Morkai: History of a dying world

Sci-fi desert

The ruins of Ungolath. Although the hive city once covered 5,000 square miles with kilometer-high towers, the desert has slowly been reclaiming the abandoned city. Now only the tallest ruins rise above the desert, although it is believed that much of the underhive remains occupied by mutants—and worse.


The Vengence System was reclaimed by the Imperium during the Great Crusade when elements of the Ultramarine Legion swept through the Corvus Cluster in 997.M30.

The system’s third planet, Morkai, was populated by primitive desert tribes that welcomed the forces of Terra as gods.

Imperial survey teams determined the world was rich in heavy metals, as well as home to sizable concentrations of adamantium and ceramite. Mining operations were established within a decade, with the mineral ore smelted on the planet before being shipped to various Forge Worlds  as raw material for the manufacture of weapons and armor for the Emperor’s great Legions.

The next 10 millennia witnessed the founding and growth of immense hive cities—then, as the world was stripped of mineral wealth, Morkai underwent a slow industrial and cultural decline marked by growing poverty, an increasingly corrosive atmosphere, and a shortage of adequate food supplies that have led to a massive depopulation of the planet.

Today, of the 10 original industrial centers on Morkai, six have been abandoned, and the remaining four are half-empty.

Historical highlights:

IMPERIAL RULE ESTABLISHED (997.M30)—Elements of the Ultramarine Legion appear in orbit over Morkai. The Adeptus Astartes are viewed as gods, and the various tribes swear allegiance to the Imperium. Imperial bureaucrats begin the process of organizing a workable planetary government.

FIRST HIVE CITY (593.M31)—The first hive city, Golgenna, is established only six centuries after Imperial rule is established.

THE COUNCIL OF ELECTORS (610.M32)—With the Imperium beset by the greatest ork invasion in history, contact with Terra is sporadic, and the descendants of the original Imperial bureaucrats have long since been assimilated into the planetary culture. The leaders of the great tribes, who have begun to establish cities that will grow to rival Golgenna, organize a council to rule in place of the Administratum. A treaty is signed by Sector authorities that recognizes the change in government but confirms the planet’s loyalty to the Emperor.

THE CHARCHAROTH TRAGEDY (273.M34)—A massive earth tremor under Charcharoth causes the collapse of the city’s highest towers—each more than three kilometers tall—crushing millions of people and devastating the ranks of aristocrats and more affluent, educated citizens who form the core of Imperial governance.

The city soon falls into anarchy. More than 20 square kilometers of the city is burned to the ground, and millions more die in an orgy of violence that lasts a decade. The Council of Grand Electors mobilize five regiments of militia to bring order, but after years of ceaseless fighting, it’s clear that the battle is hopeless.

Fenring Heraldry

Heraldry of House Fenring, Imperial Knights of Charcharoth

FOUNDING OF HOUSE FENRING (284.M34)—The remnants of an Imperial Knight world, fleeing their planet’s fall to an ork WAAAGH!, arrive in orbit seeking sanctuary. Learning of the civil disorder in Charcharoth, General Hugo Fenring promises to restore order in the city in exchange for the right to assume its rulership. Given the scale of the task, the Council of Electors agrees—and is surprised when the city is subdued in less than two years. Assuming rulership of the city, Fenring assumes his place on the Council.

FIRST PROMETHIUM WAR (601.M36)—A massive promethium deposit is discovered in disputed territory between the hive cities of Charcharoth and Gothmog. Negotiations fail to resolve the mining rights, and both cities deploy troops to protect their self-proclaimed borders.

The subsequent war lasts 10 years and results in 15 million casualties.

With a stalemate on the front lines, economies devastated, and a war-weary population on the brink of revolt, the two cities agree to peace. Charcharoth ends the war with control of 80 percent of the promethium deposits, a state of affairs that leaves Gothmog’s populace feeling betrayed by the peace settlement—and plants the seeds for a second war.

SECOND PROMETHIUM WAR (789.M36)—When it’s discovered that Charcharoth is drilling horizontal shafts to tap promethium from Gothmog deposits, Gothmog declares war.

The war quickly escalates to an unprecedented level of ferocity. For the first time in Morkai’s history, nuclear weapons are unleashed along the front lines, although no one is insane enough to target the hive cities themselves.

