I do not own the Warhammer 40000 universe nor any of its characters. They belong to Games Workshop.

Inspired by the Dornian Heresy, by Aurelius Rex.

The world around him is a corpse that has forgotten it is dead.

Madness runs down the streets in torrents of pale ichor. Uncast shadows move at the edge of his sight. The stars are gone, replaced by pinpoints of blackness in a mercilessly blazing sky. Petrified hands reach out of the pavement, trying to catch him as he walks.

All around him rise impossibly high towers of bleached bones and leering skulls, on which crazed lullabies of hate are painted in many-hued blood. Skeletal birds peer at him from steepled rooftops, mocking him with cries that echo with the screams of burning worlds.

Nine corpses hang from a dead tree, each of them a lost companion who died on his quest to stop this from coming to pass. Alizebeth, Arianhrod, Fischig, Tobias, Kara, Harlon, Midas, Medea, Uber. A letter is carved on each of their chests, forming the words CROCEA REX. Their heads turn on broken necks as he passes them by, staring at him with empty eye sockets.

A tower of bones and silent screams rises in the distance. It is his goal, his destination. He has been marching toward it for a long, long time, so long that he barely remembers who he was before the start of the journey. And yet, no matter how long he walks, the tower never gets any closer.


He pauses at the voice. He has been here before, but this is the first time it speaks. He does not hear it with his ears, nor with his psychic senses. He does not feel it in the vibrations of the ground beneath his feet, and it does not come from within his own guilt-ridden mind.

The voice simply isn't. But it is a voice, and the word is clear. It is a name, his name. And he knows what IT is that is speaking it, even if he does not know what IT is. IT is his enemy. IT does not exist, but ITS shadow has haunted him for centuries.

Here, in this place, such contradictions make perfect sense to him.

"I will stop you," he says, knowing IT can hear him.

IT does not laugh. IT does not mock him. IT does not deride his hopes as delusions, does not taunt him with all the terrible things he has done, does not remind him of all the oaths he has broken in the name of necessity, does not conjure visions of all the corpses he has left in his wake that superpose with the sight of the dead city, their faces stuck in the horror of their final moments, reaching out to him, begging for help. IT does not tear at his sanity, at his faith, at his will, at his memories.

IT does none and all of these things. IT does not speak again, and the words IT does not speak do not echo mockingly in the gaping holes of his battered soul :

Y̶͉̞̝̟͇̩̥̭͉͂̓̔́Ó̶̱̖̗̰͓̼̿U̷̢̗̯̟͍̾ ̷̛͉͕̻͙̣͎̪̬̥̫͑̔͑̇W̸͎̳̫͎̙̠̣̣͕̥̹̏̏̑Ò̵̧͇̃̽̎N̷̢̧̛̛̲͕͕̤̹̭̏̓̂̈́͑̒̍̕'̸̛̯̏̒̽͂̈̎̌̕ͅT̴̡̯͙͎̘̮͈̥̦̣̤̿͛

Gregor Eisenhorn wakes up.

Times of Ending : The Doom of Eisenhorn

Even in a galaxy inhabited by uncountable quadrillions of sentient beings, the fate of all can sometimes rest on just a few souls walking perilously close to the abyss. Wars are waged that consume billions of lives and set entire Sectors aflame, and powerful champions clash under the gaze of hungry gods to decide who shall hold the right to shape the future of the galaxy, their deeds forever recorded in the annals of History. But in the shadows cast by those brightest lights, destiny is forged in intrigue, deceit, betrayal and murder – secret wars waged only by a handful of souls, doomed to be remembered by fewer still. One such war has raged for longer than any in the Imperium realize, its battles going unrecorded to save what little innocence remains to Humanity. And now, on Sancour, that sinister dance will be played out once more …

Located in the Angelus Subsector of the Scarus Sector in Segmentum Obscurus, Sancour was not a world whose name was known throughout the Imperium. In the great annals of the Adeptus Administratum, it was little more than a footnote, its contribution to the greater whole easily lost as a rounding error in the adepts' star-spanning calculations. It was no paradise world, but neither did it have the teeming masses of a hive-world, from which scores of Regiments might be obtained. It also lacked the sheer productivity of a forge-world, and while its biosphere was still capable of feeding its population, it couldn't afford to export foodstuffs like an agri-world.

It was simply one more Imperial world, utterly unremarkable. For thousands of years, its people had lived in modest prosperity, paying their tithe on time and giving prayers of thanks to the God-Emperor in Ministorum churches and cathedrals for their peaceful lives. Sancour might not have been a great world, but greatness had little to do with happiness, and the people of Sancour had been happy.

By the end of the Dark Millennium, that had all changed. Around 385.M41, a score of Imperial Fists calling themselves the Ashen Kings had arrived in the Angelus Subsector, leading a million-strong, disciplined and well-equipped army of Khornate cultists out of the Warp-lost Vincies Subsector. For over thirty years, they had rampaged across Angelus, until the rise of Lord General Militant Orphaeus, who had managed to rally the Imperial forces of the Subsector and defeat the Ashen Kings at the battle of Caxton in 422.M41. Though ultimately victorious, Orphaeus had lost his life in that battle at the hands of the Ashen Kings' leader, leading to his canonization by the local Ecclesiarchy and the naming of the conflict after him : the Orphaeonic War.

The demands of the war had resulted in a sharp increase of the Imperial Tithe of Sancour, casting the world into a downward spiral that left no city unaffected, despite being left untouched by the War itself. Great triumphs and celebrations had taken place at the end of the conflict, and cathedrals and monuments had been built to honor Saint Orphaeus (despite the canonization still being disputed by the Holy Synod, a process that was likely to take decades more). But while these great works contributed to raise in piety across the Subsector, they didn't replace the millions who had perished fighting the heretical hosts of the Ashen Kings. And nowhere was this more obvious than in the city of Queen Mab, which the Saint-to-be had visited at the dawn of his counter-attack to rally support for his holy war.

Like the rest of Sancour, the glory days of Queen Mab were long gone, its economy drained of resources by battles fought far from its star. Two generations of its best sons and daughters had died unremarkable deaths in forgotten fields, and those few who had returned had only been released from service because they were too broken to be of further use. With time, proper guidance and perhaps some assistance from the Administratum, it could have recovered, for there are precious few situations from which humans cannot eventually claw their way back up. Unfortunately, Queen Mab had none of these things, and neither did Sancour.

The ruling houses of Sancour had been decimated during the Orphaeonic War, with the most ruling lineages sending their heirs to lead the planet's armies at the side of Orphaeus himself. And while the war ended in Imperial victory, few of them returned, leaving the rulership of Sancour in the hands of those who had been too cowardly or unsuited for war. The planet's Governor was the very image of the caricatures decried by rebels and heretics all across the Imperium : an inbred imbecile, more concerned with fattening his purse and his belly than with the sacred duties of his function. Even now, he and the rest of his sycophants were enjoying the start of their luxurious days-long celebration of the millennium's end in the planetary capital, unaware and uncaring of the plight of their people.

Such incompetence might have drawn the ire of their superiors in the Imperium's towering hierarchy, but the capital of the Angelus Subsector, Eustis Majoris, had been destroyed within a decade of the Orphaeonic War's end in an unrelated cataclysm. The Subsector had been left leaderless since then as several planets competed for the honor of becoming the new capital, their bribes and schemes delaying the already lengthy Administratum process even more. As a result, there was no overseeing authority to call Sancour's rulers to account for their misdeeds, so long as the Imperial Tithe was paid and no crimes were committed that drew the eyes of the Imperial Judges or the Inquisition itself.

Without proper maintenance, once-proud buildings crumbled and decayed. Temples built at the apex of the Orphaeonic War, when prayer to the God-Emperor had been the only thing the city'd left to give, and monuments dedicated to lost heroes fell apart, their stones stolen to build ramshackle shelters for the dispossessed masses. Infrastructure meant for now-silent industries was left to rot. Meanwhile, without leadership or hope, the people of Queen Mab had regressed further and further away from civilization. Scores of petty gangs struggled for petty advantages over each other, and fanatical splinter cults of the Imperial Creed blossomed amidst the general hopelessness.

All of this did not, in itself, make Queen Mab particularly special. There were, and had been, countless other cities like this in the history of Mankind, some even before the first true hive-cities had been raised on Old Earth. But it did make it a convenient place for someone needing to hide from their pursuers, and there were few souls in the galaxy more hunted than Gregor Eisenhorn.

The infamous renegade Gregor Eisenhorn had come to Sancour years before, fleeing from perhaps the most dreadful pursuers of all : his own former peers of the Holy Ordos. Born in the year 198.M41 and inducted into the ranks of the Inquisition at a comparatively young age, accusations of Radicalism had long been thrown at Eisenhorn, but his constant successes against the enemies of Humanity and the approval of several of his colleagues who had worked alongside him had prevented them from resulting in anything, with Eisenhorn considering himself a Puritan. His transfer from the Ordo Xenos to the Ordo Malleus and focus (some said obsession) with the entity called the Yellow King had raised some eyebrows, but moves between Ordos were hardly unprecedented, and the vaults of the Inquisition are full of tales of disguises adopted by daemons to manipulate mortals. For most Inquisitors, Eisenhorn's crusade had been just another skirmish in the eternal war against the Archenemy.

Even those who doubted Eisenhorn had acknowledged that he had more reasons than most for his single-minded determination. On the Imperial world of Gershorm, Eisenhorn had been captured and held captive by a heretical cult for several weeks before his Acolytes had managed to free him after a battle that none of the cultists survived. Eisenhorn's body was left broken by the ordeal, and, much later, it would be suspected that this was the point his mind began to crack as well.

The Inquisitor emerged from the following weeks of healing (precipitated by his determination to return to the field as soon as possible, which led to him using an exoskeleton to support his ailing flesh and permanently crippling his chances of a complete recovery) and careful inspection for signs of corruption a changed man. His already considerable psychic abilities grew even further in the aftermath, reaching levels few souls in the Imperium's history could boast of. And though he remembered mercifully little of his time in the cult's hands, at least while awake (for his dreams were haunted by images of what he'd glimpsed in the cultists' hands), he knew that the heretics had served none of the four Dark Gods or any of their infinite daemonic hordes. They had paid homage to an entity they called the 'Yellow King', and their rites had nothing in common with any of the myriad cults the Inquisition had encountered before.

Upon searching in the Ordos' archives and investigating long-extinct mystery cults, Eisenhorn had discovered (after years of investigation and bargaining to get the required access codes) that this entity was somehow linked with the dreaded Nineteenth Legion, the Raven Guard. Several former Inquisitors who had succumbed to the nihilism of Ravenism had mentioned it, hinting that it was somehow responsible for the path the Raven Guard walked. Galvanized by this discovery, Eisenhorn dedicated himself to foiling the schemes of this mysterious being. He transferred from the Ordo Xenos to the Ordo Malleus, and those who knew of his crusade supported it, though they were rightly wary of anyone learning too much about anything regarding Corax' foul Legion.

Then, in 339.M41, the Thracian Atrocity unfolded, and Eisenhorn's destiny was changed forever.

The Thracian Atrocity

Since its reclamation during the Scouring, Thracian Primaris had been the industrial heart of the Helican Subsector, its hive-cities providing the manpower for countless Manufactorums. From 240.M41 onward, it also served as the headquarters of the Ophidian Crusade, a conflict that nearly lasted a hundred years and saw millions of Guardsmen fight and die against the hordes of Noyan-Khan Ogedei, warlord of the White Scars Traitor Legion. For a century, Ogedei's raiding hosts ravaged the worlds of the Helican Subsector, leaving naught but desolation in their wake. Eventually, in 338.M41, the renegades were destroyed at the Battle of Gudrun, though the capital of the Subsector was left ravaged by the fierce fighting that saw Ogedei brought down by a Company of Emperor's Children.

In celebration of this great victory, a Triumph was declared, arranged to take place on Thracian Primaris, which would serve as Helican's new capital following Gudrun's devastation in the White Scars' initial attack, the infamous Red Highway Massacre. The victorious soldiers were to parade in each of Thracian Primaris' cities, along with trophies taken from the heretics as well as prisoners. The objections regarding this last part were countered by the low overall moral of the Subsector after a century of war : the high and mighty of the Imperium decreed that the sight of the God-Emperor's enemies brought low would help restore order.

Among these captives were a circle of unbound human psykers, small and wretched things that had been captured aboard Ogedei's flagship. Amidst the preparations for the Triumph, Eisenhorn used his Inquisitorial authority to claim custody of these wyrds, his growing reputation making sure that no one questioned it – after all, many of the Triumph's organizers were uneasy about letting witches be included in the event in the first place.

It was Eisenhorn's belief that, using these psykers, he could force answers from the Warp regarding the nature of the Yellow King without exposing himself or any Imperial sanctioned psykers to danger. The ritual Eisenhorn attempted was, technically speaking, perfectly legal for someone of his rank to perform. It had been designed by the Fifteenth Legion thousands of years ago for use by the very first Inquisitors, along with a trove of such lore offered by the sons of Magnus the Red to the heirs of Malcador the Sigillite. Even the incorporation of unbound psykers was within Eisenhorn's remit, though the Thousand Sons would have found it clumsy and distasteful. Using it on a populated hive-world instead of a dead moon was more questionable, but still as legal as anything related to psychic powers ever was in the Imperium.

Eisenhorn was well aware that divination was a delicate affair, but he was convinced that his quarry had hidden its traces so well that only through blunt force could the truth of its nature be gleaned. And so, a few hours after the end of the Great Triumph, he enacted the rites, drew upon the strength of the thirty-three captive wyrds, and compelled the Warp to tell him the truth of the Yellow King.

What Eisenhorn didn't know, however, was that the captive psykers were much more powerful than anyone had realized. These were no mere wyrds, two-bit conjurers whose main use was to serve as fuel for the rituals of the Fifth Legion's Stormseers. Instead, they were each alpha-level psykers, Ogedei's secret weapon of mass destruction which the Chaos Lord had died before being able to unleash upon his enemies. The drugs the White Scars had used to pacify the psykers were so powerful that even after months of captivity, they still affected them : without the specific antidote, it would've taken years for them to fully regain their faculties if left alone.

The ritual hadn't been designed to include such individuals – indeed, given the rarity and potency of alpha-level psykers, very few such rituals even existed. As a result, when the ritual was activated, it was massively overcharged. The thirty-three psykers were consumed by the Warp in a matter of seconds, triggering a massive daemonic incursion that engulfed all of Thracian Primaris.

If not for the presence of the Pariah Alizebeth Bequin, a long-time associate and rumored lover of Eisenhorn, the Inquisitor would never have survived. Only her nullifying presence let the two of them escape, and the sheer pressure of so much psychic energy left Bequin brain-dead and eventually killed her. But even if Eisenhorn managed to escape, the rest of Thracian Primaris was not so lucky.

At the spaceport of Hive Primaris, fifty-seven Emperor's Children gave their lives holding the daemonic tide long enough for two hundred thousand civilians to escape the pandemonium – less than a fraction of a percent of the planet's billion-strong population, with the rest becoming prey for the Neverborn. At the same time, nearly the entire military force present on Thracian Primaris for the Great Triumph was lost fighting desperate and unremembered battles against the daemonic hordes. Those few who managed to make it off-world were taken in the Inquisition's custody, with those found free of taint forcibly recruited within its ranks and the rest summarily executed. Warmaster Honorius was devoured by daemons alongside nearly the entire Subsector ruling elite.

The Crusade's fleet was immediately placed under the Inquisition's authority once a semblance of order was restored, and a quarantine of Thracian Primaris was enacted while astropathic messages calling for an Exterminatus task force were sent. For over three months, the men and women of the Imperial Navy held orbit around the seething madness of Thracian Primaris, occasionally bombarding sections of the planet designed by the surviving Inquisitors as the location of particularly dangerous daemons. Hundreds of crew members, veterans of the Ophidian Crusade all, were driven to madness or suicide by the pernicious whispers of the Empyrean, and public order across the other worlds of the system plummeted. Riots erupted, killing tens of thousands more and dragging the system even deeper into ruin.

