Exclusive excerpt from Graham McNeill's A THOUSAND SONS

Here's an extract from Graham McNeill's A Thousand Sons, latest addition in The Horus Heresy sequence, courtesy of the folks at Black Library. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Censured at the Council of Nikea for his flagrant use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion retreat to their homeworld of Prospero to continue their use of the arcane arts in secret. But when the ill-fated primarch forsees the treachery of Warmaster Horus and warns the Emperor with the very powers he was forbidden to use, the Master of Mankind dispatches fellow primarch Leman Russ to attack Prospero itself. But Magnus has seen more than the betrayal of Horus and the witnessed revelations will change the fate of his fallen Legion, and its primarch, forever.


He couldn’t focus on it. Impressions were all Lemuel could make out: skin that shone as though fire flowed in its veins, mighty wings of feathers and golden plates. A mane of copper hair, ash-stained and wild, billowed around the being’s head, its face appearing as an inconstant swirl of liquid light and flesh, as though no bone formed the basis for its foundations, but something altogether more dynamic and vital.

Lemuel felt sick to his stomach at the sight, yet was unable to tear his gaze from this towering being.

Wait… Was it towering?

With each second, it seemed as though the apparition’s shape changed without him even being aware of it. Without seeming to vary from one second to the next, the being was alternately a giant, a man, a god, or a being of radiant light and a million eyes.

‘What is it?’ asked Lemuel, the words little more than a whisper. ‘What have they done?’

He couldn’t look away, knowing on some primal level that the fire that burned in this being’s heart was dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous thing in the world. Lemuel wanted to touch it, though he knew he would be burned to ashes were he to get too close.

Kallista screamed, and the spell was broken.

Lemuel dropped to his knees and vomited, the contents of his stomach spilling down the rockface. His heaving breath flowed like milky smoke from his mouth, and he stared in amazement at his stomach’s contents, the spattered mass glittering as though the potential of what it had once been longed to reconstitute itself. The air seethed with ambition, as though a power that not even the deadstones could contain flexed its muscles.

The moment passed and Lemuel’s vomit was just vomit, his breath invisible and without form. He could not take his eyes from the inchoate being below, his previously overwhelmed senses now firmly rooted in the mundane reality of the world. Tears spilled down his cheeks, and he wiped his face with his sleeve.

Kallista sobbed uncontrollably, shaking as though in the midst of a seizure. Her hands clawed the ground, scratching her nails bloody as though she were desperately writing something in the dust.

‘Must come out,’ she wept. ‘Can’t stay inside. Fire must come out or it’ll burn me up.’

She looked up at Lemuel, silently imploring him to help. Before he could move, her eyes rolled back in their sockets and she slumped forward. Lemuel wanted to go to her aid, but his limbs were useless. Beside Kallista, Camille remained upright, her face blanched beneath her tan. Her entire body shook, and her jaw hung open in awed wonder.

‘He’s beautiful… So very beautiful,’ she said, hesitantly lifting her picter and clicking off shots of the monstrous being.

Lemuel spat a mouthful of acrid bile and shook his head.

‘No,’ he said. ‘He’s a monster.’

She turned, and Lemuel was shocked at her anger. ‘How can you say that? Look at him.’

Lemuel screwed his eyes shut, only gradually opening them once again to look upon this incredible figure. He still saw the light shining in its heart, but where before it had been beguilingly dangerous, it was now soothing and hypnotic.

Like a badly tuned picter suddenly brought into focus, the being’s true form was revealed: a broad-shouldered giant in exquisite battle-plate of gold, bronze and leather. Sheathed at his side were his weapons, a curved sword with an obsidian haft and golden blade, and a heavy pistol of terrifying proportions.

Though the warrior was hundreds of metres below him, Lemuel saw him as clearly as a vivid memory or the brightest image conjured by his imagination.

He smiled, now seeing the beauty Camille saw.

‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how I didn’t see it before.’

A billowing mantle of golden feathers floated at the being’s shoulders, hung with thuribles and trailing parchments fixed with wax seals. Great ebony horns curled up from his breastplate, matching the two that sprang from his shoulders. A pale tabard decorated with a blazing sun motif hung at his belt, and a heavy book, bound in thick red hide, was strung about his armour on golden chains.

Lemuel’s eyes were drawn to the book, its unknown contents rich with the promise of knowledge and the secret workings of the universe. A golden hasp was secured with a lock fashioned from lead. Lemuel would have traded his entire wealth and even his very soul to open that book and peer into its depths.

