"You entered into the agreement freely and benefited greatly from doing so. I strongly advise you not to renege on it now, no matter if you think you no longer need us, no matter how powerful you think you have become. The consequences of disappointing our Principal in this matter would be...appallingly unfortunate...Please believe me. I know."
- —Captain Alicia D'antess, Amaranthine Agent
The Amaranthine Syndicate is a new threat rising on the Trailing / Coreward border region of the Calixis Sector and one whose influence is quickly spreading from the troubled worlds of Hazeroth to the Josian Reach Sub-sector. It has even begun to brush at the edge of the Hive Worlds at the sector's core. The trade cartel known as the Amaranthine Syndicate outwardly appears to be a loose confederation of trader-captains, void clans, and outpost colony merchants, but has roused the suspicions of some with evidence of involvement in unlawful trades, smuggling, and backing of trade wars. In recent years, individuals linked to the group have been the subject of capture and destruction by the Adeptus Arbites and the Imperial Navy, and several Syndicate vessels have been found in possession of forbidden xenos artefacts. Some have even been implicated in pirate attacks, horrific massacres on isolated outposts, slaver raids, and other atrocities. In each case, the Syndicate has disowned those involved and covered its tracks well, but the suspicions of some within the Ordo Xenos have been roused.
Inquisitorial involvement with the Amaranthine Syndicate is new and so far only superficial investigations have been carried out. However, suspicion is growing that the Syndicate may have been infiltrated or is being secretly controlled by a xenos force or agency from beyond the sector's borders. What the Ordo Xenos does not know is that the Amaranthine Syndicate is merely the tip of a deadly iceberg that could spell doom for the entire Calixis Sector. The Syndicate represents a concerted conspiracy to infiltrate and corrupt the Imperium by a terrifying xenos species known as the Slaugth. These baleful creatures epitomise everything that Mankind has come to hate and fear about the alien; they are horrific, implacable beings with frightening powers and nightmare science. To them, Mankind's only use is as cattle to be farmed and slaughtered to feed their depraved hunger.
The Amaranthine Syndicate first appears as a friend to those in need, offering a lifeline to those so desperate that they do not care who saves them and for those for whom the need outweighs good sense or caution. Once a suitable target has been identified, a Syndicate emissary will make the approach, and the deal offered will always seem more than generous, designed to alleviate the subject's immediate problems. However, as time progresses, the Syndicate will secretly contrive to increase its target's dependency on it by setting the target's enemies against him, blocking other forms of help, and creating "accidents" or adverse turns of events. This forces its targets to repeatedly take the easy way out and ask for the Syndicate's help until the target is so heavily embroiled there is no way out.
It is at this final stage that the subject (if he is particularly unfortunate) will be introduced personally to one of the Principals, leaving him in no doubt as to just what kind of bargain he has entered into and the consequences of betraying his new-found allies. The Principals' demands may at first seem trivial or bizarre; that a commodity price is raised fractionally, seemingly random personnel reassigned, a report misfiled, or a book in a private library burned, for example. Over time, these demands change, becoming truly dreadful -- relief shipments to outlying worlds redirected away from planets in need, medical supplies tainted at the source, a blind eye turned to pending disaster, or even hundreds of colonists betrayed in order to stock the Slaugth larder.
The Syndicate by Reputation
The Amaranthine Syndicate appears, to outside observation, to be nothing more than an up-and-coming cartel of interstellar traders, minor merchant houses, and Voidborn families who have successfully banded together over the last few years to improve their lot in a region notoriously difficult and dangerous to operate in. The Syndicate's reputation has yet to spread much beyond the Hazeroth Abyss and its nearby stars. However, its rise has been noted by the economic powers of the sector who, though long-established, always keep an eye on potential rivals and commercial shifts. As far as most of the emissaries and notaries of the great trade houses, Chartist Captains, and sector grandees are concerned, the Syndicate offers little threat or challenge economically as it is simply too small a group and founded on too precarious a footing to be worthy of being considered a potential rival. Those that have encountered the Syndicate in action, however, might offer a different opinion. It has proven itself efficient, well-resourced, and ruthless in its operations, as many who have crossed it have found out to their regret. Many independent interests, criminal groups, and even local governments where the Syndicate has taken hold are starting to view it with growing disquiet and some suspicion, as are some within the Adeptus Arbites and Battlefleet Calixis, although the voices of concern in those last two organisations are still relatively few so far.
