Change and change until change is our master, for nothing neither god nor mortal can hold that which has no form.
- Libra Chaotica
The shadow play and puppet strings had been cast; in the halls of silver towers and amidst dusty library tomes, battle lines were being drawn. Not against Magnus. No one dared or dreamed of such an act. Each Thousand Son loved their Primarch who had sacrificed so much for them. In the absence following Magnus’ ascension to Daemonhood, the Legion was left to decide who would best lead them on the mortal plane. Gone was the cohesion of brotherhood, the mastery over pride and ambition forgotten, and the belief that knowledge should never be used as a weapon left in the dust.
The struggle for power had begun on the Planet of the Sorcerers.
Not a single marine was crass enough to state the names of the chief competitors. It was unnecessary, even as each cast his vote of support. Through whispered exchanges and suspicious glances, to protective signs of warding cast in the air when those of the opposing faction approached, each Thousand Son knew where the other’s allegiance lay.
Ahzek Ahriman, the Sorcerer of the Red Cyclops. Osis Pathoth, the Vizier to the Magus.
Both were once amicable competitors before the Heresy, neither prevailing over the other in psychic duels or physical combat. Both had been masters of their chosen lore, jointly creating spells which their Primarch commended time and again. The comradeship soured between Ahriman and Pathoth when the former was chosen as the keeper to the Book of Magnus. Pathoth, still bitter over the decision, hissed insults at every occasion. Knowing he was not powerful enough to attack Ahriman outright, Pathoth found other ways to undermine his rival’s footing. Ahriman, in turn, refused to acknowledge the personal attacks. If possible, the sorcerer would have rid himself of Pathoth quickly, but more pressing concerns needed to be addressed.
The mutations within the Legion had hastened to a breaking point. Ahriman, having spoken with the chief apothecarion that very morning, discussed what could be done to slow or halt the rash of changes afflicting the Thousand Sons. He could still smell the cleaning solvents tinting the air, the stench of rotting flesh, the split blood. The mechanical screech of surgical tools rose over the muffled screams of the Sons as both surgery and butchery were done to them. The sorcerer’s teeth were set on edge after hearing a power saw cut through genetically-modified bone.
“It’s not fair
,” Malarix, one of the Thousand Sons, had whined pitifully to Ahriman. “Aren’t you afraid you might get these mutations as well, Ahriman? From what I have seen, those with psychic powers appear more resistant to these mutations. Sorcerers have something others don’t possess.”
“What are you insinuating by those words?” The challenging glare Ahriman gave quietened Malarix, who, moments later, was led off to have his arm amputated. Ahriman left, the screams inside the ward following him. Malarix, one of Ahriman’s supporters, was a grizzled sergeant many looked up to. If he held any suspicious thoughts, he would voice them, and Ahriman knew the potential loss of even a single ally would cost him.
His feet led him to one of the many libraries populating the Tower of the Cyclops. Unanimously decreed neutral ground by all parties, each Son held his peace while inside, unwilling to make the place a charnel house. On this daemon world new books and treasures had replaced the wealth lost in Prospero’s flames, and no one wanted to repeat the past. Ahriman pulled unfamiliar titles from the shelves, hoping the knowledge he required lay in the pages. Pondering over a cure to the Thousand Sons plight – answers lay within the seed to every question asked – Ahriman felt the psychic resonance of Pathoth before the man stepped inside the athenaeum.
A collective intake of breath came from everyone within the immense chamber. The lesser aides poised to run if necessary, while the Sons continued to read the books they held, casting discreet glances. Nobody knew what would happen in the next few moments, making it a tense location to be caught between. Striding with a keen purpose and intent, Pathoth made straight to where Ahriman stood. His gilded power armour, the various jewels soldered across the regal blue ceramite; Pathoth wore it as a second skin. The rank he bore was undisputed. He held Magnus’ ear as the viceroy, knew the comings and goings of each person, and understood the power behind crafted words. Cradling his helm, crafted as a death mask, in his left arm, Pathoth’s countenance was sculpted to reveal nothing but hint at everything. Hawkish eyes looked down a patrician nose, critically judging the world and everyone he saw in it. The ghost of a smile always waited, ready to unnerve or settle those Pathoth spoke to. Right now, he was smiling, and Ahriman’s guard was raised.
