Soft candlelight provided the only illumination down the roughly carved hallway. The cramped walls and low ceilings barely allowed Gorath’s hulking form to pass through, chipping particles of dust and stone as his spidery talons moved with caution through the cavernous bowels of The Promise of Absolution. The mighty ship had changed a great deal since Gorath last walked its interiors; where it was once dominated by grandiose amphitheaters filled with the sounds of blasphemous worship and the screams of unholy sacrifice, it was now a place of silent caverns and spartan necessity. Gorath had heard tales of the desiccation and isolation that the defeat at Iperin had wrought upon Esarhaddon and his Sicarii Host, and now he saw that they had etched the scars of their failure into the bulkheads of their own fleet.
But Gorath had no time for preening and posturing. There was a galaxy to burn, and a god to slay.
An antechamber at the hall’s end allowed their mortal guide to stand aside and beckon Gorath and his Siege Lords to the room beyond. They stepped forwards into an enormous chamber of plasteel and worked stone. Half-finished murals of daemons and darker things stretched up the cold gray walls into the yawning darkness whose end could not be seen. At its center, a great staircase led upwards, to a throne of obsidian whose inhabitant watched the Iron Warriors enter with a cold intensity.
“Lord Esarhaddon,” Gorath said. “Greetings.”
The enormous armored form of the High Lord Esarhaddon, Master of the Sicarii, slowly rose from the black throne and began to descend the jagged staircase, fixing the jade eye lenses of his tusked helm at Gorath and his retinue. A low growl emanated from the armor that seemed to echo - or originate - from every direction.
“Speak, Son of Perturabo,” came a voice like groaning metal. “You have bought yourself a moment of mercy, but no more.”
“I am here to strike a bargain, Lo-”.
“You betrayed me,” Esarhaddon’s accusation came like a thunderclap. “You moved against my followers at the hour of victory. You sought Ba’arzunipal, the tool of ascension that was mine by right. What was it that brought you to betray your oaths and the will of the Gods themselves, Gorath? Was it Greed? Jealousy? Perhaps you sold your loyalties to the withered husk of the Imperium, in some misguided hope of forgiveness. Is that it, Gorath? Perhaps you come, now, to do your Emperor’s work. So be it, but know that here, your lack of loyalties will not save you from the dead hand of fate...”
Gorath’s jaw clenched, but he remained motionless. Even in the seeming isolation of this chamber, Gorath knew there would be eyes watching, and warriors ready to come to their Lord’s aid. Enough to overwhelm his retinue, and perhaps even himself. Better to stand his ground.
The Siege Lords’ reaction, however, was not nearly as sanguine. Sensing the implied threat, they instinctively moved to defend their Lord, forming a circle around Gorath, weapons readied at all angles. Two held Esarhaddon in their sights, plasma weaponry primed and humming with malice. The Word Bearer Lord stared impassively at the warriors, unarmed but clearly unafraid.
No, Gorath thought. Not here. Not now. He had come too far and spilled too much blood to lose sight of his goal in a petty clash of egos. He waved his men off with a gesture.
“Stand down,” he commanded, and turned again to face the Word Bearer. “We are guests, after all. Let us appreciate our host’s sense of humor.”
Esarhaddon grunted what may have been a laugh, or simply an acknowledgement that Gorath would not be so easily baited. Armored gauntlets reached to the cowl of ornate Terminator armor and undid complex seals. With a ragged hiss, the Word Bearer Lord’s helm came away, revealing a face that was impossibly withered and gnarled, every one of its ten-thousand years written in scars and desiccated flesh. His one remaining eye bored into Gorath with undisguised hatred.
“I am not without eyes and ears within the halls of our kin, Gorath. I know of your travels, and of dealings with entities that chill even the blood of our own wretched brethren. I do not know what it is you seek, and I do not care, but you did not come to my aid from the warmth of your heart. Make your request, so I may choose the manner in which to deny you.”
“Very well,” Gorath said, motioning to one of his Terminator guard, who unhooked a miniature hololithic projector from his belt and held it aloft. The somber tones of Esharradon’s audience hall were stained green as a form materialized out of solid light - a roughly hewn sphere, covered in thousands of structures.
“The Doom of Galagon,” Gorath boomed. “The unmaker of Tizino Prime. In their hubris, out of terror, the dogs of the False Emperor built a weapon like no other. Remorse for their foolishness caused them to hide it from the galaxy, hoarded for the time when we once again storm their shores in full.”
