Chapter 1: Rising Tide

An ugly planet, an ORK planet!

An ugly planet, an ORK planet!

A great noise startled Zug. The ork had never heard such a sound and looked around in confusion. The scarred earth around him showed no signs of disturbance. The noise came a second time, exploding in the feral ork’s ears. This time Zug distinctly sensed that the unfamiliar commotion came from above, which was odd, because nothing came from above. Except for tasty birds, now and then. The ork looked up and was amazed by what he saw.

A great, shiny, yellow rock was plunging towards him, with a great black plume of smoke trailing behind it. Too mesmerized to do anything, Zug just stood there as the object plummeted to the ground at incredible speed. Impossibly, it slowed only a few tree lengths from the ground and smashed against the ground with a heavy thud only a short distance from where the ork stood. Sensing that this rock might somehow be important, Zug raced towards it. Mebbe diz rock make gud chopaz! The ork thought to himself. Boss wud be soo pleazed!

When he reached the shimmering object, Zug stopped at arm’s length from its strange surface. As he looked, Zug was alarmed by the sight of another ork staring back at him from the rock. “Oi!” he bellowed, “wot ya doin in dat rock?” Zug demanded. The strange ork made no sound, but opened his mouth and waved his arms menacingly, so Zug swung his club and smashed it right into the other ork’s face. The weapon shattered on impact. The other ork seemed unharmed, but looked extremely puzzled. Suddenly a hissing sound emanated from the shiny rock in front of Zug. Before he had time to react, a large sliver of the object came crashing down on top of the feral ork.

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Cap’n Klaw raised a single orky eyebrow. The gangplank had just said Oww. It didn’t usually do that. Must be the mek messing with him. Klaw would bash his funny head in later. With a happy roar, the ork pirate jumped onto the surface of Tarandros. His boyz followed eagerly, stomping noisily down the gangplank. But the steel slab used by the ork pirates as an entrance ramp kept making strange whimpering noises.

“Right, I’ve bout had enuf o dis!” shouted Cap’n Klaw, and trudged over to the gangplank. The giant ork shoved a pair of boyz that were standing on the plank out-of-the-way and lifted the metal with a grunt of effort. Beneath, he found the bruised shape of a mostly naked ork. With his Dakka hand, Klaw grasped the poor sod by the neck and lifted him up to the Cap’n enormous head. “Oi!” Klaw roared, shaking the ork “are you alive?” he demanded. His chest no longer crushed by hundreds of pounds of ork and metal, Zug was able to breathe again, somewhat. He coughed and sputtered, slowly regaining consciousness.

When Zug finally opened his eyes, he was face to face with the biggest, meanest looking ork that he had ever seen. In vain he tried to struggle and free himself. Red beady eyes peered at him intensely, completely unnerving the feral ork. Cap’n Klaw inspected the wretch from head to toe, and recognized the brute for what he was. He dumped Zug on the ground, but threatened him with his massive power klaw, to make sure he would not run off. “Me name’s Cap’n Klaw! Me an me space boyz iz startin a grand propa Waaaaagggghhh! I came ere to gather up any real orks wot wants a gud fight! Where iz your boss?” the pirate shouted. “Ugghh…Err…youze da boss…Boss.” Zug replied nervously.

The orky pirate captain roared with laughter and slapped his newest boy on the back, propelling him head first into the dirt. “Aye! Good answer, you lot, find dis boy a choppa an a dakka gun! Wez got lots of work ta do.”

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To the human mind, the warp is only a place of madness and unreality. A realm of chaos, to be avoided at all costs. The Eldar, however, are bound to the warp in manner unlike any other known race, and remember a time before the dark pantheon dominated the immaterium. For the Eldar, the warp is still the realm of infinite possibilities and source to most of their technology. Contrary to the belief of many, the warp and the materium are not realms apart. They flow in symbiotic concert with each-other. The places where the two meet, are known to the Eldar as the skeins of fate.

Aboard his sleek scout ship Asredil, Farseer Aramel opened his mind to the skein. Using wraithbone runes to guide him, the Eldar seer sifted through the myriad possibilities that the immediate future offered. The balance of probability confirmed that the events transpiring on the world of Tarandros within the coming cycles would have a decisive impact on the future. Aramel saw images of an Ork Warboss, with millions of his savage brethren flocking to his banner. He saw also the blazing symbol of the Mon Keigh Ultramrines, plunging into the heart of this growing green tide.

But these things were easily discernible using his vessel’s instruments. The Farseer delved deeper and saw the point of flux; a decision made that could lead to radically different futures. Where the armies of many races fought, the choices of one would determine the fate of all. Aramel had seen this many times, during his voyage through the webway from Craftworld Ulthwé, yet he could still not be certain of what act would forge the most favorable future.

As time advanced towards the point of flux, the skein would become clearer, and Aramel trusted that it would reveal the path that he must take. The Farseer allowed his mind to return to his body, and opened his eyes to Asredil’s crystal meditation chamber. He was not alone. Farseer Erethentil and several warlocks had added the strength of their minds to empower his visions. “The time for action approaches” said Erethentil. Aramel nodded, and rose to prepare his Black Guardians of Ulthwé for battle.

