- "Listen! Listen, don’t you hear? They sing to us, such a sad lament..."
- —Last recorded words of the Navigator Sol Burgundus
The Screaming Vortex is one of the zones within the region known as the Great Warp Storms that separates the Calixis Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus from the Koronus Expanse region of the Halo Stars. It takes the form of a vast, seething cauldron of empyreal energies which, while not as large, are every bit as intense as those spewing forth from the Eye of Terror, the Maelstrom or any other such Warp/realspace overlap in the Milky Way Galaxy. As a permanent Warp Storm, the Screaming Vortex is a region of space beset by the unreal forces of the Empyrean, where the thin skein between reality and that impossible dimension has been torn viciously asunder. A volume of space far larger than the average Imperial sector is to all intents and purposes cut adrift from the physical universe, the laws of nature no longer applying within. Beyond the boundaries of the Screaming Vortex, the Ruinous Powers of Chaos hold sway and for a mortal to even contemplate crossing into its weirdling energies is insanity of the very worst kind. The interior of the Vortex cannot be described in terms that even the greatest mortal mind could comprehend, and so descriptions are largely limited to the worlds on its verges and, when describing those places further in, to allegory and myth.
The Screaming Vortex is so named because the ebb and flow of its tides are accompanied by a concomitant wailing, audible to psykers and Sorcerers. The most gifted of psykers can hear the ceaseless, discordant psychic wailing that emanates from the Vortex from dozens, sometimes hundreds, of light years away, their dreams haunted by once beautiful faces turned ashen by fear and shrill, plaintive screams for mercy. The closer those gifted in the psyker’s arts travel to the Vortex, the louder and more desperate the screaming becomes. Soon, it is not only in his dreams but in his every waking hour that the psyker hears the wailing, and most are driven to the very brink of sanity by the experience. On occasion, such as when the tides of the gibbous storm wax, the screams are so loud that even those born without the power of the psyker can hear them, scratching at the edge of their sanity and seeming to beg them for a mercy that none have the power to grant.
The Screaming Vortex has existed in its present form for at least ten thousand standard years, though the use of that standard Terran measurement of the passage of time is of little relevance to such a region. Some places within its borders appear to have existed in their eternal torment since the very beginning of time, while others have endured aeons of pain in what to an outside witness might appear only the blink of an eye. Despite the difficulty in quantifying such a phenomena, some accounts of its beginnings do, in fact, exist. No single, definitive record describes the entire truth, and such accounts range from the jealously guarded heirloom data-dumps of the very oldest Navigator Houses of the Navis Nobilite to the mad gibberings of Warp-touched hellseers. Given the nature of these scattered sources, there is scant chance of any one scholar ever collating them into something resembling even a portion of the truth, unless some very highly placed agent of the Inquisition were to turn to the path to glory in service of the Chaos Gods. What follows then is but one possible account, of one possible truth. Those who believe such accounts are to be pitied, for their souls are already lost to the dread powers of Chaos.
The zone of space now known as the Screaming Vortex was once, so one tale recounts, a bountiful region strewn with paradise worlds. These realms were so perfect in form and placement that they could only have been created by the deliberate will of beings as powerful as gods, perhaps as havens for the Eldar and the other beatific child-species that dwelled there. For aeons, the Eldar and others existed in a state of perfection and glory, at one with their creators, the species now known only as the Old Ones, and all of the dimensions of this universe and others. Then came what some called a plague and others a war, but may have been both at once. The perfect worlds were scoured and, while the creator-beings that had wrought them battled valiantly to protect them, all were lost. Those few that survived the war that had destroyed their heaven knew misery and deprivation.
It is said that most of the survivors left in a great exodus, each of the starfaring species dispersing to a different corner of the galaxy. In time, they would forget the place of their birth and war upon one another until barely one one-hundredth of their number remained, all others slain by the hands of those with whom they had once shared heaven. But some Eldar stayed behind, resolved to rebuild their paradise by their own hands, though their creators had long ago disappeared from the galaxy.
How long the survivors toiled to rebuild their heaven-worlds cannot be measured by any constant of the physical universe. Generation after generation gave their all in their labours, that children they would never know might one day dwell in heaven. Eventually, so it is told, these ancients stood ready to place the last stone, resplendent on the very brink of eternity.
Then the universe descended into a new hell in the early 30th Millennium as Mankind reckons time, one that was an order of magnitude worse than the plague that had cast down the Heaven-worlds. The galaxy-spanning civilisation of the Eldar fell and, in a single moment, Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Chaos, was born. The new Chaos God’s birthing-cries resounded throughout eternity, and civilisations the universe over were cast down. The Warp erupted as it never had before and the homeworlds of the Eldar were consumed by the terrible catastrophe they call the Fall. The epicentre of this cataclysm was the Eye of Terror, a seething Warp Storm of immense proportions some twenty thousand light years in diameter occupying the former core realms of the Eldar Empire. Other worlds across the galaxy were consumed as well and other Warp Storms sprung into being around them.
At the very instant of heaven’s reconstitution, the entire region was consumed in a seething cauldron of Chaos. The Warp erupted into the material universe, creating a wholly unnatural storm as the stuff of reality and anti-reality flowed together. Those who had laboured to rebuild their lost paradise were obliterated body and soul, yet something of them remained, and would do so for all eternity. The cries of anguish they voiced at the very instant of their destruction would echo through the newborn Warp Storm for all of eternity, cries born of unbounded torment at seeing all their works cast down by the sins of the greater Eldar civilisation.
Thus was born the Screaming Vortex. The Warp Storms unleashed at the moment of the Fall of the Eldar rage as wildly as ever, and the cries of those lost within resound just as loudly. Though the souls of the lost are gone forever, their bitter lament continues, an eternal warning of the fell power of the Primordial Annihilator and its unbounded potential to destroy all that is, or could one day be, good in the world.
Of the interior of the Screaming Vortex, the Adepts and savants of the Imperium know next to nothing, except perhaps that which they discount as the ranting of madmen and Heretics. To date, many of the warlords of the Screaming Vortex have concerned themselves with their eternal struggle for supremacy over the worlds entrapped within its boiling storms. Yet, there are those within who seek to infiltrate humanity for their own ends, just as there are those without who seek a way into the Vortex and to harbour its unknowable energies. It is only a matter of time before a warlord gains such power as to unite his fractious peers and lead them in a Black Crusade against the domains of the hated Corpse-Emperor. This may be all it takes to make the Screaming Vortex as feared a place in the galaxy as the Eye of Terror, and the name of that warlord as dreaded as that of Abaddon the Despoiler or even the Arch-betrayer, the Warmaster Horus himself.
The common factor linking the Calixis Sector, the Koronus Expanse, and the Jericho Reach is the Warp conduit known as the Maw. Initially, the Maw consisted of the route connecting the Calixis Sector to the Koronus Expanse, but in later decades it was found to be much more. Deep within the Koronus Passage, Imperial explorers discovered a huge, crescent-shaped structure of utterly alien origin floating in the deep void. Thanks to the actions of the courageous scouts, the object was found to be one terminus of a xenos-built Warp Gate, a stable passage through the Warp with the other end and an identical object situated thousands of light years away beyond the Eastern Fringe in the Segmentum Ultima. Traversing this vast distance takes mere seconds. The passage made possible by the stable route is known as the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate, and its existence is of such strategic importance to the Imperium of Man that travel through it is one-way for all but the most trusted individuals. While the strategic value of being able to ship entire armies from one end of the galaxy to the other is all but unsurpassable, so too is the risk of invaders attacking the Eastern Fringe penetrating into the Imperium’s heartlands by way of this route. To reconquer the Jericho Reach, the Imperium has committed vast reserves of troops, dispatched in secret to a warzone that scant few know is not in the Calixis Sector, but on the other side of the galaxy.
13th Station of Passage
While the existence of the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate is known only to a select few within the upper echelons of the Imperium’s ruling institutions, other secrets yet await within the churning passage between the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse. One such place is the legendary 13th Station of Passage, a location within the Maw known only to those who walk the path to glory of the Dark Gods. Who discovered it remains a mystery, though surely it must have been some mad Renegade Navigator or perhaps a Warp-lorn Rogue Trader whose soul he had sold in return for such terrible knowledge. Some link the discovery to both the infamous Haarlock and Winterscale lineages of Rogue Traders, though no solid evidence exists for either assertion. The exact location of the station is unknowable to non-Sorcerers, for it takes the form of an empty region in the void several hundred kilometres in diameter. Over the centuries, this empty space has come to be orbited by a dark halo of debris, countless frozen corpses from sacrifices dedicated to the Ruinous Powers.
The 13th Station of Passage represents a point of confluence, where the raging tides of the Maw and the tendrils of the Screaming Vortex meet. It is, in effect, a branch of the Koronus Passage, and the only route into and out of the Screaming Vortex its denizens routinely utilise (though there are certainly others). Other routes are too dangerous for most, and the 13th Station of Passage is only attempted after due obeisance and sacrifice has been made, as is born witness by the halo of twisted, bloodless corpses slowly orbiting it. In fact, so dense is the cloud of offerings that vessels moving into the confluence to make Warp jumps must push through it while the frozen bodies can be heard to thud against the outer hull.
Via the 13th Station of Passage, the denizens of the Screaming Vortex can access both the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse. Furthermore, they can, if they are extremely cautious, pass through the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate into the Jericho Reach, though most prefer secreting themselves on Imperial transports to sneak through the powerful Imperial Navy blockade.
Daemon Worlds, of which many can be found in the Screaming Vortex, were once planets created and ruled by the processes and laws of nature. Yet, through some cataclysmic incursion, they are now entirely claimed by the Warp, forming permanent islands of the Immaterium in the midst of realspace. A daemon can move unhindered from the Warp to one of the Daemon Worlds and the four Great Powers of Chaos continuously compete to possess them. Armies of daemons and their living allies fight huge and bloody battles to determine which of the Chaos Powers will hold sway. These battles often last for hundreds of standard subjective years, so that the entire world becomes little more than a gigantic arena where the opposing forces are pitched against each other. They represent the eternal conflict known as the Great Game between the Ruinous Powers, manifested in a very real way through the deeds and drives of those who would serve them. The generals of these armies are Greater Daemons and Daemon Princes, the latter because they were once alive as mortals and understand the nature of both the material universe and the immaterial Realm of Chaos. Once a Daemon Prince has conquered a world, he claims it as it own to rule in his patron’s name as he wishes.
When a Daemon Prince takes control of his hard-won world he uses his mighty powers to reshape it to a form that pleases him. Because of this, every Daemon World is different and all are equally spectacular in their own way. Some are host to oceans of bubbling viscera, while some are shaped into grinning skulls visible from millions of miles away. Some have landscapes that could only be possible in the Warp, such as mountains floating in the sky or volcanoes into which rivers of lava flow backwards. The mortal population of a Daemon World serves Chaos in two equally important ways. Mortals provide the manpower for the armies of Chaos, especially for the armies that invade the material universe. Mortals worship the uncaring Chaos Gods and in so doing swell their presence in the Warp.
Although the Vortex seethes with almost perceptual war, not every mortal creature is necessarily harnessed to battle. Only those who are brave enough to fight their way to freedom from the slave-pits, prayer gangs, and black factories may fight in the name of Chaos and so draw power from it. The remainder serve through work and worship. Slaves are rewarded in the bitter way of Chaos, learning to love the lash. They become frenzied with pleasure as they approach extremes of self-sacrifice,trying to outdo their neighbours in their efforts to please their overlords. Many populations labour not in the daemonic foundries, but in planet-sized prayer-hordes. Countless millions are whipped into a fervour of devotion, the Warp resounding to their frenzied prayers while the Ruinous Powers grow all the more powerful through their sacrifice.
Screaming Vortex Denizens
The Screaming Vortex encompasses a vast region of the void, a far larger area than was originally occupied by the Old Ones' Heaven-worlds, if even the smallest part of that ancient legend is to be taken as truth. As its currents wax and wane, so other worlds have been dragged into its depths and many still exist in a damned state, beyond the knowledge of the Imperium. The peoples of many of these worlds have never known the Emperor of Mankind, their lands having been sucked into the Vortex long before the coming of the Imperium to the region in the Angevin Crusade.
More importantly, the dimensions of the physical universe cease to apply within the Vortex. It is said that the outer storms that form the boundaries of the Vortex are “as thin as a curtain and as thick as a thousand generations,” and that is the best description to be found of this region. Truly the worlds of the Screaming Vortex may be so close that a Heretic can jump from one to another, yet so far that such a leap may take a hundred standard years subjectively to complete.
No form of unified government can possibly exist amongst the denizens of the Vortex and, even if it could, very few would consent to be ruled in such a manner. In the Vortex, men are either slave or master, for any other existence is anathema to a region ruled according to the whims and horrors of Chaos.
To the distant observer, the Screaming Vortex appears as an area of roiling, lambent energies flickering in the darkness of interstellar space. The Voidborn know not to look too long at such things, for to do so is to invite insanity at best and damnation at worst. Some say the swirling energies coalesce into screaming mouths as large as entire star systems and terrified eyes open wide to implore the onlooker for mercy. Commonly, vessels navigating through realspace in the vicinity of the Vortex and other, similar phenomena lower their Warp-shutters and raise their Gellar Fields as they would in the depths of the Warp itself, so that none may become soul-tranced by the whirling energies. Were a vessel to close upon the Vortex, it would be buffeted by ever more violent tides of outpouring Warp energy until navigation became all but impossible. At that point, the vessel would be cast upon the currents of the storm and washed up wherever the capricious and unknowable energies of the Immaterium willed (if it was not destroyed outright).
