Armoured in black and marked by the symbolic wounds suffered by their fallen Primarch, the Death Company are a grim foreshadowing of the Blood Angels Chapter’s final fate. Every warrior in their ranks is a boon on the battlefield, possessed of righteous strength and holy fury. Yet once the storm of war passes, madness and execution are all that await these tormented souls, driven past redemption by the curse in their tainted blood.
Every Chapter has its secrets. Whether those secrets are inked on ancient parchment and sealed in stasis-vaults or hidden behind the snarling mouth grilles of Mark VII helms, no Space Marine Chapter – not even the vaunted Ultramarines – have entirely clean consciences.
The Blood Angels and their Successor brethren have striven since the Second Founding to keep their genetic flaws from harming the very people they are sworn to defend. Even in the years of the Heresy, the IX Legion was pained by the Red Thirst, driven by their Chaplains and the brothers of the Sanguinary Priesthood to exalt themselves above the maddening urges to drink their foes’ blood. Such a curse would surely be enough for any Legion to bear, but it was only after the death of great Sanguinius that his surviving sons found themselves afflicted by a new bane in their bloodline.
Many Legions claimed absolute loyalty and reverence for their Primarch fathers, but few were as fervent in their adoration as the Blood Angels, and none had their master stolen from them in such a way – even the Iron Hands, who had lost their lord to the Daemon-claimed Fulgrim, knew nothing of the pain felt by the IX Legion when Sanguinius faced the Archtraitor Horus alone, and fell to the Warmaster’s unholy Talon.
With the slaughter of their gene-sire by the very vessel of the Ruinous Powers, the Blood Angels Legionaries suffered a psychic backlash that wracked their very souls, burning an irreversible mark throughout their genetic coding.
When the dust settled in the decades after the Siege of Terra, the mighty Space Marine Legions were broken into Chapters and granted autonomy from Imperial authority. Among the Blood Angels and their new Successors, it became increasingly apparent that their Primarch’s death had left a last imprint that no Chaplain could have predicted, and no Sanguinary Priest could cure. Opposing the Red Thirst – that bloodlust that beats in the heart of every Son of Sanguinius – their new curse was a more solemn and spiritual malady.
The condition goes by several names, including the Fate, the Primarch’s Curse, and the Chaplain’s Vigil. But most Blood Angels know it by a bleaker title, spoken in whispers on the eve before a battle.
They call it the Black Rage.
Alone among the Space Marines Chapters, the Blood Angels and their Successors possess an intrinsic racial awareness of their Primarch’s last moments in the skies above Holy Terra. Such was the ferocity and psychic virulence of Sanguinius’ murder that the emotional echoes of that dark deed still swim through the blood of his descendents, even ten thousand years later. And time has not been merciful to the Angel’s sons – the Black Rage bites deeper with every generation, stealing more warriors’ minds with each passing century.
Many of the warrior-philosophers born of Sanguinius’ bloodline consider the Red Thirst and the Black Rage as two sides of the same coin: one afflicting the mind, the other blighting the soul. However, resisting the pull of the Red Thirst confers a strength in its own right; for in rising above their baser urges and eternal bloodlust, the Blood Angels are forever focused on girding their souls against the temptations of Chaos.
The Black Rage offers no such hope. A Blood Angel in the grip of the Primarch’s Curse is damned in the most literal sense – all that awaits him is death in battle, wearing the colours of sacred mourning as he fights in a maddened frenzy beneath the watchful gaze of a skull-faced Chaplain.
There is no cure. There is no recovery.
The Lamenters Chapter were once thought to have conquered the curse through the diligence and tech-genius of its Apothecaries – only for stories circulate at the close of the Dark Millennium that the Black Rage has returned tenfold after their flawed attempts to cleanse it from their gene-seed.
In ten thousand long, long years, only a single soul has ‘returned’ from the Black Rage: the Blood Angels Librarian Calistarius; now called Mephiston – named the Lord of Death for conquering the limits of mortality. After falling to the Flaw and allowing himself to be clad in Death Company black, Calistarius fought in the defence of Hades Hive during the Second War for Armageddon. Some archives state that he was buried alive for seven days and seven nights beneath a collapsed Ecclesiarchy building, others conflict with that account, citing that the severity of his wounds show beyond doubt that he died beneath the rubble, and was restored by some miracle of transmogrified gene-seed.
Whatever the truth, Calistarius rose stronger – both physically and psychically – somehow having banished the Black Rage from his blood. If the former tale is true, then it might be possible for warriors of supreme will and psychic strength to fight through the Flaw. If the latter is true, then a darker precedent has been set: to overcome the Black Rage, a Blood Angel must die within its grip, and pray for a resurrection that may have been nothing more than mythic misunderstanding.
