House Orhlacc, known by their cognomen as "The Knights of the Manticore," is a Knight House aligned with the Imperium of Man that demonstrated unflinching loyalty during the latter part of the Great Crusade and throughout the Horus Heresy. Although not amongst the most powerful Knight Houses, being only a Secundus Grade Imperial Knight House, House Orhlacc nevertheless was heavily involved in many major campaigns of the Horus Heresy, especially in the region of the Coronid Reach, where their valiant efforts contributed to the reconquest of the Agri-world of Numinal. Although of sinister repute both within the forces of the Mechanicum and those of the wider Imperium -- albeit for very different reasons -- House Orhlacc has always been famed for the technological skills both of its Sacristans and its Knights, which vastly contributed to their strength and ultimate survival through their millennia-long isolation during the Age of Strife.
Reunified with the Imperium in the late 30th Millennium, through the efforts of Lord Commander Suleiman Grimm of the Dark Angels Space Marine Legion, House Orhlacc became a respected ally, their courage and heroism rewarded by the attribution of a Memento Mori by the hands of the Emperor Himself, for their bold sacrifice during the Rangdha Outbreak. House Orhlacc is one of the few known Houses to have willingly abandoned their original homeworld of Dark Haven during the events of the Heresy, relocating itself to the grim world of Wychval. From this tactically-superior location, they continued to fight on throughout the remainder of the Heresy. As a reward for their assistance, Ireton MaSade, the Militia Commander of the 60th Expeditionary Fleet, would give over dominion of Wychval to House Orhlacc.
The history of the strange, and some would say sinister, Knight House of Orhlacc, is a well-documented one, at least in its generalities, with highly detailed records surviving with the House's Sacristans and Lexmechanics through the ages. It was founded during the latter part of the period of humanity's expansion across the stars, the starting point of its founding ark's journey being recorded as originating from what is now known as the Forge World of Lucius. The House's Chronicle of Founding holds that a lonely, shadowed world teeming with strange but abundant life had been discovered deep within a mineral-rich, but otherwise barren, region of the void, and in order to exploit and colonise this region for humanity, it had been selected to become a Knight World. And so the House of Orhlacc first came into being, and its domain, known for reasons of literal truth as well as poetic observation, came to be called Dark Haven.
This place was indeed almost supra-abundant in life, but within days of the colonising ark's planetfall, a terrible truth had been discovered; the fruits of this benighted world were inimically poisonous to man. The shadowed world was at the very edge of its aged star's habitable zone, and life there had flourished millions of standard years before it ever had on distant Terra. Here the dominant form of that life was akin to fungus-like organisms, but infinitely more varied and complex than that of most worlds, forming a planet-spanning web of life. Its patterns varied from towering pseudo-coral-like structures kilometres high, comprising billions of microscopic creatures, which overshadowed the land and covered the seas, stealing the light, to colossal, ambulatory predators whose venom could sear ceramite and eat through plasteel. All of it was to humanity virulently and fatally toxic when consumed, even given the most stringent methods available for its processing. Dark Haven was a Death World, misjudged as a paradise of life.
Undeterred, the colonisation went ahead; keeps were built into the few jutting mountain ranges which fought to clear the vast living canopy, attempts were made to clear-cut for settlements and introduce off-world agriculture, supplies were rationed, and additional Magi Biologis (this Mechanicum term is used here for pre-Mechanicum specialists in the life sciences as a term of convenience, shrouded as the truth of such things is by time) brought in to attempt to address the difficulties with the certain hope of an eventual solution to the planet's toxicity. During its founding decades, progress was slow, and life for the settlers a continuous struggle for survival, but one which they held at bay, at least until the coming of the Age of Strife. With exterior contact and the chance of resupply lost, Dark Haven should have been doomed and as things were, matters rapidly worsened for the dozen Knight Households and their retainers who had made it their cause to dominate the strange world. Soon famine was the enemy, as stockpiled supplies dwindled or became mysteriously tainted. As if sensing the humans' weakness, the planetary ecology itself seemed to turn on them in a violent spurt of aggressive growth unprecedented in its suddenness or speed, and whole settlements were choked and overrun in a matter of solar hours by berserk fungal growth, their inhabitants slain by ravaging predators or consumed from within by parasitic life. Knightly keeps were only preserved by great trenches and pits filled with volatiles and turned into walls of fire, and the continuous counterattack of the Knights themselves against the forest and the monstrous creatures within it. Soon, as matters worsened, the Knight Houses of Dark Haven began to turn on each other for supplies and to assuage their hunger, and it is said that the most unspeakable acts were forced on those who would survive.
