At last, the cage is broken. Now, by my will, the tides of Chaos part, for I am their Master.

My armies pass out of their infernal refuge and back into reality, there to find my other servants, those who paved the way for my return. The blue-skinned aliens are not the only weapon I have forged in secret, nor the greatest; merely the first to be hurled at my foes.

All will be revealed in time. All our secrets, mine and my brothers'; all our schemes, all the preparations we've made in the shadows of the Long War. All our plans, all our gambits, all the tricks we've learned. This age, which will decide who succeeds our father as Master of Mankind, can demand no less.

With me come all the hosts of the Ruinstorm. The Chapters of my Legion, forged into champions of Chaos by my teachings, their loyalty to me written into their blood through gene-craft and sorcery. The Daemonic Legions, bound to my will by the crown I tore from my true father's killer on my day of revelation. The hosts of the Dark Mechanicum, compelled by infernal pledges sworn by those of their Martian forebears who embraced the Primordial Truth. The endless armies of the damned, rising from their petty conflicts across the Five Hundred Worlds to fight and die at my command.

In the entire galaxy, there is no other host of such might. None can stand before it. None can stand before me.

And yet, here you are.

I wonder. Can you see me, brother ? Or has the passage of time so addled you that you are blind to the shadow that comes to consume your homeworld, deaf to the sound of my words as they echo through the Sea of Souls ?

No, I think not. You are too stubborn for that. It is admirable, in a pathetic way.

You have kept watch over the cage you built for ten thousand years, even as behind you, your precious ideals calcified into the bones upon which the decaying Imperium rests.

But now the wall beneath your feet is gone, and all the certitudes of the past are torn asunder in this new age. You are falling amidst the flames of a burning future, and not even the Dark Gods know for certain what will come next.

You cannot hold the gate, brother. It was only Magnus' cunning scavenging that let you erect it in the first place. Now it is gone, and the Crimson King is not here to repair it. The doom he has surrendered himself to out of misguided sentiment will make the torments I endured seem pleasant by comparison.

The gate is open, and I am here.

Are you afraid, brother ? I think you are. Or as close as our kind can come to such mortal weakness.

Good. Be afraid, Lord of Iron. For I remember your defiance at Terra, and I am coming to destroy all you love.

Times of Ending : The Ruinstorm Breaks

Part Two : Lords of Ruin

Of the Imperium's million worlds, few can claim to have withstood the advent of Light's End better than Olympia. But even the homeworld of the Iron Warriors hasn't escaped unscathed. Before the Emperor's death, the system had already been thrown into disarray as word spread of the return of Roboute Guilliman, the Arch-Traitor and Primarch of the Ultramarines, from the hells to which the Master of Mankind had banished his dark soul ten thousand years ago. Strife and terror spread even as reinforcements poured in from all across the Imperium, ready to stand against the risen Dark Master of Chaos …

The Enemy Within

Long had Guilliman plotted his return, his servants moving in the shadows to prepare the stage for their vile liege's resurrection. On Olympia, these preparations took the shape of carefully cultivated resentment and ancient grudges, hidden from the sight of the Iron Warriors until the appointed hour.

The Battle of Macragge, fought between opposing Ultramarines factions, had sent psychic shock waves that were perceived by the choirs of sanctioned psykers tasked with monitoring the Ruinstorm. News of Guilliman's awakening, and the destruction of the Thirteenth Legion's homeworld in the process, had spread across the Iron Cage, though details of what had transpired were scarce. Panic promptly followed, for the Arch-Traitor was a figure of religious myth to the common folk of the Imperium : an ancient devil from another age, felled by the God-Emperor upon His ascension to the Golden Throne.

Numerous reinforcements poured in from all over the Imperium as word of Guilliman's awakening spread. Hundreds of ships and billions of troops arrived, with more still on the way. Even with the Imperium facing numerous threats on distant fronts, the return of the Arch-Traitor was not something that could be ignored. Dozens of Governors and Imperial Commanders received astropathic messages of the highest priority, informing them of the threat and summoning their forces to the defense of Olympia – each of them bearing the dread emblem of the Ordo Carceri.

The Ordo Carceri

Founded at the end of the Scouring, the Ordo Carceri is perhaps the oldest of the Inquisition's Ordo Minoris. As the Imperium slowly recovered from the Roboutian Heresy and the Primarchs built the Iron Cages around the Ruinstorm and the Eye of Terror, some members of Malcador's Chosen joined the Lord of Iron's great work. They helped Perturabo and Magnus in acquiring the resources and mystical lore needed, before swearing themselves and their successors to the duty of monitoring the integrity of the Iron Cages and ensuring that the Traitor Legions remained trapped within them forevermore.

Following the Age of Apostasy (which was a period of great activity for the Ordo Carceri, as numerous warbands slipped through the Iron Cages), the Ordo Hereticus took over most of the Ordo Carceri's duties around the Eye of Terror. But the Ordo Carceri remained very active around the Ruinstorm, fighting a hidden war against the agents of the Thirteenth Legion. Long before the Dark Master of Chaos returned, many members of the Ordo had come to the conclusion that these heretical efforts were being coordinated, though only a few realized this wasn't merely the work of some ambitious Ultramarine Chapter Master, and those who did were often silenced by the Tetrarchs and their thralls.

On Imperial worlds close to the Ruinstorm, the symbol of the Ordo Carceri (the stylized Inquisitorial 'I' stamped over the bars of a cage) is regarded with equal reverence and dread, for its members only ever reveal themselves when the situation has devolved to the point subtlety is no longer possible.

Guardsmen, Astartes, Sisters of Battle, Skitarii and Titan Legions, Knight Houses and semi-independent Rogue Traders : all gathered to answer the call for aid of Triarch Etrogar, supreme commander and, per long-standing emergency protocols, acting Governor of the Olympia System. Given the numerous other threats facing the Imperium as the end of the forty-first millennium drew ever closer, it was a prodigious muster, yet none of the Imperial commanders gathered expected anything less than the hardest battle of their lives, for they faced no less a foe than the mythical Arch-Traitor himself, returned from the damnation to which the Emperor had rightfully consigned his wretched soul.

Despite the distance between Olympia and Terra, a flotilla of golden vessels carrying a Host of the Adeptus Custodes was among the first to arrive, along with another made up of sleek, silver-grey ships bearing the secret heraldry of the Grey Knights. Among the few qualified to know of the latter's presence, it was a common belief that they had somehow foreseen the Arch-Traitor's resurrection, and begun the long journey from the Throneworld before the psychic echoes of Macragge's Fall had reached the Imperium.

As fear began to take root, even Olympia was not spared from the ensuing troubles. Across the planet, numerous cults rose up, taking advantage of the confusion and fear caused by the news of Guilliman's return. Unbeknownst to the Imperial authorities (as well as many of the cultists themselves), this was all masterminded by a singular, ancient cult, which had successfully hidden from the Arbites, the Iron Warriors, and the Inquisition for thousands of years : the True Olympians.

The True Olympians

Despite the protection of the Iron Cage and the best efforts of the Iron Warriors and the Inquisition, Olympia's proximity to the Ruinstorm means that the existence of Chaos cults is inevitable. Most of these are short-lived, spontaneous affairs, created when a handful of souls succumb to corruption and promptly descend into homicidal madness, leading to their swift discovery and purge. Through constant vigilance and keeping the population educated on the dangers of Chaos using materials whose contents were the results of vigorous debate between the Ordos and the Fourth Legion, their overall effect on Olympian society has been limited over the ages.

The self-proclaimed True Olympians, however, are much older and much more dangerous, with origins that harken back to the planet's pre-Imperial past. In ancient times, it was founded by nobles who survived Perturabo's purges and were disgruntled at the loss of the power and wealth they saw as their birthright, along with priests enraged by the Lord of Iron's avowed atheism.

Recognizing that they couldn't stop the change of the era, the self-perceived worthies gave in to the inevitable. They used their influence and resources to carve places for themselves in the new world order, acting the part of begrudging acceptance. Relieved that there wouldn't be any more need for violence, Perturabo welcomed them, though he heeded his sister Calliphone's warnings about their sincerity and kept them from achieving any real influence – another thing for which they never forgave him.

After the Heresy, which left Olympia ravaged by the Hrud invasion, the survivors of this group moved from a circle of mutual support into a genuine heretical conspiracy. It was then that the hand of Guilliman first touched them, as the Dark Master of Chaos, wounded but not dead, reached out from beyond his life-preserving stasis prison to set the pieces that would lead to his return.

For generations, the descendants of the ousted aristocrats and defrocked priests passed on the tale of their downfall. With each retelling, the truth was distorted a little more, erasing the many sins of their ancestors and painting Perturabo as a brutal despot who had overthrown Olympia's delicately balanced equilibrium in order to enslave it to the Imperium.

By claiming that Olympia is unjustly made to pay the price of the Imperium's wars, and through careful use of their husbanded wealth, the True Olympians have managed to gain a following among the masses. These deluded fools are nothing but sacrificial pawns for their distant masters, thinking themselves heroic rebels and liberators of a people whose children have been stolen and turned into living weapons for ten thousand years.

Only the very top of the organization's membership, all of whom are descended from its blue-blooded founders, are aware that they serve the Dark Master. When Guilliman rose from his ages-long slumber, they enacted long-prepared schemes to sabotage the defenses of Olympia and pave the way for the Thirteenth Legion's arrival.

Despite the millennia they'd spent laying the ground work for their uprising, the True Olympians were still woefully unmatched compared to the might of the Fourth Legion, let alone the countless reinforcements pouring into the system. Their presence was a source of shame for Triarch Etrogar, yes, but he was confident they could be dealt with before the real threat emerged from the Ruinstorm.

And then came Light's End. The Emperor's death shook the very soul of every human being in the Olympia system, and the psychic backlash caused latent psykers to suddenly awaken wild, uncontrollable abilities – including many among the ranks of the True Olympians.

Coordinating such a force as had mustered in Olympia would have been difficult at the best of times, even for an Iron Warrior Triarch. In the wake of Light's End, it became all but impossible. Mutinies erupted aboard multiple ships as their crews and passengers succumbed to despair. Sanctioned psykers went mad as their minds caught glimpses of the Angel War unfolding on the Throneworld and had to be put down by ever-vigilant Commissars.

Only thank to the protection of the Iron Cage keeping the worst of the Warp's influence at bay was the manifestation of daemons prevented, but the Librarians of the Fourth knew that Light's End had damaged to ancient seraphic array, and they doubted it would hold forever.

Some of the reinforcements which had managed to withstand Light's End, and whose skills would be of the most use there, were sent planetside to assist in suppressing the unrest. The new, unbound psykers who'd suddenly appeared in the True Olympians' ranks couldn't possibly be enough to let them hold the few areas they'd managed to seize for long against the might now arrayed against them.

The leaders of the conspiracy were well aware of this, however, and before the Imperial forces could crush them, they enacted a plan that put every human being on Olympia at risk : they breached the quarantine around the Forbidden Zone.

Despite the death of half his century, Jason exalted in their victory. They had done it. The five Iron Warriors manning the watchtower were dead, brought low by the heavy weapons their comrades had liberated from the vast stockpiles fed by the labor that the Imperium extorted from Olympia.

"Is everything ready ?" He called out to Cayennes. The renegade tech-priest kept furiously typing at a control panel for a few more seconds before turning toward Jason.

"It is done," the bag of bolts announced. "The field has been deactivated."

"Good. Now, let's –"

He was interrupted when Cayennes suddenly disappeared. No, Jason realized. The tech-priest hadn't disappeared : he'd been reduced to a red smear on the naked rockrete floor. He was quite evidently dead, without even the time to scream or realize he was doomed. As Jason's blood ran cold, the True Olympian field commander checked his wrist, only to be faced with the confirmation he'd dreaded :

His chronometer was running like crazy, going forward at an impossible speed.

No. This wasn't what was supposed to happen. The leaders of the True Olympians had told him it would take at least an hour for the fiends of the Forbidden Zone to react, giving Jason plenty of time to get to safety with his men.

Jason moved to run, to get out of the building and away from the Forbidden Zone. Maybe, just maybe, he could get to a vehicle and escape while the rest of his unit kept them busy. But as he fled down the watchtower, all the militiamen he passed were already dead, left on the ground in various stages of injury and decay.

He made it all the way outside before finally collapsing. His vision darkened and his breath became a pained rasp as his organs failed one after the other, brought low by entropy accelerated by monsters he couldn't see. As Jason of the True Olympians died, his last thought was the realization that his masters had lied to him, and knowingly sent him to his death.

That thought did not make him angry. It only made him more scared.

The Forbidden Zone

Unbeknownst to all but a few Iron Warriors and other Imperial scholars, the city of Lochos which stands on Olympia is actually the second one to bear the name. The first, where Perturabo came to adulthood and later broke the planet's old ways, was completely lost during the Hrud invasion at the dawn of the Roboutian Heresy.

The details of what happened during that dark hour have long been lost, but their consequences remain. Where once stood the proud city-state of Lochos, there is now only the Forbidden Zone, a desolate landscape where time and space have been broken asunder when Hrud weaponry met the power of the devices that, in his fury at seeing the land of his birth so despoiled, the Lord of Iron unleashed.

When the ashes settled, the survivors of Lochos were moved to a new location, which in time grew to become the new stronghold of the Iron Warriors on Olympia and inherited the name of the lost city-state. As for the ruins of the old one, Perturabo ordered they be quarantined 'until the last dawn of Olympia comes', and that a perpetual watch be kept around them – both to prevent anyone from entering, but also to keep anything from getting out.

For despite the terrifying devastation that was unleashed upon fallen Lochos, life still endures within the Forbidden Zone, albeit twisted and warped in ways beyond even the Dark Gods' heinous imagination. Only the Astartes, with their transhuman minds and eidetic recall, and the soul-bound psykers, with their connection to the timeless Empyrean, can even fight these horrors spawned from broken time. And even they forget all but the dimmest recollection of the foe as soon as the battle is done and they no longer behold the results of the Hrud invasion.

Despite thousands of years of study, the Imperium is still no closer to figuring out the exact mechanism by which this is achieved, let alone a mean of countering it. There are rumors among the Iron Warriors that such a method was once discovered, only for one of the Inquisition's most obscure branches to forbid it and wipe it from the records completely, claiming that it was far more dangerous than the Forbidden Zone itself could ever be.

What little is known of the Forbidden Zone's denizens (called the Aberrants in what few Inquisitorial records make mention of their existence) indicates that they possess some of the same time-warping abilities the Hrud themselves are known for, causing unprotected mortals to age decades in seconds and die of old age before they can fire a single shot. But, fortunately for Olympia, they lack the intelligence and social cohesion of these most despised of xenos. Unless disturbed, they are mostly content to remain within their lairs (which have only been witnessed by a handful of human souls in the last ten millennia, none of whom ever returned to speak of what they'd seen).

The True Olympians' attack breached the quarantine and caused a flow of hyper-evolved monstrosities to emerge from the Forbidden Zone in unprecedented numbers. Those sacrificial troops the cult leaders had sent were the first to die at the Aberrants' hypothetical hands, but their goal had been accomplished regardless.

With the Iron Warriors forced to move in great number to neutralize the threat from the Forbidden Zone, the True Olympians made another move. Traitors within the crew of the void-shield generators of Lochos, the planetary capital, opened the complex to their accomplices, allowing them to seize the veritable fortress hosting the enormous machinery.

The rest of the crew were either executed or imprisoned, and the complex put on lock-down, making it all but impossible to reclaim while the renegades worked on sabotaging the generators permanently (not a simple task, as the Mechanicus had built them to withstand absolutely everything the paranoid minds of Perturabo's gene-sons could think of).

It was a clever plan, and it might even have worked, if not for the presence of the Liberated in the city.

His boots squelched as he walked through the gore that, until mere moments ago, had been over a hundred soldiers of the self-proclaimed 'True Olympians'. He didn't know what exact lies their masters had told them to convince them to betray their people, but he could guess. He'd heard enough anti-Imperial rhetoric in his time.

Sometimes, they were even true, and he'd always made sure whatever – or whoever – the problem that had caused rebellion to take root and allow heresy in its wake was purged alongside the taint. Some of his colleagues had called him soft, or distracted from what really mattered, but he simply saw it as pragmatic. It was far easier and less costly to prevent the conditions which bred discontent than intervene after the fact with fire and fury. Thankfully, the Iron Warriors understood that : life on Olympia wasn't perfect, true, but it was still better than on most other Imperial worlds, despite the system standing in the Ruinstorm's very shadow.

Still, there were times where fire and fury were what was needed, and this was most definitely one of them – hence why they had sent her.

He found her near the great, humming generators, where the heretics had been hard at work trying to sabotage the city's void-shields. Judging by the amount of gore, there must have been fifty people here at least. Now only she remained, kneeling and in prayer.

She was beautiful, even covered in blood as she was now. Beautiful and terrible, like a raging flame. Her silver power armor gleamed in the emergency lights, the great power axe that was her emblematic weapon resting on the floor before her. The haft of the weapon was depressed in places, where it had been bent by armored hands far too small to grip it properly.

Her head was bare, protected by a small energy field generator as well as her own innate power. A single streak of black ran through her otherwise snow-white hair, which ran halfway across her back, and her hands were held clasped in front of her.

She wasn't praying, he knew. There was no one left to pray to any more, after all. No one, because the Emperor was dead –

the Emperor was dead –

Since it had happened, Felix had done his best not to think about it. He believed that if he did, if he truly thought about what had happened and what it meant, his already frail grasp on sanity would snap completely. He had thrown himself into his work, into the duties of his office. It wasn't healthy, and unlikely to be sustainable long-term, but somehow he doubted that would be a problem.

Others had their own ways of dealing with … it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Iron Warriors seemed to have taken it the best out of everyone. They were already grim, miserable bastards : the Emperor's death was one more sign that the universe hated Mankind in general and them in particular, but they refused to let it break them with the same sheer stubbornness that had seen them man the walls of the Imperium since its founding.

Madness. Really, all Space Marines were crazy, regardless of their gene-line. It just showed in different ways and at different times, but you couldn't take a bunch of children and turn them into living weapons without something very important being lost, or at the very least damaged, in the process. In a better galaxy, the Astartes wouldn't be necessary, but unfortunately, they had to live in the galaxy they got.

Enough. He forced himself to turn away from that train of thought, and focus back on the Living Saint in front of him. She wasn't praying – there was no one left to pray to – instead, her mind was turned inward, to master the furious gift that was bestowed upon her long ago.

"Nicely done, Justine," said the man. He spoke loudly and slowly, like a megafelid handler not wanting to spook his charge as he approached her.

The gaze the Living Saint of Wrath turned on him as she noticed his approach would have petrified most men, but Inquisitor Felix Jaeger of the Ordo Carceri had witnessed the cold fury of the Seventeenth Legion at the apex of the Reign of Blood. He met her gaze levelly, waiting patiently.