The Black Rage begins with visions, with dreams of bloodshed and battle that stir the warrior’s senses and linger within his mind beyond the hours of slumber. Soon, they press on the Space Marine’s mind during his hours of meditation, training, and battle, painting the palette of his mind with memories of wars he never fought, and the faces of brothers that died thousands of years before he was born.
Rigorous focus and mental training can suppress the onset of these waking nightmares, but the process can never be entirely halted. Once the Black Rage begins to take hold, degeneration is inevitable. It can take minutes, hours, days... in some rare cases, even decades, but the path always leads to the same fate. The Black Rage boils through the sufferer’s mind, infusing his senses with the mythic moments of Sanguinius’ shattered past. His eyes and heart lie to him, but it is a glorious lie. Every enemy, be they alien or mutant or heretic, all blend into a vision of the Traitors that set fire to Holy Terra. The brothers at his side are the heroes and fallen champions of that ancient age.
Soon enough, the afflicted Blood Angel is lost to all reason, needing to be restrained in his frothing blood-madness, and living only to kill the enemies of the Emperor. No longer will he train and serve with his former squad. He is surrendered into the care of the Reclusiam, bound to take to the battlefield in ritually blackened armour. From that day forward, he fights as one of the Death Company.
Death in battle inevitably follows; with no ability to follow tactics or heed the intricacies of a commander’s battle plan, the warriors of the Death Company charge in a howling tide, bound – even if only temporarily – by the inspiring wrath-chants of their Chaplains. As in so many matters of Adeptus Astartes spirituality, it is the Chaplains that play a key role.
For many Blood Angels, the descent into the Black Rage is a sudden plummet, as brutally, tragically quick as opening one’s eyes and seeing all truth warped into a long-dead legend returned to life. It is only through the never ending vigil of the Chapter’s warrior-priests that a degree of control can be maintained. Even a berserk, delusional fury can be guided by the fervent oratory and leadership of a skilled Chaplain. In this way, the Death Company’s insane rage is harnessed into a potent weapon; if they are destined to lay down their cursed lives, it will at least be in the defence of Mankind.
Just when and where these fevered hallucinations will strike can never be predicted, but the Chapter’s Sanguinary Priests and Chaplains spend their solemn lives seeking any signs of taint among their rank and file brethren. It is common for the creeping sickness to be noticed on the eve before a battle, when the Blood Angels gather in prayer with their battle-brothers, and speak the Litanies of Hate before their watching Chaplains. Every warrior kneels before their spiritual guardians, answering for the state of their soul and speaking their oaths of devotion to their brothers in the coming battle. Any slurred words or disorientation are marked by the overseers.
If a Blood Angel is judged to be on the edge of succumbing to the Black Rage, he is withdrawn from the ranks as though he carried a contagion. From that night on, his fate is sealed. In times of peace, he will be imprisoned in the Tower of the Lost within the Chapter’s fortress-monastery, crying out his torment under the eternal watch of Chaplain guardians.
And in times of war, he is clad in the black of loss and sorrow, seeking to cleanse the stain on his soul by achieving death in righteous battle.
No Blood Angels commander treats his Death Company brothers with careless abandon. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the soulful nature and humanity inherent in the hearts of Sanguinius’ sons.
In accordance with the Chapter’s merciful temperament, the Death Company are rarely deployed to be lost in useless sacrifice. They are a tactical asset like any other, but more than that, they are a vision of an inevitable fate: every Blood Angel will one day wear the same black ceramite and charge alongside a chanting Chaplain while lost to the delusions of a mythic age. Battle-brothers that have already fallen to such a doom are treated with respect and honour.
‘It is our duty,’ an ancient Blood Angels litany goes, ‘to know the difference between the doomed and the damned.’
This is far from a universal truth among the Successor Chapters. More than one of the Blood Angels’ kindred bloodlines are known to take a much harsher, punitive attitude to their battle-lost brothers, hurling their Death Companies into the fray with no concern for their lives and using them as a blunt instrument to break enemy front lines no matter the cost. Flesh Tearer officers have displayed such merciless disregard many times across the span of millennia, as have the Chaplains of the Angels Numinous, the Flesh Eaters, and now-extinct Chapters such as the Golden Sons and the Crimson Legion.
Every Death Company is marked by unpredictability, not least because of its warriors’ melancholic madness. When these doomed Space Marines take to the battlefield, they are usually armed with a motley assortment of wargear – each Blood Angel bears the weapons he wielded among his former squad, so bolters are almost as common as chainswords. Ranking officers will bring more sacred, relic weapons such as thunder hammers or power swords, but no matter how a Death Company is equipped, they can be relied upon to tear their way through the enemy in a loose phalanx of enraged warriors.
Chapters with a less reverent attitude to their afflicted brethren frequently field Death Companies equipped with jump packs, hurling their black-clad brothers into the heart of the enemy army to inflict terrible punishment while the rest of the Space Marines strike force moves to capitalise on the foe’s disorder.
