“We shall rise with the Emperor on the Last Day.”
One description given by some philosophers when asked to describe the true nature of the Imperium is that, beyond its teeming countless masses, numberless worlds, and incalculable might, it is best described in terms of a vast web of secrets. Secrets, and by greater extension ignorance of the truth of things, are paramount to the Imperium’s very existence. Knowledge is a calcified and restricted thing. One simple reason for this restriction is that it is better the people have faith than facts, for the facts allow little room for hope and the realization of the true horrors that confront humanity would lead only to destruction and utter despair.
Some organizations within the Imperium can afford no such shield of ignorance if they are to defend mankind, and chief among these is the Inquisition itself. There are however some truths too dangerous and some lores too valuable to be widely known even among the members of the Holy Ordos.
Knowledge surrounding a group known as the Night Cult is one such secret. To most, it is no more that an old dark tale, a ghost story told on a dozen worlds to deter those who would disturb the dead. But behind the stories lies a dark and hidden truth at the center of a shrouding mass of ancient myth, fragmented records, half-truths, misapprehensions, and outright lies. The story goes back, according to some apocryphal sources, to the founding of the Calixis Sector, at a time when the Angevin Crusade was faltering and a man became a saint. It concerns a heretical faction of the Imperial Creed long forbidden, the darkest of proscribed technologies, an apocalyptic prophesy of the End of Days, and the power to make the dead walk.
The Worship of the Emperor RevenantEdit
One of the great themes and focuses of the Imperial Creed is the Emperor’s bodily sacrifice, the great martyrdom by which he has preserved humanity and attained immortality. The sects and factions of the clergy that center their dogma on this aspect of sacrifice and ongoing life-in-death are known to the wider Ministorum as the Cult of the Emperor Revenant. Although such beliefs are accepted as cannon by the Ecclesiarchy, its extremist proponents have been sources of schism, deviancy, and heretical practice, counting among their ranks numerous death cults, suicidal zealots, and darkly mystical interpretations of the Imperial Creed. They vary widely in type and values from ashen–faced flagellants who vow to put aside any worldly concerns and live as “the blessed dead” to sacrificial cults and radical resurrectionist sects who strive to work towards the Emperor’s eventual bodily return to lead mankind to a new golden age.
The worst of such resurrectionist cults are outlawed Imperial fanatics who operate in secret to pursue dark science and sometimes warpcraft to break the shackles of death, often with terrifying results. Pursued with the utmost vigor by both Ordo Hereticus and the Cult Mechanicus for their blasphemy, most remain true zealots who see themselves as ranking among the righteous, believing that the Imperium has lost the “true way” and only they hold the key to the God-Emperor’s will and humanity’s salvation.
The Thanatology of the Calixis SectorEdit
Within the Calixis Sector, the worship of the Emperor Revenant has always had a solid following in doctrine and practice. Many of the Calixis Sector’s major local cultures have strong aspects of funerary worship, mystical theurgy, and the reverence and remembrance of the dead, which may vary widely in practice even on the same world. On the sector capital Scintilla, the Tarsines are obsessed with ossuaries and all manner of blessed bone trinkets and supposed saint’s relics, and the Sibellans go to great lengths to enshrine and preserve their ancestor’s remains and honor their memories (sometimes simply to bask in their reflected glory). Meanwhile, the people of Ambulon practice excarnation, to the horror of their fellow Scintillans.
The Transfiguration of Saint Drusus---the legendary moment during the Angevin Crusade on Maccabeus Quintus where he was struck down but restored to life by the Emperor’s grace---is a cornerstone of the cult of his sainthood and further acts to cement the belief in rebirth among the faithful. The sector also features several funerary worlds such as Granithor and Pilgrim's Pause, which some traditions believe to be particularly auspicious and sacred burial sites for the dead and are given over almost wholly to act as vast cemeteries. On these worlds, the influence of the Cult of the Emperor Revenant is at its strongest. With so many morbid and macabre practices and strange superstitions the norm, it is easy for death cults, mystical sects, and other such heresies to breed unnoticed and slowly gain grip.
