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- "To gaze into the Warp is to look into the abyss. To understand insanity itself is to become insane. Worst of all is the knowledge that while you are gazing upon it, the Warp is looking back at you and laughing."
- — Kartr Hollis, Nobilite Emissary
A Navigator (Homo navigo) is a very particular form of Imperial-sanctioned human mutant who possesses the Navigator Gene. This gives a Navigator the unique ability to navigate a faster-than-light starship accurately through Warpspace. This ability makes Navigators absolutely essential to the Imperium's continued survival and to all interstellar transportation, communication and commerce. All Navigators have a third eye, commonly called the Warp Eye, on their foreheads, which allows them to perceive the "psychic light" known as the Astronomican, enabling them to fully use their powers in guiding human starships through the currents of the Warp. Their ability to sense the tides of the Warp is considered psychic, although Navigators never possess any psychic abilities beyond the powers their Warp Eye affords them. Navigators possess natural life spans of as much as four hundred years. As they increase in age, their abilities increase in power, and their physical appearance changes: the white and iris of the eye gradually disappears, leaving only a hardened black orb. All Navigators belong to a large group of noble families based on Terra in the great district of that world-city known as the Navigator's Quarter. These dynasties are known collectively as the Great Families of the Navis Nobilite.
For centuries uncounted, Navigators have led Mankind between the stars. Theirs is the unique power to gaze into the Warp and guide humanity’s vessels across the vastness of the galaxy. This power affords them a special place within the Imperium of Man, and over time, it has won them great prestige and wealth. The contemporary Navigator Houses of the Navis Nobilite have a scope of power and influence that is breathtaking to behold, reaching from the farthest world of the human-settled galaxy to the vaulted chambers of the High Lords of Terra themselves. It is into this position of power and privilege that a Navigator is born, gifted with unique and strange powers by the blood of their ancestors. Although they may be one among many within their brood, a Navigator knows that they stand head and shoulders above the common citizens of the Emperor’s domain because of their unique and priceless ability. They also know that with training, dedication, and influence, they may rise within the ranks of their House and perhaps even take the mantle of Novator — lord and master of the family and all of its often extensive economic, military and political power.
The origins of the Navigators have long been lost to antiquity like so much of the Imperium’s history, forgotten and buried beneath the weight of millennia of strife and decay. They are an ancient mutated or deliberately engineered psyker strain of Mankind "designed" to facilitate Warp travel. Clannish and insular, they have lived amongst humans since the time of the Dark Age of Technology and during the nightmarish centuries of the Age of Strife dwindled to extinction. It is not known how this unique sub-sepcies of humans first came into existence, though they may have been the result of long-forbidden genetic tampering with the human genome in a long-ago age. Some Imperial scholars suspect (paradoxically) the hand of the Emperor if not in the Navigators' original creation, then perhaps in their recreation and certain increase in numbers during the Age of the Imperium -- as their Houses gathered to Him and pledged Him fealty after His conquest of Terra during the Unification Wars. The Emperor in person granted a charter to those Navigator groups who swore Him fealty, granting them His legal protection in exchange for their services as steersmen for the many starships of the nascent Imperium. Those extreme few amongst Imperial savants who have access to the remaining archives of records dating back to the Unification Wars of the late 30th Millennium believe that, not unlike the Thunder Warriors, the Navigators were only tolerated by the Emperor as a stop-gap measure until His Imperial Webway project was completed and were to be eliminated afterwards as undesirable and potentially dangerous mutants, but with the destruction of the Imperial Webway and the internment of the Emperor upon the Golden Throne after the Battle of Terra at the end of the Horus Heresy, the once-temporary solutions to Imperial problems of interstellar travel and communication offered by the Navigators and the psychic beacon known as the Astronomican became permanent. In the late 41st Millennium, the Navigator Houses are still considered to be under the direct protection of the Emperor Himself in exchange for their unique brand of service to humanity.
Whatever the cause of its appearance, the "Navigator Gene," as it is now known, has endured across thousands of Terran years and without it, much like the Astropaths' psychic gifts, the Imperium would not exist and certainly could not be maintained. This mutation has not endured through accident, but through careful cultivation. A Navigator is the result of focused selective breeding and rigorous genetic screening by their House at every stage of their development. The unique psychic powers of the Navigators are passed down through each generation. The Navigator Gene, which is recessive, can only be preserved by intermarriage -- it is lost when a Navigator breeds with an ordinary human who does not possess the gene. This factor has led to the development of the closely-related Navigator families. Even when they attain the rank of full Navigator and leave the protection of their House to take up the task to which their nature calls them, their family ties remain strong and bind them tight, reminding them where their true duty lies.
Navigators are genetically empowered to see into the Warp directly without risking instant insanity or death and hence guide a vessel as it attempts to plot a course in that otherworldly dimension. This is possible because psykers of all kinds, Navigators included, use the Empyrean to empower their gifts and to this role of guiding their fellows through the currents of the Warp the Navigator is uniquely adapted. A human starship without a Navigator to guide it cannot hope to travel far without quickly being lost in the maelstrom of the Immaterium and destroyed. Even so a Navigator's ability only enables them to chart relatively short journeys through the Warp with any degree of certainty, particularly where the Immaterium is tumult, but combined with the Emperor's creation of the great beacon known as the Astronomican, the Navigator's range was greatly expanded and without them the Great Crusade and the expansion of the burgeoning Imperium of Man would not have been possible. Whilst the Navigator serves the single purpose of guiding starships through the Warp, and has evolved admirably for this task, they are also capable of far greater control over the strange power they wield and putting it to other uses. These strange and little understood psychic powers seem to result from a Navigator’s unique affinity for the Warp, another gift of their altered genetic makeup. Little is known about how a Navigator's Warp affinity works, or exactly how it is that many Navigators are able to not only look into the Warp but also enact their will on it to some extent, making subtle changes to its currents and tides.
