The Diet of Fools and the Annulus Umbra

Affairs of State

'Be it known. Õ, be it known. Of this figure most False, we proclaim him Enemy.'

[//Judgement of the High Lords, Diet of Fools+]

[//Strike leader Te Kohu and Strike Commander Moro Oihi with command squad, 3rd company Carcharadons Astra, M33+]

As the war across the Delphurnean League began to turn decisively in the Partisans' favour – albeit with notable and high profile losses for the Primarch – two things occurred that allowed the Pentarchy to make an ordered (if bloody) retreat from the region. 

The first, and most direct, was the deployment of the vast forces of the Extinction Armada around the Delphurnean Front. More than ten thousand Imperial Guard Regiments, along with colossal numbers of Skitarii Legions and Ecclesiarchy Frateris Templars made planetfall on both sides of the Mourn Expanse. While they were little match for the Astartes of the Red Fish, Inheritors, Marines Saturnine and Silver Stars that still occupied the region, such support was thinly-stretched. The Orthodox forces were more than capable fighters, and well able to counter the less numerous Partisan Regiments opposing them. A grinding stalemate occurred, with the Titans of Legios Punica and Validus proving impossible for the Partisans to properly match.

With their linebreaking Astartes allies withdrawing across the entire front, it fell to the hundreds of regiments of Imperial Guard, legions of Skitarii and Ecclesiarchy forces to hold the gains made by the Pentarchy of Blood within Morqub. Many worlds in the sector, of course, stood by the Orthodoxy, mistrusting or rejecting the False Primarch. Supportive populations made pacification and securement operations considerably easier for Regiments such as the Ebla 'Earthy' Fourteenth Rifles, pictured here during the First Forbearance Campaign. 

[/The staunchly anti-Primarch population of Forbearance meant that this key system changed hands repeatedly throughout the war. Company-strength elements of more than eight Chapters, plus the Silver Stars, set foot on the world during the War, but the bulk of the fighting was between millions of Imperial and regional soldiery; Orthodox and Partisan alike.+]

The second was the appearance of the Carcharodons Astra in the sectorial north-west, emerging from the depths of wilderness space rimwards of Morqub. This created a steadying second front that the Partisans were forced to acknowledge. Here, the Firebreak and remaining Inheritors were joined by the Argent Heralds and – in a surprise declaration – the Wormwood Sons

As the war settled into a new phase, Inquisitor Leong-Cassar returned, bearing the fateful Edict of the Diet of Fools.


Path to the Diet of Fools

Let slip the bounds. Drop the fetters. Only then can you truly see the extents of discipline; only then can you witness true mastery. Ask yourself: if you are unwilling to risk a hand being raised against you, because you fear you have not the strength to punish such insolence, do you truly deserve the power invested in that seat?
[//Umbwald Oreangelo. Chancellor of the Estate Imperium+]

High Diets were deliberative assemblies called and overseen by the High Lords, during which overarching matters of state – the legal status of abhumans, for example; or the formation of Segmenta-spanning organisations – were considered. From the Diets' conclusions were drafted and issued new Imperial Bulls or Edicts; supposedly from the mouth of the Emperor himself. 

In practice, so wide-ranging and crucial were the decisions reached here that the Diets themselves were largely performative affairs, grand theatre for those select few, the rarefied Imperial Commandery: Planetary Governors, Sectorial Commanders and those of similar grand aristocratic rank. In truth, decisions were thrashed out and concluded long before – frequently following years or decades of open debate; and even these in combination with the usual squalid and hidden warrens within which were carried out backroom deals, skulduggery and the outright exertion of threat that marked the Imperial Court's modus operandi.

