"Come and see, you must come and see."
- — Last broadcast of Eldred Krane, Acolyte Aventine District, Malfi
Of all the threats facing the Ordo Malleus in the Calixis Sector, few are more dangerous, stranger, or as little understood as that posed by the Chaos Cult known as the Menagerie. There are even those within the Inquisition that insist the cult is a phantom -- a paper threat, a thing without substance, a conjecture woven from half-truths and overactive fear.
This, in turn, has led to fears by some that even the Holy Ordos has not been beyond the cult's corrupting reach, and a few Daemonhunters have engaged in unsanctioned operations in order to destroy it. The horrific truth is far worse. The Menagerie is very real, and its threat goes far beyond that of a few hundred lost lives, or a thousand or a billion.
It seeks to undermine the very nature of reality itself with its revelations and to pitch the Calixis Sector into an abyss of Chaos from which none shall escape. The Menagerie has such sights to show, and all are invited to come and see.
The Last Masque of House Orsini
It cannot be said with certainty when or how the Menagerie first came into being, but its earliest recorded activities hail from within the dark recesses and opulent courts of the world of Malfi in the Calixis Sector. The first mentions occur in the years of relative peace that followed the disastrous Reign of Terror and the destruction created by the birth of another deadly cult, the Pilgrims of Hayte.
Forced out on the margins of power was House Orsini, a once great and powerful noble family who had had a stranglehold on the Malfian senate and whose influence ranged wide across the sector. The civil anarchy caused by the Pilgrims of Hayte's Red Solstice had seen them vacillate and their rule found wanting. Unable to sustain such a loss of face, their power base crumbled and they barely survived the intervening solar decades. With the house a crippled and failing shadow of its former glory, the Orsini would have done anything to regain their prestige and power. So it was that when an enigmatic stranger came to them, offering glories and truths undreamed of, they proved easy prey.
The stranger called himself the Revelator, and as he insinuated himself into the house, he poisoned the sanity and corrupted the bodies of the family and its servants. To the rest of the world, the doom that had come to the Orsini remained unknown. Then one day invitations began to arrive asking the great and powerful of Malfi to attend a masquerade at the Orsini's remaining palace, where "singular and wondrous entertainments and revelations" would be provided by "The Menagerie of Fate."
Such events and diversions among the intrigue-ridden and jaded nobility of Malfi were commonplace, but given the Orsini's fallen status few deigned to attend. Most that did only did so for the chance of scandalous pleasure and mockery of what they assumed would be the dying gasp of the once-great house.
What actually occurred at the last masque of House Orsini is sealed under the highest security protocols of the Holy Ordos and the secret records of the great houses involved. However, a casual study of the official record states that scores of the Malfian nobility's lesser scions are recorded as having died unexpectedly that year via accident or illness. Others simply disappear from all records as if they never were.
Rumours still abound to this day, centuries later, of the great and the beautiful driven to utter madness or warped into mutating tides of screaming flesh. Stories are told of locked chambers in the cellars and towers of noble estates where abominable things were shut away to live out their lives, clawing desperately at walls, or were put down like rabid dogs by their own kin.
In the planetary archive, all mention of the Orsini ceases, and merely to mention their name in some circles is to court bloodshed and vendetta. The burned-out and empty remains of the palace of the Orsini and the district surrounding it stands still as an abandoned and shunned part of the Malfian hive, a testament that some wishes come with too high a price. This event was the first great show attributed to the revelations of the Menagerie in the Inquisitorial annals, but sadly it is far from the last.
One of the most contentious claims made about the cult of the Menagerie (and perhaps the one many members of the Holy Ordos find most troubling) is that it actively seeks out, consumes, or simply destroys other malefic cults. This phenomenon is not unprecedented, as the disciples of dark gods rarely have anything but contempt for one another unless forced together by a stronger power.
In fact, many dark factions are in a perpetual war amongst themselves. What is remarkable is the seeming ease with which other petty cults are defeated, swallowed almost in a moment, or snuffed-out in a sudden onslaught of occult power.
Likewise, local criminal gangs, hereteks, and recidivists may all find themselves dancing to the cult's tune, at least until madness and torment overtake them. Some Inquisitors, seeking to build up a pattern to the cult's operation, believe the Menagerie, or perhaps just the fear of it, is what has long kept the criminal organisation known as the Beast House from operations in the Malfian Sub-sector.
The Menagerie has also been known to violently clash with not only the Inquisition but also more powerful cults, such as cells of the Pilgrims of Hayte (who are not easily defeated) and numerous other petty groups in the past. Notably this conflict is seldom of the Menagerie's initiation, but rather spurred on by the fear or hatred it engenders in other malefic groups. Just why this should be the case remains unknown.
The Pandaemonium Carnival
One emblematic example of an existing cult that was seemingly absorbed or suborned by the Menagerie is the Pandaemonium Carnival. The Carnival was a secretive, wandering cult that hid among the travelling clans and guilds of itinerant entertainers common in the Markayn Marches sub-sector. For several Terran years, a group of this name served as a haven for several petty rogue psykers and Renegade mutants fleeing Imperial justice. However, all traces of the cult disappeared mid-persecution by the Ordo Hereticus, only to reappear a solar decade later in a far more sinister form.