As mushroom clouds send radioactive fallout and millions of tons of ash and dust into the upper atmosphere, the planet’s biosphere suffers measurable degradation. The ecological damage, along with fears that the nuclear exchange could spread, sparks unprecedented cooperation among other members of the Council of Electors.

A threat is issued: End the war, or the other eight hive cities will declare war on both warmongering cities. Confronted with the threat of total destruction, Charcharoth and Gothmog declare an armistice and agree that the remaining promethium deposits will be turned over to the Council—and the profits shared equally. Ironically, the agreement is quickly obsolete: The deposits go dry within three decades.

URANIUM PLAGUE (799.M37)—With total disregard for the environmental impact, Cynosore exploits rich deposits of uranium along the Great Crevasse. Radiation levels in the region soar, forcing an increasingly ailing populace to abandon outlying communities and retreat into the hive city.

Vox reports soon highlight a deadly illness spreading through the population. Children under age 3 are stricken with a listlessness and loss of appetite—quickly followed by death. The condition soon spreads to the city’s elderly population. By the end of a single year, nearly 30 percent of those under age 3 and over age 60 are dead.

The outbreak of the disease ends soon after, only to appear sporadically in the hive city in the millennia to follow. Isolated outbreaks are occasionally reported in other cities, although the source of the plague—if a source of infection can be determined—always can be traced back to the infected having spent some time in radiation-plagued Cynosore.

Sandworm attack Warhammer 40K blog

“The Last Breadth” by the famed artist Naznamy (439-512.M40) is one of hundreds of attempts by painters to capture the horror of the Morkai Sandworms. It is an imaginative rendering, given that the image varies significantly from the anatomy of the actual wasteland beast. What’s more, the attempt to portray the worm’s opponent in the symbolic nobility of an ancient knight is a concession to the naive public perception that desert inhabitants are a “noble savage.” In fact, they are largely mutants, outcast criminals, and cutthroat savages. Still, the artist has accurately captured the terror–and awesome power–of these giant carnivores.

THE LOST CARAVAN (329.M38)—As the planet’s ecosystem begins to degrade, the desert’s most majestic—and dangerous—creature, the Morkai Sandworm, migrates from the deep deserts to hunt closer to civilized areas.

Over the decades, there are increasing reports of sandworms attacking cattle and isolated humans. But the largest—and most unusual—attack is reported by a Volantis trading caravan that is the target of a massive gathering of sandworms.

During the two-week journey from Volantis to Metropia, sandworms repeatedly rise from the sand to seize caravan workers and cargo-carrying lizard beasts and drag them under the sand.

Adding to the disaster, a sandstorm sweeps over the beleaguered caravan, preventing aircraft and land vehicles from providing assistance, although vox reports tell an increasing desperate struggle for survival. Eventually, the broadcasts end, and when the sandstorm abates and rescuers hurry to the scene, they find only wrecked vehicles. There are no survivors–or even bodies.

The attack sparks a massive construction project to link the hive cities with reinforced trade highways—2-meter-thick plasteel roads  that are 20 meters wide. Sadly, by the 41st Millennium, these highways are largely abandoned–and some buried under the drifting sand, long forgotten.

THE DEATH STORM (740-820.M39)—Pollutants in the planet’s biosphere reach critical mass, resulting in a dramatic shift in environmental conditions. Temperatures rise by 10 degrees, precipitation declines as sulphur-dioxide forms in the upper atmosphere, and surface vegetation dies off in massive numbers.

The equilibrium of the atmosphere is knocked off balance, and for more than a century, massive storms of sand and lightning wreck havoc across the planet. Inter-city trade comes nearly to a standstill, and star ports shut down–sometimes for years–as it is impossible for shuttles and cargo transports to fly.

Without imported food, widespread famine sweeps through the populace, eventually sparking massive civil disorder and outbreaks of disease.

Eventually, the storms subside, but the famine and violence have done their damage–it’s estimated that nearly 200 million people–nearly one-third of the planet’s population–have died

THE CULLING (630-651.M40)—The rate of mutant births in Ungoloth triples over a three-decade period, and the hive city’s rulers decide the mutant population poses a dangerous threat to civil order and genetic purity.

