Something that has been really useful for the creative process and to keep up motivation is feedback. Rogue Trader, Sigismund Himself, Ferrata and SCC have been invaluable as sounding boards for this, (and Chris has even offered to write an IA himself!) but I have been keeping it off the main board (like my beloved Liber Astartes) as I have had the offer of it being turned into a B&C Legio Imprint. This would be the overview and 4 or 5 IA's, with at least a few that have not been seen before.
So to keep it board fresh, but to get feedback I am hoping to do the development process for the latest, Alt-IA: Raven Guard here. The first three have taken 6 weeks to two months each, so it will be a slow process, but I would be really interested in your thoughts, be they Lexii, AD, mod, custards, cedos or Admin.
With such a big interlinked project, some of the ideas either set up or pay off things in other IA's. For instance, the Emperor's Children IA mentions that Fabius Bile goes rogue and apparently kills himself rather than be caught by Fulgrim. This never mentions Bile's name, but it should be clear who the shadowy 'Clone Lord' that comes to 'help' Corax rebuild his legion really is.
So while some things I am pretty set upon, there are plenty of others that are mutable, so if you have a view or a bright idea please shout out! I would ask, though, that like other things in the AD section, you don't mention this on the main board as I want to keep it fresh for the Legio Imprint.
So with no more stalling, here is the very WIP skeleton of the latest IA. Some of it may not make sense yet, and as time goes on I will tidy it up and turn into proper prose rather than a stream of ideas.
+++ Edit: In the article below, passages I am relatively happy with are in the usual grey, the most recent changes are in orange and rough outline text is in yellow. Hopefully every day a little more yellow will be gone.
Corrupted while attempting to rebuild their legion after the Istvaan, the Raven Guard have dedicated their lives and souls to Tzeentch, the God of Change. Flesh follows desire, as bone and armour is moulded into wings and claws. Even before their Fall the legion was able to strike from the darkness, to end the battle before it even began. Now, guided by their powerful sorcerers, they manipulate the fates of whole worlds.
The boy-Primarch was found by the convicts, who recognised something exceptional about him. They hid the child from the guards and named him Corax, or ‘the Deliverer’, so certain were they that he held the key to their salvation. This vision was shared by Corax, who from an early age had dreams of a vast, winged presence, a raven that guided him in times of trouble and spoke of a great destiny to protect mankind from its enemies. The first steps on this long road were to free the downtrodden population of Lycaeus from their brutal masters.
Despite the sickly surroundings, Corax matured rapidly to become a warrior of superhuman proportions. As he did so the convicts taught him all manner of techniques honed in Kiavahr’s criminal underworld. Tactics such as sabotage, misdirection, intimidation and assassination would be vital in freeing them from the iron grip of their jailers, and Corax put all these skills and more to use. It was clear that they could not hope to match their overlords in open combat as the only weaponry they possessed were mining tools and machinery.
Corax clinically analysed his enemies’ weaknesses and constructed an ingenious plan to bring about their demise. Through a subtle campaign of sabotage, Corax's followers steadily increased the pressure on the guards without ever drawing their wrath. The prisoner’s mining skills were invaluable in this, first in gaining access to restricted areas, and later to outflank and surround their enemies. A series of ‘accidents’ at the spaceport grounded much of Kiavahr’s small fleet of mining shuttles which saw the guards’ tours and shifts constantly extended as their replacements were trapped on the planet below. By the time Corax’s revolution finally ignited, the warders were exhausted, disgruntled and easy prey. The greatest threat came from the towering black mountain from which their overlords ruled the moon, but it too was neutralised when the defenders found their control of the force domes had been subverted. Their attempts to vent the rioting prisoners into space only resulted in their fortress’s blast doors grinding open and the force dome over the tower failing, flushing the guards themselves into space.
Incensed by the rebellion, the rulers of Kiavahr used their remaining shuttles to carry military forces up the gravity well. They fared no better than the guards before them, and were torn apart by Corax’s grim-faced rebels, made all the more deadly by the weaponry taken from their former warders. Finally recognising the seriousness of the threat they faced, the leaders of the Tech-Guilds called for aid from the Imperium to put down the revolt. Without access to their moon’s mineral resources the forges would rapidly fall cold, and the expeditions they supplied would soon falter.