An Unpleasant Necessity
One of the fundamental tensions that exists between the Navis Nobilite and the rest of the Imperium is the fact that Navigators are obviously mutants in an Imperial culture that does not often suffer the mutant to live save as a brutally oppressed underclass. Many dark legends and fables of excess, witchery, and murderous power have grown up about them, and not all without cause. As a result, Navigators are often shunned and feared, and the popular dread at meeting the gaze of their three-fold eyes means that many Imperial citizens prefer to have dealings with them only when they absolutely must. The maintenance of the invaluable but recessive Navigator Gene through selective inbreeding between a very small extant population has also meant that over thousands of standard years most Navigator families have acquired malformations, strange afflictions, or mental abnormalities. In some Navigator families, the genetic corruption of the line has become so severe that only a few members of the clan can move amongst the rest of the Imperium. The remainder remain confined to the family's great estates or in sealed tabernacles aboard a voidship, their hideous deformities hidden from sight.
These differences have often led to conflict in the past, and localised factions of the Ecclesiarchy have, on a number of zealous occasions, burned Navigator holdings and executed Navigators as Heretics. Such incidents are often brought violently to heel by the Ecclesiarchy itself, before the wrath of the High Lords of Terra is visited upon the culprits and any above them in rank that allowed such action to come to pass. After all, no one can afford to offend those who hold the Imperium's only key to voyaging between the stars. The Inquisition is one of the few bodies that can truly move with impunity where the Navigators are concerned, and its eye is ever kept on the Navigator clans. Yet, even the Inquisition must be circumspect and certain in this task. However, in extreme cases, the Ordos have destroyed entire clans and carried their patriarchs and matriarchs off in the Black Ships for final sanction when necessary.
Navigators possess a number of special powers which represent their respective lineage. The powers of the Navis Nobilite are little understood by any but the most esoteric of scholars, and the Navigators themselves, of course. A Navigator is a living window into the Warp, a fact mercifully mitigated for his own soul's and sanity’s sake by the effects of the Navigator Gene that allows him to perceive the Warp's mind-blasting truth in a unique way that allows his human mind to deal with it. Unlike psychic powers, Navigators do not need to summon the energies of the Warp or use arcane psychic foci to activate their powers. Rather, their powers are a result of their innate connection to the Warp and the legacy of their genes. Rumours tell that Navigators can curse a man with a glance or hold back the march of time with but a thought, though this is surely conjecture. Most would consider them only marginally better than mutants, although necessary all the same for their ability to steer a vessel safely through the Warp. The following list presents an assortment of some of the most common Navigator powers wielded by these sanctioned mutants in the Imperium. These are certainly not all of the powers that might be available to a given Navigator, as the Imperium is a vast and strange place.
- Aether Doldrums - A skilled Navigator can use this power to mark a point of calm in even the most tumultuous Warp Storm. On a smaller scale, they can also use this ability to find a stillness in the Immaterium flowing around them that dampens psychic powers and pushes Daemons back towards the edge of the dark pit from whence they came. Many Navigator Houses teach their progeny how to seek this calm in the Warp, as it may be the only thing that stops the Navigator from being torn to shreds and their soul devoured by daemons in the case of a failure in the Gellar Field.
- Baleful Watcher - The power sometimes called "Baleful Watcher" or "Piercing Gaze" is a technique taught to Navigators to help them to penetrate the densest of Warp Storms and find a safe path. However, when turned on an individual, this power allows the Navigator to look past the facade of material reality, and thus exploit the knowledge he gains from staring so deeply into his foe's soul.
- A Cloud in the Warp - By understanding and perceiving the "currents" of the Warp, the Navigator can hide his presence from those who would use the Immaterium to detect him. Whilst it does not in any way mask his presence in the material universe, it can ably hide him from detection by psykers and confuse creatures whose essence and existence are linked to the Warp, such as daemons and other Warp entities. As the Navigator grows in power, he will become harder to detect, as well as being able to mask others' Warp signature if they stand nearby.
- Corrupting the Flesh - A vile power that is generally only used by Shrouded or Renegade Houses. Navigators can use this power to channel the corrupting power of the Warp and bathe their targets with its malign power. This power not only inflicts excrutiating pain, but it also can lead to spontaneous mutation or even death. However, the power is not without cost, as Navigators who make use of this power on a regular basis risk losing their grasp on reality.
- Disrupting the Empyrean - Navigators possess an almost innate sense of the Warp. Through little-understood methods of psychic manipulation, the Navigator is able to churn up the local area of Warpspace, in essence, creating something akin to a miniature Warp Storm in local space. This has an effect on voidships attempting to exit and enter the Warp. Ships wishing to enter the Warp will need to travel out of the area of disturbance or risk damage. Those voidships wishing to exit the Warp must do the same.
- Ebb and Flow - Time can flow in a strange manner when travelling through the Immaterium, and over the years many Navigators have learned to move with the temporal unpredictability of the Immaterium that underlies reality. By unleashing a vision that strips away the presumptuous facade of linear time before an attacker's eyes, the Navigator can slow an enemy to a crawl. Even if the power's effect is extraordinarily subtle, many have found it to be just enough to stay an assassin's blade by a few precious moments or prevent a foe escaping the judgement of the Navis Nobilite.
- Evil Eye - On many worlds, three-eyed mutants who can peer into your soul are thought of as bogey-men to scare children into obedience and people whisper that they are a tainted breed that can curse good, Emperor-fearing citizens with but a glance. These legends likely do not truly refer to Navigators, but they do echo with the truth of the matter, as techniques exist that can cause a person to attract the malign spirits of the Warp, drawing hungry things to them that slowly siphon away at their very mind and soul. The use of this power is reserved for the Navigator Houses' most loathed enemies, and these unfortunates soon find that their luck fails them and their allies treat them with disdain.
- Eye of Oblivion - The Navigator snaps open his Warp Eye and traces the vital lines that bind a creature's animating force to its mortal shell. By psychically striking these places with the utmost precision, the Navigator can inflict harm on his target's very essence, and thus defeat foes that might otherwise seem inviolable.
- Foreshadowing - By using his third Warp Eye to filter small secrets from the near future, the Navigator can choose to make slight adjustments to his actions to avoid harm and manipulate the course of events. Only if the Navigator tries to dig too deep into the near future for secrets does this power become so unpredictable that the Navigator may become a victim of the Warp’s lies.
