Changer of Wars

Chapter 1

In two hundred years of service to the Emperor, through a thousand desperate battles waged across the breadth of the galaxy, he had never seen a storm like this. Reality blistered and peeled as all about the fleet the warp writhed, spilling forth from the immaterium into real space in a torrent of ghostly waves. On the planet below, smaller but no less deadly warp storms raged as legions of the fallen called out to their dark god, voices raised to wreck Emperor-only knew what havoc.

Endless ranks of lances and plasma batteries pounded down in answer as the Implacable Faith, His Will and scores of lesser ships unleashed enough firepower to destroy a full traitor armada. As he watched, continents boiled, the atmosphere burned and the very crust of the forsaken planet began to crack. It was not enough. The comm still crackled with static from below, the enemy's unholy chants tearing across all frequencies, seeming to only gain in intensity as the world died.

This was madness even for servants of the Ruinous Powers. There could be no surviving the Imperial fleet, never mind the warp storms the enemy had raised themselves. Countless legions of hardened troops below would be swept away before this was done. Enough cultists and traitor marines to make any sector commander sweat, sacrificed for a single, empty world. What could be worth it?

Emperor provide they never found out.

"Captain, can we trace the source of these transmission?" He asked, hands clasped behind his back, face calm even as His Will exploded out the port window. A hundred thousand hands lost to the screaming warp in the blink of an eye.

"Aye Lord Inquisitor, but the ship's machine spirit refuses to draw a firing solution," the captain replied, cold outrage filing his mechanical voice at the Great Enemy's interference with the sacred workings of Implacable Faith.

"It is to be expected. Charge teleporters and ready every combat unit we have left for immediate deployment. Sector C-60789. Tell Sergeant Casius's Grey Knights to rally to my beacon. The Enemy shall not triumph this day," he said, the machine spirit of his ancient armor already linking with the larger spirit of the battleship and preparing to move to the planet below.

He was gone before the captain could reply, feet slamming into the cratered ground of the planet in the blink of an eye. Force sword bared, he charged forward into a storm of enemy fire. He forced himself to ignore the shattered forms of the guardsmen and Dark Angels space marines littering the ground as far as the eye could see. There would be time to mourn and count the dead later.

The enemy fire intensified as he topped a ridge the first wave of Imperial troops had clearly bought in blood. Here and there survivors of the initial assault rallied at his passing, scrambling forward behind his armored form. Twenty meters; he could hear the enemy chants clearly now, blasphemous words tearing at his soul.

Ten meters. His armor's rangefinder counted down in ancient gothic letters as the enemy's front line came into view. He leaped a razorwire barrier without so much as a pause, ancient servos whining as they powered the near-half ton bulk of his artificer armor five feet into the air. He landed squarely on the chest of a cultist, crushing the heretic with a satisfying crunch. His sword and bolt pistol added to the carnage a moment later as he literally waded through the enemy's light troops.

Laser fire scored his armor as the cultists fired wildly, uncaring about the causalities they were inflicting on their own ranks. Warnings flashed across his display as minor breaches opened across his armor from the sheet weight of the enemy's fire.

But the machine spirit pressed on. Blessed by the high-priests of Mars and Terra both, it would not be undone by such pitiful weapons. Against his fury, the cultists shattered, breaking even as a wave of Imperial survivors poured through the lines behind his furious charge. Drop ships filled the sky and, for a bare moment, he allowed himself a surge of hope, his armored legs pumping a furious tempo across the ground as the source of the chanting drew ever-closer.

The ground itself he ran across had become corrupted, strange growths of wholly unnatural colors oozing odd ichor that burned and hissed in contact with the air as it let forth a hideous stench that his re-breather struggled to filter.

Muttering a prayer to the Emperor, he pressed on. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he noticed that the enemy's fire had slackened. Over the comms the chanting still came, but interspersed were the comforting and familiar battle chants of the Grey Knights as they materialized ten feet to his left.

Chancing a glance to the sky, he watched spears of energy continue to ravage the planet as the Imperial fleet fired on. He watched too with a heavy heart as poisonous explosions filled the sky and the fleet paid the price for defying the warp. Through the haze of battle, he saw the unstoppable energies of scores of lance batteries almost seemed to bend through the air, diverted by the enemy's black arts.

One question answered then. He had suspected, but there could be no question now - only one being commanded such power. The Changer of Ways, the most subtle and dangerous of the ruinous brotherhood was behind this storm. Behind the chaos of four wars that had assembled the artifacts he almost had missed. Behind the billions of Chaos and Imperial losses that led him and his fleet to the this dead planet on the forsaken rim of the galaxy.

He did not know his enemy's purpose. He did not need to, for to try to grasp the mind of the Ruinous Powers lay the path to madness. He knew only that it could not be allowed to succeed.

