The Maelstrom, with the region of Imperial space surrounding it commonly referred to as the Maelstrom Zone (also known by its ponderous Administratum designation Maelstrom Adjacent Autonomous Imperial Resource Extraction Zone Grid 004-357), is a massive and ancient Warp Rift located near the galactic core in the Ultima Segmentum.
This area of space is riven with Warp Storms so intense that stellar travel in the region is virtually impossible. Unlike the Eye of Terror which was created by the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh, the Maelstrom is, as far as Imperial scholars can ascertain, a naturally occurring phenomenon. With the difficulty of travelling through the region, this area of space became a haven to pirates, criminals and Renegades. Swirling with Warp-energies that permeates its worlds, this region is riddled with the evil energies of the Warp which slowly poisons those mad enough, or desperate enough, to reside within.
Within the Maelstrom is a region of lawless Wilderness Space containing an estimated twenty-plus Ork Empires, numerous Hrud infestations, and countless human pirate strongholds. It is also said to be home to the infamous Huron Blackheart and his piratical Renegade Space Marine warband known as the Red Corsairs as well as a large contingent of Word Bearers Chaos Space Marines and their Chaos Cultist allies who fled there and established a base on the Daemon World of Ghalmek in the early 31st Millennium in the wake of the Horus Heresy's Battle of Calth.
Second only to the great Warp Rift that is the Eye of Terror, the Maelstrom is a vast Warp Rift that scars both the physical universe and the fabric of the Immaterium beyond. It is a dark, twisting light in the Warp, and a fell beacon for those that would find solace in hell, a place where the material universe and the Empyrean interpenetrate each other and it is frighteningly easy to slip from reality to unreality and back again. It is salvation for the Damned and a shifting sea of storms to trouble the righteous.
Located near the dense stellar masses of the galactic core in a near linear path between the core and Terra, the Maelstrom covers an area many hundreds of light years across, and its presence in space is marked by a vast, slowly turning gyre comprised of nebulae, dust and stellar material in which countless stars and worlds have long been lost. Although turbulent and unpredictable enough to make any true chart worthless and any hopes of conquering or even patrolling it an insurmountable task, it remains considerably more stable than most other Warp Storms on record, and evidence indicates that it has been in existence since before the evolution of Mankind.
Because of its relative stability, the Maelstrom has long served as a haven for all manner of corsairs, Renegades, outcasts, exiles and forgotten horrors, from the Traitor Legions to the Eldar's debased kin. At any one time it is estimated by the Deathwatch that at least twenty major Ork infestations or petty pirate kingdoms make their home in the Maelstrom, warring against each other and venturing forth to raid and pillage. Worse things still stalk its radiant darkness. As a Majoris Grade Warp Anomaly, the Maelstrom is a point of constant interface between the real and the unreal, realspace and the Warp overlapping each other like a blurred image. Daemonic incursions and the predations of spectral entities such as Psychneuein and Hull Ghasts are common at the points within the Maelstrom where these realities overlap, while the flotsam of unknown aeons is cast up within its shadowed vortex. Many worlds found whirling within the Maelstrom's depths have been tainted by Chaos in some way, while others have been touched by the lapping of stranger tides yet.
Although considered "stable" -- for a Warp Storm at least -- the Maelstrom is not static, and it is known that it periodically waxes and wanes in size and turbulence over time. Nor can any location within it be entirely relied upon to remain where it was last encountered. Over the centuries, a number of savants and Explorators have sought to define some pattern, reason or rhyme to the chaotic fluctuations of the Maelstrom, drawn to its dark mysteries. Most have gone mad or become lost themselves; although those that left decipherable records have often compared its patterns to the breath of gods fitfully slumbering or the encephalographic patterns of a nightmare-riven mind.
During the Great Crusade, the armies of the Emperor of Mankind attempted to penetrate the Maelstrom and cleanse it of the evils that lurked within. The wealth of the Maelstrom region has drawn Mankind to the Zone time and again despite its manifold hazards and difficulties, and indeed there is ready evidence of humanity's presence in the region as far back as the Dark Age of Technology. The Maelstrom Zone has also drawn humanity's enemies as well in their countless number and diverse loathsome forms. Hundreds of warships and thousands of troops were lost in the early campaigns during the Great Crusade era in the late 30th Millennium, and with the rest of the galaxy to reconquer, the Emperor declared the region Purgatus. In the years following the Horus Heresy, Primarch Roboute Guilliman of the Ultramarines Legion decided that the inhabitants of the Maelstrom were too great a threat to the stability of the wounded Imperium to ignore, and ordered the surrounding regions reinforced in an effort to contain any attacks that might originate from within.
