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Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness

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"Choice, such a rare commodity in our times, is it not? Rich or poor, powerful or powerless, the Imperium binds us and enslaves us, and for what? The pleasure of grovelling and dying for some distant and uncaring corpse? No, my friend, we have chosen our master; he is generous and his gifts are very real. His patronage carries a price, of course, but what thing of value does not? It is a rational choice, a wise choice, and yours to make freely..."
— Aku Syn, Servant of the Horned Darkness

The Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness is a dangerous and highly organised malefic Chaos Cult whose origins and activities go back according to some sources to the founding of the Calixis Sector and quite possibly beyond. This cult has been repeatedly smashed time and again over the centuries only to appear again some standard years or decades later. Membership, size, form, and power may vary, but it is always recognisable in its core beliefs and the object of its worship -- the daemon Balphomael, the Horned Darkness. The Brotherhood, known to some as the "Pact of Balphomael" or the "Black Society," is recognised by the Ordo Malleus as a near archetypical daemon-worshipping Chaos Cult, although often better resourced and more dangerous than most. Appealing to the Imperial nobility and the ruling elite who tend toward ambition and megalomania rather than jaded excess or forbidden pleasure, Balphomael's supplicants are often austere, driven, and dangerous individuals who obey their master's teachings and feed his hungry demand for sacrifice and suffering. In the past, multiple groups worshipping the daemon have been in existence at the same time, either kept in ignorance of each other or set up as rivals to prove their worth, depending on their daemonic master's whim.

Historically, cults worshipping the Horned Darkness have been discovered as far afield as Landunder, Malfi, and Sepheris Secundus. However, the cult's greatest stronghold in the past, and the place where it has reared its head time and again is mighty Scintilla itself. Here at the heart of the Calixis Sector, the heresy once became so powerful and widespread as to threaten to corrupt the seat of sector government. Some scholars of the forbidden believe that the daemon has some particular connection to this world, which, if it could be somehow broken, may cast it out more permanently and end its malign influence on the sector once and for all. Unfortunately, the past has proven that the threat of the Horned Darkness is not so easily destroyed.

HistoryEdit

The cult has threatened scores of worlds at various points in the sector's history, and individual Brotherhoods have ranged greatly in power and dominion, from a dozen individuals in a single guild to grand malefic conspiracies encompassing a chain of worlds with thousands of cultists bound to Balphomael's service. Without doubt though, the most potent danger the cult ever posed was to the very heart of the sector itself some 440 Terran years ago. During those days, the Brotherhood had become embedded in the sector's infrastructure and even within the Lucid Court of Scintilla. Meanwhile, its figurehead organisation, the Tellurian Combine, rose to become the dominant economic force in the sector. Faced with the dire truth when uncovered, the Inquisition had a difficult choice to make. To denounce and attack the Combine directly would have tempted anarchy in the highest echelons of Imperial government and perhaps even risk open civil war within the sector. Instead, the entire resources and wiles of the Ordos Calixis —- Malleus, Hereticus, Xenos, and others -- were brought to bear in a true shadow war. Within a decade, the whole edifice of the Combine was mercilessly brought down, its cabals isolated and destroyed by covert raids, exorcist death squads, and contract assassinations. At the same time, the cult's workings and secret pawns were forced into the light and slaughtered in what is believed to have been the largest deployment of Officio Assassinorum agents in the history of the Calixis Sector.

Much of what the Inquisition knows of the Brotherhood and its dark patron harkens back to this great and secret purge. It was the famed Daemonhunter Orpheus himself, at the head of an intercession force of Grey Knight Terminators, that finally vanquished the avatar of the Horned Darkness in a hidden temple in catacombs deep under the Tellurian Chancellery in Hive Sibellus. Although the power of the cult was broken and thousands of unclean Heretics and their duped lackeys were slain, the Brotherhood did not die. Time and again, signs of the Brotherhood stirring has come to light, although it has never managed to attain even a fraction of its former power and glory -- or so the Inquisition believes. Others, however, believe this relative silence simply means that it has become even more subtle and adept at hiding its tracks. They fear that unless the true root of the daemon-incursion is found, it is only a matter of time before the Brotherhood rises once again to corrupt the Calixis Sector from within.

