It is the 41st Millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor of Mankind has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the vast Imperium of Man for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day so that he may never truly die.
Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the Warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor's will. Vast armies give battle in His name on uncounted worlds. Greatest amongst his soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors. Their comrades in arms are legion: the Imperial Guard and countless planetary defence forces, the ever-vigilant Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few.
But for all their multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat to humanity from aliens, heretics, mutants -- and far, far worse. To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times.
Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.
There is no such thing as innocence. Only degrees of guilt.
The planet Tarsus, Moridan Sector, Segmentum Pacificus.
The year 40,865
Two walked through the dark, shattered remains of what had once been a great bastion of the Human race. One of them was clearly not Human - not entirely, standing well over eight feet tall, made even more imposing by the crimson armor of ceramite and adamantium that sheathed his body, his face concealed behind a grim-looking helmet. All who looked upon him - whether loyal, traitor, or xeno would know him for what he was - an Adeptus Astartes, a Space Marine, the Emperor's Angels of Death. The other was even less Human, his - or her - body replaced almost entirely with gray metal and at places exposed circuitry, with four great metal tentacles sprouting from its back. A hood shadowed the cyborg's face, with a pair of blue-white lights shining from under it. Like the Marine, this man was also easily recognizable by sight, a Techpriest of Mars.
"I am glad you were able to accept my invitation at such short notice, Captain." The Techprist said, his voice filled with buzzes and clicks as the gears and actuators of his voice moved into place.
"Your offer was too generous to resist. First look at the inside..." The Marine shook his head. "This discovery will change the fate of the Moridan Sector."
"I certainly hope so." Their path through the tunnel came to a halt as they stepped in front of a door of black metal, with a massive sigil emblazoned upon it, a seal depicting a single solid circle with three hollow circles surrounding it. Words were written around it in a strange language.
"That symbol, those words?"
"The symbol signifies energy. As for the words, they are a very early High Gothic. Rough translation, Through Struggle to the Stars. Shall we?" At the Marine's curt nod, the Techpriest approached a console beside the door and inserted one of his tentacles. "There is still power. One moment, the door will open momentarily." The Techpriest stood back from the door, while the Marine reached down to his side and the bolt pistol holstered there as hydraulics heaved and the massive door slowly slid upwards, allowing entrance into a hall that belied the untouched door.
Corpses were strewn everywhere - only bones now after so many years, but still clad in the tattered and shredded remains of their clothing - some in armor of metal and ceramic, others in white coats and black suits. "It appears that this bunker was breached at some point."
"No, no." The Techpriest didn't seem bothered. "We've examined the exterior quite carefully. There are no signs of breaching. Whatever took place here was internal, not external."
The Marine subvocalized a message, then tilted his head. "Strange. Something is interfering with my communications."
"It's most likely the metal content of this moon. Let's proceed, whatever caused this is long since dead."
Marine and Techpriest entered the bunker. Bodies were all too common, and the walls were crumpled or blasted through, while many of the soldiers or guards in their armor appeared to have been torn through by some kind of massive claw or force. Step by step they ventured deeper into the wreckage, and as they descended further the carnage lessened before stopping entirely. It took some hours before they finally came to the core of the facility, a sealed door with the same sigil as the entrance door and similar runes scratched underneath it. The Techpriest hooked up to the console.
"There's a lockout in place. The door won't open."
"Easily corrected." The Marine reached to his side and withdrew a sword, flicking a switch to wreath it in coruscating blue energy, then plunged it into the door, the metal distorting and twisting around it until the door hissed as the seal was broken, the Marine heaving it open.
Inside was surprisingly empty and benign. Two metallic structures, one from the ceiling and the other from the floor, meeting in the center to clutch a pyramid-shaped object roughly the size of a man's fist, shifting in color from one moment to the next, one moment a dark purple shot through with lightning, the next a sickly grey-green, and a heartbeat later a bright, shining white.
"What is it?"
The Techpriest made a faint buzzing sound, as if trying and failing to approximate a chuckle. "I haven't the faintest idea." He reached out to remove it, a crackling sound faintly audible as his metal fingers brushed the surface of the artifact.
* * * * * *
A single thought of heresy can blight a lifetime of faithful duty.
One hundred and thirty-five years later, 001M42, the height of the Thirteenth Black Crusade
Aboard Gothic-Class Cruiser Gaunt , in orbit around Hive World Desolous, Moridan Sector, Segmentum Pacificus
Captain Isaiah Hoss stepped onto the bridge of his cruiser, nodding curtly to his officers. "Are we prepared to enter the Warp, Navigator?"
The Navigator didn't look away, just continued her focusing. "The preparations are complete...Captain."
A dull throbbing ache began in the Captain's head, like someone was grinding their thumb into his forehead. He ignored it. "Very well, then, be-" His words were cut off as the Navigator grabbed her head and doubled over, screaming in agony, blood running from her eyes, nose and ears, bloody spots forming on the bandana that covered her third eye.
"C-Captain, something's happening!"
Hoss stared out into space as space itself pulsated before seeming to tear apart into a field of swirling green fire, thousands of kilometers across. A massive spike, akin to the cruiser that he stood upon but a dozen times larger and covered in nightmarish, twisted growths, from patches that looked to be flesh twisted and morphed, covered in teeth and claws and cancerous tumors, to random assortments of jagged blades, curling tentacles, and massive altars to the Ruinous Powers emerged from the rip in space, flanked by numerous smaller ships.
Those were the Captain's last words.
* * * * *
Four months later.
Liberation Fleet Damnatus Infernus, en route to Hive World Desolous
"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Tatiana Markarova, Inquisitor, Ordo Hereticus."
"The situation is as follows." A woman spoke, clad in an open greatcoat with black carapace armor under it, the sigil of the Inquisition on her chest. "After the warp portal opened over Desolous, Chaotic forces began an invasion on the planet. Initial warp disturbance prevented astropathic messages for some weeks, delaying the formation and deployment of the Liberation fleet considerably. As it stands, Desolous is nearly fallen, with nearly all of the landmass under Chaos control. The only bastion remaining is Hive Veridan in the extreme north of the world."
She was addressing a room of irregulars - psykers, soldiers, mercenaries, techpriests, battle-sisters, and numerous others. "The Liberation Fleet, along with a number of Kroot mercenary companies will be landing in that vicinity to assist in securing them, while the Freebootas commanded by Kaptin Zogovv will land..." The Inquisitor sighed. "Wherever they decide to...can't believe we're desperate enough to hire Orks." She shook her head.
"That is not our mission. Desolous' fate is in their hands. Our objective is to close that portal and ensure that it does not happen again. We will be penetrating Chaos-controlled territory and ascertaining the leader of this incursion and what means they used to create this portal."
"The Navigators estimate we will exit the Warp inside of one week. Prepare yourselves."
Thought begets Heresy. Heresy begets Retribution.