 - Shell Game



Book Seven: Legion

The Alphas in (rough*) Publication Order 

Tracing the Alpha Legion through the Heresy is, fittingly, very difficult indeed. My search for sources may be even more flawed than usual in this one so I am open to corrections. 

The Alphas appear as secondary elements, and very often as antagonists in many books. ‘Praetorian of Dorn’ has a lot on them, but they are almost never the main characters or central protagonists.

 So far as I can tell, there are only two books specifically about the Alpha Legion, one at the very start; Dan Abnetts ‘Legion’, and right at the end, Mike Brooks Primarch book ‘Alpharius, Head of the Hydra’. Pleasingly, their presence in the sources is a lot like their presence in the history, split apart into a thousand plots before cohering at the end. 

Pleasing in a metatextual sense anyway. In a straightforward story sense, not so much. 




March 2008 – Legion. Heresy Novel by Dan Abnett. A few years pre-Heresy. The Alphas are sneaking around being sneaky as the Imperium’s C.I.A when some questionable alien conspirators give them info about the upcoming Heresy and tell them the only way to fully defeat Chaos and save all life, is to make sure Horus wins and Humanity Dies. The Alphas, or some of them, buy this, or seem to, and they become pre-emptive allies of Horus. Dan Abnett has decided Perpetuals exist. I hope you like Perpetuals because as far as he is concerned the Horus Heresy Series is now the Perpetuals Series. 

May 2011 - The Face of Treachery. Short Story by Gav Thorpe in 'Age of Darkness'. Post Istvaan V and some raven Guard have come to try to rescue Corax from the surface. The Alphas intend to infiltrate the Raven guard for Reasons. 

December 2011 – Deliverance Lost. Novel by Gav Thorpe. More infiltrating the Ravens and ruining Coraxs’ day. 

May 2012 – The Serpent Beneath. Novella by Rob Sanders collected in 'The Primarchs'. “Omegon” runs a super-even-more-secret black ops mission against his own side to destroy a special station which is keeping the White Scars in the dark. 

August 2012 - Fear to Tread. Novel by James Swallow. A Blood Angels book but we get a nice glimpse of the Alphas from another legions perspective. They infiltrate and destroy an Ork empire, breking them into fragments and driving them to the Blood Angles to be wiped out. They also irritate the BA by telling them nothing and using them as an ork lawnmower. 

October 2013 – Scars. Novel by Chris Wright. The White Scars don’t actually know they were fighting the Alpha Legion, until they do. The Scars make a break for it. 

October 2013 – Unremembered Empire. Novel by Dan Abnett. Face-swapped Alphas have a go at killing Robute and make a pretty decent show of it. 

Jan 2014 - Hunters Moon. Audio drama by Guy Haley. What happened to the Space Wolves sent to watch Alpharius? Nothing good, hers a peek. This is a pretty good story about some fishermen finding a crashed space-ship and rescuing the Space Wolf they find inside. 

March 2014 - Wolfs Claw. Audio Drama by Chris Wraight. The Alphas jump the Wolves after Prospero and have them bottled up in a nebula. Russ feels sad. Bjorn gets a hand. 

November 2014 - The Seventh Serpent. Novella by Graham McNeil. One of the Twins cosplays rebel leader Meduson to trick some loyalists into assassinating ‘Alpharius’, who turns out to be a loyalist Alpha Legion commander. I am still not sure if this made any sense. 

October 2015 - Wolf King. Novella by Chris Wraight. The wolves being chased by the Alphas in the Alaxxes Nebula. 

August 2016 - Praetorian of Dorn. Novel by John French. Dorn vs Alpharius. Kind of a big deal. More below. 

July 2017 – Tallarn. Novel by John French, but the stories which make it up date from earlier, around 2015. The Alphas have their sneaky business interrupted by Pertuabo wrecking the planet they are on, then do more sneaky business in the wasteland left behind.

May 2018 – Wolfsbane. Novel by Guy Haley. They are barely in this but do play a part in the battle of Yarant, which leads on from these events. 

August 2018 - Slaves to Darkness. Novel by John French. Horus gets more chaos on/in him & gathers team bad guy. Omegon (or Alpharius) turns up to let him know the alphas are completely fucked up after the events of ‘Praetorian of Dorn’. 

February 2019 - First Legion. A short by Chris Wraight in 'Scions of the Emperor'. The Alphas meet the First, described in the last post from the DA perspective and to be described again in the Alpharius Primarch Book. 