The Legend of the Night CultEdit
There exists on many worlds in the Calixis Sector legends surrounding hauntings, the spirits of the dead walking, vengeance from beyond the grave, wraiths preying on those who disturbed the dead, or specters who exact a terrible revenge on the living who have wronged them. Such superstitions are only natural, and they may be no more than an attempt to explain the unknown. However, in a universe where the things of the warp prowl and hunger beyond the veil of physical reality, the truth behind such tales may indeed have a cause rooted in otherworldly evil.
One of the oldest of these tales found throughout the Calixis Sector is that of the Night Cult. It is said to be a spectral congregation, the damned souls of false priests, traitors, and sinners doomed to make repentance to the Golden Throne in death. These lost souls, the myth claims, stand guard over the graves of the just who have fallen in the God-Emperor’s service, protect the pure of heart, and wreak dreadful vengeance against those who would prey on the faithful or disturb the rest of forgotten martyrs. The legend is not one approved of by the Ministorum, as it reeks of the worship of unclean spirits and warpcraft, but it has persisted with some local variation for as long as records go back. From Scintilla to Dusk, from Solomon to Reshia, the stories can be found, but the oldest and perhaps most dangerous spring from the shrine world of Maccabeus Quintus.
On Maccabeus the story is considered blasphemous enough to merit the pyre for professing, and here the Night Cult also carries another, older name---the Temple of the True Resurrection. Here it is linked to the time that Drusus, before his sainthood, was struck down by the enemy and rose again by the God-Emperor’s grace. In this tale, a cleric swathed in midnight black robes and bearing a fire-blacked staff appeared in the councils of Drusus’s stricken army, shaming them for their cowardice and scorning them for their lack of faith. The legend states that it was through this dark stranger’s intercession that Drusus was restored. In return, the general who would one day be venerated as an Imperial Saint bid the stranger build a new temple to the true resurrection---a cult to guard the souls of men from the great enemy, enslave the false, and punish the corrupt until the last days, when the dead would rise once more with the Emperor for the final battle.
Since then the Temple and its “cult of night” have entered the folklore of Maccabeus and beyond. To this day (although they risk their lives by doing so) many Maccabeans light black candles to the Temple to watch over the spirits of their ancestors during the winter solstice when the planet’s moons enter eclipse, and hold the belief that votive offerings left at lonely crossroads can bring about terrible vengeance by the cold hands of the Night Cult’s dread congregation.
The Fate of Dread SarcosEdit
“The night is dark and full of terrors, but none so terrible as the wrath of the Risen God of Mankind. For the empty liars of the warp will be silenced and the false iron idols of the grave shall perish in turn. Death itself shall die, as a worm crushed under his heel.”
During the dark times that followed the Age of Apostasy, an Imperial death cult calling itself the Brethren of the Risen came to power on the western fringes of the Segmentum Pacificus in the Sarcosan subsector. Located on the western fringe in a swathe of Imperial space that had become isolated during the civil wars that had wracked the Imperium, the Brethren stood firm against the enemies of the undying God-Emperor of Mankind. The price the cult had borne and the heresies it embraced, however, proved too much for the Imperium to countenance when several centuries later a Crusade fleet sent to retake the worlds of the western fringe encountered it. The war that followed is still a subject of great secrecy to this day, entering into the dim mythic histories of the Holy Ordos, Cult Mechanicus, and several Astartes Chapters who fought in this dark and bitter struggle.
Since that time, dark legends have cropped up in scores of sectors across the western Segmentum that speak of the children of dread Sarcos who fled into the shadows and their dark and terrible arts. To this day, this ancient heresy is said to inspire Imperial cults obsessed with the resurrection of the dead and to be the source of strange rites conducted in ancient cemeteries that echo some dark shadow of the Ministorum.
It is said the Credo Mortifex, dread Sarcos’s heretical interpretation of the Imperial Creed, and the lost arts of the cult’s forbidden technology are rare and terrible prizes for which the darkest sects will pay any price. They are, however, perilous to possess---for stories say the curse of Sarcos comes for any “heathen” that would obtain them.