The arrangement of the interior of the Screaming Vortex is beyond describing in sane or rational terms and only the most Warp-scathed Navigator would attempt to map its depths. Despite this, there are those steeped in forbidden knowledge who perceive patterns and forms in the roiling depths and who have come to understand something of the great Warp Storm’s ways. Over countless generations, insane astromancers and Warp-readers have come to recognise certain features and pronounced names for the various regions within. The terms such men use to describe the inner workings of the Screaming Vortex are as rabid blasphemy to the scions of the Navigator Houses, who renounce them utterly. Such terms of reference include the "fluvial disjunctions," the "antecedent counter-configurations," the "paradolian observances," the "atemporal conjurations," and the "amalgam horizons." All of these features can be broadly categorised as belonging to one of the three known zones within the Screaming Vortex -- the Gloaming Worlds, the Inner Ring, and the Lower Vortex.
The Gloaming Worlds represent the outer fringe of the Screaming Vortex -- a shell consisting of several hundred star systems. Such worlds are well beyond the reach or the desire of the Imperium, for they are so steeped in the fell energies flowing from the Vortex that none save the most insane Lord Militant would consider invading them. The Gloaming Worlds hang trapped in the eerie, flickering glow of the Warp Storm, as precious as flawed jewels suspended in lambent amber. Those few Navigators who have dared cast their Warp Eye towards the Gloaming Worlds know of those closest to the Koronus Passage from the Calixis Sector into the Koronus Expanse, yet the vast majority are entirely unknown, and indeed unknowable, to the Imperium.
None can say for sure how many of the Gloaming Worlds are inhabited, and such is the ebb and flow of the Warp Storm that a planet teeming with life on one sighting may show no sign of ever having harboured a single cell the next time it is seen. Some are fought over by insane megalomaniac warlords, while others are avoided at all costs. So unpredictable are the currents of the Screaming Vortex that even these outer worlds are isolated from one another and few warlords have ever managed to capture and control more than a handful at any one time.
Still more of the Gloaming Worlds exist in little more than name, including cursed Arbuthnot, hated Dwimmer, the bitter binary twins Sturm and Drang, murderous Guelph, jealous Ghibelline, and blasted Hindrance.
Xurunt is one of the more stable and populous worlds to be found in the Screaming Vortex. It takes the form of an extremely large, rocky planet orbiting the star Canares in the layer of seventh fluvial transgression. Despite the massive size of the world, the gravity on Xurunt exists within normal parameters due to its allegedly hollow core.
The surface of Xurunt is dominated by several great landmasses separated by small seas too acidic to support any but the most hardy and truculent forms of life. At some point the landmasses of Xurunt were civilised; the marks of ancient roadways cross the land, and faint traces of ruined cities still exist in some areas. Some great cataclysm evidently overtook the inhabitants of Xurunt -- perhaps at the moment of being drawn into the Screaming Vortex, or more likely later as order broke down and terror stalked the streets. The current inhabitants of Xurunt do not speak of such times and regard the virtually obliterated ruins of cities with superstitious fear.
The population of Xurunt is made up of numerous fierce nomadic tribes, the Xur, who move ceaselessly over the wide prairies of the interior. In the long summer months when different tribes meet, they fight; each attempting to kill and enslave the other without any thought of parley. The way of the Xur is dominance and a powerful tribe can quickly amass a mighty thrall-train and great herds of Xurunsh, the Grox-like beast that the Xur use for mounts, food, and transportation. However, a tribe too overburdened with plunder soon has every other tribe attempting to steal any Xurunsh and slaves it cannot protect in an endless cycle of conflict.
During the short, hard Xurunt winter the nomads studiously ignore one another unless provoked, some tribes withdrawing to fortified camps on mesas while others migrate to warmer climes in the world’s equatorial belt. On a few celebrated occasions a warlord has emerged that was known for being especially formidable as he would campaign through the winter, being given the acclamation of Sacanta or "Frost Father" in the local language.
Xur warriors admire flamboyant bravery in battle above all else and treasure the polished skulls of their enemies more than gold or jewels. The Xur are unruly and hard to command but make for skilled and fearless opponents. Xur combat is fast and furious, a swift exchange of missiles followed by a thunderous charge into close combat. Clever warlords try to fix their opponent’s attention and then catch them with an unexpected charge from the flanks or rear. Such tactics are so well-worn that few Xur will fall for them, the fight devolving into a series of skirmishes as the flanking forces clash. Outlanders expecting only a primitive frontal charge can, and do, get caught out, however, as the burned wrecks of several voidships on Xurunt’s surface mutely testify.
In most tribes both sexes are trained to fight from the moment they are old enough to sit on a Xurunsh. They must become proficient with the three-meter long lance-goad used to control the hulking creature, as well as lead-weighted javelins and the powerful horn recurve bows favoured by the Xur.
Lethal as they are in the hands of Xur warriors, all of these weapons are secondary to the deadly power of the Xurunsh itself, a veritable moving mountain of muscle, scale, and horn. What little love Xur warriors have is reserved for their mounts. Especially quick and powerful beasts are lauded and pampered, bedecked with precious stones and finely woven cloth. Metal armour is more often seen worn by Xurunsh than by their riders—slitted eye plates, neck and belly armour being most common. Claw sheathes and impaling spikes add to the Xurunsh’s already imposing profile. The most renowned Xurunsh are often remembered in Xur legend and song long after their rider’s legacy has faded.
Across the whole of the vast surface of Xurunt only eight structures remain that are greater than knee-high stumps. These are huge, pot-bellied idols to a bull-headed deity the Xur call Baphtar. These gigantic bronze constructions are several hundreds metres tall and of unknown origin, said by the tribesmen to be gifts of the gods. Each is different in details, but all portray the same figure squatting back on its hooves with fists clenched and head tipped back with jaws agape as if caught in a moment of bellowing rage. By ancient law, any combat that takes place within sight of one of the towering idols is dedicated to Baphtar’s honour and no slaves or Xurunsh are permitted to be taken alive.
Each winter a tribe under a mighty warlord that has waxed powerful in the summer months will encamp themselves around an idol of Baphtar. The very fiercest battles will occur where two or more tribes arrive to claim the honour. Afterwards, in a succession of long, frenzied ceremonies, the warlord makes numerous sacrifices and dedicates his victories to Baphtar’s name. Ritual combats occur between the tribes’ warriors and adolescents are tested most stringently at this time. To become an adult within Baphtar’s sight is felt to be an especially portentous sign and is marked with branding of the celebrants. Any show of weakness is met with immediate bloodshed to expunge the sin before Baphtar becomes wrathful.
By the arrival of spring the tribes that return from the idols can be reduced to just a handful of warriors. The Xur fear these "chosen of Baphtar" for their battle fury and the legends that tell of chosen returning armed weapons of lightning or unstoppable brazen Xurunsh that neither ate nor drank. According to Xur myth the most worthy warriors are carried up by Baphtar himself to join his iron hosts and fight in the Long War. Often no one at all returns from an idol, and each is surrounded by a parched white plain made of the skulls of the unworthy supplicants.
The Xur have few metal-working skills and hold labours like mining in contempt as a task fit only for slaves. The main source of their worked metal comes from hunting the great clanking creatures they call Onir, or dragons. The Onir burrow up periodically from beneath the surface of Xurunt, huge multi-limbed metal beasts covered in wheels and rods that are more reminiscent of crabs than reptiles. The Xur have learned how to hunt the lumbering constructs by vaulting on their backs and blinding them, a daring feat that wins high renown among the tribes for the survivors.
The Onir retaliate with gouts of flame and rotating blades but can seldom escape the tribesmen for long; once immobilised the great beast is stripped to its gleaming metal skeleton. Hull plates are beaten into blades and Xurunsh armour, rods are reshaped into lance-goads, wires made into halters, lariats, and garrottes. Every part of the Onir is used, with even the bones being dragged away by teams of Xurunsh to be incorporated in the tribe’s winter camp. The Xur understand that Onir are not real creatures and maintain that they are made by beings that live in the hollow center of their world that they call Svartlings -- a troglodytic race, possible the mutated survivors of the first city-builders or some other strange beings deposited on Xurunt by the caprices of the Screaming Vortex.
Most Xur view Svartlings with fear and mistrust but some among their number are said to have dealings with them by going deep beneath the earth into caves or fissures. Such Xur risk becoming Sorcerers and outcasts in the eyes of their fellows if they are discovered, although the magical gifts to be won have tempted many. A Xur Sorcerer is said to be able predict the weather accurately and speak over limitless distances, summon lightning, and blind their enemies with but a gesture.
At the juncture of the sixth and seventh anteciduals of the Screaming Vortex, a particularly persistent whorl of Warp energy surrounds the Sorcerer’s world of Q’sal. Here the Sorcerer technocrats of the cities of Tarnor, Velklir and Surgub have held sway for over eight hundred standard centuries by their own reckoning, an almost inconceivable timespan in realspace terms. The high loremasters of Velklir maintain that Q’sal lay at the heart of the Screaming Vortex in the earliest days of is formation, but has gradually moved from the centre towards the periphery, while the scrollwardens of Surgub counter that they have irrefutable proof that Q’sal began at the periphery and is moving to the centre. The archivist-savants of Tarnor can add their weight to neither view, having been struck mute by decree of the Arch-qaestor of Tarnor for a period of not less than two centuries in censure for their outrageous utterances. So it goes on Q’sal.
Q’sal is a rich and prosperous world that would seem familiar to the inhabitant of a Civilised World of the Imperium. The clean lines of its glass-towered cities overlook plains covered with well-tended agriculture, its air is alive with the movement of flying craft. In space, a docking ring and shipyards work constantly and a variety of sleek-hulled vessels can be found moored there. On closer inspection, all of this seemingly ordinary activity reeks of the most potent Warp-spawned sorcery; everything from daemon-forged engines to voidships powered by rune-inscribed menhirs. Spells and cantrips are implicit in every kind of technology in an arcane fusion of magic and science.
A great many peculiarities append to the inhabitants of each of the three cities, but as a rule the people of Q’sal appear to be handsomely-featured humans, neither young nor old, and with children and the infirm never to be seen. They treat all outworlders with disdain and, for the most part, view them as errant slaves to be taken in hand as necessary. On occasion, machinations between the three cities lead one or more of them to open up trade with outworlders for an extended period of time -- or to just as abruptly cease it. When trade is underway, the soulforges of Q’sal work day and night while demented choirs of captive daemons pipe spells of alteration and change.
The Sorceror-technocrats will trade for only one thing -- souls, living in the form of slaves or already captive in traps or Spirit Stones. When available, the weapons and starships of Q’sal fetch astronomical prices and are easily recognised by their sinuous curves and deadly efficiency. The dark tales that cling to the artefacts of Q’sal do little to dissuade eager warlords and pirate kings, even though by some twist of fate they often lead to the meteoric rise and then fall of their owners.
The three cities of Q’sal are highly distinct from one another and frequently at war, covert or overt, over a variety of imaginary slights and antiquated territorial claims. Full war between the cities has not been visited upon Q’sal in several centuries for fear of the great terrors unleashed. In past times, fleets of sorcerous floating silver towers attended by squadrons of flying warlocks ravaged the landscape while legions of unleashed daemons fought to mutually assured destruction in an orgy of violence. A number of locations on the surface still bear the scars of such arcane conflict, places where reality is worn thin and daemons are held in check only with the most stringent pacts and wards.
Some hold that the three current cities are only the survivors of an original nine, the remainder destroyed in internecine wars before the current reckoning of time began on Q’sal. A fragile peace has emerged with the three factions, carefully balanced by pacts stating that overt hostility by one of their number will be met forcefully by the other two together. The sorcerer-technocrats still find loopholes and exceptions in plenty to prosecute their schemes, but reality-cracking magics are kept in check.
The city of Surgub is built on an island in the bay of the great River Crelix and claims to be the oldest settlement of Q’sal -- a claim hotly refuted by Tarnor and Velklir. Surgub is ruled over by fourteen Factors with palaces in the highest steeples of the city. They meet in a strict pattern according to lunar phases. By their decree, any action that might distract them from their deliberations at such times is punishable by death, banishment, or reward according to their whimsy -- a decision ordinarily made according to the manner of business they were attending to. In the past, infractions have been recorded for a multitude of activities including whistling, not whistling, riotous public assembly, incontinent verbosity, unwelcome eruptions, and snark.
The measure of a Sorcerer’s worth in Surgub is determined by the height of his tower, a law that has caused the city to grow vertically into a crown of crystalline spikes many kilometres high. The highest-ranked Sorcerers seldom descend from the heights, living out their lives in the clouds far beyond the grip of common mire beneath. The Sorcerers of Surgub often weave Warp enchantments to levitate them several inches above the ground when they must go abroad, in keeping with a belief of their city that a Sorcerer setting foot upon the earth loses his powers.