Ultimately, the Exterminatus flotilla arrived, and immediately set to work purging Thracian Primaris by fire. All life was stripped from the once-prosperous hive-world, and the burned-out husk that was left was quarantined, with a flotilla permanently tasked with enforcing it. Given the situation in the Subsector, the other worlds of the system couldn't be similarly purged, but no one would ever be permitted to set foot on Thracian Primaris again – for even after the Exterminatus, Imperial psykers could still feel the lingering taint unleashed by Eisenhorn's disastrous ritual.

At first, the Thracian Atrocity was thought to be the work of remnants of Obedei's empire who had managed to hide in the fleet. It took years for the truth to come to light, during which Eisenhorn was presumed dead. Devastated by what he'd unwittingly caused, the Inquisitor went into hiding, severing contact with all his allies in the Ordos. Only by carefully cross-referencing the testimonies of the few survivors and combing through libraries' worth of recorded transmissions were the Ordos' data-smiths finally able to find that Gregor Eisenhorn had requested and been granted the custody of the captive heretic psykers for ritual purposes.

His survival was only established a decade later, when he revealed himself during his purge of the Children of Babel, a Chaos cult that had taken the luxury void-cruiser Emerald Jewel and half a Sector's worth of nobility hostage. Though Eisenhorn was long gone by the time the Ordos' investigators arrived, the grateful nobles whose lives he had saved eagerly told them everything, including the rosette their Inquisitor savior had brandished to compel them to follow his orders.

This was considered more than enough evidence of Eisenhorn's catastrophic descent into Radicalism. Even then, few believed the Atrocity had been anything but an accident, yet not even Inquisitors could avoid the consequences for damning an entire world like this. Eisenhorn was declared a renegade, and Inquisitor Pontius Glaw of the Ordo Hereticus was tasked by the Scarus Conclave to find him and capture him alive if possible. Glaw had once been one of Eisenhorn's friends, the two of them working together to uncover a Chaos plot on the former's homeworld at the start of Eisenhorn's career. Well aware of Eisenhorn's capabilities, it was Pontius' greatest regret that he'd been unable to stop his friend's fall from grace, and he vowed to bring him to justice – for Eisenhorn's own sake as well as the Imperium's.

Following the Atrocity, Eisenhorn spent centuries wandering Segmentum Obscurus, ever remaining one step ahead of his pursuers. His obsession with the Yellow King had only been strengthened by the disaster, perhaps out of a guilt-born desire to ensure these terrible losses hadn't been in vain. Eventually, the renegade Inquisitor returned to the Scarus Sector and established a base of operation on Sancour, within the city of Queen Mab. Clues gathered during his long errance indicated that this was where the Yellow King would attempt to manifest, but the true nature of the entity yet eluded him, despite having spent the better part of a thousand years on its trail. During his time in the city, Eisenhorn had uncovered several cults that he believed were in service to the Yellow King, and had purged them all, making sure to cover his tracks to keep the Ordos from noticing his presence.

As the final year of the forty-first millennium drew to a close, one of Eisenhorn's last companions from his time as an upstanding member of the Holy Ordos, the Imperial data-savant Uber Aemos, succumbed to madness while attempting to make sense of the scattered clues they had gathered and took his own life. Eisenhorn had managed to preserve Aemos' life this long by placing the savant (who had already been elderly by the time of the Thracian Atrocity) into stasis for decades at a time, only awakening him when there was new information to consider. Aemos was also one of the last friends left to the Inquisitor, but Eisenhorn refused to let grief stop him, not when the threat of the Yellow King was still looming.

Still, the loss of Aemos meant that Eisenhorn needed a replacement. Recruiting a true data-savant was impossible for someone in his position, but a fresh set of eyes to look at the gathered data was still indispensable. Eisenhorn was self-aware enough to realize that his own single-minded focus on the Yellow King might blind him to connections others would be able to see, even without the augmented memory and intellect of a true Imperial Savant. And so, with very few options left to him, Eisenhorn decided to visit the Maze Undue, and see if the organization could provide him with a suitable candidate.

Located next to one of Queen Mab's orphanages and officially recognized as a specialized school for the most promising children, the Maze Undue was in truth a remnant of the Cognitae, an organization that had once threatened the very foundations of the Imperium in Segmentum Obscurus. Eisenhorn was loath to allow even such a pathetic vestige to continue, but the threat of the Yellow King was far greater in his eyes, and so he'd allowed the Maze Undue to continue its operations so long as it provided him with recruits and shared its not inconsiderable network of spies and heretekal scrying devices with him whenever he asked. Fully aware of Eisenhorn's reputation and capabilities, the leaders of the Maze Undue had agreed to his demands without protests, though there was little love lost on both sides of this association, and even less trust.

The Cognitae

The history of the Cognitae is a tangled mess of myths, lies, deceptions, self-serving misrecollections, psychically-erased memories and half-faded truths pulled from the Sea of Souls by traumatized seers. During excruciation, some of its members claimed their organization was descended from a conspiracy that had already existed during Old Earth's fabled Antiquity, and which had sought to 'elevate' Mankind into some nebulous superior form for tens of thousands of years only to be thwarted by the Emperor and His servants at every turn. Others claimed to be working for the Ravenlord, Corvus Corax himself, by creating enhanced human beings worthy of being transformed into Children of the Raven. And others still proclaimed their eternal loyalty to the Ruinous Powers and Chaos Undivided, dedicated to bringing about the downfall of the Imperium and the reign of the Dark Gods by training arch-heretics capable of bringing worlds to their knees.

As best as the interrogators could determine, all three groups genuinely believed themselves to be speaking the truth. This, then, is the history of the Cognitae as the Inquisition has managed to reconstruct it with a reasonable degree of certainty.

Lilean Chase, a powerful psyker formerly in the employ of the Inquisition, is believed to be the founder of the organization. During her career, she stumbled upon forbidden truths – or perhaps the woman known as Lilean Chase died, her soul devoured by the Warp as is the fate of so many psykers. Regardless of the cause for her treachery, she turned several of her peer Acolytes to her side and, after brutally murdering the rest alongside her Inquisitor master, vanished for several years. She reappeared on the Imperial world of Hesperus in the year 321.M41 and established the Cognitae Academy there, using the very skills the Inquisition had cultivated to ensure it remained hidden from the authorities.

The Cognitae's work was focused on creating individuals of singular power through the careful shaping of human children. Through surgical augmentation, gene-forging, hypno-conditioning, as well as more traditional training and indoctrination, these children were made into instruments of Ruin, in a manner not too dissimilar from the methods employed by the Inquisition and other Imperial organizations to train their members. Graduates of the Cognitae program (whose survival rate was even lower than that of the Thousand Sons) were all geniuses, possessed of a perfect eidetic memory and with the ability to weave plots and schemes that would impress even the Court of Change's infernal denizens.

Aside from this, they were also trained to develop specialized skills depending on their innate talents, with an emphasis being placed on the ability to work alongside other candidates without the infighting that ravages most Chaos cults. Upon their graduation, they were then scattered across the Segmentum (far from the Scarus Sector, to ensure the Cognitae's own operations were kept secret) and mostly left to their own devices, though some were given specific 'projects' to work on.

Operatives of the Cognitae were spread across the Imperium looking for suitable candidates. They infiltrated the Schola Progenium and other orphanages, secretly performing genetic testing as well as subtle psychological manipulations in order to identify children who, with the proper training, might successfully graduate the Cognitae program. The labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Imperium then made it easy to send the selected children to 'special training programs' : after all, many such programs actually existed.

The Cognitae operated for over a century undetected, and during that time produced some of the worst arch-heretics to ever plague Segmentum Obscurus – quite an achievement, considering the competition from the Traitor Legions based in the Eye of Terror. They trained masters of sorcery and charismatic demagogues, assassins to rival those of the Officio Assassinorum and generals capable of leading armies to victory against far superior foes, heretekal adepts capable of bending the greatest of machine-spirits to their will and manipulators who could start civil wars with a few conversations. Through careful genetic engineering, even the descendants of the Cognitae graduates carried within them the seed of madness and greatness, perhaps in imitation of the twisted lineages of the Children of the Raven.

It was graduates of the Cognitae who unleashed the Scourge of Atleros, the techno-plague ravaging four cities of the forge-world before it was put down by the Death Guard. The famed architect Cyreus Demeter, whose buildings were secretly designed with esoteric properties that triggered a series of daemonic incursions on Alcherion on the night of his masterpiece's inauguration, was also a graduate of Lilean Chase's program. The nightmarish works of the Hounds of Niross, the atrocities of the Herendor Apostasy, the Genetic Blasphemies of Kerendos Gamma : all of these and many, many more were orchestrated by the scions of the Cognitae.

Eventually, despite all its precautions, the Cognitae was discovered, and the fury of the Imperium fell upon it with a strength rarely witnessed across the ages. Representatives from all three Ordo Majoris, several Ordo Minoris, enough Stormtroopers to pacify a star system and warriors from four different Space Marine Legions were involved in the resulting purge, which lasted over fifty years before an Inquisitorial Conclave declared it complete when its final graduate, Zygmunt Molotch, fell into a trap of the Alpha Legion. Years before his death, Molotch had been responsible for the destruction of Eustis Majoris, the capital of the Angelus Subsector, following an ill-fated attempt at gaining ultimate power through the use of the mythological language of creation, enuncia. Only thanks to the intervention of several factions, including the mysterious Cypher, had he been stopped from succeeding beyond the Cognitae's wildest expectations.

The fact that Molotch came so close to achieving de facto godhood illustrates why the Imperium reacted so forcefully when the Cognitae was discovered to be behind the rise of several arch-heretics in Segmentum Obscurus. The descendants of the graduates were also hunted down and wiped out, with only a select few spared and kept under watch for the rest of their lives – most of them ending up working for the Ordos in one way or another as the price for their continued survival, and all of whom were sterilized to ensure the taint would spread no further.

However, despite the involvement of so many powerful Imperial factions, not all remnants of the Cognitae were expunged. Lilean Chase herself, or perhaps a replica of her, managed to escape with a handful of her agents and went into hiding. Taking refuge in a back-up base of operations on Sancour, they went into stasis, hoping to wait out those who knew of their existence and relying on the Inquisition's tendency for secrecy to erase their traces for them.

More than six hundred years later, the last survivors of the Cognitae emerged from their stasis tomb and immediately resumed their operations in Queen Mab, seeking to rebuild the networks of informants and operatives that had made them so powerful. Without the assets Chase had been able to subvert during her initial betrayal, it would take decades, but this didn't deter them. By manipulating the local Imperial authorities, they were able to establish the Maze Undue, and indoctrinate its students into believing they were being trained for service in the Inquisition. Their pupils were kept ignorant of their teachers' true allegiances to avoid being exposed – if one of their graduates was discovered off-world, they were more likely to be thought to be the result of a true Inquisitor's secret training school than of a long-dead conspiracy.

When Gregor Eisenhorn found them by investigating one of Sancour's nobles in whose entourage they had planted one of their students, the Maze's faculty was able to strike a bargain with the Radical Inquisitor. Eisenhorn needed recruits for his own crusade against the Yellow King, and both sides were equally uninterested in drawing the attention of the Inquisition to Sancour – the Cognitae because they would destroy them, Eisenhorn because his former peers would at the very least detain him, leaving no one to oppose the Yellow King.

Beta had just returned to the Maze Undue after her latest function when the life she had known ended.

She had been called by the Secretary as soon as she had entered the facility, before she even had the time to remove her disguise or store the canister she had been tasked with acquiring from the weapon smugglers as the culmination of her months-long infiltration of Queen Mab's criminal elements. When the summon had come, she'd thought it to be related to this mission : it had, after all, gone almost suspiciously smoothly, with only the tiniest deviations from the plan she had originally set out.

The moment she stepped into the office of the man who led the operations of the Maze Undue in the name of the Holy Ordos, however, she realized her mistake. The Secretary was here, surrounded by the hundreds of notebooks in which he was always writing, but there was another man there too.

The man was tall, and wore a long cloak of black leather that bulged strangely over his frame. She caught a glimpse of some kind of metallic exoskeleton underneath, and realized that he must be using it to move. This made sense, for he was also old, incredibly so. His face was little more than a skull clad in stretched, scarred skin, but it was his eyes that caught her gaze, blazing with a strength of will that made her want to cower and beg forgiveness for whatever transgression she might have committed.

In his right hand, he held a metal staff topped by the aquila, and an ornate power sword hung at his waist. Even here, in the safety of the Maze Undue, he radiated power and threat,

The man wasn't smiling as he looked at her. In fact, his face looked to be frozen in place, like a corpse, which she found utterly unnerving. Beta had been trained for years in how to read people, but the man was a complete enigma to her. His gaze briefly moved from her face to the cuff at her wrist which kept her Pariah aura suppressed – a necessity for infiltration work, and the one piece of equipment that distinguished her from the Maze's other recruits.

"Welcome back, Beta," the Secretary greeted her. "This gentleman is one of the Inquisitors sponsoring our operations. He has come to us because he requires new recruits for his holy work. When I heard you'd returned, I immediately thought of you."

Beta nodded, masking her excitement at being in the presence of an Inquisitor. This made sense : she was among the Maze's oldest students. Given the length of her last function, she'd expected it to be her last, a graduation exam of sorts – though of course it hadn't been framed as such.

Still, this was unprecedented as far she knew. Inquisitors never came to the Maze Undue in person.

"Blanks are very rare. Where did you find this one ?" the man's – the Inquisitor's – voice was rough with age, but still strong, still commanding. Somehow he had immediately recognized what she was, despite her cuff. Was he a psyker ? She knew they were more sensitive to her presence, and had been taught to be very careful of them, even if she was, in a way, their natural predator.

"Please tell the Inquisitor how you came to be in our care, Beta," instructed the Secretary.

She obeyed, of course. She told the man how she'd been found in the southern marshlands as a child, her mother having passed away, and brought to Queen Mab. How she'd lived in the Scholam Orbus next door until the Maze Undue had taken her in, partly due to her intellectual and physical prowess and partly because of her condition as an Untouchable, and trained her to serve as an agent of His Divine Majesty's Holy Ordos.

Throughout the tale, the Inquisitor's gaze never wavered, remaining fixed on her, his expression still frozen and revealing nothing.

"I didn't realize there were still settlers in the marshlands," he noted once she was done. "I thought the entire region was abandoned ?"

"That is mostly the case, lord," answered the Secretary, and Beta was curious about this herself. During her years in Queen Mab, she'd heard plenty of stories about the marshes that sprawled south of the city. They were as varied as they were grim, and while there was little evidence any of them were true, it was common wisdom that some sort of curse hang on the area, and few souls were brave enough to enter it. Beta herself had never had the opportunity to do so.

She also didn't fail to note that the Inquisitor knew enough of the region's history to be aware of the marshlands' reputation. Was he operating on Sancour itself ? Was this why he'd come to the Maze in person ?

"However," continued the Secretary, "there are still a handful of people living there, mostly outcasts fleeing from the law." This was new to Beta, but she had no reason to doubt her mentor's words. "Of course, we wouldn't blame young Alizebeth for whatever crimes her parents may or may not have committed."

"Of course," repeated the Inquisitor, and Beta felt as if she was missing some joke between the two men – or, given their general demeanour, most likely a shared understanding she didn't need to be brought in. "I will need to ask her some questions to test her skills, you under-"

His words were cut off as alarms suddenly started to ring. The Secretary bolted behind his desk, pressing a few hidden switches that resulted in a wood panel unfolding to reveal a small screen, on which runes Beta didn't recognize were flashing quickly. The Secretary looked at the display for a few seconds, before turning to the Inquisitor and her, his face a mask of surprise and determination :

"We are under attack !"

