Slaves to Darkness – Chaos Warriors of Malal

The forest was rotten, and so too were its children. The forest had been alive once long ago: vibrant and green and healthy. Its children had been alive once: they had laughed and loved.

The rot spread from the slough and the swamp to the tangled mangrove roots, and it spread in brutish thoughts and shrivelled hearts. The rot crept into the roots of the ancient trees until the wood was swollen, black and bloated. The fetid water soaked into everything: into the simple houses they had built; into the wells and the crops and into the clothes and skin of the people. And as they drank it they too became swollen, black and bloated: they cast off their rotten clothes and pulled down their ruined hovels and rutted in the mud and filth, and they forgot what it meant to be men and women.

The moon-eyes were strangely dim: clouded and grey. It was as if they were blinded, the world was in darkness so absolute that it was near impossible to see the man beside you, nevermind whatever else was hiding amongst the trees. The wild tangle of branches and roots made hunting treacherous, the Dogs of the Hateful God would stumble, feet snared by a mangrove root, and we would curse silently as hooked branches snagged on hair and clothes.

I missed the hunter’s moon, we hunted best as a pack beneath the cold, stark glare of the moon-eyes. With ash-blackened weapons and pale skin daubed in the grey river clay we moved like shadows, like ghosts. On the grasslands we would run under moonlight while our victims slept, invisible, silent and unceasing.

But this was a different sort of darkness, it was impenetrable, thick and cloying. It clung to us, we pushed through it and fought against it. It was beginning to tire us, we who could run for days on end and still make bloody murder at the end. Watching every step, fighting against the tangle, ducking and cutting through briar and wading through the dark mud of sudden, treacherous quagmires. The mud had almost taken some of us – men would try to wade through it, strong men would push and pull against the suck of the swamp until it overwhelmed them and they could no longer free their legs to take the next step. Those we saw, we helped – wary that it could be any one of us needing help next time – we throw dead vines or branches to them so they could pull themselves free. But in the darkness we would not have seen all. And the Dogs knew not to call for help, no man among them would break the silence of the hunt, and no man would call out in fear even if they slowly drowned in the thick, fetid mud. To cry in fear would bring the contempt of the Hateful God, and to break the silence of the hunt would bring the wrath of our lord. Both were fates worse than death. Death was nothing to be feared.

We had walked all night, progress was slow and any hope of finding a trail, or a camp, had faded long ago. The forest seemed long dead, it was as if we were the first men to set foot here since time immemorial. Yet it was also as if we were unwelcome. There would be no rest until we had found our prey, we never stopped a hunt without food, the strength from the meat became desperation as hunger gripped us and desperation was a powerful motivator. We would kill or we would starve.

When I had first joined the Dogs I was unprepared for the demands of the hunt, I was strong from my life before – surviving in the woods and wilds, tracking animals and living from the land. I was strong enough to resist the rot that had set in the hearts and bodies of the other people that lived here on the edges of the forest. I depended on no other, and I had been alone for a long time and when the Realmwaster – daemon prince of the Hateful God – came he saw this strength and offered me the choice, the choice to join or die. A choice that was no choice at all.

The first few days – with the raw meat roiling in my stomach – had been an ordeal I did not think I would survive. I was sick but not with guilt, for I owed my neighbours nothing and they had died a swift death. We ran for all the hours of daylight without pause, and when night fell and the moon was bright enough to see by we continued to run, tracking survivors through the night until they collapsed from exhaustion. We were stronger, more determined. We did not stop, and that was how we survived.

The rain was almost like mist, a light but constant drizzle that soaked us to the bone, the wet forest seemed endless and unchanging. I had lived on the outskirts for years, never daring to venture in this far: each step we took seemed the same as the one before, there were no landmarks, there were no changes in the scenery. It was as if we were caught in a single timeless moment. There were no signs of life, no animals cries when we disturbed a nest, no hares fleeing us in the undergrowth. I was so used to hunting hares I still kept my short bow strung and ready, an arrow never far from my reach. The other Dogs looked at this with disdain, to them a bow was a coward’s weapon.

We persevered. The Hateful God had set us on this course and none of us would admit defeat. Besides, there was no alternative except for turning on each other, turning on the weakest among us. The fear of being the weakest, of showing weakness in the eyes of the others, or of becoming injured or lame: this was the great fear now. Showing weakness could mean death, it could mean that one bad hunt, one hunt where we had nothing to bring back for the Chosen, let alone ourselves would end with them turning on me.

When we ate that night, it was in silence. The smoke from the fires stung my eyes as the meat was cooked. We tore at it with our fingers and our teeth. There was little sound, each man intent on eating. Each man too exhausted to speak or to argue, and each man too alone with tortured thoughts to joke or laugh with the others.