Calming his mind against the ripples Pathoth’s presence created, Ahriman turned to regard his contemporary. “Hail, Osis Pathoth. What brings you here?”
“I heard from a source that you have been to the apothecary. I trust you aren’t feeling ill, Ahriman?” Pathoth chuckled. “No mutations to speak of?”
“My health is fine.” A thinly veiled smile crossed his lips. “I went to inquire how far the new case of mutations has advanced. The problems we face--“
“Problems? The mutations, problems?” Scoffing at Ahriman’s concern, Pathoth glanced at the books the other held. “They are gifts from our patron, Ahriman! A sign to show we have been chosen amongst all the Legions. Calm your fears and embrace the marks the Lord of Change bestows. It can only make us stronger.” Spoken by someone who did not bear a single mark of change, ironically.
“Your words are poorly chosen, Pathoth. Magnus would not agree with them.” Grip tightening about his staff, Ahriman exhaled deeply, striving to maintain his composure. Pathoth refused to consider the transmutations were destroying the Legion. A grave error on his judgement, or so Ahriman believed.
“Our lord hasn’t said anything contrary to my opinion, Ahriman. Unlike you, I fail to believe it a dire issue, just as I believe Magnus has achieved the pinnacle of his being with his ascension.” Pathoth smiled. “If Magnus has no quandary with the mutations, neither do I. I trust in his ability to see and know the best future for our Legion.”
“So we hope,” and Ahriman stressed the last word. Having nothing else to say to Pathoth, Ahriman turned his back on the sorcerer and returned to his own devices. The silence grew, uncomfortable and stilted, until Pathoth’s voice echoed across the library.
“Have you ever thought, perhaps, if you think too deeply, you could fall into the well of your mind and drown?”
Ahriman locked eyes with Pathoth. Mistrust against his battle brothers was an unfamiliar trait, one he was fast becoming friends with, and did not enjoy it. “What do you mean by those words?” Ahriman’s hand rested protectively over the Book of Magnus he carried at all times, making sure it was secure at his hip.
“It’s a riddle I am working on. Do you wager that it would make a good conundrum? Of course, I have to refine the wording and structure, but it is still in its very rough stage.” Another maddeningly calm smile, Pathoth knowing he had struck a chord against Ahriman.
The chief sorcerer of the Thousand Sons moved past his contender. “Your aura wears at me, Pathoth. I am busy with duties concerning the future of the Legion.”
“As am I, Ahriman. As are we all,” he gestured to those in the athenaeum.
Leaving the sanctity of the neutral ground behind, the library doors closed on his back, Ahriman felt, regardless of the laws in place, he had lost a battle while there.
Minutes, hours, days, weeks; time became irrelevant for Ahriman. Locked away in his tower, seeking answers to the mutations, he worked as a man possessed. Ahriman knew he was close to an answer. Premonitions and fevered dreams led him down snaking pathways while he slept, disembodied voices clamouring for his attention. Awake, the same ethereal voices urged the sorcerer to read the pages again, and he watched as the words shifted, rearranged when their true meaning was understood. Scrolls appeared when his attention was elsewhere, bizarre objects delivered by acolytes who were not part of his entourage.
If desperation hadn’t fed into Ahriman’s determination to fashion a cure, these ‘coincidences’ would have been questioned. He knew well enough there was no such thing as happenstance or luck in the dark galaxy. But he refused to see, leaving the issue to deal with at a later point in time. Just as he dismissed the matter of Pathoth’s power struggle against him. Once Ahriman had saved the Legion, he knew that Pathoth’s power base would weaken, and could easily be crushed. Effectively dealing with two issues in one fell swoop, Ahriman concentrated on crafting his spell, refusing outside distractions.
