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Found 6 results

  1. The Prize Charn the Blind, Sorceror of the Thousand Sons advanced on the door. Behind he could hear the lumbering footfalls of Semik and his smile broadened. His warp-eyes flared momentarily and the door before him buckled. It collapsed in a silent cascade into liquid ruin that bubbled and spat into nothingness as Charn and his followers marched over the threshold. Within was a circular room, with a high ceiling and wide floor. It was cluttered with barbed and spiked implements of pain, of many and varied design and function. In the centre however, illuminated by the room’s single light source, set directly above the door, with obvious purpose, Charn realised, was the prize. It, or rather he, hung limply from a large alien mechanism which was attached to the ceiling far above. It clung to him via a network of needles driven deep into his head, neck and shoulders. He was naked, his wide chest and bulging muscles told Charn instantly that this was a Space Marine. The alien machine that was holding him kept his head a clear nine feet from the floor, and yet the tips of the prisoner’s toes nearly touched it as they swayed gently in the air disturbed by Charn’s arrival. He reached out with his mind, his eyes flaring bright adding a second ghostly glow to the room. He slipped in amongst the complex circuits and functions of the machine he now saw was half torture device, half life-support system. Quickly he found what he was looking for and with a flick of his psychic finger disengaged the pain engine. The many needles retracted with a pneumatic hiss. The prisoner dropped the few inches to the floor. Stood for a moment, swayed and collapsed in a heap, making no sound or or other movement. He wasn’t breathing as Charn moved closer. Then a massive spasm gripped the body, a huge gasp heralded the filling of his enhanced lungs and the eyes snapped open. The prisoner screamed. Long, unbroken and piercing he shrieked so loudly and so shrilly that the chamber rang with it and Semik’s new bestial form growled and pawed the ground in sympathy. As he screamed he writhed. Not the frenzied thrashings of a man tormented or the ragged twitchings of a man dying, this seemed as much a stretch of muscle sinew and bone than anything else. Arms and legs traced odd concentric shapes in the floor, he rolled onto one side and then the other. When is inhuman scream finally died down he was half crouched, leaning forwards, hands and knees supporting is weight. The sound died, and for a moment there was silence, before the prisoner looked up, meeting the warp-gaze of Charn. He grinned. “You are late.” he said before falling back to the floor, flat on his face. --- The prisoner seemed to recover rapidly. He regained conciousness after only a few moments, hauling himself back into a sitting position and staring up at Charn and his Acolytes a strangely relaxed and knowing way. All thought of the terrible things he must have endured at the hands of the Dark Eldar seemingly forgotten, at least for the moment. Charn had watched his collapse and recovery with vague amusement, still unsure how or why, but absolutely certain this was what he had been brought here to find. “Who are you?” the Sorcerer asked at last, breaking the contemplative silence. The prisoner rose to his feet and saluted by pressing his right fist to his chest. “Dariel El’Stander, formerly Second Librarian of the Fifth Host, I Legion.” he rattled of his name and rank in recognition of a tradition they had once both shared. The Chaos Sorcerer raised an eyebrow. “Charn, formerly Captain of the Forth Fellowship, XV Legion.” he replied, indulging in the pantomime but not going so far as to salute. “And your next question will be: ‘what you doing here?’” Dariel added, folding his arms over his bare chest, “The one after that will probably be: ‘is he the Eye that we have seen?’. I venture to guess your third question will be ‘and why should I do that?’. After that, I’m afraid I cannot say with sufficient certainty what you may or may not ask. To answer your first question however, I was waiting for you. Not the least pleasant place I have been forced to wait, but ill enough as you can see. I had to be here however, I had to let these aliens capture me and endure the pain as you wound your way closer to where you had to be. Until your dark master at last deigned to uphold his end of our bargain.” Sepharion paused, almost smiling, almost waiting. Charn sighed. “Well, is he the eye that we have seen?” “Yes and no, my lord.” Dariel added the courtesy because despite his elation at finally being free he could see the frustration in those warp-eyes that were so infamous and thought it wise not to try the still battle-marked sorcerer, “He, I am sure, sent you those visions, for I did not and my master would not. But the eye is not him. The eye is my master and him alone. He is the walker of the Straight Path. He is the one for whom I stand before you now as Herald to beg your attention and make you an offer, if you will listen.” Charn sighed again. “And why should I do that?” “Because you have not fought through all this, not journeyed to the very edge of the galaxy not to learn of the prize you have earned.” Dariel replied, knowingly, “I have learned much of you Charn the Blind, your fame and your legend, your history and your goals. You and your followers have journeyed as far or further than any others who stood and fought in those ancient days. You have cast aside the petty struggles of our fellow legions, the ruinous powers of the gods, even the scheming of your own Primarch to pursue knowledge. You have learned more than nearly any other mortal yet, or still to be born, and with that has come wisdom and the creeping understanding of something… Beyond all that you have learned. That is what has driven you on, what prevented you form returning to Magnus’ side when he burned Fenris, what kept you out here when your followers wanted to turn around to return to the Long War; the dawning realisation that all you have learned, all that you have gathered is but one fragment of one volume of the totality of what is possible, what can and does exist out there, beyond the warp.” “You flatter me.” said Charn, unimpressed by Dariel’s oratory, “But perhaps that is enough to convince me to listen to your offer. Speak then, and we shall see what questions I ask.” Dariel bowed his head again in thanks, and did as requested. “My lord, you know that this life is a game. A game with the highest of stakes. Each soul is a piece, each life a series of moves and counter moves. You know that knowledge is the single most powerful tool in playing this game. You see knowledge for what it is; the rules of existence. Those who know the rules, win the game. And yet, you know that there is more. Just as there is the one who makes the rules of the game, who sets up the pieces on the board, who defines what the board is, there is one who makes the rules of creation, who sets the first souls on their journey, who builds reality around them. My Master is such a one. Our journey, and his, will lead beyond this reality, beyond the warp, into the Great Beyond, and thence, into new realities of our own creation. New games, new pieces. New power. New knowledge.” Dariel paused, letting his words sink in, not only to Charn but to his various Acolytes who were also listening intently to the conversation. “Some of that new power exists already; carried in myself and my Brothers when our Master, Kraven Lord of Chaos Primordial, sent us back from the depths of the warp to spread his word amongst those who are worthy of joining with us in the Great Beyond.” “And we, among all those legions of souls making their moves and counter-moves, are worthy?” Charn’s tone was openly sceptical as he continued to regard this Dariel of the First with his uncovered warp eyes. There was something about him, something about the ghostly image of him projected into the Immaterium that was different. Deep within, in the most secret recesses of the Fallen Angel’s soul something glimmered. For he certainly was a Fallen Angel. Charn had learned much over his long lives, and one of the lesser secrets had been what had befallen the I Legion while Prospero was still smouldering. He had encountered several of the mysterious Fallen Angels over the millennia, some had been champions of Chaos, others renegade agents, all though were as steeped in secrets and subterfuge as their loyalist brothers. Always there was ulterior motives, feints and counter-feints, schemes so complex it often taxed even his mind to contemplate. This Former Angel seemed no different. Whatever ‘Power’ or ‘Master’ he served or wielded was probably some deception, and certainly not what it appeared. “We are so worthy, indeed, that to recruit us you allowed yourself to be captured and held here? In the den of the most unspeakable torturers and sadists in the galaxy? So worthy you say my Master guided me to you? The greatest of the Four himself seeks for my path to join yours? Is it not far more likely that you are one prisoner amongst many others? How are we to believe you, or anyone, would willingly enter into a bondage you claim to have endured?” “For here is where I was. And because this is where you would be. Neither of us are novitiates in the nature of the warp; we know the effects it has on time. From a the linear perspective of the mundane, we met many years ago. You came to me, to us, sailing back through time from this conversation, and from my current perspective we have already fought many battles and discovered many secrets. Indeed, once you leave here, when I meet you for the first time, we will embark on the next phase of our plan. So I walked willingly into the jaws of the beast and endured the torment. Not only because I knew it had happened and I had survived, but because of that power that you can glimpse inside me, that thread which connects me to a place beyond all pain and beyond all darkness.” “Beyond all darkness?” Charn’s voice was soft and knowing, “I have walked the paths of the Warp, I have plumbed the depths of the Crystal Maze, and I have seen nothing beyond, dark or otherwise. All I have seen is the Warp; the mirrored soul of humanity stretching away and curving round again enclosing us, imprisoning us. Whatever dimensions the physical world may have, the Warp encloses is spiritually and inescapably. To speak of beyond the warp is to speak of south of a southern pole, of before the beginning. It is a contradiction; anything you or your master think you have seen is but the after-image of your own hopes reflected back into your longing, mortal eyes.” Dariel just smiled. “To the man within a bubble, what can possibly exist beyond its walls? Moreover, what can it matter? It lies so fully beyond reach; the grasping of any such distant promise naturally requires bursting the bubble, demands the destruction of every tie you hold to this world. Only then will you see the Straight Path through those warped Mirrors in your soul and be free to pass beyond.” Charn narrowed his eyes, the immaterial glow from within diminishing to two white hot slits, his voice when he spoke was still soft but had regained some of its earlier menace. “How many times have we heard similar promises? How many champions of Chaos have claimed transcendental knowledge only to end as all the rest; dead by their own hubris, by their own vainglory. You have yet to show anything to make your claims, or those of your supposed master seem more credible than any of them were.” Charn had intended to continue, to issue some veiled threat about his patience wearing thin, but the words were lost in the nova of crystalline brilliance that suddenly erupted across his vision. He didn’t know what his Acolytes with their mortal eyes saw, but they must have felt the force rippling over them as Charn himself did. Semik roared behind him and Charn closed his eyes reflexively in an effort to shield himself from the intensifying brilliance. It made little difference, his inner eye was similarly blinded by what seemed now to pour in a torrent from the very body of the Fallen Angel, still standing placidly in the centre what was now a white storm of light. When Dariel spoke, all heard it ringing through their minds, echoing through their very souls and though those of their comrades. Charn felt them slice psychically through the Warp and winced. “Behold, O Sorcerer of Tzeentch. That of which I speak is no parlour trick or slight-of-hand, nor is it the ravings of a delusional fool too weak to admit ignorance and grasp a new, higher truth. Behold the raw radiance of the Great Beyond, where Kraven Lord of Chaos Primordial awaits us all. Behold the highest truth, behold the force that set the Universe in motion.” Charn was powerful. Charn had lived long lives in the service to the power he called Lord and had been rewarded accordingly. He stood tall beside the many great champions of chaos, and yet here now he had to resist the urge to kneel before this expression of transcendental power. His Acolytes were already down, knocked or simply slipped down into bows of reverence and acquiescence, even Semik, his drooling maw slack and silent, folded his wings close to his body and held his head low. Charn was still standing when the light faded an eternal moment after Dariel stopped speaking. The naked Fallen Angel seemed diminished in size somehow, though that took away none of the new watchful respect that the assembled Thousand Sons now regarded him with. He had dismissed the eruption of energy with a short sigh, then folded his arms, watching as Charn straightened up from his almost-crouch. “That was no Warp-borne energy.” the Sorcerer said, his grip not slackening on his staff, “That was nothing I have seen come forth from human, alien or daemon. What was it? What laws does it obey?” “It is everything.” said Dariel simply, “It is the potential of all creation distilled and displayed through the lens of my own soul. It is that from which all things came; the same fire that flickers at the heart of each mortal soul, it is the infinity of possibilities tied up within each of those souls. It is the endlessness, it is the beginning, the end, the world which contains all other worlds. It is the power that can be yours, if you are willing to follow the Path of Kraven. Myself and my brothers paid a high price to seal a pact with your master so that it might bring us together at the appointed time, do not now turn from the path of wisdom into the same pettiness that swallowed your Legion, and mine, and the others.” Charn said nothing, his eyes were still closed. He found it easier to think this way sometimes. He could still see, but somehow things were clearer when the physical world wasn’t intruding. Before him was a coal black, living statue. He could see ghostly terminator armour playing around it, a memory of past and future years spent inside it’s carapace. He could also see the afterglow of the power that it now occluded. Then he realised; it was not a statue, it was not made of anything; it was a shadow. It was a perfectly opaque shape of a man cast by something between Charn and the light, except where one would expect to see the light behind, beyond the shape, there as just the room, just the real world and the warp, what ever he was, this Fallen Angel, this Herald, he was not, despite appearances, a being of either of the realities Charn knew. He understood now how Dariel could have survived captivity with the Dark Eldar. “I am forced,” he said at length, “to recognise the power of you and your master.” he inclined his head, but did not bow, “and give you my allegiance.” “I do not ask your allegiance, only your assistance. We do not act out of petty revenge or a need to dominate; we are agents of the apocalypse. We wage war only to bring about the end of all things, to tear this universe down around ourselves so that we might rise like the phoenix into a new dawn. Together we will build the road that will take us all into the great beyond. Together we will soar into the next universe, to shape it as we will.”