Despite the surface similarities, Justine's wrath was nothing at all like that which consumed so many slaves of the Blood God. Felix had fought the minions of Khorne, both mortal and immortal, enough times to know the difference. Furthermore, he remembered the first time he saw her, deep in the bowels of Mortendar, during their escape from the Thirteenth Legion's prison.

Then, she had given in to her rage. Then, for a moment, he'd feared her centuries of captivities might have broken her, reduced a Living Saint of the God-Emperor into one more pain-filled brute enslaved by the Lord of Skulls. But she'd returned to sanity then, and she did so now.

"… Felix," she greeted him, slowly standing up.

The two of them had entered the building together, through a hidden passage Felix had remembered seeing on a map that was already old when he saw it five thousand years ago. They had engaged the first group of heretics they met together, but had soon been separated; not by any trick of the foe, but simply because Felix's merely mortal body couldn't keep up with his companion.

This was not the only place in Lochos where the True Olympians had struck, but it was the most important. Others of the Liberated were dealing with the rest, accompanied by local forces or on their own.

"Come, now," he told her. "Zagreus is waiting for us outside."

As they made their way outside, to where the Custodian was keeping watch, Felix found himself beset by doubt. This whole thing had to be related to the Arch-Traitor's return, he was certain of it. But this had been far too easy. So what were they missing ?

The Liberated

Through the machinations of the Sacrificed Son, a few of Mortendar's Imperial captives escaped Macragge when the Ultramarines' prison-world was destroyed. Amidst the chaos of the Drinker of Sorrow's onslaught, they broke free of their cages and rallied together. After many trials and tribulations (for even one such as Aeonid Thiel couldn't make their path an easy one, only ensure one existed at all), they managed to get off-world and seize one of the smaller ships of the Black Crusade, recently seized by one of the warbands sworn to the Sacrificed Son's banner and still crewed by enslaved Imperial personnel.

With the guidance of the Living Saint among the Liberated, the ship's Navigator led the ship through the Ruinstorm and past the Iron Cage, arriving to Olympia just before catastrophic engine failure. If not for the authority and identification codes some of the Liberated carried, the dying ship would have been blown to pieces by the Iron Cage's defenses, but fortunately such wasn't the case. After undergoing severe testing, the Liberated were declared free of taint, and thoroughly debriefed about not only their time in Mortendar, but also everything they knew about the Fall of Macragge.

Once this was done, the Liberated dedicated themselves to the defense of Olympia, knowing that Guilliman would soon come to attack it. But though their new duties took them on separate roads across the system, they remained connected by an unbreakable bond, forged in the darkest pits of the Dark Master's hellish realm, as well as by the fact they were each orphans of their own time – for the Thirteenth Legion's prison didn't allow its captives to escape through death of old age, the time-warping effects of the Ruinstorm harnessed by Chaos Sorcerers to trap each prisoner into a form of suspended animation where they were made to share the eternal torment of Roboute Guilliman, trapped on his throne at the very edge of death, while those self-same spells also kept them from escaping into madness.

When those awful spells were finally broken, many captives desired nothing more than to lash out against their captors and claim both vengeance and death at long last. The guilt of having failed to save these tormented souls is, perhaps, another layer to the bond that unites the Liberated.

Felix Jaeger – Inquisitor

Among the rarefied circles of the Ordo Carceri, the name of Felix Jaeger is spoken in reverent whispers. During the dark times of the Age of Apostasy, when the Traitor Legions rampaged beyond the borders of the Iron Cage and drew the Loyalist Legions away from the Imperium's heartlands, Inquisitor Jaeger fought alongside the Seventeenth Legion. The tales of his heroic actions are many, and he is one of the rare Inquisitors whose name is known beyond the confines of the Ordos, as statues and memorials to his bravery stand proudly on a dozen worlds. When the Grey Knights and Ordo Malleus Daemonhunters fought the two Tetrachs leading the Ultramarines forces that had broken free of the Ruinstorm, Inquisitor Jaeger was there, having led the Imperial response to the Black Crusade's true objective.

Yet it is not for his actions against the Ultramarines that Jaeger is best known among his peers, but for what came next. When word of Vandire's exactions finally reached the Word Bearers, Felix Jaeger bore witness to the cold fury of Lorgar's gene-sons as it seized nigh on the entire Legion. Despite his affiliation with the Ordo Carceri, he then accompanied the Word Bearers to Holy Terra, and was one of the voices of reason who argued for joining forces with Sebastian Thor's faction against Vandire. Few men in all of the Imperium's history have had the courage to argue with a Legion Master, and the Word Bearers recognized Jaeger's bravery.

Following the end of the Reign of Blood, Felix Jaeger returned to his duties around the Ruinstorm, eventually publishing a book describing his experience (which, for obvious reasons, was restricted to other Inquisitors). After an additional half-century of service, however, the ship he was travelling on was boarded by renegade pirates, and the Inquisitor was assumed dead. However, such was not the case : the pirates had been acting on orders from the Tetrachs, who sought retribution for Jaeger's interference in their plans. After his entire retinue was slaughtered, the Inquisitor was dragged to Mortendar, there to spend several millennia as a living trophy before the Sacrificed Son's Black Crusade. Upon his return to Olympia, his old codes were still valid, and he found himself deeply uncomfortable with the legend that had grown around his name among the other members of the Ordo Carceri.

Justine – Living Saint

To many, the Imperial Saints are receptacles of the Emperor's boundless love and compassion for Humanity. They are His messengers, carrying His light to guide, protect and heal the faithful.

The one known simply as Justine is not one such Saint. In her blazes the God-Emperor's endless fury at the atrocities inflicted upon Mankind by all its foes, and His desire to see those who would bring Ruin to the species laid low with extreme prejudice. She does not lead the hosts of the Imperium, but charges ahead of them, tearing into the Enemies of Humanity and hurling their damned souls into the Warp's burning tides.

Originally a member of the Sisters of Battle, Justine ascended to Sainthood during a battle with the hosts of the Blood God, when she clashed with the Daemon Prince of Khorne Kazakital during the fourth century of M39. Kazakital led a powerful host of daemons that had ravaged several worlds before being stopped in its tracks by a coalition of Sisters of Battle, World Eaters and Astra Militarum. Amidst the madness of that confrontation, Justine witnessed the World Eaters' champion battle the Daemon Prince and fall to his infernal blade. In desperation, and with her own weapons broken, she picked up the dead Legionary's immense power axe and charged Kazakital herself with the God-Emperor's name on her lips. The Master of Mankind heard her prayer, and she was imbued with a fragment of His power, granting her the strength to banish the Daemon Prince and bleaching her previously black hair in the process, save for a single streak – a hairstyle which was adopted by many Sisters of Battle in the following years.

For several decades following her ascension, Justine fought at the forefront of war after war against the Lost and the Damned in Segmentum Pacificus, visiting holy wrath upon the Slaves to Ruin. The devastation she unleashed upon them earned the title of the Emperor's Wrath, and though her presence unnerved them greatly none of the Imperial commanders whose forces she joined in battle ever had anything bad to say as to her conduct on the field (none of them, after all, would have reached their august ranks if they were foolish enough to try to control a storm shaped like a human woman).

In the end, however, no hero can remain undefeated forever. The Ultramarines Chapter of the Tome Keepers defeated her on the ravaged world of Istrouma, but did not kill her. Instead, the Chapter Master, the Sorcerer Lord of Tzeentch Saargon, bound her with chains forged of the blood and souls of the planet's innocent, and dragged her back to the Ruinstorm as a tribute to Marneus Calgar. The Chapter Master of Macragge had her imprisoned on Mortendar as a sick joke, a display of how powerless the so-called 'Emperor's Wrath' really was, going as far as keeping her power axe nearby, close enough for her to see but forever out of reach. It was a mistake many of them regretted when she broke free.

Zagreus – Eye of The Emperor

Despite the myriad enhancements that separate them from baseline humanity, even the Custodes have to bow before old age should they survive long enough. Before Light's End, when a Custodian found that his body could no longer keep up with the exacting standards of his august brotherhood, he left his armor and weapons behind and continued to serve the Emperor as an Eye of the Emperor, joining the vast network of informants, spies and assassins that the Adeptus Custodes used to look for any threat to the Throne. Like everything else about the Custodes, it is unsure whether this tradition will continue now that the Master of Mankind has passed on, but for now the Eyes are still there, and Zagreus (the first of many names, and the one his companions know him by) is perhaps the oldest of them all : for he remembers fighting at the side of the Master of Mankind, and sight of Terra's skies burning with Warp-fire for the first time.

Upon joining the Eyes of the Emperor three centuries after the end of the Scouring, Zagreus departed Terra to go on what was essentially a one-man crusade to find and kill as many of the traitors who had taken his lord from him as he could before they inevitably killed him. To this day, members of the Inquisition tell stories of his heretic hunts in Ultima Segmentum, and how they helped lay the foundation for the Iron Cage's construction.

In 478.M32, Zagreus came very close to uncovering a large network of the Spineam Coronam, one which stretched back to the Throneworld itself. Before he could act on his discovery, however, he was captured by one of the network's members, who offered him up to his Tetrarch master. Zagreus was dragged back to Mortendar in chains, kept alive so that he would one day bear witness to his master's demise – which eventually came true, though not in the way the heretics envisioned. Even weakened by age and without weapons or armor, a Custodes is still a Custodes, and Zagreus joined with the other Liberated. Clad in a suit of power armor improvised by another member of the group, Zagreus met with the other Custodes present at Olympia for a debriefing, before rejoining his companions. His presence among the Liberated helped clear them of suspicions of corruption.

When Light's End struck, Zagreus was affected just as badly by the Emperor's death as every other Custodian, oscillating between rage and despair. It was thanks to Justine that he managed to endure, and he swore himself to her service as a result. After all, the power of all Living Saints comes directly from Him, and Justine is thus as close to the Emperor as he can hope to find (save for one of the loyal Primarchs).

Several hours after the failed attempt by the True Olympians to seize Lochos' void-shield generators, the Tau fleet was detected, and Inquisitor Jaeger had his answer. The rebellious uprising, the breach of the Forbidden Zone's quarantine, the attack on the shield generators : all of them had been nothing but distractions, meant to keep the Imperial eyes which weren't looking at the Ruinstorm focused on Olympia.

The first blow of the xenos unleashed the Shriek across the entire system. Scrap-code flooded every vox-channel, causing untold destruction and even more confusion and panic. As the psykers warned that the Arch-Traitor was drawing ever closer, the Imperial commanders believed this to be the purpose behind the Tau incursion, although how the foolish xenos had ended up allied with the Ultramarines they could only guess.

But they were wrong. The Shriek, for all its horror, was but a prelude to something far worse. With the removal of the Dawn Blade from the Keystone by Commander Farsight, the ancient ward put into place by the Fifteenth Legion around the Ruinstorm began to crumble. In another age, this arcane masterwork might have been able to endure for some time, but now, with Guilliman reborn and directing the fury of the Warp, the millennia-old protection fell apart in moments.

All across the Iron Cage, lesser stations and monuments detonated in sudden surges of psychic energy. Swarms of cackling daemons emerged from the devastation to prey on whatever mortals were close by (though many were left starving, as the Thousand Sons had placed their stations according to geomantic patterns that had little to do with the suitability of these locations for human life). Entire star systems at its borders were swallowed by Warp Storms, plunging those Imperial worlds that had endured in the shadow of what had once been the Kingdom of Ultramar into madness and ruin.

On Volundr, the effects of the Shriek were particularly pronounced. The collapse of Iacopo's Ladder killed millions instantly, and condemned many more to death in the short and long term. The fall of the megastructure sent clouds of dust and ash into the hyper-polluted atmosphere, shrouding the world into a perpetual night lit only by the fires that were spreading through Manufactorums and hab-blocks alike. That was already bad enough : on its own, the catastrophe would've crippled the forge-world for years to come. But, as with the rest of the system, this disaster was only the beginning.

Fuelled by so much death and terror, the Warp poured into Volundr the moment the Keystone fell and the Iron Cage was breached. Cultists of the Dark Mechanicum, led astray from the tenets of the Omnissiah by agents of the Dark Master, performed abominable rites amidst the devastation. Through their fell incantations and heretekal rites, immense monstrosities of molten metal and dead flesh rose from the ruins of Iacopo's Ladder. They promptly crushed and devoured the very cultists whose actions had summoned them into being, before rampaging across the forge-world, shrugging off all attempts to stop them by the grotesquely overclassed Volundr Skitarii.

When the increasingly frantic magi domini of Volundr managed to restore communications with the rest of the system, they immediately called for assistance against the infernal giants ravaging their domain. With Triarch Etrogar's permission, those Titan Legions which had come to the system's defense began to move toward the beleaguered forge-world, accompanied by their escorts of Mechanicus crafts and Skitarii transports.

That the Triarch was willing to let go of the God-Engines might seem surprising, but in truth it was the only logical move : not only was Volundr bound to the Fourth Legion by pacts of mutual assistance, such that the Iron Warriors' honor demanded they respond to the call for help, but the Legio Titanicus was closer to the Adeptus Mechanicus than any other human institution. Etrogar was too experienced a commander to risk giving an order that might not be obeyed, especially at so critical a juncture. Besides, the Titans would be of little use in a void battle anyway : better send them where they could help – even if doing so felt like walking into a trap.

On Olympia, the True Olympians suddenly discovered the true price of their heresy. The unleashed Warp energies poured into their unprotected minds, drawn by the ritual sigils and tattoos that they'd adopted under the Dark Master's influence. Many developed sudden mutations, while those with even a hint of psychic potential were transfigured into living Warp gates, hellish portals through which the Neverborn hosts bound to Guilliman's will emerged. For the first time in the conspiracy's existence, its high-born masters were rendered the equals of those they'd duped, as they too were reduced to vessels for the Neverborn.

In an instant, the situation on Olympia escalated from dangerous to catastrophic. Triarch Etrogar begged the Grey Knights to assist, but the sons of Titan rejected his pleas with a heavy heart, knowing that this was but a distraction, and that the true enemy was yet to come.

They were right, for soon, at long, long last, the Ruinstorm parted, cut open by the blade of Roboute Guilliman's will.

The Thirteenth Legion had arrived.

The Dark Master's Arrival

Over the centuries, the Iron Warriors had remade the Olympia system into a fortress capable of enduring everything the galaxy had thrown at it, and yet more defenders had come to stand against the Arch-Traitor's return. Yet nothing could possibly have prepared them for what Guilliman had planned.

The Warp currents around Olympia had been studied extensively by Librarians, Primaris Psykers, Navigators and Astropaths alike. Building upon the insights left behind by the Crimson King when he built the Keystone, these savants of the Warp had been able to predict the most likely points of entry for any force emerging directly from the Ruinstorm.

Though Guilliman's personal intervention changed things, even the Arch-Traitor couldn't break the rules completely, and his fleet arrived from the expected general direction. Hundreds of ships of all sizes and types emerged from the roiling tides of the Ruinstorm, only to immediately crash against the Fourth Legion's void-defences. Thousands of painstakingly assembled void mines had been placed according to the rigorous calculations of the Iron Warriors' warsmiths in order to maximize the damage they'd cause, leaving the enemy ships crippled and within the overlapping lines of fire of numerous void-forts which were little more than large, servitor-crewed guns placed on asteroids.

In mere hours, scores of heretic vessels were lost to this first layer of Olympia's defenses, their crews perishing in shipwide fires or hurled into the void to suffocate to death. Yet Triarch Etrogar swiftly realized that the ships they were destroying in droves were merely a sacrificial first wave, sent by the Dark Master to die in order to clear the way for more valuable assets. While the Chaos vanguard was vast, counting more ships within it than most Black Crusades the Imperium had faced from lesser warlords, there were suspiciously few Astartes vessels within it.

Such callous disregard for the lives of his servants was only to be expected from the Arch-Traitor. But if Roboute Guilliman thought Olympia would be easy to conquer, then he was even more delusional than Etrogar had ever thought. Ever since the terrible news of the Dark Master's resurrection had reached him, the Triarch had worked tirelessly to prepare. The Iron Warriors had many contingencies in play for a mass breakout of the Thirteenth Legion; and, in the oldest and most secret documents, reserved for the eyes of the Trident only, there were even a few written down in case of Guilliman's return. At the time of their writing, they'd been thought to be nothing more than an exercise in paranoia, but now, Etrogar feared that the hour might come when he'd no choice but to activate them.

Olympia, the Stronghold of Iron

As the home system of the Fourth Legion and the center of operation for the Ruinstorm's Iron Cage, Olympia is one of the Imperium's best defended systems, rivalled only by Cadia and Holy Terra themselves. The system is host to four very different planets. Pre-eminent among them is Olympia itself, homeworld of the Fourth Space Marines Legion.

Following the destruction of the first city of Lochos, the Iron Warriors built a new fortress-monastery on Olympia's highest peak, Telephus. Over the generations, the venerable mountain has been hollowed out to create a maze of passages, chambers, and storage rooms, while eleven additional towers were built on the flanks of the central peak, hence the fortress' name : the Dodecapyrgion. In addition, the natural landscape has been transformed into a series of impenetrable walls, which, combined with numerous artillery positions and anti-orbital weapons, make the Dodecapyrgion one of the Imperium's greatest strongholds. Within it are stored some of Perturabo's own creations, along with the facilities used to turn Olympian Aspirants into more Space Marines.

After the Hrud invasion, Perturabo became more than slightly paranoid about his homeworld's protection. The planet is surrounded by a ring of orbital defenses matched only by that of Holy Terra itself, and it is a point of pride for the Fourth Legion that, despite numerous attempts by Ultramarines warbands over the centuries, no Chaos Marine has ever set foot on Olympia. The planet's several moons have also been given over to the Legion, save for one which houses the system's main astropathic choir – a grandiose building constructed using designs written down by Perturabo and Magnus themselves in order to amplify the abilities of those dwelling within, while at the same time shielding them from the Ruinstorm's baleful influence.

As for the surface of the planet, it is covered in numerous mountains, and populated by several billion Imperial citizens dwelling in a collection of city-states bound by ancient treaties and common allegiance to the Iron Warriors. Several technological marvels, each of which would be the jewel of most Imperial Sectors, stand proudly within them, scrupulously maintained by the Fourth Legion's Techmarines and their Mechanicus allies.

The ancient shelters where the population took refuge during the Hrud invasion have been expanded to be able to accommodate the entire (much greater nowadays) population of Olympia in the event of another attack. However, they have never been used except during exercises, which some of the citizens resent since they take time, but the Iron Warriors are stubborn and continue to force everyone to take part every year, just in case – a precaution which would prove warranted in the Times of Ending.

Although Olympia is a fortress first and foremost, with the scars of the Hrud invasion noticeable under the surface for one with a keen architect's eye, there are traces of its golden age left in its architecture, and the Iron Warriors have worked to preserve the world's culture, that their people might know more than endless vigilance. Even the more cold-blooded of Perturabo's sons recognize that the best way to avoid people turning to the Dark Gods is to give them lives worth living. This is especially important since, despite the protection of the Iron Cage, the Ruinstorm is still visible in the planet's night sky, a vile blemish which can rend the mind and soul of those foolish enough to gaze upon it for too long.