Ahriman called it the Rubric. All his efforts, culminated into a hex so potent that, upon casting it unaided, the backlash almost killed him. When he came to, Ahriman found he was lying unharmed in the focus of the casting circle. The walls of the chamber were scorched black, with anything beyond the protective circle reduced to ashes. Ahriman’s pride suffered when he grasped the heart of the problem. He knew there was nothing wrong with the Rubric itself, only that there needed to be more than one person acting as the focal point for the spell. He would need others to help, sorcerers as powerful as himself for the Rubric to be successfully cast.
Magic always came with a price. Ahriman would have to forfeit the honour of saving the Legion on his own and ask the unfeasible from those he wanted no dealings with.
When Ahriman met with Pathoth, it was under terms he dictated. Scrying the weaves of the future, he came away confident with set visions carved in stone. Both Thousand Sons met in the largest of the libraries, unarmed, their honour guard waiting outside the doors. Wardings sealed the room from eyes and ears, though both knew if Magnus turned his baleful gaze toward them, the spells were useless. Seated at opposite ends of a large granite table, a stylized map of the galaxy carved into the surface, both looked to be in earnest conference.
“You and I both know your honour guard,” Pathoth inclined his head toward the door, “expects to hear a body drop to the floor. I imagine they believe a psychic dual is taking place in here. But with you extending the flag of truce in these dark times, I am ready to listen to what you wish to say. Speak, Ahzek.”
“I have called you here for your support, Osis. Allow me to enlighten you to the reasons before you interject.” Ahriman kept his arms folded across his chest, back straight, in complete control. “I have created a spell that will render the blight from this Legion. It is perfect in design, strong enough to succeed against the Dark Gods. Once cast, we no longer need fear the mutations.”
Pathoth chuckled. “If
Tzeentch wills it, you mean. There must be a catch to this spell, Ahriman, otherwise you would have conjured it already and be gloating about your triumph. What is the price for the casting?”
Ahriman’s eyes narrowed. “I require the most skilled of sorcerers in the Thousand Sons. Those whose psychic mastery is legendary. Naturally, you are one of the most pre-eminent, which is why I have asked for this meeting. Let us place our rivalry aside for the moment to work for the survival of the Legion. Join my cabal and help in the Rubric’s casting.”
“Does Magnus know of this spell?” Ahriman’s wavering gaze confirmed Pathoth’s suspicions. “I do nothing unless our lord decrees it, Ahriman, and you would be wise enough to do the same.”
“What if he never gives his permission? We need to act now. The time for debate is over.”
A sneer traced the marine’s lips. “Then he does it for our own good! Can you not divine what would happen should you go ahead with this? Take a page from history and look what Magnus has done to those who don’t heed his warnings. Or do, and let yourself be destroyed. All the easier for me to lead the Thousand Sons down the correct path one you are gone.”
“Would you be willing to lose your own men, and perhaps your sanity, while Magnus grows more distant?” Ahriman’s retort bit deep. “When was the last time he summoned you to mete out an edict? Once he sees the good that will come from this Rubric, my Rubric, I will bow aside and let you take my place. I consulted the cards and divined the future. My visions are without dispute in their precision.”
“In the light of our disagreement, I will judge the accuracy of your overconfident statement myself. Your arrogance is a crutch at times.”
Closing his eyes with fingers steepled, Pathoth submerged his consciousness into the aether. It surrounded and infused the daemon world in a manner mimicking a secondary plane of existence. Hidden beyond physical sight and glimpsed only by those talented enough to see it, this realm offered visions of the future for those initiated into its machinations. Guiding his soul from the athenaeum towards the higher planes, Pathoth emptied his mind of all thoughts and desires.
Darkness surrounded him. Then slowly, akin to candles being lit, faint orbs of light began to appear in the gloom. A phantom wind tugged him forward; the distant pulsing of a heartbeat the first thing he heard. Following the currents, his footsteps in cadence with the strange rhythm, Osis Pathoth passed by orbs which flickered out in his wake. Those were futures too weak to serve the Lord of Change and the Thousand Sons Legion. What he sought was the future in its truest form, the one he was being drawn to by its pulse, growing in strength. The lights were beginning to fade, snuffed out in the darkness, until only one remained. Its glow was otherworldly, the light it radiated anything but pure.
Reaching out with his hand, Pathoth touched the orb, and knew the future of the Rubric being cast.
