The External Hazard is a network of aggressive, extremely dangerous psychological entities and lesser beings serving them, created as a side effect of the deteriorating mental environment of an abstractly powerful entity known as Najha-Tebah. Originating in a region of the Barrelplex of unknown Soupcount level, the Hazard lacks the scale necessary to conquer or subvert the entire local altarca, but is nonetheless capable of traversing very far through it, threatening everything from the Rifters' Realm in the Barrel to countless -verses and hierarchies beyond.
The actual nature of the "main" members of the Hazard is not entirely certain, given that they are more like manifested elements of a greater entity's subconscious mind than actual independent beings. They do take physical forms, but these forms are constantly shifting into increasingly unthinkable states and are unable to be described accurately at any given moment. Their servitor entities, however, tend to be more static, physical beings, capable of interacting with one another and with others. Anything from a human to a mass of bacteria to a sentient geometric figure can be a servitor, provided it "agrees" (through mental rewriting, of course) to obey the Hazard's commands entirely.
Simply knowing about the existence of the Hazard is dangerous; a mind "awakened" to their presence will begin acting as a very subtle focus for their reality disruption, and in extreme cases can be used as a warp-in point for offensive units. Information about the Hazard degrades over time, as well, necessitating continual re-exposure to re-gather memories and measurements.
History / Life Cycle
The Hazard's total history is less well known than expected, even though Rifters have collected enormous volumes of data from their destroyed spacecraft and megastructures. Current knowledge indicates they originate from a suicidally-power-mad, insane entity known as Najha-Tebah. What might be more useful to describe their history in a more general sense is their "life cycle" of sorts:
- Najha-Tebah's mind continually fractures, leaving behind loosely-connected motes of thought known as "stage I Seeds".
- When a stage I Seed, after drifting through thoughtspace or realspace (the distinction at this scale can become blurred), enters an archverse, most often of Soupcount order $ \omega + n $ for small $ n $, it quickly anchors itself to the local existence by forming a planar environment from which it begins distributing stage II Seeds to other planes and -verses.
- Stage II Seeds, typically favoring archverses of order $ \omega $, mature into God Larvae, which rapidly begin spawning tiny figments of Najha-Tebah's and the stage I Seed's subconscious minds: the Hazard's "initial wave", in a sense. Meanwhile, the original stage I Seed turns into a nexus of sorts for the Larvae and the higher-ranking minds to communicate.
- Initial minds find and convert local entities into servitors, which then either serve the minds and Larvae as is, or metamorphose into more useful forms. This wave of infestation spreads across the altarca's cosmology, often creating entirely new -verses and planes along the way merely to conquer and convert them moments later.
- Records from known Hazard craft suggest that once an archverse is indistinguishable from the inside of Najha-Tebah's mind (transforming from a more physical state to a more mental one, at some point), it merges with Najha-Tebah, and lets itself fracture into more stage I Seeds.
Stage I Seed
A stage I Seed is a monolithic embryo of sorts from which the first waves of a Hazard incursion begin. While their nature as mental entities rather than physical ones causes some difficulty in describing them, most observers agree that the Seeds are vaguely egg-shaped structures built from pulsating biotechnological materials and measuring approximately five parsecs in diameter. The internal structure is widely disputed, largely because it is entirely subject to the whims of Najha-Tebah's self-contradictory subconscious mind.
Each Seed forms an indefinitely large, planar (in the topological sense as well as the classification) -verse around itself that is effectively just an extension of its own body, though composed of materials somewhat resembling a mixture between soil and organic tissue. Often, lesser Hazard minds will use this region as a base of operations once the Seed completes its metamorphosis into a strange type of communication center, by building cities and shipyards, or other, stranger structures.
Stage II Seed / God Larva
Contrasting quite dramatically with the stage I Seeds they spawn from, stage II Seeds are tiny, brightly-glowing beads that fly through space or metaspace with incredible speed. While not entirely sentient themselves, when they contact a -verse, they rapidly form a structure not unlike a supermassive black hole, and then create a computational system inside their corresponding gravity wells.
This structure then becomes the focal point of what usually is a tremendous burning galaxy of sorts, the complete ensemble of which is called a God Larva. God Larvae serve the Stage I Seed, though in a few recorded instances some of them have sealed themselves off from its commands and developed their own fully-conscious minds. It is known that at least one Larva (unrelated to the Hazard infestation in the Barrel) actually abandoned its cause entirely, instead devoting its time and energy to researching the history of the omniverse it arrived in.
Primary Minds are the fundamental "unit" or "tool" of the Hazard. These rapidly-shifting, thought-based entities spread through ideas, infecting any sophont that gets too close to knowing the truth behind the Hazard. Primary Minds do not engage in combat directly, instead rewiring their servitors into taking more advantageous forms, or serving as a means of turning enemy brains into warp-in points for more dangerous entities to arrive.
When a God Larva or the Stage I Seed demands more space for the Hazard to spread to, Primary Minds reshape their servitors into entities made from quantum string and manifested concepts called Sinkhole Worms. These mind-twisting creatures bore tunnels through the Interdimensional Void, opening portals to universes and higher -verses, whether they already exist or are created on the spot by the Sinkhole Worms themselves merely so the Hazard can consume them.
A servitor entity warped into a combat form is known as a Warrior. Once under the direct control of the minds above it, a Warrior acts practically without thought, merely as an extension of the chaotic desires of those controlling it. Even a basic Warrior has power great enough to shatter continents and warp entire planetary populations both physically and mentally; stronger ones can perform far greater feats.
Due to the immense range of the External Hazard, several seeds, called forks, have inherited completely different behaviors of that of the baseline External Hazard.