As a potentially existential threat to the High Lords themselves, the Diet of Fools – so named because it was held in the District of Waifs and Fools, a region of the Imperial Palace hegemonised by the Adeptus Munitorum's Orphanaria and Factories-Sanatoria – was concerned with the correct approach to the threat posed by the Partisans specifically, rather than the figure of the 'Primarch'. That military action would be taken was, of course, a fait accompli, as the Extinction Armada had already been sent to sanction Volnoscere personally – but the reports that more than half a dozen Chapters had turned rebel and engaged the Orthodox forces necessitated a further escalation. The idea that all the Astartes and other militaries already committed would calmly return to their posts at the High Lords' call was as unthinkable as kicking a hornet's nest and remaining unstung.

Nevertheless, the level of sanction – and how much of its fabric the Orthodox Imperium was prepared to stretch to smother the rebellion – was very much up in the air following the revelation that the number of Chapters declared for the False Primarch now outnumbered the Pentarchy of Blood.

[//As the Pentarchy fell back, Imperial Orthodox forces dug in around the Oblitus Subsector. Master Enoch poured billions of soldiers into the region to stymie the Partisan advance.+]


The High Lords react

Through observation, control; through the understanding of entropy, one imposes order. All creation can be structured thus. The wielding of Imperium cannot be distracted by meaningless abstractions like justice or truth. It requires both ruthlessness and clarity if we are to steer His humanity as He wills it.
[//Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, Vamma Andreia Pushkin+]

The Senatorum Imperialis was divided on how best to deal with the level of support the False Primarch had  been able to attract. Broadly, they were split into three parties. The first, headed by Ecclesiarch Benedin II, was vocally opposed to the very existence of the Primarch, and determined to see him destroyed at all costs. Forming a power bloc with the Grand Provost Marshal, Josef Strakh and the Master of the Adeptus Astra TelepathicaVamma Andreia Pushkin, the three also enjoyed the support of the Master of the Segmentum Solar – no great surprise, as she was a noted arch-reactionary – and the slightly more moderate Suzerain Belligerent (a long-since mothballed post, whose power base was later largely split between the seats of the Cardinal of the Holy Synod of Terra, the Abbess Sanctorum of the Adepta Sororitas and the Lord Commander Militant in the millennia following). This group advocated the  simple deployment of increasingly large military forces until the rebels were defeated.

Ranged directly against this group was the isolated Umbwald Oreangelo. Chancellor of the Estate Imperium, Oreangelo was a pathologically pertinacious individual who acted as an advocate of sorts for the Primarch, for reasons known only to hirself. Outwardly espousing the view that Volnoscere's appearance was apocalyptic only in the sense that he would reveal a path to unity for mankind, it is unlikely that Oreangelo genuinely believed this. The truth is largely unknowable, for s/he was superlatively manipulative and complex. Quite besides hir personal leanings, the Chancellor stubbornly declared the Ecclesiarchy's favoured approach to be both impractical and ruinously wasteful in terms of worlds, lives and materiel. Besides this, s/he argued, feeding more Astartes and Guardsmen into the area would simply exacerbate the problem. Better to keep things hidden; and instead empower the forces already committed, who had demonstrated their loyalty.

Many of the more moderate or subtle voices within the High Lords sympathised with Oreangelo, even if s/he was a personally difficult figure with whom to operate a steady alliance. For quite different reasons,  both Casca Methuselan, the Paternoval Envoy and Seer of Gateways, and Nero-Gollos, the Fabricator-General, ranged themselves alongside Oreangelo's arguments. 

[//Nero-Gollos, the Fabricator-General+]

Famously equivocal on the nature of the Primarch, the Fabricator-General had previously declared that the Adeptus Mechanicus would in all ways remain neutral on the issue – though their hand would later be forced. That Nero-Gollos sided against the more hot-blooded and aggressive approach was generally put down to a relatively simple calculus of cost and benefit – to the Adeptus Mechanicus, so the argument went, the nature of the False Primarch was irrelevant beyond the physical cost his uprising caused. In fact, Nero-Gollos' attitude was determined far more by its desire to avoid further disruptions within the Cult Mechanicus, as detailed below. 

