The origins of the Tome Keepers harkens back to the tumultuous middle centuries of the 32nd Millennium, following the disastrous events of the War of the Beast, when the Imperium was nearly brought to its knees by the largest OrkWAAAGH! seen by Mankind since the Ullanor Crusade during the Great Crusade. After a period of mandatory gene-tithing by the surviving Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes to help rebuild the genetic stores of gene-seed, by the latter years of the fifth century of M32, the 4th Founding occurred. For nearly a century, the Imperium had descended into a period of anarchy and infighting. The newly created Chapters of this Founding were created to help restore order to to an Imperium rife with civil upheaval and insurrection.
Shortly after the inception of the as yet unnamed Tome Keepers, this Chapter took to the stars in order to begin their search for a potential Chapter homeworld and came upon the isolated world of Istrouma. This planet is wracked by constant tectonic upheaval due to its erratic orbit and bathed in the deadly radiation of the system's nearby white dwarf star.
Due to their world being constantly irradiated by the light of the nearby star the inhabitants of this harsh, desolate world live shorter-than-average lifespans. To preserve their history and culture the people of this world became obssessed with meticuously recorded every facet of their short lives in great tomes for future generations, as they did not have the benefits of having elders among their population to teach their young. In this way, they were able to salvage their combined knowledge and experience and ensured the continuation of their society.
After being welcomed as heroes of legend, the Chapter was honoured with stewartship of the Istrouman people's most revered possession -- their vast libraries located beneath the surface of the planet's capital city. The Astartes graciously accepted this most profound gift and swore a solemn oath to protect it forevermore. Taking the name "Tome Keepers", they have proudly borne their Chapter name ever since.
Towards the end of the 41st Millennium, the Imperium was beset on all sides by the enemies of Mankind. Like many of their fellow Adeptus Astartes Chapters, the Tome Keepers were involved in some heavy fighting, and their numbers were badly thinned by the experience. For various reasons, their rate of attrition exceeded their ability to replenish their ranks and equipment. The exact cause for this is not known, however, Imperial scholars speculate that perhaps the Chapter had a strained relationship with elements of the Imperium, such as the Adeptus Mechanicus. This would perhaps explain why they were unable to receive war materiál in a timely matter, which resulted in the Chapter's armoury being severely depleted as a result.
Following the destruction of Cadia during the 13th Black Crusade and the subsequent formation of the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Chapter was beset on all sides by a myriad of foes. Cast adrift in a veritable sea of enemies, the Chapter was hammered even more to the point that they were whittled down to only a couple hundred combat-ready Firstborn Space Marines remaining. Fortunately, the badly depleted Chapter received their salvation in the form of a Torchbearers task force sent to reinforce the Chapter. These representatives of the newly instilled Lord Commander of the ImperiumRoboute Guilliman, delivered a profound gift in the form of a company of Greyshields as well as the technology for the Tome Keepers to start making their own Primaris Space Marines.
Before the opening of the Great Rift, like all Successor Chapters that hail from the proud lineage of Roboute Guilliman, the Tome Keepers were also strict adherents to his greatest work -- the Codex Astartes. Upon their inception the Chapter was split into the Codex-mandated 10 companies, each 100 Battle-Brothers strong and led by a Captain. The 1st Compony consisted of battle-hardened Veterans and was, invariably, the most powerful and skilled within the Chapter. It was also the only company capable of fielding warriors clad in deadly Terminator Armour.
The 2nd through 5th Companies were the Chapter's Battle Companies and these were composed of a mix of Tactical, Assault and Devastator Squads. Each Battle Company was a self-sufficient battlefield unit, capable of meeting any threat and defeating it. These formed the backbone of the Chapter and bore the brunt of the fighting.
The 6th through 9th Companies were the Reserve Companies of the Chapter and each one comprised squads of one particular type of Astartes. The 6th and 7th Companies were Tactical Companies, the 8th Company was the Assault Company and the 9th Company was the Devastator Company. The 10th Company was made up of Scout Marines who were the Chapter's newest recruits. These divisions were decided upon ten thousand years ago by Roboute Guilliman and served the Chapter well since that day.
After the integration of the Primaris Marines into their ranks, the Chapter steadily began to rebuild their depleted numbers to nominal strength. The existing Tome Keepers consisting of the Chapter's remaining veterans left their existing companies and merged into the 1st and 2nd Companies. Essentially, the Veteran Company and first Battle Company is now made up almost entirely of the Chapter's Firstborn Battle-Brothers. The 3rd Company is comprised of a few squads of original Tome Keepers, with the rest of its ranks being made up of newly acquired Greyshields. The 4th Company took the remaining Greyshields and the first of the newly created Primaris Tome Keepers.
