“I was afraid…to face up to what I had done…”
In Chris Pramas’ classic Dark Angels short story The Black Pearl, the young Interrogator Chaplain Uzziel leads his brothers in a mission so important it could change the face of the Chapter. The prize, so valuable it’s worth risking everything for, is nothing less than the legendary Lion Sword, the whereabouts of which was revealed during the interrogation of one of the Fallen. Standing between Uzziel and the sword are the Exodite eldar of Lughnasa, but can he really trust the word of the Fallen?
The hunt for the Fallen lies at the very core of the Dark Angels’ identity, and this story does a great job of showing how it shapes and drives them. There’s no real attempt to develop Uzziel as a character, other than the acknowledgement early on that he’s young and ambitious; he’s defined by his pride, which you could argue is a defining characteristic of his entire Chapter, and that leads him down a dangerous path…as we see. Not all stories need to focus on character development though, and this works as a standalone story that takes a key part of the Chapter’s identity and builds a simple but effective tale around it.
Like Salvation, this is a real classic story featuring one of the most enduring concepts in 40k. The idea that the Dark Angels still place so much emphasis on the Fallen 10,000 years after the Heresy is endlessly fascinating, and so having a young and headstrong Interrogator Chaplain as a story’s protagonist is instantly provocative. I can remember reading this years ago, back before a lot of the current 40k lore existed, and being caught up in Uzziel’s zeal…only to realise what a fool he’d been right at the end.
As usual the question is whether, looking back now, this still feels like a 40k story…and it’s a resounding yes!
I think that the very fact this story is so specific and so closely tied in with the Dark Angels’ identity has helped it to stand the test of time. First and foremost it’s about the way that the pursuit of the Fallen can affect the Chapter’s decision making, and in that sense it’s no different to how they’re portrayed nowadays. That combination of pride and shame is something that’s crucial to the Dark Angels, and you get a clear sense of it here.
Stylistically this is very much 40k as it is today; dark, gritty, brutal, and with a tendency towards unhappy endings. What’s different is the physical and emotional depictions of both the Space Marines and the Eldar, both of which are definitely products of a time before we’d seen that much development of 40k. The Marines are a little more emotional than what you’d expect now, and collectively a little less well characterised as Dark Angels. While Uzziel is pretty much as he would be described now, albeit with the occasional oddity like not carrying a crozius, his brothers lack a little definition and could be mistaken for any other chapter.
Meanwhile the Eldar are much less alien compared to how we’re used to seeing them these days, although to be fair there haven’t really been that many depictions of the Exodites over the years. It all adds up though to a sense that this is almost proto-40k…the tone and style is there, it’s just not yet fully developed. That’s not intended as a criticism at all; you could in fact argue that this was published in an era of stories that built upon the very earliest foundations of 40k and pushed it towards where it is today.
So how can you get hold of this story? Like many of these classic short stories it was first published in Inferno! magazine, issue 2 in this case, and then reissued as part of the Into The Maelstrom anthology (along with another of Chris’ stories, the titular Into the Maelstrom)…before being included in the Let the Galaxy Burn anthology. The good news is, however, that this time around you don’t need to go hunting through second hand shops or eBay to get hold of it. No, it’s actually available as a standalone e-short on the Black Library website, for a mere £1.99. Happy days!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts. If there are any classic Black Library stories that you would like to put forward for a review, please do let me know, and likewise if you’ve got any comments or feedback. Next week I’ll be taking a look at an early Warhammer short story, so check back next Wednesday for more details.