The forward elements of the capering host were drawing near, and coils of hallucinogenic fogs writhed between the legs of the riotous assembly. It moved with a life of its own, eager to explore its creators' bodies and taste their sweat, their breath and their dirt. The screams that reached to the skies were delirious and joyous, agonised and ecstatic, a braying wall of sound that echoed from the sides of the valley like the raving of a million madman.
Scarifier priests spun and leapt throughout the dancing horde, their hooked chains and envenomed blades whipping and stabbing with gleeful abandon to cause pain and excruciation. Where their poisoned tips pierced an artery, the grateful victim would be seized by mad choreomaniacal fits. Roaring observers aped their lethal convulsions and the dancing mania spread ever wider, becoming more and more elaborate until the original victim's madly-pumping heart emptied their body and a new dance began elsewhere.
Mass psychogenic hysteria gripped the thousands of men and women, who screamed and laughed and cried like mourners or celebrants. They fought, they fornicated; moving to the rapid, pulsing beat of a driving imperative that none among the Iron Warriors could know. They carried towering banners, streaming gonfalons and serrated pennants ablaze with imagery that was at once obscene and alluring, repugnant and inviting.
Forrix recognised none of the heraldry, feeling a gut-deep revulsion at the graceful sweeps of the symbols worked into the textured banners. A meld of curves and voluptuous arcs penetrated by hard lines with barbed arrowheads atop their length. Nor were all the members of the host equal; kings and queens and princes were feted in all their finery; silks and steel, velvet and leather. Their crowns were bone, their orbs the skulls of willing sacrifices, and the sceptres the woven finger bones of the handless handmaidens attending them.
And just as there were the gaudy courts of royal madness, so too were there regicides by the dozen as pretenders tore them down and took their bloodied crowns for themselves.
As degenerate as the dancing host's behaviour was, it was nothing compared to the physical malformations wrought on the flesh of its number. Some disfigurements appeared to be congenital, others the work of swords or maces in ritualised combat, but the vast majority appeared to have been engineered by scalpels, bone saws and genetic modification.
Men with anatomies reversed by horrific surgery capered on their hands, with legs sutured to their shoulders and faces in their bellies. Vat-grown cherub-grubs led packs of wild, spine-backed creatures, like the bastard by-blows of loathsome centipedes and giant scorpions. Women cavorted naked with scented oils slathering their bared breasts. Many of these women were gifted with breasts beyond the number decreed by nature, and these violet-hued individuals were attended by howling slaves and weeping devotees.
Amid the heaving, spasming march of the decadent host, some were content to dance, some to debase, others to violate, yet more to scream their throats bloody as they drove their bodies to lunatic extremes of excess. They howled with the hybrid monsters and the most desperate for sensation set themselves ablaze and laughed as the flames consumed them.
Forrix took his helmet from the mag-lock on his thigh as the rapturous mass of degenerates drew near and the acrid tang of perfumes began to discomfit him.
'I saw some strange things on Isstvan, but this is...' began Forrix, snapping his helm into the gorget seals as vocabulary failed him. No mere words could give name or reason to this behaviour, no codes of honour could reconcile this madness with the militaristic perfection and arrogant swagger the Emperor's Children had once possessed.
'What has happened to you, my brother?' wondered Perturabo, his face betraying no hint of the terrible anger that must surely be raging within his heart.
'Where are the legion warriors?' asked Falk.
Forrix scanned the heaving mass of frenetic humanity as they spilled over the outermost earthworks; cavorting through razorwire-edged killing grounds, across spiked ditches and past iron-faced gun emplacements. What would take months of bloody siege to break through was overcome in moments by the vanguard of the Emperor's Children.
At some unheard signal, the host fell utterly silent, halting in its maddened march a stone's throw from the Iron Warriors. Clouds of kicked up dust mingled with the twitching curtain of narcotic smoke issuing from hidden censers. After so cacophonous a din, the silence felt impossibly loud, and Forrix scanned the sweating, breathless host for some sign of what was coming next.