Images flashed across his mind, moments burned into eternity before slipping away. Lightning rained down across the desolate landscape, striking the Thousand Sons wherever they sought cover. Their forms were scattered; a blink of the eye, their bodies were whole again. Magnus, stirred from his meditations, halting the destruction. A mound of corpses surrounded Ahriman. And Pathoth saw himself, glorious, proud and untouched by the devastation, standing a step beneath the throne of his Primarch.
The visions ended. From the marrow in his bones to the blood pumping through him, Pathoth knew the truth. Tzeentch had cast a mantle over Ahriman’s inner sight, gifting Pathoth instead with a glimpse to the reality which awaited them all. The wake of the Rubric would not be the undoing of the Legion. It would lead to grander schemes, higher ambitions, ones where Pathoth’s elevated role was needed. The chaff needed to be removed from the straw. That would be Ahriman’s purpose. Guiding his soul back to the library, Pathoth opened his eyes to find Ahriman warily regarding him. He was a viper ready to strike at the first sign of a threat.
Pathoth kept his voice low, dismissing the tense atmosphere. “You have to understand this, Ahriman. As the vizier to Magnus, it would do no good for my presence in your cabal, regardless of my power. For both of the most trusted of the Primarch to be caught skulking behind his back, it does not bode well. However, I will tell the sorcerers under my influence they may join you… should they wish it. No repercussions will follow them, but they do so under their own choice.”
Doubtful of Pathoth’s words, Ahriman hissed “What have you see that I haven’t?”
“Nothing. I simply do not wish to sully my hands with this scheme of yours.”
Ahriman goaded at Pathoth’s narcissism. “When it works and Magnus praises my initiative, you will find your rise to power stopped. Indeed, you may find yourself in a plummet when he becomes informed of your hesitancy.” Flexing his mental energies into a spear tip, breaking the laws of neutrality in the libraries, Ahriman struck out and attacked Pathoth’s mental barriers. He was desperate to know what the other had seen, what he needed
Pathoth grunted under the assault, hands gripping the edge of the marble table, cracking the stone. He defended, shielding his mind as the psychic wave lashed over him. Wresting control from Ahriman as sweat poured from his brow, Pathoth deflected the power away. Undirected, the psychic blast flew wide, cutting like a scythe into the crystal shelves and books held there. Slivers of crystal embedded themselves in the far wall. Torn paper and vellum fluttered to the floor, their edges burnt. The silence which followed after was great and terrible.
“You dare, in this place of sanctity, you dare to sully it!” Pathoth’s shouts brought his honour guard into the chamber, the doors flying open, bolters aimed at Ahriman. In turn, Ahriman’s guards turned their weapons against Pathoth’s.
“Peace, brothers, peace.” Ahriman waved his men to stand down, noting Pathoth did not give the order to his own.
“Foul words you speak, Ahriman. You do not speak about reconciliation. You seek to attack me. I could use this act against you should this matter be brought before Magnus.” Snapping his fingers, Pathoth’s guards moved into the library to escort Ahriman away. “Leave now, Ahriman, while I am still feeling generous and will not prattle to Magnus.”
“An unnecessary display of force, Pathoth. I will show myself out.” The black staff of Ahriman’s blazed to life, its eldritch powers halting the vizier’s guards in mid-stride. Once the Sorcerer of the Red Cyclops departed, his honour guard trailing him, the others were able to move. Ahriman’s presence lingered in the library long after, a foul taste in the air. Pathoth spat on the chair his contender had just vacated.
Conscious to the state of affairs and the sheer delicacy required to retain the upper hand, Pathoth pledged all would go according to the true desires of the Changer of the Ways. It would be his finest stratagem to date. Now to begin the first of many moves, one which would echo into the next millennia. Ordering his honour guard to keep watch outside, Pathoth singled out one in particular.
The Thousand Son, personal equerry to the vizier, saluted. He held his tongue as he surveyed the damage inside the grand library. Once the doors were shut Pathoth approached the marine, looking at a point beyond Belail and seeing the numerous pathways his future held. His equerry was a marine who crafted lies and deceit, acting as an informer, and exploited those weaker than himself. Pathoth always had a use for Belail. The other, in turn, was indebted to the powerful mage.
