The Plague of Unbelief is considered part of the Age of Apostasy of the 36th Millennium, although it occurred several decades after High Lord Goge Vandire's death and Sebastian Thor's ascension to the position of Ecclesiarch. Many false prophets appeared throughout the anarchic Age of Apostasy, some little more than madmen leading rebel armies, others spiritual demagogues who commanded worlds and armies. The most powerful of these was the Apostate Cardinal of Gathalamor, Bucharis, whose heresies reached such proportions they became known as the Plague of Unbelief, not to be confused with the Curse of Unbelief, a potent arcane disease spread by servants of the Chaos God Nurgle in the 41st Millennium and better known as the Zombie Plague.
Cardinal Bucharis controlled a small diocese of the Ecclesiarchy to the galactic southwest of Terra on a Cardinal world called Gathalamor. It was not a rich planet, and much of the population lived in poverty, but Bucharis was jealous and outraged by his peers' achievements. Bucharis vowed to build one of the biggest temples to the Emperor's glory in the galaxy. To achieve this, he enslaved the population of Gathalamor, treating them brutally, as if they were all slaves to jump at his command. Still Bucharis needed more resources and men to meet the ever growing need for his ambitious plans. In a radical move, he used a large group of thugs and cut-throats to conquer the nearby world of Rhanda. The planet had many rich mines producing all of the vital materials Bucharis needed to complete his designs. Also, the personal wealth of Bucharis grew from the profits made from the sale of precious ores and resources across his sector of the Imperium. Two other major players in the Plague of Unbelief were Admiral Sehalla, a flag officer of the Imperial Navy, and Colonel Gasto of the Rigellian XXV Imperial Guard Regiment. Bucharis met with both of them on Rhanda and they joined forces under the Cardinal's command. Now, Bucharis had both naval support and real soldiers to fight for him, and he used them to carve out a small empire to the galactic west of Terra. He conquered fifty planets in seven years, using their resources to reinforce his army and continue his building plans.
Bucharis' private empire was hidden from the Imperium by vast Warp storms covering the entire region and news of Sebastian Thor's ascension to the position of Ecclesiarch and the reorganisation of the Ecclesiarchy had not reached the general population. It had, however, reached Bucharis through his agents in the Ecclesiarchy. He used his control of his local portion of the Imperial Navy to make sure no news of this reached the population, as it would mean the end of his empire. He used his power to announce that the Ecclesiarchy had fallen and that it was corrupted by traitors and heretics. Taking after High Lord Goge Vandire, he declared himself to be the mouth of the Emperor and made himself the head of the Adeptus Ministorum in his little empire. He gave elegant speeches to the people of his world and they lapped it up, believing his words to be the Emperor-given truth. Terra was a lost cause and Gathalamor was the centre of the Imperial Cult's religion now. His speeches spread to other worlds he had not conquered and his teachings soon became dogma on many of these planets. People were taught by Bucharis to look after only themselves. Those who could not, or suffered from poverty or unemployment were less than human and did not deserve the concern of their fellow men. Bucharis' speeches were met with thunderous applause, and many people believed that this was the way humans would survive, by striving for their own selfish advancement. The weak and the poor and the undeserving would be left behind and only the strong and prosperous would survive.
After these speeches, Bucharis' planets were transformed into worlds where mobs ruled and fought amongst themselves, while petty nobles used their wealth and independence to rule. Neighbors often fought and families split over the spoils from the arising chaos. The strongest, who rose to power and caught the eye of Bucharis, were rewarded with more power, and often led units of mercenaries to enforce the will of Bucharis. Those who succeeded were rewarded with lavish gifts and those who failed were punished accordingly. Even though Bucharis' empire was growing, he was hesitant of getting too close to Terra. Therefore he forged a path directly to the galactic north, leaving a bloody trail of death and destruction in his wake. In the south, he stopped just short of the world of Bakka, fearful that Admiral Sehalla's fleet would draw more attention to the young empire. Far to the north, he gave Cadia and the Eye of Terror a wide berth, fearful of drawing the attention of the forces of Chaos and the Chaos Space Marines (although it is possible that the Warp storms were created by some evil machination of the Gods of Chaos, in an attempt to rend the Imperium apart even further than the Age of Apostasy already had done). Eventually, Bucharis had consolidated his power over every planet he conquered and so he moved on. Three more Imperial Guard Regiments joined him, and when he moved on Hydraphur, the Segmentum Pacificus Fleet bowed down, believing Bucharis' words. Bucharis' forces were now massed, and able to strike at the heart of the Imperium, using surprise and cunning to overwhelm the enemy before they brought their superior numbers to bear. Fortunately for the Imperium of Man, Bucharis made a fatal mistake.
