Story:The Shape Of The Nightmare To Come 50k section18

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Section 18: The Xenos Resurgent: Alien Empires of the Second Age of Strife[edit]

Like opportunistic vultures, the myriad alien nations, empires, collectives and confederates, so long suppressed and brutalised during the Age of Imperium, rose up once more, upon the shattering of the Imperium's power and authority. As mentioned previously, all attempts for concentrated military endeavour on the part of humanity wavered and fell after the Emperor's death, and thus the xenos were free to expand and dominate as they chose, with only a divided collection of petty Imperium's and local power magnates to deal with.

Astartes support was sporadic and infrequent, and was often as damaging to the human forces as they were to the aliens themselves.

The Tau, easily the most successful of these Xenos expansionists, have already been touched upon within this tome. However, their realm is but one of countless hundreds of alien communities rising during this dark period, intent upon conquest, slaughter, and in many cases, vengeance.

The following are the most important and/or interesting of these groups.

1) The Q'orl Swarmhood[edit]

On the (completely arbitrary) borders between the Segmentum Pacificus and Obscurus, the Q'orl empire spread out from Loqiit, their sacred home world, into the punishing void. This race of insectoids were vicious and violently expansionist. Expansion and victory; these are the only justifications the insane race require for their Imperialism. A space based race, travelling in vast conglomerations of conjoined micro-craft which link together to form colossal chainships, honeycomb structures of lethal technological power and scale.

The entirely male race is short-lived, and those alive have a fetishism for their dead ancestors, building upon their works for generations, while the undying Swarmqueen, the matriarch, sire and leader of all Q'orl, lives on, seemingly forever.

During the 41st millennium, the Q'orl were nothing but a mild annoyance to the old Imperium, due to their lack of warp-capable vessels. Even when the megalomanical aliens scavenged and reverse-engineered an Imperial warp drive, they still lacked the essential component. They had no navigators to guide them through the nightmare realm.

However, as the Imperium became ever more stretched and over-worked by the New Devourer, the alien insect species took advantage, stealing human navigators from the undefended warp shipping in the area. The Q'orl laid vile mind-worms into the central cortex of the navigators, drugging and controlling the mutant human strain.

They spread rapidly soon after, pushing their borders out almost a hundred-fold during the first two decades of M42. However, this expansion was sporadic, and not uniform. The Q'orl, fortunately, did not have an system of astropaths to aid communication, and thus they couldn't coordinate as easily as they could travel. However, the Q'orl had an advantage in the warp. The Q'orl themselves were not a naturally emotive race, and their ships were relatively 'quiet' in the frothing madness of the ether. Even their navigators, drugged and transfixed by the Q'orl, could barely remember being human, and near mindlessly navigated the realm of madness, numb to the warp's tendrils.

Thus, even when the Emperor died, throwing the warp into ever greater fits of churning lunacy, the Q'orl were relatively unscathed, and navigated the warp in much the same way. Of course, the distances capable by their vessels were cut short by the sudden loss of the Astronomicon, but their insensible navigators could still fumble their way through the shallows of the warp, and thus they continued on their expansion.

The Q'orl eventually began to meet human worlds, who no longer had defensive aid from their precious Imperium. The jubilant scuttling fiends attacked these worlds eagerly. Like a giant ant nest, the Q'orl swarmed over the worlds. Winged warrior-Q'orl filled the skies and scuttled across the ground, their high tech gas-based weapons, operated by their own biology interfacing with the metal devices directly, poisoning and murdering millions of people, as billions of coldly lethal Q'orl descended upon these worlds. Heavier Q'orl descended in micro-craft, unleashing the heavier weapons. Tanks and armoured emplacements were cracked open with their heavy kinetic cannons, and then the vile poison gas-based warfare of the other Q'orl seeped into them, killing the defenders with ease.