“You told me once, Belail, that there were impostors in my ranks. Insidious vermin siding with Ahriman, delivering him my clandestine works, thinking I know nothing.”
“I did, my Lord. I can provide a list of all their names if you wish.”
Pathoth shook his head. “No. I have two matters of grave importance for you to carry out. Go to these interlopers and speak with them. Tell them I personally request that they aide Ahriman in his cabal. Use your discretion, for I know you have been blessed with it.”
Belail bowed. “Of course, Lord Pathoth. What of the second undertaking?”
“You must leave the Planet of the Sorcerers.” A heavy sigh followed the decree. “As far as you can go. I will send you on a matter of business, of course. Perhaps to investigate those rumours of a Craftworld locked within the Eye, or as an ambassador to forge potential alliances with the other Legions. Whatever the case, I require you to be absent from this world and return only when I summon you.”
“When would that be, my Lord?”
“Centuries, perhaps, and you will have to feign hatred to me when we meet again.” Placing his hands on Belail’s shoulders, Pathoth smiled wisely. “Trust in my words. The future of the Thousand Sons depends on this – your – undertaking.”
Mere hours following Ahriman’s attack, Pathoth stood before the doors to the uppermost level of the Tower of the Cyclops. The guardians, who stood outside, were beings whose forms shifted and changed at random, looked down as the marine approached. They turned disinterested gazes away, recognizing those allowed entry. If Pathoth had arrived without a reason or summon, he would have been crushed. Such was the duty of the daemons that guarded Magnus. Opening the heavy doors enough to enter by, the sorcerer hesitated just beyond the threshold for the barest of moments, collecting his thoughts.
The throne room’s size was incomprehensible. To measure it was useless, for the dimensions and designs were ever-changing, suiting the mood of the ruler at his whim. Massive columns of black marble flanked the edges of the throne room, lost in the deep shadows. Walking across the obsidian floor, between rows of golden braziers whose flames rippled and transmuted in colour, Osis Pathoth soon found himself at the foot of the Primarch’s throne. Even with his elevation to Daemonhood, Magnus’ physical form hadn’t changed much. His skin was still ruddy, glowing in the flickering wychfire, and he sat unsmiling. Averting his gaze respectfully and bowing at the same time, Pathoth waited to be recognized before speaking.
Magnus gave the smallest of nods. “You are concerned, vizier. I could sense as much upon your approach. Speak your mind to the unease you hold, Osis.”
“Ahriman plans to cast a spell on your Legion, Lord Magnus. He came seeking my aid. I refused, of course, but he will proceed without your blessing. I only broke my oath given to him of keeping it clandestine because my loyalty to you comes before all others. The Thousand Sons Legion will be destroyed if you do not act!” Pathoth spoke brusquely and without remorse, forgoing fine words to drive the point home.
The silence in the cavernous throne room swallowed Pathoth’s words. Seated on his immense dais, Magnus stared off into the distance, looking beyond the tumulus landscape. Pathoth wondered if the Primarch was seeing the same future he had, trusting to instinct what it held, creating a plan to avert it. And surely, because Osis Pathoth had warned him, Magnus would reward him accordingly.
The stillness grew worrisome for the Chaos marine. He risked a glance up.
“Lord Magnus, I beseech you to listen to my words. I was given a vision by Tzeentch which will come to pass. There is no doubt that it--“
Pathoth was cut off by Magnus’ voice, echoing in the vast chamber, resonating in his mind. “You dare to believe that you have seen a future I have not? To accuse Ahriman of treachery against myself? One of my most trusted advisors? The bad blood between you two is rife, this I know, but for you of all people to submit to backstabbing one of our own.”
“I would not presume such a thing. Your powers of precognition exceed my own.”
Magnus’ words were relentless. “Your accusation contains no truth. I do not see Ahriman destroying a Legion he has striven to protect.”
