“Come, darkness, take this world in your arms! Soon will arise the beautiful night, encompassing all, and with it the death of all light! All will lend their power to the great machine, its gears driving the destinies of all mortals! The beautiful night! Arise!”
The Fortress Budo had expanded beyond all reasonable expectations under the eyes of Albero and Vogler. With the Black Heart at its core, the buildings seemed to suck the land dry and from its essence new spires of clockwork and metal pulled upwards to the sky, and at the centre of the tallest tower, the Vogler Panopticon, a vast array of pipes and machines fanned out around a dully glowing observatory dome.
“THE BEAUTIFUL NIGHT!” In ranks lining the floors of the tower, which seemed to spiral around its central power core, the Cult of the Great Fire – now swollen to thousands of initiates – threw their arms out in salute.
“THE BEAUTIFUL NIGHT!” Vogler stood, arms outstretched, at the controls of the Panopticon. “Shape the destiny of mortals! Bring doom to the enemies of the Great General! In the name of the Great Fire, Victory or Death!”
The Panopticon wheezed and screamed, infernal steam blasting from safety-valves and incinerating those cultists crammed in too close to its mechanisms, the gears twisting against each other in ways that should have torn the machine apart. The observatory-dome rotated, and its lens-cover began to slowly iris away to reveal an immense eyeball, iris burning with red and gold flames set against a pearly-white backdrop.
Vogler threw levers and switches like a crazed organist playing some infernal toccata, watching as screens lit up with illegible runes.
“IT IS DONE!”
It would take time for the effects of the Panopticon’s fate-shifting to be seen.
Such an immense warp rift as the Panopticon’s rewriting of thousands of destinies had caused did not go unnoticed elsewhere, though. Where one eye opened, suddenly dozens focused, and from the depths of the Eye of Terror Ahriman, leader of the Thousand Sons, was perturbed.
“They have gone too far. I cannot discern their purpose but the power they unleash risks recreating the Tragedy of Bakran. Stop this… Vogler. Stop his experiments. Destroy his machines. He offends Tzeentch.”
And so the Archmagos Psimotek, occupied in assailing one of the Eldar’s exodite colonies, was reassigned. The Ice-Fortess Budo, and the Vogler Panopticon, had to be destroyed before it could be activated again.
Yet their coming was well known; the Panopticon could not only control the future but see the present, and a Chaos punishment force was not a subtle thing.
Prior to the Battle
The point of entry Psimotek had chosen was a treacherous ravine protected only by the twin fortresses of Ghuul and Ghorgon. A river of toxic slime, outflow from the Panopticon’s infernal reactors, ran down the crevasse, keeping those on one side safely distant from those on the other. It had clearly been expected that an attack would come down the gorge, but the Thousand Sons had a different aim. To weather the storm of fire from Ghuul, land close to it and capture one side of the river, then turn the guns on the other.
The fortress’s defences were still recharging after the Panopticon test, erratic and patchy. All the easier, or so it seemed.
Psimotek’s ship, the Great Atum, began with a barrage on the location, intended to clear a path through to the landing zone; indeed, it proved successful. Vogler had stationed two Mechanical Beasts, The Monster and The Black Ox, on patrol (their armoured bodies proof against the polluted air around the fortress) and they were hit full on by the shots from above; The Monster was broken into pieces, while the Black Ox was left a crippled husk by the river-bank. Yet Dabura, patrolling further down the ravine, remained unscathed, and Hadrubal XVI, the replacement for the destroyed Dracodeus XIV, waited high in the upper atmosphere for the right time to strike.
So the siege of Budo began; if all had gone to plan it would have ended there and then with a precision teleport-attack to capture the gun-batteries of Ghuul.
But the Panopticon’s warp rift still lingered, and it had a cruel effect on Psimotek’s plans.
The Order of the Golden Cobra and the Order of the Golden Hawk arrived as planned, appearing from their immaterial jaunt within touching distance of Ghuul’s guns. But their support – Psimotek and the Cabal of the Bronze Pyramid, the Terminators of the Atum Convocation, and the Obliterators of Amun – was nowhere to be seen. A storm of defensive fire from Ghuul cut one of their number down, and although the Sorcerer-Aspirant Khamen summoned a great fireball to attack Dabura, it had no effect, the air still heavy with the oppressive psychic legacy of the Panopticon.
The Demon Belladon had landed, shrugging off ground fire as it shot down like a meteor from space, but seemed disoriented by the warp-tumult, and bided its time like a wounded animal.
At the controls of Ghuul’s guns, the Iron Masks laid down punishing fire on the Thousand Sons. That they fired on fellow Chaos worshippers was immaterial. The Cult of the Great Fire needed to be protected. Dabura joined the barrage, the flickering black lightning shattering ancient armour and letting grave-dust settle on the ground. The vanguard of Psimotek’s army was shattered before the battle had even begun yet, with the tenacity only the dead could muster, they fought on.
Ghorgon and its complement poured fire on the lion-like demon before them, sending golden blood spraying over the grey rocks. Vogler himself was co-ordinating the attack, having rushed from the Panopticon controls to the battlefield to seek some personal glory.