That sign came as the lunatics abased themselves on the sand, prostrating themselves as supplicant savages before burning flora. Soltarn Vull Bronn dropped to one knee, placing his palm on the earth.
'Get up, damn you,' snapped Forrix. 'Iron Warriors bend the knee to no-one.'
Vull Bronn ignored him and cocked his head to one side, as though listening to a voice only he could hear.
'He's here,' said Bronn. 'The Phoenician. He's coming.'
Forrix looked up as the flesh host before him parted, pushing themselves back with their bellies scraping the sand to make a wide corridor between them. Through the swirls of pink and mauve clouds, Forrix could see the outline of something huge and swaying approaching. Vague silhouettes of power-armoured warriors marched alongside it, their forms granting some hope that the III Legion had not abandoned all pretence of being a fighting force.
Fifty warriors in the shimmering purple of the Emperor's Children emerged from the smoke, and their appearance drew a gasp of shock from the assembled Iron Warriors. Slashes of vivid pigment were spattered over their armour, the myriad contrasting hues and clashing colours offending the eye with their garish disregard for the legion's heraldry. Jagged spikes jutted from pauldrons and their helmets were byzantine winged affairs, with amplification hoods and intensifiers worked into the visors.
They carried a banner of stiff pink that Forrix could tell was fashioned from human skin, its texture and stench all too familiar to him. A runic form was emblazoned at its heart, the recurring motif he had seen worked in various forms upon the armour and flesh of the maddened horde, but distilled into its purest form. Borne by legion warriors, the symbol offended Forrix less than it had before, and he found himself drawn towards its beguiling curves and graceful loops.
Anger touched him, and he threw off whatever glamours were worked into its form.
Where had that come from? A word of ancient usage that was meaningless in this age of reason and technological certitude. Whatever toxin burned in the censers was a powerful psychotropic indeed if it could drag such an archaic term from the mind of an Iron Warrior.
Like the mortals before them, these warriors parted to form an honour guard, and behind them came a screaming, wailing mass of legionaries whose weapons were unlike anything Forrix had ever seen in a battle barge's armoury. Like oversized axes they were fitted with all manner of amplification devices, tonal distorters and artefacts whose function Forrix could not even begin to guess.
Thrumming bass notes of raw kinetic force throbbed in their long necks, and Forrix wondered if such weapons might be employed in the reduction of a fortress wall. These warriors went without helms, and their faces were a horror of distended jaws with eternally screaming mouths and gaping wounds in the skull where their ears had been surgically adapted to collect and render sound into its purest elements.
And then the primarch of the Emperor's Children stood revealed, his entrance as dramatic and sudden and shocking as he had no doubt intended.
Atop a vast palanquin of living beings fused, sewn and warped together, the Phoenician emerged from the sentient clouds of fumes. A squad of warriors in Cataphractii armour bore this flesh palanquin on the vast shoulder guards of their armour, the spikes and sharpened edges of their pauldrons drawing blood and screams of pleasure in equal measure.
Fulgrim's frost-white hair spilled from beneath a helm of dazzling silver, and his entire body was wrapped in a cloak of shocking purple and golden feathers. Motion rippled beneath the cloak, like a metamorphic larva on the verge of hatching into the most beautiful creature imaginable. Fulgrim waited until his Phoenix Guard halted before throwing open his cloak to reveal his sculpturally perfect body. His elegantly curved pectorals, rolling deltoids and ridged abdominals were bare of armour and gleamed with fragrant oils. His limbs writhed and fresh tattoos of coiling serpents; tattoos that even now began to fade as his superhuman biology undid the damage to his epidermis.
Perturabo stepped towards the living platform as Fulgrim descended on a ramp of shields held out by his warriors. Forrix saw a warrior in perfect balance, who understood his body and its articulation to the highest degree. His every step was carefully placed, giving the lie to his flamboyant appearance.
'Brother Fulgrim,' said Perturabo, 'Welcome.'
And GM was kind to release another about the Emperor's Children as well, but still it feels more Iron Warrior based novel if you ask me. Forrex makes an appearence as well and Perturabo seems chocked by the chaotic transformance. That was a bit funny actually.