- "Lord Emperor, Father Sanguinius. We confess our unworthiness. We are unfit to stand in your name. Our blood is weak, our victories failures. In death, we repent."
- — Astorath the Grim, offering a final benediction for his stricken brothers before carrying out his grim duty
The Death Company is a specialised unit that is unique to the Blood Angels Chapter of Space Marines and all their Successor Chapters whose members are consumed by a permanent, debilitating psychosis known as the Black Rage, which is an inherent risk for any Astartes who bear the Blood Angels' gene-seed. 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.
An Angel Falls
During the height of the galaxy spanning rebellion known as the Horus Heresy, the epic climatic battle took place during the Battle of Terra in the early 31st Millennium between the Forces of Chaos, led by the Warmaster Horus, and the Loyalist armies of the Imperium of Man led by the Emperor of Mankind Himself. 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 Arch-traitor Horus alone aboard his flagship Vengeful Spirit, 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.
The Primarch's Curse
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.
The Templars of Blood do not organise those that succumb to the Black Rage into a formal Death Company. Those Astartes of this Chapter that lose the struggle with their common Flaw are left to die alone in combat. Once a Chaplain starts to notice the tell-tale look in a Battle-Brother's eyes that bespeaks the soon to arrive loss of control, he performs a benediction in the name of Sanguinius and the Emperor of Mankind before taking away all of the Astartes' wargear save for his Combat Knife and his Power Armour. Should the Space Marine suffering from the Flaw survive the following combat, his company's Captain is required by Chapter tradition to honour the Battle-Brother for his exemplary service to the Emperor before executing him outright. However, the number of Astartes within the Templars of Blood who actually fall to the Black Rage is unusually low for a Blood Angels Successor Chapter, a fact that has not escaped the notice of the Inquisition or the Blood Angels. No one knows exactly how the Templars of Blood have managed to keep the Flaw at bay. Those who think well of the Chapter, a number which includes the Blood Angels, believe that it is because of their devotion to the Emperor and Sanguinius as well as a display of iron will that is remarkable even amongst Astartes. However, the Templars of Blood's growing number of detractors prefer to believe that the Chapter's seeming immunity has its origin in a far darker secret.
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.
On the Field of Battle
- "Treat them with honour, my brothers. Not because they will bring us victory this day, but because their fate will one day be ours."
- — Astorath the Grim, Blood Angels High Chaplain
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 Tearers 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 gen-hanced 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.
- The War of Broken Wings (261.M33) - A unified armada of vessels drawn from the Night Lords Legion and its myriad allies assaults the Angels Sanguine's battlefleet in high orbit above the world of Anzyra. The Angels Sanguine, fighting for their homeworld and the very survival of their Chapter, are pressed into a defensive battle to prevent mass bombardment of their fortress-monastery. 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 of 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.
- The Ghost War (811.M37) - During the long years of the 7th Black Crusade, the full might of the Blood Angels Chapter falls upon a vast Black Legion warband on the world of Mackan. Although the conflict ultimately ends in the near-extinction of the Blood Angels at the hands of Abaddon the Despoiler and his primary lieutenants -- the sorcerer-lord Iskandar Khayon and the swordmaster Telemachon Lyras -- the Blood Angels Reclusiarch Thalastian Jorus becomes one of the few Imperial heroes to ever land a blow against the Warmaster of Chaos. 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.
- At Gaius Point (998.M41) - Not every incident involving the Death Company rings with morbid honour. Many are not even victories at all. 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.
Notable Death Company Members
- Chaplain Lemartes - Lemartes is a Chaplain and the warden of the Blood Angels' infamous Death Company. Under his guidance, the Death Company has reached a new level of potency and lethality. Though Lemartes himself is afflicted by the curse of the Black Rage, his formidable willpower has allowed him to remain in control of his actions, leaving him free to lead the Death Company in glorious charges that eclipse all the deeds of legend. Lemartes is also known as the "Guardian of the Lost." His stern voice can cut through even the battle frenzy induced by the Black Rage.