Closer to Olympia's star, the forge-world of Volundr is responsible for the production of most of the Fourth Legion's armaments. Once a lifeless orb, it was terraformed by the Mechanicus during the Great Crusade so that the augmented tech-thralls of the Martian Cult could survive on its surface, while vast cities were built underground beneath the Manufactorums. While closely allied with the Iron Warriors, Volundr remains firmly under the control of the tech-priests. Due to the legacy of Perturabo, which continues to shape the Olympia system to this day, the Legio Cybernetica has a strong presence on Volundr, with some of the Mechanicus' greatest data-smiths hailing from its clergy.

Furthest from the sun is the gas giant Phlegeton. Scores of man-made structures orbit the planet in order to exploit its nigh-infinite resources, which are transmuted into promethium and other materials with which to fuel Volundr's industry. It is also there that the system's shipyards are found, allowing the ships of the Fourth Legion to repair, refuel and refit as needed when they return home from their long campaigns across the galaxy.

Finally, there is the dead world of Charon. According to pre-Imperial Olympian legends, Charon was once a sister world to Olympia, colonized by Mankind at the same time. However, during the Age of Strife, when the human warlords calling themselves the Black Judges visited the system, Charon's rulers defied them, refusing to give them the tithe of ore and flesh they demanded. In response, the Black Judges unleashed their terrible arsenal upon the planet, wiping out all life and going as far as altering the world's orbit, moving it too far from the sun for life to ever develop on it again. This display of technological might cowed the people of Olympia for centuries, until the arrival of Perturabo and his reunion with his Legion, which led to the Black Judges' eradication.

The remnants of the Charonite civilization were long ago thoroughly plundered and archived in museums on Olympia, where they serve as a reminder of the perils of technology unfettered by wisdom and conscience. Today, Charon is a ruins-filled hellscape, visited only by the Iron Warriors and Phlegetonite tech-priests in order to test their most destructive weapons and train in extreme conditions.

While the Iron Warriors still cleave to the ideals of the Great Crusade, and have prevented the people of Olympia from suffering the same institutional decay that has set in far too many Imperial worlds, they've still been forced to make concessions to the darkening of the galaxy over the ages.

Then, the next wave of the Chaos armada arrived, dropping out of the Warp amidst the vanguard's wreckage. Hundreds, thousands of ships, from all sizes and types, all bearing the marks of Chaos and the Thirteenth Legion. The emblems of dozens of Chapters were recognized by Imperial auspexes, along with others which the Imperium had never encountered before. Along with them were swarms of transports, which long-range auspex scans showed housed billions of life signatures belonging to the untold mutant and heretic hosts Guilliman had raised from within the Ruinstorm.

Librarians and astropaths, their minds already battered by the tribulations of the last months, cried out in pain once more as they felt the awful presence of Roboute Guilliman himself emerging from the Ruinstorm. Until that moment, the psychic aura of the Arch-Traitor had been shrouded by the raging tides of the Warp : now it was revealed with terrible clarity. The Dark Master was an altogether different horror from Light's End or the echoes of the Angel War which had already battered the minds of the psychically gifted. He was a black star of infernal power, haloed by the wordless, agonized shrieks of thousands of tormented souls, and the wicked laughter of countless Neverborn.

Recent trials had culled the weak-willed and vulnerable amidst the fleet's psykers, however, and so the malaise provoked by Guilliman's arrival did little damage by itself. Those few unfortunate souls for whom this was the final straw were swiftly put out of their misery, and the Imperial fleet began to reform itself to face the Macragge's Honour, its commanders drawing upon ancient plans drafted to face Gloriana-class battleships while hundreds of magi analysed the auspex readings of the Traitor flagship in an effort to figure out how much it had changed during its millennia of exile.

Then Roboute Guilliman spoke, and his words were carried by vox and sorcery so that every soul in the Olympia system heard them. In the command center of Lochos, Inquisitor Jaeger heard them coming out of a vox-speaker that, until seconds ago, had been reporting the state of the ongoing containment operation at the Forbidden Zone. On the bridge of the Iron Warriors battleship Euryale's Lament, Triarch Etrogar heard them spoken through a hundred command stations at once, his hands gripping the handle of his mighty warhammer tightly at this casual violation of his flagship's systems. And as his battlesuit made its way through the void back to the Crown of Ascension, Commander Farsight heard them over the cadrenet, cutting into his repeated, vain attempts to get in contact with Shadowsun.

"I look now upon my dead father's broken Imperium, ten thousand years after its misbegotten birth, and I see a failed kingdom, finally succumbing to the weight of its own blindness and hypocrisy.

It has not conquered, it has merely endured. It has not thrived, it has only survived, clinging to its moribund existence long after it should have perished, while the galaxy burned around it.

The rot has spread too deep for it to be excised : only fire can purge it now. And from the depths of my domain, I bring that fire.

For a hundred centuries I slumbered, healing from the wounds the coward Fulgrim dealt me as I held our sire to my mercy. Now, at long last, I am returned. Possessed of the knowledge of the Primordial Annihilator, wielder of the gifts of the Ruinous Powers, I bring the wonders of Chaos to a lost people.

Under my banner march the chosen of the True Gods, bound to my will by the power that is mine. To those who hide in the cracks of the Imperium, concealing their true faith, I offer liberation. To the mutant and the witch, hated and abhorred for the blessings they've received, I offer vengeance. To the inheritors of the dead Emperor's sundered dream, I bring death.

The Age of Imperium is over. The hour of my ascension has come.

With these words, I, Roboute Guilliman, Dark Master of Chaos, Primarch of the Thirteenth Legion, the one true Master of Mankind, declare the Infernus Crusade.

Mankind has only one chance to prosper, and I alone have the will to seize it. You who call yourselves loyalists, pay heed to the coming of my armies, and the Ruin I promise your miserable kind.

This galaxy is mine !"

As the Arch-Traitor's proclamation ended, sensors across the Imperial fleet suddenly reported a power spike on the Macragge's Honour as its new and monstrous gun prepared to fire. Alarm klaxons blared, shields were brought up to full power, and squadrons dispersed across thousands of kilometers of empty space as all braced for whatever devastation the Traitor flagship was about to unleash.

But no amount of last-minute measures could have prepared them for the sheer destructive power of the Macragge's Honour's main gun. Forged in the depths of the Ruinstorm as part of a deal brokered between the Tetrarchs of the Thirteenth Legion and the Masters of the Forge of Souls, the Un-Maker Cannon combined arcano-technological principles from the Dark Age of Technology with the unholy secrets of the Warp and the perfectly mad craftsmanship of the Emissary who had been sent by the Masters to fulfill their part of the bargain. It was a reality-rending weapon, capable of replicating the effects of a Vortex Torpedo on a far greater scale.

The Macragge's Honour fired, and everything in front of it simply ceased to exist in the Materium. Void-fortresses, gun emplacements and entire squadrons' worth of ships were dragged into the Warp without the protection of active Geller Fields. Hundreds of thousands of loyal Imperial citizens were lost, condemned to a fate infinitely worse than death. In their place was a smouldering scar on reality, where the stuff of the Empyrean leaked as if each lost defense was a hole in a sieve.

In a single blow, the Macragge's Honour had burned a hole through the Olympian void defenses large enough for the entire Traitor armada to sail through. Which was exactly what it did, its infernal Navigators handling the altered void space with an ease born of long practice before the defenders could recover from their shock. Thankfully, the sheer distances involved in void war meant that there was just enough time for the Imperials to react, at least for such voidmasters as led the Imperial defenders.

When the first Traitor vessels emerged from the new space-time anomaly tainting the Olympia system like a vast, cosmic bruise, they found the ships of the Imperium arrayed against them, and a vicious void battle erupted at once. Gambling that the Arch-Traitor, having already sacrificed so many ships to deal with the minefields and outer defenses, would be unwilling to kill off more of his own forces at the very start of his bid for galactic power, the fleet commanders decided that going for a relative close-quarters engagement was the best approach available to them.

The Macragge's Honour sailed at the heart of the Traitor fleet, protected by flocks of lesser crafts which were still mighty void predators in their own right. At twenty-six kilometers in length, it was the largest warship in the entire battle zone. Its shields were like nothing the Imperial tech-priests had ever encountered, being as Warped and twisted as the Gloriana-class itself. If the Chaos flagship still had a machine-spirit to speak of, then the adepts of the Machine-God shivered at the thought of what it must have become under the ministrations of the hereteks who'd orchestrated its dark rebirth.

Battle was joined between the two fleets, in a clash of warships of a scale not seen since the Siege of Terra. Even the void battle of Cadia, before the planet's destruction by the Eighteenth Legion's superweapon, was dwarfed by the sheer number and firepower involved. Recognizing that maintaining proper formation was now impossible, Triarch Etrogar let the Imperial fleet break apart in a score of smaller engagements, where the full skill of individual commanders could shine. Given the sheer number of ships and the incomprehensibly vast distances involved, the overall battle would last for weeks, with every vessel going through days of relative peace and hasty repairs, then brief moments of high-intensity void combat.

Yet despite all the effort and bravery of the defenders, the bitter truth was that there were simply too many enemies to stop them all. Soon, the first Traitor vessels slipped through the Imperial lines, making straight for Olympia. All Etrogar could do now was hope that the planet's defenses would prove up to this, the greatest challenge they'd ever faced.

It was, perhaps, fortunate that he did not know what exactly the Arch-Traitor had in store for his hated brother's homeworld.

The Court of Discordia had, at some distant point in the Gloriana's history, been a strategium of some import. During the Great Crusade, hundreds of analysts, iterators, remembrancers and Astartes officers had poured over star charts and planetary maps within the vast, domed space, planning the conquests of the Ultramarines in the name of the Imperial Truth.

Like everything else in the Thirteenth Legion, it had changed after the rebellion had been declared at Isstvan and the need to conceal the Avenging Son's true allegiance had passed. Uriel Ventris, the Drinker of Sorrows and former ally of Marius Gage, had read the texts which had described it at the time, penned by (in most cases) long-dead Ultramarines whose writings had been revered as epistles by the Legion during the aeons of Guilliman's slumber, when it had clung to anything that reminded it of its glorious past and spiritual liege with an obsession bordering on the pathetic.

It had been during the Heresy that the name of the Court of Discordia had first come about, for reasons no one except its present master now remembered. Then, daemons had been summoned by new-fangled Sorcerers and interrogated for knowledge of enemy plans and disposition, while captive Legionaries were torn apart on altars in order to learn the secrets of the future through haruspicy. After the Isstvan Massacre, the Traitor Primarchs had gathered here to discuss their plans, and the presence of such beings, even if it hadn't lasted long, had left an imprint on the place that could still be felt to this day.

It had changed again now, with all the trappings of a strategium removed, leaving only a vast, empty space where the Chaos Lords who made up Guilliman's great host gathered when they were summoned by their liege. There was only one mind, one will, which was allowed to make plans and give orders here now, and it belonged to the terrible figure which sat on a throne of black metal at the far side of the room, gazing at the void beyond the translucent ceiling which through some sorcery gave the impression of it being open directly to space. Or perhaps, Uriel reflected, it actually was open to the empty void, and it was only the will of the Primarch which kept them all from being dragged out.

Not that many within the chamber would be affected all that much by direct exposure to the void. Every being here was leader of their own warband, a champion of Chaos who had risen to the position over the bloody corpses of foes and rivals alike. There were scores of Chapter Masters, arch-hereteks, renegade Militarum and Navy commanders, Sorcerers and witches, and rarer things besides. Uriel counted no less than eight Daemon Princes of various Powers in attendance, and those were only the ones who made no effort to conceal their nature or hide their essence within a mortal vessel.

There was another daemon which made no effort to conceal its nature, though it wasn't part of the Court proper. To the left side of Guilliman's throne, a sorcerous circle of hideous complexity had been traced upon the metal deck in blood, silver and tears. Bound within it was the vast and horrendous form of Madail, the Pilgrim of the Undivided, who whispered advice into the ear of the Dark Master and unholy blasphemies into the minds of any who drew its attention.

According to old legends circulating among the Ultramarines, Madail had haunted the Ruinstorm since it had been unleashed at the dawn of the Heresy, and had faced Angron and Lorgar several times during the Shadow Crusade. Its efforts to turn the Red Angel and the Aurelian to the cause of Chaos had all failed, but the Pilgrim's efforts had taken a toll on their two Legions before its eventual defeat and banishment.

On the other side of Guilliman's throne was Varro Tigurius, the Sorcerer Lord who had been Marneus Calgar's second-in-command, and now served together with Madail as the Risen Primarch's proxy when dealing with the numerous daemonic legions which had accompanied them out of the Ruinstorm. His eyes were closed, his lips constantly moving in silent recitation as his mind communed with the elemental forces the Dark Master had roused from the abyss.

Uriel was alone : like all the other warlords, he'd been forced to leave his escort (he wasn't stupid enough to move across the Black Crusade fleet without safeguards) at the door. That didn't mean he was defenceless, of course : no Chaos Lord unable to see to his own protection survived long.

A hooded figure, who carried a metal staff that seemed to have been pried out of an industrial accident, approached him. It was smaller than most others in the Court, being the size of an unaugmented human, but Uriel recognized it, and knew it was no less dangerous for it.

"Hello, Eodule. I am surprised you are still alive," Uriel told the Mad Seer frankly.

During his attack on Mortendar, Uriel had ordered his forces to free certain select inmates of the prison-world, according to a list provided to him by the one he'd thought at the time to be Marius Gage. Eodule the Mad Seer, whose words had turned the Mortifactors Chapter insane, had been on that list. At the time, Uriel hadn't questioned why Gage wanted that particular mortal champion of Tzeentch to be released, but now that he knew the true identity of the Sacrificed Son, he couldn't help but wonder what manner of long game Thiel might've been playing.

"I may say the same about you, Lord Ventris," chuckled Eodule.

Uriel had to concede the point : the fact that he was still alive, despite having joined Thiel's Black Crusade against Macragge, certainly wasn't what he'd expected to happen when Guilliman had risen from his throne.

All present in the Court of Discordia were slaves to the Dark Master, but there was still a hierarchy among them. Logically speaking, Uriel and the others who had stood alongside the Sacrificed Son in his attempt to prevent Guilliman's return should have been at the very bottom of that hierarchy. Instead, by some perverse whim of the Risen Primarch, they stood near its apex, beneath only the Tetrarchs themselves, who Uriel suspected were extensions of Guilliman's will in a very literal sense.

It hadn't been painless, nor had it been easy, of course. After the Battle of Macragge, Uriel had been shown the error of his ways. Now, he could no more defy the Dark Master's will that he could have lifted the Macragge's Honour on his back. The petty defiance of the Drinker of Sorrows had been torn away from him and replaced by unquestioning obedience to his rightful lord.

"Still," continued Eodule, "I must confess I hadn't grasped the true magnificence of our lord's plans. Such awesome power … it really makes you wonder how long this was all planned for, doesn't it ?"

When the Macragge's Honour had fired its mighty weapon, a stunned silence had fallen upon the Court. Uriel could well understand why. He hadn't seen the weapon fire before, but he'd read the reports of his ship's crew about how it had destroyed the Macragge's Treachery in a single shot. Now he understood that shot had been far from maximum power, the flagship of the Sacrificed Son merely a test run for its real purpose.

"It does indeed," replied Uriel. "But we don't need the answers to our questions. We need only obey."

"Yes, I suppose. Still –"

The Mad Seer was silenced as a voice cut through the buzz of quiet conversations between the Chaos Lords gathered in the Court. It was a voice all present knew and obeyed – for they could do naught else.

"Sicarius," said Roboute Guilliman, each word dripping with promise and threat in equal measure. "Ventris. Castus. Kazakital."

The three Chaos Lords and one Daemon Prince of Khorne walked toward the throne, compelled by the Dark Master's will, and fell to their knees before it in abject supplication. As Ventris looked down at the polished floor, he caught a glimpse of the long-departed figures which had once trodden this ground reflected in the metal : a pair of red eyes set in black skin, a burning angel in chains, silver hands surrounded by rotting bio-matter. Then, in the blink of an eye, the echoes were gone, and he was seeing only his own reflection, which didn't really look any better.

"Rejoice," continued Guilliman after he felt they had spent long enough on their knees. "For to you four I give the honor of serving as the heralds of my displeasure. Take your forces and descend upon Olympia. Teach the weaklings cowering behind my brother's walls the folly of their ways. Bring low the strongholds his sons are so proud of until not even the foundations remain. Raze their cities and plunder their treasures. Gather those few who saw the truth of my triumph. Leave nothing built by the Fourth standing. That is my will, and you shall see it done."

"Yes, my liege," the four Chaos Lord replied as one. Then the hold of their master's will shifted, allowing them to stand, before dragging them out of the Court of Discordia and toward their respective forces, that they might set to work on their assigned tasks at once.

The orders they'd been given were vague, for all that they couldn't be defied. Once he was aboard his flagship, Uriel would try to contact the others and establish some semblance of a coordinated plan, if only because he would rather avoid deploying his troops anywhere near Kazakital's berserk horde or Sicarius' Slaaneshi degenerates.

Had anything remained in him capable of such emotion, the Drinker of Sorrows might have pitied the Imperials who would end up facing these two in battle.

Champions of the Tau'va

Across countless ages and countless species, there has always been two things that tyrannies of all shapes and forms have feared : the truth, and those willing to speak it aloud regardless of the danger it puts them in. Now, as Olympia strains under the weight of the Thirteenth Legion's onslaught, O'Shovah returns to the Crown of Ascension, and the fate of all Tau will be decided by what he chooses to do next.

As the Iron Cage collapsed and the tides of Chaos poured into the Olympia system, the Tau forces had no frame of reference for what was happening. Adaptability had long been one of their greatest strengths, but adapting to something required understanding it first, and the madness unleashed by the Keystone's disabling defied understanding. The Warp made a mockery of the paradigms upon which the science of the Earth Caste, which had created so many wonders for the Tau Empire, depended.

Across the fleet, sensors returned nonsensical values while cadrenets were overflowing with screams and maniacal laughter. Several ships had simply exploded as their power generators overloaded, and hundreds of AI helpers had shut down as their programming failed to process paradoxical inputs.

The situation might still have been salvageable, however, were it not for the madness which had struck so many members of the Tau expedition. Entire ships were drifting in space as their crew killed themselves or each other, overcome by nightmarish visions and whispers.

Inside the Keystone, the maze of corridors had become an abattoir where insane Fire Warriors slaughtered each other, lost to a supernatural bloodlust. All of Farsight's attempts to restore order had failed, and he'd been forced to flee to avoid having to kill his own comrades as they hurled themselves at him, snarling like animals. Once he'd reached one of the breaches into the station's hull, he launched his Coldstar Battlesuit into the void.

