- "Beyond those forbidden heights, gated and bound by bonds that man should never break, waits a throne that gods would fear to take."
- —Note found in the personal documents of Renegade Inquisitor Erya Nephthys
Halo Devices, or Halo Artefacts, have been known to select Arch-heretics, recidivists, and the Holy Ordos of the Inquisition for millennia, ever since renowned Explorators and Rogue Traders of antiquity returned from the Halo Stars bearing these devices, along with tales of corpse stars and disturbing pict-records of dead Xenos Worlds.
These Artefacts defy analysis by tech-augury and are nearly impervious to age and harm. The corrupt amongst the Imperial masses long ago discovered that, through dark transformation of body and mind, some of these xenos devices can grant life eternal. The body is restored to youth and the passage of years no longer weakens the flesh. Other Halo Artefacts were found to possess stranger and greater powers, their unholy potency behind the rise of a number of infamous Arch-heretics.
As standard centuries passed, the Artefacts were sought by masters of the occult and became legends amongst the power-hungry, associated with dire heresy and corruption. Nonetheless, perhaps a few score Artefacts have changed hands for vast sums since the Calixis Sector came into being, and the opening of the Koronus Expanse in the 41st Millennium has added to their number.
As far as can be ascertained, the first discovery of a Halo Device on the edges of what would one day be called the Calixis Sector was made by the Explorator Archmagos Khronus in the late years of the 36th Millennium, although apocryphal tales of dangerous and accursed xenos artefacts of a similar vein originated in the area millennia before. Despite analysis, the terrible properties of the seemingly mundane relics discovered by Khronus remained undiscovered.
For these horrors to emerge, a Halo Device would have to fall into less scrupulous hands. It is believed that one did after Khronus' fleet returned many solar decades later to its base on the Forge World of Stragos where an incident occurred whose details have been long suppressed by the Adeptus Mechanicus. Whatever events transpired on Stragos resulted in the devices being identified and condemned by both the Ordo Xenos and the Machine Cult, and the lives off all those involved with Halo Devices remain forfeit within the Imperium.
The threat posed by Halo Devices was known when Lord Militant Angevin began his Crusade and members and servants of the Ordo Xenos travelled in his wake seeking signs of their corrupting presence. It is even thought that some amongst the Crusade's greatest enemies used Halo Devices. That some of these enemies may yet live in secret, preserved by this blasphemous technology, is a terrible prospect that troubles the Holy Ordos to this day.
The Inquisition, for its part, has watched the sectors around the Halo Stars for signs of this trade and the Artefacts' malign influence for centuries, hunting for those who traffic in the Halo Devices and mercilessly destroying those who have come into contact with them. Dedicated cells of Acolytes have spent their entire careers researching and hunting out Halo Devices. Congregations of Inquisitors have been created and have died in the war against these malign gifts from the Halo Stars' past.
The Sinophian Prosecution
Concrete evidence of the effects of the Halo Devices is frustratingly rare, but the earliest confirmed instance of conflict with the Artefacts came on what was then the Frontier World of Sinophia Magna, some hundred Terran years before Angevin's Crusade. During what is named in official Ordos sources as the Sinophian Prosecution, Lord Inquisitor Ozymandias Ruthven destroyed the Heretic scion of a great and wealthy mercantile house of Sinophia. The Heretic's name was judged to be so reviled that it has been expunged from all records. The Arch-heretic, whose influence ran through the Segmentum Obscurus even to the borders of Segmentum Solar itself, was said to be possessed of unnatural powers and could not die. The Inquisition, of course, begged to differ...
The crimes and secret atrocities committed by this foe of Mankind and his kin were so grievous as to merit execution not only for himself and his close associates but also for all of his house and its vassals. It became clear during this prosecution that the Heretic was not, as first suspected, a daemon-worshiper, warped mutant, or witch. Rather, the Heretic's body was a hideous fusion of polluted human flesh and a xenological artefact that had become so much a part of him that the Heretic and artefact were indivisible. It is recorded in one apocryphal source that Ozymandias hurled his bound enemy into the heart of Sinophia's sun, destroying him utterly.