Inquisitorial Threat BriefingEdit
There is no attested evidence in the Calixian Conclave Archives referencing an organization, cult, or doctrine of the name “The Children of the True Resurrection,” while the phrase “The Night Cult” references certain unfounded myths and superstitions not considered threatening to the acceptance of the True Faith.
The True Nature of the Night Cult Edit
Below are three possible interpretations of the Night Cult. The truth, of course, may lie with all or none of these. Indeed players might well get tangled up investigating one myth or report at the bequest of one faction or another, only to find themselves knee deep in trouble of an entirely unexpected kind!
The Darkest Arts: A Quest for Life Everlasting
One possible truth lies in a heretical sect concealing the quest for true immortality behind the façade of the ancient legend of the Night Cult. The architects of this quest could be hereteks, exploiting and developing ancient and forbidden tech-lore for the raising of the dead, malefic sorcerers, or psyker-mystics wishing to extend their lives and gain dominion over life and death. Behind such a cult could be a highly–placed network of the powerful and wealthy, or even a renegade faction of the Inquisition itself who would ultimately reap the benefits of the cult’s work. Meanwhile, the cult’s cover as a ghostly myth could serve as an excellent shield to keep away prying eyes. The availability of places of the dead and the infiltration of funerary customs and sects provide excellent sources of test subjects. Such arts, either technological or mystic (or the combination of the two), are difficult to control and have many pitfalls and dangers, not least of which when success is achieved.
Details of a xeno-artefact within the Calixis Sector said to grant long life are the Halo Devices.
A Grave Cold Faith: The Sarcosan Heresy
Another option is for the Night Cult to be a “true” heresy, that is to say a deviant faith of the Imperial Creed and one that takes the tenets and concerns usually espoused by the doctrines of the Emperor Revenant to a terrifying extreme. Such a cult would be a frightening and unusual opponent, because though undoubtedly heretical and possessed of many forbidden and dread powers, its members would nevertheless be fanatics to the Imperial cause in their own way. They would believe unshakeably that theirs was the true path and that they were acting in true accordance with the God-Emperor’s word to guard the faithful, punish the false, and conceal themselves while preparing for a coming “final battle” when they will raise the dead to fight at their master’s side.
Meeting in secret in the dark of night in ruined temples and places of the dead, they would carry out sinister ceremonies that echoed the daylight rituals of the Ministorum, attended by a bleak congregation indeed. With the patience and subtlety of those dealing not in a short, frenetic span of years but a perceived near-eternity, this incarnation of the Night Cult would act with a slow but implacable purpose, having begun to infiltrate the faithful and suborn agents throughout the sector long ago. Such a group might well number allies and even true believers among Neothorians and secret Recongregator ultra-radicals in the Inquisition’s ranks. The Night Cult might also make for a very strange and powerful ally for Acolyte PCs faced with seemingly insurmountable foes. In such cases, players may well reason that so radical a solution as enlisting the help of the Night Cult would be preferable to seeing a world die to the like of the Pilgrims of Hayte or the Vile Savants. It is up to them to decide and to survive the consequences.
Treaders in the Dust: The Hungry Ghosts of the Warp
A third option is that the Night Cult is the worst of lies, using the superstitious fear and forlorn hopes of the people as a mask, behind which monstrous terrors crawl. This version of the Night Cult is nothing more than an artifice that allows some xenos-race or cabal to pursue its goals. The architects of this deception might be a race of vampiric entities from the warp, a murderous and unknown xeno-breed, a kindred of daemonic spirits able only to possess the dead, or perhaps a particularly warped coterie of death-obsessed witches or sorcerers who must feed on the living (or the dead) to maintain their power and extend their unnatural existences.
The Night Cult could also be a congregation made up of damned souls condemned to serve in death or perhaps trapped in an appalling half-life as accursed shades never to find release. The hatred and bitterness of such a Night Cult would be a boundless and cold thing, a true fury from beyond the grave.