Pathoth gritted his teeth against the injustice he faced. Even now, Magnus was playing favourites amongst his own. How ironic. The false Emperor had done the same before Horus’s treachery. Now a history of a similar nature would repeat itself. Quelling his inner anger, Pathoth tried once more. “I seek to bring to your attention what Ahriman intends. He was adamant in this course of action. His preparations are underway and if they aren’t curtailed--“
Pathoth fell under the psychic blow, dropping to his knees. Pressure like a vise wrapped around his head, building to the point where he believed his skull would crack. Then it abated. Warmth trickled down his face; he daubed at his nose, fingers coming away coated in blood. Chastised and humbled under the power of his Primarch, Pathoth quietly rose to his feet. Giving a final bow to the Daemon Prince, his head throbbing after the mental assault, the vizier left. There were no words left to say, nothing to give to the Legion, and Pathoth knew he needed to prepare himself for the spell about to be cast.
Perhaps Magnus’ vision, too, had been shrouded by Tzeentch.
The cabal had gathered. Located on the southern continent of the world, where the dry earth blew along from large gusts of wind, the Thousand Sons convened in Ahriman’s stronghold. The air felt charged. Magic was waiting to be used, untapped and latent with potential. Lightning crackled through the air, burning images across the sky while thunder rumbled in the distance.
Inside the elaborate tower, Ahriman counted. One hundred and nine sorcerers of the Thousand Sons made their final preparations to cast the Rubric. He would be the one hundred and tenth, the focal for the spell.
Arranged into groups of ten and standing in the panelled galleries above, the marines looked down while Ahriman inscribed the outer circle of the pentagram. Everything had been done with minute preparations, meticulously chosen with no margin for error. Smoke from incense burners laced the air with pungent fumes. Candles arranged haphazardly on first glance quickly showed a pattern mirrored on each floor. To the eye untrained in the magical arts, it looked as though a summoning would soon take place. Maybe it was; some felt unseen eyes were watching their actions.
Wiping his hands of the last traces of silver dust, Ahriman beckoned the five sorcerers he had chosen to take their places on the points of the star. They, like himself, had been masters of their crafts before the fall of Prospero. And they, just as Ahriman, were without peer. The last four sorcerers, standing outside the boundary of the pentagram, were assigned to guard the cardinal points.
Ahriman took his place at the center of the sacred pentagram, the Book of Magnus held in one hand and opened to the Rubric, his black staff carried in the other. “We have gathered here to undo the damage wrought to our Legion. Some would call us traitors amongst traitors, ill-advised and unknowing of the future. I say this instead. We act because we must. We are here with the common goal of saving our legacy before it falls into Chaos’s grip. We are masters of our own domain, unafraid to use the knowledge we possess. What this cabal does will echo into eternity.”
Invoking the first word of power amid a brief flicker of light, the barrier of the pentagram was cast. Ahriman began to read, inflecting his voice as the archaic words pulsated across the vellum pages. Aligning his mind to the same greater plane as the other Sons, they began chanting with him. The auras of the casters started to rise over their armoured forms, shifting and swirling in the aether, suffusing the tower chamber. Continuing his recitations, Ahriman threw away his doubts even as the feeling of being watched intensified. It was too late to turn back now; the Rubric could not end until the casting was complete.
The lightning storm grew outside the sanctum, its rolling thunder resonating in the chests of the corrupted Astartes. To some it sounded like the approaching footsteps of a great being. The wind, rising up in a maddening howl, seemed to bear aloft winged creatures made from the incense smoke. Lightning splashed above the horizon, raining its forked tongues down to the earth. In the tiered galleries overhead, the voices took on an otherworldly quality, overlapping until one was unintelligible from the next.
Then the malevolent presence made itself known. Impure energies, gaining corporeal form, hissed as they materialized. Strange beings spawned outside the boundaries of the circle, grotesque and disfigured, ravenous for the souls they sensed. Those within the confines of the pentagram remained safe while the ones beyond turn into prey. One of the Sons fell from a floor above, beheaded by a daemon’s sinuous tongue, blood spraying the walls. Another marine, turning to flee, was immolated by a being wreathed in fire. Discs, breathing poisonous fumes, whirled through the air, their great jaws crushing the warriors who attempted to fight.
Crucial sacrifices required for the Rubric’s completion.