When the Realmwaster spoke, every head snapped around in unison to watch him. Wide-eyed, wild-eyed, holding our breath to hear. He spoke seldom but when he did all men would listen. It was impossible to get used to the sight of the daemon that was once a man: massive, black furred and wrapped in leather wings. The Realmwaster, daemon prince of the Hateful God. A giant, half hidden in the darkness like an imagined nightmare from childhood.

His mouth slowly opened and closed in a crude imitation of speech, but he did not give breath to the words that appeared in our heads. His words – in our mind’s eye – sounded and looked deformed as they took shape. He called us hounds and it was a thought that echoed inside my skull, rattling my teeth. I had seen the daemon talk to men and his words could make their eyes and ears bleed. I listened with the others and I no longer thought I was anything but a beast and I bared my throat in submission to the horror that sat with us at our fire.

He spoke of the lands that we swept across, lands that had been ravaged before before by the Four, but they had not yet been picked clean of all they had to offer. The Realmwaster was thorough, there would be nothing left once his army had passed through. There would be no survivors hiding in the woods, as I once did. There would be no house or hall left standing. And there would be those that remembered the Four, the gods of Chaos that had abandoned us and we had declared war on them in return. And those followers we found and that we judged worthy would be given the same choice, the choice that is no choice at all.

Soundtrack of Chaos

I am sometimes asked where I get my inspiration from. Music is probably one of the biggest influences; I try to match a particular band or genre. This warband was particularly heavy and doom-laden.

I started building this warband when the Age of Sigmar starter set came out and shortly after completing my Stormcast – so long ago it feels like they would never be finished, and after becoming extremely bored of making greenstuff dreadlocks they almost never were. They have sat on my desk in various states of repair for so long I am quite sick of them, although unfortunately I realised I need to add another unit or two if I want to make a legal army. Originally they were going to be Khorne, then they were going to be Chaos Undivided, but ultimately the decision to do Malal was because I only really enjoy painting black and white. Every model is converted, even if only with a headswap and a hairdo. Some of them are a little rough around the edges, but like I say, they began to drive me nuts. Next time, a smaller scale project. Oh, and I have used very reflective metallics and gloss finishes which have a bit of glare in the photos, sorry about that.

47 Comments on “Slaves to Darkness – Chaos Warriors of Malal

  1. This a truly marvelous army, probably my favorite AoS force I have yet seen. With it I feel you capture the mystery and potential of the setting (which we have yet to see if GW will capitalize on). The simple dark paint scheme fits the theme really well, giving them a gritty twisted feeling. The conversion are all very convincing and brutal. It would be great to see some WIP images, but I can understand that you might not want to post such a thing due to it taking away from the striking effect of only showing them in their complete form. Regardless, fantastic job!

    • Thanks. I’ll show some WIP pictures later on. I’m really in two minds about WIPs because, as you say, it has more impact to show the finished models with no spoilers. But on the other hand I’ve barely had anything to share on the site for a year due to wanting to finish all these guys before posting. I’ve said a few times about how much I like AoS, but this army would probably have fit in the Old World too. I may add some more outlandish units later on.

      • Seeing WIPs would be amazing, i’d love to know what parts you used for some of these models and find out if i was right about others!

  2. The daemon is… magnificent. Slightly absurd, but magnificent. Vaguely reminiscent of Bakshi’s Balrog.

    • Yeah I know what you mean by slightly absurd. He’s based on Zod the Immortal from Berserk who has this same giant intense cat face. I think Zod looks amazing, but there is this almost absurdity to it. Manga often seems to do this, like the giants from Attack On Titan. Anyway, it’s partially intentional, and partially because it’s my first go at sculpting something to that extent: the head was resculpted from a Thundertusk.

  3. I don’t want to gush, though I will, your work is my favourite thing in the hobby right now, the slick oily black tone of the chaos warriors is just perfect. I feel these guys are evocative of HATE by Adrian Smith which is how my internal fluff always depicts warriors of chaos and that’s spot on work.

    The fully armoured hammer wielder is a clear favourite for me, that and his arrow ridden brother.

    I’m also taken with the freedom of AOS but because I like to do poor quality little conversions of everything so I’ve been using a mordheim ruleset hack for tiny ‘Realms of Chaos’ themed warbands. Just because 8 warriors is so much easier than 30, I think you were talking about AOS28 on twitter with a similar intention.

    • Cheers. Yeah Chronicles of Hate was an inspiration, and Adrian Smith in general. Love his art, although I’m not sure how successful it is as a graphic novel. Quite hard to follow I thought, I’d love to see it adapted as a film, game or TV series (maybe instead of the painfully tame Kingkiller Chronicles).