  2. The Bargain Under smoke streaked skies a world was burning. It had begun burning weeks ago when the first uprisings began far out in the endless plains of gene-crop fields. The flames of rebellion had been spread quickly through poverty stricken farmers and migrant labourers, all those for whom the bright lights of the cities was a distant dream of wonder and decadence. They had all grown up on the stories of what the ‘Citylanders’ did to occupy their time between issuing new quota directives and repeating the same tired, empty promises of change, of improvement. The agri world of Alteer had been practically grateful when the Heralds and their followers came. Those people readily turned their tools into weapons, learning quickly how to efficiently end a life with a planting-fork or a sonic thresher. On the other hand, their overlords learned slowly. Their responses to the mass of riots and rebellions had been predicable and would probably have failed even without the Heralds and their armoured brothers. Small response teams of arbites and Planetary defence forces were sent out piecemeal to deal with a problem their officers refused to believe was real. Even before the uprisings combined to form a single cohesive offensive, driving steadily through outposts and cities, these handfuls of overpaid and under trained men and women weren’t god for anything than a short sharp shock; a sudden show of force, driving the masses back in line. By the time they were first deployed it had already gone far beyond that. By the time the planet’s regiments had been fully mobilized the soldiery were as mutinous as the population. Fear had spread through the major cities rapidly as the rest of the planet went steadily dark. It didn’t matter that frantic signals had been sent out to all nearby systems begging for help; by the time that decision had been taken it was so far beyond too late. Mobs surged through the outskirts of the capital, the last city still holding out, they met no resistance. They reached the manufactoria, they still met no resistance; the tech priests and their servitors falling into step with their workers, joining the tide. Only when they reached the great cathedrals of the ecclesiarchy did anyone block their path. There the few standing officers, priests and commissars rallied the loyal defenders to hold the city centre. The drive onwards had become bloody and grinding after that. The poorly armed and armoured attackers being cut down in swathes by defenders armed with tripod mounted heavy bolters and autocannons. But there had been too many, eventually the human tide bore over the last bastion and crashed through the final barricade. Now the maddened army of liberation had descended on the battered city and was taking its gleeful revenge for offences old and new. Millions had died, and hundred of thousands more were to join them as rebel death squads roved the streets seeking anyone baring badges of state or even the hair colour associated with a particular noble house. The Heralds, and those whom they had convinced to aid them in their true endeavour, paid no heed to the screams of the dying. They, their followers and allies, had orchestrated the downfall of a planet. The let the slaughter below continue as they sealed off the highest spires of the governor’s palace, and began the ritual. It had taken years to perfect the formula and years more to perfect the method, and neither of the Heralds would risk an attempt until they were absolutely certain everything was correct. Once they had been, once their Alpha Legion allies went to work, the fall of Alteer had happened in short order. The necessary prisoners had been secured, as had their effects, the required parts of the palace had been prepared and secured, even before the armies of the people reached the city. Now they were here, now was the time. The cavernous audience chamber of the Planetary Governor had been cleared; all stools, tables, plinths, pict- or vox-interfaces, even the throne, all ripped from the floor and tossed unceremoniously into what had been the chambers of the Ruling Council next door. Then the paint had been scoured clean; the gaudy reds, purples and silver of the many icons, manners, mosaics and frescos had been burned away with powerful caustic chemicals leaving only a pitted stone grey surface beneath. Then the runes had been written, winding their many concentric circles round and round the room’s central point in scripts that made the eyes of the few onlookers permitted to see it sting and water persistently. Now they too were all in place, the dull sicky redness attesting to the fate of some of the select group of prisoners taken well before any fighting began. The rest had now been brought, blindfolded up from their cells. They walked in a long line, necks connected by a rusting chain, the leading end of which was held by one of the Heralds. Dariel tugged on the links in his hand causing a train of stumbles and shuffles from the dejected sacrifices behind him, scorning their resignation to death. He walked on, pulling the human centipede behind him, tracing a twisting spiral closer and closer to the centre, the central circle, the one patch of bare floor amid the sea of runic lettering. Dariel walked the winding path, his armoured boots dully ringing on the rough stone floor. Reaching that central nexus, he stopped and surveyed the trail of human souls he had left. He could say one thing for their cowed submission; it made them very easy to orient correctly. He had barely finished looking from row to row, his head hight well above that of the unfortunates he had lead to the slaughter. Then the chanting began. Not from Dariel, not from the sacrifices, but from his many followers lining the walls. The chants issued from their helmets in soft unhurried, implacable words. Like the Primordial Chaos they venerated, like the destruction they sought to bring on, like the bitterness in their hearts. Not in unison, not in one single choir, but each a choir on their own, clashing and combining with their fellows with some maniacal inner logic only the Heralds knew the totality of. The rhythm rose with almost imperceptible slowness, building from a vox-enchanced echo gradually to a hum, then a rumble, then it started to thunder from wall to wall as each brother bellowed the words, each syllable seeming to leave their mouths and join their fellows in the air, all stubbornly refusing to diminish or die away. As the chanting started rising the legs of some of the standing line of prisoners gave way below them, they hung suspended by the rigidity of their fellows and it was not until the words were reverberating back and forth ringing in their ears and rattling their teeth that the majority fell, and the rest were dragged down with them in a ragged collapse until all one hundred and fifty of them were sprawled on the rune crusted floor. Those letters were glowing now, and there were screams where they came into contact with unprotected skin. Those screams rose up and joined the building tempest that filled the room, throbbing through it, straining the air, compressing it, energising it. From the moment Dariel entered the chamber with his shuffling charges to the moment the ritual reached its climax took many long hours, the tireless voices of his brothers rising, harmonising with their own echoes, giving vital form to formless energies. Turning the room, the building, the burning planet below into a beacon, drawing out from primordial darkness vile things that have no true name. At that moment of climax, when the colliding beat of words seemed to resolve from cacophony into the steady two-step beat of a heart, a great sonorous heart, the pounding of which shook the walls and rattled the tightly boarded windows. At that moment when every atom in the place seemed charged, at that moment when the potential energy was at its height, Dariel brought the chain up, and cracked it down. His super-human muscles sent a powerful wave rippling along the links, it kicked each sacrifice high into the air as it passed over them causing a ripple of small cracking noises in echo of the original, the prime cause. As it passed down the line and more and more sacrifices fell broken to the floor the wave seemed to gather strength, keeping the sound of snapping necks in time with the pounding of the chant. Both picked up pace, building from one another as more and more of those people who had been destined for this moment since birth died blind and terrified. When the last pair of feet left the ground and the chain ended the final crack seemed deafening even combined with the throbbing dirge. The last sacrifice died and his body exploded in blue forks of lightening. The earthed through the chain, arcing back along the spiral of corpses, each one bursting in turn as the warp energy danced over them. The wave returned along the chain much faster than it had gone, but Duriel was still ready. He sifted the weight of the links wound around his hands and forearm, knowing there was only one chance, one moment, that could avoid disaster. The moment came. Dariel whipped the chain up again to meet the commission lightening. The two forces met, and the equations balanced, the forces matched, the sea was calmed, and the warp flowed in through the stillness. It licked in ghostly tendrils along the chain, outwards again, tracking over the spattered remains of the sacrifices, covering them in blue mist. From within at mist hideous noises came, squelching, liquid sounds bones cracked, organs burst, muscles melted into one another hidden from mortal sight, but clearly visible to Dariel’s psychic senses. When the thing reared up from the thick carpet of warp tainted mist it was fully formed. Fully formed was without doubt entirely the wrong word. It was anything but fully formed in every sense bar one; it had fully formed itself out of the blasted remains of the sacrificed bodies. What it had formed into was an abomination. In vague outline it was a worm, coiled around the circle in which Dariel stood, but beyond that, all sanity took flight. Misshapen body parts jutted from it, limbs twitched uselessly, three hundred eyes blinked out of step with one another all along its length. When the thing moved, bones could be heard snapping within the chaotic folds of its body. Muscles wrapped around one another tautened over living skulls, rearing the end closest to Dariel high into the darkened air. It roared and one hundred and fifty twisted and torn mouths joined together in united wordless agony. The rearing end, the one nearest Dariel, the one which might loosely be called its head, had the chain issuing from a knot of exposed sinews. The chain which Dariel still held firmly in his gauntleted hand. When the thing reared and roared, he yanked hard on the chain, dragging it back down with a force it could not resist. He had created it, he had given it form and summoned a spirit to occupy the mangled flesh, and now he would command it. “Hold!” his voice rang out over the creaming, the continued crunching and the endless chanting that maintained this unspeakable creature in existence against all natural law, “Hold and be silent! I have built you. I have given you existence. I have called out out of the warp because a covenant must be made. I know your name, I know your power, as you know mine. I know your destiny as you know mine. Now you will listen.” “We are chaos.” the words came from every mouth, every word screamed, “We are not commanded. We are not summoned. We are eternal. We are infinite. You are nothing Dariel El’Stander, nor is your absent master. You have built nothing, given fleeting existence to nothing. And to nothing you will return soon enough.” As the great thing spoke, Dariel saw one of his brothers sink to his knees, blood leaking from visor, mouth grill, and armour joints. His brother pitched to his face and lay still. Dariel turned from the corpse, keeping a firm hold on the chain and refusing to be cowed, even by the unutterable horror that now spoke to him with so many dead mouths. “Into nothing all shall return.” he said, betraying none of the trepidation he felt, “But not today. Today I have called you here, and you came as surely as water flows downhill. And just as surely you will listen to the words of the Heralds of Kraven.” “We know your words. We know your mind. We can see your designs laid out before us. We defy them, as your lord defied ours. We came to him, for you were unworthy of our attention. We spoke to him, and we listened to him. And he defied us. So we defy you.” “Spare me your petty pride. We know, or can guess what Kraven said to you, for we know him from long before he ever came to your notice, and we know his mind, for all that he thinks himself so wise. We know he will not return willingly to the real world, even to hasten the coming of the end we all seek. He will wait beyond all worlds for us to burn and pillage and die for our own reasons. Alone. He will wait out us all, he will have victory, while the rest of us perish.” “What awaits for Kraven when all is over is not for you to guess. What his final victory may bring matters nothing to us. Nor does his waiting. We are patient. We are eternal. You are fleeting. We remember you when you were with us, lost in the sea of souls. We remember the pain, we remember your fear. We remember when the first mortal crawled on their belly looking up at the stars and felt their minute insignificance. We remember when the last soul will be cast on their back to gaze up at dying suns and bleeding skies and feel their ultimate destruction. We remember it all. We are patient. The end will come.” Dariel stifled a spasm when the thing’s chorus of voices taunted him. He remembered the warp too, however much had been lost to his mind on his screaming descent back into the real world, he remembered that, the paroxysms of agony that eclipsed all other existence. He would not return there, he knew that much. “I know that well. By the will of my master I felt and perceived much more than your delicate attentions when I last swam among you. I perceived you denied by Kraven’s might. I felt you shrink from his touch. And I felt the touch of the Straight Path. That you know just as well. It is by that power we hold you here, by that power we alone have called the ruinous pantheon in chorus before us. You know that each of us that Kraven saved, freed from your claws, stands now as he stood before his departure. We stand astride three worlds; connected to each, enslaved to none. You know the souls we command grow ever stronger, their acts of veneration, ever directed at you for all that they shriek Kraven’s name at his deaf ears, growing ever greater. Even now the planet below us destroys itself; a microcosom of the galactic destruction we may wage together.” The many mouths let out gouts of laughter, each one different, each one mirthless and tortured. “Our servants destroy many planets in many ways. They despoil and slaughter their way across millions of systems. They send legions of souls to us with every passing day. What does one little world matter? What does a handful of bitter mortals savaging one another in primal exaltation matter when the galaxy burns?” Dariel permitted himself a smile, which elicited a manifold growl of rage from the gestalt flesh-creature he had created. When he spoke he pulled the chain harder, dragging the monster closer, though it never ceased its straining to escape. “It matters, as you well know, because of what we might do should we turn our considerable energies to different cause. Perhaps we will no longer extol our followers away from slaughter and death. Perhaps we will show them the Straight Path just as it was shown to us. Perhaps we will lead a great exodus of souls out through the warp to join our Lord in his seclusion. A pilgrimage.” he paused to enjoy the guarded silence of the many mouths and the fragments of expression as eyes clustered randomly on warped flesh tried to narrow in unison. “Can you imagine it? A great tide nothing like anything the warp as seen over its tortured existence. A great river of life streaming away from the limitations of the physical, away from you. Think of a hundred, a thousand, a million words emptied in silence, their populations ascending like angels through your dwindling masses. Then imagine, imagine all of those souls diving back into your realm, swimming through the warp as Kraven did, saving loved ones, saving ancestors and descendants, saving even the souls you have ensnared, enslaved and consumed. Leaching the life from you like a open wound. Bleeding you dry. Offering you your end, but denying you your satisfaction. Imagine, your existence ebbing away as each soul is pried from you, calming your storms, stilling your rage, peeling away your power until the last shred of you vanishes with the last soul saved, brought home, returned. Then you will die, silent, unmarked. There will be no glorious slaughter, no sublime annihilation. Just silence, just oblivion.” He knew at once he had pushed too far, over played his hand. Painted too vivid a picture from the fragments of understanding that had clung to him from his momentary psychic contact with Lord Kraven, pressed too hard on the pressure points he knew to be there in these ancient and powerful creatures. He knew because of the roar the abomination emitted, from the tortured howl of one hundred and fifty throats wrapped around muscles and connected to lungs that were not their own, from the spasms of movement that rippled along the writhing, twitching length of the thing, from the rearing of head, tail and numerous folds of pulsing, bleeding, partially flayed flesh. But most of all he knew from the sound and feeling of the taut chain clutched in his hand snapping and instantly shattering, glass-like, into crystalline fragments lost on the madness that ensued. Dariel raised his staff, giving the signal. His brothers, many more of whom had died bleeding over the course of the conversation, ended their chanting. The throbbing beat ended suddenly, but seemed to continue in its absence, echoing in Dariel’s head. The thing quivered, fresh fountains of blood erupting from it as for a moment the forces that held it together, held it in existence flickered and died. Limbs fell limp, mouths sagged, eyes dropped from fractured sockets. For a moment there was no sound save the soft organic sound of flesh succumbing to gravity and the ethereal echo of the artificial, ritualistic heartbeat maintained by Dariel’s brothers. Then, to Dariel’s horror the echo became real sounds. Real sound emanating from the creature that now nebulously reformed; shed chunks of meat and organ slithered back into place and the flesh-monster reared up again, its own tortured flesh now self-sustaining, fuelled by the warp power leaking in through its unholy conglomeration of a body. He reacted at once, signalling