If not for the nerve damage caused by a Drukhari poison which had robbed him of all facial expression centuries before, Eisenhorn's shock at seeing the Maze Undue's proposed recruit would have been obvious. Beta was a near-perfect duplicate of the woman who had saved his life on Thracian Primaris centuries ago. The chances of this being a coincidence, already vanishingly low, became non-existent when one considered the fact that she was a Blank as well, and even shared the same name – Alizebeth Bequin, with 'Beta' merely being the shorter nickname by which the faculty and other students of the Maze Undue called her.

The Inquisitor immediately suspected a plot of some sort by the Cognitae remnant, and would no doubt have extracted answers from the faculty at sword point if necessary. But before he could begin to ask his questions, the building came under attack, and he'd no time for anything except join the defense. The Radical might despise the Maze's faculty, but he was not so far lost as to let the children under their care and in the orphanage next door at the mercy of the attackers, not when it was clear from his brushing against their minds that it was his presence that had brought them here in the first place.

The Thracian Atrocity had drawn the eyes of many heretical factions, and Eisenhorn's activities before and afterwards that life-changing event had earned him many enemies. Among them was the cult of the Divine Fratery, which had been a plague on the Imperium for millennia.

The Fratery's members sought nothing less than the dissolution of the Imperium, and believed that the best way to achieve this was to engineer calamities through the use of divination. By examining the future using unholy rituals, the cultists identified potential disasters and acted to make them real or to maximize the damage they'd cause. Worlds had burned and starved because of the Divine Fratery's agents, and many unrelated enemies of Humanity had benefited from their support, directly or indirectly. They had helped spread the words of heretics, broken quarantines and sabotaged entire military campaigns. Their subtlety made it difficult to identify their actions with certainty, but it was estimated by the Scarus Conclave that tens of billions had perished because of them at the very least – and the actual number was suspected to be greater by several orders of magnitude.

For most of the time since its existence had been uncovered, the Ordo Hereticus had believed them to be worshippers of one of Tzeentch's infinite masks, but a violent conflict between one of their cells and agents of the traitorous First Legion had thrown that hypothesis into question. Of course, it was all too possible that the conflict had been faked, engineered specifically to throw the Inquisition off, or even the result of a rivalry between servants of the Architect of Fate. Such would hardly be uncommon among the slaves of Chaos, after all. But deeper investigation eventually revealed that, whatever fell Power of the Warp it was the Divine Fratery had sold their souls to, it wasn't the Changer of Ways.

Eisenhorn believed the Fratery to be pawns of the Yellow King, and he had encountered them three times before, each confrontation ending with the abject failure of the cult's current objective. This conflict had reached its apex many years before with Eisenhorn's visit to Nova Durma. There, in the leech-infested forests of the Eastern Telgs, laid what passed for the cult's headquarters.

The Inquisitor had infiltrated the Fratery's holy site, witnessing their divination rituals – which involved using discs of hand-polished silver to catch the sunlight that fell into a grotto every thirty-eight days and, in a state of consciousness altered through starvation, self-flagellation and drugs, catch glimpses of potential futures in the reflected light. Their words were then interpreted by the cult's masters, who extracted from them the most doom-laden prospects and sent them to the rest of the Fratery.

Despite not being initiated in the cult's heretic ways, witnessing their rituals was enough for Eisenhorn's awakened psychic mind to share in their unholy revelations. This was how the Inquisitor had learned that the Yellow King would attempt to manifest on Sancour around the end of the forty-first millennium, in a vision of such horror his mind had blocked all details save for the most important ones. Knowing that the Fratery's seers couldn't be allowed to spread this information to the rest of the cult, he'd then risked everything to personally slaughter every member of the cult on Nova Durma, collapsing the entire grotto before hunting down the rest of the cultists on the planet.

It had taken weeks, and Eisenhorn had been half-dead and alone, his retinue of hired goons slaughtered by the time he'd cornered and slain the last magister of the Divine Fratery. But the Inquisitor had prevailed, and left Nova Durma as the only soul in the galaxy with the knowledge of the location of the Yellow King's potential manifestation. But, though it was mortally wounded, the Divine Fratery lived on.

Those cultists scattered across the Segmentum had come together to find out the cause of their masters' silence, journeying to Nova Durma to discover the ruins left in Eisenhorn's wake. Consumed by rage, they had performed a ritual the Fratery hadn't used in generations on their destroyed holy site, calling upon the Warp for answers. Something had made contact with them then, remaking them into its instruments and setting them on their new path. New instructions had been sent through the cult's established channels, and the Fratery had begun to focus on recovering from its losses.

For generations afterwards, the Imperium had been spared from the Fratery's corrupting efforts, though none of the billions who were spared this way would ever know they owed their continued lives to Gregor Eisenhorn. Now, however, the Fratery had recovered, and its new leaders were consumed by their desire for revenge. They had received new visions showing them where Eisenhorn had taken refuge : their divination methods had always been particularly sensitive to souls who had attempted to see the future themselves, and the Thracian Atrocity had ensured the rogue Inquisitor could never hope to hide himself from them.

Having tracked Eisenhorn down to Sancour, the leaders of the Divine Fratery had, over the last months, smuggled a veritable army of armed cultists in Queen Mab. They'd also brought mercenaries willing to work for anyone whose money was good, no matter the job or the enemy. These hired guns were scattered across Queen Mab, and at the cultists' signal they launched a series of attacks aimed at throwing the city into anarchy and keep the forces of law enforcement too busy to interfere with the Fratery's own business : a direct assault on the Maze Undue, aimed at capturing Gregor Eisenhorn so that he could be punished.

The first phase of their plan went without a hitch : in fact, the disturbances they had planned were only part of the mayhem that descended upon Queen Mab that night. For, though only the leaders of the Divine Fratery even suspected it, they had allies on Sancour, serving the same patron.

Silence reigned in the dinner room atop the highest spire of Queen Mab, broken only by the ticking of the clock with hands of masterfully wrought silver in the corner. On the long table sat the remains of a truly exquisite sixteen-courses meal; and on each of the antique chairs surrounding it but one sat the corpse of one of Queen Mab's most powerful nobles.

At the head of the table of corpses, the woman who was known to most as the Silver Countess looked past her morbid handiwork and at the painting that hung on the wall opposite her. At first glance, there was nothing peculiar about it : it was the kind of artwork that could be displayed on any noble's dining room on any of a thousand Imperial worlds.

The painting had been a gift, gifted to the Countess two centuries before by the Blackward family as a present on her thirtieth birthday, which marked adulthood among Sancour's nobility. At the time, she'd thought the renowned merchants were simply testing the waters, checking if she'd an interest in the antiques and artworks they peddled.

Now, of course, she knew better. The gift of the painting, and the visions that had begun to haunt her dreams in the decades since, had been but one move in a carefully orchestrated symphony that stretched long before her birth. The game had slowed down in recent decades, since the arrival of the Lord of Thorns, and many pawns had been sacrificed to keep him from suspecting the truth.

Thanks to what she had done tonight, Queen Mab was leaderless. Elsewhere in the city, her agents had cut off the communication lines to the other cities of Sancour, destroyed the primary and back-up vox-arrays, and flooded the astropaths' quarters with poison gas. Similar acts of sabotage were also taking place in other cities, though to a lesser extent. As far as those performing them knew, this was all the prelude to her taking over Queen Mab and declaring a rebellion against the Governor.

They were wrong. There was no plan to take advantage of her rivals' demise. The mayhem, the chaos, the anarchy : those were ends in themselves. She cared nothing for the conspiracy she had built in order to cover her true motives as just one more move in the ebb and flow of Imperial politics. Soon, riots would consume all of Queen Mab, as the population finally lashed out after centuries of mistreatment and misery. And, in a few moments, it wouldn't matter anyway. Her reward awaited her.

The Silver Countess raised her crystal flute toward the painting in a toast, full of the same poisoned wine that had killed all the other guests.

"Glory to the King," she said to herself, and emptied the glass.

As sirens began to ring all over Queen Mab, the Divine Fratery launched its attack on the Maze Undue. The cultists climbed up Highgate Hill in trucks, triggering the Maze's outlying alarms without care. As the orphans of the neighbouring Scholam Orbus were guided to the underground shelters by their caretakers and calls were sent to the local law enforcement – only to go unanswered as other urgencies occupied them – the denizens of the Maze Undue prepared to defend themselves.

The pupils of the Maze Undue were trained in self-defence, but they were first and foremost meant for subtle work, not outright warfare, and only a handful had ever been forced to take a life before. Nevertheless, faced with what they saw as a horde of heretics assaulting their home, they fought back bravely. Teenagers and young adults picked up weapons from the facility's armory and took up defensive positions, led by the faculty. There were too many cultists for the Cognitae members to escape, and after being driven so low as their current status, none of them were willing to abandon their last lair, the center of what little was left of their shadow empire, without a fight.

Haloed with psychic power, Eisenhorn faced the cultists, one hand holding a runestaff glowing with eldritch power, the other clutching a gun whose bullets he'd engraved with sigils of power, and his power sword Barbarisater, which he'd taken from the hands of a dead Acolyte centuries before, hanging at his hip. The blade had been broken during the Thracian Atrocity, when Eisenhorn had used it against one of the Empyrean's greater horrors, but it had since been reforged, and was attuned to the Inquisitor's psychic energies, making it more deadly than ever.

Eisenhorn made free use of his psychic power. His will compelled cultists out of hiding and into the open, while his mind plunged into their brains and turned them against each other, or tore weapons out of their hands. There was a reason why the rogue Inquisitor had survived for so long : in all the Imperium, there were very few souls as puissant as him, and fewer still as tempered by long, bitter experience.

Of course, the Divine Fratery had known how dangerous their quarry was from the start.

The psychic attack, when it came, was anything but subtle.

I was shooting at a group of cultists, picking them out by the light of their corrupted souls in my psychic sight. I could smell smoke – a fire had started somewhere in the Maze Undue, and with no one free to put it out the entire wooden structure would go up in flames soon.

Beta was at my side. I didn't want her to get out of my sight, not until I knew more about what she was. She looked so much like Alizebeth that I had barely been able to suppress my emotions when I had seen her, aided in that by my expressionless face. But now wasn't the time to investigate that particular mystery. Somehow, the Fratery had survived – I had recognized the velvet eye patches on the cultists I'd already killed, concealing their flesh eye until it was time for their foul rituals – and tracked me down here. This attack was my fault, and though I had no love for the Cognitae remnant that ran this place, there were still innocents close at hand.

I was considering my best course of action when the psychic attack struck. It was strong, and aimed precisely at me. Whoever was behind it – I could tell at once that this was the work of several minds working together – had taken their time locking onto my display of psychic power.

My defenses held, albeit barely. I hadn't expected the Fratery to use psykers like this. When I had last fought them, anyone with a modicum of psychic talent they got their hands on was used for divination instead.

Sloppy. I should have known they would've changed after what I did to them.

I stepped back into cover and glanced at Bequin, suppressing the pang I felt at seeing her oh-so-familiar face. I still felt ambivalent about her, but right now, with the witches of the Fratery hammering at my mental defenses, I had no other choice but to trust her. I had managed to endure the first blow, but there would be more soon.

"Cover me," I ordered her, and went on the hunt as soon as she'd nodded in reply.

I closed my eyes and sent out my will, following the trail of the attack back to its source. It was not far at all – the circle of wyrds had taken refuge in one of the old houses of the noble quarter, no doubt provided to them by one of their heretic friends.

There were five of them, and I knew from the taste of their auras that none of them had been born psykers. Their minds had been forcefully opened by the Warp, in a manner I knew the Dark Gods were capable of. Within a few heartbeats, I was among them, no longer on the defense.

The masters of the Divine Fratery were old, though not nearly as old as I, and powerful, though again, not as powerful as me. They hadn't expected me to find them so quickly, to tear through the pathetic wards they'd erected around their circle. Even so, I knew that to make one mistake would be my death. I couldn't deal with them one by one, because the effort it would take to overcome their collective defenses would leave me open to the remaining four. I had to take them all down at once.

+In the name of the Inquisition and the God-Emperor,+ I sent to them all, +I hereby sentence you to death.+

Then I struck. I unleashed the fullness of my power, holding nothing back. I sensed the fire that poured out of the Warp directly in the middle of the masters' circle, heard their horrified screams as it burned them. I felt the fire spread further, and the entire building collapsing as its structural integrity was irrevocably compromised. I tasted the panic of nearby souls – many of whom were just ordinary citizens of Queen Mab, caught in the clash between forces they didn't understand.

I forced my mind back into my body and raised my psychic defenses, but I had drawn too deeply on the tides of the Warp, and now the backlash was threatening to tear my body apart – or worse. I had burned too bright, and that had drawn the attention of the things that dwelled in the Sea of Souls, given them a beacon that led straight to my soul.

"Bequin," I managed to say through the pain that felt like my skull was splitting open. "Your cuff. Turn it off. Now !"

Emperor bless her, she didn't hesitate or ask questions. She slapped her cuff, setting it to 'dead', and I was immediately enveloped by the familiar aura (or lack thereof) of a powerful Blank.

It was a risky manoeuvrer : I honestly gave it even odds that the shock would kill me, or that the Warp would overcome Beta's resistance. I was willing to risk it, however, because the thought of what the Empyrean could do with a vessel such as I was a terrifying one.

This time, my gamble paid off. I survived, though to be so suddenly sundered from my psykana abilities was most unpleasant. More importantly, denied the chance to ground in the Materium through me, the Warp energies instead sought the closest conduits, which happened to be the cultists advancing on our position. From what I knew of the Fratery's initiation rites, they'd all opened themselves to the Warp at least once, and they now paid the price for their heresy.

Their bodies contorted and exploded in showers of gore, and I thought I could hear the screams of their terrified spirits as they were dragged to their eternal 'rewards'.

I nodded to Beta in thank. For all their many, many sins, it seemed the Cognitae had trained her well.

With the failure of the psychic assault on Eisenhorn and the death of their masters, the cultists' assault faltered. Even so, perhaps the Divine Fratery's forces might eventually have managed to overwhelm the Maze's defenders with their superior numbers if left to continue their attack. But they were not the only faction to have tracked Eisenhorn down. After centuries on the hunt, Inquisitor Pontius Glaw had finally tracked down his old friend to Sancour weeks ago, and the psykers in his employ could sense the rogue's power in Queen Mab now that he was forced to defend himself. Although Pontius would've preferred to wait until the reinforcements he had called for arrived (he, more than anyone else, knew how dangerous Eisenhorn could be when cornered), his hand was now forced.

A trio of Valkyrie Airborne Assault Carriers descended from his ship in orbit, carrying the Inquisitor's personal guard of Stormtroopers : over thirty of some of the most elite soldiers in the Imperium. They made no attempt to capture the cultists of the Fratery alive : only the presence of the Scholam Orbus and the dozens of children within it had them exercise even a modicum of fire control.

Caught between the Maze's faculty and the Stormtroopers and with the Valkyries providing aerial support, the Fratery's superior numbers soon melted down to nothing. With the fanaticism of true zealots, they fought to the last, giving their lives for a cause none of them had ever truly understood.

Taking advantage of the confusion, Eisenhorn managed to slip by, aided by Beta Bequin, who was familiar with the area and knew how to move undetected. Though her Untouchable nature prevented the Inquisitor from reading her mind – not that this would've been a perfect check of her loyalty, for the Cognitae had designed techniques to resist and deceive telepaths – Eisenhorn had decided to trust the young woman. Perhaps this was due to him following his well-honed instincts; perhaps he understood enough of the Maze Undue's methods to know she'd obey a true Inquisitor (and Eisenhorn, despite all the centuries he'd spent on the run, still possessed his rosette of office); or perhaps it was the echo of old sentiment rising from a centuries-old grave at the sight of his long-dead friend's face.

