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The Night Lords are one of the most iconic legions of Chaos Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000. Even before the Horus Heresy broke out they were infamous for their brutal attacks (which often involved excessive amounts of force) and terror tactics. Essentially, think of an entire army of eight-foot-tall genetically enhanced supersoldiers in power armour, and now they incorporate all the darkest aspects of Batman filtered through the characteristic grim darkness of the far future. This will only come a fraction of the way to summarising what the Night Lords are, but for our purposes it will do.The Night Lords were originally the subject of only one book, Lord of the Night (2005) by Simon Spurrier, which presented an alternate interpretation of their history where their Primarch and progenitor, the Night Haunter, was a highly focused individual who shunned the accolades that were heaped upon his peers. Instead, he prosecuted his own brutal kind of warfare precisely because none of the other Legions would and was loyal to the Emperor up until the end, even when his father had abandoned him. This interpretation, bolstered by the quality of the book, proved popular and enjoyed renewed interest with the release of Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Soul Hunter series, which includes, in narrative order, the short story Shadow Knight (2009), the novel Soul Hunter (2010), the audio drama Throne of Lies (2010), the novel Blood Reaver (2011), the short story The Core (2010), and finally the final novel Void Stalker (2012). They also have a number of works featuring and also centering on members of the Legion in the Horus Heresy series.
Lord of the Night contains the following tropes:
Berserk Button: If not for the narrator explicitly telling the reader that Cog is not an Ogryn, one would assume he is one from the description. People regularly make this mistake, making Cog extremely angry.
Blessed with Suck: Mita, who has incredible psychic powers but is treated like garbage by the people she protects and constantly thrust into danger. By extension, all psykers in the book are in this boat, as this is a general W40k theme.
Black and Gray Morality: The whole book, really. The good guys are often worse than the bad guys. The bad guys are even worse than that. Wait, why are we still being designated the bad guys?
Board to Death: When Zso Sahaal was uniting gangs and underhive elements into his personal army, he has the respective leaders brought to him and intimidated into swearing their people to his service. Then he kills them all at once, to keep power firmly in his control.
Smoke Shield: The result of Zso Sahaal's attempt to kill Krieg Acerbus at point blank range with a holy bolter given to him by the Primarch of his chapter. He emerges from the smoke completely unharmed and backhands Sahaal across the room, cracking his power armor.
Succession Crisis: A very large one after the death of the Night Haunter lead to the start of the story.
Suicide by Cop: Inquisitor Kaustus was under control of the Eldar throughout the entire book and was waiting until he could break free or for Mita to kill him.
Twist Ending: Played straight because it probably wasn't the twist you were expecting.
Too Kinky to Torture: Being a cogboy would already mean that the knowledge broker can switch his pain receptors as desired, but Sahaal's interrogation of him shows that he takes some pleasure or satisfaction from the whole thing.
What Year Is This?: Sahaal asked this of one of his victims, as an afterthought, he asked what millenium it was, as well. He first thought he had been gone longer than expected, but he was completely taken aback when he found out that he was gone not a few centuries, but for ten millenia.
In Blood Reaver, when Third Claw challenges First Claw, the former claims to outnumber the latter seven to five. Talos, wanting Third Claw to back off, replies that one of the five is Xarl.
In Void Stalker "I am the Prophet of the Eighth Legion. My name is Decimus." Pure badassery.
Bad Boss: To be expected in the 40K universe, but surprisingly averted in the case of the Night Lord's slaves. Yes, they are enslaved to vicious demi-gods who commit acts of horror and slaughter as standard procedure, but the Night Lords still treat their slaves and crew better than other chaos legions (and possibly a few Imperial organisations).
However, the Night Lords will not hesitate to do something horrible to their slaves if they misbehave.
And they find nothing wrong in hunting and butchering their nonessential slaves for sport every so often.
Specifically averted and lampshaded in The Core. A sensor officer flinches whilst telling Talos that the ship they are looking for is hidden inside a space hulk the size of a small moon. Talos then informs him that he is not going to kill him just for giving him irritating news.