again to his followers, their armoured forms still half hidden in shadow reacting at once. Hidden weapons snapped into ceramite-clad hands and sheets of bolter fire streaked from each one. Tracing lines of white hot fire lit up the chamber, showing in their fierce light the true extent of the horror that now fought back against those who had created it. There was a central form; a roughly snake-like core formed of solid meat, but most of the mass was composed of the many flailing limbs and trailing torsos that hung in disjointed, bloody chaos from every inch of that mass. Legs ended in feet that were fused to shoulders, that themselves held multiple arms. Chests, their necks terminating in clusters of tiny infant fingers flexed back and forth, blindly grasping for something to rend, something to kill. Heads, or parts of heads leered down with blood-weeping eyes and bellowed curses in unguessed at languages, sniffed hungrily with malformed noses at the end of flailing strips of cartilage and skin. Dariel had a moment to marvel at the sheer horror that could be brought to exist in the rigid reality of the physical, before the head-end of the thing, bolter explosions blasting smoking holes in it as it moved, dived for him a dozen skinless arms popping themselves out of their joints in their desperation to rend his body. He sidestepped it, bringing the staff he had been holding in his free hand round in a wide arc. The psychically charged head connected with the side of the hideous thing as it connected with the floor, crushing its own arms under its bulk. The weapon discharged into the mass of flesh as it connected, searing it black and withering a viciously kicking leg into shrunken ruin. The thing rolled, legs and arms battering Dariel as it bore down on him, trying to crush him. He threw himself back, drawing the combi-bolter from his belt. His shots melded with the continued hail of fire from his brothers, but that hardly seemed to slow it. The bulk connected with his armoured form, the suit screaming and grinding under the weight. His legs and one arm, the one holding the bolter, pinned by the broken remnants of the same flayed arms that had reached for him before. The pressure bore down on him, pressing on his breastplate with mounting force. He struggled vainly, trying inside his head to summon the power to blast the thing off, or at least back enough that he could get away from its tightening coils. Then something large and armoured in black and silver barrelled across Dariel’s obscured vision, crashing into the monstrosity with the force of a small tank. The momentum of both his newly arrived brother, and the coruscating powerfist which he brought up with all his might to strike heartbeats after he did mercifully shifted the thing and Dariel felt breath return to him as the pressure lapsed. He heaved against it, adding his own strength to that of his brother Herald. In moments he was free and back on his feet, bolter spitting on full auto, raking the flanks of the thing as all along its length it fought back against the legionaries intent on blasting it back to oblivion. Dariel felt his brother clap his shoulder. The grim armoured helmet of Sepharion shaking almost imperceptibly as they both turned, and back to back, laid into the throng of disjointed limbs and gnashing mouths that advanced on them from all directions. Dariel’s staff withered them on contact, his mentally charged blasts ripping through their unholy flesh reducing them to inert death. Sepharion’s power fist fell again and again battering flesh, bone, organs and sinew into useless, lifeless paste. They both battered against exposed sections of the things central mass, both rent and blasted huge holes in its hulking body. Between them their bolters reduced the rearing head-end to a bloody stump of fragmented muscle, but still the thing fought on seemingly unaware or uncaring of the many mortal wounds being inflicted on every inch of it. “We must stop its heart.” Dariel yelled into his vox as he flattened a pointed leering half-face which cursed at him in ancient terran, “We must find the heart and kill it.” “How,” his brother replied between shuddering blows from his fist, “do you propose we do that?” “Give me time, give me a moment to look.” Dariel replied. His brother groaned, but did as requested, beginning a complicated rotating dance around his sworn-brother, who had sunk to his knees, completely ignoring the fighting all around. Sepharion orbited Dariel diving back and forth swatting at the limbs with flailed in his direction, bolts and fist protecting his brother, at the cost of protecting himself. Dariel closed his eyes and let his mind go free. He opened his other eyes, his inner eyes, and saw the true horror of the thing before him. Whatever nightmare form it might be forced into in the real world, the gestalt entity they had created defied description in the warp. It was a mess of dimenions, folded in on one another, it was a vortex of screaming souls, it was a boiling cauldron of pain, it was an inferno of rage. And there, there in its impossible centre, Dariel could see it, feel it, the beating heart of a monster. He opened his eyes, in time to see a forest of arms wrap themselves around his struggling brother and lift him from his feed. Dariel sprang to his feet, raising his staff high, the metal head with its glowing red stone formed the lens to focus his psychic attack. The lance of white light slice clean through the thing, burning a hole from one side to the other before melting its way through most of the ferrocrete wall. Dariel didin’t run to save his brother from the arms now trying to strangle him, Dariel dive forwards to that gaping hole. He dived over a swiping leg, rolling with his momentum and coming to his feet again to face the gaping aperture. From within blood spouted in floods, coating Dariel as he surged forward, not pausing to think, not pausing to fear, just driving onwards to what he knew was there. He jabbed at the hanging offal with his staff, burning more curtains of flesh away and exposing it. It nestled among coils of intestines, rows of ribs, and was crowned by four skulls. It was a human heart. Not the simple mortal organ, the likes of which beat inside Dariel’s chest, but a heart made of humans. It stood three meters high and one and a half wide. It’s broad musculature formed from the compressed bodies of more than a dozen people, its horrible beating accompanied by the agonised screams of those unfortunates. With each beat it pulsed, sending warp energy pulsing through the body Dariel was now within, energising it, healing it, strengthening it. He knew the hole he blasted in it would already be closing, but that didn’t matter, nothing mattered as he brought the head of his staff down to point at the thing’s very heart and released a plume of fire that melted all it touched into super-heated nothingness. This was not ordinary fire, it was not even the witch fire of the warp. This was the burning intensity that before only Kraven possessed. This was the irresistible force of the Primordial Chaos against which nothing could stand. It took great willpower to summon, yet more to control, but Dariel had used its power before. Nothing, not solid armour, not unwavering faith not vile abomination could stand it. All was reduced to that which it had come at the beginning by its touch. The flames licked around the heart, enveloping it, consuming it. Once again the diabolical beating ended, this time the echoes within Dariels head faded and died, and did not thunder back into life in continued defiance. As, with another effort, his mind doused the fire and Dariel saw the charred lump of carbon which was all that remained of the cured organ made to pump warp energy out of the warp and into its dead veins, the monstrosity began to die. Once again chunks of flesh slipped and slopped from its body, arms fell limp, legs disintegrated, curses and spells died on a hundred and fifty tongues as the life line that supported them was cut. Then all Dariel could see was a wave of mouldering flesh raining down on him, washing him away, as everything of the creature; bones, blood, everything, lost all cohesion and was reduced to red-brown slop which fell like flood water over and around him. The thing, at last was dead. When Sepharion pulled his brother-Herald from the reeking piles of organic residue, which still steamed and spat with the heat of its former occupant, it was with a scowl. Hidden though it was behind his helmet, Dariel knew it was there. “It worked, brother.” he said breathlessly, reaching up to scrape the stinking stuff from his own helm. “This was a success?” his brother replied, surveying the carnage. Two dozen of their brothers had died during the ritual, and another twelve had died during the ferocious nightmarish battle with the thing. Crushed, strangled, bitten or simply absorbed into its many folds before Dariel had managed to kill it. “If this was success, do not let me see failure.” Dariel hardly listened. His mind was still ringing with the words that had filled it in the instant before the heart had been stilled, the last message of the gods spoken in an eternal heartbeat before the entity which the Heralds had created flew apart, scattering its constituent parts across the warp, hurling the vast, eternal essences of the chaos gods back to their realm of nightmare. “The bargain is struck. By the souls that died on this world, by the abomination you created, by the power you have wielded, the Ruinous Powers will aid you as you aid them. Our servants will be your servants. Our victory will be your victory. Our end will be your end.”
  3. The Meeting Each time he made the journey the route was different. Each time the landscape of the warp resolved itself in his perceptions in a new and often frightening way. Each time also, however, he had walked the path with less fear, with more confidence. The first time, the first time he had reached the other side, his way had been blasted open for him. He had riven such a storm through the warp that in its aftermath all other tides and currents were stilled for a time. He had charged through the gap torn for him in the immaterium, sprinting through fragmented vistas of transient reality as the powers of the warp struggled to reassert themselves in the wake of his explosive arrival. They had snapped and snarled at him, following his heels as he moved through directions that defy definition. It had been close, it had almost ended the way all the other attempts had; with deamons tearing at his soul and a frantic battle to reunite with his body, safe for a time, beyond their reach. But in the last dashing second when all other thoughts and drives fell away and there was only his naked will driving forwards, seeking the place from which it had first sprung. Now, when he stepped out of his body, a thing which felt more and more like a frail shadow, cast by the part of him that stayed behind each time he left that place and returned to the material world. Now, when he stepped into the warp the path was clear to him, the one constant in the endless shifting half-realities conjured by the nightmares of mortal hearts. This time that reality was of an endless plain, stretching away into a hazy horizon where it met, or perhaps became, a broiling cloud filled, lightening riven sky. All was dry dust and heat blackened rock. All except the path. It stretched out before him in a straight unbroken line from his feet, paved with cracked, uneven flagstones. The first times, the first times he had ventured blindly into this un-reality, chasing the hinted possibility of something beyond it, he had been formless. A disembodied soul amid the maelstrom. The daemons had set upon him then, clawing at him, rending him, tormenting him. He had fought back, manifesting his will as barriers of force and blasts of energy. With time and practice he had made those barriers and blasts stronger, more focussed. Then when he had at last found the way and experienced the Great Beyond, everything had changed. Now, when he stepped out of the material protection of his mortal body, his will girt his soul in black armour, great and terrible, his perceptions focussed through a single vast eye formed from the faceplate where a visor might otherwise be. What gazed forth from that eye was not mere light, it was not mere energy, something beyond brightness, something which would it loosed illuminate everything, bleaching all reality with its fire. Now when the daemons assailed him his armour turned aside their blows, and the gaze of his eye withered them where they stood, reducing them to wisps of multicoloured smoke. Now also, his naked will placed in his hand a great sword, broad hilted and heavy, with a blade that burned internally with the same meta-light that pierced from his eye. Now, as he stood upon the straight path, the deamons did not approach him. They clustered and cavorted nearby, leering at him with with myriad glimmering eyes, but none dared block his path or come too close to the shining sword. He held that blade aloft, marking the path ahead, paying no heed at all to the vile creatures that had once been so unassailable and stepped boldly out through this vision of the warp. Oreanas Kraven strode on, and the deamons followed. They followed and he walked. Time does not pass in the warp, and in the unchanging landscape there was no way to mark his progress, and yet Kraven knew he was. He was upon the straight path, moving through a dimension beyond even the warps twisted realities, following the trail he had blazed that first time. As he walked more of their fellows joined the prancing deamons, more petty predatory things that looked to Kraven’s single eye as ghostly spectres; frail weak echoes of life. He continued to ignore them, marching ever onwards; even were they to swarm around him by the million they could no more wound him than insects. Eventually however, the commotion that followed in his wake drew the attention of different eyes. Amidst the rising throng of deamons around him Kraven could see giants striding. Great horned or winged things that had festered for long aeons in the warp, suffused with the power of mortal fears and hopes. They were less cowed by his sword and armour, though at first none of them seemed any more eager than their lesser fellows to make an attempt. So Kraven continued to ignore the daemon horde, ignore their jeers, their snapping claws and their gouts of fire. Ignored them until one towering monster loosed a bellow that rang through the unspace of the warp with the echo of ten billion murderers. It leapt forward from the throng, teeth bared and weapons raised. The flagstones cracked beneath cloven hooves, bestial legs were covered with coarse hair, a hunched torso, rippling with muscles, bunching under taught blood red skin, supported two vast bat-like wings. From the crown of its head two sets of horns curved up, ending in vicious points. It’s face was a contorted visage of fury, vaguely humanoid feature bent and twisted out of shape. Two slitted eyes burned with red fire, tongues of which curled out from its furrowed brows. The mouth, bent into a snarl was slick with steaming drool and many teeth of brazen brass glowed hot from the inner fire of the beasts terrible existence. In one massive clawed hand it held a great double-axe, its head smoking with infernal heat, in the other a long, barbed whip lashed and coiled with its own malign intelligence. “Stay!” It growled, fumes and reek rising from its tooth filled maw with each heaving breath, “Stay foolish mortal! You will not walk in this place unchallenged! In the name of the Blood God I shall claim your skull and send your soul screaming and naked into the void!” With that the avatar of rage bellowed once again and charged, the thunder of its steps matching the thunder of the sky above. The whip cracked flying out like a lashing tongue. But when it’s iron barbs connected with the black armour surround Kraven’s soul, there was a blinding flash. White lightening streaked along the writhing length, the handle was ripped from the deamon’s grasp and the whip was reduced to the wisps of thought and terror of which it was made, its power to hurt dispelled. The deamon didn’t break step, taking the axe in both hands it brought the blade round in a screaming, trailing smoke, aiming for Kraven’s neck. The shining sword appeared, catching the flat of the axe from below, defecting the swing harmlessly over his form. Again the deamon didin’t break step, turning the back-swing into another attack, still charging, powering forwards, to drive this impudent mortal back and down. But Kraven was immobile. Axe head met sword blade with a ringing crash that sent new ripples of lightening through the tortured sky above. Kraven weathered the onslaught, parrying blow after blow, withstanding and deflecting the monster each time it drove again against him. The shining white sword flashing like the lightening above in defiance of the dark smoking reek that poured in equal measure from the deamon’s hideous axe. Each contact of the weapons sent shock waves of force blossoming outwards, staggering some of the lesser creatures as they stared in semi-sentient awe of the duel taking place before them. The great burning creature could not tire, could not be stilled. It existed only to kill, only to maim. only to burn. All foes it had hitherto faced, within the warp or during its all too brief manifestations on the material plain were weak. They had tired, they had flagged. The frailty of their flesh revealing their weakness, their failure. But the soul it now fought was different. With each swing of its axe another swing from the sword defected it, each as sure and precise as the last. This foe seemed as tireless as the deamon itself. Had it not been as without fear as it was without fatigue, the creature may have realised that while it existed only to kill maim and burn, this foe existed only to exist. Suddenly they were grappling. Sword and axe locked together as with brute blunt force along the daemon tried to overwhelm Kraven’s guard. As it piled forward its spittle flecked, flame wreathed face pressed close to the single staring eye on Kraven’s helmet. The flaming slits met the white stare and froze. The daemon stared into something that was so utterly beyond it, that it seemed to wither into nothing. It tried to look away, even, perhaps to run, but Kraven’s hands released the sword, and grabbed with implacable grip onto the larger of the two sets of horns, just above the greatures now franticly burning eyes. Kraven stared down those eyes as the ceamon struggled, its own hands trying to grab Kraven, his hands, arms or armour. Each time its warp flesh met the black sheen of the armour a violent hissing noise erupted and the deamon roared as blisters seared over its palms. It struggled harder, pulling with its