- Gaze into the Abyss - This power allows a Navigator to see a creature's or object's reflection in the Warp and learn things hidden from the real universe. This power is most useful in unmasking both psykers and daemons, but has other applications, such as reading residual psychic taint on objects and tracking powerful psychic entities.
- Held in my Gaze - The unflinching third eye of a Navigator locks a creature in place with a gaze that pierces flesh and bone to see the immaterial essence of all things. Most commonly employed against psykers, this ability can be used to render them effectively powerless and prevent them from calling upon their abilities. It is also undeniably effective against creatures with a strong connection to the Warp, such as daemons, upon which it can have spectacular and devastating consequences.
- Immolate the Soul - Navigators have the ability to tap into the Warp and bend it to their will through their Warp Eye. By carefully channelling the power of the raw Immaterium, a Navigator can cause flesh to blister and spontaneously combust. In fact, it seems that the more corrupt a person is the quicker and more savage the burning process. It is powers such as this that can cause the uneducated to rightly fear the Navigators and give cause to hunt them down as witches and sorcerers. However, the more pious members of the Navis Nobilite feel that this power has been bestowed upon them by the God-Emperor Himself so that they may prosecute His enemies with cleansing flame, and it is rumoured that these pious members of the Navigator Houses use this power to hunt down errant members of the Navis Nobilite.
- Inward View - There are many myths about the Navigators' "third eye", its origins supposedly harking from the ancient past of Old Earth itself. The Navis Nobilite knows that such stories are not wholly mythical, though, and that it is entirely possible to discover hidden knowledge and a degree of inner calm using the Navigators' own unique brand of introspective meditation. Many of the older, more cloistered members of the Navigator dynasties spend prolonged periods in their Reclusiam Chapels, meditating upon philosophical issues and esoteric lore.
- Obliterating the Immaterial Wake - Using arcane knowledge of Warp physics and even special techno-arcane devices (such as a ship's Warp Vanes), the Navigator can influence tides in the Warp and attempt to obliterate any trail left from his voidship's passing through the Immaterium and even realspace, making it difficult, if not impossible, to track. Using this ability is distracting and physically taxing, however, as the Navigator risks unconsciousness and physical damage.
- Pass Unscathed - Being so closely linked with the Warp, it is no surprise that Navigators have developed techniques to avoid its corrupting influence on both themselves and those around them. With a great deal of effort, the Navigator can slow the insidious effects of the Warp for a short period of time, relying on his mental fortitude to touch the poison of Chaos without being corrupted by it.
- Precognition - More senior Navigators sometimes learn to use and interpret the portents from the Emperor's Tarot. This form of precognition is much more vague and difficult to interpret than attempting to divine the future by gazing into the Warp directly, but remains far safer.
- Refresh and Revitalize - It takes stamina and fortitude to be able to sit at the Navigator's station day after day, making sure a voidship stays on course. However, Navigators can tap into the power of their genetic heritage and offset fatigue and exhaustion, allowing for a longer vigil than normal. While this isn't the same as the Adeptus Astartes' Catalepsean Node (the organ that allows Space Marines to keep half of their brain awake so that they can be roused swiftly if necessary), it is relatively close in function and does not impart debilitating side effects on the Navigators. However, this power only postpones the fatigue; it does not erase it. Once the Navigators have the means, they must sleep or else they risk falling into a coma that can last for solar days.
- Scourge of the Red Tide - Through their understanding of the Empyrean, the Navigator calls upon the full fury of the Warp and brings forth a scouring tide of Warp energy that jets forth from their fully-opened third eye. Flesh is seared to the bone, and vital fluids boil away as the victim's soul is consumed in the attack. However, using this power can jeopardize the users as well; consequently, it is generally only used as a last resort as the power of the Warp comes flooding into realspace, consuming all in its path.
- Seek the Path - The Navigator uses his third eye to peer through the Immaterium around him, piercing the churning clouds of the Warp to find the causeways of least resistance to his target and assessing the paths of its reaction before it can even move to defend itself. In this way, the Navigator guides his own attacks to their destination while circumventing his foe's desperate attempts at defence.
- Stacking the Deck - Navigators, by their training, are taught the basics of starship naval combat. Navigators are also able to perceive flickering shadows of possible future events. By peering into the streams of time and space and studying the currents and eddies of the warp, the Navigator can attempt to position his vessel for a more optimum firing solution, angle it such a way that the ship’s armour is able to better deflect an incoming attack, or even point the ship in the best direction for a tactical retreat.
- Stripping the Husk - With this power, the Navigators are able to quickly snap open and close their Warp Eye, unleashing a blast of energy that immediately shears flesh from bone. In a gruesome display, Navigators who utilize this power can reduce an opponent to a pile of steaming bones and quivering meat in a matter of moments.
- Stupefy the Soul - Some Navigators are able to moderately control the warp energies that can spew forth from their Warp Eye. While most can kill with a look, other Navigators can stun their opponents. By only partially opening his third eye, the Navigator can shock the souls of living creatures. Sometimes this merely stuns the opponent, but there are other times when the Navigator may wish to ‘push’ a bit further into a foe’s mind causing him to suffer fear and shock as the warp assails both minds and spirit. This has the added results of forcing the opponent into fleeing or suffering a complete mental melt-down as his grip on reality shatters from the power of the warp.
- The Course Untraveled - Time is not an arrow that flies straight and true, but rather, a tangled web of moments and possibilities. The Course Untraveled power allows a Navigator to negotiate this web, stepping fractionally from one moment to another, and in the process, altering his position in the physical world. The use of such a power is extremely dangerous, however, as the Navigator is not actually physically travelling in place as if he were teleporting through the Warp, but rather choosing an alternate future in which he wishes to inhabit. He risks both injury and madness in trying to step outside the flow of time in this way.
- The Lidless Stare - If a Navigator opens his third Warp Eye fully, anyone gazing into its depths will witness the power and mind-breaking unreality of the Warp. In an instant, they witness the chaos boiling beneath the skin of existence and for many, it is the last thing they ever see.