Flavian Invicta: The Traitor CardinalEdit

Perhaps the greatest shock in the aftermath of the whole Tellurian affair was the revelation of the identity of the Brotherhood's greatest diabolist, Flavian Invicta, Cardinal Palatine of the Ecclesiarchy. Invicta was a highly ranked but otherwise undistinguished clergyman attached as part of the Adeptus Ministorum's delegation to the Lucid Court. He appeared in public to be an affable, pious old man from an old and respected family in the twilight of his Ecclesiastical career but was, in fact, a ruthless power-broker and diabolist who harboured ambitions to be the true power behind the throne of the whole sector. Invicta was thought to have sold his soul to Balphomael while still a young man, and close inspection of his personal history uncovered countless strange occurrences and the mysterious deaths of many rivals and competitors. The official record states that Invicta died suddenly of natural causes, but rumours within the Ordo Malleus persist that he remains alive still, cursed by the boon of longevity that his master granted, screaming endlessly in a pain amplifier buried deep beneath the Bastion Serpentis.

The Daemon BalphomaelEdit

Balphomael, the Horned Darkness

Balphomael, the Horned Darkness

Balphomael, the Horned Darkness, is a daemonic power that has seemed to lurk in the shadows of the Calixis Sector since it was founded, and is doubtless far older than this. Over the years the Inquisition has acquired considerable lore and anecdotal evidence about this being whose power is at least equivalent to that of a Daemon Prince, if not considerably greater. Seemingly owing no direct fealty or allegiance to any other of its kind, it has the characteristics and nature of a power broker. It is a being who demands worship and obeisance and sacrifice, who in return grants patronage and power.

Legends and scraps of lore describe Balphomael as a towering figure of unholy fire and billowing darkness, a horned shadow that can be summoned from a bonfire piled high with burning hearts given in offering. The testimony of cult members brought to question by the Ordos of the Inquisition claims that the daemon may also take the shape of a saturnine man or striking woman of imperious manner -- a dealmaker whose honeyed tongue might corrupt a saint, but whose eyes burn like embers and whose shadow is cast in the terrible flickering shape of its true nature. The daemon is a powerful and dangerous entity, and one that cannot be commanded or controlled, by even the most powerful Sorcerer. Some scholars within the Ordo Malleus speculate that its "appearances" in corporeal reality (including on one occasion when a powerful avatar of the beast was battled by the Ordos and the Grey Knights) are actually little more than Warp-projections, the meanest portion of a far greater whole that coils in the Empyrean beyond.

The Nature of the CultEdit

"By this sacrifice, darkness, tell us."
The Rites of Balphomael

The Brotherhood takes the form of a secret conspiracy, a mystery cult that takes great pains to keep its existence hidden from the outside world. It makes extensive use of go-betweens, ignorant hirelings, secret tongues, ciphers, and a rigidly enforced code of silence to maintain its cover. Behind this curtain, the cult's structure is strongly delineated, with its masters holding complete authority of life and death over its lesser members. Commonly these Masters form a ruling cabal that numbers a ritually significant eight members. These are the "Servants," and each has a direct pact with his daemonic master. They often grant themselves grand titles such as High Magister, Ipsisama, or Mokartus, but ultimately the cult's true Master remains Balphomael itself -- none dare disobey its dark pronouncements. In past incarnations of the cult, the secrecy and paranoia of its members have meant that none other than the High Magister knew the identities of all the cabal members, while to others they are only known as masked figures wielding absolute power.

Below this cabal are an indeterminate number of worshippers, would-be masters, aspirants, and favoured agents, each hoping that they too will be deemed worthy of receiving the Archdaemon's notice. Openings in the ranks only occur should one of the members show failure or weakness, succumb to madness, or suffer death. Assassination, as long as it does not expose the Brotherhood or undermine its goals, is viewed as a perfectly acceptable avenue of advancement within the cult. As such, the cult's membership is made up of ambitious and driven men and women, seekers of power and wealth, and various power-hungry nobles, criminal overlords, scheming adepts, and avaricious guilders. Corrupt Ministorum priests and planetary Enforcers are rarer among the Brotherhood, but highly favoured as avenues for the cult's wider power and influence.