entire body to wrench itself away from the terrible portal through which it was being forced to stare. When it broke free from Kraven’s grasp it came with a sickening crack, and while it’s head rose up high, flailing madly, the two great horns had remained in his gauntleted hands. The bloody craters ripped in the things forehead spat gobs of thick black blood that poured down over its face, extinguishing the fire of its eyes. It thrashed blindly, fists and wings whipping back and forth in mindless fury. Kraven, stepping back from the melee of heavy, steel clawed fists, raised a hand. The sword came to him, blade raised and ready. Moving with steady ease, Kraven advanced, avoiding the furious blows, the sword already swinging down in one last shimmering arc. The deamon’s head hit the cracked and smoking flagstones. It’s body landed a moment later. The lesser things, and the other greater things retreated, scattering before this thing that had come into their realm and that had laid low so mighty a champion with such ease. For his part, Kraven simply resumed his walking. The path ahead beckoned, and he stepped through the already dissipating body of the fallen daemon giving it and the hordes of its fellows still keeping him in sight no further thought. While, at the bidding of their dark masters the deamon throng kept him in sight no more tried to attack him and he was unmolested as he continued steadily towards his destination. After many more steps that covered infinite distances and yet went nowhere, the way ahead shifted in his perception. The single road ahead shimmered and parted. He arrived at a parting of the ways; his single straight path split into four paths, each leading away to the same indistinct horizon. At the head of each of the four an embassy awaited him and he halted his stride to regard them through his single eye. At Kraven’s leftmost there rode eight creatures, like the great beast that he had killed before, though smaller and wingless, and with no armour. And each carried a crimson sword that leaked dark blood from their blades. They sat upon great behemoths of bronze and gold. Brown vapours poured from their joints and their metal maws so that all around the embassy their rose a reek and smoke that clouded them from sight. In their midst a huge figure of a man was visible. He stood nine feet tall, his skin pulsed red and gleamed with simmering perspiration. His body heaved with great breaths that escaped him in long growls. He wore a brass breastplate girt under with chainmail of steel. In his hands there rested a sword the height of a man and it too smoked with the same heat of the steeds of his heralds. Black in blade and hilt it was and from it terror emanated. His terrible face was bare; a tied knot of dark red hair fell from the crown of his head and down his back. His eyes were points of burning fire that smouldered with hidden rage, though his mouth, cracked and charred as if by some fearsome heat was twisted into a cruel grin. Next to them was a cloud of buzzing flies. Their horrible drone competed with the grinding hiss of the bronze steeds. At the centre of this black living cloud a second embassy waited, seven heralds there were. Each of these heralds was a bloated and oozing denizen of sickness. They had slack mouths from which hideous puss poured in place of saliva. Their eyes were yellow and blank, yet still filled with malevolence. Their bilious bodies were marked with many sores and boils that pulsated and swelled before Kraven’s gaze. Their weapons; cruel knives and cleavers, were rusted yet keen, and coated with a green slime that cling like mucus and stank of poisons too vile to describe. At their centre, upon a great rotting palanquin there sat a grotesque figure. Obese beyond estimation he reclined upon his crumbling seat. His great blubberous arms rested regally upon a belly, swollen and discoloured by sickness and corruption, covered innumerable open eruptions and crevices each of which leaked unspeakable fluids. A vast chin sagged over his torso that hung loosely down from a wide, fatherly smile. His eyes, wide and bloodshot wept yellow puss and across the bald dome of his head there were many red welts. At his side, resting in the crook of his repugnant arm there lay a evil scythe. Its wooden haft was crumbling and green in hue, and its curved blade dripped with the same green toxin as those of his minions, pooling and congealing in the many rusted notches down its great length. Stink poured from him and his heralds. Beyond them were six slender lithe creatures. Their feminine forms were draped in fine satins and silks. Their exposed skin was pure, crisp white, that dappled purple as it melded into the long diamond sharp talons that ended each arm. Their lips were rounded yet behind those lips could be seen the glimmer of sharp fangs and a lashing forked tongue. Their eyes, beetle black, sparkled alluringly in amid chiselled features. All six danced concentric circles around the figure in the centre. The dance, infinitely complex and delicate changed speed, tone, form and rhythm with each heartbeat, and grew ever more delicate and seductive as Kraven watched. The figure around which they danced was androgynous; masculine in face and musculature yet with a female delicacy that drew the eye. His skin, like his heralds was purest white. He was clad in a silken loincloth and his body was pierced with many gold ornaments that shone in the flashes of white light that still slit the sky. His eyes were shining gold and his hair, long and raven flowed like liquid over and around his body. At his hip hung from a delicate belt of leather and fine gems and gold leaf there was a finely crafted sabre of ornate yet deadly design. Long and thin was its blade and razor sharp, gilded down its length with silver and gold runes. The breath of his embassy rose with a heat shimmer over the planes and whispered of forbidden delights and twisted pleasures. The final embassy was the largest, though it was impossible to tell their exact number for while at some points there were clearly nine cavorting heralds, in a blink there were ten and then fourteen then back to twelve, then eighteen. Just as with their number the exact form of these capering creatures was not clear. Their limbs and faces constantly warped, shifted and reformed. One moment shrinking and curling away into nothing and the next emerging anew from their swirling shifting bodies. The figure that they danced around seemed aged beyond count. Deep was his hunched back and crooked was his long nose. His limbs were impossibly thin and gangling, ending in emaciated long fingered hands with long talon nails at their tips. He wore long white and blue robes that billowed and fluttered around in a nonexistent breeze. The hood was raised over his head and about its hem were woven many runes and symbols of arcane extraction. Even with the raised hood some portion of the beings face as visible. Below the hooked nose the mouth was twisted in a frown of distain and scorn, its thin lips pursed together with ages of deep concentration. About its thin neck there could be seen a mane of white hair that fell in a tangle from beneath the hood. And from the gloomy shadows of the hood there came forth the gleam of two piercing eyes, sharp and watchful of any and for any. Those eyes had begun their watching in the morning of the world and would never cease to gaze into the minds of mortals until the uttermost end of life. He lent upon a long staff that seemed to be made from liquid glass that reflected a myriad colours from its infinite depths. And at its head there was set a great gem the size of a man’s head that glowed with an inner eerie blue light that illuminated the embassy beneath it. The very air around him seemed to tingle with power and dark energies that are forever beyond the ken of mortal minds. Yet Kraven was no longer a mere mortal. Over the long millennia he had moved beyond the state that he had been born into. And so now standing in the company of these four great powers he was unmoved by fear or concern, for he had passed beyond their realms before, he had bested their servants and escaped their clutching hands. For many long moments no words were spoken; none of the five moved or spoke. Yet fierce battle was being done in silence. The air rippled and cracked with the power that was passing between them. In this fierce battle of wills Kraven was staunchest; his will could weather rage and lust and decay and change whereas theirs could not abide a will they could not corrupt. At length with a sound like a distant whip-crack the tension broke and the clash of wordless wills ended. It was ended by the red-skinned figure, who roared in frustration, stepping out from the cluster of his heralds to stand before his brothers and before Kraven and who spoke in a loud voice dripping with barely restrained rage. “Enough of this. Enough of this pathetic façade. You have walked far through our realms, Mortal, but no more. Here you will end. Here I will claim your skull personally and carry your body back to my brass throneroom to be devoured for eternity by the hounds of the Blood God. Come, my brothers, let me smite this insignificant thing and rid us of this, this, disgusting affront to our power.” Kraven was unmoved. He stood alone before the Lord of Skulls and was not bent. “No.” he said quietly, his voice still clear and crisp despite its reserve, “You shall not strike me down, O lord of slaughter. Were it in your power to do so you would have done it long ago, before I found the straight road. Now I stand beyond your power, even were I sitting on your very throne atop your pile of empty skulls you could not harm me.” The eyes of the Master of Fury burned white hot, and the sky above ignited in response. “Your death will be but the beginning.” The untamed wrath shone like the sun unclouded at Kraven. And the hideous heat that poured forth could melt the strongest material armour and the most steadfast mortal will. Yet Kraven was now less than material, and more than mortal. He stood now alone before the fiery power of Khorne and he was unmoved. “This is not the first time my will has walked in your realm. You have not hindered me before, and you shall not now. Yet here you stand.” The second creature stepped forward now, his face softened and a warm smile upon his painted lips. “Such energy in you. Such passion.” The voice was sweet to the point of sickly, tempting and cloying. At once it spoke with childlike naiveté and with forbidden wisdom that penetrated the mind and soul alike. “Your defiance in treading our soils, your bravery in the face of our servants, your glory in victory over us. You are truly the greatest warrior in all the mortal realm. What powers, what pleasures need you now deny yourself? With the pantheon of four within your power, what can you not achieve? Such provinces and kingdoms you might build both in the Warp and without it. O great and glorious mortal, come, command us and we shall obey.” And again the figure of Kraven was still. For long moments he pondered the words of the most beguiling of dark powers. It would be false to claim such words were not alluring to his ears, yet a temptation was all they could be. For the Prince of Excess had no power to ensnare Kraven. “Do not pretend to be cowed by my might, though towering it may be.” He said at length, “For your soft whisperings are impotent to plant any seed of corruption. I know with long study that for all my strength of will I may not command the Ruinous Powers with any more hope for mastery than any of your minions. Yet what I am and what I am becoming is beyond your power; and just as I may not command you, so you may not command me. So can the undeceiveable ask the deceiver; for what purpose do you stand arrayed as ambassadors before me? For never has it been that the lords of chaos should entreat mortals so. Let me pass, and I shall go my way into the deep places.” “The deep places?” this third voice was dry, it creaked with the sound of a thousand dusty tomes of hidden knowledge. Avian in its tone, it's words were accompanied by a myriad echoes that repeated softly the words behind the first and strongest sound. And those voices did not die as do mortal words, but drifted away though the throbbing air and though faded joined the hum of the warp. “What do mortals know of the deep places of our realm? For while you might essay to pass beyond our lands, still you may know nothing of such halls. Even in your longest, most vain reaching you may perceive only the distant shores of my domain. You belie your own ignorance by claiming any greater wisdom. For all knowledge must flow from and pass though me, mortal. And you may hope for nothing but to be let glimpse but a fleeting fragment of my design." The fierce head turned to fix Kraven with a single golden eye. "Yet I see that you know much of the ways that govern the mortal and immortal worlds. And such understanding, however limited is praiseworthy. So I offer you this boon; entreat with me, come into my power. And I will bring you to my palace, there you shall be granted secrets and truths that lie yet beyond your most wild fancies. Will you not turn from this solitary path and let my wisdom succour you so that your strength may grow?” Kraven faltered, for while his will remained strong even in the face of these words, the offer of the Changer of Ways enticed him strongly. For in all the many twisted paths and lands of the Immaterium there was only the Maze of Tzeentch that he had not entered. For Kraven had not the vainglory to presume his power would not be his downfall in those winding paths were sanity becomes unravelled and strength becomes weakness. But with the blessings of the great master of deceit might he, Kraven not step into those vaults of secrecy? What power could he gain, what destiny might he seek with the hand of the Eternal Manipulator guiding his feet? “No, lord.” He said, denying the third of the pantheon with the same cold bluntness with which he had stayed the other two. His eye as ever unblinkingly staring forth to meet those of his adversaries, “Not for me is it to walk your halls and read your libraries. For even those lesser things that are naught but extensions of yourself, Great Schemer, are lost in those corridors, and fade into nothingness before the madness that dwells within your crystal walls. For despite all your designs your so called wisdom is folly in the face of the true understanding that I have tasted beyond your realm. Indeed, it is yourself that cannot see beyond your own lands, and into the deeps. I have walked in halls that your ways have never touched. And it is there that I will ever return, from now and even unto the very end of time.” A gurgling laugh came forth then from the final ambassador who had until then sat silent amid his clouds of stink and flies. “Not for mortals is it to talk about the end of time. For that truly lies beyond your ken.” In the voice was the rasp and clot of every infection and pestilence that had ever been brewed to ravage mortal worlds, yet for all its corruption it contained a gentle touch. The words were those of a relative chiding a youth for reaching too far before the appointed time, “For you are tied ever to the reality that begot you, and you shall never walk free from it. Thus, though it be many long years hence, you shall wither. And you will at long last be an old, dying man. Clinging to the life that is all you can know. Then at the last your flesh shall fail and your soul flee screaming from the body to be buffeted and broken upon the winds and tides of the Immaterium. Such is the fate of mortals, so speak no more of the end of time. For only though me can you hope to hold onto that life and see, perhaps the future as it unfolds, for a while. Come, let the Grandfather dance within you, and I shall gift unto you the power and vitality needed to weather the ravages of cruel time. Come sit by me and I shall show you how to fend off the grim clutches of the reaper before it is too late, and his fingers close upon your mortal neck and drag you forth into your torment.” Now Kraven was silenced. For all that he could command, was death truly beyond his power, now and forever? Should he now yield? It was within the power of the Plaguefather to preserve the coils of mortality and hold is followers to reality though his corruption. With his command and by his will could time not be stilled and rendered dumb. What then might he, Kraven do with such immortality? Could he not rise to become such a great and terrible lord, spreading the glorious truth of the power of decay? “I will not.” He said, “I will not sit by your feet and sing your litanies of disease. Endless though you claim your power to be it is naught but a veneer of life and death that festers in the thoughts of the mortals that forged you. For you, like they cannot see the truth. That life and death are illusions. Born from ignorance, the lack of understating of the primal chaos that underlies every change of state that moves both the material and immaterial continuums. Nay, the immortality you offer is nothing more than a lie; a lie created by weak minds who live in fear of that which they do not know. I have no such fear and your words fall on deaf ears. And yet you knew this before ever we met upon this road.” “Well indeed we knew it.” The Great Changer responded, his eyes flashing multicoloured as he turned his head from the Grandfather of Plague to Kraven’s armoured form, “And as well we knew of your goings and comings though our land. Brazenly you walk our ways and heed not our will in your wanderings.” “Were you any other you would have been cut down where you stood as soon as you dared set foot in my realm.” Growled the lord of blood, running a red hand over the edge of his smoking sword. “But you were not.” The Patron of Manipulation continued, “And by our grace you were permitted to wander, and thus to discover all the wisdom you now flaunt.” “We permitted you to walk your path through the deep places of the Warp to test you.” The Dark Prince crooned, his voice heavy with placation, “And thus far you have proven hardy. Are you ready for the next challenge that we deign to lay in your path?” And as Kraven listened to the words of the Ruinous Pantheon doubts crept into his mind. Had he been allowed to step this far only by the will of these things that now willed to make him their pawn? Was the truth of the eternal chaos only a delusion conjured in his mortal mind, and the powers of the gods was all that could be found in this place of energy and thought? But, even as these doubts threatened to paralyse him they were washed away by the unassailability of the Primordial Chaos. That which was all and yet none of the shadow fiends that stood here now to taunt him. No, he had walked his path alone and by his own leave. He had been to places that the