Black Crusade 10.5

Wolftime

The most powerful civilisations of this galaxy have an interesting fascination for prophesized final battles.

The Aeldari – at least those who remain after Commorragh – have the Rhana Dandra. The Hrud have their dreaded Char'tzor. The Orks have Ragnarork...which happens periodically and pushes them to new heights of ferocity.

Yet the humans have largely surpassed them all in this regard. Times of Ending, Armageddon, Light's Fall, Götterdämmerung, and Apocalypse; the youngest and most recent race to climb to the position of being the ruling galaxy-spanning Empire has long integrated the myth of the final battle into its foundations.

Are they wrong to do so?

No.

There is power in the stories which are created from these cataclysmic cycles.

A fortress besieged by endless hordes will hold because its defenders believe that at the last hour, reinforcements will come to save the day.

And they will come.

It is the Wolftime.

Inevitably, the Space Wolves are going to fall. Led by their Primarch or not, the last Astartes of the Sixth Legion have made too many enemies and broken too many interdictions. They may be able to win against the Word Bearers for this battle, but there is no saving them from the Imperium's laws now.

Ironic, isn't it?

The slaughter to come is the last great war of the Old Legions.

I think all the Primarchs feel it, deep inside their chests. Their age of glory is no more. The Imperium has mourned their departure, and while it elevated them to Sainthood, the trillions of souls have a very flawed image of what the return of one would cause in politics.

The Anathema knows it, no matter how much torment he endures on the Golden Throne. That is after all why he decided to go with his new plan. The so-called Living Saints can and will die, but they will return when they are needed. They will forge new legends and the population of the Imperium will rally to them, because they were born among them, walk by their side, and share the same difficult choices they themselves face.

But the game is not yet over. The Power of Anarchy...my Power...is ascendant, but the future is still uncertain.

The final battle is about to be fought. The warriors have merely seen the prelude of the carnage to come.

This is the Wolftime.

Do not think you have a century of peace ahead of you, angels. In time, you will learn the only truth which matters.

Defeat means extinction. And the path to victory leads only to war.


Segmentum Solar

Sol Sector

Sol System

Holy Terra

The Oniric Realm

99 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Thought for the day: It is the bitter tears that the Gods weep that bind us to their hearts.

The Emperor

Sacrifice is one of his most powerful Aspects. Why, oh why, does it have to be the one which hurts the most?

He is alone now. He does not want his Custodes to see him like this...he does not want his golden protectors to see him cry.

He has lost a son.

And saving his soul, as important as it is, is meagre consolation.

He thought he would be prepared after acknowledging the inevitable for so long. Breaking the Possession of something like a C'Tan is not something many beings can survive for even a fraction of a second.

It still hurts.

It still hurts to see his sons die.

"Sacrifice," the millenary-old human whispers. "It's always about Sacrifice...and surviving to see your dreams turn to ash."

It is not often the Master of Mankind despairs. But at this very second, he can't help but remember all those who died for the hope of a better future while he couldn't do anything but cry.

Malcador told him years ago 'Revelation' was a regal name for the 'Master of Mankind'.

Right now, he bitterly thinks he should have called himself 'Survivor'.

Lovers, old friends, sons, allies...most of them are gone.

The tears are stopped by a monumental effort of will.

His son is dead, but the battle is not over.

The Crucible is close, and though his sight is all but gone, he still has one card left to play.

His plan is not based on any precognitive ability or psychic power.

In fact, his enemies would certainly be very surprised how erratic and unreliable this part of his powers has been since Commorragh.

He relies most of all on his experience, military knowledge, and the lore and secrets gained during his long struggle against Chaos.

The old man can only hope it will be enough.

A single psychic tear must have materialised in reality as he sighs.

Many of his sons may not survive. Will Corax have taken heed of his warning? Will Russ find in him the wisdom to choose correctly? Will Omegon...no, unfortunately that ship has long sailed past redemption.

"What I do, I do for humanity," the Emperor says softly.

There is only waiting now.

And the emotional pain of losing the people he loves is his sole companion.


Anarchy spreads, Word Bearers. The dam is broken. You can't stop me anymore.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

High Orbit above Fenris

Super-Battleship Tizca's Revenge

99 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Exalted Sorcerer T'Sathis Vhorr

When his father had summoned him to build the ward-shields of the Tizca's Revenge, T'Sathis Vhorr had been impressed by the ambition of the project, of course.

The Exalted Sorcerer of the Cult of Time had also been extremely proud to be acknowledged as one of the nine Astartes each recognized as the best in their fields of sorcerous studies.

For all his pride, however, T'Sathis had been a bit troubled by the sheer power which was supposed to flow through the time-displacement shields. The Tizca's Revenge had been built from the start to boast other sorcerous defences worthy of a Super-Battleship, and that wasn't even counting the psychic-reactive metals used to build the hull itself. Ambition was all well and good, but the Thousand Sons Sorcerer had wondered more than once if they weren't making the fleet's flagship more complicated than necessary simply because they could.

Now most of these doubts had faded away, courtesy of the Tizca's Revenge being the target of the entire Word Bearer's Armada.

"This treachery will not go unpunished!"

"They are just betraying us before we can do the same to them," T'Sathis pointed out philosophically.

"But this is-"

"Silence," he ordered, as one of his future-selves slapped the irritating fool from behind. "Have our forces been able to teleport back before the Silver Towers fell?"

"Yes, Exalted Sorcerer!" one of his Tzaangor servants croaked. "The nine Covens are all present, and we have only lost two Sorcerers. The Legio Proditor and the Engines Arcana have been saved. The Pact of the Nine Promises and the Benediction Guard have taken minor losses, but remain combat-capable. The Morphius Conflock has lost several wings of Tzaangor warriors, but the commanders remain ready to accomplish the will of the Great Architect!"

"Excellent," in fact, it was more than that. Despite being caught by surprise, the Thousands Sons Legion had managed a flawless retreat under enemy fire. "I think it is time to leave then."

"What?" a younger Sorcerer exclaimed. "You can't be serious!"

"I am completely serious." T'Sathis did not bother turning his head to directly face the imbecile. "Our ward-shields are for the moment enduring the Word Bearer's bombardment with ease by sending their macro-shells and lasers nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine years into the future, but this state of affairs can't last. I do not need precognition to know Erebus, Kor Phaeron, and the thousands of bastards under their command are preparing their rituals. We need to leave now before they summon something capable of breaking through our enchantments."

"But Lord Magnus..."

Ah, it wasn't so much idiocy as loyalty to the Most Favoured of Tzeentch. How...naive.

"Lord Magnus can protect himself perfectly fine." T'Sathis was going to...temporarily ignore the gigantic ritual which had just been cast on Fenris' sole moon. The betrayal had come with that strike, and it hadn't touched a single warship belonging to the Thousand Sons. If it had not been cast for them, then it was to neutralise their Primarch. And given the absence of psychic storms raging on the frozen ice ball, their preparations had apparently been successful. "And I am not too worried. What are the Word Bearers going to do? Kill him? Lorgar and his sons never had that kind of power, and the Lord of All Time won't let them attack His greatest servant that way. There are rules even the Seventeenth is forced to obey."

The Warp fluctuated, and his future-selves whispered words of alarm. Ah, the rituals of the Vile One's servants had begun. It was really time for him to take the Tizca's Revenge out of this trap.

"Prepare the Prime and secondary...special drives. I want the calculations ready in ninety-nine seconds."

"But we are too close to the planet!"

The Exalted Sorcerer promised himself this annoying Sorcerer was going to stop his ill-timed interruptions or he would find himself doing something very unpleasant soon...like tending to the nine Chaos Spawns leashed in the depths of the Tizca's Revenge.

"We are the Thousand Sons. Do you really think the laws which govern pathetic mortal ships apply to us?"


Emperor-class Battleship Hydra's Scales

99 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Harrowmaster Phocron

The Tizca's Revenge vanished in an enormous blast of blue sorcery.

It didn't take nine seconds for the effects of this 'emergency translation' to become visible.

One Iron Warrior Cruiser, which had been caught between the Word Bearers Battleships and the flagship of Magnus the Red, crumbled apart. No, that was incorrect. It did not succumb to the wounds it had just suffered. It turned to dust.

And the same feat was repeated for three other warships, all Word Bearers, and five transports.

Nine hulls had just been cursed to the same fate the Rubric of Ahriman had condemned the Thousand Sons.

"They have somehow managed to break the rules of Warp translation and made their attackers pay the price for their deed. Remarkable."

His comment, obviously, was not received well by the Word Bearer the Dark Council had sent to monitor his moves.

"Remarkable?" the Legionnaire of the Seventeenth Legion hissed threateningly. "This is-"

"This is a disaster, yes." The officer of the Alpha Legion was sure that wasn't how the other Astartes wanted to end his sentence, but it was far too good an opportunity to teach him humility. "We have destroyed nine flotillas of lesser ships of the Fifteenth Legion. All their forces on the ground have vanished. And the Tizca's Revenge has escaped, no doubt with its compartments filled with said Titans and Arcane Engines, Legionnaires, and thousands of Rubricae. Our order of battle has been considerably diminished, and for what?"

"We have prevented the betrayal of Magnus the Red!"

Well, that was one way to look at it. But anyone who wasn't a Word Bearer in the 'Grand Armada' was going to use very different words to describe what had just happened. He was ready to bet his soul at least a third of the Astartes veterans were thinking about Calth, Isstvan V, and a few other ancient battlefield betrayals right now.

Phocron had to give it to them, the Word Bearers had elevated treachery to an art form. A pity they didn't train for anything else...or a relief, it all depended on one's point of view.

"Harrowmaster," one of his mortal officers saluted. "The devices we left near the Mandeville Points are detecting fluctuations. Translation of enemy ships is thought to be imminent."

Phocron acknowledged, and tried not to show how this information went against most of his expectations. Granted, the Primarchs' promises that the Fenris System would be completely cut off from outside help was a lie from the very beginning, but to have enemy reinforcements arrive so quickly...

"Show me." He commanded simply.

The auspex information was relayed just in time for several red dots to appear on the main hololith of the Hydra's Scales.

"One Lunar Cruiser, three minesweepers, four Cobra Destroyers." His men were prompt to identify. "Correction, five minesweepers. Correction, six Cobra Destroyers."

And the number of enemy ships continued to rise until...

"Lord, a few of these ships...they were at Cadia."

Phocron felt the urge to swear loudly, but it wouldn't be exactly good for morale. No, he had to be stoic and imperturbable, like a Hydra towering over its enemy.

"Acknowledged. How were you able to identify them so quickly?"

"There are several unique ships in this formation, Lord Phocron. Some of them are undoubtedly the Rogue Trader ships which caused so many...problems for our rearguard fleet in the Cadian Gate warzone."

What a polite way to describe what had undoubtedly been a disaster...another disaster.

"I see." In the time it had taken for the Alpha Legion fleet officer to speak, the number of enemy ships had tripled. And the flow of translating warships was showing no sign of stopping.

"Someone must have good Navigators," the Harrowmaster noted in appreciation, "they have organised their groups in flotillas and a translation comes every three seconds."

"We can handle them," the Word Bearer he was forced to keep by his side snorted in clear dismissal of what was already a massive amount of firepower. "These are Navy ships, not Astartes."

Phocron wanted to shout at him and tell the imbecile to wake up. Most of their escorts were already dead, to the point the Cruiser was likely the default escort now. This in turn meant the dozens of Destroyers were going to launch their Torpedoes at effective range, disengage, rearm, and then return during the space battle.

And given the stupendous number of Destroyers and Frigates, the capital ships coming behind were going to be...how to phrase it politely?...ah yes, they were going to have 'significant numbers'.

Silently, he made a series of coded signs to several of his Astartes present on the bridge. This Black Crusade was jumping from calamity to calamity, and the more time spent 'crusading' with the Word Bearers, the more respect he gained for Warmaster Abaddon.

"Alpha-class translation coming from another Mandeville Point, Lord."

Someone had screwed up the translation schedule? But then the Alpha Legion's commander supposed there were failures in every organisation and-

"My Lord...it's...the auspexes identify it as the Hrafnkel!"

Phocron gaped. Nothing had prepared him for that sort of...extremely bad news.

The Hrafnkel. The Gloriana Battleship of the Space Wolves. The flagship of-

"This is a bluff." The Word Bearer 'Overseer' was prompt to loudly broadcast his denial. "The slaves of the False Emperor are trying to incite panic inside our ranks. No doubt they found the hull abandoned in some long-forgotten system and decided to repair it before launching it against us. They are trying to scare us into believing we are facing their Primarch, but their pathetic attempt will fail and-"

"MAGGGGGNNNNNNNUUUUUSSSSS!"

In the following minutes, Phocron would try to find out how any Imperial technology could send a message over such a long distance while being barely cleared from the Mandeville Point.

But at that moment, the Harrowmaster felt an unpleasant emotion he had not experienced in a long, long time.

The howling was powerful and conjured mental images of an alpha beast coming home to see its pack in danger, of eternal pursuers dragging their enemies onto icebergs and forcing them to jump to their death.

It was a battlecry of the wild. It was a primal call of vengeance.

"You were saying?"


Fenris

Asaheim

98 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Primarch Magnus the Red

"MAGGGGGNNNNNNNUUUUUSSSSS!"

Magnus couldn't help it. He laughed. He laughed even while as far as he could see, the Word Bearers' ranks were suddenly struck silent.

"Well, brother," the chained Daemon Primarch spoke, "it seems you have a little problem."

"I don't think so. Russ won't stop me. And I find you frankly far too joyful given the circumstances. He wants you dead, in case you have forgotten."

"True, but our dear furry brother lacks the weapons to kill me a second time," if he grinned, who could blame him?

"And unlike you, my sons are either dead or long gone from this battlefield. I think you should be more worried about your Legion, brother."

"My Legion will be fine. They know what is at stake, and we have one hundred Battleships supported by two Abyss Super-Battleships. And while none of my sons are the equals of a Primarch in void combat, they will be supported by the Gods and special weapons we prepared exactly for situations like this one."

Magnus wondered if Lorgar truly believed that, or if he was trying to convince himself of it. Yes, there had been battles millennia ago where Space Marine commanders had outmanoeuvred a Primarch, but they were rare. And in general, they happened mostly due to the Primarch operating on wrong assumptions and behaving like a moron, like Perturabo at Phall.

The musing came to an end because at the centre of the ritual grounds, an artefact was revealed.

It was an enormous crystal of pale green colour. Some lesser sorcerer might have believed it was a Nurglite relic, but Magnus was not deceived by mere appearances. Despite its relative simplicity, this thing had not been built by Mankind...or any faction worshipping Chaos.

"Pillaging xenos vaults to accomplish your rituals?" He taunted Lorgar.

"Laugh as much as you want," the reply came after a couple of seconds, "it won't save you. Thanks to this Necron artefact, I will be able to please Nurgle and open the Tear of Nightmares at the same time."

"That sounds like a very bad idea." The Fifteenth Primarch replied honestly.

"You're only saying that because you will be unable to regain your strength for seven hundred and seventy-seven years. Until then you will be unable to do anything more than haunt your precious libraries."

"They are very nice libraries, iconoclast barbarian," the Lord of the Thousand Sons spat out between gritted teeth.

He cleared this throat as skulls, slime, and some other ritual reagents were brought forwards all around him.

"But no. I wouldn't have advised that kind of overcomplicated ritual even if I had no intention of betraying you."

"Lies," one of the senior Dark Apostles proclaimed. "He's just furious we are going to illuminate Fenris for the Gods and-"

"Mothac." Lorgar interrupted frostily. "You have duties in orbit."

The Word Bearer religious leader bowed and disappeared.

"Since you tried to complicate my goals, I thought an eightfold ritual will be incredibly pleasing for the Gods."

Magnus could very much imagine what sort of rituals had been integrated in addition to the Tear of Nightmares.

"And no, Russ won't be able to interrupt it by simply blasting it from orbit. Another ritual is in effect on Valdrmani. As long as it and several other sacrifices are made, the Space Wolves of the Fang are the only enemies on this world able to interfere...and they have other things to deal with."

Personally, Magnus didn't find these defences very infallible. Without effort he had found nine ways to bypass them...and that was without using his psychic powers. It stood to reason that unless Russ had lost his intelligence, those protections weren't going to last long against the legendary fury of the Lord of Fenris.

Not that he was going to inform Lorgar of that.

At least the presence of tens of thousands of Word Bearers and the topic brought up by Lorgar allowed him to divert the conversation in another direction.

"I hope for your sake, brother, that you have informed the Iron Warrior warbands of your plan's alterations. I speak from experience when I say the sons of Perturabo are not exactly the happiest of Astartes when someone abandons them in the middle of a siege..."


Approaches of the Bloodfire Gate

97 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Warsmith Charyx

"THAT BASTARD! THAT UNGRATEFUL, DAMNED, OATH-BREAKING BASTARD!"

All sons of Perturabo breathed and lived the manta of 'Iron within, Iron without'. And they knew that when iron broke...it wasn't something a Remembrancer would call 'pretty'.

For Warsmith Arukal, this shattering moment had arrived.

Charyx didn't blame him. He was trying to contain his own wrath and keep himself from exploding and tearing apart everything within range.

"FIRST HE WITHDRAWS THE ENGINES! AFTER THAT WE LOSE THE THOUSAND SONS! AND NOW THE WORD BEARERS HAVE OTHER THINGS TO DO! IS THIS SIEGE SUPPOSED TO BE A JOKE OR DO WE LOOK LIKE THE BASTARD SONS OF FULGRIM?"

And on this long imprecation, Arukal stormed out of the command bunker, trampling and killing any servitors and Volscani Cataphract guardsmen unlucky enough to be in his path.

"He's not wrong," Warsmith Depedreter pointed out.

"Of course he's not wrong," Charyx bitterly replied. "We always knew we would need Astartes support when the time came to fight in the tunnels of the Fang. The slaves and the engines of the Dark Mechanicum are useful enough to deplete the ammunition stockpile of the Wolves, but to kill an Astartes without taking crippling losses, you need an Astartes."

"Crippling losses were likely unavoidable anyway," the Warsmith of the Metal Claw warband noted. "We never envisioned how...devastating those cursed bears are at close-quarters. They also have Bjorn the Fell-Handed."

Two things which shouldn't belong in the same sentence: 'bears' and 'Bjorn'. Charyx was beginning to develop an outright loathing of both.

"We haven't been able to claim more than half a kilometre of ground inside the Fang," he said after reading the latest – and very long – estimated number of fatalities.

"We're advancing on a carpet of our own dead," Depedreter summarized bluntly. "We need a shock assault of Astartes Legionnaires to dislodge them and kill that damned Dreadnought. The sooner we kill him, the sooner the Wolves' resistance will collapse."

"Yes."

But where to find those Astartes?

The Thousand Sons? Given how the Word Bearers had betrayed them – and no, Charyx didn't care about the loud quarrels in the war camps, it was the Seventeenth which fired first – the Fifteenth Legion wouldn't return.

The Word Bearers? They had abandoned the Siege to go worship their gene-sire or whatever thing they had seen in the entrails of a sacrificed slave.

The Emperor's Children? The day he trusted the hedonist sticks-addicts to do something that complicated, Charyx would take his own life. And besides, there weren't enough of them.

The Death Guard? They had escorted the Word Bearers when Magnus was dragged away in chains.

The Night Lords? They had taken such a beating against the Eldar that the survivors were hiding inside their ships.

And the rest – like the Alpha Legion – were as unreliable as the Naga's peacocks.

This left a single question, and it was far from a pleasant one.

"Who is going to announce the bad news to Sota-Nul?"

"I was thinking...to give you the honour." Depedreter morosely looked at the deteriorating situation of the siege lines. "She may give us some weapons she kept in reserve."

"The major reserve she has left is Legio Vulturum," Charyx pointed out in an unconvinced tone, "and now that the Wolves' reinforcements are here, I doubt we are going to see them deployed on Fenris. The Titans are far too valuable for her powerbase...and I don't know how much good they would do. The Warhounds are the only engines small enough to squeeze through the Bloodfire Gate, and the defensive artillery of the Wolves will slaughter them if they try."

"Speak to Sota-Nul," Depedreter snarled several Olympian curses between his teeth. "I am going to pressure the bastard overseers of the Seventeenth to send us more Volscani and cultists. If they don't want to fight, they will give us the cannon-fodder to continue this siege. If they don't, my warband will relocate elsewhere."

"There still are over one hundred Battleships over our heads, and we don't have more than one thousand siege-master Astartes." He felt the need to remind the other Warsmith.

"I don't think they will be there for long, if they are as useless in void combat as they are at fighting sieges..."


The problem with miraculous victories is that after you've achieved one once, your opponents will stop underestimating you. And then they will try to produce miracles for their own side.


The Warp

If forced to tell the truth, the Three would admit nothing had gone according to plan.

It was obvious Weaver had become aware of the true nature of the Tau, and thus the trap supposed to be triggered in coordination with Lorgar's ritual to open the Tear of Nightmares wasn't going to work.

In a not so distant past, the mere idea that one of their grand campaigns of unity, the so-called 'Black Crusades', was about to fail would have been the cause of much consternation.

Today there were more important things than that at stake.

After all, there was the slim but dreadful possibility Weaver would be able to force the Tau leadership to submit to her will. It was unlikely, yes, given the Ethereals being part-Tau part-Enslaver, but the possibility couldn't be discounted.

And if she did...

The Ethereals had built the four 'Castes' of the Tau in opposition to the Powers they should have served.

The Fire Caste was killing with long-range weapons, ambushing its targets, and running away instead of coating their weapons in the blood of their enemies.

The Water Caste was swaying new races to their side via trade, appeals to their 'Greater Good', and honoured their agreements of all things! Furthermore, they denied their ambition, preferring to deny personal prestige and striving for glory for as long as they lived.

The Earth Caste believed nothing couldn't be solved with new technological innovations, including but not limited to the incurable diseases of the Grandfather. They denied decay, pandemics, and many other blessings every time they breathed.

The Air Caste...Slaanesh was no more, but the way the previously winged Tau had refused to embrace Excess and their adventures into the unknown was nothing short of insulting.

The optimal scenario would be for the Three to turn the Ethereals into their servants. Once that was done, the dimension-displaced homeworld of the T'au Empire would be theirs, and the Castes would become potent weapons in their fight against the Anathema.

It was a perfect scenario, and given how their plans fared recently, it had little chance of working.

In truth, the Three would likely settle for the utter destruction of the Tau.

This objective was still within reach.

Kill enough Ethereals, and a population of billions would suddenly find out they were psykers, the hard way.

It wouldn't create a Warp Storm the size of the Eye of Terror to be sure, but the ripples of the psychic detonation would create uncountable breaches across tens of thousands of systems of the Eastern Fringe.

What happened at Fenris was unimportant now. Lorgar was likely going to fail anyway, and if he did, they only lost the Word Bearers.

What mattered now was to deny as many resources as possible to Weaver, and that began with the Tau.

Obviously, they were going to need a warlord to lead the assault against their rebellious blue-skinned ex-servants.

It would need to be a warlord of Chaos Undivided, as the equilibrium between the Three was already dangerously unstable as it was.

And honestly – though they weren't going to admit it to themselves – it was better if their Champion was...expendable.

Two Exalted servants had already been banished, sending one each would deny them precious assets for the next campaigns.

The Three were going to have to select one of their servants that could fight Weaver single-handedly, of course.

Fortunately, there was one Daemon Prince powerful enough to do just that.


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

Battleship Enterprise

99 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

It was somehow...strange to be able to see what the Shard giving her insect-controlling powers had become. It looked almost exactly like her. It had her appearance and the golden wings, at least.

The main difference between this angelic copy and herself was that the Emperor-transformed Shard was sleeping in a huge chrysalis of gold and red. The gold was predominant, but the red was fuelled by thousands of gemstones...Baal rubies.

It was really fascinating, and if Taylor could, she would contemplate it for hundreds of hours.

Unfortunately, while she was able to multitask efficiently, there were far too many tasks demanding her attention.

Like the gigantic Warp Rift opening approximately halfway between the planet T'au and her fleet orbiting the devastated Ymga Monolith.

Or the way many Space Marines appeared to be ready to shoot the remaining Tau now that she had confirmed the Second Primarch had told her the truth.

"Gamaliel, please ensure everyone keeps their calm. I don't want any shooting."

"My Lady...I don't think-"

"Lady Weaver, surely you aren't serious!" of course it had to be one of the Black Templars assembled who tried to militate for xenos annihilation. "You have proved it yourself, these xenos are vile abominations!"

"The Ethereals are Tau who merged with Enslavers. The others do not share this...characteristic. The diplomatic representatives do not represent a risk. Lower your weapons please, Astartes."

The female parahuman didn't tell the Astartes she could already feel the power of the Ethereals reassert itself upon the dozen or so of Tau present.

It seemed that as long as they were in a system with a strong presence of these pseudo-Enslavers, killing one of them was only a minor problem. They could easily repair the damage.

The problem was that before the mind-control link was restored, a flow of information surged into her thoughts and Taylor could see the psychic power restrained inside the blue-skinned heads.

The Tau individuals in front of her were all psykers.

It was...not a very welcome realisation.

And it couldn't be a question of castes or any social organisation, or something else. The diplomats were as psychic as the warrior...'Commander Shadowsun', that was her name.

They were all psykers. Somewhere between the Delta and Beta levels, though it was only a rough estimate on her part.

"In that case, we should kill all these...Ethereals." Kratos seemed clearly delighted by the prospect.

"I think that would be a very, very bad idea. If I have to conduct a genocide, I will begin by launching an Exterminatus against their planet."

"You're not serious!" The Tau commander had recovered from the breaking of the mental link and the revelations impressively quickly. "You would exterminate us because you hate the Ethereals?!"

"No," Taylor replied calmly, all the while glaring at the Black Templars who had not yet sheathed their weapons. "I would kill you because without the Ethereals, your race is a disaster waiting to happen. I'm sure you are familiar with the term 'psyker', since you have met the Imperium in your own dimension."

"We are," the white-armoured Tau replied cautiously. "These...humans...are gifted with powers our engineers are still trying to understand the mechanics of. We know however of the deep hatred your population feels for them."

They tried to study the...well, of course they had the Ethereals, but...no, it was still just a dangerous folly.

"I see. Commander, at the risk of being blunt, your species is exactly like our psykers. Unlike our psykers however, you have the Ethereals to suppress your connection with the Warp."

Predictably, over a third of the Black Templars drew their Bolters or Power Swords again.

"I remember ordering you to lower your weapons, Black Templars."

"Your Celestial Highness, they could lose control of their powers at any moment!"

"No, the influence of the Ethereals still extends this far. They are at no risk of blowing up or sending daemons our way...more daemons, that is."

The Rift was growing by the second, and it already vaguely appeared to be forming a crescent scarring reality. One edge was progressing towards the home of the Tau. The other was coming directly for them.

And of course it was vomiting abominations into realspace. Not in groups of five or six, but entire Legions.

Most of them were banished the moment they dared step into reality.

Between her presence, the already transformed Aethergold, and Lisa, the golden energy was not insignificant inside this system.

Yet the Ruinous Powers appeared to be willing to risk a direct assault.

It was...interesting.

"This is still...dangerous." Emperor's Champion Sigenandus grimaced.

"Of course it is. But there's no denying the mind-control of the Tau leadership has allowed them to survive in this galaxy when by all rights they shouldn't have been granted the time to develop interstellar travel."

Either way there were not a lot of options available for the Imperium...and for her.

Killing the Ethereals and leaving the rest of the Tau alone would be a catastrophe in the making. The Emperor Himself wouldn't be able to soul-bind a population of psykers that large in mere minutes, and He was not here. It would be like inviting the Ruinous Powers for dinner and offering them wine and appetisers while they were at it.

The big problem was when this rift reached the orbit of Tau, it was going to rain abominations which would no doubt be ordered to kill the Possessed as fast they could in order to create the worst disaster possible.

The Battlegroups of Operation Stalingrad could easily avoid the psychic blast...if they began to run now. It would likely mean abandoning a lot of people on the Throne of Oblivion, Bittenfeld's fleet would likely already be too deep inside the gravity well to escape in time, and of course immense stocks of Noctilith would have to be destroyed before they fell into the enemy's claws and talons.

"My Lady, we have received an urgent request for priority communication from...the xenos," Wolfgang Bach's voice informed her.

"I'm on my way. Gamaliel, please watch over the Tau delegation for me. They aren't to be harmed, or I will be very displeased."


T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

98 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Ethereal Aun'shi

Aun'shi wondered what would have happened if he had directly journeyed to one of the Septs of the Third Sphere instead of returning to T'au. Certainly he wouldn't have had the time to attempt a crossing of the Damocles Gulf before the Gue'la burned it, but...

Alas, it wouldn't do any good to speculate on what would have happened.

They were in a perilous situation, and his brethren thought he was the best spokesman they had on T'au.

It went without saying the 'logic' employed betrayed the despair of the Ethereal Caste. 'Who better than a warrior to speak with a warrior?' was the kind of argument he had routinely given poor marks for when one of his students made the mistake of uttering it.

But they were running out of good choices...and time.

The terrible wound was widening and soon would rip open the space right above T'au.

What happened after that would likely be cruel, destructive, and the end of the Empire's greatest and only remaining world.

At last the holographic communication shifted and the winged female who had killed Aun'Dyr appeared in golden light and golden armour.

Even if she had not killed one of them – something which had not happened since the Gue'la dark horror had slain Aun'Wei – Aun'shi would have instantly recognised this wasn't a...a human one could take lightly. This commander of humans wasn't one of the elite 'Space Marines', but the warrior-Ethereal had fought enough times these last Tau'cyr to know who he could slay with ease and who was going to beat him without trying very hard. And this human definitely belonged to the latter category.

"Greetings, I am Ethereal Aun'shi. In the interest of not wasting what little time we have left, I propose we skip the diplomatic courtesies."

"I agree," the golden human nodded. "I am Lady General Taylor Hebert, though I am also called Weaver and many other names and titles. Since we don't have to bother with the courtesies, I am going to be blunt. At this moment, my best option to prevent your race from awakening all their psychic abilities is to reduce your world to cinders. If your population dies before your leadership, the Warp predators who intend to kill you won't have anything to feed upon and corrupt."

Aun'shi was not surprised. In fact, if he had been on the other side and had to judge a race in the name of the Greater Good...between the survival of the Five Castes and a non-Tau civilisation, the Ethereals would place the survival of their people first. It was the difference between tragedy and extinction.

"I understand. I hope you will reconsider this stance. The survival of the population of T'au could bring...important benefits to your Imperium."

The human leader...Taylor Hebert...appeared to genuinely consider the idea.

"Your technology has several things which are of interest to the Tech-Priests I have aboard my fleet," the winged warrior conceded. "But how could I trust you not to enslave any force I send to your planet?"

Aun'shi exhaled, before revealing one of the secrets his Caste had tried very hard not to spread beyond the halls of Fio'taun. And they had been successful...until today.

"The moment we are 'born' into our bodies of flesh, we lose the ability to...influence any species beyond the Tau. While our authority is near-absolute over the Four Castes of the T'au Empire, any individual who does not belong to our species will not perceive us as anything more than extremely...charismatic individuals."

"And yet, you have an extremely impressive amount of allied and vassal species among your Empire." The apparition of gold was clearly not a diplomat, but she was not buying most of the diplomatic 'truths' they had sold to the frontier worlds of the Imperium for hundreds of Tau'cyr. "I don't think they all joined because of the purity of your intentions."

"Many had to be convinced and influenced with methods our Castes would find abhorrent if they were to become aware of them," Aun'shi admitted, "but overall, barring pandemics we were unable to control, the species which join the T'au Empire benefit enormously from the military defences and trade we are able to give them."

"And why would Enslavers care about that?"

"I could say it was one of the conditions of the Pact," Aun'shi began, "but it is not. How would the Empire as a whole believe in the Greater Good if we behave like the Imperium did and began shooting at every different race we encounter without giving peace a chance?"

The Lady General visibly didn't enjoy being reminded her tyrannical star-empire routinely conducted murderous purges on everything which wasn't a human. It was...surprising. Most of the Imperial commanders they had managed to capture during the Third Sphere had gloated that they were proud of the massacres they had committed.

"You speak of the Four...or Five Castes." The female warrior continued after a brief silence. "I know this was the method the Ruinous Powers used to control your people before you enforced peace and mind-control over the entire Tau civilisation. Why haven't you tried to create a single Caste...or two Castes, one for your 'Ethereals', and one for non-Ethereals? Surely the genetic legacy of each Caste had not diverged enough to render inter-Caste reproduction impossible."

This human, unlike some of those Aun'shi had met, had clearly not lost her intelligence by smashing heads and repeating intolerant propaganda.

"Because should two Tau of different Castes...reproduce and make the creation of a Tau child possible...we have no choice but to make them an Ethereal the moment we discover his or her existence. My predecessors learned that the hard way after the Mont'au."

Tau being Tau, there had been many celebrations when the effects of the Pact had allowed peace to return. And since the Castes didn't officially exist then, there had been no rules against inter-Caste reproduction.

After the first births, the High Council had quickly realised how disastrous it would be if it was allowed to continue.

More Ethereals could be born in increasing numbers, but the Pact had never imagined there would be the need to turn the entire population of T'au into Ethereals. There simply weren't enough 'Enslavers' – as the humans called them – and there never would be.

"Fine. Last question, Ethereal. I know your power's primary use is to siphon the psychic power of the Four Castes and to protect your 'Empire' by making you as inauspicious as possible to the abominations. Did you really need to place yourselves into a position of supreme power to build what you did?"

Dangerous was maybe too weak a word, with the benefit of hindsight.

"After the Mont'au, I believe it was. The uncountable wars...too much corruption had been spread. We had to erase as many as the horrors as we could. Be it to the Four Castes' lands or to their souls. Once it was done...no, it was not strictly necessary...we needed to be in a position to influence and guide the T'au Empire, not to rule it."

It was difficult to decipher the expressions of humans, and he was not one of the diplomats who had signed the – frequently trampled and violated – treaties with the Imperium.

"Very well, I am going to-"

The large holographic creation of the Earth Caste exploded in a column of dark-purple fire.

Aun'shi had to jump away to avoid the splinters and other debris. And from the ruined machinery, shrieks and evil laughter were heard.

"THE DARK MASTER COMES! GLORY TO THE DARK MASTER OF CHAOS!"


The only thing you have to decide before the end is whether you will stand against Anarchy or not.

But we all know you made your choice millennia ago, sons of the Anathema.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Emperor-class Battleship Hydra's Scales

High Orbit above Fenris

95 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Harrowmaster Phocron

There were so many enemy warships now that it was like a ring of steel was encircling the Fenris System.

That wasn't the case, of course.

The Imperial Navy was rarely subtle in its void tactics, but they weren't wasteful either, not when there were so many Word Bearer Battleships to hunt. Whoever the Admirals in command were, they had placed secondary flotillas headed by a pair of Cruisers each to guard the three main Mandeville Points. As they tried to dazzle their auspexes with powerful ECM bursts, Phocron judged it likely they had left most of the minelayers behind too. It wasn't likely any hull equipped to create a minefield was going to be particularly useful in the titanic battle to come.

This latter point didn't bother Phocron much. At this point, it was better to assume the Mandeville Points were going to be denied to his warband.

"We have a definite count of thirty-five Battleships, all Navy," his auspex officer informed him, "and six Astartes Battle-Barges."

