The 21st Founding, known also as the "Cursed" Founding, took place in 991.M35, on the cusp of the 36th Millennium, shortly before the start of the Age of Apostasy. The focus of the 21st Founding for the Adeptus Mechanicus was perfecting and removing the existing, identified deficiencies in flawed Adeptus Astartes gene-seed, and ultimately the production of new and improved Primarch-like Space Marines as part of what was called "Project Homo Sapiens Novus."
Unfortunately, the Adeptus Mechanicus' Genetors proved far less skilled in the genetic sciences than the Emperor of Mankind, and their efforts resulted in the development of seriously flawed gene-seed that was used to craft the organ implants for the new Chapters.
Matters pertaining to the exact nature of the 21st Founding have long since become shrouded in myth. The various dark ends that have befallen many of this Founding's Chapters have entered it into the lore of the Inquisition and the Space Marines alike as the so-called "Cursed Founding," and with good reason. Many now consider those Chapters created under its auspices as tainted from their very birth.
Although some Chapters of this Founding were spared a devolution into something no longer human, its mark is still upon them in the eyes of their fellow Space Marines, many of whom grew to shun these Chapters, regardless of their undoubted loyalty to the Imperium and noble defence of its people. Worse still, some Chapters of this Founding have developed unexpected genetic idiosyncrasies, mutations that strain the tolerance of the Inquisition and threaten the Chapter's survival.
As a result, the Chapters of this Founding have gradually dwindled in size as their inability to raise and induct new recruits means that their battle casualties cannot be replaced. The most seriously afflicted Chapters exhibited spontaneous and extreme physical corruption, turning them into mutants, often with some connection to the Ruinous Powers. Most of the Space Marine Chapters founded during this time eventually turned Traitor and swore themselves to Chaos or met a gruesome end at the hands of other Space Marine Chapters and the Ordo Hereticus.
Discovery of Inculaba
In 998.M41, Explorator Magos Marco Pteronus led an archeological expedition to the Dead World of Inculaba, discovering a long-lost Adeptus Mechanicus geno-lab. During excavation of the site it was discovered that buried deep within the rock of this barren world were secrets that had lain undiscovered for 5,000 Terran years, secrets regarding a Founding of the Space Marines sometimes referred to as the Cursed Founding.
The 21st Founding was the largest Founding of Space Marine Chapters since the Second Founding following the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium. It had taken place in the 36th Millennium shortly before the start of the Age of Apostasy. Upon further explorations of the site, it was discovered that the geno-lab was indeed the site of the secret project known as "Homo Sapiens Novus," where Mechanicus Genetors attempted to perfect and remove the existing, identified deficiencies in flawed Astartes gene-seed, and ultimately begin the production of new and improved Primarch-like Space Marines. In many ways this was a similar attempt to the more successful effort to create the Primaris Space Marines which had begun after the end of the Heresy.
But the project was doomed to failure as the Genetors proved far less skilled in the genetic sciences than the Emperor of Mankind or Belisarius Cawl, and their efforts resulted in the development of seriously flawed gene-seed that was used to craft the organ implants for the new Chapters.
A secret vid-log kept by the former project manager revealed the full extent of their failure. The most seriously afflicted Chapters exhibited spontaneous and extreme physical corruption, turning them into a race no longer human or sane. Most of the Space Marine Chapters founded during this time eventually turned Traitor and swore themselves to Chaos or met a gruesome end at the hands of other Space Marine Chapters and the Inquisition's Ordo Hereticus.
Others developed genetic idiosyncrasies, mutations that strained the tolerance of the Inquisition and threatened the Chapter's survival. The Founding itself ended when one of its projects, already corrupted by Chaos, sent a signal through the Warp and alerted the vile Traitor Fabius Bile to its existence. Bile was the former Chief Apothecary of the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion who served Chaos Undivided by seeking out new recruits for the Traitor Legions.
The Explorator team further discovered that there was a hidden laboratorium that contained three large incubation tanks with an enormous human male floating in amniotic fluid within each one. The physiology of these giants were similar to Space Marines, but the subjects were far larger than normal Astartes. Two of these tubes were obviously damaged, the fluid within cloudy and stagnant, but the third still appeared to be functioning. Autopsies were performed on two of the bodies while the revivification process was begun on the third. An agent of the Inquisition that had been inserted within the Adeptus Mechanicus some years before reported the disturbing news of the discovery from the archaeological site on Inculaba.
A Grey Knights team was dispatched to prevent the sacred technology of this site from falling into the wrong hands. But by the time they arrived, they found no trace of the Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator team and no sign of their vessel. The site was as bereft of life as a world stripped by the Tyranids. There were no bodies discovered and no evidence of any attackers.
