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The Heralds of Desolation

In the God-Emperor of Mankind’s name, we will not rest until his supreme vision is realised. We will finish His Great Crusade, no matter the cost.”

Augustus Gideon, Chapter Master of the Heralds of The Emperor, M.34

Every day, millions of human souls are lost to the worship of the fell powers of Chaos. Very occasionally (yet far more often than the Adeptus Astartes will ever admit) Space Marines themselves surrender to such temptation and, rarer still, whole Chapters succumb. Yet in the long and bloody history of the Imperium only one Chapter has ever had its fall sealed by those who created it, for in the tragic case of the Heralds of The Emperor it was the High Lords of Terra who damned this Chapter for all eternity.

A New Crusade

Three thousand years after the Great Crusade ended in the desolation of the Horus Heresy, the High Lords of Terra and the Inquisition had to a great extent succeeded at turning these momentous events into little more than myths and legends. So thorough were they that even many in the highest echelons of power had forgot the sheer trauma surrounding the formation of the Imperium. It was therefore with a cruel inevitability that some began to favour at long last completing the Great Crusade.

Such ideas soon became tangible progress, after countless debates in the highest halls of the Administratum and clandestine negotiations behind null field sealed doors a plan formed. A grand explorator fleet was to be commissioned, made up of the most advanced ships ever conceived. These ships would carry tens of thousands of the Imperium’s finest soldiers, Tech Priest and scholars; leading them would be a newly founded chapter of Astartes, specially bred for this purpose alone, The Heralds of The Emperor.

Never before in recorded Imperial history had a Founding been conducted with such secrecy. The most accomplished Magos Biologis skirted the boundaries of outright heresy by carefully analysing all known gene seed strains to select the one most capable of bearing the unique pressures the Heralds would encounter. Their remit was simple; create an Astartes capable of withstanding a voyage far beyond the boundary of known space. Create a marine so utterly self-sufficient and dedicated to the God-Emperor’s cause that they would not rest until his vision is complete. It took many years, and many long-suppressed failures, but eventually the first of the Heralds were born.

Just as their Founding was concealed, so was their training. Rather than dispatching squads of Heralds to fight along side their cousin Astartes, a lonely planetoid in a seldom travelled sector of the Segmentum Solar was given over to the nascent chapter. There, under tutelage of hand picked veteran Astartes, the whole chapter was put through fifteen years of the harshest conditioning imaginable.

Eventually however their masters judged them ready. As such in 287.M34, and with much pageantry, their newly-appointed Chapter Master, Augustus Gideon, ordered the explorator fleet to leave high anchor above Holy Terra and proceed towards the galactic south west, into the unknown.

Eight side-real months later the fleet had reached the far edges of the Segmentum Tempestus. Slowly, the vast explorator fleet scoured the neighbouring systems, chasing up any transmission fragment or astropathic echo which might lead them to inhabited planets.

As anticipated, many of the systems they encountered were, and always had been, bereft of human life being as they were unsuitable for habitation or terraforming. Nevertheless, the fleet pressed on deeper into the unknown and in 291.M34, some years ahead of predictions, they encountered a populated human world.

Designated ‘HAB.01’, the planetwas a sparsely populated world approximately a quarter of the size of Holy Terra. Initial surveys reported that their society had regressed to a feudal model where black power weaponry was in its infancy. As such it was a simple matter for the fleet’s forces to overcome the slight resistance some of the population attempted during the compliance actions which followed.

Bolstered by this success, and by a fresh intake of conscripts and potential Herald neophytes, the bulk of the fleet left anchor six months later leaving in place sufficient military and Administratum personnel to complete the planet’s, now named Gideon’s World, integration into the Imperium of Man.

Over the next ten years a further seven human-inhabited planets were found and brought to compliance. Some required significant military intervention but in the end all fell to The Heralds and their allies. From each world was taken a tithe of their population to strengthen the explorator fleet, likewise the fleet’s Tech Priests scoured each world for lost archeotech.

A Chapter Betrayed

Finally word came from Terra. In a vermilion encoded message, the whole fleet was ordered to proceed at once to Gideon’s World; there they would wait for a delegation from the Ordo Malleus of the Holy Inquisition. Refusal to do so would be met with extreme censure.