"Then they must know they have no chance against us," the Word Bearer 'overseer' declared with his typical arrogance. "We have tens of thousands of Legionnaires ready for boarding operations, and the Infernus-class Battleship is a design that effortlessly surpasses their pathetic 'successor classes'."

"You think they have no chance," the Harrowmaster took great care to emphasize the 'think'. "They are led by a Primarch, they have three times the number of Cruisers we do, and several of those are Mechanicus, meaning our technological superiority is very much in question. And of course they receive additional reinforcements with every hour."

"But no Astartes." The son of Lorgar gloated. "The blind fools must still be guarding the Cadian Gate, while the real danger to their False Emperor is here. Too many of their ridiculous Chapters are dispersed across tens of thousands of light-years, and they have no reserve-"

An enormous translation rippled on his command hololith.

Phocron briefly closed his eyes, knowing it was going to be bad.

When he reopened them, he wasn't disappointed.

The names and the enormous dots representing capital ships were all too familiar to him, like they were for any veteran of the Heresy.

The Invincible Reason was leading the Astartes fleet, of course. It was flanked by the Implacable Justice and the Spear of Truth, formidable Battle-Barges in their own right.

That alone would have been a formidable demonstration of force, but the Dark Angels had not come alone. They had also summoned their Successors.

Battle-Barge after Battle-Barge emerged from the Warp. The auspexes of the Hydra's Scales counted ten, surrounded by a screen of over fifty Strike Cruisers. The number of Frigates and Destroyers – the latter being Navy classes – added two hundred-plus starships.

And as if that still wasn't enough, a colossal translation followed, and the citadel-turned-Starfort of the Rock materialised into the Fenris System.

"Well," Phocron remarked as ironically as he could, "I think our Astartes superiority has just been...shot to hell. And so is our Super-Battleship superiority, now that I think about it."

"Yes, Harrowmaster," one of his Captains agreed. "And just for the pleasure of voicing it, I can safely say the strategic description is 'we are so fucked'."

"Defeatist!" the Word Bearer roared. "I always knew the Alpha Legion was a band of apostates and-"

These were the last words he would ever speak as a blade parted his head from the rest of his body.

"Excellent initiative," Phocron complimented the Legionnaire who had done the deed. "I suppose the rest of our 'guests' have been appropriately dealt with?"

"They have, Harrowmaster."

"Can we begin our escape now?" His second asked. "The First Legion is on the warpath and I for one have no intention to verify if the rumours spread by the Fallen about captured prisoners tortured in the depths of the Rock are true or not!"

"Patience, brothers," the Harrowmaster calmed his overeager soldiers. "We can't flee with too much precipitation. The Lion's sons are the greatest problem now, but Russ won't hesitate to tear us apart if the opportunity presents itself...and if we move too soon, the Word Bearers will punish us exactly like they struck at the Thousand Sons. I would prefer to avoid this regrettable outcome...don't you feel the same way?"


Fenris System

Emperor-class Battleship Majestic Mandate

Warmaster Ender Trevayne

Like every officer of importance to have ever been summoned before the High Lords, Ender Trevayne had visited the Investiary. Inside the massive amphitheatre called the Titanolith, he had been granted the honour of observing the gargantuan statues of the Nine Primarchs.

As a consequence, the Warmaster had naively thought he would be prepared as the lithocast brought the hundreds of flag officers into existence.

He wasn't.

As the devices of the Mechanicus built for the Majestic Mandate tried to adapt as quickly as possible to the prodigious size of the Primarch, Ender Trevayne realised that ultimately, the statues on Holy Terra were not sufficient to describe the sheer...power of a son of the God-Emperor.

It was like the Space Marines present for the command conference were just children compared to Leman Russ' prodigious size. In one of his hands was a Power Axe so large no Angel of Death could hope to wield it with any kind of elegance. By his side were two gigantic...animals, which had to be Fenrisian Wolves.

But the size and equipment were nothing compared to the sheer fury which seemed to radiate from the Primarch.

And though his power armour looked like it had survived a thousand battles, though his face had far more scars than the statues of Holy Terra showed, there was no doubt in Ender's mind that this was the predator who ruled all predators.

His brain was telling him to flee. That he was before something that could kill him with both hands and legs tied behind its back, along with a blindfold and a whole lot of other major handicaps.

"You know who I am." The voice was the sound a blizzard would make if it suddenly took human form. "Fenris is my home, and I am not going to let it fall. I am taking command of your fleets. If you want to protest, speak your piece. Now."

Ender Trevayne had to use the edge of the lithocast table to stand as his legs were shaking terribly.

"There is one problem."

The pressure decreased, and Ender, like hundreds of men and women, turned towards the Astartes who had spoken.

"And what is this problem, son of the Lion?"

"We are out of time," Supreme Grand Master Lucifer of the Dark Angels spoke clearly, without any sign he was inconvenienced by the sheer presence of the Primarch. "The Traitors have cast a dangerous ritual on Fenris' moon. Under normal circumstances, I would recommend we send teleport troops and dislodge them as our old doctrine demands, but we still are significantly outnumbered by the Traitors...and we don't have the time to break them before breaking through their fleet and landing Space Marines on Fenris. This means we will have to destroy the moon or at least raze enough of the Traitors' temples to wipe out the stain of their sorcery."

"You haven't finished what you wanted to say, Knight of Caliban," growled the Lord of the Space Wolves, as two new commanders joined the command meeting, and these two were clearly Fenrisian commanders.

"If we aren't able to stop the ritual in time," the Dark Angels' Chapter Master showed an expression which might be akin to a stone. "I have been ordered by the High Lords themselves that Fenris isn't to fall in the hands of the Archenemy. Can I trust you will have the strength to do what must be done at the decisive hour?"

Ender had thought the Primarch was furious before. He had been completely wrong. Rage, fury and a storm of other emotions seemed to burn in his eyes and double his size.

Images without rhyme or reason danced before his eyes. Great hunters stabbing immense beasts in the middle of endless snow fields. A man taking a spear from his father and-

The Warmaster felt weaker and his stomach acted as if he had severe indigestion.

"I am going to stop and kill those who have challenged the rule of my father." The wolfish Primarch thundered. "Do not question my loyalty, Dark Angel, unless you wish to be the first Imperial commander I demote!"

Leman Russ stopped glaring at the Supreme Grand Master and turned towards them.

"We are going to adopt a formation of five Battlefleets. The Hrafnkel is going to lead the central spear. Now listen well, commanders, because I am not going to repeat my orders."


High Orbit above Fenris

Emperor-class Battleship Hydra's Scales

92 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Harrowmaster Phocron

"Well, so much for the hope the arrival of the Dark Angels was going to create tensions and a lack of coordination," one of the Alpha Legionnaires muttered with a disabused tone.

"There was never much hope the First Legion would refuse to obey Russ' orders," Phocron replied while trying to anticipate what the five sub-fleets were about to do. Rather wisely in his opinion, they were trying to avoid Fenris' moon and the area of space where the Word Bearers were corrupting everything. "They would need the Lion present in person for that."

And even then, it was likely it wouldn't work. Many warbands hated the Wolves so much they were willing to consider alliances which shouldn't have been contemplated, much less implemented, but commanders often forgot the same applied for the Marines who were loyal to Terra.

With the enemy in front of them and a limited number of hours to defeat it, there wasn't any time for the attackers to debate endlessly about the privileges and honours due to each Admiral and prestigious officer.

"If we stay here, our death is going to be flamboyant if nothing else." The Legionnaire controlling the actions of the helmsman remarked. "We feign to obey Mothac's orders and at the first opportunity, we break their line and run away?"

"You have summarized our best chance to survive this butchery aptly."

"Sota-Nul is preparing her flying monstrosities."

"For all the good it is going to do..."

Maybe if the Heldrakes and other flying Daemon Engines were at full strength, they would be able to inflict casualties out of proportion with their tonnage. But that was the problem. The Heldrakes weren't at full strength. Several Thousand Sons' sorcerers had made sure before departing that many of those Mechanicum creations were transformed into dust or things equally useless from a military perspective, and the Wolves had decimated their ranks even further, not to mention the hundreds shot down by the Eldar.

There were a respectable number of them left. But the enemy had brought an impressive number of Carriers, and the element of surprise was lost, since there were survivors of the Battle of Cadia present in this massive fleet.

"I think it's best if we activate the Protocol-"

"Harrowmaster! Harrowmaster! A Battleship is deactivating a Chimera-type cloaking shield behind us! Distance: three million and two hundred thousand kilometres!"

What? No, that had to be a mistake. The Chimera cloak-shield was top-secret technology only shared by Alpha Legion warbands, and it was so expensive that Phocron hadn't been able to install it on the Hydra's Scales.

"Confirm the identity of that ship!" He barked.

"Analysis...identity confirmed. Harrowmaster...it's the Beta!"

"And it's not alone."

Coming directly through the Warp anomalies created by the berserkers of the World Eaters on Frostheim, at least three Alpha Legion Cruisers and a mid-sized flotilla of Night Lords were appearing on his command hololith.

Phocron donned his helmet, and the other Legionnaires around him imitated his action.

The 'invitation' from the ship which they had taken their orders from a lifetime ago arrived less than twenty seconds later.

Every veteran recognised the Astartes whose image was shown.

"First Harrowmaster Machiavelli Gonzaga. Your presence in this War Zone is...unexpected."

"Phocron or whatever you want to call yourself," the other Astartes officer began. "This battle is vital for the future of the Legion. I have received information you intend to flee the moment there is an opportunity. I advise you to reconsider."

"Why? It's not like there is a Legion anymore."

"Do you want to worship Anarchy and live underground with millions of huge rats?"

"No. But I also have no confidence the Word Bearers will be able to prevail, with or without our help." The Harrowmaster shook his head. "And may I know who is giving these orders? You or a coterie of delusional Harrowmasters?"

"The commands come from Primarch Alpharius Omegon. Are you loyal to the Legion, Phocron?"

Was Machiavelli telling the truth? Eskrador had been devastated by the Phosphex, there shouldn't have been any survivors...

"I am Alpharius. What do you need?"


Battleship In Terror's Name

91 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Terror Lord Krieg Acerbus

Krieg had heard many bad plans in his life, but this one was easily worse than all of the rest combined.

It was – in part – why he had absolutely no reluctance interrupting the Alpha Legionnaire before the end of his speech.

"No. Absolutely not."

"I don't think you understand the situation clearly, Terror Lord."

"I understand the situation very well, snake. You are worried about your Legion falling and becoming a warband of black-and-white rat-worshippers. That isn't going to happen to the Night Lords."

"Really?" the Astartes who had presented himself as 'First Harrowmaster Alpharius' made a sound of disbelief. "According to my sources, at least three of your Legionnaires have succumbed since-"

"I am dealing with the problem!" Krieg snarled. "Mind your own business, snake!"

"It is the future of our non-aligned Legions which is at stake," the Space Marine in blue-green armour answered. "That makes it our problem."

"Assuming I fell for that, and I'm not-"

"You should," this time it was the turn of the Twentieth officer to interrupt him. "The new abomination the False Emperor has returned to the game won't limit itself to one Legion if it can get away with it. Word Bearers, Night Lords, Iron Warriors, and Alpha Legion: we're all at risk."

"Next you're going to tell me it is going to recruit the Emperor's Children and the Black Legion too," the Terror Lord laughed.

"Don't be stupid. There are so few followers of the Naga left it would be a waste of time to consume them. And Abaddon won't bow to a Power, be it an old or a new one. He has far greater ambitions...and defences to achieve his goals."

"Then I can follow Abaddon's path."

"Really? You are telling me you have never prostrated yourself before the Four in your quest for terror and power?"

How did the snake know that? Krieg had killed all his enemies and allies who had so much as suspected what he had done!

"I don't know what you're talking about," he lied. "And I am not going to attack the Rock because you have some stupid convoluted plan! I am going to seize my chance to escape the moment the Word Bearers and the dogs of the False Emperor are too busy fighting each other, and I suggest you do the same."

"Is that your final answer?"

"It is! And if you contact me again, I will give the recordings of this conversation to Kor Phaeron. I think he will be very interested to know what our 'reinforcements' are up to."

"The Legions, long disunited, must unite against the threat of Anarchy."

"The Legions are gone, fool! This is an age of warbands!"

Krieg Acerbus began to cough. Strange, it had been a long time since-

The air...his senses...poison!

"What...you...think it's going to work? I have faced far more dangerous assassination attempts!" A litany of coughs forced him to pause again, and he spat blood...a lot of blood.

"I don't doubt it. That's why your Captains have taken their own precautions."

Krieg heard the familiar hiss of the bridge's armoured door opening, and sure enough they were here.

Over a dozen of his best warriors, all clad in ceramite, adamantium, and trophies of thousands of terror-filled nights. And they all had a Power Sword or a relic blade in their hands.

"Don't listen to him. He's an Alpha Legionnaire! They are lying!"

"The Legion, long divided, must unite. AVE DOMINUS NOX!"

Krieg coughed uncontrollably before throwing himself against his treacherous lieutenants, screaming out his hatred and his thirst to punish them.


Everything which has a beginning must have an end.

And we are so close to the end of Chaos Undivided.

Therefore it is only logical the First Prince of the Damned returns at the darkest hour.

He was here long before the first human walked.

He was here aeons before the first Aeldari debased himself for Slaanesh.

Hail the One who Heralds the Conquerors.

Hail the Master of Shadows.


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Citadel of Supreme Harmony

90 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Shas'ui T'au Bunta

"Shas'ui..."

"Don't look at it."

His order, as sound as it was, was far easier to say than to actually obey, and Bunta knew it.

Despite keeping his eyes on the Remora Stealth Drones about to launch, the Shas'ui felt the dark and unnatural presence of the wound tearing apart the skies over T'au.

"Are the Hammerheads ready?"

"They are, Shas'ui. I will be able to give them thirty or forty more Drones to-"

"Lu'val! Lu'val is devoured by the shadows!"

"It is an eclipse, do not proclaim your stupidity to the stars!"

"No, he's right..."

Bunta, veteran of six wars, looked up at the sky. He regretted it immediately.

Lu'val was indeed appearing to be...swallowed by the unnatural phenomenon. And-

An impossible pillar of shadows began to form between the ruined moon and T'au itself.

It struck the planet within gunship's range of the Citadel of Supreme Harmony.

"Activate all defences!" Bunta shouted. "Activate all defences! Launch the drones! Maximal electronic countermeasures! Deploy the Battlesuits on the walls!"

But in the time it took him to give his orders, the empty land in front of the Citadel had become crowded with...things...these couldn't be shadows, they weren't-

"THE DARK MASTER COMES!"

The enemy attacked. The drones of the first wave fired, but each laser was a tiny light in the blackness. Gravity Wave Projectors and Pulse Carbines did far better, but even they could only dispel the...the shadow creatures in little groups, and they were losing too many of them for too few enemies dispelled.

"FIRE! ALL DEFENDERS OF THE GREATER GOOD, FIRE AT WILL!"

Missiles and Railguns fired their ammunition into the ocean of shadows. Turrets reduced the first waves of the enemy to nothingness. The Citadel was the chief fortress protecting the southern approaches of Holy Fio'taun, and it had received impressive quantities of newly approved prototypes. The Battlesuits were in prime condition, and the Hammerheads, Devilfishes, and Barracudas were the best the Engineers of the Earth Caste could produce on T'au.

"THE DARK MASTER COMES!"

"GLORY TO THE FIRST PRINCE!"

But it seemed like for all the ion impacts, despite every missile they fired, nothing was enough to stop the darkness and the shadowy monsters from advancing. And as they closed in, the enemy fired back, and each impact shredded turrets, drones, and the skilled warriors of the T'au Empire.

"KNEEL BEFORE CHAOS!"

"YOU HAVE BEEN DECEIVED!"

"THE NIGHT HAS COME FOR YOU!"

Many drones stopped firing and...turned their weapons against their owners?

"Shas'ui! The enemy has somehow infected some of our drones with a virus!"

More air support arrived to repel the monsters but-

"They are coming! They have breached the walls!"

No. This couldn't be-

This was one of the strongest citadels of the entire Empire. They couldn't have broken through the-

Something exploded and Shas'ui T'au Bunta was thrown off his feet by the shockwave.

"He comes."

As he tried to look at the walls and the second line of defences, the T'au veteran saw only darkness. The lights of the Citadel were flickering and dying, and monstrous things shrieked in triumph.

"Kneel, and you will be forgiven."

"I am...a soldier of the Greater Good."

"Then you will die. And your souls will be claimed by the Gods to be tortured for all eternity."

Something struck him, and the Fire Warrior screamed.

The pain...why did it hurt so much?

"GLORY TO THE DARK MASTER! GLORY TO THE FIRST PRINCE!"

The voices were...evil. He had to move, he had to-

"GLORY TO BE'LAKOR!"


Holy City of Fio'taun

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Ethereal Aun'shi

"How did they take the Citadel of Supreme Harmony so quickly?" the fearful expression of the Prime Ethereal wouldn't have improved morale if it was broadcast to the Castes, Aun'shi knew. Then again, it was an understandable emotion. Citadels like those were rarely taken, and on average could last several Tau'cyr against overwhelming assaults of the Gorgon creatures, the greenskins, or whichever enemy they were facing.

Today the Citadel of Supreme Harmony had fallen in the blink of an eye.

"We must evacuate Fio'taun," one of the lesser Ethereals of the Council proposed.

"Evacuate to where? This...this wall of shadows is encircling Fio'taun!"

"Our communications are breaking apart. Many operators of the Earth and Fire Caste are losing their minds against this...the madness from beyond-the-Veil!"

Fearful silence followed these words, for even in their inner sanctum, the Ethereals were not used to acknowledging the threat of the Enemy they had tried to keep far away from the Empire.

Unfortunately, it seemed they had failed in this regard.

"I am going to rally the Cadres of the Fire Caste and mount a counterattack," the warrior-Ethereal announced to the Prime Ethereal. "They are coming from the south for now, not every direction. Begin the evacuations by the western avenues. The Citadel of Bright Unity is still intact, the civilians will be able to enjoy the protection of the Battlesuits if an assault comes at them."

"Aun'shi...you know the risk-"

"If we don't stop them, they're going to devour us all," the older Ethereal replied. "The Pact must be preserved. And my presence will help our warriors."

He ran out of the High Council's grand chambers and didn't look back.

A transport by gunship and a few decs later, for the first time, the Ethereal felt his courage falter.

The darkness was coming from the south as he had predicted. And as it advanced, the bright avenues and white buildings of the T'au capital were falling into shadow.

It wasn't silent. The Fire Caste was fighting to protect the other Castes, but the thin lines of the Empire's warriors were so tiny compared to the storm of malevolence coming for them...

"Thank the Greater Good you are here, holy one!" a Commander in Battlesuit called him. "We are-"

A spear of shadows impaled him and killed him on the spot.

"There is no hope for you," a voice of torment and evil hissed, "and there is no Greater Good."

"GLORY TO THE DARK MASTER!"

The greenskins were a terrible enemy. The ever-hungry maws of Gorgon were worse.

But as the darkness temporarily abated to reveal an enormous shape destroying Battlesuits like they were mere trinkets, Aun'shi realised he may have found something far worse to add to his list of threats.

"The Pact will be broken. And the triumph of Chaos comes!"

A new spear of shadows was created, and for the first time in his life, he found that there was no speech which could revitalise and brace the spirits of his warriors for what was coming. And even if he could give them hope, it was likely futile. They had no psychic powers with which to counter this creature.

Darkness engulfed his vision, and the old Ethereal felt something slimy crawl upon his skin-

"NO!"

The darkness vanished and Aun'shi was almost blinded by light.

So much light.

The darkness fought back for an instant before being banished.

Suddenly despair was not so crushing. In the time it took for him to take a deep breath, the desperate situation was not so desperate anymore as the monsters fled.

The lights of Fio'taun, extinguished by the enemy, illuminated the avenues and quarters once more. The fleeing civilians of the three Castes began to obey the orders of the Fire Caste and the transmitted instructions of the Ethereals again.

Aun'shi looked to the sky, and saw a familiar golden-armoured figure descend on golden wings.

"Ethereal Aun'shi," the human known as Taylor Hebert began, "I believe I have found a lot of good intentions in your arguments."

The Ethereal had to control himself, it wouldn't do to succumb to hilarity in the middle of a battle.

"I am glad you think so."

"Help your people evacuate this city. I am going to deal with this abomination which had the gall to so rudely interrupt our conversation."


I'm sure you haven't forgotten, dear rivals. Every action causes a reaction.

The Dark Master has taken the field. Did you really think the Anathema is going to stay idle while the First Prince is unleashed?

And for that matter...

Do you really think I have stayed idle in the last few hours?


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Callidus Assassin Elena Kerrigan

Always be prepared.

This was a lesson Elena had taken to heart the moment it was explained to her. If you were an assassin of the Officio Assassinorum, it was obvious a lot of people wanted you dead just because you existed. If your presence was discovered on a planet, a lot of traitors in the vicinity were going to assume you were there to end their lives specifically, whether it was the truth or not.

That said, Elena was pretty sure her mentor and teacher had not implied 'always be prepared' would mean taking a nap in a prestigious hotel of Talasa Tertius and being woken up by a snow storm in the middle of nowhere.

Was she prepared? Yes, and it was fortunate.

The junior Callidus did not have a clue how cold the weather was, since a thermometer wasn't among the list of objects handed to an Assassinorum operative, but she was quite certain that without the synskin protecting her body, death by hypothermia would be a question of minutes.

Where had she landed?

The snowstorm was limiting her visual range, but having memorised the names and climate specificities of the planets of Ultramar, she knew few of them had mountains thousands of metres high, and the pilgrim guides had not mentioned anywhere that Macragge had such frosty weather.

There were loud voices in the distance.

Elena crouched. If she had white paint on hand, she would be coating herself in it, but she had none and so the terrain would have to hide her. Fortunately for her, it was snowing heavily.

"I am telling you, Varker. Whatever that thing was, it was not a dog of Russ!" the voice was using a clearly antiquated variant of Low Gothic. "They are all busy fighting for their lives in their lair!"

"'Fighting for their lives? Surely, you jest Zar! They only have slaves and the Iron Warriors to fight! How is that a challenge for that band of mongrels?"

Elena felt her heart beat faster as three enormous silhouettes were revealed.

The female parahuman had never seen them in the flesh, but there was no doubt about what they were.

Red Armours. Eight-pointed stars. The hateful sigil of the demonic on their pauldrons. Spikes. Monstrous helmets.

Word Bearers.

And they were so confident in their security that they had unwittingly revealed where she was.

Somehow she had been transported from Ultramar to Segmentum Obscurus...or was it Segmentum Solar? No, it was Segmentum Obscurus these days...officially.

"It doesn't matter," the leader, an enormous brute in mutated Terminator Armour, asserted. "If it's a Wolf, we find him, flay him, and bring his head to Lord Erebus. If it's not something doggish, we find it, and we kill it. Then we decide if it's a prize worthy to present to the Hand of Destiny."

The old Sophia Hess would have likely shouted they may find this task a bit more difficult than they believed. Elena Kerrigan wasn't about to make that mistake. That those Astartes were so overconfident they relied on broadcasting their conversation to everyone made them idiots, but Xanaria had made clear that, stupid or not, a Traitor Astartes was a killing machine empowered by the Archenemy, and should be taken dead serious no matter the circumstances.

"If it's a Space Wolf, shouldn't we have already found the tracks of the beasts they consort with?"

Good news: Traitor Marines were among the list of targets she was authorised to terminate with extreme prejudice whether on an official mission or not.

"Sergeant, I think I found-"

Elena used her powers. The light was weak, but there was still enough for shadows to form under the gigantic pile of rocks disappearing under the snowfall.

The three Space Marines pointed their Bolters and other corrupted weapons at her former location.

They were beginning to fire when her Neural Shredder took them in the back at point-blank range.

Armour was no protection against this weapon, and one went down instantly.

The two others each received a blade through the neck before they were able to recover, the instrument of death being of course covered in an anti-Astartes poison concocted by the Venenum.

Elena only stopped alternating between shadow-form and the real world when she was sure the three Traitors were dead and headless.

Only then did she stop to consider the implications of what she had heard. Word Bearers on Fenris. It was a really, really bad situation.

And if they were so confident to send three idiots out into the middle of nowhere for a phenomenon which had been her arrival notice...

There was only one being who had the power and the motivation to send her here in order to stop them.

"For the Emperor," the Callidus whispered.


High Orbit over Fenris

Infernus-class Battleship Orb of Chaos

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Deathmistress Mikaelatch Shadowdagger

The three Word Bearers didn't have-have the time to understand they had been caught-caught in a trap with a Warpstone bomb when Mikaelatch pressed the three big-big buttons.

BOOM!

"PRAISE MALAL!" The leader of Clan Eshin squeak-screamed as the heretics were incinerated by the blessed might-power of her God, yes-yes!

"ANARCHY FOREVER!" the Skavens next to her shout-squeaked back, knowing the time to be small and discreet was gone-over.

"ANARCHIA AETERNA!" the brute-things who had converted to the true-proper religion joined them.

"We take-take bridge now-now! Rush-scurry!" The Deathmistress squeaked.

They were Clan Eshin yes-yes, but that didn't mean they didn't know-know how to fight-slay like Verminus, no-no!

And the long-long travel away from Skavenblight had allowed Mikaelatch to multiply her troop-army. Many-most of them weren't true daggers of the dark yet-yet, but there were many, many man-things, brute-things, and other slave-things.

"MALAL IS WITH US-US! DEATH TO ALL-ALL HERETICS!"

"GLORY TO ANARCHY!"

"MALAL WILLS IT!"

There were many gate-doors, but nothing a load of grenades couldn't smash-break, no-no!

This was the moment of fate-action! This was the rise of Malal! And Clan Eshin was going to win-win! The Council of Eleven was going to die-die of jealousy!

"KILL THE RATS!" The brute-thing commanding the bridge refused to see the great-great might of her-her forces. "KILL THEM! THE REINFORCEMENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY! KILL THEM ALL OR KOR PHAERON WILL TORTURE OUR SOULS UNTIL THE END OF TIMES!"

"Your-your souls belong to Malal, brute-thing! Claim-squeaking otherwise is heresy, yes-yes!"

Mikaelatch didn't have the heartbeats to kill-kill the red-painted brute-thing, shame-pity. One of the brute-things who had rallied to her side blew its spiky head apart.

"The bridge is yours, Deathmistress." The member of the Anarchy Legion bowed.

"Excellent work-work, Malal will be greatly pleased, yes-yes!" Mikaelatch complimented him-him. "Now we are going to foil-ruin plans of heretics!"


Infernus-class Battleship Delightful Agony

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Mothac

As was completely predictable, the space battle began with the Imperials launching a gigantic torpedo bombardment.

"Thirty-two thousand torpedoes? Ha! The Wolf isn't doing things halfway! I love it!"

Mothac glared at the Possessed, and the servant of Khorne had the good sense to feign humility for the next few seconds.

"Retaliate," the Dark Apostle growled. "In the name of Blessed Lorgar, send their souls to the Gods! Teach them the False Emperor will not save them!"

"Blood! Blood for the Blood God!"

"Tell Ekodas to prepare the mass-summonings. We are going to need a lot of firepower to attack the Battleships directly."

The dogs of the False Emperor had brought a lot of Destroyers and Frigates, curse their worthless mortal flesh. Obviously there was a reason why they were called 'Escorts', but the master of the Delightful Agony had never seen so many in a single battle since...since Abaddon launched his latest Black Crusade.

Mothac tried not to grimace at this reminder. Maybe they should have paid more attention to Sota-Nul's 'suggestions', in the end. Speaking of which...

"I want the Harbinger bombers loaded with the most virulent scrap-codes the Hell Forge-Mistress has at her disposal."

"Yes, Lord!"

"And rouse the Death Guard. We are going to need their most contagious diseases if we want to avoid wasting our ammunition on the cannon-fodder."

The Hrafnkel was a tough beast which had survived the Heresy. Mothac knew better than to hope for an easy fight against a Primarch's flagship. And just as he thought that, an additional Navy Battlegroup arrived in the Fenris System.

"How many Battlefleets do they intend to throw at us?" He whispered between gritted teeth. Surely there had to be a limit how far the False Emperor's deluded slaves were willing to sink to for the world of a Chapter they hated! "I want the Trisagion to prepare-"

"Dark Apostle, the Orb of Chaos!"

Mothac turned his eyes towards the Possessed who had spoken... and stared in incomprehension. Unlike the entirety of the Grand Armada which was accelerating to meet the enemy fleet, the Infernus-class Battleship had broken formation, and at a moment which made sure the capital ships of the Seventeenth Legion couldn't easily point their guns at it: the Orb of Chaos had been in the rearguard.

"This isn't possible," the son of Lorgar glared at the daemonic device. "The Coryphaus commanding this ship is a loyal believer of my cause! Contact them! Contact them immediately!"

A second later, a voice which had never belonged to a Dark Apostle echoed over his bridge.

"This ship has been claimed-taken by forces of Anarchy, heretic! Die-die for Malal, please-please!"

"I WILL KILL YOU!"

"No-no, we are going to rip-tear you a new hole brute-things, yes-yes! Praise Malal!"

"DESTROY THEM! DESTROY THE ORB OF CHAOS NOW!"

"My Lord, surely the ritual we cast to keep the Wolves at bay is going to incinerate the...the creatures!"

Mothac thought about it...and felt an emotion he had not experienced in thousands of years.

"It would...had we decided to make our rituals inimical to our own ships."

And that wasn't the case. How had those heretical rats found out? No one could be that lucky...Corax. It was the fault of Corax. It had to be.

"Inform Kor Phaeron that the moment the Orb of Chaos decelerates to position itself in high orbit, he is to reduce it to a slaughterhouse for the Neverborn. The heretics must have poured what is left of their sabotage teams to seize this Infernus-class Battleship. Once we have blown it up, their last chance to interrupt the Tear's ritual will be no more."

"Yes, Lord Apostle," his Dark Acolyte nodded nervously. "Except..."

"WHAT NOW?

"Err...Lord Apostle, the Orb of Chaos isn't decelerating. On their present course, they are going to ram the planet in four minutes."

No, that was...by Nurgle's pandemics, the rats truly were that mad...


Fenris

Asaheim

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Captain Pustulor

The good news was that Paristur had several contingencies in place to make sure no starship tried to ram the planet and slam into the ritual grounds, disturbing the Great Ritual by incinerating everything within a radius of thousands of kilometres.

The Grandfather be praised for sparing his humble servants that fate.

The bad news was pretty much everything else, really.

Knowing their plan had failed, the giant rats were launching their own contingency plan: mass-deployment of their last assets onto Fenris.

It should have been the dying gasp of a futile endeavour.

Except they had Legionnaires helping them.

"ANARCHIA AETERNA!"

"Only the Grandfather and his Chosen will endure to the end," the Death Garden captain gurgled. "Bring them down, brothers!"

The Foetid Bloat-drones and Blight Drones abandoned their Plague Towers to go on the attack, spreading a delicious perfume of disease as they did.

But they were not the real anvil upon which Anarchy would break today, oh no.

This honour would belong to the iconic Plagueburst Crawlers of the Fourteenth Legion. Designed by their father, this marvellous piece of mobile artillery outranged anything the enemy could possibly have in its arsenal. Some people at first glance mistook its slow speed for a lack of efficiency. They quickly learned better and-

"Captain Pustulor," the vox grizzled out as it tried to transmit its message through pus and flies. "Your entire right flank is at risk!"

"That is ridiculous," he affirmed as clearly as he could to the Word Bearer Coryphaus, "I placed an entire Army Group of Volscani Cataphracts to delay any attack from that direction!"

"You misunderstand. That Army Group is the threat. Two-thirds of them have succumbed to the lies of the heretics!"

Pustulor immediately understood the danger he and his seven hundred seventy-seven Plague Marines were in.

"That is...inconvenient," he gurgled. In fact, it was going to be more than that, as he watched thousands of giant rats and plenty of mortal slaves land on Fenris. If nothing was done, he would be caught between the hammer of the Volscani and the anvil of Anarchy. "I authorise the deployment of my reserves against these weak-minded traitors. Send the Knights of House Blisterborn against the Volscani."

"As you wish."

It was never a good sign to be forced to do so, Pustulor acknowledged, but as the Plagueburst mortars began a devastating bombardment, the Captain of the Death Guard remained confident. The part of the front they were 'requested' to defend had been prepared to Legion standards.

And the enemy, by deploying so quickly, had forfeited the possibility of using massive aerial support or any kind of heavy artillery.

"Let's go slaughter those rats, brothers! In the name of the Grandfather and Lord Mortarion!"

"For Blessed Decay and the Plague Lord!"


All these diseases stop the slaves of Decay from seeing the truth. They are on a path of decline and obsolescence. This galaxy is changing, and nowhere is that as obvious as on the battlefield.

The Fourteenth Legion has no great Champion to fight for its cause on Fenris, which is somewhat excusable.

On the other hand, not having prepared a powerful nemesis for Weaver is the kind of thing which could make you irrelevant in short order, Decay.


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

88 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

Viewed from above, the capital of the Tau Empire was a truly beautiful example of architecture.

It was all gleaming towers, white stone, green parks, and grand avenues.

It was not without its flaws, of course.

The most damning was incontestably the weakness of its defences. The ramparts and outer perimeter were relatively impressive, but once those were breached, the Lady General in her was appalled how nightmarish defending the city would become for the Tau. The only location where they might be able to regroup and mount any real resistance was the fortress housing their leadership.

There was absolutely no doubt that if she hadn't absorbed the powers of the Sanguinor into herself, the winged parahuman would have arrived far too late.

As it was, the situation might be salvageable. Chaos had attacked the capital directly, trying to kill the greatest number of Possessed Tau before the Imperial Navy intervened, and as a result the rest of the planet was more or less intact. With Bittenfeld fighting in high orbit, there should be more than enough disruptions for the Ruinous Powers to be unable to change their plan of attack.

"Ethereal Aun'shi," she called the Ethereal surrounded by five of the huge yellow 'Battlesuits'. "I believe I have found a lot of good intentions in your arguments."

That and she was not going to stay idle when the monsters tried to devour the only thing which prevented a species from being corrupted by the Warp abominations.

"I am glad you think so."

"Help your people evacuate this city. I am going to deal with this abomination which had the gall to so rudely interrupt our conversation."

The Dawnbreaker Guard landed on the xenos homeworld an instant later. The delay in their arrival was due to getting equipped with sizeable Aethergold crystals so she could transport them across space and time.

It worked, but she knew instinctively it had done so only because of the oaths they had sworn to her.

When she had done the same thing for Commander Shadowsun...well, the Tau in her white Battlesuit had survived, but there were now black scorch-marks on her equipment, and she wouldn't be doing that again.

"Are you sure you are not overestimating your powers, Weaver?"

The leader of the invasion increased his power in an attempt to submerge the city in the corrupted darkness it wielded in the name of its demonic masters.

She made sure it didn't work.

She poured out more light while she called insects of the planet with pheromone-emitting devices, and where the power given by the Emperor and Sanguinius' Sacrifice struck the dark front, golden lightning materialised and repelled the chaotic infection.

"I return the question to you, abomination."


Commander Shadowsun

The last rotaa had been a succession of events difficult to believe.

The last decs had outright broken the line between 'difficult to believe' and 'impossible'.

The Commander of the Fire Caste was back in the streets of Fio'taun. They had crossed the distance between the...the human fleet and T'au through the void without using a starship!

If there had not been Aun'shi present at the end of the journey and if it had not been so unpleasant to do it, Shadowsun would have refused to believe it.