October 2019 - The First Wall. I *think* there are Alpha infiltrators in this and their plotline has not been resolved... 

April 2021 - Alpharius, Head of the Hydra. Mike Brooks please fix this shit. Ties everything together almost neatly.



The important thing about the shell-game is that it's a scam


Don’t Let Those Schemes Stay Dreams… 

To rationalise all those fragmentary bits and pieces, lets look at the Alpha Legions actual plans in the Heresy and how they turned out. 


Plan A - Make Sure Horus Wins 

The Cabal want the Alpha Legion to side with Horus ahead of time as part of a plot to destroy Chaos. 

Like with everything the Alphas do, its hard to tell if they are in it to win it, or in it to seem to win it while actually making sure it fails. Its also impossible to really know which of the twins is which when. There is likely an authors intent for each story but that means little in the overall drama. Suffice to say, one twin is probably still loyal to the Emperor and one is probably working against him to a degree. 

Result - Massive, massive, massive fail. 

Horus does not win and the Emperor barely survives. Whatever anyone intended it’s unlikely it was this. 



Plan B – Gene-Stealers! 

Post Istvaan, Corax goes crying to Dad and, as a son he actually likes, will receive hyper-special gene tech to help rebuild his Legion. The Alphas know this and want that tech! With brain-eating, false faces, albums by The Joy Division and copies of Neil Gaimans ‘Sandman’,  they infiltrate the Raven Guard! 

Result - Likely partial success. 

Despite the usual clusterfuck the Alphas seem to get their hands on something, though it may already have been corrupted by their arch-foes, the Alpha Legion. At least Corax doesn’t have it and can’t rebuild his Legion now. 



Plan C – Trick the Scars! 

After wrecking the Ork Empire on Ullanor, Horus sends Jaghati to chase down the survivors. This he happily does, tracking them to Chondax where the Scars have a fine old time racing about killing Orks and leaving their emails on out-of-office auto-reply. 

What they don’t know is that as well as fighting Orks they are also fighting the Alpha Legion who have been tasked with boxing them in, making sure they receive no news and hopefully aiding Horus in ultimately turning them to his side. 

Result – Failure. 

Significant parts of the Legion either knowingly, or subverted by one of the Twins against the other, fuck this up by destroying special hyper-tech that keeps Chondax in the dark, explicitly attacking the Scars in Chondax itself and by turning up in force long enough to make sure they hear both messages, the false one from Horus, and the true one from Dorn. Jaghatai investigates a bit and eventually is one of the few Legions to make it to Terra and actually stick there.



Plan D.1 – Get Russ to Wreck Prospero! 

The Emperor has given orders to Russ to go and arrest Magnus for being weird. Get those orders and shift a comma or whatever so instead of reading “get Magnus”, they read “get Magnus ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)”. 

Result – Success 

Not only is Russ really easy to manipulate into taking the hardest possible line against Magnus, but he even fucks up the final execution, sending Magnus and his Legion right into the arms of Tzeentch. 


Plan D.2 - Jump the Wolves after Prospero! 

Ok Russ should be pretty fucked up after Prospero. The idiot has outlived his usefulness, go and jump him on the way home and take him out. 

Result – failure (probably). 

Russ escapes into a Nebulae, meets some who-the-fuck-knows Dark Angels, calls Jaghatai for help and is ignored and eventually gets away possibly partially due to complex webs of infiltration on one of his ships. A clusterfuck. 



Plan E - Stop Perty pulling a ‘Molech’ 

Pertuabo bio-nukes Tallarn and races around doing armoured warfare in the resulting hellscape while secretly looking for a demon-gate. Stop Pertuabo finding that big ring of stone! No super-powers for Perty! 

Result – Success pretty much. 

It’s not clear if this was the Alphas original mission, if they wanted the Demon Gate themselves or if they were just generally up to sneaky business. They seemed to have had plans for Tallarn before Perty even arrived. Nevertheless they bollock up his schemes enough that orders from Horus arrive jusssst before he can get his hands on Godpowers. 



Plan… F? - Kill Robute?! 

He he heee, lets wear the faces of dead Ultramarines from Calth, infiltrate Ultramar and kill Guilliman, hee hee hee.  

Its not clear what if any relationship this scheme has to anything else the Alphas are up to, or if the Chaos powers even want Guilliman dead at this point as he is a main thing drawing forces to the Eastern Rim and away from Terra, but they have a go anyway, who even cares at this point? 

