"I shall not be by him imprinted, nor by his sin disfigured."
- — Inscription acid-etched into the armour of unnamed "Blackshield" Legionary
The term "Blackshield" came to be used during the period of the Horus Heresy known as the Age of Darkness in the early 31st Millennium to cover a wide range of Space Marine outcasts, marauders and those Legiones Astartes of uncertain allegiances or origin.
Mystery and suspicion attached themselves to such warriors regardless of their true loyalties or intentions, and while some did deliberately scour their old heraldry from their armour or replace it with some false device or heraldry of their own, their name of Blackshield was often a literal description for armour over-masked or simply scorched black.
Though never existing in numbers so great as the Space Marine Legions from which they had no doubt sprang -- far from it -- each faction and band, from the dozen survivors of a deadly betrayal by their own kind who cast aside the past, to the cohort of rapidly-indoctrinated Initiates thrust into battle for a cause they barely understood in Power Armour empty of livery, had their own place in the tapestry of galaxy-wide destruction that was the Horus Heresy.
The Sundered and the Black
"If they come, I shall stand. If they fight me I will not yield. Even should they slay me, I swear that even should it contravene all that is worthy and all that is true, I shall return from whatever pit constrains me and I shall fight them anew, until every one of them I drag into that pit with me."
- — Unidentified Blackshield Legionary, the Siege of Portresh
Almost from the outset, the war of the Horus Heresy was a vast cataclysm and one whose events moved with such quicksilver pace that mystery, supposition, lies and simple ignorance cloaked much of the bloodshed even as it occurred, casting a veil over much that would never be lifted. Though the roll call of Space Marine Legions, Titan Legions, Auxilia regiments and Mechanicum Taghmata that sided with the Arch-Traitor Horus and those who remained loyal to the Emperor is largely known and accepted, the full truth is far more complex and far more mysterious than commonly believed.
Of those who fell at Istvaan V during the Drop Site Massacre, there were survivors, remnants and fleeing fragments shorn of command and driven half-mad by treachery; from that point onwards they were isolated, alone. These were the Shattered Legions and, while some swiftly returned to the Imperial fold, some did not or would not. Some would go on to wage a bitter war of vengeance alone, some would simply disappear, their fates unknown, their stories untold. But there were others of a darker hue.
Despite the paucity of records, accounts of small warbands that were once part of the known Traitor Legions fighting independently persisted throughout the war. In some cases, outcast forces proudly bore their original colours and may have regarded themselves as the true inheritors of their Legions.
This can perhaps be explained, at least in part, by persistent stories and evidence long since suppressed of midnight clad warriors in defaced Night Lords heraldry savagely attacking Traitor forces at the liberation of Istvaan III, or of recurring reports of multiple Space Marine strike forces seemingly in the resurrected livery of the Dusk Raiders thwarting the Iron Warriors at Kibron and Malinche's Fall.
Another example would be the 34th Millennial of the Emperor's Children, the "Death Eagles", bearing the purple and gold of their parent Legion with pride, refusing to abandon their heraldry. It is thought that the Death Eagles Millennial clashed with their Traitor kin at Lethe and at Revorthe Keep in the Coronid Deeps, but their ultimate fate, like that of so many others, remains unknown.
Likewise also should be considered the long-denied evidence of a Great Company of the Space Wolves Legion bearing the symbol of the Serpent's Eye slaughtering millions at Neo Cadiz in 008.M31, or of a company of Astartes present at the Siege of Mezoa bearing the hybrid arms and panoply of the Iron Hands and Sons of Horus Legions both. These were merely a handful of still-infamous cases, but there are many more unsubstantiated or simply now-forgotten which paint a more complex and uncertain picture of this great civil war than is normally accounted.
Further to this, and perhaps an even more sinister enigma, are the persistent reports of Space Marine forces appearing bearing no sign or seal of heraldry or origin at all, or stranger yet, heraldry which bears no mark known during the Great Crusade. A handful of extant accounts, now sealed beyond all retrieval, makes reference to a loosely-termed and non-formal class of Astartes warrior known as the "Blackshields".
The majority of Blackshields appear to have been of the Legiones Astartes, though some may once have belonged to other factions. In some cases the term was a literal description, the warriors having obscured the livery of their parent Legion, painting some or all of their armour's panels black to hide all former associations. Although whether the "black" Legionaries were merely turncoats or, as some have whispered, perhaps raised by the Traitors from the chimeric gene-seed of the Istvaan dead for their own terrible purposes, none can now say for certain.
"I should rather fall in honour and glory than live in dishonour and treachery, but in truth that decision is not mine to make. Rather, it has been made for me, by one I once held above all others and whose name shall never pass my lips again."
- —Unidentified Blackshield, thought formerly of the Sons of Horus
The term "Blackshield" refers not to a single military body or even a class of warriors as such, but to a phenomenon that came into being in the early to middle years of the Horus Heresy and which very much had its roots in the most ancient of martial codes. According to those codes, a warrior might, for any one of a myriad reasons, choose or be forced to cast off or conceal his allegiance. In ancient times, when a warrior bore the icon of his house, master or nation upon his shield, he might have cause to cover it with cloth or to paint over it entirely. He might very literally paint his shield black, deliberately making it impossible for strangers to know where his true loyalties -- if any remained at all -- might lie.