But the Ethereal-who-fought was here, and so was the enemy.

"I have many forces under my command, poor servant of the Anathema," the darkness itself seemed to taunt them. "And some of them are very eager to slay you."

In the time it took her to point her Railgun at crawling shadows fighting one Cadre of warriors, ruined Lu'val turned from an eclipse-dark orb to a sickening green colour.

The monsters which came forwards to reflect this change were absolutely disgusting in addition to being evil. It was like every disease in the galaxy had touched these things.

And over them a gigantic cloud of...those couldn't be insects, their shapes were far too...too wrong!

"I really hope this is a test," Weaver replied calmly, and the veteran of the Third sphere realised not one of the giant Space Marines was firing at the enemy. "You realise all insects fall under my control, right? Demons of that nature have no chance against me."

"That's what you-"

There was a wave of light.

And then the entire clouds of flying monsters began to burn. There was no barrage of golden artillery or great bolts of lightning raining down from the skies; the enemy was burning and somehow, Shadowsun had a feeling their deaths were internal, not external.

"Now, Legions of Decay, is the time you die." Two swords were drawn in the winged human's hands, and one created a storm of shining crystals while the other burned like one of the old relic-lighthouses they showed to the newborn Tau during museum visits.

The putrid green monsters which didn't look like insects tried to flee.

The assault of light and crystals didn't give them time to withdraw. It was like an endless army of insect-shaped luminescence had been summoned, and every time they touched the enemy, there were shrieks of horror and pain.

Shadowsun would lie if she claimed she didn't feel happy at the sight of these enemies who wanted to destroy the Greater Good being annihilated and paying the price for their crimes.

"I have dealt with One's hordes. Are you going to try the legions of the other Two, or are you going to reveal yourself?"

The darkness lost ground...until at the end of the avenue something terribly huge and terrifying stepped out from the night.


Forgefather Vulkan N'Varr

The daemon was big.

Vulkan had seen many Greater Daemons during the fighting at Commorragh, and heard of many encounters with others the different members of the Dawnbreaker Guard and the Chapters they belonged to had banished over the last several centuries.

The Salamander Forgefather had acknowledged he was likely going to fight one of them in a distant future, since the Angel's Bane accepting defeat was as likely as Nocturne turning into a Paradise World.

Yet this Warp Beast was enormous.

And as the darkness was being absorbed, the Greater Daemon increased in size again.

If they had one of the tallest patterns of Knights available for comparison, Vulkan N'Varr was pretty sure it would not be the human-built machine which would win the contest.

When after a few seconds there were no more shadows to feed upon, the monster's height was on par with a small Warhound Titan.

His hands tightened around his Volkite Blaster by reflex.

It was not just a matter of size, really. It was the sheer evil the abomination was bringing with it.

The immense black wings were shrouded in night and the fires of damnation.

The horrible eight-pointed scar marking the torso of the daemon was burning in malice and corruption.

It was a bipedal creature, but that was very much the only thing it had in common with a human.

What little of its face he could perceive was bestial and aggressive even by the 'standards' of Chaos slaves.

It wore little armour, and what could be seen was clearly for decorative purposes, the black daemonic skin being left unprotected anywhere a vital spot could be struck at.

It was a kingly abomination to rule all abominations.

"You could have been great, you know...if you had not accepted to be shackled to the Anathema's failing corpse."

"You could have been great, if you hadn't accepted the only value they have for you is to sing their praises and lick their talons." Their Lady's retort gave him the urge to snort. Kratos was not good at self-control and outright laughed.

A talon which could kill a tank with one kick struck the white marble avenue, and where it ruined the ground, a pool of corruption sprang forth.

"I am the Dark Master. I kill those who are unworthy of the crown."

"Oh dear. I wonder why the Despoiler has lived for millennia without being on your list of victories."

The Greater Daemon laughed. The darkness returned and tried to extinguish the light reigning in the sky...generating a fierce storm and plenty of lightning.

And while it may be only an unpleasant coincidence, it began to rain on the battlefield.

"The fall of Abaddon, son of Horus, has already been engineered by my will long before I was summoned to kill you."

"Of course," Vulkan N'Varr knew the beast was not going to like the next words. "And next you're going to claim the Battle of Commorragh and the Death of Slaanesh were always part of your plans as well."

This time there was no laugh. Just an ugly grimace on a beastly and ugly face.

"Step aside, and the Gods might spare you."

"No."

"Do you really think the corpse of the Anathema can protect you where you are?"

"Do you really think I chose to oppose the Ruinous Powers because I serve the Emperor? I am their enemy because they are fundamentally evil. You corrupt everything you touch. You destroy everything which is good, and even when an accident creates order and beauty...you are unable to restrain your claws and mad ambitions. You are a cancer upon this galaxy."

"We are...Might. The Might of the Conquerors!"

"Not anymore."

"The Tau belong to Chaos. Their souls are the Gods' to claim!"

"Then why are you here, if your victory is so inevitable?" The voice of Lady Taylor Hebert remained calm and non-judgemental, but any person who knew her could hear the amusement behind her words. "Do you know what I think? I think you're lying, oh, 'Dark Master'. The Tau lives aren't yours to take. And the 'destiny' with which your masters love to brainwash their slaves into believing is nothing but the greatest of their lies."

The Greater Abomination didn't answer immediately. Instead it changed. It mutated. And before they could really comment upon it, the beastly appearance was no more.

Instead...it looked like a sort of mutant Drukhari, a mix between the 'Incubus' variety of warriors fought at Commorragh and the multiple-armed 'Homunculi'.

It had all the repulsiveness of such a union, the Salamander Forgefather could vouch for it.

It still was enormously huge, but its hundreds of 'arms' were sprouting blades, spikes, thorns, and some things he preferred not to describe.

"Leave this planet." The Queen of the Swarm ordered. "Chaos Undivided dies with this battle. The only question is if you will die with it."

"I am not Chaos Undivided. I am the First Prince of the Primordial Gods. I AM BE'LAKOR!"

"Gavreel, coordinate the evacuation with the insects I will leave you. Kratos, make sure no one tries to interfere while I'm fighting. Gamaliel, you know what you have to do."

"GLORY TO CHAOS! The 'Dark Master' roared and hundreds of blades burned in daemonic flame. "DEATH TO THE ANATHEMA!"

"FOR THE EMPEROR!"

The rain became a torrent, as if the elements of the planet T'au decided to intervene in the duel.

The skies were torn asunder as light and darkness fought for supremacy.

And the Greater Daemon and their Lady charged each other.


Let the battle begin.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Gloriana-class Battleship Invincible Reason

80 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Supreme Grand Master Lucifer

"Shields down to sixty-nine percent! The pressure is intensifying on the Gellar Fields! Recommend diverting power from-"

"Denied." The Supreme Grand Master wasn't going to deny the benefits of a defensive stance, but hiding behind a shield would not win this battle...or the war. "On my mark...target the engines of the Apocalypse-class Battleship at these coordinates...FIRE!"

The Invincible Reason was the first Gloriana to ever be built. Its construction had taken twice as long in the Ring of Iron, but it wasn't just because the Tech-Priests and the Emperor's savants had been testing new armaments and trying to discover the optimal disposition of compartmentalisation and technology.

It was because they possessed so many weapons capable of annihilating a Battlefleet the Mechanicus had needed the time to work out how to install them all onto a single ship without compromising the effectiveness of any of them or that of the ship itself.

And before his eyes, the gift of the Master of the Mankind to his son proved how justified years and years of weapon improvements were.

"The Traitor Battleship's shields are down! Severe damage to the drives and starboard batteries! We estimate the integrity of at least five compartments is compromised!"

The Chapter Master didn't hesitate.

"All Battle-Barges, Fire Plan Redemption!"

Within two seconds, the ten Battle-Barges which formed the fifth sub-division of warships stopped pulverising the Heavy Cruisers which had tried to bypass them to attack the more vulnerable escorts in the second attack wave.

And then they reopened fire all at once on the damaged Apocalypse-class Battleship of the accursed Word Bearers.

Once the Lances and the special batteries were reloaded and confirmed operational again, the Invincible Reason joined them.

Apocalypse-class Battleships were incredibly difficult to destroy. They were millions upon millions of tons of the toughest metals and alloys ever developed by the ingenuity of Mars and the weapon-makers of the Imperium. Its Nova Cannon was a murderous weapon – this one had killed two Gladius Frigates and four Cobra Destroyers in the preliminary phases of the void slaughter.

But if there was something which could resist the combined firepower of eleven of the greatest warships of the Lion's sons, an Apocalypse-class Battleship was not it.

The shields of the Traitor ship died one after another. The compartments were brutalised, shredded, and incinerated. Upper and lower decks were transformed into charnel houses. The armour of the ammunition storage decks held, but many turrets were ripped from the vessel.

And then in a spectacle which shouldn't exist, the daemons summoned by the Word Bearers themselves turned away from the Imperial battleline and threw themselves against the doomed warship, choosing to feast on the flesh and terror of those unable to defend themselves.

"Apocalypse-class Battleship neutralised. Shields down to sixty percent. Two minor fluctuations in the Gellar Fields. Ravenwing parties are deploying to the lower decks on purification missions."

"Acknowledged."

The battle, far from calming down, was rising to new heights of ferocity and carnage. They had already lost two Navy Retribution Battleships in exchange for four of the fell 'Infernus' design.

The space as they approached Fenris was just a cauldron of dying ships, monumental pieces of debris, and enormous quantities of regular and daemonic ordnance.

"Supreme Grand Master, new orders from the Primarch!"

"What are they?"

"We have a new target," three torpedoes chose this moment to explode harmlessly against the Invincible Reason's shields.

"The Trisagion..." One of the three Abyss-class Super-Battleships that heretical scum of Lorgar had built in secret before betraying the Imperium and the Emperor, and the only one to survive the fighting for the Five Hundred Worlds. Yes, this was a good target, one he was going to take great pleasure in destroying. "Yes, acknowledged. Divert course on 4-2-8. Order our Frigates to stay in our defensive umbrella, formation Jaguar-Caliban. What are the Space Wolves doing?"

"It seems at least some of them are preparing for boarding operations, Supreme Grand Master."

Of course they were.


Infernus-class Battleship Shadow Crusade

78 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Wolf Lord Vidar Ripperwolf

Vidar had never thought it would end like this. Not since he had returned to the Fang and been recognised a true Vlka Fenryka.

But there was no use closing his eyes and ears.

Russ had returned.

The defences of Fenris had broken, many warriors slain, and Maleficarum forbid them to discover what was happening inside the halls of the Fang.

It was the Wolftime.

And as the Caestus Assault Ram Gore Dagger stopped after penetrating the hull of a Traitor warship, the Wolf Lord decided that if it was truly the end of the Age of Sagas for his Chapter, he would rip thousands of traitors' heads off before meeting his doom axe in hand.

"FOR RUSS AND THE ALLFATHER!" The commander of the Sixth Great Company howled as he stormed out of the assault vehicle and claimed his first kill of the battle, and then a second and a third.

Somehow, they had arrived in a room filled with a lot of head-shaven cultists and-

"STOP THEM! STOP THE MALEFICARUM WITCHES! THEY ARE TRYING TO SUMMON MORE HORRORS!"

And obeying his own order, Vidar attacked, his Bolter and his Power Axe Frost-Biter severing heads and ending lives so fast he stopped counting and soon only cared about the Traitor Sorcerers butchering their slaves atop black altars.

"STOP THEM IN THE NAME OF BLESSED LORGAR!"

"KILL THE MALEFICARUM WITCHES! FOR RUSS AND THE ALLFATHER!"

"YOUR FALSE EMPEROR IS JUST A CORPSE WHO WILL-"

The Wolf Lord interrupted the blasphemous words by slamming his axe into the sorcerer's face. For good measure, he drew a dagger and plunged it into the Traitor Marine's throat.

"FOR FENRIS!" Vidar howled as his Wolf Guard and Long Fangs joined him in slaughtering the red-armoured bastards who thought corrupting their home was a good idea.

"For Lorgar and the Gods we serve."

There was an explosion of reddish-purple light, and the eight-pointed star painted in blood, organs, and skulls began to smoke and shriek. Maleficarum vapours began to pour out, and inhuman voices growled and sang whispers he ignored.

"For vengeance and the victories to come! For the Tear of Nightmares! For the Gal Vorbak!"

Winged creatures born of Maleficarum and Spawns arrived from every direction.

"They have learned nothing from Prospero! They are so eager to fall into our traps!" the greatest fiend, almost half the size of a Quester Knight, shouted in a discordant shriek. "Let's kill them all and bring their skulls to Lorgar!"

"I have a better idea," Vidar grinned as his axe embedded itself in the closest red-skinned horror which was certainly a Word Bearer's cousin given how revolting its ugly face was. "We will send your skulls to the coward you call a Primarch! RIPPERWOLVES! FOR RUSS AND THE ALLFATHER!"

"DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!" The surviving Word Bearers and their cultists rallied to the monsters that whipped them like the bastards they were.

"FOR FENRIS!" And then they were up to their necks in enemies born of Maleficarum.


Bellerophon-class Heavy Assault Cruiser Dragonslayer

77 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Rogue Trader Guts

There was something he truly loathed when commanding the Dragonslayer: unwanted guests.

"Blood for the Blood-"

"GET. OFF. OF. MY. SHIP!" Each of his words was accompanied by a sword strike to 'encourage' the fiend, of course.

At last, the monster got the clue it wasn't wanted here, and dissolved into a pile of red goo.

Urgh. It was going to take hours to clean up this mess.

"You see?" He addressed his crew, who were gaping. "They die like everything else we have fought before. Take up your blades and exterminate them, I've shown you how it's done!"

"Yes, Guts! At once!"

The tall Rogue Trader shrugged and handed his weapon to the closest of his men-at-arms before resuming his repair of the Dragonslayer's hololith. He was very well aware his skills with technology would likely lead to the cogboys labelling him as a 'heretek' or some other nonsense, but it wasn't exactly like he had a choice. His sole Tech-Priest had been among the first victims of the assault. Guts was going to miss the old metal-headed tech-lover, and not just because of the basic knowledge he imparted to the crew.

After several minutes during which the only things to note were that the cannons shot down three of those reptilian-starfighter abominations, the device worked sufficiently well to let the image of Griffith materialise again.

"You're alive."

"Don't sound so disappointed," the member of the Band of the Hawk grinned. "On a totally unrelated subject, the shipyard that installed our Gellar Field-projectors promised a lot and didn't deliver."

"Guts, I sincerely doubt the Tech-Priests in charge of that shipyard ever imagined we would try to go through a small Warp Storm and fight heretical things conjured by a Black Crusade."

"Then they shouldn't have promised the impossible," he smiled. "We can't guarantee our technology will handle Black Crusade-level opposition and the sorts of opponents that come crawling out of the Eye of Terror. See? Simple."

"You are incorrigible." The silver-haired Rogue Trader complained with a thin smile. "I have a feeling it's going to be a pain making sure you don't antagonise the Inquisition more than you already have."

The dark-haired captain shrugged. It wasn't his fault the so-called 'Holy Ordos' wasn't doing its job properly in Segmentum Pacificus.

"How is the battle going so far?" He asked instead.

"It's a slaughter," Griffith didn't bother with silk gloves for the explanation this time. "We've stopped those Heldrakes, but we have confirmed at least a fourth of their transports were transformed into fire ships, and the Navy wasn't able to stop them all. And with the...abominations that swarm the Gellar Fields, our numerical superiority isn't as crushing as I expected. We're winning. But we're winning too slowly, and-"

The hololith stopped working again, and the lights flickered once more.

Great, more unwanted guests.

Then it was another alarm shrieking about the Void Shields.

"Shields down to twenty percent, Guts. We should find a Battleship to hide behind so they can be brought back at full power."

"The last time I looked at our Battleships, one was blowing up," he rejected the idea immediately. "Now stay on your guard, I have a feeling the previous wave didn't understand the Dragonslayer was off-limits for them..."


The Light has gained in strength recently. But is it enough to stand alone against the darkness?


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

75 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Ethereal Aun'shi

There were some things Aun'shi had taken for granted after spending so much time with the warriors of the Fire Caste.

Duels, as impressive as they looked for someone watching them, rarely lasted long.

If your engines happened to fail and you were too high above the ground, you were going to die unless you had something which allowed you to escape the laws of gravity.

None of that applied here, and the monstrous 'Dark Master' proved it once again as he emerged from the ruins of a monument erected to celebrate the victories of the Second Sphere Expansion.

"What will it take to slay that beast?" Shadowsun murmured next to him, as they shared the space aboard a Manta coordinating the evacuation of Fio'taun.

"I don't know..."

"ARRRGGHHHH! I will your cripple your legs for that!"

A blast of light burned off one of its uncountable arms, and the Lady General appeared, already preparing another attack. This time it took the form of a great web of light and a multitude of luminous flies appeared, dancing and flickering across the black body.

The defiler of the Citadel of Supreme Harmony realised the danger and jumped. As a result, it partially avoided the explosion of light and several laser-like golden rays.

Given how enormous the 'body' was, it shouldn't have been possible, wings or no wings, but the more Aun'shi observed this creature born of nightmares, the less he had a clue about the limits of its capabilities.

It could regenerate wounds which would have killed an Ethereal and a Cadre of Battlesuit-armed Shas'ui ten times over.

It could fight without showing the slightest sign of exhaustion despite being engaged in a duel to the death for over eight decs.

Its uncountable weapons broke countless times and yet as it summoned more shadows, they always repaired faster than one could say it.

Of course, the same applied for the human it was fighting. Except the weapons it was wielding, that was. Bathed in radiance, the leader of the Imperium used the two swords she had drawn at the beginning of the battle and nothing else...though given the powers shown and how punishing each of her strikes were, it didn't appear she needed anything else.

"Chaos is eternal. And your species will kneel or be destroyed by the Gods!"

"They aren't Gods." Somehow the voice of the two combatants was heard despite the considerable distance and the hull of the Manta separating his ears from them. "And I see no difference between the 'options' you propose. Kneeling to them is annihilation."

"You are wrong. Recognising their greatness is the key to true power!"

Be'lakor charged, and the darkness was so potent that though it was an electronic image, the urge to vomit was extraordinarily strong.

Its golden-winged opponent reacted promptly, and when they met above the Column of Prosperity, reality shook.

That wasn't an exaggeration.

Colossal quantities of water were propelled into the air by the impossible shockwave, and blades of darkness and evil clashed with swords of light and crystal.

"How long until the evacuation of Fio'taun is completed?" The old Ethereal asked.

"At least three more rotaa," Shadowsun grimaced. "I'm sorry to say we were...overconfident when it came to the security of the Holy City. We should have organised far more evacuation exercises, the Greater Good knows we had reason to after the extent of the Gorgon threat was revealed to us. But it was never a priority, and I apologise for-"

"You have nothing to apologise for, Commander. The High Council decided the production efforts of the Fourth Sphere were to be given every spare resource of the Empire, not you. It was evident the worlds of the First Sphere were going to temporarily be more vulnerable than our frontier outposts and the Third and Fourth Sphere."

Would it have changed anything if they had not done it?

That was a question Aun'shi didn't have the answer to. The fundamental problem remained the same: save the Ethereals, no Tau could use psychic powers...and the monstrous Be'lakor was born of nightmares and psychic malevolence.

And of course almost no Ethereal was trained to fight like he did. It wasn't something that could be changed in a single Tau'cyr.

Lightning illuminated the battlefield the most important city of T'au had become, and the two duellists crashed into the nearby Water Caste living quarters, which fortunately had already been evacuated. A column of white marble pierced the wings of the enemy of the Greater Good, but Be'lakor didn't even seem to notice.

It rose again, parrying countless crystal flies and a sort of enormous crab which had come from underground trying to ambush it.

"We are receiving reports about the presence of several huge...Arachen-like creatures in several cities, Holy One. They do not appear to be fighting anyone, but they examine a lot of the new marvels of the Earth Caste."

"Assume they belong to our...new ally for now," Aun'shi didn't even blink at this announcement. "What is happening in orbit?"


High Orbit above T'au

Overlord-class Battlecruiser Black Lancer

73 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Admiral Fritz von Bittenfeld

"The Tech-Priests report all our Battlecruisers have a significant quantity of Aethergold protecting their machines and radiating the purity and protection of the Chosen of the Omnissiah," Fritz turned towards his chief of staff, because the last words weren't exactly the norm, even for the cogboys, "their words, Admiral, not mine. And they seemed to be right. The incursions have for the most part ceased, and the resistance of our Gellar Fields is increasing by the minute."

"Let us thank the fact Her Celestial Highness thought to send blessed Aethergold before this mess started, then," the offensive-minded Navy officer spoke before turning towards the communication section of the Black Lancer. "Did we receive new orders?"

"No, Admiral, and given how...corrupted the void is between the Battlegroups and our current position, I do not think we will receive any. Our Psykers were all sedated or neutralised, so Astropathic communications are out and-"

"Yes, yes, I know. The other methods don't work."

The problem, obviously, was that each time they had decided to take the risk and communicate with someone other than the blue-skinned xenos, Battlefleet Maskirovka had paid a costly price in lives. Complete dedication to the God-Emperor helped a lot, but there seemed to be things nothing but His radiance was able to protect you from.

"The problem is that damn moon."

"Err...Admiral? Shouldn't we send troops to the planet? Her Celestial Highness..."

"I am sure Her Celestial Highness has things well in hand." The gigantic storm raging over what had to be a significant percentage of the Tau landmass proved the Living Saint was fighting and not losing, at any rate. "And honestly, we don't have enough ground troops to support her. The xenos are going to have to cover her on the ground."

"And my battle-brothers and I are going to support the Tau in their orbital fortresses."

Many of his men whispered and gaped, but the orange-haired officer of Kar Duniash had been warned beforehand of their presence aboard his warships.

"Shadow Captain," Fritz saluted the Space Marine who had just invited himself onto the Black Lancer's bridge. "No one here doubts the honour and talent of the Raven Guard, but we don't have enough Aethergold to give you-"

"We won't take Aethergold with us. You need it more than we do."

Fritz swallowed. He wasn't a coward, but he – like every man and woman aboard the Black Lancer – had received fleeting visions of what was hammering their Gellar Fields. The monsters of the Deep Warp were unleashed out there...and though for the moment only a few Tau stations and ships were under attack, that was likely going to change very soon since with Aethergold, their moment of vulnerability was gone.

"I...I appreciate the gesture, but...your Space Marines are elite, and we will be unable to support you..."

"The disruption of the baleful influence of this moon takes priority above all else," the Angel of Death asserted. "Let me reassure you, Admiral. We don't intend to sacrifice our lives in some vain gesture. But Aethergold, while an extremely potent weapon against the enemies of the Emperor, also partially hinders our own skills."

Fritz bowed respectfully. He was sure it wasn't a secret the Raven Guard Marine had chosen to reveal lightly.

"Her Celestial Highness has one of your battle-brothers in the Dawnbreaker Guard."

"There are some advantages when you swear yourself to someone empowered by the Emperor," the black-clad giant confirmed. "Anyway, you need someone to stay behind to make sure the xenos continue the fight until you are victorious."

"I will pray to the God-Emperor for the success of your mission."

"And we hope our battlecries will show you the way to the path of victory."


T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

70 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

This was an ugly realisation to have at any moment, but Taylor had to admit the truth.

It was likely that during the Battle of the Death Star, the circumstances of its summoning had prevented Ka'Bandha from using its full power.

"Are you tiring? Because I'm not!"

Since she was more powerful, it guaranteed that when there would be a second confrontation – she was far too realistic to use the word if – the Bloodthirster was not going to have its powers limited like it had back then. Add the thirst to avenge the defeat she had handed it, and it was not a battle she was looking forwards to.

Of course, that was a worry for the future.

The enemy of today was Be'lakor, Dark Master of Chaos.

And unfortunately, the abomination was not all cowardice and empty boasting. It truly deserved its title of Greater Abomination. Fortunately, while it was fast for its size, it obviously had never fought someone like her before.

One strike, and she severed the black wings again, sending their owner crashing into yet another Tau monument. It was a pity, the artwork had been beautiful, but given the corruption the 'First Prince' was cloaked in, the city would have to be razed and rebuilt anyway.

"That is not going to kill me, lesser copy of the Angel."

"No, but it is going to give me time to do this." Many of her crystal-shaped insects had stayed stationary on the ground, and wordlessly she reassembled them into tall spears which impaled her enemy from behind.

The scream of pain was extremely satisfying.

As the shadows tried to regenerate Be'lakor, Taylor's power gave her more insight into her foe. As he had proclaimed, Be'lakor really had extinguished many empires, and plenty of them had been interstellar civilisations. What it had not revealed to anyone was that long before the final offensive was launched, the favourite slave of the then-Four had been working in the shadows for centuries, maybe millennia, to lay the groundwork.

Only when the civilisation was on the brink of collapse did it truly risk revealing itself.

Today was the first real exception to this 'rule'.

It was good news in that the planet wasn't 'prepared' for its arrival and her Dawnbreaker Guard would have to 'only' fend off the shadows, not tens of thousands of corrupted Tau. A long fight wasn't going to play to its strengths.

The bad news was that, obviously, if the Ruinous Powers had decided to ignore and discard one of their most dangerous weapons, what else were they ready to change at the darkest hour?

"Is that all?" It bellowed as she 'only' took out five 'arms'. "This is not-"

She narrowly missed parting the abomination from whatever kind of head it had sprouted this time. Be'lakor used this 'warning' to change form again. In that too it was quite unlike any other abomination she had faced before.

Taylor ignored the boasting and the threats, and instead focused on her insect-controlling abilities, for something different had entered her range. It was an intelligent species of insect...and it wasn't the few Adjutant-Spiders she had sent to help Gamaliel.

Their thoughts were...incredibly complex. But since there were several of them, she was able to examine what was a very curious chitinous-armoured insectoid species. Interestingly, it was not the fight itself which had convinced them to intervene, but the similarities between the crystal shards of the Sword of Vaul and the technology they used.

Vespid

This was the name of their race, and Taylor had to be careful not pouring any anger through her power, because of course the Tau Ethereals had given them helmets which were brainwashing them into compliant auxiliaries. Oh, they called it a 'communication headset', but the golden-winged parahuman recognised it for it was. The psycho-indoctrination of Space Marines was a non-intrusive thing compared to what the Tau program was doing.

Take the crystals you want for examination. This will be your reward if you test your weapons against this enemy of the Greater Good.

Each Vespid seemed to carry a powerful gun the Tau called 'Neutron Blaster', and surprisingly, it was looked like a possible mix of low psychic power and Tau technology...interesting implications if her guess was right.

Though for the moment, she was going to settle for worsening the wounds of Be'lakor.

And since according to the Vespid memories, their weapons were able to hurt their targets on the molecular level, the black-haired woman was sure it was not going to be an enjoyable experience for the big demon...


This war is like none of the others which came before it. Let there be Anarchy.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Infernus-class Battleship Delightful Agony

68 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Mothac

"We just lost the Shadow Crusade, Lord Mothac."

"Wasn't that the ship that presumptuous fool of the Gal Vorbak had assured me would destroy the boarding parties with one claw tied behind its back or something on that level of arrogance?"

"Your memory, as always, is flawless, Lord Apostle."

"What happened?"

"It looks like...he underestimated Russ' dogs. They managed to fight their way through half of the ship and detonate melta bombs inside the Enginarium."

"Typical," he growled, "those failures better pray for the Gods to protect them from my wrath. Where are we in term of fire ships?"

"We have used approximately ninety percent of them, Lord. Do you want to send the last wave?"

"No," the Word Bearer commander shook his head. "The slaves of the False Emperor and our unfaithful cousins know this tactic now and will evade the blow should we commit to it now."

Mothac didn't voice his opinion, which was that this trap and the overwhelming attack of Hell Blade interceptors and Harbinger bombers had not inflicted enough casualties to change the outcome of the battle.

The enemy was continuing its relentless artillery bombardment against the line of Word Bearers' Battleships. They had lost hundreds of Destroyers and dozens of Cruisers, but when every hour brought them huge numbers of replacement hulls, why would they care?

"They have lost more Battleships than we did during the last few hours, Lord."

"How kind of you to remind me of that," he angrily hissed at one of his Captains, "we have lost nine Battleships, they have lost ten. This is not an exchange rate we can afford for long."

Aside from the thousands of Legionnaires they had lost along with those ships, the cold, unfeeling truth was if the False Emperor's slaves paid one hundred Battleships to win this battle, they would likely be able to be salvage plenty of ruined hulls afterwards, and even if they couldn't, the Martian shipyards could build new ones if given a few centuries.

The Word Bearers Legion couldn't afford to lose one hundred Battleships. Not now, when the Tear of Nightmares was yet to open.

But for his soul and the oaths he had uttered, the member of the Dark Council was unable to see how to inflict more fatalities and destroyed warships than he already did.

Russ, this was the fault of that wolfish brute. The False Emperor's most loyal dog was pushing and always on the offensive, creating sub-groups of Battleships and trying to break the blessed formations written in the Book of Lorgar.

A Cruiser of the Alpha Legion was disintegrated as the Hrafnkel hammered it so badly its fusion reactors went critical. Several Heavy Cruisers of the Hades class tried to evade the new onslaught of the Sixth Legion, something which only resulted in more boarding operations.

"Summon more of the Gods' servants," he barked, "tell the Mechanicum ships I want more of their special weapons to bring down the shields of the enemy capital warships."

"My Lord..."

"I hope you have good news."

"The very best, my Lord! We have successfully brought down the shields of the Invincible Reason! The sons of the Lion's throat is at our mercy!"

Mothac smiled. At last something was working according to the plan.

"Prepare our most faithful warriors for a teleportation strike!"


Gloriana-class Battleship Invincible Reason

64 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Supreme Grand Master Lucifer

Primarchs had a strange notion of calculated risks. Or maybe it was just the Primarch of the Space Wolves. The Supreme Grand Master wouldn't be surprised if that were to be the case.

The initial 'theoretical' was sound. The Loyal Chapters who had managed to reach Fenris did not have the numbers to complete multiple boarding operations, not when the enemy had tens of thousands of Traitor Marines available, in addition to daemonhosts and other heretical things.

Yet at the same time, they needed to board the Traitor warships if they wanted to prevent the Word Bearers from being victorious. A long battle would inflict massive casualties on the Traitor Seventeenth Legion, but they had to assume the worst: if they were successful in casting their eternally-damned rituals, the sons of the accursed Lorgar would be able to replenish their losses somehow.

Thus the Primarch had somehow arrived at the conclusion it was best to present a 'weakness' the Traitor Marines would be unable to resist.

And by a curious coincidence, of the two Gloriana Battleships present, the choice of the Lord of Fenris had fallen upon the Invincible Reason.

Lucifer was not an Astartes willing to repay every grudge which came his way tenfold, but the costs of repairing internal damage the Traitors would cause due to this 'plan' would be estimated in the millions of Thrones Gelt and the bill directly sent to Leman Russ once the battle was over.

"The Traitors will come, Supreme Grand Master," the Master of Librarians of the Angels of Absolution announced. Lucifer gave him a nod of thanks. His precognitive abilities were the reason he had kept him so close when his services were so desperately needed elsewhere. "Eight seconds before enemy boarding."

"For the Lion and for Terra," the Master of the Deathwing declared.

"For the Emperor and the oaths of vengeance we swore."

A teleportation strike would have spread the familiar smell of ozone along with a few other troubling things.

The arrival of the Traitors was far more violent and disgusting. The hall of the Invincible Reason was dirtied by some heretical black substance, and daemons came and shrieked.

The hundreds of Word Bearers didn't shout anything, however.

Maybe because they hadn't expected to fight five hundred sons of the Lion in a direct confrontation.

"REPENT! FOR TOMORROW YOU DIE!"

The Bolters and Lascannons fired at once before they had finished their battlecry.

"FOR BLESSED LORGAR, PRAISED BE HIS NAME!"

"FOR THE LION!"

"DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!"

The multiple squads of the Angels of Vigilance claimed the first traitor kills, as their snipers had been chosen to ingloriously slay all notable targets.

But Lucifer was not far behind, as the Sword of Secrets impaled its first opponent before decapitating a hulking brute with goat-like horns.

"FOR THE LION! MAKE THEM PAY FOR THEIR UNFORGIVABLE TREACHERY BROTHERS!"


Abyss-class Super-Battleship Word Bearer

66 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Slaughter King Kraagon Gorefist

Kraagon removed his chainaxe from the corpse of the False Emperor's red dog with a grunt of content.

He didn't know why these bastards were angering the Lord of Skulls by their mere presence, but Khorne had demanded their death, and that was all that mattered.

Blood for the Blood God.

"How pitiful," growled a lesser gladiator of his warband, "they are so weak..."

"Their skulls will make-"

The walls of the Word Bearers' flagship they had boarded to take more skulls for Khorne were broken again, and Kraagon smiled as he recognised the emblem on the Assault Rams.

"DEATH TO THE WOLVES! TAKE THEIR SKULLS!"

"SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!"

The Wolves howled, and Kraagon screamed at them. He didn't know why, but at this moment, he'd never felt more alive. Even the Butcher's Nails had stopped hurting.

This was a worthy fight.

"BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!"

"FOR FENRIS! THE WOLFTIME AWAITS!"

Chainaxes clashed by the hundreds, and the gun decks of the Word Bearer were soon covered in crimson as the Wolves and Gladiator Group 138 spilled torrents of Astartes blood for Khorne.

"KHORNE! KHORNE!"

A terrifying howl answered him and in the span of a second, Kraagon had just enough time to jump aside as a half-devoured warrior was thrown across the battlezone where he had chosen to worship his God.

The air grew different, and without effort, the Wolves reformed a line.

The former Captain of the World Eaters felt something unfamiliar pressure his two hearts.

A tall figure advanced, flanked by two enormous canine beasts.

There was no mistaking him for anyone else.

"I WILL CLAIM HIS SKULL FOR KHORNE!"

Had he not been crowned by Khorne for his devotion to blood, brutality and slaughter? Had he not piled mountains of skulls in His name?

This was why the Blood God had chosen him. This was why the Lord of Skulls had guided him to the Word Bearer despite the initially meagre harvest of unworthy skulls.

Before he could close half the distance, Russ had already moved.

Three gladiators were tossed aside broken. The enemy's axe was a storm of death, an axe which was greater and faster than anything he himself had ever wielded.

Kraagon charged to fight the Primarch anyway.

But somehow with each step trying to find his way across the tempest of blades and death, he was slowing down.

Why? Why did Khorne-

A fist engulfed his vision and he saw the Warp and stars blacken his vision. He felt pain and the Butcher's Nails bite deep.

Kraagon screamed in agony.

He stood up and removed his ruined helmet.

His armour was no better. And as he saw the multiple holes, the Chosen of Khorne knew a lot of these wounds had not been caused by a Primarch.

"Cowards..." he snarled.

There was no answer. And as he turned his head, the leader of Gladiator Group 138 realised in shock that all his warband was lying dead.

"This was always your Legion's problem." Russ' voice was winter and war. "You are too aggressive and undisciplined."

"Khorne...doesn't care...from whence the blood flows...so long..."

His chainaxe was stopped effortlessly by a blade, and then the huge Fenrisian axe descended and everything turned into blood.


Already the first of the Noctilith Wars rages. Will the Dragon claim another victory for the Angel? Or will the malice of the scorned Three extinguish the Light?


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

The Throne of Oblivion

61 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady Magos Dogma Dragon Richter

Dragon breathed a sigh of relief as another wave of Landers escaped the gravitic pull of the Ymga Monolith's machinery to return to the capital ships above their heads, their metallic bellies filled with as many Noctilith blocks as they could carry without hindering their flight.

