Chaos, also known to its servants as the Primordial Truth or the Primordial Annihilator, and to the Imperium of Man as the Archenemy, is the universal and usually malign spiritual force embodied by the malevolent intelligent entities comprised of psychic energy that live in the Warp. Chaos is the equal and opposite of Order. The entities who embody Chaos are mostly daemons, but the term also encompasses those mortals who have thrown in their lot with Chaos, ranging from simple peasants and/or manufactorum labourers who serve as Chaos Cultists, to Traitor Imperial Guardsmen, planetary militia, Imperial nobles, Planetary Governors, and even the mighty Chaos Space Marines and Traitor Titan Legions of the Dark Mechanicus.
Chaos is also itself the turbulent psychic energy that comprises the Immaterium and gives shape to the nightmare domains of the individual Chaos Gods that are collectively called the Realm of Chaos by savants of the Inquisition. Chaos is almost synonymous with the Warp -- the two concepts are inseparable, for Chaos is the limitless ocean of spiritual, psychic and emotional energy that defines the Immaterium and underlies the 4-dimensional material universe of space-time. It is a great and raw force of change and power, and is both physically and spiritually corrupting, though it is not in itself necessarily "evil." While its adherents and servants act in ways that are often malevolent, some devotees of Chaos are more dedicated to the service of freedom and change than of the pure selfishness that Mankind and most other intelligent species define as nefarious. However, more often than not, the Chaos Gods reward individual accomplishment in such a way that the ends justify the means, and the absence of hierarchy and emphasis on individual freedom leads to the pursuit of excess and personal aggrandisement that can only be characterised as damnation.
The most evolutionarily-advanced mortals, psykers, can utilise this energy, thus making them capable of abilities which transcend the standard physical laws of the material universe as humanity understands them. However, the malevolent power of Chaos can gradually corrupt a psyker, tainting his mind and body and turning him into the slave of the Ruinous Powers. The most powerful entities of Chaos are the four great Chaos Gods, also known as the Ruinous Powers, who each embody one aspect of the greater force of Chaos and can be worshipped individually or as an entire pantheon. The iconic symbol of Chaos is the eight-pointed star, representing the infinite possibilities of Chaos. Ultimately, Chaos and its entities seek nothing less than the complete destruction of the material universe and its hated Order, so that all of Creation is once more consumed by the primordial and uncontained energies of Chaos. In general, Chaos is a malevolent spiritual force that represents the collective negative aspects of the psyches of every sentient being in the Milky Way Galaxy, and most likely in the wider universe. Because Mankind is by far the most populous intelligent species in the galaxy of the late 41st Millennium, the Chaos Gods particularly embody Humanity's myriad and particular flaws as a people.
Chaos corrupts Mankind so easily because it speaks to the character flaws inherent in every man and woman and seeks to exploit the weaknesses of their all-too-human natures. It takes an extraordinary individual of truly iron will and selflessness to resist the serial temptations of Chaos. It is also these inherent character flaws that produce the rampant physical and anatomical mutations of individuals exposed to Chaotic energies, as these mutations are driven by the inner flaws of the person's psyche being made manifest in their physical person as Chaos bridges the gap between the Immaterium and realspace.
With all the obvious dangers associated with Chaos, such as mutation, daemonic possession, and spiritual damnation, some might wonder why anyone would willingly choose to serve the Ruinous Powers. The answer is actually simple. Chaos judges its servants solely on their abilities and their records of success and failure in promoting the agenda of the individual Chaos Gods and of Chaos Undivided as a whole. Chaos also offers those who serve it the opportunity to perhaps one day wield power and respect far beyond the dreams of most mortals' avarice. For so many people, but particularly in the oppressive, feudal Imperium of Man, where too often family connections and inherited wealth are rewarded rather than ability, and where it is impossible on many worlds for a talented individual to ever better their lot, Chaos actually offers a substantial degree of freedom and the only real meritocracy that they have ever known. But Chaos is not a benevolent force, and for the vast majority of those who fall to Chaos' temptations, they will never reach either power or position and will be little more than faceless puppets in the endless schemes of the Dark Gods. While Chaos may reward success with power, even the mightiest Chaotic servant becomes a slave of Chaos, never its master. Most Chaotics will fail in their quests for power, eventually ending up as possessed Daemonhosts, mindless Chaos Spawn, or simply as just another corpse in the heap, a pawn whose usefulness to the Ruinous Powers has ended.
At the dawn of time, the powerful and ancient alien race known only as the Old Ones nurtured some of the primitive intelligent races of the Milky Way Galaxy, guiding their development to suit a specific purpose. The Warp at this time in the vicinity of the galaxy was not the intrinsically hostile place to life it has become in later ages. Once the Necrons arose to challenge them and nearly wrought their extinction because of their alliance with the malevolent Star Gods known as the C'tan, the Old Ones created new psychic warrior races to battle the threat they posed, hoping that these species' stronger ties to the Warp and potent psychic powers would turn the tide against the Necrons and their C'tan masters in the ancient War in Heaven. One of these races was the ancestors of the Eldar and among the others were the Krork, who may have been the ancestors of the green-skinned Orks.
Just before the birth of the Emperor of Mankind on Terra in the 8th Millennium B.C., three of the major Chaos Gods of the present, Khorne, Tzeentch, and Nurgle, had already begun to take form in the Warp, although it would take until the end of Terra's European Middle Ages midway through the 2nd Millennium (circa 1400 AD) for them to fully awaken. Slaanesh did not awaken until the 30th Millennium, brought into existence by the terrible collective psychic flaws of the ancient Eldar, with its birth to consciousness in the Warp marking the end of the Eldar's great interstellar empire and the Age of Strife, as well as the beginning of the Emperor's Great Crusade and the birth of the Imperium of Man. In truth, time has no meaning within the Empyrean, and from the point of view of the Dark Gods, all four of them are relative newborns -- while, at the same time, they have existence since the first mortal woke to sentience in the galaxy tens of millions of Terran years ago.
The rise of Chaos and the first three Chaos Gods seems to correspond to the rapid rise and development of humanity in the Milky Way Galaxy, implying that Mankind, of all the sentient species of the galaxy, was primarily responsible for the disharmonising of the Warp and the birth of the first three Chaos Gods, or at least the major Chaos Gods in their current form. Although, without question, all the sentient species of the Milky Way played a role in the birth of the Chaos Gods, it seems that Mankind has an especially close relationship with Chaos, or that the nature of Mankind's collective psyche is particularly aggressive, unstable and yes, chaotic.
Age of the Imperium
Over one hundred centuries ago the all-powerful Emperor of Mankind was interred in a huge stasis crypt called the Golden Throne in the bowels of the Imperial Palace on Ancient Terra. He has not moved or spoken in thousands of years, but his legacy lives on in the vast Imperium he helped to forge through an era of violence and conquest. In the intervening span the Imperium has slowly crumbled, battered by wars from without and dissension from within, but it remains unbelievably powerful. A million worlds united in the name of Mankind; monotheistic, xenophobic, paranoiac, and fuelled by war. With its vast fleets and uncounted armies the Imperium remains probably the single most powerful entity in the galaxy of the late 41st Millennium.
The Adepts of the Adeptus Terra, the Priesthood of Earth, cling to power ferociously, ruling on in the name of the corpse on the Golden Throne despite the Emperor’s millennia-long silence. They hold the worlds of the Imperium in a constant state of terror, proselytising their zealotry and feeding the fears of the populace to keep them cowed and malleable. An Imperial citizen is raised from birth to believe that unseen forces are gathering to attack them and that their way of life could be destroyed at any moment, and that only the God-Emperor stands between them and damnation. Under the guise of protection whole populations are held hostage to authoritarian controls; searches, seizures and summary executions are routinely justified under the banner of omnipresent threat.
The Imperium thrives on war and oppression. Its weapon factories and shipyards run night and day, arming its forces, and faceless conscripts by the billion are hurled into conflicts they cannot win. Imperial citizens are indoctrinated from birth to hate and fear outsiders, and at any given time the Imperium is fighting dozens of genocidal conflicts. This perpetual state of war and fear has served the Imperium well over its many centuries of existence, reinforcing its self-righteous declaration of itself as defender of humanity while driving a wedge between itself and the other starfaring races. The Imperium’s ponderous, gargantuan military grinds relentlessly forward seeking new wars to embroil itself in, driven by its own momentum and blind arrogance. Some joke that an outbreak of peace would be the greatest disaster that could ever befall the Imperium, but in truth the Adepts of Terra are quite able to find enemies in their own ranks. Planets groaning too loudly beneath Imperial tithes are quickly branded as “Traitors” or “Heretics” and just as quickly feel the iron heel of the Imperial military on their necks.
On Loyalist Imperial worlds witch hunts are actively promoted by the authorities, in particular mutants and psykers are mercilessly singled out and hunted down. Mutants are killed out of hand on many planets amidst calls for "genetic purity," but in places where they are too numerous and too vital to the economy wipe out they are pushed into an underclass despised and feared by "normals." Psykers have the crueller fate by far. The Imperium lays claim to any individual showing the slightest psychic ability. Periodically, often decades apart, the ominous Black Ships and the agents of the the dreaded Inquisition come to each Imperial world to demand its crop of psykers for processing on distant Terra. The slightest flicker of potential is enough for the Inquisitors, and their holds are filled with thousands, young and old.
All but the tiniest fraction of those who enter the Black Ships are never heard from again. Legends abound of their eventual fate; some say that their souls are fed to the Emperor and that a thousand are sacrificed every day just to keep his guttering life-spark vital. Others say the psykers are blinded and castrated in both their bodies and powers, and that once diminished they are joined to a great choir that endlessly chants mindless praises to the God-Emperor into the uncaring void. Whatever the fate of the psykers may be, the coming of the Black Ships is a great terror for any world, and their appearance frequently triggers rioting and rebellions from peoples unwilling to give up their own family members to feed the Imperium’s voracious appetite. Such resistance is ruthlessly crushed by whatever means necessary.
The Imperium is said to encompass a million worlds but accurate numbers are impossible to gauge. In the time taken for reports to cross the galaxy conquered worlds are regained and new ones are lost more quickly than Administratum scriveners can update their ponderous data stacks. The worlds of the Imperium include every conceivable type, from isolated colonies to thriving Hive Worlds, from mono-culture Agri-worlds and vast orbital forges; wherever man has made a place for himself in the galaxy he stands beneath the shadow of the Imperial Aquila.
As has been proven in the past, if the forces of the Imperium could ever be unified and set to a single purpose there is nothing they could not achieve. Fortunately for the other inhabitants of the galaxy human endeavour has been thwarted by the unthinkable distances involved in their sprawling empire, internal dissension, and inter-departmental rivalry. Even with the illusion of centralised control given by the Adeptus Terra, parts of the Imperium tens of thousands of light years apart can do little to support one another in practical terms. Instead rulership often devolves down to loosely aligned sub-sets of the most influential worlds colluding to exploit their immediate neighbours under the guise of Imperial authority. The Imperium has been far more successful in creating a common cultural and philosophical centre by dominating science, education, and the arts on worlds from one side of the galaxy to the other.
The history and viewpoints of the Imperium change drastically, depending on whom you ask. To some, the Imperium of Man is a bulwark against the tides of darkness, a brutal but necessary defence against forces that would rip humanity asunder. To others, it is a harsh, crumbling monolith, lashing out with blind fury against those who want to save Mankind and lift them to their true potential. It is an obstacle, and one that must be overcome at all costs. Which is correct? Both, and neither. All depends on one’s point of view. A champion of the Imperium such as a Space Marine Brother-Captain or Puritan Inquisitor likely takes the former view, or perhaps holds the Imperium in even higher regard. On the other hand, a Champion of the Ruinous Powers (perhaps one of the Traitor Legions of Chaos Space Marines) almost certainly takes the latter view. Needless to say, the following account is penned from the viewpoint of the Disciples of the Dark Gods, those who fight against the Imperium of Man, and the forces of Order in all their forms. Is it correct? That is for the reader to decide.
Origins of the Imperium
Mankind spread across the stars far before the rise of the Imperium. Long ago in a forgotten golden age innumerable worlds were settled by humans, and dozens of different cultures flourished across the great wheel of the galaxy. Within the Imperium this first great expansion by humanity is now known as the Dark Age of Technology. That Age is believed to have begun slowly, as multi-generational colony ships crawled across the void at sub-light speeds. However, as mankind discovered the secrets of Warp travel their expansion accelerated rapidly.