To Gideon’s World the fleet travelled, and there they waited. Then, in 302.M34 Terra’s ‘delegation’ arrived. The Heralds were expecting at most a single capital ship and its auxiliary vessels, what arrived was an armada. Commanded by Inquisitor Octavia Drakenholm of the Ordo Malleus, the fleet vastly outnumbered and out gunned that of the Heralds. Most tellingly of all was the inclusion of over two and a half thousand Astartes made up of battle companies from the Black Templars, Crimson Fists, Crusaders Redemptor, Mortificators, and the Grey Knights.

Upon their arrival Inquisitor Drakenholm shuttled across to The Heralds’ flagship, the Battle Barge New Dawn. There, flanked by representatives from all the newly-arrived Chapters she delivered her message to Chapter Master Gideon.

Since their first success at Gideon’s World, the fleet had sent back genetic samples of the human populations to the Imperium so that it could be independently verified that these newly found worlds were free of the taint of Chaos. While such tests were also conducted within the fleet and supported by the Heralds’ Chaplains and Librarians it was felt that the facilities of the Ordo Malleus were more exacting. According to Drakenholm, the Ordo’s scientists had found an unacceptable genetic potential for mutation within many of the samples, as such it was decreed by order of the Holy Inquisition that each planet would be cleaned by the fires of exterminatus. The Heralds’ crusade was at an end.

Moreover, since populations from each planet had been recruited into the fleet, and indeed into the Heralds, it was judged that there was an unacceptable risk that corruption had spread intractably into the expeditionary force. It was therefore Inquisitor Drakenholm’s solemn duty to inform Chapter Master Gideon that in order to purify all remaining taint he, his Chapter, and everyone in the fleet were to be put to death.

Before he could utter a word Drakenholm’s honour guard opened fire. Gideon looked on with horror as men he’d known for decades were brutally slaughtered and roared with defiance as bolter rounds tore him to pieces. As he fell to the ground he summoned what remaining strength he had and renounced his oaths to the God-Emperor and swore that all the worlds of man would pay for this betrayal.

In the Warp, the dark gods smiled.

As the last vestiges of life left Augustus Gideon, the Warp spoke. In the space around Gideon’s World a titanic warp storm sprung in to existence and engulfed both the warring fleets. Inquisitor Drakenholm fell to her knees as forces of pure Warp energy battered the New Dawn, on the verge of passing out she saw a terrible sight that would stay with her until her final moments; surrounded by coruscating Warp energy, the creature that was once Augustus Gideon rose to its feet.

With an inhuman bellow, the creature charged at the Space Marine honour guard, these noble warriors fought bravely but were no match for a creature forged from the pure hatred of betrayal and within minutes all were dead. As the warm blood of humanity’s champions dripped off its newly formed talons, the creature that would one day be known as Marax The Desolater picked up the dying body of Octavia Drakenholm and completed its dark apotheosis by devouring her soul.

Throughout the rest of the Heralds’ fleet similar changes were being wrought. Some Heralds developed strange and horrific mutations, the Librarians among them found their powers greatly increased, but all experienced a collective sense of emancipation and enlightenment. This redoubled their efforts in their battle against Drakenholm’s forces and aided by creatures brought forth by the Warp storm they annihilated nearly all those loyal to the Golden Throne.

Those who survived quickly wished they hadn’t. Rounded up quickly by the victorious Heralds, the surviving humans were placed in chains and sent in to the bowels of the New Dawn to toil under the lash until their bodies could take no more.

Sixty three Astartes survived, the once-Chapter Master decreed that henceforth he would show mercy on all Astartes that his Heralds captured. Just as he had seen through the False Emperor’s lies, he would ensure that all his gene-enhanced brethren had the same opportunity. The captive marines would given into the care of the Heralds’ apothecaries and fell chaplains, there they would be cleansed by ceaseless pain and torment of their blind faith in the Corpse God, no matter how long it took.

As the last of the fighting died out, the Warp storm abated. Such was its fury that it left Gideon’s World a lifeless rock. The Heralds’ armada, augmented by several captured vessels, left orbit and headed westward again leaving nothing but destruction in their wake.