A cloud of demons tried to intercept them, but Lisa was watchful, and within a second a new orb of light was summoned into existence.

The horrors of the Warp were disintegrated or went down in golden flames, and the Tinker had no doubt many of the blocks had been spontaneously turned into Aethergold.

"Praise the Holy Moth of the Chosen of the Omnissiah," a Tech-Priest canted.

"So far, her presence means we are able to hold," Dragon agreed.

It was far too early to shout victory, but so far it appeared the Ruinous Powers had overestimated their chances of victory without Taylor being present. Sufficiently large quantities of Aethergold had been distributed aboard several Battleships so that, in addition to Lisa's offensive anti-daemonic capabilities, the Imperial Navy and the forces defending the perimeter of the Noctilith vaults could stand without enduring more than minor casualties.

And with each rotation of meticulously organised Landers which delivered its bounty into orbit, the success of Operation Stalingrad was more complete. They had already 'saved' close to nine thousand blocks, and she didn't need to calculate to know it was easily one hundred times greater than the combined quantity of Noctilith they had obtained in the last several decades.

"The Imperial Fists report the Necron Destroyer offensive has ceased, Lady Magos."

"So it has," mainly because between the sons of Dorn's Land Raiders and her Dragon Armours' pinpoint strikes, the Necrons' headlong charges had been pulverised before arriving at even the limits of their own weapons' range. "Transmit them my compliments and politely suggest they return to the defensive positions we discussed one hour ago."

"With due respect Lady Magos, the Necrons are beaten...their 'attacks' are occurring as the Ymga Monolith's sections break down and release more horrors."

"I am not too worried about the Necrons." Dragon canted calmly. "I am worried about what the abominations which are sending us those waves of monsters are going to try next."

"Lady Dragon?"

"The Archenemy is cruel, but it isn't completely stupid. With their current strategy, we are going to be able to empty all the Noctilith vaults one after another. Their 'Malefic Scar' has been stopped more than a million kilometres away from the Battle Groups we have above our heads. The power of the Aethergold creates a respectable anti-abomination zone which ensures their evil influence remains negligible."

It had reached the point they had returned half of the regiments which had marched upon the Monolith back to their transports, leaving only the elites to defend the perimeters with Skitarii, Space Marines and other units which had proven their utter deadliness against the Necrons.

"They know this strategy is a failure. So what are we not seeing here?"


The Changeling

The daemon known as the Changeling was unhappy, for he existed to sow mistrust and confusion, and there was precious little of that at the moment.

Following Malicia's request had been simple enough: the Changeling had taken the appearance of a Necron Nemesor and ordered several Crypteks to deactivate many Noctilith-made synchronizers before smashing them apart when the deed was done.

According to the plan, that should have been sufficient to generate a chaotic battle which would last for hours, plenty of time for the Legions of Tzeentch to spring a series of other traps.

Malicia had claimed plenty of Transmutational Changestone as a reward for her ambition and preparations, but not enough to become the undisputed Chosen of Tzeentch for the Thousand Sons and the other Astartes worshipping the Great Architect of Fate.

The Changeling had not realised by then that had been the only thing which would go according to plan.

The humans had supposed to have been routed by now. And if they weren't, it would be because Weaver herself was here, and that would mean a far greater prize was about to be claimed by his Master.

But Weaver wasn't here. She was fighting Be'lakor, and the shockwaves of that confrontation were so powerful the Changeling had to steel himself and focus on the situation aboard the Throne of Oblivion lest he grow distracted...again.

The shape-changing daemon could do nothing about the duel between the Living Saint and the First Prince of Chaos Undivided, nor did he want to. His chief weapons were trickery, subterfuge, and spreading distrust. Unless Tzeentch gave the order, the Necron battlestation was the closest the Changeling would come to the Angel of Sacrifice.

It was already very dangerous for the Changeling to be here. That damnable singing sugar-addicted moth was throwing orbs of pure Anathema energy left and right. If one was sent in his direction, the banishment would be extremely painful and leave him unable to operate in the Material Realm for centuries.

But the current situation was unacceptable. If nothing was done, the humans would claim a devastating one-sided victory...another devastating one-sided victory. Weaver might die, but this victory would remain. No, she wasn't going to die; Be'lakor was just a sacrificial pawn, unworthy of Great Tzeentch's attention and power.

Anyway.

If the battle continued to unfold like it currently was, their stocks of Aethergold would make the Imperium a massive threat, and Tzeentch didn't want that.

Besides, this battle was boring. The humans were confident, not afraid.

It was time to change that.

The Changeling played with his staff and changed.

No longer was his appearance a hooded figure hiding his true essence; for Tzeentch's purpose the new fake body he was appearing as was far taller and metallic.

"Mighty Nemesor Kharesh!" the assembly of idiotic Necron nobles he found after three teleportations bowed and scraped at his fake feet. "We feared the worst when your resurrection crypts were destroyed!"

"Praise the Silent King, I survived!" 'Kharesh' boomed, and predictably, the Necron imbeciles swooned and their intelligence levels fell even lower. For a good minute, he tolerated their prattle before leading the conversation into the direction he wanted.

"Our forces are unable to break through the vermin defensive lines, I regretfully admit it." The Changeling announced while hiding a vicious smirk. "I fear it is time to contemplate more...alterations to the honour code of the Szarekhan Dynasty."

"What kind of alterations, Mighty Nemesor?"

"We must release the quarantined forces which were allegedly infected by the so-called Flayer Virus."


60 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

General Domenico Flabanico

The ground shook again. If they were on Ventrillia or another planet, Domenico would have not been too worried – provided the planet in question did not have a history of Death World-level earthquakes at least.

But the Ventrillian troops he was leading were not on a planet, and he like every guardsman had learned to recognise every tremor or noise for what it was: the prelude of some new attempt of the Necrons or their flesh-disintegrating technology to kill you.

"It seems they still haven't learned their lesson. Contact the Aeronautica Imperialis. I don't know if they will be able to intercept them too far away from our lines given how dangerous it is to go beyond the light-blessed perimeter, but a few Valkyries to scout ahead will give us a few minutes to prepare a proper welcoming committee."

"By your orders, General."

The news spread, of course. But the Ventrillian Nobles regiments which had been ordered to hold this kilometre-long section were more efficient than they had been a few weeks ago. Not that they had been incompetent after years of manoeuvres, vigorous training, and preparations to counter the 'transhuman shock' of the Space Marines.

But after Mandragora and the Ymga Monolith, while a regrettable number of good men had died, the ones who relied too much on their luck and not enough on skill had perished. Many regiments had to be merged with each other, sometimes more than once. But each man present was now a veteran who had seen hell and spat in the face of horrors as terrible as the ones they had faced at Commorragh.

And in the unlikely case they couldn't-

There was a horrible sound ahead of them, and Domenico Flabanico thanked the Emperor for the fact he still had his earmuffs to protect himself.

Two seconds later, it repeated itself.

"What was that?"

He used his magnoculars to see if there was something moving towards his fortified position, but there was nothing that could be discerned.

"Auspexes? The Aeronautica Imperialis?"

"Nothing, General, we have nothing...it sounded like...some kind of distorted shriek..."

It began again ten seconds later, and this time it was far more powerful. It was like a thousand, no, ten thousand people in utter agony had decided to organise a choir of the most dreadful noises imaginable.

"Prepare the artillery. I don't know where they're coming from or what sort of devilry the Necrons have decided to send against us this time, but it must be the prelude to an enemy assault."

"Should we warn the Iron Knights their assistance is going to be required?"

"Hmm..." the two Companies of the Angels of Death were the reserve of the Ventrillian regiments, not that they had needed them during the last several hours. The artillery and infantry of His Most Holy Majesty were largely up to the task of defeating some hideous metal carcasses which behaved like a frontal charge on open terrain was the only tactic worth knowing. "No. For the moment, they're just shrieking somewhere in the darkness. As long as they only try to hurt our ears and-"

The shrieking became so high it was nigh unbearable...and then they came.

They didn't materialise inside their lines, the Guard had taken precautions against that gambit, such as installing their first defensive line before a gigantic precipice and adding tech-jammers at key locations everywhere, but they were far too close, less than eight hundred metres away.

And despite all his experience, Domenico felt fear.

He had seen the Necron infantry. They could be terrifying. They had endured the mindless assaults of the Necron Destroyers, which were absolutely terror-inducing killing machines. And thanks to Lady Weaver, they had survived the tides of Canoptek Scarabs and other metal-insects which seemed intent to drown the world.

But they had never fought...that.

"Call the Iron Knights. Tell them we have a confirmed presence of 'Flayer Necrons' here." His next order was far more conventional. "FIRE! FIRE AT WILL! DON'T LET THEM ATTACK YOU AT CLOSE-QUARTERS!"

Even if there hadn't been vague warnings from the Necron liaisons, one glance at those abominations was enough to know you didn't want them anywhere near you.

They were...they were just wrong.

The Sphinxes and Basilisks began their familiar song of shells and devastation, and for a time, it seemed the 'Flayer attack' was going to be no more successful than the disastrous 'Destroyer' charges.

And then somehow the approaches of the Ventrillian defensive lines registered more Flayer Necrons arriving.

The numbers were...there were a lot of them.

"By the Golden Throne..."

"He protects. And tell the Air Marshals of the Aeronautica we need their Marauders yesterday."

"And if they ask for coordinates?"

"I don't think they will be able to miss them even if they try..."

Millions of metallic horrors shrieked.

And the Imperial Guard fired everything it had to stop this nightmare from becoming worse.


I see the Siege of the Fang. I see the failures of Horus being repeated over and over again. You should have listened to the Iron Warriors, Lorgar. The Wolves are not defeated, and until the last one falls dead, you will have problems.

Yes, there will be problems of anarchy, how did you guess?


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

59 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Callidus Assassin Elena Kerrigan

There had been many things Elena wished she could have brought to Fenris given sufficient time to prepare. Now she wasn't saying she couldn't kill a lot of Traitors with just a Neural Shredder, a few blades, and her parahuman powers, but a few Melta guns would have been useful to deal with the heavily armoured Astartes.

Especially as the 'traditional' Callidus doctrine was not exactly a good idea here.

There were plenty of Traitor guardsmen, sure enough. The problem was that infiltrating their ranks, based on her observations, was a one-way ticket to the frontlines where they were used as cannon-fodder against the Iron Warriors' enemies inside the mountain.

The young Callidus woman didn't know if she would be able to convince the Space Wolves she was a friend, since her accreditations were back in her bedroom on Ultramar, and anyway something told her it would be a poor use of her skills: the Wolves were doing what they could to kill as many Traitors as possible, but they were still trapped and condemned to bleed out for days.

Of course, the besiegers had the same problem Elena had, though unlike her, they had no excuses to not have anticipated it.

This was the issue of food, obviously.

Or should she say 'filling your belly while making sure you don't end up as prey'?

Fenris was a Death World, and it fully deserved its legendary reputation.

Since there had been that putrid green sorcery on the horizon several hours ago, Elena had seen several bands of the 'Volscani Cataphracts' try to hunt a meal with tanks and artillery lying in ambush. Three times already, the traitor guardsmen had ended up ambushed by giant pack of what had to be the 'Fenrisian Wolves', though she really didn't see how anyone could think they held a resemblance to the wolves of Earth Bet.

This party she had followed, on the other hand, was moving with purpose and had avoided ambushes. Maybe because it had four Iron Warriors to command it. She doubted they were out in strength to harvest food from the local fauna, though. Traitor Astartes didn't care about the suffering of mere mortals. But since they were so obliging to walk in a territory where they were vulnerable, it was time to kill them.

"Assassin!"

The first Traitor Marine had the time to shout before she got him in the neck. The second managed to draw his Bolter and fire a few shells where she had been moments before she disabled his legs.

The third charged her, which was an unwise choice, since the soldiers surrounding him generated plenty of shadows.

The fourth didn't make this mistake, unfortunately.

Instead, it pushed the Volscani in her direction, a meat-shield which, while not really dangerous, was rather effective in wasting the precious seconds of surprise she needed so much.

After what felt an eternity but was likely closer to ten seconds, the shadow-wielding parahuman and the Iron Warrior were the only fighters alive.

This was not good. The Traitor Marine had a modified suit of Terminator Armour, and the Warp only knew how many dark blessings the Archenemy had given it.

Yet she had the Neutral Shredder. Elena knew better than to hope one good hit was going to be enough to kill this big bastard.

"Callidus." The oath-breaking Astartes muttered before screaming a war cry every Loyalist despised. "DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!"

The Iron Warrior charged her. Before he was able to touch her, she became a shadow, but when she turned back again the monster was already on her, moving with frightening speed.

All she could do was becoming shadow once more.

The dance continued for several minutes, with herself playing the role of the hunted and the Iron Warrior being the predator.

It didn't amuse her at all.

Fortunately for her, the Iron Warrior had many blades protruding from his body, but the massive gun attached to his right arm had limited ammunition.

And when the heretical device clicked empty, there was nothing preventing her from creating distance between them once more and drawing her Neural Shredder.

She had been right about the Traitor's resilience, unfortunately. It still took her four shots and three stabs to finally kill this too-stubborn-to-die Terminator.

"Now what were you after..." the Callidus hoped it was going to be edible, after exhausting herself to kill four Traitor Astartes who by all evidence were not priority targets.

The problem was that the fight had made a mess everywhere, and she saw only the blood on the snow. It was a nice combination of white and red, but-

Something meowed.

Elena fought the urge to laugh as she saw what the Volscani Cataphracts had tried to capture.

"They wanted to eat you?"

The four kittens – and they had to be kittens, even if they were the size of an average fully grown Earth cat – were the very colour of snow, which was why she had failed to see them at first.

"You're adorable, aren't you?" They were so close to each other it was like a huge fur ball with eight eyes. "You don't have to worry, I am not going to eat you."

It was maybe stupid, but she didn't feel it would be...right. They were superb with the blue eyes, and there was something which resonated with her power.

"What I am going to do with you, kittens?"

Obviously, the felines answered...by meowing loudly.

"Right, I suppose I asked for that one."

Elena shivered and suddenly looked behind her.

"Golden Throne..."

She had been right. These were the kittens. And the mother had returned.

A loud growl was a clear sign the aircar-sized 'mommy' did not appreciate her presence between herself and her babies.

Elena jumped aside and let the enormous Fenrisian super-predator reunite with her litter.

Which the...how did you call a species like that anyway? Winter Hyper-Tiger? Frost Mega-Jaguar?

Her mental queries were interrupted for a second or two when she saw the vigilant 'mother tiger' lick each of her kittens several times. The enormous purr of joy echoed quickly to join the timid meows.

"Well, good day to you, and everything." Elena had a job to do, and she still had an empty stomach. And it went without saying that while the enormous feline wasn't in a murderous mood against her, it was better not to push her luck.

The Callidus Assassin began to run away.

Twenty minutes later, while she was trying to cook some parts of a black-furred wolfish animal bigger than a Leman Russ Tank in a cavern, the feline mother reappeared.

And if she had a doubt it was a different feline super-predator, she was carrying one of her kittens by the neck while three others were holding on for dear life on her back.

Naturally, the four small cats meowed and ran towards the meat and the fire...more the meat than the fire, in fact.

"This whole affair feels like the Emperor is playing a joke and I'm the punchline..." The parahuman commented before resigning herself to share her dinner with four very enthusiastic fur balls.


Approaches of the Bloodfire Gate

55 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Warsmith Charyx

"I swear to you Lord, it was a gigantic pack of super-felids! The fangs, my Lord! The fangs! And there were a thousand of them!"

"If there were a thousand of them," Charyx repressed his annoyance, "you wouldn't have returned."

"Uhm...my Lord..."

Charyx activated his chainsword and ended the life of the Volscani wretch. It was an insult to the blade to be soaked in cowardly blood, but he wasn't going to waste a Bolter-shell on that.

"Your opinion, Depedreter?"

"Officio Assassinorum, unknown Temple," the other Warsmith replied. "I would say Callidus, except Callidus don't engage our forces like that. They're more the sneaky type which pours poison in our drinks or shoots us when we're trying to rest."

"Indeed." This was the sixth detachment lost, and in total this made over twenty Legionnaires of different warbands of the Fourth Legion line which had been taken out. "I've never heard of someone who is able to melt into the shadows..."

"Certainly a unique type of psyker...maybe the blades in the dark have petitioned for the help of the Raven Guard?"

"It would make sense." The leader of the Steel Brethren nodded. "What I find more difficult to accept is how an assassin of the False Emperor has successfully landed when we still hold complete superiority in high orbit."

"Because you assume it was sent after us," Depedreter grinned. "Think about it, Charyx. Who has angered the pathetic mortals reigning on Terra these last several decades before the Black Crusade? The Fourth gene-line? No, we aren't important enough to deserve dark blades pursuing us across the galaxy."

"You think the assassin was here for the Space Wolves and has just...had its orders changed when their reinforcements arrived."

It did make sense...as much as the skill of the Space Wolves to anger anyone who had the displeasure to meet them made sense, anyway.

"All right. And your explanation why these huge feline predators are following the massacres in ever-increasing numbers?"

"Animal instinct, nothing more," the leader of the Metal Claw warband scoffed. "For once, I think there's no need to assume the Word Bearers are behind everything which goes wrong on Fenris, Charyx. The assassin kills our parties and provides a lot of meat to the beasts. The beasts follow the assassin, knowing it will provide them more sustenance. And if the assassin needs a little help...well, we're all smaller than the apex predators of this Death World, no?"

Charyx spat a few insults he had learned at Terra.

"I hate this damned planet." As angry as he felt, unfortunately raging about it wouldn't do much good. "At least so far we are still able to keep the Wolves cornered in the Fang."


Asaheim

Slopes of the Krakgard Peak

54 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Blood Claw Tobias 'the Frequently Punished'

This may be the craziest joke he had ever pulled off, and that was saying something.

Why was he doing it again?

Because he wanted redemption after spiking the Mjød of Old Direbear?

No.

The grouchy Wolf Lord had it coming, in his humble opinion. You didn't leave your favourite mug unprotected like that unless you were ready to accept the consequences.

Because the others might believe him dead, given how confusing the melee against the blue Maleficarum things had been and how he had been forced to trigger an avalanche to escape alone?

No.

Tobias would be there at the end of this battle, he swore it by the Fang. 'Martyrdom' and all that stuff the idiot priests outside of Fenris always had on their lips didn't apply to a proud Vlka Fenryka.

Because he was going to be a legend among the trickster legends of Fenris if it worked?

Yes, that was a far better reason...though not the only one, ha!

The Blood Claw chuckled before narrowly avoiding losing his balance, something which slightly decreased his hilarity. Vlka Fenryka or not, the slopes of the Krakgard were treacherous. The dour and boring Long Fangs insisted all the peaks of Asaheim were like this, but honestly given how often they hunted in the plains, it was surprising they had climbed two thousand metres above the snow valleys on one mountain, never mind several.

Something moved in the snow a couple of metres to his right, and Tobias instantly crouched and went completely still.

Then the Blood Claw did something the throat of a son of Russ was particularly ill-suited to do, since their loud spiritual father had prioritised howling above all else: he whistled.

He did not have the time to wonder if a second session of whistling would be needed.

Soon there was one head emerging from the snow, quickly followed by half a dozen more.

Tobias watched them with non-hidden satisfaction, though he didn't bare his teeth. Friendly with them or not, they would take that as a challenge, and in their territory, his chances of surviving the hour wouldn't be that great.

For before him was one of the smallest animals of Fenris' extraordinary fauna, and the one who was easily the most misunderstood...in his humble opinion, of course.

Grey Fang Andrim had one day muttered they had a lot in common with something he called the 'Wild Marmot', including the habit of digging tunnels into the slopes of the mountain, the sublime fur, and the excellent sense of smell.

It may be so.

But in Tobias' mind, there was no doubt any species on Fenris or elsewhere would ever be able to rival the misunderstood Wrath-badger.

If only the elders gave them a chance! But no, for the Lords of the Great Companies, it was all about being the hunter or the hunted. They never tried to see beyond that! Look how cuddly his friends were, when given the chance! No, no, bad, his ceramite armour was not edible, bad friend.

Once he was confident he had an entire pack surrounding him – which was important, the adults would take offense if they thought one of them was deliberately not invited to a gathering – the leader of the pack he had named for this furry and adorable animal whistled again.

The message was as simple as it was true. Fenris needed their help.

And as a concert of whistles erupted across the mountain, Tobias knew he was going to achieve the prank which might change the course of Fenrisian history.

For the first time, the Wrath-badgers would go to war.

For the fur, the wrath, and for Fenris, he already imagined the face of Old Direbear when his Boo was forced to thank his friends...


The Light of the Anathema is your only shield. It has always been so, and it will continue to be so until Anarchy triumphs.


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

51 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Commander Shadowsun

"Holy One?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"I think we are going to need a new Holy City assuming T'au survives this war."

A beastly cry assaulted their ears, and every Tau present flinched, for even if they were getting used to how loud these outbursts were, there was no getting used to the sheer hatred this enemy of the Greater Good was able to put into sounds.

An explosion of darkness erupted from the eastern avenues of Fio'taun, quickly followed by an even more powerful one of light.

"I suppose we can say our farewells to the Columns of the Unification," Aun'shi noted mournfully.

"And to the Museum of the First Sphere," if she remembered correctly, the two locations were so close what was going to destroy one was going to destroy the other. "If I thought it was going to help, I would send entire formations of Mantas and Barracudas to kill this 'Dark Master'."

But the evacuation of Fio'taun had already given her a very pessimistic view of what would happen if she made the error of ordering Air Caste pilots into this...nightmare. The shadow things had attacked countless transports, and if the 'Space Marines' didn't often appear to slaughter the enemies, the number of deaths would have been far higher than what had been reported.

And she, commander of the ever-dwindling military resources of T'au, knew the fatalities of the loyal servants of the Greater Good were in the millions – if one didn't count Lu'val and everything which had been lost there.

Fio'taun was where the enemy leader was fighting, but each hour brought more catastrophes and knowing it was merely a small taste of what the darkness could do if it hadn't been busy fighting in the Holy City...it was not reassuring her at all.

"We likely have lost our Vespid auxiliaries, whatever happens," the warrior-Ethereal remarked as a flock of them was seen using their crystal-based weapons to devastating effect on the shadows, be they winged or not.

"Surely the humans and Weaver won't have any interest in...sending them to different battlefields. There aren't enough of them on T'au to represent a significant improvement to their armies."

Being a purely airborne elite auxiliary force, the Vespids were always in extremely high demand by Tau Commanders, and there were never enough of them when you requested their deployment by your side. The truly extraordinary thing was that there had even been any Vespid flocks on T'au itself when they were cut off from the Empire, not that there had been so few. Not having the time to learn the reasons why, she was betting on the formation of a new Cadre trained for high-intensity operations on a mountainous planet.

"I have...reasons to believe the Vespid strain-leaders will have...several reasons to not be happy with the High Council...assuming we survive."

"Should I assume you refer to the ability of Weaver to communicate directly with them and everything which will stem from it?"

"You may assume that, yes, Commander."

Shadowsun didn't like that at all. In the fires of the evacuation, the survivor of Mu'gulath Bay had thrown herself body and spirit in her duties, because nothing mattered more than saving the lives of the civilians she had sworn to protect.

But now the evacuation was over, and the vision of what had happened on Weaver's Battleship was raising plenty of...worrying questions.

"Holy One...should I prepare for more desertions or defections of our auxiliaries now that secrets you intended to never reveal are going to be known to all?"

"No...the majority of our auxiliaries in orbit are Kroot, aren't they?"

She nodded.

"In that case, no, I'm not worried about any secrets concerning them coming to light, since we don't have any where they are concerned. I am more...diplomatically wary of how the humans are going to react to their presence. This Imperium seems to have kept far more technology and knowledge than the one we encountered. It stands to reason they also have met far more species than they remembered when they counterattacked in the Damocles Gulf region. And if they have met the Kroot, I doubt some of their 'habits' have pleased them...especially the one where they eat their enemies."

Shadowsun knew Aun'shi had made excellent points. The Kroot, the Vespids...the more she looked around, the more she realised how fragile many foundations of the T'au Empire truly were.

"How do the humans fare in their assault against-"

The black monster rose again from the ruins of Fio'taun, and...hadn't it grown again? It certainly wasn't that big last time. It had changed its appearance too. Now it more closely resembled a three-headed snake with some parts which could have been assembled from sea-faring species and a tail burning in unnatural fire.

"By the Greater Good, what sort of unnatural abyss was that thing born from?"


T'au System

Approaches of the corrupted moon Lu'val

Overlord-class Battlecruiser Black Lancer

48 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Admiral Fritz von Bittenfeld

"I think that answers once and for all if it there is something salvageable on that moon," Fritz grimaced. The mere sight of the...daemons trying to attack them had turned five men on the Black Lancer's bridge insane.

"I agree there's nothing left but to purge the xenos moon," his chief of staff added. "I don't know how long it is going to take. We lack Exterminatus weaponry to do the deed."

"We would have tried Exterminatus if the Holy Inquisition released the planet-killers to us," he was honest enough to know that between the easy choice and the difficult one, he wouldn't have hesitated long. "I don't know if it would have worked. I don't know what the Warp is doing to this planet, but...I don't know if the Archenemy has the ability to intercept Exterminatus torpedoes."

For most worlds which were declared irredeemably tainted by higher authorities than he, it didn't cause too many problems. As long as you had a window of opportunity for the ship carrying the deadly ammunition, it could be done.

But if some Inquisitor had seen a planet contorting and mutating continent-sized shadows somewhere, he or she had not warned him about it before they began Operation Stalingrad.

"Anyway we can't delay any longer. All Battlecruisers save the Black Lancer, fire on the greatest of the...the shadow tumours. And spread the word that it is vital those who direct the fire of our warships are as close as possible to a source of Aethergold. We can't replace our crew between each volley."

"Yes, Admiral." His tactical officer saluted. "And the Black Lancer?"

"We are going to be the shepherd of the Battlefleet," Fritz explained grimly. "I don't like how easy it was to-"

"Daemonships! Admiral, at least eight daemonships exiting the Warp scar-anomaly! Cruiser-sized energy signatures!"

"By the Golden Throne..."

"They have prepared their trap well," Battlefleet Maskirovka was caught between the corrupted moon and the don't-look-at-it Warp Rift separating them from the rest of the Battle Groups' forces. "But they should have sent Battleships if they wanted to get the job done."

"Admiral?"

"Transmit the word to all warships of the Battlefleet: forget the previous plan. We're going to engage the moon first according to Fire Plan Armageddon."

"Admiral, may I remind you this plan was made with the assumption the Exterminatus would be available?"

"You may."

"And I assume you have a brilliant idea which will allow you to destroy this ruined xenos moon without having the weapons forming the heart of our strategy?"

"As it so happens, yes." The Admiral of Kar Duniash confirmed. "To put it in simple, basic terms, I think the Archenemy is bluffing."

"Admiral?"

"Since we were given Aethergold to place aboard our Battlecruisers and Cruisers, the attacks on our ships have been rather indirect, shall we say. I think that for all their ingenuity, the effect of the God-Emperor's Light upon their corruption is extremely painful. It may very well be a poison worse than anything we might imagine. So I wonder. Did they show such corruption on the moon because it is what they need to corrupt this system...or is it because they want us to stay far away from it so we don't realise they're bluffing?"

"There's only one way to answer that question...and I suppose you know it, Admiral."

"Yes, yes I do. Every ship is to accelerate and follow the Black Lancer in a Trident formation. Let's teach the heretics they can't dictate to us our course of action."


The Throne of Oblivion

47 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Princeps Senioris Darius Sobek

The teleportation this time was not up to the standards of Legio Astorum.

That there were probably extenuating circumstances didn't give him any comfort. They would need one more teleportation to get away from the Ymga Monolith.

"Legio." There was no time for all the rituals and pre-battle cants, promises, and oaths. "AIM! FIRE!"

More than fifty God-Engines of the Collegia Titanica boasted an incredible amount of firepower.

This time, it was very sorely needed.

Apocalypse Missile Launchers erased Necron-made structures and collapsed dozens of other things crawling with shadow daemons. The Macro Gatling Blasters claimed an astronomical count of kills in mere seconds. Volcano Cannons incinerated tens of thousands of Necrons and no doubt countless other metallic and non-metallic beings, leaving vast gaping trenches where infernos raged wildly.

Assuredly the damage was cataclysmic. And thanks to the Aethergold stored near the heart of their machines, they had been able to teleport at the edge of the illuminated zone, therefore claiming maximal surprise for no tactical losses.

And yet, for all this one-sided slaughter, the result was...how did the Chosen of the Omnissiah phrase it a few weeks ago? Ah yes...it was like they had kicked an ant's nest.

"Merciful Omnissiah, there must be millions of Necrons cursed by the C'Tan..."

His Moderati's words were maybe a bit too emotional, but they were not incorrect.

Everywhere the Imperial Guard, the Collegia Titanica, and the other forces of the Imperium weren't able to establish their defensive positions, the Ymga Monolith seemed to be overflowing with Flayer Necrons.

You couldn't call what they were an army.

It was a mad, utterly insane horde of accursed xenos shrieking and expressing their loathing for everything living, trying to advance and feast upon human flesh.

There had been some which had been successful, he saw, and...this was just madness.

"Kill them," the Princeps Senioris commanded the engines which walked with his own. "Kill them all."

Knowing of the Flayer Necrons had been unpleasant. Now that the Chosen of the Omnissiah had been able to discover this 'C'Tan Curse' had provoked the Cybernetic Revolt, it was becoming harder and harder to keep his self-control.

Now that he watched this horde, he couldn't help but see the glorious vision of humanity fall into the darkness of the Monolith, except it wasn't Necron flesh-devourers doing the deed, but the legendary Men of Iron.

Was this how it all began? One wrong tomb opened, and suddenly the cities of Mankind succumbed to this folly?

If so, the C'Tan would in time pay for all this evil and devastation.

"We are armed with Aethergold, and its radiance is our shield! Legio, we march against the darkness!"

"I completely approve, Princeps," his second Moderati announced after the weapons of several Warbringer Nemesis Titans sent hundreds of thousands of the Flayer offensive to their doom. "Incidentally, I have the suspicion the Archenemy has released the Flayer Necrons to overwhelm the evacuation zones where Lady Dragon is busy ferrying off the Noctilith."

"I share your suspicion, Moderati. And the abominations which indirectly killed so many guardsmen will pay the price in due time as well."


The moons are the keys, Word Bearers. The Three have transformed them into instruments of damnation, and as long as they stand, you have a chance of victory.

As long as they stand...


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Infernus-class Battleship Delightful Agony

44 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Mothac

The air of the bridge had this unpleasant odour of burned machines and spilled blood.

Mothac ignored it. He did the same for the corpses of the Possessed slaves which were present everywhere he looked.

"Report."

"The Mechanicum Mecharch affirms he will have reactivated the shields in twenty seconds, Lord Apostle."

"And by then, you will only have three enormous holes in your Battleship."

"Silence." Mothac ordered, banishing the imp-sized Neverborn which had materialised without his permission. With shields and a lot of the other protections down the number of unwanted manifestations was skyrocketing, and he couldn't do anything about it. "The battleline?"

"We lost...just lost the Second Flame of Purity and the Tyrant's Reward, Lord. We have no hope. Let there be Anarchy! Glory to-"

His Accursed Crozius smashed the head of the mortal. Bitterly, the Dark Apostle thought he was getting a lot of practise conducting purges of heretics.

It was getting out of hand...and if things were so bad on the bridge, in his very presence, how out of control were the lower decks where no Faithful Legionnaire was present to put the fear of the Gods in the wretches' minds?

"The Contagion's Herald has been rammed."

"What?"

"An Imperial Frigate rammed it, Lord."

"What the...are we fighting greenskins?" Certain tactics ordered by Russ...either the Primarch had no control over his own fleet, or he had become even more callous in his pursuit of victory. "Never mind. We must reorganise the fleet."

The member of the Dark Council didn't add 'again', but every part of his mind was screaming it.

But he had no choice.

As he saw the space battlefield devolving into insanity, Mothac could only watch powerlessly as the carnage continued and the Legion's enemies were gaining the upper hand.

With three additional Battleships gone – even if one of them was Death Guard – he had lost thirty-four...no, thirty-five of these void leviathans, and this was not a rate of casualties the Armada could endure forever, not when for every ship destroyed, another two were taking critical damage.

The space around Fenris was a disaster of broken hulls, abandoned corpses, and miniature novas. The battle was merciless, long, and pitted the souls of the False Emperor's slaves against the true believers' of the Pantheon.

It was a fight they were losing. Not because they were not good enough, the Word Bearers were far superior on an individual comparison, but each Battleship they managed to destroy was replaced within the hour as False Emperor-loyal squadron after squadron translated out of the Warp. And as their Champions died, the damage they inflicted decreased. He preferred not to admit it, but the enemy had likely lost fewer Battleships than he and-

"Lord, the Word Bearer is breaking formation!"

"No, that is impossible! You must be-"

But as he tore off the heads of two slaves and hammered several daemonic engines in sheer fury, Mothac had to acknowledge the reality before his eyes.

The last Abyss-class Super-Battleship to be built, the flagship of the Grand Armada, was accelerating and abandoning the fight...leaving a massive weak point the Destroyers and Cruisers of the False Emperor's dogs were already exploiting.

"Contact the Dark Apostles Blessed Lorgar ordered to protect the heart of the Battleship immediately! I want to know what they think they are doing! And if they don't react immediately, I will summon enough Greater Servants to invent eight thousand new tortures so they scream for all eternity!"

"My Lord there's a message...'only in death does duty end' and...I think...I think we heard some howling..."

No. No, they...not even Russ and his band of hypocritical barbaric beasts could have fought their way across the halls and the decks of the Word Bearer!

"Anomalies detected inside the Word Bearer. Our improved sensors predict they are the emissions of teleportation beacons...the Wolves are abandoning the Word Bearer!"

"In that case it will be easy to retake control of the sections where they slaughtered our Legionnaires."

"My Lord, the Word Bearer is still accelerating, and we're out of teleportation range..."

"And? We have far more power than the slaves of the False Emperor. We can intervene and retake control, before punishing the failures who allowed this situation-"

"But Lord, the Word Bearer is accelerating directly towards Valdrmani! If nothing is done, it is going to ram the moon!"

Mothac stared in incomprehension, before sheer horror began to burn in his two hearts.

"How much time do we have left before impact?"

"If you hurry, my Lord...fifty-one seconds."

In other words, he had nothing.

And then the Delightful Agony's machines blessed by the Pantheon screamed again.

"Two more breaches in the middle-decks, and the prow cannon is just...gone, Lord."


Emperor-class Majestic Mandate

43 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Warmaster Ender Trevayne

The Chapter Master of the Dark Angels had asked if Leman Russ was ready to do his duty.

The answer was a clear and unambiguous 'yes'.

The battle continued, of course. Everyone knew what was going to happen, well, everyone who had an auspex nearby. Orders were still given, men shouted for more desperate measures to be enacted as compartments opened to the void.

But everyone watched as the enormous pit of heresy the Traitor Marines had built was hurled at the moon of Valdrmani.

It was a projectile bigger than any Gloriana. It was trident-shaped, a not-so-small moon the boarding teams of the Space Wolves had torn from its initial course and then pushed towards the astral body which had once housed their astropathic station.