Once broken by the disturbingly organised aliens, the worker-Q'orl were unleashed upon the world. Livestock, flora, fauna, building materials and precious ores; all were pillaged by the regimented lines of workers, guided by the pheromonal and hormonal orders from the unseen commander drones. Once the orbiting chainships were restocked, the workers would begin seizing humans. The biologically higher-ranking Q'orl would have thousands of humans brought before them, who they would suck dry of blood with their mosquito-like mouthparts. Then, weeks later, the Q'orl would spray all human population centres with a kind of crimson fog, human blood merged with highly advanced Q'orl pheromones. Soon, the staggering, heart-broken human populace, drenched in gory pheromonal fluid spray, began to howl mindless praises to the Q'orl, or the 'star swarm' as they became known.

Hundreds upon hundreds of human worlds fell and were turned in this way, securing Q'orl borders with fanatical human scent-slaves.

However, several of the petty Imperiums bordering the swarm hood have begun to trade with the vile insectoids. Since the loss of Paternova, and the Navis Nobilitae, the navigators had become a dying breed. Yet, some cunning Imperiums seized as many navigators as they could, and persuaded them to form communes of Navigators within each petty Imperium who considered this idea. These three-eyed mutants would be given any indulgence or pleasure they desired. In exchange, the navigators would breed with one another, to produce navigator offspring, which would then become state-owned property of the petty Imperium, to serve on their vessels at the wish of the petty Imperium's kings and leaders.

The Q'orl, baffled by human biology, failed spectacularly in this regard, often trying to force two same gendered navigators to mate, or trying to find the biggest (and hence, to Q'orl perception, female) navigator, and then planting hormones in these navigators, in the hope it would produce. All these attempts failed. Thus, the Q'orl were reliant on their human neighbours, who granted them a small tithe of inbred navigators in exchange for their safety from Q'orl assault (at least until the petty Imperiums could build up large enough forces to backstab and destroy the vile aliens).

Thus did the Q'orl come to dominate a vast tract of western galactic space.

2) The Vorlic-Taar Nation-worlds[edit]

The Vorlic came perilously close to being devoured by the Tyranids, located as they were in the galactic south. Luckily for them, Kryptmann diverted the Tyranid fleet towards Octavius at that point, unknowingly saving their entire race.

A feline race, they developed slowly on their worlds. No one is sure how, but five different species of Vorlic evolved, seemingly independently, on the five inhabitable worlds within their system. When they sent the first chemical rockets to their fellow system worlds, the culture shock was immense, and the Vorlic races (who had never seen the need to develop ranged weaponry by that point) fought long and bloody campaigns of conquest and war. However, it was upon the fifth world, where their destiny changed. The Vorlic upon this world came across some long-crashed wreckage. The shifting, ethereal runes slithering across every surface made the feline savages realise that this must be a vessel of the gods. In particular, the beautiful images of the the great half-serpent god became a focus of their worship and devotion. The sonic weapons they uncovered from the bodies of the giant primate skeletons aboard, were seen as a gift by this serpent god, to defeat the enemy Vorlic, and take their place amongst the void beyond.

The fifth planet's scientists took apart the sonic weapons and found out how they functioned, soon producing many more of these weapons. These Vorlic-Taar, as they now called themselves, defeated their foes easily. The giant golden towers of their fellow Vorlic were no match for the dread howl-engines and scream-staves of their conquerors, which shattered bastion after bastion.

The Vorlic-Taar were, by M43, united under the fifth planet. The glittering, beautifully carved and sculpted armour of the Vorlic was made in an attempt to emulate their gods' ancient armour. Thus, it was fully sealed, and the brazen suits covered the whole bodies of the feline warriors of Vorlic. Built into the helms of most Vorlic-troopers was a grill, from which the built-in howl engine would pulse lethal blasts of noise at their foes, pulverising bones and organs, as the slender, venomed fighting daggers of the aliens hacked apart the survivors in brutally skillful close combat. The leaders of the Troops of Vorlic-Taar wielded staves which fired invisible, narrow wave length beams of pure sound, which blasted apart even battle tanks.

