The great Necron city of the Dead had been hidden from prying eyes for more centuries than the Imperium had existed. Concealed by the warped metals it was built from, and the strange cloud of energy it surrounded itself with, it had been laying in wait since the C'Tans' sleep. Waiting, for their return. Inside it was bigger than it looked, a planet in its own right. A world of death, the walls were grim and etched with pictures of Necrons and their ghastly genesis. Here, a thousand Monoliths waited in neat rows. Nether sleeping nor waking but in the same in-between state as their master. There, an army of Necrons headed by a Lord. Cold and still, dust gathered around them but there was an air of menace, a subtle hint that though they were not alive now, they very soon would be. Outside the city, a small fleet by Necron standards -- a thousand Tombships and millions of smaller escorts, were preparing to return to the service of the C'tan. This was the Necrons at their height, not as they galaxy had seen them so far, but fully active, fully powered Necrons bent finally on finishing what they had started and harvesting the stars of life. Gathered here in this one spot, there were more Necrons than the Imperium had ever encountered. A great host of the skeletal wretches waiting on only one thing. Their master.
Further down, delving into the depths of the city it became more eerie still. Harsh green light filled the corridors and illuminated the still forms of the guardians, ancient Necrons of a type not yet encountered by humanity. Their sole purpose the defence of the tomb. Inside the tomb it was a grim picture; a sarcophagus glowing green as it transferred energy and power into the body of the C'tan slumbering within. Surrounded by many Lords and Guardians to ensure the process was not interrupted. In only a few minutes it would be done and then the Nightbringer would rise once more to lead his armies across the galaxy and devour all sentient life. Nothing could stop them now, there was no time for anything but divine intervention.
The C'Tan, sleeping within the coffin was in a strange half-state, lingering between wakefulness and sleep. It was weak, so weak, so long without nourishment had brought it close to the brink of death, and indeed it might even have gone over that dark precipice if not for the actions of the Dark Eldar and the Space Marines. It triggered a flash of grim amusement within the Nightbringer that the Eldar of all races had had a hand in its resurrection. It had quite enjoyed draining them of their life-forces. Drinking down their souls. Eldar souls, evens ones so badly scarred by the touch of the Immaterial Realm were a rare delicacy in these days. It had drunk them dry, with each soul devoured new strength returning to it. Then it had turned its attention to the Space Marines. Briefly looking into their feeble minds and learning of all they stood for. That was where things had gone wrong, the commander of the marines had stopped it, threatened it! Such a thing should have been impossible, the Nightbringer was beyond threats from mere food items. Except that it had been weak and the marine had been able to bring the entire cave-system crashing down around them. Such a weak attack could not have harmed it of course but it could have forced it to spend energy and time digging itself out -- energy it did not have. In the old days, it would have simply phased its way through, or perhaps blown the rubble away. Yes, imagining that brought a smile to its face. But no, it could not have afforded the risk and it had been forced to flee. Shame! But all that the Marine Captain had succeeded in doing was making an enemy, the C'Tan had promoted him from food to annoyance and it would take great pleasure in forcing him to watch as his beloved Imperium was destroyed by the hands of the Necrons. There would be such slaughter! Oceans of blood, miles of gore spread out and steaming -- so many souls, agonized, helpless souls that would make it strong again. Then it would seek out its siblings that had survived. There had been a betrayal, the Deceiver would be made to pay. After that, the galaxy was the Nightbringer's to do with as it willed. It would spread its forces out, bringing death as it had done so many millenniums before. The slaughter would be absolute, no survivors, so many souls to be devoured, so much strength to be reclaimed. The Nightbringer would live up to its name, of that it was certain.
A soft sound interrupted its dark musings. A sort of soft scrapping of metal on stone. Instantly, the Nightbringer knew one important fact: Whatever made it was not Necron. Where were its guards? The Lords? Where were the soldiers it had called to defend it while it rested? Of them it could feel not a trace. With an angry thought, it gathered its strength, it was not yet fully restored but it would be enough to deal with this interloper. It would be enough to show it the power of the C'Tan! It reached out with its powers, seeking a fragile soul to devour. It found... nothing. It was like hitting mist, insubstantial and impossible to locate never mind strike at. There was certainly something there, but what it was was certainly no soul that the ancient C'Tan had ever encountered.
Intrigued and angered, it summoned its strength and rose from the sarcophagus, like a black smog its weapon formed in hand -- a heavily stylized scythe designed to remind a victim of their own mortality even as they were presented with the C'Tan's greatness. A humanoid figure stood before the raised dais that supported its resting place. Of the guards there was no sign, but the Nightbringer quickly dismissed them from its mind when it saw the weapon that the puny humanoid held so dearly -- a scythe! Made of steel, by the look of it. Except now that it looked closer, it was more than steel. The C'Tan possessed senses light-years ahead of any human and they were currently telling it that was no mere weapon. The edges seemed to taper, growing ever thinner but never ending. Always shrinking, until the blade held an infinite sharpness. A faint blue glow surrounded it, like the light of distant stars. Lastly, the C'Tan felt power radiating from the weapon in waves. A dark robe covered the figure's body and something was stopping the C'Tan from probing it with its abilities.