Astropaths detected a residual Warp trail, but were unable to discern its direction. The site was then bombed from orbit with Cyclonic Torpedoes and all record of it was expunged from the Imperial bureaucracy. The Inquisition fears that what was on this world is now gone, taken by the agents of Chaos like Fabius Bile, and that they will eventually rue the day that this cursed place was discovered anew.
Chapters of the 21st Founding
- Black Dragons - The Black Dragons' Ossmodula causes excessive bony protuberances and growths to appear on the forearms and head. The Black Dragons were censured by the Inquisition due to the mutation of the Chapter's gene-seed, especially the Ossmodula, which causes certain Astartes of the Chapter to develop blade-like outgrowths of bone on the head and forearms and to grow long, poisonous fangs. The Black Dragons' obvious physical mutations make long-term cooperation with other (less tolerant) Imperial Adepta impossible. The Black Dragons are a Chapter who push the Inquisition to the limits of its tolerance.
- Blood Gorgons - Multiple Chaos mutations, aversion to authority and highly independent. The Imperium declared the Blood Gorgons Renegade and Excommunicate Traitoris a mere six solar decades after their founding. The Blood Gorgons, who value their freedom and independence above all else, refuse to swear allegiance to any patron Chaos God, preferring to serve Chaos in general in the form of Chaos Undivided.
- Fire Hawks - The Fire Hawks Chapter has often been held in higher regard among the High Lords of Terra and their agents than by many of their other wartime allies, particularly amongst other Astartes. This was because several other Space Marine Chapters considered the Fire Hawks darkly tainted, overly prideful and wanting in brotherhood. Some went so far as to suggest that the Fire Hawks had been corrupted by some flaw in the Chapter's collective psyche or gene-seed, though none would gainsay their effectiveness in battle. Eventually the Fire Hawks became lost in the Warp and contracted an unknown Warp contagion. A portion of this Chapter survived to become the Legion of the Damned.
- Flame Falcons - Declared Excommunicate Traitoris within a century of their inception. Almost entirely wiped out by the Inquisition's Grey Knights after they assaulted the Flame Falcons' homeworld of Lethe, following a great victory when their bodies spontaneously burst into flames that did not burn their own flesh. Though a small number of Flame Falcons escaped that day, nothing of their fate is known.
- Lamenters - The Lamenters seem to have been cursed by a dark shadow of ill-fortune that has long determined their fate. The Lamenters' gene-seed may have been tampered with during their creation process by the Adeptus Mechanicus in an effort to rid them of the genetic flaws found within the Blood Angels' gene-seed. The Lamenters sided with the Secessionist forces during the Badab War, were defeated, and subsequently required to undertake a 100-year-long Penitent Crusade. They were almost annihilated and absorbed by Hive Fleet Kraken. The Lamenters seemed to suffer from a constant string of ill fortune.
- Minotaurs - Entirely consumed by a xenophobic hatred that far surpasses the righteous fury of a normal Space Marine. The Minotaurs are also prone to berserk fury and ferocious assaults. Strongly Assault Squad-oriented Chapter. It is not known whether the Minotaurs' barely-controlled battle fury and desire to shun those they should call comrades is a result of some particular curse in their blood, but whether or not their affliction has mastered them or they have finally mastered it remains unknown. The Minotaurs have been known to show pleasure in testing their skills against worthy foes. Some speculate that perhaps the Minotaurs consider their fellow Astartes as particularly worthy, since they have a predilection for following the commands of the High Lords of Terra to castigate or annihilate a Renegade Chapter without fail or protest.
- Sons of Antaeus - During the inception of the Sons of Antaeus Chapter, its creators extensively modified the gene-seed in order to create Space Marines of exceptional durability, hardiness, size and strength. Whether their skeletal structure was enhanced with an artificial substance, or other more esoteric procedures were used to enhance their gene-seed is unknown. Less sympathetic observers point out that the Chapter appears every bit as resilient as the Death Guard Traitor Legion.
- Chapter Approved - Fourth Book of the Astronomicon (2004), "The Cursed Founding", by Andy Hoare, Graham McNeill and Phil Kelly, pp. 4-9
- Codex Imperialis, pg. 91
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition), pp. 9, 18
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War, Part One, pp. 66, 106
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War, Part Two, pp. 104, 106
- Index Astartes II, "The Cursed Founding - An investigation into a mysterious Space Marine founding" by Graham McNeill
- White Dwarf 261 (UK), "Index Astartes: The Cursed Founding" by Graham McNeill, pp. 82-86
- Blood Gorgons (Novel) by Henry Zou
- Space Marine (Novel), by Ian Watson