When mutants agitate for political equality and the end of legal segregation, the Elector of Ungoloth plots genocide. He mobilizes the city’s militia and stirs up the fears of citizens with talk of treason, genetic degradation, and heresy. Once anti-mutant sentiments have been whipped into a frenzy, the Elector launches a pogram of militia and mob violence that kills nearly eight million–among them many innocent citizens caught up in the violence or targeted by bloody-minded militiamen who care little whether their victims are mutants or simply disfigured by disease, radiation poisoning, or accident.

THE FALL OF UNGOLATH (687.M40)—Despite the violence of the culling, the mutant population survives—and continues to grow—in the underhives and slums surrounding the hive city. Over the years, repeated violence against the hated militia and local Arbites leaves many areas of the city ungovernable, and the threat of violence hands in the air.

In 687, two of the city’s food processing plants succumb to poor maintenance and centuries of obsolescence, and as hunger begins to spread through the population, rumors spread that the Elector is trying to starve mutants and the poor alike—a new culling using famine as a weapon. The subsequent uprising is horrific—in a single night, nearly 30 million people rip one another to shreds. Millions more flee the violence, seeking respite in other hive cities or taking their chances in the desert.

Within a month, the city no longer exists as a political entity. The Elector flees for Gothmog, barely escaping an enraged mob that storms the highest levels of the hive city and massacres aristocrats, minor government officials, and the elite skilled workers who keep the city running. Water, sewer, electricity, and all other city utilities fall out of service, and the resulting hunger, lack of water, and poor sanitary conditions wipe out most of the rioting population.

The hive city is left a burnt-out shell of violence, anarchy, and hopelessness—a fate that persists to this day.

THE COLLAPSE (687.M40-390.M41)—The fall of Ungolath is only the beginning. After millennia of exploitation, many of the planet’s great mineral deposits are finally depleted. As the economy suffers, the collapse of the planet’s biosphere accelerates, leading to increasing levels of famine, disease, and, ultimately, political anarchy.

In hive city after hive city, the population becomes increasingly ungovernable. Violence erupts, the aristocracy flees, and what’s left is a half-abandoned city of ruins–a hell pit of anarchy, warring gang lords, marauding mutants, and violent and barbaric cults.

Some suggest the current status quo is only a lull in the collapse, and that the remaining hive cities are doomed to fall as well.

THE MUTANT WAR (412.M41)—A charismatic leader, the Haruspex, rallies millions of mutants among the ruins of Ungolath and calls for rebellion against the Council of Electors.

The mutants run amok for six moths in the hinterlands before organizing a great host that descends on Charcharoth. There, they run into the full might of the House of Fenring. Its military might long forgotten after a millennium without a major war, the ancestral family of General Fenring unlocks deep stasis chambers and awakens six Imperial Knights that, backed by 10,000 House guard, crush the mutant hordes and slaughter more than 1 million in a six days of fighting.

The mutants flee back to their ruins, and nothing more is heard of the Haruspex. Rather than risk their ancient and irreplaceable Knights in urban fighting, Charcharoth’s army returns to its hive city–and the mutant war fades away with a whimper.

Morkai sunset

Vegetation struggles to survive on the edges of a caravan path that winds its way through the Morkai wastelands. Such vegetation should disappear entirely in the coming centuries, as the planet’s ecosystem continues on its inevitable path to collapse.

THE PRONOUNCEMENT OF DOOM (439.M41)—A classified analysis by the Adeptus Mechanicus reports that pollution, coupled with the degradation of surface vegetation, has made the planet’s biosphere unsustainable.

Calculations indicate the planet’s atmosphere will be unable to sustain human life, without a breather, in approximately 1,900 years,  and within another two centuries, the planet’s ozone layer will collapse, exposing the world to fatal levels of solar radiation. Life outside environmentally controlled habitats will be impossible.

In a major security breach, the analysis—previously available only to the Council of  Electors—is widely distributed by persons unknown. Rioting and political rallies unleash widespread discontent with the poor stewardship of the Council. In the end, the protests die off—and the harsh reality is accepted. Morkai is a dying world.

Click here to read about about Morkai.

Artwork of the ruined city—”Sci-fi Desert”—is courtesy of Robin Wouters, whose artwork can be found on the DeviantArt website:

Artwork of the Sand Worm–”Last Breath–is courtesy of Navroz Lai (“Naznamy’), whose artwork can be found on the DeviantArt website:

Categories: Worlds

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