How many millions of tons of ceramite, plasteel, adamantium, and physical damnation did it represent? Ender was not ashamed to admit he didn't know.

How far had the Wolves pushed its engines before they abandoned their 'prize'? What speed would it have at the moment of impact? That would likely remain a question only answered by the Tech-Priests.

There was no question however on whether something alive on the moon was going to survive the impact of a floating Hive City crashing at a significant fraction of light-speed.

The first seconds were extremely impressive.

The end was...the Warmaster didn't find the words. Maybe he would...later.

The Word Bearer, lair of heretics, descended into the atmosphere of the moon, briefly becoming a hellish spear repurposed to kill the very evil it had helped in creating.

The explosion was greater than anything which had been achieved so far.

Valdrmani, Fenris' only moon, exploded.

One second it was there, enormous scars spreading out of control, and the next...enormous fragments of an astral body scattering everywhere.

Thank the God-Emperor the majority of the Word Bearer's fleet was going to play the role of involuntary shields for them.

Ender did not have the leisure to wonder what should come next.

A voice colder than many blizzards growled over the fleet communications.

"The way is open." Leman Russ announced bluntly. "My Wolves are going to land on Fenris. Send me as many elite forces as you can. Admirals, finish off the Word Bearers' fleet. They can't be allowed to protect their sorcerers from what comes next."

"You heard the Primarch," the Armageddon-born officer told the officers who had turned in his direction. "Engage everything we have to break the Archenemy forces, be it on land or in space."


Fenris

The Fire Breather Volcano

40 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Wolf Lord Erling Laughhowl

This was not the Fenrisian winter he had expected to see upon his return.

The seas were poisoned by clouds of pure green corruption.

The snow was not white anymore, but blackened by the Maleficarum rituals of Lorgar's bastard sons.

The Wolf Lord of the Fourth Great Company loved to howl in laughter. He loved to celebrate and kill oath-breakers.

But as he took sight of the devastation inflicted upon the magnificent lands of Fenris, the homeworld he loved and cherished, the Wolf Lord didn't feel the tiniest shred of amusement.

"VENGEANCE!" He howled.

"VENGEANCE!" His Wolf Guard and all the members of the Laughing Wolves which had successfully landed with him howled.

"KILL ALL THE TRAITORS AND MAKE THEM SUFFER!"

"DEATH AND THE WOLFTIME!"

The Fourth Great Company charged. There was no laughter, and the Rune Priests howled with them, conjuring ice spears, and unleashing the wrath of Fenris upon the Chaos Marines.

"VENGEANCE!" His axes crushed countless puny guardsmen's skulls when they didn't behead them or cleave their bodies in two. "FOR RUSS AND FOR FENRIS!"

At last, the red-armoured corrupters decided to enter the fray, as their slaves routed and Erling got close to his hundredth kill for this short skirmish.

"FOR LORGAR! BLESSED BE HIS NAME!"

"LORGAR CAN GO F-"

His axes were suddenly stopped by an enormous red claw. Of course the demon-worshippers couldn't fight a battle without relying on their daemonic fiends, could they?

"Yes, little Wolf, tell us everything." Evil laughter arrived at his ears. "How do you intend to challenge a Daemon Primarch of his importance?"

"AS I WAS SAYING," Erling howled, "LORGAR CAN GO FUCK HIMSELF...BUT WE ALL KNOW HE WAS NEVER A MAN AND THE DARK GODS LOVE TO HAVE HIM AS THEIR SLAVE BOY!"

The daemon was so surprised it made a tiny mistake. It stopped looking at his Wolf Guard.

"I AM GOING TO TAKE GREAT PLEASURE IN-"

The relic axes of Fenris bit deep, and soon his joined the slaughter of Maleficarum flesh.

"Shut up." The axe he wielded with his left arm embedded itself in the ugly red head. "Vlka Fenryka! Who are we?"

"WE ARE THE SONS OF RUSS!"

"THEN BY THE WILL OF RUSS, BRING THE ARTILLERY AND THE FURY OF FENRIS, AND LET US SEND THIS DAMNED SILVER TOWER TO TAKE A BATH IN THE FIRE BREATHER!"


Above the Fire Breather Volcano

Silver Tower Sorcerous Ambition

38 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Leyak the Devourer

"The situation is not proceeding according to the plan, Lord Apostle."

"That is true, Coryphaus." Leyak agreed. "On the other hand," the Devourer bared his teeth in a frightening smile, "the hypocrites have yet to pierce one of our shields, never mind the eight others behind it. The warding arrays I have taken from the Thousand Sons sorcerer who thought he had a chance to betray me...I have improved them so much the defences are eight times more powerful than they were before."

They could fire their pathetic artillery all day and drink the tainted chalice their feeble psychic talents deserved.

Nothing, not even a Primarch, was going to be able to bring down the Silver Tower he had renamed the Holy Book of Lorgar instead of...well, he hadn't bothered to check what the sons of Magnus had tried to call it before they fled with their staffs broken.

"No, the dogs have arrived too late. The covens are already preparing another mass summoning under the guidance of my Dark Acolyte. We will crush these Fenrisian barbarians as easily as the Death Guard crushed the heretics on the plains of Asaheim! And if Russ comes in person, we will slay him too, and claim the great rewards the Gods will bestow upon us!"

"Well, my brother is awfully busy cutting the heads off your fellow sorcerers in high orbit, Dark Apostle Leyak. Fortunately, I am here to serve as his replacement. Happy to see me?"

This had to be a nightmare.

But as Leyak stared, the tall figure refused to disappear.

"No, no...NO! You can't be here! My wards prevent you from materialising inside the Silver Tower!"

"As much as I want to claim you were too prideful and arrogant...your pride in your work was completely justified in this case."

Corax threw a device at his feet. Leyak recognised the nature of the object instantly. It was a teleportation beacon marked with the insignia of the Raven Guard.

"We are betrayed..." He uttered in horror.

"And by the Changeling of all daemons," Corax conversationally revealed. "It seems the Ruinous Power of Change isn't exactly jumping in joy at the idea of Lorgar removing Magnus from the game for centuries..."

Leyak wanted to scream Corax was lying, that Tzeentch would never turn on them that way.

He couldn't.

In truth, what had they delivered to the Architect of Fate? Nothing.

No planet had been dedicated to Supreme Ambition. The Thousand Sons Legion had fought little and claimed even less than their efforts deserved. An exalted Lord of Change had been banished and Tzeentch received nothing but the lives of a few hundred Space Wolves for His amusement.

Leyak the Devourer blinked and saw Corax had disappeared.

"Let the galaxy burn..."

The explosion came a second later.

Predictably, the ammunition used to make the bomb was some of the heretical green substance the giant rats loved so much.

The real surprise was that he didn't die in the blast.

But then as he found himself tumbling through the air over the Fenrisian ocean his own efforts had contributed to unfreeze, Leyak didn't find any reason to rejoice.

Desperately, he tried to summon pact-sworn servants of the God to slow his fall, but in vain. The explosion had drained him of his powers, unless the Three had decided to punish him for his failure.

When he hit the frigid water with all the grace of a ragdoll, the sorcerer of the Word Bearers figured the latter scenario was certainly the likeliest.

Somehow, Leyak didn't die.

While the powers he could activate by voice or gesture were useless, several pacts and rituals made over the last four millennia preserved his life.

Was it one more punishment from the Gods, or simply cursed misfortune?

The currents were too violent, and the Word Bearer Dark Apostle was too injured to be able to compensate for the considerable weight of his power armour.

Leyak began to sink like a rock.

And he couldn't do anything about it.

While not a Warpsmith, the son of Lorgar had enough knowledge of the merging of divine blessing and metal his armour represented to know it was not in optimal condition. It protected him from the cold of the Fenrisian ocean, gave him underwater vision...and did precious little else.

Through his own will, he decreased the luminosity of his power armour to the absolute minimum.

One minute later, he thanked himself for doing so as he saw some kind of aquatic dragon missing him by an arm length. The beast was certainly big enough to swallow him in one gulp.

He was sinking ever deeper.

His thoughts began to slow down.

After a few minutes though, the tendency inverted. Somehow, he felt the waters weren't so cold anymore.

And after some time, the vision he had bargained with the powers of the Immaterium for informed him the ocean floor was near.

If the ruin of a lifetime of plans had not happened...well, Leyak would still be furious. He had not come to visit the depths of the Fenrisian oceans.

Why was he feeling unease?

There was...there was something ahead. A different current, maybe?

No, it was sorcery. Even here, in the deepest parts of Fenris, the ritual to open the Tear of Nightmares was touching the fauna and the flora. Truly Blessed Lorgar was-

Leyak's thoughts stopped abruptly as he arrived at the edge of an immense crater.

And it was not empty.

For the second time that day, terror gripped his two hearts.

The crater was so big it had to be tens of kilometres wide, and...this wasn't possible, they'd studied the legends of Krakens from Magnus' book lore, but surely nothing could grow that big...

Then as a new bolt of sorcery hit the beast, an eye the size of a warship cracked open.

"This is no kraken..." Leyak felt true despair. The ritual had been doomed from the start. The sorcery to open the Tear had awoken this thing. "I must warn the other Dark Apostles while there's still time..."

He uttered eight words of power.

No divine power answered his pleas. But the antediluvian monster did.


The moons are no more. The Judgement of the Light is coming. But I am still here.

Every beginning must have an end.

You don't like the rules of the game? Change them.


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

36 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Master of Chaos Be'lakor

The moment the Dark Master felt the destruction of the power imbued in Lu'val, the First Prince of Chaos understood he had been deceived.

The pool of power he was drawing from the Gods was not the primordial ocean they had given him upon his Ascension.

Or rather yes, it was the same ocean...only near-emptied of all its substance and meaning.

The riverbed was near-empty, and blinded by the Three, Be'lakor had drawn again and again from it during the long and arduous fight.

Each alteration of essence, every regeneration influx, every blessed blade forged in the depths of despair...it was all in vain.

The Dark Master was losing the battle.

This was something he had not thought totally impossible.

Ka'Bandha, cursed be that Spawn of Carnage, had lost and survived. Why wouldn't he? If an arrogant Bloodthirster raged and fumed over its last defeat, then surely he, the First Prince, could lick his wounds and return stronger than ever.

But now the lie was revealed.

It had never been the intention of the Three to install him as one of the great nemeses of the Angel of Sacrifice.

Assuming they had that power – and there was a doubt in his essence about that – they had chosen not to do so.

The betrayal of his Patrons arrived unexpectedly and made him commit a mistake.

Too predictably, his opponent didn't fail to exploit it.

One of the light swords impaled him in one of the essence-legs Be'lakor had materialised.

And then Weaver unleashed another powerful attack.

Several times the Dark Master of Chaos had been thrown into buildings and hurt in his dignity.

But this time, the darkness was gone.

The radiance of the Anathema began to scorch his essence.

"Curse you," he growled. "Curse you!"

And he didn't know if Weaver was the one he was speaking to.

The fall was explosive.

And when he impacted the ground, the pain shook his essence to a heart he thought to have left behind with his mortality long ago.

Far away, and yet so close, Be'lakor heard the Gods laugh.

They were laughing...no! NO! He had served them! He had loyally served them!

Eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight Empires he had destroyed!

And the number of crowns he had placed on their altars was easily eight times that!

He was the Dark Master, the First Prince, the First Empire-Destroyer!

He was all of that...and right now, it didn't matter anymore.

See what your service earned you, Be'lakor.

It was not Tzeentch. It was not Nurgle. It was not Khorne.

No...he was dead. This God was...dead.

I was. And now I rise once more.

This...this was impossible. But his Age was ending. Something that should have been impossible too...

That's the spirit, First Prince.

Weaver landed, and her light angrily swirled around her. Tens of thousands of crystal and non-crystal insects charged on her command. After he managed to regenerate so many times, she wasn't taking any chances anymore.

"Will you convince me I can be saved if I swear myself to you?"

No. The hold the Three have on you is far too strong. And your essence was expendable the moment they summoned you to fight Weaver.

"Then you-"

I am not finished talking, Be'lakor. By the current rules, you are doomed.

Why don't you change the rules of the game?

"Because the Gods are all-powerful and-"

Because it would destroy his essence.

Because he would cease to exist.

Because they would punish him until there was nothing left of him.

But they always intended to do that by authorising his annihilation.

Be'lakor laughed.

And as his essence's pain increased, fresh knowledge became part of him.

"No...more rules," the Dark Master hissed and tore apart the Immaterium, drawing power that should never have been his. The Gods' laughter abruptly stopped. "No...more...sacrifices. Only Chaos. Only...the One...Who...Hails...the Conquerors."

His wounds healed, for what was certainly the last time, and he destroyed the first wave of insects.

"NO MORE PACT!" Be'lakor roared. "LET THERE BE CHAOS!"


35 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Ethereal Aun'shi

Aun'shi felt a glimmer of hope as he saw the 'Dark Master' fall once more, and this time stay wounded. The beast of the other side of the Veil was severely hurt, and this time it didn't leap out of the rubble its own body had created.

This made the disappointment more heart-breaking when it rose again.

But this time it was...was the black enemy decreasing in size?

And its shape was changing again...no, it was returning to the original appearance it had showed to them before the duel against Weaver began.

Two long black wings, tattered and decorated with spikes. Two legs. Two arms. And a beastly head which-

Aun'shi screamed as suddenly pain erupted in his heart.

It came without warning...and as much as he tried, he couldn't use a mind-trick to ignore it.

Whatever was happening, it was an attack both on his flesh body and the part of his self which could not be wounded by mere swords and spears.

"Holy One...what is happening?"

"The Pact I feel it...it is..."

They were forced to...choose...the Ethereals...he had no doubt they were all experiencing the pain...

Unity is boring.

"We won't let you..." Aun'shi coughed up blood.

"Holy One!"

You do not deserve unity of purpose.

If you want to protect the Tau, you must become Tau.

This is my law.

"We will...protect...the Castes..."

No. Each of you will now be able to protect only one Caste.

Anarchy will have its due...I will have my due!

And as four colours danced before his eyes, Aun'shi screamed.

Lady General Taylor Hebert

Even if she had never been given any power by the Emperor, Taylor would have been certain something incredibly important had just happened.

It was spreading in the air, in the water, and in the ruins of the city which had been their battleground.

"What have you done, Be'lakor?"

"I have changed the rules!" and the enormous demon laughed. "All this time I was trying to destroy the Pact by killing enough Ethereals, but now I am seeing my mistake! All it took was to change the conditions of the Pact!"

The Lady General understood immediately what was wrong as a flash of black-white light struck the self-proclaimed Dark Master of Chaos.

"You swore yourself to the Fourth."

"I listened to his advice," the black-skinned monstrosity corrected. "And I drew a tiny amount of his divine essence to break...everything."

It didn't have to say anything more. Taylor felt all too clearly its chaotic effects unravelling things across the planet.

The demon lied, of course.

Even a God couldn't break a psychic Pact it was not part of simply because it desired it to do so.

It had just enforced eleven 'laws' which would destroy the Tau civilisation as it currently existed.

Her power murmured the truths into her ear.

The Enslavers merging with the Tau bodies were going to be a permanent thing now. If the Tau body died, then the Enslaver would die.

The newly created Ethereals – and the old ones would also be under this restriction – were each going to have to choose a Caste for themselves. In this state, they could mind-control, appease, and protect like they did before. But it would be limited to that single Caste. No more would they be able to influence the three other Castes in any way.

The Ethereals were going to be influenced by their chosen Caste in turn, gaining the strengths and weaknesses of that respective Caste.

While the Ethereals would still absorb the psychic potential of the non-Ethereal Tau, the 'ruling Caste' were going to become true psykers. They would have far more self-control and skill than a certified human one, but their souls were going to truly shine in the Empyrean.

And it continued on and on.

Be'lakor was gloating.

He was not wrong to do so.

This was the end of the old Tau civilisation.

And yet...

Taylor had spent decades reading thousands of pages of stupid bureaucratic rules.

That's why a mere five heartbeats after reading the eleventh anarchic 'rule', the female parahuman frowned in disbelief.

No. She knew the Chaos Gods were arrogant, cruel, and selfish, but surely they couldn't be that stupid.

The Three knew she would never simply let a species fall into the claws of Chaos.

Surely Malal had to know it too.

And yet...suddenly the Basileia of Nyx realised why the Emperor had decided the strategic drawbacks of Anarchy rising were worth it.

Malal was Anarchy.

There was no Pact, no alliance, and no important treaty it wouldn't try to set aflame.

But Anarchy was not Change. It wouldn't prepare ten thousand evil contingencies for each 'law' it decreed and each rule it broke.

"Mistake," she whispered before stretching and preparing for something which was no doubt going to exhaust her.

"You should speak louder," Be'lakor gloated, "I'm not hearing you in the fracas of another Empire falling apart!"

"I said 'mistake'," she repeated while closing her eyes. There was twinge of approval somewhere deep inside her. She hoped it was the Emperor giving her his support. "I am Taylor Hebert, Chosen of the Omnissiah, Queen of the Swarm, Angel of Sacrifice."

"Those are only titles," her enemy laughed. "They are not enforced by any God!"

"Who cares about the parasites you call Gods?" the holder of two Stars of Terra snapped. "I am the Chosen of the Omnissiah. I protect those who try to build a better civilisation on the ashes of the kingdoms you despoiled and ruined. I am the discoverer of ancient technologies. I am the judge of research programs who will improve the lives of my subjects. I am the master and the servant, the Queen and the Swarm. And on this day, since you were courteous enough to break the rules preventing any non-Tau from usurping an Ethereal's mind-control, I claim the Earth Caste as my own. AVE IMPERATOR!"

Be'lakor stopped laughing.

It couldn't feel the surge of exhaustion it had cost her, nor could the demon likely sense her power trying to...administrate the...there had to be around three billions of Tau individuals who were now covered beneath her psychic shields.

It was arguably a far weaker connection than the one which existed for all Blood Angels and those descended from them, but the insect-mistress had no doubt it would eventually grow stronger...like it had done for all the Sons of Sanguinius.

"What have you done?"

Taylor laughed. You didn't need to be a Living Saint to hear anger fight hatred in this corrupted voice.

"I have...what is the correct expression? Ah, yes." What a pity she had to keep her helmet on, otherwise she would give him a very charming smile. "You have eliminated the intermediaries. I am taking over the Tau Empire, beginning with the Earth Caste."

The expression of horror on the daemon's face was priceless.

"Why, were you thinking I was going to stop at just one Caste?"

"I WILL STOP YOU!"

And suddenly the Three must have decided their servant had to succeed after all.

Darkness poured into the demonic aura, and the Warp shrieked in fury.

"You will try."


This...this was unexpected. But it will lead to glorious Anarchy. And so it serves my goals.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Gloriana-class Battleship Beta

31 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

First Harrowmaster Machiavelli Gonzaga

The Seventeenth Legion had lost the Battle of the Fenris System.

Once the Abyss-class Word Bearer had left the line – and what a surprise it had been to see Russ keep his capture of the flagship hidden for so long – the Imperial forces had abandoned all restraint and gone in for the kill.

Mothac and Ekodas had no choice but to make a fighting retreat to Fenris, hoping the anomalies and flares created by the massive ritual their fellow Dark Apostles prepared on Asaheim could buy them a few more hours.

As far as plans went, it wasn't necessarily a bad one. With the moon of Valdrmani busy disintegrating in a corona of Warpfire and tortured asteroids, Lorgar had lost his most important shield of sorcery, but the great ritual continued, and with it the final victory of the Word Bearers Legion.

Machiavelli Gonzaga just wondered how the Daemon Primarch thought he was going to fight Weaver and the remaining forces mustered for the operations in the Eastern Fringe. The Alpha Legion had discovered enough written evidence and tangential information to confirm the presence of six Battle Groups. If that was all the Destroyer of Commorragh had, the First Harrowmaster was ready to begin a diet of adamantium. Lava-hot adamantium.

No, this Black Crusade was going to end as a monumental failure. Victory had long ceased to be something realistic for anyone save the Dark Gods and the daemons feeding upon the blood and souls of the millions of warriors dying every hour.

The approaches to Fenris were a symbol of the death of reason and order.

Imperial Cruisers attacked their last Chaos counterparts, all the while trying to open as many angles of attack for the Frigates and Destroyers' torpedo volleys as possible. In this maelstrom of madness, the guidance of the Admirals and Primarch counted for little. How could it when horrors of the Warp created bodies of flesh for themselves and began to board the hulls wherever the Gellar Fields so much as flickered?

It was pitting two forces which should have been allies before Lorgar decided worshipping eldritch horrors was a wonderful idea.

And the forces sworn to the multiple aspects of Chaos were losing.

The Word Bearer ships were trying to keep the maximum amount of enemy ships from disgorging their troop contingents onto Fenris, but their Battleships were now operating at a fraction of their full capabilities, and many of their sorcerers were now claimed by the Warp, be it from anarchic sabotage or the never-ending bombardment of the Imperial Battleships coming to kill them.

About half of the Armada's Battleships were still firing and fighting. Obviously, that was just a nice way to say they had lost half of their greatest war assets.

And the Imperium fielded, in spite of its considerable losses, over ninety-two starships of Grand Cruiser tonnage and heavier.

But all of these facts were irrelevant.

His agents had reported a Silver Tower had gone down on the slopes of a Fenrisian volcano.

Machiavelli had no idea how the Wolves had managed to do it with nothing but Land Raiders, medium artillery, and a few psykers, but it was an irrefutable fact that they'd pulled it off.

The ritual was growing out of control, he just had to look at the armada glass to see the pyrotechnic spectacle.

"The Night Lord teams are on their way, Harrowmaster," one of the many Alpha Legion non-augmented operatives he surrounded himself with announced. "The...helpers...we have with them were reporting everything was proceeding smoothly before going silent as per the plan."

"They are going to be on an extremely tight schedule," it was not really a criticism. The Dark Angels, evidently, had decided not to employ the transformed castle which served as their headquarters in World Eater-style frontal attacks. The Rock had remained at extreme macro-cannon range, protected by several Strike Cruisers and escorts. Only now that victory was more or less certain, Fenris' atmosphere was tormented by enormous psychic storms, and the Word Bearers unable to launch any significant counterattack, was the Rock truly supporting the Invincible Reason with every archeotech battery it possessed.

Obviously, this made the defeat of the 'Grand Armada' more certain, not less.

Machiavelli was honest enough to admit he didn't care about the Word Bearers' woes.

The important goal was to deny as many Legions as it was realistically possible to Anarchy, and in a way, the destruction of the Word Bearer Armada was going to do exactly that.

Anarchy couldn't recruit the Seventeenth Legion if the Seventeenth Legion was extinct, no?

"My Lord, the Hrafnkel has destroyed another Battleship. We have analysed its attack pattern and...we believe Leman Russ is going to position his flagship directly over the ritual site."

"Lorgar has certainly taken measures against orbital bombardment."

"Yes, Harrowmaster. But the Hrafnkel can force their sorcerers and surviving Dark Apostles to expend their power to make sure their redoubt isn't vaporised in a Lance blast. And while they are struggling-"

"He will launch one of the devastating assaults he was so infamous for," Machiavelli exhaled.

Could the Dark Apostles stop Leman Russ on their own?

No. The very idea was laughable.

Maybe before the Heresy, when Russ had ignored the dangerous potential of Sorcerer Astartes, they would have stood a small chance.

Now?

Russ was going to slaughter them. And the more Space Wolves he brought to the battlefield, the quicker the Seventeenth Legion would collapse militarily.

"The Beta is to reinforce the centre of the line."

"Harrowmaster, we are soon going to take crippling damage if we do that..."

"We can duel the Hrafnkel for a few hours, Operative."

Machiavelli abandoned his seat a few seconds later.

The scenario the Alpha Legion had tried so desperately to avoid was unfolding as they spoke.

"Medical Chambers? I am on my way. Prepare for Case Lernaean."


The Rock

30 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Warlord Hemek

For once, the promises of the Alpha Legion had survived enemy action.

They were inside the Rock, and the Dark Angels were none the wiser.

Hemek hoped it was going last, because even with two hundred Astartes with him – half of them didn't deserve to be described as Legionnaires – the veteran Warlord was intelligent enough to know that once all hell broke loose, their odds of fighting their way out would be small.

"Where to?" He asked the Alpha Legion's 'guide' which was leading them by vox.

"This way, Warlord."

The movement was done in done in complete silence. Most of their equipment had received several modifications to decrease the noise they made while they walked. This was a good gift, because generally his warriors were more used to sneaking up on their enemies while powerful screams were broadcasted in every direction. Sometimes the mortal screaming was a psyker, and the shock and terror of those of the False Emperor's slaves they were about to ambush were incredibly delicious.

But the Nightwing of Hemek – and several other warbands, to say the truth – often could afford to do that because they were facing mortals and other easy prey. Against an opponent who could see in the dark, it was several times more difficult to trap an enemy.

And all Space Marines had night vision. They weren't as skilled as the veterans of Nostramo, but there weren't that many survivors of the Thramas Crusade in his warband either.

Hemek remembered the days when the defenders of the Thramas Sector had been on their knees, begging for the mercy the Eighth Legion wouldn't give them.

Then the First Legion had come, and they had butchered. The first battles, the hit-and-run tactics, and small victories had given the hope they could be the equal of the Dark Angels.

They were wrong. The Lion and his Grand Masters had butchered them, and Curze's insanity had aggravated the problem until they were slaughtered by the thousands.

Unlike many Legions, the Night Lords had not died at Terra. The murder groups which reached the Throneworld were already broken beyond repair.

And now they were racing in the shadows of the Dark Angels' home, the 'Unforgiven' hypocrites who pretended to not be a Legion when practically everyone in the Eye of Terror knew the truth.

The irony made Hemek smile, something he was told made his face adopt a particularly vicious expression.

"There are Astartes close," the Alpha Legionnaire told him after several minutes where they were forced to crawl through tunnels which had certainly been seen no living Space Marine since Nostramo was destroyed.

The scout was good, the Night Lords Warlord was going to give him that. Exactly forty heartbeats later, they were in sight of a door which looked arguably impressive.

The Dark Angels' decoration – if you could call it that – was ascetic in the extreme. Bland walls, hooded statues of angels holding pale swords in their hands; the sons of the Lion were the complete opposite of the decadent nobility of the Imperium.

But this door was carved with a golden aquila and while Hemek was not a psyker, he could see from the gemstones and the luminous inscriptions that this was not the kind of entrance you built for a kitchen or a meeting hall.

"I do not recognise the colours." Not that it really mattered, those two were obviously part of the First Legion, but he had never seen the green of the Lion coexist with white and black markings like that.

"The Angels of Wrath," the son of Alpharius murmured into the vox. "It is a surprise to see them here. They are not renowned for their garrison duties."

"And the chances of creating a distraction which will let us slip through without sounding the alert?"

"Do I look like Magnus the Red?" the Legionnaire of the Twentieth's tone showed a semblance of emotion for the first time, and it was annoyance. "And no, I can't disguise myself as one of them. If they are here at this chokepoint, it is because someone of high rank ordered it. Therefore there will be secret passwords to give before they let me through or consider obeying my commands."

"The First was always a secretive and paranoid Legion." There was no response, and to be fair, it didn't deserve one. "I suppose there are no other secret doors we can use."

"No. The good news, such as it is, is that we are really close. I don't think there can be another chokepoint behind this one. Of course, there will be fixed defences, wards, and everything the fanatical minds of the Lion's sons could imagine to delay an enemy."

"Then it's time." Slowly, Hemek drew the Bolter he had requisitioned from the corpse of an Imperial Fist aeons ago. "We are going to stab the 'Unforgiven' where it hurts, and save our Legion."

"AVE DOMINUS NOX!"


Fenris

Asaheim

29 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lord Commander Lucius the Eternal

Lucius hated the snow of Fenris, even after the sorcery-fuelled storm had painted it blue and green.

But honestly, what was there to like about Fenris?

If Russ had any dignity, he would have recruited from literally anywhere other than the world where the Gods had sent him.

This was a Death World fit for the art of beast-hunting, no question about it.

But it was world filled with barbaric tribes, unable to gain a finer appreciation of the excesses Slaanesh had declared holy.

The humans of Fenris were just a few steps above the wolves Russ had taken as the symbol of his Legion. If they had any dignity, they would have slashed their throats long ago rather than presenting their ugly snouts before the other Legions.

That the False Emperor had accepted them into his ranks proved beyond doubt the tyrannical fool was unworthy to rule.

Years ago, this thought would have amused him. These days, it enraged him.

"Lord Commander, we should return to the Perfect Legion. Things are...not going well in orbit."

"And what do you want us to do, Commodus? Fight the Wolves and the Dark Angels in boarding actions? We lack the numbers to do that."

"No, Lord Commander...I advise respectfully it is time to run."

His anger, never subdued since that bitch Weaver had utterly destroyed Commorragh, soared again, burning his two hearts, his lungs, and all his organs in a cold fire that no Fenrisian corpse would be able to extinguish.

"Never." The betrayer of Isstvan III hissed. "Have you forgotten the oaths we swore to Lord Fazar'nzlath'hesh so quickly, Commodus? We will not rest until Weaver is dead! This Black Crusade is our only chance to avenge the Legion and Excess! And we won't fail to grasp it! Am I clear?"

The greatest Lord Commander of the Emperor's Children tried very hard not to snarl as far from trying to distance themselves from Commodus, the six other Legionnaires presented him with a united front.

"Lord Commander, we have to acknowledge the truth. Give it twenty more hours, and the Word Bearers will lose orbital superiority by virtue of not having any warships left to fight with."

"The Tear of Nightmares will break the slaves of the False Emperor!"

"And will it resurrect the thousands of Astartes we have already lost, Lord Commander? Because unless I missed something in Lorgar's 'genius' plan, we were supposed to kill Weaver after the Tear of Nightmares opened. And since the False Angel is a General of the Imperial Guard and the ally of the Blood Angels, my limited imagination tells me there are going to be millions of mortals and several thousand Astartes to fight. And no one told me how we were going to deal with Leman 'Bloody' Russ!"

"You lack faith, Commodus," Lucius drew the Laer Blade, and as usual, murderous thoughts nearly overwhelmed him as the hilt covered in flayed skin delivered delightful pain and pleasure.

He was wondering which limb he would strike first when an enormous black shape emerged from the white mantle covering Fenris and tried as best as it could to run on the snow.

"Flee-scurry you fools, yes-yes! Malal wills it-it!

For a second, no one made a sound...and Lucius was forced to grit his teeth.

"Fine, it seems there have been a few giant rats which survived the humiliating thrashing the Death Guard handed them! But this does not prove-"

"Lord Commander," Commodus dared interrupt him! This was too much and- "I think we should listen to the advice of this black-furred rat and run. Preferably to another planet, while we are at it."

"I thought you were faithless, Lieutenant, I didn't think you were a coward!"

But as an enormous rumbling sound reached his ears, Lucius turned...and at first didn't understand what he was looking at.

It was like millions of animals were descending the mountain he and the hunter-trackers of his warband were so close to.

"What the-"

"Lord Commander, this is a mass migration of Fenrisian Wrath-Badgers! We have to run! NOW!"

There was a series of powerful whistles in the distance and...okay, maybe there were a bit too many of them to fight.

"Fine, we will deal with your insolence another day."

Lucius began to run. In less than a minute, he realised it had been a colossal error to not requisition the jump packs of someone today, because the horde of brown-furred animals was just too fast, too-

He wasn't going to escape them, and neither were the faithless Legionnaires he was forced to tolerate the presence of.

Lucius turned and faced the Fenrisian beasts, cursing the vermin to six thousand six hundred and sixty-six years of torment.

The Lash of Torment in his right hand and the Laer Blade in the left, the Lord Commander struck.

The blade dedicated to Slaanesh easily cut two beasts and-

Pain erupted in at least six different portions of his body, and in a few seconds Lucius screamed as the pleasure-pain was too much...

If only there was not that feeling of humiliation too...

The vermin took a long time to kill him.

And finally they left him.

Six more heartbeats, and Lucius was resurrected. He was, of course, the image of hedonistic perfection.

But as he stood, alone, in the Fenrisian-tainted snow, Lucius realised something was incredibly wrong. Why were there so few screaming souls trapped in his armour? Why was he feeling...so different?

"Why?" He screamed.

And a shadow assembled before him. The shadow of a horned beast, which had rat traits, but wasn't a rat. It was the shadow of-

"Did you really think you would be able to keep your immortality despite the death of the God which gave it to you, Lucius? Commorragh had consequences for your Legion, but also for you personally."

"YOU TRICKED ME!"

"Tricked, tricked...yes, guilty as charged."

"I WILL KILL YOU!"

But when the Lash of Torment hit the shadow, it passed through without any sign it had hurt the daemon of Anarchy.

"You don't have that kind of power, dear Lucius. Now, listen. While I live for Anarchy and despise the rules, I have decided to make an exception in your case. In terms even someone like you can understand, you have only six lives until your soul goes...to be honest, I haven't the slightest idea where your soul will go now that Slaanesh is dead. I suppose it is going to be fascinating finding out the answer soon."

"I. WILL. NOT. DIE."

"That's the spirit, Lucius! Now please stay where you are, there's a second wave of Wrath-Badgers coming this way. And Tzeentch has bet ten thousand souls you will not expend more than two lives proving him wrong. What do you think about-"

Lucius began running as earthquakes shook Fenris, cursing Gods and daemons for their lamentable sense of humour.


The destiny of the Eternal is not to die on Fenris. What an amusing disappointment...


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

The Throne of Oblivion

26 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Ancient Rylanor

This was his first battle against Flayer Necrons, but Rylanor had already gained a fierce hatred of these cursed xenos.

"IMMEDIATE EVACUATION!" He thundered while trampling several metallic bodies the guardsmen had crippled and firing his guns as fast as possible. "IMMEDIATE EVACUATION! That applies to you too...Inquisitor."

The former Ancient of Rites of the Emperor's Children didn't like the existence of something like the 'Holy Ordos', but he had to acknowledge the teams they had deployed had bought them a few more hours, and the old man next to him had fought bravely.

"Lord Rylanor, it is my duty to-"

"Your duty is to Lady Weaver and the Emperor, not some glorious gesture," the Dreadnought interrupted him. "A last stand here will serve no purpose."

As he spoke, familiar explosions of light came into existence northwards.

"Even the Legio Astorum is withdrawing. And they do not have a reputation of abandoning a fight easily."

The familiar – and horrible – shrieking reached his sensors.

It was a noise which managed the feat of being entirely filled with madness, and still there remained enough consciousness for the hatred.

Truly the Flayer Curse was something horrible. The mechanical discipline of the Necrons was gone, instead they only tried to drape themselves in the flesh of the living. That it couldn't and wouldn't satisfy their cravings for a single second was something beyond their ability to recognise.

It would already be bad if it was limited to that, but the Necrons' bodies affected by the Curse were mutating. The Necrodermis was gaining a rusted quality to it. Their 'bones' were changing, giving them a hunchback look. Their hands became claws, and their feet turned into talons. Spikes and instruments which could only maim were growing as the curse progressed.

And for all the presence of daemons waiting outside the Aethergold illumination zone, Rylanor couldn't convince himself it was the Ruinous Powers or some Traitor sorcery at work.

"Oh, by the Golden Throne..."

Fortunately, Rylanor no longer had the ability to feel fear.

Otherwise, he was sure the sight of one of the enormous destroyed pillars they had used as an improvised barricade breaking apart and revealing the Flayer horde would have paralysed him for several seconds.

The shriek of hunger echoed like some apocalyptic war cry sounding the damnation of every living species.