Gorath took a confident step forward, heedless of the weapons readied against him by any unseen assassin. “It is real, Esarhaddon, and I have found it.”
This time, Esarhaddon’s laugh was unmistakable. “You are not the first to come to me with these tales. So, the stories are true. The weapon is real, as is the Black Fleet that guards it. An unimaginable and impregnable a fortress as could be constructed by the blighted race of Man. Against that power, Gorath, you will be broken and rent to ash. Another sacrifice to the ceaseless hunger of the Gods.”
“Do not be so sure.” Gorth said. “For every lock, there is a key. I hold the key to the Omega Station.” On cue, the hologram zoomed, showing detail at an incredible level. Power conduits, defense structures, and gravitational enhancers were brought into sharp contrast, each with notations that made their design plain.
“In the fires of Mary Mayo, at the heart Kalan’s folly, I found a prize like no other. An archive. The archive, Esarhaddon. Architecture. Schematics. Codes and deployments and plans, all for this ultimate weapon. I know its details like no other living man, and I require only the force to take it. Do you think it was mere greed that moved my hand against you at Iperin, Word Bearer? The Black Sword was a symbol. Nothing more. A tool to bring the beasts of Chaos down upon the Omega Station with such a force that even a fortress as mighty as that could not hold.”
“What,” Esarhaddon asked with a cold disinterest, “do you want?”
“I want the end of this, Esarhaddon. Of the Long War; the endless plotting and scheming, the raids and pinprick efforts to bring down a beast that should have been slaughtered millennia ago. I want to carve a path to Terra and watch as mankind’s cradle erupts in flame and the Emperor burns in his palace. I am tired of the factions, of the infighting that keeps us from the vengeance that should be ours. I am so close, now. We are so close.”
“You would dare to stand here,” Esarhaddon said, “In this room. In the shadow of your own treachery. And you would speak to me of unity?”
“Yes,” Gorath said locking eyes with the Word Bearer Lord, “Yes, I engaged in the same petty backstabbing that has crippled the Long War since its earliest days. It seemed the only way at the time. But it was wrong, Esarhaddon. I was wrong. The past cannot be changed, but with the Omega Station, we can avenge ten-thousand years of betrayal.”
Gorath watched Esarhaddon for any sign, but he was motionless. Had he succeeded? Had his admission truly assuaged the terrible pride of the Sicarii’s master? Finally, an unfamiliar look of weariness came over the Word Bearer’s cragged face, and a long sigh escaped from his ancient throat.
“Go after your bauble, then, Gorath,” he said, turning to ascend the blackened stairway to his throne. “I have no need to chase legends. Not anymore.”
“Fine,” Gorath said, anger rising in his voice. “Rot in your throne while the Imperium slowly cuts your throat. That is of no concern to me. But you have something I require, Esarhaddon. The stone. The Heart of Zaral.”
The Word Bearer Lord stopped. “Then you are a greater fool than I’d believed,” he spat, turning once more. “Ba’arzunipal. The Heart. They died on Iperin.”
“The stone may have been shattered, but the Heart still lives. Here, within your fleet. Within this ship. Weakened, perhaps. But still potent. You have kept it hidden from most, Esarhaddon, but not all. You wish to raise another army, perhaps? To march on Terra once more, with countless enslaved beasts. But you can’t, can you? The Heart no longer shines brightly enough in the Immaterium to bring them to you.”
The Word Bearer Lord’s hesitation confirmed everything that Gorath had been told.
“Give it to me, Esarhaddon. Give me that which the Gods themselves would grant.”
“No.” Esharradon growled, pressing a series of strokes into a keypad on his armored thigh. “You have taken enough from the Sicarii, Gorath. Now I will take from you and yours.”
Klaxons sounded throughout the chamber, and Gorath’s vox came alive with shouts and requests for orders from within his own fleet. The Promise of Absolution’s shields – and that of the whole Sicarii fleet – had been raised, each Word Bearer vessel’s weapons readied and aimed at The Black Morass.
Esarhaddon’s armored boots thudded forward towards the Iron Warriors, heedless of the weaponry now trained on him by the full contingent of Siege Lords.
“Inform your fleet that you are now my prisoner, Gorath. Let them know the price of your arrogance. I was content to let you leave and be swallowed by your doom, but you have come to my domain and demanded that to which you have no right.”