- Tides of Time and Space - By examining the flow of the Warp around him, the Navigator can anticipate near future actions and thus move outside the normal flow of causality by choosing strands of reality and slipping between them. Whilst this power can be of great benefit to the Navigator, it is also very dangerous, and should he lose control, the results can be disastrous for both him and anyone near to him in local space-time.
- Tracks in the Stars - When a starship travels though either realspace or the Warp it leaves a faint trail, the lingering shadow of its Warp-Drive's emanations. Using his third eye, the Navigator can follow this trail across the stars.
- Visions of Hell - While many Navigators simply focus on wreaking as much destruction as possible by revealing the Warp to their foes with powers like Lidless Stare, some Navigators prefer to act with more subtlety and train themselves to cast projections of the true face of that hellish dimension, causing even the most stout-hearted of warriors to collapse to their knees and weep as their sanity unravels.
- Void Watcher - Using this power and gazing into the void whilst aboard a starship, the Navigator can learn things about space in the immediate vicinity of his vessel. This can reveal hidden dangers such as mines, void creatures, and concealed ships, as well as more mundane perils like asteroids and debris. With skill and practice, a Navigator's void sense can become amazingly precise and reach out across millions of kilometres of space.
- Warp Vigil - Navigators must be ever watchful for danger when guiding a vessel through the Warp, and be capable of reacting at a moment's notice to the caprices of the shifting Realm of Chaos. On the battlefield, a Navigator can turn this power to his advantage, reacting to strikes before they arrive or even calling allies to move out of harm's way moments before an enemy can land a telling blow.
Navigators are both a human sub-species as well as a collectively powerful political organisation of the Imperium known as the Navis Nobilite, a guild of Imperial nobles that represents all of the Navigator bloodlines or Houses of the Imperium. The members of the Navis Nobilite are exempt from many Imperial laws, and even the Imperial Inquisition tends to be careful in the handling of individual Navigators due to the political power of the Navis Nobilite. However, Navigators guilty of treason, heresy or something equally serious are hunted down without mercy. Such affairs are many times dealt with internally by the Navis Nobilite itself before the Inquisition has any reason to act and potentially blacken the name of Navigators as a whole amongst an Imperial population already superstitious and distrustful of them. Each Navigator family is very close and often very large, and different families are often allied by marriage, while others are political and economic rivals. Although individual Navigators are not directly employed by the Imperium, every Warp-capable spacecraft in the Imperium has at least one Navigator who acts as the Warp pilot.
Navigators are organised into families known as "Houses" (sometimes "clans"), through which both the Warp Eye mutation and their esoteric but priceless knowledge of Warp navigation has been passed down through the generations. Because of their monopolies, ancient lineages, and accorded Imperial rights, Navigator families are usually both immensely wealthy and influential, their power extending to all corners of the Imperium. In particular, their influence on matters of interstellar trade is beyond that of any other group in the human-controlled galaxy. Perhaps most importantly, they have an Emperor-given right to conduct their own affairs as they see fit and thus are effectively outside of the laws and authority of the Imperium in most cases. This freedom is only void in particular circumstances of overt rebellion or treachery, and even then great care is taken by the Adepta in confronting and punishing such crimes. A Navigator clan's private retainers, soldiers and bodyguards can number in the thousands. The Houses largely police their own, binding themselves together within a shared culture and through lines of alliance, fealty, and marriage. However, wary of the balance of power, the high master of the Navis Nobilite, the Paternova, and his agents are often merciless when one clan or family should, by its treachery or excess, endanger the others.
Whilst ostensibly the role of the Paternova, and by extension the Novators who lead the individual Houses, is to manage the power of the Houses and protect their interests from the greed of the Administratum or the ignorance of the Ecclesiarchy and Inquisition, they do in fact have a far more important role to play. This role is in the cultivation and protection of the Navigator Gene. Vital to the survival of the Houses is the continuance of the birthing and training of skilled and potent Navigators. However, the competition between the families has also led to each tampering with and altering the evolution of some of its children, in the hopes of creating more powerful and able Navigators with which to defeat their rivals and win more lucrative and farther-reaching contracts. Over many centuries, these deliberate alterations of the Navigator Gene has created many different Navigator lineages, giving rise to some strains of bloodlines possessing the Navigator Gene in which certain powers, abilities, and mutations are more prevalent.
Almost nothing is known of the earliest history of the Navigator Houses, though some amongst the Ordos of the Inquisition suspect that the ancient stasis vaults beneath the mansions of the Navigator's Quarter on Terra must contain records and artefacts rivalling those of the Inquisition in age and significance. Whatever secret histories of Mankind's darkest ages are hidden beneath those marble palaces are likely to remain obscured, for the Novators of the Great Houses are beholden to no other authority and even the most determined and relentless of Inquisitors would find it all but impossible to breach their closed society and force them to acknowledge any external law. Few organisations within the Imperium hold as much power as the Great Navigator Houses of the Navis Nobilite. Their position of control over nearly all Imperial shipping and interstellar commerce places them in a rare position of power, one that sits almost beyond the reach of both the Administratum and even the Inquisition itself. It is a position that the Great Houses have mercilessly exploited down through the millennia and used to gather vast wealth and influence. Though across the long span of years this power has risen and fallen, it has endured longer than almost all other Imperial edifices. The only aspect of the Great Houses that matches their political endurance is their constant struggle with each other. In their internecine struggles for position and favour, the Houses use all manner of means to outdo their rivals, sometimes even engaging in open warfare against one another. Only the strict control of the House Novators and the carefully maintained codes of behaviour and tradition of the Navigators keep such conflicts from spiralling out of control.
Whatever the details of their roots, the Navigator Houses appear to have enjoyed a special status since time immemorial. They must have been an established and powerful body at the beginning of the Emperor's Great Crusade in the late 30th Millennium, which would have been impossible without their services. Were it not for the Navigators that guided each Expeditionary Fleet, the Great Crusade would have taken millennia to prosecute, not the scant two Terran centuries it actually took before the calamitous events of the Horus Heresy plunged the nascent Imperium into galaxy-burning civil war. It must be presumed that a number of Houses fell to the insidious lies of the Warmaster Horus, for it would not have been possible for Horus to deploy his fleets with the speed and cunning he did were this not the case. Whatever the truth, the Navigator Houses appear to have emerged from the Heresy with their power and reputation largely intact -- confirmation, were it needed, of their critical role in the very existence of the galaxy-spanning interstellar empire that is the Imperium.