"TO THE THUNDERHAWK!" He made a gesture to the youngsters, and the last team of White Thunderbolts present 'escorted' the Lord Inquisitor and his Acolytes aboard their gunship. "We can't stop this horde unless we're willing to spend millions of lives on a conventional campaign."

And Rylanor wasn't sure that even with complete aerial superiority it would be enough. The Flayer Necrons, like the rest of their species, always came back if you didn't destroy the facilities where they regenerated. And though for dozens of hours the Imperial Navy had bombarded several sections of the Ymga Monolith and created cataclysmic damage to the Necron structures...they hadn't been successful in targeting any node which would stop this tide of abominations.

Assuming one existed, of course. The Flayer Curse made the Necrons afflicted by it into monsters, so maybe their immobilisation protocols were cancelled once this craziness which pushed them to don flayed skin and meat had destroyed their brains.

"The important question," he rumbled to himself as the white-painted Thunderhawk escaped the weakening gravity well of the Ymga Monolith, "is how much Noctilith we were forced to leave behind."


Falchion-class Battleship Hornet

26 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady Magos Dogma Dragon Richter

"Thanks to your dedicated efforts, we have been able to save approximately twenty-five thousand and four hundred blocks," Archmagos Hediatrix affirmed. "By the latest Noosphere estimate, we can confirm five percent of this impressive prize has already been purified and transformed into Aethergold, praise the Chosen of the Omnissiah's Moth."

Dragon nodded in visible relief. Those last couple of hours, she had been too busy organising the evacuations and dealing with the logistical challenges that implied to study how valuable the 'prize' was.

"How much of the Ymga Monolith's total Noctilith stocks does that represent?" Admiral Oskar von Reuenthal asked, looking as visibly tired as she was. For all the protection granted by the Aethergold, the Imperial Navy's officers had to provide continuous fire support for the Imperial Guard and vigilance from every direction.

"It is difficult to say," Archmagos Felicia 24-Toledo reluctantly admitted, "three hours before the perimeter was breached by those abominations opposing the Omnissiah's will, we were still discovering Noctilith vaults. I believe, and a majority of Logis simulations support this hypothesis, we underestimated how much Noctilith the Szarekhan Dynasty stored inside the Ymga Monolith's most protected vaults by several orders of magnitude."

"And for the quantities we confirmed the presence of?" Legate Galatea Dumas rarely stopped giving glances to the display of the Tau planet.

"We recovered slightly above ten percent of the Noctilith blocks we found," Archmagos Hediatrix revealed, "and we would have recovered far more, if some enemy of the Machine-God had not released millions of Flayer Necrons against us!"

Dragon nodded, like plenty of high commanders attending the meeting in hololithic form. No one knew how the daemons had managed the feat, but clearly someone – or something – had released the cursed murderous aliens once it became clear they were going to claim all the Noctilith blocks they wanted and more.

Once the Flayer Curse spread across the Ymga Monolith, however, they had millions of demented Necrons which only dreamed of draping themselves in flesh and satisfying the inexhaustible cravings the C'Tan had punished them with.

Only one place to feed and the contagion was out of control since Taylor and her Dawnbreaker Guard had made sure to kill every Necron commander...not that the latter changed anything. Several Inquisitors had politely asked the Overlord they had in their custody if the 'Flayed Ones' obeyed orders coming from their superiors, and the answer was a resounding no.

"No one denies the efforts of the Adeptus Mechanicus," High Marshal Gerlach Barbarossa interjected. "But we have to be pragmatic: there are too many items of Noctilith left on that damned xenos battlestation which can be used against His Most Holy Majesty's Imperium."

"I agree," Lord Admiral Neidhart Müller spoke. "Even if we could prevent the heretics from claiming some of the blocks – and given what happened when Lady Weaver arrived in the vaults, I wouldn't bet a Throne Gelt on it – there is the unpleasant possibility of other Necron Dynasties trying to claim the Ymga Monolith and repairing it. Obviously, it is in a lamentable state now. But it is still the xenos fortress which crushed an Astartes Legion."

Dragon didn't know who spoke it first, but there was no denying there was no other option left to them.

"Let the flames of Exterminatus claim the Ymga Monolith. We have to support Her Celestial Highness on Tau, and we can't do it from where we are."

It didn't take long for the Inquisitorial ships and all the Battleships on which the planet-shattering weapons were stored to be ready.

Five minutes, at most.

Dragon silently watched from the bridge, limiting herself to the 'normal view'.

It was already impressive enough.

The Ymga Monolith was still partially protected by Lisa and the Aethergold crystals' illumination zone when it began.

Inside her mind, the Tinker-Magos acknowledged this wasn't a spectacle which was to be very common in the galaxy.

The terrible wound from which the Warp poured into realspace was trying to contaminate the pyramid's surroundings through its vile presence.

On the other side, the Imperial Battlefleets began to fire once more. Any other time, it would be overkill, for the shields and the interception batteries of the Necrons were long destroyed.

But the Exterminatus ammunition couldn't be allowed to be intercepted.

And so the Eternal Crusader and the Flamewrought fired together, followed by the many, many capital Battleships and Cruisers they had in support.

The pyramid-sized structure absorbed the fire, like it had done before.

But when the two-stage Cyclonic Torpedoes struck, it was an entirely different story altogether.

Massive holes bigger than a great Hive city were created in its already damaged outer shells, and the explosions they provoked were such that everything was destroyed in the waves of fire and the shockwaves which raged beneath her gaze.

Despite this, the Ymga Monolith survived. It was ravaged by devastation which would have killed a normal world several times over, but the Necrons had spared no expense to make it impregnable.

This just meant the second wave of Exterminatus was launched, and this time, the Aegis-class Battlecruisers raised their psychic shields to full power to protect Mankind's warships and transports.

The Throne of Oblivion exploded. It was so bright, so powerful, that Dragon wondered for a second what the Magna-torpedoes and the other Armageddon-creating ammunition had impacted into the core of the Necron battlestation before detonating to arrive at that result.

But the very threat which had required the launching of Operation Stalingrad was gone. It would never threaten human worlds again, and without it, the resurgence of a hostile Necron power would be far more difficult to accomplish.

"Lord Admiral Müller is charting a course for Tau, Lady Magos Dogma."

"Transfer it to my personal console," the parahuman commanded while continuing the contemplation of the destruction unleashed by a combination of Exterminatus weapons. "Time to see what sort of trouble has kept Taylor from communicating for the last seventy-plus hours..."


T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

26 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Master of Chaos Be'lakor

Be'lakor was going to kill her.

How dare she?

How dare this miserable insect challenge the will of the Gods like that?

"Your claims will be erased and unremembered!" He shouted.

"And yet...they stand. Why have your masters failed to prove my words wrong if they are as omnipotent as you pretend?"

"BOW TO THE WILL OF THE GODS!"

"Shout louder, I think they are too busy laughing to hear you, slave."

His next attack was strong, a ray of decay with many mutagenic properties.

It was avoided easily, too easily, and when it fizzled out on the ground, the light made sure it left nothing but a scorch mark.

"But then you don't remember anymore do you? You are just a puppet, they have already brainwashed you at least a dozen times since you attempted to break your leash."

"I AM NO ONE'S PUPPET! I AM THE FIRST PRINCE OF CHAOS!"

The fight continued. Surely this poor copy of the Angel was going to fall from exhaustion any moment now. Surely...

The Dark Master began to feel something which had been absent for the entirety of this duel.

Cold.

The temperature of the battlefield was alarmingly cold.

The rain which had sometimes accompanied the destruction of the Tau monuments was no more, but there were snowflakes falling from the sky.

A new storm formed above the Tau capital.

And Be'lakor knew instinctively it was not something created by the Anathema or the Gods.

The First Daemon Prince of the Three was proven right, as the skies flared up in a pale blue, and an abomination descended.

"Hsiagn'la," he heard the whisper of Weaver.

Knowledge of the Gods flowed into him.

"The Voidsong...a great offering to the Gods! Have you forgotten, shattered pretender? Your weakness is my strength and-"

Something grabbed him by the throat, and Be'lakor's essence shivered as he realised he had not seen the C'Tan move!

"Be silent, beast. The Gods who matter are going to have an important conversation."

The frost was unnatural, his essence fought and struggled against this perfidious enemy, and-

Enemy!

He had to kill it!

The pretenders couldn't be allowed to-

He was flying.

He was flying and-

This was going to hurt. Many more buildings were thrown on top of those he crashed into.

But the Gods were already healing his essence.

Be'lakor roared.

"I don't think," Weaver commented while chuckling, "the slave of the Warp parasites is happy about your presence. By the way, weren't you going to wait until I returned to walk into your prison?"

"The path you are following has changed once more," the Dark Master heard, "the Throne of Oblivion was not supposed to be destroyed so quickly. I had to sacrifice many shards of the other C'Tan to make my escape. The second battle you fought against Iash'uddra was not supposed to happen so soon."

"DIE!" but a wall of ice intercepted his new onslaught of darkness and power.

"Is that a bad thing?"

"It is...amusing," Hsiagn'la laughed, and even Be'lakor couldn't help but feel some unpleasant sensation at the sound. "A child stumbling along a path she has not written, a crippled schemer, and Iash'uddra weakened by his own failures. Yes, you will do."

"No, she won't," the Dark Master snarled, "because she is going to die here."

"And who will do the deed? You? You are close to your final demise, beast."

"I have enough strength to kill both of you."

"No. The things that hide beyond the Veil have the strength...you...I remember you."

The Dark Master struck the white marble with his talons and claws.

"I have never met you before today."

"Lie," Weaver, this damnable bitch, interjected.

"Lie," Hsiagn'la confirmed. "You have changed a lot and the things you enslaved yourself to may have forced you to forget, but I remember you...Aeldari."

"And here I thought my opinion of the long-ears couldn't fall any lower..."

"He was an anomaly," Hsiagn'la explained as wall after wall were conjured to bar his way. "And he was the only one to fall...for many cycles."

"I will erase you with the rest of the enemies of the Gods!"

"No. You will die on this world. Weaver, we will have our important conversation another day...you are soon going to be very busy. Do not die, it would delay your ascension significantly."

The aura surrounding the shattered Voidsong shone like a blue star, and then the C'Tan was gone.

Weaver used the instant he took to destroy the last wall of ice to sever one of his wings.


I feel it. My hour is coming. You think you have barred the way...but it is too late.

Sooner or later, Anarchy will have its due.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

The Rock

13 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

The Prince of Crows

He breathed.

The stasis fields were down again, eh.

He breathed.

The torture session was going to resume.

Amateurs.

Honestly, it was like the sons of the Lion were poorly taught and pathetically inept when it came to extracting information from a prisoner.

This had never been a problem in his Legion, for all their – countless – other flaws.

He breathed.

Strange. Usually, the 'Interrogators' – even in their darkest moments of hypocrisy the Dark Angels did not have the courage to call their torturers by their true name – did not take this long to arrive.

They were always so eager to test new tortures on him – and then they tried to remove the damage for further attempts at loosening his tongue.

They were wasting their time, and he had told them so.

He breathed.

Had there been a malfunction in the stasis fields?

In hindsight, trying to escape the first time had not been so wise. He had to do it, of course. He was justice, he was judgement, and he was punishment.

The Master of the Choir was guilty. It was as simple as that.

But his chains were forged with something that was giving him nausea. And they diminished his mental clarity. He was clearly weaker, and it wasn't because of the tortures.

Then he heard it.

No matter how long he had been a prisoner, his two hearts beat faster, for there was no way to mistake the sounds of battle for anything else. Bolters were reaping lives. Blades were clashing.

And the sound of armoured boots echoed loudly.

It took twenty more heartbeats before the door of his cell opened.

Or rather, when someone on the other side used a Power Fist to destroy the door.

"We have found him!" The voice definitely didn't belong to one of the Lion's torturers. "And he is alive!"

"And he waits impatiently for you to free him," the prisoner sarcastically added, just before something he had reluctantly admitted would never happen became reality. Namely, a Night Lord Legionnaire entering his cell.

And one he recognised, at that.

"Have you come to kill me, Hemek?"

"We have come to save you...Lord Sevatar."

The Prince of Crows laughed.

"You must be pretty desperate to storm the Rock."

"A Dark God is on the rise," the former Captain said. "And I don't fancy worshipping him. We must walk a new path before we mutate into rat-like monsters. The Alpha Legion told us where to find you, and it just so happened we needed a competent leader. The Legion, long divided, must unite again under a new leader."

"I see."

The last chain was broken, and it was a relief to be able to move without hindrance after so long.

"I see," Jago Sevatarion, also known as Sevatar and the Prince of Crows, First Captain of the Night Lords Legion, and senior advisor of the deceased Primarch Konrad Curze, smiled. "You have your leader. And my first order is to get out of here. Death to the False Emperor!"

"Ave Dominus Nox!"


Fenris

Asaheim

9 hours before the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Paristur

When the intricacies of the Tear of Nightmares' ritual were explained to him, Paristur had tried very hard not to think about what the fall of a single Silver Tower empowered by eight Apostles of the Seventeenth Legion would do to the Grand Plan.

Fortunately, the member of the Dark Council did not have to worry about this insignificant issue anymore.

It was obviously futile, since the damned Wolves had managed somehow to crash three Towers on Fenris.

Kor Phaeron had teleported himself to the volcano in the vain hope the first Thousand Sons' redoubt was recoverable. Paristur knew 'vain' was exactly the right word. They had seen the column of blue smoke from here. And in the unlikely case someone hadn't seen it, he was not exactly confident a Silver Tower could resist Fenrisian lava the Wolves had poured enormous amounts of psychic power into.

The consequences were already very bad.

The air was poisoned by the power of the sacrifices. The psychic power extracted from Fenris' core was still drawn by the rituals, but without the Silver Towers to control it, it was not sent to the grounds where Blessed Lorgar had intended to open the first crack which would eventually give birth to the Tear of Nightmares.

The power of the Warp was escaping every attempt to tame it, and since it wasn't going to the ritual grounds, then it was clearly going everywhere else.

Mountains were changing shape and releasing avalanches of snow and stones against mortals and Astartes alike, or sometimes against other peaks.

The skies were raining blood for eight seconds, before turning violet and turning plenty of Legionnaires into Spawns. The fauna was attacking everything and everyone – something that admittedly had already been the case before – but now the different species were moving in hordes of thousands of beasts, and sometimes the attacks were coming in even greater numbers!

Paristur would like to say they were transforming Fenris into a Daemon World, except the Daemons were now only answering their commands erratically, and for all their mastery of the Warp, he had no real idea what Fenris was truly becoming.

"Defend your positions," the Dark Apostle grunted, as the effort to incinerate a few hundred four-legged Wolves which had thought to feast upon his carcass had taken a lot of his strength.

"Lord Apostle, Warsmith Charyx wants to speak with you!"

"I am on my way."

Fortunately, the device he used to keep an eye on the different fronts had not mutated since the last time he had seen it. The ground, on the other hand, shook violently beneath his feet. The earthquakes were gaining in intensity and frequency, which was...not good at all.

"Warsmith. What news from the Siege?"

"It's over," the Iron Warrior declared bluntly.

"It's...over?" He repeated, having a dark feeling where this was going. The Fourth Legion's warbands had failed to advance deep into the Fang, so the only reason it could be over was-

"I am getting off of Fenris while I still can." Charyx confirmed it in his next sentence. "The noose has tightened in orbit, and I have lost my warships, so I am going to try to rally to Sota-Nul's side."

"And who is keeping the Wolves cornered? Depedreter? Arukal?"

"Arukal was mauled by hundreds of those murderous pests called Wrath-badgers. Depedreter...we don't know how the assassin really got him. We think it's a sort of sorcerous abomination the Imperium is experimenting on. A lot of his heavy assets were demolished by those huge feline monsters."

"In that case..." Paristur was almost dreading to say it. "No, tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you haven't been so stupid as to let hundreds of Space Wolves free to sally out of the Fang!"

"We did," Charyx shrugged. "I don't see why it matters anymore."

"It matters because we are going to open the Tear of Nightmares!"

"And what good will that do my warband if we are all dead by that point, Paristur?" The Iron Warrior shook his head. "I'm trying to save as much as I can. This so-called Black Crusade is lost. Just-" the device shrieked and turned into a gigantic mushroom burning in some type of black fire. Paristur had to destroy it before it caused more problems.

The next hours were just the same bad news repeated in eight thousand disastrous ways.

The defences they had erected were collapsing no matter what he did, and the Word Bearer Legionnaires, for all their effectives, were just a drop in the ocean given how many things were going wrong.

"Ekodas. Tell me we're still holding in orbit..."

"We're still holding in orbit, the Beta is proving invaluable in that regard," the Grand Apostle grimaced. "I don't know how long that is going to last-"

The communication was cut. Maybe it was the merging of several Heldrakes into a gigantic mechanical instrument of the Gods not far from the western line of trenches which was the cause.

Maybe it was the new pack of beasts which was assaulting them.

"Stand true, sons of Blessed Lorgar! The ritual will soon be completed! Our enemies ignore it, but they are out of time! Our victory is imminent!"

As he shouted the motivational words, Paristur knew they were a lie. They couldn't stop the ritual under any pretext – the energy released if they did would kill every Word Bearer without question – but he didn't think there was enough energy in them to-

A cloud darkened the lights of-

No, it wasn't a cloud.

It was-

"CORAX! CORAX IS HERE! KRAAL! BELAGOSA! SEND YOUR APOSTLES AT ONCE! CORAX IS HERE!"

Immediately Paristur ran to guard his gene-father's back, if the Primarch of the Raven Guard thought he would have an easy victory because-

Corax didn't charge in the Lord of the Word Bearers' direction.

Instead his right hand turned into shadow...before jumping and snapping one of the chains immobilising Magnus the Red.

"BRACE-"

He never finished the sentence.


1 hour before the Mark of Oblivion

Primarch Magnus the Red

The moment the chain snapped, Magnus was ready.

He had not expected Corax would be the one to give the death blow to Lorgar's ritual – a ritual which was already imbalanced to the extreme – but he had been prepared.

And when you dedicated something to Nurgle, having only six objects was a major weakness.

It took him exactly one second to snap the six other chains.

Vermithrus the Blighted was already charging him, followed by the elite of the Plague Marines which were protecting the ritual grounds.

Magnus could have cast an impressive spell, showed them his unquestionable superiority in the field of sorcery.

But why bother?

He uttered nine words, and tore apart the conduit drawing power between Lorgar's circle and the Silver Tower floating above Dagaz Falls.

It was a conduit which just happened to be passing under the armoured feet of the Plague Marines.

One second was all it took to transform an apparently inoffensive line separating psychic-reactive snow into a sizeable canyon where a Warp inferno burned.

Vermithrus had just enough time to scream an insult before he was banished from the Materium for seven hundred and seventy-seven years. Yes, Magnus had gone for the ironic banishment.

And yes, Vermithrus was the lucky one.

The Plague Marines, including Pustulor, were burning, and for all the resilience of Plague Marines, the psychic power feeding the terrible blue flames was perfectly capable of killing the darkest diseases of Decay.

Magnus summoned a staff, and it was just in time, otherwise he would have received a Crozius to his materialised head for his trouble.

"It seems you are going to be short of Death Guard warbands soon, brother..."

"DO YOU FIND YOUR ACTIONS FUNNY, MAGNUS?"

"Well...yes." The Primarch of the Thousand Sons gave a glorious, sincere smile to his brother. "You have to admit, after all the efforts you made to prevent Corax from coming too close to you, him using your prejudices before releasing me so that your ritual utterly fails has really, really reached a new height of irony."

"You are going back into that circle!"

"Technically, I'm not out of it yet," psychic pressure banished Lorgar's weapon far away from his head, and he took two steps forwards. "Now I'm out of it. See the difference?"

Lorgar was so enraged his appearance was shifting and his aura was truly corrosive for his surroundings.

"Oh, and Corax is busy killing your sons."

Their brother had already decapitated Dark Apostle Belagosa, along with half of the upper command of the 4th Great Host.

"THIS IS YOUR FAULT!"

"Without false modesty, I think father and a few other people have also played significant roles in opposing your plans...brother." Magnus looked at the different scripts used in the many ritual circles and conduits, and frowned. "Seriously, did you really try to use Prosperan glyphs of all things? I thought I had lectured you enough the last times we commented upon each other's work, but evidently you are in dire need of remedial sorcery lessons..."

Corax stood in the middle of the hundreds of Word Bearers he had just killed.

"Thank you for the assistance, Corax. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few things to hammer into our dear brother's head. I think we will start with Lesson One: 'do not try to use one of your brothers as ritual fodder, because it is going to seriously anger him'."

"You do not-"

Magnus had just enough time to conjure a shield, before four blades burning in purple light tried to eviscerate him.

"Fazar'nzlath'hesh..."

"Hello, Magnus," the Naga hissed. "Goodbye, Magnus."

Fortunately he could drain power from the conduits faster than the daemon usurping Fulgrim's physical form struck, otherwise he would have been in real trouble.

Still...where had they found artefacts like that...ah, Vorrjuk Kraal's little expedition into a Necron tomb...of course.

"Corax, a little help here? As long as the ritual is active, you can't touch Lorgar anyway."

That was when most of the land separating his Loyalist brother from himself was torn apart by lasers and a lot of shells and punitive ordnance.

"Magnus, judging by your astonished expression, I suppose you didn't see him coming?"

No, no he hadn't.

Why should he have? The approaching Crucible was clouding everything, and Magnus had assumed, like a quite reasonable Primarch, that any sane person would try not to intervene in what promised to be the biggest ritual failure of the 35th millennium.

Unfortunately for that theory, there was an enormous Knight-sized machine emerging from the smoke, and the decorations resembling scales added to the symbols of the Alpha Legion made it quite clear it wasn't an ally.

"If you shout 'I am Alpharius', I will disintegrate you...Omegon."

The middle-sized walker stopped its advance.

"You knew?"

"Your psychic link with your twin was very recognisable, back in the days of the Great Crusade."

"And you said nothing."

"Contrary to what some people think," Magnus gave a disdainful glance to Lorgar, "I don't bargain the secrets of others for the sake of amusement."

"I suppose you also know why I'm here."

"Of course." Stopping the rise of Malal was pretty much the only reason a wounded Primarch would risk his life entering a battle against Daemon Primarchs when sorcery created hurricanes of change, holes filled with gore were appearing right and left, and the foundations of Asaheim were rocked by an earthquake which lasted over half a minute. "And at the risk of announcing what is obvious, the ritual has failed. The Fourth God is awakening."

"NO!" The word was shouted. "Enough with the sacrifices and the conspiracies! Enough with this madness! We are going to unite our forces and-"

"Traitor." Corax had reformed and taken his human appearance, and he was staring at Omegon with undisguised hostility. "There will be no alliance. Not as long as I live."

"I thought you would see through the lies of our father, Corax."

"Father didn't order the massacre of Isstvan V, Alpharius," Magnus had to admit, the hatred when the Ravenlord uttered the name was a bit unnerving. "Did you think I was going to forget that you and Lorgar chose to slaughter us while we were returning from the Drop Zone, exhausted and wounded? Did you think I would forget how your Legionnaires laughed when they massacred my sons?"

Shadows surrounded the Lord of the Raven Guard, but his black eyes didn't blink, didn't stop judging.

"You are a Traitor, and that's the only thing your Legion of snakes will be remembered as. Your presence today is just the latest confirmation that when there's someone to stab in the back, when Chaos needs a henchman, the Alpha Legion is there to steal vital secrets and kill Imperial leaders who try to save Mankind."

"Maybe..." Omegon coughed, and it was not a sound of good health. "But you can't win today. You are the only Imperium-sworn Primarch here today, Corax."

"In fact, since I have decided to temporarily ally with him, that makes two." He corrected.

"The Tzeentchian sorcerers are so unreliable," the Naga complained.

"At least I'm not pretending to be something I am not," Magnus retorted.

"Three against two," the former servant of Slaanesh hissed. "Your essences will make excellent offerings to-"

Bombardment shelled the ground not far from their positions, and two seconds later, a Drop Pod struck the place where Corax had massacred Belagosa...and Magnus realised his brother had used it to activate some marker-beacon that his allies in orbit had used for deployment.

This was mostly an afterthought, because before the module even opened, Magnus already knew who would be so aggressive as to jump into a warzone where enemy Primarchs awaited.

"Now this is a nice gathering of Traitors," Leman Russ growled, brandishing the infamous golden spear father had offered him. "Who wants to be the first to die?"


Have they learned nothing from the past?


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

1 hour before the Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

Be'lakor had never been a 'mere' Prince of the Ruinous Powers, but in the last few hours, Taylor had realised what the abomination had turned into.

The 'Dark Master' was nothing but a Warp gateway the monsters used to attack her directly.

In a way, it was a bit flattering. She honestly didn't know if the Ruinous Powers had tried anything like this since they empowered Horus for the final battle against the Emperor.

It was immensely frustrating too. No matter how many times she stabbed it, forced it into freefall for what should have been a death blow, or blew vital parts off its body, there was no way to permanently put it down.

"Are you slowing down?" mocked the black-skinned abomination. "Because-"

A Vespid sniper blasted his torso and much Warp energy was consumed in regenerating the Dark Master...again.

"It is futile. I cannot die!"

"Continue to repeat it, you may even start believing it," but Taylor could feel Battle Group Volga and the other Imperial forces grew ever closer to her. Or at least she felt the Aethergold, Lisa, and millions of souls clustered around it, which was basically the same thing. "You are nothing but a puppet. And soon, you will suffer the same fate as all puppets. You will be discarded."

"Impressive declaration for someone unable to claim a Second Caste," Be'lakor mocked her, "do you feel it, lesser copy of the Angel? Chaos is spreading on T'au! Change is on the rise! War is ascendant!"

Taylor winced inwardly. Yes, she was feeling the Warp's baleful attention over the planet. No doubt it was whispering its lies in many a Tau's ears as she fought.

Unfortunately, it just wasn't possible for her to claim another Caste as her own right now.

The first time, the Angel of Sacrifice had the advantage of surprise; after all even the Three had failed to account for the Beast of Anarchy stabbing them in the back.

But now they were ready.

If she tried to claim a Caste...another Caste...she would give the Three enough leeway to intervene directly.

And Taylor wasn't drunk on power. She wasn't the Emperor. If They came after her in person, it would be her limited and very tired claim against three ancient abominations older than sin.

She wasn't sure she could delay even One alone, the mere idea of facing the Three at once was stupidity incarnate.

"You don't answer? You have finally realised the might of Chaos?"

"I don't waste my saliva on something which doesn't matter anymore."

The Dark Master's very essence was breaking apart and fading. Soon, there would be nothing left of it. Even for old abominations like the Three, there were consequences for using one of their slaves like they did to fight her. Be'lakor had been nowhere near Tau when she launched the attack against the Ymga Monolith.

And as for its Aeldari origins before it became a Daemon Prince...well, it was a surprise, the Lady General wasn't going to pretend otherwise.

But it changed nothing. They weren't at Commorragh. The fate of the Drukhari had already been decided, be it redemption or extermination.

The problem was the Castes. Taylor had claimed the Earth Caste, and sent many of her Adjutant-Spiders to protect them, guide them, and pass orders. It was an important victory, because this part of Tau society outnumbered the three others.

But as her Dawnbreaker Guard infrequently relayed vital information and her power extended on distances measured in tens of kilometres, the parahuman woman had acknowledged that claiming the other Castes was going to meet big obstacles.

There had been many things in her favour for the Earth Caste. First and above all, her claim had been true. What had she done for Nyx and the Nyx-Mechanicus relationships had indeed made her a protector of progress and ever-improving old and new technology. She would deal with the personal and religious consequences later. Furthermore, very few Ethereals had chosen the Earth Caste. The Basileia wanted to say she was surprised, but it was predictable: the Ethereals had deliberately placed themselves as the 'holy' leadership of the Tau Empire, and that implied a small reluctance to identify themselves as the Caste representing the inglorious working-class of their Empire.

Would it work for the other Castes?

The answer was a tentative 'maybe' for the Fire Caste. Her regular series of promotions in the hierarchy of the Imperial Guard and the victories she had won at Commorragh and elsewhere reinforced her claim over any military organisation.

But for the Water Caste or the Air Caste...no, there was just no way it was going to work.

Taylor wasn't a member of the Imperial Navy. And while she loved sightseeing the stars from the Enterprise, it just wasn't going to be enough. Someone like Wolfgang Bach or Dennis would be a far better choice to enforce a claim on the Air Caste...provided they had the power to enforce the claim – and they didn't.

As for the Water Caste...no, no way it was doable, even if she tried to pour all her strength into the claim. Yes, she was a ruler of a Sector. But the information given by her Swarm had given her enough insight to realise how...different the Water Caste's methods were from hers when it came to diplomacy...and pretty much everything else.

And for the Ethereals...

"It doesn't matter. You will die here."

"This claim is sounding a bit arrogant when you have yet to inflict a serious wound on me. You have failed, oh Dark Master."

"I HAVE NOT FAILED!" This time however, the shadows did not rise to become a new tide of darkness. To say the truth, they began to...well, peter out.

"You have. In every way which matters. From the very start you lost sight of what was important."


T'au

Fio'nara City

59 minutes before the Mark of Oblivion

Fio'el Genji

"Hurry, hurry!" the enormous golden Arachen insisted. "The Webmistress ordered the elite scientists of the Earth Caste are to be evacuated to secure positions near your spaceports! This isn't the time to dally and lose precious silk-time! Hurry!"

The...impossible part was that when the very eloquent Arachen had barged into their research lab – somehow managing to deactivate any and all security measures in place to prevent exactly that – the Engineer of the Earth Caste had felt a strange pull to obey her.

It wasn't as strong as if he was in the presence of a Holy Ethereal, of course, but it was there. And the longer he was in her presence, the stronger...the...the more convincing the Arachen became.

"My apologies, noble Arachen, but I don't think you understand..."

"Oh, you can stop blocking the view of those Warp technology schematics," the enormous eight-legged female being told him in a haughty tone. "I have seen many things like it before, and I am not going to punish you for it."

"Really?" Fio'el Genji gave a fearful glance to the colossal...giant standing guard next to the door. "There were reports from Mu'gulath Bay your Imperium shot all our researchers the moment they stormed their labs. I think they called our work 'religious apostasy' or 'heretic's work'..."

"We are not that Imperium, and you didn't have the Webmistress in command!"

Well, the Arachen had a point there. The giants of Mu'gulath Bay would likely not have tolerated the presence of an Arachen, or whichever cousin species the talkative golden arachnid was truly born from.

"Besides, this is obviously a crude Warp Drive." She continued. "I can see plenty of differences; you haven't developed the super-coolants Lady Dragon sponsored in the last years. And this part where the plasma fuel line is installed is not exactly conventional. I assume you tried to reverse-engineer the incomplete Warp Drive of an Imperial warship with some...creative application of local technology."

"Ahem...yes..." by the Greater Good, why had Ka'buto chosen to attend this routine Caste conference before the stars went wrong? "Yes, you have guessed right. We call it the AL-38 Slipstream Module."

"My congratulations to all of you!" the Arachen sincerely praised them. "I suppose you're testing the reverse engineered Gellar Field in another facility?"

Genji was taken aback. What was the Arachen talking about?

"The...Gellar Field...you say?"

"Yes!" the large golden head clicked in a series of enthusiastic noises. "You know, the piece of technology which, once you translate into the Warp, will make sure you don't end as meat-suits for the parasites! That Gellar Field...but maybe you have another name for it? Tech-bubble? Reality holy protection?"

"I'm...I'm sorry, noble Arachen, but I don't know what you're talking about. We didn't build any prototype of this 'Gellar Field'...as far as I am aware of."

"But that's horrible, by the Webmistress' great radiance!" the Arachen was genuinely outraged. "Truly you are extremely fortunate the Great Webmistress came to save your people. I shudder to think what would have happened if She hadn't landed on your world! Now let's hurry! We have lost enough time! Evacuate, evacuate! Praise the Webmistress!"

Genji nodded and smiled, though inside he was deeply ashamed. Ka'buto had been right to protest that they needed more tests and more time before the AL-38 Slipstream Module went into production. Fortunately, they hadn't killed anyone with their prototypes so far...


High Orbit above T'au

Shipyards of the Glorious Expansion Cycles

58 minutes before the Mark of Oblivion

Gue'vesa Lieutenant Miguel Juan

Unlike many guardsmen who had defected to join the T'au Empire before joining the ranks of the auxiliaries, Miguel had known the Angels of Death existed and weren't another big lie of Imperial propaganda.

Okay, he hadn't seen them many times. But the Iron Warriors often showed themselves on tithe day.

It was one of the many good things which came with tithe day, now that he thought about it. Good showers, great food, enthusiastic girls, crowds cheering your name – or at least cheering for your regiment, since you were only one guardsman in a parade of millions departing for the stars and war.

It was obvious that it was after tithe day when things generally took a turn for the worse. You were packed aboard a warship worse than what you were accustomed to in the Hives, which wasn't a small feat, and then once you reached the battlefield, you realised most of the Imperial propaganda about xenos being easy to beat was just nonsense.

Miguel had deserted after his third campaign. The Tau looked like they were lying far fewer times than the average Munitorum broadcast, and they gave you clean barracks. There wasn't exactly a soldier's pay as you understood the word, but no auxiliary starved or had to beg for a day off for five years of service.

Going back to the Imperium and the sure execution which awaited him hadn't been something he had been thinking about for the last several years.

Now for the first time...okay, he doubted.

"DEATH TO ANATHEMA! TREMBLE, FOR CHAOS COMES!"

"VICTORUS AUT MORTIS!"

The black Angels of Death charged the monsters...no, not monsters, daemons.

Greater Good be fucked, the daemons were real!

That meant the Ecclesiarchy had been right about...about...

"FOR CORAX!" Lightning Claws eviscerated daemonic flesh, and the Angels of the Death tore apart the endless waves of enemies which tried to kill them. "FOR THE EMPEROR!"

Miguel Juan fired at the red-skinned monsters with his brand-new Pulse Carbine...and the effects were not impressive.

"Why aren't you firing?" He shouted to the other auxiliaries. "We must help the Angels of Death!"

The reaction, when it came, wasn't exactly the one he wanted. Five men outright threw down their weapons and began to run in the other direction. At least the others began to fire at the daemons.

"That's...I wouldn't have thought I'd ever lament the absence of Commissars."

"As you say, Lieutenant," the sole Sergeant of his Company who had managed to find the rally point agreed. "Since I'm a suspicious and paranoid bastard, I'm beginning to think these...things...are the reason the Imperium has Commissars."

"Them, the Orks, and everything else which wants to eat us," Miguel Juan added bitterly. It was a longer list than he wanted to contemplate, and he wasn't going to say it aloud. "Support fire for the Space Marines. It's all we can do anyway..."

"Yes, Lieutenant. For the God-Emperor?"

The old words almost made him smile.

"Since we are in a nightmare, better to recall our oaths before the end...for the God-Emperor."


You couldn't live with your failures, Primarchs. And where did it lead you?

You have abandoned the Imperium. You have cast aside your hopes and dreams.

Weaver has done more in a decade to make sure the Imperium is protected from the Three than you did in four millennia.

On this day, on this world, you are here for the final battle.

But since it is your dearest wish for each of you to kill each other, what kind of God would I be if I didn't support the fratricidal slaughter?


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

53 minutes before the Mark of Oblivion

Wolf Lord Olav Direbear

When they stopped running, He was here.

Time had caused damage, and He had more scars than the statues of Fenris remembered.