This age of violence and decay would last for centuries and should ultimately have been the death of the Knight colony, regardless of the tenacity and bravery of its scions, save for the actions of the House of Orhlacc. This House, accounted as but one of the settlement's minor Households -- renowned more for its learning and the skill of its Sacristans rather than its might -- had offered sanctuary to the Magi Biologis enclave stranded on the planet once the great decay had begun, just as others had turned against them. Within Orhlacc Keep, the Magi and their acolytes had laboured long, obsessively pursuing a solution to the problem they had been given when they had first been assigned to the world, even as darkness swallowed and separated the Knight Houses and the monstrous biosphere closed in. The solution when it at last came was a radical one; rather than adapt the world to humanity, they adapted humanity to Dark Haven, and House Orhlacc was their canvass. It would take generations and many tragedies before their work bore fruit, but they were successful, and as the other Houses of Dark Haven dwindled and in some cases died out entirely, the Orhlacc waxed strong and slowly multiplied. Soon they fought not simply to survive but to dominate, and many of the other surviving Households looked on them as saviours and joined them through alliances of blood, while others who saw them as enemies -- and as something no longer fully human -- perished. Within a dozen generations, only House Orhlacc and its kin remained as stewards and masters of this shadowed and deadly world.
The Blood of Orhlacc
The transfiguration of the House of Orhlacc was the work of Biologis gene-wrights over generations, and has since become a self-sustaining and stable sub-type of humanity, whose divergence borders as a qualification of Abhumanity all of its own -- a stigma thus far avoided by the population of Dark Haven. The bloodlines of Orhlacc are uniformly gaunt and pale, with a feral look by common observation and striking, darkly golden eyes adapted to the dimness of their world. They shun strong light and possess a phenomenal tolerance to toxins that rivals even that of an Astartes, but as a striking quirk of their adaptation to their poisonous world, can gain no sustenance from most forms of food save animal protein and the fungal provender of Dark Haven. In character it has been noted that they exhibit uncommon intelligence and are believed to be very long-lived without the need of additional medical intervention, though high degrees of mental and emotional instability are also rumoured to be common in them, while their birth rates are comparably low. What they have become cannot be undone, so ingrained is their adaption, which might be taken as a bitter irony as the coming of the Great Crusade has elevated its need, both with new techniques for the processing of Dark Haven's organic bounty now making the world's long sought-after purpose a practicality, and the fruits of Compliance many, but to the Orhlacc they are what they are, and their altered human nature no more than the visible emblem of their will to survive.
The Pact of Angels
Aside from its inherent hostility, Dark Haven had lived up to its name during the Age of Strife, and through this long era of trouble and torment it had endured without being subjected to serious outside attack. Such xenos and human marauder traffic which did rarely find their way to the world suffered as badly from the local environment as they did from the bellicose Knight House's resistance, while the Orks, long a menace to the worlds of the Cyclops Cluster, avoided the planet as if it was a profound anathema to them. As a result, the House of Orhlacc's dominion of their world went all but unchallenged, while affairs of honour between them and the constant battle to master their homeworld served to hone their fighting skills.
When the forerunners of the Great Crusade first contacted Dark Haven, it was by accident, but they found their Vox-hails readily answered in ancient and formal courtesy, and Imperial emissaries were both impressed as well as somewhat disturbed by the macabre and formal reception they received on the sinister planet, of which dim legends had already reached them during their exploration of the region. Despite some misgivings, initial relations went well, and Dark Haven's sealed Imperial Compliance was attained bloodlessly by the 7th Expeditionary Fleet led by Lord Commander Suleiman Grimm of the I Legion, the Dark Angels, in 833.M30, during the fleet's first journey through the region, at a time when much of the Coronid Deeps were still entirely uncharted and under xenos control. To the Angels of Death, it is said that Dark Haven seemed a shadowed reflection of Caliban itself in some ways, while its masters, the Orhlacc, represented a culture at once familiar to them and utterly strange. What most provoked the 7th Expeditionary Fleet's interest, however, was House Orhlacc's military strength, which was largely undecayed in sophistication and extremely extensive in range, including several hundred fully operational Knight armours and a moderate but reliable independent capacity to construct and arm more; a rare jewel of discovery indeed.