Due to their sheer importance to the Imperium's well-being, the Navigator Houses have attained a vast degree of wealth and influence. The Navis Nobilite can trace its formal origins back to ages long past, and since that time the Navigator Houses have amassed unimaginable riches. Every starship that plies the Warp routes of the Imperium and beyond has at least one, and most likely an entire cabal of Navigators to guide it safely through the Immaterium. The Navis Nobilite uses the wealth that it accrues from this critical task to amass still more. None except perhaps the Paternova -- the most senior Patriarch or Matriarch of all the Great Houses -- can have any true notion of just how much wealth the Navis Nobilite wields, and its influence and alliances stretch far beyond pure material riches. Certainly, the Navigators appear to have interests in sundry organisations the length and breadth of the Imperium; some have close ties with Rogue Trader dynasties, the Adeptus Mechanicus, and even the vaunted Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes. The Navigator Houses act as backers and investors in some of the most ambitious undertakings, especially those the most powerful of Rogue Trader expeditions. Thus, as Rogue Traders employ Navigators to forge new Warp routes, the Navis Nobilite profits doubly, for even while establishing those routes, they can improve their charts, to their own benefit and that of the Imperium.
Despite the staggering wealth that the Navigator Houses enjoy, they do not generally maintain the sort of visible power structures that most other Imperial institutions rely upon. Unlike the Rogue Traders and Chartist Captains, they do not operate fleets of starships bearing their livery and, unlike the great Imperial merchant combines, they do not maintain their own trading centres or industrial installations. Instead, they own part interests in all manner of such endavours and sometimes the hand of the Navis Nobilite is very well hidden indeed. The Navigators do not generally maintain large standing armies, although many Navigator Houses employ a cadre of highly trained, well equipped, and sometimes genetically-enhanced household troops utterly loyal to their bloodline. When circumstances dictate, the Navigator Houses draw on their vast wealth to employ the very best mercencary forces available and, with sufficient warning of impending war, can field composite armies rivalling an orbiting Imperial defence force in size and resources. What the Navigator Houses do maintain, however, are the most splendid palaces, exquisite estates, and gorgeous pleasure gardens it is possible to imagine. Most are located far from the eyes of the average man and woman of the Imperium, though they often maintain more utilitarian, if still richly appointed, chancelleries in most large starports and planetary capital cities.
From the outside, even the most modest Navis Nobilite palace is likely to be a rearing edifice dressed with marble and decorated by the most accomplished sculptors of the age. Beyond the walls, delicate towers pierce the sky while glittering domes hint at the untold riches within. What the casual observer might not note is the banks of unseen defences, from automated weapons turrets to the most impregnable forms of Void Shielding. Within, every visible surface is guilded with precious metal leaf or hung with sumptuous fabrics. The domes house vast libraries or ancient texts, sumptuous ballrooms, serene pleasure gardens, and luxurious harems. Lumens crafted from the rarest of cut jewels light dining halls that can accommodate thousands of guests, while serried ranks of liveried attendants stand to attention nearby. Entire armies of servants and menials attend to their masters' every conceivable whim, while the lower levels are hives of activity where the most skilled cuisiniers prepare feasts of delicacies imported from all over the Imperium.
Beneath the servants' levels lies something far darker. In armoured and warded dungeons are housed those spawn of the Navis Nobilite fated never to guide a starship through the roiling Sea of Souls. These are the genetic rejects and hideous by-blows of the long millennia of intermarriage and genetic manipulation. They are mindless, puking monstrosities that bear precious little resemblance to anything born of a human womb. Many are destroyed soon after birth, while others are allowed to live so that the House genetors might study them in the hope of avoiding such mistakes in future generations. Just as the lowest levels hide those of the Navis Nobilite that the Navigator Houses wish to keep from prying eyes, so there are areas where only the most highly ranked members of the House may pass. As a Navigator grows older and his body is ravaged by the curse of his bloodline and exposure to the Warp, he slowly withdraws from the company of his kin and shuns contact with the outside world entirely. While his mind and his ability to navigate a Warpship remain unaffected, he continues to enjoy the luxury his status affords, albeit in his own private chambers attended by his own staff of servants, guards and chirurgeons. Should his mind fall victim to the Navigators' genetic curse, however, then his fate is to descend to the lowest dungeons of his own palace where he takes his place amongst the other vile monstrosities of his House.
The Paternova is the leader, and most powerful both in terms of psychic and political power, of all the Navigators of the Navis Nobilite. The Paternova lives in the Palace of the Navigators, which dominates the centre of the Navigator's Quarter on Terra. From the moment he or she is installed, the Paternova never leaves this palace. The staff, soldiery and other retainers of the Palace of the Navigators are all drawn from the Paternova's own House, and are all replaced with each new Paternova who assumes the office. The chief among a Paternova's servants is the Paternoval Envoy, who often serves as one of the High Lords of Terra, representing the interests of the Navis Nobilite on the Senatorum Imperialis. If anybody were to know the secrets of the Navigators' origins in the lost history of Mankind, it would be the noble who rises to become the Paternova.
The chief role of the Paternova is his ability to somehow amplify the "Warp Sense" of other Navigators. This is a direct result of the extreme mutations a Paternova suffers during his ascension from being one of the Heirs Apparent found amongst all the Novators of the more powerful Navigator Houses. For this reason, the Paternova is sometimes described as the guiding father of the Navis Nobilite whose powers transcend the Warp itself. The importance of this link is demonstrated during the rare interregnums that periodically occur between the reign of one Paternova and his replacement. During these times, all Navigators other than the Heirs Apparent suffer a considerable reduction in their ability to navigate the Warp. If this state of affairs were to continue for long, much of the Imperium would collapse into anarchy, as both commercial and military Imperial starships would be unable to quickly or safely traverse the Warp, with many being lost to the Empyrean completely.
