The Dark Gods were meeting in the Warp, in a place where none of them had walked in many ages of the galaxy. They gathered in the ruins of what had once been a grand Realm, but was now nothing more than the echoes of faded glories that had never been. They met in the monument of their greatest victory, a triumph so absolute there wasn't a single soul in the universe who knew it had even happened. Even the mightiest of their daemonic choirs did not know about this place, and the Gods themselves only remembered it when it was required that they do so.

Cunning Tzeentch was the first to arrive, for it had been him who had called this meeting. He was a raging inferno the size of a world, a vortex of many-hued flames into which a thousand thousand faces could be glimpsed, screaming and laughing and weeping and crying out one of the universe's secret for every million lies. The flames were shaped like a pillar, atop which stood a head similar in form to that of a bird, but with teeth made of broken minds and eyes that burned with all the images of a better world that had ever been dreamt by a genocidal tyrant.

Then came Khorne, in all his blood-soaked glory. He was clad in armor of brass and iron forged in the iconography of skulls, and his horned head was that of a wolf, teeth dripping with ichor. Weapons hung from his belt, an infinity of them – every tool of murder that had ever been created or ever would be, from the sharpened rock that had been used to bash in the skull of the first human murder victim to a bomb that had extinguished an entire Sector during the War in Heavens. Khorne's flesh was skinless, crimson and raw, with white bone showing under the muscles.

Nurgle, God of Life and Death, Plaguefather and enemy of Tzeentch, was the next to huddle his enormous mass in. He was much like his disciples across a million worlds imagined him : bloated with fat, cancers and rot, a behemoth of greenish skin and yellow bones, bile flowing from tears in his belly. Great horns rose from his head, like those of a stag, but brittle and diseased, as if the slightest breeze could break them. A cloud of flies hovered above his head like a black halo, and he was gnawing on a piece of meat that had once been the ecosystem of an entire planet.

Finally, Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Excess, arrived, dancing and leaping over the ruins of a kingdom that had been dead long before the Eldars had dreamed their doom into existence, yet with which the Profligate One still remembered warring aeons ago. She was as beautiful and terrible as he ever was, a vision from the greatest and darkest dreams of every species that had ever known desire. He was the Lord of Pain and Pleasure, the Great Corruptor, and her sight would have broken the heart of any human (and any who beheld what it truly looked like would have had their soul shattered also, for it was more monstrous than any of its older siblings).

The Primordial Pantheon of Chaos met in the ruined kingdom of their dead, nameless brother-that-never-was, and three of them looked upon Tzeentch, who had called them here, invoking accords and pacts that had been forged in the first days of the universe.

(This isn't what happened, of course. The Dark Gods do not speak with one another, because they do not speak at all, nor do they have bodies or appearances, and they certainly do not make pacts with one another, nor were they present at the beginning of the universe. They are creatures of madness and raw energy, primordial concepts of existence given names, meaning and agency by the dreams of mortals desperate to impose some form of order upon the unspeakable Chaos that has dwelled at the heart of the Sea of Souls since the catastrophic ending of the War in Heavens, sixty millions years ago. And yet, it still happened, and they still do and are all these things that cannot possibly be true, for every metaphor is made reality in the Empyrean, and the Ruinous Powers are still bound by what few laws of this dimension their very existence does not break.)

'I thank you all for coming,' said Tzeentch (and again, these weren't words that were exchanged, but rather concepts and information on a divine scale – yet it also was words, at the same time).

'Right now, our champion, Horus, has gathered all of his forces to him, and has begun his final advance toward Terra. There, as we have decided, he shall confront the Anathema, and destroy his mortal body, condemning him to imprisonment within the Throne of Dust. The Sacrificed King has already destroyed the Anathema's plan to bend the Webway to his purpose. Now, he will remove the possibility of the Anathema coming up with a new way of denying us our ultimate victory by silencing him and binding him to Terra.'

'And our champion will die in that confrontation, as was ordained as well, for Horus has proved that he will not willingly bend the knee to us and usher in our great triumph. He would seek to claim his father's crown for himself, and in his pride he would see the galaxy purged of life rather than allow us our final victory. That is why he will perish, and the Long War shall begin as he breathes his last. That is our grand plan, the one we all agreed upon when we scattered the Anathema's sons across the stars. There have been alterations to it made here and there, where our personal goals demanded it, but we have clung to this overarching design. But, my brothers … we have been deceived. The Anathema has played us for fools. He knew of our plans to turn his sons against him, and he planned around us.'