And while many Chapters consider a benevolent perspective regarding the lost souls of a Death Company, every Blood Angels Successor can point to countless listings in their fortress’s archives, citing darkly glorious last stands where these warriors in black died fighting insurmountable odds, so that the rest of the force could achieve its objective. As bleak as such a sacrifice can be, such is the burden of service in the Dark Millennium. Only in death does duty end.
For all the darkness of this curse flowing through the bloodstreams of the Angel’s descendants, the Black Rage offers a certain mournful glory to those in its thrall. All sensation, all pain, is stolen from their flesh; Death Company warriors will wade through volleys of gunfire that would force even veteran Space Marines to their knees, and fight on despite the loss of limbs and the rupture of vital organs. Every virtue of vitality and strength within the genhanced soldiers of the Adeptus Astartes is magnified in these doomed Blood Angels. More than one loremaster has speculated that Primarch’s infinite nobility shines through in his sons’ bleakest hours, allowing them to meet death with at least the shadow of dignity.
True enough, once the fighting is over and their fevered imaginings finally clear, many of the Death Company will finally collapse from their wounds, as their fading madness no longer sustains their broken bodies. Those who survive, for better or worse, are bound by their brothers – either in chains or in stasis pods – and returned to the Tower of the Lost, destined to scream the agonised death-echoes of Sanguinius’ doom, until they are released to do battle in black once more.
261.M33 - The War of Broken Wings
To end the engagement, which records list as several days of protracted void war and boarding actions, the Angels Sanguine force a final resolution by offering the perfect bait: they allow their flagship, the Cruor Domina, to be crippled and boarded by hundreds of enemy Traitor Marines.
While the Space Marines defend the Battle Barge to keep it from being taken as a prize by the raiding Night Lords, a full three hundred Death Company warriors are sent by boarding torpedoes to slaughter their way through the vulnerable crews of eight enemy capital ships, including the renowned Lies of Dawn, the Foresworn, and the Brotherhood of Darkness warship Sightless Godling.
The Angels Sanguine have always suffered fiercely from the Flaw, and such an assault represented a century’s worth of prisoners within their monastery’s Tower of the Lost being unleashed into battle one last time. Without Chaplains to lead them, the Death Companies were sacrificed in desperation, with no hope of recovery.
It turned the tide. Suddenly, at risk of losing many of their own flagships, the Traitor warbands fought their way back to their own vessels, only to be cut down by the enraged defenders as they turned their backs and fled. Those Traitors that managed to return to their own ships were met with entire decks left as abattoirs by the rampaging Death Companies, and were forced to contend with the blood-maddened boarding parties even as they ordered their ships back from the primary assault.
c.811.M37 - The Ghost War
With his Chapter devastated, the Chaplain endures weeks of hardship in the wilderness and the constant trials of keeping his crazed warriors undetected on Mackan. When the time is right, Jorus leads his Death Company in a lightning raid behind enemy lines, butchering the unprepared sworn warriors of the Despoiler’s honour guard, and allowing the Reclusiarch to lock blades with Abaddon himself. It is said the Warmaster still bears the scars of that battle, even three millennia later.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it is known that the Despoiler honoured Jorus once the war was over – perhaps in mockery, or perhaps with nothing but sincerity. After Mackan, thousands of Blood Angels corpses were desecrated, their gene-seed ruined beyond recovery. Of all the Chapter, only a handful of bodies were left undefiled: Reclusiarch Jorus and his Death Company, clad in their battered and broken black ceramite, seated in makeshift thrones made from the armour of those Black Legion warriors they had killed on that fateful night.
998.M41 - At Gaius Point
During the Third War for Armageddon, the Order of the Argent Shroud bear full witness to the Flesh Tearers committing atrocities against Imperial citizens at Gaius Point, when the Chapter’s warriors breach the human militia’s barricades and turn their blades on the very souls they were sent to protect.
Soon enough, reports reach the Inquisition and the Adeptus Terra that the Flesh Tearers are a dangerous, unstable threat, and that their Chapter must be purged at once, and any survivors declared Excommunicate Traitoris.
No Imperial agent sees what comes next: the reckoning demanded by the Blood Angels and their Successor cousins. Warriors from several nearby Chapters approach the Flesh Tearers’ commander, Gabriel Seth, demanding an answer for the apparent transgression.
Gaius Point marks one of the rare, sad instances of brother lying to brother in the name of survival, as Seth lays the burden of blame on his Death Companies. In speaking this lie to save his chapter, he damns the Flesh Tearers’ Death Companies to lives of even deeper revulsion, as even other Blood Angels Successors consider them tragic mongrels in sore need of execution, in order to keep their bloodline’s darkest secret.