The city of Velklir lies at the southern extremities of a chain of mountains far to the north. Velklir is ruled over by a tyrant elected every forty-nine years and, by tradition, the features of past tyrants are carved into the rocks surrounding Velklir. Over the centuries this practice has covered the flanks of the mountains with hundreds of stern, hollow-eyed patrician faces, giving Velklir its more common name of "The City of Faces." Velklir’s towers are squat, round-bodied structures of green glass often broader than they are tall.
Velklir’s Sorcerers show a great passion for astronomy and the tops of many of the towers are given to arcane observatories and gigantic astrolabes. The astronomer-scientists of Velklir strive to carefully track every heavenly movement and astral conjunction in the Screaming Vortex. They obsessively make complex calculations, plot horoscopes, and predict the flux of the Warp to discover the most auspicious periods for their undertakings. It is said that a Sorcerer from Velklir can guide a vessel through the Immaterium with astounding accuracy, rivalling even the mutant Navigators of the Imperium, and that the greatest warbands repay Velklir for their assistance with a great tithe of souls. Even a Velklir star-chart is a great aid.
The city of Tarnor occupies a region of irrigated desert west of Velklir. Seen from afar it appears as a mass of domes and spheres tinted a thousand scintillating colours; whorls of amber, vermillion, carmine shot through with bubbles of cobalt, puce, lavender, and sienna. The sight of Tarnor gleaming beneath the desert sun can strike the unprotected blind. At sunset, the innumerable hues of cityscape merge to make colours unnamed in ordinary reality. The shadows cast are not those of Tarnor, but other cities in other times and places, making a grotesque shadowplay of the future. The Sorcerers of Tarnor wear a variety of placid-seeming masks whenever in public, changing them several times daily in correspondence to chimes rung throughout the city. The spoken word is frowned upon and a complex system of ritualized gestures is used to undertake most transactions. A visitor that abides by these strictures will find themselves feasted and entertained in great style by their silent hosts, though cautionary stories abound of guests causing offense by exclamations of delight.
Part of the Tarnor Sorcerers’ obsessive silence extends from their bizarre love of music. It is said that a Sorcerer of Tarnor cannot pass music being played without stopping to listen and that they will bestow amazing gifts on those that bring them a new kind of instrument or an unheard tune. By night, the curving streets of Tarnor echo with the weird strains of otherworldly melodies and alien harmonies. The mad profusion of instruments achieves a dissonance that can at times overwhelm the senses and blast the ears, or at others transport the soul on sublime breezes to a place of paradise.
At the very edge of the Gloaming Worlds, where reality bleeds away on the approach to the Inner Ring, is to be found a region known as the Ragged Helix. Entrapped within the impossible energies that mark the convergence of the two regions is what appears to be a chain of asteroids many millions of miles in length. Each asteroid has its own atmosphere -- some breathable, others instantly deadly. Each rock, which can vary in size from a planetoid to a tiny island, is linked to the next by an invisible anchor and a tendril of atmosphere, allowing mortals to step from one to the next. While some of these wild islands of rock are mere metres apart, others are many miles, forcing travellers to cross unseen bridges through the void, never quite knowing what might await them on the next island.
The larger of the islands of the Ragged Helix are fought over bitterly, and many host mighty fortresses. A number have been turned over to the production of weapons and warships, attended by the fell minions of the Dark Mechanicus. These islands are an awesome sight indeed, mighty ships of war tethered to the slowly dancing rock islands in preparation for battle against their masters’ foes, or the servants of the Corpse-God of the Imperium.
Berin and Asphodel
The worlds of Berin and Asphodel orbit the poisonous star Velaj on the very fringes of the ninth fluvial interstial. Both are comparatively new additions to the Vortex, having been drawn inside it only a few centuries ago. Both worlds were ravaged utterly in the process and long since reverted to wild barbarism of the worst kind. Where these worlds were plucked from is impossible to say. They may have once lain at fringes of the Screaming Vortex and were absorbed in a slow expansion of its extent, or they may have been drawn into a vagrant Warp funnel from just about anywhere in the galaxy.
The current inhabitants of Berin and Asphodel certainly keep no records of the times before their arrival in the Screaming Vortex. Two xenos species have risen to complete dominance on the planets; innumerable clans of Feral Orks infest Berin and countless Kroot Septs have overrun Asphodel. Primitive warfare is endemic to both planets and the inhabitants’ energies are normally fully absorbed in fighting other Clans or Septs in vicious battles for survival.
Most of Asphodel is a dim, swampy morass completely overgrown by scum-sucking Nendya trees trailing long beards of burn-moss. Throughout this noisome, twilit environment lithe Kroot warriors stalk their foes, laying traps and setting ambushes. The tribes live a nomadic existence, weaving temporary villages in the treetops as they move from place to place. Horrid cannibalistic feasts take place before leaping fires and the night air is always alive with the angry grumble of distant drums.
The Kroot on Asphodel seem to have retained only the barest vestiges of technology in any form. The most complex devices they can make are primitive flintlock Kroot rifles. The swamps of Asphodel are rife with Krootox, Kroothounds, and other, much stranger divergent branches of Kroot evolution. It seems likely that the surviving Kroot are gradually devolving into a completely animalistic state, and in the long term, the last vestiges of their limited civilisation could disappear from Asphodel completely. Only in the mountains of Lun do the Kroot Master Shapers still retain the full memories of their craft. These strange beings spend their lives shaping even stranger progeny -- great moon moths and sinuous aether wurms of great size. They wait and watch the skies for the return of Berin, the fiery heaven of their myths.
The Orks of Berin dwell on a planet dominated by parched deserts and pitiless dust storms. Water and metal ores are rare commodities on Berin, to the point where even the Feral Ork tribes are hampered by the lack of resources. The Orks themselves are gnarled and tough, their green hides burned almost black by the poisonous star Vejin and scoured by the relentless winds. Each tribe guards its own watering hole ferociously and makes constant attempts to seize others so that it can expand its numbers. With typical Ork ingenuity, all manner of vehicles are used to cross the waterless deserts and come to blows with one another -- everything from stitched-hide airships to rocket sleds. Many of the tribes are notably proficient at mining the sands for chemicals to make crude explosives and exhibit a love of rockets that far exceeds all reason. Others tribes produce large numbers of the wild psykers known as Weirdboyz who are capable of unleashing unpredictable but deadly powers in battle.
When one tribe does succeed in conquering another and taking a second watering hole, the victorious Warboss can rarely keep both places under control thanks to the overweening ambitions of his underlings. The limitations imposed by Berin’s harsh geography and climate make building a great Ork empire impossible. At their worst, the deadly dust storms circling the planet can rage for weeks at a time and reach strengths that strip an Ork to the bone in minutes. Even tribal strongholds can be obliterated by the largest storms, like the great permanent tempests the Orks call Ulg, Bur, and Zzuk. These thousand kilometre-wide circular storms sweep randomly across the surface of Berin, sometimes clashing and destroying all in their path. The Orks believe demons stalk the hearts of these great maelstroms, tearing Orks to shreds and etching their bones with curious, spiralling script.
On both Berin and Asphodel, only one event takes precedence over the eternal cycles of blood-debt and vendetta -- the time when their sister-planet looms large in the sky. Then every Shaper or Warboss turns their thoughts to migrating to a new world. The erratic orbits of Berin and Asphodel bring them within just a few million kilometres of one another. From Asphodel, countless moon moths and aether wurms take flight, migrating across the void to the orange ball of Berin. Heavily adapted Kroot cling to their backs for the crossing, surviving the passage by burrowing into their flesh to suckle like giant ticks. From Berin, swarms of rockets blast skyward towards the grey circle of Asphodel in reply, and huge rocks tear free from the desert sands -- propelled aloft by the psychic force of gangs of chanting Weirdboyz to carry mobs of ecstatic Ork warriors to battle.
The two streams of invaders meet and intermingle, the ferocity of both sides often driving them to do battle in the empty fastness between their worlds. Such battles usually mean death for victor and vanquished alike, with any survivors doomed to be taken by the ever-hungry void. War erupts across the face of both worlds when the skies fill with enemies from the other world. Only a handful survive the crossing and the subsequent (often disastrous) landfalls, but they are enough to make great gains at first. The bravest and strongest fighters from both worlds are so busy trying to invade the other that they leave their home defences woefully weak.
However, to date no force of invaders seems to have survived long enough to be found alive in a subsequent alignment. As their sister-planet wanes in the sky all of the tribes left behind invariably turn against any aliens to be found on their own world. In a quite exemplary display of unity, they prosecute a genocidal campaign against the interlopers, only returning to the normal business of killing their own kind when every invading Ork or Kroot on the planet has been destroyed.
Pirates find Berin and Asphodel to be excellent recruiting grounds for bands of ferocious savages. The cult of travelling to the stars is so firmly embedded in both the Kroot and the Orks that they willingly serve anyone with a starship, crowning the captain of any passing tramp vessel as king, emperor, or god as takes their fancy. The buccaneer Clavis Moreff is said have employed entire squadrons of Kroot riding aether wurms in his attack on the living gardens of Endhriesh and much woe came upon the Arch-horticultralist thereby. The sixth Shadow-Margrave of Sacgrave had a company of Orks recruited from Berin much feared for their cannibalistic proclivities. Most captains limit themselves to a few bravoes recruited from either Berin or Asphodel (the two species fight incessantly if placed in the same crew). They make excellent first mates and boarding party leaders, with exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills and senses honed to perfection by life on their deadly homeworlds.
However, dealing with the natives is not entirely without its risks. A few ships have found themselves overrun by overenthusiastic Orks from Berin and promptly crashed into the surface of their world with disastrous results. The Kroot of Asphodel can be apt to assail passing vessels and try to force their way aboard to demand passage from their unwilling hosts.
Within the Screaming Vortex lies a peculiar world that could not otherwise exist, taking advantage of the Vortex’s unusual eddies and tides of Warp matter. This world is known as the Hollows, and the name aptly describes its bizarre nature -- from afar, the Hollows resembles a half-eaten fruit, little more than a single hemisphere with a thick stem of rock extending beneath it. Once, the Hollows was a relatively normal planet, but the rivalry between two Dark Mechanicus Magi has stripped enormous amounts of the planet’s once-abundant resources until nearly half of it was fully consumed by massive-scale deep core mining. The planet’s molten heart cooled and congealed long ago -- were it not suspended in the reality-bending realm of the Screaming Vortex, the Hollows would have long since broken apart into asteroids.
On one side of the Hollows’ remaining hemisphere lies Forge Castir. This is one of two Dark Mechanicus installations on the planet that constructs twisted devices that are often possessed by daemonic entities or are designed to manipulate Warp energy as both weapon and power source. The undisputed lord of Forge Castir is a Dark Magos known only as the Exospectre, a towering creature of slithering Mechadendrites wrapped in mouldering, ragged robes. Some claim that the Exospectre was once a trusted Archmagos, possibly one of the near-mythical Lords Dragon who police the Adeptus Mechanicus from within.
Forge Castir is ever at war with its twin, a sprawling complex on the other side of the hemisphere known as Forge Polix. Designed and controlled by Magos Onuris, Forge Polix is a frenzied centre of heavy industry, creating finely-crafted suits of protective Power Armour, lumbering war engines, and various voidship components that are traded to numerous warbands and Warp-entities alike.
No one is certain what began the conflict between the two forges, but the Hollows are constantly beset by battles erupting across its remaining hemisphere. Orbital strikes, Tech-assassins, and teeming hordes of Tech-renegades are among the most mundane of weapons wielded in this struggle for supremacy. For the last decade, the Exospectre has held the upper hand, and Magos Onuris grows ever more desperate to secure a gambit that will achieve victory over his rival.
The Writhing World
A number of legends surround the worlds of the Screaming Vortex, many of them cautionary tales or nightmarish parables of death and despair. Upon seeing the Writhing World for the first time, there are few who would dispute that this blighted planet has inspired many such dark stories.
From orbit, the Writhing World appears as a dirty-brown orb, its surface in constant subtle motion. The planet is seemingly composed of huge, continent-sized tendrils of worm-like flesh, perpetually slithering by small degrees in a bewildering pattern that has driven many strong men to madness.
There are no certain records of what may lie beneath the ever-squirming layers of the planet’s surface, but there are dozens of theories that either describe the Writhing World as the birthplace of some ancient, malevolent god or the battleground for an apocalyptic battle, and that the planet itself is a long-forgotten weapon from that conflict.
Regardless of these speculations, the Writhing World has somehow become home to a number of scattered, feral human tribes, eking out a primitive existence amongst the tendril ridges and flesh-mountains. Massive, mobile organic constructs called "crawling citadels" scuttle across the planet’s surface, each a mighty tower controlled by a powerful Sorcerer or biomancer. These Sorcerer-kings sometimes approach wanderers and warbands with offers of safe passage across the treacherous worm-wastes in return for technology or secret knowledge.
Another minor mystery related to the Writhing World is the existence of four small moons in its orbit, each verdant with primitive plant and animal life forms. Although these moons are uninhabited, each is claimed by one of the Sorcerer-kings as his private reserve, and there are many stories amongst the tribes that the moons are home to the souls of the damned and the source of the Sorcerer-kings’ power. Between these moons lies a thick chain of asteroids and a ring system. Those who fly within the rings find that each chunk and particle is also made of worm-like tendrils on a smaller scale, aping the planet they orbit.