Firm in his faith, he charged forward towards the source of the enemy's power which was now revealed in his rangefinder to be nothing more than a broker circle of stones. He did not dare open himself to the warp to see its true form. Filled with Chaos energies as it was it would no doubt drive him mad.

Ten feet from the circle his armor rocked as a bolt slammed into him. Stumbling, he pressed forward, his own bolt pistol spitting death as he chanted the litany of hatred over the speakers built into his helmet. Behind him the remaining Grey Knights took up the litany, mechanical voices raised in praise to the immortal Emperor as their force weapons rose and fell, shattering cultist and traitor marines alike in their zealous fury.

They reached the circle almost as one, the superhuman Grey Knights barely slowing as they shredding a score of Thousand Son marines. Force sword bared, he swung down in an unstoppable arc, aiming for the bowed head of a sorcerer who's foul voice echoed a thousand, thousand times within the chanting.

His aim was true, but the foul sorcerer was blessed by his dark master and simply ceased to be, rematerializing ten meters forward in the blink of an eye. The mutated ground pulsed in time to the chanting now and the stones glowed with hellish fire as the sorcerer raised his horned helmet and made a single, absent gesture towards them.

Fire exploded in its wake, drawing klaxon warnings from his armor and screams of agony from the Grey Knights as pure chaos flames consumed the area. He ignored it, pressing forward desperately even as his rangefinder screamed warnings of daemons that had risen in the fire's wake.

Clawed hands tore at him as he struggled forward, a prayer to the Emperor barely seeping through cracked and bloodied lips. The distance counted down on his rangefinder even as the right side of his armor was nearly torn off by a blow from a daemon made of liquid flame.

Staggering, he watched in horror as a portal sliced through the air in front of him. Madness lay though it as the spinning world of the immaterium seemed cackle in triumph as it prepared to spill forth its poison into the universe.

He could not allow that. Not allow whatever the Great Enemy had planned to be fulfilled. Steeling himself and consigning his soul to the Emperor's grace, he lunged with all his remaining strength. By divine grace he missed the still opening portal, slamming into the sorcerer with his full weight behind his force sword's hungry blade. The physic weapon howled in glee as it consumed the heretic's blasphemous remnants of a soul and for a moment the only sound he could hear was its satisfied keening wail.

In the next moment the world suddenly stilled around him. Of the portal there was no sign. The warp storm in the skies above too, gone without a trace.

Kneeling down, too exhausted to move, he gave the most heartfelt thanks he had ever known to the Emperor for averting what disaster had nearly been.

Far away in the timeless void of the warp, hideous laughter spilled through the immaterial realm. The inquisitor thought himself clever, thought that by tracing a pattern spanning but decades that he had thwarted the will of the Changer of Ways. Fool. Such small mortal minds could never comprehend that true plans reached across millennia, that victory and defeat were not measured in battles or wars, but in the implacable advance of the strands of fate.

He was the Changer of Ways. First and Greatest of the True Gods of the universe and his designs were not so easily undone.

In the void, unseen by even the eyes of its sleepless, endless denizens, a single seed fell through time and space. Powered by the blood sacrifice of a planet at the hands of the righteous, fueled by the death of a trickster deceived and betrayed, it breached ancient wards strung across reality and reentered the material realm driven forward by the will of the implacable Changer of Ways. Gathering momentum, it plunged through the atmosphere until it impacted in a hail of fire upon a lonely northern isle of a blue planet. The crater of its arrival lasted but a moment before the ground swallowed the seed and sealed the breach.

Years passed. Slowly, imperceptibly, the seed grew until it stood as a mighty tree. A carefully calibrated siren song rolling out through the world, patient but insistent. Fate could not be rushed.

A hundred years passed and still the ruinous tree sung. Finally a man, the awaited man came. He saw the magic in the tree, but not the source. Intrigued, his normally all-seeing mind lulled by the tree's song, he cut a single branch.

Taking it back with him he turned the branch into a wand which joined countless others, anonymous and gathering dust on a back shelf. Years passed and the world grew. Men and women lived, fought and died while tree's deadly progeny waited, biding its time within the back of an old man's shop.

The morning when the fate of the world was sealed dawned bright and warm, with just the slightest hint of an approaching fall chill in the air. An eleven-year old girl who could scarcely believe the wondrous life a letter had promised her came to the old man's shop. Eyes shining with awe and fresh from the wonders of an enchanted book store with all the knowledge of the strange new world at her fingertips, she held out her hand and the old man placed ruin into it.

It woke as sparks flowed from it at the young girl's over-eager flick. The old man smiled, another satisfied customer, another dusty wand finally gone to its proper home.

"I do believe that is the one Ms. Granger…"