While such practice might have obvious utility amongst the warring clans and states of Ancient Terra or on any number of worlds cast down to barbarism throughout the long Age of Strife, it had no place at all in the Imperium of Mankind due to the Unity and the Imperial Truth the Emperor had brought to the scattered and benighted worlds of humanity. The hosts of Mankind that swept out from Terra during the Great Crusade of the 30th Millennium were bonded by seemingly unbreakable chains of fealty, blood and honour, and so to break oath with a line officer was in effect to break oath with the Emperor and those He had saved from Old Night. With the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, however, it was proven beyond doubt that the chain was only as strong as its weakest link.
It cannot be known when the first Blackshields appeared upon the battlefields of the Horus Heresy, and in truth the definition is so broad that some may not have been noted as such at the time. Certainly, a small force of Astartes warriors clad in black and bearing the Terran Aquila in the stead of any Legion icon was sighted at the climax of the Liberation of Numinal during the war for the Coronid Deeps in 008.M31. As the veil of Dark Compliance fell across the northern Imperium and beleaguered Loyalist armies fell back en masse before the Traitors' inexorable advance towards distant Terra, Blackshields similarly clad were counted amongst the defenders who mustered upon the walls of Fort Stranivar, giving their lives for the Loyalist cause alongside the dutiful and stoic servants of the Emperor.
These incidents were but the first of many that would be reported across the entire Imperium as the Horus Heresy progressed, although in most instances such reports would only be collated into a meaningful whole much later on, long after the fate of most such warriors was either settled or irrelevant. Warbands of Blackshields appeared in war zones the length and breadth of the sundered Imperium, evidence not of one overarching will or cause, but of the resurrection of that ancient code that called for a warrior to obscure his colours upon the renunciation of his oaths of allegiance to his master.
While many groups of Blackshields were identified, no two were exactly the same in origin or constitution. While the term invariably describes a warrior of the Astartes, even this is not universal as the origins and nature of some Blackshields simply cannot be ascertained, while others were accompanied by mortal auxiliaries in a manner similar to the Legions' employment of bonded auxiliary units.
Likewise, the true allegiance of many Blackshields bands was often far from clear. Even when their deeds spoke clearly of their cause, they rarely fought alongside the conventional forces of either side in Mankind's great civil war or when they did, they refused to integrate themselves into established chains of command.
Many Blackshield bands simply fought for their own cause -- often that of simple survival in a galaxy consumed by insanity and chaos. Some, however, had clearly abandoned themselves to the very madness that had birthed them. Gripped by an insanity that knew no distinction between Traitor or Loyalist, they ravaged across the stars throughout the Horus Heresy and in many cases well into the current age.
Some have compared the Blackshields to the Shattered Legions, thus putting truth to the observation that the two occupied different points in a spectrum of irregular or non-conventional Legiones Astartes forces. The disparate elements of the Shattered Legions, however, maintained a definite sense of Legion identity and inheritance, while the Blackshields invariably went to great lengths to reject, denounce or obscure their origins, or in some cases may even have been ignorant of them.
Indeed, while the Shattered Legions were constituted of units from several different parent Legions, they ever sought to uphold and maintain their own traditions even as they acknowledged those of their compatriots. This was not the case in most Blackshield bands, and it is likely that even individual squads were made up of warriors born of different Legions, the identity of which might remain unknown even to their brothers.
While the term "Blackshield" is fitting, it was not always a literal description of the warriors in question. Some groups were observed clad in highly idiosyncratic, personalised heraldry, no two Legionaries bearing the same colours. Some applied camouflage patterns to their armour, a practice only rarely observed amongst the Astartes. At least one group was observed to wear composite battle-plate, each part scavenged from other Legions and mixed together with no rhyme or reason, a sea-green vambrace taken from a slain Legionary of the Sons of Horus worn alongside a bone-white gorget torn from the corpse of a defeated World Eater, for example.
The Steadfast, the Turncoat & The Renegade
"Once I had a Father, once I had brothers, once I had a Legion, now all I have is hate. But my hate shall swallow the stars themselves before it is sated."
- — Raval Sult, once of the Legiones Astartes Iron Hands
The most difficult class of Blackshield to define or identify with any certainty were those who were constituted en masse from the ranks of a parent Legion having refused to align themselves with the declared allegiance of their Primarch. Though their true numbers remain unknown, they cannot have been great for most of the Traitor Primarchs proved horrifyingly willing and able to purge their Legions of those genetic sons they suspected would not stand alongside them against the Emperor.
It is well known to Imperial scholars now that the Sons of Horus, Death Guard, World Eaters and Emperor's Children were all purged by the hands of their own fathers at Istvaan III, while it appears that Lorgar rid his Word Bearers Legion of such elements at a much earlier point.
