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A Thousand Sons

Graham Mcneill


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The Horus Heresy

A THOUSAND SONS

all is dust…

Horus Heresy – 12

Graham McNeill

(An Undead Scan v1.0)

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To Evan. One down, nine hundred and ninety-nine to go.

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The Horus Heresy

It is a time of legend.

Mighty heroes battle for the right to rule the galaxy. The vast armies of the Emperor of Earth

have conquered the galaxy in a Great Crusade—the myriad alien races have been smashed by the

Emperor’s elite warriors and wiped from the face of history.

The dawn of a new age of supremacy for humanity beckons.

Gleaming citadels of marble and gold celebrate the many victories of the Emperor. Triumphs are

raised on a million worlds to record the epic deeds of his most powerful and deadly warriors.

First and foremost amongst these are the primarchs, superheroic beings who have led the

Emperor’s armies of Space Marines in victory after victory. They are unstoppable and

magnificent, the pinnacle of the Emperor’s genetic experimentation. The Space Marines are the

mightiest human warriors the galaxy has ever known, each capable of besting a hundred normal

men or more in combat.

Organised into vast armies of tens of thousands called Legions, the Space Marines and their

primarch leaders conquer the galaxy in the name of the Emperor.

Chief amongst the primarchs is Horus, called the Glorious, the Brightest Star, favourite of the

Emperor, and like a son unto him. He is the Warmaster, the commander-in-chief of the

Emperor’s military might, subjugator of a thousand worlds and conqueror of the galaxy. He is a

warrior without peer, a diplomat supreme.

As the flames of war spread through the Imperium, mankind’s champions will all be put to the

ultimate test.

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~ DRAMATIS PERSONAE ~

The Thousand Sons

Magnus the Red – Primarch of the Thousand Sons Legion

The Corvidae

Ahzek Ahriman – Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons

Ankhu Anen – Guardian of the Great Library

Amon – Captain of the 9th Fellowship, Equerry to the Primarch

The Pyrae

Khalophis – Captain of the 6th Fellowship

Auramagma – Captain of the 8th Fellowship

The Pavoni

Hathor Maat – Captain of the 3rd Fellowship

The Athanaeans

Baleq Uthizaar – Captain of the 5th Fellowship

The Raptora

Phosis T’kar – Captain of the 2nd Fellowship

Phael Toron – Captain of the 7th Fellowship

The Primarchs

Leman Russ – Primarch of the Space Wolves

Lorgar – Primarch of the Word Bearers

Mortarion – Primarch of the Death Guard

Sanguinius – Primarch of the Blood Angels

Fulgrim – Primarch of the Emperor’s Children

The Space Wolves

Amlodhi Skarssen Skarssensson – Lord of the 5th Company of Space Wolves

Ohthere Wyrdmake – Rune Priest of the 5th Co. of Space Wolves

The Custodes

Constantin Valdor – Chief Custodian

Amon – Custodian Guard

Non-Space Marines

Malcador – The Sigillite of Terra

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Kallista Eris – Historiographer

Mahavastu Kallimakus – Scrivener Extraordinary to Magnus the Red

Camille Shivani – Architectural Archeohistorian

Lemuel Gaumon – Societal Behaviourist

Yatiri – Leader of the Aghoru

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“The ancient knights’ quest for the grail, the alchemist’s search for the Stone of the

Philosophers, all were part of the Great Work and are therefore endless. Success only opens up new

avenues of brilliant possibility. Such a task is eternal and its joys without bounds; for the whole

universe, and all its wonders… what is it but the infinite playground of the Crowned and

Conquering Child, of the insatiable, the innocent, the ever-rejoicing heirs of the galaxy and eternity,

whose name is Mankind?”

—The Book of Magnus

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

—Ahzek Ahriman

“The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself: ye,

all which it inherits shall dissolve, and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack

behind!”

—The Prophecy of Amon

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All is dust…

How prophetic those words seem now.

A wise man from ancient Terra said them, or words just like them. I wonder if he was gifted as I

am. I say gifted, but with every passing day, I come to regard my powers as a curse.

I look out from the top of my tower, over a landscape of madness and storms of impossible

energies, and I remember reading those words in a crumbling book on Terra. Over the centuries, I

read every one of the texts from the forgotten ages that filled the great libraries of Prospero, but I

do not think I really understood them until today.

I can feel him drawing near with every breath, every heartbeat.

That I still have either is a miracle, especially now.

He is coming to kill me, of course. I can feel his anger, his hurt pride and his great regret. The

power he now has was unlooked for, unwanted and unnatural. Power is fleeting, some say, but not

this power.

Once acquired it can never be given back.

His abilities are like nothing else wielded by man. He could kill me from the other side of the

galaxy, but he will not. He needs to look me in the eye as he destroys me. It is his flaw, one of them

at least, that he is honourable.

He behaves to others as he expects to be treated.

That was his undoing.

I know what he thinks I have done. He thinks I have betrayed him, but I have not. Truly, I have

not. None of our cabal betrayed him; we did everything we could to save our brothers.

It has come to this, a father set to kill his favoured son.

That is the greatest tragedy of the Thousand Sons. They will call us traitors, but such an irony

will go unrecorded, even in the lost books of Kallimakus. We remain loyal, as we have always been.

No one will believe that, not the Emperor, not our brothers, and especially not the wolves that

are not wolves.

History will say they unleashed the Wolves of Russ on us, but history will be wrong. They

unleashed something far worse.

I can hear him climbing the steps of my tower.

He will think I have done this because of Ohrmuzd, and in a way he is right. But it is so much

more than that.

I have destroyed my Legion: The Legion I loved, the Legion that saved me. I have destroyed the

Legion he tried to save, and when he kills me he will be right to do so.

I deserve no less, and perhaps much more.

Ah, but before he destroys me, I must tell you of our doom.

Yet where to begin?

There are no beginnings and no endings, especially upon worlds of the Great Ocean. Past,

present and future are one, and time is a meaningless.

So it must be arbitrary, this place where I begin.

I will start with a mountain.

The Mountain that Eats Men.

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BOOK ONE

IN THE KINGDOM

OF THE BLIND

CHAPTER ONE

The Mountain that Eats Men / Captains / Observers

The Mountain had existed for tens of thousands of years, a rearing landmass of rock that had been

willed into existence by forces greater than any living inhabitant of Aghoru could imagine. Though

its people had no knowledge of geology, the titanic forces of orogenic movement, compressional

energies and isostatic uplift, they knew enough to know that the Mountain was too vast, too

monumental, to be a natural formation.

Set in the heart of an undulating salt plain the ancients of the Aghoru claimed had once been at

the bottom of an ocean, the Mountain rose to a height of nearly thirty kilometres, taller even than

Olympus Mons, the great Fabricator’s forge on Mars.

It dominated the blazing, umber sky, a graceful, soaring peak shaped like an incredible tomb,

crafted for some ancient king, of magnificent, cyclopean scale. No regular lines formed the

mountain, and no artifice of mankind had shaped its rugged flanks, but one look at the Mountain

was enough to convince even the most diehard sceptic that it had been crafted by unnatural means.

Nothing grew on its rocky sides, no plants, gorse or even the thinnest of prairie grasses. The

earth surrounding the Mountain shimmered in the baking heat of the planet’s sun, which hung low

on the horizon like an overripe fruit.

Despite the heat, the rocks of the Mountain were cold to the touch, smooth and slick as though

freshly raised from the depths of a black ocean. Sunlight abhorred its sides, its shadowed valleys,

sunken grabens and sheared clefts dark and cold, as though it had been built atop some frozen

geyser that seeped its icy chill into the rock by some strange, geological osmosis.

Surrounding the rumpled skirts of the Mountain, scattered collections of raised stones, each

taller than three men, were gathered in loose circles. Such monuments should have been towering

achievements, incredible feats of engineering by a culture without access to mechanical lifting

equipment, mass-reducing suspensor gear or the titanic engines of the Mechanicum. But in the face

of the Mountain’s artificial origins they were primitive afterthoughts, specks against the stark,

brooding immensity of its impossibility. On a world such as this, what force could raise a mountain?

None of the many people gathered on Aghoru could answer that question, though some of the

greatest, most inquisitive and brilliant minds bent their every faculty to answer it.

To the Aghoru, the Mountain was the Axis Mundi of their world, a place of pilgrimage.

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To the warrior-scholars of the Thousand Sons, the Mountain and its people were a curiosity, a

puzzle to be solved and, potentially, the solution to a riddle their glorious leader had sought to

unlock for nearly two centuries.

On one thing, both cultures agreed wholeheartedly. The Mountain was a place of the dead.

“Can you see him?” asked the voice, distant and dreamlike.

“No.”

“He should be back by now,” pressed the voice, stronger now. “Why isn’t he back?”

Ahriman descended through the Enumerations, feeling the psychic presence of the three Astartes

gathered beneath the scarlet canopy of his pavilion with senses beyond the rudimentary ones nature

had seen fit to gift him. Their potent psyches hummed through their flesh like chained thunder, that

of Phosis T’kar tense and choleric, Hathor Maat’s lugubrious and rigidly controlled.

Sobek’s aetheric field was a tiny candle next to the blazing suns they carried within them.

Ahriman felt his subtle body mesh with his physical form, and opened his eyes. He broke the

link with his Tutelary and looked up at Phosis T’kar. The sun was low, yet still powerfully bright,

and he squinted against it, shielding his eyes from the reflected glare of sunlight from the salt flats.

“Well?” demanded Phosis T’kar.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Aaetpio can see no farther than the deadstones.”

“Nor can Utipa,” said Phosis T’kar, squatting on his haunches and flicking up puffs of salt dust

with irritated thoughts. Ahriman felt each one like an electric spark in his mind. “Why can’t the

Tutelaries see beyond them?”

“Who knows?” asked Ahriman, more troubled than he cared to admit.

“I thought you’d be able to see further. You’re Corvidae after all.”

“That wouldn’t help here,” said Ahriman, rising smoothly from a cross-legged position, and

dusting glittering salt crystals from the inscribed crimson plates of his armour. His body felt stiff,

and it took a moment for muscle memory to reassert control of his limbs after a flight in the aether.

“In any case,” he said, “I don’t think it would be wise to try on this world. The walls between us

and the Great Ocean are thin, and there’s a lot of unchannelled energy here.”

“You’re probably right,” agreed Phosis T’kar, sweat dripping down his shaven scalp along the

line of an elliptical scar that ran from his crown to the nape of his neck. “You think that’s why we

linger on this planet?”

“Entirely likely,” said Ahriman. “There is power here, but the Aghoru have lived in balance for

centuries without suffering any ill-effects or mutations. That has to be worth investigating.”

“Indeed it is,” said Hathor Maat, apparently unaffected by the furnace heat. “There’s precious

little else of interest on this parched rock. And I don’t trust the Aghoru. I think they’re hiding

something. How does anyone live in a place like this for so long without any signs of mutation?”

Ahriman noted the venom with which his fellow captain spat the last word. Unlike Ahriman or

Phosis T’kar, Hathor Maat’s skin was pale, like the smoothest marble, his golden hair like that

painted on the heroic mosaics of the Athenaeum. Not a bead of sweat befouled Maat’s sculpted

features.

“I don’t care how they’ve done it,” said Phosis T’kar. “This place bores me. It’s been six

months, and we should be making war in the Ark Reach Cluster. Lorgar’s 47th are expecting us,

Russ too. And trust me, you don’t want to keep the Wolves waiting any longer than you must.”

“The primarch says we stay, so we stay,” said Ahriman.

Sobek, his dutiful Practicus, stepped forward and offered him a goblet of water. Ahriman

drained the cool liquid in a single swallow. He shook his head when Sobek held a bronze hes out to

refill it.

“No, take it to remembrancer Eris,” he commanded. “She is at the deadstones and has more need

of it than I.”

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Sobek nodded and left the shade of the canopy without another word. Ahriman’s battle-plate

cooled him, recycling the moisture of his body and turning aside the worst of the searing heat. The

remembrancers that had come to the planet’s surface were not so fortunately equipped, and dozens

had already been returned to the Photep’s Medicae decks suffering from heatstroke and dehydration.

“You indulge the woman, Ahzek,” said Hathor Maat. “It’s not that hot.”

“Easy for you to say,” replied Phosis T’kar, wiping sweat from his skull with a cleaning rag.

“We can’t all be Pavoni. Some of us have to deal with this heat on our own.”

“With further study, meditation and mental discipline you might one day achieve a mastery

equal to mine,” replied Maat, and though his tone was jovial, Ahriman knew he wasn’t joking. “You

Raptora are belligerent sorts, but eventually you might be able to master the necessary

Enumerations.”

Phosis T’kar scowled, and a dense cluster of salt crystals flew from the ground beside him,

aimed at Hathor Maat’s head. Before it reached its target, the warrior’s hand flashed, quick as

lightning, and caught it.

Maat crushed the mass of crystals, letting it spill from his hand like dust.

“Surely you can muster something better than that?”

“Enough,” said Ahriman. “Hold your powers in check, both of you. They are not for vulgar

displays, especially when there are mortals nearby.”

“Then why keep them around?” asked Maat. “Simply send her on her way with the others.”

“That’s what I keep telling him,” said Phosis T’kar. “If she’s so damn keen to learn of the

Crusade, send her to a Legion that cares about being immortalised, the Ultramarines or Word

Bearers; she doesn’t belong with us.”

It was a familiar sentiment, and Ahriman had heard it a hundred times from all his fellow

captains. T’kar was not the most vocal; that honour belonged to Khalophis of the 6th Fellowship.

Whichever viewpoint T’kar took, Khalophis would emulate more vociferously.

“Should we not be remembered?” countered Ahriman. “The writings of Kallista Eris are among

the most insightful I have read from the Remembrancer Order. Why should we be left out of the

annals of the Great Crusade?”

“You know why,” said Phosis T’kar angrily. “Half the Imperium wished us dead not so long

ago. They fear us.”

“They fear what they do not understand,” said Ahriman. “The primarch tells us their fear comes

from ignorance. Knowledge will be our illumination to banish that fear.”

Phosis T’kar grunted and carved spirals in the salt with his thoughts.

“The more they know, the more they’ll fear us. You mark my words,” he said.

Ahriman ignored Phosis T’kar and stepped out from the shelter of the canopy. The sensations of

travelling in his subtle body were all but gone, and the mundane nature of the material world

returned to him: the searing heat that had turned his skin the colour of mahogany within an hour of

the Stormbird touching down, the oily sweat coating his iron hard flesh and the crisp scent of the air,

a mixture of burnt salt and rich spices.

And the swirling aetheric winds that swept the surface of this world.

Ahriman felt power coursing through his body; glittering comet trails of psychic potential aching

to be moulded into something tangible. Over a century of training kept that power fluid, washing

through his flesh like a gentle tide, preventing dangerous levels of aetheric energy from building. It

would be too easy to give in and allow it free rein, but Ahriman knew only too well the danger that

represented. He reached up and touched the silver oakleaf worked into his right shoulder-guard, and

calmed his aetheric field with a deep breath and a whispered recitation of the Enumerations.

Ahriman looked up at the towering mountain, wondering at the vast power of its makers and

what the primarch was doing inside it. Until the power to far-see was taken away, he had not

realised how blind he was.

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“Where he?” hissed Phosis T’kar, echoing his thoughts. is

It had been four hours since Magnus the Red had followed Yatiri and his tribe into the

Mountain, and the tension had been gnawing at their nerves ever since.

“You’re worried about him, aren’t you?” asked Hathor Maat.

“Since when could you master the powers of the Athanaean?” asked Ahriman.

“I don’t need to. I can see you’re both worried,” countered Maat. “It’s obvious.”

“Aren’t you?” asked Phosis T’kar.

“Magnus can look out for himself,” said Hathor Maat. “He told us to wait for him.”

The Primarch of the Thousand Sons had indeed told them to await his return, but Ahriman had a

sick feeling that something was terribly wrong.

“Did you see something?” asked Phosis T’kar, noting Ahriman’s expression. “When you

travelled the Great Ocean, you saw something, didn’t you? Tell me.”

“I saw nothing,” said Ahriman bitterly. He turned and marched back into his pavilion, retrieving

his weapons from a long footlocker of acacia and jade. He bolstered a pistol that was as fine an

example of the armourer’s art as any crafted by the artificers of Vulkan’s Salamanders, its flanks

plated with golden backswept hawk wings and its grip textured with stippled hide.

As well as his pistol, he also bore a long heqa staff of ivory with a hooked blade at its end, its

length gold-plated and reinforced with blue copper bands.

“What are you doing?” asked Hathor Maat when he emerged, accoutred for war.

“I’m taking the Sekhmet into that mountain,” said Ahriman. “Are you coming?”

Lemuel Gaumon reclined against one of the deadstones in the foothills of the enormous mountain,

trying to keep within its shadow and wishing his frame was rather less fulsome. Growing up in the

mid-continental drift-hives of the Nordafrik enclaves, he was used to heat, but this world was

something else entirely.

He wore a long banyan of lightweight linen, colourfully embroidered with interlocking motifs of

lightning bolts, bulls, spirals and numerous other less easily identifiable symbols. It had been woven

by a blind tailor in the Sangha commercia-subsid to his design, the imagery taken from the scrolls

collected in the secret library of his villa in Mobayi. Dark-skinned and shaven-headed, his deep-set

eyes carefully watched the encampment of the Thousand Sons, while he occasionally made notes in

a pad balanced on his thigh.

Perhaps a hundred scarlet pavilions dotted the salt plains, their sides tied up, each home to a

band of Thousand Sons warriors. He’d noted which Fellowships were represented: Ahriman’s

Scarab Occult, Ankhu Anen’s 4th, Khalophis’ 6th, Hathor Maat’s 3rd and Phosis T’kar’s 2nd.

A sizeable war-host of Astartes warriors was encamped before the mountain, the atmosphere

strangely tense, though Lemuel could see no cause for it. It was clear they weren’t expecting

trouble, but it was equally clear something was troubling them.

Lemuel closed his eyes and let his consciousness drift on the invisible currents of power that

rippled in the air like a heat haze. Though his eyes were shut, he could feel the energy of this world

like a vivid canvas of colour, brighter than the greatest works of Serena d’Angelus or Kelan Roget.

Beyond the deadstones, the mountain was a black wall of nothingness, a cliff of utter darkness as

solid and as impenetrable as adamantium.

But further out into the salt flats, the world was alive with colour.

The Thousand Sons encampment was a blazing inferno of shifting colours and light, like an

atomic explosion frozen at the instant of detonation. Even amid that blazing illumination, some

lights shone brighter than others, and three such minds were gathered beneath where Lemuel knew

Captain Ahriman’s pavilion was pitched. Something preyed upon these minds, and he dearly wished

he was strong enough to venture closer. A bright mind, a supernova amongst guttering candles,

normally burned at the heart of the encampment, but not today.

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Perhaps that was the source of the Thousand Sons’ tension.

Their great leader was in absentia.

Frustrated, Lemuel’s mind drifted away from the Thousand Sons, and he let it approach the

sunken dwellings of the Aghoru. Cut into the dry earth, they were as dark and lifeless as the

Thousand Sons were bright and vital. The Aghoru people were as barren as the salt plain, without

the slightest spark of a presence within them.

He opened his eyes, exhaling and reciting the Mantra of the Sangoma to calm his racing

heartbeat. Lemuel took a drink from his canvas-wrapped canteen, the water warm and gritty but

deliciously welcome. Three more canteens lay in the pack next to him, but they would only last the

rest of the afternoon. By nightfall, he would need to refill them, for the remorseless heat let up only

marginally during the hours of darkness.

“How can anyone live in this heat?” he wondered aloud for the hundredth time.

“They don’t,” said a woman’s voice behind him, and he smiled at the sound. “They mostly live

in the fertile river deltas further north or on the western coast.”

“So you said, my dear Camille,” he said, “but to willingly trek from there to this desolate place

seems to defy all logic.”

The speaker moved into view, and he squinted through the sun’s glare at a young woman

dressed in a tight-fitting vest, lightweight cut-off fatigues and dusty sandals. She carried a

combination vox-recorder and picter in a sling around her neck, and a canvas shoulder bag stuffed

with notebooks and sketchpads.

Camille Shivani cut an impressive figure with her sun-browned skin, long dark hair bound up

beneath a loose turban of wrapped silk and dark glare-shields. Her skin was ruddy brown, her

manner forthright, and Lemuel liked her immensely. She smiled down at him, and he gave her his

best, most winning smile in return. It was a wasted effort; Camille’s appetites did not include the

likes of him, but it never hurt to be courteous.

“Lemuel, when it comes to humanity, even lost strands of it, you should know that logic has

precious little to do with how people behave,” said Camille Shivani, brushing her hands together to

clear dust from the thin gloves she always wore.

“So very true. Why else would we linger here when there’s nothing worth remembering?”

“Nothing worth remembering? Nonsense, there’s lots to learn here,” she said.

“For an archaeohistorian, maybe,” he said.

“I spent a week living with the Aghoru, exploring the ruins their villages are built upon. It’s

fascinating; you should come with me next time I make a trip.”

“Me? What would I learn there?” he asked. “I study how societies form after compliance, not

the ruins of dead ones.”

“Yes, but what was there before has an impact on what’ll follow. You know as well as I do that

you can’t just stamp one civilisation on top of another without taking into account the previous

culture’s history.”

“True, but the Aghoru don’t seem to have much history to supplant,” he said sadly. “I don’t

think what they have will long survive the coming of the Imperium.”

“You might be right, but that just makes studying them while we can even more important.”

Lemuel clambered to his feet, the effort causing him to break out in torrents of sweat.

“Not a good climate for a fat man,” he said.

“You’re not fat,” said Camille. “You’re generously portioned.”

“And you are very kind, but I know what I am,” said Lemuel, brushing his banyan free of salt

crystals. He looked around the circle of towering stones. “Where are your companions?”

“Ankhu Anen returned to the Photep an hour ago to consult his Rosetta scrolls.”

“And Mistress Eris?” he asked.

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Camille grinned. “Kalli’s returning from taking rubbings from the deadstones on the eastern

slope of the mountain. She should be back soon.”

Kallista Eris, Camille and Ankhu Anen had spent hundreds of fruitless hours attempting to

translate the graceful, flowing runes that wove around the deadstones. So far, they had met with

limited success, but if anyone could decipher their meaning it would be this triumvirate.

“Are you any closer to translating the script on the stones?” asked Lemuel, waving a hand at the

ancient menhirs.

“We’re getting there,” said Camille, dropping her bag beside his and lifting the picter from

around her neck. “Kalli thinks it’s a form of proto-eldar, rendered in a dialect that’s ancient even to

them, which will make it next to impossible to pin down an exact meaning, but Ankhu Anen knows

of some works on Prospero that might shed some light on the runes.”

“On Prospero?” asked Lemuel, suddenly interested.

“Yes, in the Athenaeum, some big library the Thousand Sons have on their home world.”

“Did he say anything about the library?” asked Lemuel.

Camille shrugged, taking off her glare shields and rubbing her gritty eyes. “No, I don’t think so.

Why?”

“No reason,” he said, smiling as he saw Kallista Eris approaching the circle of deadstones, and

grateful for the distraction.

Wrapped in a flowing white jellabiya, Kallista was a beautiful, olive-skinned young woman

who, did she but desire it, had the pick of the male remembrancers attached to the 28th Expedition

Fleet. Not that there were many remembrancers attached; the Thousand Sons were ruthlessly

selective in choosing those allowed to accompany their campaigns and record their exploits.

In any case, Kallista declined every offer of companionship, spending most of her time with

Lemuel and Camille. He had no interest in a liaison with either woman, content simply to spend

time with two fellow students of the unknown.

“Welcome back, my dear,” he said, moving past Camille to take Kallista’s hand. Her skin was

hot, the fingers charcoal stained. She carried a drawstring bag over one shoulder, rolled up sheets of

rubbing paper protruding from its neck.

Kallista Eris was a student of history, one whose field of expertise was the manner in which

knowledge of the past was obtained and transmitted. Once, in the library aboard the Photep, she had

shown Lemuel holo-picts of a crumbling text known as the Shiji, a record of the ancient emperors of

a vanished culture of Terra. Kallista explained how its factual accuracy had to be questioned, given

that its author’s intent appeared to be the vilification of the emperor previous to the one he now

served. The veracity of any historical text, she explained, could only be interpreted by understanding

the writer’s intent, style and bias.

“Lemuel, Camille,” said Kallista. “Do you have any water? I forgot to take extra.”

Lemuel chuckled. “Only you would forget to take enough water on a world like this.”

Kallista nodded, running a hand through her auburn hair, her skin reddening even beneath her

sunburn. Her green eyes sparkled with amused embarrassment, and Lemuel saw why so many

desired her. She had a vulnerability that made men alternately want to protect or deflower her.

Strangely, she seemed oblivious to this fact.

Lemuel knelt beside his pack to retrieve a canteen, but Camille tapped him on the shoulder and

said, “Save it, looks like we’re getting some brought to us.”

He turned and lifted a hand to shade his eyes, seeing one of the Astartes walking towards them

with a bronze, oval-shaped vase held out before him. The warrior’s head was bare, apart from a

trailing topknot of black hair, and his golden-skinned features were curiously flat, his eyes dark and

hooded like a cobra’s. Despite the heat, Lemuel shivered, catching a flicker of cold power hazing

the warrior’s outline.

“Sobek,” said Lemuel.

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“You know him?” asked Camille.

“Of him. He’s one of the Scarab Occult, the Legion veterans. He’s also Captain Ahriman’s

Practicus,” he said. Seeing Kallista’s look of incomprehension, he added. “I think it’s a rank of

proficiency of some sort, like a gifted apprentice or something.”

“Ah.”

The Astartes warrior halted, towering over them like a solid slab of ceramite. His battle armour

was gloriously intricate, the crimson plates engraved with geometric forms and sigils that Lemuel

recognised as similar to those woven into his banyan. Sobek’s right shoulder-guard was stamped

with a golden scarab, while the left bore the serpentine star icon of the Thousand Sons.

In the centre of the star was a black raven’s head, smaller than the scarab, yet subtly given more

relevance thanks to its positioning within the Legion’s symbol. This was the symbol of the

Corvidae, one of the cults of the Thousand Sons, though he had been able to glean precious little of

is tenets during his time with the 28th Expedition.

“Lord Ahriman sends this hes of water,” said Sobek. His voice was sonorous and fulsome, as

though produced in a deep well within his chest. Lemuel supposed the peculiar Astartes tone was

due to the sheer volume of biological hardware within his body.

“That’s very gracious of him,” said Camille, holding her hands out to receive the hes.

“Lord Ahriman instructed me go give the water to Remembrancer Eris,” said Sobek.

Camille frowned and said, “Oh, right. Well, here she is.”

Kallista took the proffered hes with a grateful smile.

“Please send Lord Ahriman my thanks,” she said, placing the heavy vase on the ground. “It’s

most considerate of him to think of me.”

“I shall pass your message to him when he returns,” said Sobek.

“Returns?” asked Lemuel. “Where’s he gone?”

Sobek glared down at him, and then marched back towards his encampment. The Astartes had

not answered his question, but Lemuel caught an upward flicker of Sobek’s eyes towards the

mountain.

“Friendly sort, isn’t he?” remarked Camille. “Makes you wonder why we bother, eh?”

“I know what you mean; none of them are exactly welcoming, are they?” said Lemuel.

“Some are,” pointed out Kallista, emptying water into her canteen, and managing to spill more

than she transferred. “Ankhu Anen has helped us, hasn’t he? And Captain Ahriman is quite

forthcoming in his remembrances. I’ve learned a lot from him about the Great Crusade.”

“Here, let me help you,” said Lemuel, kneeling beside her and holding the vase steady. Like

most things designed for or by Astartes, it was oversized and heavy in mortal hands, more so now

that it was filled with water.

“I’d be fascinated to read what you’ve accumulated so far,” he said.

“Of course, Lemuel,” said Kallista. She smiled at him, and he felt his soul shine.

“So where do you think Ahriman’s gone?” asked Camille.

“I think I know,” said Lemuel with a conspiratorial grin. “Want to go look?”

The Sekhmet, The Scarab Occult, Magnus’ Veterans, whichever name they bore, it was one of

fierce pride and devotion. None of lower grade than a Philosophus, the last cult rank a warrior could

hold before facing the Dominus Liminus, these veterans were the best and brightest of the Legion.

Having transcended their likes and dislikes, defied their mortality and broken down their idea of

self, these warriors fought from a place of perfect calm.

The Khan had called them automatons, Russ decried their fighting spirit and Ferrus Manus had

likened them to robots. Having heard his primarch’s tales of the master of the Iron Hands, Ahriman

suspected the latter comment was intended as a compliment.

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Clad in hulking suits of burnished crimson Terminator armour, the Sekhmet crunched out over

the salt plains and onto the lower slopes of the Mountain. Ahriman felt the presence of his Tutelary

above him, sensing its unease as the psychic void beyond the deadstones loomed ever closer.

Phosis T’kar and Hathor Maat marched alongside him, their strides sure and eager. The

shimmering forms of Tutelaries darted thorough the air like wary shoals of fish in the presence of

pack predators. Like Aaetpio, the Tutelaries of his fellow warriors and captains were fearful in the

face of the Mountain’s emptiness.

To those without aether-sight, Tutelaries were invisible, but to the Thousand Sons with power

they were bright visions of exquisite beauty. Aaetpio had served Ahriman faithfully for nearly a

century, its form inconstant and beautiful, a vision of eyes and ever turning wheels of light. Utipa

was a bullish entity of formless energy, as bellicose as Phosis T’kar, where Paeoc resembled an

eagle fashioned from a million golden suns, as vain and proud as Hathor Maat.

Ahriman had thought them angels at first, but that was an old word, a word cast aside by those

who studied the mysteries of the aether as too emotive, too loaded with connotations of the divine.

Tutelaries were simply fragments of the Primordial Creator given form and function by those with

the power to bend them to their will.

He linked his thoughts briefly with Aaetpio’s. If Magnus was in trouble, then they would need to

find out without the sight or aid of their Tutelaries.

Though he had seen nothing tangible in any of his divinations, Ahriman’s intuition told him

something was amiss. As Magister Templi of all Prospero’s cults, Magnus taught that intuition was

just as important a tool for sifting meaning from the currents of the Great Ocean as direct vision.

Ahriman suspected trouble, but Phosis T’kar and Hathor Maat longed for it.

The 28th Expedition had come to Aghoru three months ago. Its official designation in the War

Council Records was Twenty-Eight Sixteen, though no one in the XV Legion ever called it that.

Following the successful compliance of Twenty-Eight Fifteen, the sixty-three ships of the 28th

Expedition translated from the Great Ocean to find a system of dead worlds, empty of life and

desolate.

Indications were that life had once existed here, but now did not. What had caused such a

system-wide cataclysm was unknown, but as the fleet made its way towards the sun, it became clear

that life on the fifth planet had somehow survived the disaster.

How Magnus had known this insignificant shoal of the galaxy had included a planet inhabited

by a severed offshoot of humanity was a mystery, for there were no residual electromagnetics or

long-dead emissions to suggest anything lived here.

The Rehahti urged Magnus to order the fleet onwards, for the Crusade was at its height and the

Thousand Sons had their share of plaudits yet to earn. Nearly two centuries had passed since the

Crusade was launched in glory and fanfare, two centuries of exploration and war that had seen

world after world folded into the body of the resurgent Imperium of Man.

Of those two centuries, the Thousand Sons had fought for less than a hundred years.

In the early years of the Crusade, prior to the coming of Magnus, the Astartes of the Thousand

Sons had proven especially susceptible to unstable genes, resulting in spontaneous tissue rejection,

vastly increased psychic potential and numerous other variations from the norm. Labels like

“mutants” and “freaks” were hung upon the Thousand Sons, and for a time it seemed as though they

would suffer an ignoble ending as a footnote in the history of the Great Crusade.

Then the Emperor’s fleet had discovered Magnus the Red in a forgotten backwater of the galaxy,

on the remote world of Prospero, and everything changed.

“As I am your son, they shall become mine,” were Magnus’ words to the Emperor, words that

had changed the destiny of the Thousand Sons forever.

United with the Legion that carried his genetic legacy, Magnus bent every shred of his towering

intellect to undoing the damage their aberrant genes had done.

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And he had succeeded.

Magnus saved his Legion, but the Crusade had progressed in the time it had taken him to do it,

and his warriors were eager to share in the glory their brothers were earning with every passing day.

The Expedition Fleets of the Legions pushed ever outwards from the cradle of humanity to

reunify the Emperor’s realm. Like squabbling brothers, each of the primarchs vied for a place at

their father’s side, but only one was ever good enough to fight alongside the saviour of humanity:

Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Luna Wolves and beloved son of the Emperor.

The Emperor stood at the head of the Luna Wolves and Guilliman’s Ultramarines, ready to

unleash his terrible thunder against the greenskin of Ullanor, a war that promised to be gruelling and

punishing. Who better than the favoured son of the Emperor to stand at his side as they throttled the

life from this barbarian foe?

Ullanor would be a war to end all wars, but there was fighting closer to hand that demanded the

attention of the Thousand Sons. Lorgar’s Word Bearers and the Space Wolves of Leman Russ

fought in the Ark Reach Cluster, a group of binary stars occupied by a number of belligerent

planetary empires that rejected the Imperium’s offer to become part of something greater.

The Wolf King had sent repeated calls for the XV Legion to join the fighting, but Magnus

ignored them all.