Serving as the Brotherhood's foot soldiers are hired muscle (often of some quality, given their master's resources), and those deemed useful to the cult who have been deluded, duped, blackmailed, bribed, or simply cowed into service. Although the majority of these lesser agents are not true members of the Brotherhood, they are left by their masters with no illusions about the price of failure or betrayal. Those showing suitable ruthlessness and ambition may be elevated to the Brotherhood proper after proving themselves. The cult's principal goal is to further the power, wealth, and influence of its ruling cabal, and of course to appease its hidden patron. To this end, the gestalt capability of all those within the Brotherhood and those they can control or influence are brought into play. Plots are hatched, rivals destroyed, secret agreements reached, webs of deceit maintained, and power wielded in the shadows, and the cult slowly spreads and grows. Backing all of these more mundane power games is the baleful influence of the daemon and the dark rites carried out in its name, all of which must be paid for in blood and souls. If the cult has a particular weakness, it is the daemon at its heart. Sometimes the daemon's demands outpace its cult's ability to covertly fulfill, and the paranoia and intrigues it can engender, even among its own, can be counterproductive. Ultimately, Balphomael has a tendency to break its "toys."

Tenets, Goals & Malefic BeliefsEdit

If one motivation lies behind everything that the cult does, it is overriding ambition. The cult's mortal masters, known as the "Servants" (a reference to their direct relation to the Brotherhood's daemonic patron), are characterised by their lust for power and dominance over their fellows, principally manifested through quite mundane means -- wealth, influence, authority, status, and fear. They desire not to bring down the Imperium, but to rule it and wield ultimate power from behind the scenes -- to become in effect, the secret masters of all. The Brotherhood's membership (which covers both sexes despite its name) is drawn almost exclusively from the rich, the powerful, and the ambitious, who, despite their wealth and station, desire even more. To them, the Brotherhood's purpose is to help them dominate others and obtain more privilege and power. The daemon at the cult's heart also demands worship, which takes the form of obeisance, devotion, and propitiation for the main part, rather than fanatical faith or belief in its divinity.

Balphomael's creed, such as it is, breeds disdain, selfishness, and arrogance, and the Brotherhood quantifies the masses of humanity (and the whole Imperium for that matter) as so much chattel to be used and disposed of at a whim. The Brotherhood is wary of rivals and threats to its secret dominion, particularly so in the case of rival cults and other influences who would undermine it or usurp its goals. Thus the cult is not above employing subtle means to destroy the competition (such as leading on the wrath of the Imperial authorities against a troublesome rival, etc.). The Ordos, in particular, are seen as a threat and one which it should be vigilant against. However, direct conflict with the Ordos of the Inquisition should be avoided.

The Rule of the BrotherhoodEdit

To many who are attracted to the cult, involvement can seem a rational and even sensible choice, an alliance with a powerful force that can grant them their desires, protect them from their enemies, and see them triumph over their rivals. They may rationalise it as a simple act of commerce and fealty, no different in essence than swearing loyalty to a Guild or siding with a Great House of the sector nobility. For many, the fact that recognisable strictures such as binding contracts, strict hierarchy, and demanded obedience are all cornerstones of the Brotherhood's structure make the cult merely a continuation of what their lives already demand.

The cult fosters this lie by taking on the trappings of a secret society dedicated to furthering its members' interests. Often it only reveals its true nature to aspirants once they have been fully tested, compromised, and tempted by the power and influence the cult offers. Such sane and civilised trappings are, of course, ultimately a deceit, and one willingly embraced by the cult's members to conceal the dark and festering truth at the cult's heart, the daemon Balphomael. The Horned Darkness is a powerful entity able to grant great boons to those that swear it service. However, its price is likewise heavy, its only coins of exchange are sacrifice and death, and it is a jealous and unforgiving master.

The Brotherhood also sees the value in blackmail, brutality, and the exploitation of the vices of others as effective tools to bring the weak to heel and ensure their obedience. It prefers to suborn, intimidate, and corrupt as an exercise of power. When the time for killing comes, however, the Brotherhood either employs calculated and overwhelming force so as to make a terrifying example to others, or masks its crimes as accidents or random acts of violence, whichever best suits its needs. It is this high degree of self-control that has made the cult so dangerous in the past. Its ability to operate clandestinely and sparingly, where other less organised or more psychotic cults often expose themselves by succumbing to their own excesses or deluded beliefs, makes it an unusually subtle enemy for the Inquisition's Ordos.

The Myth of KhorazinEdit

On more than a dozen occasions through the years, the cult has been discovered spreading corruption at the heart of several commercial empires and noble houses on Scintilla. It has also spread its tendrils into the apparatus of state, the Administratum, and even the Ecclesiarchy. Only through the eternal vigilance of the Inquisition, and with much destruction and bloodletting, has the Brotherhood been excised. In the most perilous of these cases, the Brotherhood, through the front of the Tellurian Combine, almost managed to co-opt and corrupt the Lord Sector's government on Scintilla before it was found out and destroyed.