The Imperial fleet arrived with creditable haste, heading directly for the turbulent moon, and after only a brief time the heads of the Tech-Guilds were curtly informed that the rebellion was at an end. When the Imperial flagship’s landing craft touched down at Kiavahr’s main spaceport, the rebel leader was brought out not in chains, but emerged proudly as a victor, alongside none other than The Emperor Himself. All assembled fell to their knees before the Master of Mankind, who proclaimed Corax as His son, and the man who would from that day onwards rule the Kiavahr system in His stead.
Cowed by this edict, and the legion of Astartes placed under Corax’s command, the now subservient Tech-Guilds were given the task of providing arms and armour for his new ‘Raven Guard’. Conditions for the miners were dramatically improved, and the moon of Lycaeus, now renamed ‘Deliverance’ for Corax’s achievements, became the legion’s home. The forbidding black tower that had been the symbol of the Tech-Guild’s power was reinforced and expanded to become the legion’s Fortress-Monastery, and named the ‘Ravenspire’.
It has been suggested that the great raven in Corax’s dreams was a manifestation of The Emperor reaching out to find him. Certainly, after father and son were reunited Corax was rarely visited again by this mysterious presence. At Ullanor, Corax famously asked his father about this phenomenon, but, ever enigmatic, The Emperor simply smiled knowingly.
Because of this, the Raven Guard rarely needed to operate in large groups. Instead they spread themselves out across dozens of expeditionary campaigns alongside many other legions. Indeed, it is said the reason Horus claimed so many victories was because he so readily used the Raven Guard to crack open the defences of worlds, which his own legion then followed up and took credit for liberating. In other cases, though, the cultural differences were just too great. Corax had forbidden the creation of a psychic Librarium within his legion, and considered that the way the Thousand Sons’ embraced their burgeoning psychic potential bordered upon sorcery. He forbade the Raven Guard from fighting alongside them, and even spoke out against Magnus at his trial at Nikaea.
Despite this, the list of worlds brought into the Imperium thanks to the Raven Guard’s subtle application of military pressure continued apace. The Fortress-system of Sangramor had withstood the might of the Imperium for decades, but within three months of arriving Corax’s legion succeeded in isolating and crippling the system's rulers. With the planetary confederation fractured, the system’s planets easily fell one after another and accepted The Emperor’s rule. Their mastery of warfare was not restricted to battling human societies, either. When the Tanaburs sub-sector was threatened by a massive Ork uprising, the Raven Guard were able, through assassination and sabotage, to kill and discredit the most troublesome leaders without detection. The inevitable squabble for power stalled the Orks long enough for the Imperium to amass a large enough force to exterminate the Xenos threat once and for all.
With the future of His Imperium seemingly assured, The Emperor withdrew to Terra, but before He did, He called His sons together at Nikaea. Evidently Corax was not alone in his concerns over Magnus, who stood accused of pushing beyond the boundaries of the psychic and into the forbidden realms of sorcery. One after another Russ, Mortarion, Corax and even Dorn spoke out against their brother. Evidently the Raven Guard were not the only legion to have rejected Librarians, and at Nikaea the nature of psychic ability itself was put on trial.
On the night before The Emperor rendered His judgement, Corax’s dreams were again visited by a great bird. Rather than the comforting presence, it was troubling and elusive, an indistinct figure spied out of the corner of his eye. This disturbing omen presaged The Emperor’s decision, which not only allowed the legions, with certain precautions, to continue the use of psychics, but went further and gave significant concessions to the Thousand Sons. Magnus was to be personally instructed by The Emperor in the subtle arts of the psychic, and could pass this knowledge on to his legion. In return, he and his marines would submit to the Soul-Binding process. By merging their essences with that of The Emperor, it was claimed, they would be shielded from the horrors and temptations of sorcery. This compromise did little to allay the fears of the most sceptical Primarchs and led to bloodshed later, yet The Emperor seemed blind to the resentment it caused.
The Primarchs returned to their legions to continue the Great Crusade. Under Horus’s stewardship as Warmaster the list of worlds under The Emperor’s dominion continued to grow, but without His presence a sense of malaise set in. This found form when the Warmaster himself was struck down by a sickness, and was unable to respond to the stories coming from the Eastern Fringe that Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines was about to secede from the Imperium. With Warmaster Horus indisposed, Rogal Dorn, in his role as The Emperor’s Praetorian, assembled a fleet sufficient to bring the massive Ultramarine legion to heel. Along with many others, the Raven Guard was one of the legions summoned in their entirety to the Istvaan system.