The Origins and Nature of the Halo Devices
Halo Devices are so named because they come from worlds within the volume of space known as the Halo Stars -- a dangerous and ill-omened region that is bordered by several barbarous voids of space as well as a number of Imperial sectors including Scarus and Calixis. The worlds from which Halo Devices come are truly ancient and utterly lifeless, orbiting dead stars which must have burned their brightest many thousands of Terran millennia ago. That such worlds once were part of some antediluvian and now long dead civilisation is a fact generally agreed upon by xeno-arcanists and Rogue Traders, but just what the creatures from this civilisation were or how they passed into extinction is a question that has never been answered.
All that may be surmised about these creatures comes from the one legacy they left behind -- the artefacts referred to as Halo Devices. From these, it can be surmised that the makers of the Halo Devices had highly developed technology and a great understanding of physical matter and biological processes far in advance of perhaps any other known race or science. Whether the effects of these devices on human tissue is deliberate or not is unclear; if they were deliberate, it would indicate a callous genius as well as a farsighted malignancy. If the effects of the devices are accidental, it speaks of a terrifying power that could cause such a by-product unrelated to their true purpose.
Usually found buried in the decayed basalt biers and shattered cyclopean ruins of their maker's civilisation -- long rendered into anonymity by the erosion of ages -- the Halo Devices themselves are always inexplicably untouched by the effects of time. Halo Devices come in many forms, from smooth carbuncular talismans to strange miniature trilobite-like fossil curios and sinister orbs with fluid and glossy surfaces. All share a strange metallic feel, defy analysis by Auspex or other scanners, and are nearly impervious to harm. Indeed any force sufficient to breach one will also destroy it, making any such act worthless. All that is known of their effects are half-truths and stories passed down across the millennia. In fact, there are as many strange and unreliable fragments of lore surrounding them as there are different forms to the devices themselves.
Given the proscribed nature of Halo Devices, it is unsurprising that rumour and supposition persist as to their powers and use. The truth, however, is that the devices will indeed grant their possessor what he seeks -- youth, vigour, and undying power, but in such a manner only the most deranged would choose. Over time, the devices become part of their possessor's body and mind, changing him according to alien inclinations and subjugating him to strange thirsts. The life of a possessor of a Halo Device becomes less his own and more that of the device itself.
The Temptation of Immortality
Those few who covet Halo Devices have a simple but terrible motivation for their desire -- the youth and eternal vigour bestowed by them. Rejuvenat treatments, sanguinary cleansing, and other techno-biological rituals can only preserve human life so far. Even solutions to extreme age such as full augmetic conversion and life support offer at best a poisoned chalice for those that take them up.
Rather than undergo the indignities of infirmity and the ultimate truth of their own demise, some who desire freedom from the cruel touch of time seek other, more desperate measures. For some, the Ruinous Powers await with their own lies and empty promises. However, this path is as uncertain as it is filled with caprice and danger to body and soul. Others, rich, ruthless, and sufficiently well-connected, may seek other means, turning to the half-rumoured mysteries of ancient human science and the works of the alien for salvation.
Fortunately, concrete knowledge of the existence of Halo Devices is rare and the means to obtain one even rarer yet. Only the wealthiest and most powerful seekers of eternal life in the sectors that border the Halo Stars are able to pursue these forbidden devices. Once they have obtained such a thing, they soon find that they have new purposes to occupy them -- first, concealing the crime that they have committed simply by possessing one, and, over time, concealing the side effects of the device's gifts.
The price they pay for their immortality is ultimately everything they have and everything they are as they spiral slowly down a path of contamination, corruption, and madness. Over time, most will be forced into the life of the recluse in order to survive, attended by a few loyal or terrified servants, and ultimately must pass the millennia hunted and shunned by their fellow man and at the mercy of alien thirsts and ancient nightmares.
Halo Devices will begin to bond with and change any person who has prolonged contact (over several solar days or weeks) with them; this contact may be as simple as wearing the device as a piece of jewellery or keeping it in a pocket. However, embedding the device in an open wound may well speed up this process dramatically. Once the device bonds with the user, it begins to alter them. This process of change moves through three phases: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Once a person is into the Primary Phase there is no turning back, and they will eventually pass to the Secondary and Tertiary Phases unless they are destroyed.
