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"Where we come from is utterly unimportant. All that matters is what we must do to remain here in the future." - Keja the Sorceror
The Warband known as the Rift Lords are, in many respects, an enigma to Imperial researchers. It is hard to say for certain where they came from, whether the Rift Lords are a fallen Space Marine chapter, or a fragment from one of the original Legions. Even amongst the Warband itself, the truth is not widely known - indeed such discussions are considered pointless, as the geneseed in its original form was intended only as a tool of the False Emperor.
Much of the early history of the warband is lost, even to them - though by chance or design is hard to say. Few of the original warband remain alive, and they keep their pasts to themselves. It is known that the Rift Lords have always been devout followers of the cult of Chaos Undivided, and have always preferred brutal ambushes against foes rather than pitched battles. In a way, however, the true history of the Rift Lords begins with Maluk, their current leader. With his rise to power, the Rift Lords became more agressive, - attacking Imperial forces more regularly and with greater ferocity. Maluk, however, was no fool. Knowing full well the might the Imperium could bring to bear against the warband, he always targeted Imperial forces that were either weakened by conflict or otherwise unable to defend themselves, allowing the Rift Lords to remain undetected. The Rift Lords were a potent, hidden threat within the Segmentum Pacificus, always in the shadows, biding their time before striking. Although there is no solid evidence, Imperial records suggest that at their strongest, the Rift Lords likely numbered over one and a haf thousand. Maluk was guided in his campaign by Keja, a wily sorcerer possessed of great intuition and cunning. It was through a combination of Maluk's ruthlessness and Keja's deadly insight that the Rift Lords were successful in prosecuting their hidden war and bringing glory to their Dark Gods. But Maluk was always driven by the spectre of ambition, and longed to strike a telling blow against the Imperium.
As time went on, he put together a plan of action to remove the greatest barrier to his goal of domination - the presence of the Red Sabres, a Chapter of the Imperium's Space Marines.
"Even the greatest of walls will be brought low by those strong in faith!" - Riftmark Lucanis, at the Siege of the Red Fortress
The first Imperium-confirmed combat against the Rift Lords was on the planet of Throka, at the Fortress-Monastery of the Red Sabres. After a long, difficult campaign, picking exclusively on the weakened and isolated Astartes forces, the Rift Lords had driven what remained of the chapter - less than a hundred marines - back to their homeworld. Maluk ordered his men to remain hidden, tightening the stranglehold by degrees on the Red Sabres. However, as the battle marched on, it became harder and harder to control the Rift Lords - each one eager to kill in the name of their Gods. Eventually even Maluk gave in to the siren promises of victory and glory, and he issued the order to openly attack, despite Keja's warnings. The walls of the Red Fortress were breached, and the killing began in earnest. The Rift Lords glorified their unholy deities that day with the total annihilation of the Red Sabres. At Maluk's command, tore down the once-proud Red Fortress, razing it to the ground amid the celebrations of a succesful campaign.The Rift Lords, however, had made a fatal mistake by revealing themselves.
For although the Red Sabres were utterly destroyed in the battle, reinforcements from the chapter known as the Stonebound were detected a short way from the planet at the battle's conclusion. They were hastening towards the planet, in response to a distress call sent out by the remnants of the Red Sabres just prior to their destruction.
Once the Stonebound arrived, Maluk quickly ordered a retreat, unsure of how many Astartes were arriving to avenge the fallen chapter. Leaving a hundred of the least experienced as a decoy to occupy the attention of the vengeful Stonebound, Maluk and his forces were able to slip away, boarding their ships and abandoning the planet. The gambit almost succeeded, but for the watchful eyes of the Stonebound, who were quick to pursue the escaping traitor forces.
This conflict marked the ruin of the Rift Lords' veil of secrecy - escaping the Imperial Navy and other threats like Astartes or Eldar proved too much of a challenge. The Stonebound in particular would pursue the Warband relentlessly, forcing them to flee across the Segmentum Pacificus. During this time, the Rift Lords were perpetually hunted, attacked by Imperial forces and xeno ships alike. Even Keja's psychic foresight could not keep them from the danger that threatened from every angle. Maluk had learned a harsh lesson - going from being a scourge of the Segmentum Pacificus to little more than a fugitive due to one oversight caused by blind ambition. Maluk also had to contend with several challenges to his leadership, each conflict creating further strife and tension within the warband.