Bucharis' mistake was to challenge the Space Wolves. Eventually, as the armies of Bucharis moved north, they reached into the territories protected by the Space Wolves. As almost every Space Marine Chapter does, the Space Wolves protected a small number of planets within close proximity of Fenris, their homeworld. As Bucharis' massive fleet dropped out of the Warp, it encountered a Space Wolves strike cruiser called the Claw of Russ. After a brief battle, the cruiser escaped into the Warp, although not before it destroyed a rebel Navy cruiser and transport ship. Bucharis passed this off as a chance encounter, but this arrogance was to cost him. He ordered his starships to continue, taking planet after planet, until they jumped into the fifth star system. Here they met a surprise. This system contained the world of Fenris itself, the home of the Space Wolves, and as soon as the the rebel Navy forces powered down their Warp drives, the Space Wolves' fleet attacked. The Space Wolves were outnumbered and out-gunned, but even this didn't stop them. They tore a hole in the rebel Navy fleet before retreating to lick their wounds and begin a hit and run attack campaign. They managed to keep about two-thirds of Bucharis' fleet occupied, but his forces still managed to make a landing on Fenris. Hundreds of transport ships descended into the thick, stormy atmosphere of Fenris and several were destroyed by the storms alone, and more by the defensive laser batteries from the ground. Despite this, a landing base was established and thousands of rebel Guardsmen swarmed out onto the ice of the northern regions of the planet. Despite the poor conditions, the troops of Bucharis were enraged at the loss of so many of their compatriots and vowed to destroy the Space Wolves. Any Fenrisian captured was put to work supplying the Guardsmen and laying out makeshift roads across the glacial flats. Though they were enslaved, the Fenrisians were not to be kept down easily. Several regiments of Imperial Guardsmen were kept out of the fighting to keep the Fenrisian slaves from revolting. Bucharis had conquered most of the planet before he approached the vast polar fortress that served as the Space Wolves' fortress-monastery and was called the Fang.
The rebels surrounded it and waited for more forces to be shuttled down from orbit. The Space Wolves' fleet maintained its hit-and-run tactics, destroying rebel transport ships before they managed to reach orbit. Despite this, the hills were swarming with rebel Guardsmen. Gigantic cannons bombarded the Fang and orbital ships rained fire from above. The mountains shook, creating avalanches and much destruction. Still, the defenses of the Fang remained intact. This allowed the Space Wolves to sally forth and destroy the earthworks and giant cannons of the Apostate Cardinal. Wolf Scouts were dispatched to disrupt the rebel supply lines and many cannons fell quiet due to a lack of ammunition. The hills were full of tunnels that the Blood Claws used to reach deep into the enemy army, killing with their bare fists to save ammunition. Long Fangs were even known to blow apart mountains to crush the armored columns of the enemy. Space Wolf Dreadnoughts were used to smash into the heart of marching rebel columns. All of this dragged on for months. Bucharis sent in suicide missions promising great wealth for the first man to breach the walls of the Fang. After three years, millions had died as the Space Wolves had countered every attempted storming of the citadel. Bucharis drew in more and more of his rebel forces until even those on far away Gathalamor were down to a quarter of their normal strength. Bucharis believed his planets to be under his total control, so he felt he could draw so many Guardsmen away from their former occupation.
Fate, as it has a habit of doing, intervened again, except this time it would bring disaster for Bucharis. A vast Space Wolves force of battle barges emerged at the edge of the Fenris System. Bucharis' fleet was taken completely by surprise and the Space Wolves' fleet lto no time between arriving and attacking. Nearly half of Bucharis' fleet was destroyed in the first attack and, trapped between the new arrivals and the harrassing Space Wolves fleet, Admiral Sehalla ordered a retreat. The Space Wolves wasted no time in pursuit and moved directly on the relief of Fenris. The furious attack of the returning Space Wolves was vicious, and tens of thousands of rebel Guardsmen died. The attack from orbit was led by Kyrl Grimblood and the Space Wolves' reinforcements blasted the rebel Guardsmen from the mountainsides. Even those who escaped this attack eventually died in the inhospitable snowy wastes of Asaheim. They were attacked by the giant Fenrisian wolf packs that made Fenris such a deadly planet. In all of the chaos, Bucharis managed to escape on a shuttle and met up with Admiral Sehalla, who jumped out of the Warp briefly enough to pick up the Apostate Cardinal's shuttle. Bucharis decided to leave Fenris to the Space Wolves and retreated with his northern forces to bolster his defenses and consolidate his hold over the rest of his empire.