'With nothing/no-one with which and/or whom to compare the specimen, we/you/I cannot know for sure/certainly/definitively his origin/source/birthworld – or even his very physical existence. His nature is thus largely speculative/irrelevant to the internal-decisions-Mechanica.'

'That/this/he is purely a metaphysical/spiritual/ecumenical matter for the Imperium-at-Large; not its 'vassal State', as you/the-court-at-large/passing-pilgrims-Imperial so hatefully/inaccurately/superciliously term my demense/region/spiritual-holdings, when they think that I/us/they are not listening/inloading/aware-state active.'

[//Fabricator-General Nero-Gollos+]

Methuselan of the Navigators was a more surprising ally to the Chancellor. She had personal reason for wanting the Primarch apprehended or killed: hundreds of her kin, including her own brother, had disappeared in the early years of the war. Indeed, the Methuselan Affair, as the void battle around Acylus had become known, was named after the minor Navigator house to which the High Lord belonged. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Senatorum Imperialis, the Paternova had already forbidden free Navigators from travelling to Heliopolis and Morqub because of the sheer number that were going missing. With her master desiring to hide this unilateral – and potentially destabilising – decision from the Imperium at large, Methuselan had been unhappily following orders to cozen and prolong any movement on the subject of the False Primarch since knowledge of the Affair had found its way to the ever-subtle Paternova.


Hard decisions

[//Inquisitor Lord Mashev Leong-Casser+]

Having returned from Segmentum Pacificus along with a conclave of like-minded colleagues, Inquisitor Lord Mashev Leong-Casser took the Inquisitorial Representative's seat within the Diet, and presented the grim tidings of the War to the High Lords. For all Oreangelo's and hir allies' arguments, the weight of the chamber was against these dissenting voices. 

With eight against three, Braxon Leionidon Mercutial, the Captain-General of the Adeptus Custodes, made a rare intervention. By tradition dating back to the Founding of the Senatorum itself, the Adeptus Custodes' representative did not make active contributions to Diets; his role instead ensuring the impossibility of a hung vote. True to form, Mercutial did not argue in direct support of either side, but did outlined a rather different response to the fire-and-blood favoured by the Ecclesiarchy's bloc. Cold and distant, Mercutial proposed the formation of a sphere of silence around the twin Sectors; a total isolation of the region in what he called a 'ring of shade'.

With hindsight, we can see the purpose of the Captain-General's decision. To Mercutial, stability was all. Whatever hope or threat the Primarch might offer, he felt that stasis and order were preferable. The Emperor was alive. Any change would necessarily be for the worse.


The proposal, while unexpected, was met with general approval. As ritual demanded, the findings of the Diet were placed before the Emperor for his sole judgment for a month: before being returned to the Chamber and the sanctified decision being drawn out by sundry – and supposedly neutral – augers, sacerdoters, mystics and scryomancers. In practice, these berobed and hooded individuals were amongst the most intelligent and subtle of each High Lords' agent; carefully selected representatives that provided a last lever for each to pull in order to influence the interpretation of the Emperor's Own Word.

The answers were partially occluded, and once further debate had 'correctly interpreted' the God-Emperor's intentions, all present immediately began to plan their own schemes to ensure their influence – clandestine or otherwise – on the outcome.


The Annulus Umbra

[//Blood Kin scuttling a drifting hulk to ensure it did not pass the cordon.+]

The fateful decision was made to task one in three of all Space Marine Chapters from the Segmentum Pacificus to form a self-policing oblate spheroid picket around the twin sectors; allowing no traffic in or out. It was a colossal – and arguably impossible – task. Space was infinitely porous, and puissant as the Imperium was at this period, such a command seemed to many Chapter Masters to evoke ancient legends of Kings attempting to command the tide.

