Gods of Mars, p.1Graham McNeill
Table of Contents
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About the Author
It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor 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 Imperium 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 Astra Militarum 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 from aliens, heretics, mutants – and worse.
To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest 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 re-learned. 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.
Lexell Kotov – Archmagos of the Kotov Explorator Fleet
Tarkis Blaylock – Fabricatus Locum, Magos of the Cebrenia Quadrangle
Vitali Tychon – Stellar Cartographer of Quatria Orbital Gallery
Linya Tychon – Stellar Cartographer, daughter of Vitali Tychon
Azuramagelli – Magos of Astrogation
Kryptaestrex – Magos of Logistics
Turentek – Ark Fabricatus
Hirimau Dahan – Secutor/Guilder Suzerain
Chiron Manubia – Magos of Forge Elektrus
Totha Mu-32 – Mechanicus Overseer
Abrehem Locke – Bondsman
Rasselas X-42 – Arco-flagellant
Vannen Coyne – Bondsman
Julius Hawke – Bondsman
Ismael de Roeven – Servitor
Galatea – Proscribed machine intelligence
Vettius Telok – Archmagos of the Telok Explorator Fleet
Roboute Surcouf – Captain
Emil Nader – First Mate
Adara Siavash – Hired Gun
Ilanna Pavelka – Tech-priest
Kayrn Sylkwood – Enginseer
Adeptus Astartes Black Templars
Tanna – Brother-Sergeant
Issur – Initiate
Atticus Varda – Emperor’s Champion
Bracha – Initiate
Yael – Initiate
The Cadian 71st ‘The Hellhounds’
Ven Anders – Colonel of the Cadian Detached Formation
Blayne Hawkins – Captain, Blazer Company
Taybard Rae – Lieutenant, Blazer Company
Jahn Callins – Requisitional Support Officer, Blazer Company
Arlo Luth, ‘The Wintersun’ – Warlord Princeps, Lupa Capitalina
Elias Härkin, ‘The Ironwoad’ – Warhound Princeps, Vilka
Gunnar Vintras, ‘The Skinwalker’
Bielanna Faerelle – Farseer of Biel-Tan
Ariganna – Striking Scorpion Exarch of Biel-Tan
Tariquel – Striking Scorpion of Biel-Tan
Vaynesh – Striking Scorpion of Biel-Tan
Uldanaish Ghostwalker – Wraithlord of Biel-Tan
‘Behold, the extropic doctrine!
Humanity is a limitation to be overcome,
for all beings strive for a life beyond flesh.
Shall we be the ebb of this great flood?
Shall we be beasts rather than gods?
What is the ape to Man? A painful embarrassment.
Baseline forms shall be that to the Mechanicum.
We crawled from the mud to be gods,
but much in our species still wallows there.
I will teach you of Man and Machine’s union.
The Mechanicum quests for Singularity.
My brothers, remain faithful to Mars!
Despise those who speak of the divine organic!
Beasts are they, despisers of knowledge.
Entropy and fear lead them to extinction.
And the galaxy will not weep for them.’
The Extropian Manifesto (sequestered).
Vol XVI, The Telok Verses.
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Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation Thermodynamic Violation
Metadata Parsing in effect.
Knowledge is power? That is what they say, those cohered molecules and atomic chains spreading through known and unknown space like a virus. That they have achieved sentience enough to think and say such a thing is a wonder in itself.
They grow and decay with prodigious rapidity, infesting every corner of the galaxy in numbers so huge as to defy even our imagination. Tens of thousands exist within this body of steel and power, itself only recently roused from millenni
They are grains of sand swirling around the base of a vast mountain of knowledge. Some believe it utterly improbable that such a mountain can exist or be climbed without some divine hand to lift them to its summit.
How wrong they are. Winds of inevitable change swirl around this mountain and sometimes a propitious gust will blow against a favourably shaped grain to carry it uphill. It reaches higher than any before it, and it knows fractionally more than it once did.
By such infinitesimal steps does life evolve.
And its companions say it possesses great knowledge.