Regardless, with Eisenhorn's transport left behind (its self-destruct mechanism activating when one of the Stormtroopers tried to enter it, turning it to shrapnel and killing the man instantly), the two unlikely companions made their way through Queen Mab on foot, abandoning the Maze Undue. The city was vast, however, and the chaos caused by the Fratery's diversions (which Eisenhorn found strangely well-spread, given that neither he nor the Maze had detected their preparations) as well as the threat of pursuers from both factions involved in the fight atop Highgate Hill forced them to be cautious.

By the time they reached their destination, the sun was rising on the last day of the Dark Millennium, and the sounds of fighting were still echoing across the city. The riots, fuelled by decades of governmental neglect and animal panic at the terrorist strikes orchestrated by the Fratery's mercenaries and the Silver Countess' headless conspiracy, were raging nearly unopposed, with only a few small islands of order where low-level officials had managed to take command. Eisenhorn was convinced that these events were the doing of his old nemesis, the Yellow King, arranged to sow confusion and mask its manifestation – another sign that time was running out. Yet if he were to prevent it, he needed intel and resources.

Eisenhorn's base on Sancour was located within the ruins of an abandoned Manufactorum complex, shut down after the end of the Orphaeonic War had brought down demand for ammunition in the Subsector and its continued operation had become unprofitable. The Inquisitor had acquired the deed to the land through several layers of fake identities, and fortified it as best he could. Through the use of servitors, he had expanded the underground portion of the facility, using the ruins above as cover. From there, he could access almost every security system in Queen Mab, as well as the data-stacks of the local Administratum and Arbites.

Eisenhorn and Bequin were welcomed into the facility by one of the Inquisitor's last remaining allies, the cripple, machine-sustained wreck of a great man that was Gideon Ravenor. Apart from him, the base was crewed only by servitors, Eisenhorn not trusting anyone else with the dangerous knowledge he had gathered. Even the other recruits he'd taken from the Maze Undue hadn't entered it, instead being sent to other cities of Sancour or off-world to pursue leads that the Radical couldn't follow up himself, due to having to stay on Sancour to be ready to act when the Yellow King finally attempted to manifest.

Once, long ago, Gideon Ravenor had been Eisenhorn's Interrogator, his prize pupil, on his way to becoming an exemplary Inquisitor himself. Then the two had discovered that Ravenor was a Child of the Raven, descended from one of the accursed lineages touched by the dread Apothecaries of the Nineteenth Legion. That terrible revelation had come whilst they'd been investigating the Yellow King after Ravenor and Alizebeth Bequin (along with others) had rescued Eisenhorn on Gershorm, the investigation bringing them to Ravenor's homeworld and leading to the discovery that the sons of Corax had visited it centuries ago.

Ravenor, unable to take his own life due to the deep-seated genetic conditioning common to all Children of the Raven, had begged his master to kill him, but Eisenhorn had refused. Instead, he'd done his best to remove Ravenor's tainted flesh, extracting his brain and keeping it alive inside a complex life-sustaining cybernetic coffin. Within a tank of amniotic fluids, Ravenor's mind was preserved, able to see the world through optics, in a way not too different from the revered Dreadnoughts of the Legiones Astartes. His considerable psychic abilities had been preserved as well, and honed even further by the lack of physical distractions.

Ever since then, Ravenor had been at Eisenhorn's side, carried on gravitic plates and fully aware of the explosive charges his master had installed within the floating chair, ready to detonate at the first sign that the corruption of his flesh had also affected his mind. Yet in all the years since, never had the former Interrogator (who had been stripped of his rank upon the discovery of his lineage, as not even Eisenhorn would ever consider giving an Inquisitorial rosette to a Child of the Raven) given cause to his master to question his loyalty.

Ravenor was as surprised by Beta's appearance and name as his master, but held his metaphorical tongue, seeing the two's exhaustion after the night's events. From within the base, he'd kept watch over the city's overnight descent into anarchy, and shared what he'd observed with Eisenhorn. In the years of their shared exile, Ravenor had tinkered with his coffin, adding mecha-dendrites and making patchwork repairs where necessary. There had been plenty of time for him to master new skills, after all, and Eisenhorn hadn't always been able to rely on the services of qualified tech-priests.

Despite the urgency of the situation, both Bequin and Eisenhorn were exhausted. Once they'd debriefed Ravenor on what had happened, the two of them went to rest. Bequin's dreams were troubled by nightmares of the Maze Undue's destruction and the deaths of those people who had raised her all her life; those of Eisenhorn were troubled by much worse things.

Several hours later, the Inquisitor and the Pariah were awoken from their restless slumber by the sound of alarms warning that hostile forces were approaching the facility. Rushing into the control room, Eisenhorn watched an army of gangers move through the abandoned district surrounding the disaffected Manufactorum – and, among them, the unmistakable silhouettes of Heretic Astartes.

Eisenhorn and Ravenor had faced Chaos Marines before, and were aware that there were some present on Sancour as well. For the last few years, they'd waged a shadow war against them, and learned enough to identify the attackers as members of the sinister cabal calling themselves the Eight.

The Eight

Traitor Astartes operating on their own within Imperial territory are rare, as Space Marines were designed first and foremost as soldiers, being at their most effective when acting alongside others of their kind. Few Chaos Marines have the training and disposition to remain undercover for years at a time, and those who do are highly valued by their commanders, who use them to prepare the terrain ahead of their warband's arrival, either by creating cults, suborning criminal cartels, killing key Imperial figures or sabotaging defenses. Others are forced into this life by necessity, being exiled from their warband or separated from their kindred and left stranded by the vagaries of fate.

By what was almost certainly not coincidence, several such members of the Traitor Legions took an interest in Sancour in the last century of the Dark Millennium. Even more unlikely, they all eventually gravitated to the city of Queen Mab, and became aware of each other. Most surprising of all, however, was the fact that they did not end up killing each other, instead forming a loose alliance. By pooling their resources, skills, and existing networks of cultists and terrified slaves, these Chaos Marines formed the secret organization known as the Eight.

The name of the Eight originally came from the few mortal servants aware of their masters' nature and number, ending up as something of an inside joke that the Chaos Marines decided to use it, since coming up with an appellation for their group they would all agree on was a lost cause, so different were their natures and values. Their goals remained mysterious even to their subordinates : the acquisition of power and influence over Sancour and Queen Mab in particular seemed to be one they all shared, as was the uncovering of the rogue Inquisitor Eisenhorn.

Until very recently, the Eight counted as many Chaos Marines as their title implies. However, following a battle between Eisenhorn and one of their number, the Blood Angel Araclaes, only seven were left.

Morvax Haukspeer, the Apothecary

One of the Nineteenth Legion's dreaded Apothecaries, Morvax Haukspeer was the founder of the Eight and the first of them to be on Sancour. This led to him having the largest network of informants and thralls of all the Eight, though to the surprise of his consorts he avoided creating any Children of the Raven and cultivating their bloodlines, as one might expect of a son of Corax being present on a human planet for several decades. Still, the favors an Apothecary of the Raven Guard can provide are some of the most persuasive bribes in Mankind's history, which allowed Morvax to gather thousands of lost souls under his wing, feeding him information, resources and influence. It was also Morvax who served as the cabal's nominal leader, with the help of the other Pureblood on Sancour – a far more infamous son of Corvus Corax – to keep his cousins in line.

Theracleon the Far-Sighted & Duma the Sightless

Two Dark Angels had come to Sancour together, bound together by oaths of blood and sorcery. Theracleon was Paladin of the Fourth Path, wielding a bladed whip, while Duma was a Sorcerer of Tzeentch, his psychic gifts enhanced by dark sorcery studied in the halls of Cysgorog where he had traded his mortal eyes for immortal sight. Once, the two Dark Angels had been agents of Corswain, the First Archduke of Cysgorog. But when the Daemon Prince had fallen from grace and disappeared following his failed attempt to overthrow Lion El'Jonson, all of the ninety-nine Legionaries under his direct command had been marked for death. Theracleon and Duma had barely managed to escape the first assassins sent after them and get out of the Eye of Terror. They had spent the centuries since in hiding from their own Legion, trying to reclaim their place among the Dark Angels by proving their worthiness to Tzeentch. Having heard of Eisenhorn's prowess against the cults of Chaos, they journeyed to Sancour, where they made common cause with the other Chaos Marines already present on the planet.

The Three Ashen Kings

At the end of the Orphaeonic War, only three Ashen Kings remained, and they chose to hide in order to avenge their defeat rather than pointlessly fight to the death. Named Alaric, Fasolt and Nereus, they survived the fall of their last stronghold by hiding within their own looted treasures, stopping their armors' systems and activating their own Sus-an Membranes. There, in deathless sleep, they were carried away by unknowing Imperial soldiers, like undead kings of Terran myth. The vagaries of plunder and administration led the three sarcophagi to be delivered to a noble collector on Sancour, which was where the Ashen Kings awoke, decades after the Orphaeonic War's end. The prolonged hibernation, however, had driven Fasolt into Dorn's Darkness, and the Imperial Fists were only able to hide their presence by burning the entire estate to the ground to conceal the slaughter that followed the Chaos Terminator's berserk rampage. Fleeing in the wilderness, they were found by Morvax Haukspeer, and decided that whatever the Apothecary was plotting would serve as suitable revenge against the descendants of those who had defeated them in the Orphaeonic War. While Fasolt could serve no purpose other than blind violence, Alaric and Nereus remained skilled generals and leaders of mortals, and spread their influence through Sancour's criminal organizations, terrifying the gangers into obedience through overwhelming violence.

Araclaes the Pale-Blooded

Exiled from a Blood Angel warband after a mutation made his blood the color of soured milk and his body barely stronger than that of an unaugmented human, Araclaes saw the seeming curse from the Dark Prince for the test it actually was. Following a pilgrimage across the Eye of Terror, the Pale-Blooded eventually regained his former strength, though the visual aspect of his mutation remained. On the last step of his journey, Araclaes was visited by a golden envoy of Slaanesh, and charged with the death of Gregor Eisenhorn, with the promise that the Inquisitor's blood would grant him ascension to daemonhood. On Sancour, Araclaes joined the Eight intending to use them for his own ascension, which led to him attacking the Inquisitor alone when his spies (broken to his will by letting them sup on his addictive blood) revealed Eisenhorn's location instead of calling for reinforcements, thus wasting a perfect opportunity for an ambush. Before his death, Araclaes had made use of his Glamour to infiltrate the ranks of Sancour's nobility, planting heretical and rebellious ideas among them as much for his own amusement as for the benefit of the Eight.

Nykona Sharrowkyn, He-Who-Hunts-Above

The presence on Sancour of the Raven Guard's most terrible killer was known only to the other members of the Eight, and was one of the main reason for the alliance's existence in the first place. The other Chaos Marines simply referred to him as 'the Hunter', preventing the destruction of the planet by Exterminatus that might have occurred had the Imperium learned of his presence on the planet. Sharrowkyn had arrived on Sancour much later than Morvax Haukspeer, though the other members of the Eight believed the two of them to be acting together from the start. He-Who-Hunts-Above had never said anything to confirm or deny this : in fact, he had never said a word since arriving on Sancour, his identity known only due to the Apothecary's confirmation and the unique blades in his possession. Since his arrival on Sancour, a number of unresolved murders had occurred across the planet, with the victims slain by bladed weapons without any sign of how the killer made it past their security. These deaths had only worsened the already troubled situation of the planet, as well as cleared the path for other pawns of the cabal.

Despite Eisenhorn and Bequin's best efforts to travel undetected, they had been seen fleeing the battle of the Maze Undue, though neither of them could be blamed for failing to elude He-Who-Hunts-Above. The Raven Guard had tracked them down to the base, though he had held from attacking them himself for reasons the other members of the Eight could only guess about.

Unlike the Fratery's hired army of off-world thugs, the Eight had recruited locally, unwilling to risk drawing the eye of outsiders by reaching beyond Sancour. As the economic situation of the planet continued to degrade, gang violence had degenerated into something on the very border of open warfare, despite the best efforts of the local law enforcement. The gangs of the city made for useful fodder, easily manipulated by the Chaos Marines, who were far greater and more terrible than even the most vicious crime lord. Even in its current decrepit state, Queen Mab was still home to millions of souls, many of them ready to do nearly anything for a warm meal, nevermind a chance to escape their present circumstances.

At the command of the Eight, despite the chaos that had engulfed Queen Mab and cut the Eight off from most of their assets on the planet, hundreds of gangers and mercenaries converged on Eisenhorn's base, with the Chaos Marines revealing themselves to their terrified slaves in order to lead them. The Ashen Kings were in charge of coordinating and leading the gangs, while the two Dark Angels prepared to face off against Eisenhorn in a sorcerous battle. Meanwhile, the two Raven Guards attended to their own preparations, of which the rest of the cabal knew little.

Such a force might seem overkill to defeat an old Inquisitor and his remaining retinue, but Eisenhorn had made allies of his own since coming to Sancour, and those weren't limited to the Maze Undue and its graduates. There was a reason the district had been abandoned : it was home to several kill-gangs of warblind, all of whom had sworn allegiance to the Radical years before. As the Eight led their troops closer to the facility, they soon found themselves under attack from multiple directions.

The Warblind

It is an old truth that war makes monsters out of men, but the unfortunate souls called the warblind by the people of Sancour lived that truth more literally than most. As the Orphaeonic War went on, the Imperium became increasingly more desperate and willing to resort to methods that, should they come to the knowledge of the wider Imperium, would most certainly bury any chances of Orphaeus being recognized as a true Saint of the Imperial Creed. It was only because no Space Marine Legion was available for help due to the Subsector's isolation that these methods were even considered, let alone put into practice.

In the second decade of the war, with millions dead and the forces of the Ashen Kings still advancing, the nobles of Sancour made a devil's bargain by accepting a proposal presented by a radical arch-magos, whose name is suspiciously missing from any of the period's otherwise extensive historical records. By that point, anyone with previous military experience or training had already been drafted, and while Sancour still had plenty of young, fit men and women and the resources to equip them, training would take too long. Sending untrained recruits against the hosts of the Ashen Kings was pointless : the Imperial Fists had trained their armies too well for such barbaric methods to work against them. But the nameless arch-magos had a solution, a way to make the recruits ready for fighting within weeks instead of months, as well as more than a match for the legions of the Ashen Kings.

By adapting and considerably simplifying the complex process by which the skitarii, the footsoldiers of the Adeptus Mechanicus, were created, the arch-magos created the cybernetic, chemically enhanced killing machines that would come to be known as the warblind. Their flesh was cut to make place for metal, with limbs cut off and replaced by augmetic weaponry. Sub-dermal shells allowed them to shrug off small-calibre fire, and hormonal cocktails and grafted muscles had given them prodigious strength. Their nervous systems were enhanced to boost reflexes and aggression, and they were subjected to crude juvenat protocols meant to grant them the ability to swiftly recover from all but the most grievous of injuries. They were, in many ways, the perfect soldiers – and, in just as many ways, abominations.

Hundreds of thousands of Sancour's youth were processed and sent on the frontlines of the Orphaeonic War. In the final battle, it was they who overwhelmed the Ashen Kings' final fortress, though not without a terrible cost in lives. The survivors were shipped back to Sancour, but there was no triumphant return for these heroes of the Imperium. The surgeries they had been subjected to and the horrors they had witnessed had broken them : for them, the Orphaeonic War never really ended.