A baleful, guttering ember of a world, Kurse lurks like a canker within the Screaming Vortex as a common port-of-call to many warbands and Chaos pirates. Untold ages ago, Kurse was once a thriving Civilised World, rich in machines and lore from the Dark Age of Technology. Ultimately, the world was embroiled in a firestorm of savage war, where unspeakable weapons were unleashed in search of a final victory. Thus, the world as it was had been cast down, its great cities and centres of learning smashed to rubble, its advanced civilisation reduced to brutality.
Ongoing toxic chemical reactions have created seas of simmering fire, and the remaining continents are marred by massive irradiated pits, many of which extend down to expose the planet’s molten core. The majority of Kurse’s environment is completely uninhabitable, with only a few regions spared the ravages of cataclysm. The planetary population is mostly composed of mutants and cannibals, surviving on the remnants of their former glory, carefully hidden away before the planet’s ugly fate or unearthed from the rubble afterwards.
A ring of asteroids in near orbit have been fitted to sustain life by the Dark Magi of Forge Castir, and a number of these habitats serve as crude gladiatorial pits where mutants and other survivors from Kurse are pitted against one another for bloody sport. Warp hounds, Ogryn brutes, and other such creatures are common amongst these makeshift arenas to add particular spice to the contests or to serve as slaves or bodyguards.
Kurse’s true value to the denizens of the Screaming Vortex is as a breeding ground for warriors and mutants to fill the holds of Chaos pirate vessels or to serve in the armies of Aspiring Champions of Chaos. Occasionally, some warbands make their way to Kurse in order to plunder lost archeotech or ancient data-vaults from the ruins on the planet’s surface.
Largely dominated by thick temperate and tropical-forest growth, Malignia appears at first to be a stable and welcoming planet that could easily be found in nearly any region of the galaxy. This appearance is a deceit, a lie to tempt and seduce the unwary into the lush, green hell of Malignia’s ecosystem. Beneath the treetop canopy, Malignia is a twilight maze that rarely glimpses any sunlight. These forests are home to a vast variety of fierce predatory life-forms, so many that they have never been fully catalogued. Some of the more well-known creatures include the bloated sabre-lion, the cunning shade-mauler, and the utterly lethal poison of the crawling death. Malignia’s plant life is no less dangerous; twisted growths of bone and ivory intertwine with waist-thick vines and sword-like, iron-hard thorns.
Many legends claim that the warlord Sikari the Vile constructed a pleasure-palace on the southern continent, a hunting lodge built from the bones of his enemies. If true, then the warlord’s plentiful servants and wealth may abide there still, defended by ancient Void Shields, automated defence guns, and the warlord’s coterie of concubine-witches.
From realspace, Sacgrave appears to be a fist-shaped gnarl of black rock barely the size of a small moon. Sacgrave’s Warpshadow, however, is out of all proportion to its physical presence. It stands athwart the third fluvial extension where its anomalous presence breaks that comparatively calm channel into the raging fifth and sixth interstices. From this position Sacgrave dominates a large part of the Screaming Vortex as many vessels are pushed close by it as they battle the raging currents. The dense rock of Sacgrave has been seared across every inch of its surface by raging Warp Storms, leaving it black as soot and twisted into a thousand fantastically faceted pillars.
No one knows who originally settled on Sacgrave and built the first fortifications there, but they are constructed on a truly monumental scale. Thickly buttressed towers of basalt and onyx rise across its angular landscape, crowned with jagged battlements of adamantium and unbreakable crystal. In many places, the towers are clustered so thickly that they interlink, forming bastions and strongholds according to no logical pattern. A maze of vaults and tunnels are driven deep into the rock beneath them, so deep their furthest reaches have never been explored. The place was clearly not made for humans: its doorways gape wide enough for six men to walk abreast, its steps are knee high and its lofty ceilings disappear into shadows high above.
Later inhabitants adapted Sacgrave to their own purposes; studding the towers with weapon pits and Auspex systems, adding landing pads and docking booms, emplacing plasma furnaces and Void Shield generators in dark, silent vaults. For centuries, a succession of robber tyrants and pirate kings held sway over Sacgrave and its walls are soaked with the blood of innocents. The last claimant of the fortress were the enigmatic Shadow-Margraves who sought to clone a dynasty through the dark arts of gene-manipulation and Heretek science.
Some reckoned the original Shadow-Margrave of Sacgrave to be a Renegade from the Imperium. According to different tales, he was a Rogue Trader who became trapped in the Vortex, or a Radical Inquisitor fleeing Puritanical opposition, or a rebellious nobleman avoiding Imperial justice. Others hold to darker tales, that the Margrave emerged from the depths of the Lower Vortex, and that he was a thing neither daemon nor mortal. It is a certainty that the Shadow-Margrave ruled Sacgrave with a rod of iron and extorted a heavy tithe from passing ships to pay for his obsession. Over time and after a great deal of bloodshed, the Shadow-Margraves succeeded in bringing order to the fractious pirate clans and bending them to his will.
Under the Shadow-Margraves’ reign, the pirate fleets of Sacgrave swelled from a handful of ships to vast armadas. Bloodthirsty crews from all over the Vortex flocked to their banners for the promise of plunder and wanton slaughter they offered. Their raids escalated until whole worlds were ravaged by red-handed reavers, their miserable inhabitants enslaved or butchered out of hand. Some whispered that the Shadow-Margrave had pretensions of taking over the Gloaming Worlds and forging an empire, or even taking their armadas beyond the Screaming Vortex to confront the Imperium itself.
Perhaps that vow held the seeds of the Shadow-Margraves’ destruction, their wishes being granted by some precocious daemon lord when a fleet arrived unexpectedly in the vicinity of Sacgrave. The pirates attacked without hesitation, squadrons of shark-nosed raiders blasting into space to assault the fleet while their heavier vessels hurriedly readied themselves for battle.
As the raiders closed, they were shocked to see that the vessels were not reavers. They were not even human. Instead, the sweeping solar sails of an Eldar battlefleet eclipsed the stars. A mighty Eldar warhost of the Craftworld Kaelor and a dozen Eldar Corsair fleets bore down on Sacgrave. Against them, the hard-bitten Renegades threw themselves into a fight to the death.
The Eldar blasted the first wave of pirates from the skies with mercilessly accurate gunnery even as they closed to bring their own weapons to bear. The darkness around Sacgrave lit with the dying agonies of countless vessels, falling to the terrible brightness of the Eldar macro-lasers. The immense Dragon ship Un’Alash Denasal -- "The Fury of Dawn" in the Eldar Lexicon -- led the vanguard, its powerful Pulsar Lances burning a half-dozen raiders to cinders.
Finally, the larger pirate Cruisers rose to engage and the battle became less one-sided. The Slaughter-class Cruiser Benediction of Vax led the charge, its captain Indolous the Gorger directing a ferocious hail of fire against the Wraithship Fate of Eternity. Though his Auspex was fooled by ghost-shapes, Indolous simply closed until he could see the vessel with his own eyes. Fiery explosions enveloped his prey, the elegant lines of the Eternity crumpling and burning under a terrible bombardment.
Indolous had little time to enjoy his victory as moments later the Benediction of Vax was sliced in two by a spread of torpedoes from the Shadow-class Cruiser Forgotten Twilight. As the Benediction disintegrated in a violent burst of plasma, the Eldar Corsairs hit the Chaos Reavers from the side, pummelling their ships with salvos of torpedoes.
The pirate captains that escaped the battle swore afterwards that it was lost in that moment, as first one ship then another turned away to escape the infernal cauldron of fire, their great armada unequal to the test of fighting opposing warships on even terms. The Eldar harried them relentlessly, releasing clouds of fast-moving Attack Craft to chase down the fleeing ships.
Sacgrave provided no protection for those that fled to it. The Eldar swept in to pound the fortress like the fists of an angry god. Mighty towers shuddered under the impacts of torpedoes and Pulsar Lances until they cracked, toppled and melted into lakes of slag. Elegant landing craft descended to the surface, disgorging troupes of brightly-hued warriors whose grinning masks mocked those they slew. None could stand against the warrior dancers, or their allies. It is said that amongst the warriors strode four knights clad in silver armour. Even the most hardened Chaos Reaver crumpled against the fury of their bolt-rounds, or died from the reaping strikes of their swords and halberds.
In despair, the surviving pirates scattered in all directions as best they could. The Shadow-Margraves fled aboard their powerful Grand Cruiser, the Kasserkratch -- its capacious holds crammed with looted treasure, if the legends are true. The Eldar and their mysterious allies vanished as suddenly as they appeared, caring not for the survivors of Sacgrave. Some wonder if their goal was to see the alliance of the Shadow-Margraves split asunder, so that they would be stayed from fell deeds in the distant future.
The Shadow-Margraves of Sacgrave vanished as well, though myths and rumours about them still abound. The bombardment ruined Sacgrave but it did not completely destroy it. Even the hellish fury of their warheads was not enough to topple all of the towers or penetrate the deepest vaults. Over time, scavengers and pirates have crept back in to Sacgrave to occupy the surviving towers. The scattered groups lack a single strong leader and skirmish incessantly as they pick through the chaotic landscape of tumbled basalt walls and shattered buttresses. Persistent stories of huge fortunes found buried in the rubble bring a steady influx of new hopefuls to Sacgrave, feeding a permanent community of weaponsmiths and ammunition merchants in the upper vaults.
To date no vast fortunes have been unearthed on Sacgrave, although everyone knows a story about someone who really knew someone who struck it rich. Less-rewarding prizes have certainly been found -- unstable warheads, autonomous battle constructs or ravening xenos from ancient and unpleasant menageries. Every single scavenger that has entered the lowest accessible vaults has failed to return, prompting yet more tales about how the vengeful ghost of the original Shadow-Margrave is down below guarding his last and greatest treasures. Some hold, rather, that the original builders of Sacgrave never left, and that the reverberations of the destruction wrought above have awoken them from their slumber in the deepest vaults. Now they stalk through the darkness and enact unspeakable punishments on any that dare to venture into their realm.
Whatever strange and deadly denizens lurk in the lower vaults, they have failed to quell the ardour of the treasure seekers and instead created a brisk trade in maps, guides, and protective charms for the entrepreneurs dwelling above.
Wreck of the Kasserkratch
The Kasserkratch was once the most feared ship in the Screaming Vortex. According to myth, it was constructed by the Sorcerers of Sugrub. A mighty Repulsive-class Grand Cruiser with powerful plasma reactors and heavy armour in sloping facets of adamantium and ceramite scores of metres thick, the vessel carried a weight of armament and ordnance that could reduce a continent to ruins with a single salvo.
Sugrub eventually lost the Kasserkratch to the Tyrant of Larv in a game of regicide. To their great consternation, the Tyrant used it to raid Sugrub itself, seizing a great fortune in the glittering yellow diamonds. The Tyrant did not escape the outraged Sorcerers’ vengeance for long. He is said to have been found dead inside his locked quarters aboard the Kasserkratch the very next day. The tyrant’s vizier, a tall sepulchral xenos called Fellhehiam, eventually took control of the vessel after forty days and nights of vicious battle against usurpers and traitors among his own followers.
Fellhehiam took the Kasserkratch on raids all across the Gloaming Worlds, even striking as far as the Inner Ring. He feared no Warp-spawned horror and spurned the dangerous riptides of the Vortex with seeming impunity. His long and bloody reign as the captain of the Kasserkratch was ended by treachery when he was devoured by six of his own offspring. The leaderless ship plunged on through the Warp as the crew warred amongst themselves to seize control of it, deluging the corridors and compartments with blood and gore. No faction could emerge victorious, before the vessel became caught by the whirling crosscurrents of the sixth interstitial and emerged at Sacgrave.
In respect for the warship’s formidable reputation, the Shadow- Margraves forbore renaming it when they took control of the vessel, and the Kasserkratch remained a part of their armada for many centuries afterwards. In the fall of Sacgrave, the surviving Shadow-Margraves fled aboard the great ship and plunged into the furious tides of the Warp. No one knows what happened to the vessel’s crew, but it is said that the wreck of the Kasserkratch has reappeared several times within the Vortex, cast up for a time by the howling currents before dragged back into their embrace. The kilometres-long spearhead shape of its hull is unmistakeable, even crushed and torn by relentless tides. A ghostly halo of debris hangs about the dark hull of the Kasserkratch and its spires and steeples are split by a jagged rift where the spine of the warship has been broken, a crooked black grin etched across the crenellated ramparts by some unthinkable force.
No scavenger or pirate has ever returned from boarding the Kasserkratch. Some have been lost moments after setting foot aboard as the doomed wreck plunged back into the Warp. Others have lived long enough to report back for a short time before communications fell ominously silent. Their frightened whispers described finding the remains of other adventurers grotesquely altered, followed by strange sounds and then only silence. The curse that hangs about the wreck of the Kasserkratch seems to have done nothing to dim the siren’s call of its treasures.
