For anyone unfamiliar with the Dornian Heresy, it is set in an alternate universe where the events of the heresy, and other things for that matter, didn't quite happen the way you would be familiar with from the conventional Horus Heresy universe. Many thanks to everyone involved in the proofreading and feedback process, especially Ferrata, Sigismund Himself, Octavulg and Ace Debonair.
I hope you enjoy,
Throughout their history, the Iron Hands have striven to strengthen humanity by purging the weak, knowing that it is the only way for mankind as a race to survive. On learning of the enormity of the threat posed by the Ruinous Powers, and the insidiously corrupting effect it had upon the body and mind, Ferrus Manus decreed that only through mechanisation could Chaos be defeated. His aim was to create cold, logical intelligences, shorn of the emotions which stirred up the Warp, and housed inside bodies of unyielding metal. The Iron Hands have clung to this ideal even at the expense of being classed as traitors and renegades, but now, after ten thousand years of hiding, their preparations to ascend the human race beyond the frailties of the flesh are nearly complete.
In the decades after arriving on Medusa, the young primarch wandered the world. On his travels he sought out the clans, accompanying them briefly to exchange knowledge or to defeat a predator, but never formally joining any of them. Given his abilities and the esteem in which he was held, he could easily have unified the clans under his leadership. Instead he remained a distant figure, subtly guiding their actions, but never taking sides in their skirmishes, or even trying to prevent them, recognising as he did the important role this played in winnowing out the weaker elements.
According to legend, he was drawn to a nightmarish area of the planet known as the Land of Shadows, a place haunted by monsters and the spirits of the dead. There, he hunted down a terrible creature known variously as the Great Silver Wyrm, or Asirnoth the Dragonshard, which had preyed upon the clans for as long as anyone could remember. After an epic battle he was finally victorious, though his hands were forever stained with the silver blood of the beast, gaining him the name of Ferrus Manus – He of the Iron Hands.
The arrival of the Emperor and His armies upon Medusa caused great fear and suspicion amongst the clans, but Ferrus Manus was unafraid. He strode out alone to face the newcomer, and challenged Him to trials of strength and skill to prove His worth. Over the coming days of evenly matched contests, a great bond of familial love and respect was forged, and Manus accepted wholeheartedly his destined role within the Great Crusade. Command of the Tenth Legion of the Adeptus Astartes was bestowed upon him, and with it the planetary governorship of Medusa. Though he had up until then resisted all such leadership roles, Manus grasped its importance, and approached this challenge in the same way he had every other in his life; with fortitude and cold logic.
He was intrigued to meet the Astartes who had been created from his genetic template, and was satisfied to recognise much of himself in their character, even renaming the legion the Iron Hands to reflect this. From them he continued his education about the wider Imperium, absorbing knowledge at a prodigious rate and demonstrating an innate genius for technical matters which astounded the legion’s techmarines. Just as he learned from the legion, he also instilled within them the Medusan philosophies of stoicism and self-reliance, and the attitude that for a society to flourish, weakness must be unsentimentally and brutally eliminated.
Ferrus Manus set the Iron Hands the formidable challenge of bringing every human world within a wide arc of the galaxy into Imperial Compliance, an undertaking they carried out with resolute stoicism. Though it took more than a century of blood, sacrifice and pain, at long last they reached the Halo Stars at the very edge of the galaxy. On a world so distant from Terra that the Astronomicon was but a guttering candle in the night, the Iron Hands reached the furthest extent of their conquests. The planet, appropriately named Terminus by fleet astrocartographers, was a place of dust and sand long-since scoured of life - even its star was old and nearly exhausted. Yet it was a milestone, and the place where the legion’s fate would change forever.
Scans of the planet revealed that deep beneath the surface lay a network of vast caverns clearly not of natural origin. Upon gaining entry they found all manner of seemingly potent, though dormant, machineries of xenos origin and after only the briefest of examinations, Ferrus Manus bade his legion leave him and return to orbit. Though much vexed by this turn of events, the Iron Hands respected their primarch’s wishes. When Manus emerged, he was a man transformed, and much saddened by what he had found.
Ferrus Manus explained that he had been able to decipher some of the databanks, which told the history of an advanced race from a time before life on Terra had even emerged from the oceans. Their empire had spanned the galaxy and their power seemed unassailable, little realising the malevolent threat of Chaos that lived at the heart of the Warp. The Empyrean, they eventually came to learn, was populated not just by the mindless warp-predators which attacked unprotected ships, but by entities of godlike power and unspeakable evil. They had at first welcomed the rise of psychic powers amongst their race, realising too late that their use weakened the walls protecting reality from this universe of horror, allowing madness and daemonic possession to run rife.