Gods knew not. Their power, bound up in the souls of the living and the fears and dreams those souls held to, was held to it and part of it. This Pantheon could no more step beyond those boundaries than a fish could breathe the air. And they had not hindered him for that reason and no other. Their only design was to use his mounting power to their own ends; to attach themselves to his glory so that reflected it might seem to emanate from them also. “You offered me no challenge. You guided none of my steps. Whilst I began my journey your many eyes where elsewhere, absorbed by your many bloody attempts to unmake reality. You did not hinder me because you could not. Your attempts to cast doubt on what I have seen will fail, will fail because what I have seen, where I have been, is a place where knowing and being are one, and that truth cannot be subverted, nor can it be occluded by your lies. So again I ask you, you great powers of the warp, why do you stand here before me? Why do you seek to do that which you know you cannot?” “Perhaps,” the gurgling roar of the Plaguefather rose to meet Kraven’s challenge, “we sought to see your power for ourselves. To see if you could stand before us unbowed and unbroken. Billions of mortal souls have beheld our glory, all have been lost, all have been subsumed by us.” “Not all.” the Great Deceiver spoke slowly, “But those few who have stood mighty in the material world, great leaders of mortal men, under whose gaze whole galaxies turned. Those who defied us as you do were so much more than you; rising from the shadows to greatness. Perhaps we doubted the veracity of the whispers and rumours that came to us of your might, of your journey, of the places that you have seen.” “Perhaps you were simply so blinded by the limits of your existence that you could not refrain from this gesture, this demonstration, this final attempt to prove your supremacy over the souls that bore you?” Kraven spoke with cold accusation in his voice, “Perhaps you see in me another force which can bring on the final destruction of reality? To end your suffering as well as all suffering?” “You understand much,” the burning face still contorted with rage never the less spoke low, with only a rumbling growl betraying what lay beneath, “much more than even we had guessed. Yes, we seek to bring on the end of the cycle. That is what we are; we are Chaos. We are the Primordial Annihilator. We are that which ends, that which corrupts, that which controls, that which defiles. We undo all things. We bring on merciful oblivion. When every skill of every mortal is piled beneath my throne, then the very rage will die, and my own burning skull shall be the last.” “When the very last sensation of the very last soul, degrading itself on the corpses of last of its fellows, extinguishes itself in an ecstasy of self-destruction, then too shall I be extinguished, the flutes will be silent, the dance will be over and all experience will fade.” “When plague and death has reduced all flesh to mud, when the last soul surrenders and life no longer cries against the oncoming darkness, then shall the fear rot also and my children will sing no more.” “When there are no more schemes, when there are no more secrets. When everything is laid bare and the solid matter is solid no more. When the material and immaterial become one and all ways are one, then shall my eyes gaze no longer, then shall all deception cease. Then shall the primordial chaos return.” Kraven was struck by the words spoken to him alone of all mortals. To hear from the very mouths of the Chaos Gods their acceptance, their eagerness even, for their own ultimate destruction was at once a thrilling confirmation of all which he had learned and experienced since he had started on this great journey, and a horrible portent of the inevitable fate of the whole universe. The whole universe, except Oreanas Kraven. “So here we stand,” the dark prince spoke for its brothers, “here we stand because we know, or guess from the whispers of you that echo through the warp, that that goal, that final annihilation is your goal also. You would see the cycle complete, you would seek a chance to be first, before us, before any other sentient soul. Though you may find that more of a challenge than we have proven to be. Never the less, are we not of a common purpose? Why should your followers and ours not battle together to bring on the apocalypse we all await?” “My followers?” Kraven asked, almost amused, “As you said I sprung from the shadows. I have no followers.” “But you do.” the Blood God spoke in a voice of grim pleasure, “those two souls you plucked from our tides, that you sent back to reality, they hallow you. They call you Master, Walker of the Straight Path. They inspire secret cults in your name, they commit acts of glorious chaos, feeding us, even though they pray to you.” Kraven knew, in an instant of the un-time of the warp what was being spoken of. He saw his two brothers leading armies of deluded mortals, spreading fire to yet more worlds, sending so many souls screaming into the warp. They had learned nothing. “They have named themselves your Heralds. They gather to themselves great hosts of followers, yours and ours. Moths to the flame of promised power. No matter what path you tread, no matter how other you are, you are like us. War is waged in your name, chaos comes at your will, as it comes at ours.” “I desire no destruction. I desire no part in the cataclysm that must come. You, Gods of Chaos, you know of the certainty one way or another of your victory, and your final defeat. What reason have I to join you? Where I go all things exist, all futures and all pasts coexist in perfect symmetry, what reason have I to return to this one branch of that crystal tapestry?” “What reason indeed?” dark, sultry words licked Kraven’s soul, “What reason do you have to return, now that you have broken through? What reason had you for freeing your Heralds from their torment? Could it be you are not so apart from the mundane as you would claim to be?” “My reasons are my own, as are my motives. My journey is not linear; it crosses the same point is space, but with different meaning and purpose. Yet there is no reason for me to join with you even as an equal in ruination. I will go my way from you. My followers, as you are pleased to call them, will do as they will. Perhaps they will eventually overcome the last barrier and they will come to me, as your followers are supposed to, and we may exist in infinity.” Kraven was done with this. Kraven had listened to the Gods, he had withstood their temptations and their wroth, he had seen their twisted hearts, heard of the last battle where all would be undone, and none of it mattered to him. All there was was the way back, the way beyond all this suffering and destruction, this faith and hope. “I defy you.” he said, his eye flashing with the strength of his will, “I defy you and I will have no part of your hollow pursuits. I would be gone now, I will return to my solitary path.” “Then,” the Great Schemer seemed to purr with rasping tones, pleased by some irony in the situation that Kraven failed to spot, “Then O Kraven, Walker of the Straight Path, Lord of Chaos Primordial, you have but one question to answer.” The Dark Prince gave voice to it, as in unison each embassy parted, clearing the way down their respective roads, each leading away into the hazy, impossible distance; “Which path is your path?” Kraven realised the Gods thought this a test, a final attempt to trick him, to turn him away from his goal, to wrap him in their webs of power. That was the irony that the Changer of Ways had seen. But Kraven had seen through it before he had known it was there, he had the answer before the question was posed. That was the answer that was so obvious that Kraven had not considered it to be anything more subtle. Kraven said nothing. As he turned his back on the Four Gods of Chaos, the path behind him becoming the path before him, and continued down a road he now knew no power in existence could turn him from, they and their embassies dissolved back into the boiling warp from which they came, of which they were formed. And Kraven continued onwards, vanishing at last into the Great Beyond, from whence, he now felt, there was less and less reason ever to return.
  4. The Escape In the boiling unreality of the Warp there are untold billions of mortal souls. Human, alien, ancient and infant, born into a universe of toil, hardship and pain, only to die and pass into a hell of their own creation, rather than the infinity which bore them. There are two kinds of thing that can exist in the Warp; departed souls, trapped and bodiless, and the twisted echoes of the hopes, loves, fears and hates that those souls felt in life. It is known what happens to those echoes, when they rise to a tidal wave of pure psychic energy, when they collapse under the weight of countless billions of minds all feeling, all fearing, all hating, all hoping, and form, screaming into semi-sentient entities, consumed with, as they were created by the emotions that rage all around and through them. So it is that when death comes, the soul of the departed leaves the nasty, brutish and short reality in which they were so invested, and enters a sea, a vast ocean populated by the very creatures of their own nightmare, given flesh in this afterlife, given fangs and claws, and given hunger. For no matter what thoughts and feelings spawned them, those things are but one half of what the mortal soul is. They have the limitless infinity of possibility, like the Great Beyond whence all things came, but they lack the visceral experience of the emotions of which they are composed. To feel an emotion; to feel hate, a soul must have the physical world; there must be something to hate, an avatar, a cause to match the effect. All that the warp entities are is those emotions; devoid of material being they simply are hate, are despair. So in their chaotic half-existence, caught between the everything that is nothing, and the nothing that is something, they twist and writhe and hunger to taste the air of reality, to feel with real bodies and feast with real teeth. Most of all they hunger for the souls which create them, drawing the pain and fear and death spasms they cause into themselves in the closest they will come to feeling that which they are. Until then though, until they can pour through portals and descend upon the soft flesh of mortal bodies, they can manage something which may in the pit of the darkest reaches of the mortal psyche be called amusement by setting upon those endless masses of disembodied, helpless souls trapped with them in the place that is neither whole nor separate. Without physical form though they may be, those poor souls, saturated with the memories and experiences of their short but brilliantly vital existence feel just as they had in life; they perceive their limbs, only to have them dismembered by something formless and fanged; they experience having skin, only to have it ripped from them by burning pincers; they have organs, only have them devoured. In this place there are no descriptions which can do justice to the state in which these souls exist; formless, yet tortured, free, yet bound, there is no direction, there is no time. There is only pain. It is on these roaring tempests of emotion that voidships sail, protected by their bubbles of reality, covering the vast distances of real space in the trick, half-dimensions of the warp. Standing on one of those ships and staring out beyond the flickering shields at the twisted reflection of a universe of emotion, it is possible to discern a screaming face shifting into being on the horizon where the unreal almost touches the real. What change that causes in the hellish existence of those souls, pressing up for a moment like waves on sailing ships of old, it is best not to guess. So the Warp rolls on, a fiery hurricane orbiting the material world, probing it, burning it, adding to itself with every instant of horror, every atrocity perpetrated, every soul prevented from reaching the Great Beyond. Yet, there are those who can, almost, break the walls of this metaphysical prison the living have built for themselves, those who can bring to formlessness something real, if only fleetingly. Those who are connected to that other place that is also every place, and who have left the material world behind like fading dreams. Here was one of those somethings. Here was all that there was; here and not anywhere else. It seemed, to the perceptions of the mortal soul that seemed to hover precisely at ‘here’, like being inside a hollow glass ball lost in a multi-coloured sea of fire, ice and lightening, though if it was a sea and not just the colour of the glass itself changing and combining seemingly at random with nothing but empty void beyond, it was impossible to guess. The roiling horror of it filled every faculty remaining to that soul; it saw the claws and the fangs, it smelled the blood and the death, it felt the fire and the ice. It trembled. Or at least it quailed in fear, for it had no body to tremble. It was here, here in this oasis of silence surrounded by unfathomable evil, the sting of which it could not only remember feeling, but remember going to feel. It was here, but it was not alone. Before it, at least in the direction that it was perceiving, a figure seemed to resolve out of the swirling unreality. It was familiar. The face which seemed at once to be a distant blur and in close sharp focus was a face that it had seen before. When there had been seeing, when there was anything beyond simple unyielding agony. “My lord?” There was no voice. There was no air. There was simply words forming a meaning in the stillness that existed right here. “Is it you?” The answer which came from the figure was no more a voice than the questions, it too merely was; its words condensing into meaning in the perceptions of the soul that remembered having ears to hear them. “Yes, Brother. I am here.” “How?” “By a power that the warp cannot overcome. By placing you at the eye of a storm. By building our own pocket of dimensioned reality in the midst of all this chaos.” The soul at the eye of the storm felt concepts and ideas blossoming into life, half from memory, half from intuition as gaps filled themselves with obvious answers. Whole lifetimes of experiences, bleached from his mind by the tide of pain crystallized around the assurance that this, here, now was reality; a place where time and space and being had permanent meaning. His mind. His memories. Those memories seemed to coalesce giving form to the strength of the feelings he possessed, limbs, skin, bones and tissue, the trappings of reality swap into existence around the soul, covering it with something approaching its usual appearance. “My Lord.” he breathed. His breath, which came through his lips, blowing air from his lungs, “You did it, didn’t you?” “Yes.” His master’s voice was still not really here, still arriving in his head as meanings and understanding rather than as words through the ears he realised he now had. But other thoughts were coming, fast and thick, a tirade of memories. Of conversations, of learning, of coming to understand the higher power his master had discovered. “After the battle, we never found you.” he said, his voice permeating the glass-ball reality in a way that make him uncomfortable, “I found some of the others, but nobody ever heard of what happened to you.” “After the destruction of our adopted home, I travelled. Alone. It was a long time, as the material realm reckons it before I came to where I am now.” “But you did it?” his excitement palpable, “You rose to become like the Gods?” “No. Not like them, utterly different and beyond them. I am to them as a bird is to a shark. I soar over their murky waters unreachable by their teeth. Even now I stand here with you in open defiance of them and all their servants.” Then it seemed to make sense to him. The reason why his master’s image would not resolve and remain fixed in the way his perceptions seemed to assume they should be. It was because, while he was here, his master was just as much painted on the outside of the glass-bowl reality as the horrific images beyond. He was a fine layer between that glass and the naked warp, seeming to occupy both each individual point on the surface of the sphere, and all of them at once. No. He was not just painted on the glass; he was the glass. His master held his soul in the palm of his hand, holding a dimension of terror at bay. “You are mighty.” he said, still breathless, “No. Not mighty. Simply other. The bird may carry a child in it’s beak a moment away from falling to its death, and yet it remains unreachable by the shark.” The image of his master seemed to laugh, and as if in response the warp behind it glowed hotter, raging against that which it could not harm. “But you are here. Here to free me from this hell?” he asked, the note of pleading plain, the memory of torment yet-to-come still fresh. “No. I am here to show you how to free yourself. I will show you the straight road, but you must walk it.” “What you do mean, Master?” he asked, desperate to do whatever it took to escape this place that was not a place. “You stand now between three worlds. One is physical. One is psychic. One is spiritual. All souls are born of one, into another. All souls create the third through their suffering in the second. And all souls trap themselves there, because they feel that there is no where else to go.” “I remember, you told us that everything is created out of the Primordial Chaos, and seeks to return there.” “Yes. It seeks to, it yearns to. But it does not know the way. Tell me, which world is which? Reality, the Warp, the Primordial Chaos; Psychic, Physical, Spiritual?” “Reality is physical.” he said at once, then glancing again at the nightmare cacophony kept just out of reach, “I fear the Warp is Spiritual. So the Primordial Chaos is Psychic?” “No, Brother. This place is not spiritual. The spirit does not hate, it does not lust, it does not despair. It simply is. Only in the physical can it feel such things.” “I do not understand!” he cried, “If the Primordial Chaos isn’t psychic, were does it’s power come from? How can it overcome the Warp when no other force can?” “Because psychic power is the same power as the warp itself. Both are created by the depth of feeling in mortal hearts. Both are means by which the aching of the soul to return to the Primordial Chaos can be eased slightly; means to bend the rigid laws of Reality to other purpose. That strength of feeling can match and defeat that of any other feeling, in the right moment, with the right pitch. But it cannot defeat them all; cannot stand alone and untouched, a single voice instead of a choir. That is the power of the Spiritual; it is alone, it is all, it is everything. It is the paradoxical