Messia is a blasted, rocky world in the outer reaches of the Gloaming Worlds choked by a thick, poisonous atmosphere. The brightest day on Messia is a sepia-tinted twilight when its fierce white star, Xoson, burns its away through the pollutant streams in the air to scorch the earth. Acid-storms and storm-force winds scour the surface at regular intervals, forcing its hardy inhabitants to shelter below ground for extended periods. Messia’s only slight redeeming feature is that it spins very slowly, taking more than a standard year to complete one rotation on its axis and thus creating an extremely long single day. Conditions on the cooler night side offer some relief from the burning glare of Xoson. On the nightside of Messia, chill mists cover a landscape that is rapidly overgrown with slimes and fungi growing from hardy spores lodged in the blasted rock. Larger creatures start to break out of their underground burrows to take advantage of Messia’s long night to hunt and procreate before fleeing back beneath the rocks at the coming of the dawn
Two great anular cities exist on Messia; Mekonta and Zanok, at the north and south poles respectively. In each place half of the city is ruined through the long Messia day while its inhabitants remain in the other nighttime half of the city feverishly repairing damage on the dusk edge even as they are abandoning structures along the dawn edge. This gives both cities a decrepit, patchwork appearance, made up of conical roofs of iron plating covering rough walls of acid-eaten rock. Higher sciences are long lost on Messia, but the polyglot inhabitants of the cities still work with metal, building engines, vehicles, and firearms with passable skill. The demand for Promethium to drive their engines and heat the cities during the long Messia night forces them to send frequent expeditions out into the wastes. Semi-nomadic "drill-barons" take their giant rigs out into the morass on the nightside or the blazing desert of the dayside.
Such expeditions are well-armed and escorted with a variety of armour-plated land cruisers and Stubber-armed Attack Bikes. In the wastes they might meet all manner of aggressive wildlife from swarms of hairless mole-rats to giant acid-spitting leeches. Clashes between the rival drill-barons over particularly choice sumps are not uncommon. Two of the hundred-metre-long drill rigs in battle is a sight to behold as they clash like prehistoric beasts, monstrous drill bits rending into one another as their outriders circle like dervishes. The stakes are high and the fighting desperate. The gang of a losing rig will be reduced to scavenging and piracy, desperately seeking another rig to capture before their own fuel runs out.
These skirmishes pale in comparison to the danger posed by Messia’s ever-present mutant hordes. Whatever catastrophe originally blotted out Messia left horrifying contagions that create vast populations of feral wasteland mutants. On the cool night side the mutants walk slowly with a shambling gait. As the night wears on, they bulk out and mutate monstrously, soon banding together to hunt for blood and warm red flesh to feed their unspeakable hunger. A moving rig is relatively safe, crushing its way through the mindless crowds, but when the rig stops to drill, the outriders must form a constantly moving protective ring to keep the mutants at bay.
Curiously, the mutant hordes seem to be most drawn towards the dawn edge of Messia and undergo a strange transformation as they emerge into Xoson’s unrelenting glare. Their bloated flesh hisses and sizzles as the mutants wither into mummy-like scuttling things. Mutants found on the day-side are fast and ferocious, capable of using weapons and planning ambushes, and even of turning captured vehicles against their former owners. On the day-side, a rig is most vulnerable while moving, and its escorting vehicles probe ahead constantly looking for traps or deadfalls set by the devious mutants.
The mutants migrate constantly towards the dusk edge where the fall of night drops. The day-side mutants must flee as chilling mists enwrap the land. After lying putrefying and insensible in the muck for a time their withered bodies rise again and the cycle continues as they begin their shuffling march towards the dawn.
The Tyrant Star is a baneful phenomenon that appears randomly throughout the Vortex, bringing doom and destruction wherever it appears. The coming of the Tyrant Star signals catastrophe, its baleful appearance in the heavens a dire portent to Sorcerers, shamans, and spirit talkers across the Gloaming Worlds.
The Tyrant Star may not be a true star at all, for it appears as an utterly black star, eclipsing actual stars that provide light to worlds, so that only their crackling corona appears around a perfect eclipse. However, the star emits its own, terrible light, a malevolent lambency that allows sight without illumination. Under the light of the Tyrant Star, worlds are ravaged by strange phenomena; time can run backwards, inanimate matter may become murderously animated or the dead may rise even as horrific plagues and waves of uncontrolled mutation beset the survivors. Slavers and scavengers often descend on worlds shattered beyond all recognition by the Devil Star’s passage.
The reaver bands that plague the Calixis Sector tell stories about how the worlds there have also been beset on occasion by the Tyrant Star. They claim some of the Imperium suspect the forces of the Ruinous Powers at work in its manifestation. However, no champion or warband leader within the Screaming Vortex has boasted of this deed. To date, even the Choir on the Mountain in Q’Sal have not discovered the origins of the Tyrant Star (much less what it actually is), despite many sacrifices to their masters.
What impels the Tyrant Star along its course is unknown. Many believe the Tyrant Star to be a conscious entity, a god or daemon from the Inner Vortex travelling through the Gloaming Worlds. Some pray for their realm to be visited by this harbinger and given the true gift of enlightenment, or purgation or Chaos unleashed according to their creed. Some pray for their world to be spared and sacrifice their first born to appease the Tyrant Star when it shines black in the sky. For most, the Tyrant Star is only another terror in a lifetime filled with strange and terrible occurrences, and they try to eke out their existence and survive its coming as best they can.
The Cat's Cradle
The Cat’s Cradle lies at the innermost reaches of the Gloaming Worlds, a tortured region of space heavily influenced by warps, currents raging at the boundary of the Inner Ring. The laws of the physical universe break down completely so close to the worlds of the Inner Ring and are usurped by daemonically-driven whimsy. The region is rife with worlds, some orbiting stars, some drifting alone in space. Many of them are illusory, others bear glittering civilisations that rise, expand, and disappear like soap bubbles, and most are mired in a fey, superstitious medievalism and completely unaware of the existence of anything beyond their own realm.
Interstitial paths exist between the worlds here so its possible to literally walk from one to another. Possibly they are remnants of older paths rent from the Webway in the Fall of the Eldar, or perhaps more naturally occurring fractures in reality that can be exploited to move from place to place. Some Aethermancers have speculated that the Cat’s Cradle was formed by the collision of two star systems as they were drawn into the Screaming Vortex. They believe the death agonies of their inhabitants mired the area in its own complex set of reefs, calms and crosscurrents within the Vortex.
Strange, daemon-inspired enclaves of various sorts exist in the Cradle, moving in some unknowable pattern from place to place. A few Sorcerers of great power choose to make their homes in the region and are greatly feared by its inhabitants. Those seeking the Inner Ring must pass through the Cat’s Cradle and the Sorcerers try to entrap any such petitioners out of sheer spite and petty malice. Unable to muster the courage to seek the deeper truths of the Vortex, the Sorcerers bar the route to others with webs of trickery and deceit.
The Inner Ring
Beyond the porous, outer shell of the Gloaming Worlds is to be found the zone referred to as the Inner Ring. This region of the Screaming Vortex represents a wildly fluctuating Warp/realspace overlap, the star systems within it existing in a blasphemous hybrid where neither the laws of the material realm nor the anarchy of the Warp fully hold sway. Reality in the Inner Ring is a malleable thing, a hybrid medium shaped by the whim of the denizens of the Empyrean, and by those few mortals with the strength of will to impose their own desires upon it.
There are six major inhabited worlds within the Inner Ring and numerous other planets; all are so beset by the raging storm they are beyond the ambitions of even the most insane warlord. These worlds all exist in a wild flux. At times they become so instilled with the raw power of the Warp that daemons and other immaterial creatures can walk upon them freely and the mad whims of the Empyrean rule supreme. At other times, the Warp appears to recede or recoil from them, and the inhabitants experience a painfully brief period of relative calm. In truth, however, the tides of the Warp always return, and so the worlds of the Inner Ring exist in a kind of purgatory, standing on the very edge of the precipice. Perhaps one day the Inner Ring will collapse and the Warp will claim its worlds for all eternity.
Some say that the planets of the Inner Ring and beyond were once a clutch of Maiden Worlds of the ancient Eldar, twisted beyond all recognition at the moment of the birth of Slaanesh and the creation of the Screaming Vortex. Countless Warp-whisperers and arcano-prognosts have lost their sanity and their souls attempting to scry such things, and most with an ounce of insight avoid such knowledge at all costs.
The outer-most of the Inner Ring’s major planets, Aphexis is a bleak world of grey, half-dead plains. Its skies know neither day nor night, and the star around which it orbits never quite rises above the horizon, no matter where on the surface the observer might be. Aphexis is inhabited by a fairly large population, the people every bit as grey as their world. Seemingly devoid of individual character or will, the people of Aphexis lead half-lives, shuffling across the ashen plains of their world and barely interacting with one another at all.
Many Chaos warlords have imposed their will over bleak Aphexis, yet rarely found the effort worthwhile. On numerous occasions, the people have been rounded up and enslaved, made to work or fight in the names of new and uncaring masters. It seems the Aphexis people accept such turns of fate without comment, yet have such scant regard for their own lives that they soon invoke the wrath of their overseers. Those who have enslaved the Aphexisians have often resorted to flogging thousands to death as an example to the rest to work harder, yet always they have found such methods entirely unsuccessful.
The second major orb of the Inner Ring is a windswept planet beset by hailstorms and driving rains. Its peoples exist in a seemingly permanent state of misery, forced by the cruel whim of the denizens of the Warp to live their lives bereft of even the barest necessities of life. By some unnatural law, no stone may be set upon another on Melancholia, and so the population may never find respite from the driving, freezing winds that assail them every minute of their pitiful lives.
Despite outward appearances to the contrary, the inhabitants of Melancholia harbour such desires as would make the most brazen of the Dark Prince of Chaos’ devotees blush. Inside, they seethe with lust and yearn to spill blood, yet their environs constantly dampen their lust and reduce their lives to cold misery and drudgery. It is said that to remove a man from Melancholia and take him elsewhere is to unleash the beast he has nurtured in his heart his entire life, and such men make the cruellest, most bloodthirsty, and most imaginatively blasphemous Champions of the Ruinous Powers in all existence.
Beyond Melancholia is to be found the world of Mire -- a fetid, clammy planet of swamps and endless plains of sucking mud. The inhabitants grub about the stinking depths of the mud flats for what little sustenance they can find, ever encrusted with layer upon layer of hard-packed filth. So scarce are sources of nutrition on Mire that when even the smallest grub or root is uncovered, entire tribes go to war with one another. Incoherent and barbarous, the savages brain one another with precious rocks or pull one another down into the cold depths where they share a hideous, mutual demise.
On several occasions, Chaos warlords have taken tribes of Mirens away, forcing them to serve as slave-warriors in their hordes. Mirens make brutally effective foot soldiers and are known for their propensity to rip open the bellies of those they have slain, plunging their arms inside the corpses in search of the choicest meats denied them on the world of their birth.
The world of Mammon is a rubble-strewn wasteland, its surface blasted by a war that has raged since the beginning of time. Mammon is bereft of natural resources and its populace is divided into two opposed factions, each coveting what riches the other has managed to amass over the millennia. The war is fought with every possible means, from blunt clubs made of the bones of the fallen to arcane technologies traded from other worlds within the Vortex. Yet, no ruse or stratagem has ever amounted to any gain other than that measured in the lives of the fallen.
While the peoples of Mammon are amongst the most warlike and aggressive to be found anywhere in the galaxy, in outward appearance they are quite the opposite. Men and women go to war in the vestments of some debased clergy and bedecked with the symbols of the Imperial Creed. Their leaders are at once generals and demagogues, their glittering cloth of gold robes ragged and bloodstained. Clearly, some cruel jest of a truly cosmic scale must be at work on Mammon, for its inhabitants believe themselves true servants of the God-Emperor of Mankind. They offer praises to Him on Terra even as they slay one another and rob the bodies of anything that can be carried away. The cities of Mammon are constructed of loot taken from the enemy, teetering fortresses, and unsound towers of riches undreamed of forming the residence of the Cardinals-Militant. Such places rarely stand for long, however, as the eternal tides of war sweep them away.
Furia is a world of black skies above even blacker, depthless oceans, the preternaturally calm waters haunted by creatures that most believe to be some vile hybrid of beast and daemon. The populace clings to existence on ramshackle floating shanty-skiffs made from the flotsam and jetsam of the galaxy’s countless wars. How such debris washes up on Furia none can rationally explain. The people of Furia are adept at fashioning everything from junker warships to shelter-arks from the shells of burned-out tanks and the hulls of the wrecked starships that continuously bubble up from the depths.
The people of Furia exist on the knife-edge of oblivion, fighting a battle for survival against the vile daemon leviathans that rise without warning from the glass-calm seas to drag entire floating towns to their deaths. Thousands of sucker-clad tentacles rear up from the waters and diamondsharp beaks snap and rend. Only those floating communities that have managed to salvage and repair functional ranged weaponry have a chance of surviving such attacks, using rusted old Heavy Stubbers and guttering Lascannons to keep the beasts at bay another day longer.
The Flaming Tomb
Beyond Furia, the boiling energies of the Warp Storm intensify on the approach to the so-called Lower Vortex. The last of the major worlds of the Inner Ring encountered before reaching that boundary is the Flaming Tomb, a planet of blackened rock islands afloat on oceans of flaming lava. The air is filled with clouds of noxious gas so dense in places they can kill with a single breath. Tsunamis of raging magma rise up to swamp what little solid ground exists and when the tides of the Vortex wax and the screaming obscures all other sounds, beings of solid lava are said to rise from the searing seas and stalk the land, their footprints glowing orange in their passing. Needless to say, life on the world known as the Flaming Tomb is a brutal and often short affair.