Black Speech: Nostraman, although subverted in that it isn't as much a language of evil, as a language spoken primarily by those who regularly do evil.
Band of Brothers: Inherent in the nature of Astartes, but Zig-Zagged throughout Tenth Company, given the nature of the VIII Legion (although that is not strictly atypical in the Traitor Legions). First Claw plays it straight, despite the immense suspicion and near hatred some members have for each other.
Bittersweet Ending: The ending of Void Stalker. There are only a handful of survivors from the entire warband, including Variel, Lucoryphus, Malik and his surviving Atrementar; all the others, including the rest or First Claw are dead, but they succeeded in taking down a Phoenix Lord, though in all truth, she will probably be back. Octavia and Septimus manage to get away alive, and Talos' legacy lives on...
When Talos speaks with Ruven's dead remains... kinda'.
Cherry Tapping: A Humongous Mecha version is done when the Imperial Titan Hunter in the Grey finds Seventh Claw's Rhino APC, and, to conserve ammo, destroys it by stepping on it. Seventh Claw is not pleased.
Adhemar: You will die for that. You will bleed and scream and die for that.
Cold-Blooded Torture: The Legion's hat alongside being The Dreaded, as demonstrated extensively in Void Stalkerto the point where Talos weaponizes it into an astropath-annihilating pulse. Put to use explicitly in Throne of Lies and Blood Reaver and used in Soul Hunter during an Imagine Spot.
Combat Medic: Talos and Variel. Talos doesn't really do much medic stuff any more, even by 40k's standards of the word. Variel on the other hand, does and still finds the time to be a murderous badass.
Completely Missing the Point: When Octavia goes to talk to Talos while he's torturing the captive astropaths, the smell coming causes her to begin throwing up uncontrollably upon entering the room, which Talos mistakenly assumes is morning sickness.
Computer Voice: Of the masculine type for servitors in Throne of Lies. The Covenant of Blood itself sounds more gender neutral.
Cool Chair: Konrad Curze's Osseous Throne in the Tsagualsan mausoleum/fortress
The command throne in The Covenant of Bloodand The Echo of Damnation
Coup de Grāce: Talos beheading J'sara in Throne of Lies. It plays out a bit like a Mercy Kill, but given Talos was the one doing the torturing that left her in that much pain, the mercy is lessened somewhat.
The Genesis Marines' company captain, delivered by Xarl, of course.
Creepy Crows: Lord of the Night recounts Zso Sahaal's memory of Curze appearing to his men clad only in a cloak of raven feathers following the Siege of Terra. Additionally, one of Sevatar's epithets was "Prince of Crows".
Determinator: Neverborn, who survive anything short of having their body dismembered.
First Claw also has its moments, most noticeably the duel with Third Claw, after which Talos sustained severe enough damage to temporarily blind him and eventually merit a new arm and Talos' nightmare sequence at the end of Blood Reaverwhich features Mercutian fighting past the point of death and running on sheer hatred and brotherhood to defend Cyrion and Variel's corpses for a few moments, and Uzas pulling a One-Man Army maneuver physically impossible even for a Space Marine.
Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: In Soul Hunter, Talos is out in a trance and meets representations of the Chaos Gods in the form of himself dedicated to the respective gods. After getting offers from Slaanesh and Tzeentch, Talos tells them to go back to hell. He would have said the same thing to the other two, but Nurgle tells off Talos and leaves without even making his offer, and Talos wakes up before he can properly tell off Khorne.
In Void Stalker Talos goes to Septimus and beats Septimus to within an inch of his life for getting Octavia pregnant. When he demands an explanation, Septimus defiantly answers him in Nostraman. Talos is briefly left speechless after, for the first time ever, one of his slaves tells him to "eat shit."
Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Briefly invoked in both books. Talos ends up meeting two of the most powerful Chaos Warlords in the galaxy (including Abbadon himself). Despite knowing how powerful they are, Talos is remarkably casual about voicing opinions that would see anyone else slaughtered in a moment. There are mitigating circumstances in both cases; Talos genuinely finds Abbadon a broken, twisted warlord with delusion of grandeur (even mentioning the consistent lack of success in all his Black Crusades); and in the other case, he is deliberately being cocky to endear himself to Lufgt Huron.