Chapter 1: Echoes

Battle Barge Andronicus

Brother Flavius confirmed the acolyte’s readings. The signal was faint, but a Great Crusade era Ultramarines distress beacon signature was clearly distinguishable from the background radiation picked up by the Andronicus’ sensors. “Brother Captain Titus must be informed immediately” stated Flavius and purposely made his way to the bridge.

Upon entering the Sorathian system, Captain Titus had wasted no time in setting a course for the desolated world of Omega-Epsilon. This had been the site of the major engagement, during the Horus Heresy, that his Chapter master had spoken of. Such was the fury of the onslaught, as brother fought brother, that thirty thousand years later the planet surface was still awash with toxic radiation: remnants of the apocalyptic munitions detonated in millennia past.

So dense were the echoes of that ancient Fallout, that the ships’ instruments had been unable to obtain any telling readings. Any answers would have to be gathered by ground forces. As the space marine captain contemplated his options, Brother Flavius emerged from an access corridor to address him. “Captain, I have overseen the sensor sweep of the planet’s moon as ordered.” Titus nodded for the marine to continue “the surface appears not to bear the same scars of combat borne by Omega-Epsilon. Though the radiation from the planet is strong, we were able to conduct a successful survey of the moon’s topography. Also, Captain, we have detected an ancient Ultramarine signal from quadrant 4.”

The marine then presented Titus with his findings. “This is well done Brother” the Ultramarine Captain said. “I see by the surrounding terrain and the weakness of the signal, that it must be beneath the surface. Perhaps, within, lies an installation founded by our forebears. If the Emperor wills it, we may yet find precious gene seed that has survived after all of these long years. Rouse Brother Marcus with all haste, bid him muster strike force Alpha, whom I shall lead personally!” Flavius inclined his head and replied “it shall be done at once Brother Captain,” and went forth to fulfill his duty.

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The opening to the complex was pitch black. It mattered not. What little remained hidden from the Astartes’ enhanced vision was revealed by their helms’ advanced lenses. The Ultramarines proceeded cautiously into the derelict structure. Brother Captain Titus held the center, while Brothers Marcus, Cassius and Flavius took point. Fully ten of the Emperor’s finest advanced boldly, with their Captain, into the earth. They were preceded by an armored behemoth: A Contemptor Pattern Dreadnought. Entombed within its mighty adamantium plates was revered Brother Augustus.

With the experience of centuries, the Contemptor smashed its impressive bulk into the the darkness. The entrance was broad and thus Augustus had no difficulty as he proceeded towards his objective. Titus and his marines followed only paces away. It was immediately clear that this had once been a barracks of the Ultramarines, a temporary staging point in preparation for deployment to the war-zones upon the planet below. The first chamber they were greeted with was small and empty, with only a narrow stairwell leading downwards. There were no other passageways in sight.

Without needing to receive any command, Brother Augustus brought his Assault cannons to bear and opened fire at the surface beneath his feet. What ensued was a brutal cacophony of screeching metal and the pervasive whine of the Contemptor’s weaponry. When Augustus’ cannon’s became silent once more, he stood in the middle of a perfect circle, carved into the steel flooring. With a mighty stomp, the Dreadnought overburdened what few threads of metal survived his onslaught, and plummeted onto the level below.

Silently, the Astrates moved single file down the stairwell to rejoin their Brother. Once they did so, Captain Titus found that Augustus had landed in a large open space, which must once have housed the base Armory. However, only one pathway was large enough for the Contemptor to pass. Titus divided his marines in two teams, leading one towards Augustus, as he ordered Brother Marcus to lead the second to explore the corridors to the south of their position. Before the teams separated, Titus gave them their orders. “My brothers, we are gathered here this day to give our fallen brethren the peace in death that they could not allow themselves in life. Seek out any that may have fallen and reclaim their gene seed that they may rejoin the Chapter!”

The squads separated and moved out to execute their designated sector sweeps, alert to any dangers that may lurk in the darkness. Sergeant Marcus led his four Ultramarine companions down a corridor to the south. As they turned a corner they came across a fallen Astartes warrior, wearing Mk II battle plate, adorned with the livery of the Legion of Ultramar. After taking a moment to pay their respects to their fallen comrade, Brother Marcus knelt and examined the corpse. Remarkably, the ancient power armor had repaired itself and preserved the body to this day. Not much remained, but Marcus was able to extract enough gene seed to fill the specially designed container he had brought.

Meanwhile Captain Titus had found the source of the signal that had been detected from orbit. In an alcove within the large chamber, an Ultramarine Legionary Tech-priest had fallen. Seemingly he had activated the beacon with his dying breath. The significance of this last act was unknown to Brother Titus, but at the very least it had allowed for the re-discovery of this place. Titus retrieved the Tech-marine’s gene-seed and deactivated the ancient beacon. As he did so, his enhanced instincts began to scream that something was amiss.

Brother Severus was first to make contact with the enemy. He had stood guard as Marcus completed his task, when he sensed movement in the corner of his eye. He readied his bolter and waited. Suddenly, lithe shapes peeled from the shadows and began moving towards the marines at great speed. With a shout, Severus called for a volley and his fellow marines were quick to answer.