Whole worlds were terraformed by these first waves of colonists, and their handiwork is still apparent thousands of standard years later. Many of the scientific wonders of that age are unparalleled in present times, and most of the greatest creations made by the ancients are reckoned irretrievably lost during the ensuing Age of Strife. Tech-scholars and autosavants of the Adeptus Mechanicus obsessively seek out traces of technology left from the Dark Age of Technology, as its sophistication far exceeds anything built later. Some few artefacts are found from time to time, objects that have endured down the millennia due to the craftsmanship and forethought of their makers. On occasion a voidship that has lain trapped in the tides of the Warp for aeons is cast out into the material universe and brings with it a treasure house of Dark Age technology for those bold enough to seize it. Whatever the source might be, the adherents of the Cult Mechanicus descend on Dark Age technology like a pack of jackals. Their Explorator fleets comb the stars constantly, and are always alert for the slightest rumour.
One discovery that has been key to the rise of the Imperium is Standard Template Construction technology -- the STC system, as it has become known. It appears that the technomancers of the earliest times created a robust automated factory program and database to support their emerging colony worlds, complex systems that could be adapted to local conditions and use a variety of raw materials. Templates have been found for everything from gigantic plasma reactors to steam-driven traction engines that were created to fulfil the needs of the early human interstellar colonists. However, most of the templates from the Dark Age of Technology are lost, and as such, the even a single STC data template is a treasure beyond compare. Each new discovery is dutifully filed and hidden away in the archives of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Knowledge is power in the Imperium, and in many ways the STC system embodies the highest knowledge Mankind can now achieve.
The Dark Age of Technology exists only in myth in modern times, and the causes of its ending are poorly understood. Many cultures share similar stories of a breakdown of the golden age, of entire regions becoming isolated by raging Warp Storms and turning against themselves in crippling wars. Others tell of a time of apotheosis for mankind, when mutations and psychic powers became increasingly prevalent, and predatory beings from Warp space used such open conduits to feast on the living. Worshippers of the Ruinous Powers maintain that these times were the triumph of Chaos, when Mankind’s first fumbling attempts to rule over the mortal realm were cast down into anarchy by cackling daemons from the Warp.
Whatever the cause, the Dark Age of Technology gave way to the Age of Strife. The patchwork remnants of human civilisation fought against each other as well as the hordes of aliens now swarming in to sack their worlds. Many human civilisations were enslaved or completely wiped out; others reverted to barbarism as order crumbled. Only worlds where the rising tide of psykers was rigorously repressed evaded the plummet into nightmare and madness. Old Earth itself became completely isolated by Warp Storms for several thousand years, collapsing into a state of total anarchy, with savage gangs of tech-pirates roving the ruins of its ravaged continents.
Followers of the Emperor claim that He first appeared on Earth during the Age of Strife in the 30th Millennium, and that His true name and origins were obscure even then. The nameless Emperor fought His way to the top of the techno-barbarian tribes and nation-states, conquering them one after another. The Emperor emerged as a saviour, they say, leading armies across Terra in His efforts to re-unify it. The ranks of His armies swelled with eager followers and conquered tribes forced to pledge fealty alike. The Emperor united them all with a vision of humanity made whole once more, free from slavery and the chains of barbaric ignorance. He foresaw a day when His followers would leave Earth and strike out across the heavens to cleanse the scattered worlds of humanity of both aliens and daemons.
Some speculate that the Emperor must have had some precognitive sense of the approaching emergence of Slaanesh and the effects of that event on the Warp. His psychic acuity is the stuff of legend and undoubtedly it was sensitive enough to sense the coming cataclysm. While Earth remained isolated by Warp Storms the Emperor was able to ascend to Mars and there he found the Tech-priests of the Cult Mechanicus still enumerating among the rusting machinery of their predecessors. In perhaps his greatest coup before the creation of the Imperium itself the Emperor convinced the Tech-priests of Mars that he was the living embodiment of their deity, the Omnissiah, and so won their fealty.
The Emperor’s followers like to portray this joining with the Cult Mechanicus as a joyous occasion, the rejoining of two parts of a whole. Despite their propaganda the link was not an entirely comfortable one and, as would be proven later, a large number of the Tech-priests did not truly accept the Emperor as their living god. Nonetheless, with the Tech-priests’ help the Emperor set about his final preparation for the coming crusade across the stars.
Fearing that the power of Chaos would eventually corrupt all of humanity at some point in the future, the Emperor set about creating Mankind’s replacement: the Primarchs. The Primarchs were genetically engineered super-humans with god-like powers, bred for strength and loyalty. The Emperor’s intention was to create an entire race of super-humans from the genetic template of the first Primarchs. He hoped that his efforts would create a laboratory-bred purity completely immune to the influences of Chaos.
Followers of the Emperor maintain that the Primarchs were never intended to truly replace Mankind, rather that they were to be shining examples of humanity free from the taint of corruption. However, the Chaos Powers perceived the Emperor’s schemes and seized the foetal Primarchs before they could reach maturity. Seeing the potential value of the Primarchs the Ruinous Powers did not deign to destroy them, instead scattering them far and wide across the galaxy. The Primarchs developed independently beyond the Emperor’s reach, only being rediscovered later as the Great Crusade advanced.
Hence the Emperor lost His first battle with Chaos before he even left Earth. The Emperor was unable to re-create the Primarchs in the time left to Him, and even now the birthpangs of Slaanesh were becoming louder and louder as the godling came to full wakefulness. Instead the Emperor evolved a new plan. Using genetic material that had been imprinted from the Primarchs into laboratory golems, He reproduced some of their qualities as discrete biological organs. By implanting these organs into young, growing male human bodies some of the qualities of the Primarchs could be recreated albeit in a lessened form. In this way the first Space Marines were created, and soon entire Legions of Astartes were created utilising vat-grown genetic material from the Primarchs.
Loyalists also portray this event as a source of great rejoicing among the Emperor’s followers, although the reaction of the veterans that had fought for His cause during the Unification Wars being supplanted in this manner can be imagined to be less than effusive. Nonetheless the superhuman Space Marine Legions were destined to become the killing edge of the Emperor’s forces for the coming crusade and within the Imperium thereafter.
When the Prince of Chaos, Slaanesh, finally burst forth to full waking his birth-scream shook the galaxy in the early 30th Millennium. Despite its relative proximity to the newly-forming Eye of Terror, Earth escaped much of the ruin visited elsewhere. The churning Warp Storms surrounding Ancient Terra absorbed most of the psychic shock wave before being shredded apart by it, leaving the Warp space around the cradle of humanity quiescent for the first time in thousands of years. Now was the moment for the reunification of Mankind, and the Emperor’s shining fleets swept outward into the darkness at his command. The Imperium was forged during the centuries that followed in an era of conquest and expansion in the late 30th Millennium known as the Great Crusade.
The Emperor first directed His forces in pursuit of his lost Primarchs, no doubt fearing to allow such god-like beings to stray far from His guidance. The Emperor sought after them with His psychic powers and was drawn across time and space to the places where His offspring could be found. In each place they found the Primarchs to be full-grown leaders and warriors within their adoptive culture. The Emperor must have believed His experiment to have been a success, for the lost Primarchs proved to have no discernible taint of corruption about them despite their brush with Chaos.
There are many Imperial legends of the Emperor meeting one or other of His Primarchs for the first time during the Great Crusade. Most speak of a mysterious stranger arriving at the Primarch’s court and performing one or more impossible deeds --usually including defeating the Primarch himself in combat -- before the revealing His true identity as the Emperor--the Primarch's gene-father. In the legends the awestruck Primarch pledges lifelong allegiance to the Emperor and happily joins His entourage immediately. It’s certain that such stories are used to mask the ugly truth that several of the lost Primarchs had to be physically subdued before they would agree to join the Emperor.
The Emperor showed great indulgence to His foundlings. As each Primarch was won over they were given command over a Legion of Space Marines raised from their own genetic material. With their Primarch leading them a Space Marine Legion became utterly unstoppable, a fearless army of superhumans that would conquer or perish no matter the odds. Some felt that the love the Space Marines exhibited toward their primogenitors exceeded even their conditioned loyalty to the Emperor. With the Emperor at its head and the Primarchs at his side, the Great Crusade swept all before it. It is likely that no greater armada has ever been seen in the galaxy before or since.
The Emperor’s forces certainly did not lack opposition, and heavy fighting marked their progress. Wherever the silver ships landed the flames of war followed. The Emperor’s followers found many strange and terrible worlds where humans and aliens coexisted, or Chaos reigned triumphant -- these they purged most mercilessly of all. Alien empires were driven back and defeated by the Great Crusade; enslaved populations of captive humans were set free. Psykers and mutants were ruthlessly massacred and the followers of the Chaos Gods forced into hiding. Many aliens learned to hate and fear the Imperium during the Great Crusade, and the rabid xenophobia of those times has been attributed to all humans ever since.
In some places coalitions of human worlds had survived the Age of Strife and many of these attempted to resist the Imperialist onslaught from Ancient Terra. Untold billions were killed by the Space Marine Legions and much precious technology was lost when the Emperor’s forces resorted to brute force to overwhelm more advanced worlds. The Crusade’s indiscriminate use of virus bombs and Cyclonic Torpedoes obliterated secrets that had been preserved for millennia. Increasingly the Space Marine Legions began to find themselves deployed against human populations whose only crime was an unwillingness to join the Imperium. The Emperor’s message of unification had changed to one of domination, and those that did not submit were branded enemies to be righteously purged. The Great Crusade rolled onward relentlessly, sustained now by its own momentum as it swept outward to the very fringes of the galaxy.
In the wake of the crusading forces the future infrastructure of empire moved into place on the conquered worlds; governments and nobility became subject to the Administratum, the Adeptus Arbites replaced judges and lawmakers, over time even mechanicians and technologists became supplanted by the Adeptus Mechanicus. Planetary Governors took control, providing they met their tithes. Decrees from distant Terra imposed rigorous conformity on wildly divergent peoples and cultures, establishing a pattern of oppression and drudgery that became the norm for life in the Imperium. Despite the warning signs, the majority of humanity rose to the challenge of rebuilding its ancient heritage in exchange for the promise of a better future. For a time the unity and strength of the Imperium seemed unstoppable, and the Powers of Chaos appeared to have retreated to their own realms. It was not so.
The Horus Heresy
The Primarchs had not escaped their brush with Chaos entirely untouched. As the Great Crusade wore on their dreams became disturbed by the insidious whispers of the Ruinous Powers. Each Primarch's character was severely tested by the unspoken urgings, each of them thinking that they alone bore such flaws. The future promise of power became a temptation for some; in others their pride or martial prowess opened a path of corruption. Little by little their all-too-human flaws deepened into obsessions. Fully half of the Primarchs eventually failed the test and were seduced by the Ruinous Powers, their corruption occurring in ways so subtle that they never even suspected that their own loyalties were changing until it was too late.
Horus, the greatest Primarch of them all, was utterly convinced of the virtue of the martial ideals for which he fought. He enjoyed the Emperor’s greatest trust and the admiration of the other Primarchs, gaining the coveted title of Warmaster in the wake of the Ullanor Crusade. He had stood at the Emperor’s side from the earliest days of the Great Crusade and through the many long years that followed. Legends say that they fought back-to-back at the Siege of Reillis and the Emperor saved Horus’ life. At the Battle of Gorro, Horus is said to have repaid the debt by hacking the arm from a frenzied Ork that was intent on choking out the Emperor’s life. As the Crusade advanced the Emperor eventually returned to Terra to administer His rapidly growing domain. He entrusted Horus with leading the Crusade along the Eastern Fringes, little realising that by doing so He was planting the seeds of His own betrayal.
As the Great Crusade pushed outward in the final decades of the 30th Millennium Horus had begun to perceive the Emperor’s actions as craven and dishonourable. All too often compromises were made that he felt were weak and unworthy of the Master of Mankind while wanton destruction was unleashed on other worlds on the slimmest pretext. The Emperor abandoning the Crusade forces in favour of returning to the administrative centre of the now-vast Imperium confirmed Horus’ worst fears. The coming age of enlightenment and understanding preached by the Emperor as the Imperial Truth was nothing but a mask for his own pusillanimous greed. Surely the warriors that had fought so hard to conquer deserved some say in how their conquests were ruled? What kind of man seeks to become sole ruler of the galaxy? So, perhaps, the worms of doubt began to squirm in the brilliant mind of Horus. Perhaps he even foresaw a time when the Emperor would have to be rid of him -- the mighty warrior with no worthy opponents left to fight.