The Beginning of the End
The attack on Fenris had taken a heavy toll on the rebellious Imperial Guard forces, slowing, but not stopping, the expansion of the Apostate Cardinal's other armies. His many trusted sub-commanders were moving westward, taking more and more planets. Eventually, they arrived in one star system, Chiros. Here they would be stopped. Reports came back to Bucharis of major setbacks and problems faced by his forces on Chiros. It was not a poor planet, its surface primarily covered in forests with a human population of no more than a few million. Most of its wealth came from exporting luxury goods, furs, elixirs and narcotics. Bucharis could not understand why a planet would resist him and risk total destruction. Bucharis abandoned Fenris and, being fairly close to the homeworld of the Space Wolves himself, he ordered the rebel fleet to Gathalamor while he assessed the situation. Reports came in that, despite horrendous casualties, the Chirosians were no closer to surrender than they had been before the attack began. The commander of the rebel fleet in Chiros had restrained from the use of devastating orbital bombardments as he saw the planet as a good place for Bucharis to retire to, hoping to gain some favor by sparing it. Bucharis agreed with this idea, pleased at the foresight of his commander. He then sent three more companies of rebel Imperial Guard to aid in the conquest, certain that these forces would beat the Chirosians. Unfortunately for the rogue Cardinal, it was not to be. The commander soon reported back to Bucharis of his surrender to the Chirosians. Bucharis was stunned. He knew the Imperial Guard were not as elite forces as the Space Marines, but surely an entire regiment should have easily conquered such a small population. Eventually Bucharis' agents returned, bringing reports of what had happened. It appeared that the forces faced by the Imperial Guard were not just the usual small units of militia and Planetary Defense Forces brought together in times of war, but had included the entire population of the planet. Each had a hunting rifle or other weapon and spread themselves throughout the planet's surface, in the woods and jungles and hills. Millions of marksmen had wiped out wave after wave of invaders in destructive ambushes before retreating back to their hunting lodges, hidden deep in the woods. The whole planet had become a dangerous nest of guerillas. Supplies were intercepted and there was no respite. A suicide squad had run into the centre of the rebel expeditionary force's camp and detonated explosives, and after these casualties the rebel army had lost the will to fight on.
After the news of the defeat spread to other worlds in the Apostate Cardinal's empire, planet after planet began a revolt. First it was the mining planet Guryan. The miners had cut down their guards and strangled others with their shackles. After Guryan came Dolsia and Vaust. It seemed that the rebellion against the Apostate Cardinal was spreading, cutting a swath through his empire straight towards Gathalamor. On Colcha, Bucharis laid a trap and managed to destroy a small fleet of his opponents that appeared around the planet. One shuttle survived however, and landed on the planet. Fredreich Khust, the overall Imperial Commander of the sector who was loyal to Bucharis, was wary of the shuttle that had landed, and so kept his Imperial Guardmen and their tanks on the planet on full alert. A year after the shuttle landed, the population of Colcha went berserk. They burnt the fields, stormed the Imperial Guard's barracks but lost three quarters of their numbers before overcoming the rebel Guardsmen. They stampeded their vast herds of gigantic gorbeasts into tank companies, crushing the war machines under a thunderous storm of house-sized animals. They dammed rivers, flooding their own homes and whole towns where Khust's men were billeted. Even the elderly and young children hurled makeshift grenades made from the local distilled fuel, setting fire to the air vents of Leman Russ tanks and choking the crews inside. All across both continents of their world the people of Colcha stopped at nothing to rid themselves of their enslavers. Eventually, Khust's forces were overwhelmed and pushed from the planet. The populations of the planets of Lima Rogan, Troudor and many others revolted, pushing Bucharis' forces further back toward his capital world. Bucharis' coffers were emptying more rapidly than they could be filled. Many of his soldiers deserted and there was infighting and dissension even within the highest ranks of his army. Still the revolts continued, and finally, Methalor, the closest planet to Gathalamor, revolted, its principal hive city destroyed by an inferno started when the inhabitants overloaded the great city's geothermal power grid. Bucharis was worried now. He doubled the defensive cordon on his system and had all starships searched as they entered the system. After the fall of Methalor an Imperial messenger arrived at the Cardinal Palace on Gathalamor. With a defiant look and a stern voice, the messenger proclaimed himself to be the envoy of Confessor Dolan Chirosius. Confessor Dolan called for the immediate surrender of Bucharis to the Ecclesiarchy. The Cardinal was ordered to resign his position, renounce his heresies and throw himself on the mercy of the Emperor.