He had found something of greater interest on Aghoru. He had found the Mountain.

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CHAPTER TWO

Drums of the Mountain / Temple of the Syrbotae / A Place of the Dead

They had only been climbing for twenty minutes, but already Lemuel was beginning to regret his

hasty idea to spy upon the Thousand Sons. He’d discovered the steps hidden in the rocks on one of

his frequent solitary walks in the lower reaches of the titanic mountain. Set in a cunningly concealed

cleft a hundred metres from the deadstones, the steps wound through the rock of the Mountain,

climbing a steep, but far more direct path than the Astartes would be following.

It might be more direct, but it certainly wasn’t easier. His banyan was stained with sweat, and he

imagined he didn’t smell too pleasant. The sound of his heart was like the pounding kettledrums of a

triumphal band welcoming the Emperor himself.

“How much further is it?” asked Camille. She was relishing this chance to venture deeper into

the Mountain, though Kallista appeared rather less enthusiastic. The Astartes awed and scared her,

but the idea of spying on them had sent a delicious thrill through her when he had suggested it. He

couldn’t read her aura, but her expression said she was regretting her decision to come along.

Lemuel paused, looking up at the metal yellow of the sky to catch his breath and slow his racing

heartbeat.

“Another ten minutes, maybe,” he said.

“You sure you’ll last that long?” asked Camille, only half-joking.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her, taking a swig of water from his canteen. “I’ve climbed this way

before. It’s not much higher. I think.”

“Just don’t collapse on me,” said Camille. “I don’t want to have to carry you back down.”

“You can always roll me back down,” replied Lemuel, attempting some levity.

“Seriously,” said Camille, “are you sure you’re up to this climb?”

“I’m fine,” he insisted, with more conviction than he felt. “Trust me, it’s worth the effort.”

Back at the deadstones it had seemed like a grand adventure for the three of them to undertake,

but the numbness of the senses he felt was like having his ears stoppered and his eyes sewn shut.

From below, the mountain had been a black wall of nothingness, but climbing deeper into the rocks,

Lemuel felt as if that nothingness was swallowing him whole.

He passed the canteen around, grateful that Kallista and Camille indulged his desire to stop for a

rest. It was early evening, but the day’s heat hadn’t let up. Still, at least there was some shade here.

They could afford a brief stop, for the only other route he knew would take at least an hour to

traverse, even for Astartes.

Lemuel took the bandanna from around his neck and mopped his face. The cloth was soaked by

the time he was done, and he wrung it out with a grimace. Camille looked up the steps, craning her

neck to try to see the top.

“So where does this lead exactly?” she asked.

“There’s a plateau a bit higher up,” he said. “It’s like a viewing platform of some sort.”

“A viewing platform?” asked Kallista. “For what?”

“It looks out over a wide valley I call the Temple of the Syrbotae.”

“Syrbotae?” asked Camille. “What’s that?”

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“A very old legend of my homeland,” replied Lemuel. “The Syrbotae were a race of giants from

the Aethiopian kingdom of Meroe.”

“Why do you call it that, a temple I mean?” asked Kallista, horrified at the word.

“You’ll understand when we get there.”

“You have a way of choosing words that could get you into trouble,” said Camille.

“Not at all, my dear,” said Lemuel. “The Thousand Sons are nothing if not rebels. I think they

would appreciate the irony.”

“Rebels? What are you talking about?” asked Kallista angrily.

“Nothing,” said Lemuel, realising he had said too much. Stripped of his ability to read auras, he

was being careless. “Just a bad joke.”

He smiled to reassure Kallista he had been joking, and she smiled back.

“Come on,” he said. “We should get going. I want to show you something spectacular.”

It took them another thirty minutes to reach the plateau, by which time Lemuel swore never to climb

the mountain again, no matter how spectacular the views or what the enticement. The sound of his

drumming heartbeat seemed louder than ever, and Lemuel vowed to shed some weight before it

killed him.

The sky was a darker shade of yellow brown. The light would never really fade, so he wasn’t

worried about negotiating the descent.

“This is amazing,” said Kallista, looking back the way they had climbed. “You were so right,

Lemuel.”

“Yeah,” agreed Camille, taking out her picter. “Not bad at all.”

Lemuel shook his head.

“No, not the salt flats. Over there,” he said, waving towards a row of spiked rocks that looked

like slender stalagmites at the edge of the plateau. If the artificiality of the Mountain had ever been

in doubt, the sight of the stalagmites, which were clearly the remains of fluted balustrades, would

have dispelled it.

“Over there,” he said between gulps of air. “Look over there.”

Camille and Kallista walked over to the stalagmites, and he saw the amazement in their body

language. He smiled, pleased that he hadn’t let them down with his talk of a spectacular view. He

stood up and stretched his back. His breath was returning to normal, but the drumming in his ears

hadn’t let up one bit.

“You weren’t wrong to call it a temple,” said Camille, looking down into the valley.

“Yes, it’s quite a view, isn’t it?” said Lemuel, regaining some of his composure.

“It is, but that’s not what I mean.”

“It’s not?” he asked, finally realising that the drumming he was hearing wasn’t in his head. It

was coming from the valley a haunting, relentless beat that was hypnotic and threatening at the same

time. The percussive booms of scores of drams interleaved with brutal disharmony, plucking at

Lemuel’s nerves and sending tremors of unease down his spine.

Intrigued, he walked stiffly on tired legs to join the two women at the edge of the plateau.

He put a hand on Camille’s shoulder and looked down into the valley. His eyes widened and his

jaw hung open in surprise. “Throne of Terra!” he said.

Ahriman heard the drums, recognising the dissonant notes echoing from the Mountain as those once

declared forbidden in an ancient age. Nothing good could come of such a sound, and Ahriman felt

certain that something unnatural was being orchestrated within the valley. The Sekhmet matched his

pace, their heavy suits driven on by uncompromising will and strength.

“This bodes ill,” said Phosis T’kar, as the drums grew louder. “Damn, but I do not like this

place. I am blind here.”

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“We all are,” replied Hathor Maat, looking towards the upper reaches of the valley.

Ahriman shared Phosis T’kar’s hatred of the blindness. As one of the Legion’s Adept Exemptus,

he had attained supreme summits of mastery, aetheric flight, connection with a Tutelary, and the

rites of evocation and invocation. The Sekhmet were powerful warrior-mages, and could call forth

powers mortal men could never dream of wielding. On his own, each warrior was capable of

subduing worlds, but in this place, with their powers denied them, they were simply Astartes.

Simply Astartes, thought Ahriman with a smile. How arrogant that sounds.

Even as he scanned the valley ahead, Ahriman began forming the basis of a treatise for his

grimoire, a discourse on the perils of dependence and overweening pride.

“There is a lesson here,” he said. “It will do us good to face this without our powers. We have

become lax in making war as it was once made.”

“Always the teacher, eh?” said Phosis T’kar.

“Always,” agreed Ahriman, “and always the student. Every experience is an opportunity to

learn.”

“So what lesson can I possibly learn here?” demanded Hathor Maat. Of them all, Maat had the

greatest dread of powerlessness, and the walk into the Mountain had tested his courage in ways

beyond what they had faced before.

“We depend on our abilities to define us,” said Ahriman, feeling the bass vibration of the drums

through the soles of his armoured boots. “We must learn to fight as Astartes again.”

“Why?” demanded Hathor Maat. “We have been gifted with power. The power of the Primordial

Creator is in all of us, so why should we not use it?”

Ahriman shook his head. Like him, Hathor Maat had faced the Dominus Liminus, but his

mastery of the Enumerations was that of Adept Major. He had achieved self-reliance, but he had yet

to achieve the oneness of self and ego-extinction that would allow him to reach the higher

Enumerations. Few Pavoni could, and Ahriman suspected Hathor Maat was no exception.

“You might as well send us in unarmed and say we should fight with our bare hands,” continued

Hathor Maat.

“Someday you may have to do just that,” said Ahriman.

The ground, which had been steadily rising for the last hour, began to climb ever more steeply, and

the sound of drums grew louder, as though amplified by the soaring walls of the valley. As it always

was, Ahriman’s gaze was drawn up the incredible height of the mountain. The summit was hidden

from view by its sheer mass, an endless slope rearing into a cloudless, yellow sky that was

darkening to burnt orange.

It seemed inconceivable that this towering peak had been raised by natural means. Its

proportions were too perfect, its form too pleasing to the eye, and its curves and lines flowed with a

grace that was wholly unnatural. Ahriman had seen such perfect artifice before.

On Prospero.

The Vitravian pyramids and cult temples of Tizca were constructed using golden means and the

numerical series of the Liber Abaci. Their work had been distilled and refined by Magnus the Red to

fashion the City of Light with such beauty that all who beheld it were rendered speechless with

delight.

Everywhere Ahriman looked he saw evidence of geometric perfection, as though the mountain’s

creator had studied the divine proportions of the ancients and crafted the landmass to their design.

Spiral patterns on the ground described perfect curves, pillars of rock were equally spaced, and each

angle of cliff and cleft was artfully arranged with mathematical exactitude. Ahriman wondered what

cause could be so great as to require such magnificent feats of geomorphic sculpting.

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The mouth of the valley funnelled the sound of drums towards them, the beats rising and falling

in what, at first, seemed a random pattern, but which Ahriman’s enhanced cognitive processes

quickly discerned was not random at all.

“Prime armaments,” he ordered, and fifty weapons snapped up in unison, a mix of storm bolters,

flamers and newly issued rotary cannons capable of unleashing thousands of shells per minute.

Their official designation was assault cannon, but such a graceless name had none of the power of

its former incarnation, and numerological study had led the Thousand Sons to keep its previous title:

the reaper cannon.

The Mechanicum had not the wit or understanding to recognise the power of names or the

mastery and fear a well chosen one could instil. With six letters, three vowels and three consonants,

the reaper’s number was nine. Given the organisation of the Thousand Sons into a Pesedjet of nine

Fellowships, it was a natural fit and the name had remained.

Ahriman recited the mantras that lifted his mind into the lower Enumerations and calmed his

supra-enhanced physiology, allowing him to better process information and react without fear in a

hostile environment. Normally this process would enhance his awareness of his surroundings, the

essential nature of the world around him laid bare to his senses, but on this mountain the landscape

was dead and lifeless to him.

Ahriman saw the diffuse glow of torches and fires ahead. The vibration of the ground was like

the heartbeat of the mountain. Was he an ant crawling on the body of some larger organism,

insignificant and easily swatted aside?

“Zagaya,” said Ahriman, and the Sekhmet formed a staggered arrowhead, with him at its point.

Other Legions knew this formation as the speartip, and though Ahriman appreciated the robust,

forceful nature of the term, he preferred the ancient name taught to him by the Emperor on Terra at

the island fortress of Diemenslandt.

Phosis T’kar moved alongside him, and Ahriman recognised the urge for violence that filled his

fellow captain. In his detached state, Ahriman wondered why he always called Phosis T’kar his

“fellow” and never his “friend”.

“What are our orders?” asked Hathor Maat, tense and on edge.

“No violence unless I order it,” said Ahriman, opening the vox to the Sekhmet. “This is a march

of investigation, not of war.”

“But be ready for it to become a war,” added Phosis T’kar with relish.

“Sekhmet, align your humours,” ordered Ahriman, using his mastery of the Enumerations to

alter his body’s internal alchemy. “Temper the choleric with the phlegmatic, and bring the sanguine

to the fore.”

Ahriman heard Hathor Maat muttering under his breath. Normally a Pavoni could balance his

humours with a thought, but without access to the aether, Hathor Maat had to do it like the rest of

them: with discipline, concentration and self-will.

The valley widened, and Ahriman saw a host of figures standing at the crest of the slope, like the

legendary warriors of Leonidas who fought and died at Thermopylae. Ahriman felt nothing for

them, no hatred and no fear. In the lower Enumerations he was beyond such considerations.

With their sunset-coloured robes, baked leather breastplates and long falarica, the Aghoru

warriors were the very image of the barbarian tribes of ancient Terra. The warriors were not facing

down the valley to repel invaders, but were instead focussed on something deeper in the valley and

beyond his sight.

Ahriman’s fingers flexed on the hide grip of his bolter. The warriors above turned at the sound

of the Sekhmet’s advance, and Ahriman saw they were all wearing masks of polished glass.

Expressionless and without life, they resembled the gold leaf corpse masks placed upon the faces of

ancient Mycenaean kings to conceal the decay of their features.

At the most recent conclave of the Rehahti, Magnus had had invited Yatiri, the leader of the

Aghoru tribes gathered at the Mountain, to speak with them. The proud chieftain stood in the centre

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of Magnus’ austere pavilion, clad in saffron robes and wearing the ceremonial mirrormask of his

people. Yatiri carried a black-bladed falarica and a heqa staff, not unlike those carried by the

captains of the Thousand Sons. Though centuries of isolation had separated his people from the

Imperium, the regal Yatiri spoke with clarity and fluency as he requested they refrain from entering

the valley, explaining that it was a holy place to his people.

Holy. That was the word he had used.

Such a provocative word would have raised the hackles of many Astartes Legions, but the

Thousand Sons understood the original meaning of the term—uninjured, sound, healthy—and rose

above its connotations of divinity to recognise it for what it truly meant: a place free of

imperfection. Yatiri’s request had roused some suspicion among the Legion, but Magnus had given

his oath that the Thousand Sons would respect his wishes.

That request had been honoured until this moment.

The Aghoru parted as the Sekhmet approached the crest of the valley, the sharpened blades of

their falarica glittering in firelight. Ahriman had no fear of such weapons, but he had no wish to start

a fight he didn’t need to.

Ahriman marched towards the Aghoru, keeping his pace steady, and his gaze was lifted upwards

in awed amazement as the titanic guardians of the valley were revealed to his sight.

On Prospero, the cult temple of the Pyrae was a vast pyramid of silvered glass with an eternally

burning finial at its peak. Where the other cult temples of Tizca raised golden idols of their cult

symbols before their gates, the Pyrae boasted a battle-engine of the Titan legions.

Supplicants to the pyromancers approached along a brazier-lit processional of red marble

towards a mighty warlord Titan. Bearing the proud name Canis Vertex, the engine had once walked

beneath the banners of Legio Astorum, its carapace emblazoned with a faded black disc haloed by a

flaming blue corona.

Its princeps was killed and its moderati crushed when the engine fell during the bloody

campaigns of extermination waged in the middle years of the Great Crusade against the barbaric

greenskin of the Kamenka Troika. The Emperor had issued the writs of war, commanding the

Thousand Sons, Legio Astorum and a Lifehost of PanPac Eugenians to drive that savage race of

xenos from the three satellite planets of Kamenka Ulizarna, a world claimed by the Mechanicum of

Mars.

Ahriman remembered well the savagery of that war, the slaughter and relentless, grinding

attrition that left tens of thousands dead in its wake. Imperial forces had been victorious after two

years of fighting and earned a score of honours for the war banners.

Victory had been won, but the cost had been high. Eight hundred and seventy-three warriors of

the Thousand Sons had died, forcing Magnus so reduce his Legion from ten fellowships to the

Pesedjet, the nine fellowships of antiquity.

Of greater sorrow to Ahriman was the death of Apophis, Captain of the 5th Fellowship and his

oldest friend. Only now that Apophis was dead, was Ahriman able to use that word.

Canis Vertex had been brought down on the killing fields of Coriovallum in the last days of the

war by a gargantuan war machine of the greenskin, crudely built in the image of their warlike gods.

Defeat seemed inevitable until Magnus stood before the enemy colossus, wielding the power of the

aether like an ancient god of war.

Two giants, one mechanical, one a flesh and blood progeny of the Emperor, they had faced each

other across the burning ruins, and it seemed the battle’s conclusion could not have been more

foregone.

But Magnus raised his arms, his feathered cloak billowed by unseen storms, and the full fury of

the aether unmade the enemy war-engine in a hurricane of immaterial fire that tore the flesh of

reality asunder and shook the world to its very foundations.

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All those who saw the giant primarch that day would take the sight of his battle with that

bloated, hateful, war machine to their graves, his power and majesty indelibly etched on their

memories like a scar. Ten thousand warriors bowed their heads to their saviour as he returned to

them across a field of the dead.

The Legio Astorum contingent had been destroyed, and Khalophis of the 6th Fellowship had

“honoured” their sacrifice by transporting Canis Vertex back to Prospero and setting it as a silent

guardian to the temple of the Pyrae. The raising of such a colossal sentinel was typical Pyrae

showmanship, but there was no doubting the impart made by the sight of the dead engine sheened in

the orange firelight of the temple.

Ahriman was no stranger to the impossible scale of the Mechanicum war engines, but he had

never seen anything to compare with the guardians of the valley.

Taller than Canis Vertex, the identical colossi that stood at the end of the valley were, like the

mountain they inhabited, enormous beyond imagining. Soaring, graceful and threatening, they were

mighty bipedal constructions that resembled an impossibly slender humanoid form. Crafted from

something that resembled porcelain or ceramic the colour of bone, they were manufactured as

though moulded from one enormous block.

Their heads were like sinuous helmets studded with glittering gems, and graceful spines flared

from their shoulders like angelic wings. These guardians were prepared for war. One arm ended in a

mighty fist, the other in an elongated, lance-like weapon, its slim barrel gracefully fluted and hung

with faded banners.

“Sweet Mother of the Abyss,” said Phosis T’kar at the sight of them.

Ahriman felt the calm he had established within him crumble when confronted by such powerful

icons of war. Like gods of battle, the towering creations rendered everything in the valley

inconsequential. He saw the same grace and aesthetic in these guardians as he had seen in the

valley’s formation. Whoever had willed this mountain into existence had also crafted these

guardians to watch over it.

“What are they?” asked Hathor Maat.

“I don’t know,” said Ahriman.

“Xenos Titans?”

“They have the look of eldar about them,” said Phosis T’kar.

Ahriman agreed. Two decades ago, the Thousand Sons had detected a fleet of eldar vessels on

the edge of the Perdus Anomaly. The encounter had been cordial, both forces passing on their way

without violence, but Ahriman had never forgotten the elegance of the eldar ships and the ease with

which they navigated the stars.

“They must be war engines,” said Hathor Maat. “Khalophis would kill to see this.”

That was certainly true. Khalophis was Pyrae, and a warmongering student of conflict in all its

most brutal forms. If an enemy was to be wiped from the battlefield with overwhelming firepower, it

was to Khalophis the Thousand Sons turned.

“I’m sure he would,” said Ahriman, dragging his eyes from the titanic war machines. The valley

was filled with Aghoru tribesmen, all bearing burning brands or battering their palms bloody on

tribal drums.

Phosis T’kar held his bolt pistol at his side, but Ahriman could see his urge to use it was strong.

Hathor Maat held his heqa staff at the ready. Warriors who had faced the Dominus Liminus and

achieved the rank of adept could release devastating bursts of aetheric energy through their staffs,

but here it was no more than a symbol of rank.

“Hold to the Enumerations,” he whispered. “There is to be no killing unless I give the word.”

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Perhaps a thousand men and women in hooded robes and reflective masks filled the valley,

surrounding a great altar of basalt that stood before a yawning cave mouth set in the cliff between

the towering guardians.

Ahriman immediately saw that this cave was no deliberately crafted entrance to the mountain.

An earthquake had ripped it open and the blackness of it seemed darker than the depths of space.

“What’s going on here?” demanded Phosis T’kar.

“I do not know,” said Ahriman, advancing cautiously through the Aghoru, seeing the crimson

plates of the Sekhmet’s armour reflected in their masks. The chanting ceased and the drumming

diminished until the valley was utterly silent.

“Why are they watching?” hissed Hathor Maat. “Why don’t they move?”

“They’re waiting to see what we do,” replied Ahriman.

It was impossible to read the Aghoru behind their masks, but he didn’t think there was any

hostile intent. The mirror-masked tribesmen simply watched as Ahriman led the Sekhmet through

the crowds towards the basalt altar. Its smooth black surface gleamed in the last of the day’s light,

like the still waters of a motionless black pool.

Tokens lay strewn across the altar’s surface, bracelets, earrings, dolls of woven reeds and bead

necklaces; the personal effects of scores of people. Ahriman saw footprints in the dust leading from

the altar to the black tear in the mountainside. Whoever had made them had gone back and forth

many times.

He knelt beside the tracks as Phosis T’kar and Hathor Maat approached the altar.

“What are these?” wondered Phosis T’kar.

“Offerings?” ventured Hathor Maat, lifting a neck torque of copper and onyx, and examining the

workmanship with disdain.

“To what?” asked Phosis T’kar “I didn’t read of any practices of the Aghoru like this.”

“Nor I, but how else do you explain it?”

“Yatiri told us the Mountain is a place of the dead,” said Ahriman, tracing the outline of a print

clearly made by someone of far greater stature than any mortal or Astartes.

“Perhaps this is a rite of memorial,” said Phosis T’kar.

“You could be right,” conceded Hathor Maat, “but then where are the dead?”

“They’re in the Mountain,” said Ahriman, backing away from the cave as the drums began once

again. He rejoined his warriors, planting his staff in the dusty ground.

As one, the Aghoru turned their mirrored masks towards the end of the valley, chanting in

unison and moving forwards with short, shuffling steps, the butts of their falarica thumping on the

ground in time with every beat of the drums.

“Mandala,” ordered Ahriman, and the Sekhmet formed a circle around the altar. Auto-loaders

clattered and power fists crackled as energy fields engaged.

“Permission to open fire?” requested Hathor Maat, aiming his bolt pistol at the mask of the

nearest Aghoru tribesman.

“No,” said Ahriman, turning to face the darkness of the cave mouth as wind-blown ash gusted

from the depths of the mountain. “This isn’t for us.”

Bleak despair tainted the wind, the dust and memory of a billion corpses decayed to powder and

forgotten in the lightless depths of the world.

A shape emerged from the cave, wreathed in swirling ash: hulking, crimson and gold and

monstrous.

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CHAPTER THREE

Magnus / The Sanctum / You Must Teach Him

He couldn’t focus on it. Impressions were all Lemuel could make out: skin that shone as though fire

flowed in its veins, mighty wings of feathers and golden plates. A mane of copper hair, ash-stained

and wild, billowed around the being’s head, its face appearing as an inconstant swirl of liquid light

and flesh, as though no bone formed the basis for its foundations, but something altogether more

dynamic and vital.

Lemuel felt sick to his stomach at the sight, yet was unable to tear his gaze from this towering

being.

Wait… Was it towering?

With each second, it seemed as though the apparition’s shape changed without him even being

aware of it. Without seeming to vary from one second to the next, the being was alternately a giant,

a man, a god, or a being of radiant light and a million eyes.

“What is it?” asked Lemuel, the words little more than a whisper. “What have they done?”

He couldn’t look away, knowing on some primal level that the fire that burned in this being’s

heart was dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous thing in the world. Lemuel wanted to touch it,

though he knew he would be burned to ashes were he to get too close.

Kallista screamed, and the spell was broken.

Lemuel dropped to his knees and vomited, the contents of his stomach spilling down the

rockface. His heaving breath flowed like milky smoke from his mouth, and he stared in amazement

at his stomach’s contents, the spattered mass glittering as though the potential of what it had once

been longed to reconstitute itself. The air seethed with ambition, as though a power that not even the

deadstones could contain flexed its muscles.

The moment passed and Lemuel’s vomit was just vomit, his breath invisible and without form.

He could not take his eyes from the inchoate being below, his previously overwhelmed senses now

firmly rooted in the mundane reality of the world. Tears spilled down his cheeks, and he wiped his

face with his sleeve.

Kallista sobbed uncontrollably, shaking as though in the midst of a seizure. Her hands clawed

the ground, scratching her nails bloody as though she were desperately writing something in the

dust.

“Must come out,” she wept. “Can’t stay inside. Fire must come out or it’ll burn me up.”

She looked up at Lemuel, silently imploring him to help. Before he could move, her eyes rolled

back in their sockets and she slumped forward. Lemuel wanted to go to her aid, but his limbs were

useless. Beside Kallista, Camille remained upright, her face blanched beneath her tan. Her entire

body shook, and her jaw hung open in awed wonder.

“He’s beautiful… So very beautiful,” she said, hesitantly lifting her picter and clicking off shots

of the monstrous being.

Lemuel spat a mouthful of acrid bile and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “He’s a monster.”

She turned, and Lemuel was shocked at her anger. “How can you say that? Look at him.”

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Lemuel screwed his eyes shut, only gradually opening them once again to look upon this

incredible figure. He still saw the light shining in its heart, but where before it had been beguilingly

dangerous, it was now soothing and hypnotic.

Like a badly tuned picter suddenly brought into focus, the being’s true form was revealed: a

broad-shouldered giant in exquisite battle-plate of gold, bronze and leather. Sheathed at his side

were his weapons, a curved sword with an obsidian haft and golden blade, and a heavy pistol of

terrifying proportions.

Though the warrior was hundreds of metres below him, Lemuel saw him as clearly as a vivid

memory or the brightest image conjured by his imagination.

He smiled, now seeing the beauty Camille saw.

“You’re right,” he said. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before.”

A billowing mantle of golden feathers floated at the being’s shoulders, hung with thuribles and

trailing parchments fixed with wax seals. Great ebony horns curled up from his breastplate,

matching the two that sprang from his shoulders. A pale tabard decorated with a blazing sun motif

hung at his belt, and a heavy book, bound in thick red hide, was strung about his armour on golden

chains.

Lemuel’s eyes were drawn to the book, its unknown contents rich with the promise of

knowledge and the secret workings of the universe. A golden hasp was secured with a lock

fashioned from lead. Lemuel would have traded his entire wealth and even his very soul to open that

book and peer into its depths.

He felt a hand on his arm and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Camille hugged him,

overcome with wonder and love, and Lemuel took pleasure in the embrace.

“I never thought to see him this close,” said Camille.

Lemuel didn’t answer, watching as two figures followed the being from the cave. One was an

Aghoru tribesman in a glittering mask and orange robe, the other a thin man wearing an ash-stained

robe of a remembrancer. They were irrelevant. The majestic being of light was all that mattered.

As though hearing his thoughts, the warrior looked up at him.

He wore a golden helmet, plumed with a mane of scarlet hair, his face wise beyond

understanding, like a tribal elder or venerable sage.

Camille was right. He was beautiful, perfect and beautiful.

Still embracing, Lemuel and Camille sank to their knees.

Lemuel stared back at the magnificent being, only now seeing that a single flaw marred his

perfection. A golden eye, flecked with iridescent colours without name, blinked and Lemuel saw

that the warrior looked out at the world through this eye alone. Where his other eye should have

been was smooth and unblemished, as if no eye had ever sat there.

“Magnus the Red,” said Lemuel. “The Crimson King.”

Aghoru’s sun had finally set, though the sky still glowed faintly with its light. Night did not last long

here, but it provided a merciful respite from the intense heat of the day. Ahriman carried his golden

deshret helmet in the crook of his arm as he made his way towards his primarch’s pavilion. His

connection to the secret powers of the universe had established itself the moment he had led the

Sekhmet past the deadstones. Aaetpio’s light had welcomed him, and the presence of the Tutelary

was as refreshing as a cool glass of water in the desert.

Ahriman’s relief at the sight of Magnus emerging from the cave was matched only by the

recognition of the disappointment in his eyes. The magnificent primarch glared down at the circle of

warriors gathered around the altar, and then shook his head. Even denied the use of his enhanced

acuity in the Mountain, Ahriman had felt his master’s enormous presence, a power that transcended

whatever wards were woven into the stones of the mountain.

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Magnus marched past them, not even bothering to further acknowledge their presence. The

masked tribesman, who Ahriman knew must be Yatiri, walked alongside the primarch, and

Mahavastu Kallimakus, Magnus’ personal scribe, trotted after them, whispering words into a slender

wand that were then transcribed by a clattering quill unit attached to his belt.

“This was a mistake,” said Hathor Maat. “We shouldn’t have come here.”

Ahriman rounded angrily on him, saying, “You were only too keen to march when I suggested

it.”

“It was better than sitting about doing nothing, but I did say that the primarch told us to wait,”

Maat said with a shrug.

Ahriman had wanted to lash out at Hathor Maat, feeling his self-control faltering in the face of

the Pavoni’s smug arrogance. That he was right only made it worse.

He knew he should have trusted Magnus’ judgement, but he had doubted. At best it would

probably mean a public apology to Yatiri, at worst potential exclusion from the Rehahti, the inner

coven of the Thousand Sons chosen by Magnus to address whatever issues were currently

concerning the Legion.

Its members were ever-changing, and inclusion within the Rehahti was dependent on many

things, not least an Astartes’ standing within the Legion. The cults of the Thousand Sons vied for

prominence and a place in the primarch’s inner circle, knowing that to bask in his radiance would

only enhance their powers.

As the power of the aether waxed and waned, so too did the mystical abilities of the cults.

Invisible currents inimical to one discipline would boost the powers of another, and portents of the

Great Ocean’s ever-changing tides were read and interpreted by the Legion’s geomancers with

obsessive detail. At present the Pyrae was in the ascendance, while Ahriman’s cult, the Corvidae,

was at its lowest ebb for nearly fifty years. For centuries, the Corvidae had been pre-eminent within

the ranks of the Thousand Sons, but over the last few decades, their power to read the twisting paths

of the future had diminished until their seers could barely penetrate the shallows of things to come.

The currents of the Great Ocean were swelling and boisterous, the geomancers warning of a

great storm building within its depths, though they could see nothing of its source. The subtle

currents were obscured by the raging tides that empowered the more bellicose disciplines, ringing in

the blood of those whose mastery only stretched to the lower echelons.

It was galling that reckless firebrands like Khalophis and Auramagma strutted like lords while

the hidden seers and sorcerers who had guided the Thousand Sons since their inception were forced

to the sidelines. Yet there was nothing Ahriman could do, save try every day to re-establish his

connection to the distant shores of the future.

He put such thoughts aside, rising through the Enumerations to calm himself and enter a

contemplative state. The pavilion of Magnus loomed ahead of him, a grand, three-cornered pyramid

of polarised glass and gold that shimmered in the evening’s glow like a half-buried diamond.

Opaque from the outside, transparent on the inside, it was the perfect embodiment of the leader of

the Thousand Sons.

Three Terminators of the Scarab Occult stood at each corner. Each carried a bladed sekhem

staff, and their storm bolters were held tightly across the jade and amber scarab design on their

breastplates.

Brother Amsu stood at the entrance to the pavilion, holding a rippling banner of scarlet and

ivory. Ahriman’s pride at the sight of the banner was tempered by the fact that he had incurred his

primarch’s displeasure by taking the Sekhmet into the Mountain.

Ahriman stopped before Amsu and allowed him to read his aetheric aura, confirming his identity

more completely than any gene-scanner or molecular-reader ever could.

“Brother Ahriman,” said Amsu, “welcome to the Rehahti. Lord Magnus is expecting you.”

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The inside of the pavilion would have surprised most people with its austerity. Given the suspicions

that had surrounded the Thousand Sons since their earliest days, those mortals lucky enough to be

granted an audience with Magnus the Red always expected his chambers to be hung with esoteric

symbols, arcane apparatus and paraphernalia of the occult.

Instead, the walls were rippling glass, the floor pale marble quarried from the ventral mountains

of Prospero. Carefully positioned black tiles veined with gold formed a repeating geometric spiral

that coiled out from the centre.

The Captains of Fellowship stood upon the spiral, their distance from the centre but one

indication of their standing within the Rehahti. Ahriman walked calmly along the dark portions, past

the assembled warriors, to his place upon it. Beneath the crystal apex of the pyramid a golden disc in

the shape of a radiating sun met the terminations of both black and white tiles, the heart of the

gathering.

Magnus the Red stood upon the golden sun.

The Primarch of the Thousand Sons was a magnificent warrior and scholar beyond compare, yet

his outward mien was that of a man faintly embarrassed by his pre-eminence amongst equals.

Ahriman knew it was a facade, albeit a necessary one, for who could stand face to face with a being

whose intellect and treasury of knowledge rendered all other accomplishments meaningless?

His skin was the colour of molten copper, the plates of his armour beaten gold and hard-baked

leather, his mail a fine mesh of blackened adamant. The magisterial scarlet plume of his helmet

spilled around the curling horns of his armour, and his mighty cloak of feathers was like a waterfall

of bright plumage belonging to some vainglorious bird of prey. Partially hidden within that cloak

was a thick tome, bound in the same, stipple-textured hide as that on Ahriman’s pistol grip. It came

from the body of a psychneuein, a vicious psychic predator of Prospero that had all but wiped out

the planet’s previous civilisation in ages past.

The primarch’s expression was impossible to read, but Ahriman took solace in the fact that his

position had not yet fallen to the outer reaches of the spiral. Magnus’ eye glittered with colour, its

hue never fixed and always changing, though for this gathering it had assumed an emerald aspect

with flecks of violet in its iris.

Phosis T’kar stood near Ahriman to his right, with Khalophis on the spiral across from him.

Hathor Maat was behind him and to his left, while Uthizzar was to his right and at the furthest extent

of the spiral. A warrior’s standing was not simply measured by his proximity to the centre of the

spiral, but by myriad other indicators: the position of the warrior next to him, behind him and across

from him. Who was obscured, who was visible, the arc of distance between his position and the sun

disc, all played their part in the dance of supremacy. Each member’s position interacted subtly with

the other, creating a web of hierarchy that only Magnus could fathom.