Nevertheless, sense and sanity proved poor seconds to the ambitions of Mankind. While Mercutial's proposal had been met with measured acceptance by the bulk of the hawkish power bloc, the fanatical Master of the Segmentum Solar refused the concession, seeing it as unnecessary compromise in the face of a terminal threat, but her part was taken up – with some surprise – by the Paternoval Envoy Casca Methuselan, who cannily saw in the Captain-General's plan an opportunity to cloak the Paternova's decision to starve the region of Navigators. After all, how better to ensure a ring of shadows than by making movement into or out of the region all but impossible via the warp? By supporting this measure, the Paternova's actions could be brought out into the open and reframed as insightful and courageous, rather than potentially seditious.

Leong-Casser thus returned to Segmentum Pacificus, bearing word from the Emperor to Master Enoch and the the regional representatives of the Ecclesiarch. As the Orthodox High Command passed coded communiqués, the net was thrown wide, drawing in nearly three-score Chapters thanks to the tireless efforts of Inquisitors like Indigence Ormus

The Chapters that made up the Annulus Umbra were drawn from far and wide, stripping the Segmentum's reserves to its bones – all in the name of silencing word of a returned Primarch. The first Chapters to take what became known as the Annulus Vow before the High Lords' representatives were recorded as the Benedictors, Red HuntersGolden Hand, Brazen Lions, Doom EaglesHigher Guard, Centaurs, Ivory SkullsSilver SeraphimBlood Kin and Angels Aureate. Dutifully they began their patrols, wilfully ignorant of what lay within the quarantined zone.

[//Centaurs Veterans make landfall on an airless border world; performing one of the hundreds of sweeps made by the Chapters who had undertaken the Annulus Vow. +]


Fools and the Pentarchy

We entered as Chapter Masters; and left as something quite new. I confess I knew then the grip of temptation, aye – that and the consolations of duty alike.
[//Chapter Master Tywin Dimmerlock+]

Within the bounds of the Annulus Umbra, of course, the war continued. On the world of Lark's Opus, Chapter Masters Velghor of the Flesh Eaters, Dimmerlock of the Death Eagles I and Gorn of the Charnel Guard returned from the front to meet with representatives of the Senatorum Imperialis.

Autek Mor declined to attend the conference called by Inquisitor Enoch; and all contact had been lost with Broso of the Death Eagles II, leaving Captain Eosos to stand in his place. The Carcharodons, ever egregious (though in fairness, also astrographically the most distant) sent both Strike leader Te Kohu and Strike Commander Moro Oihi to the assembly. Such a gathering was not without risk: the events of Jonai in the Qorrabas system, along with other attempts on principal members of the Pentarchy by the Marines Mendicant meant that Broso's silence likely marked his loss. Nevertheless, so sensitive was the news from Terra deemed that Astrotelepathic distribution was judged to be insufficiently secure. 

With the Pentarchs facing him, and backed by the Vigilants and representatives of all the High Lords, along with a coterie of senior Inquisitors, Master Enoch pronounced the Edict granted to him. The Edict itself was held aloft by a quartet of warriors whose presence made its truth and finality beyond all doubt: the Adeptus Custodes. This was the word of the God-Emperor.

Watched by all in silence, the Custodian Alaud-Dīn Malrhaan prowled slowly across the floor, handing a scroll case to each of the Pentarchy Representatives in turn as Enoch continued his declaration. Within was a gene-coded copy of the Edict of the Diet of Fools, which fatefully granted the Chapters the right to break the bounds of Chapter size laid down in the Guilliman Reforms.


The Sorrowful Years

Such a decision was not taken lightly, and the assembled Pentachy members understood well the risks, responsibility – and opportunities – that the Edict brought. In the wake of the assembly, the representatives of the Pentarchy returned to their battered Chapters. So began a three-year period later dubbed the Sorrowful Years for Sectors Morqub and Heliopolis. 

With the Pentarchy Chapters turned inwards, primary defence of the region fell to the Extinction Armada and the forces of individual planets. While garrison forces of the Pentarchy continued to resist the gradual advance of the Partisans, none of the Chapters launched any major offensives. Instead, a low-grade war of small probing advances, espionage, strike and counter-strike began between small groups of Marines and special forces on both sides as they sought to undermine the other sides' efforts to rebuild.