This has led some within the Ordo Malleus to search for some focus for the daemon on this world over and above its worth as the sector capital. Some believe there is some hidden Warp Rift, tainted relic, or phenomenon on Sibellus, which if it could be uncovered and destroyed, might provide a more permanent solution to the problem. The Daemonhunter Orpheus uncovered a potential name for this focus in the secret ciphers of the cult, that of "Khorazin." Just what this Khorazin is -- a place, artefact, allegory, or individual -- remains unproven, but evidence suggests that it is somewhere in Scintilla's barren wastelands.

The Daemon's DomainEdit

Behind the veneer of the cult's power mongering and the secretive machinations of its controlling cabals, Balphomael demands its due. As a result, the cult maintains a string of hidden shrines to its daemonic patron. These are temples of forbidden worship where ritual murder is carried out in Balphomael's name, and where the cabal members can commune with their dark master, call down malefic curses on their enemies, and summon other daemons to do their bidding.

Such shrines and temples are constructed in secret and hidden within noble estates or concealed in disused industrial facilities and other forlorn and abandoned locales where the cult's business can be conducted far from prying eyes. No matter how well hidden, these structures (thanks to their ritual significance and Balphomael's own requirements) remain a vulnerability to the cult, as they must be left in place once constructed and consecrated and cannot be abandoned or easily moved. Indeed the authorities' stumbling on such a Temple to the Horned Darkness has precipitated the cult's discovery and destruction in the past.

The Daemon's DueEdit

Balphomael's demands on his servants are unremitting and steep. He demands complete and unswerving allegiance to him above all other creeds and gods, and the pledge of his followers' immortal souls. He also demands far more tangible sacrifices in the form of the ritual murder of the Brotherhood's enemies in his name and the burnt offerings of the betrayed and the weak to appease his hunger and fuel his darkly given rituals of power.

For those with whom he enters into a Dark Pact, his boon comes with this price and more: he demands true sacrifice, the destruction of something of great personal value to the petitioner in Balphomael's name. Just what this sacrifice entails will vary, but commonly involves the betrayal and death of a close friend, loved one, or cherished dream. For some cold-hearted petitioners with no such humane foible, the daemon has been known to take a hand, an eye, or a handsome visage whose loss the petitioner must suffer in payment.

Ordo Malleus Departmento Analyticus Threat BriefingEdit

The Ordo Malleus regards the Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness as a clear and present danger to the Imperium of Man, and one that all members of the Holy Ordos within the Calixis Sector are aware of to some degree (although many believe it to be but a shadow of its former self ). The threat the cult posses is considered to be twofold. The first is the political and spiritual corruption created by its conspiracies and infiltrations —- a danger made worse as the largely elitist makeup of the Brotherhood allows it resources, finances, capabilities, and scope that many other cult groups and daemon-worshipers could not hope to match.

The second is the daemon Balphomael, its works, and its Warp-spawned minions -- a threat rightly classified as Malleus Abominatus Extremis by the Holy Ordos. The daemon is a powerful entity capable of generating high-magnitude Warp phenomena, casting malefic curses, and investing into those mortal servants who enter into pacts with it a fragment of its unclean might. Its powers are not, however, limitless, and their use seems to be inextricably linked to ritual murder and willing sacrifice by those in its service. The proven strategy for combating the Brotherhood then is threefold: gather intelligence to uncover the degree of corruption, destroy its foul places of worship to limit its power, and identify those who have sold their souls to the daemon and bring them the judgement of the Emperor's wrath.

The Enmity of the MalleusEdit

Although many members of the Inquisition consider the Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness a threat more historically dangerous than at present, there are some within the Ordo Malleus for whom the Brotherhood borders on an obsession. For these Daemonhunters they are "the one that got away," a cult and a daemonic threat that the Holy Ordos has never been able to fully destroy, much to their shame and vexation. There are several Daemonhunters for whom hunting down any rumour of the Brotherhood is their greatest cause and a prize for which they would neglect other duties and even tempt Radical measures. Somewhat ungenerously, some of their fellows believe this is perhaps because were any one of them to finally and utterly purge the cult, that Inquisitor's elevation and status within the Ordos would be assured.

SourcesEdit

  • Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 137-143

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