By 014.M42, the 1st through 5th Companies are now back to full strength, boosted by new recruits. The 6th Company contains only thirty or so battle-brothers, who are normally seconded to other companies. The 7th Company is currently empty, as is the 8th Reserve Close Support Company, while the 9th Reserve Fire Support Company is close to being full, having taken on all the new recruits from the 10th Scout Company (after being promoted to full battle-brother status, a Space Marine normally serves in a fire support squad before joining a battleline or close support unit). The Scout Company is full to overflowing with Neophytes at various stages of training in an attempt to rebuild the Chapter’s strength.
The Tome Keepers' Chapter homeworld of Istrouma exists in a state of perpetual suffering. Scoured by baleful energy from the system's white dwarf star, the planet's surface is heavily irradiated, save for a single large continent that survives on the dark side of the world away from the star's harsh glare. In addition, the planet's erratic orbit and the orbit of its two moons create upheaval that alernatively birth new mountain ranges or tear open the crust of the planet to reveal seas of molten lava.
Istrouma is sparsely inhabited by Imperial standards. Small colonies of miners exist out in the barren wilderness and deep beneath the mountain ranges, but the majority of the world's population lives on the one easily habitable continent. The capital city of Nivenah, beneath which can be found the vast libraries of the Istrouman people. The Fortress-Monastery of the Tome Keepers can be found towards the planet's northern range. It is heavily shielded to protect it from radiation.
The inhabitants of Istrouma live very short lifespans due to the planet's harsh conditions. In effect, progress in their society is painfully slow due to people dying at a young age before they can reach their full potential. This forces the Istrouman people to learn their craft quickly so that they can contribute to society before they expire, and there is precious little time to pass on that knowledge from master to apprentice, from one generation to the next. For this reason, in place of oral traditions and effective mentorship, the people of this world have written records of everything. When death takes a person, these records enable their successor to continue where they left off, if only for a few short years before they too must pass on the torch to the next scientist, artisan or strategist in line.
Each Istrouman records their deeds for posterity in their own personal or family book, essentially like a journal. This, combined with their life's work and their quest to record every bit of knowledge possible, creating a colossal amount of information worthy of filling many libraries. Once full, these completed tomes are then stored beneath the surface of the planet's capital within the planet's great archive libraries.
"There is a history in all men's lives..."
— From Richard II, authored by the Old Earth dramaturge Shakespire, ca. M2
The Tome Keepers are a Chapter that is fixated on history. They are comprised of warriors who are also archivists, scribes and librarians charged with maintaining repositories of books and information. The exact reason for this obssession with obtaining and recording knowledge is not well known to those outside the Chapter. However, it has been noted by Imperial scholars that the Tome Keepers possess a higher than usual number of Librarians within their ranks. This could be due to their homeworld's proximity to the nearby white dwarf star, whose radiation could be the cause for so many of the Istrouman suffering genetic mutation and the creation of psykers.
Due to the sacred oath the Chapter swore to uphold in the protection of Istrouma's most sacred texts stored within their world's massive library, combined with the short lifespans of the planet's population, the Tome Keepers feel obligated to uphold the traditions of their homeworld. Therefore, every Tome Keepers battle-brother keeps his own account of his deeds and day-to-day activites recorded within their own books for posterity. It is not uncommon for these warriors to carry a copy of these books into battle (as books are not particularly suited to the rigours of war), therefore these symbolic verisions of the original are firmly secured on their belts or kept amongst their personal effects. They are then updated after each battle, the battle-brother noting down observations on the foe or tactics and strategies that worked particularly well. In this way, the Chapter is able to continue the practices of their homeworld while accumulating vast amounts of knowledge and information on the galaxy's many threats.
However, the constant recording of everything they see and experience is often a point of contention between the Chapter and those they often serve alongside, since the Tome Keepers have a tendency to see and record things that others might not want them to. These tomes are unusually uncensored within their own ranks, which in effect, strengthens these Space Marines' morality compared to more bellicose Chapters. However, such unsolicited observations could easily see the Chapter come into conflict with other Imperial institutions such as the Inquisition if they are not more careful. As of yet, the Chapter has managed to avoid such contentious entanglements, however, it has been noted that in the past, when the Chapter has gone into battle alongside another Chapter, they have almost come to blows over a difference of ideas or something they shouldn't have observed.
Due to the augmented lifespan of the Tome Keepers, this has become a source of conflict with the short lives of the local people of their homeworld. Rather than revering the Space Marines as demigods, they view their Astartes masters as untouchables -- unnatural outcasts whose genetic enhancements upset the normal cycle of life and death. Even the Tome Keepers themselves are conflicted between their duty to serve and their natural place among the deceased. Many of the warriors of the Chapter view entombment in a Dreadnought as the ideal compromise between service and death. They view those who continue to fight from within the shell of a Dreadnought to be dead, their bodily existence ended, and yet still able to fulfil their oath to defend humanity.