The population exists as feral refugees, each determined to hold on to what little territory they can win. The tribes of the Flaming Tomb are aided in their ceaseless battles by a caste of pyromancers able to manipulate fire in all its forms, and use it as a weapon against their enemies. The most powerful of these Sorcerers are able to summon firestorms capable of razing the lands of their foes to ashes and calling blazing comets to crash down from the burning skies. The services of the pyromancers of the Flaming Tomb are highly valued by the Chaos warlords of the Screaming Vortex, who will pay any price to have one at their side when marching to war against their foes.
Upon the sides of a black and blasted mountain torn from the surface of some long extinct world lies an imposing gate, wrought in psychoplastic pseudo-bone by the fair hands of long dead artisans and sealed from within so that none may pass. Numerous are the warlords who have raised millions-strong armies of deluded mortals, and expended them upon that unbreakable gate inflicting no more than a scratch. What lies beyond the gate can only be guessed at, but there are tales that it periodically opens to allow the passage of small troupes of warriors utterly dedicated to the defeat of Chaos in all its forms.
Gates of Moment
All across the Screaming Vortex lie small irregularities, rip-tides, and eddies through which countless souls have attempted to journey and subsequently been lost. A few of these are genuinely linked to other places and, in the case of the Gates of Moment, other times.
The Gates of Moment is actually a moon within the Screaming Vortex, one that orbits the worlds of the Inner Ring, randomly spinning from one world’s embrace to another at a moment. It is a normally unremarkable worldlet, with a harsh atmosphere and scrubland climate. However, what makes it fascinating is that this world seems to exist in multiple locations at once.
Those wandering the surface of this world may randomly find themselves walking on the surface of the Gates of Moment deep within the Hadex Anomaly, across the galaxy in the Jericho Reach. Those within or near the Anomaly say the Gates of Moment has existed within the Anomaly for as long as they know and to walk across their moonlet’s surface may pitch them into the Screaming Vortex. Some travellers also claim that they have walked across the surface of the world and ended up in other parts of the galaxy, or even in other galaxies entirely. Nobody knows just how many times and places the Gates of Moment are truly linked to.
It is said that the worlds swallowed up by the Hadex Anomaly exist in a time frame all their own and cause and effect follow no law there. Some travellers might find themselves visiting the ancient capital of the old Jericho Sector, Verronus itself, long before its fall. Others find themselves flung far into the future, into or beyond the final battle said to await the galaxy.
One legend states that an obscure and secretive group of Imperial Inquisitors were consumed attempting to close the Gates of Moment permanently, though most dismiss such stories as myth.
At the heart of the Screaming Vortex is to be found a region that defies all logic and explanation. Those steeped in Warplore refer to it as a zone of icy calm, an eye about which the relentless energies of the Warp Storm ceaselessly rotate. They claim that there are numerous cursed worlds located within, worlds entirely consumed by the energies of the Warp. The so-called Lower Vortex is a zone where the raw stuff of Chaos is -- if the Warpseers are to be trusted -- so densely packed as to exist in an almost solid state. In truth, mortal frames of reference cannot begin to conceptualise such a phenomena, and it is doubtful that any who have witnessed the place have survived to recount anything of their experience.
Only three of the worlds locked within the depths of the Lower Vortex are commonly known, though there are doubtless many more. All are what the Imperium’s savants term "Daemon Worlds." They are not true planets so much as aetheric, otherworldly realms, existing at once within and beyond the area of realspace occupied by the Screaming Vortex. They are entirely subsumed within the Warp, as one with the Realm of Chaos, and, as such, subject to the whims of the Ruinous Powers. They are constantly reshaped according to eternal battles raging between the Dark Gods. One instant they may be planet-wide plains of dried bones, the next oceans of putrefaction. Time has no meaning whatsoever in the Lower Vortex, and even the subjective perceptions of the onlooker are twisted beyond all recognition. What seems a day might last an aeon, while a lifetime passes in the blink of an eye. The Lower Vortex is the abode of daemons and gods, and it is theirs’ to do with as they please. Mortals have no place there, this side of death at least, and woe betide he who seeks to impose his will upon its denizens
It is said that the boundary between the Inner Ring and the Lower Vortex is guarded by a cadre of Greater Daemons, and that any mortal seeking to cross over that rubicon must find a way around them. He must face the wrath of a Bloodthirster of Khorne and be tempted beyond mortal tolerance by one of Slaanesh’s Keeper of Secrets. Following that, he must overcome the most virulent plagues one of Nurgle’s Great Unclean Ones can concoct and, finally, resist the reality-splitting insanity of a Lord of Change in service to Tzeentch. Such trials take a myriad of forms, and no two are ever exactly alike. Most end in the utter destruction of the intruder’s soul, but a bare few are allowed to pass into the Lower Vortex and to tread the Realm of Chaos itself.
The first of the known Daemon Worlds within the Lower Vortex is known to Warp-seers and Heretics as Crucible, and it is a realm of pain and torment beyond anything even the most debased of mortals can imagine. This pain, so it is said, is born of that experienced by the original denizens of the Heaven-worlds at the moment their existence was ended and, no matter which of the Chaos Powers is in the ascendance, that pain is so relentlessly intense it can never be erased.
The nature of Crucible depends on which of the Dark Gods and their daemon legions has control over it. When Khorne is in the ascendance, it is a realm of crude violence and savage anger meted out on the souls of mortals who died in battle. When Slaanesh rules, the violence is enacted tenderly, as a gift between lovers. When Nurgle gains power over the Daemon World, the entrapped souls experience an eternity of decay and rebirth. When Tzeentch resides on Crucible, the pain is that of sanity torn asunder as the self is lost amidst seas of madness.
Beyond Crucible lies what many believe to be the penultimate world of the Screaming Vortex: Contrition. The realm exists as a daemonic city, its structure continuously cast down and rebuilt as each of the Dark Gods gains and loses ascendancy. Daemons are said to hold court in the City of Contrition, concocting the most imaginative lies they whisper into the hearts of mortals. It is said that the entire daemonic metropolis resounds to the cacophonous lies of its otherworldly populace, the daemons vying continuously with one another to invent ever-more-preposterous schemes to ensnare the souls of Mankind.
Those mortals entrapped by the daemons’ duplicity are said to be dragged back to Contrition, to be imprisoned within the dungeons deep in its bowels. What fate awaits such entrapped souls in those grim oubliettes is beyond the imagining of even the most Warp-touched Heretic.
The Frozen Heart
At the very centre of the Screaming Vortex lies the Daemon World legend names the Frozen Heart. If Crucible and Contrition are beyond mortal experience, then the Frozen Heart is entirely unknown, though numerous, and often contradictory myths and visions make mention of its nature. Some say it is a realm populated by the shades of the most vile of traitors, once mighty heroes whose souls have been blasted by their fell deeds and who now exist as insubstantial and ever-fading remnants of all they once were. Others say that in the Frozen Heart the eternal struggle between the Dark Gods is in perfect balance, and as such the Warp itself is eternally motionless. Some have even claimed the Frozen Heart is the graveyard of ancient gods, consecrated ground upon which none but the immortal may tread. In truth, all of these things and none of them may be true; and besides, mortal minds could never comprehend the truth and stay sane.
There is a legend concerning the Frozen Heart. It is said that within the centre of the world is the unknowable dynamo that keeps the Vortex in its perpetual raging state. It is even said that if someone could master this power, they could calm portions of the Vortex, allowing fleets and armies to escape its grasp and burst forth to conquer and plunder the realm of the Corpse-Emperor.
Beneath the second fluvial transgression of the Screaming Vortex a thick ribbon of Warp-flow marks the location known as Harrowed Space. Legends say that the gods at play once grew frustrated with the confines of their pitch and flung a world out of the Vortex to make more space, dragging a gouge in the swirling currents of the Warp that persists to this day. The high witch-scryers of Velklir on Q’sal maintain that such talk is nonsense and that their calculations clearly indicate the existence of an entity at Giant’s Stride. They believe that the anomaly is created by the slow pulse of the sleeping Chaos Power they call Mystolarampharr, the Cardinal of Lost Hours. Certainly the normal psychic screaming of the Vortex dulls to a dull, regular throb in the vicinity of Harrowed Space, a pulse that grows more powerful the closer a voidship comes to the anomaly itself.
In realspace Harrowed Space is seen as a bruise-coloured nebula shot through with gossamer thin veils of exotic matter ejected from transient Warprifts that plague the region. Strange entities flit between these rents in reality, gremlin-like sprites that try to lure ships to destruction with false signals and distress calls. The Giant’s Stride is a tumultuous and highly dangerous region to enter, with unpredictable crosscurrents and Warp eddies always on hand to sweep an unwary vessel into the inescapable clutches of the Vortex.
A brave and determined captain armed with the correct star charts or the benefits of daemonic patronage might pass through these dangers to find the true entrance to the Warp flow at Harrowed Space. Navigating successfully through this fast-moving cataract of energy can shrink a travel time of months or weeks down to days or even hours. Areas of the Screaming Vortex that would be completely impossible to reach otherwise can be reached via Harrowed Space for those with the courage to risk the passage. Some whisper that at the right junctures it is even possible to slingshot through the flow and escape the Vortex completely. The pirate-seeress Zegule the Red is said to have led a fleet of warships through Harrowed Space to raid realspace on three separate occasions before suddenly vanishing without trace after an argument with her pact-bound daemonic guide.
Despite the potential rewards only the most desperate or overconfident slavers, pirates and smugglers will steer via Harrowed Space regularly. Many ships that make the attempt come to grief in its clutches and the region is littered with their wrecked hulks cast out of the tides of the Warp for an hour, a day or a year. Swarms of scavengers are drawn the edges of the region to plunder the lost ships as they are often fat with goods from distant worlds. All too often the scavengers become victims themselves, their ramshackle ships caught in the vicious undertow and dragged to their doom.
The Ascendant Spiral
This unpredictable tide within the Screaming Vortex has been described as a sub-current connecting the Lower Vortex and the Gloaming Worlds, and while travellers may pass through it, they may only do so in one direction -- from the Lower Vortex to the Gloaming Worlds, and not the other way. Every now and then a mortal appears at the upper terminus of the Ascendant Spiral who has visited the Lower Vortex and looked upon its darkling face. While most of these individuals are little more than raving maniacs, a few are gifted of power and knowledge only granted to those who have conversed with the highest servants of the Ruinous Powers, and passed every test set before them. Such individuals harbour a special hatred for the denizens of the Imperium of Man, and invariably seek to gather a Black Crusade and bring death and destruction to the Domains of Man in a galaxy-rending orgy of bloodshed.
Those Who Dwell Within
- "Though the ground may open and devour you at any moment, that’s a small price for freedom in my eyes."
- —Cachek the Deranged of the Writhing World, now deceased
Though it may seem impossible to the scribes and savants of the Imperium, there are those who live and even thrive within the Screaming Vortex. Many are the inhabitants of the aforementioned worlds and often they remain trapped on their lonely sphere (particularly the feral inhabitants of the many primitive worlds in the Vortex). These are described with their aforementioned planets. However, there are also those who travel amongst the worlds, who have the power or resourcefulness to journey from planet to planet. Foremost amongst these are the many Chaos warbands that wander the Screaming Vortex.
Chaos Warbands of the Screaming Vortex
The Chaos warbands of the Screaming Vortex are a disparate and varied bunch, ragged warriors brought together by fate or chance, fighting together to further common goals or advance their own, private agendas. Just as the Vortex itself has no true defined size, there is no counting the number of warbands that wander it.
There is no defining a Chaos warband, no archetypical mould that a warband springs from. However, there are several similar characteristics. Warbands are often small, ranging from several to several dozen members. Though a warband could easily become larger, this has seldom happened in the Screaming Vortex of late. This is because most warbands are brought together because the members share similar goals or ambitions, or see the warband as a chance to further their own goals. Such individuals are often prideful and independent. When their goals are met, the warband may well splinter and fracture, its members leaving according to their whims.
Just as the warbands of the Screaming Vortex are infinitely varied, so are those who join them. Beyond their shared status as outcasts and Renegades from the Imperium, the members may be anyone from a powerful Chaos Space Marine of one of the Traitor Legions to a feral chieftain of a barbarian planet. However, the one trait they all share is that they are exceedingly competent individuals. The cutthroat and dangerous life in a wandering warband sees anyone who cannot look out for themselves torn to bits (sometimes literally) by their peers.
However, on occasion an individual or select few will rise to lead a warband through force of arms or force of will. Such individuals must be charismatic leaders or dread warriors, but if they succeed, they may well see more warriors flock to join their warband. Eventually, entire warbands may pledge themselves to their cause, or even entire worlds and pirate fleets. Finally, should their power and reputation grow far enough, these leaders may have entire armies under their command, primed for bloody, full-scale war upon the galaxy. Thus, a Black Crusade can be born.
It appears to many citizens of the Imperium of Mankind that the armies of Chaos are a unified fighting force. This, however, could not be further from the truth, as the Forces of Chaos are often a fractured and disorganized group, formed into warbands and held together by alliances of convenience.