This caused a tide of suspicion, bloodshed and hysteria to sweep the galaxy, which only acted to strengthen the creatures which lived in that shadow-realm, as such powerful emotions were a feast for them. Even their most powerful warriors were not immune to corruption or possession, and they turned their weapons upon any who would not follow them into damnation. As the war raged, the Ancients tried to use their advanced technology to create wholly synthetic bodies for themselves that would be immune to the temptations of the flesh, and the warping powers of Chaos. In scores of hidden bases across the galaxy, of which the caverns of Terminus were but one, they raced desperately to free themselves from the trap of flesh before their entire race was extinguished. They failed. The countless millions of silent metal shells which they found in the depths of the catacombs below were to have been hosts to the race, but instead stood silent and dead as statues.
The words of their primarch moved the assembled Iron Hands deeply, not least because it voiced for them feeling they had been unable to properly express since the earliest days of the Great Crusade. Despite their pragmatic and rational nature, the legion had seen much which could not be explained, and this gave reason to the irrational. In particular, the proximity of Medusa to the Eye of Terror meant that their Expeditionary forces had faced whole worlds in thrall of psykers, where madness and mutation were rife, and daemonic creatures of nightmare had been all-too real.
It was clear to the Iron Hands that history was even now repeating itself, and that humanity was sleepwalking towards the same fate as the Ancients before them. Unless they acted, mankind would be corrupted, trapped and consumed by the Dark Gods of the Warp. On that day, Ferrus Manus set his Iron Hands the task of examining the technology contained within the scattered tomb-worlds and developing it to the point where it could be used to ascend mankind beyond the frailties of flesh.
Given the jealous way with which the Adeptus Mechanicus guarded their secrets, the idea that they would allow the Iron Hands to excavate and remove anything from Mars was simply out of the question. Despite the Terran system being the most heavily defended in the Imperium, and Mars being protected by Titan Legions and other potent engines of destruction, plans were drawn up to take the Artefact by subterfuge. These desperate ploys were abandoned when it became clear through the Ancient’s machines that the Ruinous Powers were already moving to tear the Imperium apart in civil war. With time so desperately short, Manus formulated an audacious scheme to use these events to his advantage.
Knowing that Rogal Dorn, the chosen pawn of the Ruinous Powers, would attempt to play upon any perceived character flaw, Manus deftly used this to his advantage. He contacted Dorn and spoke of his concerns for the Great Crusade, for the need for strong leadership if the Imperium was not to crumble under its own weight, and of the high-handed way the Adeptus Mechanicus so jealously guarded their technological treasures. Over the course of that fateful conversation, Manus allowed Dorn to draw him into the conspiracy to depose their father, and was sure to let just a flash of avarice tarnish his modesty when told that the Iron Hands would be the ideal rulers of Mars under the new order.
Fine words alone were not enough to secure Dorn’s trust, and the access to Mars they required. The pact had to be sealed with blood and sacrifice at Istvaan V. There they were expected to help ambush and crush three legions that Dorn had been unable to convert to his cause, including their brothers-in–arms, the Emperor’s Children. They yearned first to warn them, and later to join them in battle against the traitors, yet knew they must not. It is a testament to the legion’s resolve and trust in their primarch that not a single Iron Hand faltered in the face of their duty, even when the battle brought the two legions together. They could not be seen to hold back even in the slightest against their former friends, and Fulgrim’s legion attacked their perceived betrayers with incandescent fury. The two primarchs met, albeit briefly, and although Manus had his brother at his mercy, he faltered. In that instant of hesitation, Fulgrim pressed his attack, grievously wounding Manus and severing his left hand before they were again separated by the tides of battle.
With the three loyalist legions effectively destroyed and their place inside Dorn’s rebellion cemented with blood of their brothers, the Iron Hands set course for the Terran system. During the journey, Manus crafted a masterpiece of the bionic art in adamantium to replace the hand he had lost. It was a reminder not just of the price they had all paid at Istvaan, but also of the dire cost of even a moment’s sentimentality.
While the Imperial Fists and the Salamanders continued on to Terra, the Iron Hands headed for Mars. They ignored the calls for aid from their supposed Chaos allies and instead made planet-fall close to the area known as the Noctis Labyrinthus. While the region was being secured from attack, Ferrus Manus led the legion’s assembled techmarines through caves deep beneath the red planet, and to the prize they had sacrificed so much to obtain. What they found was a vast cavern that, but for the patina of aeons, was all-but identical to the one constructed back on Medusa. Although empty to the naked eye, the chamber gave an indefinable impression of being somehow crowded and oppressive, which Manus explained was a side-effect of the Martian Artefact’s extra-dimensional nature. Such was the complexity of the item that Manus ordered all manner of arcane equipment be put in place before it could be moved.