Eventually, the Rift Lords were all but cornered, on the brink of extinction. Maluk had only one option - to abandon the Segmentum Pacificus altogether. The Firstblade organised his forces carefully, keeping only those who had shown unwavering devotion both to Maluk and the Chaos Gods near him, and placing the other, less stalwart Rift Lords in more perilous positions. As the Imperial forces closed in, Maluk hatched his plan. Taking only his chosen followers with him, Maluk snuck away aboard a Strike Cruiser, leaving the majority of the original warband to perish at the hands of the vengeful Imperium.
Into the Shroud:
"A hellish place. As though even the barren space was being tortured, twisted and made to feel pain. This is truly our new domain." - Riftmark Kaliburn
Masquerading as a loyalist force, the surviving Rift Lords traversed a great expanse of space, avoiding naval patrols and contact with enemy forces where possible. Eventually, after many years, the Rift Lords found themselves in the Segmentum Ultima, north of the area known as the Dominion of Storms. Constant evasion of Imperial forces had left the surviving Rift Lords haggard and weary. Seeking desperately to find a permanent shelter, they travelled haphazardly from system to system.
It was a perilous time for the Warband. They travelled from planet to planet, and for each unguarded Imperial settlement they could raid for supplies, there would be three that proved too well-protected.
Eventually, the Rift Lords eventually arrived at a place the Imperium knew as the Shroud Stars. The Shroud Stars were a number of barren planets and suns blanketed with harsh, unpredictable warp storms - throughout its length and breadth were the ruins of vessels - Imperial and Xeno - both from recent times and some dating back to perhaps before the great crusade. Even as they traversed the Shroud, the Rift Lords saw ancient,badly damaged ships being drawn through vast, focused funnels of warp energy. Those that were caught in these warp-vortexes were banished to the furthest reaches of space - although later the Warband would learn they also functioned to bring in new ships, launching them at deadly speed into the warp storms and drifting hulks. Navigating through the Shroud required all of the guile and skill of the Rift Lords, but they knew instinctively that here was a place where the Imperium would not easily reach them. At the centre of the warp storms sat a great space hulk, desolate and empty. The Rift Lords boarded it and swept through the vast, abandoned forgeship with the practiced ease common to Astartes. In the heart of the ship they found a vast, decorated altar room, covered from floor to ceiling in runic writing detailing the glories of the Chaos Gods and promising great power to those who glorify them with all their heart and soul.
In the room behind lay an even greater wonder - a daemon, bound within a golden cage. It whispered of how the Rift Lords could earn the favour of the Gods, and how they may even topple the dominion of the False Emperor. The daemon eventually revealed it could read the deadly warp storms, effectively granting the Rift Lords safe passage in and out of the Shroud, in exchange for prisoners taken during the Rift Lords' attacks.
Filled with a newfound zeal, and convinced to a man that the Gods had planned this for them, the Rift Lords would be forever changed. Maluk and Keja begun planning to rebuild the warband, and how best to strike back at the hated Imperium.
The Rift Lords re-emerged from the Shroud as a very different force. Moving obliquely from planet to planet, small forces were given the mission to preach the virtues of the Great Gods to beleagured Imperial citizens. Often the Rift Lords would hire bandits or other lawless forces to help create more chaos, and add weight to the illusion that The Emperor had deserted his people. Maluk was careful not to let the hunger of his ambition guide his plans. The Rift Lords' success would come from fighting a hundred small battles with words, rather than single large battlea with force of arms.
Slowly, and after many years' work, isolated cities on many distant planets began forsaking the Imperial Creed altogether, and embracing the light of the Gods. From these converted cities the Rift Lords drew their newest recruits, transporting them back to the Shroud to undergo training and eventually the implantation of the gene-seed.
Maluk and Keja's plans were simple - by tearing away the faith of the Imperial planets, they would be depriving the Imperium of one of their strongest assets, and simultaneously increasing the power of the Gods. As the Warband began to regain its strength, Maluk organised missions further and further afield, sending small forces of Rift Lords far and wide, bringing more and more cities and planets into the fold. They were given sweeping objectives, such as the conversion or elimination of certain hives or population centres, and left to engineer the details. These missions were not always easy - detection by Imperial forces meant almost certain death, and targets unwilling to bend to the will of the Rift Lords presented the warband with many obstacles. As word of the Rift Lords' actions began to spread, Imperial presence around the sector containing the Shroud Stars began to thicken.
Keja's gift of foresight worked well for Maluk, allowing his forces to target weakened Imperial armies, preying on the diminshed formations like vultures picking at a carcass. But the real threat to the Rift Lords was the risk of open combat with other Astartes; equals to Rift Lords in both tactical acumen and cunning. Combat with Loyalist Space Marines always reaped a bitter toll on the Rift Lords, one Maluk was loath to pay. And over time, with more Chapters appearing in the north, the threat of extinction again loomed large for the Warband. Keja masterminded plans to attack the younger chapters before they could gain enough experience to match the veteran Rift Lords, aiming to mitigate the addition of fresh forces in the north. Although initially this plan met with some success, eventually the Rift Lords found themselves too weak in numbers to easily pursue such tactics.