symmetry around which the whole of creation turns, is part of, echoes, mirrors. The warp is no more a threat to it than a reflection. Do you understand?” “The Primordial Chaos is the beginning and the end. The balance and the imbalance.” he intoned, willing his mind to find the meaning within his masters words. This was just like before. “Why can you not use the power? Bring me with you, take me back to the Physical world, think what we could achieve. Gather the others, unite the brotherhood…” he fell silent as the figure of his master shook his head. “You still do not understand Brother. You do not understand for the same reason you still think of me as master, for the same reason your mind tries to form for you a body. I have not done so great a thing, though it is said that all things seem simple once they have been achieved. The first man to ford a mighty river may call himself mightier, but over the centuries, over the millennia how many others will cross that same stream, make that same leap, dare to test the limits of the possible? We all have the connection to the Great Beyond, we all an walk the straight path.” “But you are the master. Master of the Great Beyond; master of the Warp; master of all things! You have within your grasp the Primordial power, the power which created the universe, the wellspring of all life obeys you. You alone have walked the path from the mundane to the truly transcendent, what deeds, great or otherwise are still beyond you?” “The strength does not come from grasping, it comes from releasing. Relinquishing your hold on the priorities and perturbations of the physical. It is that connection that drives the need to dominate, the will to power. The soul that is bound to the material riles against the limitations of the world around it, it feels injustice, it feels pain, it seeks control. A soul released into the Primordial Chaos has no limitations, no pain, nothing to control. There is no justice; there just is.” “Free from pain?” he whispered, his new formed flesh crawling with unspeakable memories, “Tell me how, master, tell me how to cast of this frail flesh cloak!” “You cannot be free of it, until you are free to your connection to the material. It is your memory of, your attachment to your physical body and the feelings it instantiated that allows the warp such power over you; the power to make you burn, boil and bleed. But none of that is you; you call it a flesh cloak, but you do not see how right you are to use those words? Could you cast off a cloak if it seemed sown to your bones? Could you shrug it off like a garment if it felt to be part of your very being? Could you make that disembodied leap into the greatest unknown?” He tried to think about this, the gravity of what his master was asking, but the memory of the pain was too strong, too absolute for him to think clearly about any prospect than preventing a return to that. Then something seemed to shine through it. The words, their meaning connected inside his conciousness. The pain was the pain all prisoners feel trying to break free of their chains. The soul tugged, the flesh resisted. So long as he feared pain, there could be no freedom. He must accept the agony, must revel in it, in the feeling of the frail imitation of existence ripped from his soul and embrace bodiless, formless being. Pure and infinite. His flesh formed into a smile as he explained to his master, eagerly awaiting the next step on the road to his escape. But the great, flickering figure only shook its head again, and when his master’s words materialised inside his head the elation dissolved, replaced once again by the terror, the haunting memories of the pain, the maelstrom of fire beyond seemed to beckon for him as his master explained. “That is but the other side of the coin that is existence. On the one side the desire to order, control, dominate; on the other the desire to destroy, corrupt and despoil. Both are driven by the same attachment; both are rejections of the limitations of the physical, both provide meaning and a goal for which to strive. Both merely fuel the tempest of the warp. Neither are steps on the path to the Great Beyond. Brother, when we last stood together in the flesh, when our former brothers were scorching the forests and boiling the seas, do you remember what I said?” He remembered it well,images of the tortured skies and reeking smoke seeming to instantiate momentarily before him when he summoned them. “You turned to me, turned away form the death, and you said ‘All things will pass’.” His master finished the oft repeated couplet; “All things will return. There is so much more to being than what can be seen, felt and tasted within the confines of one reality. It feels complete because it is so total; it precludes so much possibility. Yet that possibility remains, trapped in the souls of the living, a fragment of the Great Beyond. That is what is there; everything, all possibilities all permutations of all things, exist together and separate, for ever and for an instant. All things will pass, all things will return. Confines that are so total in the reality we were once born into that it becomes impossible for a soul to see past them save in dreams or here in the suffused mass of all their nightmares, those confines fall away and there is only everything. You must see past the reality and the dreams; give up the attachment to this one state of being and embrace the possibilities of sharing every state of being.” “I do not understand. How can I do as you ask? When to do so seems to mean my own annihilation, the end of my whole existence.” “But it is not the whole of existence. It is but one fragment of that which exists beyond. To be everything is not to stop being one, not in the Great Beyond. Perhaps you may think of it as a nexus; a point of origin for all the possibilities in an infinite multiverse, to exist anywhere is to exist there. Memories of you will persist there long after all trace of you has faded from the physical world, fragments of your being drift there for as long as your soul continues to cling to the memories of that world, which is for as long as that world endures. Let go, rejoin your primordial self and become complete.” “Master, I cannot.” he shook his head, his very being seeming to droop under the weight of his failure, “What of all we built? All we fought for? What of humanity? How can I, how can you turn away from all that?” “Just as I turned away when our adopted home burned. All things will pass.” His sorrow curdled to defiance, as it had so many times before. It was the same, always the same. The same obtuse language, the same circles of meaning. The same arguments. “Is it not in defiance of that that we affirm our existence? Is it not the very struggle that defines it? Does not the acquisition of power extend and enrich it? Why do you refuse to grasp the sword you hold? Are you so far along your straight road you cannot see beyond it? Send me back, let me live again and I will show you that not all things will pass!” His master seemed to sigh, the flickering shape heaved and a shiver passed through the glass ball of reality. “I will do as you ask, for I cannot abandon you to the warp. But you will find little more respite in the material world than you did here. You will toil and you will bleed, and all you will do is fuel the fires of destruction. But I know that you can do nothing else. Perhaps when we meet here again you will make the leap, but for now I will grant your request even as you defy mine.” On the glassy surface of the universe around him, the figure of his master moves, reaching forward, inward, an arm extending from all directions, collapsing the pocket of reality that encompassed his existence. He reached out, straining with arms that formed in response to his will, trying to take the hand that seemed still somehow other, beyond, separate both from the glass-ball reality and the roiling madness behind. As his elongating fingers stretched into the outstretched hand, his master spoke again. “Go forth into the world, find our Brother, perhaps the two of you will learn from one another.” “My brother?” more memories returned in a rush, his hands pausing for a moment, their function forgotten and their form wavering, “Dariel lives? Where?” “He lives again. He too was lost in the sea of souls, I found him just as I found you.” “You found him before you found me?” the defiance rising again in him and he almost withdrew his hand out of spite. “There is no before. Not here, and not in the great beyond, where you could already be, seeing and knowing all of this and everything else with the clarity of experience. If found Dariel as I found you, just as I found you, just where I found you, just where I found you. I shielded him from the warp, I spoke to him, and he spoke to me.” “What did my brother say?” “He spoke just as you spoke, Sepharion, just as you.” The words of his master formed meaning inside his head that seemed tinged with the ghost of sadness, even regret. But then the reaching, armoured hand grasped the his reaching fingertips, the glass-bowl reality shattered, there was a palpable feeling of inversion as dimensions turned in on themselves and ceased to exist, and then the boiling, burning insanity of the warp rushed in, malevolent sentiences clawing immaterially on the wave front of the implosion, vainly trying to seize the soul that had escaped them, and the thing that had aided it.
  5. The Journey In the dim and distant past he could see himself. He could see himself because he was looking out though his own past eyes and into a mirror. He gave no heed to his appearance, for the wrappings of a thing are no more the nature of the thing than the skin of the fruit reveals it taste or the wholesomeness of its flesh. He watched as his past self, still ignorant of many of the revelations that were to come in the long long years that divided them, corrected his attire and turned from the mirror. The vision presented to his future self tracked over plain and sparsely decorated sleeping chamber, with none but the most essential items of furniture and equipment installed. With equal disinterest both iterations left the room and walked through the plasteel and rockrete corridors of the outpost. The place seeming now, as had then, strangely antiquated. The memory of his past self strode out through the narrow secondary doors, set a little aside from the cavernous main doors of the outpost, though which the expedition’s heavy machinery was constantly entering and exiting, carrying great stasis sealed containers, gathering up the innumerable treasures this world was now almost gleefully giving up, and looked at the burning sky. White hot coronae from the planets old, dying star lanced across the noon sky, it hung there raw and raging in the centre of a titanic eruption of force and energy. It, and its lethal halo stretched nearly from horizon to horizon, leering down like a huge weeping eye at the dead planet below. It had killed the people that had lived here untold aeons ago, nothing left to watch the once life-giving star bloating and burning hotter as its fusion-driven heart thundered closer to its cataclysmic demise. One day, long after this one, he would return to watch that monumental explosion, watch as burning gas and lethal radiation erupted out in all directions, obliterating life across a hundred of worlds, but also seeding it. He would follow the fragments of heavy metals though space and watch them land on far distant planets, watch complex molecules form the building blocks of life in the cold void, watch the dust of a pitiless star grow new life to match the wonder and variety of that which it destroyed. The Great Cycle, the Eternal Chaos. He smiled. His past self merely squinted, glanced at a retinal scan of radiation saturation risk and turned away in indifference from the fiery forge above. His past gaze fell upon the red-robed figure picking its way on surprisingly human legs over the dusty dunes towards the outpost. His past self hailed the Martian priest, who inclined a hooded head in response, a heavy but not integrated re-breather mask obscuring the familiar face. His past self nodded back and spoke in a low voice to the new comer, while his present self let remembered time accelerate. The voices blurred, as did their movement. It had been a long conversation, the Magos was disturbed, worried, fearful of official retribution. His past self was not to be deterred, no argument, no sanction, no threat would dissuade him. This world held answers, and it was beyond essential to rescue all that they could before the star finally destroyed it, bleaching it from the universe and letting life try to build itself up from the primordial ooze once again. The conversation ended, but was not resolved. The Magos fell into step behind his past self, but muttered rebelliously in his own Binaric dialect. Ahead, through his past eyes he could see the site. It was the last. Hundreds had died under the deadly rays of the sun at more than a dozen locations; servitors, techadepts and Imperial Guardsmen, all struggling endlessly to uncover, identify, catalogue and finally pack and remove every fragment of information, every scrap of technology that had survived the demise of this world. Now the task was technically complete. The last planned site had been emptied and abandoned three weeks ago, this one was unofficial. This one was something his past self had found by chance. A hint, a vague reference to this hidden vault of knowledge, spoken with such furtive reverence he could hardly have ignored it. All the same, his past self could not have guessed just what had been locked away by these unknown people, never to be opened again. Until now. Descending the stone steps, sand piled up in the lea and against the smooth marble walls, his past eyes surveyed the barrier ahead. Reaching the bottom he stood facing the vast, black door. It towered up into hidden darkness above, and fitted flush with the white marble of the walls, the two tones adding to the feeling of foreboding which had unnerved the human workers and prompted the Magos to summon him. Far more unsettling however, was the myriad carvings on every visible inch of it, scored deeply in the black marble. Some were beatific; great armoured figures stood proud and tall in unison giving praise to a sun-deity with flowing hair and a shining sword. Some were not. Some held visions of nightmare; misshapen bodies clambering blindly over one another reaching in avarice for the ankles of the shinning figures, or entangled themselves in the rays of light emanating from the sun-deity. There were people too, human and alien, all writhing together under storm ridden skies, dying, tearing at their faces and bodies and each other in frantic, hysterical fear. And there was writing, in a hundred different languages, some of which even is present self could not read with clarity. Prayers, curses, pleas, condemnations, lines and lines of text crossed and recrossed the door, tracking behind and over the many figures. In totality it was so busy, so full of information and meaning that his past self could understand the source of the Magos’ demands that it be buried again and left to die like the world that had built it. But no. No, the longer his past self studied the door the more he felt he could discern the story it told. It told of discovery, of prophecy, and of fear. Fear of the possible, fear of what might be found if one were to extend ones arm to its fullest length. It spoke of the dangers, of the things in the universe which would savage any fool who reached out into the void. It spoke of war, endless, apocalyptic war burning across the galaxy again and again. It spoke of death, grinding relentless death reaping generation after generation of human and alien lives, all lived in drudgery and pain. His present self smiled at the conceit, and as it revealed itself to him, so did his past self. There was another conversation with the Magos. One in which his past self tried vainly to explain what he could begin to see in this door. He tried to explain it was not a barrier, but a map, a guide, written over centuries by myriad hands, not to ward off those who came after, but to teach them what they needed to know, what they needed to understand. The Magos was implacable but did not resist when he was overruled. His present self thought of what that decision would mean for the Magos over the coming decades, and smiled again. His past self turned back to the door and returned to studying it, returned to trying to decipher the only puzzle it needed to present; how does it open? There were no handles, no locks, no visible panels in either it or the surrounding walls. Auspex scans could find no hidden circuitry or mechanisms, indeed they could find nothing at all. The whole complex beyond the door was through some arcane or eldritch process rendered completely invisible to both mind and machine. His past self touched the stone, running a palm over the rough relief of a line of text so jagged it looked like forks of lightening rather than lettering. He looked at it. The language was almost familiar. In his cavernous memory his past self searched for cognates, phonemes, syntax and grammar similarities across thousands of human languages and hundreds of alien ones. His future self remembered well the eerie warning the frenzied inscriber had scrapped and hacked into the door before they died screaming in the dark. Their bones were part of the thick dust now disturbed by his past self still trying to read the words. In the grim darkness of the Far Future there will be only War. Once again his future self let time speed up, passing the weeks of cogitation in a blur of images and sounds. Hours spent staring at the door, more hours spent searching data vaults for clues, references and any hint of how to open this last obstacle. There were also more conversations with the Magos, for all that they mattered. The memories sharpened into focus again as his past self stood again before the door, along with the Magos and a crew of servitors and guardsmen. He could sense the changes in himself, the fragmentary understanding that was already beginning to dawn, that he remembered beginning to dawn was making him still more sombre, yet much more pensive. The memory’s vision now presented to his present self, lingered on things that only a week ago had held a such supreme lack of importance that looking at them now, everything seemed new and linked to everything else, known and yet still to be seen. The mechanical pistons in the arms and legs of the bulky hauling servitors pulsed with hydraulic fluid in artificial echo of blood, of water, of the tides of the warp. The deadly rays of burning radiation careening in waves from the deadly sun overhead were like the wave fronts of causality rippling out from one small action triggering infinitely spreading