On the eve of the attack on Istvaan, as often happened at times of great turmoil, Corax's dreams were visited once again. As on Nikaea, the presence was elusive and did not reveal itself, but this time it spoke to him. Corax had been counselled by the raven countless times before, and so the warning that the legion faced a great disaster chilled him to the core. Corax’s journal describes the dream:
‘I begged the figure to show itself, to explain what must be done to avert this terrible fate. From behind me I heard a scratching of claws in the shingle floor and turned to see not the raven that had guided me in my youth, but a thing far more like a vulture in aspect. The creature spouted bile, hissing that The Emperor had forsaken me, but that the lives of my men could be saved if I denounced my father and dedicated body and soul to his God of Change.
I confess to be so revolted and stunned that I could not speak. Perhaps mistaking my silence for consideration of its offer, the thing came closer and asked again if I would betray my father. “Never!” I shouted, and pushed it roughly away. It reared up into the air, plumage flushing pale blue, and fixed me with its evil, malevolent gaze. In a sibilant hiss it claimed that I would run like a coward on the battlefield of Istvaan, and consign my legion to utter ruin.
I picked a stone from the ground, and pouring into it all my revulsion and anger, cast it at the apparition. It caught the vulture in one of its hateful, blue-filmed eyes, provoking it into a fit of screeching curses. Its final threat of “Nemo me impune lacessit”, or ‘No one attacks me with impunity’, echoed in my ears long after I awoke.’
The four vanguard legions landed and reported good progress, and after what seemed like an eternity of waiting Dorn gave the command for the second wave to attack. Despite having scoured the images, Corax could find no fault in Dorn’s plan. An orbital strike was part of the Raven Guard’s favoured approach, so they took to their drop pods and ships with confidence, but even before they reached the ground it became clear that something was very wrong. They were targeted by ground fire far beyond that predicted, with jump pack equipped brethren cut to bloody shreds and even the lightning-fast drop pods meticulously blown apart by the Ultramarines’ defences.
Corax assembled the survivors, only to be set upon not just by the Ultramarines, but also Dorn’s vanguard legions gone turncoat. Stung by the prophesy that he would run like a coward, Corax assembled what remained of his legion for an attack against their betrayer, Rogal Dorn. Time and again the Raven Guard struck out of the darkness at Imperial Fist command positions, and yet Dorn himself was nowhere to be found. Certain that Dorn had finally been located, Corax appealed to the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children for support, only to find them making a fighting retreat to their rescue landers. Cursing his brother Primarchs for their weakness, Corax led the remnants of his legion in a forlorn, hopeless attack into the teeth of the Imperial Fist’s guns. Heavily outnumbered, they sustained hideous losses, but while their Primarch marched on, his men loyally followed to their doom. Finally, with only a score of his brothers left around him, Corax realised what his pride had done to the legion. He bitterly ordered the retreat, and the tattered remnants of the once-mighty Raven Guard faded back into the fog of war to join the evacuation.
With the Imperium alerted to Dorn’s betrayal, the three broken legions evaded the traitors and paused, before returning to their respective homeworlds to rebuild. Corax silently fumed, not only at the traitors but at his allies for not supporting his final, catastrophic attack upon Rogal Dorn. He was certain that if they had followed his lead they could have killed the Great Betrayer and ended his treachery there and then. This resentment only deepened as the true scale of the war reached Deliverance.
Corax’s journal tells that in his desire to rebuild his legion, he used the kind of accelerated zygote implantation techniques used in the earliest days of the Imperium. These methods had been abandoned for good reason, as the vast majority of the test subjects proved to be grossly deformed. Rather than dramatically increasing their numbers, it only resulted in the depletion of their stocks of gene-seed. The lowest levels of the Ravenspire were filled with slavering monsters that became known as the ‘Weregeld’, and their rhythmic, hypnotic hammering against their prison walls – like his shame – haunted Corax wherever he went.
At this low ebb, Corax’s dreams were again taunted by the daemonic presence. It did not speak, and only looked down in silent judgement upon him with those cold, dead, vulture eyes. The next day, as Corax walked the corridors of the Ravenspire’s vaults and happened to stare at one of the pitiful wretches penned within, he noticed the same vulture-like gaze staring mockingly back. Down the rows of Weregeld he searched, and inside each cell he found the same corruption of the soul looking back at him. Knowing what he had to do, Corax dismissed his assistants and went from cell to cell to systematically expunge his mistakes from existence. The rhythmic hammering of the creatures rose to a shuddering crescendo in the hour of the wolf, but by the dawn, it was at long last silenced.