Following the events on the world of Davin when he was healed of a mortal wound incurred against the Forces of Chaos by Chaos Cultists in service to the Temple of the Serpent Lodge, Horus began to quietly lay plans for rebellion. He subtly sounded out some of the other Primarchs and began the slow process of gathering his far-flung forces. Horus’ Space Marine Legions were gradually seduced by their sense of pride and loyalty to their Primarchs into serving the Warmaster above the Emperor. Initially, the Space Marines had little idea that they were being led astray. The taint spread slowly and subtly, and only later when they reached the point of outright rebellion did their veneer of reason fall away to reveal that Chaos had invaded their hearts.
In the midst of Horus’ preparations, the Imperial Commander of Istvaan III declared the whole of the Istvaan System an independent principality. The Emperor, ignorant of Horus’ plans, ordered him to move to pacify the rebellious system. The Warmaster was unwilling to be drawn into a planetary campaign just as his schemes were coming to fruition and chose instead to virus bomb Istvaan III from orbit in what became known as the Istvaan III Atrocity. Twelve billion souls died in a matter of minutes, their rapidly rotting carcasses consumed by a firestorm that enveloped the entire planet for days afterwards. During the bombardment a group of Loyalist Space Marines discovered signs of the corruption in Horus’ followers. They succeeded in seizing control of the frigate Eisenstein and fled into Warpspace to warn the Emperor. Horus withdrew to Istvaan V to marshal his forces for the confrontation to come.
The Emperor hesitated, shocked by the betrayal of his Warmaster and unable to believe that his best friend, son and general was really marshalling forces against Him. However, even as he learned of the betrayal, dissent and rebellion spread throughout the Imperial Army. Meanwhile, on Mars those who had denounced the Emperor as a False Omnissiah saw that their time had come. The Adeptus Mechanicus’ own Fabricator-General, the most powerful Magos of Mars, unleashed ancient, forbidden weapons on the surface of the Red Planet as Tech-priests and the Hereteks of the newborn Dark Mechanicus fought for dominance in what became known as the Schism of Mars. The fragile Imperium tore itself apart as recently-conquered star systems declared independence, and newly-appointed planetary leaders seized their chance to declare for the Warmaster. Confusion reigned and at first many failed to recognise the resurgence of the Ruinous Powers, seeing the great conflict as a purely political one between Horus and the Emperor.
The rot of Chaos spread quickly, passing from the Warmaster’s forces to their allies and even their enemies with shocking speed. Loyalists and Traitors clashed on hundreds of worlds across the galaxy. After an almost fatal delay the Emperor ordered seven full Space Marine Legions to destroy Horus and his rebel forces at Istvaan V. He had recognised finally that the rebellion could only be brought to an end by eliminating its figurehead and inspiration: the Warmaster Horus. More precious months were lost organising and mobilising the forces to reach the other side of the galaxy. Horus was not idle in the intervening time and consolidated his hold on hundreds of systems by declaring himself their new Emperor. Wherever Horus’ banners were raised the corrupting influence of Chaos followed.
The Emperor’s retributive strike, now known as the Drop Site Massacre of Istvaan V, proved to be a disaster. Of the seven Astartes Legions dispatched to destroy Horus, four of them turned against the Emperor and helped massacre the other Loyalists instead. The Warmaster now controlled nine Space Marine Legions and had all but eliminated three of the loyalist Legions. Thus, the Horus Heresy began in earnest.
The fighting continued for seven Terran years, and shook the nascent Imperium to its foundations. The Space Marine Legions, the Imperial Army, the Adeptus Mechanicus, the entirety of Mankind’s dominion turned against itself, and ripped itself asunder. The Loyalists eventually began to prevail over the Traitor forces, but Horus knew there was still time to make a decisive strike and win the war.
Horus struck directly for his enemy’s heart and attacked Terra with the full force of his Space Marine Traitor Legions. The Emperor was caught unawares by the Warmaster’s audacious move, and was cut off and besieged inside the Imperial Palace with a bare handful of Loyalists to defend him. However, the Palace defences proved formidable and the subject people of Earth rallied to protect their Emperor, so Horus was denied the quick victory he had hoped for. Bitter fighting marked every phase of the siege as it dragged out for over a month. Eventually, the mighty war engines of the Legio Mortis breached the towering outer walls and the hordes of Chaos poured through into the inner palace.
The mighty deeds recorded in the siege of the Imperial Palace would fill a library in their own right, and do so in some parts of the galaxy, but myth and legend has obliterated any hope of knowing the real truth of events. Loyalists hold that at the eleventh hour, the Emperor perceived a weakness in the Void Shields protecting Horus’ orbiting Battleship, the Vengeful Spirit. According to their holy books the Emperor, along with His two remaining loyal Primarchs on Terra, Sanguinius and Rogal Dorn, teleported aboard the Battleship to confront Horus. Other sources strongly imply that the Warmaster permitted the Emperor to come aboard, perhaps in an effort to bring an end to the bloodshed. A battle was certainly fought, and by all accounts Horus slew his brother Primarch Sanguinius before himself falling prey to the Emperor. The Emperor was mortally wounded in the battle with Horus, and His physical body all but destroyed.
Rogal Dorn is said to have retrieved the Emperor’s body and returned it to Earth. There it was interred within the Golden Throne where it has remained, unspeaking and unmoving, for ten thousand standard years. Pious followers of the Imperial Creed believe that the spirit of the Emperor still resides within the corpse on the Golden Throne, but many doubtful souls have risked charges of heresy by questioning that supposition. The Warmaster’s body was retrieved by his own Legionaries and they fled Terra shortly afterwards. Without the key figure of Horus to hold his followers together the rebellion began to fall apart. Recent converts to the Warmaster’s cause switched their loyalties back to the Emperor. The rebel Space Marine Legions turned against one another, servants now of fractious Ruinous Powers rather than any overall strategy. As the Loyalists rallied Traitor forces were crushed on world after world and the corrupted Space Marine Legions, the Traitor Legions as they had become known, were eventually pushed out of Imperial space into the Eye of Terror.
Across the Imperium, the cult of the God-Emperor was born. In following centuries it would evolve into the Adeptus Ministorum and the puritanical cult of the Imperial Creed by the dawn of the 32nd Millennium. The Imperium itself evolved into an entity built on the foundations of fear and betrayal laid in what became known as the Horus Heresy. A hundred centuries later Horus’ actions are painted in the blackest terms and his turning against the Emperor an unthinkable act of villainy. However, outside Imperial space some remember Horus differently, as a proud warrior who was unafraid to stand against the machinations of the Emperor and whose vision for humanity extended beyond autocratic rulership of Earth. Chaos also won a victory in the Horus Heresy, for the Emperor was crippled by His battle with Horus and had to be interred within the Golden Throne's life support systems, no longer truly alive or dead. This sentenced the Imperium of Man to a long, slow period of decay over the next ten thousand standard years.
Across the stars, Warp Storms rage and the galaxy stands on the precipice of a new age as the 41st Millennium comes to a close. Prophets and augurs proclaim the End Times for Mankind, and the number of instances of daemonic possession across the Imperium of Man is rising. Each psyker so accursed is granted an epiphany; in their last grasping death, the victims glimpse the horrific doom that awaits them -- an abyss of Chaos, absolute in its finality, unending in its despair. Now, across the galaxy, that same vision of ultimate torment -- of an eternity beneath the lash of daemons -- has spread. Across untold star systems, countless life forms read the portents and prepare for the dark days ahead.
Premonitions of disaster are now rife amongst the Imperium of Man, by far the largest of the galaxy's interstellar empires, but few understand the true nature of the Warp and the threat its denizens represent to all life. Yet even distant, technologically-backwards Imperial planets have marked the telltale signs of impending apocalypse -- the proliferation of mutants, the rise of Chaos Cults who worship the Dark Gods and the ever-increasing number of psykers in the human population. The Inquisition sees the warning signs, but there are simply too many Imperial planets in peril for them to halt many of the deadly chain reactions caused by daemonic possession. As psykers implode, small tears in the fabric of reality usher in bloody reigns of terror across thousands of planets, and in their attempts to suppress the truth and forestall mass panic, the Inquisitors adopt ever-more ruthless methods. For every Warp rift sealed though, more holes are opened, and the barrier between reality and the Realm of Chaos is left shattered and gaping in a dozen new locations.
Should the weakness of Mankind prove too great, one only needs to look at the Fall of the Eldar to see the consequences of failure. On their glittering Craftworlds, the remnants of the Eldar race do not need the rune-casting of their Farseers to tell them of the imminent threat. More psychically attuned than humans, each Eldar feels every new rent torn in realspace and cringes. Although utterly self-serving and cruel beyond human measure, even the Dark Eldar shudder at the thought of realspace engulfed by raw Chaos, for if that happened, their hidden city of Commorragh within the Webway would not stay so for long. Even the horrifying alien Tyranids recognize the threat from the Warp -- several Hive Fleets have altered their invasion courses in order to avoid Warp Storms gaping before them. There are scattered records of splinter fleets drifting into Warp rifts, most notably after the near-destruction of Hive Fleet Kraken at the Fall of Iyanden, though the results of such a galactic accident are mercifully hard to catalogue. The Dark Gods care not, for their unknowable plans move apace, and their final victory over the defenders of Creation seems assured.
Realm of Chaos
Insane savants argue that the material universe experienced by mortals represents only the tip of the iceberg and unseen realms exist just beyond perception. They say that the limitless depths of the Realm of Chaos surround and infuse the tiny chips of physicality that are planets and suns to mortal eyes. They declare that what humanity sees as “reality” is only a mask, a cloak of normality over the vast and swirling ocean known as the Immaterium, the Warp, or the Realm of Chaos.
The raw, unfocused energy of the Realm of Chaos forms a parallel dimension to the material universe, a place of infinite possibilities where raw emotion, belief and Jungian symbolism hold sway. The Realm changes constantly, ebbing and flowing in different locales as it does so. The flows, swirls, and eddies that it creates can form patterns and designs, drawing similar energies into themselves until they achieve a level of consciousness and purpose. When they find the courage to acknowledge the existence of such powers men call them the Chaos Gods. Many nameless gods have been cast up by the Warp only to be swept away again by the slow beat of aeons, but four great powers of Chaos seem eternal; Khorne the Blood God, Slaanesh the Prince of Pleasures, Nurgle the Lord of Decay, and Tzeentch the Changer of the Ways.
In primitive cultures countless creation myths are told of the formless void before the coming of the gods. In some tales the gods are said to have shaped the world from parts of themselves, in others they slay a great beast and use its bones to lay the foundation of Creation, in others the mortal realm is formed from the debris left by their great battles with one another. Seers and magicians of more studious societies make complex arguments for the material universe having given birth to the Ruinous Powers rather than vice-versa. They hold that the ocean of primordial essence that we now see as the seething Realm of Chaos was calm and undisturbed until it began to be altered by mortal passions and desires.
Materially it matters little what came first. The Ruinous Powers are real, tangible forces in both the Realm of Chaos and the material universe. They absorb the energies of countless souls in turmoil, waxing ever stronger on the hopes and fears of mortals until they have become truly god-like entities. If mortals truly gave birth to the entities that have become the Ruinous Powers no hint of mortal frailty remains. The Gods of Chaos represent absolutes completely unsullied by indecision or mercy.
Even beyond the Realm of Chaos there are some that give their fealty to the Ruinous Powers. Those that proclaim themselves followers of the Chaos Gods must cleave their own path, and soon learn to fear the “blessings” of their deities. Countless gibbering madmen have declared that they have seen the true face of Chaos and received messages from the gods. Physical corruption, mutation and stigmata are apt to sprout from the followers of Chaos like unholy fruit. Even so many that lust for power disregard such risks, thinking they can evade the consequences of meddling with powers beyond comprehension.
The gods care nothing for their followers or their machinations, granting them unimaginable power or withdrawing it from them just as quickly as their fickle whims decree. Mortals are mere playthings to them, to be used and cast aside at will, at best the objects of momentary fascination. Perhaps they know that once the process of a soul’s corruption has begun it becomes inevitable, and that the taint of Chaos will bring living souls to the gods whether they declare themselves devout or not. It is more likely the Ruinous Powers are simply unaware of the mass of mortality in any conscious sense because their state of existence and motivations are too vast and alien to comprehend. The Gods of Chaos are such remote and terrifying entities that most mortals who know of their existence hope only to escape their notice.
