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"The sign of the rat. The three-bars-crossed. The cursed triangle. Know it well. For the Skaven can't go anywhere without marking it on the walls. You spot it, you know they're there. And they're proud of it too. They aren't quite so monstrous as to not rally to their banners, nor to rage when they're torn down. Break them or burn them, and you break their spirit, and send them packing."

—Behram Gundarson, Dwarf Skaven Slayer[1a]

The Horned Rat, also known as the "Lord of the World Below", the "Great Horned One," and the "Under-Father," as well as thirteen other secret names known only to the Grey Seers[3a], is the supreme god of the Skaven, and he brooks no other gods before him among the ratmen.

Though not one of the major Chaos Gods, the Horned Rat is almost certainly a distant relative of those foul, nebulous beings, a minor deity of Chaos. In this case the Horned Rat is an embodiment of decay, ruin, pestilence, strife, hunger, ambition and all the other ignoble characteristics that represent the sum total of all the Skaven race is and all the ratmen hope to be.

The greatest temple of the Horned Rat in the mortal world is the Shattered Tower, which lies in the subterranean warrens of Skavenblight. Here can be found the Black Pillar of Commandments, inscribed with the 169 commandments of the Horned Rat to his children.[4a]

Some Old World scholars believe that the minor Chaos God of ruin and destruction named Kweethul may simply be another name for the Horned Rat.[7a]

History

After the poor performance of the Skaven-created disease known as the Red Pox in 1850 IC failed to overthrow the Human realms of Bretonnia and the Empire, Skavendom descended into the Second Skaven Civil War until 2302 IC. Sensing the rising tides of magic that accompanied the Chaos invasion of Kislev during the Great War Against Chaos from 2301-2304 IC, the Grey Seers, the mage-priests who served the Great Horned One, summoned representatives of the major clans to Skavenblight, and called on the Horned Rat himself to end the conflict.[4a]

The Horned Rat is said to have revealed the Black Pillar of Commandments. This unholy obsidian monument is made from purest Warpstone and has thirteen sides, each bearing thirteen dictats to be followed by the Horned Rat's children. The Horned Rat must have intended for the system to be as complex and intricate as possible. Schemeing and plotting come naturally to Skaven, and the Great Horned One draws endless amusements from the machinations of the Lords of Decay as they twist and turn within his convoluted laws.[4a]

The Black Pillar of Commandments was also a test for any aspirants to serve on the Council of Thirteen that ruled the Under-Empire, as only those favoured by the Horned Rat could touch its rune-inscribed surface and survive. However, those that lived became the most powerful of all Skaven, gifted with unnatural longevity and imbued with dark power.[4b]

Each position within the Council of Thirteen which rules the Under-Empire is open to new potential candidates or replacements at any given time. After surviving the test of the Black Pillar of Commandments the candidate must simply challenge one of the already existing members of the council in a fight to the death. If the candidate wins, he takes the place of the loser in the Council Chamber.[6b]

The Horned Rat ordered all Skaven to obey his new council, or else feel his wrath. The Skaven -- notoriously craven -- dared not defy their god or his favoured servants. The seats on the council were occupied by the most wicked and cunning of Skaven. In times past any clan leader strong and devious enough could seize power if only he could depose a rival and "create" a vacancy. However, not since the Second Skaven Civil War and the direct intervention of the Horned Rat at the Great Summoning have any challengers defeated, disposed of, or else supplanted any of the existing Lords of Decay.[4b]

Philosophy and Methods

The Horned Rat is infinitely patient, an insidious evil that has gnawed on the edges of reality since the earliest times.[2a] Undying and eternally scheming, this cunning deity patiently awaits the day of the "Great Ascendancy," when his children will swarm across the face of the mortal world, devouring it from within and granting him the power to become the greatest of all the gods.[2a]

The Horned Rat is the embodiment within the Aethyr of all things the Skaven are, or wish to be. Entropy is his mantra; decay is his stock in trade.[2a] All things must rot, figuratively or literally, and the Horned Rat and his offspring are the worldly reality of this simple truth.[1b]

All Skaven revere the Horned Rat. None question his existence. A devout Skaven utters small prayers to the Horned One throughout the day, each prayer being a verbal slice of hate, envy, or malice. These prayers are answered often enough to give the Horned Rat validity in the minds of his adherents, even in cases when divine intervention is obviously not involved.[1b]

