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 during the Horus Heresy in the 31st Millennium. They formed around a warrior known as the "Nemean Reaver", or simply "the Nemean," a title likely referring to the impenetrable artificer-wrought 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.
"In the eye of the storm there lies truth, it is better to perish in the cold depths of the void than to be cast down to the surface of some hateful orb, there to flounder worm-like and craven."
- — Ishmael the Ancient
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. 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.
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 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.
One of countless shadow wars fought during the Age of Darkness which would only be known to history by the piecing together of scattered archival fragments, the war for the region to the galactic south-west of the warp phenomenon known as the Maelstrom was one fought far from the front lines and outside of the chain of command of either side. When word of the Horus Heresy reached the individual planetary rulers, most recoiled in horror at the Warmaster's base betrayal, yet none dared declare openly against him for they dreaded the gaze of Horus and knew that should they provoke his wrath, he could crush them out of hand. Several lonely voices denounced such vacillation as craven and dishonourable, imploring the Imperial Commanders of the region to stand together in common defiance of the Traitors, yet these voices were few and quickly silenced.
It was against this backdrop of dread and recrimination that the worlds of the region began to suffer a range of creeping horrors. At that time, none could know of the great and terrible rite that the Traitor Primarch Lorgar had enacted at Calth, that in the sacrificial murder of the Veridia star he had brought the Ruinstorm into being, a tempest of such scale and ferocity that the Imperium would be sundered. As the shock wave of the Ruinstorm struck the Pale Stars, terror and insanity erupted across the region's worlds. Thus, as the light of Terra was smothered by the oncoming Ruinstorm, so entire swathes of the galaxy fell silent to the masters of the Imperium. The loyalties of the worlds of the Pale Stars remained unknown to Terra, lost to the galaxy-wide clamour of all-consuming civil war. But for the coming of a great, yet unsung hero of the Imperium, the fate of the Pale Stars might have gone unremarked in the story of the great Horus Heresy; that warrior was Nathaniel Garro -- the so-called "Agentia Primus" of the Knights-Errant.
Envoy of Terra
With the Ruinstorm surging across the galaxy, the War Council of Terra sought by any means to gauge the true scope of the unfolding calamity. Blinded as it was, the Council was desperate for other ways to measure the disposition of the Warmaster's hosts and the allegiances of planetary rulers. Astra-telepathic communication was by that point all but impossible, the Warp a howling cacophony that either drowned out their messages or corrupted their content in insidious ways. The only means of assaying the status and allegiance of the scattered worlds of the Imperium would be to despatch envoys and agents to do so in person, even though the Council knew that such a hazardous mission would be the deaths of countless loyal and devoted servants of Terra.
Even as Terra readied their flotillas to send to the beleaguered star system, other forces were converging upon the Pale Stars. One was an alliance of Legiones Astartes who had, each for their own very different reasons, renounced or severed their ties to their sire-Legion and obscured their heraldry; the other served an equally shadowed cause, albeit one that most others associated with the Traitors -- the Alpha Legion. Which faction came to the Pale Stars first is one detail amongst many now lost to history and none can tell if their appearances were linked or simply coincidental-most likely the tides of the unquiet Warp simply stranded both there at the same moment in time.
The first group would come to be named the "Dark Brotherhood" by the peoples of the Pale Stars and later other regions, though none can tell if the group itself ever acknowledged or used this name. Very little is known for certain about the Dark Brotherhood, and even less of the circumstances of its formation, but it is clear that this band of what would become known as "Blackshields" had formed around a warrior known as the "Nemean Reaver," or simply "the Nemean," a title likely referring to the impenetrable artificer-wrought 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 Ist Legion and a veteran of the Third Rangdan Xenocide, a notion at least partially borne out by elements of the sparse personal heraldry he wore and by the terrible scars that marred his features. The Nemean was a taciturn and brooding warrior and leader, but by 008.M31, he had bound the disparate warriors of the Dark Brotherhood into a coherent whole and moved quickly to establish a haven, a sovereign domain deep in the void beyond the spiral arms where he and his brethren might forge their own destiny in a galaxy fallen to insanity.