The Nightbringer struck the first blow, barraging the intruder with a series of visions and sensations -- slaughter death genocide, fields of rotting corpses and above all, the joy and power of the C'Tan. Though it didn't use words, it was clear the meaning of the Star God "This is what I am, this is what I do. Tremble before me and bow, though it will do you no good."
The figure was unaffected, the Nightbringer hissed, annoyed despite itself. Its power curled around it like a mist, licking up around the figure. Still, the intruder knew no fear and the Nightbringer was angered.
It summoned more visions, each one more brutal and horrifying than the last, again the message was clear: " This is MY universe! You are nothing here, no species is anything but food. Behold the might of the C'Tan and despair."
At last, the figure looked up, the shadows hiding its face save for its eyes, those were blue as infinity and as piercing as a super-nova.
" There are Rules." The voice was as distinctive as the eyes. Like distant tomb-stones slamming together, like the final sound a living being might here. If any true God existed in this twisted place, then it would have had a voice like this. " And there are Duties. Everything living creature is bound by Rules and Duties. Except you. You do as you will and take what you desire? You devour the souls of any who stand against you, and laugh at their demise. You believe that you are somehow exempt. Because of your higher power you are free to do as you will?"
The C'Tan shifted, feeling power course through it in preparation for its attack, this figure was making it uncomfortable for some reason, it was feeling strange, a sort of prickly sensation. Was it fear? Impossible! Nothing could rival it for power or cruelty.
" But the Rules have been broken, the Duties discarded. The souls don't go to their final fate, they go to you and to the other abominations. No longer. This state of things Just. Will. Not. Do."
The final four words slammed into place like a deceleration of war and the figure raised its scythe -- and now the ancient C'Tan knew that it had not been mistaken. The blades went on to infinity, ecer smaller and sharper, never ending. Enough to sever a soul from a body, enough to harm the fabric of reality itself. No mere weapon this, nor had it been touched by the Warp. It wasn't even technological in nature.
The figure continued, " You consider yourself Gods, and maybe you are correct. Gods are just belief after all. And belief you have in plenty. But let me tell you, that beyond the mortal, beyond the divine, beyond everything you have seen or sensed there is one more reality. One final reality."
Risking another probe, the Nightbringer found itself drawn farther and farther into the interloper's essence, it was empty... but yet it was not. There was a force of motivation, there were thoughts, ideas, but there was no soul. There was no life.
The figure looked up from its scythe, the dark hood falling from its head to reveal polished white bone gleaming in the green light. A grinning skeleton in place of a head and in its eyes... the deep blue glow of infinity. Suddenly, and for the first time ever, the Nightbringer knew fear. As it gazed into those orbs, those portals into space. Its full range of super-human senses barraged the intruder but it could find no opening. This being had no soul and yet it was not Warp-touched, it was not Eldar, it was not Ork, or was not divine. Finally, the Nightbringer detected a tiny hint of mortality, a small spark buried deep inside the great fort of the creature's being. It wasn't a soul... it was an origin. It carried a faint taste, but one that the Nightbringer knew well. Human. But not of human origin.... human belief... humans had somehow given life to this thing.
The Grim Reaper grinned, though due to the state of his face he was always doing this, and spoke, " When you create fear you create belief. When there is enough belief it takes a form of its own. You should know this; it is how the Emperor retains his power after all. Did you think there was no consequences to what you did? You terrified every being in the universe, made them believe with all their hearts and souls, believe in death not in you, not in the C'Tan. But in me. In the Grim Reaper. You took death and gave it a form and a mind and a will of its own. You took an unthinking force of nature and you created... me."
The C'tan struck like lightening channelling its essence into a single powerful strike. The cloaked skeleton didn't even twitch.
" But I am not like you -- I am both younger and so much older. I was with you when you were first given form, I was there during the war with the Old Ones. I was given substance by the minds of humans, of Eldar and of all thinking beings. I have Rules, I have Duties. All beings have a time, and all beings die."
The face turned once more to meet that of the C'tan
" And your time... is over."
Suddenly, there was a flash as the blade sharp enough to sever souls made contact with the smoggy form of the Nightbringer. The great C'tan let out one last scream and then... dispersed.
The Grim Reaper, the Ultimate Reality seemed to grin to himself. " One down, many more to go. I have a lot of work to do before this universe can be brought back from the brink. Now let me see.... next stop is someone called Khorn."
The Grim Reaper vanished without a trace.
In the 41st Millennium, on the battlefields, in space, on the worlds overrun by Chaos, there is only Death. Death which stalks the land with a scythe sharp enough to sever souls, Death which comes for all, Imperium, Chaos and Eldar alike. Death who guards their souls into they are safely away and Death who stands like a floodgate against the infinite blackness, between Daemons and Warp-Gods and the souls of the slain. A silent guardian, never to be recognised by the living. The final hold-out of things which had long past.
The last hope many have for a peaceful afterlife, the salvation of countless billions. The one who stands between the Gods of the Warp and the dead, the one who holds up his hand against them and with his sombre voice and his laws and his duties, he says " No."
It is the 41st Millennium and Imperium and Chaos alike are crumbling, but from the ashes of this, maybe one day there will be a new guardian of the souls, maybe belief will switch to something else and Death, like so much else, will smoulder away forgotten and losing strength. But until then, he will stand. Against Chaos, against the Emperor against any who would tear souls from their rightful resting place.
It is his mission. It is his duty.