Dramatic Irony: Often hits like a brick during flashbacks to the golden age of the Night Lords.
Dramatic Space Drifting: Used in Soul Hunter to emphasize how little The Exalted cares for the lives of First Claw after it decides the fastest way to liberate them from The Sword of the God Emperor is to blow a hole in the side and let the difference in pressure suck them out into the void for easy collection.
Duel to the Death: A Night Lords tradition of Murder Duels. Just a step up from another tradition of Honor Duels, which is often used as a way to decide who gets to be sergeant.
Used in squad-to-squad level between Between First Claw and Third Claw, over Uzas' Khornate delusion-fueled slaying of their sergeant.
Dying Moment of Awesome: With Vandred/The Exalted at the end of Blood Reaver. Vandread reassumes control over his body and takes out at least five Red Corsair ships with him and the Covenant, and then dies, forcing the Exalted to take his place as the Covenant is destroyed.
Xarl versus the Genesis Marines captain.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Septimus and Octavia. After spending years in captivity and surviving all three novels escape the Night Lords and rejoin the Imperium, where they will be looked after as Octavia being a Navigator makes her too valuable to misplace, both are in love with each other and Octavia is pregnant with Septimus's son and end the series by both revealing their real names to each other. One of the few unambiguously happy endings in 40k.
Averted. In the epilogue, Variel makes good on his promise to hunt them down and take their child from them in order to recruit him into the Legion and to continue the legacy of Talos' geneseed. Given the nature of Space Marine recruitment, the child would most likely have been under the age of about 12 when this happened, and Variel is unlikely to have asked for parental consent....
Eating the Eye Candy: Maruc in a bar in Hell's Iris eyes one of the "waitresses". Septimus warns him against it for her fashion sense, as well as looking too hard at anything living on a semi corrupted planet.
Eye Scream: Talos scoops out J'sara's eyes in the process of torturing her for information in Throne of Lies.
He also blinded M'shen with his acidic spit in the process of hunting her down and earning his epithet.
Throne of Lies mentions that J'sara and M'shen sound nearly identical. The eye damage may be a Meaningful Echo.
Faux Flame: Used by the Eldar to ignite Cyrion's corpse in Talos' nightmare in the Blood Reaver epilogue, Variel isn't as lucky and dies much more slowly.
Flaying Alive: Done with great glee to a loyalist Astartes in the opening of Blood Reaver.
Also mentioned as a means of punishment that the 10th company use to keep their slaves and / or brothers in line.
Taken Up to Eleven with the flaying pits, where they are flayed, thrown into a huge hole in the ground, and left to die. This becomes the fate of many of the ten million people purged from on Tsagualsa in the first half of Void Stalker.
Four-Temperament Ensemble: First Claw at the beginning of Soul Hunter. Played for the worst of each humor, because to do otherwise wouldn't be Grimdark.
Choleric — Uzas. His emotions are all or nothing; he's almost universally violent, irritated or sullen when he isn't an unreadable shell. Thinks only of himself, which is how he became corrupt in the first place. He himself admits he all but runs on a slow, seething rage.
Melancholic — Xarl. Cynic, chronic complainer, suspicious pessimist, and yet somehow a very capable Lancer for Talos. Throws his whole life into the sword and it shows in every sense of the word.
Phlegmatic — Talos. His romanticism of his Legion's past and the power his prophetic abilities have over his life have left him worn thin all around. Known to brood over both. His stubbornness won't let him put anything less than his heart and soul into what he does however, and it's nearly killed him before.
Sanguine — Cyrion. Possibly the most easy going of the group, and the most vocally distressed at the state of the Legion, although it also means he stands out the least in the shambling wreck of a squad.
Friendship Moment: A rather grim example. When Talos is shredded following the duel with Third Claw, he reaches out first to Cyrion, then Septimus, Mercution, and he surprises himself by asking for Xarl as well.