The Gods Provide:
However, the will of the Gods was not to be denied. Other warbands, weakened by endless combat with Imperial forces, were driven into the Shroud. Some of these were absorbed into the Rift Lords' ranks, but some were too stubborn to openly join the Rift Lords. Maluk, however, was shrewd enough to see that even these forces had their uses. He negotiated deals with these other warbands - they would be allowed to shelter within the Shroud Stars, and permitted to foster their strength if they were willing to embrace the worship of the Great Gods, and work alongside the Rift Lords at Maluk's command. Many Warbands accepted these terms, some openly, some warily. Knowing that some of the Chaos Lords within these warbands were as power-hungry and ambitious as himself, Maluk had two ways to supress rebellion. Firstly, none of these warbands had working forgeships - the only functioning forges were to be found on the Rift Lords' space hulk, Runefaust. Maluk could, if displeased, simply refuse to supply a force with firepower. Secondly, if threatened, Maluk could have the daemon aboard the Runefaust issue false guidance through the Shroud to the upstart warband, seeing them either destroyed or dispersed across the galaxy.
The Rift Lords were able to use their new allies to deadly effect, comitting them to battles against heavily defended Imperial bastions or even Space Marine forces. Maluk and his emissaries were adept at motivating their allies into taking on these misions, some with promises of looting or revenge, others with the opportunity to honour their Gods by striking at the False Emperor's men. Keja's skill at foresight allowed Maluk to pick his fights with some care, striking only when the enemy was either worn down through combat or otherwise had lowered their guard. The reputation of the Rift Lords grew steadily throughout the upper echelons of the Imperium - they were known as zealous enemies who could strike at any time, from any angle. The Imperium is presently still unaware of the exact location of the Rift Lords' headquarters. Although recently Imperial forces have made experimental forays into the Shroud, the combination of vicious warp storms and orchestrated attacks by other Warbands mean the Rift Lords are still concealed from Imperial eyes.
"People of Larn, your God has failed you! Your faith is wasted on a decaying, powerless corpse! Why not pray to Gods who will listen? Follow the path of the Great Gods, and you too can be saved!" - Excerpt from a recording of The Voice preaching to the civilians of Larn prior to the Larnate uprisings
The Rift Lords believe fervently in the glory of Chaos Undivided. Their great mission is to undermine the faith of the Imperium - a mission that seems virtually impossible. However, by sneaking small squads from planet to planet via civillian transports, moving like shadows from target to target, the Rift Lords chip away the faith of the Imperium in a thousand places.
The way they portray the 'Great Gods' is key to their mission. The average Imperial citizen is loath to put his faith in the fearsome Gods of Chaos, so the Rift Lords have adopted a new approach, painting the Gods as beneficent deities, with command over virtues. Those who value honour are encouraged to worship Khorne, and seekers of wisdom are guided to Tzeentch. Prayers concerning personal desires are to be entreated towards Slaanesh, and Nurgle is portrayed as the master of life, death - and immortality.
When the Rift Lords set out to convert a planet, their preferred approach is to deploy small forces, sometimes as few as one squad per major city or hive on a planet. However, each squad contains at least one member of The Voice. These gifted orators dress in white armour and robes, whilst wearing a mask that covers all parts of their face save for their mouth. They are the ones that speak to the crowds, denouncing the Emperor's power and compelling people to put faith in the Great Gods. Members of The Voice keep apart from other members of the squad when in the cities, living alone and sometimes allowing Imperial Citizens to freely come and discuss religion with them. The Voice is responsible for forming and organising cults within the populations, and also doubles as a recruiter for any of the right age to join the Rift Lords. Other Rift Lords in the squads will calculate viable or necessary targets for attacks, carrying them out in secret where possible, and further reinforcing the idea the Emperor has forsaken the potential converts.
Of some note is the surprisingly rigid discipline of the Rift Lords. Since the fateful events guiding the warband to the Shroud Stars, Maluk made it a personal duty to instill loyalty and devotion, not only to the Gods, but to the warband itself into his men. On missions, the Rift Lords conduct themselves with painstaking care, making sure every action they take can be portrayed as positive to watching citizens. For this reason, they keep their armour mostly plain, bearing only discreet marks of Chaos. Rift Lords take part in organised displays of worship, led by The Voice, who also encourages civilians to join the avatars of the Great Gods in prayer.