This period is recorded as one of rebuilding, entrenching and reinforcement for all involved. While the ranging forces of the Partisans continued to make advances into Heliopolis, much of the 'Primarch's' war machine was concerned with quickly making right the damage done to the much-abused Delphurnean League, and consolidating support. 

While Volnoscere divided his forces to rebuild war-ravaged worlds and shore-up support across Morqub, each of the Pentarchy Chapters began enacting their own intepretation of the Edict; summarised below.




Aside from the losses inflicted during the Battle of Kadath, the Carcharadons had suffered comparatively fewer casualties than their comrades-in-arms. Their powerful fleet had granted them the ability to strike and withdraw in the early stages of the war, and on top of this, rumours circulated that the Chapter was already capable of fielding a surprisingly large number of warriors. Certainly their fleet was many times larger than standard even at the outbreak of the War of the False Primarch – and assuming they were not operating on a skeleton staff of Astartes, must have numbered greater than Codex limits stipulated.
The Chapter took a typically immediate and aggressive approach to taking advantage of the loosening of the limits, abandoning its efforts on Kadath, gathering its fleet and immediately sacking Frith, homeworld of the Firebreak Chapter. The battles of Kadath and death of Frith are looked at elsewhere, but that the Carcharadons captured the Partisan Chapter's geneseed respository is near-certain, both dooming the Firebreak to a slow death and allowing the swift creation of new Carcharadons.

Always shadowy, the Carcharadons proved difficult to track subsequent to the Edicts, and so the idea that they were more than 1,000 in number prior to the Diet of Fools was impossible to prove. Subsequently, of course, the Chapter could produce the Edict where necessary – though the point is moot that this made any practical difference to their modus operandi. The Carcharadons remained as elusive and reluctant to communicate after the edict as before; and the difficulties in communication only increased when Gorn of the Charnel Guard assumed practical control of the Pentarchy.

By the middle part of the war, the Carcharadons were estimated to have been able to field more than four thousand Astartes, though this might have been a gross under- or over-estimate. Certainly they were able to simultaneously field Chapter-strength forces as they stormed Jiam, Callais and Pao Fung. Intercepted reports from the Marines Saturnine, Inheritors and Red Fish bore witness to both concurrent and contemporary campaigns against the Carcharadons and their allies on and around these key Morqubi systems.


Death Eagles I 

[Rhythaal, Twenty-Sixth of that Name; Tactical Squad Vengaarl, 3rd Battle Company+]

Of all the Pentarchy, the Death Eagles found the Edict most philosophically troubling. Where the others revelled in the loosening of long-standing bonds, Tywin Dimmerlock's Chapter saw the traditions of the past as firm roots to which all should firmly adhere. The Death Eagles were intensely protective of their history and traditions – a predisposition no doubt further reinforced by their recent history; discovering the Imperium had judged them lost and replaced them.

At every level of their Chapter cult, the Death Eagles found guidance for current actions in those of the pre-Heresy 'Golden Age'. Each member of the Chapter was cut adrift from his personal history on assumption of the Black Carapace, taking on instead the name of one of the 'Canon' in a process termed sanctification. The Canon was a list of the 943 Astartes that had first made up the Chapter, supposedly codified during the Second Founding. 

Where possible, Sanctified Marines inherited the previous incumbent's equipment and position within the Chapter. This accounted for the Chapter's slight deviation from the Codex. Maintaining six Battle and three Reserve Companies of one hundred Battle Brothers and an additional Appendix Company of forty-three; the Scout Company (or Beati – indicating that they showed the potential of becoming Sanctified, but were not yet Canonised) was set apart, not adjudged part of the Chapter proper until a Battle Brother fell – at which point one of the Beati would assume his place.

Couched within Chapter teachings founded on a cyclical view of time and causality, Sanctified Marines took on the name and cell of the previous occupant, believing themselves to have become the heir of the original Astartes, stretching back in an repeated cycle that allowed for limited variation – so Marines would not go so far as to ape the actions that had led to a previous death, for example. 