The Gods of Chaos
Khorne, the Blood God
Khorne is the Blood God, the God of War, Murder and Violent Death. He draws his power from the blood and skulls collected for him by his followers. The sheer amount of bloodshed and death in the galaxy currently has made Khorne the most powerful Chaos God. He sits upon a brass throne, which rests on a massive mountain of skulls, each taken in his name by a devotee. In every direction, as far as he can see, the ground is covered with shattered bones and rotted corpses. As the god of battle, Khorne bestows his favor on those who demonstrate martial prowess. Great warriors are often subjects of Khorne's interest. The followers of Khorne are almost all uncontrollable fighters who excel at the art of killing. His warhosts count many savage Chaos Space Marines and mutant warriors among their numbers. Khorne's followers share their god's straightforward philosophy on warfare, preferring to charge directly at their foes in order to defeat them in close, usually melee combat. As such, Khorne's followers are generally berserkers that pay little heed to tactics or defense in their frenzy for blood. Khorne frowns upon the use of sorcery, psychic powers and trickery, and those who use sorcery or are psykers should look elsewhere to find a patron for their studies. Khorne is the most powerful of the Chaos Gods, given that he is empowered by war and fighting, and given the ceaseless conflict in the Warhammer 40,000 universe he gains power constantly. Khorne is a god of war who acts outwardly by seeking the death of others, preferring close combat over ranged weaponry; as such, he is completely opposed to the hedonistic Slaanesh, an inwardly acting god who seeks pleasure in every act and experience. He has a strong distrust of sorcerers and psykers, whom he sees as cowards; this means he is also highly suspicious of Tzeentch, although they are not archenemies.
Khorne is the Blood God, the angry and murderous lord of battle. He is said to be the warrior god whose bellows of insatiable rage echo through time and space back to the first act of violence ever committed. Devotees of the Ruinous Powers have debated forcefully about the primogenesis of the Blood God for millennia. Some hold that it was the will of Khorne that first impelled a primitive to seize a rock and brain one of his fellows in a fit of murderous rage, thereby triggering the spiral of violence that fed the Chaos Power into the formidable force it has become. Others declare that it was the first mortal impulses of fury that breathed life into Khorne, and that he represents the primitive lust for violence lurking in every mortal heart. However, the true disciples of Khorne care nothing for such debates as they are fully engaged with slaying all that come to hand.
Khorne’s followers are the most ferocious warriors in the universe, and the Blood God abhors magic, sorcery and other unworthy tricks. The blood of magi is said to make a particularly welcome sacrifice to Khorne’s unquenchable thirst. Some justify their slaughter through honour, bravery or pride but the most fanatical know that it is only the bloodshed for its own sake that matters.
Khorne’s disciples believe that his great throne of brass sits upon a mountain of skulls in the midst of a sea of blood, evidence the sacrifice of his countless followers slain in battle and the multitudes killed in his name. They hold that Khorne is the Chaos Power that embodies mindless and absolute violence, the wild blood lust that, once unleashed, yearns to destroy everyone within reach whether they be friend or foe. Such true believers are few in number and they grow fewer all the time as his devoted followers gleefully send one another into his embrace, knowing that Khorne cares not from where the blood flows.
Depictions of Khorne often show him as a titanic, armoured figure covered from head to foot in armoured plates of strange and alien design. The figure’s armour is usually elaborately carved and worked with a repeating skull motif while his head is covered by a great winged helm showing a bestial, snarling face beneath. In most images, Khorne bears a rune-covered sword or axe, though in more primitive cultures he is often shown only with fists or claw-like hands.
In spite his apparently self-destructive aspects Khorne is overtly the most potent and active of all the Ruinous Powers. Endless wars and bloodshed in the mortal realm fuel it with the skulls of the slain, constantly drawn into its raging depths. Khorne needs no honeyed promises or convoluted plots to draw mortals into his realm; the anger and fury lurking just below their civilised demeanour is often more than enough. The path to Khorne’s domain can be just as slippery as any represented by the other, more subtle Ruinous Powers. The instinct to violence is a necessary one in a hostile universe, and is even lauded in protectors or liberators. Many societies must literally fight to survive and they celebrate their members for their ability to defend themselves and others.
So it is that soldiers, commanders, and even law enforcers begin their slow slide into Khorne’s embrace with the noblest of intentions. A desire to protect their loved ones warps gradually into a determination to fight back against those that threaten them. Martial pride and a sense of brotherhood are fostered to protect against hostile outsiders, and the authorities direct the urge to inflict harm against those designated as undesirable. Under the banners of protection wars are begun that consume whole populations, under the guise of efficiency bombs are dropped and death camps are built, under the proclamation of necessity billions of lives are destroyed.
Outside the constraints of the Imperium, those that go into battle commonly beseech Khorne in one of his warrior-god aspects to grant them some measure of his boundless fury. Victories are dedicated to one of his many names and defeats are repaid with blood sacrifices to win back his favour. Leaders of opposing armies strive to show that the favour of the Blood God is with them, and his greatest Chaos Champions are capable of winning the support of entire planets with the very rumour of their presence. Many of Khorne’s mortal followers strive for conquest on a vast scale by training armies and gathering fleets to hurl against the universe. Their success or failure is a matter of no import to him, as Khorne waxes strongest wherever mortal ambitions clash, regardless of the outcome.
Daemons of Khorne
Daemons of Khorne are fearsome entities of the kind most commonly associated with terrifying legends. Their horns, fangs, blood-red hides, and blazing eyes leave little doubt as to their murderous intent, and their ferocity is truly matchless. Only a fool treats with the daemons of Khorne without a ready source of blood sacrifices to trade for his own life. If a petitioner can evade death long enough a bargain is easy enough to strike -- the ravening entities desire only to be unleashed on a victim, any victim, and joyfully charge into battle at the first opportunity. Of course such daemonic cohorts make for dangerous allies, apt to turn upon any that come within their reach, but for many that serves their purposes admirably.
The Greater Daemons of Khorne are known as Bloodthirsters and said to be the most favoured of his servants. Bloodthirsters exist purely for combat and combat alone. Their bloodlust extends far beyond mortal comprehension, and they attack everything within reach with terrible ferocity. They do not know fear, other than of Khorne, and act regardless of the cost or consequences, although the usual consequences are death for whatever they face. Their immense pride in their fighting abilities rarely permits them to call upon allies or servants and they usually rely purely upon their own strength and skill.
The rank and file of Khorne’s vast daemonic legions are called Bloodletters. These are said to be formed from the mightiest mortal souls that met their deaths drenched in blood. Reborn as Bloodletters they appear as horned, red-scaled, man-like fiends with elongated skulls and black tongues lolling from fang-filled jaws. They clutch razor-edged Hellblades in their taloned claws, weapons honed to perfection on the souls of all those that have fallen in battle with the armies of Khorne. Like all daemons of Khorne, the ferocity of Bloodletters is boundless, and they attack any foe without hesitation. A horde of Bloodletters in battle is an almost unstoppable force, their power exponentially increasing in magnitude as the frenzied slaughter continues.
Great and terrible beasts also attend the ranks of the Blood God’s legions, the so-called Juggernauts and Flesh Hounds of Khorne. Flesh Hounds are lean and deadly hunters that pursue their prey relentlessly across the trackless Realms of Chaos. Those with witch-sight babble about blood red hounds that hunt them through their dreams, whose rage-filled howls continue to echo in their waking minds. Juggernauts are hulking, bestial amalgams of machine and metal. Piston-like limbs drive the Juggernaut’s brass-skinned body forward with the force of a battering ram, crushing its victims with appalling force. These monstrous beasts are ridden by daemons and Chaos Champions in battle.
Khorne hates and despises the Chaos Power Slaanesh above all others. The self-indulgent sensuality of the Prince of Pleasure is an affront to the warrior instincts of Khorne. The sense of duty, honour, and self-sacrifice that fuels part of Khorne’s existence is an anathema to the followers of Slaanesh, and the very antithesis of their own philosophy of self-indulgent pleasure seeking. The daemonic servants of Khorne and Slaanesh often attack each other on sight, and their mortal followers are often no less eager to join battle.
However, Khorne also has little respect for Tzeentch, the Arch Conspirator. Tzeentch’s patronage of wizards and manipulators intensifies the antipathy between their respective followers and they are frequently in conflict. However, both Ruinous Powers make common cause when the prospect for bloodletting is great and Tzeentch’s unguessable schemes can be advanced through their mutual efforts. At such times the Star of Chaos waxes strong in the mortal realm as the two most potent Dark Gods temporarily join forces and send their legions to war. Such mercurial pacts seldom endure for long before Khorne’s disciples or Tzeentch’s manipulators inevitably turn on their erstwhile allies.
Nurgle, the Plague Lord
Nurgle is one of the four great Chaos Gods and is the God of Disease and Decay. He is the embodiment of the hungry earth, the carrion crow whose poxes and plagues are inflicted upon all. Nurgle's power waxes and wanes over time as his "gifts" to the myriad worlds are spread, are cured or simply kill off everything in sight. Many of Nurgle's victims will eventually turn to his worship in the hope that it will ward off or ameliorate the torment they suffer at his hands. For entertainment, Nurgle will orchestrate plagues and new diseases, such as the Plague of Unbelief (Zombie Plague) and watch bemusedly as the mortals struggle to fight the illness and develop a cure. Many of Nurgle's wars are won indirectly simply through the plagues that sweep that land before his armies. Of note is Nurgle's Rot, which gradually changes a victim into a Plaguebearer.
Nurgle's followers tend to have a strong interest in the spread of disease. His worshippers become infected with horrific diseases which cause them to appear as disgusting, bloated and rotting masses of barely recognizable flesh, with many sores and open wounds in which infection and decay is rampant. Occasionally Nurgle's followers may become wizened, sickly thin and pale, while still having great power over disease. His Champions become so mutated and putrid that they are impervious to pain and almost impossible to injure. While equal in power with Khorne and Tzeentch, Nurgle's power is much less stable. At times, his forces are limitless and unbeatable, numberless rotting armies scouring the land of life. At others, his followers are scattered and weak, hiding in fetid corners of the universe. Nurgle's strength lies in stagnancy and decay, as well as the emotion of despair, which puts him in direct opposition to Tzeentch, who embodies hope, ambition and change.
Nurgle is most commonly called the Lord of the Decay but he is known many names; the Fly Lord, the Great Corruptor, the Master of Pestilence. The power of Nurgle is embodied in entropy, morbidity, disease and physical corruption. Of the four great powers Nurgle is said to be the one most involved with the plight of mortals. Through the gifts of raging fevers and shaking chills Nurgle’s hand is upon them from cradle to grave. Few escape the touch of Nurgle in their lives. He is sometimes called the Lord of All because all things, no matter how strong and secure, fall to physical corruption in the end.
Every Chaos God embodies the hopes, fears and other strong emotions generated by mortal beings. In the case of Nurgle, their fear of death and disease is the source of his greatest power. The mortal’s unconscious response to that fear -- the desperation to cling to life no matter what the cost -- gives Nurgle an opening into their souls. The whispered prayer of a parent over a fever-struck child, the anguished pleas of the dying man for one more day of life; these are meat and drink to Nurgle.
Nurgle is typically depicted as an immense, bloated humanoid, his body swollen with putrefaction. His skin is shown as leathery and necrotic, his surface pocked with running sores, swelling buboes and oozing wounds. Internal organs bulging with decay spill through splits in the ruptured skin to hang like bunches of scrofulous grapes around his vast girth. Nurgle is often illustrated with hordes of tiny daemons bursting forth from its pustules and suckling upon foulness.
The deranged worshippers of the Lord of Pestilence say that he concocts diverse contagions to inflict on the material universe for his amusement, and many of the most infectious and horrible diseases are Nurgle’s proudest creations. It is their belief that those who die caught in the grip of one of Nurgle’s terrible poxes are swept directly to his realm.
Those that sing the praises of Nurgle loud enough are sometimes spared so that they can spread his blessings further, for the church of the Fly Lord is always open to all. Nurgle has many supplicants but there are few with the fortitude to declare themselves as his champions. The few that can survive Great Corruptor’s manifold blessings exhibit a feverish, morbid energy and a preternatural resistance to physical damage.