Ahriman blocked out the confused shouts and screams, his frenzied chants continuing while the daemons began to feast. He was nearly finished. The last verses were recited. Shadows capered along the edges of the silver circle, pressing against the barrier to seek entry. Blood mingled with the incense vapors, overpowering everything else. With the last word of the Rubric uttered, the spell’s ferocity was unleashed. Across the conclave and sweeping over the planet, the unrestrained magic did its work.
Lightning ripped apart the masonry of the tower, seeking everyone still alive within. It struck like a crazed beast, ripping into the Sons and daemons without pause. Reality loosened upon itself in the sanctum, currents rippling in the wake of the arcs of lightning. Ahriman threw his arms out before him to ward against the lightning. It cut through his psychic barriers like parchment, pummeling him to the ground. Unable to rise, incapable of enduring the excruciating pain, Ahriman’s scream joined the other Sons.
“Chaff from the straw,” a dry voice croaked into the wind before Ahriman was rendered unconscious.
The effects of the Rubric were far-reaching and damning in the cost.
Roused by the intensity of the storms, the injured psyches of his warriors lashed against him, Magnus raised his hand to stop the enchantment. As the winds of magic ebbed, the Primarch’s gaze fell on the culprits behind the act. In a persecution as brutal as the Nikaea Council, Ahriman and what remained of his coven were brought before Magnus. Pathoth had been given the singular honour of hunting them down. It hadn’t been difficult – the Vizier of the Magus knew where to find the sorcerer.
Pathoth would never thank Ahriman for the service he had rendered. His own powers, augmented greatly after the Rubric’s casting, could now rival those of his former adversary. Rejoicing in private at the discovery, Pathoth’s face in public was anything but pleased. Standing one step removed from the base of Magnus’ throne, just as the future had shown, Pathoth watched the trial play itself out.
At the proceedings, even in the face of his immediate execution, Ahriman argued his innocence backed by his justifications. His arrogance quickly wore away for those sitting at the tribunal, but the grand sorcerer would not cringe and repent his mistakes as many thought.
The Sons without a link to the aether, prisoners whose bodies were now dry husks and sealed in their armour, were the perfect warriors Ahriman stated. Never growing tired or hungry, they kept their opponents at a disadvantage, able to fight while others needed to rest. Saved from the mutations which would have ultimately killed them, these Rubric Marines held no fear and no will of their own. It only required the talents of a sorcerer to command their listless movements to bring them to action.
“Better,” Ahriman finished, “than having no warriors to fight on for your Legion at all, my Lord Magnus. The sorcerers, whose powers are greater than before, have transcended their former coil of existence. They will instruct their lesser brethren in this new life, one free of mutations and unwanted gifts of the patron god of magic.”
Ahriman’s words incited the fury Magnus had contained until that moment. The cyclopean giant rose from his throne, fist raised, the time for words long past. Everyone tensed for the oncoming death; Pathoth eagerly leaned forward to watch Ahriman’s obliteration.
.” The voice, the same Ahriman had heard in the final moments of the Rubric’s casting, echoed across the throne room. Rattling like dead leaves, it held sway over all occupants in the chamber, stopping the arc of Magnus’ fist. “You would smash these pawns too readily. Leave them for the greater works yet fulfilled.
Magnus stayed his hand, his anger plain to see. No one uttered the simultaneous thought lest it created a panic, that they had all been moved, unknowingly, by the greater intrigues of a god. Considered for too long, it could very well drive one insane. Not that Pathoth would reflect on the pulled strings and webs spun by a deity. Knowing he had risen as Ahriman had fallen, and without drawing his own precious blood, was enough.
The sentence Magnus carried out had been swift and brutal.
Banishment, to never again set foot on the Planet of the Sorcerers. As Ahriman had sought to understand the complexities of magic and of Tzeentch, he would now seek to understand the varied nature of the Lord of Change itself.
If the loss of Prospero and their physical forms hadn’t been enough, those who sided with Ahriman would now endure leaving what had been their haven in the Eye of Terror. Needless to say, Ahriman trod a fine line with his former collaborators. Granted a single vessel by Magnus, an Acheron-class battle cruiser stationed in high dock, Ahriman stood on the docking bay platform with his retinue, watching the engines slowly brought to life by the Dark Mechanicum aboard.