Over time, the Imperium slowly established several important Imperial outposts within the Maelstrom Zone during the 38th and 39th Millennia. These outposts rose to prominence as flickering beacons of influence and strength within the region. The three vital star systems that formed the links in a distant chain that allowed the resources of the Maelstrom Zone to flow into the coffers of the more established Imperial sectors beyond were the systems of Cygnax, Sagan and Badab. As the situation in the Maelstrom became ever more volatile, this path of Imperial commerce came increasingly under threat.
The Death of Cygnax
By the middle of the 41st Millennium, the heavily militarised Hive World of Cygnax located in the star system that bore its name was the most populated sphere in the northern Maelstrom Zone. Having long been a lynchpin of Imperial control of the region, Cygnax was a key world, forming a bulwark against aggressors and serving as a safe port for Imperial merchant and naval vessels.
In the year 557.M41 disaster struck with the suddenness of an onrushing storm as Cygnax succumbed to corruption from within and attack from without. The planet rapidly fell into bloody civil war between its Imperial garrison and Death Cult nihilists, backed by the intervention of the dread Chaos Space Marine warband known as the Reborn. Despite the intervention of the Mantis Warriors Chapter, which itself had made a home in the nearby Endymion Cluster, the death toll rose exponentially into the millions.
The Death Cultists managed to gain access to part of the planet's missile defence network, and in a suicidal rage unleashed a rain of atomic and plasma warheads upon the doomed world, shattering its hive cities and disrupting the planet's orbit for several years. The resulting permanent nuclear winter, radioactive fallout and tectonic upheavals annihilated all life on Cygnax.
With the fall of this key world, Imperial control of the northern Maelstrom Zone swiftly crumbled. Without Cygnax, combined with other losses in the region over the previous few centuries, vital Imperial military supply chains stretching as far as Bakka and Terra itself were threatened, forcing the Adeptus Terra to act.
In 587.M41, the High Lords of Terra pronounced an Edict Imperialis in response to these dire predations, ordering several Space Marine Chapters to permanently base themselves in the Maelstrom Zone in order to protect the Imperium's interests and pacify the region. In recognition of their past glorious service to the Imperium, the Astral Claws Chapter was given the high honour of the senior role in commanding these newly formed Maelstrom Warders.
This force was to include the fleet-based Lamenters and Charnel Guard Chapters to patrol the outer regions, and also incorporated the Mantis Warriors from the nearby Endymion Cluster. Once this force was put in place the Astral Claws Chapter took over an orbital battle station in the strategically vital Badab System, which became their Fortress-Monastery and base of operations.
After the Maelstrom Warders' establishment, an Imperial Navy squadron was detached from the Segmentum Battlefleet and permanently assigned to the region to conduct search-and-destroy and convoy protection duties. This naval detachment quickly stabilised the surrounding areas and purged the inner zone of the heretical and xenos elements that had plagued them. Soon the wealth of the Maelstrom Zone once again began to flow into the coffers of the Imperium.
The greatest operation during these times occurred during the Scourge Campaign from 640.M41-651.M41, in which the Astral Claws and their allies conducted a series of major combat operations, striking deep into the heart of the Maelstrom in an attempt to take the battle to the foe. Initially the Space Marines were successful, until the abrupt withdrawal of the Charnel Guard Chapter. The Adeptus Terra severed the Chapter's ties to the Warders, dispatching them to the Thanatos Crusade in the Veiled Region.
This sudden loss effectively ended the campaign. The Astral Claws subsequently petitioned for a replacement Chapter to be reassigned to the Maelstrom Zone, but were denied. Less then two Terran decades later, the Warders suffered a series of setbacks and a high number of casualties amongst some of their allies, causing a rift in relations between the wider Imperium and the Maelstrom Warders during this period. Soon the Warders became hard-pressed by an upsurge of daemonic incursions and corsair attacks, pushing them into an increasingly defensive posture and suspending all operations near the Maelstrom itself.
Tyrant of Badab
Once again, disaster struck, as a series of Ork raids originating within the Maelstrom struck deep into the Badab Sector. The Astral Claws' Chapter Master Rovik Blake went against his own doctrine, and pursued the Orks back into the Maelstrom itself. Having led the Astral Claws for two standard centuries, he fell in single combat with the Ork Warboss Vorg Manburna, which forced the Astral Claws to retreat.
On return to the Badab System, the Captain of the Astral Claws' 3rd Company, Lufgt Huron, was appointed as the new Chapter Master by popular acclaim of his peers in 715.M41. He became the youngest warrior in the Chapter's history to attain this esteemed rank. Imperial historians now point out that such a man of flawed character should never have been allowed to rise to the command of a Space Marine Chapter.
But Lufgt Huron had already proven to be an exceptional warrior as well as a skilled tactician and charismatic leader. He quickly reorganised the Chapter's strategic deployments and established a policy of expanding his Chapter's fleet which had been badly depleted, including within its ranks captured corsair vessels in aggressive raids. He also established the questionable scorched-planet policy against their enemies and increased his Chapter's stockpile of Exterminatus-class weapons.