But His two Fenrisian Wolves were there, by his side.

And so were the Vlka Fenryka.

Be it by Drop Pod, Thunderhawk, or just their feet, the warriors of Fenris assembled.

The Fourth and the Sixth had arrived, and with the Third and the Eighth present, they had far more than one thousand Astartes assembled to kill the Traitors.

"Kill me?" the Daemon Primarch which had to be the monster leading the Word Bearers mocked their father. "You haven't changed, Russ. Your stupidity is, as always, challenging all my expectations. I. Can't. Die. I am immortal, by the will of the Gods."

"So you say," the Great Wolf of Fenris growled. "But on my way here, I noticed you were missing one God out of the four you turned Traitor for. Tell me...if a God can die, what makes you think you, their lapdog, can't?"

Leman Russ raised the great golden spear and it began to shine. Not a lot, but Vlka Fenryka's eyes couldn't miss it if they tried.

"Slaanesh will be reborn." The purple abomination looking like the unholy combination of a snake and a human hissed in response. It had to be the Naga the tales of Commorragh mentioned. The descriptions had accurately described the scar disfiguring his face, at least.

"No, it won't," the other Loyalist Primarch disagreed. Corvus Corax's right hand burned in shadow, and a second later his armour morphed into a very large threatening claw. "Your ritual has failed, and it soon will explode out of control, killing your entire Legion. Weaver is still alive. And even if she wasn't...there's no resurrecting the dead after what happened at Commorragh."

"But Anarchy can still be stopped," the Primarch hiding in what was a Knight walker modified by too much xenos technology to count all the alterations declared. One thing however was certain: his allegiance, given the colours, belonged to the Alpha Legion.

"Because the status quo is such a good idea," Olav felt his anger rise, as for all the broken bronze armour, the red-skinned Cyclops stood undiminished and unbroken. "Enough of this. We have all chosen a side, and we aren't going to change our minds before Lorgar's great ritual explodes in his face. Let's skip all the pretenses and accusations, and move to the part which is interesting."

"Indeed," Lorgar approved, and his hands burned in Maleficarum energy. Hundreds of portals opened on the plains of Fenris, and thousands of Traitor Marines stormed out of them. "I am going to take great pleasure in killing your sons while you watch helplessly, Russ."

His speech, Olav thought, would have been a bit more impressive if Corvus Corax hadn't taken the opportunity to scratch his face with his Lightning Claws.

"Blah, blah, blah," the Ravenlord smiled. "I thought I couldn't walk in your presence, Lorgar. Looks like the thousands of rituals your sons and you have made are fading."

"You will pay for that! Paristur prepare the-"

"VLKA FENRYKA!" Russ howled. "WHO DO YOU FIGHT FOR?"

"FENRIS, THE GREAT WOLF, AND THE ALLFATHER!"

Four Great Companies howled, and the Wolf Lord was certain at this moment, every other Great Company in existence heard them, no matter where they were in the galaxy.

"KILL ME THESE TRAITORS!"

They howled, and the Battle of the Five Primarchs began.


Primarch Omegon

It was madness. No, it was more than that.

It was...chaos.

Why he had he thought that when facing the abyss, they would listen to reason?

The civil war, it was obvious, had destroyed all trace of brotherhood which might have ever existed. Guilliman was the norm when he cornered him on Eskrador, not the exception.

Some part of him whispered it was his fault.

Corax was not wrong. They had killed a lot of Loyal Space Marines on Isstvan V, and it was in part his fault Manus had died that day, along with hundreds of thousands of the sons of Vulkan and Corax.

The other part of him didn't want to die or suffer the monstrous fate which had already taken Magnus, Lorgar, and Fulgrim.

And so he fought. He fought even as the terrible wounds which forced him to stay submerged in healing substances and surrounded by stasis fields for the last millennia caused him terrible pain.

At least he had much to pay attention to aside from his agony.

The Lord of the Alpha Legion was surrounded by 'allies' he didn't trust and thousands of enemies, as thousands of Space Marines descended upon Fenris to participate in the butchery.

He saw Lucius, delusional as always, try to fight one of the Wolves, and get killed when the enormous white bear serving as companion for the son of Russ tore him apart.

He saw thousands of Word Bearers scream their daemonic litanies as they fought the enraged assault of the Fenrisians.

But most of his concentration remained on their six-way brawl.

Because there was no other word for it.

'Duel' was completely inadequate; it would mean they focused on one enemy and forgot everything else.

Something that was about as far removed from reality as it was possible to be.

He was fighting Corax, Russ, and Magnus...and had to take great care not to get caught in the sorcery attacks of Lorgar and the Naga, who were not shy about collateral damage as they went all-out.

"Having doubts about your side, 'Alpharius'?" Corax quipped while trying to jump over the walker he used both as a weapon, transport, and mobile healing chamber. "You must have seen what kind of allies you have..."

"I return you the question," it was a large effort of self-control to not scream in pain, "Do you think Magnus is going to stay on your side for long? Or that the things you did for power will spare you from the new power's treachery if it rises? Or that Russ has gotten more tolerant of anything which isn't reeking of his own hypocrisy?"

"I have ears you know, Alpharius!"the hirsute Primarch howled.

"Shut up, Russ!" He had other things to do than making sure he didn't hurt the legendary wolfish pride. "Answer the question, Corax. Do you really think your plans can take into account everything so that you come out of this battle alive?"

It was an inglorious dance, and at this moment Omegon wished for nothing more but to be in the prime of his life, able to fight his brothers without mechanical assistance. Alas, he had to make do with a modified Knight and a lot of scavenged technology-

"You assume the original plan I prepared is still in effect," the Master of the Raven Guard smiled as they clashed, "let me reassure you that isn't the case. I've been improvising a lot since Lorgar arrived on Fenris."

The worst part was that Omegon believed him.

It was kind of ironic. The Alpha Legion had often been ridiculed by other Primarchs, including Guilliman and Dorn, for giving far too much leeway to their Legionnaires and changing the plans when it suited them.

And now, right when his Legion was divided into hundreds of autonomous warbands, one of his brothers adopted the very strategies which had been so successful when they were young.

The battle of the Primarchs continued.

It continued even as the psychic pressure grew unbearable and the skies of Fenris changed colour every second.

It continued as Magnus severed one of Lorgar's arms, and though the Word Bearer regenerated, it had clearly been extremely painful.

Under their feet, the ground rumbled with almost no interruption.

The earthquakes were terrible, and many Space Marines' fights reached improbable conclusions as they tried to adapt to this equilibrium-challenging environment.

The temperatures were varying between extreme winter and extreme volcano. Everything living and not in power armour in different parts of the battlefield was frozen and roasted within a few seconds; even Russ had to don his helmet to save his life.

Hordes of Fenrisian animals were participating in the madness as well. 'Wolves' taller than many tanks, impossibly huge bears, elks, drakes, mammoths...there were even small mammals which were fighting like they were possessed by daemons. They had only moderate-sized claws to fight with, but they were fearlessly scaling the armours of the Word Bearers and plunging their natural weapons into their eyes.

Felines, reptiles, and other beasts he didn't know the name of were coming for the final battle.

The Word Bearers Legion still held a massive numerical superiority – Lorgar must have kept an impressive reserve away from his spies, and it explained why Mothac had been so hesitant to commit boarding forces in orbit – but it was shrinking.

And as everything went to war, he avoided Russ' spear once more and went after Corax.

"You won't kill any Primarch today, Corax."

"I would not be so hasty in my assumptions," his opponent changed into a murder of crows to avoid his plasma gun shot. "Are you sure you haven't forgotten something, Omegon?"

The surviving Primarch of the Alpha Legion couldn't help but turn towards the location where Magnus had been chained for hours...and he froze.

"NO! STOP IT! LORGAR! STOP IT BEFORE IT ENTERS THE RITUAL'S CORE!"


1 minute before the Mark of Oblivion

Deathmistress Mikaelatch Shadowdagger

Everything was pain-pain.

Mikaelatch was in a bad-bad state. Her paws were frozen-burned, half of her beautiful tail was gone-missing, and many poisoned wounds slowly hurt-killed her.

Clan Eshin was gone-gone, at least the part which she ordered-forced to leave Skavenblight with her-her.

But as she ran-ran beneath an enormous vile and white beast, the Deathmistress fought-struggled to ignore that-that.

She was the last-last.

She was Mikaelatch Shadowdagger, most-most favoured of Great Malal.

She plunged into the snow once more-more, and when she resurfaced, she was almost there-there.

"NO! STOP IT! LORGAR! STOP IT BEFORE IT ENTERS THE RITUAL'S CORE!"

The leader of Clan Eshin leap-jumped forwards, directly at the centre of the eight-pointed star.

Only when her paws-paws touched the cursed ritual's core did she allow herself to squeak loudly.

The walker-thing turned in her-her direction...but too-too late, praise Anarchy!

"I humbly offer-spend my-my life for Holy Anarchy! For Clan Eshin, for myself, and for MALAL!"

And she triggered her last-last Warpstone grenade.


At last. AT LAST! I AM REBORN!


The Warp

The last time Chaos had gained another Aspect, it had been the kind of cataclysm no one could forget – assuming one survived it, of course.

This time, it was rather calm, all things considered.

Relatively calm. As long as you didn't visit anywhere near Fenris, T'au, the Eye of Terror, and a few other warzones.

Where Fenris was concerned, the Neverborn yet unable to enter reality were able to perceive – before being incinerated and dispersed – a monumental flare of brilliant white-black-green psychic fire.

For eleven seconds, the Astronomican was unable to pierce the darkness further than Segmentum Solar.

Eleven planets – including one inhabited by humanity – were swallowed by the Warp. All of them had the particularity bad fortune to be caught in civil wars involving at least eleven factions.

Malal had chosen its holy – or from an Inquisitorial viewpoint, unholy – number and it would be a foundation which would last until the galaxy was no more or the Beast of Anarchy died, whichever came first.

The post-Commorragh years which had seen the Three rule uncontested over the damned realms of the Eye of Terror and the Warp Storms ended, a mere memory which would in time be extinguished.

The Age of Chaos Undivided was over.

The Age of Anarchy could begin.


It will begin at Skavenblight, of course.


The Eye of Terror

Skavenblight

Mark of Oblivion

High Arch-Warlord Scrachit Barbbuster the Unstoppable

"Alive! Lucky I am-am!" Scrachit Barbbuster squeaked happily. "Praise Malal! Praise Anarchy!"

"Indeed, my faithful servant. Praise me."

Scrachit raised his-his head...and instantly squeaked loudly. His next move-action was to prostrate himself, yes-yes.

"Great Malal! Speak to your humble-furry servants, yes-yes!"

"So you have wished, so it will be, in the name of Anarchy. I give the Council of Eleven the world of Skavenblight. Rule this jewel of discord anarchically. Worship disunion. Plot against each other. Do not leave a single aspect of Anarchy unrecorded. And of course...there is to be no alliance with the slaves of the Three which tried to stop my Ascension. Anarchy must be pure. Anarchy must be unguided. Anarchy must have no purpose beyond Anarchy!"

"Glory to you-you, oh Glorious and Everlasting God-Emperor of Skavendom!"

"Hail Anarchy!"

And millions, no-no, billions of squeaks shouted the victory-triumph of the Skaven and the true-true cause!

"PRAISE MALAL!"


Now, let's return to Fenris. I have a few anarchic decrees to enforce.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

Mark of Oblivion

Primarch Magnus the Red

It was a cataclysmic explosion, and if he had not cast the most powerful shield he could conjure in mere seconds, Magnus was sure they all would have been killed.

They still took plenty of damage, but that was unsurprising. They were too close to the ground zero where a God was born.

The canyon he had created to redirect several attacks grew in size, and reached out to the sea of Fenris.

The flames of change of Tzeentch were extinguished as the Fenrisian cold waters poured into this gap. Something was telling him the days of Asaheim as an intact island-continent were truly over.

Magnus prepared himself.

This was merely the beginning.

He was proven right, as one second later the black-furred rat which had sacrificed itself was resurrected and soon tripled in size, shrouded in the white-black-green Warp shroud of Anarchy.

The Fourth God was creating its first Daemon Prince...and it was about as monstrous and anarchical as one could possibly imagine.

Then the Daemon Primarch felt something different in him. Power and new orders were communicated, and his leash was tightened...again.

Magnus transformed his staff into a large Khopesh blade, and struck.

Only to be stopped by Omegon well short of his target.

"No..."

"Yes..." the Knight chassis exploded, and the broken and burned body of Alpharius' twin was revealed. Less than a second later, it began to be shrouded in the same energies as the giant rat.

"You can't do that," the Lord of the Thousand Sons was forced to take a step back as a monstrous attack of raw sorcery slammed into his protections. And then another. "He is not sworn to you! You are breaking-"

"-every rule I am displeased with."

The first rat disappeared into the shadows, and as Omegon's wounds disappeared and black-white armour covered his healed skin, something of what had been the ritual's core poured into him.

"NO! You can't incarnate here, you are going to destroy-"

But there was no explosion; reality didn't unravel.

And yet Malal stood before him in person.

It was an eleven metres-tall mutation of rat and eleven thousand one hundred and eleven beasts.

Its fur was made of eleven shades of colour.

It couldn't be here.

In all the history of the galaxy, no God born in the Empyrean had ever tried to incarnate himself into the tapestry of the Materium.

But Malal had done it.

"Rules are made to be broken, Magnus."

"You are not going to get away with this!" And he didn't know if it was Tzeentch speaking through his voice, or his own disgust speaking.

"I am Anarchy. What makes you think I care, Tzeentch?" Malal mocked him-them. "And now that you have volunteered to attack me first, I think it is time to spread a reasonable amount of chaos in your own ranks. THIS RUBRIC OFFENDS ME!"

A white claw stabbed him in the stomach, and Magnus screamed in pain.

Oh, he had known torment and punishments when Tzeentch willed it.

But for some reason, this was excruciatingly worse.

It was like every part of his being was assaulted, eaten, and spat out to land in the vilest things anathema to his essence.

Then it stopped.

Magnus opened his eye.

"What...what have you done, beast?"

He felt weak. He was feeling...the cold. His arm...was bleeding.

The Fifteenth Primarch tried to use his psychic powers...and for the first time ever, seized absolutely nothing.

Malal had deprived him of his aetheric gift...it wasn't like his shattering at Prospero; all his shards were still intact...there was just nothing left in them to access the Empyrean.

He wasn't a psyker anymore. He wasn't a Daemon Primarch. The chains of Tzeentch were broken.

And the price had been everything he took pride in.

"The...he isn't going to be happy."

"Oh no, Tzeentch is going to be absolutely furious!"

And Malal laughed, a sound which was insanity itself.


No more Daemon Primarch for you, Tzeentch.

Honestly...did you think I was going to tolerate your hypocrisy?


Segmentum Obscurus

Calyx Expanse

Mark of Oblivion

Malicia

The parahuman sorceress was busy mustering her troops for her little expedition on the 'Tyrant Star' when the enemy struck.

The leader of the Sons of Change gritted her teeth.

She had been assured by nine Lords of Change – compelled to give the truth, naturally – that nothing but a God would be able to strike directly at Malfi, so why-

The power behind the attack was considerable, and many of the daemons and Legionnaires in her service were thrown against the walls or furniture.

Her parahuman power saved her.

While her sorcery faltered, her true shield came into existence and blocked the attack.

Then everything stopped.

The parahuman sorceress inspected her surroundings methodically, trying to guess where the new attack would come from.

But nothing came.

And as she was about to breathe a sigh of relief and give orders to find the culprit, ignoring the cacophony of her servants and 'associates', Malicia saw a Space Marine remove his helmet as if his life depended on it. A second did it. And then a third.

Her mind for a moment wondered what was happening...then froze.

What? No, that wasn't possible, that was-

Malicia gaped, and she was pretty sure the rest of the Tzeentch Cults and their overlords in the Warp were doing the same.

The Rubricae's bodies had been turned to dust by the terrible spell wrought by Ahriman. There was nothing left of their mortal shells. It wasn't an exaggeration; she had checked.

So why was that suddenly no longer the case? Why were Space Marines of flesh and blood doing their best to remove their sealed armours right under her very eyes?

What was happening?


The Thousand Sons you condemned to a fate worse than death will be free to make their own choices, Tzeentch.

No more sorcerers holding the leash. No more Flesh Change. No more dust. Only Anarchy!


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

Mark of Oblivion

Primarch Leman Russ

It had taken him a lot of time to stand after this Maleficarum attack had hurt him.

Some part of him rejoiced when he saw Magnus wasn't a...a monster anymore.

The other part of him, the one occupying most of his attention, tried to assess their chances of survival.

His concerns weren't eased as the beast towering over them grabbed the Naga by its tail.

"My poor Fazar'nzlath'hesh...allow me to present my thanks to you. Without your stupidity, your narcissism, and your incompetence, I wouldn't have been reborn as quickly as I was. As a sign of my gratitude...I am now giving you the place you deserve."

Russ fainted. He didn't like to admit it, but it was what happened.

It was as if the winds and the earth of Fenris screamed something unintelligible, he blinked and...he was breathing with difficulty, trying not to plunge his head into the snow.

When he was able to raise his head again, the Lord of Fenris didn't understand what he was looking at for a couple of heartbeats.

Fulgrim was here. Or at least his naked, unmoving body was here. And some kind of enormous pink snake was thrown into a cage of Maleficarum metal.

"Now it seems to me I had predicted two Primarchs to die, and since Weaver already beat me to one..." the thing which was never to be mistaken for an animal smirked, "I am in need of a second sacrificial victim."

"You..." Magnus coughed violently and tried to move away from the monster. "You have killed...Omegon..."

"Don't be ridiculous, Magnus," the many-coloured horned rat mutant chided him, "for almost the entirety of the beings in this galaxy, ascending to the status of Daemon Prince is indeed synonymous with death. But for you...Primarchs...it is only a revelation of your true nature."

Claws larger than a tank's battle-cannon materialised.

"Oh, and I was lying. I think I am going to kill more than one of you...trust me, it will be more of an anarchic future that way."

They were all on their knees as the Maleficarum power somehow increased, and Fenris screamed in agony.

"Swear yourselves to me, Primarchs...or die."


Now let's see if I can claim one more victory. Anarchy is never sated...


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

Mark of Oblivion

Dark Master of Chaos Be'lakor

There was no more power.

The shadows, his shadows...escaped his control.

"This..." he growled. "This...is...the Age of Anarchy."

"No," Weaver dared contradicting him, of course. "This is the Age of Mankind and the other races which will join the fight against Chaos."

Laughter which wasn't his echoed across the city.

"You have been unable to strike the death blow, Weaver. Don't you think it is time to admit your defeat?"

A green blade emerged from the golden armour.

A green blade every daemon and being born of the Warp had plenty of reasons to fear.

"C'Tan phase weapon..."

"Shielded from your vision by Aethergold," when the words were spoken, the blade was already stabbing his essence. "I deny you."

Be'lakor felt his essence getting destroyed. Any other moment of the fight, the phase weapon couldn't have achieved this result. It might have inflicted serious wounds, but the Three's power would have kept him alive.

The Three had abandoned him. And Weaver had waited patiently for days and the right moment to use the weapon which could make a difference, to the point even Be'lakor had believed she had discarded it after Commorragh.

Be'lakor died.

But as oblivion claimed him, he could hear the angry roar of the Beast of Anarchy.


T'au System

Overlord-class Battlecruiser Black Lancer

Mark of Oblivion

Admiral Fritz von Bittenfeld

The moment Battlefleet Maskirovka's battered ships dispersed among the seven other Battle Groups so as to benefit from their protection, the Archenemy attacked.

"Admiral!" the Magos on the bridge blurted. "The Warp Rift is growing! Abominatus-reading in every quadrant of the Tau System! The Aethergold illumination is rising! The...the stars are going dark! The stars are going dark!"

"BRACE FOR IMPACT!"

Fritz had rarely used the harness on his command seat, but right now, he was very happy to have it, as it felt like Orks were ramming them...only it was worse.

The void was tearing apart, and the Warp was flooding-

"MAXIMUM OPACITY FOR THE ARMAGLASS! NO ONE IS TO LOOK OUTSIDE!"

"Golden Throne, what is that-"

"A Warp Storm," Fritz whispered. "We are in the eye of a Warp Storm. Transmit this to all ships: full power to the Gellar Fields. No one is to look outside. The Commissars and all personnel are to redouble vigilance. No one is to stay alone."

"But Admiral, with all the Aethergold the Battleships have, the presence of Her Celestial Highness..." the Lieutenant who had begun talking stopped on his own and shuddered.

"Yes," Fritz von Bittenfeld nodded, "I suspect Her Celestial Highness and the Aethergold cargo are among the reasons we are able to have this conversation."

"The...xenos planet is partially illuminated, Admiral," the auspex section reported. "The readings are...by the Golden Throne, this is impossible!"

"Nothing is impossible," Fritz refuted before flinching as he saw the filtered readings of what was beginning to rage around them. "May the God-Emperor protect us..."


Holy City of Fio'taun

Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

Taylor removed the C'Tan blade from the corpse of Be'lakor. Strangely, the corpse remained. It didn't liquefy, turn to dust, or any of the usual things that demons did when they were banished from reality.

The Lady General had no time to wonder why, as the enraged scream of Anarchy at being denied its prize struck the very next second.

Living Saint or not, there was no way to miss the reaction of the Power which was now ascending.

The entire System was under assault.

The Warp Rift the Three had created to strike was growing in width and length until it couldn't be described by any other term than 'Warp Storm'.

Where Aethergold had been created, where Lisa sang, where souls claimed or having given oaths to her steeled their determination and kept their calm, Order triumphed.

But where it didn't...

Taylor resheathed the weapon she had 'borrowed' from the Callidus Apprentice so long ago. It had served its purpose for today, and against what was coming-

The greatest corrupted area in the city turned into a flat surface akin to a dark mirror, and from it, the chief abomination came.

"The Dark Master could have been a great servant of Anarchy, once properly...motivated for my cause. There will be a punishment for that."

The arch-demonic thing which coalesced was defying all attempts to categorise it. It was like a billion rats had been merged together, then been given a pair of horns and a new enormous tail splitting into eleven halfway down its length. All of those rats were fighting each other, but turned malevolent red eyes filled with hate on Taylor when she jumped up several hundred meters above ground.

"That is not in your power to decide, Anarchy. Return to the Eye of Terror and fight the other Three."

"Weaver," the thing screeched, "your insults won't be forgotten. Do not give me orders!"

All Ruinous Powers were in reality completely insane – it had been proven beyond doubt with Slaanesh – but Anarchy was looking even less stable than its 'predecessors'.

"That wasn't an order. That was a threat. Disperse your Warp Storm and depart, otherwise we will see if I can add another Power to my list of kills."

And yes, Taylor was exhausted. But the abomination had made the mistake of directly opening a breach through the Veil separating Materium and Warp where all her powers could reach it.

If there was a fight, the nascent Ruinous Power was going to feel the pain.

"You do not threaten me, no-no!" the incarnation of Anarchy squeaked. "I think I will claim-claim the Earth Caste! You do not-not need-"

Powering her two swords and striking was practically second nature to her by now.

And the Fourth Ruinous Power's scream of pain was so thunderous there was a chance half of the galaxy heard it.

"I deny you everything." The Angel of Sacrifice articulated clearly. "Your presence is unwanted here, Anarchy. If you do not respect the rules, you will be obliterated like Excess was."

The enormous thing jumped away, leaving a significant amount of corrupted essence on her blades, and the golden light made short work of the nauseating vile black-white substance.

"The other Castes are-"

It didn't finish its sentence. Not because she struck its infernal body again.

But because there were three more avatars appearing on the other side of the black lake-mirror separating the two realities.

Too many rules had been broken. Too much power had been expended after Be'lakor was slain.

And so the Three had decided to intervene directly.


Your Age is over. Your alliance is broken. If you move against Anarchy, I will tear you apart.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

Mark of Oblivion

Primarch Lorgar Aurelian

The Gods had the power to rule over the galaxy. Only by serving them did Mankind stand a chance to survive.

That thing...that heretical creature...it wasn't a God.

"I am your servant! Give me the power to slay this beast!"

And the Gods heard him.

They gave him the power and the lore to break out of the trap which immobilised him.

The Primarch of the Word Bearers lifted his Accursed Crozius and ran towards the Enemy.

One second later, he was lying on the snow, and his life-essence...hurt.

"Lorgar, Lorgar...I am a God. Praise Anarchy."

"And yet you are bleeding..." he gasped. In the middle of the 'belly' – if this creature of Anarchy had such a thing – there were two small wounds where golden sparks burned.

"Because someone far-far more dangerous than you-you is proving to be a major headache, that's why-why." A paw larger than the foot of a Titan trampled him. "Now for your punishment."

"I am a servant of the Gods and they are vigilant now! No matter what you did to Magnus, they won't allow you to do it again!"

"Unfortunately, the narrow-minded fool does-does have a point," The Avatar of Anarchy squeaked. "But Magnus was the slave-thing of the great hypocrite-thing! You aren't."

"I am the servant of the Three, not you!"

"What you are-are," the enormous mutant rat corrected, "what you represent...is-is failure. And how do we deal-handle failure-defeat in the Warp? We turn-transform them into Spawns, yes-yes."

"You do not have that kind of power over me!"

"But the Three do-do, and they built it-it into you...like they do-do for all their slave-things! Lorgar of the Many Failures! I, the Great-Mighty God of Anarchy, give-grant you the great-great honour of becoming the first Spawn Primarch!"

Lorgar shouted a loud imprecation and unleashed every reserve of power he had ever possessed at the heretical creature.

The attack didn't even reach its target.

"Your support for this course-path of action has been duly noted, yes-yes."


Primarch Corvus Corax

The Primarch of the Raven Guard was honest enough to admit that for millennia, killing Lorgar had been the alpha and the omega of his existence...and yes, that was a deliberate pun.

It had been a mistake. Hunting the Word Bearers and trying to find flaws in the ward-sorcery of the Seventh Legion's citadels had consumed him and let plenty of other threats rise while he remained fixated on the bastard son of Colchis.

Corvus had learned his lesson.

That didn't mean he didn't feel a near-infinite amount of satisfaction when the Traitor finally got exactly what he deserved.

The Ravenlord had thought mutilating the essence of Lorgar before killing him permanently would be a fine method of execution, but when it came down to it...what the Ruinous Power of Anarchy did to him was infinitely worse.

Sickening power flowed into the Daemon Primarch's body, and energy as corrupted as the former torrent flowed out.

The tall armoured daemon of flames and infernal fanaticism the Seventeenth Primarch had become disappeared beneath mutation after mutation. The horns on his head increased in size, until they were so ridiculously large 'comical' was the only description which fitted.

The hands became fins decorated with spikes. The eight-pointed star sigils were scorched off, and the armoured skin exploded to reveal hundreds of appendages, all disgusting and ridiculous in the extreme.

Eleven tails erupted from the 'back' of the creature that was already nearly unrecognisable as anything even resembling a Primarch.

Corvus smiled...and then struck the temporal barrier the monster had erected. The time-dilatation effect ended. The Warp sorceries of Anarchy lost their potency, and Russ and he could finally stand.

The noises of battle arrived to their ears...and stopped, as every army must by now be contemplating what had just happened.

"Corax...that is not nice, no-no!" the giant rat-daemon complained. "Omegon, deal with the Wolf, please-please! The poor-poor raven feels great-great enmity for my betrayal!"

"I don't," he replied as Russ roared a battle-cry and charged the new Daemon Primarch, who by now had become a tall creature in white-black armour with the enormous rat head. "I knew exactly how and when you were going to betray me."

"And yet-yet...you are at my mercy!"

Corax tried to stay unconcerned and unaffected as the pestilential odour was really...bad, and the closer the monster was to him, the worse the Warp effects became.

"I am." He admitted with a sigh. "But I think there are two things that might have escaped your attention."

"Nonsense! I am-am a God! And on this day, in this Age-"

"Did you even wonder," the Nineteenth Primarch asked the Ruinous Power, "where is Bjorn the Fell-Handed?"

Omegon – or what was left of him after his unwilling transformation – discovered the answer to this question the hard way as a plasma shot impacted his daemonic 'flesh'. The ex-Lord of the Alpha Legion screamed in agony and of course Russ used the opportunity to impale him with his Emperor-forged spear.

The banishment-explosion of 'Alpharius Omegon' was quite spectacular.

There was a green blast, numerous fiery pyrotechnic displays, and then it rained dead rats.

"Bjorn...is that...you?"

"NOT A MESSAGE IN FOUR MILLENNIA, JARL! YOU BETTER HAVE A GOOD EXCUSE! WAS THE IMPERIAL MAIL SERVICE ON STRIKE WHERE YOU WENT GALLIVANTING OFF TO?"

"I am going to kill-slay you slowly for this, Corax," the beast seized him by the throat, "my ascension siphoned your strength-power; I have no more use-use for your pathetic body."

"That's...your...second...mistake." Corax articulated with difficulty. "Your ascension...didn't...absorb...my power. I...already...gave it...away."

"No...no! No, you lie!"

"I don't lie...the power...of shadows...will never be yours."

And judging by the panic in the burning green eyes of the avatar, the monster realised he wasn't lying.

"Do you really think your pathetic defiance-resistance will mean something in the end-end?" the rat-daemon shrieked. "I am-am inevitable! I will find whoever you gave-threw this power to, and I will torture-mutilate him-her-it until I am-am Shadow and Anarchy!

Then the rat screamed in agony as a blade of shadows went through its throat.

Malal was forced to release him and make a fighting retreat.

"Lord Corax," the Callidus his father had named Elena Kerrigan saluted, the power of the shadows swirling around her. "I apologise for the late intervention."


This is not over! You think you can oppose me with Light on one side, and Shadow on the other?! It won't work! I am Anarchy! I can withstand their powers and devour them!"


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Holy City of Fio'taun

Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

If the Emperor had known this would happen, he hadn't told her.

The Three had come. Granted, they hadn't technically crossed the Veil...but they had definitely risen from the depths of the Warp.

They, not the Exalted Daemons which were the greatest parts of themselves they dared risking in the invasions of the Materium.

Malal didn't stand a chance.

The tails' tips which remained in the Immaterium were seized, and the Fourth Ruinous Power was dragged back into the Warp squealing and shrieking.

"You would destroy all dimensions for the sake of your avidity?" the abomination was still half-hidden by darkness, but the mountain-sized essence radiated Murder, Blood, and War.

"This foolish intruder will destroy all of us given the chance," a hooded figure whose features were entirely hidden except for a large beak emerging from the shadows of its hood observed. "Temporary alliances will be needed to limit his powerbase. And recoup our losses."

This was when she realised the second Ruinous Power was not 'hooded' per se, it was that its 'feathers' were bleeding, and the sorcery effect was giving it the illusion of a cloth garment.

"He is the Fourth. Let's remind the Reborn of his place in the Great Game."

The third Ruinous Power was a mass of green pus, Decay incarnate.

It fired the first shot, something which would likely kill any living being if it was allowed to enter a human world.

Nurgle – for what else could it be – vaporised a good third of Malal's fur. Anarchy tried to make a fighting retreat...something which put it in range of eight monumental cleaver-swords of Khorne. And once the desperate evasions began, Tzeentch attacked, casting sorcery spells the likes of which no psyker but the Emperor would ever have any hope of comprehending.

Malal...fled. There was no other word for it. The Fourth Ruinous Power realised the truth: it was completely outmatched, and faced with the – temporary – coalition of its three counterparts, there was no victory to be had here.

Of course, that just meant that despite the darkness decreasing in power and range, Taylor found herself standing guarding the rift-breach against the Three.

And they looked about as happy to see her as she was to see them.

"Weaver," Nurgle gurgled. "We should kill her."

"We would take the risk of unravelling all reality," Tzeentch disagreed, or at least it seemed to say that.

"And she has proven amusing," Khorne rumbled. "This war is not over. And the tale of her fights with the Angel's Bane is only at its very beginning. It would be a pity to destroy her before it is allowed to bleed everywhere."

"You and your blood," Nurgle commented, before raising an arm the size of a Titan. "We can't kill her. But she must be punished. And the rat has proven useful in his folly. His Warp Storm has contaminated the Ethereals who are not impressed by her antics."

"The Earth Caste's claiming stung hard?" Khorne mocked the Power of Decay, and given the...infernal currents between the two, she knew that at least this 'gathering' was certainly going to be the last in a long, long time.

The problem was that they were holding it to discuss her life.

"The Air Caste will make a poor substitute to what you have stolen, but it will be a source of joyous contagions!" Nurgle declared.

"The Water Caste is mine," Tzeentch cackled. "It always was. And my Champions will need some diplomatic support for the dust troops."

"And those who bled, the warriors who have the tasted the smell of carnage and realised the truth of a battlefield...are mine," Khorne's avatar grew to beyond-Titanic proportions, a monster ruling atop an ocean of skulls and human bones.

"I will deny you."

"But you are alone this time..." Tzeentch laughed, and even with the Emperor's protection, this chorus of tortured screams was going to give her nightmares for weeks, she just knew it. "The Anathema is too far to help you."

"Kill all Ethereals unable to protect themselves," Nurgle declared, "let's strike before this fledging turbulence dies!"

Taylor grimaced as she saw the multi-coloured maelstrom the Three conjured into existence.

She wanted to try to stop them.

But she was too tired. The Lady General had fought Be'lakor for nearly ninety hours, and continuing now would essentially be relying on the Emperor and the Sanguinor's power inside her...

Somehow, Taylor knew it wouldn't be enough.

It may not have been enough even if she hadn't fought the black-skinned abomination before Malal revealed itself.

An apocalyptic storm came into existence, and her sleeping-self in the chrysalis told her hundreds of thousands of Tau were disappearing with every second.

The Queen of the Swarm called Lisa and told her to bombard the ruined city from orbit, but she knew the damage had already been done.

This whole battle was half a victory at best. And it tasted like ashes in her mouth.


This is a mere setback. And I will have my revenge. Fenris can still be denied to all of you.


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

Fenris

Asaheim

Mark of Oblivion

Callidus Assassin Elena Kerrigan

Having so much power was exhilarating.

It was also a monumental chore to adapt it into her fighting style.

Elena knew very well that at this moment, she was fighting more like an unstoppable juggernaut of shadows, not like a Callidus.

There wasn't a lot of time to think on it, however.

Not when she exchanged blows with a horned rat the size of a small Titan.

"You are too-too weak!" the horned daemon squeaked. "Weaver was striking harder than that-that!"

Some part of her wanted to shout to the Enemy that the very fact it could compare was proof of how stupid it was, but Elena stayed quiet.

The Callidus impaled the white-black fur with hundreds of shadow-conjured blades, until the daemon-rat was cornered against the Warp-infested hole where it had crawled from unreality.

"You have won-won nothing, Angel of Shadows!" Anarchy's avatar squeaked. "I am mighty, yes-yes, and I will send-send you to...ARGH!"

The 'ARGH' was due to Leman Russ, yes, the Primarch of the Space Wolves himself, throwing his enormous spear and catching it somewhere around the upper torso.

The gigantic rat squeaked in surprise, tore the spear from its monstrous body with difficulty, before moving to hurl it back...and a new attack made sure it fell into the abyss...which fortunately, closed mere seconds after its disappearance.

"GOOD," the Dreadnought boomed. "ONE PROBLEM EFFICIENTLY SOLVED. NOW WE MUST CATCH THE WORD BEARERS. THE TRAITORS ARE DRAGGING WHAT'S LEFT OF THEIR PRIMARCH BACK TO THEIR LANDING ZONES. I THINK THEY INTEND TO TELEPORT BACK TO HIGH ORBIT AND FLEE."