The Carnival, currently the subject of an open hunting warrant by Ordo Malleus edict, now operates within the various carnivora, circus camps, entertainment zones, and festivals on several worlds and has been sighted across the Malfian Sub-sector, and as far afield as Iocanthos, and allegedly in Hive Tarsus on Scintilla. Offering "wonders, revelations, and horrors abounding" for those that dare to enter within, the Carnival seemingly appears from nowhere to stage its "shadow shows," only to vanish, leaving madness and many missing in its wake.
The Path of the Revelator
The name of the Menagerie is one whispered fearfully by Warp-dabblers and those that traffic in forbidden lore; its name is a thing of terror, a dark legend and an enemy to be more feared than even the Holy Inquisition. It is a cult of secret and matchless power that deals in physical corruption and madness, whose touch blights the flesh with the twisting mutation of the Warp and whose sorceries can sunder reality and remake it.
The Menagerie, as its name suggests, is a collection of secrets, tangled intrigues, and horrors undreamed off. It is all these things, but it is also a display, a hellish show that reveals to its audience what it claims to be a glorious vision of the true nature of the universe, an unveiling of glories and terrors. Such revelations come with a terrible price to sanity, body, and soul, and few survive their message. Those who do are forever changed.
The cult's plans and workings remain obscure even to those aware of its existence. However, the dreadful suspicion by some within the Ordo Malleus is that the Menagerie's seemingly random plots and corruptions are all working to a vast and singular plan, a plan to undermine reality itself by undermining the sanity and altering the perceptions of humanity to better encompass the "reality" of the Warp and bring the barriers between the real and the unreal crashing down. Few that have survived exposure to the Menagerie doubt that the true nature of its plan, as it unfolds, is likely to be something so terrible that no sane mind could grasp it.
Sundered Flesh and Twisted Realities
"…he wears no mask…he wears no mask…he wears—"
- — Suspect apprehended after the murder of Prefect Strabo, Gunmetal City, Scintilla, later declared insane and terminated
The cult of the Menagerie is a cavalcade of madmen, sorcerers, insane schemers, deranged murderers, and the sculptors of flesh known as the Revelators, who are its masterminds. They are all without doubt true believers in their cause, fanatical adherents to a creed almost incomprehensible to outsiders. Their beliefs are focused around the mystery of the revelations that they have been exposed to and the wonders and beauty of unrestrained physical and mental change.
They plot endlessly to bring about a "great revelation" so all of humanity can receive the blessings of the sights they have seen. They commit seemingly random acts of violence and destruction, forcing events into one pattern or another, and spark outbreaks of madness and misery by their actions. With the fervour of true converts, they take great delight in sharing their gifts with others, often spawning a genuine menagerie of warped creatures and pets, many formerly human, in the process.
The cult possesses an insane certainty in the rightness of its cause and is more than willing to make sacrifices in the pursuit of its goals. The cult members are able to maintain a veil of secrecy through their power to change flesh, tamper with minds, and even warp space to their desire. By these means, the cult hides itself from outside eyes and avoids direct confrontation with the Imperial authorities (unless it should wish it).
In the past, the cult has been encountered lurking behind fronts such as theatres, hostelries, and venues in run-down areas or at the edges of the underhive. The cult has even been found behind sanatoria, alms houses that cater to the dregs of humanity, side shows, and (savouring the irony) even true menageries and exhibits of more commonplace beasts and alien creatures.
These false fronts serve to conceal the most foully changed of the cult's numbers and allows it to select its victims from those unfortunate enough to stumble across one of its lesser "performances." Operating in accordance with an unfathomable plan and timetable of its own twisted devising, the cult reaches out and draws particular victims to it, manipulating minds and perhaps even the flow of fate itself to draw them in.
These chosen victims, the "favoured" as the cult names them, have been selected to carry out some part of the Menagerie's great and secret purposes, and seldom realise just what has befallen them. Most will go about their business, seemingly normal but horrifically changed within. However, they are unwitting pawns of the cult's conspiracies and living weapons in the service of the Revelator who has remade them.
Such is the duplicity and labyrinthine skill of the Menagerie that often no one connects the diverse victims to having attended a given performance of a play or having visited a carnival where they became separated from friends for a time. Even someone collapsing drunk or drugged in a certain location, waking solar days later with no recall of what befell them in between, is ignored. Each act of inflicted madness is but one part of a grander design reaching out across time and space to an unknown but doubtless malign conclusion. However, whether they work to achieve some dark end or prevent one, none save perhaps the Revelators know.
The Court of the Radiant King
Any attempt to discern or understand the cosmology of the Menagerie's beliefs is doomed to failure, as to comprehend its truth is to become part of it, and to become part of it is to be destroyed by it. This aside, fragments of its lore and nature have filtered out into the hands of occultists and the Inquisition via the garbled rantings of lunatics, dark allegory, ancient legend, and the aftermath of its terrors.