Thankfully, the automated defenses of the Keystone had shut down as the station succumbed to the damage caused by the rampaging Fire Warriors, allowing Farsight to escape in relative safely. Floating in the void, with only the Coldstar's propulsion to move him, Farsight spent the next several hours listening in on the various cadrenets of the coalition, appalled at the insanity which had seized his kindred in the wake of what had happened at the Keystone's core.

Only those ships closest to the Crown of Ascension had been spared from the madness completely. Admiral Viel was doing his utmost to restore order throughout the coalition, but most of the ships he managed to reach on the command cadrenet were completely unresponsive to his orders, and those which did respond with anything other than screams were too busy dealing with internal problems to get back into formation.

Once Farsight gave up on his efforts to contact Shadowsun, he instead contacted his old friend O'Vesa, the Stone Dragon. The elder Earth Caste scientist answered immediately, and, using code-words agreed upon in decades past, Farsight told him to secure the cadrenet link using the best encryption protocols he'd access to. When those code-words had first been agreed upon, they had been intended as a fail-safe should the Tau ever encounter an enemy with the technology to breach the Fire Caste's standard encryption protocols, and the two of them had very carefully avoided mentioning the possibility of other Tau listening in.

Several hours after Farsight had pulled the Dawn Blade out, his Coldstar battlesuit finally landed within one of the Crown of Ascension hangar bay. There, a hero's welcome awaited him, with Aun'Shi himself present – along, the Commander noted, several dozen armed Fire Warriors and, far more alarming, Shadowsun, who hadn't answered any of his hails, not even to inform him of her survival.

She was completely immobile and utterly silent. If not for her XV22 Stealthsuit broadcasting active life signs, he would think her unconscious – or dead. It was unnatural, wholly unlike her.

"You have done well, Commander Farsight," praised Aun'Shi. "Your actions on this day have served the Greater Good in ways you cannot imagine."

"Honored one, please tell me. Why is this happening ?" asked Farsight, gesturing at the shielded opening through which his Battlesuit had just flown in. "Why is the void burning ? Why are my soldiers screaming and turning on each other like animals ?"

"Gue'la mind-science, clearly. We did not know the consequences of the Keystone's deactivation; clearly, some manner of last-ditch contingency must have been activated. But I assure you it is all for the Greater Good, Commander Farsight." Aun'Shi shook his head sorrowfully. "The price is regrettable, yes, but what matters is that our allies in the Kingdom of Ultramar are now free of their unjust imprisonment."

Lie, whispered the Dawn Blade, and Farsight knew it was right.

"I heard the speech of the one calling himself Roboute Guilliman," challenged Farsight. "It did not sound like the speech of the leader of an unjustly oppressed people."

"Well," Aun'Shi chuckled, "we must make allowances for their circumstances. They've been imprisoned for a very long time, after all. I'm sure once they've vented their anger at their jailers and the Water Caste have had time to talk with them, they'll be more tractable."

Lies. More lies, piled atop one another. How could he ever have believed them, he wondered.

"Now that you're safely back with us," Aun'Shi continued, "we must rally the coalition and move deeper into the system to support our esteemed allies in their struggle against the Imperium."

That, at last, was no lie. But it wasn't the truth either.

"I understand you've been through a traumatic event," Aun'Shi said in a conciliating tone, "and that the situation is difficult for you to understand. That's alright; that is why I am here, to help guide you through it. But you need to put down that sword, Commander. It is affecting your mind."

Truth. Truth. Lie. Lie. Clever, weaving them together like this, but the Ethereal had grown too used to unquestioning obedience from the ones he sought to manipulate.

+You have a duty to make right this wrong.+

Before he could think, before he could stop himself, Farsight moved. The Coldstar Battlesuit, designed to operate on its own in the vacuum of space, was capable of truly spectacular acceleration when the safeties meant to prevent accidents were overridden by someone like O'Vesa. One moment, Farsight had been a hundred meters from the Ethereal; the next, he was past his guards, and the Dawn Blade fell in a two-handed blow.

The instant before O'Shovah's heresy seemed to stretch, on and on. Then the weapon cut, and the vision began.

He recognizes the world from propaganda reels put together by the Water Caste. This is Kel'tyr, where Aun'Shi earned his fame as a defender of the Tau'va, as the one Ethereal who would defy tradition to fight alongside the warriors of the Fire Caste.

It begins, surprisingly enough, exactly as the stories tell it. The Var Sin'da come, driven by dark urges, to prey upon the Tau, and Aun'Shi leads the Fire Warriors against them. There is a battle, and another, and another. O'Shovah is impressed by the soldiers' tenacity, and (far more reluctantly) by the Ethereal's own martial prowess as well.

It is clear to him though, that the Var Sin'da are merely toying with them. Slowly whittling down their strength instead of crushing them, so that they can savour the growing despair of the Tau.

And then, there is fire, raining from the sky in the middle of another engagement. O'Shovah sees Aun'Shi watch in awe as armored figures slaughter the Var Sin'da, before one of them, far larger than its companions, approaches the Tau stronghold. Aun'Shi goes with a handful of the surviving Fire Warriors to meet their deliverers and thank them. Another victim of the Var Sin'da's depredations, perhaps, whose quest for justice brought here just in time to save Aun'Shi and his companions ?

It is understandable. It is optimistic. It is the last thing Aun'Shi will ever do.

There is pain, and words that burn like acid poured directly onto one's brain. The Fire Warriors accompanying Aun'Shi die, their flesh running like water inside their armor. Then the figure speaks.

"You will do. I'd have preferred Aun'Va, but that fool chose death over compliance."

The figure turns into smoke, and pours into Aun'Shi's mouth. He tries to scream, but he cannot. He tries to close his mouth, but he cannot. He tries to run, but he cannot. All he can do is stand there, until all the smoke that is not smoke is within him, and then he starts moving again. But he is not Aun'Shi's anymore, of that O'Shovah is utterly certain.

The not-Aun'Shi walks back to the other Tau and speaks to them. He tells them the lies that will be told to the rest of the Empire, and those lies become the truth within their minds. O'Shovah recognizes this from his own reclaimed memories of Puretide's and Kais' deaths. Is this it, he wonders ? Was the Ethereal who killed Master Puretide, who manipulated him and Shas into killing their bondmate also the puppet of some evil ghost ? That would be a relief, he thinks.

But no. Of course it wouldn't be so simple. The Dawn Blade is merciless with the secrets it reveals, and so the vision continues.

He sees the not-Aun'Shi return to the Empire in triumph. He sees him meeting with the Ethereal Council behind closed doors, where all pretences are dropped and the leaders of the Five Castes prostrate themselves before their possessed kinsman. He sees the not-Aun'Shi instruct the Council, and knows that he's only the mouthpiece of something far greater and more terrible.

O'Shovah thinks he knows exactly who speaks through the not-Aun'Shi.

The vision accelerates now. O'Shovah sees plans being made, weapons rushed through testing, new suit designs subtly altered in ways that will twist those piloting them through perverted mind-science. He sees the orders given, the great fleet assembled. He sees himself awakened from stasis, kept away from his remaining bondmate and she from him, until the hour of departure, so that they will not realize the inconsistencies in the false memories which were woven into their minds to keep them separate.

He sees the lies, the schemes and the treacheries, laid bare by the cutting edge of the Dawn Blade. And, he sees, too, that this fight is far from over.

The sundered corpse of Aun'Shi fell to the deck of the Crown of Ascension, cut cleanly in two. Immediately, before anyone had time to react – to scream, to curse, to shoot – a cloud of oily black smoke rose from the corpse, reducing it to yellowed bone in an eye blink. Amidst the shocked silence, the smoke coalesced, forming a figure Farsight knew.

It was tall, though not quite as tall as the Coldstar Battlesuit. It resembled a gue'ron'sha, as viewed through the prism of a juvenile's night terrors : a cross between the brutality of the Imperium's elite warriors and the hungry ghosts from the Mont'au myths. Its armor-skin was blue and gold, with numerous spikes and sigils that showed only as static on Farsight's display. Two pairs of great bat-like wings the color of gue'la blood erupted from its back.

Its horned head turned, slowly, taking in the ranks of the Fire Warriors watching in shock.

It chuckled.

"Well played, O'Shovah." Its voice was as monstrous as its appearance, dripping with malevolence and cruel amusement.

Lies. Lies. Lies. Nothing but lies. Not just its words, its very self, its nature, its essence – there was a thing of lies made manifest, a construct of falsehoods dragged into reality to torment the living.

"What are you ?" asked Farsight, the words spilling out of his mouth before he could stop them.

"I am a Tetrarch of the Thirteenth Legion," it replied. Truth, but a poisoned truth, one that promised only more pain, more destruction, more ruin. "I am a herald of the Dark Master, whose will shall spread across the entire galaxy. I am the engineer of your empire's rise, and the truth at the heart of all your beliefs. And I am going to enjoy this a great deal."

It raised a gauntleted hand, and snapped two clawed fingers. A signal swept over the cadrenet, and –

Pop. Pop. Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop pop –

As one, every Fire Warrior in the hanger slumped, their life signs suddenly silent, killed by their own equipment turning against them. Only three Tau were left alive with the monster in their midst. The Tetrarch cocked its head as it looked at each of them in turn.

"Farsight and Shadowsun, I deliberately spared," it said, sounding genuinely intrigued. Truth. "But why do you live, Stone Dragon ? Did you discover that fail-safe I'd your Caste-mates install before erasing their memories of doing so, and neutralize it ?"

"Come closer," replied the greatest mind of the Earth Caste, not quite managing to hide his fear as he brought up the weapons of his modified Riptide Battlesuit. "I will show you."

The monster's helmet split open to reveal a mouthful of pointed teeth. "I think I will."

Its wings beat once, and suddenly it was across the hangar, right before O'Vesa. It hadn't moved in the conventional sense, simply changed its location without any interval. A weapon was in its hand now : an executioner's axe, blazing with blood-red light. Before O'Shovah could do anything but cry out a warning, before O'Vesa (who, for all his genius, had never really been a warrior) could even react, the axe bit through the Battlesuit's armor like a Kroot through fresh meat. In seconds, it tore into the outer casing, exposing the pilot's seat.

But the seat was empty. The Tetrarch paused, taken aback, and in that opening the Riptide brought its Ion Accelerator to bear and fired – at this distance, it couldn't miss, but the point-blank shot caused the heavy weapon to detonate in the process. The monster was hurled backward, a smoking crater in its chest – then, before Farsight's horrified eyes, the injury, which would have killed a Kroot war-beast, closed over and vanished as if it had never been here.

"A remote connection ?" mused the Tetrarch, still looking at O'Vesa's empty Battlesuit. "No. I see. The Proteus Protocol, or a variant of it. You turned yourself into a digital consciousness, haunting the machines you'd created."

"Precisely," O'Vesa's voice came out of the Riptide's external speakers. "I spent years using nano-drones to preserve me from the ravages of old age, but eventually, I realized I was the drones, not my moribund brain matter. After that, it was easy to complete the upload, and use simulacra for when I absolutely needed to be seen."

"You fool," laughed the Tetrarch. "Do you think this is immortality ? You have done nothing else than destroy your soul, and create your own ghost in the process."

"That's a question for philosophers," retorted O'Vesa. "I'm an engineer. My concerns are more practical. Like, for instance, could you hurry up and get on with it, O'Shovah ?"

Jerked back to the incredible danger they were in by his old friend's words, Farsight snapped into action. A mental command activated his Battlesuit's boosters, and he flew straight at the Tetrarch, the Dawn Blade held at the ready. It parried his first strike with the haft of its axe, and then the two were locked in close-quarters.

The Tau way of warfare largely eschewed such primitive approaches as melee combat, but Puretide had made sure his students could fight regardless of reach and available weaponry. Locked in close quarters with the Tetrarch, Farsight drew upon old lessons that had been beaten into him by his elderly mentor, decades ago on Mount Kan'ji.

And, to his rising dismay, it wasn't enough. Within the first few exchanges, it became clear that the only reason he was still alive was that the Tetrarch, for some unholy reason it was probably best not to dwell on, wanted him alive. It was treating this as a game, a diversion in the middle of more important things.

"You have spirit, at least," it taunted Farsight as it forced him back one step at a time. "Good. Once I'm done teaching you your place in the grand scheme of things, I will need a new host body to lead this rabble into being useful. I'll tell them that a cowardly Imperial assassin made its way aboard the Crown of Ascension, and struck while the great Commander Farsight was being welcomed back."

Its axe bit into the left leg of Farsight's Battlesuit. It was only a glancing blow, the kind of scratch a duellist might inflict on an enemy to signify their superiority, yet Farsight still felt the sympathetic pain of it like a spike of molten iron had been jabbed into his thigh.

"Alas," it continued, its voice full of mock-sorrow, "the mighty Commander could not save beloved Aun'Shi from the gue'la butcher, but he managed to avenge him ! How very tragic. Truly, the only appropriate response is to punish the Imperials for yet another transgression against the Greater Good, and who better to lead them to vengeance than the great O'Shovah ?"

Could it really do these things ? Yes. Yes it could. Farsight knew this with utter certainty. It would destroy everything that made O'Shovah who he was, devour his memories, his knowledge, his emotions, his soul, and take the living corpse that was left behind as its own in order to keep deceiving the Tau. It would finish off O'Vesa, and then it would turn on Shadowsun …

Shadowsun. She was here, was she not ? Why wasn't she doing anything ? Farsight could see her, still standing right where she'd been when he had landed in the hangar. Through his killing of Aun'Shi, the manifestation of the Tetrarch, the deaths of the Fire Warriors and the ongoing battle, she hadn't so much as stirred.

"Shas !" Farsight screamed. "In the name of the Tau'va, wake up !"

As she hears her bondmate scream, some part of O'Shaserra's mind clinically notes that she is in shock. She has been in shock since the Keystone fell and the madness began – no, not began. Since the madness the Keystone was concealing, the insanity at the heart of the cosmos, was revealed to them all.

She was making her way back to the Crown of Ascension when it happened. She saw reality crack open, and she still cannot escape the sight. Words fail to describe it, because words are a product of language, which is a product of reason, and there was no reason in there.

The scientists of the Earth Caste think they can make sense of the universe with their observations and equations. They are wrong. What O'Shaserra has seen can never been understood. It is senseless, infinite, malicious. She didn't believe such evil could exist in the universe, yet now she cannot escape it.

The ideals of the Tau'va are meaningless in the face of such malice. Everything is meaningless. She stands here, following orders, because it is what she knows, what her body defaults to while her mind tries and fails to process what she has beheld, again and again and again.

She is going through a cycle of remembering, trying to understand, failing, descending into hysteria, rejecting the memory, then remembering again. It is going faster and faster. Soon she'll break completely.

Shoh is calling for her. Her comrade. Her friend. Her bondmate. But Kais was her bondmate too, wasn't he ? And he –

Again, the memory of madness rises up unbidden through her mind, burning through her thoughts. She wants to look away. She wants to forget. She doesn't want to accept that this is the truth of the cosmos, that all the Greater Good ever amounted to is nothing more than the delusions of ignorant children –

She sees something in the memory of madness she hasn't noticed before. Amidst the flames and mocking laughter, there is a many-armed figure held in chains. It is bleeding silver from where the barbed chains bite cruelly into its flesh. Its arms are a mix of limbs from a variety of species : Tau, Kroot, Vespid, and many of the other races which were united under the banner of the Tau Empire before its expansion was halted by the Imperium's Damocles Crusade.

The sight of it should fill O'Shaserra with disgust, but compared to the horror surrounding it, it is a relief instead. She focuses on the figure, ignoring everything else. As if feeling her attention, the chained creature stirs, and raises its featureless face toward O'Shaserra. For a timeless moment, the imprisoned godling and O'Shaserra seem to be the only things which exist in this remembered hell.

+Wake up, child of hope. Your purpose is not yet done.+

The voice is like the tinkling of fresh water falling down a cliff. It flows over and into O'Shaserra, icy cold, washing her clean. It does not erase the awful memory of Hell, but it pushes it away.

+Wake up.+

And Commander Shadowsun does.

Bursting into motion, Shadowsun leapt close to the Tetrarch, before firing both of her plasma canons into its back. It roared, more in surprise than pain, and turned with impossible speed before backhanding her with enough force to send her flying across the chamber.

Farsight took advantage of the momentary distraction to disengage, and moved to his old friend's side. With his gaze still fixed on the foe, he helped her up with his free hand, the two of them silently standing together against the Tetrarch. Though many decades had passed since they last fought together, they fell in step immediately, the bond their masters had sought to sever reforged in an instant.

They exchanged no words. They didn't need to. Both of them understood, on a level deeper than any tactical insight, just how perilous their current situation was. And yet, at the same time, both of them were smiling within their Battlesuits.

If this is the end, they thought, then we shall face it together.

The Tetrarch glared at them, its eyes blazing with infernal light.

"So," it said. "The silent girl awakens at last. I had thought your feeble mind broken by the glory of Chaos."

"There was nothing glorious about that," spat Shadowsun. "That you think otherwise is but another sign of your corruption."

"Still as blind as the rest of your misbegotten kind," it scoffed. "I had hoped that the mere glimpse of the truth you were graced by would be enough to open your eyes, but your kind have always been a disappointment in that regard. Only the Ethereals seem capable of grasping the truth, and I still had to force it down their throat. But I wonder : how is it that you awoke from your stupor ? It cannot have been your bondmate's call for aid. Such things might occur in children's fables, but this is my lord's story to write, and he has no patience for such foolishness … Ah. Now I see."

It smiled, then, a sight straight out of the darkest nightmare.

"You saw it, did you not ? That pitiful spirit spawned from your people's unbearably naive beliefs ?" It didn't wait for a response. "Of course you did. Pathetic, isn't it ? Nothing more than one more sacrifice for my lord. I've kept it alive, even as I wrought the chains that imprison it, all so that my liege could feast upon it when the hour was right."

"I don't know what exactly it was that I saw," said Shadowsun. "But I know it is better than you and your kind."

"Ignorant slaves," it growled. "Must I spell it out for you to understand ? We gave you the stars so you could serve our purpose. Your entire Empire is nothing but an instrument of the Dark Master's will."

"Then," said Farsight, raising the Dawn Blade and pointing it at the Tetrarch, "we will free our people from your chains, once we've killed you."

It laughed, in a sound that made Farsight ears hurt despite the Coldstar's filtering the noise.

"No," it said. "You won't."

Truth, whispered the Dawn Blade.

And then there were no more words, only a desperate battle. It was two against one now, but even that was barely enough. The Tetrarch wasn't holding back quite as much as it had when facing Farsight alone, though it was clear to both of Puretide's pupils that it was still trying to keep them alive so it could enslave them again. That was foolish of it : while Shadowsun had been talking to it, Farsight had sent an urgent message to O'Vesa. If they were defeated, then the Stone Dragon would make sure neither of them were taken alive : the Ultramarine wasn't the only one capable of using Tau equipment to kill its wielder.