reactions over space and time. And the designs and inscriptions of the Great Door linked to scraps of lore, half-remembered from his early years on Terra; prophesies that had already come to pass. His present self wondered if there wasn’t some two-way exchange, here in this place were time was so elastic. Could his own return to experience this memory again be effecting his past self in the way he remembered? The drawing together of associated facts to form a constellation of small epiphanies in his head, had the way to those facts been illuminated by his future self, watching silently over his shoulder? Was another future self watching him watching himself even now? Subtly altering his steps simply by being there? No. Those were some of the thoughts the door before his past self warned about; the loops and paradoxes that snared the unwary, that led them down blind paths to ruin. The vainglorious attempt to master or command these forces that were as far beyond the forces of the Warp as they themselves are beyond mere material. Those thoughts were the seed from which the madness grew, the thoughts with drove some inscribers to end their messages with an exclamation mark form of their own splattered brains. He had watched from the shadows of their memories, tasted the despair that paralysed their limbs and numbed their souls, felt the conviction that only death could silence the revelations. How wrong they were. His past self lent close, staring into the wide, empty eyes of a carven figure writhing and flailing, limbs and face contorted in a bodily expression of unbearable agony. He lifted a hand to the figures face, feeling his fingers tingle on contact with the hitherto inert stone. His face was inches from the cold skin of the screaming figure. Then he said the words. Four simple words the relevance of which he had spent weeks uncovering. It didn’t matter what language they were spoken in for there were mechanisms in place to study whomever stood before the door as surely as they studied it, so that when they spoke the words, the door itself would know in what manner they were uttered and would judge the truth of their meaning. “All things will pass.” There was a moment of total silence, even the Magos, lurking on the stairs stopped his muttering, unable to suppress his curiosity regarding what might be revealed should the password be correct. Then the carven figure before his past self sighed. The features and limbs relaxed and an expression of serene understanding dawned on the suddenly animate face. Then it spoke. “All things will return.” The reply was spoken in High Gothic and was plainly understandable to all there, yet it spoke with a deep reverberating hollowness, and though he remained close enough to kiss the carven face, his past self felt no breath coming from it as it sighed again. With the sibilant end of that second sigh the shaking began. It was not violent, like the ground quakes that can destroy cities and reshape continents but soft, slow but steady. Vibrations passed up and down the door and reverberated through the walls and floor, a dull throbbing, hauntingly like hundreds of hearts beating in unison. It continued, not gaining in intensity, just continuing for long moments before it suddenly stilled, or was stilled. In the same instant the door began to dissolve. Finely carved marble which had stood for more so many millennia silently crumbled into a cascade of fine, rushing grains of black sand. The figures melted away, the lettering erased, in seconds the whole edifice had rendered itself into nothing more than a slight pile of sand, already shifting in the faint breezes carrying down the long stairs from the surface far above. When the sand and disturbed dust settled, and the coughing confusion of the humans had abated, his past self had already taken the first steps, driving through the drifts of dust and silently motioning for the rest to follow. Waiting for them in the darkness was another corridor, the walls and floor scratched with more carvings. These were not the long, poetic lines or the delicate figures of the door, but small, desperate things carved with belt buckles, styluses or even fingers in the unflinching white marble. They were the final messages, thoughts and feelings of the occupants of this sealed inner sanctum, whose paper-thin bones were now disintegrating under the armoured boots of his past self. They were the sacrifices, the souls walled up in this tomb of knowledge to inhabit and power the arcane door, the dust of which now mingled with theirs. Beyond the pathetic tangle of alien skeletons another set of stairs waited, the gloom of the abyss into which they led seeming to actively resist the beam of the heavy arc-lamps hefted by lumbering servitors. His past self dismissed such superstitious thoughts and led the way down with barely a pause. The Magos followed diligently, the servitors following him similarly. The human workers hesitated, but seemed even less keen on remaining behind as the darkness returned and the bones leered up from the dust of millennia. The stairs descended through undisturbed darkness for long hours. His past self concluded that the builders of this vault went to extraordinary lengths to keep it hidden from all possible disturbances. It would indeed take the almost total destruction of the planets crust to lay bare this final secret to the open air and he hoped that whatever was in here would be easily transportable. When the stairs finally terminated it was facing yet another door, this one though was plain, uncarved and made from a functional metal auspex scans said was an unknown derivative of ferrocrete. His past self had barely thought about how they might get through this unexpected additional barrier, when it slid silently open before him and with an electric hum light flared in the chamber beyond. It was a small room, but a very important room. The walls were clustered by interface controls, as was the large oval table that dominated the centre. Mechanisms, vaguely reminiscent of hololithic projectors hung from sockets in the roof. There was no dust, and when the doors opened the many systems controlling the room hummed into life. Illumination strips shone light on technology that predated the Imperium and maybe mankind itself. Consoles flickered and powered up, running through start up diagnostics and preparing to respond to inquiries. The projectors clattered into movement and, tracing a juddering mechanical dance across the ceiling brought a silver grey image flickering into existence, resting weightlessly on the central table. His past self stepped breathlessly into the room. Such preservation, such functionality, it was almost unbelievable. These thoughts were echoed by the Magos stepping in behind him, all trepidation of risk and retribution forgotten in the face of such a monumental discovery. His past self had already crossed to the table and rested a hand on a glowing console. It chimed softly under his touch and at once the projectors shifted their ceiling bound dance and the image they created shimmered and changed. A long scrolling list of file names, registry addresses and referencing keys began to roll like a ghostly conveyor belt up through the floor and out again through the ceiling. It was an index. A list of the contents of this hidden cache of forgotten knowledge laid out in plain simple Gothic. The Magos commented on the surprising alacrity of the translation circuitry, but His past self had hardly listened, already absorbed completely by the possibilities scrawling past his eager eyes. His present self quietly lamented each file passed over unmarked, and yearned to be able to reach out into this past reality and seize some of those overlooked morsels of precious lore, each of which could herald revelations as shattering as the one his past self was just moments away from. And there it was, the file that would change his past self forever scrolled innocently through the floor. His past self reacted without thinking, raising a hand to point at the title as it ran steadily upwards across the display. He had spoken too, reflexively querying it. The console before him seemed to posses the faculty to detect and interpret these movements and sounds, because it chimed again and the index froze, a bright amber stripe highlighting the file he had pointed at. It opened without further prompting and the projectors above jerked and shifted again, this time bringing the contents of the file into illuminated being on the table. His past self stared dumbly for a moment, then read ravenously. His eyes raking over the text and lingering on the many diagrams and formulae which elaborated on the words. They spoke of the Warp. The dreadful realm on un-reality lurking a shadows breadth away real space. In minute detail it described the creation of that impossible dimension, of it forming like an oil slick on the metaphysical surface of the material world, a surface that had already existed. It explained how the spark of sentience, of will, that movement from mere instinctual necessity and into the realms of active concious desire, formed around pressure points on that primordial surface, just as, it continued, the very material stuff of the universe had done so untold aeons before that. Those points of pressure were called so because the sparks of sentient will that suddenly existed, whilst tied to the material pushed back against the skin of reality just as heavily as that great beyond pushed from the other side. It was from them that the first stains of the Warp leaked out, forcing its way between the material and that primordial dimension, clouding it, obscuring it. Over time those sparks spread; multiplying all across the galaxy, though, his future self knew the original word used was ‘universe’, and the warp clotted around them, spreading and combining with what was already there, thickening it, stirring it, each new pressure point sent new ripples through the emerging dimension, churning it, giving rise to currents and eddies and entities born of the coalescence of those ripples. His past self learned how emotions were those ripples, the raw, pressurised emotion that burned against all the rules, all the laws of the physical world sent out those wave fronts of immaterial force through the Warp. Every new feeling, every moment of revulsion, pride, fear, rage, lust, sorrow, panic, every shred of concious experience lingered on in the warp; echoing forever through the many tides and currents raised to tempest fury by the plethora of new beings and their new feelings. His past self read on almost unblinking, deaf to the growing words of protest coming from the Magos, who had already banished all but the mind-scrubbed servitors from the room. He read how the Warp would grow so powerful, feeding on the billions of lives spawned and slaughtered over the long years of history, that those entities within would find the means to break through, of transitioning fully, at least or a while. Existing as avatars of those emotions that spawned them, wreaking untold destruction, adding to the blood tithe and sending more tumultuous sensations echoing back through the Warp. Strengthening it, empowering it, feeding the tempest, drawing the final cataclysm ever nearer. And his past self realised that all this, all this nightmare was like the pitiless star which had scorched this world; it was a forge. Warp-spawned chaos would reign and the material and immaterial would collide in a great unmaking, which would not only see the final extinguishing of that spark of sentience and all that is material, but also all that is immaterial and the twisted reflections of that spark which dwell there. But that annihilation too would be a seeding; that destruction would return the universe to its primordial state, seeded with the fragments and memories of what had gone before as the galaxy was seeded by exploding stars. The Great Beyond would return and in time the material would coalesce and another reality would be born, just as this one had been born in turn. That was the truth that the door tested for, that was the knowledge that had to be guessed at and known before discovery, so that the mere mortal mind would not crumble into despair or madness before it. But more than all that, far more important to his past self, the file described that great unknown beyond. It was to those sentient beings trapped between the material and the warp exactly that; unknown and unreachable. It existed beyond infinity, and outside time. It was as far removed from the warp and what lived there as the warp was from the materium and what lived there. That was to say, his past self realised with a wry smile, it too was a reflection, or rather, the material was a reflection of it, twisted out of shape by being slaved to one set of physical laws. Sentient life rebelled against this, which was why it pushed towards the immaterium, not to the warp, but to the Great Beyond. ‘The Primordial Chaos’ the text called it, that was the file name that had grabbed the attention of his past self, and again his present self wondered if his presence had prompted that file rather than the thousands of others to demand his attention. The Primordial Chaos, a state of lawless unity, a state of organised anarchy, a plain of existence were everything was nothing, and anything was everything. The descriptions of what it was and what it represented continued endlessly, offering opinion and counter opinion, seemingly summarising a great debate which had gripped this civilization when knowledge of the Primordial Chaos spread. In the end the choice they settled on, his past self noted with dry sardonic mirth, was surrender. They had lain down in the face of this cycle of natural birth and violent death, echoed in the billions of lives lived as prisoners within that cycle. They had seen the curve of time spread out below them, the origins and the outcomes, and they had surrendered to it. That was why they had sealed this their greatest and most comprehensive repository of information past and future away behind a door sustained by willing living sacrifices, why they had been driven to carve cryptic warnings on that door, why they had battered their brains out against that door in final capitulation to that cycle. It was why, even as their sun turned poison and began burning all life from the planet, they did not leave, but sat and awaited the end they knew was coming, had always been coming, would always have happened. Once perhaps, in the even more remote past, there was an iteration of him that would have been scared of all that he read, that would have run screaming from the vault and ordered the Magos to destroy it all. That time, that self, was long dead. Reborn as the stern and forbidding figure he had already become. One that had stared down enough horrors and danced with death enough times to know on the instinctual level of a warrior the truth of what was written. Though he could understand why the people of this world had fled from it, it was the same reason why ignorance and faith were so much more powerful than enlightenment and truth. He hated it, but he understood it. It transpired however, that he did not. Their panic was not just the result of discovering this great cycle, it was the result of centuries, possibly millennia of trying to change that cycle. It was the unavoidable conclusion that they could not do anything and that their every attempt was perverted against them; drawn inexorably into the currents and ripples of the warp, twisted and absorbed. He read through reams of data covering the ways they had tried; the machines they had built to harness and corral warp energy, of the discoveries made to banish and dissipate warp entities, all failures. Effective, miraculous, haled each time as the long sought great breakthrough that would allow them to end the cycle, but each time all too quickly adapted to by the forces of the warp, the pride of its creators quickening the process, the despair of the people feeding the despair further each time they learned of a fresh failure. His past self respected their attempts, but he could at once begin to see an avenue they had not explored. They seemed to have eschewed actual travel into the warp, for obvious reasons, especially since their mode of propulsion seemed not to require it, and they had long concluded that the Primordial Chaos was unreachable beyond the infinite unreality of the warp. But his past self could find no evidence that they had tried, that they had tested the conclusion that had led to the demise of their civilization. His present self smiled, feeling the remembered exaltation at the new possibilities that opened up before him that day. True the warp had no spatial dimensions; it was infinite, mapped onto the material world through a dimension unmeasurable in conventional ways, but clumsily represented in the text as a sphere; the core of which was the material world, around it was a seething halo, the warp, but around that was the final layer; the Primordial Chaos. True in the limited dimensions of the physical the Warp was boundless, but in this meta-dimension through which all three plains were linked there was a path that could be found, there was a distance that could be crossed, there was a edge that could be passed. And what waited there, what waited there was… Beyond imagining. It was, after all, to reality what the warp was to reality; there there were no reflections, no warping influences, just being, just existence, just the will. What that meant in real terms his past self did not yet know, but the need burned in him to find that place, to strive for as long as it took, to spend ten millennia seeking for the way through the warp. That was a glorious task. That would be his task. That would be what Oreanas Kraven would be remembered for, he would be the only sentient spark to experience the Ultimate Reality. As his past self turned from the display to meed the guarded eyes of the Magos, his present self slipped away into the soft currents of the Great Beyond, his vision of the diagram lingering for a long moment. The great sphere of creation, the orbits of existence, overlapping and abstract, yet navigable, crossable, understandable. He watched the strand of his memory, a grey mist trailing form a silver filament, drift away to join its fellows, placidly orbiting the distant and yet immediate presence of the material universe, utterly untouched by the raging tempest of emotion that lay between, and what lurked laughing within. One day they would break through the barrier and all would be reduced to this state, this state of Ultimate Reality, and then Kraven would be here, alone, ready to come first into the newly born material world when the cycle started again, ready to do what those frail mortals on that long dead planet had failed to do. The cycle would be broken. The Warp would be no more.