It was at the trinary star system known as the Eridayn Cataract that the Dark Brotherhood found refuge. A dense shroud of asteroids circled the system's three stellar bodies, concealing secrets and hazards that only the most accomplished of void masters could hope to navigate. The Dark Brotherhood were possessed of such individuals, their small fleet of light but fast and agile vessels crewed by a motley assortment of void-born and captained by Legiones Astartes who had seen service in some of the most arduous campaigns of the Great Crusade. Having established a secure base of operations deep within the asteroids, the Dark Brotherhood laid claim to the entire stellar realm and the boundless natural resources that orbited its three stars. Within months the Dark Brotherhood was aggressively defending its interests, ranging the surrounding warp routes to clear them of any foe that might contest their mastery, from human and xenos void pirates to patrol vessels sent out by the small Imperialis Armada squadron stationed at Phargos Rex. In late 007.M31, the Brotherhood launched a sudden and overwhelming assault upon the nearby system of 771/ 51-6. There they brutally purged the human-xenos hybrid pirate clans that had preyed upon the region's outlying worlds since the time of Old Night, the Nemean executing their master by his own hand as an undisputable message to all of that abominable strain. The name of the Brotherhood's brooding reaver lord was soon known across a dozen and more systems, and whispers of his formative empire spread still further. Soon after this event came word of the arrival in the region of a Traitor Legiones Astartes strike force of the Alpha Legion, commanded by Strike Master Ijax, a bloody-handed veteran of the Dropsite Massacre at Istvaan V.
Strike Master Ijax had come to the Pale Stars as an emissary of the Traitor cause, his mission to ensure that the region's planetary rulers declared for the Warmaster. Instead of presenting himself directly at Phargos Rex, Ijax divided his command and despatched lieutenants as envoys across the region, each going before a planetary lord to deliver the Warmaster's missive. Each recipient was informed that their peers were being made the very same offer at the very same moment. In so doing, each ruler was compelled to reach their own decision without recourse to their fellows, the Alpha Legion envoy standing before them feeding their darkest fears about what the Warmaster's fleets might have in mind for their world while simultaneously appealing to their most venal desires with insinuations of the favour they might earn upon declaring for the Warmaster. The presence of the Dark Brotherhood however forestalled immediate acquiescence. Upon learning of the Nemean and his pocket empire, Strike Master Ijax saw at once the necessity of neutralising this rival faction and an opportunity to seal the compact with the planetary rulers. If the governors would commit their own forces to his command in the joint endeavour of ridding the Pale Stars of the Dark Brotherhood, then the Warmaster would surely bless each ruling house with his unconstrained largesse. The rulers saw no choice but to comply.
The compact sealed, Strike Master Ijax's subcommanders assumed direct command of the planetary musters of a dozen worlds and their system defence flotillas. While most of these forces were but crudely equipped and barely-trained, the Alpha Legion war leaders soon remade them into highly effective armies, utilising each muster's unique knowledge of its home world and the particular skills honed there. Having established a core of defensive armies on the key worlds, Ijax ordered his disparate hosts to press outwards into the Pale Stars, thousands of warriors transported in the holds of a motley armada of cargo vessels attended by Alpha Legion escort ships. The Strike Master's intent was to challenge the freedom of movement the Dark Brotherhood had enjoyed since coming to the region, and in so doing to precipitate an escalation in the conflict, dictated by his own strategic ends.
The Dark Brotherhood were far from idle as the Alpha Legion raised the planetary musters and when the Traitor-aligned fleets pressed into the void, they were immediately opposed by the Nemean's vessels. Across the warp routes of the Pale Stars, the black-hulled war ships of the Dark Brotherhood fell upon their foes, exacting a fearsome toll upon those who would oppose their mastery of the warp routes. The Traitor-aligned ships teemed with militia troops, their holds crowded way beyond capacity, and so the Blackshields' boarding actions were met with such a press of bodies that they were repulsed as often as they were successful. The Dark Brotherhood turned dozens of militia transports into charnel houses, driven by the twin goals of dissuading future attack while capturing what vessels might find employment in their own ragged fleet. The fighting was most intense where Dark Brotherhood and Alpha Legion warriors came face to face, on several occasions upon the burning bridge of some stricken vessel wracked by shuddering death throes. No quarter was given and none sought in such bitter confrontations, and countless Legionaries from both factions went to their deaths rather than concede defeat.