Of the other Traitor Legions, it can only be assumed that similar fratricides were enacted, although none appear to have been carried out with complete effectiveness for there were ever detached units serving far afield or beyond communications range. What trauma such men experienced upon learning of their master's treachery can only be imagined and the bloodshed that ensued between brother Legionaries must have been every bit as terrible as the slaughter at Istvaan III.
Many of those warriors who escaped the betrayal of their kin fled into the darkness and were never seen again, while others embarked upon short-lived campaigns of bloody vengeance, determining to sell their lives dearly and consumed by hatred for a galaxy in which they no longer had a place.
It is a truth that sits ill with many who are party to such knowledge that not all Blackshields were the sons of Traitor Primarchs. The Warrior Lodges had spread their pernicious philosophies far and wide in the years prior to Istvaan III, and few indeed were the Legions entirely unaffected by their hidden workings.
Indeed, it is notable that in some bands of Blackshields, adherence to the tenets of the various Warrior Lodges remained strong and some were even accompanied by small covens of Davinite lodge priests. How many Blackshield bands were in fact Renegade elements of otherwise Loyalist Legions, or how many individual Blackshield warriors in the ranks of a Marauder Squad were secretly Traitor sons of Guilliman, Dorn or Russ or any other loyal son of the Emperor is a matter that even now has yet to be fully accounted.
Despite their rejection of visible Legion heritage, most Blackshields remained nonetheless recognisable as Space Marines. A small number, however, stretched such a definition to a point where onlookers may not have taken them for the product of the Emperor's vision at all. Throughout the Horus Heresy and beyond, accounts of Astartes fallen to physical mutation persisted, hinting at a creeping instability in gene-seed purity, corruption of the implantation process, exposure to certain influences or even deliberate tampering with the Astartes genetic template.
At first sight these warriors might appear blessed of superior strength, speed or resilience, but invariably they proved unstable in other ways. Some were prone to physical or mental collapse in the heat of battle, while others experienced spontaneous and uncontrolled mutation under stress, their limbs distending into horrific forms as bones re-knit and muscles distorted, battle-plate splitting apart in the process. Some were indistinguishable in appearance from any other Astartes, yet possessed of such an unnatural mien or aura that others could not stand their presence, and with prolonged exposure would be driven by an inexplicable urge to strike them down.
It has been suggested by some Imperial scholars that not every band of such genetic aberrations classified as Blackshields were truly outcasts from the other Legions. Some may actually have been deliberately created in secret within one of the Legions and then released into the war-torn galaxy as living weapons of mass destruction. Created ignorant of their heritage, such forces would have reaved across the stars in pursuit of some implanted imperative, burning fiercely, albeit briefly, in the depths of the Horus Heresy's Age of Darkness.
Notable Blackshield Campaigns
The histories of the Horus Heresy present far more mysteries and enigmas than reliable or complete accounts, and so entire armies of historator-scribes labour to piece together something of the truth from uncounted fragments of hearsay. In the examination, many such fragments reveal still more perplexing or troubling elements. Each of these battles served in their own way to influence the course of the war not just at the local level, but at the strategic one. Even though the specifics of cause and effect were hidden at the time and are only barely perceivable to us now, many Imperial scribes now believe that when considered as a whole, they amount to a significant contribution towards the ultimate ending of the war:
- The Ash-Blind of Euros - At the twinned gas giants of Euros, for example, ashen-skinned, black-eyed warriors bearing the eye of the Warmaster Horus upon otherwise featureless Mark VI Corvus Pattern battle-plate, who could only have been Renegade sons of Corax, sent the vast macro-bastions plunging through the crust, in so doing causing the fiery deaths of over twenty million Loyalist colonists.
- The Vaults of Ytterbia - At Gamma-Dvalin, a force of warriors, each one wearing armour of discordantly mismatched heraldry and patterns torn from numerous dead foes, breached the Vaults of Ytterbia and plundered the forbidden stasis arsenals quantum-locked within. A solar month later, the stolen n-dimensional weapons were unleashed upon the 38th Company of the Sons of Horus Legion at Iantana Minor, consuming both armies and tearing an entire continent apart in the process. Fragmented pict-thief captures show several Blackshields bereft of their helms, each of them bearing an identical Cthonian gang rune tattooed across their scalp.
- Assault on Taracanis - A Blackshield force is known to have launched attacks against Sons of Horus and Death Guard Legionaries at Taracanis, culminating in the boarding action against the Death Guard Heavy Cruiser Morbid Revelation and the spiking of its mighty Nova Cannon. The extent of the damage was not discovered until the weapon was next fired in anger, ten solar days later, against the Mechanicum Explorator Barque Radiant Precept, resulting in the Revelation being crippled in the ensuing back-blast and its forced withdrawal from the war.