He felt a hand on his arm and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Camille hugged him, overcome with wonder and love, and Lemuel took pleasure in the embrace.

‘I never thought to see him this close,’ said Camille.

Lemuel didn’t answer, watching as two figures followed the being from the cave. One was an Aghoru tribesman in a glittering mask and orange robe, the other a thin man wearing an ash-stained robe of a remembrancer. They were irrelevant. The majestic being of light was all that mattered.

As though hearing his thoughts, the warrior looked up at him.

He wore a golden helmet, plumed with a mane of scarlet hair, his face wise beyond understanding, like a tribal elder or venerable sage.

Camille was right. He was beautiful, perfect and beautiful.

Still embracing, Lemuel and Camille sank to their knees.

Lemuel stared back at the magnificent being, only now seeing that a single flaw marred his perfection. A golden eye, flecked with iridescent colours without name, blinked and Lemuel saw that the warrior looked out at the world through this eye alone. Where his other eye should have been was smooth and unblemished, as if no eye had ever sat there.

‘Magnus the Red,’ said Lemuel. ‘The Crimson King.’

* * *

Aghoru’s sun had finally set, though the sky still glowed faintly with its light. Night did not last long here, but it provided a merciful respite from the intense heat of the day. Ahriman carried his golden deshret helmet in the crook of his arm as he made his way towards his primarch’s pavilion. His connection to the secret powers of the universe had established itself the moment he had led the Sekhmet past the deadstones. Aaetpio’s light had welcomed him, and the presence of the Tutelary was as refreshing as a cool glass of water in the desert.

Ahriman’s relief at the sight of Magnus emerging from the cave was matched only by the recognition of the disappointment in his eyes. The magnificent primarch glared down at the circle of warriors gathered around the altar, and then shook his head. Even denied the use of his enhanced acuity in the Mountain, Ahriman had felt his master’s enormous presence, a power that transcended whatever wards were woven into the stones of the mountain.

Magnus marched past them, not even bothering to further acknowledge their presence. The masked tribesman, who Ahriman knew must be Yatiri, walked alongside the primarch, and Mahavastu Kallimakus, Magnus’s personal scribe, trotted after them, whispering words into a slender wand that were then transcribed by a clattering quill unit attached to his belt.

‘This was a mistake,’ said Hathor Maat. ‘We shouldn’t have come here.’

Ahriman rounded angrily on him, saying, ‘You were only too keen to march when I suggested it.’
‘It was better than sitting about doing nothing, but I did say that the primarch told us to wait,’ Maat said with a shrug.

Ahriman had wanted to lash out at Hathor Maat, feeling his self-control faltering in the face of the Pavoni’s smug arrogance. That he was right only made it worse.

He knew he should have trusted Magnus’s judgement, but he had doubted. At best it would probably mean a public apology to Yatiri, at worst potential exclusion from the Rehahti, the inner coven of the Thousand Sons chosen by Magnus to address whatever issues were currently concerning the Legion.

Its members were ever-changing, and inclusion within the Rehahti was dependent on many things, not least an Astartes’s standing within the Legion. The cults of the Thousand Sons vied for prominence and a place in the primarch’s inner circle, knowing that to bask in his radiance would only enhance their powers.

As the power of the aether waxed and waned, so too did the mystical abilities of the cults. Invisible currents inimical to one discipline would boost the powers of another, and portents of the Great Ocean’s ever-changing tides were read and interpreted by the Legion’s geomancers with obsessive detail. At present the Pyrae was in the ascendance, while Ahriman’s cult, the Corvidae, was at its lowest ebb for nearly fifty years. For centuries, the Corvidae had been pre-eminent within the ranks of the Thousand Sons, but over the last few decades, their power to read the twisting paths of the future had diminished until their seers could barely penetrate the shallows of things to come.

The currents of the Great Ocean were swelling and boisterous, the geomancers warning of a great storm building within its depths, though they could see nothing of its source. The subtle currents were obscured by the raging tides that empowered the more bellicose disciplines, ringing in the blood of those whose mastery only stretched to the lower echelons.

It was galling that reckless firebrands like Khalophis and Auramagma strutted like lords while the hidden seers and sorcerers who had guided the Thousand Sons since their inception were forced to the sidelines. Yet there was nothing Ahriman could do, save try every day to re-establish his connection to the distant shores of the future.