The fear of death was nothing compared to that of renewed enslavement, and Farsight and Shadowsun fought with renewed vigor, until, for the first time since the Tetrarch emerged from Aun'Shi's corpse like some revolting butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis, Farsight scored a blow. The Dawn Blade cut through the monster's armor, but found no flesh beneath, only lies and power woven into its semblance – but that, too, the ancient weapon cut. And as the lies were sundered, the truths they concealed flowed freely into Farsight's mind.

He sees the Mont'au, the age of death. It is every bit as terrible as the lessons of his youth taught him. War unending between clans that will become Castes, escalating ever further as technological progress is used not to improve lives but to end them.

The clans rule the earth, the water and the air. But they are not everywhere. He sees the exiles, the outcast, forced to leave the lands of their birth for their differences. They are puny and frail, eerie and unnerving. They can hear the thoughts of those around them, and speak silently. They are different, and in this primitive and ignorant age, that is reason enough for persecution.

In the expanding wastelands created by unending warfare, the outcast gather. There is strength in number, and they need all the strength they can get if they are to survive. Many do not, starving to death or succumbing to disease, but some do. For all that they are hated and despised, the outcast do not despise their healthier brethren. How could they, when they know them better than they know themselves ?

O'Shovah sees the outcast move from place to place, seeking refuge from the elements. Eventually, they reach a cavern in the flank of a desolate peak. As they set foot inside, they begin to hear a call, spoken in the same mind-voice they use in place of their natural one. It comes from deeper into the cavern.

With nothing to lose but their lives, they go deeper. There, they find something they do not understand, but which O'Shovah does. It is technology, ancient and advanced beyond reckoning, buried beneath the earth of Tau for uncounted aeons. Something about the outcast's approach must have activated it, he reasons.

Within these antediluvian halls, sciences far beyond the greatest works of the Earth Caste remake the outcast, transform them down to the genetic level. Their meagre talents are amplified, altered, shaped by their own desperate wish for a mean to end the perpetual wars that are dragging their race toward extinction. Those whose bodies are too weakened by hunger and exhaustion perish, unable to bear the process, until only two remain.

When the outcast wake, O'Shovah recognizes them as Ethereals, the first of their kind. He sees them walk outside of the cavern, which is now only a cavern and nothing more, its technological marvels hidden away once more. He sees the duo approach a city he knows to be called Fio'taun, besieged by an alliance of two clans who desire nothing but its destruction and the death of all within.

And then, through words and mind-science, the Ethereals end it all. They forge peace between the clans, creating an understanding that transcend the base nature of flesh. From there, their influence spreads, until all of Tau is united, and the Mont'au is finally over.

For a time, there is peace. Unity. The Tau'va is born, as all work together for the betterment of the whole. The Ethereals, descendants of the first two, are not distant and untouchable lords, but servants of the people, walking among them, guiding, helping, using their gifts to help the Tau understand one another.

It is a golden age of peace, truth, and community.

And then it ends, in a murder that, until now, has gone unremarked.

Sat upon a throne of blood and shadows, a deathless, malevolent creature beholds the fledgling civilisation with cold, covetous eyes. Like parasitic ivy, it directs its will there, to take root into the bright souls of the Ethereals, who for all their wisdom and increased power are neophytes in the perils of mind-science. Then, it hollows them out, corrupting them with whispers and visions, until they pledge themselves (and through them, the entire Tau race) to it.

The corruption of the Ethereals is not a fast process. It takes entire generations for the roots to set in, and bring with them the erosion of morality and compassion, replaced by cold utilitarianism and fanatical devotion to their Dark Master. And even then, O'Shovah sees that not all Ethereals succumb to the poison running through their souls. The greatest of them, those with souls that burn brightest of all, can fight back against it. But they are few, so few, and they do not understand what is happening to them.

He watches these few pure Ethereals be misled, deceived. Blinded to the changing nature of the Empire and, when they do manage to find the truth, dragged to altars marked with the ultima sigil inside an eight-pointed star to be cut open and sacrificed to the Dark Master. He sees the great Aun'Va, whom he met during his time as commander against the Tyranid Hive-Fleet, rise to the rank of Supreme Ethereal, only to be quietly murdered on the night of his ascension, replaced by body doubles and AI constructs.

He sees the poisoned fruits of the Ethereals' servitude. The enthroned monster reaches out without moving, and the keys to the stars are delivered to the Tau as they discover the wreckage of an alien ship on their homeworld's moon, and the Earth Caste manages to retro-engineer some of its technology to launch the First Sphere of Expansion.

He sees Fire Warriors fight, secure in the belief that their deeds serve the Greater Good. But while the Castes still believe in the philosophy born in the days after the Mont'au, to the Ethereals, it is nothing more than a convenient tool to increase their power base. Any dissension is punished by death, any attempt to guide the Empire onto a route not approved by the Dark Master swiftly crushed.

He sees the Second Expansion Sphere begin, and human worlds being added to the Tau Empire. But it is not the peaceful integration the Water Caste proclaimed. He sees lies being told, empty promises being made. He sees the greed of the powerful being encouraged to foster discontent among the civilians. He sees bioweapons deployed among human populations, only for the Water Caste to arrive bearing the cure. He sees humans being captured by stealth teams and brought to the Ethereals, who use their mind-science to implant a fanatical devotion to a warped version of the Greater Good before releasing them.

He sees how this is hidden from the rest of the Empire, but not from the Imperium. He sees the fury of the World Eaters as they learn of the aliens who have come to enslave their people, told awful truths from agents wearing invisible crowns of thorns. He sees, once again, the Damocles Crusade, this time from the perspective of the gue'la.

He sees their victory. He sees millions of Tau civilians, trapped on reclaimed human worlds, being packed into captured transports and sent back to the Tau Empire with just enough supplies to last the journey and a firm warning never to cross the Gulf again – an act of mercy done against the advice of the thorn-crowned agents, at the insistence of a man with an invisible serpent mark on his neck. And he sees those transports ambushed during the crossing by ships of a make he does not recognize, slaughtered to the last so that the Ethereals can fan the flames of hate.

All of it, this entire nightmare made all the more awful by its dreadful actuality, is the single greatest perversion of the Tau'va O'Shovah can imagine. He wants to scream, to weep, to kill. His horror and grief are eclipsed only by his rage.

As he emerged from the stolen vision of his people's past, Farsight was consumed by fury. He struck at the Tetrarch with the Dawn Blade, again and again. All discipline and caution was gone : O'Shovah now fought with a single-minded ferocity that would've awed even a be'gel warchief.

At first, the Tetrarch was caught off-guard by the brutality of Farsight's onslaught, but it was far more experienced in such primitive melee combat than the Tau Commander. It parried a reckless blow from the Dawn Blade, then punched into the flank of the Coldstar with enough strength to break right through the armor. Farsight's vision briefly went dark as the sympathetic pain overwhelmed him, but by the time it cleared, Shadowsun was here, distracting the Tetrarch so that the two of them could pull back and gain some distance.

"Remember Master Puretide's training, Shoh," chided O'Shaserra. "It is a poor warrior who lets his anger control him instead of harnessing it."

+She is right. Be mindful of your fury, young warrior, lest it consume you.+

Inside his pilot's chamber, Farsight blinked. That voice. How –

Light bled from the Dawn Blade. Wisps of bright ghost-fire dripped from it, stretching into the space between the two bondmates and their enemy. There, it coalesced into a humanoid figure – but unlike the awful manifestation of the Tetrarch, this apparition felt … kind. Warm. Right.

It took Farsight a moment to recognize the figure as a gue'ron'sha, because unlike every single one he'd seen before, this wraith wasn't wearing armor, but simple robes that did little to hide his bulky musculature.

+Hello, old friend,+ said the specter, his gaze fixed upon the infernal monster before him. Farsight froze at the voice, not because it echoed in his skull, but because he recognized it. It was the voice of the Imperial walker he had fought in the Keystone, the voice of the guardian he had so foolishly killed when he removed the Dawn Blade from its rightful place and unleashed this insanity.

"Kadeth," growled the Tetrarch. "I should have expected this."

The Keystone and the Dawn Blade

Long before the first Ethereals were corrupted by the Tetrarchs, in the final years of the Great Crusade, the seeds of the Tau's only hope of liberation were sown.

As the Imperium spread across the galaxy, an Expeditionary Fleet led by a contingent of the Thousand Sons discovered a strange, dead world in the Damocles Gulf, beyond the Kingdom of Ultramar in the Ultima Segmentum. This world, which shared a system with another, life-bearing planet (which was named Alsanta) was covered in ruins left by an antediluvian alien civilisation.

Led by Praetor Kadeth, the sons of Magnus descended upon the planet to study the ruins and make sure they contained nothing which might pose a threat to Humanity. The strange psychic resonances of the ruins fascinated Kadeth, and when he sent word of the discovery up the chain of command, he received orders to secure the world – which, in the old stellar maps which had led the Expeditionary Fleet to it, was named Arthas Moloch – and await the arrival of a dedicated team from Terra. The message bore the sigil of no less a potentate than Malcador the Sigillite himself, along with that of the Crimson King.

Praetor Kadeth deployed the forces at his command to defend the freshly colonized system as best he could, and continued his own study of the ruins. However, before the expected team could arrive, the galaxy was torn asunder by the Roboutian Heresy.

With the Ruinstorm blocking psychic communication with Terra, Kadeth found himself stranded and without clear orders. For several months, the Praetor hesitated, unsure of what path to follow, but ultimately decided that remaining in the system and protecting the secrets of Arthas Moloch was the best course of action. While not all of his forces agreed with his decision, he was able to make them follow him without needing to resort to violence – and soon enough, he was proven correct.

An Ultramarine fleet, led by one of Guilliman's Tetrarchs, arrived in the system, intent on plundering the secrets and treasures of Arthas Moloch for their master. According to Kadeth's personal writings, the Tetrarch in question had once been an acquaintance of his, but the Thirteenth Legion's fall from grace had transformed him into a mere echo of the warrior Kadeth had admired, a vessel for the fell power of his Dark Master.

In the ensuing conflict, Alsanta was burned to ashes, as the Ultramarines unleashed hordes of daemons upon it. The Thousand Sons only managed to save a fraction of the world's population before the war moved to Arthas Moloch itself. There, after months of brutal fighting, Kadeth confronted the Tetrarch in the center of one of the ruined cities, where the son of Guilliman planned to subvert the ancient psychic technologies of the dead world in order to tear open a permanent portal to the Empyrean, through which the hordes of Chaos sworn to the Arch-Traitor could enter reality at will.

Through the use of the alien weapon he'd come to call the Dawn Blade, Kadeth was able to triumph, although the Praetor was left so badly wounded he had to be interred within a Dreadnought. For the rest of the Heresy, Kadeth's surviving forces kept watch over Arthas Moloch, fighting off small renegade warbands taking advantage of the anarchy of the Eastern Fringes.

Eventually, during the Scouring, the remnants of the Expeditionary Fleet were reunited with their Legion and Primarch. Magnus immediately realized the value of the Dawn Blade and the other relics of Arthas Moloch. By order of the newly founded Inquisition, the entire system was declared Interdicta, all traces of its existence struck from all but the most secure of records – but not before the Thousand Sons had taken some choice pieces for themselves, including the Dawn Blade.

These pieces were later used in the construction of the Keystone Station, part of Magnus and Perturabo's efforts to anchor the Iron Cage into the Immaterium. Kadeth, whose mind was starting to wane as a result of his interment, volunteered to keep watch over the Keystone – until, decades later, he was struck by the Rubric of Ahriman. Though Kadeth's psychic powers had been considerable in his heyday, years of being a Dreadnought had diminished them, and he was turned into a Rubrica.

There he remained, keeping his vigil as his lord Primarch had ordered, until the day Commander Farsight stumbled into the heart of the Keystone, blind and enslaved, an unwitting tool of the Arch-Traitor. And there, after ten thousand years, did the Praetor of the Thousand Sons finally die.

"What are you hoping to achieve here ?" challenged the Tetrarch, and Farsight fancied he could hear, if not fear, then wariness in the monster's voice. "You cling to existence, but you have no power left. You are a mere echo, kept from the Empyrean's burning maw only by your First Captain's trick."

+I cannot touch you, that is true,+ replied the ghost. +What little strength I've left is as nothing compared to the raging inferno that pours from your master and into you. But, have you forgotten my Legion's motto, old friend ?+

"Which one ?" mocked the Tetrarch. "You Prosperines talk so much, you cannot expect me to remember them all even with an eidetic memory."

+The first and most important one, of course. Knowledge is power. And I know a lot about you, ████████.+

The last word silently spoken by Kadeth had been a name, Farsight was certain of this. Yet, though it had only just been spoken, he couldn't remember what it had been : it was as if the word had simply refused to imprint onto his short-term memory.

Regardless of that disquieting fact (and really, what was one more impossible thing on this day ?), the word had an immediate and pronounced effect on the Tetrarch. It shrieked as it erupted in white fire, stumbling away from the ghost, flailing like a wild animal, all arrogance and composure evaporated.

+Now !+ sent Kadeth, his silent voice charged with urgency. +It must be now ! This won't hold him for long !+

Farsight and Shadowsun moved as one, darting around the wraith to reach their stricken enemy. Even in its current weakened state, it tried to defend itself with its axe, but a shot of Shadowsun threw the motion off-course, leaving it exposed to Farsight's next strike.

"You will all pay for this !" It howled. "Your people will burn as kindling for our –"

The Dawn Blade bit into its throat, silencing it. Farsight kept pushing, leaning into the blow with all the strength the Coldstar could muster. He could feel the unnatural resistance of the Tetrarch's not-flesh, and felt too how it gave way in the face of his determination. Superstitious nonsense it might be, but Farsight had learned that there was much about the galaxy that didn't fit into the Earth Caste's models, and willpower, it seemed, was capable of more than triggering the body's last-ditch reserves of strength.

There was no vision this time, for which Farsight was grateful. The Dawn Blade merely cut, and cut, and cut, until it emerged from the other side of the Tetrarch's neck, and its vile head rolled free of its body. In sheer defiance of what Farsight knew of human biology, it continued to scream as it fell, a wordless shriek of outrage that slowly petered out as it, and the body it'd been attached too, dissolved into foul smoke, leaving only a stain burned into the deck.

Fighting to stop the shaking of his limbs, Farsight turned to Kadeth, only to find the ghost was gone, leaving only a circle of frost on the deck in his wake. Hesitantly, he lifted the Dawn Blade up to his Battlesuit's face.

"Are you still here, Kadeth ?" Farsight asked out loud, uncaring how this made him look to Shadowsun.

+Yes,+ replied the silent voice of the gue'ron'sha wraith.

"For how long ?"

+Until it is done, O'Shovah.+

The voice fell silent, and Farsight lowered the Dawn Blade. For a moment, he simply stood there, Shadowsun limping to his side – like his, her Battlesuit had taken a beating in the fight. Eventually, however, he shook himself free of his exhausted reverie, and opened a link to the bridge of the Crown of Ascension.

"Admiral Viel, this is Commander Farsight. Can you hear me ?"

"O'Shovah ?" The Admiral's voice was tense, on the very brink of snapping under the stress. "You live ? What is going on ?! Every sensor in the hangar bay shut down, and I'm getting reports of weapons discharge along with other readings nobody can make sense of ! Where is Aun'Shi ? Is he safe ?"

"Aun'Shi is dead," Admiral, reported Farsight in a neutral tone of voice. "In truth, he has been dead for a long time. We have all been deceived."

It took several moments for Farsight to explain to the Admiral that Aun'Shi, the venerable Ethereal who'd been sent with the coalition, had in truth been dead for a long time, his body puppeteered by some vile thing spawned by mind-science in order to deceive the Tau into doing the bidding of those the Imperials had rightfully imprisoned within the Ruinstorm.

Viel might have doubted the Commander's word, had it not been confirmed by Commander Shadowsun and the Stone Dragon. Furthermore, there had been reports of similar incidents happening on the other ships of the coalition, as Tau suddenly turned on their brethren, in a way clearly distinct from the bloodlust which was consuming so many Fire Warriors.

Soon, a rescue team arrived in the hangar, though there was little left for them to do. The bodies of the Fire Warriors treacherously slain by the Tetrarch were carried away, while O'Vesa's Battlesuit was brought to his workshop aboard the flagship, its locked gates opening on their own at its approach. Despite the damage inflicted by the Ultramarine creature, the construct-mind of the Earth Caste scientist yet remained within the Battlesuit, and soon the simulacra image of his face reappeared in the corner of Farsight's display.

With the sole Ethereal member of the expedition dead, Farsight and Shadowsun assumed command. Announcing on all open cadrenets that the Tau Empire had been deceived by the gue'la warlord called Roboute Guilliman, they declared that the Greater Good of all sane beings demanded that they atone for their part in unleashing this evil upon the galaxy by joining the battle once more – this time, though he did not expect a warm welcome, on the side of the Imperium.

On the side of atonement, for the grave sin he had unwittingly committed. On the side of sanity, against the madness of the Ruinstorm unleashed.

On the side of Order.

The Thirteenth's Onslaught

As the void burns with Warp-fire and the weapons of clashing fleets, the chosen instruments of Guilliman advance onto Olympia. Their purpose is simple : to destroy the homeworld of the Fourth Legion, and bring an end to everything which the Lord of Iron has ever loved. Against these despoilers stand the many defenses and defenders of Olympia, mighty and steadfast, ready to face their greatest challenge.

The fleet which slipped away from the greater void battle to besiege Olympia only seemed small in comparison to the immense armada which had emerged from the Ruinstorm. Each of the four Chaos Lords nominated by Guilliman commanded great forces, and put together with the lesser warbands which joined them, lost in their hunger for the glory of making planetfall on the homeworld of the Thirteenth Legion's hated jailers, they amounted to a host greater than that of many past Black Crusades.

Three of them had been part of the Sacrificed Son's Black Crusade, leading their forces in order to destroy Guilliman's mausoleum and free the Thirteenth Legion from his memory, only to be bound to the Dark Master when he had unexpectedly risen from death. These three were Uriel Ventris, the Drinker of Sorrow; Cato Sicarius, the Warrior-King of Espandor; and Castus, the Vessel of Vileness. Had they been sent alone, they would have thought themselves condemned to die by their liege as atonement for their past transgressions (not that the knowledge would have made them resist their orders, for they were now tightly bound to their Primarch's will).

But the fourth member of their group, the Daemon Prince of Khorne Kazakital, gave these Lords of Ruin the bitterest hope that, perhaps, they might instead redeem themselves in the eyes of their lord. Not out of any love for him, for all three had long since cast aside such emotions, nor out of any loyalty, for they were slaves and knew themselves as such, but only so that their infernal leashes might slacken just a bit, and diminish the agony they brought.

After his departure from the Macragge's Honour, Uriel Ventris had returned to his own ship, the Death of Virtue, only to find that, in his absence, an arch-heretek named Faustinius and bearing the sigil of the Dark Master had arrived from the Dark Mechanicum vessel Caestus Infernus and gone straight in.