They are all ignorant, but ignorance must be embraced before it can be banished. The Athenian stonecutter had the truth of it when he said that the only true wisdom was in knowing you knew nothing.
Only by knowing how empty your cup is can you reach to fill it.
There are heights of knowledge whose existence the grains can never even guess at, let alone comprehend. Yet, even lost upon such an endless ocean of ignorance, there are beings who claim wisdom, who believe they know everything there is to be known.
These are the most dangerous beings imaginable.
They claim ancient texts of false and forgotten gods contain all the universe’s knowledge – as though such a thing is possible beyond Akasha. For tens of thousands of years, these primitive coherences accepted such blind dogma without question, and those who questioned it were extinguished in agony.
For one dangerous moment, the grains of sand came close to ascending the mountain in one giant leap. The galaxy teetered on the edge of a precipice as a key turned in a door that should never be unlocked. One singular consciousness threaded the needle to pierce the veil between their world and Akasha, unpicking the weave that separates all things and no things.
But it was not to be. The door slammed shut, perhaps forever.
Knowledge must be earned, not simply stolen as Prometheus once stole fire and set mankind upon his course.
To stand on the shoulders of titans is one thing.
To claim their wisdom as your own is another, and only minds that have spent every moment since the galaxy began its slow revolutions can hope to appreciate this without being destroyed.
They think us a great void-born city of metal and stone, a marvel of wonders never to be known again. We consent to our physical manifestation dwelling in the depths of space, sheet steel skin cold and unyielding. They think us a living thing, and we allow our irreducible complexity to be thought of as such.
The bones they have crafted are adamantium, our molten heart the flickering sparks of stars they believe tamed. We sweat oil, and the devotion of a million souls is thought to give us succour. The coherences of flesh and blood believe they empower us from within. They work the myriad wonders that drive our manifest organs, feed the whims of our appetite and hurl us through the fractional slivers of space between stars.
How far have we travelled? They will never know.
What miracles have we seen? More than can be counted.
The light of every star that shines has reflected from our iron flesh. We bathe in light that has travelled from the past, cast by dead stars and furnaces yet to be born.
We are a wide-eyed mariner in strange seas, swept out among the glittering nebulae. We have seen sights no man can know, no legend tell or history record.
We are living history, for we have ventured farther and longer than any other manifestation of purest knowledge.
We are the bringer of hope in this hopeless age.
We are Speranza, and we are the Mariner of the Nebulae.
Such is our destiny.
The knowledge of the ancients stands beyond question.
Past and future. Then and now. Temporal anchors. Intellectual conceits, they allowed a farseer to cling to the present. Such linear terms had no meaning or place within the skein, but they had their uses. Bielanna fought to cling on to the present as past and future collided, hurling her sight into potentialities that could never come to be and times she had never lived.
Infinite vistas of the psychic landscape surrounded her, golden ocean depths filled with glittering, frond-like threads. Each shone brightly as it flared and was then extinguished, only to be replaced by hundreds more.
A billion times a billion lives lived in the blink of an eye.
And these were just the ones she could see.
She drifted, watching each tightly woven thread split into fractal patterns of innumerable futures as she approached. The skein’s tides were unpredictable at the best of times, and to see one individual destiny was next to impossible.
But that was what she had trained her entire life to do.
Farseers spent centuries reading the skein’s ebb and flow, but not even the greatest were entirely safe from capricious undertows or spiteful squalls. In this place beyond the galaxy, where the warp and weft of space-time were playthings shaped by the will of a madman, it was all too easy to forget that.
Bielanna struggled against the tug of fear, hatred and grief: interleaved emotions that would damn her as surely as relaxing her grip on the thread leading back to her body of flesh and blood.
Fear for the fate of the galaxy should the humans succeed in bringing the Breath of the Gods back to their Imperium.
Hatred for the inhuman black-clad Space Marines who had haunted her visions for years with their crusading zeal.
Grief for daughters she might never know, whose chance to exist was diminished every moment by the blundering actions of Archmagos Kotov and his fleet of explorators.
She closed off that last thought, but not quickly enough.