The denizens of the Screaming Vortex cannot be herded, they must be led. Occasionally, a leader will become powerful enough to call warriors to his banner. They rarely follow out of a sense of loyalty or devotion to Chaos. Rather, they fight for their own glory and self-preservation. A powerful warlord may be fearsome enough that possible death at an enemy's hands is far preferable to certain destruction at his.
The resources and glory a Heretic may garner is also a potent lure. Many flock to his banner simply to further their own goals. A rogue admiral may lend his forces to a raid or long-term campaign for a price. His services are purchased with a promise of profit and resources to further his own goals. Warriors may wish to pay homage to their masters, slaughtering in his service. The flag these rogues fight under is inconsequential, it is only the slaughter that is important.
It is this fact that make the Forces of Chaos appear unified to the observers within the Imperium of Mankind. The Traitors fight as armies, taking orders from commanders and operating as a unified force. They war, also, with each other. Warbands within the Screaming Vortex often find themselves in conflict with each other. Resources are scarce and bloodshed may be the only means to acquiring such precious commodities. Rivalries and feuds are not uncommon amongst warbands on the same planet or operating in the same star system. It is, in fact, far more uncommon that they would not make war against each other. Only the charismatic (or frightening) leadership of a powerful Chaos Champion can force them to work together.
Piratical raids are not uncommon. A warband may assault another simply to steal from them, taking what they want and doing as much damage as possible in the process. Often, two or more warbands will come to blows over the rights to a resource, such as a manufactorium. These wars are often quick and brutal, attacks directed towards leadership and defences. Less forward-thinking attacks have left many a resource mere smouldering ruins, useless even to the victor.
The desire to attain resources from a more powerful adversary is a common reason for a warband to form in the first place. Disparate groups and loners may require each other’s aid to wage a long-term campaign against a more prosperous (and better equipped) foe. While these alliances may be short-lived, it may also mark the beginning of a more permanent arrangement. A warband that rises to power through the exploitation of resources often relies on their wealth to wage war, promising mercenaries a share in their conquests or future aid. While petty squabbles over trinkets motivate some warbands, differences in ideology may also cause conflict. Those certain of their divine right to conquer are often opposed by those with the same goals. While those motivated by temporal power or resources can be forced to retreat or be cowed, an enemy who is pure of purpose must be utterly obliterated.
However, amongst the varied warbands there are those who even now struggle for supremacy amongst the Vortex. Any who wish to rise to control the Vortex must challenge them or perish.
Warband of Sektoth
Sektoth the False Whisper is a master manipulator and leader of a rather piratical warband of Chaos Space Marines. He and the Thousand Sons of the Warband of Sektoth at his command strike without warning against anyone who has resources he requires in his research of the Rubric of Arhiman. Dozens of lesser psykers have fallen under his sway, exchanging their martial utility for the honour of cowering at the hem of Sektoth’s robe. His warband is large, with hundreds of elite Astartes warriors that report to him and thousands of lesser soldiers who die at his bidding.
When Sektoth desires the holdings of another warband he moves decisively and quickly. His light frigate, The Unyielding, arrives in orbit and hides behind a nearby astral body. He deploys his psykers into the local population to disrupt the daily operations of his target. His minions report to him telepathically, collecting information as they commit sabotage.
What happens next has never been the same twice. Sektoth tends to prefer tactics that turn his enemies on themselves. He once garnered enough power to drive an entire planet mad with a single word whispered in every citizens’ mind. This preference is not absolute, as he is not afraid to use more direct methods. He reduced the Gardens of the Exquisite Delight to swampland by commandeering a hijacked Iconoclast-class Destroyer and crashing the kilometre-long warship into an ocean on the far side of the world, wrecking the planet’s climate in the processes.
In the wake of this seemingly random act, Sektoth harvests what profit he requires and leaves the vultures to pick the bones. Often, the resources expended far out-strip what he could possibly gain. Unknowable as his actions are, however, he is guided by a dark resolve and is granted resources by an impossibly powerful benefactor.
Captain Korgin, the World-Reaver
Reaper of the Gloaming Worlds, Champion of the Dark Pits, The Shadow Duellist, The World-Reaver, Captain Korgin is known by many names, all feared throughout the Screaming Vortex. The dread pirate commands a squadron of warships that roam from world to world, warring and pillaging with whomever crosses his path. Thus far, his successes have been many and his riches have swelled accordingly. However, each victory only increases his thirst for conquest.
Korgin leads his squadron from the bridge of his Slaughter-class Cruiser, the Adversarius Aeternam. However, the backbone of his fleet are a pair of Hellbringer-class Light Cruisers, specialist planetary assault vessels manufactured on Chaos-controlled worlds like Iniquity and the shipyards of the Ragged Helix. The Rapere and the Praedus are both well-equipped for assaulting and plundering worlds, with powerful prow bombardment cannons, launch bays full of Swiftdeath fighters, and spinal mounted Dreadclaw Drop Pod bays full of howling Khornate Berserker hordes of pirate reavers.
When the warlord arrives over a world, he offers one chance to surrender unconditionally. Should the cowering populace accept, Korgin honours their surrender. Though a devotee to the Blood God, he believes only the skulls of worthy adversaries should be sent to the throne of his master. Those who surrender are certainly not that, and he and his band merely plunder valuables, supplies, and slaves to fill their hold and leave. However, Korgin makes it a point to take something of great value from the world he plunders, whether an ancient artefact, a beloved leader as a slave, or even a famous document held in high regard. He does this in hopes of goading that world to fight the next time he arrives.
If a world does resist, Korgin unleashes the full forces at his disposal. With ruthless cunning he demolishes his opposition with quick, savage strikes to defences, then swarms across the world with his reavers. He grants his foes the highest honour in his eyes, a fighting chance and a noble death in combat. Often, that death is delivered at the point of his own blade. However, at times Korgin comes across an especially accomplished warrior and offers him a chance to join his warband.
Korgin ceases raiding only to return to the Ragged Helix, where he has several fastnesses amongst the rocks. Ancient and terrible oaths bind him from plundering the Helix, so he enjoys a wary truce with most of its denizens. However, within his fortress-asteroids, he has the stockpiled wealth of many worlds.
Korgin imagines amassing enough wealth to draw a vast army to his cause within the Screaming Vortex, with which he can conquer anyone within who still defies him. With the unified Vortex at his back, he wishes to carve out his own dark empire amongst the vulnerable worlds of the Calixis Sector -- the Empire of Korgin the World Reaver.
A refugee of the Imperium, Soloria Half-blind manifested her psychic powers at a young age. When the Inquisition came for her, her parents resisted, and were cut down before her eyes. She leapt on the killers, screaming with rage, but the Inquisitorial Storm Troopers brutally subdued her with the butts of their Hellguns. Soloria lost two things that day -- her left eye, and any fealty she might have had for the Imperium of Man.
Through guile and her newfound powers, she escaped the Black Ship before it left Scintilla. Stowing away on vessel after vessel, she eventually found herself travelling aboard a tramp freighter in the Maw when the Screaming Vortex swelled and plucked the hapless vessel from its course.
However, death was not Soloria’s fate. The transport crashed deep within the Vortex on the Ocean World of Furia. She escaped the floundering wreck, to be rescued by one of the scum-barges that travels the oceans. Even then, her fate should have been sealed. The lives of those of Furia are usually measured in a few short years, but again Soloria proved destined for something more.
When the daemon-spawn leviathans came to devour her barge, she met them at the prow of her vessel. One’s skull she crushed with a gesture. Another, she wracked with terrible lightning, scouring flesh from bones. The third lunged at her, only to stop as she dominated its puny mind. Soloria sent her new pet deep into the depths of the ocean, to lift the wreck of the transport to the surface. Her newfound servants aboard the barge gladly aided her in restoring a measure of its spaceflight capability and, after many years of work, they left Furia, never to return.
Soloria now wanders the Vortex with only one goal in mind -- vengeance on the Imperium that robbed her of her family and her life. She gathers fellow Imperial outcasts to her banner, with a focus on those who also fell prey to the Black Ships. Eventually, she will amass enough power to rip through the Calixis Sector. Her goal: Scintilla, for she wishes to see the Tricorn Palace of the Inquisition burn beneath her maimed gaze.
Within the ranks of the Loyalist Adeptus Astartes, it is the Chaplain’s duty to not only tend the souls of his Chapter's Battle-Brothers, but to walk among them as a living reminder that they are the Angels of Death, that they are destruction made manifest. To stir the hearts of his fellow Space Marines a Chaplain recites the Catechisms of Hate, prayers and proverbs extolling the Space Marine and his role as death incarnate. For most members of the Adeptus Astartes, these directives are but a means to an end, their particular method of safeguarding the Imperium of Man against the manifold threats of Xenos, Heretic, and Daemon. For Vorxec Calvarius, former Chaplain of the Silver Skulls Chapter, death and destruction are the ends for which he was made the means.
When he was but a Battle-Brother, Calvarius was a man dedicated to not only thwart the enemies of Mankind, but to annihilate them wholly. His fervor made him a sure candidate for the Reclusiam and within the span of a few decades he was made Chaplain. However, during his second standard century of service, Calvarius participated in the purging of the Plague World of Horestis, commanding a half-company of Silver Skulls.
Horestis was a world infused by Chaos, dedicated wholly to Nurgle, the Lord of Decay. Fighting across the fungal-ridden Rot Fields, and purging the corroded spires of Hive Tortentus, Calvarius watched his fellow Space Marines drop around him, consumed by the virulent plagues. When the Warp rifts opened, and the legions of Nurgle spewed forth, Calvarius fought them with Crozius and Bolter, even as his brothers fell to the corroded blades of the foe. Finally, Calvarius stood alone, surrounded by masses of Nurgle’s horde. As the chuckling bulk of a Great Unclean One approached, Calvarius finally went down on one knee. If the daemon thought Calvarius was submitting, it was mistaken, for the Chaplain knelt to contact the warships in orbit.
The cloud-wracked sky shattered, sundered by a ferocious barrage of missiles. Each missile’s warhead contained the tools of Exterminatus, the dreaded Life-Eater Virus, and the epicentre of the strike centred on Calvarius and the Great Unclean One. The virus consumed all life on the world, releasing so much putrid methane as products of decay into the atmosphere that the very air caught fire and burned out.
The Imperial warships left Horestis, secure in the knowledge that nothing had survived. But they were wrong. Alone amongst an entire world, even amongst the daemonic legions that had assailed it, Vorxec Calvarius somehow survived. He lay crippled and near death for forty-nine days, sustained by his own formidable will and by something else, some dark force that would not let him pass. As he lay there, the Reclusiarch was overcome by a glorious revelation. The Imperium and all life in the galaxy ultimately served the Lord of Decay. All life died, and if bringing death was his sacred calling, why should he not do so in the name of he who was responsible for the ultimate death of all?
Vorxec Calvarius knew from that moment onward that his loyalty lay not with the Emperor of Mankind, crumbling on his Golden Throne, but with the Lord of Flies, Father Nurgle himself. At that moment he rose from where he lay, his body miraculously healed but a new fever burning within his mind. As if guided by fate, a Renegade reaver vessel had recently arrived in orbit, hoping to salvage what they could from the Dead World. Vorxec killed the landing party, then returned to their ship, demanding passage on pain of death. For several decades he wandered the galaxy, from one outbreak of pestilence to the next, collecting a multitude of plagues that he might spread their contagion throughout the realms of Men and alien.
Vorxec has now gathered to him a small band of able warriors, each a host to innumerable afflictions. He has returned to his place as spiritual leader and his liturgies of pestilence and catechisms of infection stir in the zealous hearts of his followers. With his devoted retinue in tow, he plies the stars, from world to world, system to system, miring the galaxy in vicious epidemics.
Legend of the Necrons
In the deepest catacombs of the Temple of Lies on Kymeris, recorded prophecies of the oldest High Oracles tell of an ancient starfaring race that spanned the galaxy long before Mankind stood upright on the plains of ancient Terra. This race fought a war in the heavens with another, even more powerful race, the mythical Old Ones. Who won and lost is not told by the prophecies, but it is said at the end of the war the first race sealed themselves across the galaxy in vast Tomb Worlds. There they sleep, until a time preordained by their lord, at which point they will awaken to reclaim what once was theirs. The prophesy only adds that the sleeping race has no truck with the Warp, and despises its chaotic movements and influence on reality. It closes with a single word, written by a different hand than the remainder of the prophecy: Necron.
Aetehk the Watcher
Legends of the infamous are currency on many worlds within the Screaming Vortex. It is often unnecessary to differentiate truth from fiction, as the heralds of the Dark Gods may weave reality from lies. Rare is one who would wish his name to be spoken in whispers, instead fealty is demanded in endless tales of conquest.
Aetehk the Watcher desires no notoriety. His armies of glimmering living metal soldiers descend in silence to tear the matter from their victims. His name is spoken in fearful gasps by the downtrodden. No matter how cruel their masters, the arrival of Aetehk is a fate worse than anything their own lords could conjure. It is said that those devoured by the pale green light of his agents are not simply disintegrated -- their souls are destroyed, shaved bit by bit from the whole.