Ahriman could not read the aetheric auras of his fellow captains, and he felt Aaetpio’s absence

keenly. He had not summoned Aaetpio to the meeting, for it would be overwhelmed in the face of

the primarch’s power. Magnus himself had no Tutelary, for what could a fragment of the Primordial

Creator teach one who had stared into its depths and mastered its every nuance?

Magnus nodded as Ahriman took his place on the spiral and Brother Amon stepped from the

shadows of the pyramid to pull the golden doors shut. Ahriman had not seen or sensed Amon’s

presence, but few ever did. Equerry to Magnus and Captain of the 9th Fellowship, Amon trained the

“Hidden Ones”, the Scout Auxilia of the Thousand Sons.

“The Sanctum awaits the Symbol of Thothmes,” announced Amon, the crimson of his armour

seeming to blend with the shadows that gathered around the edges of the pyramid.

Magnus nodded and lifted his golden khopesh from his belt. A flick of his thumb, and the haft

extended with a smooth hiss, transforming the sickle-sword into a long-bladed polearm. Magnus

rapped the staff on the sun disc, tracing an intricate, twisting shape on the ground.

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Ahriman pursed his lips together as the world went dim and the interior of the pyramid was

shielded from outside eyes. To be cut off from the aether was unpleasant, but now no one could

eavesdrop within the pyramid by any means, be they technological or psychic.

Magnus had once boasted that not even the Emperor himself could penetrate the invisible veil

cast around the Rehahti by the Symbol of Thothmes.

“Are we all assembled?” demanded Ahriman, speaking as the Legion’s Chief Librarian. On

Prospero, gatherings of the Rehahti would be conducted in aetheric speech, but here the Thousand

Sons were forced to rely on the crudity of language.

“I am Ahzek Ahriman of the Corvidae,” he said. “If you would be heard, then speak your true

name. Who comes to this Rehahti?”

“I come, Phosis T’kar, Magister Templi of the Raptora.”

“I come, Khalophis, Magister Templi of the Pyrae.”

“I come, Hathor Maat, Magister Templi of the Pavoni.”

“I come, Uthizzar, Magister Templi of the Athanaeans.”

Ahriman nodded as the Captains of the Thousand Sons recited their names. Only Uthizzar

hesitated. The young Adept Minor had only recently ascended to the role of Magister Templi, and

Ahriman could not look at him without feeling the sorrow of Aphophis’ death.

“We are all assembled,” he said.

“We are alone,” confirmed Amon.

Magnus nodded and looked each of his captains in the eye before speaking.

“I am disappointed in you, my sons,” he said, his voice a rich baritone laden with subtle layers

of meaning. These were the first words Ahriman had heard from his primarch since leaving the

mountain, and though they were of censure, they were still welcome.

“This world has much to teach us, and you jeopardise that by venturing onto a holy site of the

Aghoru. I told you to await my return. Why did you disobey me?”

Ahriman felt the eyes of the captains on him and held himself straighter.

“I ordered it, my lord,” he said. “The decision to march into the valley was mine.”

“I know,” said Magnus, with the barest hint of a smile. “If anyone was going to defy me, it

would be you, eh, Ahzek?”

Ahriman nodded, unsure whether he was to be reprimanded or lauded.

“Well, you set foot on the Mountain,” said Magnus. “What did you make of it?”

“My lord?”

“What did you feel ?”

“Nothing, my lord,” said Ahriman. “I felt nothing.”

“Exactly,” said Magnus, stepping from the sun disc and following the white spiral out from the

centre of the pyramid. “You felt nothing. Now you know how mortals feel, trapped in their silent,

dull world, disconnected from their birthright as an evolving race.”

“Birthright?” asked Hathor Maat. “What birthright?”

Magnus rounded on him, his eye transformed into a flickering blue orb, alive with motion.

“The right to explore this brilliant, dazzling galaxy and all its wonders with their eyes open to its

glory,” said Magnus. “What is a life lived in the shadows, a life where all the shining wonders of the

world are half-glimpsed phantasms?”

Magnus stopped next to Ahriman and placed a hand on his shoulder. The hand was that of a

giant, yet he looked up at a face that was only slightly larger than his own, the features sculpted as if

from molten metal, the single eye green once more. Ahriman felt the immense, unknowable power

of his primarch, understanding that he stood before a living sun, the power of creation and

destruction bound within its beauteous form.

Magnus’ body was not so much flesh and blood, but energy and will bound together by the

ancient science of the Emperor. Ahriman had studied the substance of the Great Ocean with the aid

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of some of the Legion’s foremost seers, yet the power that filled his primarch was as alien to him as

a starship was to a primitive savage.

“The Aghoru live on a world swept by aetheric winds, yet they remain untouched by its

presence,” said Magnus, walking back towards the sun disc at the centre of the pyramid. His

khopesh staff spun in his grip, tracing patterns Ahriman recognised as sigils of evocation that would

summon a host of Tutelaries if made beyond the inert air of the Sanctum.

“They come to this Mountain every year, this place of pilgrimage, to bring the bodies of their

dead to their final rest. They carry them into the holy valley and place them in the mouth of the

mountain, and each time they return, the bodies of the previous year are gone, ‘eaten’ by the

Mountain. We all feel that the walls that separate this world from the aether are thin here. The

essence of the Great Ocean presses in, yet the Aghoru remain unaffected by its presence. Why

should that be? I do not know, but when I solve that mystery we will be one step closer to helping

our brothers draw closer to the light at the heart of the universe. There is power in that mountain,

great power, yet it is somehow contained, and the Aghoru are oblivious to it except as energy that

devours the dead. I only hope that Yatiri forgives your trespass into their holy place, for without his

peoples’ help we may never unlock the secrets of this world.”

The primarch’s enthusiasm for the task was infectious, and the shame Ahriman felt at

jeopardising Magnus’ great work was like a crushing weight upon his shoulders.

“I will make whatever reparations need to be made, my lord,” said Ahriman. “The Sekhmet

marched at my order and I will explain that to Yatiri.”

“That will not be necessary,” said Magnus, once again taking his place at the centre of the

pyramid. “I have another task for you all.”

“Anything, my lord,” said Phosis T’kar, and the rest joined his affirmation.

Magnus smiled and said, “As always, my sons, you are a delight to me. The Aghoru are not the

only ones who can feel that this world is special. The remembrancers we selected to join our

expedition, they know it too, even if they do not consciously realise it. You are to make them

welcome, befriend them and study them. We have kept them at a distance long enough; it is time for

them to see that we have mellowed to their presence. In any case, I believe the Emperor will soon

make their presence mandatory and send thousands more out to join the fleets. Before such an edict

becomes law, don the mask of friend, of grudging admirer, whatever it takes to gain their

confidence. Study the effects of this world on them and record your findings in your grimoires. As

we study this world, we must also study its effect on mortals and ourselves. Do you understand this

task?”

“Yes, my lord,” said Hathor Maat, the words echoed by the rest of the captains until only

Ahriman was left to speak.

He felt the primarch’s eyes upon him, and offered a curt bow, saying, “I understand, my lord.”

“Then this Rehahti is over,” said Magnus, rapping his staff on the sun disc. Light streamed out

from the centre, bathing the assembled captains in radiance. The Symbol of Thothmes was undone,

and Ahriman felt the wellspring of the aether wash through his flesh.

Amon opened the pyramid’s doors, and Ahriman bowed to the primarch. As the captains made

their way outside, Magnus said, “Ahzek, a moment if you please.”

Ahriman paused, and then walked to the centre of the pyramid, ready to face his punishment.

The primarch sheathed his khopesh, the haft now returned to its original proportions. Magnus

looked down at him, and his glittering green eye narrowed as he appraised his Chief Librarian.

“Something troubles you, my friend. What is it?”

“The story of the men in the cave,” said Ahriman. “The one you told me when I was your

Neophyte.”

“I know the one,” said Magnus. “What of it?”

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“If I remember correctly, that story shows that it is futile to share the truth of what we know with

those who have too narrow a view of the horizon. How are we to illuminate our fellows when their

vision is so limited?”

“We do not,” said Magnus, turning Ahriman and walking him across the spiral towards the

pyramid’s open doors. “At least not at first.”

“I do not understand.”

“We do not bring the light to humanity; we bring them to the light,” said Magnus. “We learn

how to lift mankind’s consciousness to a higher state of being so that he can recognise the light for

himself.”

Ahriman felt the force of the primarch’s passion, and wished he felt it too. “Trying to explain the

truth of the aether to mortals is like trying to describe the meaning of the colour yellow to a blind

man. They do not want to see it. They fear it.”

“Small steps, Ahzek, small steps,” said Magnus patiently. “Mankind is already crawling towards

psychic awareness, but he must walk before he can run. We will help him.”

“You have great faith in humanity,” said Ahriman as they reached the doors. “They wanted to

destroy us once. They may again.”

Magnus shook his head. “Trust them a little more, my son. Trust me .”

“I trust you, my lord,” promised Ahriman. “My life is yours.”

“And I value that, my son, believe me,” said Magnus, “but I am set on this course, and I need

you with me, Ahzek. The others look up to you, and where you lead, others will follow.”

“As you wish, my lord,” said Ahriman with a respectful bow.

“Now, as far as studying the remembrancers goes, I want you to pay close attention to Lemuel

Gaumon, he interests me.”

“Gaumon? The aetheric reader?”

“Yes, that’s the one. He has some power, learned from the writings of the Nordafrik Sangoma

by the feel of it,” said Magnus. “He believes he hides this power from us, and has taken his first,

faltering steps towards its proper use. I wish you to mentor him. Draw out his abilities and

determine how best he may use them without danger to himself or others. If we can do it for him, we

can do it for others.”

“That will not be easy; he does not have the mastery of the Enumerations.”

“That is why you must teach him,” said Magnus.

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Sound of Judgement / Shadow Dancers / Summoned

Fires seared the horizon as the planet burned. The skies bucked and heaved with pressure,

kaleidoscopic lighting blazing across the heavens with unnatural fire. Screaming shards of glass fell

in glittering torrents, the streets ran with molten gold, and once proud avenues of glorious statuary

were brought to ruin by the thunder of explosions and the howls of killers.

Predators stalked the ruins of the beautiful city, a glorious representation of paradise rendered

on earthly soil. Towering wonders of glass and silver and gold burned around her, the air filled with

a billion fluttering scraps of scorched papers like grotesque confetti. The taste of blood filled her

senses, and though she had never seen this place before she mourned its destruction.

Such perfect geometry, such pleasing aesthetics… who could ever wish harm to so perfect a

refuge? Soaring silver towers sagged in the heat of the fires, broken glass falling from their high

windows and pyramidion-capped summits like shimmering tears. Firelight danced in the glass, each

reflecting a great, golden eye that wept tears of red.

She wanted to stop the madness, to halt the bloodletting before it was too late to save the city

from complete destruction. It was already too late. Its fate had been sealed long before the first

bomb had landed or the first invader set foot within its gilded palaces, marble-flagged processionals

or glorious parks.

The city was doomed, and nothing could change its fate. Yet even as the thought formed, she

knew that wasn’t true. The city could be saved.

With that thought, the clouds dispersed and the wondrous blue of the sky was revealed. Glorious

sunbeams painted the mountains in gold, and the scent of wildflowers replaced the stink of ash and

scorched meat and metal. Once again, the silver towers reached up to the heavens, and shimmering,

monumental pyramids of glass loomed over her, glittering with the promise of a bright and

incredible future.

She walked the streets of the city, alone and without form, relishing the chance to savour its

beauty without interruption. Hot spices, rich fragrances and exotic scents were carried on a soft

breeze, suggestive of human life, but no matter how hard she looked, there was no sign of the city’s

inhabitants.

Undaunted, she continued her exploration, finding new wonders and raptures at every turn.

Golden statues of hawk-headed figures lined one boulevard of marble libraries and museums, a

thousand scented date palms another. Silver lions, hundreds of metres tall, reared at the entrance to

a pyramid so huge it was more mountain than architecture.

Mighty carved columns topped with capitals shaped like curling scrolls formed enormous

processional avenues down which entire armies could walk abreast. She wandered parks of

incredible beauty nestled alongside the artifice of human hands, the two blending so seamlessly that

it was impossible to discern where one began and the other ended.

Everywhere she looked, she saw perfection of line and shape, a harmony that could only have

come about by the seamless fusion of knowledge and talent. This was perfection; this was everything

humanity aspired to achieve.

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This was bliss, though she knew it was not real, for nothing created by Man was perfect.

Everything had a flaw, no matter how small. As with any paradise, this could not last. She heard a

mournful cry in the far distance, a sound so faint as to be almost inaudible.

Carried from the frozen bleakness of an ice-locked future, the cry was joined by another, the

sounds echoing from the sides of the pyramids and lingering like a curse in the deserted streets. It

resonated within a withered, atrophied part of her mind—a forgotten, primal remnant from a time

when man was prey, simply an upstart hominid with ambitions beyond those of other mammals.

It was the sound of fangs like swords, claws and hunters older than Man. It was the sound of

judgement.

Her heart thudding in her chest, Kallista Eris jack-knifed upright in her cot bed, drenched in sweat,

the haunting cries fading from her mind. The dream of the unknown city faded like mist from her

thoughts, fleeting glimpses of shimmering towers, silver-skinned pyramids and majestic parklands

all that remained of her magnificent vision.

She groaned and lifted a hand to her head, a pounding headache pressing against the inner

surfaces of her skull. She swung her legs from the bed, pressing a palm to her temple as she felt its

intensity grow.

“No,” she moaned. “Not again. Not now.”

She rose from the bed, moving to the footlocker at its base on unsteady legs. If she could reach

the bottle of sakau before the fire in her brain erupted, she could spare herself a night of pain and

horror.

A sharp spike of agony lanced into her brain, and she dropped to her knees, falling against the

bed with a muted cry. Kallista screwed her eyes shut against the pain, white lights bursting like

explosions behind her lids. Her stomach lurched and she fought to hold onto its contents as the

interior of her tent spun around her. She felt the fire pouring into her, a tide of burning nightmares

and blood.

The breath heaved in her lungs as she fought against this latest attack, and her hands clawed

knots in her thin sheet. She clenched her teeth, hauling herself along the bed towards the footlocker.

The pain felt like a bomb had detonated within her brain, a blooming fire that raced out along her

dendrites and synapses to sear through the bone of her skull.

Kallista hauled open the lid of her footlocker, throwing aside items of clothing and personal

effects in her desperation. Her bottle of sakau was hidden in a hollowed out copy of Fanfare to

Unity, a dreadful piece of fawning sycophancy that no one would ask to borrow.

“Please,” she moaned, lifting the dog-eared copy of the book. She opened it and lifted out a

green glass bottle, mostly full of a cloudy emulsion.

She pulled herself upright, her vision blurring at the edges with flickering lights, the telltale

signs of the fire. Every muscle was trembling as she lurched across the tent to her writing table

where the hes vase sat alongside her papers and writing implements.

Her hands spasmed with a spastic jerk, and the bottle fell from her hands.

“Throne, no!” cried Kallista as it bounced on the dirt floor, but, mercifully, didn’t break.

She bent down, but a wave of nausea and pain washed over her, and she knew it was too late for

the sakau. There was only one way to let the fire out.

Kallista collapsed to the folding chair at the table, and her trembling hand snatched up a knife-

sharpened pencil before dragging a sheet of scrap paper towards her.

Scrawled notes regarding yesterday’s incredible expedition into the Mountain filled the top of

the page.

She turned it over angrily as the fire in her brain blinded her, her eyes rolling back as its white

heat seared through her body its luminous light filling her every molecule with its power. Her mouth

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opened in a silent scream, jaw locked as her hand scratched across the page in manic, desperate

sweeps.

The words poured out of Kallista Eris, but she neither saw nor knew them.

It was the heat that woke her.

Kallista opened her eyes slowly, the searing brightness of Aghoru’s sun filling her tent with

yellow light and oppressive heat. She licked her dry lips, her mouth parched as though she hadn’t

drunk in days.

She was asleep at her desk, a broken pencil still clutched in her hand, a sheaf of papers fanned

around her head. Kallista groaned as she lifted her head from the table, dizzy and disoriented by the

brightness of the sun and the dislocation of waking.

Gradually, her memory reordered itself, and she dimly recalled the half-remembered city of her

dreams and its dreadful ending. The pain in her head was a dull ache, a mental bruise that left her

dull and numb.

Kallista reached out and poured some water from the hes vase. It was gritty with wind-blown

salt, but served to dispel the gumminess that had collected around her mouth.

Spots of water landed on the pages strewn across the desk, and she saw that they were

completely covered in frantic writing. She rose awkwardly to her feet, her limbs still unsteady after

their abuse during the night, and backed away from the desk.

Kallista sat on her bed, staring at the desk as though the papers and pencils were dangerous

animals instead of the tools of her trade. She rubbed her eyes and ran a hand through her hair,

sweeping it over her ears as she pondered what to do next.

Scores of sheets were filled with writing, and she swallowed, unsure whether she even wanted to

look and see what this latest fugue state had produced. Most of the time it was illegible nonsense,

meaningless doggerel. Kallista never knew what any of them meant, and if she was too late to

extinguish the fire before it began with a soporific infusion of sakau, she ripped the papers to pieces.

Not so this time.

Kallista looked at the angular writing that was not hers, and the morning’s heat was replaced

with a sudden chill.

One phrase was written on the crumpled papers, over and over and over, repeated on every sheet

a thousand times.

Camille cleared the dust of ages from the smooth object buried in the earth with delicate sweeps of a

fine brush. It was curved and polished, and showed no sign it had been hidden for thousands of

years. She slowly chipped around the object, marvelling at its condition as more of it was revealed.

It was pale cream and had survived without any corrosion or so much as a blemish.

It could have been buried yesterday.

More careful brushes revealed a bulbous protrusion further along its length, something that

looked like a vox-unit. She had never seen such a design, for it appeared it had been moulded as one

piece. She chipped away more of the earth, pleased to have found an artefact that was clearly of

non-human origin.

She paused, thinking back to the titanic statues, recognising a similarity between the material of

this object and the giants. For all she knew, this could be part of something just as vast. A ghost of

apprehension made her shiver, though she was still wearing her gloves, and had been careful not to

touch the find with her bare hands.

Camille stretched the muscles in her back and wiped her arm across her forehead. Even shaded

from the direct rays of the sun, the heat was oppressive.

With more of the object revealed, she lifted her picter unit, clicking off a number of shots from

differing angles and ranges. The camera had been a gift from her grandfather, an old Model K

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Seraph 9 he’d sourced from an Optik in the Byzant markets, who’d looted it from a prospector he’d

killed in the Taurus Mountains around the Anatolian plateau, who in turn had purchased it in pre-

Unity days from a shift overseer in a manufactory of the Urals, where it had been built by an

assembly servitor who had once been a man called Hekton Afaez.

Camille looked around, holding her breath as she listened for sounds of anyone nearby. She

could hear the repetitive bite of picks and shovels from her digging team of servitors, the gentle

murmur of daily life from the nearby Aghoru settlement, and the ever-present hiss of salt crystals

blown by the wind.

Satisfied she was alone, she pulled off one of her gloves, her ivory white hand in stark contrast

to the dark tan of her arm. The skin was delicate and smooth, not the hand one might expect to see

on someone who spent time digging in the earth.

Camille slowly lowered her hand to the half-buried object, gently laying it on top with a soft

sigh of pleasure. A comfortable numbness soon reached her shoulder and chest. The feeling was not

unpleasant, and she closed her eyes, surrendering to the new emotions that came to her.

She felt the thread of history that connected all things and the residue left by those who had

touched them. The world around her was dark, but the object before her was illuminated as though

by some internal light source.

It was a battle helmet, an exquisite artefact of fluid, graceful design, and it was unmistakably

alien in the subtle wrongness of its proportions. It was old, very old; so old, in fact, that she had

difficulty in grasping so distant an age of time.

A shape resolved in the darkness, her touch breathing life into the memory of the helmet’s long

dead owner. Behind her fluttering eyelids, Camille saw the shadow of a woman, a dancer by the

fluidity of her movements. She spun through the void like liquid, her body in constant motion

between graceful leaps, her arms and fists sweeping out in what Camille realised were killing blows.

This woman was not just a dancer, she was a warrior.

A word came to her, a name perhaps: Elenaria.

Camille watched, entranced by the subtle weave of the dancer’s body as it twisted like smoke on

a windy day. The shadow woman left blurred afterimages in the darkness, as though a phantom

sisterhood followed in her wake. The more Camille watched, the more it seemed as though she

watched thousands of women, all moving in the same dance, yet separated by fleeting moments in

time.

The dancers slid through the air, and Camille was filled with aching sadness. Their every

pirouette and graceful somersault gave voice to the sorrow and regret carried in their hearts like

poison. She gasped as a potent mix of heightened emotions surged into her from the buried object,

supreme pinnacles of ecstasy that were matched only by depths of utter misery.

A pair of glittering swords appeared in the dancer’s hands, ghostly blades that Camille had no

doubt were as deadly as they were beautiful. The shadow woman spun through the air with a shriek

of unimaginable fury, her swords incandescent as she somersaulted towards Camille.

With a gasp of disconnection, Camille snatched her hand from the object, her flesh pale and

cold, trembling with the aftereffects of powerful emotions. Her breath came in short hikes, and she

looked down at the buried object with a mixture of fear and amazement.

Her flesh crawled with chills, and a feathered breath turned to vapour before her. The

incongruous sight of breath on such a hot day made her laugh, the sound nervous and unconvincing.

“So what is it?” asked a man’s voice, startling her. She jumped in surprise.

“Throne, Lemuel! Don’t sneak up on people like that!”

“Sneak up?” he asked, looking down into the trench. “Trust me, my dear, a man my size doesn’t

sneak.”

She forced her face to smile, though the memory of the dancer’s sadness and fury was still

etched in her features.

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“I’m sorry,” she said. “You startled me.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Camille, feeling her heart rate returning to normal. “I could use a break

anyway. Here, help me out.”

Lemuel reached down into the trench with his arm extended, and she took hold of his meaty

forearm as he took hold of her slender one.

“Ready?”

“Ready,” she said.

Lemuel hauled her upwards, and she scrambled up the sides of the trench, hooking her knee over

the edge and hauling herself the rest of the way.

“Dignified, huh?” said Camille, scooting onto her belly before pushing herself to her feet.

“Like a dancer,” said Lemuel, and Camille flinched.

“So, what is it?” asked Lemuel again, pointing at the buried object.

Camille looked down at the battle helmet, the violence of the woman’s shriek still echoing

within her skull.

She shook her head. “I have no idea,” she said.

The pit her servitors had dug on the outskirts of the Aghoru settlement was a hundred metres by

sixty-five. Initial excavations had revealed a promising number of artefacts that were not of Aghoru

or Imperial origin. Half of those servitors now stood in immobile ranks beneath a wide awning set

up at the edge of the pit.

The idea of servitors needing to take breaks had amused Camille no end until Adept Spuler of

the Mechanicum told her that he had been forced to decommission six of them due to heat

exhaustion. Servitors didn’t feel fatigue or hunger or thirst, and so continued to work beyond the

limits of endurance.

Still, they had achieved more in one day than Camille could have hoped for.

Her dig site lay to the east of an Aghoru settlement named Acaltepec, three hundred kilometres

north of the Mountain, and this landscape was as lush as the salt flats were barren. The settlement’s

name meant “water house” in the local tongue, and Camille had come to understand that the term

referred to the oval-shaped canoes used to fish the lake alongside which the sunken village was

built.

The dwellings of the Aghoru were dug down into the earth, and provided shade from the sun and

a near-constant temperature, making them surprisingly comfortable places to live in. Camille had

been welcomed into Acaltepec’s homes, finding its people quiet and polite, the barrier of language

easily crossed by small gestures of kindness and courtesy.

Camille’s servitors had dug into a series of structures that had long been abandoned. The best

the lexicographers could approximate for the Aghoru’s explanation of why they had been

abandoned was “bad dreams”. Adept Spuler had dismissed such claims as primitive superstition or a

meaning lost in translation, but having touched the alien battle helm, Camille wasn’t so sure.

She had enjoyed her time on this world, relishing the relaxed, unhurried pace of life and the lack

of history pressing in from every individual. She had no doubt that life was hard for the people of

Aghoru, but for her it was a welcome break from the hectic life of a remembrancer of the 28th

Expedition.

Masked tribesmen swatted droning insects in the shade of tall trees hung with bright purple fruit,

while the women worked on the shoreline, fashioning long fishing spears. Even the children were

masked, a sight that had unsettled Camille at first, but like most things, it became part of the scenery

after a while.

Wild plants and fields of sun-ripened crops waved in the breeze, and Camille felt a peace she

hadn’t known in a long time. There was history to this world, but it was buried deep, far deeper than

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any world she had set foot on before. She relished the sensation of enjoying a world simply for what

she could see of it instead of feeling its history intruding on her every waking moment.

Lemuel knelt beside a long tarpaulin where the day’s finds had been laid out, and lifted a broken

piece of something that resembled a glazed ceramic disc.

“A regular treasure trove,” said Lemuel dryly. “I can see why I came now.”

Camille smiled. “It is a treasure trove actually. The artefacts here aren’t human, I’m sure of

that.”

“Not human?” asked Lemuel, rapping his knuckles against the flat edge of the disc. “Well, well,

how interesting. So what are they then?”

“I don’t know, but whoever they were, they died out tens of thousands of years ago.”

“Really? This looks like it was made yesterday.”

“Yeah, whatever it’s made of, it doesn’t seem to age.”

“Then how do you know how old it is?” asked Lemuel, staring right at her.

Did he know? No, how could he?

Camille hesitated. “The depth of the find and earned instinct I guess. I’ve spent long enough

digging around the ruins of Terra to get a good instinct for how old things are.”

“I suppose,” he said, turning the disc over in his hands and looking at the edge where it was

broken. “So what do you think this is made of? It’s smooth like porcelain, but it looks like an

organic internal structure, like crystal or something.”

“Let me see,” she said, and Lemuel handed her the disc. His fingers brushed the skin above her

glove and she felt a flicker of something pass between them, seeing a white-walled villa surrounded

by sprawling orchards at the foot of a mountain with a wide, flat summit. An ebony-skinned woman

with a sorrowful expression waved from a roof veranda.

“Are you all right?” asked Lemuel, and the moment passed.

Camille shook off the sadness of her vision.

“I’m fine; it’s just the heat,” she said. “It doesn’t look manufactured, does it?”

“No,” agreed Lemuel, standing up straight and brushing dust from his banyan. “Look at the lines

running through it. They’re lines of growth. This wasn’t pressed in a mould or stamped by a

machine. This material, whatever it is, grew and was shaped into this form. It reminds me of the

work of a man I knew in Sangha back on Terra, Babechi his name was. He was a quiet man, but he

could work wonders with things that grew, and where I came from, that was a rare gift. He called

himself an arbosculptor, and he could grow trees and plants into shapes that were simply beautiful.”

Lemuel smiled, lost in reminiscence. “With just some pruning shears, timber boards, wire and

tape, Babechi could take a sapling and turn it into a chair, a sculpture or an archway. Anything you

wanted really. I had an entire orchard of cherry plum, crepe myrtle and poplar grown and shaped to

resemble the grand dining chamber of Narthan Dume’s Palace of Phan Kaos for a charity dinner.”

Camille eyed Lemuel to see if he was joking, but he seemed completely serious.

“Sounds extravagant,” she said.

“Oh, it was, ridiculously so,” laughed Lemuel. “My wife pitched a fit when she found out how

much it cost. She called me a hypocrite, but it was so very beautiful while it lasted.”

Camille saw a shadow flicker on Lemuel’s face at the mention of his wife, and wondered if she

had been the woman in her vision. Intuition that had nothing to do with her gift kept her from

asking.

“I think it might be made of the same substance those giants are made of,” she said. “What was

it you called them, Syrbotae?”

“Yes, Syrbotae,” he said, “giants amongst men, like our grand host.”

Camille smiled, remembering that first sight of Magnus the Red as he emerged from the cave on

the Mountain. What magnificent visions would fill her head were she to touch the Crimson King?

The thought terrified and exhilarated her.

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“He was magnificent, wasn’t he?”

“Impressive, yes,” agreed Lemuel. “I think you might be right about that disc. It certainly looks

like the same material, but I’d have a hard time believing anything that big could be grown.”

“I suppose,” she said. “Do you think the Aghoru would allow us to study the giants?”

“I don’t know, maybe. You can ask.”

“I think I will,” said Camille. “I have a feeling there’s more to them than meets the eye.”

Camille looked back towards the Aghoru village as a personal speeder in the red and ivory of the

Thousand Sons skimmed towards the dig site from the village. Wide and disc-shaped, the speeder

floated low to the ground, leaving a puffed trail of ionised dust in its wake. Riding the speeder like a

floating chariot of antiquity was a single Astartes warrior.

“A friend of yours?” asked Lemuel.

“Yes, actually,” replied Camille, as the skimmer drifted to a halt beside her and Lemuel.

The warrior removed his golden helmet, a gesture few others of the Legion bothered with,

forgetting that mortals could not so easily tell them apart while they were clad in battle-plate.

His hair was a salt and pepper mix of grey and auburn, worn in long braids, and his face was

deeply lined, as if his scholarly mien had somehow aged his ageless physiology. His skin had been

pale when Camille had first met him, but like the rest of his battle-brothers, he was now the colour

of burnt umber.

His armour was dusty from travel in the open, the small raven symbol faded and almost

unnoticed in the centre of the serpentine star symbol of the Thousand Sons.

“Good day, Mistress Shivani,” said the Astartes, his voice hoary and brusque. “How go your

excavations?”

“Very well indeed, my Lord Anen,” said Camille. “There are lots of new artefacts and almost as

many wild theories to explain them. I’ve also found some more writings that might help us with the

inscriptions on the deadstones.”

“I look forward to studying them,” said the warrior, and his sincerity was genuine.

The limited number of remembrancers attached to the 28th Expedition had met with resistance

amongst the Legion of Magnus, but Ankhu Anen had been a rare exception. He had willingly

travelled with Camille to various sites around the mountain, both near and far, sharing her passion

for the past and what could be learned from it.

His eyes moved to Lemuel, and Camille said, “This is my friend, Lemuel Gaumon, he’s helping

me out with my wild theorising. Lemuel, this is Ankhu Anen.”

“The Guardian of the Great Library,” said Lemuel, extending his hand. “It is an honour to meet

you at last. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

The Astartes slowly extended his hand and took Lemuel’s. Ankhu Anen’s gauntlet easily

swallowed Lemuel’s hand, and Camille felt a flush of unease prickle her skin. A crackling tension

fizzled between Lemuel and Ankhu Anen, as though the air between them had suddenly become

charged with electricity.

“Have you indeed?” said Ankhu Anen. “I have, likewise, heard a great deal of you.”

“You have?” asked Lemuel, and Camille could tell he was surprised. “I didn’t think the

Thousand Sons paid us poor remembrancers much mind.”

“Just the ones that interest us,” replied Anen.

“I’m flattered,” replied Lemuel, “Then might I ask if you have read any of my papers?”

“No,” said Ankhu Anen, as though to have done so would be a waste of time. “I have not.”

“Oh,” said Lemuel, crestfallen, “well, perhaps I might offer you a selection of my works to read

sometime. Though I claim no great insight, you might find some sections of interest, particularly the

passages detailing the growth of society after the compliance of Twenty-Eight Fifteen.”

“Perhaps,” said the Astartes, “but I am not here to gather reading material, I am here to bring

you a summons.”

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“A summons? From whom?” asked Lemuel.

Ankhu Anen smiled.

“From Lord Ahriman,” he said.

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CHAPTER FIVE

The Probationer / Creation Myths / Memories of Terra

The interior of Ahriman’s pavilion was his place of calm. Spacious and well-aired, it was a refuge

from the heat of Aghoru. A walnut bookcase sat beside his bedroll, the books on its shelves like old

friends, well-thumbed and read countless times, as much for their familiarity as their words.

A battered copy of Akkadian Literary Forms sat alongside a translated copy of the Voynich

Manuscript and the Codex Seraphinianus. The Turba Philosophorum jostled for space with five of

the seven cryptical Books of Hzan and the Clavis Solomoni, together with assorted other texts that

would not attract unwelcome attention. But had anyone unlocked the hidden compartments secreted

within the body of the bookcase, they would have found far more provocative tomes.

Thuribles hung from sandalwood rafters, and a brazier of green flame burned at the heart of the

pavilion. Ahriman breathed in the heady mix of aromas, letting their calming influence ease his

passage into the lower Enumerations. He stared into the flames and directed his will along the

currents of the aether.

The future was mist and shadow, a blurred fog through which no meaning could penetrate. In

decades past, fractured timelines had shone through the veil of the empyrean, and Ahriman had seen

the echoes of futures yet to come as easily as a mortal man could guess what might happen were he

to step off a cliff.

The tides of the Great Ocean were a mystery to him, as unknowable as the far side of the world

was to mariners of old. Ahriman felt his concentration slipping, his frustration at his inability to

divine the future threatening to overcome his control. Concentration was the key that unlocked all

doors, lying at the heart of every practice of the Thousand Sons, and the means by which the greater

mysteries could be unravelled.

Angry with himself, Ahriman shook his head and opened his eyes, uncrossing his legs and rising

in one smooth motion. Dressed in crimson robes and a wide leather belt, from which hung a set of

bronze keys, he had foregone his armour for this meeting.

Sobek stood by the entrance to his pavilion, clad in his ruby plates of armour, and Ahriman felt

his disapproval.