The suspicions that surround the Syndicate are linked primarily with travel to prohibited areas outside of the Imperium, the trade in illegal xenos artefacts, and piracy. While none of these conjectures is without merit (or entirely uncommon or unexpected for that matter), many who have had dealings with the Syndicate believe something even darker lurks behind its façade. Whatever that darkness may be, it is something most cannot identify but fills even the usually hardened voider families, commonplace smugglers, and dockside gangs with deep unease. Apart from its more sinister dealings, the Amaranthine Syndicate operates exactly as one might expect of any successful Imperial trade cartel. It is made up of a diverse group of private commercial interests that trade between the worlds on the Calixis Sector's Trailing border and has recently made inroads into the more established areas of the Josian Reach, as well as the northern edge of the Ixaniad Sector. The Syndicate's membership includes independent free trader captains and local Voidborn clans, as well as planet-based merchant houses, trade guilds, prospectors, petty nobles, and the like. While these members continue to operate largely independently, the Syndicate acts on their behalf to cement trade agreements, negotiate settlements, and quell discord between its members. It also works to control markets and prices, massing its power against competition, rivals, or outside threat.
The Syndicate's ruling body, known within the organisation as the "Principals," also provides resources, financing, armed force and punitive measures at its members' request. These Principals demand that members give them a (surprisingly moderate) cut of their profits, that potentially useful information be reported back to them, and that when they do make a direct request of their members, it is carried out promptly, expediently, and without question. In terms of structure, the Syndicate follows a simple pyramid layout. The largest, lowest tier of the pyramid is the Syndicate's production base and markets -- local planet-bound individuals, such as nobles, guild bosses, traders, prospectors, specialist artisans, and the like. These individuals might be quite powerful locally and control large bodies of men and materiel; indeed, their own organisations might know nothing of the master's affiliation to the Syndicate.
The middle tier is composed of the Syndicate's agents and a number of groups with direct Syndicate affiliation. This tier is primarily made up of starship trader captains, their crews, and associated Voidborn clans. However, it also includes a number of mercenary groups and a small dedicated body of scribes, emissaries, and logisters who negotiate for the Syndicate in more formal settings as a legitimate trade body. This tier of operation also incorporates a less legitimate "shadow" made up of smugglers, outlaws, Hereteks, and assassins who also serve the Syndicate. The upper tier controls the Syndicate. It is composed of the Principals -- a rarely encountered group who deliberately hide behind layers of secrecy. Outsiders and many within the organisation believe that the Principals are simply taking prudent means to protect themselves. Some believe they may be powers already present within the sector (such as a great house who wishes to keep its involvement under cover) or one or more Rogue Traders seeking to expand their power within the Imperium's bounds. Others believe the Principals are Renegades from outside the Imperium -- pirates, non-Compliants, and outlaws -- and that the Syndicate is backed by blood money taken in raids and destroyed shipping. This would be bad enough, but the truth is far worse.
Black Market Operator
The illegal operations of the Amaranthine Syndicate operate in tandem with its more legitimate trading interests and are centred on inter-system smuggling operations. They deal primarily in illicit drugs, stolen items, controlled technologies, arms, and other black market goods, and in the worlds bordering the Hazeroth Abyss, the Syndicate has quickly come to displace other organised smuggler gangs, being the first to challenge the domination of the Cold Guild in generations. It has been utterly merciless in crushing any organised opposition against it and the Syndicate will readily utilise targeted assassination and mercenary Kill-teams in order to employ a strategy of divide and conquer -- backing one local criminal or mercantile faction against another.
The Syndicate is also careful to leave petty gangs and local independents largely untouched, using their activities to mask the Syndicate's own and providing convenient scapegoats for the authorities. For those with the wealth or connections, the Syndicate has other goods and services to offer. Its agents deal in forbidden xenotech, artefacts, and other trinkets from beyond the Imperium's border. The Syndicate can also do more, much more, for the right buyer; it can arrange to have enemies permanently "vanished," provide clients with vast sums of financial backing, and arrange for shipping (or even whole outposts) to disappear without trace. However, the price for such services is total loyalty to the Syndicate and its often strange requests.