Religious services are constantly held by the Grey Seers, the mage-priests of the Horned Rat, in honour of their sinister god. All Skaven are expected to be present at a mass at least once a day, even though no formal records of attendance are kept. Those who do not attend services open themselves up to all manner of criticism, including accusations of heresy, treason, and atheism. Influential Skaven Warlords contract their own spiritual advisers from the ranks of the Grey Seers, and these priests-for-hire give private services to their employers and their households.[1b]

Horned Rat concept art for Total War: Warhammer II

Skaven respect for the Horned Rat is ultimately a product of fear, for the Horned Rat's eternal hunger does not discriminate between his vermin children and the dwellers of the surface world. The Skaven rightfully fear that if his appetite is not satisfied, he will devour his children instead, and so blood sacrifice is common in the day to day worship of the Horned Rat.[1b]

There is no specific doctrine that governs who or what must be sacrificed. The form of the sacrifice -- a slave, Skaven or otherwise -- is not as important as the sacrifice itself, for that is enough to sate the Lord of Ruin for only a brief time. Young victims are considered to be the most potent sacrifices for the Horned Rat, while the blood of the aged and infirm is less desirable.[1b]

The number of sacrifices made to the Horned Rat by his followers varies considerably depending upon their need. In times of war, the number of daily blood sacrifices can be staggering, sometimes numbering in the thousands in the great Skaven cities of Skavenblight or Hell Pit.[1b]

The Skaven also increase the number of daily sacrifices if they fail to secure victory in battle or suffer some other embarrassing setback. The Grey Seers preach that victory in any endeavour cannot be won if the Horned Rat is unsatisfied with his minions, and thus any defeat or failure is a sign that he must be appeased.[1b]

Magic Use

The Grey Seers are the mage-priests of the Horned Rat. Unlike other gods, the Horned Rat provides no magical miracles to his devout followers. However, the magical abilities that Grey Seers derive from their consumption of Warpstone fulfills this role in Skaven society, and the practice of magic is irrevocably associated with worshipping the Great Horned One. [4a]

This makes the existence of other magic-users in Skaven society, such as the Festering Chantors of Clan Pestilens, the Eshin Sorcerers of Clan Eshin, and the Harbingers of Mutation of Clan Moulder, troublesome to the Grey Seers.[4a]

The Horned Rat is said to have given 169 commandments to his children through his priests among the Order of the Grey Seers. Among these is one that any magical practice not tied to the worship of the Horned Rat is heretical.[4a]

Clan Pestilens in particular has a number of skilled magic-users who wield great powers of pestilence and decay, but the Grey Seers are suspicious as to the source of these abilities. While the Great Clan maintains that their grasp of plague and disease is a gift of the Horned Rat, their knowledge and prowess far exceeds that of any other Skaven clan.[4a]

The Warlock Engineers of Clan Skryre are less troublesome in this regard, as their peerless blending of magic and technology is more explicable to the Grey Seers; Clan Skryre's studies are permitted according to the Black Pillar of Commandments which represents all of the Horned Rat's commands to his people that lies in his great temple in Skavenblight. Still, the Warlock Engineers' technomancy gives them power the Grey Seers would rather they alone wielded, and so they are still watched with a degree of healthy paranoia.[4a]

Though the clan vigorously denies their existence, the Eshin Sorcerers of Clan Eshin appear to have learned their craft from Grand Cathay. Their grasp of the shadowy ways of Ulgu, the Grey Wind of Magic, is impressive, though these spellcasters weave far more Dhar into their spells than any but the most depraved Human wizards would dare attempt. It is by their magics that Skaven infiltrators have breached some of the most impreganable enemy fortifications. Their sorcery also causes the bodies of most Eshin Gutter Runners, should they die on the surface, to boil away to a greasy puddle -- the better to keep the foolish surface dwellers in ignorance of the soon-to-be-ascendant empire broiling beneath their very feet.[4a]

Essentially, all Skaven magic-users other than Grey Seers are simply wizards skilled in one of three magical lores, the Lore of Plague, the Lore of Stealth and the Lore of Ruin, also called the Lore of Warp.[4a]

Great Ascendancy

"Thirteen times thirteen passes of the Chaos moon I will give you. Thirteen times thirteen moons I will wait. Go to your legions and your workshops! Bring me victory. Bring me dominance over this mortal realm! You must be as one, work as one, as single-minded as a swarm pouring from a sewer-pipe -- all rats scurry-flood in same direction. Only then will you inherit the ruins of this world, only then will you rule. Thirteen times thirteen moons! Fail, and all will suffer the fate of the seer."