Ingeniously, the Vorlic used sonic devices to destabilise the structure of the chemical fuel of their rockets, eventually developing a bizarre form of engine which allowed them to travel across the void of space much more quickly.

Thus, the Brazen Cohorts of Vorlic the fifth, spread out from their home system. Progress was painfully slow, due ot the lack of any FTL systems. However, a chance encounter with a space hulk changed this. The Witch-princes of the 234th Cohort, upon encountering the space hulk, began to get visions from the ether, from their 'gods' apparently, telling them that the hulks moved across space and time freely, allowing the Vorlic to advance swiftly. Eagerly, the Cohort fleet investigated the hulk. They found docks, big enough to harbour their fleet, and all the twisted monsters on board the ship that could have killed the Vorlic were mysteriously killed before he Vorlic had arrived. Thus, in relative safety, the Vorlic pillaged the hulk of the strange artefacts within, shipping them back to the Vorlic-Taar home worlds.

These technologies allowed the Vorlic to advance beyond their system, conquering some of the weaker civilisations directly near them. The feline monsters conquered worlds, building statues of their god, and of their greatest heroes, across a dozen worlds defeated by them. The Vorlic were arrogant and vain, in emulation of their master.

3) Hrud[edit]

Across the galaxy, in every dark nook and hidden space, they survived. Their underworld of darkness and cold has hidden, between the layers of other civilisations. They fed upon the detritus of other ascendant races, and cobbled together a civilisation from the cast offs of the decadent races, the arrogant beings who clung to the light. Terrified of the darkness. Yet, in the darkness, they watched. Waiting and planning. A race both cursed and blessed by their father and god. Cursed to skulk in the shadows, to be the shadows. Blessed, to weather any holocaust, any horror the Universe could cast upon them.

They were the Hrud.

The Hrud possess innumerable colonies, infesting countless worlds, both alien and human, as well as lurking amidships in millions of vessels across the galaxy. Thus, when the New Devourer slew a third of all life, and the doom of the Imperator claimed trillions more lives, the Hrud, though scattered and most certainly affected by the sudden losses of life, were not as devastated as other races. They continued to spread forth from their pits, their warp plasma weapons and scavenged technologies making them formidable opponents.

Oddly, however, Hrud infestations seem to get less frequent during this period, rather than more. No one can really account for this, but many suspect that the Hrud are abandoning their lesser colonies and outposts, as if drawing together their collective strength. For what purpose is, again, a mystery.

However, strangely, wherever the so-called 'Penumbra' phenomena are located, most witnesses claim that the 'bendies' were somehow helping them. Of course, humanity being ignorant as it is, it is likely that terrified humans merely mistook an Umbra attack for a Hrud one, as both make use of shadows to attack.

Where once whole Imperial crusades and Astartes taskforces were assembled to clear out the largest Hrud infestations, the fractured galaxy of the Second Age of Strife could not hope to do this. The Petty Imperiums were either too weak or self-interested to aid their beleaguered rivals, and the few remaining interstellar Old-Imperial forces were scant and had greater concerns to worry about.

Thus, the Hrud 'empire' was allowed to fester, and the Hrud were allowed to grow in numbers and power. In some of the most isolated human colonies, the surface dwelling humans merely became a cowed and insensible horde of virtual slaves, as the Hrud took an annual tithe of slaves, snatching them, and dragging them below, to work the mines and factories deep in the darkness.

Few beings ever leave the light-less realms of the Hrud, but those that do are often mad of twisted. They tell of great structures, unseen by human eyes, yet the presence of them seems staggering. Complex canals, dragging detritus and waste through the realm, as the moans of millions of broken slaves murmurs dimly through the cavernous expanses, along with the weary clinking of the chains and shackles, holding all the broken and miserable humans together.