Dark Brotherhood and Alpha Legion war ships clashed across a dozen systems, the conflict spilling onto the surfaces of numerous worlds as the Traitor-aligned militias were deployed wherever their masters willed. The mortal hosts were mostly treated as less than cattle by Strike Master Ijax and his officers, their presence often serving as provocation to incite attack from the Nemean. The Blackshield lord was no fool however, matching the Alpha Legion's cunning with his own so that thousands-strong militia armies were often deployed to isolated regions at great effort to no effect, falling prey to hazardous local conditions or simply starving to death while the Dark Brotherhood committed their efforts elsewhere. At Larsa V for example, transport barques out of Phargos Rex deposited thirty cohorts of the planetary muster into the rhodium dune seas, which dispersed across the ergs and established a chain of fortified strongpoints. The Dark Brotherhood declined to take the bait however and within a month the entire army of occupation had perished from exposure to the highly irradiated environment.
At Mirdath, three Dark Brotherhood vessels succeeded in bypassing the quasi-sentient out-system defence monitors protecting the Traitor Mechanicum forge-fane that had long orbited in the system's outer reaches. Striking directly for the fane's macro-provender chambers, a Dark Brotherhood boarding force captured and escaped with hundreds of tonnes of high value supplies. During their escape though, they encountered some manner of mechanical horror of whipping mechadendrites that slaughtered half their number before they could break clear. It would later be determined that this creature was the product of the Mirdath forge-fane's inner foundry, the holy-of-holies where unspeakable machine blasphemies had long lain dormant.
At the outlying system of Dissolution, the Alpha Legion envoy ordered the recall of an army of occupation that had been engaged in a decades-long campaign to eradicate a primitive, yet highly pernicious native xenos strain. As the garrison forces mustered in orbit, the long-suppressed xenos rose up against the remaining colonial holdings, achieving in a single day what the garrison had fought for decades to hold at bay, and tens of thousands of settlers were sacrificed to the primitive aliens' chthonic fire-gods. Even as the militia watched its world burn from orbit, the Dark Brotherhood struck and a fierce battle erupted across Dissolution near-space. Thousands of Traitor-aligned militia died as their transports were cast burning to the surface below, but the Nemean's forces suffered concomitant losses, for the Alpha Legion had used the garrison force as bait to draw the Blackshields into an ambush by their own vessels.
Though the war that erupted across the Pale Stars divided the belligerents between those aligned to the Warmaster and their enemies, the Dark Brotherhood fought not for Terra but for their own cause. That cause, so it would later be claimed, was simple survival, the Blackshields having determined that in a galaxy fallen to darkness, survival lay in the seizing of their own destiny. The Nemean was bitterly opposed to the Traitor's campaign to force the local commanders to declare for the Warmaster, for them doing so was detrimental to his own ambitions of a safe haven for his kin. The populations of the worlds of the Pale Stars knew horror at the war the Traitors had brought to their worlds, but any who looked to the Nemean for deliverance would find only disappointment, the Dark Brotherhood unheeding of their suffering.
The Storm Rises
With the coming of war to the Pale Stars, there soon followed yet another woe. The turbulence that had afflicted the Warp for so many months now flared into a raging tempest, fuelled, so it seems to us now given what we have learned of the Empyrean, by the shedding of so much blood among the Pale Stars. The planetary musters raised at the command of Strike Master Ijax had borne the brunt of the suffering, and the losses sustained by the Alpha Legion and Blackshields were insubstantial in comparison. As the deaths mounted in increments of many thousands, so the Warp grew ever more restive, immaterial tendrils groping in the darkness towards spilled blood like unseen predators about a drowning man. Later studies would conclude that this phenomenon had been brought about with deliberate intent, but others doubt that Strike Master Ijax was fully party to the fell wisdom possessed by Erebus of the Word Bearers and his peers.
As ever more blood was shed, Dissolution, Phargos Rex, Mirdath and Larsa were subsumed in a seething mass of what Navigators once referred to as Warp/ realspace interface, but which now is known by far less mundane terminology. With the storms came further waves of insurrection and insanity more intense than any before, and if but a fraction of extant accounts from this period are to be afforded any credulity, things born of the Abyss now walked amongst Mankind. Nightmares made flesh tore themselves from the shadows and fell upon the peoples of a dozen worlds, and it is said that the streets ran with torrents of blood. Worse still, great swathes of the population of Phargos Rex reportedly joined the unnamed creatures and turned upon their fellows, rendered by warp-touched madness to atavistic cannibals and savage murderers.