She heard her daughters’ unborn laughter. Girlish giggles echoing from all around her. Sounds from a future that grew ever more remote. Laughter that mocked her attempts to restore it.
Bielanna’s body of flesh and blood sat in the oil-stained squalor of the Speranza, its foetid, human depths now home to her warriors since the Starblade’s destruction. A tear of loss ran down a porcelain cheek, the emotion so potent it made her shudder.
In the skein, Bielanna fought to control her feelings.
The mon-keigh knew nothing of the universe’s secret workings, and for the briefest moment, she envied them their ignorance. Who but the eldar could mourn lives that had not even been born?
‘I am Bielanna Faerelle, Farseer of Biel-Tan,’ she cried into the oceanic depths. ‘I am master of my soul and I bring only balance in my heart and thoughts.’
Everything in the skein rejected constancy. It sensed her lie. This was a place of dreams and nightmares, where all things were infinite. To give something a name marked it as not of the skein.
And that was dangerous.
It drew things that hid in the cracks between destinies. She saw them ooze from half-glimpsed shadows. That shadows could exist in this realm of absolute light was a measure of their threat. These were not the crystalline web-forms of warp spiders, nor yet the glimmer of future echoes moving from potential to reality.
These were things twisted out of true by the tortured nature of space-time beyond the galaxy’s edge. They defied the tyranny of form, mere suggestions of grub-like null-spaces that existed only to consume. She moved onwards, far from their questing, sphincter-like mouths and blind, idiot hunger.
The Lost Magos, known as Telok to the mon-keigh, had torn the flesh of the galaxy asunder. The things in the cracks were growing ever more numerous as that wound pulled wider.
Worse, the damage was spreading from the material universe into the skein. Already Telok’s violations were cutting threads like a blind weaver’s blade.
Unchecked, it would destroy the future of everything.
Everything about Archmagos Telok’s gigantic form screamed threat. The jutting, angular protrusions of razor-edged crystal growths encrusting his oversized limbs. The brutal angles of his piston-driven Dreadnought frame. His entire aspect spoke to the primal part of Roboute Surcouf’s brain that h
The part that screamed, run!
And yet the face beneath the ragged hood was smiling in welcome.
Telok’s skin was waxy and unhealthy looking, but that was nothing unusual for adepts of the Mechanicus. Too much time locked in their forges under the glare of bare lumens gave them all an unhealthy complexion. The archmagos had glassy eyes that were wide and enthusiastic, the mirror of his smile.
But like his eyes, the smile looked artificial.
Telok’s forge world – Exnihlio, he’d called it – was unlike anything Roboute had ever seen, and he’d seen a great deal of the strangest things the galaxy had to offer. With a Letter of Marque (genuine now, thanks to Archmagos Kotov) he’d traversed the galaxy from side to side as a devil-may-care rogue trader.
He’d seen pinnacle-spired hives straddling volcanic chasms, vine-hung settlements the size of continents and subterranean arcologies that were as light and airy as any surface metropolis. He’d done business on orbital junkyards that served as off-world slums, been welcomed by Imperial commanders who dwelled undersea, and plied his trade with feral tribal chiefs who established cargo cults in his wake.
No aspect of Exnihlio’s surface owed a debt to aesthetics, simply to functionality. Much like the Speranza, the mighty Ark Mechanicus that had brought them beyond the edges of known space. This region appeared, at first glance, to be a power generation district. The air was bitterly metallic, like biting on a copper Imperial, and reeked of petrochemical burn-off.
Monolithic structures of dark iron and cyclopean stone towered on all sides, standing cheek by jowl with crisp spires of steel and glass. Traceries of lightning forked into a sky of painfully vivid blue electrical storms, and distant cooling towers belched caustic vapours. The cliff-like facades of the enormous buildings gave no clue as to their exact purpose, but they throbbed with powerful industry and the roar of infernal furnaces.
A thousands-strong, crystalline army of warriors filled the plaza in which their Thunderhawk sat with its engines growling. They stood like glassy sculptures of Space Marines arrayed for battle before their Chapter Master.
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