—The Horned Rat giving a timeline to the Council of Thirteen for the success of the Great Ascendancy after he devoured its leader, Seer Lord Kritislik, for his repeated failures[8a]

The four major Chaos Gods, being of comparable and conflicting power, often reserve their attention for each other as part of the Great Game, but on occasion they dwell on the minor Chaos deities, finding them altogether petty and insignificant. The Horned Rat, in particular, is viewed with a sneering contempt and as a mere "godling", one among many.[5a]

The Horned Rat's home domain in the Realm of Chaos, the Realm of Ruin, in the eyes of the great powers, mars the purity of Chaos. However, this view of the Horned rat as simply a "minor" Chaos God by the other Ruinous Powers is very likely incorrect, even arrogant on the part of the great Chaos powers.[5a]

The Horned God, with his multitude of worshippers among the countless ratmen of the Under-Empire, is quite powerful, grown strong on the sheer amount of their worship he receives. In truth, the Horned Rat hopes that on the day of the "Great Ascendancy," when his children overthrow the civilisations of the surface dwellers and claim the mortal world as theirs alone, he, too, shall ascend to become the greatest of the Dark Gods, winning the Great Game in a single, fell swoop.[5a]

Just as the Chaos Gods regard each other as brothers, the Horned Rat is their distant relative among the minor Chaos Gods, though not directly affiliated with the major powers in any way.[6a]

Realm of Ruin

The Horned Rat manifests in the mortal world from the Realm of Ruin.

Within the Realm of Chaos, the Horned Rat has carved out his own domain, called the Realm of Ruin, just like that of his more powerful rivals among the major Chaos Gods.[5a]

Like the other realms of the Ruinous Powers within the Aethyr, the home of the Horned Rat openly mocks the physical laws of the mortal plane. It is a domain choked by rotting refuse and mounds of waste. However, littered about this trash are trinkets, baubles, and even fragments of ancient knowledge; all has been taken, despoiled, and ultimately discarded. This refuse may have been claimed from other worlds, while the rats and Daemons endemic to the realm cavort within the mountainous heaps.[5a]

The Realm of Ruin is said to reek with a foetid stink, while a glowering sky wreathed in purple clouds lies overhead. The air is thick with traces of Warpstone as well as the squeaking of the billions upon billions of rats present in the realm, which obliterates all other sound. The Realm of Ruin was nibbled by the Horned Rat's efforts out of the Realm of Chaos, given shape and form by the spirits of the ratmen who come to dwell there after their time in the mortal realm is over.[5a]

The land is overrun with the Daemons of the Horned Rat known as Verminlords, each one as big as a Giant, and just as numerous in that realm as the Skaven are in the mortal world. However, there are only twelve Verminlords that are truly great and hold much influence in the realm, and these are those Exalted Verminlords who sit on what is known as the Shadow Council of Thirteen. The chief among their number is Skreech Verminking. The thirteenth member of the Shadow Council is the Horned Rat himself.[5a]

At the very heart of the realm, rising above all the other massive heaps of trash and treasure, lies the Verminhall. The Verminhall is a mirror in the Realm of Ruin of the great Temple of the Horned Rat known as the Shattered Tower, which resides in the mortal world among the subterranean warrens of Skavenblight. It is the meeting place for the Shadow Council of Thirteen that truly oversees the affairs of the Skaven race, a great edifice pocked with portals, lined with black rivers, and littered with stairways that lead nowhere.[5a]

Verminhall is where the great daemonic Verminlords peer down on their mortal kin, which they do from a thirteen-sided table with an ocean at it's centre. At the head of this table is the Horned Rat's throne, carved from Warpstone and big enough for a god.[5a]

Sources

  • 1: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Edition: Children of the Horned Rat (RPG)
    • 1a: pg. 22
    • 1a: pp. 42-43
  • 2: The Loathsome Ratmen and all their Vile Kin (Background Book)
    • 2a: pg. 28
  • 3: Gotrek and Felix: Dragonslayer (Novel) by William King
    • 3a: Ch. 10: Encounters on the Road
  • 4: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition: Enemy Within Campaign - The Horned Rat Companion (RPG)
    • 4a: pp. 41-42
    • 4b: pg. 8
  • 5:The End Times: The Rise of the Horned Rat (Novel) by Guy Haley
    • 5a: Prologue
  • 6: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition: Children of the Horned Rat (RPG)
    • 6a: pg. 42
    • 6b: pg. 44
  • 7: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition: Tome of Salvation (RPG)
    • 7a: pg. 135
  • 8: Rise of the Horned Rat (Novel) by Guy Haley
    • 8a: Prologue (Quote)
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