The Old Ones were an ancient space-faring race who had an advanced civilisation before the development of the Young Races in the current age. They are notable for being the first of all the galaxy's sentient life[6a] as well as being the first race to cross the sea of stars, making them the oldest space-faring species in the galaxy.
The Old Ones are said to have had a slow, cold-blooded wisdom, studying the stars and raising astrology and astronomy to an arcane science. It was their understanding of the universe that allowed them to manipulate alternate dimensions and it was known that they undertook great works of psychic engineering.[1b] At some unknown point, they crafted the Webway to serve as a conduit through which they could travel to far-flung worlds without suffering from the tides of the Warp. Such was their advanced science that they had the capacity to cross vast tracts of space with a single step by way of Webway portals and through such means they managed to spread their spawn to many other places. They believed that all life was useful and they are known to have brought about the rise of numerous new species and impregnated thousands of worlds which they made their own.[1b] According to the Deceiver, the Old Ones once waged a war against the race of beings known as the C'tan. This was a conflict that the C'tan lost and in the aftermath they went into hiding in order to avoid the Old Ones' wrath.[6a]
As the Old Ones passed through the cosmos, a number of younger and fiercer races developed within their wake, including the Necrontyr, who struggled in their colonisation of other worlds. During this encounter, the ultra-intelligent races of mystics known as the Old Ones were seen to have swiftly colonised other worlds with far greater ease and had an immense longevity to the point of immortality.[1b] The Necrontyr are known to have petitioned the Old Ones for the secret of eternal life but they refused.[6a] This kindled a burning hatred within the Necrontyr, whose harsh sun cursed them with diseased bodies and difficulties in colonising the stars.[1b] At this time, the Necrontyr empire was suffering from the Wars of Secession with the various Dynasties battling one another. The ruling council known as the Triarch believed that an external foe would unify their species and their enmity with the Old Ones led to them declaring war upon this ancient race. The temptation of the spoils of victory along with the secrets of immortality saw the separatist kingdoms unite, bringing about a conflict that would become known as the War in Heaven.[6a] The jealousy grew, eventually leading to the ancient Necrontyr dedicating their entire civilisation single-mindedly to the goal of the extermination of the Old Ones and their spawn.[1b]
The War in Heaven
Terrible wars were known to have followed this chain of events but all ended with the Necrontyr's inability to vanquish their foes. Despite their advanced technology, they found themselves constantly outmaneuvered by the Old Ones due to their mastery of Webway portals. Eventually, the Necrontyr were pushed back to such an extent that they were considered little more than an irritation to the Old Ones and forced back to the outer dark of the halo stars where they were forgotten. This imprisonment lasted for centuries. As they sought to find a suitable weapon to unleash against their foes, the Necrontyr began to study their sun, whereupon they discovered ancient entities that resided on them. These they made manifest and named C'tan, or star-gods in their language, and used them as their new weapon against the Old Ones.[1b] Through the C'tan, the Necrontyr were transformed into a cold machine race of beings that became known as the Necrons. They were now free to pursue their vengeance against their ancient foes. This time, the conflict was far different from the previous wars as the Old Ones' mastery of the Warp was now countered by the C'tan's supremacy of the material universe. In time, the C'tan began to dominate the galaxy whilst the Old Ones' bastions were besieged and their nurtured races were fed upon like cattle by the eternal hunger of the star-gods. Entire worlds were razed, suns extinguished and entire star systems devoured whole by the terrible C'tan.[1b]
During the war, Necron legions are known to have breached the Webway and assaulted the Old Ones in every corner of the galaxy.[6a] Despite their legendary patience and implacability, the Old Ones began to grow desperate and began breeding new forms of life with an even stronger connection to the Warp, with the intention that these manipulated species would have the power to channel their psychic might to defend themselves. Many warrior races were created in this manner; it is believed that the Eldar, K'nib and Rashan ranked among their number. It took millennia before these new creations were ready and in that time, the C'tan along with their Necron armies extinguished even more life in the cosmos.[1b] According to Eldar legend, the paradise the Old Ones had created was now desecrated by the C'tan, whom the Eldar knew as the Yngir.[1d] Among their creations also were early Mankind, tree beasts that were part of their ecosystem but otherwise had no greater role defined for them by the Old Ones.[1a] This was the time that the Eldar referred to as the God War, fought between the C'tan-supported Necrons and the Old Ones aided by their successor races.[1a] During ancient times, the Eldar learnt a great many secrets of the Warp from the Old Ones. From this encounter, the Eldar learnt technologies that led to the eventual creation of the Webway.
