An athame was a unique ritualistic dagger made from crude metal or flint that was blessed by the Dark Gods and possessed the ability to alter the very fabric of reality. Eight athames were utilised by the Word Bearers Traitor Legion during the Battle of Calth in the opening days of the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium.
These eight daggers were esoteric weapons crafted from shards of the daemonic Anathame that had mortally wounded the Warmaster Horus on the plague moon of Davin and had facilitated his conversion to the service of Chaos in the Temple of the Serpent Lodge. Athames possessed special properties that enabled them to rend the skein of reality, allowing the wielder to step through the Immaterium and cross vast distances in realspace, whether aboard a vessel traveling through the Warp, or even onto another planet in the galaxy.
Unknown to Erebus, the athames could even allow their users to travel multiple millennia back in time. Several of the XVII Legion's mortal Chaos Cultists on the surface of Calth also utilised ritualistic weapons known as athames, though these were rather small, mundane versions of the weapon, which was made out of flint or crude metal. Blessed by the Dark Apostles themselves, these daggers were considered a mark of high status within the ranks of both the XVII Legion and its allied Chaos Cults.
The whereabouts of the eight true athames following the Battle of Calth is unknown, although one athame is believed to have been used by the Inquisition during the Pandorax Campaign's Battle of Pythos to seal the Damnation Cache, and another, known as the Shard of Erebus, may have been wielded by Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, to slay the Daemon Prince M'kar during the Invasion of Ultramar in 999.M41.
Battle of Calth
To further the cause of Horus' rebellion, the Word Bearers' First Chaplain Erebus had interpreted the will of the Chaos Gods and devised the means to achieve his lofty goals. The Dark Apostle took the Kinebrach Anathame, the daemonic blade that had mortally wounded Horus and begun his corruption by the Chaos Gods in the Temple of the Serpent Lodge, and prepared to perform an ancient ritual. Within his personal chambers aboard his flagship, the Destiny's Hand, Erebus presented the sword to the statues of the four Ruinous Powers, calling out prayers and incantations, saluting the dread lords of the Warp, each in turn. He had the doors to this chamber barred and his bodyguards standing watch outside. Cowled artisans stood ready at the Dark Apostle's side -- Guldire, chief among Erebus' Warpsmiths, shadowed by his foremost apprentices. Though it seemed a sacrilege to the Ruinous Powers to do what he intended, he knew the weapon had already served its purpose -- in its original form, at least.
Utilising a rune-inscribed hammer from an apprentice Warpsmith, Erebus brought the hammer's head down and began to reforge the baleful weapon into its new forms. With each dolorous hammer blow, the Dark Apostle was able to break off a finger-length sliver of the blade's weird alloys. Though diminished, the Anathame was yet whole. Seven more times did Erebus break the dark blade; seven more shards were commended to his Warpsmiths, until finally he was done. The shards had been knapped from the blade by his own hand, in accordance with the old rituals. Then they were grown in the blood of the Neverborn, and fashioned into fine, dagger-like implements -- each alike, but no two exactly the same. The fracturing of the Anathame was but the first step down a longer path. The diminished blade would be disposed of as the Dark Apostle had originally been instructed.
Six daggers were forged from the metal taken from the Anathame for those Word Bearers officers who would lead the assault against the Ultramarines Legion on Calth during the Horus Heresy; Dark Cardinal Kor Phaeron, Chief Librarian-Sorcerer Quor Vondar, Phael Rabor, Morpal Cxir, Foedral Fell, and Hol Beloth. The seventh was to be carried by Sergeant Kolos Undil, the leader of Erebus' cadre of bodyguards. The eighth and final dagger was forged for Erebus himself.
Each of these servants of the Dark Gods could feel the untapped power that emanated from the dark blades. These were no mere ritual athames like those wielded by mortal Chaos Cultists, but true tools of the gods. Although all the blades were similar -- hilts bound in black leather or wire, marked with golden runes and tied with devotional ribbon -- the blades were all markedly different. Crooked, or straight, one forked, another with waved edges. All were, however, of the same flinty black metal that pained the eyes. Though initially insulted that the bearer of one of these daggers was a mere sergeant, Erebus assured his fellow Word Bearers that Undil's possession of one would not diminish the potency of the rest, nor the honour in carrying one. Undil was a renowned warrior within the XVII Legion, as devout in his service to the Dark Gods as his master and almost as devious.
Erebus informed the bearers of the athames that the blades were gifts of the gods. They possessed the power to shield the wielder from harm, or to aid him in the working of great sorceries. However, these esoteric weapons were dependent on the ability of he who carried them. These athames were not merely ritual tokens, but tools of enlightenment. A wound from one of them could turn the mightiest Loyalist hero to the Traitors' cause, opening their eyes to the majesty of Chaos and the perfidy of the Emperor.
These eight so-called Shards of Erebus also offered Erebus' fellow commanders the opportunity to escape from Calth if the battle turned against them, though this additional property of the blades was unimportant to him. Whether or not the others would learn how to effect flight through the Immaterium using the artefacts should they need it was something he would leave to the will of the gods.