Bolter fire filled the narrow corridor, felling several of the unknown attackers. Brother Maximus took up his flamer and released its fuel. In a blazing plume of cleansing fire, the Ultramarines’ attackers were revealed for what they were: Mandrakes. In these tight quarters the flames created a nigh-impenetrable wall of death. Yet the foe seemed unconcerned with its losses and charged into Marcus’ squad with wild abandon. So furious was the attack, that two space marines fell to the fiends’ cruel blades.

But the marines’ precise reactionary fire had been flawless and only three of the enemy’s number remained. These were quickly dispatched. Victorious, Brother Sergeant Marcus led his squad to the main chamber. Responding immediately to the enemy presence, Captain Titus ordered strike force Alpha to gather and fortify their position. Even as they complied, Marcus’ marines were beset again. This time by crazed Dark Eldar wyches, who darted at them. Two were claimed by righteous bolter shots and gouts of flame. But three reached the Ultramarines. In the swirling melee, another Astartes was slain. Marcus and his surviving brother were unable to harm the wretches, so fast were their movements.

As this happened, a squad of Kabalite warriors sprung into the main chamber from a side entrance. With preternatural speed they fired volley after volley of poisoned splinters at Titus and his marines. Hundreds of these projectiles peppered the Emperor’s warriors, but the foul shards found no purchase, for the Astartes armor was too resplendent. True to its name, the Dreadnought turned to face these puny attackers and unleashed its devastating hail of fire, bellowing “Purge the alien!” None survived. Confident that Augustus would guard them against enemy attack from the rear, Captain Titus led his squad towards Sergeant Marcus. No matter how fast they may be, the sheer bulk of the charging Ultramarines proved too much for the three surviving wyches. With nowhere to turn, they were strangled by a noose of ceramite.

As Titus looked up from the Dark Eldar corpses, he noted that the enemy leader had finally shown himself. An Archon of Commorragh strode into sight, accompanied by a retinue of four menacing looking armored Eldar. The Captain recognized these beings: Incubi, peerless and deadly warriors, even for an Astartes. Titus would not suffer them to live. “To me my brothers!” he called. Immediately all of the Ultramarines formed as one and took firing positions. Once again, the Dark Eldars’ speed and dexterity proved to be no match to the storm of bolter fire that they were confronted with. Despite their heavy armor, the Incubi were all felled by the righteous barrage.

The Archon, however, emerged unscathed. Hits had been scored against him, but each time a dark field had swallowed the detonating shell as though it were nothing more than a smoke pellet. The Eldar sneered contemptuously and raced directly towards Brother Captain Titus. Wasting no time, the space marine Captain rushed forward to meet the charge. A flurry of vicious blows rained down upon him. They fell with a level of dexterity and skill that Titus could not hope to match. Nor did he need to. He waited patiently as the Archon sought in vain to penetrate his artificer armor, raking at the space marine’s breastplate with his gauntleted agonizer, even as he stabbed at perceived weaknesses in the Captain’s armor with a venom blade in his other hand. There were none. In mere moments Titus saw his opening and smashed the Eldar warlord with his shimmering relic blade. The forceful strike caught the Archon fully in the chest, reducing it to pulp on impact. In a single blow was the foe slain. His Eldritch technology did not save him.

Amidst the tangled ruin of that once haughty Eldar, Titus was surprised to discover a slender tube. On closer inspection, he saw that it unmistakably contained Astartes gene seed. Having seen this also, Brother Flavius could not hide his contempt “perfidious Eldar! does their foul meddling know no end?” he asked. “These are not Eldar of the Craftworlds, Brother, but denizens of the dark city Commorragh. Though there is no place for either in the Emperor’s realm, the presence of these bodes ill for our quest. We must learn what machinations drove them to seek out Astartes gene-seed. Whatever plan fuels this mad scheme must be thwarted.”

It took Titus and his men another hour to scour the complex and become satisfied that no more gene-seed remained. Of the three casualties, two were stabilized and would eventually recover from their wounds. The third, however, had been sliced apart by the wyches’ blades and could not be saved. When the time came to depart, Brother Captain Titus said “Severus, detonate a fusion charge on that bulkhead, that our good Brother Augustus may leave this sorry place.”

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From within the comfort of his pleasure yacht, concealed in a nearby artery of the webway, Archon Oberon-Geren Mackareth ended the visual feed. His invisible probe had followed one of his minions, Archon Naruth, into the ruined Ultramarine complex. Oberon had not expected to find the mon-keigh hulks in this system and certainly did not expect Naruth to be so incompetent as to allow himself to be defeated by them.

As this petty Archon had stood alone, foolishly dueling the Ultramarine captain, Oberon had formulated a new plan. With a faint smile, he had remotely deactivated Naruth’s Shadowfield, using a code that he had keyed into the device when he first “gifted” it to his subordinate. He could not risk any damage to the Ultramarine leader. Now that he knew space marines were in the area, it seemed wasteful not to make use of their services. Oberon signaled one of his Incubi and shortly thereafter, Archon Ivanael was brought before him. The lesser Archon bowed his head towards the leader of the Undivided Blood Kabal.