The wilds of Noctis Labyrinthus were far from the most intense clashes between the Mechanicus and their Chaos corrupted brethren, and for more than a week the Iron Hands faced little in the way of attacks. It was, however, simply a matter of time before their presence brought down the full might of the Titan Legions. Before the Iron Hands could test their mettle against this formidable foe, Ferrus Manus called every one of his battle-brothers down to the cavern. There he revealed that the equipment they had installed was designed to transport them, and the Martian Artefact, across the galaxy to Medusa in an instant.
Manus instructed the Iron Hand fleet to break orbit and return to Medusa using the more traditional method to avoid the technological devastation that would result as a side-effect of this device. By the time everything was in place the surface above was subject to a full-scale bombardment which shook the very bedrock with its fury. As Ferrus Manus approached the control panel and raised his hands for silence, even the drums of war seemed to fall silent in anticipation. This was broken by the unearthly howl of pent-up energies seeking release, and a sickening sense of movement. They had returned to Medusa, but before the legion could celebrate their success it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong.
Worst of all, the Martian Artefact had been so badly damaged that many decades of work, and the full resources of all of the hidden bases, would be required before another attempt at re-activation could be attempted. Their intention had been to start the process of transforming mankind within weeks, ending the threat of Chaos and Dorn’s Heresy at a stroke. Instead, the terribly weakened Iron Hands were viewed by both sides as pariahs; the Imperium classed them as traitors for their actions at Istvaan, and the Chaos Legions cursed them for ignoring their calls for aid during the Siege of Terra. As much as it revolted them, they needed to hide. By the time the Iron Hands’ fleet had arrived back from Mars, the individual great companies, as well as their attendant clans, were ready to relocate to the Ancient’s bases across the galaxy.
What they found on arrival was that the tomb complexes had also been destroyed by the same cataclysm which had afflicted them on Medusa. At precisely the time the Martian Artefact had been triggered, the machineries had activated and built to catastrophic overload. With only the detailed scans taken by the survey teams, and the technological genius of Ferrus Manus, the newly integrated clan companies set to the task of rebuilding not just their depleted numbers, but the machines of the Ancients.
For thousands of years the Iron Hands remained hidden from prying eyes, venturing out only to raid for vital supplies, and even then making certain they did not leave any witnesses or hint of their involvement. To the wider galaxy it was assumed that the Iron Hands had simply been casualties of the Dornian Heresy, their passing unmourned by both sides of the war. However, with each machine they rebuild, more and more advances in technology were revealed. Bionics, powerful Gauss weaponry, space travel without passing through the Warp and phased teleportation were all developed and put to use in improving the legion’s capabilities.
While Astartes had been designed to be long lived, unlike their primarch they were not ageless. Though able to alleviate the weight of centuries by mechanising their bodies, had it not been for Iron Father Blantar’s breakthrough of transferring the brain and personality into crystal matrix form then their only option would have been entombment within the support systems of a Dreadnought. The Blantar Process proved once and for all that it was indeed possible to eliminate the weaknesses of the flesh, but so complex and difficult was it that not every Iron Hand, let alone every member of the human race, could be converted in this way.
The Martian Artefact had taken a terrible toll upon the Iron Hands, not least upon Ferrus Manus himself. Although it took many millennia, he eventually recovered sufficiently to face a fellow primarch, and in the process gained a measure of vengeance for the injury done to him on Istvaan. Ferrus Manus was able to phase into the heart of the Emperor’s Children’s flagship and confront Fulgrim alone in his own state room. He defeated his brother in single combat and stripped him down to his component atoms with Gauss blasts, before reclaiming the silver hand taken as a trophy by Fulgrim on Istvaan. With his silver hand restored and his body whole once more, Ferrus Manus returned re-energised to the task ahead.
With the legion resurgent, the Iron Hands were at last able to carry out raids to procure the more difficult items required to reactivate the Martian Artefact. This has involved the legion attacking targets openly, along with the attendant risks of retribution. The largest assault was their campaign to capture the Blackstone Fortresses, in which the entire legion combined to attack strategic locations in the Gothic sector to cripple the Imperium’s ability to stop them from attacking their true targets. The Blackstone Fortresses were orbiting bastions, thought to be of Xenos origin, that the Imperium had crudely fortified with little concept of their true potential. Manus, however, through close study of the archives of the Ancient’s machines, had learned their secrets, and how to turn them against their defenders.