- Battle of the Ultinian Rings - At the Battle of the Ultinian Rings, Sons of Horus hunter-slayers under Tybalt Marr, tracking down survivors fleeing Istvaan V, were ambushed by a Blackshields force led by an individual later identified as the Raven Guard Strike-Centurion Morkan Sayle. In the ensuring battle, a sky-hive housing 100,000 colonists was destabilised and brought plummeting into the lyotropic crystal seas of Ultinia 7. Centurion Morkan was presumed dead in that operation, along with over half of his force, but contrary claims continued to emerge even solar decades later.
If the Shattered Legions were irregular in their command structure, the myriad bands of Blackshields were downright idiosyncratic. Many appear to have been ruled by sheer brute strength or force of will with no apparent reference to any formal rank their leaders may once have held. What qualified a leader to rule a Blackshield warband can only be guessed at, but it has been observed that the fates of many such bands were intrinsically linked to their master's own goals.
Aside from the reaver lords, most Blackshield bands exhibited a comparatively flat organisational hierarchy. The reaver lords invariably led their warriors from the front and because overall strengths were rarely more than a single Legiones Astartes company equivalent, the line officers, specialised sub-ranks, command cadres and equerries utilised across the Legions were largely superfluous and therefore rarely seen among Blackshields.
Observed strengths among Blackshield warbands varied from as few as two dozen to as many as 2,000 with around 500 being the most commonly encountered level. No recognisable order of battle dominated and each force was constituted according to the demeanour of its commander, its warriors and the logistical limitations imposed upon them by fate.
While recognisable Legiones Astartes squad types were encountered, it was common for the core squads of Blackshield groups to carry a wide range of equipment, often with no two warriors being armed in the same manner. This phenomenon set the warriors of the Blackshields far apart from their Astartes roots and such squads came to be known as "Marauders" as the Horus Heresy progressed.
The strength of most Blackshield warbands was very much concentrated in its core infantry elements, for, divorced form conventional Legion logistical chains, stocks of heavy equipment very quickly dwindled. It was rare indeed for such groups to utilise disposable equipment such as Drop Pods, for recovering such items for re-use generally called for support assets the Blackshields did not have ready access to.
Instead of Drop Pods, most Blackshield warbands relied upon the lighter patterns of Astartes gunships to transport forces to a planet's surface and to provide them with fire support, Storm Eagles and Fire Raptors being commonly encountered, and it is likely that many Blackshield bands prioritised the capture of these aircraft from enemy forces.
Given the circumstance of their creation and the manner in which they operated, it has proved impossible to assay the total number of Astartes warriors-turned-Blackshield who fought throughout the Heresy. Given that some may have come into being as a result of accelerated Astartes-organ implantation regimes or unsanctioned replication protocols and therefore never entered on the official roles of the later Great Crusade, the numbers may be far higher than any could imagine, albeit spread across the unimaginably vast reaches of the galaxy over which Mankind sought dominion.
Specific Blackshield Units
- Blackshield Reaver Lord - Once an officer in one of the Emperor's Legions, treachery and fate caused this warrior to obscure his erstwhile heraldry and to pursue another path entirely. It is around such men that bands of Blackshields invariably coalesced, for they were possessed of a fiery mien and fate visibly rested upon their shoulders. While many appeared to fight because they knew no other existence, a few were said to be following some far grander strategy that only they were able to perceive. There existed no standard type among Reaver Lords, for each was an individual uniquely shaped by the circumstance that caused him to renounce whichever of the Legions had sired him. They ruled their bands with the utmost authority, either through brute force or charisma. All were fearsome and accomplished warriors, peerless leaders and strategists, and the skills they once brought to bear in service to the Great Crusade were now turned towards the cause of caring for their own fates in a galaxy drowning in the blood of its ending.
- Blackshield Marauder Squad - Most Blackshield warbands were able to field a core of certain Space Marine Legion unit types, and the squad configuration for which they were most well known was the iconic Marauder Squad. These units were equipped according to the proclivities of their leaders or the tastes and expertise of the individual Blackshields, and no two were likely to be identically constituted. While many Marauder Squads carried similar Legiones Astartes weapons, others wielded an idiosyncratic array of firearms and melee weapons pried from the cold, dead hands of their foes or plundered from the holds of captured freighters. Many Blackhsields carried out field modifications to their arms, armour and equipment that would never be sanctioned within the parent Legions from which they were drawn, sometimes to improve performance and in other times simply to keep them in service for one battle more. Varying widely in demeanour even within a single squad, Blackshields ranged in character from taciturn veterans intent upon delivering justice upon those who had wronged them, to murderous pirates who cared only to reave across the stars, carving out their own domains in defiance of Terra and the Warmaster Horus alike.
- Dark Herald - As the wars of the Horus Heresy spread to consume the galaxy, billions fought and died under the banners of warlords they had never seen or heard firsthand, and even amongst those such as the Legiones Astartes, near-religious fervour became common for those artefacts touched by Primarch, the Warmaster Horus or the Regent of Terra Malcador the Sigillite, and given to a chosen emissary as a sign of authority and favour. The Blackshields, having obscured their heraldry or cast aside former masters were no different, their strange sigils or blackened flags becoming totems of destruction and the foresworn. Amongst the Blackshields, these emissaries were know as Dark Heralds.