By the time the Old Ones marshalled their forces, there were only four C'tan in existence, but much of life in the galaxy had already been extinguished.[1d] Eventually, the hot-blooded Young Races were unleashed, sending the Necrons reeling as the power of the Warp was an anathema to them and they struggled to contain the advance of this new offensive. In response, the C'tan unified for the first time in millions of years and began the great warding, which was to seal the Empyrean from the material universe forever, thus countering the magicks of the Old Ones. However, a seemingly unforeseen side effect of the Old Ones began to manifest in this era as the Young Races' growing pains disturbed the Warp itself with this formless energy coalescing and older warp entities become predatory as the Empyrean began to become a more hostile environment. From cracks in reality, the denizens of the warp sought entry into the material universe which forced the Old Ones to bring about the emergence of new species to defend their last strongholds. Among their creations included the green-skinned, hardy Krork and the technology-mimicking Jokaero. However, it was too late by this point with their intergalactic network being breached with their greatest works and places of power being overrun by the horrors of the warp created by their own creations. Among the most insidious of these entities were the Enslavers, who dominated the minds of the Young Races in order to create portals for more of their kind. The Enslaver Plague became the final blow for the reign of the Old Ones who scattered and forever broke their power.[1c]
It would be the implacable onslaught of the C'tan combined with the mistakenly unleashed Warp-spawned perils that ultimately led to the Old Ones being defeated, scattered and destroyed.[6a] The surviving C'tan and Necrons had the pleasure of seeing the demise of the Old Ones' civilisation, whilst they themselves retreated into stasis until the cataclysm ended.[1c] In the power vacuum following the war, the lesser creations of the Old Ones such as Mankind were known to have continued to develop but in unforeseen ways.[1a] The mantle of galactic dominion would eventually pass to the Eldar, who had fought alongside the Old Ones during the war. This species would survive where the Old Ones did not and would see the Necrons depart into the Great Sleep after they had turned against the C'tan.[6a] Legends continued to speak of the Old Ones with the rune-singers of Craftworld Kaelor depicting the Webway as being a construct of this ancient progenitor race who used it to travel through the stars. It is rumoured that the Empathic Obliterator used by the Necron Lord Trazyn the Infinite may be constructed from technology designed by the Old Ones.[6b]
The Old Ones did not appear in the first edition material of Warhammer 40,000. There was a similar race in their place in the form of the Slann or Old Slann that featured in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader and Codex Titanicus (1st Edition), in which they made early contact with the Eldar and taught them the technology to create the Webway. The former source also states that the Slann were responsible for the genetic manipulation of various races and suggested that the Jokaero are one of their creations. In third edition material, starting with Codex: Necrons, the Old Ones are first mentioned and their backstory elaborated by stating they genetically manipulated early life and fought the an ancient war against the Necrons. Future material such as Codex: Eldar (4th Edition) and Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition) also state that the Old Ones had a hand in teaching the Eldar to make use of the Webway whilst Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition) mentioned that they actually created it in the first place.
The Old Ones also get an partial mention in Liber Chaotica Slaanesh in the chapter "Echoes of the Birth" where they are called the "First Ones". This section covers the Eldar race, stating that they were raised by figures of shadow and light that were an ancient as well as powerful race. These First Ones are said to be the first to have reached into the starry night and to be older than gods yet mortal as well as subject to time. They are said to have left the Eldar and returned to the sky in order to allow their charges to develop over millennia. Afterwards, they returned in strange, vast vessels that were worn and scarred whilst light dim along with their shadows dispersing. This is because they were engaged in an unending war against the Yngir with the First Ones returning to inspect the Eldar and determine whether they were fit for the battle that lay ahead. The First Ones are known to have encouraged their younger race to focus their psychic abilities in order to create warp-derived beings as weapons against the the vampiric gods of starlight. The battle that continued was long and the First Ones dwindled in number to the point that they lost influence among the Eldar. Without their creators' wisdom, the Eldar's warp-beings changed from sentient weapons into living gods of the Immaterium who were the first of their kind. After the absence of the First Ones, the Eldar heroes Eldanesh and Ulthanash proved to be the only beings that could harness the power of the warp gods to battle against their foes until they fled from a daemonic plague. In the aftermath, the Eldar are said to have adapted, refined and perfected the First Ones' skill in measuring the Warp and predicting its movements.
Xenology also makes a potential reference to the Old Ones. They are referred to as the Old Gods who lived prior to the birth of Slaanesh when they fought a war in heaven and hell against Star Devils. According to the author Kurdo Salvador, the Star Devils emerged victorious in this war and killed all the Old Gods, though one managed to survive. This survivor hid away where he continued his Old Ways of tweaking, dabbling, poking and prodding. When he was done with his work, he departed into the Warp in order to hide and watch. When "She's" born by the longears, Slaanesh chopped the remaining Old One into millions of pieces with the shards kicked into the cold void in order "to linger like always..." These shattered remnants, according to Salvador, became known as the Umbra. This entity that was sent to linger also shares many qualities to that of Qah, a deity within the Hrud pantheon.
Its explained that the C'tan still hold an unbending hatred of the Old Ones despite their civilisation being no more and actively seek out any degenerate descendants that may possibly exist on backwater worlds. Codex: Necrons even suggests that a Lizardmen army can be used as a placeholder for the Old Ones' descendants.[1e]
- 1: Codex: Necrons (3rd Edition)
- 2: Codex: Eldar (4th Edition), pg. 12
- 3: Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition), pg. 18
- 4: Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), pg 8
- 5: Eldar Prophecy (Novel), pg. 151
- 6: Codex: Necrons (5th Edition)