"Ever has Mankind sought solace in the alignment of the stars. How foolish ... how pathetically foolish..."The Dark Pattern is a pattern of Dead Worlds in the Jericho Reach that has long concerned the Deathwatch and their Ordo Xenos masters.
- —Adept Orbo, xenoarchaeologist attached to the staff of Lord Commander Ebongrave
This celestial phenomenon may very well have led to the instigation of the Long Watch in the Reach long before the coming of the Achilus Crusade.
The phenomenon is variably described as a web of death, of Dead Worlds torn from their celestial procession as if to array themselves in the heavens according to some entirely unnatural configuration.
Other sources claim these barren worlds are host to elements that should not exist in such places, or have known the tread of xenos species that existed long before the birth of Humanity and should long ago have faded from the ken of mortals.
There have been numerous attempts to scry the identity of the creators of the Dark Pattern, and in this several species have been implicated, as have Humans serving the fell denizens of the Warp. Of those potential non-Human candidates, the Necrons have been implicated in several sources, though never conclusively.
One of the sources that links the Necrons quite emphatically to the Dark Pattern is known as the Derleth Lexicon, and if but a fraction of the claims it contains are true, the Jericho Reach is already standing at the very brink of a calamity of truly stellar magnitude.
The matter of the Derleth Lexicon first came to light a decade ago in the early ninth century of the 41st Millennium, when the Omega Vault at the heart of Watch Fortress Erioch unsealed itself in a most extraordinary manner.
Many openings of the vault are in some way predictable, with Librarians and other psykers present in the watch fortress at the time receiving some form of premonition or at least an inkling that some portentous event is about to occur. In the case of this particular opening, no such warnings were received.
Indeed, the local region of the Warp was noted as especially still, though, later on, this fact would be used to retrospectively identify that something was indeed amiss.
It was in the depths of watch secondus and the majority of the fortress was silent and still. Whether by coincidence or unseen design, an unusual number of Kill-teams were absent, having been deployed on a range of pressing missions the length and breadth of the Jericho Reach.
Watch Captain Brand Mac Lir, a formidable and experienced Veteran from the Storm Wardens Chapter, had the watch when, with no warning at all, the fortress' defence grid came to maximum alert and warned of an imminent assault by an as yet unidentified foe.
Brand instigated a full response, and those Battle-Brothers present on the fortress mustered for what the wailing klaxons promised to be an attack of unprecedented scale. As automated defence turrets swept the darkness for any sign of a target, the Kill-teams armed themselves and swore that, should they fall, the watch fortress would be denied to their enemy.
So overwhelming was the scale of the alert that Brand was forced by long codified protocol to unseal the outer wards of the fortress' Plasma Reactor containment shields so that in the event of enemy victory the entire station might be destroyed, along with all of its terrible secrets.
Then, just as suddenly as it began, the alert was ended. Furious, Watch Captain Brand ordered an immediate investigation into what had triggered it, unable and unwilling to accept that the Deathwatch's defence grid had been triggered in error.
Of course, the alternative was just as terrible to consider, for if an enemy had been so near to breaching the Deathwatch's defences, it had come closer than any ever had and survived.
In addition to ordering his Techmarines to conduct a full audit of the fortress' defence augurs, Brand set every available Battle-Brother and Chapter Serf to a complete search of the Deathwatch's space-borne citadel. No corner was left in shadow, and chambers and passageways not unsealed in long centuries knew the unfamiliar tread of the station's inhabitants.
The possibility that something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, might have slipped through the Deathwatch's defences was simply too dreadful to contemplate, and with so many souls scouring the watch fortress it was not long before something was indeed discovered.
The portal to the Omega Vault was found open, an eerie, actinic glow emanating from its silent depths. It was Watch Captain Brand himself that passed into the vault to recover the latest of its mysteries, for surely the activation of the fortress's defences at the moment of its opening could be no coincidence.
That mystery proved to be a simple book bound in withered leather, a tome that would in time become known as the Derleth Lexicon after the individual identified as its compiler.
A Cosmic Horror
So portentous were the circumstances of the appearance of the Derleth Lexicon that it was decided immediately that only the most learned of scholars and strongest of minds should attempt to scry its secrets, and then only under the strictest of precautions.
The Dead Cabal took an immediate interest in the tome, and so it is this secretive brotherhood that has come to serve as the sole custodian within the Deathwatch and the Ordo Xenos of the terrible claims found to lurk within. It is not known if any outside of the Dead Cabal know of the Lexicon 's contents, though given their nature, it must be assumed that some do.