Cemented even deeper by Talos' harvesting Xarl's geneseed himself by hand and giving him a makeshift Viking Funeral in his own quarters. He realizes many commendatory, honorable or brotherly things could be said over Xarl's corpse, but the truest thing was that if there was a hell, Talos would join him there soon.
General Failure: Discussed in a bit of back-and-forth between Talos and one Abaddon the Despoiler on why his Black Crusades haven't yet succeeded.
Talos himself isn't much of a general when given the chance to lead, which is part of why he doesn't like leading.
Impaled Palm: A minor part of the damage to the crucified, flayed and mutilated loyalist Astartes in the opening of Blood Reaver
Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: Every piece of scavenged Imperial material must have the insignia removed or (in the case of warplate, where this would be too difficult), ritually defaced. When Talos takes command, he renames them the "Warband of the Broken Aquila" in recognition of this.
Insistent Terminology: The contention between the two of the mare brought up when Mercutian insists to Xarl that 10th company did not steal from Ganges Station, they "liberated materials".
Zso Sahaal can be seen in a number of Talos' flashbacks, and Acerbus is mentioned at least once
It Gets Easier: Shadow Knight and Soul Hunter both feature Talos' memory of his first kill at the age of 12. He's more contemplative than anything after the fact, while his unblooded friend Xarl, the future Blood Knight and Master Swordsman, is the one freaked out.
It Was a Gift: Subverted when Talos loses his bolter and no less a hero than Malcharion the War Sage casually hands over his own as a replacement. Despite Talos' initial misgivings over a Legion relic, Malcharion points out that he is now a Dreadnought and doesn't need it.
Occasionally the human characters will barter around legion coins, signifying the legion's protection over that person. The voidborn's parents are given one, not that it helps.
Job Title: Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver and Void Stalker
Make an Example of Them: A core part of the Nostraman/VIII Legion doctrine, demonstrated with the stringing up of the gangers in Blood Reaver and the crucifixion of Ruven's corpse on the bridge of The Echo of Damnation
Made a Slave: Fates of Septimus, Eurydice (later Octavia) and Maruc
Mass "Oh, Crap!": During the Tsagualsa Reprisal, the Night Lords reaction to the Ultramarines and their successor chapters arrival was to start screaming "Get to the ships!" in every dialect of Nostraman.
"Death is nothing compared to vindication." Echoed by Talos, whose actions in Void Stalker seem to echo Konrad Curze's end-of-life breakdown. Only Talos seems like he's going to take the entire 10th Company down with him...
Meat Moss: The Screaming Gallery in the mausoleum on Tsagualsa. Made of the fused flesh of hundreds of shrieking faces which were kept alive with fleshcraft for the sole purpose of being both terrifying and Badass. Konrad Curze was not particularly fond of cheery design.
Some parts of the lower decks in the Echo of Damnation feature steel walls mutating into flesh due to the warp mutations the ship went under when the Red Corsairs had it.
Moment Killer: Cyrion acts as one between Septimus and Octavia before they admit their feelings to each other. After they do, and Septimus is in the process of Bridal Carrying Octavia to his quarters, Talos interrupts them once again.
First Claw eventually stops cock-blocking them, though, given that Talos's vision in the Epilogue shows Octavia is pregnant...and running from the Inquisition.
By Void Stalker, it seems that the cock-blocking was on purpose, as if Talos beating Septimus half to death as if he should've known better is anything to go by. Justified, considering Octavia is the 10th Company's sole navigator and they can't get very far (at least no FTL) without her.
Monster from Beyond the Veil: Octavia killing people with her Warp Eye tends to pull ghosts from the Void back into the vicinity. This results in shambling, in(post)humanly tough zombies called Neverborn.
Talos's super-hearing is what first alerts him to Octavia's pregnancy. His super-smelling would've tipped him off first, but, since he is a Combat Medic, what he doesn't know about human pregnancy could fill a battle barge.
Nay-Theist: The Night Lords' theology in a nutshell, applying in equal measure to both the Emperor and the Chaos Gods. The only reason some Night Lords even dignify the Chaos Gods is to momentarily channel their power and then abandon them when their blessings are no longer needed. Uzas is constantly trying to explain this to First Claw in his more lucid moments, not that any of them care.