The gesture was a facade of course. No Archon of Commorragh works for another except for the hope of one day plunging his dagger into the other’s back and usurping his old master’s seat of power. Oberon knew that, and Ivanael knew that. It was the Tyrant’s law, and it was the way of the Eldar. Those of their race that drifted amidst the stars in their wraithbone coffins sought to deny the truth of their own nature. They were fools. Commorragh was the Empire reborn, an unassailable fortress from which countless Dark Eldar raiding parties could strike throughout the galaxy with impunity. In their world, only the strong survived, while the weak were nothing more than chattel, to be used at their betters’ whim.

For the moment, Oberon and Ivanael needed each-other. Their instincts resonated with the knowledge that one day they would come to blows, which created in each of them the desire to strike at the other immediately. Well acquainted with the urge to kill, they repressed the impulse easily. “Archon Oberon, how may I best place my Kabal at your service?” asked Ivanael. Oberon studied the new leader of the Eyes-Bled-Out Kabal with an expressionless face. He knew little about this up-and-coming dark eldar, except that he had been particularly bold in the assassination of his predecessor and largely successful at both cementing his hold over the Kabal and hiding the truth of his origins. Perhaps he was the correct tool with which to implement his new plan.

“I have brought my forces here, Ivanael, because I wish to hunt especially powerful prey.” Archon Oberon said. “I have known for some time that the mon-keigh that call themselves space marines would come to this place. They are the product of primitive genetic manipulation and are thus far more resilient than the verminous masses of ordinary mon-keigh. As such they are of great value as combatants in our city’ arenas.” The Archon continued. “They are few in number and will prove easily captured. However, their vessel is formidable and an assault upon it would prove unnecessarily costly. For this reason I need you to find suitable locations for us to lay in ambush while the fools are on a planet’s surface.”

Archon Ivanael nodded in apparent understanding. As did all successful Archons, Oberon spoke lies with the same tone and sincerity that he spoke truths. Such was his mastery, that the younger Archon could not hope to differentiate between the two. He therefore assumed that nothing he heard was the full truth. “I have learned that the mon-keigh are of the Ultramarines chapter and that they are here in search of meaningless trinkets from their bygone age of glory, to satisfy the cretinous infatuation they have with their corpse-emperor. Find the remnants of ancient Mon-keigh and report your findings to me.” Oberon finished. “Of course Archon Oberon, it shall be done.” Ivanael inclined his head once more and left the audience chamber.

Hive Fleet Selachii: Ravenous

Tyranid Icon

After the silence, there was a chorus of sensation. There were images, thoughts and feelings. Then there was knowledge. Understanding of self; of its purpose; and of the Hive Fleet. It was given rank: Hive Tyrant. It was given role: Commander. It was given a directive: Consume. The Tyrant was allowed to roam within the synapse of the Fleet. Allowed to learn all there was to learn about the organisms that made up the whole. But soon after, it was contained. The Tyrant understood that he was no longer just mind. It was now body as well. Encased in its shell of bone, sinew, and muscle, the mind could be safe, it could leave the Fleet. It could consume.

The Hive Tyrant knew that a part of The Fleet was its to command. A small part. So small that before it would have seemed meaningless. But now it had eyes. With these it saw that its minions were many, and it was pleased. Great bio-ships it was given with which to cross the empty. Knowledge of where bio-matter could be consumed was given. The Tyrant directed its minions. These knew only what it allowed them to know. They knew nothing of the Fleet. Knew nothing of the directive. They knew only the Hive Tyrant’s will and the instinct to obey.

Soon the Tyrant had its own fleet. It commanded that it move to where it knew bio-matter would be found. Slowly but surely, the fleet drifted through the empty. Not long after, the Tyrant’s bio-ships were far from the Hive Fleet. It could always hear the call of the Hive, always commune with its thoughts and its will. But it was fainter, soon the chorus became a murmur. Now the Tyrant’s chorus was strongest. Its images, thoughts and feelings flooded the minds of its minions. It was supreme, unchallenged, and ready to consume.

Guardians of Ulthwé: Forestalling Doom

Ulthwé Icon

Craftworld Ulthwé drifts defiantly along the outskirts of what was once the heart of the mighty Eldar Empire. Consumed by the birth of Sai’lanthresh, the eldar core worlds were dragged into the warp through a rift known to humans as the Eye of Terror. Ever since escaping the doom of their race, the eldar of Ulthwé have lived within sight of this great wound in realspace.

As he had done thousands of times before, Farseer Aramel gazed through the infinite void at the great lesion. Even for the most powerful eldar seers, looking directly into the raw warp can prove dangerous. At this great distance, however, the swirling mass of unreality had no power but to remind Aramel of how far his people had fallen. Perhaps this is why the Seer Council of Ulthwé had decided to remain so close to the epicenter of the Fall. Even one glance at the vast warp-rift, is enough to convince the eldar mind of the need to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Aramel considered how the people of his craftworld stood apart from other eldar. They were not clannish as their brethren of Saim-Hann, they were not obsessed with rebuilding the Old Empire, as were the xenophobic eldar of Biel-Tan. Neither were they fanatically devoted to Asurmen’s path as are the Alaitoci, nor consumed by death as their unfortunate brethren of Craftworld Iyanden. Many of these far-flung brethren look upon Ulthwé with distaste and suspicion. They cannot imagine how Aramel’s people can find success in battle, again and again, whilst wearing no war mask. Surely they must be consumed by Khaine’s rage and hunger, or be utterly damned.