Adopting a numerated honorific 'Sixth (or twelfth, or fortieth) of that Name' indicating how many times the Canonised Marine had served – that is, died and been replaced – the Astartes would strive to become more akin to the original, scouring the name's history and character, as recorded in the Chapter records. So powerful was the influence of the Chapter Cult that many came to believe themselves to be the literal reincarnation of the original bearer. Such exceptional individuals were known as the Sanctiti, whose counsel and advice was sought by all across the Chapter, from the lowest ranks to the highest. 

This belief system was threatened by the Edict, which demanded that the Pentarchy Chapters expand beyond their hallowed number. Fierce debate and soul-searching erupted amongst the Chapter as the Death Eagles attempted to square the circle of retaining their Cult beliefs in the face of necessary expansion. A number of proposals were put before the Chapter Council. These ranged from the conservative: expanding the Beati hugely, allowing for near-instantaneous replacement; to the esoteric, with two Marines being seen as dual bearers of a single Canonised spirit. Finding a balance between the need for visible expansion and respect for the Chapter cult was a difficult path.

After much debate and consultation with the Witch-marines of the Librarium and the Sanctiti, Castellan Dimmerlock and the Chapter Council came to a pragmatic, if inelegant, solution. The expansive Beati – already some three hundred strong – would be promoted, as swiftly as possible, to the Black Carapace. Rather than undergoing the Sanctifying ritual, however, they would retain their existing identities and serve as disciples or servants of a Canonised marine. This mass of Marines would not therefore threaten the Cult's understanding of the 943, but would create a two-tier system of Sanctified Marines and a shadow-Chapter of 'Servi Astartes'.

The Servi Astartes were initially organised into an additional three Reserve Companies who bore pure white armour, though this proved problematic. The scheme was swiftly superceded by the regular panoply of the Chapter, with the absence of the sculpted and gilded Palaiologoi pauldron. Instead, the Servi bore a painted representation of the High Lords' symbol. As the Chapter continued to expand throughout the War, the Beati Companies swelled further, eventually eclipsing the original 943.


Red Talons – into the Reddened Earth

[//Lieutenant Raban Voss of the 37th Company+]

Seizing the opportunity presented by the Edict with both hands, the Red Talons launched on an extensive – and horrifying – drive to increase their numbers. With garrisons established on a number of densely-populated systems within Heliopolis, the Chapter was well-placed to massively expand its standard recruitment. 

Stubborn to a fault, Autek Mor refused to abandon the task of securing Heliopolis with which he had been entrusted. During the Sorrowful Years, the Red Talons were notable in continuing to actively patrol their allotted regions as the other Pentarchy Chapters concentrated of building up reserves. As a result, they came into conflict with a huge variety of Partisan forces seeking to claim territory and usurp the Orthodoxy from the region. 

As their casualty rate increased, the ever-resourceful Autek Mor seemingly ordered further measures to be taken in order to maintain growth even against the grinding attrition he faced holding back the combined forces of the Void Barons, Riven Lords and Jade Talons in the sectorial north, and latterly enduring attacks from the Storm Tyrant's Myrean League stronghold-worlds.

While little direct evidence could be gathered by the Ordo Astartes, observing agents began to report Red Talons forces being accompanied by warriors in mongrel plate that were seemingly impossible to kill; withstanding damage that should have incapacitated even the hardiest Astartes. Whispers began to circulate of forbidden technomancy. At first ignoring Inquisitorial demands for answers, the Chapter eventually addressed them obliquely, citing the Edict's wording of 'By Anie Meannes Deemed Necessary' to justify whatever they were using to combat the Partisan advance. Within months of the accusation, Red Talons forces were witnessed openly salvaging Astartes casualties from active battlefields on Dardanus, Lemmas, Myrea and Bastion; as though intentionally provoking their critics. 