During the opening stages of the campaign they were able to claim three of the Blackstone Fortresses before the arrival of massed Imperial reinforcements. This made matters significantly more difficult, with the Astartes of the Death Guard destroying the fourth at Anvil 206, and the fifth spirited away from Fulvaris by the Eldar. However, the Iron Hands were able to take advantage of the bitter in-fighting between the Eldar and the Death Guard to claim the final Blackstone Fortress at Schindlegeist.
Leaving the Gothic Sector, the Iron Hands brought the Blackstone Fortresses to their full potential, and combined the four into a force capable of destroying whole stars. On the orders of Manus they attacked and completely obliterated worlds which were pivotal to the future schemes of the Dark Gods. No visible seed of Chaos was detected on Pavonis in Ultramar Segmentum, a Dyson Sphere hidden beneath the plane of the galaxy, or in any of the half a dozen other systems they destroyed, indicating that the legion had prevented the corruption from spreading any further.
In the dying days of M41, the legion is in the process of claiming the final items for their primarch, and the caverns beneath the tomb worlds are filled with countless billions of metal shells ready to house the essence of humanity. As though sensing that the end is near, both the forces of Chaos and the Imperium have sought out the Iron Hand’s hidden bases, but nothing can be allowed to interfere with their second, long-delayed attempt to activate the Martian Artefact.
The clan companies themselves are led by marines so ancient that most are veterans of the Great Crusade. With such great age comes immense experience and wisdom, which has been rewarded with complete mechanisation. So bulky and valuable is the Blantar equipment that fully mechanised marines must enter battle housed inside one of the legion’s suits of Terminator armour. Such is the veneration of these ancients that their presence is used to inspire and lead squads of their younger power armoured brethren on particularly critical missions.
While the commanders direct the clan companies in the ways of war, it is the Iron Fathers who lead the research into rebuilding the machineries of the Ancients and applying their secrets to strengthen the legion. Because of this, Iron Fathers hold extremely influential positions, not just within their clan companies, but amongst the wider legion, and are able to move unimpeded between Iron Hand worlds in pursuit of the next technological breakthrough.
While the Imperium degenerated into confusion and weakness, they lived underground among the ruins, raiding to get what they needed to painstakingly piece the vast machines back together. With the culmination of Manus’ great plan almost at hand, the Iron Hands have had to become ever bolder in their attacks to claim the final, vital items needed to activate the Martian Artefact. This has meant that their enemies, in particular the Eldar, the Thousand Sons and Sigismund’s Black Legion, search all the more intensively for the location of the Iron Hands. Though their bases are buried far beneath the surface of otherwise dead worlds, and are shielded from even the most determined of scans, it is surely only a matter of time before the hidden weaponry which protects the worlds of the Iron Hands are used in earnest.
Those recruits strong enough to bear the stresses of the implantation process gain all the benefits of the Manus gene-line. However, they recognise that even as paragons of the human form they are still vulnerable to the predations of the Warp and the innate frailties of the flesh. To this end, the first act an Iron Hand undertakes upon becoming a full battle-brother is to symbolically have his left hand removed, and replaced by a bionic fist of unyielding metal. This is symbolic both of the sacrifice and loss suffered by their primarch on Istvaan, and the first step on a path they hope will lead to complete mechanisation. Although only the oldest and most senior members of the legion ever attain this lofty ideal, they retain a palpable link to their primarch even when every last gene-seed implant has been replaced by metal and circuitry.
The Iron Hands have also applied their technological prowess to their weaponry, producing war-blades capable of shearing through not just the toughest of armour, but of overloading powerfields with ease. The legion has also forsaken their former arsenal of ranged weaponry for those based on the principle of gauss flux projection. This engulfs the target in a coruscating beam of energy which rapidly strips it away layer by layer, be it the flesh of a living being or the adamantium armour of a battle-tank. Every type of Iron Hand weapon uses this principle, from the basic sidearm to the heavy weapons carried by Devastator squads, with even more powerful examples found mounted upon vehicles such as the Predator and Land Raider.
The Iron Hands are coldly logical and methodical in their approach to combat, probing for areas of weakness and suppressing the enemy with ranged fire before their specialised Assault squads phase in to strike the final blow. This is where the Nulls are most commonly to be found. Their mere presence is an anathema to daemons and psykers, and they fill even normal humans with a sense of dread which makes their onslaughts so effective.