The power of Nurgle waxes and wanes as his pandemics sweep across the galaxy. When untold billions fall prey to the newest plagues his strength can overshadow that of any of the other Chaos Gods for a period. At other times the power of Nurgle withers away to lie quiescent until circumstances are ripe for it to erupt forth once more.
Those that fashion themselves Champions of Nurgle represent a dire threat to densely populated worlds, where close-packed populations are vulnerable to a single contagion. Ships in the void are particularly vulnerable to disease and many dying crews have beseeched the Lord of Decay for his intercession. Such was the fate of the Death Guard Legion when it became marooned in the Warp on the long journey to Terra during the Horus Heresy. While they lay becalmed in the Immaterium, a mysterious contagion spread from one to another of the Death Guard’s ships until the entire fleet was infected. Even the reinforced physiology of the Space Marines could not fight off the dire plague as it bloated the guts, distended the flesh and rotted its victims from the inside. It is said that when even the Legion’s Primarch, Mortarion, fell victim to the plague he cried out to the Powers of Chaos in his delirium. His desperation to save himself and his Legion called forth Nurgle, and Mortarion became his Champion. Thus, the Death Guard Legion has enjoyed the favour of Nurgle for the last ten thousand standard years.
Daemons of Nurgle
The daemons of Nurgle are truly putrid in their appearance and sickening to look upon. Their flesh pulses with the feverheat of corruption, their innards push through lesions in their putrid skin and their bodies ooze with sticky slime. In contrast to their hideous appearance, Nurgle’s daemons are cheerful, energetic beings that show a disturbingly friendly demeanour. They are jovial in their work and show great pride in their accomplishments, interpreting the groans of the afflicted as expressions of gratitude justly won by their efforts.
The most powerful daemons of Nurgle are called Great Unclean Ones. Great Unclean Ones are facsimiles of the god himself both physically and in spirit. Every Great Unclean One is also Nurgle himself in some sense, and their followers often refer to them as “Papa” or “Father Nurgle.” Great Unclean Ones are seldom deathlike or morbid in character; in fact, they are usually motivated by the same trivial enthusiasms that drive the living. They are gregarious and even sentimental in their nature with a remarkable fondness for their followers. They often refer to their followers as their “Children” and take great pride in their appearance and oddly endearing behaviour.
The common daemons of Nurgle are known as Plaguebearers. These have a more approximately humanoid shape and lurch along on stick-thin limbs. Plaguebearers have single eye and a single horn, and chant in continuous monotone. They are also called the “Tallymen of Nurgle,” as it is said that they constantly strive to enumerate the endlessly changing number of plagues and poxes in the universe. Despite their decrepit appearance Plaguebearers are extremely dangerous in battle. A single scratch from their rusted swords is sufficient to bestow a plague that sends its host to Nurgle’s realm without delay.
The lowliest servants of Nurgle are the Nurglings, tiny daemons that look like miniature representations of Nurgle himself. They are mischievous, agile and constantly active slinking in the shadows of his champions or gathering in squealing hordes around Great Unclean Ones. Swarms of Nurglings overwhelm their enemies through sheer weight in numbers, using their scrabbling, diseased claws to pull down larger opponents so that they can gnaw at them with filth-caked fangs.
Nurgle is the age-old enemy of the Chaos Power Tzeentch, the Lord of Change. Their energies come from diametrically opposing beliefs; Tzeentch’s power derives from hope and changing fortune while Nurgle’s comes from defiance born out of despair and hopelessness. The followers of Nurgle often pit themselves against those of Tzeentch in complex political intrigues in the mortal realm, forever attempting to mire his schemes for change in dull minded conservatism and parochial self-interest. Their corrupting influence is often successful in thwarting the Architect of Fate and they erode at his accomplishments constantly, safe in the knowledge that whatever survives the collapse into entropy becomes their inheritance.
Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Chaos
Slaanesh is the Dark Prince of Chaos, the God of Pleasure and Pain. Slaanesh is the beguiling water, the Great Serpent who lives for pleasure and the experience of the sensations of life and death. All those who live in the pursuit of pleasure risk falling under this god's deceptive charms. Slaanesh is the youngest of the Chaos Gods, and referred to by the other Ruinous Powers as the Prince of Chaos. Seductive in the way that only an immortal being can be, Slaanesh is the Chaos God of pleasure, passion, luxury, art, and indulgence. Slaanesh is the manifestation of all hidden vices, cruel passions, and secret temptations that men hide fearfully in their hearts. While not interested in the dirty warfare of Khorne, (Khorne and Slaanesh are mortal enemies, as Slaanesh acts inwardly upon the mortal psyche by seeking selfish pleasure, while Khorne acts outward to kill others) Slaanesh does enjoy combat of the artistic sort, rewarding those whose fighting is transformed from a means to an end and thus into an art form all its own. Slaanesh's followers seek pleasure in every experience, and quickly become inured to more mundane things, including sounds and colors; thus they frequently wear garish, brightly colored armor, or clothing which is extravagantly decorated. Worshippers of Slaanesh are known for their complete lack of fear, as they see losing a battle as a new experience to be enjoyed. Slaanesh is the youngest and weakest of the major Chaos Gods. However, Slaanesh is constantly growing in power due to the corrupt and dark nature that all sentient beings, but particularly the Eldar and Mankind, try to keep hidden within their hearts, for even the mere act of thinking about such dark acts of pleasure and vice are enough to give spiritual strength to Slaanesh. It won't be long before Slaanesh sits as an equal of power amongst the other three Ruinous Powers, and may even rise above Khorne, given time and the incessant quest across the galaxy for pleasure.
Slaanesh is also known as the Lord of Pleasure, or the Prince of Chaos. It is the Ruinous Power dedicated to the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures and the overthrow of constraints. It is said that Slaanesh is the youngest of all the Chaos Gods, and was brought into being by the decadence of the galaxy-spanning Eldar civilisation. Slowly, over many centuries, the projected lusts and desires of the highly-psychic Eldar coalesced in the Warp to create the new power. As the entity grew, the Eldar themselves were increasingly affected by its influence, driven to new heights of depravity in pursuit of their jaded lusts. The spiral became tighter as the increasingly frenzied activities of the Eldar spurred Slaanesh towards full wakefulness, even as its dreams stirred their darkest desires.
The Eldar race became trapped by its own dark nature, one that asserted itself more and more as Slaanesh’s influence grew. The more it drove them into moral, social and artistic decadence the more the Eldar fought against it, but it was a hopeless struggle. Slaanesh was like an expanding balloon, straining outwards as pressure built inside, and it was only a matter of time before it burst. In the moment of Slaanesh’s birth the golden empire of the Eldar was irrevocably shattered. The terrible psychic scream of the newborn god shattered heaven and earth, its shock-wave spreading outward through the Warp to deal a numbing blow to the soul of every living thing.
It was too much for the psychically attuned Eldar to endure. Their souls were drawn into the growing Power of Slaanesh and their bodies evaporated as Chaos boiled into their minds. The Warp energy unleashed by Slaanesh’s birth tore out the heart of the old Eldar empire and transformed into it the vast region of Warp overlap with realspace now called the Eye of Terror by Mankind. Wherever Eldar populations were densest, the Warp literally spilled through their minds and into realspace, creating new areas of Warp overlap all over the galaxy. The once-proud Eldar were left a broken, hunted people scattered through space, bitter with the knowledge that if not for their foolishness, arrogance and hedonism, Slaanesh -- the Depraved One, the Great Serpent, She Who Thirsts -- would never have been born.
Slaanesh represents the locus of the fallen Eldar race’s deepest desires; the yearning for luxury and hedonistic over-indulgence, the exercise of cruel and unnatural passions, the pursuit of forbidden vices and unspeakable carnality. The Pleasure Lord always holds open the thrilling promise of the forbidden and the exotic beyond the boundaries of moral and societal laws. The siren call of its illicit pleasures draws everything from jaded Planetary Governors to mass pleasure cults onto Slaanesh’s paths. Of all the Chaos Powers the Prince of Pleasure can offer the greatest temptations to the common man, those without any desire to be conquering warriors or clever sorcerers. The first weavings of Slaanesh’s subtle influence can be as humble as a desire for rest or as simple as an end to hunger and he is said to capture many souls both willing and unwilling in his nets.
The followers of the Prince of Chaos pursue ever-greater heights of experience, seeking pleasure in increasingly extreme and outrageous fashion. Slaanesh’s influence often reaches into the upper echelons of hierarchies where the greatest luxury and privilege resides, corrupting nobility and wealthy families. It can be seen at its most insidious among those that strive for rectitude, as if the Prince of Chaos takes particular joy in corrupting those that dare to proclaim themselves as upright souls. Even the most pious pontiff must rest sometime, and when he does the unconscious desires in his dreams betray him to the Master of Carnal Joys. The more civilised a society becomes, the more frequently seeds of corruption planted by Slaanesh sprout within it. As leisure becomes widespread the unconscious wants of the many are led down dark paths by the subtle influence of Slaanesh.
Countless worlds have fallen into complete anarchy when Slaanesh pleasure cults became so widespread that all order was lost in an insane frenzy of self-gratification. On many, the Fall of the Eldar is reenacted in microcosm as society collapses and the howling winds of Chaos ravage the world through the minds of its psykers. The handful of gibbering survivors that are sometimes left behind are so changed by the experience that they can no longer be called in any sense mortal or sane. Certain Inquisitors of the Imperium have cultivated a particular loathing of the followers of Slaanesh for the corruption they spread so readily through the Emperor's mortal realm. Their efforts to suppress the pursuit of pleasure inevitably bring an ever-widening wide circle of recidivists, smugglers, criminals, and black marketeers into contact with Slaanesh’s mortal adherents.
Depictions of Slaanesh show it as an androgynous or hermaphroditic being of unearthly, unnatural and disturbing beauty. Two pairs of slender horns rise from the god’s flowing golden hair. Slaanesh is often depicted wearing luxuriantly lined, form-fitting armour and bearing a jade sceptre that is said to be his greatest treasure. His worshippers engage in great orgies involving every vice and perversity to praise the Lord of Pleasure, where the death of many through exhaustion and over-stimulation is taken to be a sign of the Prince’s favour. His devotees say that any extremity of sensation or emotion can open communion with Slaanesh, for the echoes of his birth scream reside in every mortal soul. They pursue a rapturous, tortured, orgasmic drug-fuelled state of hyper-sensuality, their souls burning bright and hot like shooting stars as they plunge ever deeper into the psychic maelstrom that is Slaanesh.
Daemons of Slaanesh
The Daemons of Slaanesh possess some elements of the perverse and unnatural beauty of their master, a beauty that provokes loathing and desire in equal measure. Their very presence evokes a tide of sensuality strong enough to drown a living soul, while their seductive promises can enslave even the stoutest heart. Their physical forms are both beguiling and monstrous, fairness and foulness intermingling to blast the soul of the viewer with their monstrous dichotomy.
The Greater Daemons of Slaanesh are called Keepers of Secrets; gorgeous, terrible beings that are said to hear the secret whispers made in every soul. Few can describe the sensations of shameful lust and dark ecstasy that attends a Keeper of Secrets, a heady toxin of fear and fulfilment that can shiver a mortal mind into pieces. Making a pact with a Greater Daemon of Slaanesh is the most thrilling and dangerous thing to undertake in the universe. A Keeper of Secrets takes a gloating, sadistic pleasure in breaking down the last barriers to full ecstatic rapture, mercilessly shearing away the last dignities and presumptions of a snared soul until it is left naked and quivering before its bestial lusts.
The Lesser Daemons of Slaanesh are known as Daemonettes. They are lithe-bodied, crab-clawed creatures with attractive, pale faces marred by fanged mouths and green, saucer-like eyes. Their hypnotic, blasphemous beauty is as much a weapon as their razor-sharp claws, blinding their enemies with a mixture of revulsion and lust. Daemonettes have been known to weave perverse sorceries with their lascivious dancing and singing, corrupting the senses and baffling the mind with altered realities. Their laughter charms the senses as the tinkling of delicate chimes, even as they precisely and painfully tear their victims limb from limb.
Daemonettes often ride upon weird, bipedal beasts known as the Steeds of Slaanesh. These are spindle-limbed, fleet-footed beings that are faster than any mortal steed, with impossibly long whip-like tongues protruding from their vaguely equine heads. The questing tongue delivers a paralysing shiver of unholy ecstasy to whatever it touches, rendering its prey helpless before the attentions of its rider.