High-profile and at the leading edge of the war, the Red Talon's Apothecaries became a priority target for the Partisans, but the Talons continued to expand. At their height, Autek Mor boasted his Chapter could field ~7,500 warriors. If this were true – and Mor had little reason to exaggerate – this made them the largest united Astartes force in recent millennia; with the possible exception of the nebulous Silver Stars.


Death Eagles II

Codex-compliant and staunchly-led, the Death Eagles II had spent the early parts of the war divided. A third of their strength, including Chapter Master Knyaz-Martial Broso had been frittered away in skirmishes against the Jade Talons, Void Barons and Riven Lords. The remainder had spent the war on garrison duty, patrolling Heliopolis alongside the Red Talons. While outwardly silent, the Chapter had been conducting draining guerilla strikes on the supply lines and traditional recruiting worlds of the 'Steel of Heliopolis', a name adopted by a group of local Chapters in loose alliance: the Iron Guard, Storm Tyrants and Star Wardens. Supported by Killteams of Vigilants, the Death Eagles II had succeeded in diminishing the three without provoking them into openly declaring for the Partisans – though Banish and Morgant had seen limited open warfare between the four Chapters.

By nature and training a calmer, more considered force than the choleric Red Talons, the Death Eagles II had staunchly borne the loss of their Chapter Master; though the pride of the Astartes nevertheless demanded vengeance. Their new Chapter Master, Gaius Gnæius Titanus, had been a surprising choice; being promoted directly from the Tenth company. He was thus well-positioned for the actions necessary after the Edicts, and was able to promote more than four-fifths of the existing Scout corps to full Battle Brother status almost immediately, owing to their extensive experience against the Steel of Heliopolis.

As it became increasingly clear that the three Chapters making up the Steel of Heliopolis would shortly either declare for the False Primarch or simply begin open opposition against the Pentarchy as a third party, Titanus decided to act first; launching thieving raids on all three Chapters' known recruitment and training worlds or zones. Alongside the bulk of Vigilant forces and a number of subtle Inquisitors in the area, Titanus aimed to winnow the enemy while strengthening his own forces; kidnapping and – where possible – hypno-indoctrinating those marked by the Steel as suitable candidates.

The success of this approach was not clear until later in the war, when the Steel were starved of of much-needed reinforcement while the Death Eagles' own forces had been built up. While they never amassed the size of the other Pentarchy Chapters, the Death Eagles II nevertheless swelled to more than 1,700 Astartes at their height – and remained a crucial reliable force for the Orthodoxy as the consequences of the other Pentarch's mass recruitment became more clear.


Charnel Guard: 'The Bloody Yield'


In the wake of the Diet of Fools, the Charnel Guard gleefully fell upon worlds within the Mourn Expanse and Oblitus Subsector. They demonstrated such abandon that it appeared as though the yoke of Codex compliance was the only thing restraining their thirst for growth. Bitter whispers were rife even among the halls of the Imperial Palace, describing companies of warriors descending upon enemy population centres in nocturnal raids, leaving them devoid of civilian life by daybreak. 

Inquisitor Eos Margyll claimed to have evidence that, on the contested world of Hubris, a Hive’s entire population of male children were captured by the Chapter following a bitter battle with the Red Fish. It is clear these events, loosely referred to in some suppressed histories as The Bloody Yield, fed the Chapter's strength in more ways than one. Whatever the fate of the majority of the abductees, the Yield allowed the Charnel Guard a staggering rate of recruitment, no doubt aided by the peculiarities of Insanguination, the Space Marine conversion process common to most Blood Angels successors. So it was that as the third stage of the war began, the Chapter numbered close to three thousand combat-ready Astartes. Always close, it was from this point that the Charnel Guard were noted to be in near-permanent close contact with the Flesh Eaters – indeed, so closely that rumours began that Gorn had usurped operational command from Velghor.