But the truth is that the eldar of Ulthwé do not look solely to the bloody handed god when battle is joined. Rather, they choose to tread along a lighter path. Isha, goddess of life, subjected herself to eternal imprisonment, that her children may survive the Fall. From her example, the eldar that join the ranks of Ulthwé’s Black Guardians realize that, in defeating the great enemy, no sacrifice is too great. They understand the value of all living beings, and dispense death only when need demands it, to tip the scales in the war against the dark powers. Over the millennia since the Fall, the manipulations of Ulthwé’s seers, enforced by the Black Guardian host, have saved untold billions.

The dome of Crystal Seers where Aramel now stood was soothingly quiet, though he was far from alone. Farseers Erethentil and Ithiniael were nearby, wrapped in their own thoughts. The dome was filled with psychoreactive flora and fauna, that behaved in concert with the moods of passing eldar. None of the Farseers had been summoned by the Council, as such, but each of them had seen through the skein and found that they must be here, in this place, at this moment.

When the time came, the three seers slowly walked towards the inner-most dome. As they did, they passed hundreds of crystal statues. To the unknowing observer, these would appear as immaculate crystal statues of Ulthwé Farseers. In truth, they are the mortal remains of farseers that have long since joined the Craftworld’s crystal spirit matrix. Though not truly dead, they had joined the spirits of Ulthwé’s fallen, with all of their memories and sense of self intact. It is the fate of all farseers that do not perish in combat. One that only Eldrad Ulthran has managed to evade.

When the three seers reached the Council chambers, they were greeted by a gathering of the most revered Eldar to walk their path. The legendary Farseer’s form was also there, but Eldrad’s mind was deep within the warp, hunting for answers. “We have a task for you” said Farseer Dariel. “A strike force has been readied aboard the warship Asredil. You must lead it to the Sorathian System. A maiden world lies in peril and an ancient temple of the Phoenix may come to ruin” she continued. “There is also a darker threat, though we do not yet know its purpose.” The words were a formality. Each already knew the perils of which Farseer Dariel spoke. But ritual demanded that all expeditions be sanctioned by the Council in person. Meeting on the material plane served to ground Seers, lest they risk confusing reality with a loose thread, glimpsed within the skeins of fate. Aramel, Erethentil and Ithiniael inclined their heads in understanding, and went forth to perform their task.

Il-Kaithe: Vigilance

Il-Kaithe Icon

Amidst the void sailed a smoothly shaped planetoid, unbound to the enslavement of any star and free to roam the vastness of space. This was Craftworld Il-Kaithe, a shimmering jewel in the darkness, one of the precious few remaining world-ships of the Eldar. Undaunted by the tragedy of the Fall, or the aggressions of their foes, the inhabitants of Il-Kaithe refined the art of bonesinging to a level unsurpassed by their brothers and sisters scattered across the stars. With every song and every wonder created, they defied the Chaos Gods.

Somewhere near the heart of the Craftworld, Phoenix Lord Karandras strode into the hall of Autarchs. Before the assembled leadership of Il-Kaithe he spoke, with a voice both ancient and powerful. “On a desolate world in the Sorathian system, that bears my name, a mighty army of the souldark was once defeated. Their warriors were turned to dust and leaders routed, but their greatest works could not be undone. So it was that I built my temple upon the ruins of the yngiract crypts, that none may claim the secrets buried within. The hour soon approaches when many will come to the Sorathian worlds, each with their own designs. Some may desire the eldrich technologies of the souldark to fuel their ambitions. This may not come to pass. The Phoenix Court calls upon you to defend Karandros and ensure the Necron abominations are never unearthed by unwitting fools, or their makers.”

With that ominous warning, and without waiting for any response, Karandros turned and left the great hall, soon disappearing into paths that no other could tread. Shocked, the Farseers and Autarchs of Il-Kaithe debated over how they would address this threat. Surely the yngiract technology that the Phoenix Lord spoke of was powerful beyond their imagining and must at all costs be kept from the servants of the Dark Gods. The skein must be studied and a fleet will be assembled, to be dispatched at all speed. But who will lead it?

Imperial Guard: Orders

Imperial Aquila

The Imperium of Man is a vast, sprawling Leviathan. On countless worlds, the human civilization trudges on in time to the unyielding tempo set by the Adeptus Terra. From densely urbanized forge-worlds to comparatively sparsely populated agricultural planets, the minutia of daily life is dictated to the Imperial citizen by the seemingly omnipresent Administratum, through its legion of agents.

Very much like a Leviathan, the vast organism that is the Imperium is often slow to react. Fully six thousand years had passed since human eyes looked upon records concerning the Sorathian system, a minuscule spec of dust somewhere in the Viridian sector. Deep within the bowels of Holy Terra, the offices of the Sub-departimento Occupatio housed hundreds of thousands of scribes. Each is tasked with the duty of scouring an endless tide of Imperial records, in the futile attempt to measure just how large the Imperium is, count how many worlds fall within its domain and discern where they are located.