Faustinius, the Last Judge

Centuries before Roboute Guilliman ever ventured into the Eye of Terror and was illuminated as to the true nature of the cosmos, his brother Perturabo waged war against the Black Judges. During the Age of Strife, these techno-overlords, wielders of incredibly potent weapons from the Dark Age of Technology, had reigned without mercy over the Meratara Cluster, occasionally sending fleets to demand tributes from neighbouring human worlds – such as that of Olympia, and its dead sibling Charon, murdered for the sin of defiance. Among these tributes were tithes of living slaves, whose genetic material was used to prolong the Black Judges' millennia-long existence.

The Fourth Legion's campaign against the Black Judges was a long and costly one, which pushed Perturabo to the very limits of his strategic genius. Tens of thousands of Iron Warriors, including the vast majority of the Terran recruits which had filled the Legion's ranks before the Lord of Iron's discovery, perished against the genetically augmented thralls of the Black Judges. Yet eventually, Perturabo successfully breached the Rock of Judgement, a hollowed-out moon which served as the Black Judges' primary stronghold, where one hundred of these terrible beings presided over the Night Courts, vast obsidian keeps from which they had ordered the genocide of scores of human worlds for perceived infractions to the Black Judges' obscure and oft-contradictory laws.

Perturabo himself led the final charge, and it was he and his Legion's elite who slew the Black Judges, each of whom had remade themselves into armoured monstrosities capable of shrugging off bolter fire and crushing Astartes under their fists. By the time the battle was over, it was thought that all of the Judges had perished – however, one of them had survived. As Faustinius, the last of the Black Judges, fled from the Rock of Judgement aboard an experimental stealth craft, he swore that he would have his vengeance on the Lord of Iron and the Fourth Legion.

Years later, Faustinius was recruited by envoys of Guilliman as part of his preparations for his rebellion. After being taught the secrets of Chaos and combining them with his own Dark Tech, he helped convince entire forge-worlds to turn away from the Treaty of Olympus and join the rebellion. For most of the Heresy, Faustinius was an unseen presence aboard the Ultramarines' flagship, tinkering with the Gloriana's engines and sharing his profane knowledge with the Techmarines of the Thirteenth Legion. Renegade members of the Mechanicum came to apprentice under him, departing the Macragge's Honour with their minds poisoned by the vile creeds of Chaos, to spread across the rest of the Traitor Legions and, in ages to come, form the foundations of the Dark Mechanicum.

When Guilliman fell at the Siege of Terra, Faustinius fled alongside the Ultramarines, and disappeared alongside the Legion's flagship. For the next ten millennia, he worked with the Tetrarchs, who spoke with the Dark Master's voice in his absence, to repair the damage to the Macragge's Honour, as well as a number of other projects meant to aid Guilliman's eventual conquest of the galaxy.

During one of these projects, Faustinius slipped past the Iron Cage and raided the Necron tomb-world of Silva Tenebris, Crownworld of the Necron Szaregon Dynasty. The arch-heretek's conquest of the antediluvian tombs took several years, with the Necron guardians fighting back every step of the way, but eventually Silva Tenebris' secrets and treasures were all claimed for Faustinius and his Dark Master, with what was left of Silva Tenebris destroyed to hide all signs of his passage.

Though millennia of self-experimentation and the mutating influence of the Warp have transformed Faustinius' physical form to be unrecognizable even by those few Imperials with access to the records of the Black Judges, the arch-heretek still retains the dependence of his kindred on fresh human genetic material to sustain his unnatural existence. Countless lives have been sacrificed to keep him alive, but that is a sacrifice he is more than willing to make. While thousands of years in service to Guilliman have made Faustinius into a devoted servant of the Dark Master, enough remains of his former self that, when the plans for the Breaking of the Iron Cage were laid down, he insisted on being allowed to strike a blow against the Lord of Iron's homeworld.

Within moments of his arrival, Faustinius had assumed command of the Dark Mechanicum adepts Ventris had gathered to his banner over the years, and shamelessly plundered the Drinker of Sorrow's vaults of xenotech, forcing his guards aside and bypassing his security (both of which had been acquired at great cost) with contemptible ease. Ventris' fury at such presumption was kept in check only by the knowledge that this was the Dark Master's will, but his followers still recoiled from the sight of his rage, fearing to draw it upon themselves.

Of particular interest to Faustinius were those relics given to the Drinker of Sorrow as part of the bargain he had struck with the C'tan Shard of the Nightbringer, decades ago on Pavonis. Where the arch-heretek had learned so much about Necron technology, Ventris did not know : when questioned on the matter, the arch-heretek merely alluded to having gained experience with such devices in the course of his service to the Dark Master.

From these priceless relics, the arch-heretek fashioned a device meant to rip open Olympia's orbital defenses. At its core was nothing less than a C'tan Shard, Faustinius' one material contribution to the device, and which the Last Judge had captured during his conquest of Silva Tenebris. Beaten down by millions of years spent as a power source for the Szaregon Dynasty, this creature, named the Sufferer by its xenos captors, had sought to escape its bondage during the arch-heretek's invasion of the tomb-world, only to be recaptured by Faustinius, and was now put to use as a power source once again.

Magos Absimilard-LXI watched through the sensors of Orbital-Combat-Station LXXXIX as the heretic fleet approached.

He saw through a hundred eyes, and soon he would speak through a score of guns, chanting the praises of the Machine-God in the sacred language of high-intensity lance-fire and heavy-caliber shells. The heretics' sabotage of the holy noosphere had been undone, and the vile renegades would crash against the iron bulwark which had protected Olympia from their ilk for nigh on ten thousand years.

Let them come, he thought. It would be a tough battle, yes, and faithful servants of the Imperium (not the Omnissiah, not the Omnissiah any more, the Omnissiah was dead, dead, dead, the conduit between the Motive Force and the rest of the galaxy was gone) would die, but the arithmetics of war were clear : that fleet could not hope to pierce through Olympia's orbital defenses.

Then, he sensed it. An energy spike aboard the Traitor Astartes ship Death of Virtue, which sailed at the head of the enemy battlegroup (not that they had a proper formation, being more akin to a pack of rabid animals than the elegant and ordered disposition of the Imperial Navy)c. The power levels were already past Absimilard-LXI's augurs' ability to properly evaluate, and they were still rising, rising, rising –

When the weapon fired, there was no time for Absimilard-LXI to realize what was happening, as the beam of excoriating Warp energy hit the station at the same time as the sensors he was connected to detected it. Despite all his cerebral enhancements, his conscious mind didn't have time to register his obliteration, along with the entire Orbital-Combat-Station LXXXIX and over a million other tech-priests, menials and overseers across the Olympian orbital defense network.

And once his soul found itself in the Warp, there was no time to think, only scream. For that, there was nothing but time.

Through the defiled Necron tech, the Warp energy spreading through the system since the Keystone's destruction was channelled into a single pillar of hellfire. It only lasted for a fraction of a second before the xenos artefacts, each a relic from a time now remembered only in legends and the aeons-broken memories of the Necrons themselves, overloaded and shattered to pieces. Even the C'tan Shard used to empower the monstrously energy-inefficient device withered and disappeared, the last of its strength spent, its millions-years long existence finally ending.

Yet brief as it was, the attack was enough for Faustinius' purpose. Not all of Olympia's orbital defenses had been taken out, of course, but the hole opened in them was large enough for the Chaos Lords to send their forces planetside. They landed amidst the burning desolation the weapon had reduced an entire region of Olympia's countryside to, dividing back into four war hosts, each with its own target.

By some dark miracle, there had been no dispute when the Lords of Ruin had communicated prior to their landing to make their chosen objectives known : perhaps guided by the will of the Dark Gods, and more likely that of their liege, they had all selected different prey. The combined forces of Ventris and Faustinius went north, toward the Dodecapyrgion, while the other Chaos Lords led their armies in the direction of the closest city-states. Along the way, the remnants of the True Olympians joined them, their Warp-maddened leaders drawn to the power of the Chaos Lords' darkling souls.

Among the Chaos armies, the Plague Host of Castus marched straight for the city-state of Sodalian. Though their advance didn't pause nor let any obstacle stop them, it was still slow enough for the defenders to prepare for their arrival, preparing all the counter-measures needed to face a foe using such repugnant weaponry.

Castus blinks his three eyes (three ? didn't he use to have just two ?) as he suddenly jerks awake, the pieces of his mind slamming together with all the gentleness of an Ogryn with a sledgehammer.

It has happened again, then. He looks around, trying to identify his surroundings. When he nodded off, he was aboard the Grace of Entropy, following the Drinker of Sorrow's own flagship as it was about to do whatever young Ventris was going to do. Now he is on solid ground, with dying grass under his feet, his weapon in his hands, his warband at his back, and in front of him …

oh my. Those are some very large guns perched atop some very high walls. His followers are strong and tough, filled with the blessings of Grandfather Nurgle, but they are not invincible. Charging through the plains between here and there, which are of course completely empty of anything resembling cover, will see only a small fraction reach the walls.

The Vessel of Vileness can appreciate the thoroughness of the Fourth Legion, even as it annoys him to no end. For this killing ground before him can only be the work of Perturabo's dour sons, which means they made it to the surface of Olympia. It is a shame that he missed how Ventris dealt with the orbital defenses, but Castus accepts it, just like he accepts everything in his life. The past doesn't matter, because it is dead, and neither does the future, because it is Nurgle's great work to make sure it never comes. Only the now is important, because it is all there really is.

He thinks, scratching idly at a growth on his armor as he does so. There must be a reason Lord Parmenides woke him up here, something the Daemon Lord expects him to do. Behind him, his army waits patiently, well used to such behavior from him.

Exactly seven minutes later, Castus finally understands. Forcing his body (which has already begun to calcify from the short time he spent immobile as a result of one of the many gifts he has received from Grandfather Nurgle) to move, he gestures west with his mace, toward the great forest covering the horizon.

"Onward, companions !" Castus bellows. "We have much work to do !"

The sight of Castus' warband retreating from the walls and venturing into the largest forest of Olympia, which spread all across the base of Mount Adarine and a good distance up its slope, did not fill the defenders of Sodalian with relief. The scouts they sent didn't return, though one of them managed to send a last, desperate transmission, which warned of some manner of ritual site being prepared within the woods before being abruptly silenced.

Meanwhile, the Ultramarine Chapter of the Black Consuls, accompanied by a vast horde of Khornate cultists, went straight for the capital city-state of Lochos. Along with the Black Consuls was the Tzeentchian Chapter of the Tome Keepers, led by their Chaos Lord Sorcerer Saargon. Despite the Black Consuls' disgust for sorcery, the will of Guilliman kept the host from turning in on itself, and with their combined might they soon reached the walls of Lochos.

At the head of this bloody host was the Daemon Prince Kazakital, the Red Prince, who had personal business with one of the many defenders of Olympia's planetary capital.

Kazakital, the Red Prince

Once, Kazakital was a Chaos Marine belonging to the Black Consuls Chapter of the Ultramarines. Since the days of the Heresy, the Black Consuls have been dedicated servants of the Blood God, serving as shock troops for the Thirteenth Legion, and that martial legacy endured throughout the millennia of the Long War. Unlike other Chapters, the Black Consuls claimed none of the Ruinstorm's daemon worlds as their own, preferring instead to remain a fleet-based warband, slaying all in their path both to claim resources and to honor Khorne.

The child who would become Kazakital was taken as slave during one of these raids, and inducted into the ranks of the Black Consuls after passing the gruelling tests of their Apothecaries. He took to the Chapter's bloody creed like a fish to water, receiving numerous boons from Khorne, until one day, he single-handedly killed the Chapter Master and his seven Captains in a series of duels to the death, with the final offering marking his ascension to daemonhood.

In the years following the battle between Kazakital and the Living Saint Justine, a painting of the Daemon Prince by the mad artist Teugen was discovered by agents of the Ordo Hereticus. Teugen, it turned out, had been one of the witnesses of that epic confrontation, but rather than be awed at the glory of the God-Emperor's miracle, his mind had been consumed by the dread majesty of Khorne's chosen warrior. Before its destruction, the painting showed Kazakital as a towering figure in black, chitinous armor, wearing a rune-encrusted helmet over a brutally beautiful face in which were set two glowing red eyes. Two leathery wings rose from his back, and in his clawed hands, he held a blade engraved with a Rune of Obliteration placed there by Khorne's own infernal smith.

Contrary to most Khornates, Kazakital is well known for his charm and persuasiveness. Instead of merely killing worthy enemies, he prefers to make them join him in worship of Khorne, and he delights in cultivating those around him with the potential to reach greatness, secure in his control of the Black Consuls thanks to the sheer power bestowed upon him by daemonhood. Even his defeat at Justine's hands wasn't enough to shake his control over the Chapter, and when he returned from banishment a hundred years later, his Captains (all of whom he had personally raised to the position after disposing of the warband's previous commanders) promptly knelt before him and accepted him as their returned leader.

During the Battle of Macragge, Kazakital was among those who appeared at the side of the Macragge's Honour, having been recruited by the Tetrarchs prior to Guilliman's resurrection in exchange for Justine, then held captive within Mortendar. The fact the Living Saint had already escaped by that point did not anger the Daemon Prince : to the contrary, he relished the opportunity to hunt for her once more.

"What's wrong, Justine ?" asked Felix.

They were standing on the walls of Lochos, along with the rest of the defenders. Zagreus was there too, though even the Custodes' awe-inspiring presence paled in comparison to the Living Saint's. Felix was fairly certain Justine's aura could be sensed all the way to the Acropolis at the center of the city, which was why he had asked her what was going on – apart from the obvious, such as the heretic army presently approaching the outer edge of the reach of the city's guns.

"I can feel him," she hissed. "He is here."

"Who ?" The Inquisitor knew he'd regret asking, but he still needed to know.

"Kazakital." Justine didn't spit the name, but it was a close thing. "He knows I am here too, and he is coming."

Felix froze. He knew the name, of course.

"I suppose it makes sense that he would be here," he sighed. "He was an Ultramarine originally, after all, wasn't he ? Of course Guilliman would have him show up for this."

"I'm going to kill him, Felix," Justine said, the calmness of her voice clashing with the fury she was radiating.

"I know you will, Justine. But let's be smart about it, alright ? Because to me, this really looks like a trap."

"I agree," said Zagreus, surprising the two other Liberated.

Justine sighed. "Very well. What do you suggest, then ?"

Well. Now Felix had to come up with a plan.


The combined warbands of Uriel Ventris and Faustinius, who alone of every Chaos force deployed on Olympia had enough transports for their entire forces, reached the foot of the Dodecapyrgion within a couple of days of making planetfall.

The Fourth Legion's fortress had remained fully manned, despite the distraction orchestrated by the True Olympians. A full complement of Iron Warriors stood ready within its walls, along with many times more Olympian Auxiliaries. Within the vast hangars that had been dug into the mountain, several lances of Imperial Knights also stood at the ready, having answered the call of Triarch Etrogar.

As the Chaos host approached, Warsmith Xyrocles, the Dodecapyrgion's Castellan, followed his Legion's ancient traditions. In an unencrypted vox-transmission (cast from a vox-set which was completely isolated from the rest of the complex's restored network, the Iron Warriors having learned from the Shriek), he offered the renegades the Last Chance : if they surrendered and renounced Guilliman and the Dark Gods, their lives would be spared.

The Drinker of Sorrow sent a single reply, mockingly thanking the sons of Perturabo for their generosity, before making an offer of his own : if they opened the gates of the Dodecapyrgion and laid down their arms, he would grant them all a death as quick and painless as he could arrange.

Needless to say, Xyrocles didn't waste any further time on talking with the enemy, and the Iron Warriors prepared to face the Ultramarines and Dark Mechanicum forces.

Last of the targets of the Lords of Ruin was the city-state of Kardis. Unfortunately, it would not be so lucky as the others. Leading the host marching toward it was none other than Cato Sicarius, the depraved Slaaneshi Lord.

Even before the Battle of Macragge, Cato Sicarius' warband hadn't counted any other Space Marines in its ranks. Following the Warrior-King's humiliation at the hand of the resurrected Primarch, none had been willing to join him. In what could be interpreted as a gesture of trust, a way of making the Chaos Lord useful, or a deliberate insult, however, Guilliman had assigned reinforcements to Sicarius' warband : a full battle-host of Talassar's infamous Beastkin.

The Beastkin of Talassar

As one of the Five Hundred Worlds, Talassar was relatively unremarkable before the Ruinstorm was unleashed during the Heresy. An ocean world with storm-wracked seas and a single continent named Glaudor, it was sparsely populated, though mining operations at the bottom of its oceans provided nearby industrial worlds with valuable resources.

In the years before the betrayal at Isstvan, the people of Talassar were brought into the worship of the Dark Gods by the Ultramarines. They turned away from the Imperial Truth, and built great idols to the Dark Gods within their capital, Castra Tanagra, using their traditional craft of making terracotta figurines to honor the Thirteenth Legion's heroes.

According to legend, when the Ruinstorm engulfed the Kingdom of Ultramar, the Ruinous Powers took special notice of the ocean world. Fragments of their divine wills descended upon Castra Tanagra, inhabiting the idols which had been constructed in their image. Yet mere terracotta could not possibly contain even the tiniest part of the Powers, and the statues shattered instantly.

For this, Talassar earned the Dark Gods' displeasure, and its people were cursed, transforming into the Beastkin. While humanoids with the heads of animals along with other bestial traits, are relatively common among the throngs of the Lost and the Damned, being relatively genetically stable, the Beastkin are something else entirely. Common Beastmen, while tainted by Chaos, are still capable of a certain level of thought, and can cooperate to build large if crude monuments to their infernal deities.

The Beastkin, however, are not only larger and more ferocious than Beastmen, they are wholly consumed by the worst trait of the beasts in whose image they are remade. In them are mixed the worst traits of Mankind, unfettered by any of his nobler qualities. Mammals, birds, reptiles and insects : all manners of animal life are represented in the grotesque mutations of the Beastkin, but regardless of the natural temper of the animal, all are equally bloodthirsty.

Talassar is an endless battleground, where the strongest Beastkin impose their will on small packs before leading them into combat against other groups, killing until they are killed in turn, screaming prayers to the very Gods which cursed their ancestors all the while. The soil of Glaudor, fed by the rich blood of the slain, grows bountiful crops without any need for agriculture, allowing the Beastkin to feed themselves in between bouts of violence, when they feed off the raw meat of the slain.

In the long millennia before Light's End, numerous Ultramarines warbands used Talassar as a recruiting ground, enslaving hundreds of Beastkin to use as bolter fodder in their internecine conflicts. However, not long before the Sacrificed Son declared his Black Crusade against Macragge, the Warp passages to the ocean world became blocked. At the time, the Chaos Lords of the Thirteenth Legion dismissed it as merely another random event of their infernal prison, but the truth was revealed following Guilliman's resurrection and the muster of his armies.