The Dark Design
The ultimate power behind the works of the Amaranthine Syndicate is a covenant of xenos known as the Slaugth. The Slaugth are an ageless and patient alien race, and their plans and schemes are tangled and largely incomprehensible to the human mind. However, they share one motivation that humans can understand, that of an addictive hunger. To feed this hunger, the Slaugth have undertaken to destabilise the Calixis Sector in order to see it unravel in civil war, anarchy, and terror so that they might feed on the fractious masses of Mankind with little or no opposition.
To this end they infiltrated the Amaranthine Syndicate when it actually was a fledgling human trade cartel, overcoming all opposition until they controlled it completely. The Syndicate is their pawn in a wider game that may take generations of human lives to see fruition. Their plan is elegant in its simplicity. The Slaugth understand Mankind very well. Their weapons are human greed and desire, and their plan is to effectively destroy humanity by giving it exactly what it wants -- wealth, power, weapons, drugs, and forbidden trinkets -- and watch as humanity tears itself apart as a consequence. At the same time, they are using their "gifts" to further infiltrate not only the criminal underworlds and economic structures of the sector, but also its nobility and government. Certainly the Ecclesiarchy, Departmento Munitorum, and Administratum are likely targets. If their plan sees its apotheosis, then when the time is right, the Slaugth will turn the key on their operations -- eaten away from within, utterly compromised and eroded, the Calixis Sector will collapse in on itself in fire and chaos. In the ruins of once mighty Calixis, the Slaugth will have their way, and the survivors will doubtless envy the dead.
The Horrors of the Slaugth
"The worm that walks has come for us all..."
- — Found carved into a bulkhead, Watchpost Hazeroth / Sentry-17. All Hands Lost: Attacker Unknown, 123.M40
The Slaugth are terrible and monstrous beings whose minds and bodies are utterly alien and who are rightly feared and reviled by Mankind. The Slaugth (known in some cases as the "Maggot Men," the "Dream Eaters," or the "Carrion Lords") are regarded by most that have heard of them as little more than a nightmarish myth -- Voidborn tales or the dark fancy of some mad Rogue Trader. The Inquisition, for its part, knows the race to be all too real, but have suppressed all knowledge under a blanket of secrecy for millennia. The Inquisition also knows what terrible desire motivates the Slaugth's contact with humanity -- the desire to feed. They are carrion eaters and crave the flesh of dead intelligent beings above all others, savouring in particular the cranial matter from which they seem to derive an almost narcotic and addictive pleasure in consuming. Some tales even go so far as to say that the Maggot Men somehow consume the memories and knowledge of their victims this way.
The history of Mankind's involvement with them is uncertain, but if some sources are to be believed, the species may have been encountered at the edges of what is now Imperial space as far back as the Age of Strife. Most encounters follow a similar pattern: black, tenebrous vessels slipping into Imperial space to wreak havoc, isolated outposts or shipping attacked without warning by a vastly superior and horrific foe, bodies left mutilated or missing all together, and vile technologies and blasphemous creations traded to depraved human Renegades in return for slaves and captives. Aside from what little can be gleaned from the historical record, the true nature and dangers the Slaugth represent are largely unknown to the Imperium, as are their origin and numbers. Some xeno-savants and Rogue Traders believe that their home system (and perhaps even a great hellish Slaugth empire), lies far out into the Trailing Halo Stars beyond the Imperium's borders. Sealed Inquisitorial archives speculate that several Frontier Worlds in the Segmentum Obscurus have, over the millennia, been purposefully destabilised and tipped into civil war by the Slaugth in order to give them free reign in which to feed. However, these have been rare occurrences and in any such encounter the number of Slaugth involved has been mercifully few, for the creatures themselves are savagely powerful combatants and nearly impossible to slay.
The Inquisitorial Ordos remain unaware of the Slaugth's involvement with the Amaranthine Syndicate and the threat it represents, although encounters with the Slaugth in the Calixis Sector have been spiking dramatically in the last several standard years. There are several reasons for this, not least of all the Slaugth's own abilities as infiltrators and puppeteers, and the degree to which they have already spread their network of agents in the sector. At present, the Inquisition has no expectation of the Slaugth being behind such a subtle and widespread conspiracy; they know them only as raiders and abductors -- extremely dangerous, but few in number and limited in scope. The Ordos, the Calixis Sector, and indeed the Imperium have been blindsided by this strange and subtle invasion. If its true nature is not soon uncovered, then billions of lives stand in dire peril.