Result – Fail. 

They give it a good effort but even unarmoured and unaware Guilliman royally wrecks their shit. They got close though! 



Plan G – Assassinate… Alpharius? What? 

In McNeills ‘Seventh Serpent’ one of the twins, presumably Alpharius.., sets up McNeils saturday-morning-cartoon good guys to assassinate.. Alpharius. The Alpharius they assassinate is actually an Alpha still loyal to the throne. 

Result – Success? 



Plan H - Invade the Sol System! 

Alpharius (probably) has a super-secret long-prepared extra-clever multi-layered scheme to provoke and baffle Rogal Dorn before grabbing Pluto and opening the Sol system to the traitors. 

As usual, there are multiple reads on this. It may be that this is an actually-real plan to take Pluto, or, it may be an even more subtle scheme to simply meet with Dorn and persuade him of… something


If the plan was to take Pluto, it failed. Alpharius is a soudcloud rapper who quotes Machiavelli and Dorn is the nondescript uncle who always wins at bridge. Dorn rumbles the Pluto scheme and pincers the Alpha Legion when they are extended. The Alphas main forces are tabled by turn five and they are no longer a major military threat. 

If the plan was to get Dorn to come to Pluto so they could have a chat, then A; that’s fucking stupid, and B; it still fails as Dorn just kills Alpharius in mid-monologue. 

This is probably an actual Primarch death. We then cut to Omegon out in space. If ‘siding with Horus’ was ever part of a long-term scheme, it isn’t now. 



Plan I – Gather Intel on Dorns Defences 

A twin turns up in ‘Slaves to Darkness’ to present Horus with a complete plan of the Sol Systems defences and then strongly indicates that they are done with the Heresy. 

Result – Success. 

Well Horus does take the Sol System, and pretty quickly too. 


Plan J - Kill the Wolves and Ravens at Yarant 

After his failed assassination/enlightenment attempt on Horus in ‘Vengeful Spirit’, Russ is badly wounded and chased by whoever the Warmaster can spare. He ends up in the Yarant system where good-old Corax arrives to help out. At least some of the Traitor forces are Alpha Legion though they are not in command. 

Result – Fail. 

I think as of current lore this battle is still in progress but since both Wolves and Ravens still exist in M41 we can assume they escape somehow. 



Plan A-PLUS! Be the Emperors ‘Knife In The Dark’ 

Yes there was a plan before plan A! At the start of the Great Crusade E-Dawg recovers Alpharius, keeps him secret and tells him to just go out and do pro-Imperial black-ops shit try to be useful you know? Secret missions, that kind of thing.. 

Result – Suc…. FAIL. 

Alpharius is pretty great at this job, but then he finds his mystery twin Omegon on a planet somewhere, doesn’t tell anyone, and then we loop back around to their encounter with the Cabal. 

Dan Abnetts Bad Ideas 

The Alphas are wonderful Polyfilla for any heresy writer. They can fill any gap in any story, provide motivation, add a bit of spicy danger and deception. They work reasonably well when added to things. 

The central axis of the decisions they are actually seen to make are… just stupid. 

There is no way you can make the Alphas agreement with the Cabal make any sense. No matter how good that book is, the choice is dense, Its like the head of the CIA being scammed by an email from a Nigerian Prince. 

I can see how it illuminates character and is yet another Heresy example of the whatever-it-takes paradox; If you make a sneaky sociopath to do whatever-it-takes in pursuit of destroying chaos and they decide that whatever it takes involves the destruction of humanity then that’s a sort of interesting story. 

It would be almost good if an Alpharius came to this decision on their own, if though being intelligent, investigating, uncovering secrets, history and motivation, they worked out the truth about chaos, even predicted the Heresy, exactly the kind of thing they are meant to do, and then made an unexpected choice, truly putting the final aim above the means, but the fact that they got barnumed by a bunch of Xenos is daft. 

And again in ‘Praetorian of Dorn’ – another plan, stupid at its core, executed with genius. 

Lack of any guaranteed stability of identity means alpha legion stories lack meaning, or that they are all the same story of a self-causing, self-resolving problem. 

You think Tzeentch would like the Alphas, but Nurgle is more likely. The sum total of all their intelligence, perception and ambition is a flat zero – a total paradox. They nullify themselves time and again. 

It’s largely Dan Abnett’s Fault. 