“Speak,” commanded Ahriman. “Your aura wears at me. Speak and be done with it.”

“May I speak freely, my lord?”

“I just said you could,” snapped Ahriman, forcing himself to calm. “You are my Practicus, and if

there is no candour between us you will never achieve the rank of Philosophus.”

“It galls me to see you punished thus,” said Sobek. “To be forced to train a mortal in the

mysteries is no task for one such as you.”

“Punished?” asked Ahriman. “Is that what you think this is, punishment?”

“What else could it be?”

“The primarch has entrusted me with a great task, and this is but the first stage of it,” said

Ahriman. “Lemuel Gaumon is mortal and he has a little knowledge and a little power.”

Sobek snorted in derision and said, “That’s nothing unusual in the 28th Expedition.” Ahriman

smiled.

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“True,” he said, “but he is a child taking his first steps, unaware that he walks blindfold along

the edge of an abyss. I am to help him to remove that blindfold.”

“But why?”

“Because knowledge is a deadly friend, if no one sets the rules. It is our master’s wish that I

illuminate this mortal,” said Ahriman. “Or do you doubt the word of the Crimson King?”

Many of the Emperor’s sons had earned honourable names over the decades of war, not least of

whom was Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Luna Wolves, beloved son of the Emperor. Fulgrim’s

warriors knew their leader as the Phoenician, and the First Legion was led by the Lion. Magnus

alone of his brothers had earned a series of less than flattering names over the decades of war:

Sorcerer… Warlock…

So when Ahriman had heard his primarch was known among the 28th Expedition’s

remembrancers as the Crimson King, he had allowed the name to stand.

Sobek bowed and said, “Never, my lord. Lord Magnus is the fountainhead of our Legion, and I

will never doubt his course, no matter what.”

Ahriman nodded, sensing the presence of Lemuel Gaumon beyond the canopy of his pavilion.

He felt the man’s aura, its light dull and unfocussed among the glittering flares of his fellow

legionaries. Where they shone with purity and focus, Gaumon’s was blurred and raw, like an

unshielded lumen globe, bright in its own way, but unpleasant to look upon for more than a moment.

“Gaumon is without, Sobek,” said Ahriman. “Send him in.”

Sobek nodded and left the pavilion, returning a moment later with a heavyset man dressed in a

long crimson robe with loose sleeves and a crest of one of the Nordafrik conclaves stitched on his

left breast, Sangha, if Ahriman remembered correctly. Lemuel’s skin was dark, though not the dark

of those who had been tanned by the Aghoru sun. Ahriman smelled the man’s body odour even over

the megaleion oil coating his skin.

“Welcome,” said Ahriman, modulating his accent to a more natural, fluid tone and indicating the

rug beside the brazier. “Please, sit.”

Lemuel lowered himself to the rag, clutching a battered notebook to his chest as Sobek

withdrew, leaving them alone.

Ahriman sat before Lemuel and said, “I am Ahzek Ahriman, Chief Librarian of the Thousand

Sons.” Lemuel nodded vigorously.

“I know who you are, my lord,” he said. “I’m honoured you sent for me.”

“Do you know why I sent for you?”

“I confess I do not.”

“It is because you have power, Lemuel Gaumon,” said Ahriman. “You can see the currents of

the aether that flow through the world from the Great Ocean. You may not know the names, but you

know of what I speak.”

Lemuel shook his head, flustered and caught off guard.

“I think you must be mistaken, my lord,” said Lemuel, and Ahriman laughed at the sudden panic

in his aura.

Lemuel held up his notebook and said, “Please, my lord, I am just a humble remembrancer.”

“No,” said Ahriman, leaning forward and projecting a measure of fire into his aura. “You are far

more than that. You are a wielder of sorcery, a witch!”

It was a simple trick, an invisible domination to cow weaker minds. The effect was immediate.

Waves of fear and guilt washed from Lemuel in a tide. Ahriman rose through the Enumerations to

shield himself from the man’s raw terror.

“Please… I do no harm to anyone,” pleaded Lemuel. “I’m not a witch, I swear, I just read old

books. I don’t know any spells or anything, please!”

“Be at peace, Lemuel,” chuckled Ahriman, holding up an outstretched hand. “I am teasing you. I

am no fool of a witch hunter, and did not summon you to condemn you. I am going to liberate you.”

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“Liberate me?” asked Lemuel, his breathing returning to normal. “From what?”

“From your blindness and limitations,” said Ahriman. ' You have power, but you do not know

how to wield it with any skill. I can show you how you can use what power you have, and I can

show you how to use it to see things you cannot imagine.”

Ahriman read the suspicion in Lemuel’s aura, and eased it with a nudge of his own powers, as an

animal is calmed by soft words and a gentle touch. The man had no banters whatsoever in his mind,

his psyche undefended and open to the tides of the Great Ocean. In that instant of contact, Ahriman

knew the man’s every secret. He saw the barb of sorrow in the man’s heart and mellowed,

understanding that the grief driving him echoed his own.

Power was no salve to that grief, and Lemuel Gaumon would realise that in time. That crashing

realisation could wait though; there was no need to dash his hopes just yet.

“You are so vulnerable, and you don’t even realise it,” said Ahriman softly.

“My lord?”

“Tell me what you know of the Great Ocean.”

“I don’t know that term.”

“The warp,” said Ahriman. “The empyrean.”

“Oh. Not much really,” admitted Lemuel. He took a deep breath before continuing, like a

student afraid of giving the wrong answer. “It’s a kind of higher dimension, a psychic realm where

starships can travel far faster than normal. It allows astrotelepaths to communicate and, well, that’s

about it.”

“That is broadly true, but the Great Ocean is so much more than that, Lemuel. It is the home of

the Primordial Creator, the energy that drives all things. It is a reflection of our universe and we are

a reflection of it. What occurs in one affects the other, and like a planetary ocean, it is not without its

predators. Your mind, dull though it is, shines like a beacon in the ocean for the creatures that lurk

in its depths. Were I to allow you to use your powers unchecked, you would soon be dead.”

Lemuel swallowed and placed the notebook beside him.

“I had no idea,” he said. “I just thought… I mean, I don’t know what I thought. I figured I was

able to tap into parts of my mind others weren’t able to. I could see lights around people, their auras,

and I learned to read them, to understand what they were feeling. Does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense. Those lights, as you call them, are aetheric echoes of a person’s

emotion, health and power. A shadow self of that person exists in the Great Ocean, a reflection of

their psyche that imprints itself in its currents.”

Lemuel shook his head with a wry smile and said, “This is a lot to take in, my lord.”

“I understand that,” said Ahriman. “I do not expect you to absorb it all just now. You will

become my Probationer, and begin your studies on the morrow.”

“Do I have a choice in this?”

“Not if you want to live.”

“Tomorrow,” said Lemuel. “Lucky I happened to be selected for the 28th Expedition, eh?”

“If there is one thing I have come to know in my long years of study, it is that there is no such

thing as luck when it comes to the positioning of the universe’s chess pieces. Your coming here was

no accident. I was meant to train you. I have seen it,” said Ahriman.

“You saw the future?” asked Lemuel. “You knew I was going to be here and that this was all

going to happen?”

“Many years ago, I saw you standing on the streets of Prospero in the robes of a Neophyte.”

“On Prospero!” said Lemuel, his aura shimmering with his excitement. “And a Neophyte, that’s

one of your ranks, isn’t it?”

“It is,” confirmed Ahriman, “a very low one.”

“And you saw this? It’s the future? That’s amazing!”

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Ahriman smiled at how easily mortals were impressed by such powers. How impressed and,

more often, how frightened.

“In years past, I could travel the Great Ocean and open my eyes to a world of potential futures,”

explained Ahriman. “To do that is no great trick, even mortals can do it. But to read those currents

and sort meaning and truth from the chaos is a skill beyond all but the most gifted of seers.”

“Will I be able read it?”

“No,” said Ahriman, “not without decades of training by the Corvidae. To read the multi-

dimensional patterns of the Great Ocean and lift meaning from the meaningless requires two

modalities of thought. Firstly, the rapid, accurate and efficient movement of thought from concept to

concept, whereby all ideas become one; and secondly, the halting of thought altogether, were one

idea is reduced to nothing. I have an eidetic memory, a mind crafted by the greatest technologists of

the forgotten ages that allows me to do this. You do not.”

“Then what can I do?”

“First you must learn how to shield your consciousness from danger,” said Ahriman, rising to

his feet. “When you have accomplished that, then we will see what you can do.”

The alien Titans towered above him, majestic and powerful, but Khalophis wasn’t impressed. True,

they were bigger than Canis Vertex, but they had none of the robust brutality of the Warlord

guarding the gates of the Pyrae cult’s temple. He stepped back, craning his neck to see the elongated

curves of their mighty head sections.

Phosis T’kar had told Khalophis of the giant statues, and he’d wanted to see them for himself, to

measure himself against them.

He turned from the towering constructs to face his warriors. A dozen Astartes from the 6th

Fellowship stood behind the black altar, an object that reeked of dark rites of sacrifice. He’d listened

at the Rehahti as his primarch had explained that the Mountain was a place of remembrance for the

dead and was to be treated with respect. That didn’t change the fact that Khalophis simply didn’t

trust the Aghoru.

Their masked leader stood with ten other tribesmen, all with their faces obscured by mirrored

masks. Their presence had been a condition of allowing Khalophis and his warriors to come to the

valley. That spoke of subterfuge. Why would the Aghoru not want the Legion to come to their

valley?

“What do you have to hide?” he whispered, unheard by any save himself.

The masked leader of the Aghoru was looking at him, and Khalophis gestured towards the giant

constructs.

“Do you know what these are?” he asked.

“They are the guardians of the Mountain,” said the tribesman.

“Maybe they were once, but now they are just expensive statues.”

“They are the guardians,” repeated the masked tribesman.

“They are Titans,” said Khalophis, slowly, “giant war machines. In ages past they could level

cities and lay-waste to entire armies, but now they are dead.”

“Our legends say they will walk again, when the Daiesthai break the bonds of their eternal

prison.”

“I don’t know what that means, but they won’t walk again,” said Khalophis. “They are just

machines, dead machines.”

He pointed up towards the giant head of the construct. “The princeps would sit up there if this

was an Imperial Titan, but since it’s alien, who knows what’s really in there? A giant brain in a jar, a

wired-in collective of self-aware robots, it could be anything.”

The Aghoru tribesman said, “What is a princeps? Is that a god?”

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Khalophis laughed uproariously. “He might as well be. It’s not a term in favour, but what else

really gets the sense of it across? An Astartes is a god to mortals, a Titan… Well, that’s the god of

the battlefield. Even the Legions take note when the engines of the Mechanicum walk.”

“These have never walked,” said the tribesman, “not as long as we have known them. We hope

they never do.”

“It’s Yatiri, isn’t it?” asked Khalophis, bending down.

“Yes, Brother Khalophis, that is my name.”

“I am not your brother,” he hissed. Even cut off from his powers and unable to communicate

with his Tutelary, Khalophis felt energised, not with the surging tides of aether that normally

empowered him, but by the act of domination.

“We are all brothers,” said Yatiri, calm in the face of his hostility. “Is that not what your great

leader teaches? He tells us that we are all one race, divided by a great catastrophe, but drawing

together once more under the watchful eye of the great Sky Emperor.”

“That’s true enough,” conceded Khalophis. “But not all who were divided wish to be drawn

together again. Some of them fight us.”

“We are not fighting you,” said Yatiri. “We welcome your coming.”

“That’s your story,” said Khalophis, leaning on the altar and regarding the mortal through the

green-hued lenses of his battle helm. Though this was designated a compliant world, Khalophis had

his combat senses to the fore. The Aghoru falarica were picked out in white, the tribesmen

themselves in red, though the threat indicators were negligible.

“We are the story,” said Yatiri. “From the moment your leader set foot on our lands, we became

part of it.”

“That’s remembrancer talk,” spat Khalophis. “And I don’t trust people who wear masks,

especially masks like mirrors. I ask myself what they’re hiding behind them.”

“You wear a mask,” pointed out Yatiri, walking past Khalophis towards the cave mouth.

“This is a helmet.”

“It achieves the same thing, it conceals your features.”

“Why do you wear them?” asked Khalophis, following the tribesman towards the towering

guardians of the Mountain.

“Why do you?” countered Yatiri without turning.

“For protection. My helmet is armoured and it has saved my life on more than one occasion.”

“I wear this mask for protection also,” said Yatiri, reaching the foot of the leftmost giant.

“From what? Your tribes do not make war on one another and there are no predators of any great

size on this world. Where is the need?” asked Khalophis.

Yatiri turned and rested his hand on the smooth surface of the enormous foot. This close to the

giants, the scale of them was truly breathtaking. Khalophis thought back to the fire-blackened ruins

of Kamenka Ulizarna and the sight of Magnus the Red standing before the might of the greenskin

colossus. That had been a battle to remember, and standing this close to an alien war engine made

him fully appreciate the power of his beloved leader.

“Our legends speak of a time when this world belonged to a race of elder beings known as

Elohim ,” said Yatiri, squatting beside the enormous foot, “a race so beautiful that they fell in love

with the wonder of their own form.”

Yatiri turned his gaze towards the cave mouth and said, “The Elohim found a source of great

power and used it to walk amongst the stars like gods, shaping worlds in their own image and

crafting an empire amongst the heavens to rival the gods. They indulged their every whim, denied

themselves nothing and lived an immortal life of desire.”

“Sounds like a good life,” said Khalophis, casting a suspicious glance into the darkness.

“For a time it was,” agreed Yatiri, “but such hubris cannot long go unpunished. The Elohim

abused the source of their power, corrupting it with their wanton decadence, and it turned on them.

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Their entire race was virtually destroyed in a single night of blood. Their worlds fell and the oceans

drank the land. But that was not the worst of it.”

“Really? That sounds bad enough,” said Khalophis, bored by Yatiri’s tale. Creation and

destruction myths were a common feature in most cultures, morality tales used to control emerging

generations. This one was little different from a hundred others he had read in the libraries of

Prospero.

“The Elohim were all but extinct, but among the pitiful survivors, some were twisted by the

power that had once served them. They became the Daiesthai, a race as cruel as they had once been

beautiful. The Elohim fought the Daiesthai, eventually driving them back to the shadows beneath

the world. Their power was broken and they had not the means to destroy the Daiesthai, so with the

last of their power, they raised the Mountain to seal their prison and set these giants to guard against

their return. The Daiesthai remain imprisoned beneath the world, but their hunger for death can

never be sated, and so we bring them the dead of our tribes at every turning of the world to ensure

their eternal slumber continues.”

“That’s a pretty tale,” said Khalophis, “but it doesn’t explain why you wear those masks.”

“' We are the inheritors of the Elohim’s world, and their destruction serves as a warning against

the temptations of vanity and self-obsession. Our masks are a way of ensuring we do not fall as they

fell.”

Khalophis considered that for a moment.

“Do you ever take them off?” he asked.

“For bathing, yes.”

“What about mating?”

Yatiri shook his head and said, “It is unseemly for you to ask, but you are not Aghoru, so I will

answer. No, we do not take them off, even then, as pleasures of the flesh were among the greatest

vices of the Elohim.”

“That explains why there’re so few of you on this world,” said Khalophis, wanting nothing more

than to return to the encampment and re-establish his connection to Sioda. With the power of the

Pyrae in ascendance, his Tutelary was a winged essence of shimmering fire. His connection with

Sioda allowed Khalophis and the 6th Fellowship to burn entire armies to ashes without firing a

single shot from their many guns.

The thought empowered him and he snarled, feeling his anger rise to the fore. It was good to feel

controlled aggression after so long keeping it in check. This world was nothing to the Thousand

Sons, and he railed against their enforced presence here when there were wars to be fought

elsewhere. The Wolf King had demanded their presence in battle, and yet they wasted time on a

forgotten world that offered nothing of value.

Khalophis reached out and ran his hand across the Titan’s foot, feeling the smoothness of its

surface. Such a material must surely be brittle, and he longed to destroy it. He clenched his fists and

dropped into a boxer’s stance.

“What are you doing?” cried Yatiri, leaping to his feet.

Khalophis didn’t answer. The strength in his arms built, the strength to shatter steel and buckle

the hull of an armoured vehicle. He pictured exactly where his fists would strike.

“Please, Brother Khalophis!” begged Yatiri, putting himself between Khalophis and the

enormous, splay-clawed foot. “Stop this, please!”

Khalophis distilled his focus into his clenched fists, but the blows did not land. His

consciousness rooted itself in the eighth sphere of the Enumerations, but he forced his thoughts into

the seventh, calming his aggression and shackling it to that more contemplative state of being.

“Your strength would be wasted,” cried Yatiri. “The guardians are impervious to harm!”

Khalophis lowered his arms and stepped back from the target of his violence.

“Is that what you think?” he asked. “Then what’s that?”

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Rising from the ground and spreading into the foot of the towering construct like cracks in

stonework, thin black lines oozed upwards like malevolent, poisoned veins.

“Daiesthai?” hissed Yatiri.

Kneeling on the sun disc of his glittering pyramid, Magnus closed his first eye and unshackled his

body of light from his flesh. His captains and warriors required the Enumerations to achieve the

separation from flesh, but Magnus had mastered spirit travel in the aether without being aware that

such a thing might be considered difficult.

The Enumerations were philosophical and conceptual tools to allow a practitioner of the

mysteries to sift through the myriad complexities involved in bending the universe to his will. Such

was his gift, the ability to achieve the impossible without knowing it was beyond comprehension.

On a world such as Aghoru, that process was eased by the aetheric winds that blew invisibly

across the planet’s surface. The Great Ocean pressed in, as though around a precious and delicate

bubble. Magnus plucked a thought from the third Enumeration to express the concept; this world

was a perfect sphere, structurally impossible to improve upon, yet the Mountain was a flaw, a means

by which that perfect balance might be upset. When he had entered the cave with Yatiri, he had

observed all the formalities of the Aghoru ritual of the dead, but the pointless chanting and somatic

posturing had amused him with its naivety.

The Aghoru truly believed they placated some dormant race of devils imprisoned beneath the

earth, but the time was not yet right to disabuse them of that notion. Standing in the dark of the cave,

he could feel the vast pressure of the Great Ocean far beneath his feet, leeching up through wards

worn thin by uncounted aeons.

There were no devils beneath the Mountain, only the promise of something so incredible that it

took Magnus’ breath away. It was too early to be certain, but if he was right, the benefit to the

human race would be beyond imaging.

What lay beneath the Mountain was a gateway, an entrance to an indescribably vast and

complex network of pathways through the Great Ocean, as though an unseen network of veins

threaded the flesh of the universe. To gain control of that network would allow humanity free rein

over the stars, the chance to step from one side of the galaxy to the other in the blink of an eye.

There was danger, of course there was. He could not simply open this gate without the Great

Ocean spilling out with disastrous consequences. The secret to unlocking this world’s great potential

would be in careful study, meticulous research and gradual experimentation. As Yatiri intoned the

meaningless rituals for the dead, Magnus had drawn a filament of that power upwards, and had

tasted the vast potential of it. It was raw, this power, raw and vital. His flesh ached for its touch

again.

The things he could do with such power.

Magnus rose up, leaving his corporeal body kneeling upon the sun disc. Freed from the

limitations of flesh, his body truly came alive, a lattice of senses beyond the paltry few understood

by those whose only life was that lived on the mundane realms of existence.

“I will free you all from the cave,” said Magnus, his voice unheard beyond the walls of the

pyramid. His body of light shot through the pyramid’s peak, rising into the night sky of Aghoru, and

Magnus relished this chance to soar without company or protection.

The Mountain reared over him, its immense presence towering in its majesty.

He rose up thousands of metres, and still it dwarfed his presence.

Magnus shot higher into the sky, a brilliant missile that twisted, spun and wove glittering

traceries of light in the sky. His dizzying flight was invisible to all, for Magnus desired to remain

alone, and masked his presence from even his captains.

He flew as close to the Mountain as he could, feeling the black wall of null energy radiating

from artfully fashioned rocks and peaks designed with but a single purpose: to contain the roiling,

unpredictable energies trapped beneath it.

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Magnus spun around the mountain, relishing the aetheric winds whipping around his body of

light. Ancient mystics had known the body of light as the linga sarira, a double of the physical body

they believed could be conjured into existence with time, effort and will, essentially creating a

means to live forever. Though untrue, it was a noble belief.

Onwards and upwards he flew. The atmosphere grew thin, yet the subtle body needed no oxygen

or heat or light to sustain it. Will and energy were its currency, and Magnus had a limitless supply of

both.

The sun was a fading disc of light above him, and he flew ever upwards, spreading his arms like

wings as he bathed in the warmth of the invisible currents of energy that permeated every corner of

this world. The world below was a distant memory, the encampment of the Thousand Sons a

pinprick of light in the darkness.

He saw the vast swathe of the galaxy, the misty whiteness of the Milky Way, the gleam of

distant stars and the impossible gulfs that separated them. Throughout history, men and women had

looked up at these stars and dreamed of one day travelling between them. They had balked at

distances so vast the human mind was incapable of conceiving them, and then bent their minds to

overcoming the difficulties in doing so.

Now the chance to take those stars, to master the galaxy once and for all, was in their grasp.

Magnus would be the architect of that mastery. The ships of the Thousand Sons hung motionless in

the void above him, the Photep, the Scion of Prospero and the Ankhtowe. Together with

Mechanicum forge vessels, Administratum craft and a host of bulk cruisers bearing army soldiers of

the Prospero Spireguard, they made up this portion of the 28th Expedition.

Up here, bathed in light and energy, Magnus was free of his earthly limitations, self-imposed

though many of them were. Here, he saw with perfect clarity, his form unbound by the laws and

bargains made by both him and his creator. Unlike his brothers, Magnus remembered his conception

and growth, recalling with perfect clarity the bond that existed between him and his father.

Even as he was forged in the white heat of genius, he spoke with his father, listening to his grand

dreams, the colossal scale of his vision and his own place within it. As a mother might talk to the

unborn babe in her womb, so did the Emperor speak with Magnus.

But where a growing child knows nothing of the world outside, Magnus knew everything.

He remembered, decades later, returning to the world of his birth to travel its forgotten highways

and explore its lost mysteries with his father. The Emperor had taught him more of the secret powers

of the universe, imparting his wisdom while little realising that the student was on the verge of

outstripping the teacher. They had walked the searing red deserts of Meganesia, travelling the

invisible pathways once known as songlines by the first people to walk that land.

Other cultures knew them as ley lines or lung-mei, believing them to be the blood of the gods,

the magnetic flow of mystical energy that circulated in the planet’s veins. His father told him how

the ancient shamans of Old Earth could tap into these currents and wield power beyond that of other

mortals. Many had sought to become gods, raising empires and enslaving all men before them.

The Emperor spoke of how these men had brought ruin upon themselves and their people by

trafficking with powers beyond their comprehension. Seeing Magnus’ interest, his father warned

him against flying too long and too high in the aether for selfish gain.

Magnus listened attentively, but in his secret heart he had dreamed of controlling the powers

these mortals could not. He was a being of light so far removed from humanity that he barely

considered himself related to his primordial ancestors. He was far above them, yes, but he did not

allow himself to forget the legacy of evolution and sacrifice that had elevated him. It was his duty

and his honour to speed the ascension of those who would come after him, to show them the light as

his father had shown him.

In those early days, Terra was a changing world, a planet reborn in the image of its new master

as shining cities and grand wonders were raised to mark this turn in humanity’s fortunes. The

crowning glory of this new age was his father’s palace, a continent-sized monument to the

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unimaginable achievement of Unity. It took shape on the highest reaches of the world, a landmass of

architecture to serve as an undeniable symbol of Terra’s new role as a lodestar for humanity. It

would be a shining beacon in a galaxy starved of illumination during the lightless ages.

Magnus had studied the ancient texts his father had assembled within the Librarius Terra,

devouring them all with a hunger that bordered on obsession. He stared into the heavens from the

Great Observatory, toppled mountaintops with his brothers upon the Martial Spires and, greatest of

all, soared upon the aether with his father.

He had watched in amusement as Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus vied for supremacy in the

Terrawatt forges beneath Mount Narodnya, debated the nature of the universe with Lorgar in the

Hall of Leng, and met ever more of his brothers as they travelled to the world that had birthed them.

He had felt a kinship with some, a brotherhood he had not known he craved until it was right in

front of him. With others, he felt nothing; hostility even, but he had not returned that hostility. The

future would vindicate him.

When the time had come to make his way in the stars, it was bittersweet. It had seen him parted

from his beloved father, but could not have come soon enough for his warriors, as the gene-defects

that plagued them were growing ever more severe.

Magnus had led his Legion to Prospero, and there he had…

There he had done what needed to be done to save his sons.

Thinking of his Legion, he turned his gaze from the stars and remembered his father’s warning

of flying too high and too far on the aether. He turned his flight back to earth, dropping like a comet

towards the surface of Aghoru. The dark ground raced up to meet him, the encampment of the

Thousand Sons like a lone campfire on an empty prairie. The minds of his warriors were the flames,

some gently wavering, others blazing with ambition.

Magnus slowed his descent, feeling the heat of one flame in particular.

Ahriman. Always it was Ahriman who burned brighter than the others.

His Chief Librarian stood before his pavilion with Sobek at his side. He was speaking with three

mortals whose minds were little more than faded embers.

Magnus read them in an instant and knew them better than they knew themselves.

One was Lemuel Gaumon, Ahriman’s new Probationer. The taller of the two women was

Camille Shivani, a psychometric, while the slighter one was Kallista Eris, an asemic writer.

She carried a handful of papers, though her aura told Magnus she was unhappy to be holding

them. Shivani stood behind Gaumon, who spoke with some force to Ahriman.

Ahriman stared at the page he had been handed. Magnus floated closer to Ahriman, reading

what was written.

Over and over and over again, the same phrase. The Wolves are coming.

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CHAPTER SIX

Skarssen / The Demands of War / Wyrdmake

It was a day like any other. The sun beat down on the salt plains of Aghoru, the shimmer haze and

dryness of the air as punishing as it always had been. A hot wind blew from the Mountain, snapping

at the scores of scarab and hawk banners of the Thousand Sons as they formed up into two lines on

either side of a processional a kilometre long.

Five Fellowships of the Legion, nearly six thousand Astartes, stood resplendent in crimson and

ivory battle armour, jade scarabs gleaming on breastplates, golden crests rearing from the atef

helmets of the Scarab Occult. The deshrets of the rest of the Legion were polished and plumed with

gold and amethyst.

It was a day like any other, but for one thing.

The Wolves were coming.

Word had come down from the Photep that a small fleet of Astartes vessels had translated from

the Great Ocean and was closing with Aghoru with frightening speed. Like a blade through water,

the fleet had sliced through the outer reaches of the system on the swiftest route towards the 28th

Expedition’s anchorage. Auspex interrogation protocols revealed them to be ships of the Space

Wolves, but the Thousand Sons already knew who they were.

Magnus had shown no surprise when Ahriman had presented Kallista Eris’ words, merely

ordering his captains to have the Legion ready to parade at dawn. To sense the arrival of a fleet of

ships through the warp should have been no great feat for the Thousand Sons, but, save for Magnus,

none of its warriors had any inkling of the imminent arrival of the Space Wolves. Ahriman had

broached this with Magnus, but the primarch had dismissed his concerns, saying that while their

understanding of the currents of the fluid medium in which starships travelled was second to none, it

was not infallible.

That hadn’t reassured Ahriman.

Thousands of Legion serfs gathered to witness this reunion of brothers, though they watched

proceedings from afar. The remembrancers too were kept at a distance, including Magnus’ personal

scribe, Mahavastu Kallimakus. Ahriman sensed Lemuel, Camille and Kallista among them, sharing

their sense of foreboding. He feared there was more to Kallista Eris’ message than he understood,

yet a night spent in contemplation trying to divine the echoes of the future from the Great Ocean had

once again met with failure.

The frustration of the remembrancers at being excluded from today’s proceedings was palpable,

but this was a meeting of Astartes, a private thing. As auspicious as this day was, there was no

mistaking the martial atmosphere, or the tension in the too rigid, too precise postures of the

Thousand Sons.

This was not simply an honour guard to welcome a brother Legion: this was a show of force, a

warning, and a declaration of purpose all in one.

The primarch stood beneath a glorious canopy of white silk held aloft by sixty bronze-skinned

Legion eunuchs and attended by eighty-one Terminators of the Scarab Occult. Dressed in his full

battle-plate, Magnus had eschewed many of the more intricate accoutrements of his armour in

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favour of a simpler aesthetic, one more suited to the directness of the Wolves. A cloak of dark mail

hung from the golden pauldrons of his armour and his plumed helmet rose like a glorious cockade.

His great book was absent, secreted within his pavilion behind locks that none save him could open.

Ahriman glanced at the sky, a searing white plate of metal ready to press its great weight down

upon them. He would not see the iron-grey drop-ships until they were almost upon them, but kept

looking anyway. The inconstant forms of the Tutelaries shimmered above their heads, barely visible

against the glare of the sunlight on armour plates. Aaetpio flickered in and out of sight, its

nervousness matching his wariness. Utipa and Paeoc held close to their masters, while Sioda pulsed

in time with Khalophis’ heartbeat, red as blood.

Uthizzar’s Tutelary, Ephra, was almost invisible, a hidden skein of timid luminosity that shrank

from proximity to the others of its kind.

“They spend all this time racing to get here, and then can’t hurry up now that we’re ready for

them,” complained Phosis T’kar.

“Vintage Space Wolves,” said Hathor Maat, and Ahriman saw that his brother had shaped his

flesh into a less sculpted cast, no longer the porcelain features of ancient statue, more the rugged

warrior. “Isn’t that right, Uthizzar?”

Uthizzar nodded without looking at Maat. “The warriors of Russ are unpredictable. Except in

matters of war,” he said.

“You should know,” said Phosis T’kar. “You served with them for a time.”

“For a short time only,” said Uthizzar softly. “They are… not fond of outsiders.”

“Ha!” barked Phosis T’kar. “They sound just like us. I almost like them already.”

“The Wolves? They’re barbarians,” said Khalophis, surprising them all. He bristled like the

alpha male of a hunting pack. The Captain of the 6th Fellowship was a brutal man, but Ahriman

understood his sentiment. As much as he relished destruction, Khalophis was never imprecise or

needless with his violence.

“Kindred spirits for you, Khalophis,” said Hathor Maat. “You should get on famously.”

“Say what you will, Pavoni, but don’t think I can’t see your newly-fleshed features.”

“Merely adapting to the circumstances,” replied Hathor Maat archly, his Tutelary flickering with

irritation.

“Why do you call them barbarians?” asked Phosis T’kar. “No disrespect, but you are not a subtle

man.”

“I know what you’re thinking, but I have studied their campaigns and they are a blunt instrument

of war. There is no subtlety or precision to their fights, simply swathes of destruction without

control. When the Emperor unleashes them, be sure not to get in their way, for when the Wolves slip

their leash, nothing will stop them until only ashes remain. Perturabo’s warriors, now that’s

controlled aggression. We could all learn a lot from them. Precise force delivered exactly where it is

needed.”

“For once I feel myself in agreement with Khalophis,” said Ahriman. “I must be ill.”

They laughed, though Ahriman saw Uthizzar’s grimace.

As part of their training, all Captains of Fellowship undertook a secondment to another Legion

to learn its ways and further the Thousand Sons’ understanding of the galaxy. Khalophis had served

with the Iron Warriors, a Legion he admired and ranked second only to the Thousand Sons. Phosis

T’kar fought alongside the Luna Wolves, and never tired of regaling his brothers with tales of

meeting Horus Lupercal, or boasting of his close friendship with Hastur Sejanus and Ezekyle

Abaddon, the First Primarch’s closest lieutenants.

Hathor Maat’s secondment had seen him serving with the Emperor’s Children in their earliest

days as they fought alongside the Luna Wolves. As Hathor Maat told it, he had caught the

Phoenician’s eye with his perfectly moulded features, and had fought within his sight on many an

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occasion. Maat’s proudest possession was an Oath of Moment carved by Fulgrim, and fixed to his

breastplate as he took his leave to return to Prospero.

Uthizzar’s secondment had been amongst the shortest ever served, lasting a little less than a

Terran year. Ahriman was never sure whether the Wolves or Uthizzar had ended the exchange.

Athanaeans shunned large gatherings or those whose thoughts were too loud, too brutal, too jagged

and too raucous.

Ahriman had spent five years with the Word Bearers, learning much of their Legion and

methods of war. It had been an unhappy time for Ahriman, for the scions of Lorgar were a zealous

Legion, their devotion to the Master of Mankind bordering on the fanatical. All the Legions were

devoted to their lord and his cause, but the Word Bearers lived and fought with the passion of those

who claimed to carry the fire of the divine before them.

Their auras had been blazing pillars of certainty; certainty Ahriman felt was unwarranted, for it

was unsupported by foundations of knowledge. Some called it faith, Ahriman called it hopeful

ignorance. Save for a warrior named Erebus, he had made few friends in the XVII Legion, for their

fervour left no room for those who did not share its passion.

Lorgar’s Legion bore an inauspicious number, for in the traditions of ancient Tali, the number

seventeen was one of ill-fortune. XVII was considered as the anagram and numerical value for the

ancient Gothic expression VIXI, which meant, “I lived”, and whose logical extension was, therefore,

“I am dead”.