Amaranthine Syndicate Members
The Amaranthine Syndicate's membership covers a range of different individuals and operations, from the trader crews and captains of the Syndicate's starships to its planet-bound merchant and smuggling contacts. The legal side of its operations involves everything from employed casual labour to scribes and interface pilots, while its criminal operations include mercenaries, hired guns, Hereteks, and street scum who deal their illicit cargo. Most of these individuals will have no dealings whatsoever with the Syndicate's Principals save for the most trusted and the most compromised:
- Amaranthine Agent - The Syndicate conducts its more important deals through skilled agents, usually groomed for the task and selected from the staff of minor merchant houses and sometimes even the Administratum. Such agents represent a charming (if often somewhat melancholic) human face for their faceless masters. Most having been ensnared by their own ambition and vanity, they are quite capable of leading others similarly astray and are utterly loyal to the Syndicate, if less than happy with their lot. They know full well who they work for and the price of failure.
- Amaranthine Captain - While the Syndicate's agents direct their negotiations and business affairs, it is the captains of its free trader vessels that are relied on to deal with more direct matters when needed. Most were dangerous, disreputable men and women long before their greed or piratical activities led them to the Syndicate's attention, and what little morality or compunctions they may once have had they can literally no longer afford if they want to live. There is nothing they will not do to maintain what freedom and power is allowed them -- and to avoid the Slaugth's personal attentions, of course.
In appearance, the Slaugth are truly horrific to look upon, taking the form of a vague humanoid shape composed of seemingly hundreds of writhing, half-melded maggot-like worms covered in viscous, necrotic mucus. Capable of stretching and reforming their body-mass at will, they move with an obscene, boneless fluidity and are capable of regenerating injury with startling speed. They are impervious to age, poison, diseases, and all but the most extreme injury. Their minds are as alien as any encountered by Mankind —- coldly savage, psychic voids filled with a monstrous hunger for the dead. Slaugth science and technology is likewise nightmarish and powerful, seamlessly melding the organic and inorganic to achieve its ends in a blasphemous symbiosis of form and function. The Slaugth seem capable of manufacturing strange techno-organic construct creatures of a bewildering variety, carrying out their master's wishes as need be. Slaugth weapons and artefacts are indeed so advanced and strange as to appear to be the products of Warpcraft to the uninitiated -- a fact that, coupled with their hideous appearance, has mislead some into believing them daemonic in nature.
- Slaugth Overseer - The Slaugth "Principals" behind the Amaranthine Syndicate are, if anything, more dangerous and powerful than those encountered as infiltrators. Whether they constitute some leadership caste or particular cabal remains unknown.
- Slaugth Vassal Construct - The vassal is a common biomechanical construct creature, animated by the Slaugth to tend devices and serve as menial labourers, guards, spies, or observers. Like most examples of Slaugth technology, its appearance inspires immediate revulsion in humanity. Though widely differing in appearance, most appear as hovering asymmetrical columns of mottled, fungal looking flesh, shot through with pulsing veins and lattices of metal threadwork and crystalline studs. Their heads are no more than clusters of waving, frond-like sensory growths, and skeletal pincer-limbs erupt from their body mass as needed.
Ordo Xenos Departmento Analyticus Threat Briefing
As far as the Ordo Xenos is concerned, the Amaranthine Syndicate, or possibly a faction within it, is under suspicion of the organised trafficking in proscribed xenos artefacts and perhaps more seriously of extensive links with human Renegades and pirates operating in the Hazeroth Abyss region. As a result, several Inquisitors (with the support and notice of Battlefleet Calixis' Hazeroth patrol squadrons) have begun to undertake the tracking and investigation of suspect individuals and voidcraft connected to the Syndicate. To date, the results remain inconclusive, although several smuggling rings and individual Xeno-heretics have been successfully prosecuted as a result of the Ordo Xenos' investigations. The matter is ongoing, and the Amaranthine Syndicate remains under covert surveillance and Inquisitorial suspicion. However, preliminary reports indicate that no wider conspiracy or xenos-taint exists beyond such localised corruption.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 75-81
- Dark Heresy: The Radical's Handbook (RPG), pg. 122