Backstory for my Chaos Renegade Marines' Sorcerer;
Journey to the Black Ship
The Emperor's Angel
The path to his salvation had begun in darkness. The darkness of the fetid, dank bowels of the Black Ship, the cramped cell where he had been flung with others of his kind, old and young, male and female. Witches all. Dratha Ashavan knew little of witches. As a boy he had been ordinary, the son of a merchant and set to follow in his father's trade. Yet as his voice had begun to crack and break, the bristles of manhood starting to sprout from his chin, so had they brought other changes, stranger changes. Fearsome nightmares that scattered from all memory on waking. Whispers in his head at odd hours, quiet enough to escape meaning. An awareness, at times, of the people around him that could not be explained by the action of his senses. And then, finally, he had begun to make things move, without touching, without even conscious thought. Merest instinct propelled him and thus had the rumours started.
His planet was not so primitive that they knew not the stars that surrounded them nor what perils the Blessed Emperor, the Eagle God, shielded them against. The Divine Angels visited from time to time to elevate great heroes to their ranks, as did other servants of the Glorious Most High One. When they whispered 'sorcerer' and 'demon-struck' and 'evil-one' he knew what fate might be his should they continue. But he could not think that they might be right. What ill deeds had he done to allow a demon entrance? None. And nor had he poured over tomes of wicked learning to master magic. He knew nothing of such witchcraft, so how could he be what they said?
That mattered little in the end. His un-looked for outbursts of odd power manifested at the wrong moment and so he was caught, trussed up like a goat being carried up to the sacrificial alter. They put him in an iron cage until the witch-caravan came to collect him, to take him he knew not where.
In the end it was over sands and great deserts to Eredhwa, great city of cities, and then with many others to the belly of a flying ship to take them up into the stars. The hold was cramped and packed full, and there was weeping and wailing fit to drive any man mad, even one of so few years as Dratha was. Soon it began to smell, of rank sweat and urine loosed in fear. Outside the engines raged like demons themselves. Time passed, immeasurable, before light shone once more upon them.
Yet not for long. Through wide corridors under guard of men clad in smooth armour like the chitinous plates of bugs they were marched. Many struggled; Dratha did not. He knew it would do no good. One man cried out, "What is this place? Where have you brought me? I am innocent, innocent, I have never cast a spell in my life, please!"
His begging was met with silence. Indeed, it seemed silence itself was its own presence here, a thick and heavy weight that bore down upon them such that even the mumbled pleas soon drifted away and became nothing. Even footsteps were muffled. Speech became a thing difficult to conceive of.
Dratha Ashavan had never paid much heed in his years to the Eagle God, but he paid heed now. Prayers filled his mind in ceaseless litany. He knew not what he had hope of, for were these not the very servants of that God who held him in their power? Yet hope there was, or perhaps only determination. Lost and alone, he was not yet without strength. Cast out and reviled, he maintained the very power they hated him for, though he knew not how to use it.
At the end of a labyrinth of corridors was another cage, black and stifling as the depths of one of the many hells. Dratha took his place within it, chains still around his wrists where they had rubbed skin raw. He had no plan, no knowledge of where he even was. Yet he was not made for such easy despair, nor to go meekly to likely death. He would not bow to this place.
Through will, a man might effect much.
Though the future proved to hold salvation after all, salvation was a long time in coming. It was a path illuminated through a most unlikely means, an unlooked-for opportunity. One day, after interminable weeks in darkness so absolute that not even the outline of a hand raised before a face could be made out, light penetrated their cage once more. It was blinding, an assault upon his eyes nearly physical. The silent beetle-soldiers of the Eagle God began to drag each member of their miserable company outside for brief moments. They seemed to be looking for something.
Dratha Ashavan was far enough back in the hold that by the time they came to him, he had begun to adjust once more to the light, though it still hurt to look at it too directly. Limbs weak from long confinement, he was brought out into fresh air, as sweet as the most expensive perfume. He took deep breaths, luxuriating in this brief reprieve.
Standing in the corridor was a silver giant. Dratha's dazed eyes took in shining plate armour, filigreed gold, tumbling scraps and rolls of parchment, signs of skull and eagle and '=][=' marked all over. Angel of the Emperor. The being could be no other. For a moment he considered that this was the answer to his prayers. That this demi-god had come to free his innocent soul from the tribulations of this earthly hell.
Yet still he was wary. Luck, or fate, had played him ill over the past year, and it seemed unlikely that should change now. He stared up into the glowing blue eyes of the Holy Angel's helm.
The strangest sensation swept over him in that moment. A pressure quite unlike that heavy weight of silence and despair that had surrounded him ever since being brought to this prison. It was a probing light thing, seeming to wrap around his very mind. He saw it somehow with unfamiliar senses, gold-limned, blue-hearted, scented with frankincense and other, less familiar, incense.