The writer of the Lexicon appeared to be a man of an age long, long passed, and one in possession of unutterably dark wisdom he felt compelled to consign to future generations. Whether this individual was mad or genuinely blessed of a unique perspective on the events of the far future will in all likelihood never be known.
The very fact that his collected writings came to be interred within the Omega Vault must surely mark them out as uniquely portentous. It was this fact alone that led the Dead Cabal to take the contents of the Derleth Lexicon very seriously indeed.
The Derleth Lexicon is a description written in ages past of a region of space that most members of the Dead Cabal are certain to be the Jericho Reach.
Though it speaks in riddle and allegory, the list seems to refer to the alignment of various star systems and other stellar phenomena that bear a startling, though not total, resemblance to key systems and locations within the region guarded by the Deathwatch.
The text speaks of "men of metal," and "men of stone," and a great war between beings birthed in the outer darkness at the very dawn of creation.
It speaks of a time of awakening triggered by the alignment of certain distant stars, and of a cataclysmic release of power that will mask the heralds of the end of all things even as it sweeps away the "watchers." After years of study, these riddles have rendered up several potential interpretations, the direst of which is as follows.
The "men of metal," who most agree can only be the Necrons, are described by the Lexicon as emerging from a timeless slumber in cold tombs scattered across the stars.
The "crippled king" -- surely a phaeron -- of the men of metal is the architect of a great scheme, for he long ago foresaw that upon his own awakening a mighty font of power would be unleashed, and this would be visible to all who stood vigil.
In order to dissipate this release and thus maintain his secrecy, the crippled king built a vast network of arcane nodes, his intention being that when he and all of his legions are fully awakened, the power that will mark his arrival will be unleashed through the network.
The crippled king's capital will remain hidden, because the power unleashed by its awakening will surge forth from a hundred valves and in so doing overwhelm all.
If it is indeed true that, as the Derleth Lexicon asserts, the Dark Pattern represents a network of worlds that will each be utterly destroyed by the raw release of energy of a hidden Necron capital awakening, then the current wars of the Jericho Reach must surely pale into utter insignificance compared to the devastation soon to befall the region.
Scarce Ordo Xenos data confirms that when a Necron Tomb World fully awakens, such a staggering amount of energy is unleashed that those suitably equipped to detect such things can do so from many light years in all directions. Such a method of dispersal as the Lexicon hints at would certainly blind any watchers to the Tomb World's location and make a response impossible.
Of late, the Deathwatch has fought more and more battles against the Necrons, and so those of the Dead Cabal concerned with the interpretation of the Derleth Lexicon grow ever more certain that the time of awakening is at hand.
They have placed great store in identifying each of the supposed nodes in the Dark Pattern, so that they can at least prepare for a time when those worlds might be destroyed.
It can surely be no coincidence that many of the worlds of the Dark Pattern are already well and truly under the scrutiny of the Deathwatch, a fact that serves to many to confirm the awful accuracy of the dreadful text.
The Final Executable
The fact that the Dead Cabal has gleaned as much information as it has from the Derleth Lexicon is both miraculous and tragic, yet several of its members note disturbing irregularities within the text when compared to events unfolding in the Outer Reach.
It is almost as if, some claim, the impossible scheme of the "crippled king" is not proceeding to plan. For one thing, not all of the stars mentioned in the Lexicon are anywhere near the position it states they should be, and the difference cannot be accounted for by the celestial procession that has occurred over the millennia since the tome was written.
In particular, a number of systems within a dozen or so light years of the Black Reef are noticeably out of alignment, giving rise to the possibility that the gravitic storms afflicting this region are exerting a far wider and more powerful influence upon nearby stellar bodies than was previously imagined.
In addition to these discrepancies, the Dead Cabal has noted the fact that the Necrons themselves do not appear to be acting entirely according to the predictions of the Derleth Lexicon. While some might regard this as beneficial, others point out that the truth might be far darker.
These claim that the Necrons are following only part of the plan because whatever guiding intelligence is at work is not itself party to the entire truth. If the so-called crippled king is the phaeron of the Necrons of the Jericho Reach, then perhaps he is not in full command of his dynasty's activities.