The Paternova can often live for a thousand standard years. When he does die, his successor is chosen from amongst the waiting Heirs Apparent, the most powerful Navigators of the Great Families. From the moment of his death, all the existing Heirs Apparent undergo a dramatic physical metamorphosis. They grow larger and stronger, and the psychic mutations that characterise all Navigators become even more pronounced. The Heirs Apparent gain the ability to survive underwater, in poisonous environments and even in the hard vacuum of space. Their natural aggression is increased, and they are drawn into combat with each other. As each Heir Apparent is killed, those who survive change physically even more, until only one remains alive. It is this vastly changed and extremely powerful individual who becomes the new Paternova.
As soon as a new Paternova is installed within the Palace of the Navigators, all of the other Navigators find the standard strength of their own psychic abilities restored, though not all are always restored to the same degree of effectveness. Those Navigators belonging to the same House as the Paternova find their abilities greatly enhanced, as though their blood ties enables the Paternova to transmit his powers more effectively to his kin. Navigators belonging to the House of the old Paternova lose this benefit, and many Navigators suddenly find their powers greatly diminished. The reasons for this alteration in power levels remains unknown to Imperial genetic science.
The Novator is a patriarch or matriarch that rules over a Navigator House, the figurative—and often biological—father or mother of the family. It is the role of the Novator to hold the family together and manage their fortunes, fostering new contracts and contacts for the House and jealously guarding those already in its possession. Above the scores of Novators stands the Paternova, head of all the Imperium’s Navigator Houses. From his throne on ancient Terra in the Palace of the Navigators, he guides the destiny of the Houses, ensuring their continued place of power within the human-settled galaxy. While the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Great Houses are collectively known as Novators, each House may choose its own name for the nobleman or woman who leads its endeavours.
Each Navis Nobilite House has their own unique traditions and positions within the House's hierarchy dependent upon their own histories and culture. For instance, House Belisarius is led by an individual Novator referred to as the Celestarch and has its own standing military trained by the Astartes of the Space Wolves Chapter. The Space Wolves long ago concluded a special alliance with House Belisarius to provide its Celestarch with a small force of Space Wolves known as the Wolfblade to serve him or her as a personal honour guard. A nobleman or noblewoman known as a Novator serves as the matriarch or patriarch of a Navigator House. A Novator can either be the figurative parent or a biological parent of the other members of the family, but always serves as the House's legal and titular leader. A Novator is expected to manage their household's fortunes and to keep their kin united in fostering the House's political and economic agenda. These duties include fostering trade contracts for the House whilst jealously guarding those profitable enterprises the House already holds in its possession. The strict controls a Novator imposes along with the Imperium's legal Navigator codes prevents devastating economic and even outright military conflict from erupting between the Navigator Houses. Ranked above the many Novators of the different Houses in the hierarchy of the Navigators sits the powerful noble known as the Paternova, who oversees the fortunes of the Navigators as an Imperial elite.
The most common conflict involving the Navis Nobilite are the conflicts between the various Navigator Houses. Each Navigator family's power and wealth is based on the trade it can control, its contracts and pledges to various Imperial mercantile organisations, and the courses that its Navigators can plot. All these matters are areas of fierce competition between the different Navigator Houses and often the focus of campaigns of espionage, violence, and assassination. Such conflicts can cause huge amounts of damage to the infrastructure of the Imperium, often occurring without the direct knowledge of the other human nobility or the Imperial authorities until it is too late. Traditionally, this damage has been controlled by the formal declaration of a "trade war" under the terms of the ancient Navigator Convention. A trade war, once declared, allows all Navigator Houses involved to act against their rivals using military and covert means. According to the terms of a trade war, those outside of the Navigator Houses involved should not be affected or harmed by its progress. However, in reality, subsidiaries, allies, and associates of the Navigator Houses immersed in a trade war are usually dragged into the conflict whether they want to be or not. While a trade war is meant to control and contain competition between the Navigator Houses, many Houses act outside of the constraints of a declared trade war. Such illegal actions usually involve intermediaries, assassination guilds, or mercenary armies for hire -- sometimes even using xenos like Orks or Kroot.
- "I thank you for this lavish meal and for all of your hospitality this evening. As such, I regret - most deeply regret - that I must put forth this filthy accusation of duplicity against your most illustrious House. I am afraid that nothing short of a challenge to a duel of honour will sate my House now. You have until Scarus eclipses the Banestar to select the champion who will most certainly exonerate you."
- — Aristide de Balafer, before his 23rd victorious honour duel
Navigator Houses are highly secretive and highly competitive organisations. They jealously guard the knowledge of safe Warp routes from each other. A House's fame and fortune depends on its ability to safely guide vessels through the Warp and the reputation for doing so that it maintains. The greater the reputation, the more influence and wealth its clients possess. The Imperial Navy, the Space Marine Chapters, Rogue Traders and other Imperial Adepta seek the services of the most reliable Houses. Each House's reputation is dependent on the Warp charts it has recorded and amassed over millennia and each House protects these charts from their rivals. The various Houses employ entire private armies and Servitor security systems to protect the data secured deep within the bowels of a major Navigator House's headquarters. Still, various individuals and organisations still occasionally attempt to steal from rival groups, even if few actually succeed, and many Houses employ agents skilled at such subterfuge. Rival Houses also employ more insidious means of undermining each other. In the loftiest spires, palaces, and courts of the higher echelons of Imperial society, whispered rumours and hints of dark secrets can bring one Navigator House to its knees and raise a rival in its place. The sullied reputation of a single Navigator can stain his entire bloodline.
Sometimes, however, when back-room dealing and silent wars are not enough, one Navigator House openly challenges another in some fashion. In certain sectors, such as the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse, this often takes the form of Navigator duels -- a contest between two massive organisations, settled by two individuals. Though the exact origin of Navigator duels is unknown, the practice of using them to settle disputes between Houses became common in the Calixis Sector during the rise of the so-called Elutrian Confederacy. During this time, Navigator Houses associated with the Elutrian Confederacy, such as House Typhon, claimed that they alone knew the true path to perfection. The champions of this movement began calling for Navigator duels to prove their supposed superiority. When the Elutrian Confederacy was disgraced and House Typhon fell into ruin, the traditions that they had established for Navigator duels remained prevalent in the region and are still used to settle many of the disputes between the Navigator Houses of the Calixis Sector today.