He put such thoughts aside, rising through the Enumerations to calm himself and enter a contemplative state. The pavilion of Magnus loomed ahead of him, a grand, three-cornered pyramid of polarised glass and gold that shimmered in the evening’s glow like a half-buried diamond. Opaque from the outside, transparent on the inside, it was the perfect embodiment of the leader of the Thousand Sons.

Three Terminators of the Scarab Occult stood at each corner. Each carried a bladed sekhem staff, and their storm bolters were held tightly across the jade and amber scarab design on their breastplates.

Brother Amsu stood at the entrance to the pavilion, holding a rippling banner of scarlet and ivory. Ahriman’s pride at the sight of the banner was tempered by the fact that he had incurred his primarch’s displeasure by taking the Sekhmet into the Mountain.

Ahriman stopped before Amsu and allowed him to read his aetheric aura, confirming his identity more completely than any gene-scanner or molecular-reader ever could.

‘Brother Ahriman,’ said Amsu, ‘welcome to the Rehahti. Lord Magnus is expecting you.’

* * *

The inside of the pavilion would have surprised most people with its austerity. Given the suspicions that had surrounded the Thousand Sons since their earliest days, those mortals lucky enough to be granted an audience with Magnus the Red always expected his chambers to be hung with esoteric symbols, arcane apparatus and paraphernalia of the occult.

Instead, the walls were rippling glass, the floor pale marble quarried from the ventral mountains of Prospero. Carefully positioned black tiles veined with gold formed a repeating geometric spiral that coiled out from the centre.

The Captains of Fellowship stood upon the spiral, their distance from the centre but one indication of their standing within the Rehahti. Ahriman walked calmly along the dark portions, past the assembled warriors, to his place upon it. Beneath the crystal apex of the pyramid a golden disc in the shape of a radiating sun met the terminations of both black and white tiles, the heart of the gathering.

Magnus the Red stood upon the golden sun.

The Primarch of the Thousand Sons was a magnificent warrior and scholar beyond compare, yet his outward mien was that of a man faintly embarrassed by his pre-eminence amongst equals. Ahriman knew it was a façade, albeit a necessary one, for who could stand face to face with a being whose intellect and treasury of knowledge rendered all other accomplishments meaningless?

His skin was the colour of molten copper, the plates of his armour beaten gold and hard-baked leather, his mail a fine mesh of blackened adamant. The magisterial scarlet plume of his helmet spilled around the curling horns of his armour, and his mighty cloak of feathers was like a waterfall of bright plumage belonging to some vainglorious bird of prey. Partially hidden within that cloak was a thick tome, bound in the same, stipple-textured hide as that on Ahriman’s pistol grip. It came from the body of a psychneuein, a vicious psychic predator of Prospero that had all but wiped out the planet’s previous civilisation in ages past.

The primarch’s expression was impossible to read, but Ahriman took solace in the fact that his position had not yet fallen to the outer reaches of the spiral. Magnus’s eye glittered with colour, its hue never fixed and always changing, though for this gathering it had assumed an emerald aspect with flecks of violet in its iris.

Phosis T’kar stood near Ahriman to his right, with Khalophis on the spiral across from him. Hathor Maat was behind him and to his left, while Uthizzar was to his right and at the furthest extent of the spiral. A warrior’s standing was not simply measured by his proximity to the centre of the spiral, but by myriad other indicators: the position of the warrior next to him, behind him and across from him. Who was obscured, who was visible, the arc of distance between his position and the sun disc, all played their part in the dance of supremacy. Each member’s position interacted subtly with the other, creating a web of hierarchy that only Magnus could fathom.

Ahriman could not read the aetheric auras of his fellow captains, and he felt Aaetpio’s absence keenly. He had not summoned Aaetpio to the meeting, for it would be overwhelmed in the face of the primarch’s power. Magnus himself had no Tutelary, for what could a fragment of the Primordial Creator teach one who had stared into its depths and mastered its every nuance?

Magnus nodded as Ahriman took his place on the spiral and Brother Amon stepped from the shadows of the pyramid to pull the golden doors shut. Ahriman had not seen or sensed Amon’s presence, but few ever did. Equerry to Magnus and Captain of the 9th Fellowship, Amon trained the ‘Hidden Ones’, the Scout Auxilia of the Thousand Sons.

‘The Sanctum awaits the Symbol of Thothmes,’ announced Amon, the crimson of his armour seeming to blend with the shadows that gathered around the edges of the pyramid.

Magnus nodded and lifted his golden khopesh from his belt. A flick of his thumb, and the haft extended with a smooth hiss, transforming the sickle-sword into a long-bladed polearm. Magnus rapped the staff on the sun disc, tracing an intricate, twisting shape on the ground.