Slaanesh is said to have little interest in the other Chaos Powers, being too caught up in his own pleasures to be interested in alliances or co-operation. However, the followers of Khorne with their boorish beliefs in bloodshed for its own sake are particular enemies. Cults dedicated to Khorne and Slaanesh clash frequently in the mortal realm just as their daemonic legions are believed to battle endlessly in the Realm of Chaos.
Slaanesh’s comparative weakness in direct confrontations is balanced by his endless capacity for corruption, often even leading Khorne’s faithful astray through their own battle lust. A widespread and technologically advanced conflict is particularly vulnerable to Slaanesh’s influence as a single well-placed convert can have the means to wreck a fleet or destroy an entire city. Wherever Khorne’s followers become most strident those of Slaanesh can be found working subtly in the background to bring about their opponents’ downfall.
Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways
Tzeentch is the Changer of Ways, the God of Change and Dark Knowledge. Tzeentch is the inconstant air, the Great Eagle who pulls the strings of fate in whichever way he pleases. The minions and followers of Tzeentch manipulate the sorcery and psychic power of the Warp in their rawest form, and often know the thoughts and fates of their foes even before they do. Not interested in raw strength, Tzeentch bestows his favor upon those who use their intelligence to fight their enemies. Mortal worshipers of Tzeentch tend to be Sorcerers, psykers, scholars and other educated elites who desire greater knowledge and power. Some of these worshipers become very powerful sorcerers, but Tzeentch has a tendency to mutate his followers, and the highest levels of power are said to be difficult for his followers to reach, as they frequently find themselves mutated into mindless beasts like the Chaos Spawn. Those who do attain great power in the service of Tzeentch, however, are extremely powerful foes who are often mighty sorcerers as well as great warriors. Tzeentch is as powerful as Khorne, but with a different style of power, controlling sorcery and psychic power instead of armies. The plots of Tzeentch are countless, and whenever there is an alliance of Chaos Undivided forged by the Gods of Chaos, Tzeentch is undoubtedly the cause, direct or indirect. Tzeentch also represents optimism, hope and the willingness to change, thus making Nurgle his nemesis.
The enigmatic Chaos Power Tzeentch is known by many titles including the Changer of the Ways, the Master of Fortune, the Great Conspirator and the Architect of Fate. These titles reflect its masterly comprehension of the twisting paths of destiny, history, intrigue, and plots. The hopes and plans of every man and every nation whisper through its many-chambered mind. Its all-seeing eye watches as plots unfold and intrigues alter the course of history.
Although far from the first to exhibit such traits, Mankind is a notably volatile and ambitious species. Tzeentch feeds upon the need and desire for change that is so much a part of human nature. All men dream of wealth, freedom and a better tomorrow. The confluence of these desires creates a powerful impetus for change, just as the ambitions of leaders create a force that can change history. Tzeentch is the embodiment of that force.
Tzeentch is not content to merely observe the fulfilment and disappointments brought by the passage of time. It works its own schemes, plans so complex and convoluted that they touch upon the lives of every mortal, whether they know it or not. Tzeentch’s true intentions are hidden behind layer upon layer of interweaving plots so convoluted and so long-term that no mortal can hope to understand them. Perhaps Tzeentch plans to overthrow the other Chaos Powers, or to extend his dominion across mortal realms, or to achieve some unguessable apotheosis. Perhaps Tzeentch plots endlessly because that is its driving force, and its schemes can never achieve fruition as they twist constantly into new plans and conspiracies.
Whatever Tzeentch’s ultimate purpose, he pursues it by manipulating individual lives and thereby altering the course of history. The aura of magic and power around the god Tzeentch commonly draws influential people into its orbit; leaders, generals, and merchant princes looking for a way to pursue their ambitions or overcome their enemies. A glimpse of the future can be all that it takes to win a political conflict or close a deal, a simple spell might bury evidence of wrongdoing where no investigator would ever find it. All of these possibilities make irresistible temptations for those that dare to follow the path of Tzeentch.
A subtle nudge here or there and these influential individuals can in turn enmesh millions of lives in Tzeentch’s grand schemes, lending it a disproportionate amount of power in comparison to its number of followers. However, few of Tzeentch’s plots are straightforward, and many at first appear contradictory or even seem to act against its own interests. Only the Changer of the Ways can see all the threads of potential futures weaving on the loom of fate.
Of all the Chaos Powers, Tzeentch is said to be the most accomplished magician. Warp-magic is one of the most potent of all the agents of change and wielding it requires matchless ambition and hunger for power. Those who style themselves Champions of Tzeentch are often Sorcerers of the most powerful kind. Any individual that pursues the learning of Warp lore eventually discovers Tzeentch and feels the subtle tug of the rewards it can offer. Of all the Chaos Powers, Tzeentch can appear the most rational and safest to deal with, granting huge dividends in exchange for seemingly inconsequential demands. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that once they are caught up in Tzeentch’s schemes, there is no escape.
Images purported to depict Tzeentch are rare, and normally conflicting in their nature. Some show him as having the characteristics of birds or fish but most depict the Master of Magic as a long-armed, manlike figure with its face sunk low down between his shoulder blades. Huge, asymmetrically curving horns appear to spring from the figure’s shoulders. Those that claim to have witnessed the Changer of the Ways in their dreams say that his skin crawls with constantly changing faces leering and mocking the onlooker. As Tzeentch speaks, these faces sometimes echo what he says with subtle but important differences, or provide a commentary that throws doubt on the words spoken. They say that the firmament about the Architect of Fate is heavy with brooding magic. Languid coils of essence weave like thick smoke around its head, forming subtle patterns. The vagrant forms of people and places appear in the vapours as Tzeentch’s mercurial mind contemplates their fate.
Daemons of Tzeentch
Daemons of Tzeentch are highly magical, with the lesser forms being entirely formed from constantly shifting patterns of unstable warp-energy. Greater Daemons of Tzeentch are known as Lords of Change. These are described as massive, birdlike entities that are surrounded by a bright shifting aura of sorcery. Their bodies and wings shimmer with a thousand iridescent colours and their claws are said to be glittering diamonds. The gaze of a Lord of Change can penetrate the very depths of a mortal’s soul, reading the thread of his fate and his ultimate destiny at a glance.
Lords of Change are possessed of all the scintillating brilliance and deep wisdom of their master, but each is its own creature with its own agenda. It is not uncommon for the agents of different Lords of Change to clash in pursuit of their own schemes, no doubt by the design of Tzeentch himself. It is said that no being in the Realm of Chaos understands the flow of the Warp as naturally as they do, and that bargaining for their help brings success in the most desperate of schemes. However, a pact with a Lord of Change is as convoluted and inescapable as a web of steel, and the soul of the supplicant is the price for even the smallest morsel of wisdom.
The Lesser Daemons of Tzeentch are living flames of Warp energy that cavort and twist in time to insane piping. They flicker along invisible patterns of change and fate in the Empyrean, briefly whirling into existence where the winds of magic blow strongly enough. Mortals know of two kinds of Tzeentch Lesser Daemons, Horrors and Flamers.
Horrors of Tzeentch possess long, gangling limbs protruding from a thick, trunk-like torso with no head. The Horror’s leering face normally appears in its chest but may shift from moment to moment, slithering away to another part of their anatomy at random. Glowing Warp energies wreath Horrors with pink and blue light as they bray and cackle blasphemously, their sucker-tipped fingers drooling with Warp stuff. In combat Horrors playfully pull apart their enemies and burn them with aetheric fires. Striking them only splits them into miniature versions of themselves which caper and gibber with undiminished vigour.
The so-called Flamers of Tzeentch are even more strange and disturbing entities than the Horrors. They display no man-like characteristics at all, appearing only as thick trunk of living flame topped by waving tendrils spouting tongues of pink Warp-fire. An inhuman, beaked visage can sometimes be glimpsed on the torso of the being but its voice is only the roar and crackle of flames.
Daemons of Tzeentch are capable of granting great powers to their followers. They may perform seemingly complex magical undertakings by instinct, making rites and summons with a level of energy that a mortal sorcerer could never dream of wielding. Thus, according to Tzeentch’s unguessable whims, a mass of Horrors might open a Warp rift through their collective efforts, or just as likely close one, or disperse a dozen seemingly unrelated incantations, causing rifts to open or close in the future.
Mention should also be made of the Discs of Tzeentch, shark-like predators of Warpspace that are sometimes used as mounts by Champions and Daemons of the Changer of the Ways. These beings take the shape of flattened, plate-like creatures rimmed with vicious teeth and spikes to slice through their prey. In the endless depths of the Realm of Chaos shoals of these creatures mercilessly hunt lost souls, but Tzeentch’s followers know the secrets of capturing them and binding them to service as fast and agile mounts.
The antithesis of the Chaos Power Tzeentch is that of Nurgle, the Lord of Decay. Tzeentch’s energy is derived from the excitement and will to change, the desire to forge one’s own destiny, refashion fortune and gain power. Nurgle’s power comes from a defiant brand of hopelessness and despair, a moribund acceptance of the way things are born out and a determination to keep plodding forward regardless. In stark contrast, Tzeentch’s followers are often drawn to spark change and revolution in civilised societies, endlessly challenging the established order and breaking open the body politic before it rots from within.
Malal, the Renegade God
Malal, also called Malice, is the Renegade God of Chaos, the God of Contention, Vengeance and Anarchy, the sworn enemy of the other four Chaos Gods and all they represent, though he is no friend of Mankind, either. He represents the absolute anarchy of true Chaos and its tendency to turn even upon itself in its own randomness. He is, however, absent from the most recent editions of all the Warhammer games for copyright reasons.
Followers of Chaos Undivided venerate the force of Chaos itself, seeing the four major Chaos Gods as a single pantheon to be worshiped equally as different emanations of the same universal force. Of all the worshipers of Chaos they follow Chaos in its purest form. They can interpret the meaning of Chaos in a variety of ways, including as a single god, worship the four major Chaos Gods equally, or favour one slightly over the others. The Chaos Lords and Daemon Princes of Chaos Undivided are at an advantage in their ability to unite any of the Forces of Chaos under their leadership, even if they would normally worship opposing gods like Khorne and Slaanesh, so the warbands dedicated to Chaos Undivided are always the most diverse. The majority of the Traitor Legions of Chaos Space Marines serve Chaos Undivided, including the feared Black Legion of Abaddon the Despoiler, the greatest Champion of Chaos Undivided.
Servants of Chaos
The Imperium is mighty and its reach is long, but the infinite Realm of Chaos is greater still. Even in the material universe the Emperor’s followers only control islands of light in a sea of darkness. There are many who do not want the protection of the Imperium, who defy its laws and seek to undermine its works. Even inside the Imperium itself rebels and Secessionists struggle constantly to throw off the chains of oppression, particularly among the lowliest underclasses created by the Priesthood of Terra. These are the peoples that have not forgotten the taste of freedom, those who would rather give their fealty to the uncaring Ruinous Powers than grovel before the Corpse-God of distant Terra. Some are peoples who seek to escape from bondage and go to any lengths to secure their release. Others resist the power of the Imperium without truly knowing why they do so, motivated simply by a conviction that they must fight against the tyranny it represents. All of these peoples are the servants of Chaos and knowingly or unknowingly they continue to fight in the Long War begun by Horus ten millennia past.
Those Who Live Without
The first group of those the Imperium brand as “Heretics” are those who live beyond Imperial control by living outside the boundaries of the Imperium of Man itself. Though the Imperium is vast, its authority stretching from rim to rim of the galaxy, in reality there are vast swaths of space unknown to the Imperium of Man. These regions have many names, including but by no means restricted to, the “Outlands,” “Wilderness Space,” and “The Halo Stars.” Within them, whole civilisations can rise, prosper, and fall, without once knowing of the wider Imperium that surrounds them.
Just as the Imperium is vast beyond proper comprehension, so too are the Renegade warbands too many and diverse to ever properly catalogue or define. Some may be feral tribes existing on worlds deemed too insignificant to warrant an Imperial presence, their only contact limited to ambitious missionaries of the Imperial Creed and periodic orbital surveys by passing patrols. Others may be independent starships, mining operations, and whole colonies existing in regions too difficult for Imperial voidships to reach. On occasion entire star systems that have been isolated by Warp Storms for centuries re-establish contact with the universe and sensibly opt to keep themselves hidden from the Imperium.