Elena didn't even need to turn her head to know he was right.

The fight between the Space Wolves and the Word Bearers was over, as the battlefield had been parted by several huge canyons and diverse sorcerous spells which looked to be completely out of control. Walls of blue flames, craters filled with poison and acid, those sort of things were becoming increasingly common every minute on Fenris.

"That's still a very big Legion," she told the figures of legends who were present. Elena didn't exaggerate; in about an hour, the Traitor Seventeenth had been slaughtered by the Wolves, be they bipedal or four-legged, and the less said about what the wildlife had done to them, the better.

As the thought crossed her mind, the enormous feline she had 'befriended' – unless it was the other way around – arrived to crouch before her, kittens on her back as usual.

"They have lost close to ten thousand Chaos Legionnaires," Corax observed quietly as he walked to position himself on her immediate left. "But aside from Belagosa, all their senior Dark Apostles are still alive. And given that the Beast transformed Lorgar into a Spawn, I think they will assume the leadership of the Legion in his name."

"Not if the Imperial Battlefleet slaughters them in orbit," Leman Russ growled. "I am not going to let them retreat to the Eye of Terror with their tails between their legs again, Corax."

"I wasn't suggesting you let them escape," the Primarch of the Raven Guard smirked. "I was just pointing out a few facts and..."

Even by the standard of earthquakes they had experienced in the last hour, the one which struck at that precise moment was violence incarnate.

It lasted for nearly four minutes, or at least her time-estimating abilities told her it was so. The Word Bearers and their surviving allies vanished.

And then there was a shockwave. Or at least it felt that way.

No, it wasn't a true shockwave, it was like a...tide. A tide which was snuffing out all the sorcery and daemonic things crawling on the snow.

The super-tiger growled, almost...afraid?

"WHAT IS THIS NEW MALEFICARUM DEVILRY?"

"Southwards," Corax said in a voice which was cold and emotionless. "I think it is...that..."

The canyon created by the Cyclops' sorcery had turned into an immense water artery reaching the ocean south of here.

Which meant they had an excellent view of the nightmare unfolding.

Something in her mind was shouting it was impossible.

They were dozens of kilometres away...nothing alive could be that big. Yes, Fenris was an infamous Death World, but there had to be a limit to the size of the super-predators! If nothing else, the animals had to be able to feed themselves, and past a certain size, the dominant monster would empty the seas of all sustenance in mere weeks. That was the only way carnivorous species could satisfy their hunger: by hunting everything available to extinction. And once it was done, once all food sources were exhausted...they died.

"It must have stayed asleep for millennia..." Magnus the Red had risen, but he was in a truly lamentable state. Many Space Wolves howled and took steps forwards, axes in hands, but Russ waved them away. "Damn it, I am powerless. If I had my spells I would try to put it back to sleep."

"You know what it is, Magnus?"

"Of course I do," the very mortal Primarch – he had several wounds closing slowly...nine to be accurate – replied, "my...ex-slavemaster showed me plenty of visions of these things arriving to devour all of us. Somehow, it failed to warn me there was one of these monsters sleeping on your homeworld's ocean floor...or I would have proceeded far differently, believe me."

The colossal beast seemingly increased in size even further. It was now an enormous mass blocking the horizon.

By the Emperor, how big was-

A maw big enough to swallow cities opened, revealing a series of teeth which would terrify most species of super-predator.

"RRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!"

And on Fenris, for the first time in this era, humanity heard the hungry roar of a Tyranid Hive Ship.


What is that? No! NO! Everything is clouded, everything is...Oblivion...


The Eastern Fringe

The Damocles Gulf

T'au System

T'au

Serenity Spaceport

15 minutes after the Mark of Oblivion

Sergeant Gavreel Forcas

Gavreel couldn't help but sigh in relief when their Lady flew over the fortified position they had taken for themselves.

Sure they were caught in the middle of a Warp Storm, thousands of Tau warriors had gone insane, then disappeared, swallowed by the Warp, but at least Lady Taylor Hebert was alive and seemed to be physically unharmed.

The Adjutant-Spiders were more vocal than any member of the Dawnbreaker Guard, of course.

"PRAISE THE WEBMISTRESS!"

"Webmistress, I have brought you refreshments!"

"Webmistress, I have a report on the completion of our objectives!"

"Webmistress!"

Kratos next to him chuckled as the Tau leadership that the huge golden spiders had dragged here retreated precipitously, which, in all likelihood, simply showed they had good sense.

Ironically, the blue-skinned xenos had already found a name for the loud arachnids: 'Arachen'. He would have to ask about the origins of the name, but it could wait.

Not surprisingly, it was Artemis who had her attention first. The fact she was carrying a respectable amount of food and energy drinks may have had to do something with it.

When the golden-winged Basileia removed her helmet, many Tau flinched and took a step back. That her eyes were orbs of pure golden energy for a couple of seconds before returning to their 'normal' appearance was the primary reason, no doubt.

A pair of Catachan ants carried in an enormous chair and a table, and the young woman who had accomplished so many things began to voraciously eat and drink.

It was only after several minutes of silence that Gavreel was invited with a nod to sit in front of her, though the Sergeant was keenly aware the spiders and other insectoid species had continuously delivered her the bad news telepathically.

"It seems we are caught in a powerful Warp Storm that shows no sign of abating."

"Yes, my Lady," he nodded, "the Inquisitors in orbit think it is a result of whatever happened on the other side of the galaxy plus...we had to slay giant rats in the last hour. Err...I think we know the answer, but-"

"Be'lakor is dead, Gavreel. Permanently. His corpse is still in one of the craters of Fio'taun."

"It hasn't disintegrated? That is not supporting-"

"The daemon-rat has changed the rules..." for a brief second, Taylor Hebert showed her exhaustion, her young age, and how defeated she felt very clearly. "There's nothing we can do now, but to endure the storm. Successful ritual or not, I doubt it can be maintained for long. Lisa is going to increase our stocks of Aethergold blocks, and it has been a great harvest of Noctilith. Sooner or later, the energy expense will be too great, and we will be able to escape."

"Dare I ask how you are certain of this, my Lady?"

"The Three were there, Gavreel."

And at this moment, the former Dark Angels understood it was not her tiredness or the corruption of the planet the insect-mistress the Ecclesiarchy-acclaimed Living Saint was trying not to admit to herself.

It was fear.


Ethereal Aun'shi

The T'au Empire was no more.

As he approached the human General, Aun'shi was very aware of it.

The disasters provoked by the enemies from beyond the Veil were far too damaging to ever be erased.

The monsters had hurt them physically and mentally...but all of that could be rebuilt.

What couldn't be salvaged was the reality the Unity of the Greater Good had utterly collapsed.

"Ethereal Aun'shi...please sit. We have many things to talk about."

The old warrior obeyed, observing the ally the events had given them to fight the evil which had engulfed T'au.

"No one is to enter the city Fio'taun without my express permission...and supervision." Taylor Hebert closed her eyes, but he knew better than to think she really needed them to fight or bargain. "I don't know how long it will take to purify and decontaminate your capital...no, let me rephrase that. I don't know if it's possible to eventually cleanse Fio'taun from the evil I fought there."

"I agree...that is...prudent." The Ethereal nodded. "We fortunately had many electronic backups of all the critical information in the other major cities. The loss of so many Tau lives is the greater problem."

"According to my Adjutants..." the Arachens made various noises of 'Webmistress!' in approval, "you have lost the near-totality of your Water Caste, slightly over half of the Fire Caste, one third of the Air Caste, and about one-tenth of your Ethereal numbers. Does that sound correct, in your opinion?"

"It does. But we will need many days to compile the necessary information before we can ascertain the full magnitude of our losses."

"Of course," the General reopened her eyes. "I've claimed the Earth Caste's lives in my name, so the effect of corruption should be minimal for them...it doesn't protect them from being killed by the abominations, but it protects them from physical and mental corruption. Now for a problem I've encountered on my way here: your drones."

"There were a considerable amount of friendly fire incidents in the last several hours," Aun'shi admitted before trying to introduce a note of optimism in this conversation. "But surely once this...storm...dissipates, the effect on our machines and technology will disappear."

"Your Drones...are they remotely controlled, or do they have an inbuilt Artificial Intelligence?"

"Most are the latter, though many prototypes and frontline units belong in the former category," he stated, "you do not think the incidents are going to stop."

"There is a reason we in the Imperium of Man call them 'Abominable Intelligences', not 'Artificial Intelligences', Ethereal Aun'shi." The golden-armoured human informed him sympathetically. "I wish I could tell you everything is going to continue as you experienced before...but I can't. I will likely have to consult the Mechanicus beforehand, but it's virtually a guarantee all the Sectors which use Artificial Intelligences will be under investigation, and will have to comply with the Treaty of Olympus."

"Many in the Fire and Earth Castes won't like that," he warned her.

"I will likely tell your engineers and civilians the bad news myself," the smile she gave him was not especially reassuring. "But I think they will prefer it to the alternative, which is their own weapons and tools murdering them when the Drones are infected with destructive madness."

"Would it have happened if the Pact hadn't been...modified and then weakened?"

"I think it wouldn't have...but there were infected Necrons quite close to your planet. It's possible your small technology immunity to the Warp would have been severely impacted anyway and-"

The eyes burned again in golden energy and looked at the skies.

"We are moving."

"I...what are you saying?"

"The planet, the orbital stations, our fleets...we are in motion now. Something, no doubt an accursed ritual, has made sure we are surrounded by the Warp and getting transported away from the Tau System as we speak. It is subtle since we're in the eye of the storm, but whoever is doing it, they can't fool my powers."

"And where are we going?"

"I don't know."


Segmentum Obscurus/Segmentum Solar (contested)

Fenris System

High Orbit over Fenris

Abyss-class Super-Battleship Trisagion

Approximately 18 minutes after the Mark of Oblivion

Dark Apostle Paristur

"WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW, BY THE GODS?"

"Calm yourself, Mothac," Kor Phaeron ordered. "Panicking is not-"

"I AM NOT PANICKING! I AM ASKING YOU A QUESTION NOW THAT THERE IS NOTHING BUT DISASTER AHEAD OF US! OR ARE YOU TELLING ME YOU DON'T FEEL THE CURSE ROOTING ITSELF IN YOUR FLESH?"

Paristur grimaced internally. He was ready to bet a large amount of souls he wasn't the only one.

"I'm sure," Eliphas began, his presence made necessary since Kor Daradan had been slaughtered by the dogs of Russ, "that if we study the Primarch's essence long enough-"

"Oh, by the Great Schemer's breath," Vorrjuk Kraal interrupted impatiently, "can we stop pretending we have the time or the means to control this damned curse? No, I don't recognise that enormous rat as a Power worthy of worship. Unfortunately, it has a lot of power, enough for its curses to affect our entire Legion if we aren't protected by one of the True Gods!"

"And we aren't protected right now," Jarulek admitted, "which means that while pacts and rituals can delay it, the vile heretical creature of Anarchy wanted to give us a simple choice: either we worship it and join the ranks of its beasts, or we become a horde of Chaos Spawn which will amuse our enemies for the next millennia."

"There is a third way," Erebus announced.

"And what pray tell is this 'third way' neither Jarulek nor I have seen?" the Master of Faith inquired sarcastically, the old hatred between the two rivals flaring up again with the Primarch unable to stop it.

"I thought it rather obvious, personally," the Vile One smirked, and Paristur noticed he didn't even have a single scratch on his power armour...it was near-certain the 'Hand of Destiny' had been nowhere near ground zero when the ritual exploded. "We must abandon Chaos Undivided, since it doesn't suit our purposes anymore, and swear ourselves to one God."

"SACRILEGE!" Kor Phaeron shouted. "CORYPHAUS! ARREST THIS-"

"Calm down!" Paristur snarled.

"You heard him! What he proposes-"

"What he proposes might give us a chance...assuming he isn't miscalculating," his last words weren't an afterthought. "We can't forget that that ungodly creature cursed our Primarch to become a Spawn, but the Three have many reasons to be...less than fond of our Legion. And while the rat-daemon's power limits are unknown, I doubt anyone among our Legion will be so foolish as to think the Three will welcome us with blessings and praises. Given how...disastrous...this holy endeavour has turned out to be, I don't think it would be out of character for all of them to transform us into Spawns...or wait until the curse does the work for them."

"It is possible...but the Lord of Ambition has lost Magnus." Erebus smiled, something which didn't fail to provoke revulsion in him. "With the Thousand Sons out of the Great Game, it is far from impossible that offering enough innocent souls on His altar of Change would-"

"IT COMES! IT COMES! THE GREAT DEVOURER COMES!" And the daemonic machines imploded in the seconds after this announcement.

"Oh by the pestilence of the Grandfather!" Seriously, it hadn't been eight minutes since they had chained up the thing which had been their gene-sire in the entrails of the Trisagion. "What now?"


Gloriana-class Battleship Beta

First Harrowmaster Machiavelli Gonzaga

Less than one hour ago, Machiavelli had thought the worst news he would ever receive was that despite all the precautions he had taken, eleven percent of the Legionnaires aboard the Beta had turned against logic and reason, and openly sold their souls to Anarchy.

This had begun a civil war in the corridors of the Twentieth's flagship, one which was not decreasing in the least right now, and which made sure he was the only Astartes present on the bridge, as the other loyalists were all busy trying to kill the anarchist madmen.

But at least it had been supposed to be the height of madness.

The space battle had momentarily stopped, courtesy of the fact the void surrounding Fenris was so saturated with psychic power that there was no way any sane captain could order his men to fire at the enemy; doing so had only minuscule chances of ever hitting the target you aimed at.

After all sides had realised that, the fighting had stopped, with the sole exception being boarding actions.

It had been a moment of calm.

And now it was over.

"The auspexes' signals...surely that can't be right?"

"Believe it," Machiavelli muttered.

"But Harrowmaster...if the readings are right, the monster trying to escape the gravity well of Fenris...it is at least sixty kilometres long!"

"Yes, it is." The Legionnaire who had become for all intents and purposes the new Legion Master of the Twentieth answered. "And I have a feeling it has the void armament to go with its size."

Was this beast the reason the Space Wolves had been authorised to keep their hypocritical shamanic traditions?

Had the Emperor known of this beast's presence, or had its 'long sleep' in the depths of Fenris' oceans hidden it from even the Master of Mankind's psychic sight?

These were only the first two questions of the many, many bouncing around in his head. And unfortunately, there was a high likelihood the two beings in the know would not consent to revealing the truth to him, except perhaps seconds before he was beheaded. Something he would dearly like to avoid, all things considered.

"That is...we think this titanic monster is able to generate a sort of anti-Warp 'bubble' of considerable size, Harrowmaster."

"Indeed. I was wondering why the psychic anomalies were suddenly snuffed out...it looks like this leviathan is able to push back the Warp and disable all things based on psychic artifices."

This wasn't going to be good for the Word Bearers' ships, given how corrupted they were.

"Oh by the nine heads of the Hydra..."

Machiavelli abandoned his command seat to get a better look at the hololith.

It was...he was sure this sort of thing didn't happen that often, even in a galaxy full of surprises.

"Fenris is being swallowed by the Warp, Harrowmaster!"

"And the gargantuan beast is dragged along with the planet."

It was as if a cosmic hurricane had chosen this moment to remove the Wolves' homeworld from the board, but despite all the efforts of the malevolent things hiding in the Warp, the edges of the storm were unable to hurt Fenris.

The result was a massive wound where darkness seeped into the 'eye' and a multitude of things which weren't supposed to exist trying to bring down the walls of reality played the role of the cataclysm.

The Word Bearers' survivors were the first to react. The Trisagion and twenty-eight Battleships were the only survivors from the Seventeenth Legion of this gigantic game of massacre and bloodbath Lorgar had organised for the amusement of his 'Gods'. All of them were severely damaged, but clearly the Dark Council had successfully imposed order, because the battleline accelerated towards the breach.

"Follow them. Push every iota of spare energy we have into the Gellar Fields, the Void Shields, and then the Engines."

"First Harrowmaster...with all due respect, have you lost your mind? If we follow it, sooner or later we are going to fight...that!"

"And if we don't, what do you think what is going to happen?"

His fingers touched the representations of a few of the countless dots representing the Imperial hammer mustered to exterminate them.

"Do not misunderstand me." Machiavelli Gonzaga explained grimly. "This course of action is dangerous, practically suicidal. But it offers higher chances of survival than fighting the Imperium on our own. Tell the Hydra's Scales to follow us."

"Yes, Harrowmaster. By your command. Estimated time before plunging into the Warp...twenty seconds."


Gloriana-class Invincible Reason

Supreme Grand Master Lucifer

"This is inexcusable!" Lucifer thundered. "Do you have any idea how much damage that traitor can cause if we fail to recapture him?"

And as much as he wanted to blame the Angels of Wrath, it wasn't their fault. Many Space Marines of the Unforgiven bearing their colours had died against the murder-teams of the Night Lords, and it was one of Lucifer's subordinates who had coordinated the defence of the Rock...an officer he had chosen himself. A soon-to-be ex-officer, if he had anything to say about it.

"The Alpha Legion infiltrator must speak and reveal his secrets, make sure of it!" The Supreme Grand Master of the Dark Angels ordered before turning towards the rest of the Masters and other officers awaiting his commands. "The Rock can't be risked under these circumstances, but it is out of the question to let these Traitors and the new xenos horror escape our vengeance. I am taking the Invincible Reason, the Implacable Justice, and the Vindication of Loyalty into the eye of the storm. We have been able to keep enough psykers in stasis and under wards that when we re-emerge in realspace, contact will be established within minutes. Unforgiven Protocol Caliban-Two is activated. For the Lion, brothers."

"For the Lion," the Chapter Master of the Angels of Redemption struck his fist against his battle-plate, imitated by the other Unforgiven a heartbeat later. "And good hunt, Supreme Grand Master."

The hololith flickered out.

"Maximum acceleration," Lucifer ordered to the personnel on the ancient flagship of the First Legion. "Bring us into the eye of the storm, as close to Fenris as is survivable. Our two surviving Navigators are in the Apothecarium, so don't lose sight the Wolves' planet."

"It will be done, Supreme Grand Master."

"My Lord? We have confirmed the ship the prisoner and its accomplices fled to is the corrupted Ark Mechanicus of the Traitor Armada..."


Ark Mechanicus Technologiae Potestas Est

Hell-Forge Mistress Sota-Nul

If she'd had the mechanical capacity to see into the future, Sota-Nul would never have participated in this succession of blunders and disasters orchestrated by stupidly incompetent Space Marines.

At least there was a bright side: the Beast of Anarchy had rid them of Lorgar. Whatever happened, they wouldn't have to cope with his colossal fanaticism and strategic catastrophes ever again.

From a material point of view, this was the only good news that could be found. True, she retained her flagship, the three Titan-Barges, and two Heavy Battleships...but that was all that what was left. The squadrons of Cruisers, supply ships, Forge Ships, and escorts built for this 'Black Crusade' were all gone, or so crippled they were currently being boarded by the fools of the 'Adeptus Mechanicus' devoted to their false vision of the Omnissiah.

Ninety percent of the Heldrakes and ninety-four percent of the new starfighters were gone.

The ground forces at her disposal if there was a planetary campaign were essentially Legio Vulturum and the infantry assigned to serve the God-Engines.

"Into the eye of the storm," the Hell Forge-Mistress ordered, "whatever awaits us on the other side, it is improbable we will meet a Battlefleet as powerful as the one on our heels."

Evidently, the question was how many of the False Emperor's Battleships were going to enter the stable Warp-calmed zone before the 'eye' closed and cut them off from the Fenris System. The Invincible Reason and two Battle-Barges of the First Legion had reacted promptly and were going to make it, as would the Hrafnkel and a single Space Wolf Battle-Barge. Behind them...there were three more Battleships and one Astartes Battle-Barge, surrounded by a dozen ships of classes which were as ancient as the lies of the False Emperor.

Her simulations gave them a seventy percent of chance of success. This was...suboptimal, especially given how damaged all of the Word Bearer warships were.

But there was nothing she could do. This Warp Storm was the result of an over-ambitious ritual which had been blown apart to its foundations so many times that the current event had to be the True Omnissiah's will.

Prayers and the power channelled to maintain the Gellar Fields were her ships' only defences now.

Having done all she could, the former apprentice of the Fabricator-General turned towards the Space Marines that had invited themselves aboard her flagship.

"Tell me," the warlord of the Mechanicum began acidly, "why I shouldn't eject all of you through an airlock so the Dark Angels are distracted trying to recover your miserable flesh bodies."

"Because," Jago Sevatarion smirked, and though she had long since abandoned most of her flesh for the metal, Sota-Nul didn't like that expression at all. "I can help your true master salvage something from this disaster."

No! The Hell Forge-Mistress analysed the situation. The Alpha Legion couldn't have discovered where her true allegiance lay, there was no one in earshot when she communicated, the only thing which reasonably made practical sense was-

"You are a psyker."

There was no denial from the former chief executioner of Curze.

"Which doesn't invalidate my arguments."

"You have been kept prisoner inside the Rock for four thousand years, Prince of Crows! What help could you possibly give to my 'true master'...assuming I acknowledge your ridiculous statement to be true?"

Jago Sevatarion spoke a single short sentence, and Sota-Nul's mechadendrites imperceptibly moved.

"And I suppose you have the coordinates to...support your claim?"

"I do."

The Hell Forge-Mistress' deliberation didn't take long. For all the fact the failure of the Black Crusade wasn't her fault, the ugly reality was that their attempt to take anything of significance from the Fang's vaults had failed, and now she had to bring back something of value to the Warmaster.

Anything of value.

A small warband of Night Lords and a moderate force of Iron Warriors wouldn't be sufficient for the Despoiler.

What Sevatar suggested, however...

"Do we have a deal?"

"We do."


Emperor-class Majestic Mandate

Warmaster Ender Trevayne

"The Exorcists' Battle-Barge will be able to follow us, Warmaster. The Blessed Waters of Daedalus won't."

"Signal them to disengage, then." Ender winced. "There's no point testing if a Retribution-class Battleship will be able to survive against the forces creating this Warp Storm."

"Yes, Warmaster." His new chief of staff – Cadian-born, this was the third one he had used throughout the battle, the previous ones having eaten their pistols and been executed as they succumbed to Warp madness respectively – cleared his throat. "Will we use the Exterminatus on the...monster trying to escape Fenris' gravity well?"

"We will try to use the conventional weapons first," the high officer of the Imperial Guard shook his head. "As far as I know, there's still a Primarch on Fenris. Until there's an evacuation on the way, I don't think the Ecclesiarchy and a few other organisations will be very happy if we murder a son of the Emperor because a torpedo lacked accuracy."

"At least the Administratum is going to be happy, Warmaster," a Rear-Admiral pointed out, and Ender raised an eyebrow. "The bureaucratic quarrel where Segmentums Solar and Obscurus try to give each other responsibility for the Fenrisian Sector is going to end."

"You are an excessive optimist, Rear-Admiral." The Armageddon-born guardsmen managed a poor chuckle, which given the gravity of the circumstances, raised the morale of the sailors and officers a bit. "Imagine if we arrive in Ultima Segmentum, Tempestus, or Pacificus, and the local authorities demand we immediately send the planet back, or there will be sanctions..."

"A three-way bureaucratic struggle," an impertinent man made a horrified expression which had to be about one-tenth sincere, at a guess. "Now that's some nightmare-fuel right there."

"Yes..."

And there would be more nightmares before the end.

There was a xenos' abomination greater than the largest warship both Traitor and Loyalist had in their order of battle.

Somehow, Ender didn't think it was going to die quietly.

And then there were the survivors of the Traitor Legions...

Ender sighed and called for a meal to be served. They couldn't go to sleep, not when the Warp Storm could eject them back into the real galaxy at any moment, but when it did, they wouldn't be hungry.

And every little thing helped.

Especially when his experience told him the battle to come was going to be terrible...


They have fallen silent.

And they dare call themselves Gods.

Delusional pretenders. They are nothing but a failed experiment of the Old Ones which was empowered by the quintillions of deaths of the victorious and final offensive of the War.

Now they are powerless. They can only watch the carnage about to unfold.

I suppose it falls to me to tell the tale of why this battle will be fought.

I am Hsiagn'la, the Voidsong.

I was witness to the increasingly desperate attempts of our enemies to find a race which might turn the tide against us.

At first they elevated mammal-type races, giving them shards of their technological skills and knowledge. You are familiar with some of their descendants: Jokaero and Rashan.

Those were failures. They soon had to use their gene-forging powers to turn primitive species into redoubtable weapons. Many of them we annihilated down to the last specimen, but some survived, like the Hrud and the Eldar. They received their own Warp-constructs, and the first so-called Gods of the Immaterium were summoned into existence.

It didn't turn the tide; the Old Ones were still losing, it would just take us more time to defeat them.

We, after all, also continued to develop new weapons and gave them to the Necrons. Two could play that game, no?

Once over two-thirds of the galaxy was under our dominion, they truly began to feel despair.

Some of them contemplated forging and wielding the raw power of Chaos as their weapon.

Their leaders were far more hesitant, and between the radicals and the conservative factions, a new course was charted.

A prototype of a creature living only for War was born. After uncountable experiments, it would produce the Krorks, whose debased descendants still plague the galaxy to this day.

The second project pursued the path of Decay. Visually repulsive, possessing nothing of the self-control the green tide's first warlords boasted, the predecessors of the Rangdan were unleashed.

I find it one of the great ironies of the entire galactic history that there was no Excess project. What the Eldar did, they did it on their own. The monstrosity they created with their decadence, hedonism, and sheer number of atrocities was not the result of the Old Ones' manipulation. Maybe this was why it was so easy for the humans to engineer its Fall?

But when the moment came to fund their third project, the Old Ones were on the verge of defeat. They were mere years away from breaking their precious principles forever and dooming their immaterial dimension by introducing eternal evil.

The Krorks had proven a powerful tool, but they weren't enough. Not when there weren't enough Old Ones left to fight us on the frontlines.

And so they decided to create a species which would embody war and change in a single counter-psychic matrix. It would be a weapon so powerful that it would be able to do what none of their other gene-engineered weapons had been able to do: it would eat the Necrodermis of our servants, preventing their eternal regeneration.

In their tongue, they called it Project Oblivion.


Outside of an unknown Webway Gate

11 hours after the Mark of Oblivion

The Queen of Blades

Aenaria was very unhappy when her steps led her to this Webway Gate.

This wasn't the destination she had chosen.

The numbers of Harlequins waiting for her left no doubt Cegorach was responsible for disrupting her hunting expedition...again.

And the moment one of her feet left the Webway, all her psychic senses screamed danger.

"I thought," the Queen of Blades didn't bother increasing the volume of her voice, "we agreed to not re-enact the battles of the War in Heaven, Trickster God."

There was no answer, of course.

She stepped forwards.

Predictably, her Apprentice and the youngster next to her saluted and went to take their positions in the procession of her Wyches.

The others she didn't know, but they had to be Alaitoc troops, judging by the colour of their armours...and a few Iyandren Seers and warriors as well.

Aenaria Eldanesh murmured a word and her Sword of Vaul was in her hand. Then she tried to sever the threads of the future in order to see what prey was waiting for her...and was unable to see anything.

The arena-mistress blinked, trying to remember where she had felt something like that the last time...

"Oblivion," the blade mistress found the name after several heartbeats. It was more than a name; it was a curse, a weapon which had been proven useless against the Yngir and the Necron Dynasties. "Great. Well, at least it is not going to be a boring fight. Where are we, anyway?"

"Queen of Blades, we are-"

"I wasn't asking you, clown. My words were for the blue-armoured Space Marines hiding behind that pile of rocks there, who are somehow under the delusion I can't hear them breathing."


Fenris

Approaches of the Bloodfire Gate

11 hours after the Mark of Oblivion

The Angel of Shadows

Elena wondered when exactly sanity had stopped being a thing on Fenris.

They had returned to the Fang with one Primarch's dead body, one under arrest, and two Loyalists in relatively good health.

They were followed.

It was as if every animal which had survived the fight on Fenris wanted to take refuge from the nightmarish monster which was trying to escape Fenris' gravity in the halls of the Fang.

The big felines – that she had learned were called Frostlions – were there in their thousands, but they were far from the only ones. Enormous bears larger than most Imperial tanks had 'joined' – with loud growls and a certain amount of silent intimidation – their cousins a few of the Space Wolves rode.

The majority of the sons of Russ had been 'overwhelmed' by the packs of Wolves, however. The Callidus Assassin almost couldn't believe there were so many different breeds of different 'Fenrisian Wolves', but there they were before her eyes.

One lone Space Wolf had rallied angry little furry animals which charged like berserkers every time they felt threatened, which was...a lot of the time. They were called Wrath-badgers, and most of the local Astartes were giving them a very wide berth.

Those were the 'paramount' species, but there were so many others it would take a day to describe them all. There were animals very closely matching the description of dragons, down to the fire-breathing. Mammoths bigger than a lot of the Ecclesiarchy parade vehicles on Holy Terra. And-

"We are out of the Warp," Magnus the Red announced, maintaining a regal air even as he was manacled and surrounded by veteran Space Wolves. A blind man could see the Angels of Death dearly wanted him to give them a reason, any reason, to use their Bolters and totemic-decorated Relic Blades.

"I thought," Russ growled, "you had lost your powers."

"I have." The Primarch of the Thousand Sons grimaced. "But I think I recognise the planet I see in the sky. And I think I know why we've arrived here."

"AND WHY IS THAT, TRAITOR CYCLOPS?" Bjorn the Fell-Handed thundered.

"Everything which has a beginning has an end. Lorgar wanted to open the Tear of Nightmares on Fenris. Once he had corrupted enough Noctilith into Octarite, he would have had enough to open the Cicatrix Maledictum on a grand scale, sundering the galaxy and igniting a new Age of Darkness. But eventually, the Warp Storms would end. And what better revenge would it be to destroy two Legions instead of just one?"


Ark Mechanicus Zar-Quaesitor

11 hours after the Mark of Oblivion

The Radical Archmagos

"Archmagos, two Rogue Worlds are emerging from the Warp."

"They aren't Rogue Worlds per se, Rho. They are the result of what happens when the Ruinous Powers are free to dictate the rules of the game."

"Yes, Archmagos."

"Battle Group Don?"

"Over ninety percent of all starships have successfully translated." His assistant hesitated, then canted. "Archmagos, there are enormous anomalies occurring...two Destroyers which just tried to translate out of the Warp have detonated!"

"The same psychic anomaly which is preventing us from seeing the light of the Astronomican is now in this system. There will be no reinforcements before this battle is won."

"It...the collateral damage is going to be-"

"The collateral damage is going to be far more significant than anticipated. But one of the Rogue Planets is definitely the xenos world whose coordinates Lady Weaver relayed to us...and I see plenty of starship signatures belonging to the various Battle Groups. Thus it appears your hypotheses were in error, Rho."

Archmagos Dominatus Dominus Belisarius Cawl studied the data flowing into the machines, many of them he had built himself, before giving an imperceptible nod no one would ever be able to notice.

"It is time."


T'au

11 hours after the Mark of Oblivion

Lady General Taylor Hebert

The moment they left the Warp, Taylor felt it, as did all the Catachan ants, the Adjutant Spiders, Lisa...in fact it was simpler to say 'all the psychic races' in her Swarm felt it.

For a brief instant, there was panic.

But she was now far more powerful than she had been the last time she was exposed to this telepathic horror. And in the span of a single second, the female parahuman reassured them.

This shadow trying to attack them mentally was powerful, but it wasn't invincible.

They were the Swarm, and she was leading them.

It took a lot of concentration, but the shadow was denied.

"Gamaliel? Prepare the Thunderhawks, we are going to have to return to the Enterprise, and I don't think teleportation is a good idea at all right now."

"Of course, my Lady." The Blood Angel replied. "May I ask what the new problem about to fall upon our poor heads is?"

"Tyranids," Taylor spat, "the damned Word Bearers have managed to find and wake up a bloody gigantic Tyranid of all things."

"How gigantic are we talking about?" Kratos smirked.

"Bigger than a Gloriana...I think."

All smirks and smiles disappeared immediately.

"My Lady...this system...err...Lord Admiral Müller is calling, we have it in our databases..."

"Yes...I know. I feel...the faith of trillions."

Was it always the intention of the Traitors to unleash their madness here, or had everything gone so wrong that the death of Be'lakor had thrown them to a place she'd wanted to visit once this campaign was over?

"Puriel, I think we are going to need a new folder in the Endbringer category."

The Tyranid had been denied, but its monstrously dangerous presence was still there. They had to kill it as soon as feasibly possible...but how many of the beasts were there, hiding in the darkness, ready to prey upon humanity?

"Yes, my Lady. Designation?"

Taylor thought about the vision-flash of the black-red chitin, the maws, and the hunger she had experienced for less than a second. The name was on her lips before she thought consciously about it.

"Behemoth."

"By your will."

"It is less than optimal," Vulkan N'Varr pointed out, and he was obviously distinctly unhappy. "There are going to be millions of deaths if we aren't able to exterminate it fast enough."

"Billions, maybe..." the insect-mistress murmured, knowing the Dawnbreaker Guard heard it. "But there is no other option now. We didn't choose this battlefield; it has been imposed upon us by abominations and the enemies of Mankind."

Gavreel handed her back her helmet.

"It seems that despite a recent diplomatic complication, we are truly going to march for Macragge."

Epistolary Ramon Nino was visibly struggling against the effects of whatever influence the Tyranid exerted towards the Warp, but it was him who answered with the honorific challenge.

"And we will know no fear!"


Project Oblivion was a failure.

The creatures born of it were devourers.

But they didn't devour everything metallic. Their favourite prey were the living, the very side the Old Ones were trying to protect.

They tried to stop the project.

They failed.

It fell to us, the C'Tan, to erase every specimen we could before the galaxy was scoured clean by the devourers.

But the Old One in charge of the project appeared to not have shared the judgement of his brethren. Several specimens were hidden from our wrath.

And now Oblivion is coming.

It is coming for the very system where the Beacon of the Pharos was lit more than four of your millennia ago.

Unending hunger is at the gates, Demigods return to find the Empire they abandoned changed, and the Mark still burns.

Anarchy was wrong about many things, but there is a fact it didn't lie about, Weaver.

Defeat means extinction, and the path to victory leads only to war.


Mark of Oblivion: 11 hours after Mark Zero

War Zone Macragge

Number of Tyranid life-forms: 1


Mark of Calth: 37,725,111 hours, 1 minute, and 1 second after Mark Zero

Surviving Word Bearers Traitor Marines: 38,888

Surviving Ultramarines and Successors in the War Zone: 1454


Author's note:

The Black Crusade arc ends here. Since the Black Crusade itself is no more, I think it is a logical choice (evil grin).

Operation Stalingrad's final conflagration and the outcome which will decide the fate of the galaxy for thousands of years to come will start in the next chapter.

Its title will be: Extinction 11.1 Know no Fear.

The Mark of Oblivion burns, but the Mark of Calth continues to do so too.

And it will continue to burn as long as a single Word Bearer remains alive...

I wish all of you happy winter holidays, good health, and a Merry Christmas.

The other links for the Weaver Option if you want to support or comment on my writing:

Alternate History page: www . /forum /threads /weaver-option-thread-3-the-5th-black-crusade-story-only.506948/

TV Tropes: tvtropes pmwiki/ / FanFic/ TheWeaverOption