WARNING: this question is about the latest novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series by Dan Abnett. It's really hard to ask it without spoiling anything about the story arc set up in Salvation's Reach and continued through The Warmaster and The Anarch, so if you haven't read those, please stop reading here. Really heavy spoilers for The Anarch follow, though I tagged what I could.

A big reveal in The Anarch, foreshadowed in The Warmaster, is that Chaos magister Anakwanar Sek, the main villain of the current story arc, had placed two sleeper agents in the midst of the unsuspecting Tanith First regiment. These two agents turn out to be

murderous woe machines, disguised as the human-looking Yoncy and Dalin Criid, the supposedly biological children of Gol Kolea, later adopted by Captain Tona Criid.

They are activated during the events of The Anarch and go on a rampage, causing much carnage and, um, woe.

My question is: when and how were they infiltrated into the Tanith Regiment, and

were Yoncy and Dalin initially human at all, or was it a case that Gol Kolea never had any children to begin with, the whole deal a false memory implanted by Sek? And if so, how?

or was there a real switch, and if so, when did it happen? During or after Verghast and the Zoican war? And why is it important that

Gol Kolea remembers being told Yoncy was originally a boy, but then she is a girl? I read (but cannot find a reference) this was a continuity error by Dan Abnett, later acknowledged in-universe by the characters, but why does it matter? If Sek wanted to replace Yoncy with a woe machine, why change its gender? He didn't find it necessary to change Dalin's, so male-looking woe machines are feasible. So what was the point? Just a joke by Abnett acknowledging he made a mistake?

I am well aware none of this is answered in the novel series, because I've read them all. But maybe Dan Abnett has hinted at an answer in an interview, or in the Sabbat Crusade book?

3 Answers 3


Gol Kolea had two sons, but both died in Vervunhive. His mind was tampered with at some point after he was saved by the Saint. Her 'miracle healing' drew on warp energies, which made him more susceptible to the warp. The bad shadow straight up tells him as much.

The woe machines were created by Heritor Asphodel, who is dead. Sek found them and figured out how to use them, but he didn't make them. Dalin and Yoncy were 'rescued' by the regiment on the same world Asphodel was killed on. He put them there.

Sek is obviously a Tzeentch sorcerer. That means he's a cunning intellectual with prophetic powers. He foresaw that Gaunt and his Ghosts would rise to greatness. Probably that Gaunt would become Warmaster. So he insinuated the kids into the regiment knowing that EVENTUALLY when Gaunt fulfilled his destiny he would be close to the Warmaster, the Saint, and all the bigshot generals. Then he could activate them and wipe everyone out at once. He didn't need to know when it would happen, only that it eventually wound. And I imagine Tzeentch told him.

As for the boy girl thing...I imagine they were already made by the time he got his hands on them. A boy and a girl, and they looked the way they were built. So he had to work with what he had. If that means altering some dudes memories so he thinks he had a son and daughter, on well.

  • Thanks! I like your answer, it makes sense and it matches most of what is said in the novels. The "bad shadow" talking to Gol is from a short story, right? It's mentioned something happened during a resupply run between Salvation's Reach and The Warmaster, but the events are not described in the novels. I did notice Sek was a Tzeentch sorcerer, evidenced by one of his alternative depictions as a bird-like creature.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:26
  • I was a bit confused about the timeline of Gol's "healing" by the Saint, that happens on Verghast, right? Before his sons are discovered alive? If so, it'd make sense that he doesn't recognize them. What about Tona though? Did Sek foresaw she would find them, or Tona doesn't matter (just any Ghost would have done)? And was Yoncy's gender a continuity error later retconned by Abnett, as I read on the internet?
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:28
  • Wait, no! Gol is healed in Herodor ("Sabbat Martyr") but his sons are recovered in Verghast ("Necropolis"), which comes before. That doesn't entirely match the timeline, does it? I still like your answer though.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:31
  • 2
    I think in the end the kids found Tona, not the other way around. They were probably under orders to put themselves in the Ghosts path, and she was just the one who snatched them up. I can't be sure. I'm sure when Dan wrote that he didn't have this part planned, so some suspension of disbelief is required. But it's easy to say "they were subtly mind manipulated into accepting it".
    – Greg E Uke
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:34
  • 2
    Uhhh....no. I have no idea why Yoncy would be different from Dalin. They say Dalin was "stronger" than Yoncy, but I have no clue. Although, if he was a woe machine the whole time, it explains why he survived his first outing with that psycho commissar with the whip. But...not why it wasn't revealed in his physical examinations that he was full of darkness and knives instead of blood. /shrug
    – Greg E Uke
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:46

The idea that they were replaced before or during the Zoican War on Verghast doesn't make sense to me for a couple of major reasons.

The first is that, if they are infiltrators, they're a child and a baby at this point and can't meaningfully participate in the conflict. They would have a role to play in a longer war, but Asphodel isn't planning on a long war. He has a plan that (so far as he knows) will completely level Vervunhive in about two months. If he had any inkling that this plan wouldn't work and he'd need a backup, he wouldn't have personally accompanied the Spike. As it was, because he and his propaganda broadcasts were cut short, his troops were routed.