Mechanicum emissaries were equally impressed, but House Orhlacc -- perhaps remembering their abandonment long ago -- politely but firmly rebuffed, extracting at best a high price in "gifts" for access to their own techno-arcana, and then only as they saw fit and with much always kept secret. Any acrimony this might have created was quickly and thoroughly forestalled by the authority of Lord Grimm, who ensured the world's smooth path to Compliance and the granting of full rights and titles under the Aquila to House Orhlacc in return for a full third of the Knight House embarking directly under his command as part of the 7th Expeditionary Fleet. This first pact of arms and alliance was to last for nearly thirty standard years of service, and marked only the beginning of the House of Orhlacc's involvement with the Great Crusade, which would see them fight in hundreds of war zones alongside forces as diverse as the I,VIII and IX Legions, the Sisters of Silence during the Jutharathine Pysker-crisis, and the Ordo Reductor at the infamous last stand at Bloch during the final Rangdha Outbreak. In recognition of this last battle, where 48 of their Knights were destroyed desperately holding the line against the faceless tide of grey abominations in order to buy time for the Imperium to gather its forces and counterstrike, House Orhlacc was awarded a Memento Mori as a gift of the Emperor Himself. This rare and potent honour also served to grant the Orhlacc a seal of official respect and further independence, enough to avoid circling suspicions and ill-rumours that had for some time dogged them despite their enviable military record. Such rumours had circulated not least of all because of the polite but inviolable distance the Orhlacc kept between themselves and their fellow soldiers of the Great Crusade, a deserved reputation for morbid eccentricity and swift temper in their scions, as well as clear deviations in their genetic structure and physiology from the widely accepted human norm.
When the Age of Heresy came, House Orhlacc's carefully maintained reserve and independence would see it kept out of the direct machinations of the Warmaster Horus and free of the orbit of forces that would turn Traitor, as well as distrusted somewhat by those of the local Loyalist cause which might quickly turn to it as ally. When the matter came to the press, House Orhlacc kept largely its own counsel. It viewed the growing factional conflict within the Mechanicum warily, and received news of the cataclysmic Drop Site Massacre first-hand by a Loyalist survivor ship which had laid over at Dark Haven for supplies, rightly believing that the often shunned port would provide a safe and hidden place of rest. Because of this, they were forewarned and had prepared their response when an emissary of the Warmaster visited them in the shape of the prideful Rogue Trader Charid Undine, demanding their obedience to Horus' will. The strutting Rogue Trader's heavily-armed landing party was met with overwhelming force and destroyed, while the Rogue Trader herself was slain and her ships subjugated to the will of the House of Orhlacc. This had been the House's plan all along, and it used the fleet, as well as its own flotilla of transport ships garnered over its years of service in the Great Crusade, to effectively evacuate Dark Haven, leaving only an all but untraceable contingent behind and allowing the ever-growing canopy of fungal life to cover their domains until their eventual return.
In their wisdom the Orhlacc had known that Dark Haven, alone as it was, could not be defended against a full Traitor invasion fleet or a Space Marine Legion, and this made them a sitting target; a fate they declined. From this point until the end of the terrible wars of the Heresy that were to follow, the House of Orhlacc would remain loyal to the Imperium, but they would fight their cause on their own terms as a nomadic Knight House -- even after gaining territories within the Agathean Domain -- with an eye to their own survival and an eventual return to their shadowed home.