Blackshield Personality Types
- Death Seekers - These Blackshields were motivated by an all-consuming drive to offer up their own lives upon the altars of war. Psychologically-unstable, either as a result of what they had witnessed or endured or through brutally enforced and accelerated psycho-indoctrination, death has become the centre of their being, either as a blessed release, sought-for atonement or programmed obsession, but they will not meet death vainly and without taking as many of the foe with them as they can. Through sheer force of will or other more malign influence, such as prohibited gene-seed experimentation, they are able to shrug off otherwise debilitating injury as they abandon themselves to the anarchy of battle.
- Orphans of War - Having seen betrayal, atrocity and unthinkable carnage at the behest of distant and uncaring masters, these warriors are hardened veterans who have survived against all odds and now trust only in the man next to them in the line of battle. For brothers they will fight and die and strive to see another dawn, but for great cause or Primarch, and the lies and whispers of lords and potentates alike, they have nothing but scorn.
- Outlanders - These Space Marines had seen the depths to which both sides in Mankind's civil war sank in order to destroy the other, and they washed their hands of either side and sought to pursue their own goals, having turned towards the path of the marauder and void corsair to determine their fate. For some who had previously served in the nomad-predation fleets and the flotillas of Rogue Traders at the forefront of the Great Crusade's darkest frontiers, this was merely a reversion to a path well-travelled in the past, although with themselves as master, while others were forced into exile by the wrath of enemy and one-time ally alike.
- Chymeriae - As the Horus Heresy progressed so there came into being Astartes who simply should not have existed. Some were the by-blows of failed rapid Astartes-organ implantation and psycho-indoctrination programs, others the product of prohibited experimentation on gene-seed stock or the influence of malign forces from beyond. Most often the cause for such "Chymeriae" creation was to create a breakthrough that would see their faction, Loyalist or Traitor, gain a decisive edge in the war: a goal which for some was worth breaking any taboo or stricture. All, be they Primarch or Master Apothecary, who accepted this soon learned the folly of their error. Such warriors were at best invariably unstable or unpredictable when compared to those Astartes brought into being by conventional means, while others succumbed to insane madness or cancerous mutation as terrifying to behold as it was ultimately fatal.
Notable Blackshield Groups
- Ashen Claws - The Ashen Claws were a large, notorious Blackshield force that formerly comprised the 18th Chapter of the Raven Guard Legion. Comprised of several thousand Astartes, near every one was a Terran-born Veteran of the old XIX Legion, before their reunification with their Primarch Corvus Corax. Following the Battle of Gate 42 during the campaign in the Akum-sothos Cluster, those that survived the crucible of that deadly near-suicidal assault were gathered together and despatched by Corax into the northeastern reaches of the Ghoul Stars to bring the light of the Emperor to the outer darkness. The Ashen Claws believed themselves to be continuing the work of the Great Crusade, carving a swathe of blood and ash across the void in memory of a dream which had turned to nightmare with the Warmaster Horus' betrayal at Istvaan III. Their ultimate fate remains unknown, though they may have survived into the 41st Millennium as a Renegade Astartes warband.
- Company of the Sundered - The Company of the Sundered were a Blackshield warband during the Horus Heresy who were later declared by edict of the Terran Council to be murderers and pirates concerned only with claiming their own domains beyond the sight of Emperor or the Warmaster. Their ultimate fate remains unknown.
- The Dark Brotherhood - The Dark Brotherhood was a large and notorious Blackshield force that carved out its own corsair empire on the edge of the Pale Stars and began a long war against an Alpha Legion hunter-killer force tasked with crushing resistance to the Warmaster's Dark Compliance campaigns. They formed around a warrior known as the "Nemean Reaver", or simply "the Nemean," a title likely referring to the impenetrable Artificer Armour he was said to wear in battle or to suggestions that he was preternaturally strong and impossible to slay. Of the origins of this war leader very little is certain, though some accounts claim he was a Terran scion of the I Legion and a veteran of the Third Rangdan Xenocide, a notion at least partially borne out by elements of the sparse personal heraldy he wore and by the terrible scars that marred his features.
- The Death Eagles - The Death Eagles were the former 34th Millenial of the Emperor's Children Legion that clashed with their Traitor kin at Lethe and at Revorthe Keep in the Coronid Deeps.
- Gerasene Host - A little-known Blackshield warband, the Gerasene Host appeared to be the result of rapid, unsanctioned gene-seed hybridisation processes first encountered in the middle period of the Heresy. The source of the Host's gene-seed is unknown and the warriors themselves appeared unaware of their true lineage. Some strategio-savants have posited that the Host were created as a living terror weapon, wrought by an unknown hand and released into the galaxy to sow death and destruction in the ultimate furtherance of the Traitors' cause. They are known to have taken part in the infamous Treab's World campaign, a conflict that burned for four long standard years and which ultimately drew in and defeated a large contingent of the Salamanders Legion. While the Host operated independently, its strategies were in retrospect clearly co-aligned with those of the Death Guard and Emperor's Children forces also deployed to Treab's World. Most of these warriors wore Mark V Heresy Pattern Power Armour, its source unknown. Their battle-plate had never borne the heraldry of any Legion and beneath the accrued weathering of a long campaign displayed the bare metallic grey of unadorned ceramite. Each bearer applied markings that appeared to be arcane and idiosyncratic glyphs of unknown provenance. The "L" sigil on the right shoulder pauldron was worn by most warriors of the Gerasene Host, its significance unclear to Imperial savants.