Legacy of Desolation

Several years later one of Drakenholm’s former students, Inquisitor Malik Hakam, arrived at Gideon’s World in search of his former mistress. Finding nothing, he ordered his ship’s captain to conduct a search of the seven other planets the Heralds’ had brought to compliance.

The next six worlds visited were much the same, nothing remained but barren rocks and the lingering psychic imprint of pain and despair. As the Inquisition vessel approached the final planet it was bombarded by waves of etheric energy which appeared to emanate from the planet itself. It took all the skill of the ship’s pilots but they managed to safely reach orbit and, wasting little time, Hakam and his retinue headed for the surface. Nothing could have prepared them for what they encountered on the surface.

Virtually every square metre of land was covered with barbed pikes, each stretching several metres into the air. On these pikes the populations of the eight planets the Heralds had visited were impaled. Dark sorcery was keeping these wretches alive and fully aware, their screams of anguish echoed round the whole planet, churning its seas of blood and effluent and manifesting in the psychic energy broadcast out into space.

Returning to his ship, Hakam ordered his Astropath to broadcast his instructions for the Exterminatus of the fell world they orbited. As the Astropath’s mind opened to the Warp he went into convulsions before addressing Malik with Drakenholm’s voice.

What you saw below is but a taste of what is to come. We are the Heralds of Desolation and we will scour the Corpse God and his followers from this galaxy. Their blood will sanctify…”

The creature’s last words were cut off as more convulsions set in and before Hakam’s horrified eyes the Astropath’s body bulged and contorted as multiple mutations began to form. Before matters worsen Hakam struck the abomination down with a single blow from his force sword.

Returning to Imperial space, Hakam made it his mission to seek out the Heralds of Desolation but for the rest of his long life they eluded him. Indeed, when a battle fleet arrived at the co-ordinates of the sacrificial world they found nothing but open space, it was as if the planet had never existed.

That is not to say that Hakam was wholly unsuccessful, he collected all the information he could find on the Heralds of the Emperor Project and followed up all rumours, no matter how slight, about the chapter’s appearances around the galaxy. This obsession on more than one occasion brought him into conflict with his masters since the Ordo had done its utmost to ensure the suppression and eradication of all the remaining information, evidence and people associated with the Herald Project.

Before he died he bequeathed his archive to his most trusted former student. He impressed onto him the need to protect this information and ensure that whenever the Heralds emerged from the shadows, the Imperium would be ready.

It was many years after Hakam’s death that the first confirmed sighting of the Heralds of Desolation took place. In 729.M35 near the western fringe of the Uhulis Sector the agriworld Harper’s Folly detected an incoming fleet. The world’s long-range auspex identified the lead vessel as the New Dawn, flagship of the Heralds of The Emperor.

Word soon spread among the planet’s few nobility that they would soon be honoured by the arrival of The Emperor’s angels of death. Preparations were still being made for the welcoming reception when the orbital bombardment commenced.

Harper’s Folly fell within hours. The debased Heralds of Desolation made sport of the doomed population and revelled in acts of unspeakable cruelty. Fortunately though, few did escape the slaughter.

A Rogue Trader named Erasmus Tortega, who was visiting the planet to negotiate for access to the system’s mineral rights managed to make it back to his ship which was fortunately for him situated on the other side of the planet from the arriving Heralds. Breaking orbit without being detected, Tortega’s ship slipped into the Warp and made best speed for friendly space.

It was not long before the Inquisition located Tortega, during his lengthy debriefing he described what had become to the once-noble Astartes and it became very clear as to their true identity. The Heralds of Desolation had returned.

Since then, confirmed sightings increased year on year. While originally confined to the Segmentum Tempestus, in recent centuries Herald warbands have been positively identified operating all across Imperial space. The only constant is that wherever they appear, death and destruction are not far behind.

Chapter Organisation and Beliefs

Unlike many traitor chapters, the Heralds of Desolation have retained a fairly formal command structure. The Chapter is still lead by the Daemon Prince Marax The Desolater from his Battle Barge New Dawn which has remained undetected by the Imperium for centuries.

Marax has grown weary of late with the Long War and spends increasing amounts of time communing with his patron god Tzeentch. Marax believes that he is close to uncovering a great secret about the Imperium, once this is known to him, he will have the power he needs to finally end the Corpse God’s reign.