- The Rangdha Outbreak (Unknown Date.M30) - House Orhlacc's greatest hour of valour took place on the world of Bloch, during the last Rangdha Outbreak, a terrifying xenocide campaign that would see House Orhlacc cement its martial reputation in the blood of its own people, as no less than 48 Imperial Knights of Orhlacc were lost in a desperate last-ditch defence to hold back a massive enemy counterattack. For this great sacrifice, the House was rewarded with the rare gift of a Memento Mori, a distinction bestowed upon it by the hands of the Emperor of Mankind Himself.
- The Orhlacc Exodus (ca. 006-007.M31) - Trying to sway the reputed House Orhlacc into Dark Compliance, the Rogue Trader Charid Udine is exterminated with her retinue by the vengeful Knights of House Orhlacc. Dark Haven's few defence lasers -- hidden deep beneath the fungal canopy of their world -- exact a heavy toll amongst the Rogue Trader's flotilla, while Charid Udine's own vessel, the ruby-hulled galleass of war, Hammer of the Deep, is captured by the loyal Knight House. The Lord Seneschal of Dark Haven reported the incident to the cluster's authorities but received only platitudes in reply. With the Forge World they owed fealty to already being blockaded, Valdemar Orhlacc ordered the planet to be secretly abandoned, a fact that was deliberately kept hidden from Loyalists and Traitors alike. House Orhlacc's exodus was only noticed several solar months later when the Khabir, a Lunar-class Cruiser on patrol from Dominica Minor, reported Dark Haven deserted. Many thought House Orhlacc had simply been destroyed or had vanished entirely, but these rumours of their demise were all to be proven wrong as the Knight House had not perished in their long voyage, but had successfully found shelter within the Agathean Domain. House Orhlacc would also once again take to the field of battle almost two standard years later during the famed Liberation of Numinal, where their decisive intervention heralded an important Imperial victory.
- The Liberation of Numinal (ca. 009.M31) - House Orhlacc and its allies from House Hermetika and those non-aligned raiders of House Ærthegn notoriously formed the second wave of attack during the counter-invasion of the Agri-world of Numinal. Most notoriously, it was House Orhlacc's savagery in combat and the losses they inflicted on Archmagos Draykavac's retinue of House Atrax Knights that tipped the balance in favor of the Loyalists. House Orhlacc's new flagship, the conquered ruby-hulled Hammer of the Deep also proved instrumental in closing with the planet and inserting the Knights into the battlezone through a daring drop assault.
Decades operating in the outer reaches of the Great Crusade served to strengthen House Orhlacc, not weaken it. Its scions gained a wide experience in warfare, while the influx of new weapons, technology and wargear from the Expeditionary Fleets with which they served further strengthened the House. This, along with gifts of new Knight armours from the Mechanicum and their own independent production abilities in this regard, was to see their forces deal well with battlefield losses, unlike some of their peers. For these reasons, it is generally believed that at the time of the outbreak of the war of the Heresy, House Orhlacc was of the higher end of the Secundus rank, with perhaps as many as 300 Knight armours in viable condition under its command, and perhaps would have been greater yet had the relatively low population of Dark Haven been able to support more. This nevertheless put them as one of the stronger of the frontier Knight Houses, although others closer to the Imperium's core could claim far greater strength. At the outbreak of the Heresy, several Household detachments were offworld, fighting far across the galaxy and cut off from any chance of return during the war's early years, leaving perhaps 150 Knight armours at Dark Haven for the conflict in the Coronid Deeps.
The survival of the technology of Dark Haven's original foundation is a marked factor in House Orhlacc's power, with its own Seneschals retaining a very high degree of interdependent arcana forms, including unusual facilities with genetics and bio-surgery not common among their kind. The men and women of the House, be they scion or retainer, are also known to dabble in techno-arcana and many of the House's Knight armours feature unusual customisations and fine tuning to suit their operator's needs in battle. A wide number of Knight armours and classes are utilised by the House, the most common perhaps being the Knight Errant type; a development likely to have been spurred by the effectiveness of thermal weaponry against Dark Haven's native fauna and the relative ineffectiveness of blast and fragmentation weaponry against the same. Since their inclusion within the ranks of the Great Crusade, the types of Knight armour available to House Orhlacc increased somewhat, with the number of Acheron and Castigator Patterns in particular seeing increase, while the spoils of the battlefield of Numinal would see them add a number of armours originating on Cyclothrathe to their Household's arsenal for the ongoing war.