“If one weapon is fired,” Gorath said, his voice filled with a controlled fury. “...or if this ship lends power to its engines, then The Black Morass will unleash its full weapons array upon this very spot. Is it worth it, Word Bearer? Is it worth both of our deaths to preserve what remains of your tattered, delusional pride?”
“If I deny you your prize, then that is worth enough for my tastes.”
The two Chaos Lords stared at each other from across the room’s interior, each unmoving and implacable in their will. From the chamber’s shadows, pneumatics hissed as hidden doors opened to reveal Esarhaddon’s own Terminator guard, who emerged with weapons at the fore, the stained and wicked lightning claws of their Champion gleaming as the warriors stalked forward. For a long moment, the room bristled with a barely-contained threat of violence.
“Oh, how I’ve missed seeing the two of you together. It’s been so long.”
The rising tension broke as the deep, resonant laugh of a familiar voice filled the chamber. A figure emerged from the throng of Gorath’s guard, lowering the hood that had lent him anonymity until now. Matthius, Prophet of the Four, stepped forward.
“Did I not tell you that he would present difficulties?”
Gorath let out a sigh. “It is as you said, Prophet,” he said, nodding in acknowledgement.
The Prophet of the Four turned his attention to Esarhaddon, his stride broken by the wall of Terminator armor formed by the Word Bearer’s guards.
“Matthius.” Esarhaddon’s voice hid nothing of his contempt. “Why am I not surprised to find that this madness is of your doing?”
The Prophet shook his head. “I am but a servant. A vessel. A bringer of truths from the Great Unknowable. This mission is Gorath’s, born from his desires just as the War of the Chasma Spica came from your own black dreams, Esarhaddon. As always, I act as but a voice to the Will of the Powers to those who would be guided by them”
Esarhaddon snorted. “We have seen where your guidance leads.”
“The Sword was willed to you, but the purposes of the Gods did not align with your own,” Matthias countered, his voice still reeking with false kindness. “Don’t deny your true ambitions. You sought to raise a new Power, and you oh so nearly succeeded. The Gods themselves stood in mute terror of your gambit, Esarhaddon. But this? A weapon that will rend the Anathema from the mortal plane and leave a galaxy in search of new and terrible masters? The Four speak as one: This is their will.”
Matthius paused to let his words sink in, his eyes never turning from contemptuous gaze of the Sicarii Lord’s. “Your play at Godhood failed on Iperin, Esarhaddon. Let go of that failed ambition. Your tools of ascension are lost, scattered to the winds. Now you would stand in hollow pride, against the will of the Gods themselves? No. I know you. You are a stubborn man, one who has earned his place and his pride, but you are not a fool, and hate for the False Emperor runs in your veins as strongly as any Astartes.”
The Prophet’s hands opened wide. “Forget Iperin. Forget the past. Before you lies a path of glory and vengeance.”
Beneath his stony countenance, Gorath felt true awe at watching the Prophet. The Iron Warrior held little love for the fickle, unnatural ways of the Dark Powers, but in this man, their true majesty was made manifest. It was clear why lesser Astartes would forsake their Legions to follow him: when he spoke, even the hardened heart of a Traitor knew the Gods’ true power.
Slowly, the resistance began to drain from Esarhaddon’s face, and Gorath realized that the fight was over. Even the Word Bearer Lord could not deny the harsh truth laid out before him. Gorath watched as Esarhaddon entered a new sequence into the keypad. Reports flooded into Gorath’s vox almost immediately. The Sicarii fleet was standing down.
“Very well,” the Word Bearer nodded. “The Sicarii will sail with The Black Morass. We will bring war to the Omega Station. We will carve a path of ruin across the galaxy, we will bring the Long War again to the shores of ancient Terra, and there we will crush the soul of this weak race known as Man.”
The smile in Matthius’ voice was unmistakable. “Excellent. I leave this to you,” he said, already passing by the grouping of Iron Warriors, disappearing into the shadows he had emerged from.
“Our business here is concluded, Esarhaddon,” Gorath said. “I will return to my ship, and transmit a rendezvous point to your fleet, just outside of the Omega Station’s sensor range. Our attack shall be staged from there.”
“Go, then,” Esarhaddon said, returning to his throne. “I have but one question, Gorath. The Stone. Of what use is it to you?”
“Oh,” Gorath said, a wicked smile playing over his face, “I have no need of it. It is simply payment, for...interesting new allies.”