The demi-god spoke, a deep rumble. "Some potential. Bring him."
Dratha found himself shoved into line with other figures, all male, all young, all in filthy, tattered clothes. No doubt he looked the same, bedraggled, dirty, pitiful. But in each eye he saw a mirror of his own defiance. Their confinement had not broken these men, and it had not broken him.
They were taken through this massive place to a greater hall, pausing at points for other dark holds to be opened, other 'potentials' to be brought out and looked over. Most were thrown back. A few joined their chain. The final destination was a room high and wide, the walls pillared, the far-above ceiling shadowed. The Angel stopped them there.
"Now we shall judge which of you may be worthy," he said, and though not loud his voice still carried like the swift winds of the desert storm. He drew the helm from his head, and revealed himself. Shaven headed, pale skinned, with a close cropped beard and shockingly scarred in deep furrows that ploughed across his face and the ruin of one eye, he was not the being of perfection Dratha had expected. Yet it was clear he was a warrior, and the immense sense of his presence only seemed to have grown greater, as though the shining metal of his armour struggled to contain it.
The first of their number was dragged before the Emperor's Soldier. The demi-god placed a hand upon his head, the massive bulk of his gauntlet dwarfing the man's skull, surely able to crush it with ease. But execution was not to be their fate here. Instead the Angel's eyes began to glow with holy light, as incandescent and blue as those of his helm. What was this? Was Dratha witness to the manifestation of divine power? Yet his heart whispered to him that this was too similar to the very sorcery he and these other 'witches' had been condemned for. He knew not what to think.
The glow lessened, and the scarred head shook a negative. The beetle-clad soldiers brought the next man forth.
So it went 'til at last it was Dratha's own turn. He did not struggle, but he kept his eyes fixed on the luminous ones of the armoured giant, a slow-burning suspicion and anger in his heart. The great fist clamped over his head, scented with metal and oil. Dratha prepared himself, or he tried to. He could not have anticipated what was to come.
The spike of pain drove his mind open. A fierce intelligence, cold and impersonal, burst through, welled and filled him up. The taste of blood filled his mouth, though no liquid spilled upon his tongue. His nose was assaulted with a barrage of scent, an ever-shifting melange of things both familiar and strange. The vaults of memory in his brain seemed to be broken open, memories flickering behind his closed eyes, each held up to the cool gaze of that invading force to be picked over, judged and discarded.
He might not have been prepared, but neither was he defenceless. Instinctual, he called on power he had not known he possessed, struggling against the smothering other, something burning inside him and filling his mind with the image of flames. He fought, twisted, clawed and bit at the Angel's presence heedless that he was attacking a divine creature. Yet the bonds on his inner self were too strong for him to break. The warrior laughed inside his head and withdrew. It had seen enough.
Dratha Ashavan came back to himself, weak and trembling.
"There is spirit and strength of will," the demi-god said. "He might survive Xanadu Regio and Ganesca Macula. Yet... no. That is not a mind to hold great faith as a shield against temptation."
Still reeling, Dratha barely registered such words. All he knew was that it had been another denial, that salvation seemed further away than ever before. To have some kind of opportunity dangled before him and then taken away, even though he knew no details of it, was enough to make the hot blood rise up in him, to bring forth the fury of clear-seen injustice. He was wroth, and the new-found power unlocked at the heart of him, this strange world-sense that pulled strength from a heaving, bubbling other-place, a shadow beneath their own realm... it screamed out to be used.
Yet even in his rage he was wise enough to wait. His pitiful struggles had shown he would have no hope of besting the Emperor's Soldier. But these others, these beetle-shelled mortals, might be less proof.
He let them drag him away, slack-limbed, head lolling. He gathered strength, gathered power, 'til the seeming-sense of the warrior-Angel faded into distance. The world beneath came ever into clearer vision as he did so, until it layered itself in swift currents and eddying swirls over the shapes of reality. Whispering voices came to him, ever louder, an echo of those heard in the last few months.
And then one spoke to him directly.
Here! Here Dratha Ashavan! Come to me now!
It was a command, a summons, and even if his heart had not leapt at the hope that sprung within him at the scent of freedom he would have followed it all the same. The power unleashed itself. The walls were lit with blue as strange lightnings burst from Dratha's very fingers into the bodies of his guards. Burning flesh and screams. The sudden wail of a siren and the footfalls of heavy boots on metal. The world before him rent itself in twain and painful lights sprang forth to shine their dreadful selves upon eyes that hungrily received them.
Dratha Ashavan stepped through into his salvation.