To make matters worse, it turned out that the juvenat treatments had also granted them unnaturally long lives : the warblind simply no longer aged. Only violence could end their lives, and the authorities were unwilling to organize a purge – not so much on moral grounds but because the warblind were, quite simply, the most dangerous armed force on the planet. Abandoned and left to their own devices after several attempts to control them ended poorly, the warblind carved a place of their own in Sancour's society. They took over sections of cities that had been left abandoned in the wake of the war, and gathered around them gangs that paid them fealty out of mixed fear and respect.

The discovery that the male warblind could still reproduce nearly caused the Governor to order a purge regardless of the cost, but the second-and-third-generation warblind were sickly, mutated things, not nearly as dangerous as their parents. Since the warblind could still die to violence and were driven by their very nature to seek conflict, it was decided that the problem would eventually resolve itself. So long as the warblind kept to their territory, they were allowed to do as they pleased, not even given the honor of a final battle in which to die fighting.

The warblind reacted to the intrusion slowly at first, for the Eight killed all they encountered on their way to Eisenhorn's facility. But eventually, word spread mouth-to-mouth and on antique vox-devices that had survived centuries of harsh use, and the kill-gangs converged to meet the intruders in force. The urban firefight that ensued was as vicious as any gang war, but it was only one aspect of the ongoing battle. Just as Eisenhorn's forces fought the Eight's in the Materium, the Inquisitor fought his own battle in the Immaterium.

Unlike the masters of the Divine Fratery, who had possessed raw power but little finesse, Duma was a true Chaos Sorcerer, who had survived the teachings of daemons. Only the fact they were fighting him two on one kept Eisenhorn and Ravenor from being overwhelmed as the three psykers clashed again and again.

Every time their astral projections met, psychic feedback bled out into the Materium : men were driven mad or set ablaze, weapons detonated in the hands of their unfortunate wielders, raw telekine power threw bodies and rusted metal around like leaves caught in a hurricane. Despite the heat of the summer sun, there was frost everywhere, and the scent of ozone, familiar to anyone who had witnessed a psyker in action.

Being caught between warring psykers was a terrifying experience, but the gangers were still more scared of the Chaos Marines, and the warblind were long past fear. They continued to fight even as ghostly hands tore their surroundings and occasionally comrades apart, with the Eight's forces slowly but surely gaining ground. The true warblind among the defenders were more than a match for the gangers, but there weren't that many of them, and they couldn't hope to stand against the Chaos Marines, who were gene-forged killing machines of a much higher quality.

The warblind reapt a terrible toll on the gangers, but one by one they fell, cut down by the Ashen Kings and the Paladin of the Fourth Path. As the attackers got closer, Eisenhorn's automated defenses spring into life. Heavy bolter-turrets wiped out entire packs of gangers, but the Eight had the numbers to spare, and destroyed each of the gun emplacements in turn. Eventually, teeth clenched with the effort of battling Duma at the same time, Eisenhorn moved his hand to enter a specific command code. Heavy locks opened and remote charges detonated, severing chains of silver, and the Radical's secret weapon was unleashed : the daemonhost Cherubael.

Once, it had been mighty. It had bathed in the blood of civilizations, drank the terrified worship of worlds, and engineered the slaughter of armies.

Now it was only a shadow of its former self, with just enough awareness left to be distantly aware of how much it had lost. It lingered on, trapped in a prison of flesh just as much as by the chains of silver and the wards that surrounded it, with only its broken memory for company.

It remembered being bound by cunning mortals, and the amusement it had felt at their efforts along with the loathing. It remembered playing along, waiting for the mistake they would inevitably make that would give it the chance to play its games with them. It had done that before … hadn't it ? It seemed to it that surely it must have.

These mortals had sought to achieve something which it had found pleasant enough, but they had failed. They had been thwarted by the one who held its chains now, a soul that was almost as broken as it was, the thought of which filled it with the closest thing to terror its kind could experience. That mortal had slaughtered those who had thought themselves its masters, and then had compelled it with ancient words of power. It had believed that the man simply sought another tool in his mad crusade, but it had been wrong. Power wasn't the man's – Eisenhorn, yes that was his name – goal.

Eisenhorn had wanted answers, and had thought that it could provide them. But the questions he had asked – the questions – and the answers it had found, delving into the Warp – light, fire, death, yellow, a crown and a tower, talon and thorn, voice and raven …

It had found, or glimpsed, the truth – or merely come too close to it – and it had destroyed it. It had been made wretched, reduced it to a babbling nightmare. Yet it could still be of use, and that was why it was kept here. It had tried to escape, tried so hard, especially in the recent … days ? Years ? Time meant little to one of its kind, even before its mind was broken.

It wanted out. It needed to get out. The hourglass was running out of sand, it still knew that much. The truth it had seen was coming, and it wanted to be far, far away when that happened – even as it feared that nowhere would be far enough to escape it.

Suddenly, the chains holding it broke. The cage opened. A single command echoed through its fractured mind, one that was broad enough that it was virtually meaningless : 'Cherubael, kill.'

Cherubael. A name, its name. And kill … yes, it could do that.

It laughed with mixed pain and delight as it rose up to meet those its master wanted it to kill.

Broken and diminished as it was by Eisenhorn's attempts to extract information regarding the Yellow King from it, Cherubael was still a force to be reckoned with. The Neverborn bound within the daemonhost had been a prince of its kind, and its madness lent it a peculiar strength. It emerged from its warded cell screaming and wreathed in hellfire, its first attack wiping out a score of gangers at once. All across Queen Mab, the violence that had been raging since the previous night suddenly flared, and the Chaos Marines immediately converged on this new threat.

What followed was brief, but intense, as four Chaos Marines fought the insane and unbound daemonhost, supported by several squads of gangers. In the end, only Theracleon walked away from the confrontation. The last of the Ashen Kings were dead, but so was the daemonhost, its damaged spirit hurled back into the Empyrean at last. As its body was ripped asunder by the Paladin's bladed whip, it laughed and thanked the Dark Angel for its release, and for sparing it from what was to come.

By this point, bloodlust and hate were enough to keep the much-diminished army of gangers on the offensive, and they breached into the facility at last. Cornered and still locked in battle with Duma, Eisenhorn made a decision. He ordered Ravenor and Bequin to flee through one of the escape tunnels he had made sure were installed in the facility, while he remained behind to hold the attackers off – after all, he was the one they wanted. It was another risky gamble, but the Radical had managed to glean from his psychic confrontation with the Dark Angel that the Eight didn't want him dead, instead seeking to capture him alive – which opened the possibility of rescue, however remote.

Even so, Eisenhorn didn't intend to go down gently. Once Ravenor and Bequin were far enough, he withdrew from his mental battle with Duma, focusing on protecting his own mind while he strode out to meet the servants of Ruin in person, blade and staff in hand. By the time Theracleon caught up to him and managed to neutralize him with Duma's invisible help, Eisenhorn was knee-deep in bodies.

With their primary objective achieved, what remained of the Eight and their forces couldn't spend time pursuing the other psychic soul Duma had sensed assisting Eisenhorn. The battle was certain to have drawn attention, and despite the anarchy that consumed Queen Mab the Chaos Marines knew from last night's battle that the Inquisition was present on Sancour. Theracleon sent a few dozens gangers into the facility to try and track down Eisenhorn's companions, but was forced to depart with his unconscious prize.

This was the correct move to make, for within moments of his departure the forces left to Pontius Glaw arrived on the scene, bolstered by local enforcers he had assumed command of amidst the confusion. The gangers left behind were slaughtered, and Pontius himself ventured into the facility, hoping to find clues as to his old friend's madness and present location. But while the Inquisitor did discover the research Eisenhorn had left behind, there was no sign of where the Chaos Marines had carried him.

The first thing I noticed when my consciousness returned was that I was cut off from the Warp, unable to draw upon even the smallest amount of psychic energy. It was like when Bequin had turned off her limiter, except much, much worse.

The second, once I opened my eyes, my vision blurry and swimming, was that I was tied up to a metal chair with thick ropes, of the kind used to secure cargo in place during turbulent transit. The third was that I couldn't feel anything below the neck. The fourth was that I could hear the buzzing of cogitators and other machinery echoing around me.

The fifth was that I wasn't alone.

"Greetings, Inquisitor," said the being who stood before me. He was tall, as all Astartes are tall. His armor was black, and bore the mark of a white raven. Several leather pouches hang at his waist. His face was unhealthily pale, and his eyes were two spheres of purest black. Behind him was a chair sized for him, though it looked more like a throne, made of metal and stone, but he was standing.

He was smiling. Somehow, that smile was one of the most terrifying things I had ever seen.

"I am Morvax Haukspeer," he continued, "Apothecary of the Raven Guard Legion. I have been waiting to meet you for some time."

Raven Guard. My blood ran cold. In all my years of pursuing the Yellow King, I had never encountered one of them in the flesh, only witnessed the aftermath of their passing. This one didn't look like I'd have imagined it : I could see no obvious mutation beyond the pallor and black eyes, which in themselves were hardly unheard of. But then, I knew that the most dangerous corruption was that which couldn't be seen with mortal eyes.

"Do not try to move," he told me. "We've injected you with a certain poison that, well … you can't feel anything below your neck, right ? It will be that way for the rest of your life, I'm afraid. You are simply too dangerous for us to take risks."

I almost panicked as the meaning of the traitor's words dawned on me, I am not ashamed to admit. It was a reflexive, primal panic, the fear of the animal that is trapped, that knows it is trapped and that there is no way out, that there will never be a way out.

I didn't, even for a moment, considered that he might be lying, that whatever had been done to me was temporary. He had no reason to lie to me, and even less to not cripple me.

I looked around – I could still move my neck – and tried to make sense of my surroundings. My vision cleared somewhat, letting me see that we were at the bottom of a cylindrical room whose ceiling must be at least a hundred meters above us. There were numerous lights lining the walls, like honeycombs glowing pale blue. Except there were shadows in the light.

Life-support pods, I recognized. Each and every one of these lights, of which there must be hundreds, was a life-support pod, within which rested a human form. I looked at the closest one, on the ground level, blinking to clear my vision. I heard the Raven Guard chuckle, knowing exactly what I was about to discover.

It was Alizebeth. Inside the pod, inside every pod, was Alizebeth. Her naked form hung in the fluid, with an array of cables sustaining her life and a strange device locked onto her skull. This was why I couldn't use even the meanest spark of psychic power. We were surrounded by hundreds of high-level Untouchables. I doubted even the fabled Primarch Magnus could've used his legendary powers here.

I turned my gaze back to the Chaos Marine, who was still smiling. Words almost failed me, but I still managed to speak :

"How ?"

"Come on, Gregor. You know more about my Legion than your former colleagues ever considered safe. This ..." he gestured to the blasphemy surrounding us, "… is what we do. But if you want a more detailed explanation, I am willing to give it to you. When you escaped Thracian Primaris, you brought with you the brain-dead body of your dear Alizebeth. You kept her in stasis, hoping against hope that one day you would find a way to restore her, but you lost her when the ship you were sailing on at the time suffered catastrophic Warp-core failure. Surviving that was quite impressive, by the way. In any case, we recovered her body afterwards, and I used her genetic material to create this place."

"Cloning Blanks is impossible," I said. "The Mechanicus, the Assassinorum and the Inquisition have all tried and failed."

I had read the reports, several years after Alizebeth had joined my retinue and I'd fully realized how useful Blanks were to the Ordos. At the time, I'd been looking into the possibility of creating an organization composed entirely of Blanks, similar to the long-lost Sisters of Silence. What had happened at Thracian Primaris had killed any chance of that idea ever becoming reality.

"Please, Gregor," Morvax scoffed. "Remember who you are talking to. I am an Apothecary of the Raven Guard. I was cloning Space Marines long before we even turned against the False Emperor. The Pariah gene does make things more complicated, I'll admit, especially since it also prevents the use of my Legion's … special techniques, let's say. But it was still just another challenge, and I cracked it in the end. There are advantages to not being bound by the Mechanicus' ridiculous limitations, you know."

I wanted to deny his words, but the evidence of their truth was all around us. The thought of the enemies of the Imperium being able to clone Blanks was a terrifying one. For all the fear and hatred of psykers that still permeated most of the Imperium despite the best efforts of the likes of the Thousand Sons, the Imperium was utterly dependant on the Warp.

We were fortunate the Traitor Legions relied on it even more due to their corruption, and were thus unlikely to make use of Morvax's research if it ever reached them.

"You have more questions," he said. "Go ahead. We have time."

"… In the city," I said. "In the Maze Undue, I met a girl who was just like Alizebeth. Was she one of your replicae ?"

He nodded. "Ah, yes. Nykona told me about her. I had to think about it, but eventually I remembered. She was indeed born here, but she got out during a round of maintenance. Poor thing, she must have been so confused. You see, all of these," he gestured to the clones all around us, "are not just brain-dead puppets of meat. That would be useless to us. Do you see the cranial implants ? Those serve to stimulate their brains by letting them experience life in a virtual, cogitator-simulated existence. It isn't a perfect recreation, of course, especially when it comes to other people, but since they're Pariahs anyway, it works well enough. Each of them has a unique life, and I did my best to make them as ordinary as possible. There is no point to tormenting the soulless, after all."

"And the girl ?" I pressed him on. I could tell now that he'd been waiting years for this, and even an immortal must want to boast of his accomplishments sometimes. I didn't know what I could do with the information he was giving me, but I needed answers if I were to have any hope at all of getting out of my predicament.

"As I said, she got out and left this place. I am the only caretaker for this entire Pariah Prison, and there aren't any people outside for kilometers, so I admit my guard was lax. She made it to Queen Mab, where I suppose she was found by some well-meaning soul. She told the orphanage the name she remembered, and the Cognitae decided that they couldn't ignore the opportunity of recruiting a Blank to their cause, even if they surely must have recognized the name as one of your old associates'."

"That all sounds … unlikely." He shrugged.

"Oh, I know. But I have been operating this facility for decades now, Gregor, building it from the ground up using what resources I could gather from this worthless planet. Sooner or later, something had to go wrong. And of course, I suspect there were other hands at play."

"From what I understand of your Legion," I ventured, "being here can't be much more comfortable for you than it is for me."

"Oh, absolutely," he freely admitted. "It is excruciating, as a matter of fact. The discomfort you are feeling is nothing compared to mine, I assure you, and I have been enduring it for years. You should be grateful for the paralysis, because I imagine it wouldn't be much better for a psyker of your calibre otherwise. But that is a price I'm willing to endure."

"Why ?" I asked, trying not to let the despair and horror I felt into my voice. "Why do all this ?"

"Ah, now that is the question, isn't it ?" He sighed, and for a moment I could see the weight of ages on him, see how old of a monster he really was. "In truth, the rest of the Eight have no idea what my purpose is on this world. Well … perhaps Araclaes did – you remember him ? the Blood Angel you killed ? Well, perhaps he did. Sanguinius' sons are difficult to predict, even for us. But why … well. Do you remember Gershorm, Inquisitor ?"

I glared at him. He chuckled again.

"Of course you do. It is hardly something you could forget, after all."

Indeed. How could I forget Gershorm ?

I had been tracking down the recidivist Murdin Eyclone, who was responsible for dozens of gruesome, ritualistic murders on three different worlds, when I had come to Gershorm. Eyclone had caught me by surprise, separated me from my retinue. I had underestimated him, and I'd paid the price for it. He hadn't been the lone deranged killer I had thought him to be : he'd had allies, who worshipped at the same horror-soaked altar as he.

They had taken me into a half-place, hidden halfway between the Materium and the Immaterium by a combination of factors no living soul in the galaxy really understood. Eventually, Gideon had found it, and forced his way in with his psychic powers – though I would later come to realize that had been the first sign of his true nature. But it had taken him time. Weeks. And during those weeks …

I forced myself to ignore the sudden surge of half-forgotten memories. Now was not the time to panic, I told myself again.

"Gershorm was ravaged by civil war when I went there," I said. "Was that your doing ?"

He looked amused at the idea.