- The Nine Blades - The Nine Blades were a Blackshield warband during the Horus Heresy era. Blackshield warbands such as the Nine Blades were declared as murderers and pirates by the Terran Council. Many of these were only concerned with carving out their own petty empire and enslaving those who were too weak to oppose them, as occurred in the Truan System at the hands of the Nine Blades. This warband's ultimate fate is unknown.
- The Third Covenant - The Third Covenant was a Blackshield group that operated across several sectors to the galactic north of the Great Core, into which they ultimately vanished towards the end of the Horus Heresy. Several studies have been made of the Third Covenant in an effort to identify its members, but most have proven unsuccessful as each Blackshield went to great lengths to conceal their origins. They even renounced their own given names and used instead terms derived from other, more esoteric sources. The group is of particular interest to later generations of Imperial agents because, having rejected the teachings of their own gene-sires (Traitor and Loyalist alike), they turned to other, more shrouded doctrines. Ostensibly, the Third Covenant fought for the Warmaster Horus' cause, but in truth it pursued its own goals often only tangentially co-aligned with those of Horus and his allies. Blackshields of this group wore a typically heterogeneous mix of elements taken from defeated foes. In places the ubiquitous black heraldry would be worn away to reveal the colours of the original owner. Of particular note was the mythological hippocampus worn upon the right shoulder as the icon of the Third Covenant. The many esoteric sigils betrayed the Covenant's true allegiances -- to powers other than Terra or even the Warmaster Horus.
- The Umbral Hundred - The Umbral Hundred were a Blackshield warband that enthusiastically embraced their vagabond existence and relished the chance to prey upon those weaker than themselves and to take by force that which they considered their rightful due, as was the case when they brutally scoured twelve entire star systems in the southern marches of the Chonma Sector throughout 011.M31. Their ultimate fate is unknown.
- Endryd Haar - Known as the "Riven Hound," Haar was once a World Eater. Both he and his command were believed long lost on-Crusade when his brethren cast in their lot with the Traitors. Endryd was driven to cold madness by the revelation of his Legion's betrayal when he returned to find the Imperium riven by civil war, and he cast off all traces of his Legion's insignia and honours and swore a Death Oath to atone for the XII Legion's crimes. Leading a Blackshield unit known as "The Fangs of the Emperor," Endryd Haar fought alongside the Loyalists as a field commander in the dark days before the Siege of Terra, accepting any mission -- whatever the odds of survival -- so long as in doing so he could spill the blood of the Traitor enemy.
- Crysos Morturg - Section Leader Crysos Morturg was a bitter warrior, morbid and given to introspection. He was disliked by his Battle-Brothers despite his evident talents as a warrior and field commander. He was neither Terran nor Barbaran by birth, having been inducted into the Death Guard Legion during an emergency influx of recruits from the induction pool of the 18th Expeditionary Fleet after the Death Guard suffered near-catastrophic losses during the Rangdan Xenocides campaign of the Great Crusade. Years after his induction, after he rose to the rank of Lieutenant, his latent psychic abilities manifested. This only served to further isolate him from his fellow Astartes, and he had barely begun his training within the Legion Librarius when Mortarion had it disbanded and ordered such "witchcraft" suppressed. Morturg was reassigned to the Legion's Destroyer Corps and was often given Legionaries judged to be fractious or unstable, and his unit was tasked to the brunt of the worst fighting the Death Guard endured. During the campaign against the Traitor Legions' Loyalists on Istvaan III at the start of the Horus Heresy, he was marked for death as a Loyalist and sent to the surface on the doomed world. But Morturg did not die and instead endured, rising to become one of the most deadly commanders of the Loyalist resistance. Despite all the odds, Morturg survived the atrocity on Istvaan III and he and the few remnants of the slaughtered Loyalists he had gathered to him would live to avenge themselves upon their former brethren.
- Moritat-Prime Kaedes Nex - A dark figure of gruesome repute amongst the tightly knit survivors of Deliverance, Kaedes was seen as an ill-omen by his brothers in the Raven Guard Legion. On Kiavahr in his youth he was known as the "Blood Crow," an infamous murderer condemned to rot on the moon prison. There he remained, until Corvus Corax offered him freedom and a pardon if he fought alongside the other rebels and limited his targets to those chosen by his new master. After enduring the painful late transformation to a Space Marine, it was only by the continued favour shown to him by Corax that he remained within the ranks of the Raven Guard, with few of his brothers willing to tolerate his macabre obsession with the hunt. Yet, in the grim shadow wars fought by the Raven Guard in furtherance of the Emperor's grand plan, his murder-honed skills were employed with grim regularity. When the Raven Guard came to Istvaan V, Kaedes came with them, vanishing into the wastes to stalk the Traitors on his own terms. Nothing is recorded of his role in either the retreat from the massacre or the days that followed, and some maintain that not all of the Traitor craft to later leave Istvaan V carried only the followers of Horus, and that Kaedes continued his private war in the shadows of the Horus Heresy.