It is of note that the Rift Lords are fanatically against monotheism within their warband. Any who strive too hard to please one God risk displeasing the rest, and are punished appropriately, with the grossest trangressions being punished by feeding the offender to the daemon aboard the Runefaust. The Rift Lords are also wary of other warbands who venerate only one of the Great Gods, decrying their perceived lack of vision. While Maluk will grudgingly allow such warbands to shelter within the Shroud, they are frequently tasked with the most difficult missions, or used to deflect suspicions of Rift Lord involvement in high-profile systems.
It is unknown exactly what geneseed the Rift Lords use. Some Imperial scholars postulate that the warband could be a splinter of the Black Legion or the Word Bearers for their belief system. Others still put forward the view that they descend from the Alpha Legion or Night Lords. However, two theories are most commonly put forward.
Firstly, that the warband recovered its geneseed after fleeing to the Shroud Stars by either raiding geneseed facilities or taking geneseed from other warbands seeking shelter in the Shroud. Or, secondly, that the Rift Lords now make use of the captured and corrupted geneseed of the Red Sabres taken after the devastation of the Red Fortress.
The only fact that can be pinned down about the Rift Lords' geneseed is that in recent years, several members of the warband have succumbed to failures in various organs, seemingly at random. This trend is rare in the older Rift Lords, but has slowly become more and more prevalent amongst the newer recruits as they age and grow. Some within the warband suspect dwelling in the Shroud over such a long time has taken its toll on the geneseed, and others attribute the organ failure to a 'lack of faith', but the true cause of these failures is unknown.
"You may command more men here than I do, but without me you have nowhere to run to once this battle concludes. So listen well..." - Riftmark Kaliburn, on the eve of the battle at Eithor Prime
The insidious nature of the Rift Lords is perhaps best seen in the way they marshall their forces. While Maluk remains as the Firstblade, the ultimate authority within the warband, his main role is to dictate objectives to his four lieutenants, the Riftmarks. Each Riftmark is assumed to command roughly a quarter of the total of Maluk's forces. Their roles are largely to oversee campaigns, assigning squads of Rift Lords to their individual missions, and keeping an eye on all nearby Imperial forces during operations. The operations can be any scale, between targetting a specific world, or slowly poisoning the mind of an entire sector. The Riftmarks themselves seldom make planetfall outside of conducting combats, relying on squad leaders to relay information to him instead.
Thanks to the dispersed, fractal nature of the Rift Lords, it is hard to put a reliable estimate on their numbers. Some sources assume the warband must be a very small force, numbering fewer than four hundred marines, while some others postulate at least nine hundred Rift Lords. While in reality the number is most probably somewhere in-between, precise enumeration of the warband remains an impossible task for the present.
When combat is required of the Rift Lords, they are quick to call on the support of their allies - either cultists or other warbands that have been granted shelter within the Shroud. This serves a double purpose; the Rift Lords not only risk less of their own lives on the battlefield, but many attacks carried out under the supervision of the Rift Lords are attributed by the Imperium to other warbands, diverting the attention of the False Emperor's minions.
"Attacks the enemy do not forsee are ones they cannot guard against." - Coramus Alther, Rift Lord
In battle, the Rift Lords often rely on the support of other warbands, letting them engage the enemy as they see fit. However, when the Rift Lords themselves are forced to take the field, they prefer to dictate the terms of the engagement, often by springing ambushes on unsuspecting foes. Often this comes in the form of ranged volleys, allowing the enemy to take cover and begin planning a counter-attack. This is when the trap is sprung - fast attacking units, deep-striking terminators or even looted drop-pods appear behind the enemy lines, forcing them to swiftly adapt their plans to survive, even as the original force of Rift Lords close in to join the slaughter.
Maluk, and the warband as a whole, learned many lessons from the siege of the Red Fortress. They never under-estimate other Astartes, and almost never engage them without the support of other warbands. In these instances, the Rift Lords usually only appear in force once the battle is joined, striking at an unprotected flank. In return for the services of these ally warbands, Riftmarks often delegate a few squads of Rift Lords to aid their allies in the prosecution of battles against their hated enemies.
"Let your faith be proclaimed, children of the Great Gods! Let the enemies of the divine tremble at the sound of our approach!" - The Voice, exhorting armed converts to engage loyalist forces
The most commonly used warcry of the Rift Lords is "Glory to the Great Gods!"
Edited and updated! - 25/05/2011 (English date)
Any opinions, views, or C&C more than welcome.
Edited by Ace Debonair, 01 October 2011 - 06:48 PM.