First comes the formal challenge -- Navigator duels are public affairs within the secretive realm of the Calixis Navigator Houses and a family loses much face if it does not accept the challenge. This, and the fact that the loser is expected to pay a hefty fine of money, resources, and knowledge to the winner, means that duels are never issued for frivolous reasons. After the challenge has been issued, each House then has a number of days to select a champion to upkeep their honour and choose a second to act as witness and potential replacement. It is considered a great honour to be chosen as a duellist and a chance for a young Navigator to increase his standing among his family and other Navigator clans. The location of the duel is remote, such as an abandoned spire, the bridge of an empty starship moored in deep space, or a windswept mountaintop on a wilderness planet. The only witnesses are the duellists' seconds. The Navigators prefer to cloak themselves with an aura of mystique, and also prefer that no one outside their secretive society witnesses the full force of their powers.
The duel takes place with careful formality. The participants bow to each other and then slowly uncover their third eye. At a prearranged signal from the seconds, the duellists unleash the full force of their powers, locked together as they gaze unflinchingly into each other's Warp Eye, enduring the horror of the boiling chaos of the Empyrean. It is a duel of physical and mental strength, as each tries to subdue the other with their horrific gaze, and can last seconds or hours. The first to succumb on bent knee yields victory to his opponent. The duel is rarely to the death, for the lives of most Navigators are precious even to their bitter rivals. Even so, one or both duellists might face long months of recovery, their minds wracked by the strain. When the duellists return to their respective Houses, the seconds report the results of the duel and a representative of the losing House must attend a feast in the victor's honour, where he formally signs over the promised compensation. His House suffers a loss of face and a besmirched reputation, which may have vast repercussions in the wider Imperium.
In the Imperium, there are thousands of Navigator Houses, each with a history that can be traced back hundreds if not thousands of Terran years, but still the number of Navigators is a literal drop in the ocean compared to the numberless masses of humanity. All these Houses are not the same either in strength or makeup, and over the millennia many have diverged from the first great families that are said to have exhibited the Navigator Gene at the time of the Great Crusade. Some have dwindled and died off over the years, some few turned outlaw, whilst many others have prospered in divergent ways of life creating branches and offshoots of the Great Houses across the Imperium. Whilst it would be impossible to catalogue and critique each of the Navigator families, many can be grouped into broad categories, representing their unique strain of the Navigator Gene as well as their area of influence and way of life. The four groups which are prevalent throughout the galaxy are known variously as the Magisterial Houses, the Nomadic Houses, the Renegade Houses, and the Shrouded Houses:
- Magisterial Houses - A Magisterial House is a Navigator dynasty most closely related to one of the original Navigator families dating back to the time of the Unification Wars. These Houses are amongst the wealthiest and most traditional of the Navis Nobilite and will possess great holdings within the Navigator's Quarter on Terra. Their influence reaches to the very edges of the light of the Astronomican. The Magisterial Houses maintain traditions, customs and practices that have served them for millennia. They are masters of the traditional Navigator crafts and have more control over the malign mutations that afflict those with the Navigator Gene. To be part of a Magisterial House is to know without question the purity of one's blood and the ancient power and nobility of one's family. Due to the long-established maintenance of their bloodlines, the Navigators of the Magisterial Houses are less susceptible to the symptomatic mutations which often affect Navigators because of their exposure to the power of the Empyrean.
- Nomadic Houses - A Nomadic Navigator House has forsaken ties of sector and star system, relinquishing their terrestrial holding within the Navigator's Quarter on Terra or other Imperial worlds. Instead, over the centuries, these Navigator Houses have taken wholly to the stars to become wanderers and gypsies, their bloodlines preserved on vast fleets of starships constantly on the move. Due to their void-based lifestyle the members of the Nomadic Houses are perhaps the most skilled of Navigators in the Imperium due to their long exposure to both the void and the Immaterium and the inherent necessities of astronavigation. This gives them an understanding of space and the Warp second to none, but like all of the Voidborn, these Navigators may have a great deal of difficulty relating to the Imperium's varied planetary cultures.
- Shrouded Houses - A Shrouded House has suffered great losses or shame within the more established dominions of the Imperium. They have opted to move their powerbase completely to the edge of known space, where they cling to the barest strands of their former status and power. Though they may be rich in skill, knowledge or lore, something in the past of Shrouded Houses has blighted them and reduced them to a state so far from their once exalted position that they are sometimes cruelly called "beggar houses" by other, more fortunate (and far less polite) counterparts. A Navigator who is a member of a Shrouded House is part of a fallen bloodline that is slowly rising again to stand defiant against those that once cast them down -- or at least, so they are told by their elders. A Shrouded House's loss in standing has often forced it to flee to the margins of the Imperium and to develop a cunning and opportunistic mindset alongside a skill that is often lacked by more comfortably indolent Houses. This tends to make these Navigators far more resourceful than their more well-established kin, while at the same time their Warp Eye often becomes more perceptive.
- Renegade Houses - A Renegade House represents a Great House that has completely forsaken the traditions and ancient practices of the Navigator families in their quest for power, or it may have been turned on by the rest of the Navis Nobilite, harrowed, and driven into exile. Dabbling heavily in the alteration of the genes of their children in order to improve their lot, the tampering of Renegade Houses often leads to the development of hideous mutations and the existence of unconscionable monsters in their lineage, which in turn leads to rejection by the Paternova and a hunt to extinction by the Inquisition. In some cases, however, a Renegade House's actions have birthed new strains of the Navigator Gene and given rise to families with unique abilities and potent powers. Navigators that are a part of a Renegade House have cast aside the sacred Navigator traditions as small-minded and restrictive and instead have embraced the glory and limitless potential of their ancestry -- or so the houses believe, to comfort themselves. It is whispered that such regions as the Koronus Expanse is home to several Renegade Houses like the secretive Gazmati and the infamous Nostromo.