- The Nemean Reaver - This unknown Blackshield Reaver Lord fought throughout the middle years of the Horus Heresy, leading the Blackshield band known as the Dark Brotherhood against numerous foes as he sought to carve out a haven within the Eridayn Cataract. He garnered a reputation throughout the Pale Stars, as was often referred to as simply "the Nemean." It is generally believed that he was once an officer of the I Legion -- the Dark Angels -- though even this was far from certain. Unconfirmed rumours circulated that he was a survivor of the Rangdan Xenocides, the apocalyptic conflict during the Great Crusade that saw the nascent Imperium threatened with destruction, and he had already entered into the legends of the Legiones Astartes long before the Horus Heresy. At the Conclave of Optera, he renounced his position and departed with Nathaniel Garro, Knight-Errant of Malcador the Sigillite, for Terra, leaving his lieutenants to take command of the Dark Brotherhood and lead it as they saw fit. It is believed his duty to the Sigillite culminated at the Battle of Terra upon the walls of the Imperial Palace during the very climax of the Horus Heresy.
- Warsmith Kyr Vhalen - Warsmith of the Iron Warriors 77th Grand Battalion during the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy, Khr Vhalen was a name of relative obscurity before the events of the Great Betrayal were to thrust upon him the mantle of greatness. He was neither Terran nor Olympian by birth, having been recruited as an adolescent from the formerly xenos-enslaved world of Meru at the edge of the Yetzirah Abyss. Initiated into the 77th Grand Battalion, he fought his way up through its ranks by dint of excellence and sheer bloody will to survive, gaining the epithet of "Shatterblade" after fighting through a nine-solar-hour-long battle with the broken remains of a Xenarch sabre impaled through his chest. The 77th, like a number of Iron Warriors detachments dispersed across the Imperium and all but forgotten, had become almost completely self-sustaining by the end of the Great Crusade, and when the Horus Heresy came, he and his forces were utterly ignorant of their Legion's betrayal. At the First Battle of Paramar, he and his Legionaries would take bitter pride in their stubborn loyalty to the Great Crusade as brother turned against brother.
- Forge Tyrant Erud Vahn - Erud Vahn had once been counted amongst the foremost Forge-Tyrants of the Death Guard. Acknowledged grudgingly by the grim master of his Legion, Mortarion, as a master of the esoteric disciplines of alkemic warfare, Vahn had spent long Terran years in study with the Tech-adepts of Mars. With the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, Vahn found his loyalty to the Mechanicum outweighed that to his distant Primarch and he declared for the Loyalist cause. Seconded to the command of Endryd Haar for his knowledge of the more esoteric mysteries of the Machine Cult, Erud Vahn led the infiltration force upon the Forge World of Xana II during the Xana Incursion, that boarded and later seized control of the Ordinatus Ulator Ashurax. Of the twelve Techmarines of the Loyalist Legions who entered the sanctum at the heart of the Ashurax, only five would survive the attempt. To accomplish this feat, Erud Vahn's heavily modified Mark III Iron Pattern battle-plate was stripped back to bare metal before having a crude approximation of the Sons of Horus heraldry applied to it. The markings used to mask Vahn's true allegiance were in fact those of a Sons of Horus mechanised assault detachment, rather than the emblems actually employed by the Techmarines of that Legion. Fortunately for the infiltrating force, the Magi of Xana had little experience with the heraldry of the Warmaster's Legion, having had little contact with much of the Imperium other than the tithe fleets of Terra.
- Redemption - This unknown Legionary, referred to in some records by the post-event designation "Redemption," his armour scorched and blackened, was present with one of the small ad-hoc formations of Loyalist Legiones Astartes, known as "Battlegroup Revenant," that fought at the counterinvasion of Numinal. He is credited with the killing of over fifty Tech-adepts, Thallaxii and other lesser combat-automata during a solitary assault targeting one of the immense flesh-processing crawlers. The self-applied Loyalist icons that adorned the Legionary's armour conformed to no known pre-civil war pattern or scheme, but served to mark him as present at numerous other engagements, both major and minor, across what became known as the Horus Heresy.
- Legionary Zhinnon - Legionary Zhinnon was recruited into the IV Legion in 849.M30, the very same year that Lord Perturabo took control. Though untested in battle at that time, Zhinnon's native martial bearing saved him from being swept up in Perturabo's purge of the IV Legion. Zhinnon saw extensive service throughout the five solar decades of the Great Crusade preceding the Triumph of Ullanor, and at the time of the Warmaster Horus' great betrayal was serving under Warsmith Vhalen in in the 77th Grand Battalion, 5th Counter-Armour Wing, 30th Squad, and is known to be one of the few Loyalist survivors of the First Battle of Paramar. His ultimate fate is unknown.