The Calixis Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus exists amongst the edges of the galaxy, an established bastion of Imperial control amongst the hazy borders. Thus, it is surrounded by regions of space not under Imperial control. The most prominent is the Koronus Expanse in the Halo Stars, linked to the Calixis Sector by a fluctuating Warp passage known as the Koronus Passage or the Maw. Beyond this passage, Imperial rule ends, and all manner of human civilisations exist unknown and undiscovered. However, there are other outlands around the Calixis Sector as well, including the Hazeroth Abyss, the fringes of the Drusus Marches Sub-sector, and the nomad space between the Calixis and bordering Ixaniad Sector.
These Renegades are as varied as the regions of space they occupy. Some come from the savage worlds of the Koronus Expanse such as Naduesh and Vaporius. Others hail from nomad or heretical clans such as the Meritech Pirate Clans that waged war against the Calixis Sector and were exterminated for their pains many centuries ago.
Many of the outlander clans that populate these regions hold that they have survived because they learned to honour the Ruinous Powers, firmly believing that their sacrifices to the Dark Gods bring bounty into their otherwise barren existence. Powerful psyker-dynasties dominate some of these groups, and others claim to be parties to daemonic pacts forged by their ancestors when the Emperor still walked among the living. Frequently these peoples take the form of extended clans that share their knowledge only through their blood relatives, maintaining a level of know-how about ancient technologies or local Warpspace conditions that astounds outsiders. The Adeptus Mechanicus is particularly sensitive to the existence of such Hereteks (of which those in the Meritech Clans are a particularly egregious example) and press other Imperial authorities to mobilise and capture or kill them as a matter of priority.
Even though some of these groups can trace an unbroken chain of antecedents reaching all the way back to the Age of Strife, Imperial authorities view them all as smugglers, pirates, and Renegades. Battlefleet Calixis and other detachments of the Imperial Navy (such as Battlefleet Ixaniad) destroy unregistered voidships as a matter of course, and eliminate known “pirate haunts” whenever they can. In consequence many Renegade clans have learned to be extremely wary of taking actions that reveal their existence to the Imperium, and when they must do so they often use elaborate measures to disguise their activities.
The ranks of the Renegades are constantly being swelled by those driven out by the Imperium’s policies; deposed nobles, defeated warriors, disillusioned theocrats, failing merchants, mutants, and unsanctioned psykers all find refuge in Wilderness Space. It is a savage existence. Many seize anything its owner cannot protect as a matter of course, although they respect armed strength and they understand how to deal for mutual profit. A clever and well-armed Renegade can soon establish himself as a king on a Feral World with connections to local pirate clans, and from there his ambitions might take him back into Imperial space to burn and plunder. Renegades like these are particularly abhorrent individuals to Imperial eyes as they exploit their knowledge of the Imperium's defences to lead attacks against vulnerable trade routes and colonies
Certain renegade communities co-operate with alien races for mutual profit, especially in common opposition to the Imperium. Ork mercenaries, Eldar Corsairs or Stryxis traders (in the case of those settlements within the Koronus Expanse) may be frequent visitors at some Renegade settlements. Within some alien empires whole enclaves of humans exist ruled by xenos overlords that grant them freedom for their loyalty. It is impossible to say what bargaining and gifts may have been necessary to convince aliens to work with humans, although it may be that merely cursing the God-Emperor and his Imperium was sufficient for some. The dangerous taint of zealotry and xenophobia remains strong about all humans, however, leading to some demand for their use as bodyguards among alien traders that enjoy intimidating their non-human clients.
Smuggling xenostech into the Imperium, along with other illicit goods, is a profitable activity, and the so-called Cold Trade into the Calixis and neighbouring sectors from the Halo Stars is dangerously profitable in the eyes of the Inquisition’s Ordo Calixis. Rogue Traders and Chartist Captains can turn vast profits by meeting up with Renegades in out-of-the-way star systems. There they can trade with them for goods that fetch vastly inflated prices in the Imperium. The risks are high and not only because the Imperial authorities may attempt to impound their ship and strip them of their license if they catch them. Reaver pirate clans sometimes simply cut out the middleman and seize a trader’s cargo at the rendezvous. Dealing with Renegades is always a risky business as good relations with one group will not extend protection from all of them.
Individual Renegades sometimes slip into Imperial space to pursue their trade, but they find it a dangerous place to live. If caught and identified, they are tortured and executed by the Inquisition with no hope of mercy. Memory blocks and synaptic tampering are used by some groups (particularly the heretic Vaol Clans of the Drusus Marches Periphery) to protect their operatives -- or, more accurately, the friends and loved ones they would put at risk if captured.
Those Who Live Within
For those with no love for the Emperor’s laws, life inside the Imperium is a daily peril. Within a social system where the innocent are routinely persecuted, the guilty must stay especially on their guard if they hope to survive. For most citizens the Imperium is nothing but a source of oppression and fear, and not all of those that cry out against the yoke of its authority are the dedicated servants of Chaos. The religious intolerance of the Ecclesiarchy persecutes entire belief systems by branding them as heresy and daemon worship for the slightest deviation from the dogmatic and orthodox Imperial Creed. Psykers and mutants face a terrible fate at the hands of the Imperium, at best existing as a shunned underclass in those rare places where they are not executed on sight. Political parties, labour movements, guilds and even criminal organisations that were once vilified by the citizenry can sometimes become their outlet for anti-Imperial sentiment when the authorities tighten their grip.
Fear of the Inquisition quickly drives these diverse groups underground to form a hidden network of cells and covens dedicated to the downfall of Imperial rule. Secret cults of worshippers tend shrines dedicated to their ancient gods in secret while presenting a face of bland devotion to the God-Emperor in public. Humble workers toil in the factories while they plan revolution and the overthrow of their hated bosses. Wherever there is sedition and dissent the conditions become ideal for the subtle spread of Chaos.
The lure of arcane lore and unearthly power exercises a fatal attraction for the ambitious and the desperate. All over the galaxy, even on Mars and Ancient Terra, there are people willing to dabble in matters beyond their understanding in the pursuit of power or forbidden knowledge that will set them apart or above their peers. Not all of these realise they are dealing with the Powers of Chaos, innocently becoming involved through warrior societies or intellectual communities that may appear outwardly quite benign in nature. Often a Chaos Power is venerated under a different guise with a seemingly unconnected name, and a host of Daemon Princes and Lesser Powers are worshipped by different cults with just as much fervour as those dedicated to the Great Powers of Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle, or Slaanesh.
Some cultures devote themselves to Chaos in its unaligned glory and see the Powers of Chaos as a pantheon of gods, a polytheistic outlook common in many tribal religions. Ecclesiarchy missionaries usually try to insert the God-Emperor into such belief systems, claiming Him to be more powerful than the others, but change is slow to occur and the last vestiges of daemon-worship are notoriously hard to stamp out. Even pious-seeming monks and holy men may transpire to be followers of “saints” who possess, upon closer inspection, decidedly daemonic aspects.
Those who truly desire change sometimes go to the most extreme lengths to gain the power they need to affect it. Forbidden lore, suppressed knowledge, and ancient pacts may offer routes to victory for an ardent freedom fighter or revolutionary where weapons and bombs fail to make an impact. On some worlds, the spread of law and industry rouses anarchists and madmen to oppose it, on others gentrified nobility anxious to keep control of their lands might turn to the methods their forefathers used in earlier, darker ages. Even the most advanced and powerful Imperial worlds have their own secret cults that have hidden themselves from sight for centuries while their members work tirelessly to worm themselves into position of power and authority. Such cults are a source of great concern to the Inquisition, none more so than those that actually manage to communicate with daemons directly or -- worse still -- summon them from the Warp.
Those Who Live Beyond
A well-established Chaos Cult has the potential to tip an entire world into Chaos in a very literal sense. Their greatest works of sorcery can open the gates of hell itself and unleash the daemonic legions of the Ruinous Powers. As the mutating power of Chaos saturates the world it becomes a realm not entirely of the material universe and not entirely of the Warp: a Daemon World where the laws of nature and reason have been completely usurped by the whims of the major Chaos Powers. Here daemons roam freely and are constantly nourished by twisting winds of magic and mortals become their playthings with a value only as Chaos Champions or slaves. Daemon Worlds are a sanctuary for the worshippers of Chaos with the means and courage to flee to them. The Inquisition never rests in its efforts to eliminate the devotees of the Ruinous Powers, but a Daemon World defies even their shadowy reach.
No one knows the exact number of Daemon Worlds in the galaxy, nor whether all of them could truly be said to even exist within the galaxy any more. Imperial Navigators have reported worlds in the deep tides of the Immaterium light years away from any star systems and severe Warp Storms are said to have shifted entire planets across time and space. Certainly the greatest concentration of Daemon Worlds appears to be in the region of the Segmentum Obscurus called the Eye of Terror, the birthing grounds of the Chaos Power Slaanesh, but many other Daemon Worlds are spoken of in myth and legend in different parts of the galaxy. Some hold that every major Warp Storm in the galaxy has one or more Daemon Worlds at its heart, the source of all the dangerous torrents of Warp energy that sustain it and its unholy inhabitants.
Untold billions of mortals exist on Daemon Worlds, their lives utterly subject to the Ruinous Powers and their bodies marked by Chaos. Many are destined to form warbands battling for the amusement of their masters, hurling themselves against one another while screaming praises to their Dark Gods. Others are arranged into shuffling prayer gangs that trace the path of vast runes visible only from space; others might sift, weigh, and catalogue grains of sand in vast deserts or endlessly build and then destroy monuments that defy sanity and science. The activities pursued with such vitality and fervour on Daemon Worlds are often nonsensical and contradictory by nature -- and apt to change at a moment’s notice.
A few Daemon Worlds are dominated by the remnants of the Chaos Space Marine Traitor Legions that once followed Horus. They have become training grounds, forges, and armouries for the Legions’ continuing prosecution of the Long War against the Corpse-Emperor. Entire regiments are raised and destroyed under their brutal regimes, the veteran survivors reformed and hurled into battle again and again to forge them in the crucible of war. On these hellish worlds anyone is capable climbing up from slave cannon fodder through hardened veteran to valued elite with sufficient skill and élan. The hardiest and most dedicated may some day win a place in the Legion and have their body broken by dark chirurgeons to be remade as something greater than human -- if a new source of uncorrupted Astartes gene-seed can be secured.
The Traitor Legions teach their human slaves to hate the Imperium and to despise the Emperor with an unholy passion. Time runs differently on Daemon Worlds and veteran Space Marines that stood beside Horus still live on a hundred centuries later in the Eye of Terror and other benighted places. They bitterly remember their defeat before the Imperial Palace during the climactic Battle of Terra and have sworn to have their vengeance against the False Emperor on the Golden Throne. Incalculable woe has been unleashed on the Imperium by the Traitor Legions over the millennia since the Horus Heresy. These so-called “Black Crusades” have ravaged the regions around the Eye of Terror and destabilised huge areas elsewhere in the Imperium.
Even once the Imperium rallies its vast resources to reconquer territory lost to a Black Crusade, the indelible taint of Chaos is left behind. On recaptured worlds the incidence of psykers and mutations in the liberated populations leaps sharply and cultist cells are always particularly active. The Traitor Legions attempt to erode Imperial power whenever they can and some specialise in utilising Renegade and underground elements as parts of a larger conspiracy. Imperial Inquisitors are particularly alert for signs that cult or pirate activity may presage a larger invasion by the Traitor Legions, but with a million worlds to protect their task is a nigh impossible one.
The Chaos Gods are not alone in Warpspace. They have created servants from their own essences -- the creatures that mortals have named daemons based on their ancient legends and religious mythologies -- who are not so closely bound to the Warp. Daemons are entities of a somewhat different nature to their masters, and are the most numerous of the creatures to be found in the Empyrean. A daemon is "born" when a Chaos God expends a portion of its own power to create a separate being. This psychic power binds a collection of senses, thoughts and purposes together, creating a personality and consciousness that can move within the Warp. The Chaos God can reclaim the independence it has given to its daemon children at any time, thus ensuring their loyalty. It is only through the loss of this power that a daemon can truly be destroyed, its mind dissolving into the whirls and currents of Warpspace.