Ahriman’s thoughts were dragged back to the present by a wordless expression of unease from

Aaetpio. He looked up to see a pair of angular grey aircraft plunging down through the hard yellow

sky, dropping as though their engines had failed. They screamed down, flaming contrails blazing

from the leading edges of their wings.

“They’re in a hurry,” said Phosis T’kar.

“Is that a good thing?” asked Ahriman.

“No,” said Uthizzar, his face pale beneath the darkness of his browned skin. “It is never good

when the Wolves race towards you.”

“You can read them?” asked Hathor Maat. “Even from here?”

“I could read their thoughts from orbit,” said Uthizzar, fighting to keep his tone even.

Ahriman watched as the drop-ships fell, plotting their approach vectors and realising they would

miss the landing fields.

“Something’s wrong,” he said. “They are off target. Way off.”

The drop-ships fell like meteors that would impact on the salt flats and leave nothing behind

save devastation and a giant crater. The image fixed in Ahriman’s mind for a moment, and he

wondered if it was imagination or a fragmentary glimpse of the future.

The drop-ships fired their engines just as Ahriman was sure it was too late to arrest their descent,

the roar of retros like the howls of a thousand wolves as they slammed down, off to the side of

Magnus’ silk canopy. Gritty clouds of exhaust roared out from the landing site, a hurricane of hot air

and burned salt crystals. The gene-bulked eunuchs fought to hold the wind-blown canopy down in

the face of the drop-ships’ jetwash.

Even before the obscuring clouds had begun to dissipate, the assault ramps of the drop-ships

slammed down. Grey-armoured figures emerged from the swirling, stinging smoke; their lithe

power wolf-clad, sure and honed to a lethal edge, a pack of voracious predators who relish the fight

at bay. Leading them was a figure in grey, a leather-masked warrior of pure, streamlined aggression.

Amlodhi Skarssen Skarssensson, Lord of the 5th Company of the Space Wolves.

Ahriman hadn’t known what to expect from the Space Wolves. Uthizzar had not exactly been

forthcoming after his secondment had ended. They were not friends enough for him to press for

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details, but he had assumed the grand tales and hyperbolic praise heaped upon the sons of Russ was

the exaggeration of storytellers. Now he knew that was not so.

A pack of slavering wolves, dappled grey and white, with powerful, muscular shoulders, ranged

ahead of the Astartes. Their eyes, slitted yellow, were locked on Magnus, and their jaws drew back

to expose masses of long, overdeveloped fangs like ivory daggers.

The wolves snapped and snarled, and their monstrous, shaggy heads swung from side to side, as

though deciding what to attack first.

Behind the wolves came hulking warriors in steeldust Terminator armour, with Amlodhi

Skarssen Skarssensson at their head. He marched through the smoke and dust towards the ruin of

Magnus’ pavilion, shoulders down as though he were advancing into the teeth of a blizzard. His

armour was the battered grey of a thundercloud, and a blackened wolf pelt was secured around his

neck on a bone clasp, the slain beast’s enormous skull and teeth forming his right shoulder guard.

Instead of a helmet, Skarssen wore a tight-fitting leather mask fashioned in the form of some

hideous amalgam of wolf and demon, lacquered and pierced with fragments of stone. His eyes

shone through the mask, cold flint to match the grey of his armour, and a black-bladed axe with an

edge like napped obsidian was sheathed across his back.

His warriors were no less feral, their weapons and armour festooned with talismans and fetishes

torn from the corpses of wolves. They followed in their leader’s wake, carried along in the

slipstream of his march, juggernauts of ceramite that Ahriman wasn’t sure were going to stop.

He rose through the Enumerations, outraged at this blatantly challenging behaviour. Aaetpio

squalled in fear, and Ahriman’s concentration slipped as his Tutelary fled to the sanctuary of the

Great Ocean. He looked back at the snarling wolves, their form blurring for a moment as they stared

at him with intelligent eyes that were chilling in their perception.

It took him a moment to realise that all the Tutelaries had fled. Anger turned to momentary

confusion, and all eyes turned to Magnus.

Ahriman felt his primarch’s soothing presence in his mind, the words unspoken, but heard by all

the Captains of Fellowship.

Hold, my sons, this is posturing, nothing more.

The giant wolves halted, forming a rough semi-circle around them and the terrified eunuchs. The

wolves lowered their heads, teeth bared. The urge to send a pulse of destructive energy along the

length of his heqa staff was almost overwhelming.

“Magnus the Red,” said Skarssen, as though there might be some doubt. His voice was booming

and harsh, the voice of a killer. “I am called Amlodhi Skarssen Skarssensson, Lord of the 5th

Company of the Space Wolves, and I bring a call to arms from Leman Russ, Great Wolf of the

Legions of Fenris. You are to muster your forces and make all haste to the Ark Reach Cluster. This

the Wolf King commands.”

To stand before a being so mighty as a primarch and deliver such a baldly aggressive demand

beggared belief. Without being aware of it moving, he realised his hand was on the butt of his gun,

and seething waves of outrage shone in the auras of his fellow captains.

His limbs trembled with aetheric energies, the gently lapping tide within roiling into a series of

roaring breakers that demanded release. The influence of the Corvidae was at its lowest ebb, but

Ahriman could still draw on the power of the Great Ocean to unleash phenomenal powers of

destruction.

The aether swelled around him as he built energy in his flesh. This was what it meant to be alive,

to tap into the wellspring of the Primordial Creator and wield that power as deftly as a swordsman

wields a blade.

That energy swirled around Skarssen and his warriors, yet where it easily passed through the

Astartes of the Thousand Sons, the Space Wolves were anathema to it. Skarssen’s aura was little

more than a dulled haze, like winter sunrise through thick fog.

Was Skarssen veiled?

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That seemed unlikely, though perhaps the many fetishes hanging from his armour were shielding

him. The protection offered by such talismans was largely illusory, but belief in such things could be

a potent force. Even as he formed the thought, Ahriman caught a flash of a bearded warrior in a

leather skullcap in the midst of the Terminators, like a shadow amongst the deeper darkness or a

whisper in a thunderstorm.

He sensed kindred power, but in the instant of its recognition, it vanished.

“Show some damned respect!” snarled Phosis T’kar, and the moment passed.

The captain of the 2nd Fellowship stepped forward with his heqa staff planted in the ground

before him and said, “Speak thusly again and I swear by the Great Ocean I will end you.”

To his credit, Skarssen didn’t flinch, which was impressive considering the bludgeoning force of

Phosis T’kar’s choler hammering his aura.

Skarssen kept his attention fixed solely on Magnus.

“Do you understand my message as I have spoken it to you?” he asked.

“I understand it,” said Magnus, coolly. “Take off your mask.”

The Space Wolf flinched as though slapped, and Ahriman sensed a ferocious build up of power.

He gasped as the energy filling him was drained in an instant, siphoned off by a mind infinitely

greater than his.

With painful deliberation, his limbs shaking with the effort of resistance, Skarssen reached up

and unfastened the buckles securing his mask. He pulled it from his face to reveal features that were

craggy and worn like a storm-carved cliff. Clean-shaven, with high cheekbones and a brow pierced

with jutting canine fangs like a crown, his lower jaw was tattooed to mimic the toothed jawbone of a

wolf.

Throbbing veins pulsed at Skarssen’s temple.

“That’s better,” said Magnus. “I never like to kill a man without first seeing his face.”

Magnus seemed to swell, growing in stature, while simultaneously remaining as he had always

appeared. The wolves yelped, lowering their heads and backing away from the mighty primarch,

and Ahriman saw the beginnings of… not fear exactly, but the wariness of prey.

Skarssen had come with one purpose, to bring the Thousand Sons to the Ark Reach Cluster. He

had delivered his message in the most unequivocal way possible, but Magnus could not be so easily

dominated by the brute force of the Space Wolves.

“Kill me and you will suffer the wrath of the Great Wolf,” hissed Skarssen.

“Be silent!” thundered Magnus, and the world stilled. All sound died as the wind ceased its

moaning and salt crystals hung motionless on the hardpan. “You are nothing to me, Amlodhi

Skarssen Skarssensson. I can kill you where you stand, before you or any of your savage brethren

could lift a hand to stop me. I can smash your ships to debris with a thought. Know this and choose

your next words carefully.”

Ahriman saw that Skarssen was not a warrior without courage, his aura instinctively rebelling at

the challenge in Magnus’ words, but nor was he without the wit to understand that he was a mote in

the face of the primarch’s power. He looked to his left and right, seeing the world frozen around

him, every banner hanging motionless and every observer save the Thousand Sons like statues

lining a triumphal roadway.

Skarssen lifted his head to expose the corded muscles of his thick neck, and Ahriman recognised

the symbolism of the gesture.

Magnus nodded and the world snapped back into its natural rhythms. The wind blew once more

and the silk banners flapped in the haze of dancing salt crystals.

“Wolf Lord Skarssen,” said Magnus, “I understand your message, but there is much to do on

Aghoru before we can fight alongside your father’s Legion.”

“This world is compliant, is it not?” asked Skarssen, and Ahriman sensed the confusion amongst

the Space Wolves at his newly subservient tone.

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“It is,” agreed Magnus.

“Then what is left to do?” he asked. “There are worlds yet to be brought to heel, and your

Legion’s strength is required. Your brothers-in-arms call for you, and it is a warrior’s duty to fight

when called.”

“On your world perhaps,” said Magnus, “but this is not Fenris. Where and when the Thousand

Sons fight is for me to decide, not the Wolf King, and certainly not you. Do I make myself clear?”

“You do, Lord Magnus, but I swore a blood oath not to return without your warriors.”

“That is none of my concern, and this is not a matter for discussion,” said Magnus, an

unmistakeable edge of impatience in his tone.

“Then we are at an impasse.”

“I fear that we are,” said Magnus.

Ahriman concentrated on the words before him, his quill scratching at the heavy paper as he

committed the morning’s events to his grimoire. There would be other records, of course, but none

that told of events with a true understanding of what had really happened. His words flowed from

him without conscious thought as he rose through the Enumerations and let the natural rhythm of

memory and intuition guide him.

He closed his eyes, freeing his body of light and letting it rise up from his flesh. The currents of

the Great Ocean bore him into the darkness, and Ahriman hoped to catch a glimpse of things to

come. He quashed the thought. To focus on the desires of the ego in this place of emotion would

only diminish the probability of success.

His connection with the material world faded, and the Great Ocean swelled around him, a

maelstrom of non-existent colours, nameless emotions and meaningless dimensions.

Occasional ripples ushered him onwards, powerful minds, intense emotions and primal urges.

The anger of the Space Wolves was a red reef of raw directness, the gasping lust of two

remembrancers as they coupled a purple swirl of conflicting desire. The fear of a Legion serf as he

rubbed a salve into an infected rash was a splash of vivid green, the scheming of yet another as she

plotted how to further her career, a dull ochre yellow.

They rose around him like temple smoke, though concepts such as up and down had no meaning

here. A swirling fog surrounded him, an impenetrable mist of emotion, feeling and possibility. His

mere proximity wrought potential existences within the fog, his presence an imprint in the warp and

weft of the Great Ocean, shaping and shaped by the immaterial unmatter that made up this alternate

dimension.

This was the very essence of the Primordial Creator, the wellspring from which all things came.

Nothing was impossible here, for this was the foundry of creation, the origin of all things, past,

present and future.

Ahriman flew onwards, revelling in the aetheric energies, bathing in them and refreshed by

them. When he returned to his body, he would be energised as a mortal would be by a good night’s

rest.

The kaleidoscopic world around him stretched out to infinite realms of possibility. Ahriman let

his consciousness be borne along by the currents, hoping to chance upon a rich seam of things yet to

pass. He focussed his mind on the teachings of the Corvidae even as he opened his mind to the vast

emptiness of thought. Such apparently contradictory states of mind were essential to the reading of

the future, difficult for one such as him, near impossible for anyone less gifted.

He felt the first nibblings of other presences in the Great Ocean, formless creatures of insensate

appetite, little more than mewling scraps of energy drawn to his mind as students flock to a great

master. They thought to feed on him, but Ahriman dismissed them with a flicker of thought.

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Such whelp creatures were no threat to an Adept Exemptus of his skill, but older, hungrier things

swam the depths, malevolent predators that fed on the hot, life-rich energies of mortal travellers.

Ahriman was protected, but he was not invulnerable.

It began softly, a faint hiss, like rain on glass.

He felt its feather-light pull, and he drifted towards it without apparent interest. Too quick, and

he would disturb the fabric of the Great Ocean, overwhelming the skittish trickle of future events

with the swells of his eagerness.

Ahriman controlled his excitement, letting his course and that of the thin stream come together,

opening his mind’s eye to the bracing cold of unwritten events.

He saw a mountain of glass, tall and hollowed out, yet a stripling compared to the Mountain of

Aghoru. A great space within was filled with yellow light, a spiking cauldron of conflicting

emotions and hurt, a gathering thundercloud, shot through with golden lightning, filled the sky.

Ahriman knew this was important; visions in the aether were shaped as much by the viewer as

they were by the Great Ocean. This mountain and thunderstorm could be a true vision, or could be

allegory, each aspect symbolic of something greater. It was the skill of the adept to sort one from the

other.

Hot excitement ghosted through his immaterial form. It had been years since any Corvidae had

been able to peel back the skin of the aether to reveal the future. Might this mean the eternal waxing

and waning of the tides of power were shifting once more in his cult’s favour?

The intensity of the thought rippled outwards, disturbing the liquid nothingness enfolding him.

The vision fractured, like the surface of a lake in a rainstorm. Ahriman fought for calm, but his

tenuous grasp on the stream was slipping. The glass mountain vanished, breaking into millions of

pieces and falling like tears. A weeping eye was reflected in every shard, red and raw with pain.

He fought to hold on to the jagged, painful images, but the aether surged, and it was gone, swept

away in the angry swells of his own desire. Like the onset of a sudden storm, the substance of the

Great Ocean turned violent. His own frustration was turning against him. Red waves broke against

him as his mind was wrenched from thoughts of the future.

His perception of the immediate returned to him, and he sensed the vibrant hunger of nearby

void hunters, rapacious conceptual predators that followed the spoor of travellers’ emotions to

devour their bodies of light. Dozens of them circled him like sharks with the scent of blood. He had

remained longer than was safe, far longer.

The first emerged from the blood red mist, all appetite and instinct. It came at him directly, its

glittering teeth forming in the instant it took to think of them.

Ahriman flew out of its path, its crimson form twisting around to follow him as another predator

emerged from the mists. His mental analogy of sharks had given them form, and its body was sleek

and evolved to be the consummate killer. He forced his mind to empty, discarding all metaphor and

vocabulary, for they were the weapons his enemies would use against him.

He flew from them, but they had his scent now. Half a dozen more followed, their forms blurred

and protean, borrowed from those whose bodies of light had been given shape by his careless simile.

A void hunter surged towards him, massive and powerful, its jaws opened wide to swallow him

whole.

Ahriman gathered the energy of the aether to him, feeding on the red mists and unleashing a

torrent of will at the hunter. Its body exploded into shards of fire, each one snapped up and devoured

by one of the other predators. Twin heqa staffs appeared in Ahriman’s hands, blazing with aetheric

fire. Such weapons were necessary and dangerous at the same time. To burn so brightly would

attract other beasts, yet without them he would surely perish here, leaving his mortal body a dead,

soulless husk on the floor of his pavilion.

They circled him, darting in to bite and snap, each time deterred by a sweep of his fiery staffs.

Ahriman rose into the eighth Enumeration. He would need the focus of its aggression to stay alive,

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but it would only inflame the hunger of the beasts. The creatures came at him in a rush. Ahriman

had seen their gathering fury, and lashed out with his blazing weapons.

The closest beast billowed out of existence at his blow, the second with a violent burst of

thought that overwhelmed its hunger and dispersed its essence. Another snapped at him. He swayed

aside, its immaterial teeth snapping shut an instant from tearing his insubstantial existence apart. He

thrust his heqa staff into his head, feeling its primal hunger and rage as its essence was obliterated.

The pack broke off its attack, wary of him, but unable to halt their pursuit. The instincts of the

void hunter were murderously sharp, but they demanded satisfaction. They would attack again,

soon.

They came at him three more times. Each time they retreated to a pack that grew larger with

every passing moment, while he grew weaker and bled irresistible morsels of energy into the void.

He could not long keep up this pace of battle. Combat in the aetheric realms was more draining

than battling in the physical. In the material realm, an Astartes could fight for weeks on end without

rest, but here such endurance was measured in minutes. A high-ranking warrior of the Thousand

Sons could travel the Great Ocean far longer than most, but the strain of this fight was pushing

Ahriman to the limits of his endurance.

A great maw raced up at him from below, a thought-shaped need of monstrous proportions. Its

teeth closed on his leg, tearing into his light, and his pain bled out like glittering diamonds, brilliant

white and impossible to resist. His staff carved into the beast, and it vanished in its moment of

triumph.

He could not fight them much longer, and it seemed they knew his resistance was almost at an

end. Their eagerness for him had them jostling one another, each beast desperate to make the kill

and secure the choicest cuts.

His energy was fading and one of the fiery heqa staffs winked out of existence.

How galling to die after such a tantalising glimpse of the future.

Then came a howling cry that split the Great Ocean, a furious sound that scattered the hunters as

a wild darkness rose out of the swelling tides and currents. Fangs like swords of ice snapped and bit

through the void-hunters. This was form and will honed to a knife-edge, a force streamlined for

destruction and utterly without mercy. Yellow eyes, a shaggy pelt of black fur and slavering jaws

roiled amid the frenzy.

Even before Ahriman’s mind formed the image, he saw the phantasmal outline of the wolf, a

beast larger and more powerful than any living animal could ever be. It tore through the void-

predators, howling as it destroyed them with brutal swipes of thunderous claws and bites that

swallowed each enemy whole.

Within the dark of the wolf’s body, Ahriman caught fleeting glimpses of the furious will that

drove it: a distant shadow in dark armour, not black but deep, metallic grey. The wolf howled, and

waves of untrammelled fury spread into the Great Ocean with the force of a boulder dropped into a

millpond. The predators scattered, cowed by this apex predator.

And, like fading inkspots on a blotter, they melted into the darkness.

The wolf turned towards Ahriman, its form turning in on itself and folding like the pieces of an

origami puzzle until all that was left was the shadow at its heart, the subtle body of an Astartes in

the hard grey of the Space Wolves.

He drifted towards Ahriman, and it took no special skills to feel the primal, bruising energy that

suffused this traveller’s flesh. His sheer vitality was incredible. Ahriman was a controlled reactor,

but this warrior was a violent supernova. Both were deadly, both burned as bright, but where

Ahriman could pluck a single soul out of a horde of millions, this warrior would destroy a million to

kill the one.

The wolf was gone, but Ahriman saw it tightly leashed within the warrior’s heart.

“We should go, brother,” said the wolf warrior, with a voice like colliding glaciers. “The longer

we tarry, the more our presence will draw fouler beasts.”

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“I saw you,” said Ahriman. “You came with Skarssen.”

“ Lord Skarssen,” corrected the warrior. “But, aye, you speak true, brother. My name is Ohthere

Wyrdmake, Rune Priest to Amlodhi Skarssen Skarssensson of the 5th Company of Space Wolves.”

“Ahzek Ahriman, Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons.”

“I know well your name, Ahzek Ahriman,” said Wyrdmake, with a feral grin, “for I have long

desired to meet you.”

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The Wolves of Fenris / A Meeting of Minds / The Dam Breaks

There are no wolves on Fenris.

Ahriman had heard that before, a nugget of scandalous rumour passed down from nameless

source to nameless source. Such contention was, of course, ridiculous; the evidence padded

alongside the Thousand Sons as they marched into the Mountain once again. A score of iron-furred

wolves roamed at will along the length of the column of warriors, like herding dogs watching over a

flock.

Six hundred Astartes marched into the Mountain, the Thousand Sons and Space Wolves

together. At the head of the column, Magnus the Red led the way, surrounded by Terminators of the

Scarab Occult and flanked by his captains. Lord Skarssen and his retinue of Wolf Guard marched

alongside the towering primarch. Ohthere Wyrdmake walked at his master’s side, and the Rune

Priest inclined his head as he caught Ahriman’s eye.

They had spoken last night, yet Ahriman still did not know quite what to make of him.

Land Raiders crunched their way uphill alongside the Astartes, the war footing at the behest of

Yatiri.

The tribal elder had come down from the Mountain with Khalophis prior to the arrival of Lord

Skarssen and begged to see the Crimson King. The Space Wolves were en route, and he had been

forced to wait until after their arrival. As important as the Aghoru were to the Thousand Sons,

mortal business took second place to Astartes business.

Ahriman had watched as Yatiri was shown into the glittering pyramid of Magnus, seeing the fear

in his body language. Like all the masked tribesfolk of the Aghoru, Yadri cast no shadow in the

aether, his life-energies somehow hidden from the sight of the Thousand Sons. He came with his

fellow elders, and Ahriman saw their anger, no matter that they were masked and unreadable.

Whatever passed between Yatiri and Magnus had been serious enough for the primarch to order

Ahriman to gather warriors from every Fellowship and assemble a battle march.

Seeing the Thousand Sons preparations, a warrior calling himself Varangr Ragnulf Ragnulfssen,

herald of Lord Skarssen, had come to Magnus to request an audience.

And so the Space Wolves marched with the Thousand Sons.

They had marched past the deadstones, the rocks streaked with oily black tendrils like rotten

veins. Upon seeing the condition of the deadstones, the Aghoru dropped to their knees and wept in

fear. Ahriman paused to examine the stones, knowing only one thing that could have had so

dramatic an effect on such impervious stone.

“What do you think?” asked Phosis T’kar.

“The same as you,” he had replied, and walked on.

Ahriman watched the warriors of Lord Skarssen as the march continued. They set a brutal pace,

and the Thousand Sons matched it. What was a fast walk for the Astartes was a punishing run for

the Aghoru. Despite that, the tribesmen kept pace with the armoured warriors, fear lending their

limbs strength to endure the exhausting temperature of the day.

“They don’t feel the heat,” said Phosis T’kar as the march continued.

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“Who?”

“The beasts Skarssen brought with him,” clarified T’kar. “They come from a world of ice and

snow, yet they seem untroubled by this heat.”

Ahriman watched as a wolf that reached to his waist padded by. Its fur was a patchwork of grey

and white, thick and shaggy around its forequarters, sleek and smooth at its rear. As though sensing

his scrutiny, it swung towards him, baring its fangs and narrowing its yellow eyes in a blatant

challenge.

“I do not know for sure,” said Ahriman, “but all that lives on the surface of Fenris does so

because it can adapt to changing circumstances. These wolves are no exception.”

“Then I wish I could adapt like them. I am sick of this damned heat,” said Phosis T’kar angrily.

“My body is gene-wrought to withstand all extremes, but the fire of this sun saps us all of life. Even

Hathor Maat struggles with it.”

“Speak for yourself, T’kar,” retorted Hathor Maat. “I am quite comfortable.”

Despite his bluster, Maat suffered as the rest of them did. Without the powers of the Pavoni to

call on, he was unable to regulate his body as efficiently as would normally be the case. Yet the

wolves of Fenris marched as though through a balmy summer’s day, the heat as untroubling to them

as the frozen tundra of their home world.

“It is thanks to their engineering,” said Magnus, joining their conversation. The primarch had

said nothing since the march had begun, content to let his captains do the talking.

“They were engineered?” asked Ahriman. “By whom?”

“By the first colonists of Fenris,” said Magnus with a smile. “Can’t you see the dance of helices

within them? The ballet of genes and the remarkable feats of splicing the earliest scientists

achieved?”

Ahriman shared a glance with his fellow captains, and Magnus laughed.

“No, of course you do not,” said Magnus, shaking his head. “Uthizzar, you have travelled to

Fenris, have you not?”

It was a rhetorical question, for Magnus knew everything about their secondments and legacies

of honour. Uthizzar nodded.

“Briefly, my lord,” he said. “It was not a pleasant experience.”

“I imagine it was not. Fenris does not welcome visitors, nor is it a gracious host,” said Magnus

with a hidden smile. “It is a world like no other, unforgiving and pernicious. The ice waits to kill

those who travel its frozen seas and snow-locked cliffs at the first signs of complacency. A mortal

man, even a well-prepared one, would freeze to death on Fenris within minutes of setting foot on its

surface.”

“Yet the tribes survive there well enough,” said Ahriman. “Apparently, they are little more than

feral savages, endlessly waging war for the few scraps of land that survive the upheaval of the Great

Year.”

“That they are,” said Magnus. “But also so much more.”

“What makes them so special?” asked Hathor Maat, unwilling to believe that such barbarous

mortals could earn the primarchs’ approbation.

“Were you not listening? Fenris is a death world, a planet so hostile it would test even your

powers of bio-manipulation. Yet these mortals carve themselves land, home and families on a world

most right-thinking men would avoid.”

“So how do they do it?”

Magnus smiled, and Ahriman saw he was enjoying the role of teacher once more.

“First, tell me what you know of the Canis Helix?”

“It’s a genetic primer,” said Hathor Maat, “a precursor gene that allows the remainder of the

Space Wolf gene-seed to take root in an aspirant’s body.”

Magnus shook his head. His great eye glittered with green and gold as he regarded his captains.

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“That is part of its function, yes, but it was never intended to be used so… obviously,” he said.

“Then how was it supposed to be used?” asked Ahriman. He looked over at Skarssen, the

warrior once more wearing his leather mask, and wondered if the Apothecaries of the Fang knew as

much as Magnus. The Wolf Lord walked warily around Magnus, having tasted a measure of his

power. Ahriman suspected his primarch’s boast that he could destroy the Space Wolf ships in orbit

was a calculated bluff. Clearly Skarssen wasn’t so sure.

“Imagine the time when mankind first discovered Fenris,” continued Magnus, “a world so

utterly inimical to life that humans simply could not survive. Everything about Fenris was death,

from the blood-freezing cold to the sinking lands to the howling winds that suck the life from your

lungs. Back then, of course, geneticists saw impossibility as a challenge, and daily wrought new

codes within the chromosomes of human and animal genomes as easily as the Mechanicum punch

data-wafers for servitors.”

“So you’re saying that these colonists brought gene-bred wolves with them to Fenris?” said

Phosis T’kar.

“Perhaps they did,” allowed Magnus, “but more likely they adapted, imperfectly at times and

without thought to the consequences. Or perhaps there were other, older races living on Fenris.”

Ahriman watched Magnus as he spoke, feeling that there was more to the origins of Fenris than

he was telling. Magnus was a traveller who had ventured deeper into the hidden reaches of the Great

Ocean than any living soul. Perhaps he had actually witnessed the earliest days of the Wolf King’s

world.

Magnus gave a studied shrug and said, “You look at those beasts and you see wolves, but is that

only because it is what you expect to see?”

“What else would we see?” asked Hathor Maat. “They are wolves.”

“When you have travelled as far as I have, and seen as I have seen, you will learn that it is

possible to look beyond the expected and into the true heart of a thing.”

Magnus gestured towards a wolf loping alongside the column, its powerful muscles driving it

uphill through the heat without pause.

“I can look past the flesh and muscle of that beast, paring back the bone into the heart of its

marrow to read every scar and twist in its genetic code. I can unravel the millennia of change back

to the logos of its origins,” said Magnus. Ahriman was surprised to hear sadness in his voice, as

though he had seen things he would rather not have seen. “The thing it is, what it wished to be, and

all the stages of that long evolutionary road.”

The wolf stopped beside Magnus and he nodded towards it. An unspoken discourse seemed to

pass between them. Ahriman caught a knowing glance from Ohthere Wyrdmake. Despite his

reservations, he felt the urge to nurture the nascent kinship between them.

“Away with you!” shouted Phosis T’kar, shooing it. “Damned wolves.”

Magnus smiled. “I told you, there are no wolves on Fenris.”

They had met the previous evening, after Ahriman returned to his corporeal body. Opening his eyes,

he groaned as his flesh ached with the stress of his body of light’s reintegration. His leg flared

painfully, his entire body a mass of discomfort.

With careful slowness, Ahriman uncrossed his legs and used his heqa staff to push himself to his

feet. His right thigh felt numb, like it belonged to someone else, and cold pain burned the muscles

and sinews the length of his leg. He opened his robe gingerly, pressing his fingertips to the bulked

musculature of his smooth torso and grimacing in pain.

Repercussions covered his flesh where the void-hunters had wounded him, blackened patches of

skin drained of their vitality. More completely than any wound dealt with blade or bullet, injuries to

the subtle body damaged the very essence of a traveller’s flesh.

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An Astartes could rise above pain, his body designed to allow him to function without loss of

effectiveness, but nothing save rest and meditation could undo the damage of repercussions.

He saw his grimoire lying open on the ground of his pavilion and knelt to retrieve it, wincing as

the dead areas of his body pulled tight. He felt like he had fought for a month without rest, his body

pushed nearly to the limits of its endurance.

Ahriman secreted his grimoire and changed from his robe into a hooded tunic of crimson, edged

with ivory and sable. Though his body ached for sleep, he had one last meeting to attend, one he had

not anticipated until his near-fatal flight into the Great Ocean.

The flap at his pavilion’s entrance pushed open and Sobek entered, his face a mask of concern.

Cooler night air gusted in with him.

“My lord, is everything all right?”

“Everything is fine, Sobek,” said Ahriman.

“I heard you calling out.”

“An interesting flight in the aether, Sobek, that is all,” said Ahriman, lifting the hood over his

head. “Some predatory creatures thought to make me a morsel.”

“And yet you are venturing out?” asked Sobek. “You should be resting, my lord.”

Ahriman shook his head.

“No,” he said, “there is someone I need to see.”

The lair of the Wolves was on the edge of the mountain, in the shadow of the deadstones. Skarssen

had set his warriors’ shelters in concentric rings, with his at its heart. Ahriman saw a great wolf-

skull totem planted in the crystalline hardpan, hung with wolf tails as long as a mortal man’s leg and

teeth like blades.

As he drew near, shadows bled from the twilight, sleek killers that put Ahriman in mind of the

predators that had almost ended him earlier. Six of them padded towards him, their forms indistinct

against the darkness, their hackles raised.

They halted and he saw the gleam of stars on their fangs. Their muscles were tensed and ready,

like pistons ready to fire on the launch rails of an embarkation deck.

“I have come to see Ohthere Wyrdmake,” said Ahriman, feeling foolish at addressing beasts.

The largest of the wolves threw back its head and loosed an almighty howl that split the faded

evening.

Ahriman waited for the wolves to back away, but they remained where they were, barring him

entry to their master’s domain. He stepped forward, and the wolf that had announced his presence

bared its iron fangs with a threatening growl.

Another shadow moved behind the wolves, a tall warrior in granite grey armour who walked

with a tall staff topped with an eagle of gold and silver. His beard was waxed, and he wore a plain

leather skullcap over his shaven scalp. Ahriman recognised him immediately.

“Ohthere Wyrdmake,” he said.

“Aye,” replied the Space Wolf, tilting his head and regarding him carefully. “You are hurt,

mistflesh hurt.”

“I was careless,” he said, not knowing the word, but understanding the meaning.

Wyrdmake nodded and said, “That you were. I watched you chase the wyrd, blind to the hunting

packs gathering for the murder-make. How came you to miss them?”

“As I said, I was careless,” repeated Ahriman. “How did you find me?”

Wyrdmake laughed, the sound rich with genuine humour.

“That took no great skill,” he said. “I am a son of the Storm and I know the ocean of souls like

the seas around Asaheim. When the Wolfs Eye swells in the sky, the world forge turns and the

dowsers seek the silent places, those places that are still amid the turmoil. I looked for stillness, and

I found you.”

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Much of what Wyrdmake said made no sense to Ahriman, the terms too archaic, the vocabulary

expressing parochial understandings beyond one not of Fenris.

“That begs the question, why were you looking for me?”

“Come,” said Wyrdmake. “Walk with me.”

The Rune Priest set off towards the deadstones without waiting to see if Ahriman obeyed. The

wolves parted to allow him through their ranks. Keeping a wary eye on the beasts, Ahriman

followed Wyrdmake towards the deadstones, the menhirs like black teeth growing up from the

ground.

The warrior walked the circumference of the stones, careful not to touch them as he passed. He

turned as Ahriman approached.

“Anchors in the world,” said Wyrdmake. “Places of stillness. The Storm rages across this world,

but all is still here. Like Asaheim, immovable and unchanging.”

“The Aghoru call them deadstones,” said Ahriman, as the wolves padded softly around the edge

of the circle, each one with its eyes locked on him.

“A fitting name.”

“So, are you going to tell me why you were looking for me?”

“To know you,” said Wyrdmake. “Amlodhi came with a summons for your master, but I came

for you. Your name is known to the Rune Priests of the Space Wolves, Ahzek Ahriman. You are

star-cunning. Like me, you are a Son of the Storm, and I know of your affinity with the wyrd.”

“The wyrd? I don’t know that term,” said Ahriman.

“You are not of Fenris,” said Wyrdmake, as though that explained everything.

“Then enlighten me,” said Ahriman, losing patience.

“You would have me share the secrets of my calling?”

“We will have precious little else to talk about if you do not.”

Wyrdmake smiled, exposing teeth honed to sharp points. “You cut to the heart of the meat,

friend. Very well. At its simplest, wyrd is fate, destiny.”

“The future,” said Ahriman.