Another problem is the chain of custody: except for a few brief encounters towards the end of the book, Tona Criid spends all of Necropolis from the very first chapter with Dalin and Yoncy. If there was a switch during the book, it would have to be at the climax, while Asphodel is at the cusp of victory - hardly the time to be worrying about infiltrating the enemy. He is clearly set on a plan of annihilation; his troops even encircled Vervunhive to gun down refugees on the north bank of the river. If he wanted to infiltrate other Imperial cities, he would've inveigled his infiltrators among those refugees and allowed them to escape.

It's worth remembering too that Asphodel didn't need infiltrators, because he'd brought High Master Salvator Sondar under his sway. Why bother to sneak in a few fake grunts when you've already got the boss?

It's possible that another Chaos warlord placed them in Vervunhive before the beginning of the book, not knowing about what would happen. (Or perhaps knowing, and knowing they would survive - but if Chaos is providing that level of foreknowledge, why did any of the Salvation's Reach mission happen? To say nothing of the events of Traitor General, or the trap in Sabbat Martyr.) The question then becomes, why them? The Koleas were no one special; they didn't even live in Vervunhive. If Chaos could work such a perfect changeling ruse, why not on someone whose children would grow up to be important, such as a noble family?

Another counterargument is that throughout the series, various Chaos forces have proven very adept at infiltration and subversion on short notice. In First and Only, a trooper named Adare is cut by a Chaos artifact and within minutes has become a shambling horror made of bones. In Sabbat Martyr, Pater Sin takes control of Lijah Cuu with no forewarning or preparation (although it does take a very specific type of mind to do so). And of course, in Salvation's Reach Sirkle kills and replaces a bandsman more or less effortlessly. It wouldn't have been difficult for the woe machines to do the same to the real Dalin and Yoncy at pretty much any point.

Finally, as Greg E Uke points out in comments on another answer, in The Armor of Contempt Dalin goes through Guard basic training and is (as I recall) injured in combat on Gereon, which entails a number of scenes from his point of view. At no point is there the slightest hint that he is in any way, physically or mentally, anything other than a normal human. He has normal human limits to his abilities, he bleeds normally, etc.

Edit: As for when the woe machines were placed in the regiment, I would suggest that it's relatively recently: well after Gaunt was established as a prominent figure in the Crusade and probably after the mission to Salvation's Reach. More specific than that it may not be possible to pin down.

My thinking here is twofold: first, if Gaunt and the Tanith are already a noteworthy thorn in the side of Chaos, it removes the need for Sek to have predicted that they (out of all the thousands of Guard units in the crusade) would become important later. Second, I feel that if the woe machines were active during the Salvation's Reach mission, they would have interfered somehow, perhaps during Sirkle's assassination attempt.

  • I agree with the weaknesses you point out (though it was I who pointed out Dalin's training is evidence this is a retcon and not actually planned from the beginning by Dan Abnett). I think Greg E's answer is essentially that this isn't a plan by Heritor Asphodel, but by Sek; since Sek is an adept of Tzeentch, he has (some) ability to foresee the future and play a long game that the Heritor can't. Still, as you say, "chain of custody" and all that makes this difficult. There are plot holes. Though I now believe Greg's answer is pretty much what Abnett was going for (as flawed as it turned out).
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 4:24
  • BTW, Lijah Cuu was subverted by very powerful psykers, but he was pretty much almost there from the beginning: a selfish, deranged, murderous psychopath. All he needed was a nudge from Chaos ;) The "Sirkles" are a more interesting example of short term infiltration. They kind of make the woe machines redundant, don't they? Though the woe machines are scarier.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 4:25
  • 2
    I suppose my objection is that, if Sek is able to play such a long game, it seems odd that he's able to miss things like the events of Traitor General or Salvation's Reach unfolding around him.
    – Cadence
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 5:13
  • True. I suppose the powers of Chaos, especially Tzeentch's, are treacherous like that, showing Sek only portions of the future. But I agree, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense...
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 5:37
  • 1
    I did rather forget that part, didn't I?
    – Cadence
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:33

There is another "layer" to the story if you look at it from a divine influence standpoint.

The kids were never Gol Kolea's children, but he thought they were for some reason. I suspect it was actually the Emperor who made him think that. He got that idea in his head after the Saint healed him, but it's unclear why.

What if his memories weren't a deception by Sek? What if they were put there by the Emperor so he would love the woe machines and make them human?

In the end, love is what killed them both. If they hadn't been made vulnerable they would have been unkillable. Tzeench created monsters disguised as humans, and the Emperor countered by making them too human to fulfil their purpose. He's the god of humanity after all. That's his thing.

Is this theory too crazy? Gol was never manipulated by Sek at all? The Saint says he was the first 'instrument' she ever made.

  • I like this theory as well, and it makes as much sense as anything else, but this second answer is probably speculation ;) Your first answer probably matches more directly the evidence in the novels.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 17:54

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