I have made a grave error.
I mean I already knew that, but now it's hitting. Let this be a lesson to all of us, never to listen to Dan Marten's writing prompt suggestions. I really should be getting paid by the word. Well I’m deep enough now that I can see the light at the end of this long, unnecessarily dense tunnel, so I guess there’s no place left to go but down.
So last we left off the Emperor had just been put on life support after erasing his son Horus from existence. Remember that? Well this issue we finally get to look into the happenings of actual "Warhammer 40k!" That is to say, events that take place in M40 and beyond.
This section is going to be the exact opposite of the last piece, events during the Horus Heresy tend to be super dense, everything opens up after that. Like all the events around M30 are warped around the Horus Heresy, after Hours goes from 11’5” to 5’5” things actually start happening in the rest of the universe. All of this is to say that most of the story from here is going to be pretty broad, more overview oriented kinda stuff and a lot less focused on specific events like the last couple pieces have been.
The Great Scouring - After beating back the traitor legions at Terra, the loyalist forces launch a massive and swift counteroffensive known as the Great Scouring. Having lost the civil war, the traitor legions have now been branded the Chaos Space Marines, the Heretic Astartes. Devoid of leadership, the chaos legions devolve into infighting as their loyalist counterparts scrub them from the galaxy.
Most of the traitor marines flee into the one place in the galaxy the imperium cannot touch them: the Eye of Terror (remember that?). Different warbands fight with each other for control of the warp-touched planets within the Eye, while others bided their time and strength until the Imperium stops hunting them. The Great Scouring all but wiped the chaos legions from the galaxy, but eventually the Imperium needed to turn its attention to the matter of rebuilding
Following the horrific events of the Horus Heresy, the task of rebuilding is left largely on the shoulders of Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines and the most trusted and respected of the loyalist Primarchs that still lived. In order to prevent an event like the Heresy from happening again he decided the legions should be split into smaller chapters. To this end, Guilliman drafted his Codex Astartes, a code of military organization that detailed his exact specifications for the new organizational structure of the Adeptus Astartes (feels weird just dropping that phrase now, it's just the official name of the space marines). In the lore the Codex Astartes functions as a procedural catch-all for the space marines, it's basically their bible.
Guilliman also established the High Lords of Terra to rule in the Emperor’s name. This was a council of the most important political and military figures in the Imperium. Initially it was led by Guilliman himself, however in the millenia following the Heresy the Emperor’s loyal sons would vanish, one by one. Eventually Guilliman himself was fatally wounded by a poisoned blade and forced into stasis. Without the Primarchs to guide them, the leadership of the Imperium would quickly fall into stagnation and infighting. The High Lords more frequently bickered among themselves than ruling by the Emperor’s will.
And while the Imperium became distracted, the chaos legions would sneak from the Eye of Terror to settle old grudges.
The Black Crusades - After the Heresy many of the traitor legions broke into scattered warbands. The Sons of Horus fared worse than many of their brother legions, devoid of a Primarch they were blamed by the others for the ultimate failure of the Siege of Terra. The once mighty Sons of Horus broke and scattered, fracturing into nothing more than pirates and petty raiding gangs. After the death of his father, First Captain Ezekyle Abaddon was the one to retrieve Horus’ body and lead the remaining Sons of Horus from Terra. Distraught by the loss, Abaddon entered self-imposed exile within the Eye of Terror. During his years of isolation, Abaddon came to doubt Horus’ might and mind, realizing that he was nothing more than a pawn to the Chaos Gods. Abaddon resolved to succeed where his father had failed, and to do so without submitting to the whims of the ruinous powers.
And so Abaddon returned to the galaxy, seeking to reunify the old Sons of Horus as his new Black Legion. Through blood and conquest Abaddon would amass a force capable of combating the Imperium once more. From the bride of the Vengeful Spirit Abaddon would stride forth into the galaxy once more during his Black Crusades, wreaking havoc over entire sectors of space and dealing critical blows to the Imperium. 12 Black Crusades in total would soften an already cracking Imperium over the next 10 millenia, over which the Imperium would fall into stagnation, hopelessness, and decay.
The Age of Apostasy - During the Emperor’s life he promoted what he called the Imperial Truth, which was a proclamation of the sovereignty of science and reason within the Imperium. The Emperor first spurned his son Lorgar after he made the people of a planet worship the Emperor as a god. But the Emperor’s death left the Imperium scarred. The Imperial Truth faded as mankind was put on the backfoot in the war for galactic dominance. Chaos warbands and alien forces accosted the Imperium across the Milky Way, and the Imperium would come to have little time or interest for anything besides the military-industrial complex. Progress stagnated as the Imperium became little more than one great engine of war.
Amidst this decay more and more citizens of the Imperium turned to superstition and spirituality for comfort. Worship of the Emperor became common, and in time the Imperial Ecclesiarchy was established as the official religious body of the Imperium. Over millennia the Imperium’s theocracy would grow exponentially more dogged, and eventually the Ecclesiarch was eventually given a permanent seat on the High Lords of Terra.
In M36 a man named Goge Vandire would manage to become both High Lord of the Imperial Administratum and Ecclesiarch, making him the most powerful man in the Imperium. He further consolidated this power until he was essentially Emperor in all but name. Vandire would rule the Imperium with an iron fist until his reign ended in revolution. The Ecclesiarchy was prevented from ever again conscripting “men under arms.” So in response, the Ecclesiarchy created the Adeptus Sororitas, or Sisters of Battle, an all-female army that would become their military wing
Arrival of the Tyranids - The Imperial Inquisition is essentially the secret police of the Imperium. Individual Inquisitors operate independently and command a great deal of authority, and are tasked with roaming the galaxy like detectives to root out the enemies of humanity. One such Inquisitor Cryptman visited the ocean planet of Tyran in M41 after complaints of a water shortage. When Cryptman found out the planet was brown he realized why.