When the Necron forces of Aetehk descend upon a planet they leave few survivors, but through a few eyewitness accounts and the divination of seers, the signs of his arrival are the backbone of many myths. Only one man has reported to have seen Aetehk himself, and his name is said to have been dredged from the prophecies of the High Oracle of the Temple of Lies on Kymeris and pieced together via the diligent studies of Armat’Hek, Sorcerer-Champion of the Thousand Sons Legion. However, this creature features heavily in prophetic visions and apocryphal legends of destruction and massacre.
The first part of every story begins the same way. A band of soldiers stop to rest and, as they do, the sands around them erupt. Iron skeletons with long flensing blades for fingers slaughter the warriors. One soldier manages to escape, running on foot to the nearest town. He expires from fear after delivering his last dire warning. “Beware the Flayed Ones.”
The second act of the tale often involves a large city. As terrified refugees arrive from the outlying towns, the lords of the city begin to grow increasingly concerned with the attacks. As they prepare to defend themselves from an attack from the outlying territory, they are descended upon from above. Pyramids of living metal, Monoliths, float down from the sky. Glowing portals open within their surface and hundreds of undying steel soldiers march forth from within, impossible numbers for the vessel’s small hold. The city is lost, those few who survive describe their brethren torn apart by blasts of energy, every molecule pulled one by one from their bodies.
The final part of the tale varies based on the location and the person telling the tale, though every version tells of insectile creatures moving amongst the ruins, hunting and gathering metals and other materials. The creatures described in the third act always vary in size, wildly switching from hordes of tiny scarab-like creatures that cover the ground in a skittering wave, to massive floating spiders with rending claws, to sinuous monsters able to move through solid matter.
Only one version of the legends has anyone communicating with these spectres. In this version, Lord Vorsk of the Dagger Tongues -- and cunning schemer -- fights the legions of living metal warriors to a standstill before encountering Aetehk himself. It was said Vorsk was able to reason with Aetehk, the two joining forces to purge the Space Hulk Last Damnation of its secrets and riches.
The truth of the matter is possibly more and less sinister at the same time. Aetehk is indeed a Necron Overlord, a powerful and dangerous leader of his kind. Aetehk’s motives are still unknown, as are the reasons he would operate within the Screaming Vortex in the first place, but he is simply harvesting resources. Many attempts to triangulate his armies' location have proven fruitless. The only warnings of where he will strike come from the Choir on the Mountain, a cadre of Warp-seers ensconced on Q’Sal.Their discordant voices silence for a moment, and then in toneless cadence they speak an indecipherable set of co-ordinates.They then return to their endless maelstrom of tones, but exactly five verses (roughly six months) later, Aetehk’s forces decimate a location. If the coordinate system sung by the Choir on the Mountain could ever be unravelled, it is possible that Aetehk himself could be defeated...or even bargained with.
The dark paths of the Eldar Webway wind from one end of the galaxy to the other. While vast tracts of space are sealed behind runebound portals not even a Chaos God may pass through, other zones forbidden to the bulk of the galaxy are accessible by those with the means to do so. The Screaming Vortex is one such place, though few Craftworld Eldar or Exodites would consider setting foot within its churning depths unless perhaps the fate of their entire species hung in the balance. However, there are other Eldar who have no compulsions about entering such places. The Dark Eldar of Commorragh, a cruelly beautiful people who exist in a time and place outside of reality, slip through the ragged weft and weave of reality to emerge wherever their vile whims draw them. The Screaming Vortex is one such place.
While no mere human has ever witnessed the process, it is surmised by the hell-seers of the Vortex that the Dark Eldar gain entry to the region not via the 13th Station of Passage in the Koronus Expanse, but by way of the place called the Forbidden Portal. Plenty of humans, as well as other sentient beings, have witnessed the process of the Dark Eldar passing from the Screaming Vortex -- for they come to scour the worlds of the Warp Storm for slaves.
The feral peoples on many worlds in the Vortex are hearty, hale, and often competent and dangerous combatants. Those the Dark Eldar can enslave are dragged through the Forbidden Portal and back to the Dark City of Commorragh within the Labyrinthine Dimension of the Webway. There, the lucky few gain a quick death. The majority are condemned to fuel the Dark Eldar’s eternal thirst for pain and suffering, or thrust into the fighting arenas of the Wyches as entertainment for the wicked masses.
However, the Dark Eldar see the Screaming Vortex as far more than a fertile supply of slaves. To many of the decadent, jaded, and often incredibly ancient Dark Eldar, nothing thrills their withered souls quite like a challenge. The warbands of the Screaming Vortex contain skilled and dangerous warriors (and devious plotters), and hunting them down and bringing them to battle is likely guaranteed to thrill the rotting heart of the most decadent Archon.
Those Dark Eldar groups that routinely pass through the Forbidden Portal can be split into two main bodies. The first is the Kabal of Crimson Woe, a Kabal engaged in the ceaseless battle for power within the Dark City. Outwardly, the Kabal swears fealty to Asdrubael Vect, the supremely cruel master of Commorragh, yet some have questioned their objectives in coming to the Screaming Vortex. Perhaps they seek more than the slaves the primitive feral worlds can provide. Perhaps, silvered tongues whisper while coal-dark eyes glint, the Crimson Woe seeks some weapon to wield against Vect. To date, the master of Commorragh has been content to watch the Kabal of the Crimson Woe from afar, infiltrating several of his agents into their midst to report back should any sign of treachery rear its head. The leaders of the Kabal are, of course, well aware that their ranks are compromised in this manner, for such is the norm in the deadly courts of the Dark Eldar.
The Kabal of the Crimson Woe is known to the servants of the hated Emperor, for they have ranged far and wide, including several realspace raids into the Calixis Sector. To date, these raids have been comparatively small scale, and certainly not anywhere as calamitous as those ordered by Asdrubael Vect and involving the forces of numerous Kabals. In their incursions into the Screaming Vortex and the Calixis Sector both, the Kabal has earned itself a cruel reputation and many bitter enemies, though none so dangerous as their own ultimate lord and master, Asdrubael Vect.
The second group calls itself the Children of Thorns, and represents a Kabal of outcast Wyches, Hellions, Reaver gangs and disgraced Dark Eldar nobles. Instead of surrendering to the inevitable doom that Commorragh normally visits upon such dregs, the Children of Thorns have determined to reclaim their fate and strike back against their oppressors. The group aims to replicate the fate of Asdrubael Vect himself, who rose from the lowest station to topple the old noble order of Commorragh and take control of the dark city for himself and the Kabals. The Children of Thorns range far and wide in their activities, collecting slaves and weapons and taking them back to Commorragh, where they arm their followers lurking in the deepest, darkest sub-reality sinks of the city. While the Crimson Woe desires the overthrow of Vect so that they themselves may replace him, the Children of Thorns seek to raze the entire edifice of the Kabals to the ground, tearing down the old order and replacing it with their own. It is not known if Vect is yet aware of their activities, though it can scarce be imagined that one who rose to power in such a manner would not take every precaution to ensure that others did not attempt to imitate him.
And some say that another group utilises the Forbidden Portal, though not to make slave raids. Who these bright-clad and deadly graceful warrior hunters might be, none can say, for no Disciple of Chaos has ever faced one in battle and lived to tell the tale.
Travel in the Screaming Vortex
The regions of the Screaming Vortex present a unique challenge to space travel, for many regions and realms within it exist half-within the Warp, and half-without. These twilight zones are merely one hazard, for the nature of the Screaming Vortex itself makes navigating a voidship through the region using conventional means sheer madness, a difficult proposition even under the best circumstances.
However, those who tread the path of glory and have the favour of the Dark Gods may often find their path through the treacherous tides of the Screaming Vortex. Some make pacts with creatures of the Warp, guided by the seductive whispers of a daemon. Others employ crude witchcraft, reading the tides of the Warp in the entrails of a ritual sacrifice. The truly desperate or insane trust entirely to fate and chart their course almost at random, believing that a safe passage indicates the Dark Gods have judged them worthy.
For those who prefer the mundane, if (mostly) reliable method of a starship, many warbands prefer to capture an Imperial vessel during a raid upon a nearby region such as the Calixis Sector or the Koronus Expanse (or claim one of the locally constructed vessels in the Vortex or the Koronus Expanse, such as the Iconoclast-class Raider). Particularly aggressive or ambitious warbands often prey upon rival groups closer to their home ground, plundering the starship of those who dare to threaten their own rise to greatness.
However, voidships are not the only method to slake one’s wanderlust within the Screaming Vortex. Treacherous Warp portals exist that connect a number of regions in the Vortex, a most treacherous method that is nonetheless popular with many Sorcerers and psykers. Additionally, one may make a pact with a creature of the Warp, bargaining for a daemon to use some of its eldritch powers to whisk one away to another place in the blink of an eye. There are also bizarre machines constructed by the Hereteks of Forge Castir that tunnel through the Warp via dangerously unstable technology created under the reality-bending properties of the Vortex. These examples are but a few of the means that disciples of the Dark Gods have wielded to traverse the Materium.
This is not to say that all warbands have a burning desire to travel far; some are perfectly content to limit themselves to uncontested rule of a single world, or prefer the plentiful opportunities for glory such as those found in realms like the Ragged Helix.
A myriad of markets exist in the Screaming Vortex, from crude bazaars where slaves and precious resources are bartered and sold to more organised traders who exchange weapons and technology to stranger beings who deal only in souls and flesh. Speak to any one of these merchants, and one name is often heard whispered in common: Covenant X.
This is the name taken by a wolfpack of opportunistic pirate raiders who have banded together around a pair of dominant mutal traits: avarice and greed. The Covenant is primarily made up of captains who possess small voidships, mostly Iconoclast or Idolator-class Raiders. These captains have a loose alliance with many of the worlds of the Vortex and offer their services to Chaos warbands that are rich enough in wealth and slaves to attract their attention. However, most captains that are part of the Covenant are a selfish and untrustworthy breed, a lesson that many unwary warbands have learned to their sorrow when jettisoned out of a void-lock halfway to their destination.
Golden Ships of Q'sal
The ships that the Sorcerer-technocrats of Q’sal produce in their orbital shipyards are prized within the Screaming Vortex; lithe, fast vessels of wondrously small stature (some so small that they need only a few thousand crew or less). These vessels can navigate the currents of the Vortex with prodigious accuracy and enviable reliability. However, the joke is that these vessels are unable to exist outside the Vortex, breaking up on the shoals of hard reality as the complex enchantments that animate them quickly unravel. Thus, many hardened void pirates prefer more "mundane" vessels. Though they may not be as fast, they are far less likely to fail one who wishes to travel beyond the 13th Station of Passage into realspace.
Skra'kalichaust the Schemer
Skra’kalichaust the Schemer is a mischievous Greater Daemon of Tzeentch who seems to take delight in the ongoing struggles for glory amongst the warbands of the Screaming Vortex. This daemon is an enigmatic Lord of Change who serves Tzeentch, a matchless Sorcerer who appears to be using warbands in the Screaming Vortex as pieces in some greater game. Skra’kalichaust has made bargains with a number of Chaos warbands within the Vortex, granting them power or passage from one world to another in return for seemingly innocuous services or favours.
However, these pacts should not be made lightly, a fact that is made clear in the tale of Skartos Blackskull. Skartos and his warband were once on the ascendant, and many predicted that he would soon gain the daemon princedom that he sought so passionately. However, Skartos made a badly-worded agreement with the Schemer in order to launch an ambush against a rival warband. At the end of the battle, the Lord of Change demanded his due...and promptly razed Skartos and his entire warband into oblivion.
The Brass Door
The constant shriek that gives the Screaming Vortex its name is heard most clearly by psykers and other beings closely attuned to the Warp. Occasionally, the wailing seems to form words and phrases rather than simple noise, whispers that chant dire promises and dark supplications into the soul.
Many psykers and Chaos Sorcerers who spend a great deal of time in or near the Screaming Vortex have witnessed such whisperings, and are left with the knowledge of how to summon the aid of the Brass Door by a silent act of will. The Door never appears the same way twice, but it often takes the shape of a monolithic structure of polished brass and gleaming bone -- a gateway with a single, huge door in the centre. The Door has taken appearances as wildly different as a simple wooden gate or a huge, half-organic construction of venting steam, writhing flesh, and interlocking cogwheels.
Those who summon the Brass Door instinctually know the price for its aid. Always there is a price, and always it is different; one time, the Door may demand a pint of living blood, whilst another time the Door may merely require a memory of shared pain. If the price is paid, the Brass Door unlocks and swings open, forming a Warp portal to the desired destination. So far as it may be confirmed, the Brass Door has never opened to any location other than those found within the Screaming Vortex, but some have claimed to have used the Door to travel as far as Gathalamor, a truly vast distance away.
Prophecy of the Harrowing
One of the few mentions of the Screaming Vortex to be found within the canon of Ordo Malleus lore is an obscure prophecy, held in a stasis tomb deep beneath the Calixian Ordo Malleus facility of Treacher’s Cloister. This prophecy describes a “Second War in Heaven,” in which the Screaming Vortex will be subject to a harrowing, its worlds assailed by the hated armies of Order. As Treacher’s Cloister is currently in the hands of an outcast faction within the Calixian Ordo Malleus, the scroll on which the Prophecy of Harrowing is written is beyond the reach of those who would study it, its exact words lost until the cloister is reclaimed.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 319, 323-346
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 337-338