Daemons have no physical presence within the Warp. The Realm of Chaos is anathema to the laws of physics and the starships that navigate its depths do so by taking a skin or bubble of "reality" with them when they enter using their Warp-Drive. Instead of possessing a true physical form, daemons project a form conjured from raw psychic energy that is essentially a lesser interpretation of their master's fundamental nature. Hence, the bizarre and inhuman appearances projected by daemons indicate their presence, status and allegiance to a Chaos God.
Though it may appear to be made of normal matter when it materialises in realspace, a daemon's form is no more physical than it is in the Realm of Chaos. In fact, they are beings of pure Warp energy given shape and depth. When manifested in the material universe, daemons have particular invulnerabilities and weaknesses, as well as many strange powers derived from their Warp-born nature as psychic beings. Slaying a daemon's physical projection does not kill it, but only severs its presence in reality; its true essence in the Warp remains unharmed.
When a daemon is "killed" in the material universe, it is banished back to the Warp. If not simply re-absorbed by its creator, it must remain there to regain its strength that it eventually might manifest itself again. Legend has it that a daemon banished in this way cannot return for a thousand Terran years and a day,, though it is of course impossible to prove such a belief through study, and the concept of time itself is meaningless within the Warp. The slight to a "slain" daemon's pride is considerable, however, and the daemon is forced to endure the mockery of its fellows until it can return to corporeal form and avenge itself. The most powerful daemons will call upon any servants and tributary Lesser Daemons to help them achieve their revenge. If it has many allies, it may also request their aid, though all daemons are cautious in doing so. Such favours must inevitably be returned, and no daemon welcomes the dominion of another creature, be it mortal or daemonic.
In order for a daemon to break through into the mortal universe, there must be a breach of the barriers between Warpspace and the material realm -- a Warp rift. These are breaches in the fabric of reality that can vary in nature and size, such as the massive Eye of Terror or the Maelstrom. Sometimes these occur randomly; at other times, either mortals or the Chaos Gods themselves bring about their creation by some supernatural act. The size of the breach can vary tremendously, from a slight thinning of the dimensional walls to immense wounds in reality that allow the daemonic legions to invade en masse.
At times when certain conditions like the appearance of a Warp Storm or a sorcerous ritual have weakened the barrier between the Warp and realspace, a daemon can possess a mortal and turn him or her into a living portal through which whole daemonic hosts can pass for a time into the material universe. These daemonic incursions can taint realspace severely, often twisting and reshaping whole planets until they are lost into the Warp, becoming a part of the Immaterium and thus transformed into Daemon Worlds. It is not surprising that the Inquisition's Daemonhunters, the Ordo Malleus, are granted unlimited resources and political power by the High Lords of Terra to deal with such terrible threats to the continued existence of Mankind.
Often, it is the tumultuous movements of the Warp itself that create a break into the material realm, allowing daemons to spill through the resulting breach. This might happen by chance; events such as the onset of Warp Storms, Warp-Drive implosions or a rogue psyker's mind suddenly exploding with raw power can cause a rift to appear into the Immaterium. At other times, the deliberate rituals and blood sacrifices of Chaos-worshipping mortals can allow the teeming hordes of the Chaos Gods to smash through into the material realm. Sometimes, simple mortal suffering, death and misery on a massive enough scale can form a Warp rift that a daemonic legion might use as a portal. Some Warp rifts last mere hours, or even moments, for the nature of Chaos is ever impermanent. A daemonic army that has passed through such a rift can become trapped in realspace and will swiftly succumb to the constant leeching of the Chaos energy required to maintain its presence.
Of these, the greatest and most dangerous Warp rift is the Eye of Terror, which has lasted for more than ten thousand standard years. The Eye can be seen as a purple-red bruise upon the firmament from fully half the worlds claimed by the Imperium. It was created by the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh in the early 30th Millennium and is home to unnumbered Daemon Worlds fought over by daemons and mortals alike, the infamous Traitor Legions of the Chaos Space Marines amongst them. Another Warp rift of excessive magnitude is the Maelstrom, found near the galactic core and a haven for thousands of pirates and Renegade Space Marine Chapters. Other, less widely known Warp rifts exist, such as the Heart of Darkness near to the world of Atilla, the Storm of Judgement that engulfs almost all of the Caradryad Sector, Hell's Gullet, which threatens to swallow the Berillian System whole, and the infamous Screaming Vortex that marks the border between the Calixis Sector and the frontier of the Koronus Expanse in the Halo Stars.
Random Warp rifts are often caused by Warp Storms -- roiling expanses of turbulence within the Realm of Chaos that are echosed in realspace, restricting Warp-dependent travel and communication. If they become focussed or powerful enough, they can pull the fabric of reality taut or even tear it open. Compeletely unpredictable, Warp Storms can be isolated to single planets or expand to encompass whole sectors. One of the worst Warp Storms ever recorded in human history cut Terra itself off from the rest of the galaxy for the entire 5,000-year-long epoch known as the Age of Strife. The unfortunate worlds in the vicinity of such a cataclysmic event can become the playgrounds of daemons until the storm finally expends itself. A few Warp Storms have endured for so long that they can be considered permanent, their self-sustaining energies trapping nearby planets and star systems in a quagmire of roiling Chaos.
Without the Warp, there would be no psykers, no interstellar travel and no interplanetary communication. In fact, the Warp is essential to the survival of humanity. Spacecraft travel through its shifting tides, capable of travelling thousands of light years in a fraction of the time a journey using conventional reaction drives at sub-light speeds would take. By such means, humanity is bound in a single interstellar Imperium, led by the divine Emperor of Mankind.
Through astrotelepathy and the guidance of the psychic mutants known as Navigators, the worlds of the Imperium are able to maintain their fragile bonds. The Emperor's will may be mighty, but His reach is long only because His fleets can travel through Warpspace, the fragile bubbles of reality that protect each warship held up by complex Geller Fields and raw faith.
While Mankind would have a fraction of its current numbers and strength without the Warp, Chaos in its turn would be much diminished without the presence of humanity in the galaxy. The Chaos Gods drink emotions and thoughts, growing bloated with psychic power in the process. Over the millennia, each has fed on an aspect of human nature: rage, desire, corruption and inconstancy. Strengthened and moulded by the collective thoughts and emotions of the inhabitants of reality, the Dark Gods nurture in Mankind those same passions that sustain their very existence. As humanity has spread across the stars, its numbers have grown immeasurably, fuelling the Chaos Gods. So the circle is established, with mortal follies and weaknesses feeding the Dark Gods and those same gods then encouraging Mankind in turn to further follies and weakness.
Humanity has long been able to use the power of the Warp -- magicians, seers, witches, mediums, shamans and exorcists have all trapped into its power across the breadth of human history, albeit often unwittingly. Psykers such as these manifest their powers by drawing upon the Warp, siphoning its unnatural energy to hurl blasts of energy, teleport objects, send their thoughts across space and time and perform countless other "miracles." Once, the gift of true psychic power was confined to only a few helpless individuals who usually fell victim to superstitious prejudice in Mankind's distant past. However, the number of psykers is rising in the galactic population of humanity with every passing century. This constitutes a profound evolutionary change for Mankind. Every time a psyker draws upon the Warp, he disturbs its natural flow, creating an eddy that may simply die away or be fed by other movements until it becomes a raging tempest that feeds a Chaos God. Each psyker causes a pinprick of disturbance within the Warp; each can be the seed of a Warp Storm; each can rouse a Chaos Power to unthinkable conquest.
The invasion of a daemonic army is analogous to hell being unleashed upon reality. Free from the physical limitations of a mortal force, a daemonic legion can appear and disappear at will. On occasion, it will mass for a great attack; at other times, individual packs of daemons will hunt across the affected globe, terrorising the populace, randomly enslaving and killing. Those mortals with even the least psychic potential suffer first as the influx of Warp energy releases the latent power of their mind, immolating them with magical fire, turning them into rocky statues, or causing their brains to simply explode. Poltergeist activity and random brusts of pyrokinesis can ruin buildings in an instant. People hear deranged screams and lurid whispering whilst unnatural stenches taint the air.
A daemonic invasion is all but impossible to stop by conventional means, for the very act of warring against daemons feeds the psychic power keeping them in realspace with fear and hatred. Only the closing of the Warp rift can deprive the daemons of their power. Often, there is nothing that can be done but battle against the incursion until the Warp rift runs its course. Battles fought against a daemonic incursion are utterly different than those against mortal foes, for defensive structures and garrisons have little to no effect. To wage war against invading daemonic hosts, an army must be ready to respond to the most sudden appearances of its adversaries.
To compound matters, the motivations behind daemonic incursions are unfathomable. Even the Tyranids, who are so alien as to be beyond the ken of man, war for sustenance and survival. Instead of these base drives, the objectives of a daemon commander will often be completely obscure -- they might be to slay a million mortals, to retrieve a single artefact, or to kill the grandchildren of those that once banished them back to the Warp. Other times, the Daemons have no goal or plan at all, and the gibbering creatures of the Immaterium make decisions according to opportunity and their intrinsic nature.
The Forces of Chaos
The Forces of Chaos is a term applied by Imperial scholars to all the myriad servants of the Ruinous Powers of Chaos who seek to destroy the Imperium of Man and replace it with the utterly anarchic predominance of Chaos. This is a state of affairs that would likely result in the eventual extinction of the human race and indeed of all sentient life in the Milky Way Galaxy were it to come to fruition. For clarity's sake, most scholars divide up the Forces of Chaos into three major components, including the inhuman daemonic entities that are native to the Warp and only rarely impinge upon the physical universe, the Lost and the Damned which includes among their numbers Chaos Cultists, Traitor Guardsmen, mutants and the other mortal devotees of Chaos and finally, Chaos' most potent mortal servants, the Traitor Legions of the Chaos Space Marines and their counterparts amongst the Hereteks and Traitor Titan Legions of the Dark Mechanicus. To further explore each of these components of the Forces of Chaos, please see:
To protect its citizens from the insidious temptations of Chaos, the Imperium of Man does its best to hide the existence of the Chaos Gods, daemons and the Chaos Space Marines from public knowledge. Only Space Marine Chapters, Imperial Guardsmen, Sanctioned Psykers and the members of the Inquisition are permitted to know the Imperium's darkest secret. All others are either put to death, or if they have been a valuable servant to the Imperium, undergo memory modification or even, in extreme cases, a mind-wipe. This is a policy that has been in place since before the Emperor of Mankind was interred within the Golden Throne, when only he and his Primarchs knew that the Warp contained intelligent entities capable of possessing individuals in realspace. But even the Emperor did not reveal to his Primarchs the truth that the Warp was not just a seething cauldron of chaotic psychic energies, but was actually populated by malign intelligences similar to the supernatural beings of ancient human myth and superstition that were the Ruinous Powers of Chaos and their daemonic servants.
To fight a daemon army is to fight a twisting tornado of unreason and despair. Even then, the Imperium cannot allow the knowledge that such foes actually exist to spread. The human survivors of such conflicts are invariably confronted by the Inquisition and mind-wiped, quarantined in forced labour camps or even -- in extreme cases -- become the subjects of a worldwide Exterminatus event. Over the aeons, the galaxy has witnessed Warp-based catastrophes and daemonic incursions beyond counting. Since the inception of the Imperial Inquisition in the early days of the Horus Heresy, even the fact that such a thing is possible is deemed too dangerous for the citizens of the Imperium to know, for such knowledge breeds heresy as surely as a flyblown corpse breeds maggots. Because of this, the vast majority of knowledge concerning daemonic incursion has been eradicated from extant Imperial public records. What is known is recorded only in proscribed Imperial texts and heretical xenos scripts that the Inquisition has yet to destroy.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 10-30
- Black Crusade: Game Master's Kit (RPG)
- Black Crusade: Tome of Blood (RPG)
- Black Crusade: Tome of Fate (RPG)
- Black Crusade: Tome of Ecstasy (RPG)
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition, 2nd Codex)
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Chaos (2nd Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (6th Edition), pp. 6-20, 24
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition)
- Codex: Grey Knights (5th Edition)
- Dark Heresy: Creatures Anathema (RPG)
- Dark Heresy: Daemon Hunter (RPG)
- Deathwatch: First Founding (RPG)
- Deathwatch: Mark of the Xenos (RPG)
- Deathwatch: The Achilus Assault (RPG)
- Deathwatch: The Outer Reach (RPG)
- Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1st Edition)
- Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1st Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (4th Edition)
|The Major Powers of Chaos|
|Khorne • Nurgle • Slaanesh • Tzeentch|