The Hrud themselves are shadows made flesh, a field of un-light flowing around them at all times. Their supple and multi-jointed bodies make them fold like shadows. No nook or crack is beyond their reach, as the Hrud scuttle between the tight, cramped spaces between their vast, black halls. According to the slaves, the Hrud possess titanic libraries, filled with archaic texts and books, made from the only viable parchment material available: human skin. Those humans too tired to continue working are struck down by venomed talons, and sent to the whirring flaying machines, deep below. None of the insane witnesses of these vast Hrud-libraries knew what was written upon the endless texts, though if the stories of the Hrud's perfect genetic memories are true, the libraries of the Hrud could well be the documented history of the entire galaxy, since the creation of the Hrud themselves. The Hrud have been watching for millennia upon millennia. What untold secrets are they privy to?

Some of the most crazy and deluded escaped prisoners claimed they had witnessed the centre of the great Hrud fortresses. The Hrud, surrounding a perfectly spherical black monument, their shadowy forms prostrate before this orb. Others claim the Hrud occasionally came to the surface, at night, dragging selected slaves with them. There, they would meet vast, angular craft, big as cities, but silent as whispers. The Hrud would then enter the mysterious crafts, before returning some hours later, forcing the human slaves to lug heavy supplies of food and glinting ornaments and artefacts onto the titanic vessels themselves. Evidently, if these deluded lunatics are to be believed, the Hrud are supplying, and aiding, another, as yet unknown race. A race potentially yet to reveal its hand…

Whoever the Hrud worship, and whatever relationship they have to the outside universe, this much is abundantly clear:

The Hrud are ready. The Hrud are waiting…

4) The Thexian Trade Empire[edit]

The Thexian Trade Empire began small, encompassing the Borlac, Niscassar and Loaxtl civilisations in their net of interstellar trade. These civilisations prospered and grew, the security of being part of a greater whole stimulating greater inter-racial exchange and trade. Fear of the human Imperium initially drove them together, then fear of the New Devourer pushed several more races towards alliance, including the water-breathing Actorian, the Nekulli, the Soldiers of the Drong War-Faith, and even the grand Oppressionaia of Ka'Vallimar, a group of almost mindless, serpentine aliens, entirely ruled by a single group of five individuals, who were each oppressed emotionally and conceptually by their fellow leader minds, thus ensuring total, blessed oppression.

Initially, this grouping was due to mutual fear, rather than common cause, and the profits of the Empire sank slightly in the early years, directly post-Imperator-death. Eventually though, through the manipulation and subterfuge of the Thexian elite, the rulers of Thex Prime, and unofficial leaders of the entire Trade Empire.

Before the Thexian Elite arose amongst the Thexians, the race was nothing. They were confined to their blood moons, red and dusty planets with few resources. One day, many centuries before the Second Age of Strife, the Thexian Elites began to appear within Thexian society, working their way into positions of power across the blood moons. They were charming and cunning beyond reason. However, only one of their forms looked like a Thexian at all. Their battle forms were horrifying to behold, as they twisted into snarling bat-like monsters. Nevertheless, the Thexian Elite ruled Thex Prime near perfectly, and their monstrous side was only unleashed upon the enemy and criminals. As it soon transpired, the Thexian image of these Elites was only a glamour itself, and the bat was the true form. The Thexian Elite infiltrated the command positions of all their trade empire's member nations, taking on the shape of whatever race they sought to lead. Thus, they kept the peace between the nation civilisations.

Under the watchful, sinister gaze of the Elite, the Empire was driven to new heights. More and more races began to join the Thexians. The most notable and eager of these new races were the human-hating Tallerians, who initially began trading with the Actorians, who had developed an artificial gestation technique, allowing the reptilian Tallerians to bolster their dwindling numbers with biologically accelerated 'new Tallerians'.

The troll-like Grongolem smiths were another race to eventually join, commissioned by the Empire to produce ships, factories and commercial/fighting vehicles of the finest quality.