“At times,” agreed Wyrdmake. “On Fenris we ken it as the turning of the world forge that

continually reshapes the face of the land. As one land rises, another sinks to its doom. Wyrd shows

us how past and present shape the future, but also how the future affects the past. The storms of time

flow, weave together and burst apart, forever entwined within the great saga of the universe.”

Ahriman began to understand the words of the Rune Priest, hearing in them a debased echo of

the teachings of the Corvidae.

“Fate goes ever as she shall,” quoted Ahriman, and Wyrdmake laughed.

“Aye, she does indeed. The Geatlander knew his business when he said that line.”

Ahriman looked up at the Mountain, feeling his hostility to Wyrdmake easing in the face of their

shared understanding of the mysteries. As different as his teachings were, the Space Wolf had an

insight Ahriman found refreshing. That didn’t mean he trusted him, not by a long way, but it was a

start.

“So you have found me,” he said. “What do you intend now?”

“You and I are brothers of the Storm,” said Wyrdmake, echoing Ahriman’s earlier thought.

“Brothers should not be strangers. I know the saga of your Legion’s past, and I know that nothing

gets men’s murder-urge pumping like fear of what they do not understand.”

“Ahriman hesitated before asking, What is it you think you know?”

Wyrdmake stepped towards him, saying, “I know that a flaw in your heritage almost destroyed

your Legion, and that you have a terror of its return. I know, for my Legion is the same. The curse

of the Wulfen haunts us, and we keep watch over our brothers for wolf-sign.”

Wyrdmake reached up to touch the silver oakleaf worked into Ahriman’s shoulder guard.

“Just as you watch your fellow legionaries for the flesh change.”

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Ahriman flinched as though struck, backing away from Wyrdmake.

“Never touch that again,” he said, fighting to keep his voice even.

“Ohrmuzd?” asked Wyrdmake. “That was his name, was it not?”

Ahriman wanted to be angry, wanted to lash out at this unwarranted picking of an old wound.

He forced his mind into the lower Enumerations, casting off the shed skin of grief and regret.

“Yes,” he said at last. “That was his name. That was my twin brother’s name.”

Ahriman felt the sickness from the valley long before they crossed the ridge where he had first seen

its titanic guardians. Only when he felt the bitter, metallic taste in the back of his throat did he

realise that he could feel the ripple of aetheric energies along his limbs. It was faint, barely more

than a whisper, but it was there.

How was that possible when it had been so conspicuously absent before?

As the ridge of the valley came into sight he felt that sickness more strongly, like the taste of

wind blowing over a mass grave. Something foul had taken root in the valley.

Ahriman looked over at Magnus, seeing his enormous form as a haze of indistinct images, like a

thousand pict negatives placed on top of one another: Magnus the giant, Magnus the man, Magnus

the monster, a thousand permutations on the theme of Magnus.

He blinked away the afterimages, feeling sick at the sight of them. The sensation was unknown

to him and he shook off his momentary dizziness.

“You feel it too, don’t you?” asked Phosis T’kar.

“I do,” he said. “What is happening?”

“The sleepers are waking,” hissed Uthizzar, one hand pressed to his temple.

“Sleepers?” asked Hathor Maat. “What are you talking about?”

“The sleeping souls, bound to crystal immortality, left behind to watch,” gasped Uthizzar,

“trapped and corrupted, dragged to a slow doom that is worse than death.”

“What in the Emperor’s name is he talking about?” demanded Khalophis.

“The Aghoru call them Daiesthai ,” said Magnus, “void beasts given form by the nightmares of

mortals since the dawn of time. Men, in their ignorance, call them daemons.”

Ahriman almost smiled. Daemons, indeed…

“You will feel the call of the Great Ocean, my sons,” said Magnus, his eye red and angry. “It

will be strong, but rise to the ninth Enumeration. Enter the sphere of inner determination and close

your minds off from its power, for it will call to you like nothing you have ever known.”

“My lord?” asked Ahriman. “What is going on?”

“Do it, Ahzek!” snapped Magnus. “This is not power as you know it. It is stagnant and dead. It

will try to force its way into your mind, but you must not let it, not for a moment.”

It felt alien to Ahriman to close himself off from the power of the aether, but he did as his

primarch ordered, focusing his will and lifting his consciousness to the essence of his higher self,

where he became an observer in his own flesh.

Magnus set off towards the mouth of the valley without another word, almost outpacing them

all. The tempo of the march picked up, and Ahriman saw confusion in the Space Wolves at this

sudden urgency. But the wolves… they understood. Ohthere Wyrdmake spoke to Amlodhi

Skarssen, and the masked warrior cast a furious glare towards Magnus the Red.

In his objective state of being, he saw the familiar fear of the unknown, the hatred engendered

by the strange and unfamiliar. The Space Wolves did not trust his Legion, but perhaps the

tentatively established cooperation of Ohthere Wyrdmake might change that.

The valley climbed towards the ridge, and Ahriman noticed a change in the very character of the

landscape. The perfection he had seen in its flawless geometries had subtly altered, as though the

world had been shifted a fraction of a degree. Angles that once complemented one another were

now horribly dissonant, like a musical instrument a hair’s-breadth out of tune.

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Golden ratios were upset and the graceful dance of intersecting lines became a tangle of

discordant shapes that violated the perfect order that had existed before. The valley was a place of

threat, its every angle hostile. The throaty rumbles of the Land Raiders’ engines echoed strangely

from the valley sides, thrown back as if from a hundred different sources.

At last they came to the mouth of the valley, and Ahriman stared in detached horror at what had

become of its mighty guardians.

“I can hear them screaming,” hissed Uthizzar, and Ahriman saw why that should be so.

The titanic constructs stood as they always had, towering and immense, but the smooth, clean

lines of their limbs were no longer graceful and pristine. Once they had been the colour of sun-

bleached bone, but a loathsome network of poisonous, greenish-black veins threaded their limbs, a

necrotic plague that poured from the cave in thick, oily ropes and filled the colossal statues with

sickness.

Their splay-clawed feet were rank with the stuff, like rotted vegetable matter that heaved and

writhed with foul growth. Blackened legs supported torsos webbed with thin lines of dark matter

that absorbed any light that fell upon it. Their slender arms were slick with black veins, polluted

conduits carrying the foulness of some nameless corruption. The graceful curve of their enormous

heads remained pale and untouched, but even as Ahriman watched, the questing black tendrils oozed

around the huge gems set in the surfaces.

Ahriman felt the insistent pressure of their Great Ocean breaking against his barriers of self-

control. There was power here, rising up from somewhere far below. Yet what he felt was a fraction

of what lay beneath, the trickle that becomes the stream that becomes the torrent. A dam had

cracked, and inexorable pressure would soon break it wide open.

He ached to taste that power, to feel it flowing through his body, but he kept it shut out as

Magnus had ordered, forcing his gaze away from the great statues.

“What’s happening to them?” he asked.

Magnus looked down at him.

“Something evil, Ahzek,” he said, “something I fear my presence on this world may have

hastened. A balance has been upset, and I must restore it.”

Yatiri and his tribal elders, men who had managed to keep pace with the Astartes despite their

advanced years, finally reached the edge of the valley.

“Daiesthai!” he cried, holding his falarica in a tight, white-knuckled, grip. “They return!”

“What in the name of the Wolfs Eye is he talking about?” demanded Skarssen, marching over

with Ohthere Wyrdmake. “What are these things?”

Magnus glared at the Wolf Lord, and Ahriman saw his primarch’s frustration at having a brother

Legion’s warriors present. What needed to be done here was best done hidden from inquisitive eyes.

Yatiri turned to Magnus and said, “They crave the dead. We must give them what they desire.”

“No,” said Magnus. “That is the last thing you should do.”

Yatiri shook his head, and Ahriman saw his anger.

“This is our world,” he said, “and we will save it from the Daiesthai, not you.”

The mirror-masked elder turned from the primarch and led his tribesmen into the valley, making

his way towards the altar before the cave mouth.

“Lord Magnus,” pressed Skarssen, “what does he mean?”

“Superstition, Lord Skarssen,” said Magnus, “nothing more.”

“That looks like a damn sight more than superstition,” said Skarssen, gripping his bolter tight to

his chest. “Speak true now, Magnus of the Thousand Sons, what is going on here?”

“Hel,” said Ohthere Wyrdmake, staring at the titanic constructs with a mixture of horror and

fascination, “the Father Kraken of the deep, the keeper of the dead!”

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“ This is what keeps you from the Wolf King’s side?” cried Skarssen. “Consorting with

sorcerers!”

Magnus rounded on the Space Wolf.

“Did you not learn your lesson before, whelp?” he said.

Skarssen recoiled at Magnus’ anger, and Ahriman felt the wash of his fury as it spread like the

Shockwaves of an explosion. Deeper in the valley, Yatiri and his tribesmen surrounded the altar,

chanting a mantra of supplication to non-existent gods. They stood in pairs, facing one another.

Ahriman watched Yatiri lift his falarica, and knew what would happen the instant before it was too

late to prevent it.

“No!” cried Magnus, seeing what Ahriman saw. “Stop!”

Yatiri turned to the tribesman next to him and rammed his falarica through his chest. His fellow

elders stepped together; one man the victim, the other his killer. Spears flashed, blades bit flesh and

bone. Blood was spilled.

Ahriman would never know for sure whether it was the death of the tribesmen, the blood

splashing the altar or some unknown catalyst, but no sooner had the dead men fallen than the power

building in the valley surged like a tidal flood.

The dam holding it back had no chance of stopping it.

With a titanic rumble of cracking stone, the guardians of the valley began to move.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Slayer of Giants

The giants were moving. The fact was as undeniable as it was inconceivable. The ground shook with

the force of it. The cliff face cracked and broke, vast boulders falling like dust from the side of the

Mountain. Straining with the effort of breaking the shackles of their ancient bindings, the behemoths

tore free of the rock.

Ahriman felt the howling shriek of something primal roar from the mouth of the cave with

insensate hunger, a force of mindless destruction given free rein after uncounted aeons trapped in

the darkness. Rank winds roared from the depths of the Mountain.

He dropped to his knees, hands pressed to his helmet as the Great Ocean tried to force its way

inside his skull. He remembered his primarch’s warning and fought to keep it out.

Even in the desolation of Prospero, amid the rained cities depopulated by the psychneuein, there

was not this ferocity of psychic assault. Through tear-blurred eyes, he saw Astartes scatter, those

without a connection to the aether spared the worst of the keening knife blade that gouged at his

mind.

The ground shook as the first of the great machines took a ponderous step, its foot slamming

down with seismic force. Lord Skarssen shouted at his warriors, but the words were lost to Ahriman.

Ohthere Wyrdmake sagged against his staff, its haft swirling with coruscating arcs of black

lightning. Beside him, Phosis T’kar and Hathor Maat fought against the corrupt power Magnus had

warned them against. He couldn’t see Uthizzar or Khalophis.

Another shockwave shook the valley as the second giant tore free, the thunderous crashing of

hundreds of tonnes of rock slamming down a forceful reminder of the physical world. Slabs of

roaring red metal ground past Ahriman, churning the dusty ground with their passage; Land Raiders,

their hull-mounted guns crackling with furious energies as they swept towards the Titans.

Ahriman felt a presence beside him and looked up to see Khalophis bellowing at his warriors.

Astartes bearing the symbol of the scarlet phoenix moved to obey his orders, rushing to optimum

firing positions and bringing their weapons to bear.

Ahriman wanted to laugh. What use would their weapons be against such war machines?

He tried to stand, but the pressure battering down his mind’s defences held him like a moth

pinned to a slide. His resistance was locking his limbs together, fusing his joints with a stubborn

refusal of the power that could be his were he only to let it in.

Ahriman recognised these temptation as the insidious whisperings that lured void travellers to

their doom, as corpse lights had once ensnared those lost in ancient marshes.

That recognition alone was not enough to keep him from wanting to heed their siren song.

All he had to do was let it in and his powers would be restored: the power to smite these war

machines, the power to read the currents of the future. The last of his will began to erode.

No, brother… Hold to my voice.

The words were an anchor in the madness, a lodestar back to self-control. He latched onto them

as a drowning man holds fast to a rescuer’s hand.

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Ahriman felt someone touch his shoulder guard, and saw Uthizzar standing above him like a

priest offering benediction. The Athanaean pulled him around so that they were face to face. They

gripped each other’s arms tightly, as though locked in a test of strength.

Rebuild your barriers, brother. I can protect you for a time, but only for a time.

Ahriman heard Uthizzar’s voice in his mind, the telepath’s measured tones stark against the

raging torrents that threatened to overwhelm him. He felt a blessed quiet in his psyche as Uthizzar

shouldered his burden.

Rise through the ranks, brother. Remember your first principles.

One by one, Ahriman repeated the mantras that allowed a Neophyte to control the powers of his

being, easing into the energy-building meditations of the Zealator. Then came the control of the

mind of the Practicus, the achievement of the perfectly equanimous perspective of the Philosophus.

With every advance, the barriers protecting his mind were restored, and the furious howling of the

aether abated.

Hurry, brother. I cannot shield you much longer.

“No need,” said Ahriman, as the world snapped back into focus. “I have control.”

Uthizzar sagged and released his hold on him.

“Good,” he said. “I could not have kept that up.”

Ahriman pushed himself upright, the world around him chaotic as the Astartes aligned

themselves to face the gigantic war machines. Both were free of the cliff, the black tendrils

enveloping them pulsating like newly filled arteries pumping strength around their bodies.

His situational awareness was complete. The Space Wolves had found cover in the huge piles of

debris at the side of the valley. Ahriman was impressed. The Sons of Russ had a reputation for wild

recklessness, but that didn’t make them stupid. To charge headlong into this battle would see them

all dead, and Skarssen knew it.

The Thousand Sons had assumed the formation of the Nine Bows, an aggressive configuration

of three warrior groupings named for the ancient Gyptus kings’ representation of all their enemies.

“He has gathered them all into his fist, and his mace has crashed upon their heads,” said

Ahriman in recognition. Khalophis stood at the centre of the first block, Phosis T’kar commanded

the second, Hathor Maat the third.

Geysers of fire spiralled around Khalophis, pillars of white flame enveloping him with searing

light. Ahriman felt the enormous power surrounding the captain of the 6th Fellowship, its incredible

potential bleeding into the warriors who followed him.

“Trust Khalophis not to take heed,” said Uthizzar, his voice scornful.

“He was not the only one,” said Ahriman, seeing blooms of aetheric energy centered on Phosis

T’kar and Hathor Maat.

“Fools,” snapped Uthizzar, his stoic manner faltering in the face of such power. “They were

warned!”

In the midst of the chaos, Ahriman saw Yatiri standing on the basalt altar, its gleaming surface

splashed with the blood of his fellow elders. He held his falarica above his head and he was

screaming. The winds from the cave mouth howled around him in a hurricane of corrupt matter, a

blizzard of unnatural energy revelling in its freedom. At the centre of the hurricane stood Magnus

the Red.

Magnificent and proud, the Primarch of the Thousand Sons was the eye of the storm, a quantum

moment of utter stillness. Though a giant amongst men, the soaring Titans dwarfed him, their

towering forms still trailing thick tarry ropes of glistening black.

The first Titan inclined its enormous head towards Magnus, its alien mind picking out the

primarch like a golden treasure in a junkyard. Its body shook with what might have been disgust,

regarding him as a man might view a loathsome insect. It took a step towards Magnus, its stride

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unsteady and hesitant, as though it were unused to controlling its limbs after so long inert. The

Mountain shook with the reverberative weight of its tread, yet still Magnus did not move. His cloak

of feathers billowed about his body, the violence of the Titans’ awakening seeming not to concern

him at all.

The machine’s enormous fist flexed and its arm swung down, the movement so unlike the

monstrous, clanking machine noise of Imperial engines. A haze of electromagnetic fire vented along

the length of its smooth gauntlet.

Then it fired.

A blizzard of slicing projectiles shredded the space between its fist and Magnus, a thunderous

storm of razor-edged death. Magnus didn’t move, but the storm broke above him, shunted aside by

an invisible barrier to shred the ground and fill the air with whistling, spinning fragments of rock

and metal.

The enormous, lance-like weapon in its other arm swung around, and Ahriman was again struck

by the fluid, living grace of the Titan. It moved as if its every molecule was part of its essence, a

living whole as opposed to a distant mind imperfectly meshed to a mechanical body with invasive

mind impulse units and haptic receptors.

Before it could unleash the destructive fire of the weapon, a storm of energy blistered its limbs.

The Thousand Sons Land Raiders stabbed it with bright spears of laserfire, like ancient hunters

surrounding a towering prey-beast.

The Astartes of the 6th Fellowship let fly with explosive warheads and storms of gunfire.

Ceramic plates cracked and spalled. Fires rippled across the surface of the Titan’s armour. Imperial

engines marched to war protected by shimmer-shields of ablative energy—not so this behemoth.

Whatever protection it had relied on in life was denied it in this incarnation.

Magnus stood firm before the Titan, a child before a towering monster. He lifted his arm, palm

upward, as though to offer the giant some morsel to sate its appetite. Ahriman saw a thin smile play

around his primarch’s face as he drew his fingers back to make a fist.

The enormous gauntlet that had spat such venom upon Magnus was crashed utterly as an

invisible force compressed it. Fire bloomed from the shattered hand, black tendrils like dead veins

hanging from the rain of its shoulder as Magnus coolly crashed the entire length of its arm. The

giant war machine shook, the movement unnatural and hideous in its imitation of pain. Land Raiders

swept in to press the advantage, furious, rippling bolts of laser energy smacking the Titan’s legs and

torso.

The second machine rotated its lance, and the air grew thin, as though the Mountain had sucked

in a great breath. An impossibly bright pinpoint of light grew at the end of the weapon before a

pulsing storm erupted in a blaze of streaming fire.

Three Land Raiders exploded, instantly vaporised in the blast, and a fireball of burnt metal

mushroomed skyward. The surging beam of liquid light swept on, carving a glassy trench across the

valley and immolating everything in its path. A group of Hathor Maat’s warriors on the periphery of

the seething fire burst into flames, their armour running like melted rubber. Ahriman could hear

their screams. The heat wash of their death was a rancid flesh stink that threatened to break his

concentration.

“Ahzek!” cried a voice, almost lost amid the shriek of the Titans’ weapons fire. His anger fled,

the rigid mental discipline of the Enumerations reasserting itself. He turned to the source of the cry,

seeing Ohthere Wyrdmake frantically beckoning him from behind the cover of a spit of red rock.

Gunfire streamed from the Space Wolves position.

Logic took hold, the measured calm of mental acuity honed over a century of study.

“Uthizzar,” he said, “let’s go.”

Uthizzar nodded and together they ran through the deafening, blazing crescendo of weapons fire

that filled the valley. Firepower to end entire regiments surged back and forth: heatwash, ricochets

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and shrieking intakes of breath from guns capable of mass murder. The shape of the battle was fluid

and its tempo was increasing.

The Astartes were fighting back, filling the valley with disciplined volleys, but save for the

augmented fire of Khalophis’ warriors, it was having little effect. There were too many targets for

the Titans to effectively engage them all, but that wouldn’t last long. Fifty more Astartes died as the

second Titan’s fist spat a shrieking hail of death, the impacts sounding like a thousand mirrors

shattering at once.

Ahriman ducked into cover with Uthizzar, feeling strange at taking refuge with warriors in

midnight-grey armour instead of crimson and ivory. A shaggy wolf snapped its jaws at him, thick

saliva drooling between its fangs.

“What were you doing out there?” shouted Wyrdmake over the din of gunfire.

“Nothing,” replied Ahriman, unwilling to speak of the mental ordeal he and Uthizzar had

endured, “just picking our moment to run for cover.”

“What I would not give for a Mechanicum engine right now,” hissed Wyrdmake as a rolling

wall of boiling air washed over their position. The Rune Priest’s staff crackled with miniature

lightning bolts. The power filling the valley had almost overwhelmed Ahriman with the urge to

wield it, but Wyrdmake appeared oblivious to its temptations.

Space Wolves shouldered missile launchers, sighting on the undamaged Titan. Skarssen shouted

an order, lost in the din, pointing towards the Titan’s head. Spiralling contrails zoomed upwards,

detonating against the surface of the giant’s head, rocking it back, but doing little obvious damage.

“Again!” shouted Skarssen.

“That won’t bring it down!” cried Ahriman over the booming cough of missile fire.

“Never hunted a Fenrisian Kraken, have you?” cried Skarssen.

“How perceptive,” snapped Ahriman, ducking down as the rocks around him exploded in

pinging fragments. A Space Wolf went down, but picked himself back up again. “What has that got

do with anything?”

“A single wolfship will be smashed to kindling and its crew devoured,” said the Wolf Lord, as

though enjoying this fight immensely, “but put a dozen in the water and then it becomes a hunt

worth undertaking. Shield scales buckle, flesh tears and blood flows, the beast weakens and then it

dies. Every harpoon matters, from the first to the last.”

Then all thought was obliterated as a world-shaking scream of ancient loss and pain ripped

through the mind of every warrior.

It was the sound of worlds ending. It was the birth shout of a vile and terrible god, and the death

scream of glory that died when the race of Man was young. Ahriman collapsed as pain like nothing

he had ever known wracked his body with a torturer’s skill, finding the secret parts of him and

driving itself home without mercy. His fragile control crumbled in the face of it, his mind ablaze

with images of a civilisation overturned, worlds consumed and an empire that had spanned the stars

brought low by its own weakness.

No one was spared the scream’s violence, not the Space Wolves and certainly not the Thousand

Sons, who suffered worst of all. The pain drove Ahriman to the edge of sanity in the blink of an eye.

Then it was over. The echoes of the scream retreated, its power like a breaker upon a seawall,

forceful and spectacular, but quick to fade. Ahriman blinked away tears of pain, surprised to find he

was lying flat on his back.

“What in the name of the Great Wolf was that?” demanded Skarssen, towering over him as

though nothing had happened. Once again, Ahriman was impressed by the Space Wolves.

“I’m not sure,” he gasped, blinding spots of light sparkling behind his eyes from burst blood

vessels, “a psychic scream of some sort.”

“Can you block it?” asked Skarssen, holding his hand out to Ahriman.

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“No, it’s too powerful.”

“We will not need to,” said Uthizzar.

Ahriman took Skarssen’s hand and hauled himself upright, his head still aching from the

pressure of the unexpected war shout. Uthizzar nodded at him and pointed out into the valley.

He glanced over the white-hot rocks he and the Space Wolves sheltered behind. The searing fire

of the Titan’s weapons had vitrified them, the solid stone now smooth and translucent. Razor-edged

discs the width of a man were embedded in the glass, caught by the molten rock before it hardened

and singing with the vibration of their impacts.

Blinking away bright afterimages, Ahriman looked down the valley. The elongated head

sections of the war machines were burned black, their previously impervious armour cracked and

their bejewelled heads split open. Ahriman smelled the burnt metal taste of an incredibly powerful

aetheric discharge. Whips of wild lightning lashed from the broken armour, and he watched with

fierce pride as Magnus the Red stalked through the storm of fire and death towards the towering

machines with twin fists of fire.

Ghostly light rippled across the Titans. Explosions bit chunks out of their ceramic skin, and

viscous black liquid, like boiling oil, slithered from the wounds.

“You see!” roared Skarssen. “They bleed!”

“It won’t be nearly enough,” returned Ahriman, “no matter how many harpoons you bring to

bear!”

“Just watch,” promised Skarssen, throwing himself flat as a shrieking wall of light broke against

their cover. Superheated air hissed and greedily sucked oxygen from the air with a thunderclap.

“The Storm breaks!” roared Wyrdmake. “The Tempest gives its sign!”

Magnus faced the giant machines alone, his feathered cloak spread behind him like an eagle’s

wings. His flesh swelled with power, and for a brief moment it seemed that he matched the Titan in

stature. His unbound hair was a stiffened mane of red, and his limbs ran with electric light. The

Primarch of the Thousand Sons drew back his arm and loosed a stream of blue fire that struck the

nearest Titan square in the chest.

The alien engine was an artfully designed war machine from an age long-forgotten, the ancient

craft of its makers wondrous to behold, but it could not resist such incredible, awe-inspiring power.

Its torso exploded, vast ribs of unknown manufacture shattering like brittle china and falling in fire-

blackened splinters. The pendulous head toppled from its neck and crashed to the rocks far below.

The war machine fell with infinite majesty, slamming down in pieces upon the rocky ground

over which it had stood sentinel for longer than humans could comprehend. Blinding clouds of dust

swept out from its fall, obscuring the fate of the second Titan.

A strange silence fell over the battlefield, as though no one could really believe they had seen

the incredible war machine die. The silence was uncanny, but it did not last long.

A triumphant howl erupted from the throats of the Wolves, an ululating victory roar, but

Ahriman took no pleasure at such destruction.

“A terrible thing to see something so magnificent brought low,” said Ahriman.

“You pity it?” asked Wyrdmake. “Does not the hunter feel the joy at the moment of the kill?”

“I feel nothing but sorrow,” said Ahriman.

Wyrdmake looked at him with genuine confusion, affronted that Ahriman sought to sour this

moment of great victory. “The beast killed entire packs of your warriors. Vengeance demanded its

death. It is right to honour your foe, but to mourn its death is pointless.”

“Maybe so, but what secrets and knowledge have been lost in its destruction?”

“What secrets worth knowing does such a beast keep?” said Skarssen. “Better it dies and its

secrets are lost than to ken such alien witchery.”

The smoke of the mighty construct’s death parted, and a keening roar built from within the

depths of the ashen clouds, a wail of sorrow and anger entwined. A mighty shadow moved in the

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depths of the billowing dust, and the surviving Titan emerged. It was wounded and bled black rivers

of glistening liquid, but like a cornered animal it was still horribly dangerous.

Its lance arm slid around, the barrel aimed squarely at Magnus, and Ahriman saw that the

enormous power the primarch had wielded had cost him dearly. Magnus’ skin was pale, the fiery

copper lustre dimmed to a faded brass. He was down on one knee, as though offering servitude to a

bellicose god of war.

The ground shook as the giant moved forward. It lowered its head to study the insignificant

creature ranged against it. The remnants of its rained arm spat flames and smoke. Its sweeping

shoulder wings were aflame, sagging and useless at its shoulders, like a broken angel of destruction

come to rid Aghoru of all life.

Killing light built along the length of its weapon, and a shriek of violated air built as it drew

breath.

And a blazing lance of sunfire stabbed out, searing Magnus from the face of the world.

The Thousand Sons screamed.

The heat of a million stars wreathed their primarch, and no matter that he was one of twenty

towering pinnacles of gene-wrought superhuman warriors, even he could not survive such an attack.

A surge tide of liquid fire swept out, turning the rock of the Mountain to glass.

Ahriman’s grip on the Enumerations collapsed in the face of such visceral horror; grief, anger

and hatred jammed a twisting knife in his guts. The Titan poured its deadly fire upon Magnus, and

Ahriman knew he would never live to see so hideous a sight.

Beside him, Uthizzar clutched his head in agony. Even in the midst of his grief, Ahriman pitied

Uthizzar. How terrible must it be for a telepath to feel the death of his father?

Moments passed in utter silence, as though the world itself could not quite believe what had

happened. One of the Emperor’s favoured sons had been struck down. It was inconceivable. What

force could end the life of a primarch? The stubborn reality of it could not yet penetrate their

legends, could not break the unassailable fact of their immortality.

That fact was fiction, and Ahriman felt his world crumble.

The Thousand Sons screamed.

The Space Wolves howled.

The vox exploded with it, an atavistic declaration of fury.

“With me!” shouted Skarssen.

And the Wolves were unleashed.

They poured from the rocks, bolters spitting fire and missiles launched on the ran as they swept

towards the Titan. The Terminators led the charge, a wall of armoured fury that would eviscerate

any normal foe, but which would be next to useless against this enemy. Ahriman and Uthizzar went

with them, knowing it was madness for infantry to move in the presence of so powerful and terrible

a war machine. The Titan was king of the battlefield, a towering killing machine that crashed foot-

soldiers without even registering their presence.

Yet there was an undeniable thrill in risking everything like this, a noble heroism and vitality he

normally never felt in combat. The Enumerations gave a warrior focus, prevented his emotions from

overwhelming him, and kept his mind free of distractions that could get him killed. The business of

war was more deadly than it had ever been in any of the violent ages of Man, the surety of death or

injury a warrior’s constant companion. The Enumerations helped the Thousand Sons face such

thoughts objectively, and allowed them to fight on regardless.

To do otherwise was inconceivable, and Ahriman was always amazed that mortals ever dared to

step onto a battlefield. Yet here he was, raw grief and the vicarious energy of the Space Wolves

carrying him forward without the protection of emotional detachment.

As the Space Wolves came, so too did the Thousand Sons.

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The last surviving Land Raiders, both black and belching smoke, darted like pack predators as

they fired on the Titan. Desperate to avenge their primarch, the red-armoured warriors of Magnus

charged with the same boundless energy as the Space Wolves, their cool detachment cast aside in

this one, headlong charge.

It was reckless and futile, but also brave and heroic.

The seething fire began to fade, and Ahriman’s charge faltered at the sight before him. A

vitrified bowl of a crater spread out at the mighty war engine’s clawed feet, yet at its centre was a

sight that lifted his heart and filled him with awe.

A shimmering dome of golden-hued energy rippled in the heat haze, and within it, two armoured

figures. Atop a crooked pillar of rock at the heart of the crater, all that had survived the Titan’s fire,

were Phosis T’kar and Magnus the Red. The captain of the 2nd Fellowship was bent almost double,

his arms raised to his shoulders like Atlas Telamon of Old Earth, the rebellious titan doomed to bear

the celestial sphere upon his shoulders for all eternity.

“A kine shield,” breathed Uthizzar. “Who knew T’kar was so strong?”

Ahriman laughed in desperate relief. Magnus was alive! He was on his knees, weakened and all

but exhausted by his destruction of the first Titan, but he was alive, and that simple fact pulsed

through every warrior of the Thousand Sons in a connected instant of joy and wonder.

In that moment of relief, the Astartes of both Legions let fly their anger and hurt pride.

The Space Wolves unleashed the fangs of their every weapon, bolts, missiles and armour-

cracking shells seeking out the Titan’s wounds and tearing them wider. In the midst of me Sons of

Russ, Ahriman and Uthizzar did likewise, unloading magazine after magazine of explosive rounds

at the object of their hatred. Skarssen exhorted his warriors with bellowed howls without meaning,

but with a power all their own. Ohthere Wyrdmake prowled the length of the Space Wolf advance,

surrounded by pack wolves as a frozen wind and the echo of a distant winter storm swirled around

him.

The Wolves of Fenris attacked with all their weapons, and so too did the scions of Prospero fight

with all of theirs.

Hundreds of waving streams of fire licked up at the Titan, but this was no ordinary barrage.

Warriors bearing the phoenix symbol of the Pyrae were firing on the move, hurling aetheric flames

from their gauntlets. In the midst of the 6th Fellowship, Khalophis threw his fists like a pugilist,

each jab sending a stream of coruscating fire against the enormous Titan. Where it struck, it burned

away the Titan’s armour, exposing its crystalline structure and unmaking the bone-like material of

its construction.

“Merciful fates!” cried Uthizzar at the sight of Khalophis. “What is he doing?”

“Rescuing our primarch!” yelled Ahriman. “As we should!”

The strength of the Pyrae was ascendant, but this was incredible. Within the cult temples of

Prospero, such art could be wielded without fear, but to do so with outsiders present was reckless

beyond imagining.

Nor were Khalophis and Phosis T’kar alone in their brazen displays.

Hathor Maat whipped his hands back and forth, each time casting traceries of purple lightning

towards the towering machine. Explosions and dancing balls of fire crackled like electric chains

around its body, burning its armour open. Arcs of lightning flashed between the warriors of the

Pavoni as their captain drank deep of their energies and channelled it through his flesh.

Uthizzar grabbed his arm, and Ahriman read the fear in his aura.

“They have to stop!” hissed Uthizzar. “All of them! To tap into the Great Ocean is intoxicating,

you know that all too well, but only the most disciplined and powerful dare wield power such as

this!”

“Our brother-captains are powerful and disciplined practitioners of the hidden arts,” said

Ahriman, shrugging off Uthizzar’s hold.

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“But are they disciplined enough ? That is the real question.”

Ahriman had no answer for him and returned his attention to killing the Titan.

The Titan was dying, but it didn’t die easily. Its limbs thrashed in its death throes, spitting

incandescent pulses of energy that tore down the valley walls and obliterated dozens of Astartes

with every fiery sweep.

Its defiance was finally ended when Khalophis and Hathor Maat combined a hurricane of fire

and a spear of lightning that struck the war machine’s head with a killing blow. The curved skull

exploded and the towering machine collapsed, plummeting straight down like dead wood hewn by a

woodsman’s axe.

The noise was deafening: breaking plates, shattering glass and snapping bone all in one. It fell

hard, breaking into a billion pieces, none larger than the size of a man’s fist, and a glittering rain of

splintered ceramic fell upon the victorious Astartes like musical notes. The Astartes lowered their

weapons, and took a collective breath as the dust and smoke of battle began to settle.

The golden dome shielding Phosis T’kar and the primarch collapsed with a squalling shriek.

Phosis T’kar fell, utterly drained by the act of protecting his primarch, as Magnus the Red rose to his

feet once more. Though the toll taken upon him was great, he remained as magnificent as ever.

Magnus lifted the stricken body of Phosis T’kar, and stepped from the pillar of rock.

He did not fall. Instead, Magnus floated across the crater like a battle-weary angel, borne aloft

by his incredible power through a billowing mist of shimmering crystal.