At the Dark Master's command, his servants have all but emptied Talassar of Beastkin, cramping millions of the brutes aboard transports to unleash them upon the Imperium. With the destruction of Macragge and the loss of the cults assembled there, the Beastkin, which were initially considered little more than disposable troops, have become more important to Guilliman's plans – though not so important that he will spare a moment's hesitation to sacrificing them to accomplish his goals.

Prophets and Chaos Sorcerers alike believe that, when new idols have been raised on Glaudor which can host the essence of the Dark Gods, the curse of the Beastkin will be lifted, and the people of Talassar elevated to unparalleled glory at the side of their divine patrons. Yet so long as they remain plagued by the black madness that accompanies their physical transformation, the Beastkin will never be able to achieve this. Such is the trap the Ruinous Powers have woven for Talassar – one more cruel joke written large in the Five Hundred Worlds.

Through dark rites, the wyrds and witches enslaved to the Warrior-King's cause unleashed all manner of vile spells upon Kardis' defenders, who had already suffered terribly from the True Olympians' uprising and the surge of the Warp at the Keystone's fall. The city-state's wards had been damaged by the Immaterial backlash of the Iron Cage's collapse, and with the Iron Warriors forced to go deal with the Aberrants of the Forbidden Zone, such sorcerous means were sufficient to neutralize many of the walls' guns.

With the defenses already disturbed, Cato Sicarius sent a horde of Beastkin to attack the city-state from one direction – then, while they were being butchered by focused artillery, the Warrior-King approached from another direction. Drawing upon the infernal power he'd stolen from Amnaich the Golden, the Champion of Slaanesh sundered the gates of Kardis in a single blow of his daemonic blade.

The population of Kardis had been evacuated into the shelters which the Iron Warriors had insisted be built in every city-state, deep below ground, where nothing but the most intense of orbital bombardment would get to them even if the void-shields protecting the city failed. However, as the hordes of Sicarius poured into the city and cut down its human defenders, the Warrior-King was struck with the most vile of inspirations, sent directly by his daemonic patron, whose rage at the failure of the Angel War blazed through the Realms of Chaos with an intensity surpassed only by that of Light's End.

Under Sicarius' orders, six of the vast underground shelters were breached, and the terrified citizens cowering within either slaughtered or dragged out by the Beastkin. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were carried away by the brutish hands of Talassar's monsters, toward the place where the Chaos Lord had made his court : the Acropolis of Kardis, built upon the site of the old Tyrant's palace. There, with the assistance of his mortal acolytes and the Beastkin shamans, Sicarius intended to conduct a grand ritual in the Dark Prince's honor, and redeem himself for his failure at Macragge – as well as crown himself as the one true Champion of Slaanesh now that Sanguinius was no more.

Yet in his narcissism, Sicarius had forgotten that cruelty ever sows the seeds of its own downfall, and that a reckoning will not be postponed indefinitely.

He is running through the burning streets of Kardis. His battle-brothers are calling out to him, but he doesn't hear them. All he hears is the voice of memory.

"Big brother ! Do you really have to go ?"

His sister. She was so small now, looking up at him in his armor, childish wonder in her eyes, while their parents smiled indulgently.

"Yes, I do. I need to go out and protect everyone, after all."

It is not uncommon among the Iron Warriors raised from the population of Olympia to return to their families after going through the trials and becoming a full-fledged Space Marine. There are some in the Legion who are against the practice, but on the whole, the reminder of what they are fighting for is considered worth the emotional attachments.

"But I'm gonna be scared without you !"

It is especially the case for the sons of Perturabo who guard the Iron Cage, and are forever faced with the horrors spawned within the Ruinstorm. Only with an indomitable resolve can such duty be performed, and so the Chaplains encourage these reminders.

"How about this, then ? If the bad guys ever manage to land on Olympia, then I'll rush to your side and keep you safe. Alright ?"

They cannot be heartless automatons, no matter how efficient it might be, because it is simply not enough. Only mortal passion can give them the strength to fight, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

"Promise ?"

"Yes. I promise."

He promised her.

And he wasn't there. Orders had come in : the Forbidden Zone quarantine had been breached. They needed to sortie and suppress the Aberrants before they could spread out and become impossible to root out.

And so, when the monsters came and the walls fell – so quickly, they should have held longer, there should have been enough time – he wasn't there.

He reaches the entrance to the shelter for this section of the city-state. It is breached, the heavy gates, built to resist the strength of anything short of a Titan, broken down.

He runs inside. The smell of human blood reaches him long before the sight of the carnage within. There are beasts there, lurking among the corpses. They try to get in his way, and they die, smashed apart by his hammer without even slowing him down.

Then he stops. There is nothing to tell that particular pile of desecrated remains apart from the thousands of others that fill the shelter, but his inhuman senses recognize the familiar smell.

"I … I am here now."

Yes. He is here. And it is too late.

His helmet's display lies to him, telling him that he is in perfect physical condition even though he can feel his hearts being ripped out of his chest.

He screams. The sound of it, so thick with grief and pain, is lost in the slow collapse of the city-state around him.

He is still there, kneeling among the defiled corpses of his family, when the Chaplain finds him. The older warrior doesn't berate him, does not punish him from breaking rank and running ahead. He simply lays a gauntleted hand on his shoulder, a gesture kinder than anyone would believe such a grim, skull-faced figure of being capable of.

It is a small comfort. Insignificant. In that moment, it is everything.

"We have found survivors," the Chaplain says after a moment. "They told us who did this."

Under the Chaplain's hand, the young warrior freezes. He does not ask, but the Chaplain hears the question anyway.

"It was one of the Ultramarines' lords," the Chaplain continues. He knows what his words will do to the young Astartes, but he also knows that it is necessary. "The one called Cato Sicarius."

Slowly, with jerking motions, the Iron Warrior stands up. Under his skull-faced helmet, unseen by anyone, his face is no less inhuman, no less threatening.

Silently, he makes another promise, to replace the one he has broken.

And in the Warp, amidst the chorus of the Neverborn crowing the return of the Dark Master, a nascent Power hears him.

They were not going to win this.

The mathematics didn't lie, no matter how much the Triarch tried to force them to with clever strategies. They could make the bastards bleed, and they would, but it wouldn't be enough. The hololithic display of the Euryale's Lament's strategium made it painfully clear that, barring a miracle, the defeat of the Imperial fleet was inevitable. And once that happened, the rest of the system would be lost.

Already, Olympia itself was bleeding. Etrogar had received word of what had happened at Kardis – an entire city-state lost, its population slaughtered while they cowered in their shelters. And it was his fault, because he'd failed in his duty to keep Olympia clean of the heretic scum who had breached the cordon around the Forbidden Zone.

Failure tasted bitter on his tongue. For ten thousand years, the Iron Warriors had held the gates of hell closed, and he'd failed. That none of his predecessors had faced such challenges as he didn't excuse it, because nothing excused failure, not when what was at stake was the survival of Humanity.

"My lord !" said a human officer, rushing to his side. "Message from the Navigators quarters. They are sensing a new signature in the Warp about to make re-entry !"

"More Traitor reinforcements ?!" he asked, his blood running cold.

"No, lord !" Tears were running down the officer's cheeks as he continued : "It's … it's the Grieving Blade !"

For the first time in what felt like years, Etrogar felt something akin to hope.

The Wrath of Iron

In the hour of his sons' greatest need, Perturabo awakens from his long slumber. The Iron Cage is broken, and Olympia is ravaged by the Slaves to Darkness, but the Lord of Iron is returned, and he brings with him the fullness of his terrible wrath, honed over the long millennia of his vigil. The question remains to be answered, however, of which of the two Primarch in the system made the best preparations for this day of reckoning.

Despite having been used by Mankind since before the Age of Strife, Warp navigation remained very much a delicate and imprecise art at the best of time. Besides the perils inherent to sailing through a dimension inhabited by god-like entities utterly hostile to human life, the act of crossing from Materium to Immaterium was affected by a myriad factors, each of which could spell doom for the craft attempting to break from the limitations of real-space travel by taking a shortcut through the hellish realm. As such, there were numerous rules which had to be followed for the translation to be as safe as it could be made, the most important one being to make sure to emerge within the Mandeville Point of the destination star, lest its gravity influence the proceedings in a catastrophic fashion.

But these were concerns for lesser ships. The Grieving Blade, guided by masterwork cogitators, some of the greatest Navigators in the galaxy, and the keen intellect of Perturabo himself, emerged from the Empyrean far past the Mandeville Point, her engines on full burn, mere minutes from the great void battle raging between the Imperial fleet and the Thirteenth Legion's armada.

The Grieving Blade

After the loss of the Gloriana-class Ironblood during the Siege of Terra as part of the Fourth Primarch's defense strategy, the Iron Warriors needed a new flagship. The Grieving Blade, built during the dark years of the Scouring, is that ship, and she is as much a repository of knowledge and technology as she is a warship. Within her holds are copies of nearly every STC recovered by the Cult Mechanicus, obtained as part of the thanks of the tech-priests to the Fourth Legion for their participation in the Martian War during the Roboutian Heresy. Entire decks are dedicated to vast foundries capable of producing all the wargear needed by the Grand Battalion calling the vessel home, so long as enough raw materials are provided (and the Grieving Blade also carries mining equipment to acquire such resources from asteroids or gas giants).

Upon her completion in the newly restored shipyards of the Red Planet, the Grieving Blade wandered the entire galaxy at the head of the Iron Warriors' fleet. Not only did she hunt for the remnants of the Traitor Legions, she also provided assistance to worlds left devastated by the civil war, bringing lost technology back to ruined planets. Hundreds of worlds across the Imperium are only populated nowadays thanks to having been visited by the Grieving Blade in the distant past.

While not quite the equal of the Gloriana-class, the Grieving Blade is the equal of any other warship in the Imperium and beyond. Fifteen kilometers in length, she is armed with several archeotech weapons of incredible power, reclaimed by the Fourth Legion and the Mechanicus during the Great Crusade or salvaged from the ruins of Mars after the Heresy's end. Thousands of tech-priests call the great vessel home, with the Cult Mechanicus regarding being posted there as an honor surpassed only by service on Mars itself.

The Grieving Blade served as Perturabo's personal ship for over a thousand years, until the Lord of Iron's accumulated wounds finally proved too much even for his legendary endurance. In 909.M32, on the world of Ularan (which was part of the Iron Cage surrounding the Eye of Terror), Perturabo led the Iron Warriors against a would-be Black Crusade of the Salamanders Legion. While the Chaos Marines were successfully defeated, the planet was destroyed by the superweapon they deployed in their retreat as a last insult to the Imperium. Despite his best efforts, Perturabo failed to stop the weapon from activating, and the injuries he'd sustained before his sons were able to recover him from ground zero of the weapon's activation were so severe that he had to be interred within a Dreadnought chassis specifically built for the Lord of Iron.

Despite his Primarch vitality, not even Perturabo could remain fully active as a Dreadnought forever, and after another century of service, he had to enter slumber. Since then, the Lord of Iron has only periodically awakened to lead his sons in battle, the last occurrence of this having taken place in the fourth century of M40. To the Iron Warriors, the Grieving Blade has become known as their Primarch's tomb-ship, and she now patrols the domains of the Fourth Legion around the Iron Cages, bringing reinforcements to beleaguered fortress-worlds.

You are awake. At long, long last, you are awake.

You stand on the bridge of the Grieving Blade, the incarnation of your sorrow at the Imperium's doomed decay, and of your defiance of that fate. Like was the case on the lost Ironblood, the bridge is located deep within the vessel, without the great reinforced windows that are prevalent in all other human (and most xenos) vessels.

Through the mechanisms of the Logos suit, information flows from the ship's auspex network and into your mind. The magnitude of the disaster is written plain in cold, pitiless data.

You are outnumbered and outgunned. Judging by the variety of emblems and ship types present among the enemy, you estimate that Guilliman has all but emptied the Ruinstorm for this attack – and yet, there is less than you'd expect.

Ah. Of course. Macragge fell, did it not ? Your sons told you about it before you arrived. The Sacrificed Son's last gambit, to deny his father the resources gathered there.

The Sacrificed Son … there is something about him that you feel like you should remember, but cannot. Your mind is still recovering from your body's long slumber, and you fear you've lost parts of yourself to your silent vigil which you'll never recover.

Along with the Grieving Blade came the escorts of the tomb-ship, nine Astartes vessels. Until recently, Triarch Magrax had been in command of the fleet, but on the way to Olympia, Perturabo had awakened from his long torpor. According to the Librarians of the fleet, the Lord of Iron's soul had been reinforcing the wards of the Iron Cage, keeping watch over immaterial walls while entrusting his sons with the physical ones – and now that the Iron Cage had been breached with the fall of the Keystone, his wandering spirit had returned to his mutilated flesh.

The awakened Primarch immediately assumed command from a grateful Etrogar. Even now, thousands of years after the last of the loyalist Primarchs had disappeared from the public eye, Perturabo's authority as a son of the Emperor was unquestioned, especially here, at the heart of his domain.

With the sudden arrival of these reinforcements and renewed leadership, the tide of the void battle began to shift ever so slowly. Iron Warrior Terminators teleported to Imperial ships to help repel boarders, and launched boarding operations of their own to cripple enemy ships which had made the mistake of allowing their void-shields to come down.

Yet Perturabo was bitterly aware that, for all his strategic skill, Guilliman was at least his equal, although the Dark Master's genius had become a fractured, twisted thing under the influence of Chaos. The Lord of Iron could delay the Arch-Traitor's victory, make him bleed more ships and resources, but without a gambit of singular daring, that was all he could hope for – and as more data flowed into his post-human brain, Perturabo saw what he needed to do.

Thanks to the powerful wards embedded within her megastructure and the ancient technology that had gone into her construction, it was believed the Grieving Blade could withstand the terrible main gun of the Macragge's Honour, so long as she didn't take the hit head-on. Given the far greater speed and manoeuvrability of the Fourth Legion's flagship, Perturabo judged the risks acceptable after reviewing the auspex data of the Gloriana's previous (and currently only) shot, and designed a plan to end the threat his fallen brother represented to Humanity once and for all.

Like all true great strategies, this one was simple in concept, and unthinkably complex in execution. The Grieving Blade possessed her own main gun, an improved Nova Cannon which, under the right circumstances, could be used to perform Exterminatus all on its own. Perturabo's plan was to use it to breach the void-shields of the Macragge's Honour, providing an opening for a boarding action by the vast transhuman contingents which were part of the Imperial fleet.

Not since the Roboutian Heresy itself had the Thirteenth Legion's ill-named flagship been boarded by those faithful to the Golden Throne : according to what scant accounts remained of that grim epoch, the last to manage it had been a force of Night Lords, Alpha Legionnaires, and loyalist remnants of the Traitor Legions, who had caught the Macragge's Honour in an ambush on the way to Eskrador, where Alpharius himself laid in wait for the Arch-Traitor.

To ensure that this attempt went better than that of these ancient, brave heroes, Perturabo called upon the greatest warriors at his disposal. It was an order they were eager to accept, for the slaying of Roboute Guilliman was the very reason for their presence in Olympia in the first place.

Prior to the coming of Light's End, the Doomscryers of the Adeptus Custodes, powerful psykers with the ability to read through the shifting tides of the Warp to predict the future, had foretold the awakening of Roboute Guilliman. The Custodes, believing that the Arch-Traitor was the greatest threat to the Master of Mankind, and that his return was the reason why no divination method could see past the turning of the millennium, sent the largest force of the Emperor's guardians seen beyond the borders of the Sol system since the Great Crusade.

No less than a thousand Custodes of the Dread Host had been dispatched, each sworn to ending the threat of the Dark Master forever. Led by Shield-Captain Andros Launceddre, their golden ships had arrived to Olympia on the heels of the Grey Knights' own vessels. With them were the last remaining Sisters of Silence belonging to the Chamber of Oblivion, whose numbers had slowly diminished over the centuries as a result of what the Custodes now feared to have been the machinations of Guilliman.

The Knights of Titan were present in large numbers too. A full Brotherhood of that august Chapter had gathered to answer Triarch Etrogar's call, though in truth they had already been en route to Olympia when the Dark Master had risen. Even as their future sight grew more and more obscured by the coming of Light's End, the Prognosticars had foreseen the emergence of a grave threat from the Ruinstorm – yet at the same time, they had known with utter certainty that threat was not the reason for their divinations' waning effectiveness, leading them to think that surely this threat couldn't be the Arch-Traitor reborn, but must instead be one of his dread sons rising to prominence. Only when the psychic quake of Macragge's Fall reached the Grey Knights did they realize the true scope of the danger they faced, even as they wondered what else was on the horizon – then Light's End had come, and all their questions had been answered in the most horrible way they couldn't have imagined.

Perturabo longed to bring the battle to his traitorous kinsman in person, but he couldn't. The Grey Knights could sense the will of the Arch-Traitor spread across the Chaos armada, imposing his commands upon every shipmaster, be they mortal, Astartes or daemon. This allowed them to operate with a unity of purpose that would have otherwise been impossible in such a disparate, hate-fuelled host, and answered some of the questions Perturabo had after observing the movements of the foe. For the plan to have any chance of success, Perturabo's guidance of the Imperial fleet was required : the Lord of Iron could not leave the Grieving Blade's command bridge.

Slowly, over the course of nearly an entire standard Terran day, Perturabo's gambit began to take form. Squadrons moved in and out of position, drawing the Macragge's Honour into place, while the Grieving Blade clashed with the lesser capital ships of the Archenemy, leaving a trail of broken hulls in her wake as she circled closer and closer to her prey. All the while, Imperial ships continued to die as well, while the situation on Volundr continued to grow more and more desperate, the single ship Perturabo could spare to come to the aid of the beleaguered forge-world pushing through the void at full speed toward its destination.

Finally, the appointed hour came. The Grieving Blade fired her Nova Cannon, outright obliterating several of the smaller Chaos ships in the projectile's trajectory, before it detonated against the shields of the Macragge's Honour. With a psychic backlash that was felt by psykers across the entire void battle, the tainted shields of the Chaos behemoth collapsed.

Even as the crew of the Grieving Blade hurried to reload the Nova Cannon, Perturabo moved the Grieving Blade out of her current position, to prevent the Macragge's Honour from riposting with a direct line of fire. Meanwhile, on every Custodes and Grey Knight vessel, priceless Teleportariums, most of which predated the Imperium itself, were activated, locking in on the Thirteenth Legion's flagship. The same happened on every Astartes ship which had managed to get in range, and hundreds of boarding torpedoes were also fired, containing thousands of Night Lords, Word Bearers, World Eaters and Sons of Horus.

Many of the latter never reached their destination, destroyed in the void by point-defences or by the flights of mechanical and infernal monstrosities that the Macragge's Honour had disgorged to defend itself. Nor was teleportation a guaranteed success either, the already unstable technology made even more so by the disruption of the Immaterium and the unholy nature of the Dark Master's vessel.

Nevertheless, before the corrupted Gloriana's void-shields returned, thousands of Loyalists had made it on board, and the Battle of Silver and Gold began.