An especially thankless task, is to peruse ancient documents from the times of the Great Crusade and cross-reference the obscure mentions of planetary systems with current information, to determine whether these worlds are still part of the Emperor’s domain. Scribe A-3400/9 had spent months sifting through garbled text and badly damaged combat logs, until he finally stumbled upon one sentence: “World eaters pursued….Viridian sector…Garrison left on Cadia XIV…”

It took the scribe two more weeks of searching through the files pertaining to the Viridian sector, before finally finding a millennia old footnote “Guardsman platoons left in the Sorathian system…warp storms…all contact lost.” A-3400/9 compared his findings with current census data, but found nothing that hinted at an Imperial presence on any Sorathian world. The meager evidence that the scribe had found probably amounted to nought, and he felt fairly certain that there was nothing of value in that Emperor-forsaken smudge of space, but by Terra, he needed a promotion. The scribe was a mere nine levels away from becoming a petty administrator, which meant that his designation would finally be changed to a true name. Normally this would take twenty more years of hard work, but A-3400/9 was confident that, with the right phrasing, his report would halve that time. Barely containing his excitement, the scribe began to craft his masterpiece.

From a couple of garbled sentences, the scribe produced a three page Memorandum, detailing the high strategic value of the Viridian system and the need for the vast human population of Cadia XIV to be returned to the Imperium’s fold. The lowly scribe was not alone in his desire to seize on this opportunity and by the time his report made its way to the higher levels of the Sub-departimento Occupatio, it had become a hundreds-of-pages long document, culminating with the following finding:

It is with studied certainty that we find the issuance of a reclamation fleet not only virtuous in His holy eyes, but necessary for the survival of humanity within the entire Viridian Sector. The overwhelming evidence, unearthed by our dedicated and hard-working servants, unequivocally demonstrates the critical importance of the Sorathian System. It must be reclaimed for the glory of the Imperium.

Long live the Emperor!

After reading this last paragraph, having completely ignored the rest of the report, Commissar Nemo crumpled the page it was written on in his right fist. Disgusted, he dumped the entire document down an incineration shute, much to the horror of his subordinate. “Security reasons” Nemo said curtly. He did not need to read the report, he had seen dozens like it, all with the same grandiose air and lack of substance. In the end it did not particularly matter. The mission was always the same. Travel, fight, die or conquer. But Lieutenant Perkins did not know this, for he was freshly graduated from the academy and assumed that everything that agents of the Imperium said was true.

The officer stood to attention and exclaimed “Of course Lord Commissar! How foolish for me to even think to question your wisdom, what are our orders sir?” The Commissar sighed before paraphrasing: “In His holy name, we are to go forth at maximum speed as a vanguard of the reclamation fleet. Once we reach the Sorathian System we are to immediately lay siege to Cadia XIV until pacified.” Perkins was so excited by the prospect of leading his troops in his first campaign, that he was completely oblivious to the sarcasm in his commander’s voice. “Splendid sir! I shall go to the men and tell them the good news!” The Lieutenant screeched, saluting stupidly. “Yes, you do that,” Nemo said dryly, “dismissed.”

Once the simpleton subordinate left his ready room, Commissar Nemo took a moment to collect his thoughts. The innumerable masses of the Imperial Guard had countless assets of war at their disposal, with equally varied tactics to employ. Somehow, the Administratum only ever ordered the use of one tactic: The wave. Like an implacable ocean, entire companies of infantry and armored divisions are thrown at the enemy. When, not if, that assault is destroyed, it is immediately followed by another, and another, until nothing is left of their foe.

The high death toll is apparently of no consequence to the bureaucratic hegemony. Life, they say, is the Emperor’s currency and victory seems to always be on sale. Over the decades Commissar Nemo had noticed the patterns in orders given, small details hidden amidst requisition orders. Whereas others might be puzzled at only being given enough fuel for one trip, Nemo knew there would be no supply missions. In short, he recognized a suicide mission when he saw one, and this was it.

In the great battles against overwhelming foes the likes of Abbadon, a Necron dynasty, or Tyranid hive fleet, the armies of humanity are commanded by the Imperium’s finest generals, where every life under their command is a precious asset, spent with the precise economics of a master tactician. But this was no titanic struggle, just an ignominious backwater theatre unworthy of the Imperial Guard’s true leadership. So the Administratum happily usurped that role, greedily pursuing its own agenda. Even the Commissariat had better things to do than curb the unnecessary waste.

None of this helped Commissar Nemo in the slightest, who was bound by duty to comply. Of course, the battle-scarred veteran had absolutely no intention of following the spirit of his orders and would instead meticulously and obstinately abide by its letter. If he was clever enough, maybe some of the boys would make it back home in one piece.

Dark Angels: The Eternal Hunt

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Librarian Darwyn knelt is silent contemplation. Many of his brother-librarians had been claimed by insidious perils hidden in the warp. Too eager were they in their divinations, that they were blind to the doom of their path. Darwyn vowed that he would not suffer such a fate. Prayer was his solace and through piety, he was certain, his treacherous heart could be conquered.

But his own personal struggles were trivial compared to the task with which Librarian Darwyn was entrusted. News had come from the Dark Angels’ vast information network. Whispers that the 7th Company was moving. The hated Death Guard seemed intent on carving a bloody path through the Sorathian System. The reason did not matter, their numbers did not matter. All that mattered was hunting the fallen, and Brother Librarian Darwyn would see it done.