- High Chaplain Carnarvon - Carnarvon is the current High Chaplain (Master of Sanctity) of the Flesh Tearers Chapter of Space Marines. He serves as the warden of that Chapter's infamous Death Company. He is called the "Watcher of the Lost," for he is the lone Flesh Tearer entrusted with the sacred duty of commemorating every member of the Chapter who dies in combat or ultimately succumbs to the debilitating psychosis known as the Black Rage. He alone bears the terrible responsibility to watch over the remaining 400 Battle-Brothers of the Flesh Tearers Chapter for the onset of the Black Rage. He has occupied this position for nearly 250 standard years and it is whispered by many that the strain of watching so many of his friends and comrades descend into this dreaded affliction has started to take its toll on his sanity. Carnarvon has the final word as to who is to be inducted into the Flesh Tearers' Death Company and who amongst these afflicted brethren must be permanently incarcerated in the Tower of the Lost because they have fallen so far into madness that even he cannot control them.
- Captain Erasmus Tycho - Erasmus Tycho was the legendary Captain of the Blood Angels' 3rd Company, and was once Lord Commander Dante's chosen successor to become the next Chapter Master of the Blood Angels. Half his face was destroyed by an Ork Weirdboy during the Second War for Armageddon. This mutilation affected his psyche, and made him wear a mask over the injury. He constantly thirsted for revenge against the Orks who wounded him. His ire was such that he was almost uncontrollable away from the battlefield. Unfortunately, he eventually succumbed to the Black Rage and was inducted into the Death Company. He finally attained the Emperor's Peace when he died seeing action during the Third War for Armageddon.
- Moriar the Chosen - Moriar the Chosen is a Death Company Dreadnought of the Blood Angels Chapter. Once known as Morleo Moriar, a Blood Angels Company Captain, he fell in battle on the planet of Clamorga, yet so great were Morleo's deeds that he was stabilised by the Blood Angels' Sanguinary Priests and placed within the shell of a Furioso Dreadnought. Unfortunately, almost immediately after being awakened, he began to experience the visions of Sanguinius during the Horus Heresy and succumbed to the Black Rage. However, Moriar survived the mental brutality of the curse and now fights alongside the Blood Angels as a Death Company Dreadnought known as Moriar the Chosen. It is rumoured that in his new form, Moriar has been claimed by the Red Thirst and that the Blood Angel armourers have modified his Dreadnought chassis so that he can quench his thirst for blood. Thus, he became the Death Company's only Dreadnought -- an almost unstoppable force in battle.
All Blood Angels Successor Chapters that maintain a Death Company, with the exception of the Templars of Blood, use the same black colours as their progenitor Chapter, save for the Angels Encarmine, whose Death Company and Sanguinary Guard are both an alabaster white, with black shoulder trim and backpack. The origins of using the colour black traces back to the latter days of the Great Crusade. When the Red Thirst first began to manifest itself amongst a handful of Blood Angels Legionaries, they would quickly be dealt with -- honoured for their service and then summarily executed, either by the Primarch himself, or Azkaellon, the commander of the IX Legion's Sanguinary Guard. The slain Battle-Brother would then be laid in honourable repose as a slab of inkstone from the night deserts of Baal Primus was passed over the dead warrior's armour, blotting out the crimson colour with a layer of glistening, smoky black. The manner of the Battle-Brother's death would be forever lost to the Legion's chronicles, the existence of the growing Flaw within the Blood Angels' genetic structure kept secret. The fallen warrior would finally be able to find peace, resting in the company of death. All the various Death Companies of the Blood Angels and their Successors have blood-red saltires painted on portions of their battle-plate, to symbolise the wounds of their beloved Primarch Sanguinius after he was slain by Horus during the climax of the Horus Heresy at the Battle of Terra.
- Codex: Adeptus Astartes Blood Angels (7th Edition), pp. 37-40, 75-78, 100-101, 108-109, 125-128, 133-134
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Edition) (Digital Edition), pp. 33, 55-56, 121, 127-129, 131-133, 135, 255, 320, 322, 324, 326, 328, 330, 332, 334, 336, 338, 352, 360, 366, 415, 470-472
- Codex: Blood Angels (4th Edition), pp. 8-9, 12, 15, 18
- Codex: Blood Angels (3rd Edition), pp. 6, 10, 13, 19, 21
- Codex: Angels of Death (2nd Edition), pp. 21, 29, 49, 55, 86
- Deathwatch: The Achilus Assault, pg. 54
- Index Astartes - Death Company (Digital Edition), pp. 2, 4-8, 9-12
- Fear to Tread (Novel) by James Swallow
- At Gaius Point (Short Story) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Torturer's Thirst (Novella) by Andy Smillie
- Angels of Death - The Fury (Short Story) by James Swallow
- Advent Day Nine - Astorath The Grim: Redeemer of the Lost (Ebook)
- Advent Day Sixteen - Gabriel Seth: The Flesh Tearer (Ebook)