'With the Anathema trapped in the Throne of Dust, our truce, such as it is, will be ended. We will turn upon each other, and for ten thousand years our followers will make war. All the while, the Anathema will feed on the faith of his Imperium, until the day the Throne of Dust finally breaks, succumbing to entropy and the terrible power coursing through it. On that day, our hordes will pour forth from our realm, mortals and immortals alike, and wage the final war for dominion over the galaxy … or so we thought. But, brothers, we have been deceived.'

'For when the Anathema's mortal vessel perishes, the blind worship of trillions will pour unrestrained into his ascended spirit. He will be as we are, unbound by the covenants and fuelled by the blind worship of trillions of souls across the galaxy. Terra will burn in golden fire, and the Eternal Tyrant will rise with his legions of angels, transfiguring Mankind into something beyond our ability to influence.'

As Tzeentch spoke, he sent images to the other Dark Gods, showing them what that future would look like. He showed them the Angels of Death, reforged into vengeful, fiery wraiths of destruction. He showed them the numberless hosts of the Astra Militarum, made undying and uncaring by the power of their God. He showed them the clockwork children of the Mechanicus and their great machines, driven to endless perfection by the beating of the Eternal Tyrant's heart. He showed them their servants hunted down by the reborn heroes of the Imperium, transformed into vessels of divine power, and how they would be forced back into the Eye of Terror, where the Long War would turn into one of survival. And they all agreed that this future must not be.

'We must change our plans for the Long War that will follow the end of the rebellion,' declared Tzeentch. 'I see two options that would prevent this future from coming to pass. One is to empower Horus enough that he will destroy the Anathema completely. But this is likely to fail, and even should it succeed, then we will face the same problems that led us to arrange our Warmaster's defeat in the first place. The second option is that we must wage the Long War not through conquest and destruction, hardening the faith of Mankind in their dead god with every blow, but through temptation and corruption. We must destroy the faith of Mankind so that the Eternal Tyrant cannot be born – or if it is, it must be weak enough that we can defeat it in the Great Game.'

'Fortunately,' and Tzeentch's countless mouths were smiling now, 'we have one champion who has proven more than capable at this task. A champion whose charisma has turned half the Imperium against itself, doing more to spread our influence upon Mankind in a handful of years than even Lorgar could in half a century. And it would be the easiest thing for us all to arrange for that individual to remain able to oppose the Anathema throughout the coming ages. Do you see of whom I speak, my brothers ?'

'You are talking about letting Horus survive the first stage of the Long War,' said Slaanesh.

'Yes,' nodded Tzeentch, the motion sending ripples amidst his flaming manifestation. 'We will need to work together for this to go well – there are many factors at play that guarantee our Sacrificed King will live up to his name. I believe he is the one most suited to ensure that the vision I just shared with you do not come to pass. And in addition, it would even mean that we kept the spirit of our word to him : his rebellion would be the only thing preventing his father from becoming a god.'

There was much discussion after that, as the Dark Gods arranged the details of this new accord. They spoke of old grudges and potential futures, of the balance between them and how it may be broken anew. Even as they discussed a solution to a threat to all of them, it was in their nature to each seek to use the opportunity to secure their own supremacy over the others. But they had already come to an agreement, as Tzeentch had known they would. All that remained was to hammer the plan's finer details – which of course, in the long run, would prove the most important.

The discussion lasted an age, and also less than an instant. A new accord was reached, and the Dark Gods departed, to set in motion the events required to forge the new path they had agreed upon. Commands were issued to the hosts of the Neverborn, and the strings of mortal puppets were pulled, that the course of Fate, which had seemingly been set in stone, may be shifted once more.

AN : So ... yeah. This is a thing.

I have been posting this story on Spacebattles for about a month now, and it has reached a length where my initial plan of posting it on the "Warhammer 40000 Short Stories" fic is just ridiculous. So, after much hesitation, I have decided to bit the bolt shell and create a new fic exclusively reserved to this new alternate timeline. I am not sure what ffnet policies are about posting multiple chapters on a fic nigh-simultaneously, so in order to avoid problems, I am going to post one chapter a day until I am caught up.

Now, to discuss the actual story. It was inspired by a couple of things I had been reading at the time I began writing it : the comic book series Lucifer, by Mike Carey, and the tabletop role-playing game Infernum, by Mongoose Publishing. The prologue you just read was heavily inspired on the series Sandman, by Neil Gaiman (more especially the amazing storyline Seasons of Mist).

This story is going to be in "narrative style", that is to say, an historical account of events with short scenes and lines of dialogue. Kind of like what I do for the Roboutian Heresy, except the chapters are going to be much, much shorter, and I am writing them in a much more free-style manner.

Progress on the other fics continues to advance. I am almost done with the next chapter of Warband of the Forsaken Sons, and I estimate that I am around 80% for the Roboutian Heresy.

I hope you enjoyed reading this prelude, and will enjoy what comes next.

Zahariel out.