Not Me This Time: Uzas is held guilty for killing Arkiah, the father of the Voidborn, despite his constant lucid insistance that he did not. Turns out in Void Stalker he's been telling the truth, it was Cyrion.
Noun Verber: Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver and now Void Stalker. Also, Night Haunter.
Odd Friendship: Malcharion and Lucoryphus. Or as they call each other, "Mal" and "Luc". It would be heartwarming if it wasn't so unnerving.
Obligatory War Crime Scene: You know the Blood Angels? The guys we've been saying are one of the nicest Chapters of Space Marines? They kill the Void-born and her mother during the boarding of the Covenant of Blood. It doesn't even appear to have been by a Death Company brother, which might be excusable.
Prophecy Twist: Done at the worst possible moment in Void Stalker. In Soul Hunter, Talos has a vision of Uzas and Cyrion trying to kill each other. He initially thinks that he saw it happening on Crythe, and assumes he was just wrong when it doesn't come to pass. During the final endgame, Talos realises the vision showed Tsagualsa instead of Crythe and rushes to stop it from happening. And even then, he got it wrong.
Power High: What Slaanesh offers Talos in exchange for his eternal servitude, along with her usual Sense Freak "benefits".
Power Limiter: In the form of a runic collar on Ruven while he is held captive by the Red Corsairs.
Put on a Bus: A weird example concerning Uzas in Throne of Lies. In the rest of series he is often present in the background staying taciturn whenever he isn't raving or rampaging, but he is mentioned only in passing in the audiodrama when First Claw is marked out as having five members, and has no speaking lines nor a mention by name.
Radio Voice: Used in Throne Of Lies to indicate vox transmissions.
Rape as Drama: To Octavia In Soul Hunter. By Blood Reaver, she's pretty well adjusted, but Maruc mentions to Septimus that the trauma isn't completely gone.
The Reveal: In Void Stalker: The Eldar of Craftworld Ulthwe aren't trying to kill Talos because of the psychic scream that he unleashed, they're trying to kill him because the Seer Council (heavily implied to be at the direction of Eldrad Ulthran) believe that he is the destined "Prophet of the Eighth Legion" who will unite the Night Lords in the 13th Black Crusade to destroy Craftworld Ulthwe. Talos himself rejects the idea, as he couldn't unite a single claw, but Variel had already foreseen this and was instead after his progenoids.
Room Full of Crazy: Any place Talos sleeps or has his prophethetic seizures in turns into this.
Uzas' chamber is shown to be very messy version of this. In the entire room there is nothing but rubbish, a small altar to Khorne made mostly of skulls, half cleaned skulls, and the waste products of said cleaning.
Salvage Pirates: The 10th company/Warband of the Exalted. Depicted in Shadow Knight and mentioned elsewhere upon occasion. Having (for the most part) rejected the gifts of Chaos, they are denied the Offscreen Villain Dark Matter given to most of the traitor legions.
Sand In My Eyes: A variant with Melcharion the War Sage. Talos claims that he serves as an inspiration to everyone else, to which Melcharion replies that all he did was shout loudly and kill things. His dreadnought body then makes a rattling, crunching noise described as being like a tank shifting gears. He claims it's his cannon's autoloaders cycling, but he's actually laughing instead. He does it several times throughout.
Sapient Ship: The Covenant of Blood has a machine spirit of its own and it doesn't like or trust its new navigator.
The Echo of Damnation is a little more accommodating, but more as a feral, eager beast that Octavia has to keep restrained.
See You in Hell: Said by Talos to Xarl during Xarl's improvised funeral, without any malice whatsoever. It's both an honest assessment of their lives and a warped, classically Nostraman gesture of brotherhood.
The Exalted produces black, oily bloody tears whenever it attempts to smile.
Lucoryphus is constantly shedding them, leading to his epithet.
Ruven, when exposed to light too bright for Nostraman eyes (although presumably not too much for a someone not born on a night world).