- "They hide a darkness in their souls far more repulsive than any warping of flesh or disfigurement of limb. Would that they weren't quite so useful then we could burn the lot of them."
- — Inquisitor Saffena Sengir, Ordo Hereticus
As sure as a star will dwindle and die, a Navigator will be warped by his genetic heritage over time. "The sins of blood" as the old Imperial proverb goes, "will out." As stable a mutation as the Navigator Gene is, it still gives rise to countless other deformities of body and soul within its host. This, combined with long-term exposure to the Warp, almost always ensures that Navigators will be afflicted with some kind of physical aberration. Simply being born into a Navigator family means that an individual will be mutated in some way. A Navigator's resistance or susceptibility to mutation is almost purely a function of the psychic purity of his gene-stock.
Ultimately, it must be remembered that all Navigators are a mutant sub-species of humanity. Other than the existence of the third eye in the middle of their forehead, most Navigators are virtually indistinguishable from normal humans; others possess such extreme physical deviations that their appearance is utterly alien. Mutation or deformity is common among Navigators; although the deviations exhibited are limited to specific traits common among Navigators. Navigators tend to be tall and spindly, sometimes with pale and almost translucent skin. Other common mutant traits include scaly skin, extremely large eyes which may lack the iris, and ill-defined facial features. The hands and feet of a Navigator can be ridiculously large, and are often webbed. It is very common for Navigators to be completely hairless, either from birth or soon after adolescence when the third eye first opens. Except in the most extreme cases, a Navigator would never possess all of these mutant traits at the same time. Those born with such extreme mutations might be hidden away or even killed at birth by their House to prevent their bloodlines from being contaminated by a level of mutation that would surely draw the attention of the Ordo Hereticus -- or even worse, the interest of their rival Navigator Houses.
- "Gaze long into the Warp and the Warp will gaze back into you."
- — Ancient Navis Nobilite Proverb
Common to all Navigators is the "Warp" or "third" eye. It almost always manifests as a literal mutation they bear upon their foreheads, although in some cases trepanning and a cybernetic shutter implant made during adolescence will be needed to affect the full release of their power. This third eye is what gives a Navigator his power to gaze into the Warp and guide starships through its turbulent currents and storms—more than a mere additional sensory appendage, the third eye is the source of a Navigator's power and their link to the Immaterium. Through this eye they can see directly into the Warp, and when their power is honed, pierce material barriers and disguises, and even delve into the souls of men. They can also use this third eye to read the currents of the Warp — its ebb and flow — and through this understanding subtly alter it, causing ripples that can be felt within the Materium of realspace itself. In addition to these lesser powers, the gaze of a Navigator's Warp Eye when fully opened can kill, its baleful light sheering the very souls from those that look upon it, extinguishing them forever in a moment of blazing madness and agony. The Warp Eye is also the Navigators' most obvious mutation but often not their only one. It marks them out as a mutant and divergent from the greater masses of humanity, and whilst their position, wealth and bearing serve to protect them from persecution (at least most of the time), Navigators are still feared and distrusted by many others for their gifts, and not without cause. For this reason, Navigators tend to cloister themselves away from other people, seek the protection of bodyguards, and use hoods and cowls to hide their Warp Eye when in public.
The Navigators' Warp Eye has other powers too, although these are employed far more rarely and are the subject of some mystique. These powers develop with the Navigator's experience of the Warp, so that they are most often developed by the potent navigators known as the Heirs Apparent. It is said that the third eye of a Navigator has prophetic powers and that it can literally see into the future. Navigators are very reluctant to talk about their powers, and it may well be that only the Paternova, the political leader of the Navis Nobilite, understands the full potential of a Navigator's psychic abilities. Not least of the Warp Eye's powers is its singular ability to deal death; any normal person meeting the Warp Eye's gaze can be agonizingly killed by sudden mental exposure to the Warp; mainly due to this danger, Navigators generally keep their third eye covered with a bandanna or something similar except when they are taking a starship through the Warp, causing many people to doubt that the "third eye" even exists.
Of course, the unique abilities of the Navigators have their limits. Outside the range of the guiding light of the Astronomican projected by the Emperor's presence in the Warp, the Navigators are far more limited in their ability to guide a starship through the Warp. During the Macharian Crusade, the grand Imperial conquest of the outer reaches of the galaxy almost ground to a halt as the sight of the Navigators failed, when they could sense only darkness around them. Furthermore, there are places in the galaxy the Navigators avoid at almost any cost. Navigators will shun the Eye of Terror and thousands of light years of space around it rather than risk a minor deviation in course which might take them close to or across its boundaries. Most Navigators have personal experience of close encounters with Chaos near the Eye of Terror, and many more can recall the names of others who travelled too close to the Eye in a foolish attempt to cut standard days from their journey time only to vanish forever.
The concept of Navigators in the Warhammer 40,000 universe most likely drew inspiration from the science-fiction novels of Frank Herbert's "Dune" universe, being very similar to the Guild Navigators.
- Citadel Journal 18, "Navigators: The Return of the Imperial Navigator," pp. 26-33
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 255
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 172-173
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pg. 168
- Imperial Armour - The Horus Heresy Betrayal - Book One, pg. 16
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 60-63, 72, 78, 81-82, 85, 156, 174-186
- Rogue Trader: Battlefleet Koronus (RPG), pp. 42, 45, 49-50, 71, 95
- Rogue Trader: Edge of the Abyss (RPG), pp. 80, 111
- Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pg. 192
- Rogue Trader: The Navis Primer (RPG), pp. 6-108
- The Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pp. 9, 38, 41, 94, 272
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War, Part One, pg. 36
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pp. 150-151
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 139, 141, 146, 167-168, 171, 197, 232, 402-405
- White Dwarf 140 (UK), "Space Fleet: Navis Nobilite," by Jervis Johnson, Andy Jones, Simon Forrest and Rick Priestley, pp. 46-75
- Galaxy in Flames (Novel) by Ben Counter
- Wolfblade (Novel) by William King
- Blood Reaver (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, pg. 107