Although Marax is a disciple of Tzeentch, the majority of the Heralds worship Chaos Undivided. Like many Chaos forces, there are individuals who embrace the exclusive worship of a single Chaos God and, inevitably, they end up congregating together. By far the most common single god to be worshipped is Tzeentch, indeed it is rare for a senior commander of the chapter to follow any other.

Presently there number approximately five thousand Heralds. This is mainly thanks to the advanced gene seed gestation technology that they were equipped with six thousand years before. In addition to their enhanced recruitment capabilities, the Heralds have disturbingly successful methods of ‘convincing’ loyal Astartes to join them, however most of these marines are so maddened by the process that their only use is as disposable shock troops.

Over the years many non-Astartes have flocked to the Heralds’ banner. Many of the Tech Priests who accompanied the Heralds from Terra still serve with them although one would scarcely recognise what they have become. Likewise, many of the Imperial Guard and Navy personnel who survived the Battle of Gideon’s World became the first of the Heralds’ cult army, those who weren’t sacrificed to the glory of Chaos, that is!

As their numbers are so high, the Heralds are split into several large War Hosts, each commanded by a champion of their chapter appointed by Marax personally. These hosts operate with near autonomy and have spread carnage throughout the whole Imperium.

Chapter Appearance

As with most Chaos Marines, their power armour has been significantly affected by their long exposure to the Warp. While the Heralds have retained their original blue and silver livery, their armour now gives off a faint glow and what is beneath the armour is best not discussed.

Creative Background

Ever since Codex: Chaos came out in 1996 I’ve wanted to collect a Chaos Marine force. Back then I didn’t really have the time as my Blood Angels, Imperial Guard and Eldar took priority. And my Standard Grades (Scottish GCSEs) of course!

When I got back into the hobby in 2009 I decided to initially concentrate on my Imperial Guard but less than I year later I found myself making cake toppers for my own wedding out of a couple of Chaos Spawn and within a couple of months I’d picked up the (then) current Codex and a box of marines.

At the time I decided to divide my loyalties between my Guard, the Dark Eldar I’d started six months earlier and these scions of Chaos. Unfortunately the Dark Eldar got the new codex treatment first and my poor Chaos Marines languished unloved in a Tupperware box under my desk for well over a year but as rumours began to appear that Chaos Marines would be the first sixth edition Codex I decided to do my best and get a viable force ready as soon as possible.

Now this hasn’t happened yet, but at least most of them have the beginnings of a base coat and my pool of unpainted Chaos minis now takes up three Tupperware boxes. I’m hoping to get my first 1,500 points ready by the end of the year and I’m having a blast painting them.

The Heralds’ background has gone through many revisions. Long term readers of this blog may remember that my first ever post introduced them. At the time, they were the Heralds of Woe and as you can read here, some of the early background has survived.

Later I had rechristened them the Heralds of Enlightenment and I’d worked out a pretty decent background for them until I realised that I’d basically ripped off the Word Bearers’ history! So, back to the drawing board.

By this time the new codex had appeared and having devoured it I decided to go down a slightly different track. I came to realise that the main appeal of the Chaos Marines to me is the sequence of small, subtle steps that lead to damnation. I wanted to explore this but I also wanted to leave some options should I wish to expand on their background later.

Thus, what you have just read was born. I deliberately skipped over certain periods in their history (and that of several supporting players) since I really want to come back to this. For example, the Heralds of The Emperor spent ten years bringing eight worlds to compliance, but what happened to them during this time? What corners did they have to cut, what dark choices did they make to bring some of the worlds into the Imperium?

Likewise, why was Drakenholm so convinced that the Heralds had turned? Did she uncover some deliberate or accidental corruption of their gene seed, what else did she know? Indeed it is Octavia Drakenholm and Malik Hakam I would most like to write about further; I would very much like to know more about their adventures together in the thirty third millennium.

Even if I never get round to writing more about them, the story of the Heralds will live on not just in my games of 40K but also in my role playing group. My friend Tim (he of the Reavers Redemptor) is thinking about incorporating a Heralds War Host into one of our Dark Heresy adventures. In fact our group’s Inquisitor is likely the current caretaker of Hakam’s Archive (there’s a story title!) so I am happy to say that I think that the Heralds and I will have a long and very interesting relationship.

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