Chaos Space Marines: The Putrid Road

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In the Eye of Terror, worlds that were once the crowning jewels of the Eldar Empire are now contorted wastelands, warped by the ruinous powers and overrun by their minions. In the depths of one such world, strode Aeger Sempiterna, Chaos Lord and Captain of the Death Guard 7th company. The damp caverns that Aeger ventured through were infested with flies and rot-worms. The floor was so covered in ichor and vile fluids, that one could not even see the rock beneath. Even the air that the Lord breathed was a noxious gas that only one conditioned to the gifts of Grandfather Nurgle could survive.

The Chaos lord drew closer to the shrine where he would meet Sorcerer Detritus. Already he could hear the frenzied chanting of the acolytes, and the agonizing screams of those blessed by Nurgle’s gifts. Most succumbed, to become plague zombies. But some survived and evolved into a greater, purified form of life, worthy to serve the Grandfather. The shrine was small and secluded, with only an effigy of the great god Nurgle at its center. Detritus stood in silent contemplation, offering thanks to his patron for the gifts of decay bestowed upon him.

When Aeger entered, the Sorcerer turned to greet him. Welcome, my lord, praise be to our Grandfather he said. “Indeed” replied Aeger, “I have come seeking knowledge on how best to serve Him, to walk the path of ascension.” Detritus nodded. Their exchange was a formality, a ritual undergone thousands of times over the millennia, as each would be Daemon Prince took his first steps towards total damnation. “The path is treacherous. The unworthy shall be cast down and become the lowliest of creatures. The faithful servants of Chaos shall rise, and take on the true mantle of the gods. Have you the will to go forth?” The Sorcerer asked. “I do” replied Lord Sempiterna and thus was the bargain struck.

“All of the gods shall be watching,” warned the Sorcerer. “You may remain true to our lord Nurgle, or court favor from the other dark deities of the pantheon. In the end, only the highest regard from one or more of the true gods will allow ascension.” Aeger inclined his head to show understanding, then asked “where does my path begin?” “In the Sorathian system. A distant echo of the war for liberation from the corpse-Emperor’s tyranny. There you will find a Maiden world of the Eldar. Our Grandfather wishes to bestow upon his beloved a gift, and will reward greatly any who purify its world spirit with his blessings.”

“Then I shall go to this place at once” declared Aeger. “Patience,” cautioned Detritus, “the way of Nurgle is neither rash nor hurried. With measured steps must the warp be prepared for your ascension. Like a well-tended garden, the seeds must be sown at the proper time and the fruits harvested only when ripe. There are many worlds in this system and all of them in need of Grandfather Nurgle’s blessings. More I cannot say, for only these words has our lord revealed to me. I will accompany you, and aid you in your quest” the Sorcerer explained. “Very well, let us go and do our lord’s bidding” said Aeger. The Chaos Lord turned and left the way he came, this time followed by Sorcerer Detritus. Along the way, Aeger Sempiterna pondered on the question of which Sorathian world was more deserving of Nurgle’s gifts.

Tau Empire: Stepping Stones

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On the outer edge of the Sorathian system, the Tau fleet surrounded a rocky and arid planet. Earth caste shuttles moved back and forth incessantly, ferrying construction materials, equipment and Tau colonists. Only a month had elapsed since Commander Shas’el Darkstar and Etheral Aun’ro had decided that this world would be the ideal staging ground for the Empire’s expansion in this system. In that time, several settlements had been constructed on the planet’s surface.

Fire Caste garrisons had also been built and teams of Fir Warriors stationed for planetary defense. Soon the world will be secure enough for Commander Darkstar to move the majority of his fleet onwards. All that remains if for him to decide what planet to liberate next. For the Greater Good!

Currently the known inhabited planets are as follows:

Lithria
Tau scout teams initially reported that this world is a verdant paradise. However, reports were mysteriously cut short. Air Caste analytics find this is consistent with prior contact with Eldar Exodite worlds and advise caution.

Karandros
This largely barren planet may have valuable resources to fuel the Greater Good. Unfortunately its space is guarded by Eldar patrols from an unknown Craftworld. Tau encroachment has not yet led to hostilities, so perhaps there is common ground to be found.

Cadia XIV
Abandoned by the Imperium of man millennia ago, the humans that inhabit this planet have forged their own path, with only vague remnants of the Imperium’s asphyxiating culture. Perhaps their hearts are open enough to Embrace the Greater Good.
If the New Cadian Republic agrees to the terms of annexation and becomes a client state of the Tau Empire, Commander Darkstar will be able to count on the aid of their Basilisk Artillery batteries.

Tarandros
Devilfish scout teams report that this tropical planet is completely infested with feral orks. Monitor drones reveal that most of the disparate ork tribes have recently been united under a single Warboss. The primitive gathering designation “Waaaaghhh” seems destined to bring the entire planet under a single rule. If he can find a way, Darkstar can trick the ork hordes into fighting amongst themselves and lead the survivors away from Tarandros so that the Earth Caste can begin the assimilation process.