There were not many to see him depart, and if Ahriman had had his way, he would have preferred no one come. Yet Pathoth was there, the hostility dividing them as surely as Ahriman’s actions against his Legion had. He looked upon the usurper and nearly bared his teeth. Various auras clashed through the air, flickering between men angered at being used as pieces in their lords’ game.
“May you find success in your mission upon the Great Ocean, Ahriman.” Bowing for the sake of formalities, Pathoth did nothing to hide the satisfaction over his new rank.
“May you find the burden of leadership untiring,” Ahriman responded, venom lacing the words. “I have cast my sight into the future and know our paths do not end here. The next we meet, you will find my travels will have left myself the more knowledgeable of the two.”
“One can only hope.” Pathoth’s familiar smile appeared. “Now, to the final matter of business before your departure.” He held out his hand.
Tension filled the air. Ahriman’s aura sliced from its calm blue into a vivid red as he all but ripped the Book of Magnus from the chain around his waist. He held the tome out to Pathoth, looking at the bejewelled cover for the last time, wishing to leaf through the vellum pages once more. Both sorcerers grasped the coveted volume firmly. Pathoth pulled it towards him and felt the resistance of Ahriman, still not willing to ease his grip.
Then it was done. The book of their Primarch passed into the hands of the Thousand Sons new leader, and Ahriman’s time on the daemon world had come to a close.
Resolutely turning his back on Pathoth, walking up the boarding ramp to his ship, Ahriman bitterly spoke. “I saved the Legion.”
“You preserved us, if that is what you truly meant. Do Magnus proud, Ahriman, and perhaps in a few thousand years you may yet find humility and be allowed to return.” Taloned gauntlet closing around the grimoire possessively, Pathoth felt heady. The coveted treasure was now rightfully his own, and with it, a Legion. Commanding his host of Rubric Marines to fall into step behind him, Pathoth left the docking bays. His work accomplished, he had no reason to stay longer.
Ahriman made his way to the command deck of the battle barge, objectively watching the various marines and thralls now under his service. He could rake their minds and sift through their thoughts to see if any were spies planted by Pathoth. He could, but for the moment he stayed his hand. The voyage would be long, the distances great, with no suggestion of a clear end in sight. Every able body had its uses. Ahriman would see to it.
Klaxons sounded as the vessel, its thrusters flaring to life, disengaged from its dock and rose into space. Powering through the atmosphere of coloured mists and swirling haze, the Planet of the Sorcerers fell away. The gaping darkness of space spread before the exiles. The helm sounded off a string of coordinates, waiting for clarification to its next objective. Ahriman debated the choices. Before he could issue an order, time suspended
itself on board. Sounds faded out, the movements of the Thousand Sons and officers on deck turned sluggish, then stilled.
Ahriman felt the great Eye of Magnus cast its gaze over him. The voice of his Primarch echoed to the core of his soul.
To the victor are the spoils of war given.
Fingers snapped; time reverted and continued on its convoluted path. The bridge returned to the hub of activity it was, Ahriman left with the final words Magnus had given him. A cold and merciless fury, clamped inside a will of iron, overwhelmed the mage. Had Magnus seen this future, playing the part of the fool up to the very end? Allowing it despite the cost? The implications baffled Ahriman; not understanding it incensed him further.
“My Lord, your orders?” Kapharon, a senior officer, waited.
Ahriman scowled. “Take us from the Eye and into the Segmentum Obscurus. From there, we shall let fate decide our next step.”
Ahriman departed the high decks for his stateroom. In his wake, he left a psychic trail as jagged as broken glass, wounding those who came too close. He would not suffer for the loss of the daemon world. Never one for sentimental practices, the Chaos sorcerer saw it as just another shackle to be cast aside. Ahriman vowed, as the battle cruiser carried him forward, that he would complete the impossible task set before him and return. The future, with all its surprises and uncertainties and traps, waited to be faced.
And then, not even the strongest of sorcerers would stand against him.