It was not only the ranks of battle-brothers that burgeoned however. During the height of the macro-suppression campaigns at the war’s end, Astartes surrounded by a pack of sclav-mort and medicae-grade servitors were a common sight upon low-intensity battlefields. Doubtless the fate of most civilians subjected to the Bloody Yield lay not among the ranks of the Adeptus Astartes but as mono-tasked servitors, mind-wiped armoury serfs – or worse: not among the living at all. Regardless of their rank or function, no exact statistics remain on the number of baseline humans serving the chapter, although it can be assumed to be many times the number of Astartes.

[//Typical Charnel Guard warrior of the mid war+]

At the end of the War of the False Primarch, Ordo Astartes records indicate that eight-hundred Charnel Guard survived the conflict, almost none of them having been in service to the chapter at the war’s onset, eight decades afore. The price of duty for these Pentarchy warriors would have slain any other chapter outright two or three times over, were it not for the esoteric repercussions of the Diet of Fools and the Bloody Yield.


Flesh Eaters

[+Warfare continued to smoulder during the Sorrowful Years, with probes and counter-insurgency skirmishes launched by both Partisans and Pentarchy. Pictured here is Reclusiarch Constantine, holding aloft a Caputmori Crozius taken from a defeated Argent Heralds Chaplain following the fighting on Hever.//]

The Flesh Eaters were all but absent for the Years of Sorrow. The Grand Voivode isolated himself and his Chapter on the Feudal world of Donias, claiming it as a personal fief under the terms of the Edict. A substantial proportion of the population was quickly recruited by the Flesh Eaters, and – through a process unknown – elevated to becoming Astartes in a strikingly swift manner. Silence met virtually all inquiries from the Inquisition, with little entering the atmosphere beyond supplies of power armour and weaponry.

The Flesh Eaters were re-arming and expanding his forces hugely. This was entirely as planned; though the manner in which he was approaching it alarmed a number within Imperial High Command, including the Ecclesiarchy. Arch-Cardinal Verashyon, the figurehead of Orthodoxy after Cardinal Morgetheon's defection to the Partisan cause, complained of a number of atrocities committed by the Flesh Eaters within the sector – not that he objected to the fact of the mass kidnappings and attacks themselves, but that they had occurred on nominally loyal worlds.


The Flesh Eaters were the first of the Pentarchy to re-emerge and re-engage the advancing Partisans. They re-appeared with a striking series of assaults centred around the Abraxas Subsector of Heliopolis; each heralded by the appearance of a figure that became infamous amongst mortal Partisan supporters as the Harvester of Sin, Secarǎte de Întristar or Red Reaper.

Whether this figure was a creation of the Flesh Eaters during the period was unclear, but it was sighted at the forefront of a number of high-profile atrocties and attacks. At the rain-soaked Battle of Jio, the Flesh Eaters deployed over twelve hundred Astartes in one of the single largest field battles undertaken by the Pentarchy. A masked Velghor led his assembled warriors in an open field setpiece battle against a Chapter-strength Silver Stars force headed by a figure known as the Kāpena Mua and accompanied by the Vox Volnoscere.

[//paul_h/@the_midnightmare et dennis_k/@the_iron_within+]

The Flesh Eaters had clearly met with some level of command degradation, with the Chapter showing little of the tactical acumen that had led to them being granted operational control of the Pentarchy, but what failures they demonstrated in planning were more than compensated for by the sheer savagery the Chapter showed in the attack. The casualties on both sides were enormous, with both the Kāpena Mua and the Vox Volnoscere reported as lost – though the latter was later to re-appear beside the False Primarch during the siege of the Myrean League.

In their turn, the Flesh Eaters had suffered casualties to more than two-thirds of their force; leading some to speculate that they were spent as a significant proportion of the Pentarchy. Here, however, it became clear the sheer scale of the Chapter's work on Donias, for the Flesh Eaters deployed similarly-sized forces to oppose Partisan advances on Hever, Teo Sentimental, Lark's Opus and Artex in quick succession.

However it had been achieved, the Flesh Eaters were far from a spent force.


'What price victory? Victory at any price.'
[//Imperial aphorism+]