The full story of what happened later – of how Corax was deposed and of his eventual fate – is far from clear. The bloody raids that brought the Imperium back to Deliverance were commanded not by the legion’s Primarch, but a shadowy figure known variously as the Clonelord, Progenitor or even the Manflayer. Extant records such as Corax’s journal talk in glowing terms of an individual that had ‘solved’ the problem with the creation of new marines, although any reference of how this was achieved, or the identity of the Clonelord, had been carefully removed. As the Raven Guard’s numbers rose, so did Corax’s spirits. He took to training the new battle brothers and even wrote of taking a force to help in the Siege of Terra. However, this was eventually replaced by disquiet at the nature of his new marines, in particular their increased level of uncontrolled psychic abilities, and the disturbing methods used to create them.
After this the journal entries end, although further information has been gleaned from writing on the wall of a specially constructed cell in what would have been the Fortress-Monastery’s Apothecarion. The following was written in what was undoubtedly Corax’s hand, and indeed in the Primarch’s own blood:
“At first I thought I was still asleep; all I could hear was the same rhythmic thumping that has haunted my dreams for so long. Then I opened my eyes and realised I was truly in a waking nightmare. What I saw about me made the Weregeld look like beatific angels in comparison.”It appears that Corax had been drugged and imprisoned by the Clonelord as both a vital source of genetic material, and a cruel demonstration of what his legion was becoming. Corax went on to describe, in painful detail, how the Clonelord went about perverting his genetic legacy, and repeatedly chastised himself for a wilful blindness of how his new brothers had been created. He told of the breeding of monsters, the forerunners of those who would go on to become all-too familiar opponents of the loyal legions. Through blasphemous rites their natural psychic potential was dramatically enhanced, turning the most skilled into sorcerers able to effortlessly manipulate the powers of the Warp. The majority were only able to use their latent powers to reconfigure their own bodies, and to a lesser extent their armour and weapons.
“For these abominations, form follows desire. Fingers mould into talons. Nascent wings are extruded to lift them aloft. The failures, and those unable to control the changes they invite upon themselves, become little more than amorphous sacks of claws and spite.”The remainder of Corax’s writings become ever-more incoherent as imprisonment, realisation and whatever experiments the Clonelord subjected him to took their toll. The final marking, drawn in blood, was a simple representation of a raven.
What ultimately became of Corax is unknown. When the Imperium came to investigate Deliverance the door of the prison cell was open and no body was ever found. At first it was thought that rapid decompression when the Fortress-Monastery’s force dome failed had vented all of its occupants into space, but the rest of Deliverance, and Kiavahr were similarly deserted. The Imperium has recorded seventeen different instances of Raven Guard warlords and daemon-princes claiming to be Corax, but all have been discredited over the millennia. As the corrupter of one of The Emperor's loyal legions, much time and effort has gone into establishing the real identity and fate of the Clonelord, though after ten thousand years the trail has grown cold. No-one by that name has been associated with the Raven Guard since they fled Deliverance, although he could easily have taken another.
Anywhere touched by their foul presence is never the same again, as crops grow twisted and insanity and mutation run rampant. Investigations by the Adeptus Mechanicus, Thousand Sons and the Ecclesiarchy have each put forward theories to explain these phenomena, yet none have been able to effectively combat the corruption. Purging the area with fire and sowing the ground with salt seems to be the only way to prevent further loyal Imperial subjects from becoming corrupted.
For all the many changes that their corruption had wrought, they retained their Primarch’s ability to cripple an enemy before they even know they are fighting. In the centuries following their Fall, the Raven Guard carried out raids on disparate targets that left Imperial commanders bemused. While they had been bloody and militarily successful, the targets themselves were unusual, leaving other, much higher priority locations untouched. Initially it was attributed to the inevitable insanity associated with the worship of Chaos. In time, though, it became clear that these small, seemingly unconnected attacks were part of something far more sinister. For instance, a chain of events that started with a small raid on a promethium refinery in Pinosa Minor has been shown, with nudges from the Raven Guard, to have caused the loss of the entire Jhadra sub-sector a century later.
Because of this, confirmed attacks by the Raven Guard are analysed time and again by Imperial commanders for fear of where it might lead. Sometimes the very reinforcements and pursuit forces requested to bolster a region pays directly into their hands, as defences around the legion’s true target are drawn away and left ripe for destruction. Such are the subtle weaving of fates the Raven Guard seek to engineer.