The light was bright and burning, and Dratha Ashavan was not alone. He stood upon a translucent bubble around which swirled rivers of fire and streamers of stuff like molten glass, ever shifting, ever changing. Faces came out from the maelstrom, gaping, roaring, screaming, some bestial, some humanoid, some barely recognisable. Outside this small space was fury and destruction, things that hurt to look upon. Yet here, within it, Dratha felt safe.
There was a being seated upon a dais floating in the centre of the orb. Great wings flared from its back, each a shining rainbow of colour. A pair of hands was pressed palm to palm above its head, another pair settled in its lap. A great, feathered head was bowed, as if in meditation. Each moment the head changed, at first a hawk, then a heron, then a songbird, then other, stranger fowls, no doubt fauna of far-flung planets. Dratha approached carefully.
The being looked up. The beaked mouth formed a smile.
So you have come to me, Dratha Ashavan, it said, and its words passed not from lips but mind to mind, a powerful voice far greater even than that of the Angel before.
"How know you my name lord?" he asked the creature, feeling fear and trepidation, yet not allowing them to master him.
I see the web of fate, the paths men walk. I have measured out your footsteps and know you will do great things. With each moment it continued to change its face, though the rest of it was statue-like in stillness. You are marked, Dratha Ashavan. I am Perendh-kheda the Bird God, an avatar of the Great God Tzeench, he who weaves destiny and marks the fate of all, he who knows all things, he who is called Lord of Hope and Lord of Change, and so I know this thing.
Dratha found himself dropping to his knees before the deity. His prayers may not have been this way directed but still they had found an answer. His seemingly futile hope had been rewarded by one who embodied that very emotion.
"My lord," he said. "I cannot thank you enough for my rescue."
Again Perendh-kheda smiled. Your rescue was a work of your own hands. I merely provided this place to come to.
"You... you speak of these strange powers I have," Dratha said, hesitant. "Of my curse."
No curse! the deity said, and he flinched a little before the anger in its voice. No curse but a gift! Tzeench's gift to all with the strength to wield it. You are Chosen of the Gods, Dratha Ashavan. Though you are merely beginning to step along that path, you are still one of that hallowed number.
"What are your plans for me, great one?"
Not far from here a great ship flies the stars, Perendh-kheda said. It is the Warp's Redoubt, last home of the Void Legion. Noble warriors all, but recently struck low by the cursed soldiers of the one you know as the Eagle God, the Corpse-King Emperor. Usurper of one of Holy Tzeench's symbols! Emblem of stagnation! A pause. You have heard, of course, of Chaos.
"The evil powers that rule over the myriad hells, my lord."
The Bird God laughed. The Corpse God's lies. Chaos is merely another name for Change, and what is humanity without Change? Change is the very state of the universe; empires rise and fall, civilisations grow old and are replaced, in the heart of stars all things are made anew. The Corpse God and his servants fear it. They are stagnation, they are rot, they are the wearisome, struggling remnants of a thing long past its time.
"I understand lord," Dratha said. It made such sense when the Bird God spoke it. "And I will work towards Change, towards the goals of Chaos, if that is what you want."
It is one of many things I want, Perendh-kheda replied. For now I ask of you this; the Void Legion must replace their numbers, and you must be one of them. You will grow strong amongst them, you will rise amongst them. You will learn to use your powers. They are many that worship Tzeench. For now, build, so that you may one day tear down. Such is the cycle.
"I will," Dratha promised. "I swear it on the stars and the sands of my home-world, and by your name, my God."
A worthy oath, the Bird God said. Come, I shall take you to your destiny. But first, listen well. Though Tzeench be the greatest, the Gods number four. Khorne is Lord of Wrath, of War, of Honour and the Warrior's Way. Slannesh is Lord of Pleasure, Lust, Desire, of Fine Things, of Art and Beauty also. Nurgle is Lord of Death, of Disease, of Humility and Acceptance. If one day the Corpse-God's Empire is to fall, to be replaced by a new civilisation of man, servants sworn to all these will be needed. Seek out such folk, when you are Lord of the Void, if not in places you might at first expect.
Dratha listened well, and took the advice to his heart. Despite the God's words, he knew the deity had saved him from that hopeless place, that death-black prison, when the Emperor's Angel would not, and he desired most of all to be worthy of that gift. To be worthy of salvation. And as for the Emperor...
"One more question, if it pleases you lord," he asked. "Who was that giant in silver armour, back in the prison?"
Great pinions stretched out and feathers bristled. A Grey Knight, the God replied. Worst of all the Corpse-God's servants. Corrupters of the great Gift of Sorcery, who use it against all who have sworn to Chaos' cause.
Dratha's eyes narrowed. A certain resolution was growing in his heart, the seeds of revenge. "Then I shall mind them most of all," he said, and above his head the Bird God laughed.