Everything in the setting of Warhammer 40,000 is bad. That — along with the political satire — has always been the point; this is a galaxy that’s just a merry-go-round of diametrically opposed factions taking turns doing war crimes, blowing planets up, and generally enduring horrors from beyond the stars feasting on innocent folk. But the current state of the galaxy post-Dark Imperium novels, combined with the recent events in the Arks of Omen books for the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game, make things even worse — in the most ridiculous, over-the-top, metal way imaginable. Angron, the Emperor’s angriest son, is on the loose — and his most recent battle was of such scope and scale that it wouldn’t look out of place in Dragon Ball Z.
Angron and the Emperor
In 40K, humanity is led by the Emperor of Mankind, a nameless legend who, 10,000 years ago, actually walked among his people. To become the very best warlord, however, he went and created approximately 20 perfect boys called the primarchs to serve as his sons and generals, each serving over their own legion of superhuman Space Marines — Roboute Guilliman and the Ultramarines, Sanguinius and the Blood Angels, and Lion El’Jonson and the Dark Angels, to name a few.
Unfortunately, the Emperor was also an abusive asshole, and the malicious, extradimensional forces of Chaos took advantage of the primarchs’ rough upbringings — first by scattering them across the universe, and then by getting inside their heads. Eventually half of the primarchs split from the Imperium in a massive war called the Horus Heresy (which makes up the bulk of the Black Library, incidentally). Humanity technically won the ensuing civil war, but the Emperor is now a corpse upon a golden throne, keeping the lights on with his massive psychic might and will to live. Meanwhile, his sons — both loyal and traitorous — are scattered once again, some lost and others quite dead.
Angron, the primarch of the heretical World Eaters legion, has been uplifted to become a massive daemon by his patron, the Chaos god Khorne. If you’re not sure who Khorne is or what he stands for, I’ll point you toward his remarkably straightforward motto: “Blood for the blood god, skulls for the skull throne.” Angron, once a gladiator with a head full of dark-age tech designed to torture him and make him eternally, outrageously furious, is now a massive beast ripped straight from the cauldrons of hell.
With the opening of the Cicatrix Maledictum — the Great Rift that split the Imperium in two and caused the realm of Chaos to spill ever more so out into the galaxy at large — things were already pretty bad for the Imperium of Mankind. Now Angron has woken up, and bravely asked the question: But what if I made things worse?
World Eaters on the warpath
In 40K, faster-than-light travel is wildly dangerous because it requires ships to pass through the Warp. The Warp is where the Chaos Gods and their multitude of demons and eldritch horrors live, but since time and space are meaningless there, it’s also a great shortcut — just like building a nether network in Minecraft. In order for Imperium ships to tell where they’re going, they use the light of the Astronomicon, the massive psychic beacon powered by the Emperor himself. It’s the north star of voidship travel. In Arks of Omen: Angron, we learn what happens to other sources of light and comfort in the galaxy.
The Imperium Nihilus — the chunk of galaxy left farthest away from the Astronomicon and on the other side of the Cicatrix Maldictum — struggles to see the Astronomicon. However, another, less potent psychic lighthouse called the Choral Engine serves as a perfectly suitable substitute. The problem is that the Choral Engine made screechy dial-up modem sounds that Angron didn’t like, and so he decided to smash it. Roboute Guilliman, the sole surviving loyalist primarch and current acting head of the Imperium, sent a fleet that would otherwise be reinforcing the ongoing Indomitus Crusade to stop him.
The last time Guilliman faced one of his traitorous brothers, the Emperor stepped in to provide some big-time power from the Warp. This time, the Imperium isn’t so lucky. Angron rips his way through the battlefield, personally tanking shots fired by the deck guns of Imperial warships and then ripping said ships apart in response. He murders so hard, with such gory enthusiasm, that he summons his patron into realspace for a brief moment — long enough to unleash a single sword stroke. It’s the climax of Arks of Omen: Angron, and Khorne’s strike through Angron destroys the Choral Engine and the entire moon around it.
The Imperial fleet in attendance was beefy: hundreds of ships full of billions of soldiers, including some of the Emperor’s finest daemon-killing Grey Knights. The Imperial Navy led the expedition from the flagship, the Throne of Terra, augmented with additional armored allies like the Sisters of Battle and loyalist Space Marines. But they still couldn’t stop Angron. Worse yet, Khorne’s overwhelming strike inflicted them with something called the Murder-Curse.
The Murder-Curse, another example of Khorne’s less-than-subtle branding, caused the fleet to go berserk and fall in on one another in a homicidal rage. It didn’t corrupt everyone in the Quartus fleet, but the Imperium was so horrified by the effect that it disavowed every ship and survivor. That means any poor guardsman who was lucky enough to survive the Murder-Curse is now a heretic through no fault of their own. Oops!
Of course, this entire battle was set up by Abaddon the Despoiler, who heads up the Chaos Space Marine legions, and the setting’s new demigod: Vashtorr the Arkifane. Vashtorr is a brand new Chaos demigod of invention and curiosity introduced in Arks of Omen: Abaddon, but he wants a bigger slice of the pie — just like Khorne. As such, he’s engineering a plot to use the Arks of Omen and Abaddon to assemble the key to his ascension to godhood. So far, it’s going pretty well for him, and we’ll see more soon since Vashtorr is the star of the third Arks of Omen book, titled Arks of Omen: Vashtorr.
The Arks of Omen event has had some juicy lore and big narrative advances, but the Imperium is nothing if not tenacious. The setting is continually a breath away from complete apocalypse, and there are still two Arks of Omen books to come, one of which has an unknown protagonist.
We’re also rumored to be heading toward the 10th edition of Warhammer 40K, and there’ll be even more lore to come that sets the stage. For now, though, things seem especially bleak — even for the notoriously grim darkness of this particular far future.