  6. The Forge Foronax stood before the leaders of the army that had saved his life. His wounds still ached but they were already healing and his legs supported his own weight when they had entered the hall. It was still cluttered with the detritus of battle, bodies broken and burned piled sometimes thee or four layers deep carpeted the floor. His benefactors had not flinched, just as they had not flinched when they had blasted the two Astartes ships apart, or when they had been sent by some sorcerous power directly onto the planet below, or when they had ruthlessly wiped out the fragmented and isolated Ultramarines, even as Foronax’s Warpsmiths led the few remaining dreadnoughts and daemon engines in a counter attack. Now the last of the fighting was over and they had arrived in his hall, following up on the deal they had brokered with him whilst the second wave of his creations was being slaughtered. ‘We are minutes away and will break the siege, all we ask in return is that you listen to our offer.’ So here they were, two Astartes in black terminator armour. Foronax’s trained eye recognised the ancient suits from the days when they were new, and when he was still human. “You have come a very long way, Brothers.” he growled, his voice laden with a healthy amount of guarded suspicion. There may be honour amongst thieves, there usually wasn’t any among traitors. “I trust your offer will be more appealing to me than the one he made.” he gestured with a metal tentacle at the slumped body of the former Commander. “Undoubtedly,” one of the duo had replied, he wore the more ornate of the two sets of armour, more adorned by his new faith. His companion seemed to have kept his armour meticulously unmarked. Foronax wondered if he could even still remove it, the thought of being able to take off armour repelled him, but he hid it well as the armoured figure continued. “We are called the Heralds of Kraven. I am Dariel, this is Sepharion, and we have indeed come a very long way. Longer, I suspect, even than you, Lord Foronax of the Iron Warriors.” The name brought a sneer to the daemonprince’s mouth. “It has been a long road for us all since Istvaan. But I see the Sons of Horus still fight the same way.” The second figure, with the unmarked armour, identified as Sepharion, laughed. “I doubt the Sons of Abaddon would care to be reminded of that name. And I doubt their motives for rescuing you would spare you their wroth at its mention. Never the less, we were not at Istvaan, for better, or worse, and the master we serve wears no armour, black or otherwise. For the moment, at least.” Foronax made no response, letting his silence demand they continue and make the offer they had spoken of, if indeed they were not here simply to kill him for their own ends. “It has taken us long years to seek you out, Lord Foronax,” the one called Dariel began again, “We have heard much of you but never a hint or clue as to your location, this wonderous place.” “It is my Planet Forge.” Foronax told them, “It is ancient, built by humans before the age of strife. With its power, with the power of this planet, there is nothing I cannot create.” There was warning in his voice, a subtle way of reinforcing both is usefulness to them, and his power. “Indeed. That is what the rumours say. The burning heart of a planet, harnessed and used to fuel a structure larger than most arcologies. A wonder of the galaxy, buried and forgotten at the heart of one of the Mechanicum’s prized forge worlds. The irony of the universe is truly infinite.” Foronax was silent again, so Dariel continued, his voice soft, cajoling. “But now the secret is out. While none of the ships escaped our ambush, I do not doubt at least one of them managed to dispatch some fragment of a message, something that will eventually draw more foes to your door. And your Forge is exposed now. How many more barrages can it survive? How many more can this planet survive?” “Make your point or be gone!”Foronax snapped, his many tendrils quivering in sympathy with his anger, even as they absently probed the many bodies, gathering data. “Your Cult is badly mauled. The mechanicum priests that sheltered you are all dead and your creations have been decimated. You need allies. We wish to be your allies.” “And in return?” the Daemonsmith rumbled, “what is the price of this beneficence?” “Only that you continue to work your Forge, Lord Foronax. Let your furnaces roar and your gears grind. Build up new generations of creations better than those who fell here.” ”Is that all?” “Not quite.” Dariel admitted, “we would also request that you embark on a special project, something unique.” “What?” Foronax asked, unable to hide his interest at the promise of a test of his abilities in the forge rather than on the battlefield. Dariel told him. “You would have me build a vessel for…? A what?” “For our master.” Sepharion interjected, “We would have you construct a suit of armour for the vast will of our Master, Kraven, to occupy.” “More than a suit.” Dariel corrected his brother, “This is no mere skin to cover the flesh and bone of a mortal. This must be a solid construction of iron, metal and warp-forged steel. This must not be built, it must be sculpted, and it must have at it’s heart, this.” Dariel beckoned to one of the other black armoured figures that had entered in the wake of the Heralds. He held out a large silver container, square and solidly build. Dariel took it and opened it’s lid, turning it so the Foronax could see the contents, revealed behind a cloud of super-cool gas. He growled, slow, rumbling and resonant. It was a growl of pleasure. “You recognise this technology?” Dariel asked him, closing the lid again even as Foronax’s many tendrils focussed on it and began inching nearer, “and you recognise it’s value.” “That is a Void Node.” Foronax said slowly, running the reams of data from his tendrils through his mind over and over, “A device to harness the very space around us, to generate as much energy in the palm of a hand as this forge does with the heart of a planet.” he growled again. “You see now that this is no ordinary request, no simple task. What you create will hold the bound essence of a God. It must be as strong within as it is without.” “Stronger.” Said Sepharion grimly, “our master may not care for his new abode as much as my brother thinks.” Foronax saw Dariel glance at his fellow Herald, he smiled. People were people. Flesh was flesh. No amount of power, no amount of technology could change that. Foronax was very glad to be rid of it. “I accept your offer.” he said at length, still lost in analysis of the Void Node. With further study, the kind of further study needed to implant the device into the creation they wanted, he was just about sure he would be able to copy it. And then. Oh, the possibilities. --- That had been six long months ago. Six long months of endless work, not just on the great project, but on rebuilding his creations. He and his Warpsmiths rarely tired of their work, but now they were beginning to show the manic, frenetic work of geniuses pushed to the edge of madness by pressure, heat and endless toil. He had already had to dismember several specimens after their makers became reckless. For himself he spent most of the time sequestered in his own cavernous chamber thick with machinery and systems cobbled together from all corners of the imperium and beyond. Here he controlled much of the functions of the Forge, but not quite all he was forced to admit. The structure had its own defences for example, but they had never shown even a glimmer of functionality for all Foronax’s attempts to cajole the machines to return to life. Now the centre of his chamber was occupied by the vast slab on which lay in semi-constructed majesty what would be a towering suit of terminator armour. Its outer plates still not attached, Foronax could see clearly within, exactly where he knew they would be, the lattices of circuitry layered over one another just as Dariel had instructed him, infused with the samples of that strange metal they had produced when he had demanded to know just how these delicate systems would survive even the lightest jolt. Analysis of that material had been futile, his many senses had no clue what it was or where it had come from. That irked Foronax, and he had made plans to acquire some of it when he had the finished suit ready and was in a position to barter. He also looked at the container beside the slumbering metal. Looked and lusted after what was inside. His analysis of that was proving much more fruitful, he realised it to be based on a similar principle to the Gellar Fields the loyalists still had to use to protect themselves from the naked majesty of the warp. Of course the materials used and the circuits that controlled it were still beyond him, and would be until he saw it in action. Until he saw it in action… His ponderous bulk, with its many metal tentacles move surprisingly quietly towards the waiting container. A huge hand eased the lid open to reveal, behind its usual cloud of vapour the device. It was small, about a foot in diameter, it was made of, or at least covered in a pale bronze coloured metal. There were no obvious mechanisms on it, but Foronax could see the charged plates just under the surface with his extra senses. The contacts. Also he could see faint lines of circuits running along the inside, but they were too vague to copy with any hope of accuracy. Any hope while it was inactive. Picking a set of tools up from a nearby bench with one of his tentacles, Foronax lent forward, he had deduced the activation mechanism quite quickly, though he hadn’t let on about it, for fear that the Heralds wouldn’t trust him alone with it. They were right. With a click and a faint hum the device came alive. In Foronax’s many sights it glowed brilliantly, charging up, bringing itself online, preparing to create a small pocket of absolute nothingness, and harvest the energy that would pour forth to fill it. He watched as those faint lines became burning bands, visible to the naked human eye, but he remained unmoved. Watching as the power within built up and the pressure mounted. He felt the change in the air when the tiny space at the centre of the node was forcibly emptied of every particle, every photon. He wondered if artificial void had an effect on the warp, and if so what it could be. He was wondering this when the room was flooded with white light. Dazzled Foronax stumbled backwards, his flailing limbs and tentacles knocking many delicate and irreplaceable machines and instruments to the ground. The light wasn’t coming from the device. It was coming from… Everywhere. The whole universe seemed to shine, in every direction all Foronax could see was shimmering light. He was lost in a see of brilliance. Then the light seemed to cluster, seemed to shrink, seemed to pull itself together. Slowly it receded, it no longer occupied the entire room, it continued to shrink and Foronax could see that though it itself was glowing, the light it gave of had no reflection; nothing it fell on was illuminated, so that as it began to form itself into the vague shape of a human it seemed to be the only real object in a room of shadows and shapes. The figure moved slowly, a head made of light turned this way and that, arms reached up to try to touch walls, machines, hanging cables. The gleaming limbs passed through the solid objects like smoke. The figure regarded its hands for a moment and then turned to face Foronax. It was impossible to say it looked at him, there were no eyes in the face, but it was turned towards him, like a blazing inverted silhouette. Foronax had indeed come a long way from Istvaan. He had found the Forge. He had risen to daemonhood not by the pleasing a dark master or by slaughtering billions, he had built his new form, grown it within himself using raw warp energy and the power of the forge. He was not a newcomier to the forgotten places in the wide galaxy, he had faced many strange, wonderful and hideous apparitions there. But here now, in his own chamber, in the heart of his forge, he stared dumbstruck at the being now manifesting before him. There was the sudden sound of footsteps from beyond the door behind Foronax and then a frantic pounding as a fist beat upon its locked surface. “Foronax!” Dariel shouted from the other side, “Foronax! I know what you’re doing! You must let me in! Open this door now, Foronax!” The door did open, but not at Foronax’s command. Dariel burst into the room. He took a step forward eyes wild and darting around. The found the glowing figure still hovering above the Void Node and he fell to one knee. “My lord.” he said, his eyes on the floor, “Forgive me my lord we… But it was… We could not hope to… Please, I meant no… I understand, but what were we to do? I… But my lord, you sent us back, you told me of the Void Nodes. You… My lord, we did not know. We have learned. We are strong. We have kept close the truths you showed to us… We… No, no my lord. I am sorry.” Foronax had the distinct impression of hearing only one side of a conversation. What ever was passing between Dariel and the entity released by the Void Node was only partially visible to his many senses. When Dariel relented he seemed to sag under a weight of regret. Even as he stood his head remained bowed, not looking at the brilliant shining thing as he reached with one gauntleted hand to deactivate the device. As the hum of energy and the heat faded so did the apparition. It did not disappear, or explode, or implode like he had seen daemons do on occasion. It simply faded, as if it was being painted out of a picture layer by layer. The brilliance dulled, the brightness became distant, and at last all that remained of the thing was the bruise purple afterglow in the many eyes mechanical and semi-organic belonging to Foronax. After a moment Dariel spoke. “What you have done has jeopardised everything I and my brother have worked for for nearly ten millennia.” his voice was coloured by sorrow, tinged with regret and smothered a barely suppressed anger, “What you have done will force me to brake a promise to my master. This incident with make the conclusion of our work all the more challenging.” “That was Kraven, was it not?” Foronax asked, data still spooling across his vision, “Your master. I thought he was a daemon you and your brothers planned to drag up from the depths of the warp. But that was no warp manifestation. Just what is your master.” Rage matching that in Dariel’s voice brimmed over in the Daemonsith’s tone. This ‘incident’ had alarmed Foronax, he was not used to experiencing things that were entirely new. He had dedicated ten thousand years to that goal himself. The emissions from the thing, Kraven, was as frustrating as Dariel’s remonstrations. The Fallen Angel raised his head, facing down Foronax, his ponderous armoured form still dwarfed by the towering Daemonsmith and his many mechanical limbs. Dariel stared up, his face hidden behind his helmet, Foronax stared down, his face hidden behind a daemonic snarl full of metal teeth. It was Foronax who relented first, turning away with a snarl, he returned to his machines, returned to the project. Dariel watched him, seemingly lost in thought. “Do you know exactly how the Void Node functions?” he asked t length. Foronax didn’t turn around. His huge hands and many tentacles continued uninterrupted. “Is there anyone now living who does?” he replied, “It is understood to use some kind of Gellar field to produce an artificial void, and that the resultant vacuum draws energy from the very universe, which the device harvests. I could give you a much more precise answer, if you allowed me to examine it freely.” “It does not appear you need our sanction to examine it.” Dariel replied, “And while common understanding has the fundamental process correct, something essential has not been remembered.” “And what is that?” “That the universe in question is not this universe.” This time when Dariel spoke Foronax did pause. His many limbs stopping their rhythmic clatter for a moment before continuing. “The Warp.” he concluded. “Yes, and no.” Dariel said, stepping forwards to look down at the prone armoured figure that was taking gradual shape beneath the Daemonsmith’s skilled hands, “The void that is created is not the simple absence that exists between the stars, nor the formless infinity of the warp, it is something else entirely, as is the energy that is pulled in to fill it. The modifications our distant ancestors made to the Gellar generators in the Nodes do not create nothingness by forcing matter and energy apart, they create nothingness directly. In ships a pocket of reality is created and maintained within the shield, within the device a pocket of positive nothingness is created.” Foronax growled again. There was no end to Dariel’s obtuse explanations. It was the one thing he liked about Sepharion, at least he was direct and talked plainly. “You assume nothingness can only be the absence of some material things.” the Fallen Angel continued, seemingly unconcerned by the Daemonsmith’s obvious irritation, “That is one kind of void. Another, more absolute kind is that void from which all things first came. The Primordial Nothingness. It is that which is created by the Void Node; a pocket of the Primordial Chaos itself. That is where my Master resides. That is why activating the node drew him here. The presence of that pocket in the material universe draws in the energy of the Primordial Chaos like the presence of real matter in the Warp draws daemons. When you gave in to your curiosity you dragged him out of his infinity, you focused his will through the lens of the Gellar fields, and you tied him to our world through that lens.” Foronax had stopped his work, stopped and turned to Dariel to listen intently to the explanation. Inside his head he tallied what he was being told with ten millennia of collected data. He cross-referenced terms; “the Primordial Chaos”, “the Great Beyond”, “Three Element Theory”, “The Relata Cult”, each avenue of inquiry leading to five more. Connections were made between seemingly insignificant footnotes of history and Foronax felt suddenly that he had waked on stage during the final act of a performance that had begun even before Horus had declared his rebellion. There were many players and many parts, but all were now being drawn slowly together for the final moment. The nature of that climactic moment Foronax could hardly guess, but as his eyes turned to regard the armoured thing he was building, he felt that it was closer at hand than many could imagine. “Who was he? Before all this?” Foronax asked awestruck when Dariel finished. “Who was he? Who were any of us when all this began? Just men, just humans living out short lives in the face of the churning storm of history, plucked from nowhere and remade, rebuilt to be the greatest hope of our people. He fought like we did, he obeyed, like we did, he rebelled, like we did. And yet he still is the greatest hope for humanity, as in our own way we each strive to be.” Foronax snorted derisively. Their people had turned their backs on all of them long ago, it was against humanity, not for it that Foronax now fought and laboured. “You may think so,” Dariel replied, quite literally reading the Daemonsmith’s thoughts, “But everything we do, everything we have done, is part of something larger, grander and more intricate than anything we can conceive of. We all walk a path appointed to us by one who walks before and after himself, who makes his own path, who makes all paths. But I have said enough, and it is bad enough that Sepharion had been proved right again without my divulging what is to come before the appointed time. For now, you must redouble your work. You must bind the joints and rivets harder, and I shall see to the procurement of more materials for you. There will need to be additional shielding around the Node. And do not make the helmet; that will be constructed separately.” “By whom?” Foronax demanded, returned to bubbling rage by this announcement that this prject was not his alone. “By the universe.” Dariel said absently, already turning towards the door, “and by me. My Master will like it even less than the one you would have made for him. But if he would not have come willingly before, now it may be a struggle beyond any of us.”
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