      Lots of AoS28 news coming very soon, it should be up your street.

      • Couldn’t agree more about HATE, the art oozes inspiration but could flourish better in another medium.

        Seriously baited breath on the AOS28 too, hopefully that will give the impetus to get my own blog up and running.

  4. The unbelievable bulkiness in the armour is very well done, without being over-the-top… much ;) But that horseman! I don’t suppose you’d want to use the term “natural”, but his pose has just the right amount of everything and not too presumptuous… Never been sure of AoS, but these guys will probably knock me right off the fence.
    Also, Khorne in muted colours looks great too.

    • I am happy with the pose of the horseman, it took a lot of work to get it just right, although I think the axe could be slightly more dynamic it worked out pretty well. The skull on the horses’ head is inspired by an old Chaos Knight model.

      They are very bulky, scale creep getting out of hand a bit. But I really wanted some models that looked like they were more than a match for Stormcast.

  5. Fantastic! So brutal. The basing perfectly sets off all the wonderfully textured blacks and metals (and makes me even more tempted to go back and add grass tufts to my Navigators). It’s hard building an army full of so many converted figures, but the results are so striking. I’d love to see some photos of them with your Stormcast.

    • Thanks, basing always bothers me because I want models to work with each other – eg when these guys fight my Stormcast – but they have to also compliment the models. Not quite sure how it will work with my aelves who are in more of a swamp. Oh plus these Chaos models smell good, as I used green tea for basing litter.

  6. I enjoy reading your background. I’ll be honest, I often skip people’s words and go straight to the pictures but I read your post on the rat daemon a little while ago and really enjoyed it. Your words and pictures go really well together.

    Great work on the conversions too of course, they are magnificent.

    • Thanks! To be honest I think the rat daemon story is a lot more entertaining than this one, I think I should stick to writing Skaven. Bt I’m glad you liked this one too, I try to put quite a bit of effort into the fiction even though I know most people skip it.

  7. Wow these warriors are nothing short of stunning.. At first I thought they were Julian baylis models , ex profundis has developed a common visual language for fantasy in the way iron sleet has for 40k. The amount of conversion and unique models tied together with that gruesome inkblack paintwork is impressive.. So much creativity.. The gloss works really well and puts me in mind if tears of envys gloss work. The shaman is so cool as is the champion dude with the skull shoulder pad.. I cannot really see any of the original models within this group..something you excel at. The narration is flowing and evocative..perfectly capturing that stickly environment.. I understand that pressure about wanting to share wips but not wanting to spoil the reveal..tricky stuff.. But I think sharing wips is good for motivation. Really outstanding work Jake. Earlier in the week I said iron sleet is currently unmatched with regards to it’s collection of unique 40k models , in the same vain I would add ex profundis is unmatched with its commitment to narration and fantasy models.. The dedication to finish this project and not show the wips is to be commended ..congratulations!

    • I love painting with gloss effects and then I always feel a bit sad when I try to photograph it! But I don’t really care for showing off my (average) painting skills, its the mood I want to try and get across and I think the glossiness works fine, kinda like armour catching some glints of moonlight.

      The WIP thing is something I have been thinking a lot about. I don’t like sharing WIPs incase someone has a better idea about what I should do with my models than I do! I feel like i have to make the changes they suggest (only sensible) but then I feel like I’ve given up some creative control. But on the other hand, with no WIPs the site was quite quiet for a long time. I was thinking of posting WIPs soon for this lot, and talk about the ‘making of’ a little… like a bluray special feature!

      As always, thanks for the comments Neil.

      • My own glossy mechanicus dudes are a nightmare to photo , but i love how sumptuous they look in gems.. your black gloss has the same effect.. Also special mention must be said about the photography .. it seems the best community blogs are a triumpharate of writing photography and models.. you should consider doing a photo tutorial , I know I would appreciate it . if you do add a wip post , it would be cool to see the models in context of everyday objects.. the sense of scale is often missed in these beautifully presented show pieces.. reintroducing it makes me appreciate the skill that gone into the creation of the tiny masterpieces even more. Also nice to see mention of malal in the AoS , it reinforces the idea that these are a forgotten folk..

  8. WOW, WOW and WOW! Really inspiring models and great paint scheme! I’m off to make some! Lol

    • Yeah well you are obviously a big inspiration. Hey one of the marauders is a figure you sent me, a little dude with a shield. Also, check your emails!

      • Hey Jake, nothing in my emails, what am i looking for? Should have some more pics to send you soon!

  9. This stuff is superb, i mean everything here is but I love fantasy more than 40k so he fantasy stuff seems better to me…

    Please help me out though I recognise the base model for that Shaman type figure but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was, can you enlighten me please?