During the Battle of Calth, the Ultramarines 4th Company, under the command of Captain Remus Ventanus, converged on the fortress of Leptius Numinus. The Loyalists were able to power up the palace's data-engine and Vox assembly in order to contact other possible surviving Ultramarines, Imperial Army or Loyalist Mechanicum forces. Ventanus eventually established short-range communications with other besieged Ultramarines units. His situation was not unique. All of the Ultramarines on Calth's surface found themselves mired in the same predicament following the treacherous surprise assault of the Word Bearers Legion.
Soon a large horde of Traitor forces commanded by the XVII Legion's Commander Morpal Cxir encircled the palace and launched an attack against its small group of valiant defenders. Terrible carnage was inflicted upon the Loyalist defenders by packs of horrific daemons summoned from the Empyrean as they punched through any breaks within the Loyalist defensive line. In the midst of the ensuing battle, Captain Ventanus unintentionally utilised the athame he had taken from Morpal Cxir in an earlier skirmish, and defeated the daemon Samus with it. At the time he had no other weapon at hand, and he was amazed by the crude blade's lethal potency against such a powerful adversary. When his sergeant, Kiuz Selaton, suggested gathering other such similar blades from the fallen Word Bearers and their human servants to utilise against the hordes of daemons that now ravaged Calth's surface, Ventanus wisely refused, fearful that the weapons could be used as a source of Warp corruption. But he did keep the athame he had used and placed it safely in in his belt.
Criol Fowst, a human "officer" of the Word Bearers-allied Chaos Cult called the Brotherhood of the Knife, also possessed an athame gifted to him by his patron in the Word Bearers, Arune Xen. Fowst used his athame to sacrifice victims as part of the Word Bearers' summoning ritual for the Ruinstorm on the surface of Calth. He considered it his most treasured possession, and was enraged when he lost it to Ollanius Persson, a Perpetual and former Imperial Army soldier who had retired to civilian life on Calth but became caught up in the violent events of the battle. Persson later used this athame to cut a rift into the Immaterium that allowed him and a small group of survivors to escape the poisoning of Calth's atmosphere by the Word Bearers.
At the climax of the Battle of Calth, the Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman personally led his Suzerain Invictarus and whatever supporting Ultramarines forces he could muster to assault an orbital platform circling Calth controlled by Kor Phaeron and his elite guard. The Dark Cardinal and his warriors each carried an athame.
When confronted by the Primarch in personal battle, the Dark Cardinal was able to stun Guilliman utilising the fell powers granted to him by the Chaos Gods. Rendering him temporarily helpless, instead of killing the Primarch, Kor Phaeron toyed with the idea of using his athame 's innate abilities in an attempt to turn Guilliman to the Traitors' cause, as Erebus had already done with Horus.
Though he held the blade to the Primarch's throat, piercing Guilliman's flesh, Erebus was unable to strike a fatal blow. Guilliman proved able to resist the dark influence of the malefic blade and launched a lethal counterattack of his own, impaling Kor Phaeron through the chest with his inert Lightning Claws. This mortal blow forced the Dark Cardinal and the Word Bearers to retreat, giving the Ultramarines their first window of opportunity to ultimately strike back at the Traitors and retake control of Calth's planetary defences.
After the Word Bearers' initial assault on Calth was defeated, but the remaining Ultramarines and Word Bearers forces on the world's surface retreated into the underground manufactoria caverns to escape the poisoning of Calth's sun, the battle continued in subterranean form for several more Terran years. During this so-called "Underworld War" Captain Remus Ventanus came into possession of another of the original eight athame when he slew the Word Bearer officer Hol Beloth with his own athame.
Shard of Erebus
Ten thousand standard years after the Battle of Calth, in early 999.M41 during the Invasion of Ultramar, Marneus Calgar, the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, killed the Daemon Prince M'kar with the athame that Captain Uriel Ventris of the Ultramarines 4th Company had retrieved from Captain Ventanus' tomb.
The Daemon Prince recognised the knife as a "Shard of Erebus" and was frightened by its power. This dagger was likely the same athame that Ventanus had taken from Hol Beloth, though it could also have been the first athame that Ventanus had taken from Morpal Cxir and used to banish the daemon Samus early in the Battle of Calth.
In the late 41st Millennium, an agent of the Inquisition's Ordo Malleus stole an athame from a museum on a T'au Sept world; the T'au, knowing little of Chaos, had mistaken it for a crude flint knife. They displayed it as proof of how little the gue'la had changed over such a long history and how technically backwards Mankind was compared to the rapidly advancing T'au Empire. The T'au had no idea of the dagger's special properties.
When trapped by a team of Fire Warriors after seizing the artefact, the agent used the dagger to open a rift into the Immaterium and escape. This blade was later used by the Inquisition during the Pandorax Campaign's Battle of Pythos to seal the Damnation Cache, a stable portal into the Warp that could be used as a source of daemonic invasion in Abaddon the Despoiler's soon-to-be unleashed 13th Black Crusade.
- Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett, pp. 58, 93, 200, 259, 294-295, 299, 305, 310
- Mark of Calth (Anthology) edited by Laurie Goulding, "The Shards of Erebus" by Guy Haley, pp. 8-23
- The Chapter's Due (Novel) by Graham McNeill, pp. 313-315
- Macragge's Honour (Graphic Novel) by Dan Abnett and Neil Roberts
- Perpetual (Audio Drama) by Dan Abnett
- Pandorax (Novel) by C.Z. Dunne