Soon, this Empire of commerce had spread its web across numerous scattered civilisations, both advanced and primitive, across the galactic north east. However, soon the Thexian Elite would come into conflict with a rising force, the Tau Empire. The Niscassar were a client race in the Tau Empire by M41, and by M42-3, they were almost entirely integrated. However, the Thexians also had massive sway amongst the nomadic Niscassar psykers, and soon a dispute arose between the two xenos empires, with Aun'Tali'e decrying the Thexians as 'selfish abusers of the disadvantaged'. This, of course, was true (as the Thexian Elite adopted a policy of 'survival of the shrewdest'), but this was not the real reason for Tau antagonism. The Thexians offered another route, an option other than the Greater Good. While the petty Imperiums offered nothing but tyranny and genocide of xenos, Thexians offered a viable alternative. The Tau could not accept this. The final straw came in 825.M45, when a Thexian plot to install Thexian elites into Tau society was uncovered. War was declared within the year.

The Tau military machine, by that point, was awe inspiring in its advancement and power, as it had been allowed to develop in the absence of Imperial control since the fall of the Emperor's realm, and the hideous chaos that engulfed the galaxy. While the Tau had a dedicated army for their empire, the Thexian system, being based around trade and commerce, used its wealth and power to bring in vast forces of mercenaries from across the galaxy.

The Forces employed by the Thexian Elite were diverse and numerous. Ulthian bone-eaters, horrific, non-humanoid beasts, paid in the bones of Tau children. Nestrinian acid Fulgars, strange gaseous creatures, contained inside advanced humanoid fighting suits. Of course, Nekulli war parties, Loaxtl warriors, and whole Churches of Drong War-monks of the war-faith, singing praises to their gods of battle as they killed with their holy shatter cannons, were enticed into the war, for their people were already part of the Trade empire. In addition to these, whole battalions of Serf Soldiers were purchased from far flung Krieg. Backbone to these vast forces of mercenaries, were the Tallerian Soldiers, which had become a vast and professional army, loyal to the Actorians, who were in turn, Loyal to the Thexian Elite. These armies either equipped themselves, or were equipped by the Grongolem, and were eager for slaughter and profit.

Arrayed against them were over seventeen fiftieth sphere expedition fleets of Tau, commanded by Commander Moonblade, an infamous commander, known to be brutal amongst the Tau, offering worlds the choice of death or conversion to the greater good, and giving worlds only a few hours to choose, before bombing and invading soon after. Massive numbers of Vespid stingwings, several Demiurg brotherhoods, Gue'Vesa and Hu'Sta armies of human subjects, and the League of the Avan, strange, translucent aliens with advanced laser technology, formed additional auxiliary wings of this vast force.

Kroot, as ever, hired themselves out to both sides during the conflict, much to the annoyance of the Tau.

The situation in the far galactic east, in the wake of the New Devourer, was particularly bad. Where the eastern fringe was once teeming with life, now four out of every five previously-inhabited worlds were left as barren husks. Often, it was upon these husks, that the brutal and bloody battles between the Thexians and Tau were fought. And they were bloody. No mercy was offered, and terrible things were done by both sides. Biological warfare, orbital assaults, fire bombings, nuclear weapons, viruses and retro-viruses; all were used at some point, in addition to conventional warfare. Massive alien fleets tussled in the void, as armies of multitudes of aliens battled fiercely across balls of rock. The Tau fought with the bitterness of a child inheriting a ruined legacy, and the Thexian side fought for greed and reckless, murderous pride. Due to the small amount of humans involved directly in the war, the Petty Imperiums barely realise how massive the Thexian-Tau war truly was. It lasted until well into the 46th millennium, and claimed billions of lives (especially when the noisome Reek joined the war on the Thexian Elite's side), before the Thexian Trade Empire and Tau Empire agreed to a demilitarised area of space between them, which they were forbidden to cross.

This peace, however, was meaningless. In the Second Age of Strife, peace was, at best a miscalculation, and at worst a blatant lie. Unemployed mercenaries continued to murder and pillage post-war. Blood and pain are the only currency that truly mean anything in this period.

The Shape of the Nightmare to Come: Section Navigation[edit]

  • The Shape of the Nightmare To Come: Section 18: The Xenos Resurgent: Alien Empires of the Second Age of Strife

Continued in Warhammer 60K: Age of Dusk