Notable Tome Keepers
Saargon bal Zakir - Current Chapter Master of the Tome Keepers.
Nasiem Bal Tergu - Primaris Captain of the Third Company ("Godbreakers"). Captain Nasiem was a Chapter veteran that served for several centuries in various companies before rising to the rnak of Veteran Sergeant in the 1st Company. When the first Greyshields joined the Chapter, he was awarded the position of Captain and given command of the newly forged 3rd Company. To better understand his new charges, he chose to cross the Rubicon Primaris, emerging stronger and more powerful than ever before. Following his transformation he later took part in the Argovon Campaing as a part of the Indomitus Crusade's Task Force XI. As the war against the insidious Necrons rage, Captain Tergu served in the Task Force's senior command staff as a representative of the Space Marines. His armour includes the pauldrons he wore in the 1st Company, while his Crux Terminatus hangs from an aiguillette across his chest. His injuries have yet to be documented, but they clearly show that often leads his warriors at the forefront of any battle. His axe is a Chapter heirloom crafted many thousands of years ago by his ancestors and held in the Chapter armoury. The Tome Keepers put great stock in the work of their forebears, and our Captain’s ancestors were clearly weaponsmiths of great renown. Due to their short lifespans, dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of them helped forge this axe. Nasiem also carries a dog-eared book on his belt that recounts his life's work.
Eriba - Primaris Intercessor of the Third Company, Second Battleline Squad.
White Book - The so-called White Book is considered the Chapter's most sacred and important relic of the Tome Keepers. This ancient tome is securely stored in the Chapter's most guarded collection of vast knowledge within their fortress-monastery. Unfortunatlye, this tome is so old that it must be secured within a Stasis Field to prevent it from disintegrating. When displayed, it is only open to two pages at a time, and those who read them find that the knowledge contained on these pages ends on a monumental cliffhanger.
The Tome Keepers wear power armour the colour of ancient vellum with black coloured shoulder pauldron trim. The Chapter symbol is proudly displayed on their left armorial, while the black coloured battlefield role insignia is prominently displayed in their right armorial. This insignia indicates a battle-brother's assigned squad speciality (Fire Support, Close Support, Battleline, Veteran or Command). A small white coloured Arabic numeral is stenciled on this central squad symbol, which indicates a battle-brother's assigned squad. Company squads number 1 though to 10. Additional units added to the company adopt the numbers 11 to 20 consecutively, with the first additional unit being 11, the second 12 and so on.
The black colouration of both their shoulder pauldron trim and squad symbols represents the ink used to record the Tome Keepers' experiences and accomplishments in their great tomes.
Rank markings are shown on helmets, though there are a few deviations from the Codex. Instead of white helmets, Veterans wear black faceplates. Veteran Sergeants also wear black faceplates but with a red helmet, as laid down in the Codex. The most notable deviation from the Codex is the Lieutenant's helmet, which is a reverse of the Veteran Sergeant colours. The Company Captain typically wears the traditional bone of the Tome Keepers, but with the addition of a skull or laurel. Personal heraldry is also allowed.
Company colours are the same as those used in the Codex Astartes but displayed on the Aquila, Imperialis (or chest device) on their plastrons (chest guards) instead of the shoulder trim. The 1st Company wears white or silver.
The Tome Keepers Chapter badge takes the form of a stylised black tome with a white four-pointed star in the center, sitting upon a bone backdrop. This reflects two parts of the Tome Keepers' background -- their reputation as chroniclers and historians, and the special significance of the white dwarf star that their homeworld orbits. Sometimes a variation of the Chapter's main symbol is worn. A bone or white skull is featured in lieu of the four-pointed star, which represents the Chapter's fixation with mortaility. This symbol is usually worn by the Chapter's Sergeants and veterans.
Both the Tome Keepers and the Astral Hounds Chapters were created by the 2020 staff of White Dwarf Magazine as potential candidates for becoming a staff-created mascot Chapter for the magazine. Ultimately, the former was chosen over the latter, although many of the concepts for the Astral Hounds had been conceptualized and later re-used and incorporated into the Tome Keepers' lore.
Another interesting fact is that the names of the characters for the Tome Keepers were drawn from the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, a collection of thousand of clay tablets and fragments containing texts of all kinds from the 7th Century B.C., particularly from the Post Neo-Babylonian era.
White Dwarf #453, "Founding of a Chapter," pp. 85-87
White Dwarf #454, "History of a Chapter: The Mysteries of the Tome Keepers," pp. 62-66
White Dwarf #455, "Organisation of a Chapter," pp. 80-81, 83-85
White Dwarf #458, "Index Astartes: Tome Keepers," pp. 46-59