- "What harm can there be in the delight of knowing? In the joy of witnessing beauty or appreciating genius?"
- — Durlis Talin, Hive Infernis Prefect, burned for heresy 265.M41
The folly of Ateanism is a warning that it is not only the malign cultist who can bring on the storm of Chaos but also the follies of the weak, the vain, and the arrogant. Ateanism is a school of thought and a scholastic and artistic theory. It holds beauty and the pure achievement of the mind above all other goals and believes that at the heart of the drive to perfection and purity in any field lies a single magnificent truth.
To this end, Ateanists strive to use a set of formulae and processes that grant them a glimpse of the majesty of the truth that lies beneath all of man's greatest works. Sadly for these deluded fools, the revealed truth they seek is a lie wed to the powers of depravity and hubris that echo in the Warp. In applying their flawed and blasphemous patterns, Ateanists constantly court a blind dance with corruption, destruction, and damnation.
Ateanism is named for Ateanos, the damned founder of this school of thought. Ateanos was an archivist and scholar whose hubris would unleash a tradition that has violated souls without control since his death over two Terran centuries ago. Scholar, savant, archivist, and illuminator, Julius Ateanos was chief curator of the Library of Knowing on Fenksworld.
The echoing vaults of the Library were Ateanos' home, and its stacks of books, parchment rolls, and data stores were his beloved charges. Yet, for all his learning and intellect, Ateanos did not understand a fundamental truth -- that to be a curator of knowledge in the Imperium is to keep it contained and confined from those who should not have it. Had he treated the knowledge at his disposal with the suspicion of a gaoler, many souls might have been saved.
Ateanos' first steps to damnation were the fault of his own flawed character, his complete confidence in his own intellectual abilities, and his belief in the purity of intellectual endeavour. For solar decades he had pored over the works in his charge. He had read of great thinkers who had built the foundations of knowledge, been dazzled by the beauty of ancient Terran poets whose names are lost, and felt the tingle of illicit pleasure at secretly reading proscribed works in the dark watches of the night.
In his quest, Ateanos crossed the boundary of necessary knowledge. and in time he became not simply content to absorb the achievements of others and dreamed of being like the ancient champions of art and truth. This dream became Ateanos' warm and comforting companion in the grey drudgery of his mundane work, and it sustained him as he obeyed the orders of what he considered to be lesser men.
After long Terran years of discontent, he decided to follow his dream to fruition, and took a step into nightmare, not beauty. Perhaps inspired by fragments of the work of an ancient philosopher, Ateanos came to the conclusion that a complex but common property underpinned all great art, thought, and human expression. It was this unknown property expressed in the form and proportion of sculpture, the cadence of poetry, or the elegance of theory, he believed, that spoke to the depths of the soul and spurred humanity to achieve all that was great and admirable.
What was more, Ateanos was convinced that this property could be expressed and separated from those works of which it was the fundamental but hidden part. It would be perfection itself rendered to its supreme and absolute form. The means of revealing this property would be Ateanos' great gift to human knowledge. He fantasised about it as the making of his immortality and fame, and thus was the focus of a deep and secret obsession in the last solar decade of his life.
The Truth Revealed
Unfortunately, Ateanos had stumbled upon a truth, though not the truth that he expected. As he poured himself into his work, exploring obscure areas of knowledge and diverse disciplines, he was spurred on by glimpsed snatches of his glorious goal. Long after the departure of his underlings from the library, Ateanos laboured by failing lights, furtively musing over hidden works. He became a haggard figure, his eyes hooded by fatigue, his sight ruined by long secret solar hours of work. Finally, his labour was done and he basked in the warmth of a man close to having his life's work vindicated.
The product of his long labour was a strange formula written in symbols almost lost to human understanding. It was his key to the magnificence of things created by art and contemplation, for he was sure that the strange formulae would reveal the hidden property behind all truth and beauty. Perhaps, buried deep beneath his obsession, he knew what he had formulated in the symbols of dead men was something terrible, for he delayed the final proof of his work.
Instead he laid out all he had done in a secret journal and he laboured over rendering the Eris Transform, as he dubbed it, and the theoretical method of its applications onto the finest Terran vellum. Each page was a wonder of the illuminator's craft that gleamed with golf leaf, fractal-etched adamantine, and the deep hues of rare inks. Once all embellishment was done came a moment when Ateanos could delay the proof of his work no more. He began the first application of the Eris Transform. What Ateanos chose to first apply the Transform to remains unrecorded, but whether it was a renowned sculpture or the work of a long-dead poet, it had an effect more wondrous and terrible than Ateanos could have dreamed.
As the final stroke of the Transform's application was completed, the world changed around and within Julius Ateanos. A feeling of infinite doors of possibility opened to him, smothering his mind, and his being ran with an understanding of the untapped beauty of all things. He heard beautiful yet discordant sounds that made the soul ache and weep at their impossibility. He felt transported to a higher, more refined realm where things worked in different ways, and where experience of any kind was like gazing into a kaleidoscope in space and time from which he could not look away.