As well as relatively few military retainers of their own (at least initially), House Orhlacc maintained a number of unique servo-automata types, devices of their own Seneschals' design intended for use in harvesting the dangerous life forms on Dark Haven, which also proved to have very effective military applications. During the opening stages of the war for the Coronid Deeps, House Orhlacc also acquired control of the largely intact flotilla of Rogue Trader Charid Undine, including the powerful galleass of war Hammer of the Deep, which would form their principal flagship and combat transport for the duration of the war.
Notable House Orhlacc Knights
- Sorrowful Dawn - Questoris Knight Paladin of Ravael Orhlacc. This Knight armour was part of a generation of armours created for his House subsequent to their joining the Imperium. It saw action alongside the Blood Angels Legion in the Great Crusade before being recalled to its homeworld of Dark Haven, where it remained as part of the garrison stationed on the planet until the war in the Coronid Deeps.
- Pilgrim of Dread - This Knight-Lancer was an armour of ancient provenance which saw its first use under the hand of its new scion, Alsahr Orhlacc, during the counter-invasion of Numinal during the wars of the Coronid Reach. During this battle, the impetuous Knight was known to have slain three Knights of House Atrax before succumbing to damage, later to be salvaged to fight again.
- Banquet of Ashes - The Knight armour of Seneschal Viktor Orhlacc.
Notable House Orhlacc Personnel
- High Seneschal Valdemar Orhlacc - Valdemar Orhlacc was the leader of his House during the dark years of the Horus Heresy. Resolute to see his House persist, Valdemar broke with the strict honour code of the Knights to guarantee the Orhlacc's continued existence. It was he who ordered the House's silent departure from their homeworld of Dark Haven, and also him who would negotiate with Ireton MaSade for a new world to call their own. While his engagements saw House Orhlacc take to the field during the Liberation of Numinal, it is unclear if Valdemar Orhlacc himself participated at the battle.
- Seneschal Viktor Orhlacc - Pilot of the Cerastus Knight-Castigator Banquet of Ashes. Viktor Orhlacc was renowned for his service with the 7th Expeditionary Fleet, and who stood as deputy commander of the forces of his House during the invasion of Numinal. He and his armour would meet their final end locked in deathly struggle with a maniple of Thanatar-class Siege Automata, a catastrophic reactor explosion making a funeral pyre for the lauded Knight.
- Sir Ravael Orhlacc - Pilot of the Questoris Knight Paladin Sorrowful Dawn.
- Sir Alsahr Orhlacc - Pilot of the ancient Knight-Lancer Pilgrim of Dread.
The proud heraldry of House Orhlacc incorporates purple and sable with muted brass edgings. These colours are said to represent the darkness of House Orhlacc's benighted homeworld's skies.
The Knights of House Orhlacc are blazoned with the mythological Manticore, which serves as their bloodline's primary sigil. This legendary creature is similar to the Egyptian sphinx. It has the body of a lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth (like a shark) and bat-like wings, with the tail of a scorpion. The manticore was said to devour its prey whole and leaves nothing of it behind. Often there is a section of deep azure and sable behind the house's sigil. Also a stylised eclipse is borne by those scions of Orhlacc who have undertaken a questing purge of Dark Haven's deadly megafauna.
House Personal Heraldry
The relatively simple heraldry displayed by the Knights of House Orhlacc is indicative of the heraldic tradition of this Knight House. Behind each Knight's house heraldry is a personal cipher pertaining to the initials of the individual knight's name -- the primary and traditional means of the iteration of personal heraldry by the House of Orhlacc. This presents in part the House's character, as they consider the excessive display of personal heraldry other than by those of the highest rank as vainglory and hubris. The use of a cipher in crimson emblazoned upon a shield indicates the sworn oath to shed the blood of a foe in open battle. The only indication of the age and prior honourable record in war of the Knight itself is a roman numeral upon its upper carapace denoting, it is believed, the number of the scion of their line to have bonded with the Knight's Throne Mechanicum.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 62-63, 122-129, 181