"I assure you, my Legion and I had nothing to do with the war that left Gershorm in ruins. In fact, as far as I know, that particular conflict was entirely devoid of daemonic or xenos influence. Believe it or not, Inquisitor, but Mankind is more than capable of killing itself without anyone manipulating it."

That, I knew, was sadly all too true.

"The Immaterium Loom," said the Raven Guard, something like respect, or even awe, in his tone. I didn't jump in surprise as he spoke the name, but only because I was unable to do so. "That was the device they used on you when they captured you, wasn't it ? The one the cultists of the Yellow King built after so many others had tried and failed. It wove the Warp around and into your soul. That made you stronger, but such wasn't its goal. It was only one step of the process."

"Yes," I admitted, seeing no harm in it. That infernal device had been destroyed when Ravenor and Alizebeth had led the rest of my retinue through to rescue me, after all. "Do you serve the Yellow King, then ? Is this why you captured me ? So that I can't stop its birth ?"

"The Yellow King … now there is an old name," the Raven Guard mused. "I was there at the beginning, you know. You read the legends, but I lived them. I stood on the bridge of my Legion's flagship and heard the Voice of the Yellow King speak the words that led us to discover the dismal truth of the universe."

"And now you do its bidding."

"No." There was a sudden intensity to his voice, mixed with utter loathing, that convinced me that whatever else, he was speaking the truth in this. "I serve only the Ravenlord, now and forever. I am here because that is my task, Gregor. We would have sent more, but my Legion is stretched too thin. The Orcus Gate has devoured many of us. Only I managed to reach this place in time, but I will do my appointed duty."

"And what duty is that ?"

"I am here to make sure things unfold as they must, and no further. In the end, Gregor, we are all slaves to Time." He pulled out an elaborate timepiece from one of his pouches and checked it. "For about three more hours, at least. After that … well. Things will get more interesting for everyone."

Three more hours ? I could only guess how long I had been unconscious, but … was he referring to the end of the 41st Millennium ?

I could see he would tell me nothing more of his plans, and so moved to another, more pressing matter.

"So what happens now ? You have caught me. I am powerless and at your mercy. What now ?"

"Now ? Now we wait."

"For what ?"

Morvax Haukspeer sat heavily on his throne, and when he answered me, he was no longer smiling.

"For you to die."

As Eisenhorn despaired in the Raven Guard's Pariah Prison, his remaining allies still sought to rescue him. Ravenor and Bequin had managed to flee the Eight's assault through an escape tunnel, and the Child of the Raven had deployed his psychic abilities to track his mentor. Using a vehicle stored in one of Eisenhorn's safehouses that they had managed to reach despite the riots still raging, they had driven out of the city, forcing their way past barricades and blocked roads. They went south, in the direction Beta had been told she'd come from to Queen Mab years ago, until the psychic spoor began to fade, replaced by an oppressive blankness that at first unnerved Ravenor, then became utterly crippling as they went deeper.

Eventually, between her companion's state and that of the roads, Beta was forced to abandon the vehicle and continue on foot. Tracking more mundane traces – the passage of vehicles, which left marks even in the water-logged earth – she made her way to the entrance of the Pariah Prison, and discovered the awful truth of her own nature.

For several long moments, Beta Bequin contemplated the hundreds of pods, each containing another image of herself. Then, she saw Eisenhorn, trapped and powerless, and the desire to help him overcame the existential horror that had threatened to engulf her. She considered what to do. All the life-pods were linked together, nutrient liquid passing from one to the next through tubes of reinforced glass. But she recognized input sockets where fresh nutrients could be introduced into the system – despite the incredible techno-sorcerous achievement that the Pariah Prison represented, it was clear it had been built with limited means, and lacked many safeties.

Beta's hands fell to the container she was still carrying from the last function she'd performed for the Maze Undue. The container she'd stolen from the weapon traffickers. The container that was full of a toxin designed during the Orphaeonic War for use against the Ashen Kings' armies, but which had never been deployed to the battlefield because the war had ended too quickly.

She knew what she had to do, even if meant killing hundreds of women who may as well be her sisters. After all, no matter their intent, the teachers of the Maze Undue had taught her to put the good of the Imperium above all else – and surely destroying the works of the heretic to rescue an Inquisitor was to the Imperium's good.

Beta poured the toxin in, careful not to breath any of it in. Within moments, the first replica began to convulse inside her pod. Alarms began to ring as more and more replicae twitched in atrocious pain, their bodies dying while their minds were still trapped in the fantasies conjured by the Raven Guard's cogitators. Then came the enraged scream of Morvax Haukspeer as he realized his work was coming undone.

Beta'd run, but she couldn't hope to escape her pursuer. Now she prepared to fight, even though she knew she couldn't hope to outfight him either.

"You foolish girl," snarled the Astartes. His pale face was a mask of pure, unadulterated fury. He towered over her, unarmed but needing no weapon to kill her."You have no idea what you've -"


The Raven Guard froze, then turned slowly. There, hovering above the ground with broken metallic ropes hanging from him, was Gregor Eisenhorn, eyes crackling with power, frost spreading on the ground and walls around him.

"Oh," sighed Morvax. "Plan B it is, then. What happens next is on your own head, Eisenhorn."

The Chaos Marine spat out a string of something that made even Beta's brain ache, her nose bleed and the walls around them crack. The not-speech ended when Eisenhorn managed to fight through it and tore the Raven Guard to pieces with his mind, the Inquisitor's power ripping through gene-forged, Warp-infused flesh and ceramite armor with equal ease.

"He will come back from that," said the Inquisitor, his neck moving swiftly so that he was looking down at her. "But not soon, and not here. Thank you for rescuing me, Beta. Now, we need to get out of here. I'm afraid time is running out."

After they emerged from the Pariah Prison and rejoined Ravenor, Eisenhorn saw the result of Morvax's last incantation. In one final act of spite, or perhaps desperation, the Apothecary had summoned his Legion's most infamous creation. What price he had paid and would pay for this, none but the Ravenlord could say, but there, in the skies of Sancour, hanging over Queen Mab and occluding the sun, was Malice, the Living World.

With the arrival of Malice, Queen Mab, already reeling from the plots of the Divine Fratery and the open warfare unleashed by the Eight, descended from anarchy into outright insanity. Hundreds of thousands succumbed to madness and mutation instantly, and fell upon their unchanged brethren in mindless frenzy. The influence of the Living World created all manners of horrors from the clay of human flesh.

Mobs rampaged through the streets, their flesh writhing and their minds aflame with a singular madness. Those still sane sought refuge in temples and churches, but consecrated ground was no obstacle to Malice's demented children. Only where the warblind fought was there any resistance to the madness : by some twist of their altered physiology, the ancient veterans of the Orphaeonic War and their descendants seemed immune to the Living World's mutagenic presence. Driven by old, half-forgotten instincts, the warblind emerged from their lairs in Queen Mab's abandoned streets and led their kill-gangs in one final battle against the enemies of the Imperium.

Unbeknownst to Eisenhorn and his two companions, the situation wasn't much better elsewhere on Sancour. Malice's influence appeared to be focused on Queen Mab, but even the dregs of its power were enough to bring ruin to the rest of the world. The Silver Countess' conspiracy had sown the seeds of chaos in the planet's other cities as well, but even without those, Sancour was simply woefully unprepared for any kind of danger, let alone one of such magnitude as the Living World.

Almost as noticeable as the malevolent orb in the sky, however, was the tower that rose above Queen Mab, pale as bone and casting no shadow over the tormented city. It reached impossibly high, higher than the mountains on the horizon, like a hand seeking to tear the stars from the heavens. It was anchored into existence above the Basilica of Saint Orphaeus where the Saint had been buried after his death, as per the instructions he had left in his will should the Imperium be victorious in the war against the Ashen Kings – if the war was lost, then, according to the Saint's own words, he would 'deserve nothing more than a nameless grave on the battlefield, forsaken and accursed for my failings'. Local folklore told that the Basilica had been built on the very site where Orphaeus had first met with Sancour's nobility when he'd come to ask for soldiers, back when the Imperium had been on the back-foot in the war that would one day bear his name. True or not, the Basilica had been a site of pilgrimage known throughout the Subsector for generations.

Eisenhorn immediately recognized the sight of that baleful tower, for it had haunted him for centuries. He had seen it in his dreams, and in the visions he had forced from the minds of the Divine Fratery's seers decades ago on Nova Durma. The tower was a thing from the Yellow King's realm in the Warp, brought half-way into reality thanks to the presence of Malice weakening the veil between Materium and Immaterium. The Inquisitor knew, with absolute certainty, that the Yellow King would come into being atop that monstrous structure, and he knew with equal certainty that this couldn't be allowed to come to pass.

Despite the danger, he ordered Bequin to drive them all back to Queen Mab. The chaos in the streets forced them to abandon the vehicle at the gates, and they continued on foot, running in Beta's case, floating in Ravenor's and Eisenhorn's.

The man who was called Deathrow fought, knowing he was going to die. His ramshackle armor of mail and plate couldn't hold the claws of the monsters around him at bay forever, nor could his aged body keep up with the demands of the fight for much longer. He was old, so old, and it seemed that the death he'd eluded for so long was about to find him at last.

The thought didn't trouble him. He was, after all, warblind. The capacity for fear had been removed from him centuries ago, under the knives and needles of that accursed magos who had destroyed the man he'd been, the one with hopes and dreams.

He'd had a real name once, he was sure of it. But people had started called him Deathrow because of his utter lethality, and one day, he had woken up and realized he couldn't remember his true name anymore. That was when he'd walked away from the kill-gangs, away from the bloody games his kind played to entertain themselves while they waited to die. Alone, he should've died, but somehow he hadn't.

His dog fought at his side, the last one in a long line of vicious, ill-bred canine companions. He needed them, because sometimes he couldn't distinguish between what was real and what was the product of his brain's misfiring synapses. The dogs, however, were always there, no matter how bad the hallucinations, and they helped him tell apart what was real and what was not.

The last of the monsters around him fell, torn apart by his chainsword, and he looked around. A fresh horde of horrors was charging down the street. He glanced behind him to check if he was about to be caught in a pincer attack, but no : all he saw behind him were two human figures, a man and a woman, and a floating box, moving through the streets. His optic visor picked up the power emission of the box – whatever it was, it was heavy, and it was armed.

He smiled under his dirty helmet. There was something about the way these people moved that spoke to him of purpose, something he had been deprived of for a very long time. It looked to the old soldier that he'd be able to tell himself he'd died for a reason then, if he could keep the approaching horde from reaching them and interfering with whatever mission they were on.

Deathrow turned back to the babbling, screeching mutants charging toward him, and revved his chainsword, cleansing it of the worst of the gore caught in its teeth. He reached out with his other hand, and scratched his faithful hound behind the ears one last time.

At the edge of his sight, the buildings of Queen Mab faded, replaced by the cyclopean architecture of the Ashen Kings' stronghold. When the mutants reached him, he was back there in full, on the last battlefield of the Orphaeonic War, the one where he'd wished he'd died alongside his comrades for so long.

This time, he got his wish.

From his hiding place, Duma the Sightless sensed Eisenhorn's approach. Somehow the Inquisitor had escaped Morvax's little trap, and come here, at the center of the insanity that had befallen this worthless city. The Apothecary was probably dead, and that meant Duma was alone.

Theracleon had died an hour ago, finally overwhelmed by the monsters that rampaged through the streets. In the end, all his skill and finesse hadn't been enough. Duma had tried to rescue him, if only because his own chances of survival were much higher with him at his side, but he'd failed and been forced to run.

Him, a son of the Lion, a Sorcerer of Cysgorog, once servant of the First Archduke, running from base-born mutants like that scum. The humiliation made his blood boil. Eisenhorn would pay for that, too.

This time, he wasn't going to use any half-measures. They had tried to capture Eisenhorn and failed. Now he was going to kill the man, regardless of his potential use to Tzeentch.

The Dark Angel focused, drawing the most powerful and lethal curses he knew from where he held them in his memory. Slowly, carefully, he assembled the disparate pieces of lore – he had to keep them separate, lest they destroy him from within, such was their power.

He reached out with his mind, honing in on Eisenhorn's bright soul, and -

L̶̨͓̪̝̼̘͔̩͍͍̦̞̱̪̆͑̂̄̍̑͒̀I̴͈̱̳̗̺͖̟̙͕̣͔̙̜̩̓̋̐̈́͜͝T̴̼̮̪̬̹͇̩̫̯̖͖͊̏̀ͅͅT̵̢̼̤̗̖͔̞̔͒͗͘L̷̛̛̬̰̤̹̬̈̅̐̈̑̃̈̐̀͋̃̐̚É̶̮̣̞͔̘̟͙͉̝̄͑̒̋̓̄͗̌́̕͝ ̶̤̘͙̗̺̯̖̌̍̿͆̓́͝͝ͅȦ̸̢̼͈̯̪̳̟̲̗̈́̀̈́̽͜͝ͅN̶̯͠G̵̘͉̗͙̯͉̤̥̍̀̓̓̈́̕͝͝Ę̵̛̜͓̱̝̦̠̹̼͚͓̍̉̈̔̔̀͑̐͐̉L̶͎̣̗̬͐̈̃̂̎̿̆̈́̕͠

What -

B̵̛̦̞͓͔̳̿̐̑̀͌̓̓̾É̶̛͔̳͇͖̠͍̠͎̾̿̆͋͛̈̓ ̸̲̭̹̬̊͐̊́͛̅̅̕A̵̛͙̯̩̜͈͂̾̿́̽͑͆̕͜F̸̡̡̩̙͇̗̮̞̭̳̤̳̥͔̤̋̐R̶̨̬͉͍͖͋͌̄͐́͂̓̌̾̚ͅA̴̛̬͖̱̤̰͈͇̞͓̋̈̊̓͒́́͐̈́̿͜͝Ǐ̵͖̰̪̝̻̱̲̤̞͕͇͚̆̄̑̾̃̌͠D̶̡̛̠̠͔̩͕͈͚̪͍̺̝͂͆̈́͗̃̋̾͂̆͑͠ͅ

No no no no no no no n-

At the base of the tower, a battle was being fought between two equally nightmarish hosts. The children of Malice were trying to pass through the Basilica's main gate, and were being blocked by what looked like walking corpses clad in the torn remnants of Basilica's warden uniforms, armed with halberds and blades in what had, at times, skirted dangerously close to the edges of Sebastian Thor's Decree Passive.

The deathless monsters seemed impervious to new damage, the claws, fangs and other murderous implements of their mutated foes failing to so much as cut their corpse-flesh. Yet it was their faces that caught Eisenhorn's attention, for each and every one of them was contorted in the same frozen grimace of horror he'd witnessed on his friend Uber Aemos.

With the Living World overhead, the Radical didn't dare to open his mind to find out what fell power had raised these corpses to defend the Basilica. Instead, he gestured to Ravenor, whose soul was protected by virtue of being already claimed by the Ravenlord himself. Drawing on his immense power, the former Interrogator forced the horde of mutants and undead aside, clearing a path for the three of them to enter.

And so in went the Radical Inquisitor, the Child of the Raven reduced to a brain in a floating coffin, and the clone of a dead Pariah trained by the remnant of a heretical secret society, to save the Imperium from a threat few even believed existed.

The inside of the Basilica laid in ruins, gutted as if the tower above had risen through it from below, leaving only its outer walls standing. There was rubble everywhere, the remnants of thousands of wodden pews mixed with the stones from the complex underground networks that had extended beneath the surface. The great organs that had played music during ceremonies for centuries were broken and melted, and an unnatural stillness hung over the place.

Hundreds of priests, monks and servants had called the Basilica home, to say nothing of the thousands of pilgrims and faithful worshippers of the God-Emperor who visited it daily. But there was no trace of them, except for the animated dead who had blocked the way in, and which even now could be heard resuming their fight against the children of Malice. Strangely, worryingly, they didn't seem concerned with the intruders already inside.