One such fragment concerns the "Court of the Radiant King," known elsewhere as the "King in Rags and Tatters," or the "Empty Lord's Revels." This macabre and frightening legend is found in myths on Malfi stretching back far beyond the birth of the sector into that world's dim and ancient history, but now is inextricably linked with the cult.
Abiding in an ancient city, under strange suns that cannot be named, the court is a mythic place, a realm of wondrous possibility and revelation, visions of which are at the same time a foreshadowing of disaster, entropy, and destruction. Likewise a paradoxical figure, the Radiant King is at the same time a thing of awe and terror, illumination and death. He is described as a patient and implacable force whose footstep brings chaos and madness everlasting for those who look upon his countenance.
It is said by some occult sources and in the whispers of daemons that the Menagerie serves this strange figure and that they are its harbingers and messengers. Others state that the King is only a mask, a shell for some shapeless force of boundless insanity and change from the depths of the Warp beyond, pointing to the entity referred to in forbidden texts as Tchar or Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways and the Render of Veils.
The Heralds of the Radiant Court
As well as the Revelators who direct the cult's esoteric plans, the cult of the Menagerie is a diverse group of true believers and may feature the Cult Initiate, Cult Magus, Entertainer, Recidivist, and conceivably any other type of mysterious persona. Behind the scenes of one of the cult's many fronts, mutants of every type labour and lurk, many hiding twisted and partly avian features beneath concealing robes and costumes.
The cult's masters know many sorcerous rituals for warping reality, and the cult's lair might have seemingly twisted dimensions, warped spaces, and mirrors that can be stepped through at a whim. The cult is also skilled in the summoning and mastery of daemons and other Warp predators, but often prefers to use its "pets" to dispose of intruders and challengers to its plans. After all, it is such jolly sport.
- The Favoured of the Menagerie- When the masters of the Menagerie scheme and plot, it sometimes suits their plans to take a specific victim and hollow out his soul. Such victims may be taken from those drawn to a particular carnival exhibit or entertainment zone where the cult lurks, others seem simply to be taken at random, snatched from their daily lives and twisted to the cult's purpose. Other than feelings of vague distress, the "favoured" remember nothing of what has happened to them at the Menagerie's less than tender mercies, until some pre-set time, condition, or triggering signal occurs. When this happens, the now dead-eyed victim carries out whatever task the Menagerie has in mind for him, be it strange, trivial, or murderous. After his task is complete, he is often discarded, collapsing to a gibbering, mindless shell or even returned to "normal" again with no memory of what he has done. Of course, even in such a rare occurrence, this individual eventually falls to madness as the echoes of his unremembered deeds haunt his thoughts and dreams.
- The Revelators, the Masters and Mistresses of the Menagerie - The masters and mistresses of the Menagerie are a strange and disparate group, referred to by the cult's adherents as the Revelators. No two of them are alike, save for their fervent beliefs in the cause of Chaos and the delight they take in revealing their warped truths to the fragile human mind. One might appear as a jovial old scholar with glittering eyes, another a pale and beautiful dancing girl, while a third might act the great and flamboyant showman. In truth, they may be all of these things and truly none, for the flesh is but another mask to wear.
- Warp Spectre - Daemonic forces of raw Chaos unleashed, these strange entities are endlessly whirling, shifting shapes of blinding light, alive with surging psychic energy, beyond the human eye to fathom, as they roll, scream, and whine in a thousand dissonant voices maddening to the senses. The "Colours," as the cult knows them, are terrifying things; reality is twisted and broken as they pass, and the mere sight of them is enough to shatter the sanity of onlookers. Difficult to summon, these daemonic forces are unleashed only against rival Chaos Cults and other powerful foes that must be destroyed to further a Revelator's twisted schemes.
- Spawn of Chaos - Although the cult sees mutation as a blessing, a wondrous joy with which flesh and soul can be rendered divine with madness, some unfortunates are singled out for special attention. These damned creatures become the Spawn of Chaos, blistering, writhing hulks of pulsating flesh upon which the worst enormities of mutation have been visited. Beyond pain and the tawdry limitations of nature, such creatures are utterly terrifying to behold and near-impossible to harm.
Ordo Malleus Departmento Analyticus Threat Briefing
The Ordo Malleus, while acknowledging the existence and threat of the Menagerie, does not (officially at any rate) accept it as the vastly powerful and potentially reality-endangering conspiracy that some contend it to be. As a result, while standing orders are in place to investigate and purge the Menagerie where discovered or suspected (as with any malefic cult), there is no greater motion to confront the wider dangers posed by the cult.
The Ordo Malleus has left such prosecutions entirely up to the independent remit of individual Inquisitors, many of whom have taken to pursuing the threat of the cult as a personal crusade. Some within the Ordos are vocal in their contention that current "official" thinking smacks (at best) of a dangerous lack of vision, while other more guarded and subtle observers suspect the involvement of some shadowy actor, such as the Tyrantine Cabal, in the decision.
They believe, instead, the overt policy toward the Menagerie and its works hides some other hidden agenda or covert action nestled within the dark heart of the Inquisition's Conclave Calixis.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 152-158