The Macragge's Honour was the manifest nightmare of its insane demigod master, dragged into reality by the caprice of the Dark Gods.

Half of Emelech's squad was dead already, and they had yet to catch so much as a glimpse of blue armor in the two hours they had spent inside this labyrinth of horrors. Their boarding torpedo had been knocked off-course in the last moments of their approach, and instead of arriving in the upper decks they were somewhere in the traitor ship's equivalent of the darkholds. At least that's what Techmarine Trius had said, before the cable he'd used to connect to the ship's systems had turned into a snake and bitten his head off, helmet and all.

The corridors were walled with bleeding meat and black glass which reflected only screaming faces. The things which dwelled in the darkness, which their helmets' lumens struggled to penetrate beyond a handful of meters even at max setting, were so monstrous and debased as to have no visible trace whatsoever of any human genetic heritage they might possess. They were the results of ten thousand years of inbreeding between mutant and daemon inside the Ruinstorm, and they hungered for the flesh of the Word Bearers who had dared to enter their lair.

They were completely and utterly lost. The auspex was worse than useless; they had needed to break it to pieces with bolter shells after it had started to threaten them with eternal torment. Trying to find a way up was made impossible by the ship's twisting geometries, and they hadn't even tried to use the vox on anything beyond short range, not after the damage the Shriek had caused.

Emelech's squad could only hope that the other boarding parties had more luck in their deployment, and do all they could to hurt the enemy. They weren't blind to the fact that they were going to die, but then they'd known as much when they'd volunteered for this mission.

"For the Urizen !" Sergeant Emelech of the Word Bearers bellowed, as another pack of nameless horrors came into view.

"For the Urizen !" replied his remaining brothers as one, and they plunged back into the fight.

With the Space Marines providing a distraction by rampaging through the ship, the Custodes and Grey Knights were able to make their way toward the location of their target. While the Custodes didn't have psykers in their ranks, the Grey Knights could sense the baleful presence of the Dark Master, radiating his eldritch power across the entire ship and beyond, and they guided their allies through the labyrinth of the Macragge's Honour, killing everything that stood in their way. Individual squads of Astartes crossed paths with the combined host, and joined their strength to the push toward the Arch-Traitor.

Even with thousands of Astartes fighting across the vessel, the advance of the Imperial spearhead was far from easy. The closest they got to their destination, the greater the horrors the ship conjured to stop them, dragging daemons from the Empyrean and giving them bodies made of the very living flesh that grew between its walls before hurling them at the Imperials. Things which had once been men, warped beyond recognition by the Ruinstorm; the tormented spirits of the Gloriana's crew who had refused to turn against the Imperium and been quietly murdered in dark rituals long before the betrayal of Isstvan III; techno-nightmares of flesh, metal and Warp-fire, crafted by the hereteks in Guilliman's employ during the long years of the vessel's transformation : all these and more sought to block the boarders.

Heroic deeds were performed in numbers such as to shame the champions of the Legiones Astartes, along with acts of great sacrifice, none of which would be remembered. Many gave their lives to the cause, and the Macragge's Honour drank greedily from the blood of the fallen, irrespective of their allegiances. Then, at least, the chosen of the Emperor arrived at the Court of Discordia, where Roboute Guilliman sat waiting on his throne. Between them stood the Lords of Chaos he had gathered to his side, and with a single mental command from the Dark Master, they hurled themselves at the intruders.

The battle that ensued was brutal, each side equally desperate to triumph. While the Host of Silver and Gold was driven by duty to Mankind and the desire to avenge their fallen Emperor, the Lords of Chaos were wholly consumed by the Dark Master's will. To them, who had commanded their own armies and fleets, the thought of Guilliman's displeasure was far more terrifying than that of death.

Vorth Mordrak, survivor of the First War for Armageddon, Grand Master of the Second Brotherhood and Admiral of the Fleet of the Grey Knights, strode at the head of the Loyalist host as it burst into the Court of Discordia. At his side were two radiant specters, coalesced from the spirits of the battle-brothers he had lost centuries ago while battling the renegade Ultramarine warlord known only as the Reaver. Through the Grand Master's psychic might, these wraiths were given form once more, and the opportunity to avenge their own death upon the Reaver's kin.

As he cut a path through Traitor Astartes and mutant champions alike, the Grand Master caught sight of the Daemon Lord Madail. He recognized it immediately, for Madail was one of the one-hundred-and-one daemons which made up the Conclave Diabolus, the dread list of the Grey Knights' vilest and most terrible foes. Though it had been defeated by Angron and Lorgar during the Shadow Crusade, the Pilgrim of the Undivided had plagued the Sectors near the Ruinstorm ever since, whispering madness and heresy into the dreams of unguarded minds.

Billions of souls had been lost to damnation because of Madail, and entire worlds consigned to the fires of Exterminatus once the Grey Knights had purged the Neverborn summoned by Madail's dupes. On three distinct occasions through the Grey Knights' history, the Knights of Titan had faced the Pilgrim itself, drawn from its usual haunts in the Ruinstorm by the twisted prayers of its followers. Each time, Madail had been hurled back to the Warp, but never without heavy cost : such was the Daemon Lord's power, it could only be summoned into the Materium through deeds and rites requiring whole star systems to scream.

Mordrak and Madail clashed, the conflagration of their psychic powers scattering the nearest combatants – save for the Grand Master's ghostly companions. Madail's weapon, a wicked trident whose blades bent to form the blasphemous sigil which served as the mark of its cults, met the blessed Nemesis sword of Mordrak, each blow sending arcs of psychic lightning around the two duellists. The Grand Master's spectral allies moved to flank the great horror, preventing it from using its barbed tail to catch Mordrak off-guard.

Despite all his strength, Mordrak could only barely hold the Pilgrim at bay. Along with strikes of its trident, Madail threw numerous psychic attacks at the Grand Master, each accompanied by a barbed taunt about the demise of the Emperor, and the inevitable doom of the Imperium Mordrak and his brothers fought to protect. It told him that every sacrifice he'd made, every slaughter his Chapter had perpetrated in the course of the Long War, had been in vain – that all they'd accomplished was to prolong the agony of the Imperium by millennia, turning Mankind's entire empire into a bloody altar on which the True Gods had feasted and grown stronger than ever before.

Of course, the will of a Grey Knight was beyond the ability of even one such as Madail to break, even in this new and terrible Age they all found themselves in. Yet perhaps the Pilgrim would eventually have succeeded in distracting Mordrak long enough to kill him, had not an auramite spear flown through the air and embedded itself into its right eye.

Cast by Shield-Captain Andros, the weapon fired automatically, pulping a large portion of the Daemon Lord's skull with ammunition designed by the Adeptus Custodes' weaponsmiths from the ashes of Sisters of Silence who had fallen in the course of their duties to the Golden Throne. The screams of Madail sent cracks across the floor and walls of the Court of Discordia, through which rose shadowy tendrils which the Grey Knights knew to be the manifestation of the ship's own corrupted spirit.

Andros ran to Mordrak's side, cutting down two Ultramarine Chapter Masters and a trio of mutant warlords on the way with his Misericordia blade, before ripping his Guardian Spear free. The two Imperial champions fought together, displaying a unity of purpose that put the lie to the divergence between their respective brotherhoods, until at last they dispatched the Pilgrim of the Undivided.

Elsewhere in the Court, the Sorcerer Lord Tigurius hurled spell after spell at the attackers, ripping dozens of Custodes to shreds, until a squad of Sisters of Silence finally managed to reach him. With his sorcery denied by the Pariah's proximity, Tigurius was forced to fall back on his martial prowess – which, despite the long centuries he'd spent honing his psychic talents, remained considerable. The Sisters couldn't kill him, but they managed to keep him busy, and at long last the path to the Arch-Traitor was opened.

Bellowing a war-cry filled with more aggression than any would've believed the legendarily cold-blooded Custodes to be capable of, Shield-Captain Andros charged, Grand Master Mordrak and a score other heroes at his side. Though they had fought long and hard to reach this point, they were transhuman one and all, and still far from reaching exhaustion.

Only then did the Dark Master rise from his throne.

Andros Launceddre blinked. He could taste his own blood, rich with the Emperor's own gene-craft. His eyes showed him the tormented void of Olympia, and the not-so-distant lights of battling ships.

He had fallen on his back. He tried to rise, but his body wouldn't move. Something – a lot of something – had broken inside him, to the point that even his augmented brain couldn't process the pain and had simply shut it down in shock.

After half a second, Andros realized he could still move his neck. Doing so, he shifted his point of view – but wherever he looked, he saw only the broken bodies of his comrades. Clad in auramite or ceramite, it mattered not : the entirety of the Imperial host appeared to have been felled. Not all of them were dead, but already the Slaves to Ruin were moving to finish off the wounded.

Slowly, the memory of what had happened returned to the Shield-Captain in fragmented flashes of recollection. They had been about to reach their target – his spear had been so close – when suddenly, he'd unleashed his power against them. He had raised his hands, clad in the infamous Talons of Might which had crippled the Emperor, and a storm of infernal energies had erupted from all around him, engulfing them all.

The inevitable realization couldn't be ignored, and it filled Andros with bitterness : they had underestimated Guilliman. Or, rather, they had overestimated how weakened the Arch-Traitor had become since his duel with the Emperor. If not for the Sisters of Silence, who had at least somewhat diminished the power of that singular attack, then they surely would all already be dead.

From what little Andros could see, none of the Pariah had survived. They'd taken the brunt of Guilliman's demonstration of sorcerous might, and those he glimpsed had been transmuted into screaming statues, petrified within their armor. He hoped, and the thought surprised him with its humanity, that their very soullessness meant they were dead, not trapped in perpetual torment.

He felt the monster's approach long before his shadow fell over him. Even to someone as psychically mute as a Custodes, Roboute Guilliman's power was impossible to ignore. It was a chorus of screams, a crushing spiritual weight that threatened to drag all those around it down, down, down into the abyss of perdition where the hungry maws of the Ruinous Powers awaited.

Little wonder the heretics they'd faced in this unholy court had been so willing to throw themselves on their blades, Andros reflected. At least part of them must have longed for death, if only to be released from their liege's awful presence.

When the monster entered Andros' field of view, his appearance was as grotesque as his aura suggested. Guilliman had the face of a corpse, pale and withered, while his eyes glowed with eldritch fire, and the tear in his armor where the Emperor's blade had struck him blazed with the very same fire – the raging inferno of the Primordial Annihilator, forever hungering for the galaxy's unmaking.

How anyone could choose to follow such a creature was beyond the Custodes – but then, he supposed none of the miserable wretches had chosen anything about their slavery. Through indoctrination, manipulation, and sorcerous coercion, they had all been dragged out of the Ruinstorm to fight and die for the purposes of the Dark Master of Chaos.

"You have failed, Shield-Captain," said the monster. Something which was a smile in the same way the monster was a man appeared on his face, and he added, mockingly : "Again."

Slowly, fighting to stay conscious as the pain of his dying body finally began to register, Andros pulled his lips into a defiant smile.

"Have we ?"

While Perturabo had hoped the strike team would succeed in killing his brother, the Lord of Iron knew their chances of success were slim. Though he'd never faced Guilliman in combat himself, he still remembered the terrible power he'd felt radiating from the confrontation between him and the Emperor at the end of the Siege, while he'd been busy sending Dorn back to his foul god. He didn't think Guilliman was back to such an eschatological level of power, for there was no Emperor the Dark Gods needed him to kill, but even a weakened Guilliman remained a formidable foe.

And so, the Fourth Primarch had planned for the possibility of failure, and had brought the Grieving Blade back in range of the Macragge's Honour, along with scores of Imperial ships with still-functioning lances. Had Guilliman still been able to direct the flow of battle, such a manoeuvre would have been impossible, but with the Dark Master distracted by dealing with his would-be assassins, the Lord of Iron was able to orchestrate it perfectly. His plan was to fire the Grieving Blade's Nova Cannon again, taking down the void-shields of the Macragge's Honour once more, then have the rest of the fleet pummel the Traitor vessel into scrap.

Based on how long it had taken the shields to come back on last time, the damage the boarding parties had inflicted, the combined firepower he'd managed to scrounge up, what he knew of the damage tolerances of a Gloriana and the countless minor details he'd picked up observing the Macragge's Honour in the battle so far, Perturabo was confident this tactic would work. It was possible the Macragge's Honour would be able to get off one last shot with its main gun before dying, in which case the Grieving Blade's own shields and wards would be put to the ultimate test, but Perturabo was willing to sacrifice the ship and everyone onboard, including himself, if it meant avenging all those who had been lost to the Arch-Traitor's evil once and for all.

As the Librarians on the Grieving Blade informed him of the attempt's failure, Perturabo sent the final orders needed to enact his plan. The tech-priests enacted their last rituals, and pressed the last runes, whispering binharic prayers, unknowingly echoed by the bridge crew.

And in the Court of Discordia, surrounded by the corpses of dead heroes and monsters, with one of his Talons buried into the chest of Shield-Captain Andros Launceddre, Roboute Guilliman smiled.

For once, everything was as planned. Or, at least, within acceptable parameters.

Twice already he'd been forced to completely rewrite his plans : once when that wretch Thiel had destroyed Macragge, and again when his father had cowardly chosen death instead of facing him.

But this ? This was going exactly as he wanted.

True, he had not foreseen the Tau's little rebellion, but it didn't matter. The xenos' only purpose in this opening war was to break the Keystone, something none of his other tools could do, for the power of that annoying station was anathema to them. Now that was done, their loss was an annoyance, and the temporary loss of his Tetrarch until he could summon it again was an inconvenience, but not a threat.

Perturabo wasn't a threat to him in open conflict either, he never had been. But, given time to prepare and build, he could be an obstacle, could delay him long enough for other, more powerful foes to make their move. He had proved it on Terra, with his damned walls and his thrice-damned maze.

No, best to remove him from the board early, before he could join with Lorgar and Omegon and make himself a real nuisance.

And what best way to ensure Perturabo came than by threatening his precious homeworld ? After all, it had worked perfectly with the Hrud already. For all that he claimed to embrace logic above all else, emotions had always been Perturabo's weakness.

There were other paths out of the Ruinstorm he could have taken, ones which wouldn't have required the Tau to break the Keystone. But he was Roboute Guilliman. He would not sneak out of his own domain like a thief in the night : he would break down the gates of Perturabo's so-called Iron Cage, and show the entire galaxy that no, his time was not yet done. Vengeance wasn't his only goal with attacking Olympia, for only fools pursued a singular objective at a time.

And now, this. Perturabo thought he'd got him, that the knights of silver and gold had successfully distracted him, allowing the Lord of Iron to move his ship into position for a kill-shot on the Macragge's Honour. A cunning plan, it must be say, with just enough ruthlessness to make Guilliman reluctantly impressed. Perturabo had sacrificed thousands of his sons and nephews, a thousand Custodes and a hundred Grey Knights, all in order to bring this moment about.

He could still escape, of course. The Warp was his to command, even now. He could move through the hidden dimensions, where the Immaterium and the Materium met hidden from the gazes and minds of those not illuminated into the Ruinous Principles. The Macragge's Honour would die, but he would live – and his life was the most important thing in all this, he knew with complete certainty.

But no. Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines and Dark Master of Chaos, still had one card to play. One that he had kept hidden ever since the rebellion, when he used it to deal with that annoying coalition of humans and xenos before they could interfere with the affairs of their betters any further.

He spoke, and his words echoed with all the power of his mantle, past the fragile veil of the Materium and into the Sea of Souls, where his servants awaited them :

"Auxiliaries, now."

As the Grieving Blade was about to take her shot, the fragile reality of Olympia, already brutalized by the shattering of the Iron Cage and the re-entry of the Fourth Legion flagship and her escorts far beyond the Mandeville Point, was shredded to pieces. All across the Imperial fleet, auspex returns became nonsensical, as the machine-spirits struggled to cope with the eldritch energies rampaging across the system. The Grieving Blade's firing solution on her target was immediately fouled as distances compressed and extended nonsensically, forcing Perturabo to abort the Nova-Cannon's firing at the very last moment, lest they accidentally destroy one of their own squadrons with a stray shot.

Then, from amidst the madness, ships began to emerge. They were vast and terrible, forged in the secret shipyards of the Galactic Core. Upon their hulls were thousands of Chaotic runes, carved into the metal by genius artisans maddened by the dread majesty of the Empyrean to tell the sagas of past lords and champions. Their weapons were shaped in the image of countless bestial mouths, and their engines blazed with the infernal fires of bound daemons. To look upon these vessels was to know without the shadow of a doubt that they'd been built to reflect the corruption of their masters.

Once, long ago, they had borne another name, one born of strength through unity, of common purpose and dedication. But those days were long past, washed away in a tide of blood and broken promises. Now they were the Kin of Hashut, the Father of Darkness – but that was not the only name they bore.

They were the Demiurges, pledged to the Dark Master of Chaos, and they would see the galaxy burn.

To be concluded in

The Ruinstorm Breaks

Part Three : The Denunciation of Iron

AN : Well, this one got a little away from me length-wise. Every 'part' was supposed to be around 2k words long, which would've put the total at approximately 10k. Instead ... yeah.

Quick clarification : in the Grieving Blade's backstory, it's Ularan, not Uralan, where the Tower of Secrets stands. Two entirely different worlds, which just happens to have annoyingly similar names.

What's that ? Me taking advantage of a typo I wrote nearly ten years ago to get out of having to explain what the frak Perturabo was doing in the Eye of Terror ? I don't know what you are talking about.

I expect most of you recognized Felix from WHF. But if you recognized Kazakital and Justine, then congratulations on being a real Warhammer fan ! Same thing if you recognize the inspiration for what I'm calling the Kardis Tragedy.

And the truth of what happened to the Tau in this timeline is revealed. I feel that the Ethereals being psykers makes sense, both in this fic and in the main canon as well (seriously, there are scenes written in official material that make it clear the Ethereals have some kind of mind/emotion control ability). In the initial draft, I actually toyed with the idea of having Farsight fall to Khorne, since GW keeps teasing us with that in the main continuity, but then I decided even I couldn't be that cruel.

Besides, I need him for later.

I feel I should clarify that I've had the idea of the Demiurges being 40K's equivalent of the Chaos Dwarves from Fantasy since years before Games Workshop brought the Squats back as the Leagues of Votann. So if all of you Kin fans can put down your pitchforks, I have only just (hopefully) convinced the Tau fans to put theirs down. The next chapter will start with, basically, the Codex and Army List of the Demiurges, explaining just what happened in this timeline. For now, let's just say that their corruption was a masterful play of the Dishonorable Opposition, and not just because they wiped out the Interex during the Heresy.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter, and I look forward to your thoughts and theories as to what is going to happen next. Also, what did you think of the division into sub-parts I tried for this chapter, copying the style of the official lore books (although their authors are a lot better disciplined length-wise than me) ? Should I keep it going forward ?

Anyways, I'm going back to writing Ciaphas Cain : Warmaster of Chaos.

Zahariel out.