The Thousand Sons were there to greet him, ecstatic beyond words that their primarch had

survived. Ahriman and Uthizzar pushed through the scrum of Astartes, their warriors only

reluctantly parting to allow them through. Ahriman reached the edge of the crater as Magnus set

foot on the glassy floor of the valley and gently laid Phosis T’kar before him.

“Hathor Maat,” said Magnus, his voice weary and thin. “See to him. Bend all the power of the

Pavoni to his survival. You will not allow him to die.”

The captain of the 3rd Fellowship nodded. He knelt beside Phosis T’kar and swiftly removed his

helmet. T’kar’s face was deathly pale. Hathor Maat placed his hands on either side of his neck, and

almost instantaneously colour returned to his face.

“My lord,” said Ahriman, his voice almost too choked with emotion to speak. “We thought…

We thought you lost to us.”

Magnus smiled weakly, dabbing at a trickle of blood that ran from the corner of his mouth. His

eye shone a bruised violet and red. Never had Ahriman seen his beloved leader so battered.

“I will live,” said Magnus. “But this is not over yet. These guardians were perverted by the

corruption imprisoned beneath this peak. It has lain dormant for an age, but it has awoken. Unless

we stop it, everything we have learned here will be lost.”

“What would you have us do, lord?” demanded Khalophis.

Magnus turned to the cave mouth. It was thick with growths, like blackened roots from some

parasitic weed burrowed into the meat of the Mountain.

“Walk with me into the depths, my sons,” said Magnus. “We will finish this together.”

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CHAPTER NINE

Abilities / Beneath the Mountain / The Language of Angels

The sun was at its zenith, and the idea of moving from beneath the canopy of his tent didn’t appeal

to Lemuel one bit. Camille wanted to travel the secret path through the Mountain again, eager to

know what had drawn the Thousand Sons and Space Wolves into its high valley with such speed.

The climb had almost ended Lemuel in the cool of sunset. He didn’t want to think what it would do

to him at noon.

“Aren’t you in the least bit curious?” asked Camille, reclining on a canvas chair and drinking

water from a battered leather canteen. “I mean, what’s got them all riled up that they needed to take

battle tanks? Land Raiders no less. Did you see?”

“I saw,” said Lemuel, dabbing his brow with his bandanna. “They were impressive.”

“Impressive?” said Camille, incredulously. “They were more than impressive, they were

amazing.”

“Okay, they were amazing, but no, I’m not that curious as to what’s happening in the Mountain.

I’m sure whatever is going on, we’ll find out in due course.”

“Easy for you to say,” noted Camille. “ You have a direct line to the Thousand Sons now.”

“It’s not like that,” said Lemuel.

“Then what is it like?” asked Kallista.

The three of them had taken to meeting each night since the arrival of the Space Wolves, their

shared discussions of what Kallista had written bonding them like conspirators with a dark secret.

The more time Lemuel spent with Kallista and Camille, the more he began to realise they shared

more than one.

“Lord Ahriman sees potential in me,” he said, knowing his words were wholly insufficient to

explain why the Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons had sent for him.

“What sort of potential?” asked Kallista.

Lemuel shrugged and said, “I’m not really sure yet.”

“Come on, that’s no answer,” pressed Camille.

Lemuel’s fear when Ahriman had told him he knew of his ability, had quickly faded, replaced

with a simmering pride in his powers. He had long suspected that his ability to read people marked

him out as special, and now he knew that was true. After spending time with Camille and Kallista,

he realised he wasn’t the only one. He hesitated before answering, knowing he could be wrong, but

wanting to be sure.

“After the other night, we know Kallista has a talent for, what would the word be? Channeling, I

suppose. Channeling a power that allows her to write things that haven’t happened yet.”

“Talent’s hardly the word I’d use,” said Kallista bitterly.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” agreed Lemuel, “not if it’s as painful as you say, but the physical

manifestation of your ability aside, you can do things most people cannot, yes?”

“Yes,” said Kallista, nodding, and he could read how uncomfortable talk of her power made her.

“Well, I also have an ability,” he said.

“What kind of ability?” asked Camille.

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“An ability to see things that other people cannot.”

Kallista leaned forward, her aura revealing her interest.

“What sort of things?” she asked.

“Auras, I suppose you’d call them. It’s like a glowing haze surrounding a person. I can see when

someone’s lying, read their feelings and moods. That sort of thing.”

“So what am I feeling right now?” asked Camille. Lemuel smiled.

“You are overcome with feelings of unbridled lust for me, my dear,” he said. “You want to leap

on me and ravish me to within an inch of my life. Were it not for the presence of Mistress Eris, you

would be astride me right now.”

Camille laughed.

“Okay, I’m convinced,” she said.

“Seriously?” asked Kallista.

“No!” squealed Camille. “I’m fond of Lemuel, but I prefer partners of a different flavour.”

“Oh,” said Kallista, looking away with a guilty flush. She looked at Lemuel. “Can you really do

that?”

“ Yes, I can,” he said. “Right now you’re embarrassed and wishing Camille wouldn’t refer to her

sexuality in front of you. You believe me, and you’re relieved that you’re not the only one with a

secret.”

“You don’t need special powers to see that, Lemuel,” said Camille. “Even I can see that.”

“Yes, but you believe me as well, and you have a power too, don’t you?”

Camille’s smile froze.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Now that’s a lie,” said Lemuel, rising from his chair and fetching himself a drink. “You touch

things and you know where they’ve come from, who owned them and everything about their history

going all the way back to when they were made. That’s why you always wear those gloves and why

you never borrow anything from other people. I don’t blame you. It must be hard learning all of a

person’s secrets like that.”

Camille looked away, her eyes downcast, and Lemuel smiled, trying to put her at ease.

“I watched you touch that object buried in the ruins of the Aghoru house the other day,” he said.

“You knew what it was the moment you laid your hand on it, didn’t you?”

Camille kept her eyes on the floor and said, “I did, yes. I haven’t always been able to do it. I was

about thirteen when it started.”

“Don’t worry, my dear,” said Lemuel gently. “We all have something special about us. And I

don’t think it’s an accident we’re here.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Think about it. What are the chances that the three of us, people with talents beyond the

understanding of most ordinary people, would find ourselves together like this? I’m no

mathematician, but I suspect the odds are pretty much against it.”

“So what are you saying, that we’re here deliberately? Why?”

Lemuel sat down again, sweating and breathless thanks to the heat.

“I think our hosts may have something to do with it,” he said. “Look around. How few

remembrancers are there with the XV Legion? Forty-two spread throughout the Fellowships. A

number like that makes me think there was a great deal more to our selection than our talents as

remembrancers.”

“So you’re saying we were all selected by the Thousand Sons because we have these abilities?”

“Almost certainly,” said Lemuel.

“Why?” asked Kallista.

“That, I don’t know,” confessed Lemuel, “but if there’s one thing I’ve come to know about the

Thousand Sons, it’s that they don’t do anything without good reason.”

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The inside of the Mountain was alive with sound and colour. Not any sound the Space Wolves could

hear, despite their legendarily heightened senses, nor any colour they could name, for these were

hues of the aether, rippling like smoke and radiating from the smooth walls of the cave like

bioluminescence.

The armour worn by the Astartes was equipped with sensors that could penetrate darkness, but

to those without aether-sight, the view would be a sea-green monochrome, a poor rendition of the

true light saturating the rock.

A hundred warriors delved the innards of the Mountain, all that could be spared from the

business of harvesting the gene-seed of the fallen.

Magnus led the way down, following a twisting path only he could see. Lord Skarssen and

Ohthere Wyrdmake marched with him, and Ahriman took a moment to study the Wolf Lord.

Skarssen’s aura was a keen blade, a focussed edge of single-minded determination. Here was a

warrior who never let up, never stopped to question, and would never, ever, falter in his duty.

Such surety of purpose reminded Ahriman of the golem legends written in the ancient Qabalah.

The golem was a creature shaped from clay, raised by an ancient priest to defend his people from

persecution. It was a powerful, unstoppable force, a creature that obeyed its master’s instructions

absolutely literally, never deviating from its task, no matter what.

It was a perfect representation for the Space Wolves, for Ahriman had read accounts of the war

they made. The sons of Russ were weapons, a consummate force for destruction that absolutely

would not stop until the job was done.

Of course, the legends of the golem were also cautionary tales of hubris, with later tales

depicting golems that had to be undone through trickery, whereupon they more often than not turned

on their creators. The Golem of Ingolstadt was one such beast, a monster that wreaked havoc on its

creator and all he loved before destroying itself upon a polar funeral pyre.

The comparison made Ahriman uneasy, and he put the thought from his mind as the tunnel

sloped ever downwards. Normally he could retrace any route, no matter how complex, but within

moments of entering the Mountain he was utterly lost. Only the primarch seemed to know where he

was going, but how he knew which passage to take and which junction to follow was a mystery to

Ahriman.

Of the captains of Fellowship, only Uthizzar had come into the Mountain. Phosis T’kar was too

weak, and Hathor Maat was restoring him with the healing arts of the Pavoni. Khalophis too had

remained on the surface to secure the battlefield. The alien Titans were no more, but who knew what

other horrors might yet lurk in hidden valleys and caves?

As a result, the Thousand Sons beneath the Mountain were a mix of Astartes from different

Fellowships, and Ahriman saw ghostly flickers of power rising from each of them, subtly different,

revealing their cult affiliations by the tempers of their auras.

He noted that most of them were Pyrae.

“I know,” said Uthizzar. “Together with the Space Wolves, there will be no room for subtlety

here.”

Ahriman was about to nod, when he realised he hadn’t spoken the thought aloud.

“Did you just read me?” he asked.

“It is hard not to at the moment,” replied Uthizzar. “Everyone’s thoughts are so heightened, with

the level of aetheric energy here. It is as if you are all shouting. I find it quite uncomfortable.”

Ahriman bristled at the idea of his thoughts being read.

“Be careful,” he warned. “That could get you into trouble some day. People do not like their

innermost secrets revealed.”

“My power is no different from yours,” said Uthizzar.

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“How do you reach that conclusion?” said Ahriman. “The powers of the Corvidae and the

Athanaeans are nothing alike.”

“I read what people are thinking now. You read what they are going to be doing in the future.

All that is different is the timing.”

“I hadn’t thought of it in that way,” conceded Ahriman. “Perhaps this can form a debate for

another day? This is probably not the best time.”

“No,” said Uthizzar with an amused chuckle.

They marched in silence for a while longer, following the crooked path deeper and deeper into

the darkness. To feel the touch of the aether in the Mountain, after its chronic absence, was both

exhilarating and worrying. Nothing happed without reason, and only something of great magnitude

could force the state of a thing to change with such extreme polarity.

What lurked in the depths of the Mountain that could effect such change?

The group lapsed into silence, each person pondering the implications of their shared abilities.

Kallista and Camille were relieved to share their burdens with others, yet wary of discarding a

lifetime of secrecy in so short a time.

It had bonded them. Whatever else might happen, whatever other journeys they might take, this

shared secret had forged a link between them. For now it was a fragile thing, but with careful

nurturing, it might prove to be enduring.

“So what do we do with this then?” asked Camille at last.

“What do you mean?” asked Lemuel.

“I mean, what do we do?” said Camille, throwing her hands up as though he were being obtuse.

“If you’re saying that we’re part of the 28th Expedition because of our abilities, are we supposed to

know that’s why we were selected? Can we use our abilities openly?”

Lemuel considered the question before saying, “I would caution against that, my dear. Powers

like ours are still considered witchery in some circles.”

“Do you think we are in danger?” asked Kallista, picking at a fold in her jellabiya. “Is that why

they’ve gathered us together? To get rid of us?”

“No, I don’t believe so,” said Lemuel hurriedly. He stood and went over to her chair, taking her

hand and looking her straight in the eye. “I don’t believe the Thousand Sons would go to such

lengths just to have us burned at the stake.”

“Then why do they want us?”

“I confess I do not know for sure,” he said. “Lord Ahriman says he wants to teach me how best

to use my powers. I think we are here to learn.”

“Why would the Thousand Sons care about teaching us anything?” asked Camille.

“Lord Ahriman said that by using our powers we make ourselves vulnerable,” said Lemuel,

grasping for concepts he didn’t know how to articulate. “I don’t understand it really, but I got the

impression that we’re all part of something larger, and that we’re on the cusp of something

wonderful. We could be the first of a new breed of people, people who can use their abilities safely

and teach other to do the same.”

Kallista snatched her hand back, and Lemuel was shocked at the fear he saw in her face. Her

aura shifted hue, turning from a soft yellow to an angry red.

“I don’t want to be a new breed of anything,” she said, pushing her chair back and rising to her

feet. “I don’t want this ability. If I could get rid of it I would!”

Lemuel stood and raised his hands in a placating gesture.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to push you.”

“It hurts so much,” she said, haltingly, pressing her hands to her temples and holding back tears

with an effort of will. “Every time the fire comes, it burns part of me away with it. Unless I stop it,

I’m afraid it’s going to burn me away entirely one day.”

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Camille pushed herself from her chair and took Kallista in her arms.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We’ll look out for you, won’t we, Lemuel?”

“Of course,” he said, “without question. People like us need to stick together.”

“People like what?” said a voice behind them.

Lemuel jumped as though struck, and turned to see a frail old man in the beige robe of a

remembrancer with a long mane of frizzy white hair, only reluctantly contained in a wiry ponytail.

Thin and stooped, he carried a slim, leatherbound book under his arm, and his walnut coloured skin

was ancient and deeply creased with great age.

“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” asked Mahavastu Kallimakus, Scrivener Extraordinary to

Magnus the Red.

Lemuel was first to recover. “Mahavastu! No, no, you’re always welcome. Come in, won’t you?

I rarely see you these days. Magnus got you so busy writing his memoirs you don’t have time for

your old friend?”

Kallimakus looked uncomfortable, and Lemuel read the unease permeating his aura.

“Is something the matter, my friend?” asked Lemuel, steering Kallimakus into the tent.

“I rather fear it might be,” said Mahavastu.

“What is it?” asked Camille, getting up and allowing the old man to take her seat.

“It is the primarch,” said Mahavastu, placing the leatherbound book in his lap with a guilty

shudder. “I fear he and his warriors are in great danger.”

“What kind of danger?” asked Kallista.

“The gravest danger,” said Mahavastu. “The gravest danger imaginable.”

They came at last to a great chasm in the heart of the Mountain, a perfectly circular sinkhole,

hundreds of metres in diameter. The roof above the enormous pit was a crystalline temple dome,

formed from the same substance as the Titans. The dome was pale cream, threaded with veins of

crimson like the finest marble. And, like the Titans, its substance had been invaded with the black

ropes of corruption.

Thousands of glistening, pulsing black pillars rose from the pit like the roots of some unnatural

weed. They pulsed with liquid motion, obscene mockeries of life-giving veins that fed on life

instead of sustaining it.

“Great bones of Fenris,” hissed Skarssen. “What manner of beast is this?”

No one had an answer for him, their horror at the sight too visceral to put into words.

Ahriman moved through the stunned Astartes to the edge of the pit. A ledge ran around the

circumference of the chasm, easily wide enough to drive a pair of Land Raiders abreast. Gold and

silver symbols were worked into the bones of the rock, as the though they had always existed and

the Mountain had simply grown up around them.

Magnus stood at the edge of the chasm, looking in wonder at the impenetrable forest of oozing

black tentacles rising from the pit. The lustre had returned to his skin, as though he were refreshed

by the journey closer to the source of the power beneath the Mountain. Ohthere Wyrdmake and

Lord Skarssen followed Ahriman, joining the primarch at the edge.

“What are they?” asked Skarssen, kneeling beside the nearest symbol, a gold serpent entwined

with a silver eye.

“Warding symbols?” suggested Wyrdmake, “Like the wolf talismans we bear.”

Skarssen touched the wolf pelt at his shoulder, and Ahriman watched as all the Space Wolves

superstitiously reached for various fetishes hanging from their armour. Those closest to Wyrdmake

touched the eagle-topped staff he carried, and Ahriman smiled.

“Superstition?” he said. “The Emperor would not approve.”

“An Astartes of the Thousand Sons telling us what the Emperor would not approve of?” laughed

Wyrdmake. “Ironic, wouldn’t you say?”

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“No, I just find the gestures quaint,” smiled Ahriman, “almost primitive. I mean no offence of

course.”

“None taken,” replied Wyrdmake. “But you too reached for a talismanic device.”

The smile froze on Ahriman’s lips as he realised the Rune Priest was right. Without even being

aware of it, he had pressed his fingers to the silver oakleaf cluster on his shoulder guard, the icon

that had once belonged to Ohrmuzd.

“Perhaps we are not so different after all,” said Wyrdmake.

“Perhaps not,” allowed Ahriman, turning his attention back to the thick ropes of black matter

rising from the pit.

Magnus stood immobile, as though in silent communion, and Ahriman stood next to him.

“My lord?” he asked. “What is it?”

“It’s incredible, Ahzek,” said Magnus. “It’s raw matter, the very stuff of the Primordial Creator

given form.”

“It’s rank is what it is,” hissed Skarssen. “Any fool can see that.”

“It’s alive,” hissed Uthizzar, walking to the edge of the pit with sleepwalker’s strides.

“Oh, it is alive, all right,” nodded Magnus. “I have never felt anything quite so alive, not for a

long time. Not for a very long time indeed.”

Ahriman felt a thrill of warning along the length of his spine. Previously, the primarch had

labelled this power stagnant and dead.

“It’s calling us,” said Uthizzar, and Ahriman heard the dream-like quality of his voice. “I need to

go to it.”

“What’s calling to you?” said Ahriman, but no sooner had he spoken than he heard it, a soft

whisper, like a distant friend calling from afar. It was not an unwelcome sound. It was gentle, a

beguiling whisper redolent with the promise of raptures beyond measure.

Magnus turned to his captains and shook his head. Ahriman saw that Magnus’ eye was deep

black, the pupil massively enlarged and swollen, as though filled with the same dark substance as

the glistening pillars.

“My sons,” said Magnus, and Ahriman felt the barely constrained power laden in every syllable.

“Concentrate. Rise to the tenth Enumeration and shut out the voices. You are not strong enough to

resist them. I have dealt with power like this before. I mastered it then, and I will master it now.”

Uthizzar nodded, and Ahriman felt his consciousness rise into the uppermost Enumeration, a

place of inner solitude where a warrior could find peace, untroubled by the concerns of the world

around them. It was an effort to reach such a state of mind, especially here, but Uthizzar was master

of his own psyche. Ahriman rose alongside him, and the voices ceased, shut off as surely as a vox-

caster with the power cell removed.

With the clarity imparted by the tenth sphere, Ahriman saw movement within the heart of the

mass of tentacles, a flash of saffron and a glitter of something reflective.

“No,” he whispered, his grip on the tenth sphere slipping as a flash of recognition surfaced.

“Please don’t let it be so.”

As though in response to his words, the tentacles shivered, and a repulsive slithering sound, as of

a thousand greasy limbs moving together, filled the chamber. The Space Wolves were instantly

alert, their guns snapping upright, though there were no obvious targets for their wrath beyond the

black tentacles.

“What is going on?” demanded Skarssen.

Wyrdmake’s staff crackled with power, but the Rune Priest regarded it with horror, as though it

had transformed into a poisonous snake.

“Spread out,” ordered Magnus, “and stay away from the edge.”

The gelatinous mass of plant-like growths rippled, and a number of thick stems detached

themselves from the domed roof of the chamber. Like disease-ridden fronds in a polluted pool, the

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nearest tentacles sagged and spread as something moved through them, on a course angled towards

the Thousand Sons.

A black veil parted, and Ahriman’s control of the spheres collapsed completely as he saw a

wretched figure drift through the tar-black tentacles.

Scraps of orange fabric clung to its naked body, which hung limp with its head down like a

puppet bereft of a puppeteer. The figure was borne aloft by a host of slender tentacles, one a

gleaming noose around his neck, another around his temple like a crown of obsidian.

These tentacles were not like the others. Their vile substance was alive with gaping mouths and

seething eyes that bubbled into existence before dissolving into nothingness.

The figure drew nearer, and he lifted his head. His eyes were oil-dark and reflective, and fine

black lines threaded his skin as though the black tentacles had filled him with their corrupt

substance. A cracked mirrormask hung at his throat.

The man’s mouth was moving, as though he were screaming in unimaginable torment, but no

sounds emerged, only a sopping gurgle of fluid-filled lungs.

“Is that…?” asked Uthizzar.

“It is,” said Magnus sadly. “Yatiri.”

Mahavastu Kallimakus hailed from the subcontinent of Indoi, and was a meticulous recorder of data

and a fastidious observer of details. He had scribed much of the earliest days of the Great Crusade

and had been one of the first remembrancers to be chosen by the Thousand Sons. His reputation had

preceded him, and he was immediately assigned to Magnus the Red.

He had been at Magnus’ side since the restored Legion had departed Prospero in a fanfare of

triumph, cheering crowds and billowing clouds of rose petals. He had recorded the primarch’s every

thought and deed in a great tome that many called the Book of Magnus.

Those remembrancers who found it difficult to collect any first-hand accounts of the Great

Crusade from the Thousand Sons looked upon Mahavastu Kallimakus with no small amount of

jealousy. Lemuel had met Mahavastu Kallimakus on the Photep during a symposium on the best

form of data collation, and their friendship had been borne of a mutual love of detail.

“God is in the details,” Mahavastu would say as they pored over one of the many manuscripts in

the vessel’s fascinating library.

“You mean the devil is in the details,” Lemuel would reply.

“That, my dear Lemuel, depends entirely on the detail in question.”

Kallimakus was energetic, with the vigour of a man half his chronological age, which was

somewhere in the region of a hundred and thirty standard.

Right now, Mahavastu Kallimakus looked every one of those years.

The aged remembrancer opened his book, and Lemuel looked over his shoulder.

“An artist’s notebook,” he said, seeing the charcoal and pencil marks of an artist’s preliminary

outlines. “I never had you pegged as a sketcher. All seems a bit woolly for a man like you, none of

the precision of language.”

Kallimakus shook his head.

“And you would be right, Lemuel,” he said. “I am not an artist. In truth, I am no longer sure

what I am.”

“I’m sorry, Mahavastu, I don’t follow.”

“I do not remember drawing them,” said Mahavastu in exasperation. “I do not remember

anything in this book, neither pictures nor words. I look back over every entry I have made and they

are a mystery to me.”

Tears glistened in the old man’s eyes, and Lemuel saw the anxiety in his aura replaced with

aching sorrow.

“Everything I have written… I remember none of it.”

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“Have you had someone from the medicae corps check you out?” asked Camille. “I had an uncle

who got old and his mind turned on him. He couldn’t remember anything, even things you just told

him. Soon he forgot who he was and couldn’t remember his wife or children. It was sad, watching

him die by degrees in front of us.” Mahavastu shook his head.

“I am familiar with such progressive patterns of cognitive and functional impairment, Mistress

Shivani, so I had a medicae scan my brain this morning,” he said. “The neuron and synapse counts

in my cerebral and subcortical regions are quite normal, and he found no atrophy or degeneration in

my temporal and prietal lobes. The only anomaly was a minor shadow in the cingulate gyrus, but

there was nothing that might explain all this.”

Lemuel looked more closely at the drawings, trying to sort out some meaning from the ragged

sketches and scrawled notations.

“Are you sure you did all this?” he asked, studying the strange symbols that filled every page.

He could not read the words, but he recognised the language, and knew that this was no ordinary

book of remembrance.

This was a grimoire.

“I am sure,” said Mahavastu. “It is my handwriting.”

“How do you know?” asked Kallista. “You use a scrivener harness.”

“Yes, my dear, but in order to calibrate such a device for use, one must first attune it to one’s

own penmanship. There is not a graphologist alive who could tell the machine’s work from mine.”

“What is it? I can’t read it,” said Camille.

“I do not know. It is in a language I have never seen.”

“It’s Enochian,” said Lemuel, “the so-called language of angels.”

“Angels?” asked Camille. “How do you know that?”

“I have an incomplete copy of the Liber Loagaeth in my library back on Terra,” explained

Lemuel. Seeing their confusion, Lemuel said, “It’s supposed to be a list of prayers from heaven

channelled through an ancient magician of Old Earth. It’s written in this language, though I’ve only

ever been able to translate tiny fragments of it. Apparently there was once a twin book, the Claves

Angelicae, which had the letter tables, but I never found a copy.”

“Enochian,” mused Mahavastu. “Interesting, you must tell me more of it.”

“In case anyone’s forgotten, didn’t you say that Magnus the Red was in grave danger?” asked

Kallista. “Shouldn’t we focus on that?”

“Oh, of course, yes!” exclaimed Mahavastu, flicking through the book to the last page, which

bore a charcoal sketch rendered with quick, passionate strokes. The image seemed to depict a naked

figure emerging from a giant forest, though as Lemuel looked closer he saw that it wasn’t a forest at

all.

It was a nest of sinuous, snake-like tentacles emerging from a giant chasm, and before it was the

unmistakable form of Magnus the Red, ensnared by half a dozen of them. His warriors were also

under attack, fighting for their lives in a giant cave.

Within a mountain…

“What is it?” asked Camille. “I can’t make head nor tail of it.”

“I have no idea,” said Mahavastu. “Lemuel?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I agree it looks bad.”

“What’s that word below the picture?” asked Kallista.

Scrawled beneath the image was a single word, and Lemuel’s blood froze in his veins as he

realised it was one of the few Enochian words he understood.

“Panphage,” he translated, and Mahavastu flinched.

“What?” asked Kallista. “What does that mean?”

“It means ‘the thing that devours all’,” said Lemuel.

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CHAPTER TEN

The Hydra / Belly of the Beast / Time will Tell

The thing that had once been Yatiri drifted towards the Thousand Sons, borne aloft by the

supporting black tentacles. The darkness of his eyes was absolute, as though they were gateways

into a realm where endless night held sway. Magnus drew his curved sword, and Ahriman felt his

master’s enormous power swell to the fore.

The vox spat with Fenrisian oaths and muttered catechisms of the Enumerations, but Ahriman

heard only the sibilant whispers drifting from the black mass that rose from the pit.

Magnussss… Magnusss…

It seemed to be repeating his primarch’s name, but it was impossible to be certain.

Magnus the Red stepped towards Yatiri, and the tentacle around the Aghoru’s neck tightened.

Veins bulged on Yatiri’s face, his skin pale and discoloured, calloused where his enforced wearing

of the mask had hardened the skin.

Yatiri’s features were blunt and wide-spaced across the skull, a heavy brow and high forehead

suggestive of thick bone protecting the brain. Ahriman realised that he had never seen the Aghoru

without their masks, not even the children.

Questing tentacles that had detached from the domed roof descended towards the Astartes, and

Ahriman drew his pistol, fingers tightening on his heqa staff.

“If those tentacles get too close, destroy them,” he ordered.

The cavern echoed with the sound of the saw-toothed edges of chainblades revving up.

Yatiri’s body drifted towards Magnus, and Ahriman felt his finger twitch on the trigger. Great

power filled the tribesman’s body, a dark tide that Ahriman sensed was but the merest fraction of the

power leaking up from beneath the world.

“My lord?” he said.

“I know,” said Magnus. “I can contain it. This is no mystery to me.”

Uthizzar moved alongside Ahriman, his heqa staff alive with internal lines of power. Though he

could not see Uthizzar’s face, he saw the strain he was under in every forced movement.

Ahriman kept one eye on Magnus and the other on the waving pseudopods approaching from

above. They were smooth and oily, quite unnatural, and Ahriman sensed a monstrous intelligence in

their sinuous movements, like snakes poised to strike at helpless prey.

“My lord,” said Ahriman once more. “What are your orders?”

Magnus did not reply, meeting Yatiri’s gaze. Ahriman felt the power flowing between them,

sensing immense energies struggling for supremacy. A silent battle of the soul was being fought,

and Ahriman could do nothing to help his primarch.

Then two things happened at once.

Yatiri’s body suddenly rushed forward, and his arms closed around Magnus in a hideous parody

of a brotherly embrace, his black eyes ablaze with inner fire.

And the black serpent-like tentacles poised above the Astartes attacked.

No sooner had they moved than Ahriman opened fire.

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The deafening crack of bolters filled the cavern with echoing bursts and strobing muzzle flashes.

Black ichor splashed armour as the tentacles exploded with each impact. Yet there were scores of

them, and for each one obliterated, a dozen more remained.

Ahriman emptied his magazine in four controlled bursts.

He felt Uthizzar next to him, the telepath forced to fight with combat moves drawn from muscle

memory rather than skill. The crushing pressure of dreadful power seeking entry to his mind was

almost unbearable, and he could only imagine what it must feel like to a telepath.

“They keep coming!” yelled Uthizzar.

“Like the hydra of Lerna,” said Ahriman between swings of his staff.

Each time a bolt found a target, a tentacle exploded in a mass of tarry black blood, hissing

fiercely as it evaporated. They were insubstantial, but their threat was in quantity, not quality. Ropes

of matter enfolded Ahriman, wrapping around him like constrictor lizards.

He released controlled bursts of energy, and they melted from his body. More reached for him,

but his heqa staff swept out, its copper and gold bands rippling with fire. Uthizzar stepped back, and

Ahriman braced his mind’s defences, knowing what would come next.

A blistering surge of invisible aether erupted from Uthizzar in a deafening shriek, burning

through the air like the Shockwave of a magma bomb. It went unheard by the Space Wolves, but the

tentacles around them dissolved into black fog at its touch, and others drew back, recognising his

power and wary of him. Uthizzar dropped to his knees, head bowed, and bleeding aetheric light

from every joint in his armour.

In the few moments’ space Uthizzar had created, Ahriman pushed towards where he had last

seen Magnus. The primarch’s body was still held in Yatiri’s loathsome embrace, but his flesh was

all but obscured by a mass of writhing tentacles. More were slithering around his body with every

second that passed.

“Go!” cried Uthizzar, and Ahriman saw how much the unleashed storm had drained him. To

loose such power while under so fierce an attack was nothing short of a miracle.

Ahriman nodded to Uthizzar and pushed onwards as fresh enemies flailed from the pit, blocking

him from reaching the primarch. It was a living wall of snaking darkness, but his staff cleaved

through them like a threshing scythe.

An unstoppable mass of tentacles boiled from the chasm, thousands of blind monsters

empowered by some hideous perversion of the Great Ocean’s energy. His power was anathema to

these creatures, the pure fire of the aether a nemesis touch to such corruption.

The Space Wolves fought with immovable fury, blades hacking with relentless force and

implacable resolve. Their guns fired in a non-stop crescendo, yet they were hideously outnumbered

by their foes and had not the power of the aether to aid them.

Ahriman saw one of the Space Wolves lifted from his feet by a host of tentacles, his armour

buckling under the awful pressure. He kept firing and howling until his armour finally gave way

with a horrid crack of ceramite and bone. Blood fountained from the shorn halves of his body, but

he continued shooting, even as his remains were drawn into the pit. Nor was he alone in his fate.

Everywhere Ahriman looked, warriors were being torn apart. Dozens were dying with every passing

minute, yet still they fought on.

Lord Skarssen laid about himself with a sword that glittered with cold light, a blade that legend

would say was fashioned from ice hewn from the heart of a glacier and tempered in the breath of the

mightiest kraken. Like Ahriman’s staff, the blade was the bane of the darkness, destroying it with

the merest touch.

Ohthere Wyrdmake fought at his side, his eagle-topped staff spinning around his body in a

glowing arc, leaving glittering traceries on the retina with its impossible brightness. Like Ahriman,

Wyrdmake had power, and the darkness was wary of him.

The Rune Priest saw him, and Ahriman forged a path towards him.

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Lord Skarssen looked up at his approach, and the cold flint of his eyes was even colder. There

was no hatred, no battle fury, simply the implacable will to destroy his foe. The methodical, clinical

nature of Skarssen’s battle surprised Ahriman, but he had no time to dwell upon it.

“We need to reach my primarch,” he yelled over the barking gunfire and ripping sound of

chainblades. “And then we need to get out of here.”

“Never!” shouted Skarssen. “The foe is yet to die. We leave when it is dead, and not before.”

Ahriman could see there was no use in arguing with the Wolf Lord; his course was set and

nothing he could say would sway him. He nodded and turned back towards the battle, a writhing,

heaving mass of dark tentacles and struggling warriors.

The Thousand Sons enjoyed the best of the fight, their heqa staffs and innate powers having a

greater effect on the enemy than the Space Wolves’ guns and blades. The Astartes were holding, but

against an unstoppable, numberless enemy, it would take more than simple determination to win.

“Very well,” he said. “You will fight at my side?”

“Wyrdmake will,” snarled Skarssen. “I fight with the warriors of my blood.”

Ahriman nodded. He had expected no more. Without another word, he set off towards the edge

of the chasm, forging a path with blazing swipes of his staff and bursts of aether-fire from his

gauntlets. Wyrdmake matched him step for step, two warriors of enormous strength fighting side by

side with powers beyond the ken of mortal men.

A black snake lashed at Wyrdmake’s helmet, and Ahriman severed it. Another wrapped around

Ahriman’s waist, and Wyrdmake burned it to ash with a gesture. Their thoughts were weapons as

much as their staffs, but they were forced to fight for every step, destroying the tentacles with killing

blows and violent impulses. Bred of different gene-fathers, they nevertheless fought as one, each

warrior’s fighting style complementing the other. Where Ahriman fought with rigidly controlled

discipline, each blow precisely measured and weighted, Ohthere fought with intuitive fluidity,

invented on the move and owing more to innate ability than to any imposed training.