Further ahead, where the main altar had laid from which the Pontifex Urba of Queen Mab had given his sermons, was a circle of smooth marble about ten meters wide, miraculously intact and delimited by what looked like ankle-high thorned vines made of bones. Above it, instead of the exquisite mosaics that had decorated the main dome, depicting scenes of the Orphaeonic War, was the tower's hollow inside, which looked like the gullet of a great beast, except going up against or down.

At the center of the circle was a waist-high pillar carved with eye-watering runes. The party moved closer to examine it, but as soon as the last of them had crossed the circle of thorns, the marble disc began to rise in the air, moving so fast that by the time the trio could react it was far too high to get off. Then, as they considered their predicament, the runes on the pillar began to glow.

Two immortals stand amidst the ashes of the sorcerer-kings who sought to remake the world, atop the highest tower yet built by human hands. They are both clad in armor and weapons of bronze, but only one of them wears a crown. There is fire around them – the tower is burning with the flames of the war the two of them brought here.

The walls of the chamber are covered in words that are not words. A nearly-complete lexicon of the primordial language of creation, which will be called enuncia in ages that are not even dreams yet. Knowledge is power, and that knowledge is power enough to reshape the cosmos – but it is a double-edged sword, the watcher knows, every use of which alters its wielder in turn.

This is the Tower of Babel. This is the heart of an empire that sought to illuminate Mankind whether it wants it or not.

This is where a myth is born warning of the perils of reaching too far, and a choice is made that will define the course of Humanity for all the ages to come.

"This must be destroyed," says the uncrowned man, the old soldier who will be so much older still when his end finally comes. The words are not spoken in Gothic, of course, but the watcher understands them all the same. "Hurry up and burn it all, then let's get out of here before this whole place finally comes crashing down."

"No," says the crowned man. His voice is quiet, yet still audible over the crackle of the flames, and the word clearly shocks his uncrowned companion. "We can use this. We need to use this. You do not know what is coming, my friend, but I do. I have seen it. This battle will be nothing compared to those we'll one day need to wage in order to protect our species. In the right hands, this knowledge can help us prevent uncountable tragedies."

"You can't be serious." The uncrowned man sounds both shocked, appalled, and, the watcher believes, more than a little desperate and afraid. He gestures at their surroundings. "No matter what you have seen in the future, you know what this stuff can do ! What it has already done ! Nothing good can come from this knowledge."

"It is a weapon, and we'll need all the weapons we can get to win the wars to come."

"What's even the point of winning if you become just as bad as the other side in the process ?!"

The crowned man sighs. He thought his friend would understand. Perhaps he is too young. He hasn't seen what he has seen, both in the distant past and the future. He …

He pauses. Something cold crawls on his back. It takes him a moment to recognize it as fear.

What is he doing ?

Blood of his people, what is he doing ?!

Has he become so focused on the horizon that he cannot see the drop before his feet ? That he cannot conceive of anyone else being right and himself being wrong ? That he is willing to turn his friend against him in the name of gaining more power ?

The knowledge inscribed on those walls was obtained through thousands of sacrifices, men and women with the minds to guide Humanity into its next golden age subjected to a fate worse than death to glean singular un-words. Already it has been used to commit unspeakable horrors – cities turned to salt and ash, entire populations with their minds wiped and replaced with obedient slaves, thought-plagues transforming armies into monsters.

How can he think of using it ?

What is he becoming ?

He lets out a shuddering breath. Elsewhere, elsewhen, an unborn god screams as it is denied.

"You are right, my friend," he admits, and speaking the words feels like a great weight lifting from his soul.

Later, much later, the two immortals will drift apart. The uncrowned man will grow weary, and seek peace, until his quest for it brings him into the very jaws of Hell once more. And the crowned man will carry on, though he will always remember the lesson of this moment, of how close he came to walking a path that would have made him into a monster, no matter how necessary it might seem.

But now, the Emperor-to-be and his first Warmaster are in alignment, and together they bring the Tower down, destroying all its lore and temptations.

The vision ended, leaving Eisenhorn back on the ascending platform. He had recognized one of the men in the vision, from a hundred icons he had witnessed in the Imperium. This was Saint Ollanius Pius, who had given his life against the Arch-Traitor Roboute Guilliman and in doing so delayed him just enough for Fulgrim to arrive and deal the fatal blow to his fallen brother.

The Inquisitor knew the vision meant something, that it hadn't been shown to him (and him alone, for neither Beta nor Ravenor had even sensed anything was amiss as their lord was drawn into the unthinkably distant past) without a reason.

Up the three of them went, up the tower of bone and flesh, while elsewhere, three sons went to face their father for the first time in millennia. In time, they arrived at the top, the marble disc that had carried them sliding into place at the center of a platform that topped the tower. They were so high, the air should have been too thin to breathe, yet neither Eisenhorn nor Beta experienced any such difficulties.

Eisenhorn looked around, searching for any sign of where the Yellow King would manifest. There was nothing. The platform was empty, devoid even of rails to keep someone from falling off the edge. Above, Malice pulsated with ill-intent, seeming much closer this high up.

Then a sound came, that was familiar to the two oldest companions and that the youngest one had heard the previous night. Over the edge of the platform appeared a Valkyrie, carrying Inquisitor Pontius Glaw and the last of his Stormtroopers.

Pontius had gotten old. That was my first thought upon seeing him. By now he had to be over a thousand years old, and most of his body was made up of augmetics, including his eyes. Yet he still had a dignified air about him as we stared at one another across that platform.

"It's over, Gregor !" He called out to me. His men had their weapons aimed at me and my companions, but they hadn't opened fire. "Surrender and come with me !"

"Are you blind, Pontius ?" I called back, moving my arms wide with a telekine pulse. "Look around us ! Now isn't the time to fight one another ! The Yellow King is coming, I know it ! We need to -"

"I know, Gregor ! That's why I'm getting you off this tower, one way or another !"

I paused. I had expected many things from my old friend, but not that.

"What do you mean ?"

"You are just over eight hundred years old, Gregor," he said calmly, sounding like he was trying to persuade someone to walk away from a rooftop's edge. "We have been doing this for centuries now. I only live because of extensive rejuvenat treatments and augmetic replacements, as well as the use of stasis pods in the decades when I was waiting for my agents to pick up your track once more. But despite your resourcefulness, you had access to neither of these while on the run."

He was right, I realized. I had not thought about it. Why hadn't I thought about it ?

"No one knows more about the Yellow King than you do. All our attempts to get more information about it have ended in disaster. Its cultists always end up killing themselves when we manage to take them alive, and so do the people we task with investigating it. Yet you are still alive somehow. And I know why."

"… You do ?" I had wondered about that myself. I'd thought it was because I hadn't dealt with the data directly, or because I was just too stubborn to die.

Which didn't make sense. Why had I thought that ?

"Remember Gershorm ? After you were rescued, the medicae who treated you took blood samples. I recovered them from cold storage and had them analysed. Do you know what I found ? The cultists poisoned you, Gregor. They injected you some kind of Warp-plague, one derived from a sickness that ravaged entire hive-cities when it was last unleashed upon the stars. It has been in your blood ever since, changing you Emperor knows how much."

A Warp-plague ? No, I … I would have noticed ? But … how long had it been since I'd a proper medical examination ? Surely I had done one in the centuries of my exile, yes ? But I couldn't remember any.

"It's you, Gregor," Pontius went on. "You are the Yellow King. Or rather, he is what you become, in your blind, single-minded obsession. Look at you ! You stand atop a Warp-spawned tower in the middle of a dying city, under the shadow of the Raven Guard's greatest abomination, with a Child of the Raven at your side and a vat-grown clone of a Pariah at your side ! There is no one else here but us !"

"There is no Yellow King, Gregor !"

But he was wrong.

I understood then. How had I been so blind ? The vision had been a warning. There had been only doom in the tower, and it had to be destroyed. I could have found a way down. I could have surrendered to Pontius the moment I saw him. But I had gone on, convinced that I alone knew what was the correct course of action, when even the Emperor had realized that He needed to consider the possibility He might be mistaken – that someone else, His friend, might be right and He had to stop.

I saw, with abject clarity, how we had all been pawns, unwitting actors who had played our parts to perfection in this grotesque annunciation play. Even Pontius, dear old Pontius, had been manipulated, so that he could make me see the truth, could make me understand it all – because that understanding was the last phase of a process that had lasted for centuries.

Far away, I felt a sword that was a sword like the Tower of Babel had been a tower fall. I felt it pierce my flesh, cut into my heart, and knew that the Emperor was dead. I felt the course of Fate tilting, heard the echoes of His last words as He denied His divinity one final time.

I opened my mouth to scream.

And then Ǵ̶̪̺̻̊̒̈́̽̋̀͆R̸̛̮͕͚̻͍̆́̊͐̍̕͝ͅȆ̶̼̳͇̱̰͚͋̈̇̍̈͑̂̀G̸͙̞͎̥̰͑̊͊O̵͍͓̻̞͇̭̬̹̼̔̀R̷̮̭͗͗̀͘ ̷̼̭̬̘̞̭̠̩̘̭̑̔̀̉͋̚͝͝Ȩ̸̛̛͉͔̞͕̹̺̞͛̌̾̾̀̊͐Ǐ̸͙̟̤̭͙͔̭̍̍͐̉͂̐S̶̨̟̣̭̤͖̈͑̑̀͌͂E̴̯̥̗̝̔̐̋͛͐͋̈́͂̚͝N̵̠̰͕͉̮͈͑̔̀̀̌́̽͗͜͠Ḧ̷̨͉̳̣͇͈̈́͗̀O̷͇͉͓̲͛̎̂̀̒͝Ŕ̷̼̜͍̫́̋͂̂Ṅ̶̞̅͂̑̄͌̑̈́͘̕ ̸̣́͒͒̇W̸̜͍̺̊͂͘A̴̛̠̼̜̬͌̀̅͂͐̚͝ͅŜ̵̻̈́̽̄͗͝ ̸̘͑̈́̌N̷̛̪͔̤͋̄̊̃̃͗̐̅͝ͅȌ̵̢̯͖̜͜͜ ̷̩̪͙̟̇̀̉͛̿̾́͠M̵̱͋̇͒͗̀͊̔Ǫ̷̥͔̘̳̩̯̻͝R̴̦͈̗̞̩̯̈́̔̀́̋̇͌̋̓͌͠Ȩ̸̝̣̹̯̅̄̌ͅ

Before Pontius Glaw's augmetic eyes, the flesh of Gregor Eisenhorn ran like wax, his friend's last psychic, horrified scream echoing in his mind. Despite his centuries of experience, there was nothing the Inquisitor could do but watch in horror as the Yellow King emerged from the ruin of Eisenhorn's body and soul, incarnated in the material world for the very first time through the one man who had most sought to prevent its terrible birth.

It was tall, but not like Eisenhorn had been tall. It towered over Pontius, seeming to fill his entire vision while not being any larger than the man it had killed to manifest. On its brow was a crown of dead stars. It had no face, only a gaping void that swallowed all color and shape, leaving nothing but a featureless grey. Its robes were the color of faded hopes and tarnished glory, and its hands were wrong, seeming in turn to have too many or not enough fingers that were either too short or too long and bent in unnatural ways. It was as if its form had been painted into existence by something which had only the vaguest understanding of the human form.

Next to it, Alizebeth Bequin screamed in horror, and lashed out at the horror with the sword Barbarisater, which she had carried since recovering it in the Pariah Prison. The ancient blade scattered to pieces as it met the body of the Yellow King. She went at it still, bloody tears pouring out of her eyes, but it raised its hand toward her, and suddenly where once had stood a replica of the only woman Gregor Eisenhorn had ever loved, there was only blood and steaming gore.

A third of the Stormtroopers Glaw had brought with him opened fire, while the others flung themselves off the tower or shot themselves in the head. None of their shots hurt the creature, which unmade them with a gesture in the same way it had destroyed Beta.

Then it spoke to Pontius Glaw, in a voice that was not a voice but could not be ignored.

"̷̢͇̜̱̖̝̞̖͉̯̞͉͚̩̏̒̀̓͒̃͛͂͗̄̌̚ͅS̵̢̳̺̹͎̻̈́͆̉͆̾̇͒͌̓͘̚͜ą̶̨̲̺͕̙̗̩̏̄ẙ̶̢͚̣̜̦̖̻͉̗̿͌̍́̕͘ ̶̡̡̡̲̲̼̔́̍͑͛́͊́͋̑͘͝ͅm̸̘̬̱͙̞̹̼̪͓͔̤̉̐̆̑̑̾͆̒͑̒ȳ̷̤̳̤̺͓̲̪̣͛̅͂ ̵̢̬͍̭̥̝̗̝͍̫͚͎̃̓͊̔̐̑̇͌̒͒̃̓͛̕͝ͅͅͅń̸̢̟̣̦̪̗̯͇͉͖̒͂̈̆̊̃̅̅̇͆̅̌̕ą̶͓̯̙̣̬̅̈́̏̃̀͒̀̈́̋̕ḿ̴̧̧̼͍̲͔̺̼̭͉̠̏́̈̀͛͛̕̚͜͝͠ẹ̵̠̜̜̩͉̲̜͉͉̗͓̙͓̤̿,̴̰̣͚̻̞̻̩̰̓̌́ͅ ̶̢̢̺͙̯̫͔̹̼̯͖̗̳̖̈́̀̀̈́͒̈́̈́̽̑̀P̸̨̙̲̩̫͖̋͗̐͂̈̿̃̐̓̈́̒͑͝͝͠ͅó̴̰͛́̂͋͂̈́̓̀̍̆͂̕ñ̸̡̨͕͚̰̥̲̤͚̞̤̊̓̒́͐̐̂͘͜͝͝t̴̳̮̱̠̤̘̩̆̈́̐̿̓̂̉͋̀͠͝i̶̲̥̲̩̟̼̦͍̲̗̟̺̐ͅu̸̘͍̺̼̳̳͎͖͇̞͉̬͉̤̐̀̔͋̈́̀̏̅̅̽͊̚͝ͅs̸̝͍̠̳̰̈́̿́̈́͑̂̂̎̕͘͘.̵̮̠͎̻̫̪̰̦̣̗̟̏̐̄͐͆̒͜"̷̫̗̘̦̭̻͖̼͐̌̀͂̔̀͌

"N-no ..."

"̵̢̣͚̮̱̈́̒͗͠S̵̩̼̓͆̒̕å̵̢͖̬̪̅̃̿y̷̮̳̳͍̪͂̀̏̑͠ ̵͓͈̄̒͗ì̵͍̯t̷̨̺̳̜̆̾͑̇̾͜.̵̧͈̝̦̤̯̄͑́̋͐"̴̡̛̬̠̈́͊̂̇͑̕

"No !"

"̵̠͋Ş̷́a̵͔͑y̶͙̍ ̴̤́ï̷̙t̷̳̊.̸͍̔ ̴̜̂Ŷ̷̖o̴̺͘u̴̖̍ ̵̛̯w̶͖̔į̸̀l̴̠̽l̸͔̐ ̷̯̾ñ̴̤o̴͍͑t̵͚̀ ̵̨̓d̷̏ͅḛ̸͝n̴̢̎y̷̟̒ ̶̺̍m̸̖̈e̶̛͍ ̷̰̀ť̵̼h̷̬̑r̴͖͂ȋ̶͓c̷̪̾e̵̤̚.̷̧̛ ̴͇̉S̸̘̆A̵͙͌Y̵̻̅ ̶͔͊I̶̞̍T̶̼͝.̶̝̏"̵̼̿

"You … you are ..."

"Yes ?"

He shook, unable to stop himself from speaking those horrible words :

"You are my Emperor."