When psychically stressed, Octavia will cry blood from her third eye.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Night Lords were driven from Tsagualsa by the Primogenitor Chapters, the Ultramarines and their successor chapters. All of their successor chapters, meaning about two-thirds of all the Space Marines in the Imperium. When told this, Variel, formerly of the Astral Claws (which are implied to be Ultramarines descendants) is aghast.
Variel: You mean the Ultramarines' kindred Chapters? How many of them?
This Is Unforgivable!: After Uzas kills fourteen serfs/slaves, some servitors, and the sergeant of Third Claw, just mere days after getting his slaughter on at Ganges station, the members of First Claw debate what to do. The consensus is kill Uzas, and Talos tells them that the Exalted has ordered Uzas's death, so if they spare him, they better have a damn good reason. They get one when the more numerous Third Claw comes looking for payback.
Once Talos finds out that Septimus got Octavia knocked up.
A less insane variant for Deltrian in Void Stalker.
Thrown Out the Airlock: Septimus warns to Octavia in Throne of Lies that the crew would try to do this to her, if she continues to make trouble with The Exalted. Problem was that they don't have an extra navigator.
Took a Level in Jerkass: The Tenth Company in general and Talos in particular in Void Stalker. Justified, as their evil was always there, Void Stalker just didn't have a foe more evil than them like the Black Legion and the Red Corsairs to contrast against, and one of the themes of Void Stalker is Talos coming to accept that the Night Lords really are just a bunch of murderers, rapists, and sadists who just kill for their own amusement. In fact, the Night Lords' primary antagonists in the books, the Eldar, are often considered one of the few groups to have moral superiority over the Imperium.
Void Stalker explains that Night Lords have traditionally very poor track records at uniting their entire legion under one commander since Kurze's assassination. Their legion is just too fractured, so it's not like it's entirely Sahaal's fault.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: For a small and seemingly insignificant company like 10th, they sure seem to run into a lot of big name chaos marine commanders (Abaddon in Soul Hunter, Huron Blackheart in Blood Reaver). Mostly due to Talos' rare talent as a prophet.
Viking Funeral: Following Xarl barely winning a fatal duel with the Novamarines Champion in Void Stalker, Talos harvests his brother's geneseed by hand in his own quarters, and incinerates the corpse and everything in the room with a looted flamer. When hen he leaves, Talos tells Xarl that he'll see him in hell soon.
We Can Rebuild Him: Huron Blackheart in his backstory, then Septimus following a run in with Black Legion slaves in Soul Hunter, and finally Talos after the duel with Third Claw.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Cyrion's Slaaneshi gift isn't brought up at all in Blood Reaver, but it does get brought up again in Void Stalker, by Lucoryphus of all people. Note, this was at the end of a sequence where Cyrion was feeling it come up again.
Wild Child: Curze raised himself on Nostramo. He subverted the trope, but that's because he was a Primarch.
Windows of the Soul: Throughout the franchise, but most notably in Savage Weapons, the most obvious indicator of Konrad Curze's growing madness and eventual Superpower Meltdown is the continual "fever bright" state of his eyes.
Womb Level: The mausoleum/palace on Tsagualsa is an unusual variation; it's made of an amalgamation of thousands of living human corpses as opposed to one creature.
The Worf Effect: Xarl, the most skilled combatant of the Claw, is the first to die against the Eldar in Talos' vision at the end of Blood Reaver.
When the rest of First Claw (sans Xarl at that point) attempt to fight the heavily-armed Genesis Marine champion. Then Xarl shows up and evens up the score.
Wretched Hive: Nostramo (and later Tsagualsa) on a planetary level
You Shall Not Pass: Vandred holding off the Red Corsair armada so the Echo of Damnation and the surviving portions of Tenth Company can escape.
You Should Have Died Instead: Cyrion says this to Uzas in a half-joking manner before a boarding action, wishing Uzas had died in a previous raid instead of the apparently uncorrupted Sar Zell.
We later see exactly how this went down in a two-chapter-long flashback in Void Stalker. Sar Zell was gunned down by Ultramarines as First Claw tried to board their Thunderhawk, after which then-tagalong-sergeant Uzas added insult to injury by unceremoniously claiming Sar Zell's chainaxe. No one was thrilled.