    • Thanks, I love your models too, as I used to say back when we were on Dakka. Did you ever get in to Age of Sigmar at all?

      The model is an Ironjaw (Orruk) wizard guy. I forget the exact name, shaman I think.

      • I’ve had two kids since AoS was released, I don’t get a lot of hobby time anymore, the most time I get un-pestered is when I go out to play games one evening a week, and the effort involved with learning all the new rules for things means I’ve not played wargames for quite some time now, much favouring the “pick up and play” of boardgames.

        I still consider converting my hobby passion but it’s going to be a while I think before I get anything done. Hasn’t stopped me buying stuff for the future though lol.

        I first thought it was an orc figure but couldn’t find it, now you’ve pointed me in the right direction, that’s not the miniature I was remembering at all (Weirdnob Shaman)…. cheers though!

  10. Really enjoyed the models and the atmosphere. Quick question though, did you sculpt the man beneath the boots of the Chosen or did you get it from a kit? I’ve been looking to add that kind of accesory to bases or pieces of scenery and have been having trouble beyond doing straight conversions.

    • Hi, I made the trampled ‘free person’ out of an old Necromunda figure ‘Scabbs’ with a headswap from an Empire kit, and different hands.

  11. Ok, this must be the best AoS project I have seen in my whole life! And I am not just talking about the mind blowing paintjob or the amazing conversions, it’s the theme behind your work which I enjoyed the most! Bring back Malal is a sweeet move, so much so that it sparkled inspiration again in my little brain and I decided to follow you on this endavour of an AoS version of inq28! I am also working with an hint of nostalgia to the old warhammer lore, but at the opposite end of the spectrum to your Warriors of Malal. I would be delighted if you wanted to come and have a look at my humble creations on my blog.
    Anyway, amazing work again, beautiful, nostalgic and innovative at the same time!


    • Hi, thanks for your comment. I follow your blog of course, but your latest figures are particularly cool. I’ll be honest, as much as I like the theme of Malal and the idea of using obscure GW lore, my main motivation was the fact that I mostly just like painting black and white. I think these guys could almost work as regular Undivided, or Archaon’s Everchosen. Although because I am enjoying the Malal concept I am tempted to try and make some daemons too. I’ve just sent you an email.

  12. I really enjoy the very gritty and mad max quality to the metallics on the figures. It is just an amazing effect.

  13. One of the most evocative miniature composition I’ve ever seen, really.. I’m wondering how did you make the fue on the demon. Thank you!

    • it’s static grass. I used an applicator to try and get it to stand on end a bit more than usual.

  14. Just wondering what you used as the base miniature for the greater daemon?

    • it’s no longer in production – a incarnate elemental of beasts from Forgeworld

  15. Awesome conversion work! May I ask what paints did you use for you guys? Armour and skin tones?

    • The armour is dark purple with light brown highlights washed with a lot of gloss black (you can’t see any colour to it, but it adds depth). Then silver dabbed on with a sponge, and washed with a brown weathering powder. The skin is something like Rakarth Flesh washed with burnt umber.

      • Gotcha. Also with the gloss black, I believe gamesworkshop makes a new nuln oil gloss and agrax earth shade gloss that you can use instead of mixing black paint with gloss varnish. Have you tried using it? Lastly with the brown pigment dust, do you apply it after the gloss, being the last step on the armor?

        • Pigment after gloss – varnish will destroy pigment so I always put it on last.

          The new gloss washes seem good to me.

  16. Wow, it really makes sense: you’e happy Warhammer has ben cancelled but steal the lore from it …

  17. Again an awesome inspiring project from you. Currently I have been working on a fully converted slaves to darkness warband myself for almost a year now, using the starterbox minis and lot’s of spacewolf bits. Still in the converting fase tho’ I have been wondering about a paint scheme. I think I have found it now, if you don’t mind me nicking it for a bit :) This would be the second time I used some of your ideas, your ork warlord conversion inspired me to do my own, you can see it on my instagram (@pixelclay). Hope you don’t mind :). If I may ask do you have a tutorial of some sorts on your painting techniques and materials used maybe,?


  18. Hey, I know its kinda late to comment but I just got found this page and I was really curious what the base model for the huge, heavily armored chaos warrior is.


    • Looking at it, I am almost certain that the legs/chest is from one of the Horus Heresy terminator models from Forgeworld. The arms look like Stormcast arms, I’m not sure about the helmet. The cloak is made from a Direwolf head/skull from the Legions of Nagash range and the fur is likely made with green stuff.
      I can’t identify the last parts, but its certainly a mix of many models.

  19. I really like these. They have such a primal feel to them, so evocative. I’d love to know which models you used as base for the two armored dudes. I’m thinking to make some chosen for my chaos army.

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