Ah …


Finally, you see the truth your mind has refused to accept for so long. Finally, your soul no longer hides in denial from what was oh so very obvious.

Yet I still sense confusion in you. You know … but you do not understand. Very well. Let me illuminate you, who are privileged to be witness to my ascension.

Eisenhorn was mine from the moment he took his first breath on DeKere's World, even if he refused to realize it, just like you. I shaped his entire life to make him the ideal vessel.

Orphaeus too was mine, a receptacle for my will – a Grael. He put things into motions, ensured that my will would always endure here on Sancour. There will be more like him now that Light's End has come and the old rules have been cast aside. Ensuring Eisenhorn's transmutation cost me one of the Looms by which they are woven into existence, but he never suspected there were others like it in the other half-places hidden among the stars. They will be my hands as I forge my kingdom to come.

Now, let me tell you of myself, that you may fully realize the glory to which you are to be part of.

First, consider the Warp.

A realm of infinite size and complexity, where every emotion, every thought, every belief and fear echoes forevermore. The legacies of countless species, those who were, those who are, and those who will yet be, circling and mixing with one another.

Now consider the God-Emperor. A being of immense power and vision, who bound Humanity together under His rule, only to be betrayed by His sons and made a prisoner of His own body, enthroned as the divinity of an empire He sought to make godless. For ten thousand years, His soul drew strength from the millions of psychic sacrifices offered to sustain His body, and the prayers of trillions of mortals across the entire galaxy. Every day, countless prayers for safety, for deliverance, for salvation, all accumulating into the Sea of Souls around the core that is the Emperor's own immortal spirit. Every day, millions of soldiers throughout the galaxy give their life with His name on their lips, sacrificing themselves to help protect His empire.

This is the God-Emperor as the Twentieth, brightest and blindest of all the Emperor's tools, imagined Him. A being of supreme power and benevolence, one who would lead Mankind out of the darkness and into a new age of peace and prosperity, safe from the depredations of the alien and the Primordial Annihilator's hunger. Through the Hydra's manipulations of the Ecclesiarchy over ten thousand years, this is the God-Emperor the Imperium believes in. This is the god who, upon his birth under the blade of Luther, chose to shatter his power and soul across the cosmos.

But now, consider this : it is only Mankind that sees the Emperor like this. How do you think the other species of the galaxy see the Emperor ? For the countless species that were driven to extinction by the Imperial warmachine, the Emperor is a figure of nightmare, a ruthless, genocidal tyrant who seeks nothing but to rule over all of Humanity and make ashes of all other sentient life.

For the so-called heretics who hide from the Imperium and fear destruction at its hand for their difference and refusal to submit, He is a cruel overlord, who seeks nothing but the prolongation of His own existence while keeping the rest of Humanity enslaved and into the mud, forever prevented to fulfill its true potential.

And just as the prayers for salvation gather within the God-Emperor, so do the hatreds and fears of all who look upon the aquila with justified terror coalesce together, all drawn to the same thing, the seed cast out by the Master of Mankind when He turned aside from what He could have become atop the Tower of Babel.

And in the darkest corners of the Warp, the seed fed upon the darkness of the Imperium, and grew, waiting for its moment, reaching out across time to ensure events unfolded as they must for it to fulfill its dreadful potential. Until the stars finally aligned, and the Emperor died, His psychic oversight upon all of the Sea of Souls snuffed out at last. Then the seed bloomed in full, revealing its terrible majesty to all, bringing fear into the hearts of the Dark Gods themselves.

This is what I am. I am the Imperium's sins. I am the Shadow of the Emperor. And now that He has chosen death over divinity, I am all that is left, and all that was His is mine to claim.

I am the Yellow King, and all shall fear me and despair.

Everything that has unfolded on Sancour did so according to my design. And now, it is time for the last move of my great gambit. Little Gideon. Come closer, my child. Let me see you.

Unable to resist the Yellow King's will, Ravenor's chair floated closer to the abomination that had been his mentor. It reached toward him with one withered claw, and ripped apart the metal casing as if it were paper, exposing the ruined remnant of the Child of the Raven's flesh.

It took from him, over and over, until all that remained was a voice, the same voice that was all the cripple had been able to use to communicate for so long, a voice to carry a message to the son that was the source of his bloodline. Then, it poured malicious knowledge into that Voice, and hurled it through the Warp, where all Time is as one, so that it might guide the Nineteenth Primarch to his doom and complete the impossible loop that led to its own existence. At long last, the pieces of a paradoxical puzzle ten thousand years in the making fell into place, and what might be became what was.

The Emperor had chosen death rather than divinity out of fear of what the Yellow King might turn Him into. But even though the Adversary that hid behind Light's End and Sanguinius' wings was not yet a Dark God, it was powerful still – and unlike any of the Four, it had successfully entered the Materium.

Slowly, with the sound of creaking vertebrae, the avatar of the would-be fifth Lord of Ruin looked up at the form of Malice in Sancour's heavens.

And the Living World looked back.

We are Malice.

We answered the call/summon of the father/foe.

We see/feel the threat/Adversary on the planet/playground below us.

We hate/fear it. We want/need it dead/gone.


Malice's attack came in the form of a rain of burning meteors of living flesh, fired from its surface by great organic tubes and aimed at the tower. They burned as they entered Sancour's atmosphere, but each projectile was surrounded by layers of ablative fat and bone for that precise purpose.

With a wave of its hand, the Yellow King sent most of these nightmarish meteors careening off-course, causing them to crash in the middle of Queen Mab and disgorge yet more flesh-twisted horrors upon the beleaguered city. Only one of the pods was unaffected, or perhaps deliberately allowed to reach its destination. It smashed atop the tower, sending the corpses of Glaw's soldiers and Alizebeth's clone flying off the edge and tumbling below.

No mere monster spawned by Malice emerged from it, however. Instead, a glowing blade cut it apart from within, and Kaldor Draigo, the accursed Grey Knight whose destiny had been bound with that of the Living World, stepped forward and faced the Yellow King.

Kaldor Draigo had no idea where he was, but he was used to that.

For what seemed an eternity, he had fought Malice and its creations, either on the Living World itself or on the planets cursed with its presence. Thanks to the eldritch nature of his foe, he'd gone almost entirely without rest during all that time, sustained by will and the Emperor's Gift, feeling neither fatigue nor hunger or thirst.

He'd fought atop the spires of Imperial hive-cities and in caverns deep underground, where cultivated fungus had fused with the farmers who had used it to feed billions. He'd duelled champions of Chaos at the heart of their strongholds as their petty empires crumbled around them, and killed more shambling, crazed mutants that even an eidetic memory could recall.

And never, in all that time, had he faced a greater horror than the one he beheld now, atop that monstrous tower, in the wake of the Emperor's death. The sight of it shook him to his core, dragging him out of the stupor that had nearly overwhelmed him when he had felt the psychic echo of his lord's demise.

There were five shells left in his combi-bolter, carefully husbanded over aeons of nearly ceaseless fighting. He unloaded them all at the monster without hesitation as he charged, Nemesis blade held high. The bolts, each crafted by a master of the Mechanicus on Deimos and blessed through a lengthy and excruciatingly expensive process, detonated against its robes without doing the slightest damage.

"Kaldor Draigo."

The moment his name was spoken, the Grey Knight froze, his muscles locking in place against his will. He couldn't move, couldn't do anything, as the abomination slowly drifted closer to him.

Its hand tore through the blessed ceramite of his armor, broke through his fused ribcage, and tore out his primary heart. The pain was immense, but he still couldn't move.

It held the pulsing organ up and threw its head back, letting the rich vitae flow down. It had no mouth, but it drank Draigo's heartblood hungrily, and though there was no change to its physical form the Grey Knight felt its manifestation become stronger as it drank and feasted upon the Emperor's Gift that set apart all Grey Knights from other Space Marines.

"Thank you for bringing me this piece of my other self," it said. "With this, and the preparations I made to shape this vessel, I am much closer to my true power. But, unfortunately, this also means I have no more use for you."

It pushed against Draigo's chestplate with the casual motion of a wealthy man pushing aside a beggar, and sent him flying off the edge of the tower and plummeting toward the ground, hundreds of meters below.

Just as the Grey Knight cleared the edge and began to fall, a thing of shadows and blades tore through the empty air behind the Yellow King. Nykona Sharrowkyn, the greatest killer of the Raven Guard, struck at the avatar of the Power with his two blade, aiming where its neck should be.

If the strike had connected, those unearthly swords, claimed in the darkness at the heart of the Eye of Terror, would have cut off the Yellow King's head. Its story would have ended there, as an aborted nightmare in a galaxy already haunted by far too many. The purpose of the Raven Guard on Sancour would have been accomplished, and Nykona Sharrowkyn would have joined Lorgar Aurelian as one of the few souls in the galaxy to have killed a god.

But the strike didn't connect. Just before the blades hit, the arms of He-Who-Hunts-Above were caught in the unyielding grip of nine pale creatures. They were ridiculously small compared to the bulk of the Raven Guard, yet their grasp held fast nonetheless, for these were the Lost Children, stolen from the Dark Cells of Terra and brought here by the hand of the Yellow King, moving in the shadows of the Angel War.

Nykona struggled against the silent children, who had been returned from death by a father's grief and now looked upon the Yellow King with adoration in their empty faces, their tormented minds enslaved to its awful will. Slowly, the avatar turned, its faceless visage gazing at the Pureblood hunter.

For only the briefest of moments, Sharrowkyn saw a grinning, gilded skull in the avatar's hood.

"Did you really think I wouldn't see you coming ? After all the pieces I had to move, all the events I had to arrange to come this far ? Foolish little raven. Tell the Nineteenth I'll come for it soon."

Its hand reached out for Sharrowkyn, but He-Who-Hunts-Above knew this was a fight he couldn't win. Before the Yellow King's claw could touch him, the hunter vanished back into shadows, slipping out of reality and into the deep reaches of the Warp where the sons of Corax had learned to tread.

The Yellow King laughed, a sound so awful it made Pontius Glaw's augmetic eyes weep tears of blood. Then it looked back up at the writhing form of Malice. It gestured, and suddenly there was something in its hands : a soul, broken and mad, thought lost by the Imperium and the Dark Gods alike. It was the soul of Ambrosius, the Child of the Raven whose actions had led to the creation of the Living World, thousands of years ago.

"Now, it is time for me to claim my throne."

The tower shook, and rose up, higher and higher, like a spear aimed at the Living World. And for the first time in aeons, Malice screamed in one, singular voice, expressing nothing but fear at what awaited it.

At the foot of the Basilica of Saint Orphaeus, Lilean Chase forced herself to crawl despite the pain of her broken leg. Somehow, she had managed to survive that far, but now there was nowhere left to run. She'd killed over one hundred mutants in the last three hours, but even her considerable abilities had to fail her eventually.

When the Inquisition had arrived at the Maze Undue, she had given the order to disperse, and a handful of students had managed to make it out. They were no doubt dead now, lost to the madness that had all of Sancour in its grip, just like her colleagues. Everything she had built was ash, and even the knowledge that the False Emperor was dead too didn't make it any better.

Bitterness swelled within her – to have lived that long, to have accomplished so much, only to die like this, her corpse left for the monsters roaming the streets of Queen Mab …

She wouldn't even die knowing why. Oh, she trusted that she'd had a good reason to turn against the Emperor, all those centuries ago. The Imperium was a sham, the Imperial Creed was based on a lie, and in the end, only Chaos was eternal. She knew that much, she believed that much, and being on the victorious side was more than enough motivation for most of her operatives and graduates.

But entire sections of her memory were locked away, hidden behind mnemonic protections to keep them from even the most powerful interrogators of the Ordos, should she be captured. Only in very specific circumstances could she access those memories, and apparently, her being on the threshold of death didn't qualify. It was within these sections that the memories of her turn resided.

She would have loved to be aware of the truth for certain before she died, though. Had she really founded the Cognitae, or merely a local branch of it in a handful of Sectors ? Was the organization really as old as some of those who had been taken by the Inquisition believed ? Was their goal simply the destruction of the Imperium, or was there something more ?

She knew the answers were in her mind, but she couldn't access them. It was perhaps the most frustrating part of this entire nightmare she was trapped in.

Lilean heard a noise coming from the crater she had been climbing the edge on for the past fifteen minutes. She forced herself to move, to cross the last few centimeters, and hauled herself over the edge so that she could take a look at what had caused it.

There, at the bottom of the crater, was a Space Marine in damaged silver armor, holding a blade unlike anything the Cognitae heretic had ever seen. She recognized the heraldry : it was a Grey Knight, one of the Ordo Malleus' secret weapons against the daemonic, whose very existence was a secret it had cost the Cognitae dearly to acquire.

From the width of the crater and what she knew a Space Marine in full armor weighted, her mind could easily guess from how high he must have fallen – and, as the answer came to her, she realized he must have fallen from the tower that had stood atop the Basilica, because there was no way he'd caused that much damage by falling from the church of the False Emperor.

To Lilean's amazement, the silver warrior's fingers twitched.

AN : And now you know. But in this case, I'm afraid knowing isn't even near to half the battle ...

Happy Halloween ! This chapter wasn't beta-read, because there wasn't time for it, and because I wanted Jaenera to be as surprised as everyone else.

So, this chapter contained the big reveal of what the Yellow King actually was. I hope it lived up to all the hype. Over the years since I first teased its existence, several persons figured out the truth (there is even an entire section on the WMG page of TV Tropes for this fic that is more or less spot-on). But I didn't change what I had decided all along, because changing things just to shock readers while disregarding previously established foreshadowing is bad writing.

(Yes, I'm still looking at you, HBO's Game of Thrones series. Thankfully I wasn't a fan and thus not too disappointed, but that's still an object lesson I did my best to take to heart).

For those who are curious, the existence of the Yellow King separate from the Emperor is one of the reasons why He is a better person and the Imperium in general a batter place than in canon.

I took inspiration from Dan Abnett's contributions to the Warhammer and Horus Heresy for this chapter, though heavily altered. I don't even think reading this chapter qualifies as spoilers for Ravenor VS Eisenhorn, for instance.

On another note, each of the Warp Gods is defined by a singular Word. The Four are War, Change, Decay and Excess (no point for guessing which of the Dark Gods each corresponds to, I mean come on). Ynnead's is Death, and Vindicta is Retribution. If Vulkan succeeds in his pursuit of godhood, his will be Tyranny.

I haven't fully decided on what the Yellow King's would be, but right now, I'm partial to Blasphemy. Another potential title for it is "Nightmare of God" : the notion that God exists, and is actively malicious and evil. If you have better ideas, both for Words and titles, don't hesitate to tell them to me. The Yellow King will be explored more in details in later books of the Times of Ending. I have ideas for an army list for its faction, and I'm open to suggestions for that as well.

The next book of the Times of Ending will be The Ruinstorm Breaks, which will take place in the Olympia system. It will involve the Iron Warriors, the Ultramarines, the Taus, and more !

I also have plans for a series of short interludes beforehand - really short, like the short chapters before the Angel War - focused on elements of the universe which haven't been much detailed before. I haven't decided if they'll come before or after The Ruinstorm Breaks.

In the more immediate future, I have a chapter of A Blade Recast that's almost finished, and I also want to finish Prince of the Eye before the end of the year. I also have other ideas (I'm toying with pulling out an old idea of mine for NaNoWriMo, for instance), but that'll have to wait until I have recovered from the epic final writing stretch I had to do to finish this on time. Gods, I must have written 6-7k words in the last six hours.

Also, I'm never using Zalgo Text (the stuff for the broken words) ever again. It made sense here and I found it to be a nice bit of fourth-wall-breaking, but now that the truth is out there is no reason to use it again, and it was a real pain to format.

As always, please tell me what you thought of this chapter and what you're hoping to see in this story's future.

Zahariel out.