Of all the loyal legions of Astartes, the one with the best record of deflecting and thwarting the Raven Guard’s wiles are the Thousand Sons. Their psychic divinations have enabled them to set traps for the Raven Guard, to counter their sorcerers, and banish their daemonic allies back to the warp. This rivalry has led to titanic battles between the two legions, although many of the worlds caught in these aetheric conflagrations have been left as uninhabitable husks.
Whereas in most legions the creation and implantation of new marines is the responsibility of the Apothecarion, in the Raven Guard this grisly duty is solely the domain of their sorcerers. The process is an abomination of warp-craft which transcends any mere chirurgical procedure. It wipes away the conscience and morality of the victim and opens them up to the God of Change, and in doing so unlocks their psychic potential. This horrific process unleashes an uncanny ability to twist flesh and armour so that, as Corax put it, ‘form follows desire’, and in the most receptive individuals produces psychics amongst the most powerful in the galaxy.
The youngest, least mutated marines are tasked with providing a strong gun-line to suppress the enemy. These brethren, whose abilities to transform their bodies and armour are yet to fully mature, fight instead with bolters and on occasion with heavier weaponry. An over-reliance on static firepower is rare though, and the role of laying down the heaviest ordnance is most often provided by the monstrous Annihilators. These abominations have willingly given themselves over to daemonic possession to enhance their natural abilities, and are able to transform their bodies and armour into a wide array of exotic weaponry. Be it a mob of Orks or an Imperial Land Raider, there is no target that these living tanks are unable to deal with.
How the Raven Guard are able to travel so rapidly between battle-zones without the aid of conventional transportation has never satisfactorily been explained by the Imperium. The most mundane theory has it that they have well-camouflaged transport vehicles away from the site of the battle. In recent centuries, though, credible reports have claimed seeing Raven Guard forces both appearing out of, and disappearing into, thin air. This could point to their ships possessing some advanced form of massed teleportation array, although the Raven Guard have only been observed to use the smallest types of capital ships. Given the power of their sorcerers, it is possible that this ability may be warp-derived, or, given their battles with the Farseers of the Ulthwé Craftworld, the Raven Guard may have forced access to the fabled Eldar Webway.
According to Chief-Librarian Mieuren of the Thousand Sons, the success of a Raven Guard coven can be judged by its composition. Older, more established forces are composed largely of assault troops. Ones that have recently split off from a larger warband, or that have taken heavy losses contain more of the younger bolter armed marines that have yet to fully manifest their abilities to transform. According to Mieuren, covens rarely grow beyond a hundred marines in size – not including the attendant spawns and summoned daemonic entities - as their style of warfare achieves with lightning strikes what others would attempt with a massed assault. The number nine also seems to hold a fascination for them, with units composed of nine members being particularly favoured.
Because of the vital role played by the sorcerers to the continued existence of the coven, on only the most critical and sensitive occasions does a senior magus venture onto the battlefield. Usually lesser members of the cabal are sent in their stead, but such is the importance of even these individuals that they are inevitably surrounded by a cadre of brutal killers, summoned daemonic entities and the hideous results of their failed genetic experiments. Outside the cabal, marines are given respect based upon the extent to which they can transform their bodies. The monstrous Annihilators and the raven-winged assault squads held high above their younger bolter-armed brethren. Even the youngest initiates, though, look down in pity upon the amorphous spawn. These unfortunates have proved unequal of Tzeentch’s gifts, and in doing so have paid the price with their sanity.
Many of the original implants, such as the Mucranoid, Betcher’s gland and often the Haemastamen are absent in the Raven Guard, while the intent of others have been changed radically, and completely new ones added. These changes, in particular the drastic alterations to the catalepsean node, are primarily focussed on enhancing psychic abilities. In true prodigies this leads to the creation of sorcerers of incredible power, and in time can stimulate transformational abilities in others. While the remarkable ability of Raven Guard brethren to grow wings may be due in part to a hyper-stimulation of ossomodula and biscopea, nothing short of warp-craft would explain the way that ceramite and adamantium can be re-shaped at will into razor-sharp talons.
Despite the seemingly infinite variety into which the Raven Guard twist themselves, one constant remains. Just like their tragic, betrayed Primarch, their skin remains white as snow and their hair and eyes are black as night. If this is an immutable part of Corax’s genetic heritage or a bitter, taunting joke at his expense, only the God of Change knows for certain.
Edited by Aurelius Rex, 19 February 2009 - 11:36 PM.