This resulted in several fringe worlds that had harboured Renegade ships in the past being turned into lifeless husks by the Astral Claws on Huron's orders. Lufgt Huron also established full political control over the Badab System and made himself and his Space Marines its feudal rulers, taking the title of the "Tyrant of Badab" and establishing the capital of his growing state-within-a-state at Badab Primaris.
During the mid-700s.M41, the Astral Claws' submission of the required gene-seed tithes to the Magi Inviglia of the Adeptus Mechanicus became infrequent and incomplete. Although initially a cause for concern, such matters were not uncommon, particularly for those Space Marine Chapters deployed to border areas or on Crusade, simply because the Chapter itself might have a temporary need to retain as much of its gene-seed as possible to sustain battlefield losses. But as the omission persisted, this signaled to the Mechanicus that there was some darker motive at work. This would later prove to be true with the Astral Claws, as evidence later indicated that this first great sin against the traditions of the Adeptus Astartes would arguably result in the Chapter's fall into heresy.
Repeatedly denied the reinforcements he had requested to aid him and the Maelstrom Warders in carrying out their tasks, in his arrogance and pride, the Tyrant of Badab sought to expand his forces into a force equal to the size and strength of a Space Marine Legion of old, an action expressly forbidden by the Codex Astartes and the decree of the High Lords of Terra. Further covert investigation would later uncover that the Astral Claws Apothecarion was conducting heretical experiments in rapid gene-seed zygote cultivation. Though largely unsuccessful, the Astral Claws Chapter eventually maintained an estimated force of 3,500 Battle-Brothers, making them one of the largest Space Marine forces in the galaxy.
But things soon took a turn for the worst, when conditions in the Maelstrom Zone worsened and matters turned against the self-proclaimed "Tyrant of Badab" as his plans were thwarted by causes beyond his control. Huron became increasingly paranoid and dictatorial, and soon embarked upon a dark course that would eventually lead to the lamentable conflict known as the Badab War from 901.M41-912.M41 in which the Astral Claws and their allies sought to secede from the Imperium so that they could prosecute their own private war against the forces of the Maelstrom more effectively.
Not only his own Chapter, but those blinded by their past relationships and allied to the Astral Claws, also followed Lufgt Huron into this treachery. In the face of wanton heresy and deceit, the Inquisitor-Legate charged with prosecuting the Imperial Crusade against the Secessionist forces of the Badab Sector condemned the entire Astral Claws Chapter as Excommunicate Traitoris, and placed their allies under official suspicion of heresy and treason.
Lufgt Huron eventually fell during the final Loyalist Space Marine assault on the Palace of Thorns, Huron's seat of power on the world of Badab Primaris, although whether he survived or was truly slain remained shrouded in mystery for several decades, as his badly wounded form was borne away by his closest followers. Though the Badab War had ended, best estimates suggested that more than two hundred of the Astral Claws Traitors escaped their fate and fled into the Maelstrom.
Within the hellish realm of the Maelstrom Zone, the surviving Astral Claws and Renegade elements of several other Space Marine Chapters fled to this region's heart, carving themselves out an empire. From their new homeworld, dubbed New Badab, these cruel reavers have plagued every Imperial shipping route within 5,000 light years of the Maelstrom.
Lufgt Huron, who survived his injuries with the aid of Heretekal augmetics, renamed himself Huron Blackheart and his rogue Chapter the Red Corsairs, selling his soul to the powers of Chaos Undivided in return for the ability to make war upon the Imperium and the False Emperor he believed betrayed him. To this day, many of those few Space Marines who have tragically fallen to the lure of Chaos are inevitably found within the ranks of the Red Corsairs, embittered and twisted by the dark power of Chaos that reigns supreme within this hellish realm.
Notable Sectors and Sub-sectors of the Maelstrom Zone
- Badab Sector
- Sagan Sub-sector (Sub-sector of Badab Sector)
- Endymion Cluster (unorganised region formerly controlled by the Mantis Warriors)
- Khymaran Drift
- Magog Cluster
- The Pale Stars
Notable Worlds and Star Systems of the Maelstrom Zone
- Badab System
- Angstrom System
- Endymion Prime (located in the Endymion Cluster)
- Ghalmek (located within the Maelstrom)
- New Badab (located within the Maelstrom)
- Tranquility II (located in the Endymion Cluster)
- Cities of Death, "The Palace of Thorns", pp. 58-59
- Heroes of the Space Marines (Anthology), "Skull Harvest" by Graham McNeill
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War - Part One
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Part Two
- Into the Maelstrom (Anthology), "Into the Maelstrom" by Chris Pramas
- Warhammer Compendium 40,000 (1st Edition), "The Badab War" by Rick Priestley, pp. 33-35
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 117