It was a combination that was lethally effective, with both warriors fighting as though they had

trained with one another since birth. They fought through a dense thicket of black limbs to reach the

edge of the chasm, the sinuous matter parting before their every blow. Only when Ahriman felt the

faded symbols underfoot did he realise they had reached the edge.

The bodies of Thousand Sons and Space Wolves were being dragged into the pit, their limbs

wrapped in glistening black ropes. Ahriman reached out with his aetheric senses, and turned as he

felt the spiking, awesome presence of Magnus.

“The primarch!” cried Ahriman, looking deep into the heaving mass.

Magnus and Yatiri, locked together like lovers, were carried away by the tentacles, and drawn

deeper into the beating heart of the mass.

The darkness closed around Magnus.

And he was gone.

It was not unpleasant, not in the slightest.

Magnus felt the impotent rage of the seething enemy as it sought to twist him and overpower

him the way it had overpowered Yatiri. The elder was gone, his mind a broken thing shattered by

such exposure, his body degenerating with every passing second. Magnus had a mind crafted and

honed by the greatest cognitive architect in the galaxy, and remained aloof from such brute displays.

He felt its manifestations writhing around his corporeal body, but shut himself off from physical

sensations, turning his perceptions inwards as it bore him down into its depths. It amused him to see

how its substance had been shaped, its form a reflection of the nightmares and legends of the

Aghoru.

So simple and yet so dreadful.

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What culture did not have a dread of slimy, wriggling things that lived in the dark? These

creatures were shaped by the tortured mind of Yatiri, filtered through the lens of his darkest terrors

and ancient legends. Magnus was fortunate indeed that the people of Aghoru had so limited a palette

from which to paint its existence.

The inchoate energy pouring into the world had its source far below him, and he shrugged off

Yatiri’s embrace with a thought. His flesh burned as hot as a forge, and he blasted the elder’s body

to ash as he plunged into the chasm with the first words of the Enumerations on his lips.

His warriors used the Enumerations to rise to states of mind where they could function with

optimum mental efficiency, but they were like stepping-stones across a tiny stream to a being such

as Magnus. He had mastered them before he had left Terra for the first time, his father’s words of

warning still ringing in his mind.

He had heeded the warning, enduring Amon’s tutorials and sermons regarding the power of the

Great Ocean on Prospero, while knowing that greater power lay within his reach. Amon had been

kind to him, and had accepted the knowledge of his growing obsolescence with good grace, for

Magnus outstripped him in learning and power at an early age. Yet he too had warned of peering too

deeply into the Ocean’s depths.

The desolation of Prospero was warning enough of the consequences of reaching too far and too

heedlessly.

Only when the Emperor had brought the survivors of his Legion to Prospero had Magnus known

he would have to disregard the warnings and delve further into the mysteries. His gene-sons were

dying, their bodies mutating and turning against them as uncontrolled tides wrought ever more

hideous changes in their flesh. Nor were such horrific transformations limited to their bodies. Their

minds were like pulsing flares in the Great Ocean, drawing predators, hunters and malign creatures

that sought to cross into the material universe.

Unchecked, his Legion would be dead within a generation.

The power to save them was there, just waiting to be used, and he had given long thought and

contemplation to breaking his father’s first command. He had not done so heedlessly, but only after

much introspection and an honest appraisal of his abilities. Magnus knew he was a superlative

manipulator of the aether, but was he strong enough?

He knew the answer to that now, for he had saved his warriors. He had seized control of their

destinies from the talons of a malevolent shadow in the Great Ocean that held their fates in its grasp.

The Emperor knew of such creatures, and had bargained with them in ages past, but he had never

dared face one. Magnus’ victory was not won without cost, and he reached up to touch the smooth

skin where his right eye had once been, feeling the pain and vindication of that sacrifice once more.

This power was a pale echo of that, a degenerate pool of trapped energy that had stagnated in

this backwater region of space. He could sense the billionfold pathways that spread out from this

place, the infinite possibilities of space linked together by a web-like network of conceptual

conduits burrowed through the angles between worlds. This region was corrupt, but there were

regions of glittering gold in the ocean that threaded the galaxy, binding it as roads of stone had once

bound the empires of the Romanii Emperors together.

To memorise the entire labyrinthine network was beyond even one as gifted as him, but in a

moment of connection beyond the darkness, he imprinted a million paths, conduits and access points

in his mind. He might not know the entire network, but he would remember enough to find other

ways in and other paths. His father would be pleased to learn of this network, pleased enough to

overlook Magnus’ transgression at least.

It still amazed him that he had not known of these pathways, for he and his father had flown the

farthest reaches of the Great Ocean and seen sights that would have reduced any other minds to

gibbering madness. They had explored the forsaken reefs of entropy, and flown across the depthless

chasms of fire that burned with light of every colour. They had fought the nameless, formless

predators of the deep, and felt the gelid shadows of entities so vast as to be beyond comprehension.

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He realised he had not seen these paths because they were not there to be seen. Only this break

in the network on Aghoru had allowed him to see it.

Concerns of the material world intruded on his introspective plunge, and Magnus looked out on

a world of shadows and deceit. He had passed from the realm of flesh to the realm of spirit without

even thinking of it, and floated in a place without form and dimensions save any he desired to

impose upon it. This was the entrance to the network, the nexus point that led into the labyrinth.

This was what he had come to Aghoru to find.

He stood upon a broken landscape of upthrust crags and tormented geometry, a world of

madness and desolation. Multi-coloured storms lashed the ground with black rain, and blistering

lightning scored the heavens with burning zigzag lines. A golden line filled the horizon, a flame that

encircled him and seethed with wounded power.

Jagged mountains reared up in the distance, only to be overturned within moments of their

creation. Oceans surged with new tides, drying up in a heartbeat to become ashen deserts of dust and

memory. Everywhere, the land was in flux, an inconstant whirl of creation and destruction without

end and without beginning. Ash and despair billowed from cracks in the rock, and it was as perfect a

vision of hell, as Magnus had seen.

“Is this the best you can do?” he said, the words dripping with scorn. “The mindless void-

predators can conjure this much.”

The darkness before Magnus coalesced, wrapping itself in black spirals until a glistening snake

with scales of obsidian coiled before him, weightless and disembodied from any notions of gravity.

Its eyes were whirlpools of pink and blue, and a pair of brightly coloured wings ripped from its

back. Its jaw peeled back, revealing fangs that dripped with venom.

Its forked tongue glittered, and its maw was an abyss of infinite possibility.

“This?” said the serpent, its voice dry as the desert. “This is not of my making. You brought this

with you. This is Mekhenty-er-irty’s doing.”

Magnus laughed at such a blatant lie, though the name was unknown to him. The sound was a

glittering rain. The very air was saturated with potential. With a thought, Magnus conjured a cage of

fire for the serpent.

“This ends now,” said Magnus. “Your falsehoods are wasted on me.”

“I know,” hissed the serpent. “That is why I do not need any. I told you this was no invention of

mine. It is simply a re-creation of a future that waits on you like a patient hunter.”

The cage of fire vanished, and the serpent slithered through the air towards Magnus, its wings

shimmering through a spectrum of a million colours in the time it took to notice.

“I am here to end this,” said Magnus. “This portal was sealed once and I will seal it again.”

“Craft older than your master’s tried and failed. What makes you think you will do better?”

“No one has a craft better than mine,” laughed Magnus. “I have looked into the abyss and

wrestled with its darkest powers. I overcame them, and I know the secrets of this world better than

you.”

“Such arrogant certainty,” said the serpent with relish. “How pleasing that is to me. All the very

worst sins are accomplished with such certainty: gluttony, wrath, lust… pride. No force in existence

can compete with mortals in the grip of certainty.”

“What are you? Do you have a name?” asked Magnus.

“If I did, what makes you think I would be foolish enough to tell it to you?”

“Pride,” said Magnus. “If I am guilty of sin, then I am not the only one. You want me to know

who you are. Why else manifest like this?”

“If you will forgive the clichй, I have many names,” said the serpent, with a dry laugh. “To you,

I shall be Choronzon, Dweller in the Abyss and the Daemon of Dispersion.”

“Daemon is a meaningless word, a name to give power to fear.”

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“I know, isn’t it wonderful?” smiled the serpent, coiling around Magnus’ legs and slithering up

his body. Magnus did not fear the serpent. He could destroy it without effort.

The serpent lifted its head until they were face to face, the length of its glossy body still coiled

around his torso. Magnus felt the pressure as it tightened, but simply expanded his own form to

match it. As its form enlarged, so too did his until they were two titans towering over the landscape

of discord.

“You cannot intimidate me,” he told the serpent. “In this place I am more powerful than you.

You exist only because I have not yet destroyed you.”

“And why is that? Your warriors are dying above. Do you not care for the lives of mortals, you

who are so removed from mortality?”

“Time has no meaning here, and when I return it will be as if I was gone for mere moments,”

said Magnus. “Besides, much can be learned from a talkative foe.”

“Indeed.”

“I grow weary of these games,” said Magnus, returning to his mortal size once more. The

rearing mountains took on a glassy, silvery hue, and he was struck by a momentary flash of

sickening recognition. “This ends now.”

“Truly?” asked the snake, its vast bulk shrinking until it was only a little longer than Magnus’

arm. “I have not even tempted you yet. Don’t you want to hear what I can offer you?”

“You have nothing I want,” Magnus promised the snake.

“Are you so sure? I can give you great power, greater than you wield already.”

“I have power,” said Magnus. “I do not need yours.”

The snake hissed in amusement, and its fanged maw parted with a serpentine approximation of a

smile.

“You have already supped from a poisoned chalice, Magnus of Terra,” it said. “Yours is a

borrowed power, nothing more. You are a puppet given life and animation by an unseen master.

Even now you dance a merry jig to another’s tune.”

“And I should believe you?”

“I have no reason to lie,” said the snake.

“You have every reason to lie.”

“True, but not here, not now,” said the snake, slithering free of Magnus and turning lazy circles

in the air. “There is no need. No lie can match the horror of the truth that awaits you. You have

bargained with powers far greater and more terrible than you can possibly imagine. You are their

pawn now, a plaything to be used and discarded.”

Magnus shook his head.

“Spare me your theatrics. I bested powers greater than you, with your tawdry vision of hell,”

said Magnus with contempt. “I travelled the farthest reaches of the Great Ocean to save my Legion,

unwound the strands of fate that bound them to their destruction and wove them anew. What makes

you think your paltry blandishments will appeal to one such as I?”

“Arrogance too,” hissed the snake, “matched with your towering conceit and certainty… Such a

sweet prize you will make.”

Magnus had heard enough, content that the alien intelligence behind this vision was no more

than a petty dynast of the Great Ocean, a malevolent entity with nothing to offer him but empty

boasts and false promises. With a gesture, he drew the snake to him and took its straggling,

whipping form in an unbreakable grip—

It squirmed, but he held it fast with no more effort than he might hold a lifeless rope. Magnus

squeezed and the scales peeled from its body, the coloured feathers of its wings becoming lustreless

and dull. Its eyes dimmed and its fangs melted from its jaws. The landscape began to break apart, its

cohesion faltering in the face of the serpent’s unmaking.

“You bested nothing,” said the snake as Magnus broke its neck.

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Ahriman swept his heqa staff in a wide arc, clearing a space in which he and Wyrdmake could fight.

It was a hopeless task. No sooner was one mass of writhing tentacles severed, than hundreds more

would slither from the pit to take their places. His control of the Enumerations was lost, his

concentration broken in the face of the primarch’s disappearance into the pit. Ahriman would

normally fight divorced from the concerns of emotion that compromised his clarity of combat, but

his mind was swamped with the competing fires of anger and hate.

With control stripped from his mind, Ahriman knew fear once more.

Only when he had watched Ohrmuzd die had he felt such a void in his soul.

He had vowed never to feel that way again, but this was even worse.

Ahriman fought to reconnect with his higher states, but his primarch’s fate was too near to be

salved with the Enumerations. Instead, he focussed on the fight for survival, letting his

consciousness stretch no further than the next enemy to be slain. Such a state of being was

unfamiliar, but cathartic.

The air was thick with foes, making it impossible to tell in which direction the exit lay. The dark

power that energised the tentacles bloated the chamber, a seething corruption that pressed on the

surface of his mind like a lead weight.

He could no longer see Uthizzar, and did not know whether the warrior still lived. The Thousand

Sons and Space Wolves fought in isolation, small groups cut off from one another in the midst of

the black morass. Diametric opposites, they were united as one force as they battled not for victory,

but for survival.

Ahriman’s pistol had long since run dry, and he swung his staff in a two-handed grip, laying

about himself with crushing strokes. His every movement was leaden, his thoughts dull and slow.

The Great Ocean was a potent force in combat, but the toll it took upon a warrior was equally

potent.

Ahriman’s mastery of his battle powers was second to none, but even he had nothing left to give,

his spirit exhausted and his body pushed to the very limits of endurance. He fought as a mortal must

fight, with courage, heart and brute strength, but he already knew that alone would not be enough.

He needed power, but all he could feel was the energy boiling from the chasm that had taken the

primarch. Even in despair, he knew that would be the first step on a road that had but one

destination.

He would face what was left of this fight without the aether.

That made it an alien fight to make, and he was reminded of his words to Hathor Maat when he

had glibly told him he might one day need to go to war without his powers. How prophetic those

words now seemed, though he had said them without any expectation of facing such a situation

himself.

Ahriman’s concentration slipped, and a whipping mass of tentacles enfolded his arm, dragging

his heqa staff aside. He struggled against its strength, but it was too late, and his other arm was

entangled. His legs and torso were enveloped, and he was lifted from the ground, the joints of his

armour creaking at the abominable pressure.

Wyrdmake tried to pull him down, but even the Rune Priest’s strength could not equal the alien

power matched against him. Over the hideous slithering of the deathly tentacles, he could hear the

sounds of warriors dying, the shouted oaths of the Space Wolves, and the bitter curses of the

Thousand Sons.

Then the pressure eased and the tentacles around his body began crumbling and flaking to

nothingness. Even in his exhausted state, he felt the rampant energies of the pit suddenly vanish, as

surely as if a spigot had been shut off.

The sound of gunfire and chopping blades was replaced by heaving breaths and sudden silence.

Ahriman tore himself free of the desiccating tentacles that bound him, bracing himself as he fell

back to the ground. He landed lightly, and looked up into the towering mass of writhing blackness

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as its substance unravelled before his eyes. What had been dark and glossy was now ashen and

bleached of colour. The liquid solidity of the tentacles was now as insubstantial as mist, and they

fell in a powdered rain.

Floating in the haze of their ending was a blood-red figure, a blazing giant in dusty armour, who

descended with his arms outstretched, his single eye shimmering with a golden light. His hair was

matted and wild, like an ancient war god come to earth to scour the unbelievers with his divine fire.

“My lord!” cried Ahriman, dropping to one knee.

The Thousand Sons followed his example, as did many of the Space Wolves. Fewer than twenty

had survived the battle, but the bodies of the fallen were nowhere to be seen.

Magnus set foot on the ground, and the gold and silver symbols worked into the rock at the edge

of the chasm shone with renewed vigour, as though freshly energised. Ahriman felt the deadening

effect immediately, a force like that which had once filled the deadstones, but cleaner, fresher and

stronger.

“My sons,” said Magnus, his flesh invigorated and vital. “The danger is passed. I have destroyed

the evil at the heart of this world.”

Ahriman drew in a cleansing breath, closing his eyes and rising into the first of the

Enumerations. His thoughts cleared and his emotional peaks were planed smooth. He heard

footsteps behind him and opened his eyes. Lord Skarssen of the Space Wolves’ 5th Company and

Ohthere Wyrdmake stood beside him. The Rune Priest gave him a weary nod of respect.

“The battle is won?” asked Skarssen.

“It is,” confirmed Magnus, and Ahriman heard fierce pride in his voice. “The wound in the

world is no more. I have sealed it for all time. Not even its makers could undo my wards.”

“Then you are done with this world,” said Skarssen, and Ahriman could not tell whether it was a

question or a statement.

“Yes,” said Magnus. “There is nothing more to learn here.”

“You owe the Wolf King your presence.”

“Indeed I do,” said Magnus, and Ahriman caught a wry grin at the very corner of his primarch’s

mouth, as though he were privy to a jest that eluded the rest of them.

“I will inform Lord Russ of our departure,” said Skarssen. The Wolf Lord turned away,

gathering his warriors in readiness for the march to the surface.

“Direct, without fuss or unnecessary formality,” said Uthizzar, appearing at Ahriman’s side,

“that is the Space Wolf way. Maddening at times.”

“Agreed, though there is much to admire in its simplicity,” said Ahriman, pleased that Uthizzar

had survived the battle. The telepath was on the verge of collapse. Ahriman was impressed by his

fortitude.

“It is not simplicity, Ahzek,” said Magnus as the surviving Thousand Sons gathered around him.

“It is clarity of purpose.”

“Is there a difference?”

“Time will tell,” said Magnus.

“Then we are truly finished here?” asked Uthizzar.

“We are,” confirmed Magnus. “What drew us here is no more, but I have uncovered the

existence of a prize beyond measure.”

“What manner of prize?” asked Ahriman.

“All in good time, Ahzek,” said Magnus with a knowing smile. “All in good time.”

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BOOK TWO

MUTATIS MUTANDIS

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Shrike / A Good War / The Wolf King

Dawn was only a few hours old and the battle for Raven’s Aerie 93 was won. The slender, feather-

cloaked bodies of its defenders lay strewn around its craggy ramparts. Thanks to the foresight of the

Corvidae, the battle to take the hidden crag had been a massacre.

Six months of flying the Great Ocean on the hunt for strands of the future and constant war had

drained those warriors of the Thousand Sons Magnus had led to answer Russ’ summons. They had

been bled white matching the war pace of the Space Wolves.

The air in the southern polar mountains was thin and lung-bitingly cold, but it was a welcome

change from the heat of Aghoru. Ahriman did not feel the cold, but the soldiers of the Prospero

Spireguard were not so fortunate. To survive the sub-zero temperatures, they wore thick crimson

greatcoats, heavy boots and silver shakoes, lined with fur cut from the wings of the snow-shrikes

used by the Avenians as brutally effective line-breakers.

Ahriman, Hathor Maat and Phosis T’kar sat with three hundred Astartes attending to their

wargear in the ruins of the mountain fortress. They cleaned their bolters and repaired chips in their

armour while Apothecaries tended to the few wounded.

Dead Avenians littered the toppled battlements and shattered redoubts, a drop in the ocean

compared to how many had died since the invasion of Heliosa had begun. Ahriman estimated they

had killed close to three million of their warriors.

“Five thousand,” said Sobek, returning from tallying the dead.

“Five thousand,” repeated Phosis T’kar. “Hardly any. I told you there wasn’t as much of a fight

in this one as the last.”

Phosis T’kar’s bolter floated in the air in front of him, the weapon disassembled and looking like

a three-dimensional diagram in an armourer’s manual. A cleaning cloth and a vial of lubricating oil

moved of their own accord through its parts, guided by Phosis T’kar’s Tutelary. The faint glow of

Utipa formed a haze around the components, as if a ghostly Techmarine attended the gun.

Hathor Maat’s weapon sat next to him, gleaming as though lifted fresh from the sterile wrapping

of a packing crate. He had no need to even strip down his weapon, and simply disassembled the

molecular structure of the grease, dirt and foreign particles from the weapon’s moving parts with the

power of his mind.

Ahriman worked a wide-bore brush down the barrel of his bolter, enjoying the tactile, hands-on

approach to weapon maintenance. Aaetpio hovered at his shoulder, but he had no wish to employ his

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Tutelary for so menial a task as cleaning his bolt gun. It was too easy to forget that while ensconced

in one of the expedition fleet’s many libraries or meditating alone in an invocation chamber.

In the six-week journey to the Ark Reach Cluster, Ahriman had spent much of his time with

Ohthere Wyrdmake, the Rune Priest proving to be an entertaining companion. Though the terms

they used for their abilities were very different, they found they had more in common than either of

them had imagined.

Wyrdmake taught Ahriman the casting of the runes, and how to use them to answer vexing

questions and gain insight into matters of inner turmoil. As a means of reading the future, they were

a less precise method than those taught by the Corvidae, for their meanings required much in the

way of interpretation. Wyrdmake also taught him the secret of bind-runes, whereby the properties of

several different runes could be combined to draw similarly-attuned aetheric energies towards an

object or person.

Wyrdmake’s chest and arms were tattooed with numerous bind-runes: runes for strength, runes

for health and runes for steadfastness. None, Ahriman noticed, were for power. When he asked

Wyrdmake about this, the Rune Priest had given him a strange look and said, “To speak of

possessing power is as foolish as saying you own the air in your lungs.”

In return, Ahriman taught the Space Wolf more subtle means of manipulating the energies of the

Great Ocean. Wyrdmake was skilled, but his Legion’s teachings were tribal and violent in the drama

of their effect. The calling of the tempest, the sundering of the earth and the rising of the seas were

the currency of the Rune Priests. Ahriman honed Wyrdmake’s abilities, inducting him into the outer

mysteries of the Corvidae and the rites of Prospero.

The first part of this was introducing him to the concept of Tutelaries.

At first, Wyrdmake had been shocked that the Thousand Sons employed such creatures, but

Ahriman believed he had come to accept that they were little different from the wolves that

accompanied the Space Wolves. Wyrdmake’s companion, a silver-furred beast named Ymir, had

been less accepting, and whenever Ahriman summoned Aaetpio, the wolf howled furiously and

bared its fangs in expectation of a fight.

Such secrets had never before been taught to an outsider, but Magnus himself had sanctioned

Ahriman’s work with Wyrdmake, reasoning that if a Legion such as the Space Wolves could be

turned into allies through understanding and careful education, then other Legions would surely

present few problems.

Though Ohthere Wyrdmake was a frequent visitor to the Photep, Lord Skarssen preferred to

keep to his own vessel, a lean, predatory blade named the Spear of Fenris.

“Do you want me to help you with that?” grinned Hathor Maat, displaying a perfect smile of

brilliantly white teeth. His hair was dark today, his eyes a deep brown. Though his features were still

recognisably his own, they had taken on a rugged look, as if mirroring the terrain they had so

recently fought over.

“No,” said Ahriman. “I do not use my powers to accomplish things I can do without them. You

should not either. When was the last time either of you used your hands to clean a bolter?”

Phosis T’kar looked up and shrugged.

“A long time ago,” he said. “Why?”

“Do you even remember how to do it?”

“Of course,” said Phosis T’kar, “How do you think I do this?”

“Spare us yet another ‘we shouldn’t rely too much on our powers’ lecture,” groaned Hathor

Maat. “Look at what would have happened to us on Aghoru if we had followed your teachings. The

primarch might have died without Phosis T’kar’s kine shield. And without my mastery of biomancy,

T’kar certainly would be dead.”

“As you’ve never let me forget,” grumbled Phosis T’kar.

“Astartes first, psykers second,” said Ahriman. “We forget that at our peril.”

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“Fine,” said Phosis T’kar, dismissing Utipa and bringing the components of his weapon to his

hands. He slotted the gun back together with a pleasing series of metallic clicks and snaps. “Happy

now?”

“Much happier,” said Ahriman, reassembling his own bolter.

“What’s the matter?” asked Hathor Maat. “Are you afraid your new friend will disapprove?”

Phosis T’kar spat over the edge of the rampart, his spit falling thousands of feet.

“That damned Wyrdmake shadows us like a psychneuein with the taste of an unguarded psyker

in its mandibles,” he hissed, his anger fierce and sudden. “We could have won this war months ago

but for the shackles you put on us.”

Phosis T’kar jabbed an accusing fist at the smoking remnants of the tallest peak of the mountain

aerie.

“The primarch shows no such restraint, Ahzek, why should we?” he asked. “Are you so afraid of

what we can do?”

“Maybe I am,” said Ahriman. “Maybe we all should be. Not so long ago, we hid our powers

from the world. Now you use them like mere cantrips to save you getting your hands dirty.

Sometimes it is necessary to climb down into the mud.”

“Climb down into the mud, and all you will get is muddy,” said Hathor Maat.

“Not much in the way of mud on this world,” said Phosis T’kar. “These aeries put up little fight.

How this planet has held out for so long is a mystery to me.”

“The bird-warriors are stretched thinly now,” Hathor Maat pointed out. “The Wolves have seen

to that. And what Russ and his warriors haven’t savaged, the Word Bearers have put to the flame.

An entire mountain range was burned out with a saturation promethium bombing three days ago to

cleanse the aeries that Ahzek and Ankhu Anen found.”

“Cleanse?”

“Kor Phaeron’s word,” said Hathor Maat with a shrug. “It seemed appropriate.”

Kor Phaeron was one of Lorgar’s chief lieutenants, and epitomised all that Ahriman disliked

about the Word Bearers. The man’s mind was filled with zealous certainties that could not be

shaken by logic, reason or debate.

“A waste of lives,” said Ahriman, looking at the bodies the Spireguard were carrying from the

broken fortress and arranging in neat lines for incineration.

“An unavoidable one,” responded Hathor Maat.

“Was it?” said Ahriman. “I am not so sure.”

“Lorgar led negotiations with the Phoenix Court,” said Phosis T’kar. “A primarch no less, yet

every attempt was rejected. What more proof do you need that these cultures are degenerate?”

Ahriman did not answer, having renewed his acquaintance with the Word Bearers’ gold-skinned

primarch at the greeting ceremony held to honour the arrival of the Thousand Sons. It had been a

glittering day of overblown ritual and proselytising, as pointless as it was time-consuming.

Leman Russ had not attended the ceremony, nor even bothered to send representatives. He and

his huscarls were at war in the soaring peaks of the east, and did not waste time with ceremony

when there was fighting to be done.

For once, Ahriman found himself in complete accord with the Wolf King.

He put thoughts of the XVII Legion from his mind and turned his gaze upwards. A too-wide,

too-blue sky yawned above him, and omnipresent clouds of birds filled the air: wheeling, black-

winged corvus, long-legged migratory birds and circling carrion eaters.

Ahriman had seen altogether too many of the latter in the past six months.

The Thousand Sons had proven to be instrumental in breaking open the defences of the Ark Reach

Cluster, their additional weight of force tipping the balance of war in favour of the Imperium.

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First contact with the disparate cultures of the binary cluster had been made two years

previously, when scout ships of the Word Bearers’ 47th Expeditionary Fleet discovered six systems

linked together by trade and mutually supporting defence networks.

Four of those systems had fallen to the combined forces of the Word Bearers and the Space

Wolves, the fifth soon after the arrival of the Thousand Sons. Only the Avenians remained to be

conquered.

The defeated empires all stemmed from an incredibly diverse genetic baseline, far removed from

the archetypal human genome by millennia of separation from the world of their birth. Mechanicum

geneticists confirmed such variances were within tolerable parameters, and thus Magnus had arrived

in expectation of acquiring treasure troves of accumulated knowledge in the wake of compliance.

He was to be sorely disappointed.

Ahriman had seen a taste of the war the Space Wolves made on Aghoru, but the scale of what

Russ’ Legion left in their wake was nothing short of genocide. Their single-minded savagery left no

room for anything other than the foe’s complete and utter destruction.

Nor were the Word Bearers any more forgiving. In the wake of their triumphs, great monuments

were carved in the flanks of the mountains, ten-thousand metre high representations of the Emperor

and his conquests. Such a blatant challenge to the Emperor’s edict on such things set a dangerous

precedent, and Ahriman was uncomfortable with such behaviour.

Kor Phaeron had declared vast swathes of the indigenous culture unwholesome, resulting in

virtually every repository of knowledge, art, literature and history being burned to ashes.

From Ahriman’s perusal of the encounter logs, it appeared that Lorgar and Kor Phaeron had met

with the Phoenix Court, a polyarchal leadership of the various worlds’ kings and system lords,

offering numerous overtures to entice them into the fold of the Imperium. Despite his best efforts,

Ahriman could find no record of what these overtures had comprised.

In any event, all had been rejected, and thus the war of compliance had been unavoidable.

The histories of the Great Crusade would record it as a just war, a good war.

The subjugation of the Avenians had begun well, with the outer worlds falling quickly to the

combined Imperial forces, but Heliosa, the cardinal world of their empire, had proven a tougher nut

to crack.

Violent tectonic forces in ages past had shaped its landscape into three enormous continents

almost entirely composed of jagged, mountainous terrain separated by wide expanses of azure seas.

Its people lived in silver towers that clung to the flanks of the tallest peaks, with glittering, feather-

light bridges spanning the chasms between them, while their people soared on billowing thermals on

the backs of graceful aerial beasts.

As well as this lost strand of humanity, Helios was a world that belonged to the creatures of the

air. The skies were alive with flocks of every description, from tiny, insect-sized creatures that fed

on guano to rabid pterosaurs that hunted from lairs in hollowed-out peaks. More than one Imperial

craft had been lost to bird strikes before weapon systems were modified to provide continuous

clearance fire.

Its air was clean and its skies boundless. It reminded Ahriman of Prospero.

Ark Reach Secundus was the Imperial Cartographe designation for this world, a convenient label

that began the process of assimilation before envoys were even despatched or shots fired in anger.

Its people called it Heliosa, but the Imperial Army had another name for it, a name synonymous

with the razor-beaked killers that were the bane of soldiers forced to assault the aerie fortresses.

They called it Shrike.

Since Aghoru, the power of Ahriman’s cult had risen, buoyed by unexpected swells in the Great

Ocean, and the Corvidae were saving Imperial lives. They had seen echoes of future events,

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returning to their bodies with the locations of their enemies’ hidden aeries and foreknowledge of

their ambush tactics.

Armed with such vital intelligence, the Thousand Sons and the Prospero Spireguard had

launched a campaign of coordinated assaults on the aeries housing the fighter aircraft protecting the

principal strongpoints of the Avenian defence network.

Magnus himself led many of the assaults, wielding the power of the Great Ocean like weapons

that could be drawn or sheathed at any time. No force could stand against him, his mastery of time

and space, force and matter beyond the reach of even his most gifted followers.

While the Word Bearers quelled the civilian population of outlying mountain cities, the

Thousand Sons cleared a path for the Space Wolves to deliver the deathblow to the heart of the

Avenian Empire. With the fall of Raven’s Aerie 93, that battle was days away at most.

Ahriman walked the line of dead bodies, stopping to examine one of the Avenian warriors

whose body had not been too brutally destroyed in the fighting. Aaetpio flickered at his shoulder,

flitting down to the dead body to enhance the fading patterns of the soldier’s aura.

Fear, anger and confusion were all that remained of the man’s imprint on the world: fear that he

was going to die here, anger at these inhuman invaders for defiling their homeland, and confusion…

confusion born of not knowing why. Ahriman was surprised at this last emotion. How could he not

know why the Imperium’s forces were making war against his world?

The dead man wore thin black armour, form-fitting and gracefully proportioned to match his tall,

overly slender form. A two-headed shrike with outstretched wings was moulded into the chest piece,

an icon so similar to the Imperial bird of union that it was almost inconceivable that these warriors

were enemies.

The Avenians were graceful and fine-boned, their facial features sharp and angular, like the

mountains in which they lived. Their bodies appeared weak and fragile, but that was a lie. Autopsies

had discovered bones that were flexible and strong, and their armour was augmented with fibre-

bundle muscles not dissimilar to those within Astartes battle armour.

Ahriman smelled hot animal sweat, recognising the sharp, bitter tang of ice and claw that were

the hallmarks of a Fenrisian wolf. The wolf barked, and Aaetpio fled to the aether. Ahriman turned

to find himself face to face with a fang-filled maw and amber eyes that wanted nothing more than to

devour him. Behind the wolf stood Ohthere Wyrdmake, wrapped in a wolf-pelt cloak. He looked

past Ahriman to the dead bodies.

“A strange form to take on a world of mountains,” said Wyrdmake.

“Proof that life can sometimes buck the odds,” agreed Ahriman.

“Aye, you have the truth of it. Just look at Fenris. What sane form of life would choose to evolve

on a world so hostile? Yet it teems with life: drakes, kraken and wolves.”

“There are no wolves on Fenris,” said Ahriman absently, remembering Magnus’ words on the

subject.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing,” said Ahriman, hearing the warning tone in the Rune Priest’s voice. “Just a scurrilous

rumour I heard.”

“I know the one. I have heard it myself, but the proof is here to see,” said Wyrdmake, running a

gloved hand down the wire-stiff fur of the wolf’s back. “Ymir is a wolf of Fenris, born and raised.”

“Indeed,” said Ahriman. “As you say, it is there to see.”

“Why do you attend upon the enemy?” asked Wyrdmake, rapping the base of his staff against

the corpse. “They can offer you nothing, or do you now talk to the dead?”

“I am no necromancer,” said Ahriman, seeing the mischief in Wyrdmake’s eyes. “The dead keep

their secrets. It is the living who will expand our understanding of these worlds.”

“What is there to understand? If they fight, we kill them. If they bend to our will, we spare them.

There is no more to be said. You overcomplicate things, my friend.”

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Ahriman smiled and rose to his full height. He was a shade taller than Wyrdmake, though the

Rune Priest was broader and more powerful in the shoulders.

“Or perhaps you see things too starkly.”

The Rune Priest’s face hardened.

“You are melancholic,” said Wyrdmake coldly.