Things rarely go well in the grimdark universe of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 setting. It’s kind of there in the grimdark moniker: things either start bad and get worse, or every victory is wrenched from the jaws of defeat, sometimes literally, at great cost. As the game gears up for a major relaunch, that’s not changed.
Games Workshop recently announced its plans to launch the latest edition of its beloved tabletop miniatures game Warhammer 40K, the 10th official update to its ruleset, setting the stage for a new narrative conflict that will drive early storytelling in the setting’s ongoing fiction. It sees a re-emergent swarm of the alien Tyranids’ hive fleets assaulting a relatively undefended (in a Warhammer scale) area of space in the Imperium of Man, itself already split in two by a massive interstellar anomaly known as the Great Rift during the last great crusade by the forces of Chaos and their leader, Abaddon the Despoiler.
Like I said: things start bad, get worse. But the reason the Imperium and its Space Marine legions are blindsided by the re-emergence of the Tyrands of Hive Fleet Leviathan—to the point even Terra, humanity’s home world and the seat of power of the Imperium’s fascistic God-Emperor, is threatened by them—is that the current story of Warhammer 40,000, told across a series of source books collectively known as Arks of Omen, has been distracting them on pretty much the other side of the galaxy.
Ahead of the release of the final book in the series this coming weekend, Arks of Omen: The Lion, Games Workshop detailed the broad strokes of how things come to a conclusion in the “Imperium Nihilus,” the section of humanity’s empire cut off from the main bulk by the aforementioned giant, evil wound in the fabric of spacetime. The answer, is of course, a little good, and a lot bad, for the future of Warhammer 40,000's... “heroes”?
What Has Arks of Omen Been About?
Arks of Omen has seen Games Workshop introduce a new threat to the world of Warhammer 40,000: Vashtorr the Arkifane, a new daemonic demigod aligned with the forces of Chaos, but not beholden to any of the four primary Chaos Gods that already existed: Khorne the Blood God, Nurgle the Lord of Decay, Tzeentch the Changer of Ways, and Slaanesh, the Prince of Excess. With his own forces to his command and legions of cultists, and seeking to fulfill a prophecy that would raise him to become the fifth major Chaos God, Vashtorr cut a deal with Abaddon to launch an assault on the worlds of the Imperium Nihilus, in search of fragments to a mysterious piece of ancient technology known only as the Key.
One such fragment was hidden in the Rock, the massive cathedral-flagship and base of operations for the Dark Angels chapter of the Space Marines. Working with Abaddon to launch a raid on the infamously impenetrable warship, Vashtorr’s siege failed after a rival Chaos daemon, the demon-prince Be’lakor, disrupted his attack with one of his own. Although the Dark Angels managed to rebuke the Chaos forces, they were so furious at the assault on their most sacred home that they promptly followed the retreating Vashtorr back to his base of operations, only to discover just where Vashtorr was keeping his gathered Key-fragments: the transformed shell of the Dark Angels’ destroyed homeworld, the planet Caliban thought eradicated 10,000 years prior in the wake of the Horus Heresy—the infamous civil war that tore the Space Marine legions apart into pro-Chaos and Emperor-loyalist chapters.
Who Is Lion El’Jonson?
Horrified by the fate of their homeworld, the Dark Angels and their allies invaded the ruins of Caliban—now renamed by Vashtorr as the Wyrmwood—in an attempt to break Vashtorr’s grip on his forces, only to find themselves also confronted by Abaddon’s fleet in orbit. Fighting into the heart of Vashtorr’s operations, the Dark Angels found cultists had prepared for their arrival by sacrificing themselves to summon Khorne’s corrupted Primarch, the Demon lord Angron, who set about slaughtering those who tried to fight past him.
As the tide of the battle on the ground and in space turned, the Dark Angels found themselves suddenly bolstered by reinforcements from another Space Marines chapter: the Blood Angels, lead by the ancient legendary warrior Commander Dante, one of the oldest Space Marines still in existence. And they weren’t alone—they had brought with them the Dark Angel’s long-absent founding master, the very first Space Marine primarch, Lion El’Jonson, one of the most famous Space Marines to ever fight in the Emperor’s name.
Also known simply as the Lion, El’Jonson went missing, presumed killed in action, 10,000 years ago during Caliban’s destruction, when he was seemingly lost as the planet fell battling the traitor legions that had corrupted his homeworld—but had actually been hidden within the depths of the Rock itself, recovering from his mortal wounds and waiting for when his return was needed the most. Now imbued with mysterious teleportation powers, El’Jonson took the fight directly to the Wyrmwood and its new masters.
How Does Arks of Omen: The Lion End?
Basically, with El’Jonson becoming the one-man cavalry. Wielding the nigh-on invulnerable Emperor’s Shield, the Lion went toe-to-toe with Angron before eventually killing the daemon prince’s physical form, casting his soul back into the Warp all demons reside in. But even with Angron slain, El’Jonson, the critically wounded Dante, and the remaining Space Marine and Imperial forces fighting on Wyrmwood were forced into a retreat, which gave Vashtor the chance to sneak aboard the Rock in the chaos, stealing the fragment of the Key he’d failed to claim in his first assault. Now combining all the fragments into the Key, Caliban seemingly died its final death, the Wyrmwood exploded in a flash of light, Vashtorr and the remnants of Abaddon’s fleet were warped away, and all that was left of the world before the Space Marines was a rent in the fabric of space and time.
What Does It Mean for Warhammer 40K’s 10th Edition?
On the one hand, a lot. On the other, a little in so much as we know that for now, Vashtorr’s story is on hold. The return of Lion El’Jonson, one of most famous and mighty Space Marines ever, is a huge boon to not just the Dark Angels, but the Imperium of Man at large—not on par with the prior return of the Ultramarines primarch, Roboute Gulliman, who heralded in the evolution of the new-and-improved Primaris Space Marines, but still a beacon of hope for the perpetually doomed humans of the galaxy.
But even with Angron being banished to the Warp, Vashtorr still completed his task—he made the Key, and now he just needs to use it to access the mysterious weapon that will help transform him into one of the prime Chaos Gods. The assault on Wyrmwood also heavily depleted the Imperium’s forces in that region of Nihilus, making an already volatile sector of space even more tumultuous. And that means that over on the other side of the galaxy and across the Great Rift, any much-needed reinforcements Gulliman and the Space Marine legions would need in the renewed war against the Tyranids aren’t going to be coming—or if they are, there’s not going to be nearly enough to help, even with legendary Tyranid-slayers like Dante himself. And that’s a big if, considering that previously in Arks of Omen one of the Imperium Nihilus’s major psychic communication and navigation hubs, the Choral Engine, was destroyed by Angron. With FTL travel and long distance communication harder than ever, Dante and the Lion might not even know of the Tyranids’ new assault before it’s too late.
Just another day in the dark future of the 41st Millennium.
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