However, even as he reached this peak of rapture he felt the lie to his bliss and the cold greasy feeling of touching something monstrous and mocking. His surroundings blurred and flowed like wax, lithe faces leered from the corners of his sight, and the air became thick with the smell of sweet corruption overlaid with a thousand cloying scents. Ateanos records his final experiences in his journal in a crazed, shaking hand, writing at the last that something was coming for his soul.
The fate of this foolish genius is not known. A whispered tale exists amongst servants of the Ordos who chase the fragments of Ateanos' legacy that if one were to find the original manuscript of the Eris Transform, he would find in the illuminated margins a tiny robed figure, screaming. After Ateanos vanished, the manuscript of his rendered work was first recorded in his successor's papers and then swiftly disappeared amid scandal and a spate of mysterious deaths.
Meanwhile, his journal was discovered and seized by the Inquisition. Since then, the manuscript has spread in often-incomplete copies and fragments between the hands of Warp dabblers, jaded artists, and overweening scholars. The original has long been lost, and its damning power has been weakened by errors and omissions in inferior successors, but to those with sufficient faculties and learning, its application represents a blissful release from drudgery and mundane toil. To a scribe who labours over the copying of a book that will never be read or to the artist who's imaginative reach goes beyond the grasp of their talent, Ateanism represents the possibility of beauty, bliss, and rapture.
Ateanists are often desperate or jaded people who seek out and apply its proscribed formulae compulsively to all manner of subjects in the hope of being granted a moment of pure perfection. Many never experience what they crave, their application or copy of the Eris Transform being in some way imperfect or incomplete. Some unfortunately do receive what they desire, and from that moment forward they are compelled to repeat the process by an infernal addiction more powerful than that inflicted by any chemical.
Eris Transform and its Application
A practitioner of Ateanism is chiefly concerned with the application of the Eris Transform to works of art and intellect, such as a work of literature or music. To have any use, however, the would-be Ateanist also requires the connected methodology -- a cipher which is made up of a mass of strange translation tables as well as geometrical and occult diagrams of equivalence. These elements can appear together or separately and occur in many forms, from scrolls to encoded data slates. Many works also contain additional notes by previous users and commentaries on the exact method of application.
Ateanism is not a unified movement but a chain of individuals and small groups linked only by the passing of copies of the Eris Transform. Those copies and the lore that passes with them are of variable quality, and many do not work at all or will only work with the most imaginative handling. The quirks of practice that have crept into Ateanism over the centuries (over what it should be applied to, in what circumstances, the use of mirrors, special accompaniments, and so on) have even led to schism and murder between its followers.
Almost all Ateanists are ignorant of the daemonic influence they open themselves to by their acts, as if some external force was preventing those involved from discovering the truth (which may, in fact, be the case). Instead, most think of Ateanism as the pursuit of truth and beauty in a universe of drab repetition and crushing, philistine dogma.
Pawns of the Dark Prince
Ateanists have a tendency to be a mix of bookish scholars, tortured artists, and disenchanted scribes. Occasionally their ranks will be joined by art-obsessed nobles and magnates as well as other deluded visionaries. Unfortunately, the troubles they can let loose run to a variety of hellish and depraved monstrosities:
- Fiends of Rapture - Spawned of seductive nightmares and obscenities too dreadful to contemplate, Fiends of Rapture are bizarre beasts that move with a terrible speed and sickening suppleness. They are shifting, lascivious things somewhere between woman and man, equine and insect. Their long tails are tipped with a sting like a scorpion's that grants the most exquisite of deaths, while their sinuous claws gently click together in anticipation of their victim's embrace. These fiends are surrounded by a cloud of cloying musk that overwhelms the senses of those who taste it, stupefying the mind, and many who encounter these infernal beings die walking willingly to their end.
Ordo Malleus Departmento Analyticus Threat Briefing
The Inquisition knows of Ateanism, it knows its threat, and it knows how it spreads. This knowledge has not stopped Ateanism being one of the most subtle and persistent problems faced by the Ordo Malleus in the Calixis Sector. There have been 87 recorded incidents relating to the use of the Eris Transform in the centuries since Ateanos' disappearance.
Since Ateanism is not a true Chaos Cult in the common sense, it is even more resistant to purging and is incredibly difficult to uproot. All that is needed for Ateanism to continue to exist is for copies of the Eris Transform to change hands between deluded and willing fools.
These copies are often made by hand and so preventing their production is almost impossible, which is not to say the Inquisition is any less resolute in trying. Like the most endemic of weeds, Ateanism is a constant problem for the Holy Ordos that can bear the most horrific fruit, and though its adherents are often little more than pompous, deluded fools, their actions can have dire consequences. Therefore, they are shown no mercy.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 132-133, 135-136