Blackshield Rapid Assault Force
Blackshield forces were a heterogeneous mix of Astartes elements, and in theory had access to the full arsenal of weaponry and equipment the Space Marines were granted at the outset of the Great Crusade. In practice however, most Blackshield groups abandoned the use of heavier war machines such as super-heavy tanks, as well as static defences and heavy equipment that required support or recovery units to retrieve after battle, in particular the range of Drop Pods used throughout the Legiones Astartes.
Instead, most Blackshield forces favoured lighter, multi-purpose vehicles that complemented their particular mode of warfare -- rapid orbital insertion followed by highly mission-focused assaults, quickly backed up by the exfiltration of all attack elements. To this end, although no two Blackshield forces were exactly alike, most made extensive use of Storm Eagle gunships, while most also had access to at least a handful of Thunderhawk gunships. The most fortunate could call upon the lighter patterns of Stormbird lander, the most prized being the Sokar Pattern.
In general, most Blackshield forces deployed only those ground units that could be rapidly set down onto a planet's surface from orbit, limiting ground vehicles to Rhino and Land Raider variants that could be carried by a Thunderhawk Transporter or within the hold of a Sokar Pattern Stormbird. Nevertheless, there were several known exceptions and not every Blackshield force operated in this manner; the group known as the Gerasene Host, for example, deployed without warning into the northern sulphur deserts of Treab's World and fought for many solar months before departing just as suddenly using voidcraft they are thought to have secreted in hidden caverns near the planet's northern pole.
In common with the Blackshield warriors themselves, most vehicles had their original Legion heraldry deliberately obscured. As the Horus Heresy ground on, many individual Blackshield groups developed their own unique heraldic identifiers or came to use their own often highly idiosyncratic sigils and identifiers. The Dark Brotherhood, for example, came to be known for the use of a ragged, skeletal version of the Imperial Aquila, rendered in ghostly white or pale gold. It was by such symbols of death and doom that many Blackshield groups would become known, making for a spectacle as terrifying as any Legion force deployed in the armies of Loyalist or Traitor alike.
Blackshield Specific Wargear
The nature of the Blackshield forces and their often erratic and unorthodox lines of supply forced many into the adoption of ragged and modified equipment and weapons in order to maintain an effective fighting force:
- "Pariah" Wargear - Various Blackshield groups were observed throughout the Horus Heresy to wield arms and armour obviously field-modified in a variety of ways, sometimes simply to keep it functioning in the isolated conditions under which such forces operated, but often to improve its performance in some manner. Such modifications were not authorised by Legiones Astartes battle doctrine and were often in flagrant contradiction of the laws of the Cult of the Machine. Such weaponry came to be known as "Pariah" wargear, a term indicative of the outcast status of those who implemented such modifications.
- Pariah Power Armour - Some Blackshield forces were observed to modify their Power Armour in a manner not proscribed by any doctrine of the Legiones Astartes. By stripping back reactor casings, re-routing power couplings and foregoing components such as gauntlets, motive stabilisers, vambraces, pauldrons or helm, the wearer was afforded a combination of power and dexterity not provided by standard patterns, albeit at the expense of some protection against heavy weapons fire.
- Pariah Bolter - Though it grieves those inducted into the mysteries of the machine, some Blackshields had learned to strip the iconic Bolter of its casing and any extraneous fittings in order to make it easier to handle during the fury of a charge or the tumult of a Zone Mortalis engagement.
- Pariah Flamer - These weapons, produced from battle-damaged and field-repaired units, had been modified by their bearers to remove safety cut-offs, allowing a greater volume of fuel to be fired, albeit at risk and with less regularity of pressure than standard-issue Imperial Flamers. Such protocols were not approved by the battle doctrines of the Legiones Astartes and were in contravention of the laws of the Cult Mechanicus.
- Xenos Deathlock - There existed many terrifyingly powerful xenos technology weapons encountered during the Great Crusade, which, through incredibly effective, had been declared prohibited by Mechanicum and Emperor alike for their detrimental effects on the body and mind of a human wielder. The desperation of certain Blackshield forces, however, had overcome such concerns. Those weapons sought out by certain groups of Blackshields were prized for the trauma they inflicted upon the foe -- enemies not torn apart by their horrifying effect were assailed by a storm of soul-wrenching alien horror. Such weapons had been encountered in a range of classes, such as the Extinction Carbines of the Khrave or the psycho-mobius claw-guns of the Kala Sistrum being the most commonly sought-after amongst Blackshield forces.
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 38, 47, 54, 58, 266
- The Horus Heresy - Book Three: Extermination (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 22, 24, 30, 122, 255
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh with Andy Hoare & Neil Wylie, pp. 19, 158, 216
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 18-19, 29, 132-147, 218-228, 234, 246-247