Halo Devices require the flesh of a host, and if kept in contact with flesh, they will bond with it and, over time, change that flesh to suit their purposes. Halo Devices do have a purpose, corrupted by eons as it might be, and it is to transform the mind and body of those they bond with towards some dark and terrible configuration.
As a person bonded to a Halo Device moves through each phase, various traits and other effects are applied to him as detailed below:
Primary Phase (Once bonded to the device)
Within a short span of time, ranging from a few solar weeks to a matter of solar hours in rare instances, the device becomes fully physically bonded with the user's flesh. The user rejuvenates so that he is in the peak of youth and health. Any physical diseases, deformities, minor mutations, or other long-term medical conditions that he was suffering from are negated. Any part of the user's body that has been lost re-grows during this phase (albeit slowly and painfully), his senses become superbly attuned, he moves with an unnatural grace, and he shrugs off all but the most grievous wounds.
Even as his body changes, the user's mind begins to break; he increasingly discovers that he finds no pleasure in normal sensory stimuli (food will taste ashen, etc.) and he suffers from violent mood swings. As time progresses, he learns that he no longer requires sleep -- except for a few comatose hours every few solar days during which he suffers fierce phantasmagorical dreams of alien vistas and strange cities beneath mysterious stars.
Secondary Phase (After several years of contact)
Over time, the device insinuates itself completely into the user's body and becomes partially absorbed in the cellular makeup of the body itself, with the initial contact covered over by skin and scar tissue. The area where the device bonded to the flesh begins to change, becoming mottled and tough like the exoskeleton of an insect or becoming desiccated and cold like that of an embalmed corpse.
The body of the user heals almost any damage (given time) and is inhumanly fast, strong, and resilient. He no longer sleeps, eats, or drinks normal food, but as he slips further into madness, he develops strange addictions and insatiable hungers that he must regularly indulge or grow increasingly unstable and sickly.
These addictions often include spending long periods in total darkness or immersion in solar radiation, and the hungers are often for substances like human tissue -- such as blood, flesh, and cranial fluid. The user also finds that he has memories of strange alien civilisations, languages, and scripts meshing with his own and may lose large chunks of his own memories.
Tertiary Phase (After solar decades of contact or resurrection)
There is no longer any separation between the user and the Halo Device whatsoever; his body becomes perceptibly altered, remaining humanoid but no longer human. Instances of burning, radiant eyes, corpse-like flesh, distorted gaunt features, mottled or armoured hide-like skin, and even a fine beetle-like carapace are all recorded, and almost invariably the fingers of the hands transform into long talons of exposed bone.
The thing that was once human is now so strong it can rip a man's head from his shoulders with casual ease, survive the touch of the void, and, it is said, may even return from death. The mind that once spiralled towards madness is gone and in its place is something else. It is something formed from an unholy union of intellects, something that can speak in long dead tongues and brood on all-too-human desires with inhuman patience.
Ordo Xenos Departmento Analyticus Threat Briefing
The subject of the direst sanction, Halo Devices, those who trade in them, and their users are under blanket order of destruction by the Holy Ordos. Thankfully, Halo Devices are exceedingly rare, and cases of their use are equally unusual.
It is a matter of some rancour within the Inquisition that despite suppression, tales of wondrous devices or objects that grant immortality or eternal youth continue to circulate in the decadent circles of the wealthy elite of the Imperium. Almost without exception these rumours have the barest relation to the truth, but they still have the power to attract the foolish to pursue such devices down paths that lead them to heresy.
Instances have been recorded in which a dissolute member of the Imperial elite has obtained a Warp-tainted item passed off as a Halo Device, with predictably destructive results. Of near-equal concern are the charlatans and miscreants who peddle in devices that they claim are Halo Devices but are in fact simulacra accompanied by suitably strange stipulations for use.
These simulacra are the bane of the Ordos, as they create false leads and trails which the few true traders in Halo Devices can use to hide their own activities. The Inquisition shows no mercy to those who trade or are involved with the trading of false Halo Devices -- to sell such a lie is to feed heresy and so is judged as damning as if the artefacts were true in the eyes of the Ordos.
How many have already fallen to the hideous mechanisms of Halo Devices cannot be known. However, in some secluded tower, or sealed estates, monsters undoubtedly lurk, their once-human form twisted by baubles that promised life eternal.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 97-102
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 360