Ahriman pursed his lips together as the world went dim and the interior of the pyramid was shielded from outside eyes. To be cut off from the aether was unpleasant, but now no one could eavesdrop within the pyramid by any means, be they technological or psychic.

Magnus had once boasted that not even the Emperor himself could penetrate the invisible veil cast around the Rehahti by the Symbol of Thothmes.

‘Are we all assembled?’ demanded Ahriman, speaking as the Legion’s Chief Librarian. On Prospero, gatherings of the Rehahti would be conducted in aetheric speech, but here the Thousand Sons were forced to rely on the crudity of language.

‘I am Ahzek Ahriman of the Corvidae,’ he said. ‘If you would be heard, then speak your true name. Who comes to this Rehahti?’

‘I come, Phosis T’kar, Magister Templi of the Raptora.’

‘I come, Khalophis, Magister Templi of the Pyrae.’

‘I come, Hathor Maat, Magister Templi of the Pavoni.’

‘I come, Uthizzar, Magister Templi of the Athanaeans.’

Ahriman nodded as the Captains of the Thousand Sons recited their names. Only Uthizzar hesitated. The young Adept Minor had only recently ascended to the role of Magister Templi, and Ahriman could not look at him without feeling the sorrow of Aphophis’s death.

‘We are all assembled,’ he said.

‘We are alone,’ confirmed Amon.

Magnus nodded and looked each of his captains in the eye before speaking.

‘I am disappointed in you, my sons,’ he said, his voice a rich baritone laden with subtle layers of meaning. These were the first words Ahriman had heard from his primarch since leaving the mountain, and though they were of censure, they were still welcome.

‘This world has much to teach us, and you jeopardise that by venturing onto a holy site of the Aghoru. I told you to await my return. Why did you disobey me?’

Ahriman felt the eyes of the captains on him and held himself straighter.

‘I ordered it, my lord,’ he said. ‘The decision to march into the valley was mine.’

‘I know,’ said Magnus, with the barest hint of a smile. ‘If anyone was going to defy me, it would be you, eh, Ahzek?’

Ahriman nodded, unsure whether he was to be reprimanded or lauded.

‘Well, you set foot on the Mountain,’ said Magnus. ‘What did you make of it?’

‘My lord?’

‘What did you feel?’

‘Nothing, my lord,’ said Ahriman. ‘I felt nothing.’

‘Exactly,’ said Magnus, stepping from the sun disc and following the white spiral out from the centre of the pyramid. ‘You felt nothing. Now you know how mortals feel, trapped in their silent, dull world, disconnected from their birthright as an evolving race.’

‘Birthright?’ asked Hathor Maat. ‘What birthright?’

Magnus rounded on him, his eye transformed into a flickering blue orb, alive with motion.

‘The right to explore this brilliant, dazzling galaxy and all its wonders with their eyes open to its glory,’ said Magnus. ‘What is a life lived in the shadows, a life where all the shining wonders of the world are half-glimpsed phantasms?’

Magnus stopped next to Ahriman and placed a hand on his shoulder. The hand was that of a giant, yet he looked up at a face that was only slightly larger than his own, the features sculpted as if from molten metal, the single eye green once more. Ahriman felt the immense, unknowable power of his primarch, understanding that he stood before a living sun, the power of creation and destruction bound within its beauteous form.

Magnus’s body was not so much flesh and blood, but energy and will bound together by the ancient science of the Emperor. Ahriman had studied the substance of the Great Ocean with the aid of some of the Legion’s foremost seers, yet the power that filled his primarch was as alien to him as a starship was to a primitive savage.

‘The Aghoru live on a world swept by aetheric winds, yet they remain untouched by its presence,’ said Magnus, walking back towards the sun disc at the centre of the pyramid. His khopesh staff spun in his grip, tracing patterns Ahriman recognised as sigils of evocation that would summon a host of Tutelaries if made beyond the inert air of the Sanctum.

‘They come to this Mountain every year, this place of pilgrimage, to bring the bodies of their dead to their final rest. They carry them into the holy valley and place them in the mouth of the mountain, and each time they return, the bodies of the previous year are gone, “eaten” by the Mountain. We all feel that the walls that separate this world from the aether are thin here. The essence of the Great Ocean presses in, yet the Aghoru remain unaffected by its presence. Why should that be? I do not know, but when I solve that mystery we will be one step closer to helping our brothers draw closer to the light at the heart of the universe. There is power in that mountain, great power, yet it is somehow contained, and the Aghoru are oblivious to it except as energy that devours the dead. I only hope that Yatiri forgives your trespass into their holy place, for without his peoples’ help we may never unlock the secrets of this world.’