The Cult of The Glorious Chord fully intended to take a good firing position and let their beautiful weapons bring great pain to the cowards and apostates who offended the gods. Had their drop pod actually functioned correctly, they would have. Yet the Panopticon’s effects were wider-reaching than perhaps even Vogler had anticipated and a series of small coincidences – a thrall too rapt in Slaanesh’s pleasures to properly attend to its maintenance, a minor course adjustment made too late, a slight delay in launching from the Great Atum which itself was slightly in the wrong orbit owing to an imperceptible rounding error in its computer – sent them off-course, crashing into the ground in a fuel dump a good kilometre from the battlefield.
But the Obliterators did arrive, flickering into existence on top of a low rise and immediately firing bolts of energy into Ghorgon’s walls which burned into the stone and then on into the bodies of Great Fire cultists behind them. Capitalising on this carnage, Belladon rent at the walls with its giant paws, gorging itself on the black-suited initiates within.
On the other side of the river, Khamen levelled his staff at the crippled thing that was dragging itself back together. One of the insane Vogler’s mechanical creations, it seemed, a spiked stump of an arm trailing a morning-star and barbed harpoons jammed into rough gun barrels on the other.
A lick of warp-fire cut the thing in pieces. Another aberration dealt with.
Hadrubal XVI, built from the plans of Dracodeus XIV, did its predecessor’s work well, gouts of burning bronze encasing the Thousand Sons below it and another jet of brazen fire arcing towards the Atum Convocation as they emerged from the warp.
At Ghorgon’s walls, Belladon was faltering; while it was cramming cultists into its maw as fast as it could, the scrawny things swarmed around it and tied it down while above, silver-armoured Space Marines poured fire into its shoulders. The last it saw was a Khedoran Obliterator lining up a fractured, inhuman arm, and a bolt of liquid gold – true gold, not the glimmering ichor that spilled from its many wounds – piercing its skull and solidifying there.
The Convocation had weathered Hadrubal’s fires and sought targets. They found one in Dabura, the venerable machine striding towards them through the hail of autocannon fire, and could not meet it fast enough. Its spinning, pinching claw dismembered four of the Terminators in an instant, and its flickering shields robbed a clumsy swung power fist of all its force. If Psimotek had beheld the results of Atum’s Fire with pride in his atrophied heart, now all that remained was fear.
Missiles from Psimotek’s Rhino burst around the Cult of the Great Fire which now poured from Ghorgon’s breached walls, pulping one of their number. The Sorcerer, vexed and vengeful, stared down Ghuul’s doors and made to fire, drawing together psychic energy before him.
Perhaps it was the Panopticon’s effects, but the bolt simply vanished.
With the Convocation now little more than neatly jointed meat at the feet of Dabura, the Thousand Sons scattered to the four winds and Belladon’s body rapidly being overtaken by the cursed metal that seeped from the stake that pinned it to the ground, there was little that could be done. The Obliterators of Amun fired again at Ghorgon but could do little more than widen the breach in its wall.
The hulking beasts pouring melta- and las-fire on the crumbling battlements were easy prey for the Iron Masks and the cultists; bullets, plasma shots and superheated jets of energy bit into them and left but one alive.
Hadrubal wheeled on the spot and with another spray of molten breath melted down more of Psimotek’s cabal, and as they fired up with methodical, purposeful motions Ghuul’s main gun, the Silver Arc, fired. It struck true, detonating the Rhino and with it three more of the undead Space Marines.
But Psimotek endured, as he had for millennia.
Anger pulsed behind Psimotek’s visor, the only emotion his dead form could muster. This time the fire of Tzeentch could not be denied, and with a thunderclap the fortress Ghuul was breached. Yet the bolt carried on, straight into the Silver Arc’s magazine, and when the explosion cleared all that remained was a broken barricade of rubble. Yet only three of the Iron Masks had perished, and the rest poured fire on the stricken Sorcerer as Dabura advanced in, crushing the wreckage of the Rhino beneath its legs.
In the end, though, death came in a curious form for the psyker – a way that must surely have amused Tzeentch. From the depths of the barricade – the mountainous pile of slag that the Iron Masks were cowering behind – an arm reached out and grabbed an armoured ankle. The Sorcerer hammered at the emerging form of the Khedoran with his staff, but the thing kept coming.
Its other arm turned into a slender claw, which closed around Psimotek’s helmet and crushed until its jaws met.
“Order is restored! The fools who would interrupt our divine work are dust in the wind and the beautiful night is restored! The Panopticon’s test could not have been a greater success!”
“This… Panopticon… will it… see us victorious?”
“Undoubtedly! When the Eye of Vogler turns its gaze on the false emperor’s minions, then the beautiful night will fall upon their worlds, fall upon their futures! We have power over their destinies themselves!”
“Then we will use it. What did you see within, Vogler?”
“The lackey of the corpse-god called Hugo Ferst. He once saw his men die on this world. He will return to destroy us if we do not end his ambition. Thankfully, there is a sleeping cell of the Cult of Bardos on the planet where his minions are ensconced. We will destroy them, and send the fool a message!”