Perhaps another is in command, but not fully so, they assert. Perhaps then, Humanity has but a small window of opportunity in which to act against the dread alignments of the Dark Pattern. Perhaps the Jericho Reach is at present frozen in a single moment, its fate as yet undecided, its doom held in check by equal and opposing forces of a truly cosmic order.
In this matter, the Derleth Lexicon offers one last, obscure warning. Locked in the blasted mind of the slumbering crippled king, the writer warns, is the final executable, the last line of a command order that, when parsed, will break the deadlock and bring into alignment the final elements of the Dark Pattern.
When that happens, the Lexicon warns, all hope is truly lost, unless the words of a blind prophet unborn when the Lexicon itself was penned are heeded. That prophet was the venerated Satarrion, who in 744.M33 offered his dire prognostication:
"To the east of the Emperor's realms lie damned worlds, a reach of cold stars and domains of death. The fires of war shall light these benighted planets, some ignited with faith, others devoured by darkness. Foes strike from within and without, all ignorant of the Dark Patterns waiting to arise and destroy until nothing remains but oblivion. Only those who stand watch in the depths of night may tip the balance."
Over the millennia, many within the Deathwatch have devoted their time and resources to studying the Dark Pattern. What this strange sequence is and what it represents remains a mystery to this day and is a matter of great speculation and debate.
The Dead Cabal has postulated a number of theories to their superiors since their emergence, but whether they are correct or not is yet undetermined.
Still, to most involved with the Deathwatch, it is a collection of worlds across the Jericho Reach identified by various Inquisitors and Deathwatch battle-brothers to have remnants of ancient xenos traces on them in some form.
The placement of these worlds forms an indecipherable sigil across space and time. Why the worlds of the Dark Pattern were chosen continues to confound all who investigate it. Some of the more widely known theories amongst the Dead Cabal include the following.
Theory 1: The Lairs of the Ancients
The theory concerning the Dark Pattern to gain the most attention claims that the worlds on the path are part of an ancient Necron empire.
Even though the planets involved have been heavily scanned and explored with nothing found, many believe the advanced sciences of the soulless empire hide their presence.
Obviously there cannot be huge repositories of Necron Warriors on all these planets no matter how well they are hidden, so the worlds must serve another purpose to the soulless ones.
Knight-Captain Alric of the Dead Cabal insists that the worlds are part of a massive energy matrix that will be activated to fuel the Necrons' awakening. Others amongst the Dead Cabal have discounted his theory, yet the Black Shield doggedly maintains it.
Theory 2: The Dark Gateway
A second theory postulates the worlds of the Dark Pattern to be a doorway to another time and place. The Prognosticator Rennin Tri'el believes that his research proves these worlds are an ancient precursor of the mysterious Aeldari Webway.
Perhaps the Aeldari used these worlds to test the earliest form of the Webway before perfecting it. He has found traces of long dead devices on these worlds that he believes can access the Webway to this day.
If this theory should prove correct, it would provide the Imperium an advantage in its war against the Aeldari unlike anything it has known before.
Theory 3: The First Ones
Another theory is put forth by a Dead Cabal Techmarine. Xerill of the Iron Hands claims that the worlds of the Dark Pattern could be massive genetic laboratories that were created by a long-lost alien race that ruled over much of the galaxy aeons ago.
According to this possibility, these worlds were linked together as a series of outposts and research stations, which developed new races and species for these ancient ones to use in their wars of conquest across the galaxy.
When the empire failed, these worlds were scoured of all traces of technology and life to safeguard their last remaining strongholds.
Others amongst the Dead Cabal put very little stock in this theory and claim that traces of other ancient civilisations elsewhere provide proof that these beings were not active in this part of the galaxy.
Still, Xerill supports this possibility and searches for any ties to this lost race in their exploration of the Reach.
Theory 4: A Growing Stain
After witnessing an outburst of prophecy from the girl who would later become known as Saint Silexia, Watch Captain Mathias has begun to believe that he himself is somehow tied to the events that will lead to an expansion of the Hadex Anomaly, plunging countless planets into chaos, darkness, and despair.
What part he is to play in these events, he does not yet know.
These are just a few of the ideas that have been put forth by the Dead Cabal. In the past, some theories have risen to prominence only to be completely disproved years later through new discoveries.
Each cell of battle-brothers taking the Dead Stations Vigil continues to gather information and test their theories, all hoping to be the group that finally unlocks the great secret of the Dark Pattern.
- Deathwatch: The Outer Reach (RPG), pp. 7-10, 108-109