The Imperial messenger's remains were nailed to the gates of the Cardinal Palace of Gathalamor to be feasted on by rats and crows.
Bucharis knew Dolan would be coming to Gathalamor soon and the Apostate Cardinal wanted his slaves' first glimpse of their supposed saviour to be one of a man bound in chains and whipped through the streets. Soon enough, Dolan's shuttle was boarded as it neared the world and the Confessor was taken into custody, charged with various acts of heresy and treason against the Emperor by Bucharis.
As Bucharis had intended, Dolan was chained and driven through the streets. Soldiers from his army whipped the Confessor with flails and hurled stones at him. They stuck hooks into his flesh and hung them with weights, driving him onwards with kicks and punches. The crowds, however, were not so impressed. There were no cheers of approval, but there were no cries of condemnation either. Dolan was dragged across the entire continent in this manner for over six months. All the while, however, his fiery stare would not diminish and he never bowed to Bucharis. Bucharis then ordered a public trial, but it was a complete sham and would only find Dolan guilty. After five months, the prosecution had finished and a thousand worlds waited for the results. Dolen represented himself and freely admitted to stirring up the people of all of the rebellious worlds to fight against Bucharis' rule. He used the time to appeal to the masses, although Bucharis didn't see this. It was Dolan's appeals to the masses that Bucharis allowed during the show trial that eventually led to his downfall. Bucharis had Dolan tortured for eight months. When at last the Confessor died, his maimed body was flung from the walls of the Cardinal Palace of Gathalamor for the scavenging dogs and birds to feast upon. Despite the horrendous torments inflicted upon his body, Dolan's face exuded a calm serenity and peace lay like an aura across his corpse. Those who saw it wept openly, even though any who exhibited such grief were themselves accused of heresy and put to death. The scavengers never had their meal: Dolan's body disappeared shortly after and was never found.
The End of an Empire
Cardinal Bucharis' plan to shame the Confessor backfired horribly. By allowing Dolan to speak he had given him the ability to rally the masses on all of the worlds ruled by Bucharis. When Dolan's death was announced, the entire Apostate empire erupted in rebellion. The populations of a thousand worlds overthrew their cruel overseers, almost at the same time. The men, women and children were inspired by the will of the Confessor and faced their enemies' guns with bare hands. Bucharis' Cardinal Palace was stormed as traitors from within his own ranks opened the gates. Bucharis fled the palace as a small handful of loyal warriors held back the tide of doom coming his way. He used tunnels to escape the palace and ran to the spaceport, giving up all he had worked for to save his own life. Just as he was boarding a shuttle, the inhabitants overran the electric fences by piling on them to make them short-circuit. He was captured in a wave of screaming mobsters and his body was torn to pieces. The remains of his body were never recovered, but when the mass of citizens moved away, the scattered ashes of a fire was all that was left to mark the place of his death. With the Apostate Cardinal's death, the Inquisition moved swiftly to conduct a massive purge of Bucharis' empire, sending tens of thousands of those who had served Bucharis to the Emperor's justice. The High Lords of Terra soon reestablished full control over the regions of the galaxy that Bucharis had controlled while the Ecclesiarchy established thousands of Missions on the worlds of Bucharis' empire to restore the true teachings of the Imperial Cult. The Plague of Unbelief, the final symptom of the Age of Apostasy, came to an end.
- Codex: Sisters of Battle (2nd Edition), pp. 39-42
- Codex: Witch Hunters (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Space Wolves (2nd Edition)