The primarch’s enthusiasm for the task was infectious, and the shame Ahriman felt at jeopardising Magnus’s great work was like a crushing weight upon his shoulders.

‘I will make whatever reparations need to be made, my lord,’ said Ahriman. ‘The Sekhmet marched at my order and I will explain that to Yatiri.’

‘That will not be necessary,’ said Magnus, once again taking his place at the centre of the pyramid. ‘I have another task for you all.’

‘Anything, my lord,’ said Phosis T’kar, and the rest joined his affirmation.

Magnus smiled and said, ‘As always, my sons, you are a delight to me. The Aghoru are not the only ones who can feel that this world is special. The remembrancers we selected to join our expedition, they know it too, even if they do not consciously realise it. You are to make them welcome, befriend them and study them. We have kept them at a distance long enough; it is time for them to see that we have mellowed to their presence. In any case, I believe the Emperor will soon make their presence mandatory and send thousands more out to join the fleets. Before such an edict becomes law, don the mask of friend, of grudging admirer, whatever it takes to gain their confidence. Study the effects of this world on them and record your findings in your grimoires. As we study this world, we must also study its effect on mortals and ourselves. Do you understand this task?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ said Hathor Maat, the words echoed by the rest of the captains until only Ahriman was left to speak.

He felt the primarch’s eyes upon him, and offered a curt bow, saying, ‘I understand, my lord.’

‘Then this Rehahti is over,’ said Magnus, rapping his staff on the sun disc. Light streamed out from the centre, bathing the assembled captains in radiance. The Symbol of Thothmes was undone, and Ahriman felt the wellspring of the aether wash through his flesh.

Amon opened the pyramid’s doors, and Ahriman bowed to the primarch. As the captains made their way outside, Magnus said, ‘Ahzek, a moment if you please.’

Ahriman paused, and then walked to the centre of the pyramid, ready to face his punishment. The primarch sheathed his khopesh, the haft now returned to its original proportions. Magnus looked down at him, and his glittering green eye narrowed as he appraised his Chief Librarian.

‘Something troubles you, my friend. What is it?’

‘The story of the men in the cave,’ said Ahriman. ‘The one you told me when I was your Neophyte.’

‘I know the one,’ said Magnus. ‘What of it?’

‘If I remember correctly, that story shows that it is futile to share the truth of what we know with those who have too narrow a view of the horizon. How are we to illuminate our fellows when their vision is so limited?’

‘We do not,’ said Magnus, turning Ahriman and walking him across the spiral towards the pyramid’s open doors. ‘At least not at first.’

‘I do not understand.’

‘We do not bring the light to humanity; we bring them to the light,’ said Magnus. ‘We learn how to lift mankind’s consciousness to a higher state of being so that he can recognise the light for himself.’

Ahriman felt the force of the primarch’s passion, and wished he felt it too. ‘Trying to explain the truth of the aether to mortals is like trying to describe the meaning of the colour yellow to a blind man. They do not want to see it. They fear it.’

‘Small steps, Ahzek, small steps,’ said Magnus patiently. ‘Mankind is already crawling towards psychic awareness, but he must walk before he can run. We will help him.’

‘You have great faith in humanity,’ said Ahriman as they reached the doors. ‘They wanted to destroy us once. They may again.’

Magnus shook his head. ‘Trust them a little more, my son. Trust me.’

‘I trust you, my lord,’ promised Ahriman. ‘My life is yours.’

‘And I value that, my son, believe me,’ said Magnus, ‘but I am set on this course, and I need you with me, Ahzek. The others look up to you, and where you lead, others will follow.’

‘As you wish, my lord,’ said Ahriman with a respectful bow.

‘Now, as far as studying the remembrancers goes, I want you to pay close attention to Lemuel Gaumon, he interests me.’

‘Gaumon? The aetheric reader?’

‘Yes, that’s the one. He has some power, learned from the writings of the Nordafrik Sangoma by the feel of it,’ said Magnus. ‘He believes he hides this power from us, and has taken his first, faltering steps towards its proper use. I wish you to mentor him. Draw out his abilities and determine how best he may use them without danger to himself or others. If we can do it for him, we can do it for others.’

‘That will not be easy; he does not have the mastery of the Enumerations.’

‘That is why you must teach him,’ said Magnus.

1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I can't wait to read this.