The planet Tyran had been completely stripped. No oceans, no life, no atmosphere. The only clue Cryptman had as to why was black box footage of planetary defense soldiers fighting alien monstrosities like he had never seen before. Cryptman then went to visit a few more nearby planets with similar such water shortages. Eventually Cryptman identified a massive fleet of organisms moving through space towards the homeworld of Ultramarines legion, Macragge. Cryptman named these new aliens the Tyranids, after the planet Tyran.
The Tyranids came from outside the Milky Way galaxy, and are a race of space bugs that don’t care about anything except consumption. They’re made of innumerous different “bioforms,” organisms ranging from microorganisms to living spacecraft that are all connected to a single hive mind. Not much is known about the Tyranids, only that they go from planet to planet and consume all available biomass. Though that first fleet was defeated at Macragge, it was only after the legion suffered catastrophic casualties. Since then many more fleets have entered the galactic plane, except no two fleets have entered the galaxy from the same direction. The galaxy could very well be surrounded. Hive Fleet Leviathan, the biggest hive fleet yet seen, came from below the galactic plane.
The 13th Black Crusade & The Fall of Cadia - The planet Cadia stands at the doorstep of the Eye of Terror, acting as a forward operating base for all of the Imperium’s operations against the forces of chaos. The entire planet was made into a fortress, guarded by an army composed of the planet’s entire population. For millennia it held the ire of Abaddon, until the year 999 M41 when the largest Black Legion armada since the days of the Heresy emerged from the eye.
Abaddon had come with his 13th Black Crusade, the one with which he intended to break Cadia and carve a path all the way to Terra. The events of the Battle of Cadia are almost as dense as the Siege of Terra, so I’ll keep this brief. After heavy fighting, the forces of chaos were repelled after it was discovered that an ancient series of mysterious pillars known as the Blackstone Pylons on the planet’s surface was actually ancient warp-nullifying technology. The Imperium managed to amplify the devices, banishing the daemons of Abaddon’s forces back into the warp. Enraged, Abaddon took his planet-sized death ship and literally threw it at the planet. The impact literally shattered the planet, destroying the pylons.
Turns out whatever aliens first put the pylons on the planet did it in order to contain the Eye of Terror. Without their power, the Eye grew until it split the galaxy in half, becoming known as the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Great Rift. The Maledictum threw the Imperium into disarray, cutting off warp travel across much of the galaxy. The enemies of humanity, both alien and chaos, used the opportunity to ravage countless Imperial worlds.
As the situation looked hopeless, the Imperium was approached by an envoy of Aeldari calling themselves the Ynnari. Among the alien’s ranks was one with the power to bring back the dead. The Ynnari, alongside the greatest engineers and technicians of humanity, revived the poisoned Primarch Roboute Guilliman after more than 10,000 years of stasis. Guilliman’s revival breathed new life into the Imperium as the Primarch made his way to Terra and usurped the High Lords, becoming Lord Commander of the Imperium. After making it back to Terra, Guilliman revealed a project he had been working on since his stasis: the Primaris Marine, a new breed of Space Marine. The Primaris are stronger, faster, and more durable than regular Astartes Space Marines, but most importantly they show unshakable resistance to chaotic corruption.
In spite of this many Space Marine legions distrusted the Primaris, many worried they would replace the old Astartes. The first Space Marine chapter to make widespread use of Primaris Marines was the Blood Angels, one of the original Space Marine Legions. The Blood Angels were nearly wiped out by the Tyranids, and welcomed Primaris Marines in order to rapidly replenish their numbers. With their adoption, other chapters would soon adopt Primaris Marines. Rejuvenated by the induction of the Primaris Marines, Guilliman declared the start of his Indomitus Crusade to retake the worlds lost since the opening of the Cicatrix Maledictum.
Return of the Silent King - So remember way back at the beginning of my very first piece of Warhammer lore when I talked about the War in Heaven? Well here’s the payoff if you don’t recall, the Silent King was the ruler of the ancient Necron race who left the galaxy in self imposed exile millions of years ago. Well on his vacation the Silent King came across none other than the Tyranids, and saw them headed straight for the Milky Way galaxy. So he raced back to the galaxy in order to reunite the Necrons against the threat of the hive fleets.
By this point many of the Necron tombs had begun to awaken within the galaxy. Old dynasties of Necron Lords began to operate independently from one another, carving out their own sectors of space. In M42 the Silent King returns to the galaxy, and many of the Necron dynasties swear fealty to him once again. The Silent King soon sets out reclaiming the galaxy, his armies marching upon the battlefield to meet the forces of Guilliman’s Indomitus Crusade.
And that’s it! After almost 8000 words you’re all caught up on everything you need to know about the "Warhammer 40k" timeline to jump into the lore more or less wherever you want! Well okay maybe not anywhere, I skipped a lot. I mean a whole lot. I haven’t even mentioned the Mechanicus, the T’au, the Custodes, the Grey Knights, the Drukhari, events like the War of the Beast or any of the wars for Armageddon, or characters like most of the Primarchs, Malcador, Nathaniel Garro, Dante, or any non-human character except for the Chaos Gods and the Silent King.
I’ve got you all caught up on the necessary stuff, but there’s so much left to dive into. Let yourself get sucked in, and "Warhammer" can immerse you in a setting that really is one-of-a-kind. In all my time as a nerd I haven’t really seen anything so grand and grimdark as it.