Dark Eldar: Possibilities

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Archon Oberon-Geren Mackareth of the Undivided Blood Kabal rested upon his throne and reveled in the spectacles of both pain and pleasure arrayed before him. Or so it would appear to an outside observer. Though he hungrily drank in the suffering of slaves displayed before him, arranged in macabre vignettes, the Archon’s mind was elsewhere. Oberon’s thoughts were consumed by his myriad plots and machinations, overlaid by a pervasive hatred for his rivals.

As a denizen of one of Commorragh’s middle tiers, Archon Oberon was a step above the muck of the eternal city, but only barely. Every Kabal that did not reside in the upper tier of the dark city aspired to carve a bloody path and rise to claim a slice of the higher levels of Commorragh. Of course, the upper levels were dominated by the great and ancient Kabals, each commanding entire tiers for themselves. By comparison, Oberon’s fiefdom was small and insignificant. But that would change.

A recent raid unearthed something that had greatly excited his haemonculi. Oberon’s chief Haemonculus, Zakarias, had been frustratingly obtuse on the subject and the Archon was at a loss as to what all the commotion was about. The raid had been on a pathetic mon-keigh backwater planet and yielded a paltry haul of slaves and trinkets. Oberon tried in vain to guess what Zakarias might have found to justify the months of suspense, not to mention the exorbitant amount of resources the ancient haemonculus had requested for his experiments.

But today, Oberon had been promised results and was impatiently awaiting the hour when he would meet Zakarias in his dungeon and finally learn what fruits his investment had yielded. Externally, the Archon displayed an air of studied nonchalance, giving the impression that nothing of any particular importance was afoot. In the dark city, secrecy was a matter of course and duplicity the key to survival. Oberon inhaled deeply from a pipe offered to him by a scantily clad female slave and enjoyed the effects of the narcotic fumes in order to pass the time.

The hour finally drawing near, Archon Oberon rose from his throne and sauntered onwards. His elite cadre of Incubi formed around him without a word, and followed their master out of the chamber, even as the Archon’s minions bowed and scraped as he passed. After several twists and turns, taking back ways and crossing secret doorways, Oberon was satisfied that any spies following him had either lost him or been killed by the creative variety of traps that lay hidden along the path that the Archon just took.

At last Oberon arrived at Zakarias’ laboratory. He was greeted by a pair of the Haemonculus’ foul smelling Wracks. Monstrosities that had once had the honor of calling themselves Eldar, yet willingly allowed themselves to be mutilated in pursuit of eldritch knowledge. As distasteful as Oberon found them, he was well aware that the relative immortality that he himself enjoyed would be impossible without the Haemonculi and their Wrack servants.

The Haemonculus’ minions led Oberon into the laboratory, past quivering victims, grotesquely mutated flesh and barbarous apparatus, until they reached a circular room with a glass tank containing blueish liquid at its center. Beside it stood Chief Haemonculus Zakarias, who currently appeared more or less humanoid, though he had grown two additional hands from his body and his features were generally unrecognizable as anything Eldar. “Greetings, my Archon, so good for you to have ventured down to my most humble workshop.” Zakarias said, in a grating voice. Oberon hid his disgust well and said “Yes, yes, spare me your pointless placation and show me your work.” Zakarias turned and pointed at the tube. Inside, the Archon could make out a strange pulsating mass of flesh, though he truly could not say any more than that. The Haemonculus did not allow his master to remain ignorant for long. “Amongst the refuse that was collected in your last raid, my Archon, were the remains of a mon-keigh mutant, the so-called ‘Space Marines.'” He explained and pointed at the contents of the tube this was developed from the distilled gene-seed that was recovered. Oberon rolled his eyes and expressed irritation “you waste my resources for this nonsense?! Better Haemonculus than you have attempted to manipulate the mon-keigh super soldier genes for centuries and all of them have failed.”

Zakarias contorted his face into what presumably passed for a smile and gestured for permission to speak. When this was granted, the Haemonculus explained “with respect my Archon, these are not the diluted genetic material that may have been found within any mon-keigh captured within the last ten thousand years. This gene-seed belonged to one of the original mutants created from genetic material taken from one of the fabled mon-keigh primarchs! Long have the secrets of their creation eluded us, but I believe that these pure samples are the key for unlocking the deepest mysteries of the art.”

Zakarias’ excitement was palpable, but Archon Oberon was still doubtful. “That seems all well and good, Zakarias, but what value could this these esoteric discoveries have for me?” He asked. The Haemonculus’ beady eyes veritably sparkled as he replied “the possibilities are endless, my Archon, if we could but acquire more samples for these ancient mon-keigh mutants, we could adapt their properties to your Kabalite warriors, or even yourself! your body would become more resilient, your strength far greater and your ability to regenerate from an injury vastly increased.”

“Interesting, I must think more on this” was all that Archon Oberon said. As he stalked out of the dank laboratory, his mind was afire. The possibilities were indeed endless, and many of those could very well give him the edge he needed to crush his rival Archons. However, the raid that this gene-seed had been collected from was in the Sorathian system, an isolated place with only a single entrance into the webway. He would need his minions to be sent ahead to scout the region and relay information to him. But who could be trusted enough to be silent for this mission and yet expendable enough not to be missed? Oberon smiled to himself as he realized who amongst his vassal petty Archons he would call upon. He need not tell him everything after all…