He wrote a book, good in its elements, engaging in its mood and plot reveals, but its core it was built on poor foundations and those foundations play out again and again throughout the Heresy. The tics and tricks of the Alpha Legion infinite-plot-bucket proliferate and grow. More schemes within schemes, more is-it-a-primarch shell games. By the time we get to the other end of the Hydra of plots, all there is left for Mike Brooks to do is to slot the Alphas into the pre-existing Heresy lore and basically explain roughly who is who and what has been going on. 

He at least manages to do so cleanly. 

This was a wasted opportunity. 

Alpharius/Omegon as Characters 

There’s nothing really meaningful I can add that isn’t in either ‘Legion’ and/or ‘Alpharius: Head of the Hydra’. No grand synthesis or outside look at the character. There’s not much there.


  1. I know next to nothing about the alpha legion but they still strike me as one of the most 'accidentally' thematically interesting, even if writers struggle to pay off that interest

  2. Ah, the Cabal. Or 'What the Dickens are we going to do with all the Xenos?'

    Best thing to come out of Legion was the Geno 5-2 Chiliad. If they can be said to come out of it at all, poor blighters.

  3. I am just a casual reader for WH40K, but Alpha Legion always struck me as something from/more suitable for different game/genre and an oddity in WH40K universe.

    Here we have a universe where big men in power-armour rather straightforwardly kill a lot of other beings with flaming chainsaws and mind bullets, and here we have big men in power-armour with chainsaws and mind bullets but also are masters of espionage, counter-intelligence and sabotage in addition to it.

    It sort of makes sense, in-world, to have this kind of specialized legion, but I wonder if what they are supposed to do (being sneaky, sort of unnoticeable units with a lot of logistical, technical and informational skills) inherently clashes with how they are supposed to look on a game table and how they are supposed to behave (big power-armour and chainswords, just like other space marines). Later plots, where they are antagonists, demand that they would be more or less equally capable as both straightforward fighting force - so they would make decent adversaries - but also doing all those covert things that other legions simply cannot do.

    (I don't know much about specific army units but to me it looks like no other legion (except maybe Raven Guard) developed any troops specialized in similar kinds of actions. I.e. Alpha Legion should have been much more successful with infiltration, sabotage, and misdirection, at least at first, because other legions presumably had no counter-measures. Yet, there are no major tangible victories for AL or their course)

    It also a bit odd to me that most suitable target for infiltration for Alpha Legion are other legions: after all space marines being so distinctive in appearance they cannot really infiltrate as cover agents any alien societies and even in human societies 7.5ft tall human would fit only occasionally. But presumably before Horus Heresy there was no need for internal affairs investigations (Emperor trusting his sons and such) - otherwise HH would either not happen at all, or Alpha legion would be able to do way much more harm during HH.

  4. (cont.)
    So what remains for pre-Horus era? Scouting and data collection, sabotage (in sense of unit clandestinely dropping in, hitting a vulnerable spot, dropping out), hit-and-run tactics, disrupting supplies and communication lines, as well as assassinations of key figures.

    But during- and post-Heresy they are written as two mirrors positioned against each other, endless reflections all way to nothingness. Suddenly there are all those plans within plans and layers of deceptions within deceptions, used, eventually, to a such absurd degree that Alpha Legion became, to me, that common comical parody of Tzeentch where he screeches 'Just as planned!!!' as he loses again and again, out of desperate attempt to look competent.

    One of the very few points of their competence is making Raven Guard life harder, but I'd say, narrative-wise it was just a support role to give Corax his subsequent mental breakdown, and Alpha Legion was just sort of slotted into it. Most charitable interpretation would be that they stole that tech to clone their own troops (which would at least fit with themes of legionaries being replaceable and having no self), but it still doesn't sit right to me that Alpha Legion would be able to thwart one of the rarest gifts of secret tech from the Emperor himself, so soon after Corax got it, without anybody in the universe noticing until it is too late, and yet they failed to achieve anything as significant against less formidable secrets or targets later.

    I wonder if the necessity for Alpha Legion to pull triple duty of being competent as space marines, having all those special thief skills on top of it, and having area of expertise in something other Legions theoretically didn't have countermeasures for, made them difficult to write, because if they were portrayed as actually competent, they would be much more efficient and thus Horus Heresy would have to take a different course.
    Hence authors sort of had to nerf them (in a clumsy and not at all satisfactory way) so they won't mess with grand narrative.