It was to this region of blood-stained space that Rogue Trader Militant Lorn Orpheus finally came. His flotilla had traversed the tumultuous warp routes from Terra, through the outer marches of the Segmentum Solar and across the depths of the Orion-Crux void. Fewer than half of the flotilla's survived the passage through the Khymaran Drift, for here they encountered the leading edge of the Ruinstorm as it surged across the galaxy. The flotilla that at last translated into realspace at Phargos Rex bore scant resemblance to that which had departed Terra months earlier. Those vessels that survived were visibly wounded, their hulls scorched black by immaterial fires and their armoured flanks rent and buckled as if they had been caught in the grasping talons of some god-daemon of ancient myth. Limping in-system, it was immediately apparent from the flood of signals, both electromagnetic and as trotelepathic, that the Pale Stars were in the grip of some terrible woe. Among the numerous names and images repeated throughout this torrent of vox and psychic traffic was that of the Nemean, as if the peoples of the Pale Stars sought his protection and protection from him in equal measure.
The envoy of the Council of Terra knew that not only had the ancient tales of the horrors of Old Night been true, but those very horrors had returned. Funeral pyres the size of cities burned across the darkness of Phargos Rex's night side, while a pall of dense smoke obscured the terrors being inflicted upon the surface of the day side. Orpheus however had come too far and risked too much to turn tail and retreat back to Terra, if indeed a return voyage was even possible given the ever-rising intensity of the warp storms and the woeful state of his flotilla. The envoy resolved to travel to the surface and to determine if anything remained of the planetary government or the Terran administration mission that had been based there. But Orpheus was well aware of the risk he was taking, and so he prepared a message packet for Terra, to be carried through the warp storms upon the fastest vessel remaining to his flotilla.
The message that Lorn Orpheus composed for the Council of Terra was as full an accounting of the horrors that had consumed the Pale Stars as he was able to compose. He described the warp phenomena that had assailed his vessels as they braved the storms, of crewmen driven to rabid insanity and the bloodbath that had ensued. He spoke of the apparitions that had tormented them as they plied the turbulent Empyrean and which lingered still at the edges of vision even days after translation. He recounted something of the unfettered, impenetrable insanity that had drowned the vox channels and the flood of pain and horror which the few surviving Astropaths were broadcasting far and wide. He concluded his message informing them that he intended to descend to the burning surface of Phargos Rex and to seek out any vestige of authority in an effort to fulfil his mission, and to learn the identity of the individual whose name and face appeared in so many communications -- the Nemean.
It would be many weeks before Orpheus' message runner reached Terra, the fact that it survived the return voyage at all nothing short of a miracle. In the meantime the horrors that afflicted the Pale Stars in tensified many times over. The void boiled as other-worldly energies burst across space, the skies above each planet ripped asunder in a livid display of seething insanity. The anarchy that Orpheus had encountered at Phargos Rex cascaded outwards and subsumed each and every world in the region, millions rising up and tearing down planetary governments before turning upon their own.
Ruling bodies were compelled to flee the rioting hordes and abandon any pretence of control, and many Imperial Commanders found their authority entirely reliant upon the support of the Alpha Legion. Across the worlds of the Pale Stars, Ijax's subcommanders deployed Legion assets to defend the rulers from their own rebelling populations and, in short order, the Strike Master became the de facto power in the region, able to precipitate the downfall of entire planetary governments simply by withdrawing his forces and allowing the mobs to exact their bloodthirsty vengeance. Even those rulers not under siege by their own peoples were acutely aware that with their planetary defence forces directly controlled by the Alpha Legion, they were entirely reliant on Ijax for protection from the Dark Brotherhood.
At a stroke, the Pale Stars had fallen to the Traitor cause-compliance to the Warmaster 's dark empire had been achieved.
One of Twenty
It might have been expected that the worlds of the Pale Stars would have been lost to the Imperium, as were so many other regions. The Ruinstorm now split the galaxy asunder and hundreds, even thousands of systems were drowned in blood or brutally crushed beneath the heel of Warmaster Horus, the Great Betrayer. Countless worlds were lost for all time, consumed in the raw stuff of the Warp, their names to be struck from the stellar cartographs and their approaches seeded with navigational warning buoys. Warp travel became all but suicidal and astro-telepathic communication nigh impossible.
No doubt such a fate would indeed have befallen the Pale Stars were it not for the fact that not only did Orpheus' message runner somehow make it back to Terra, but one important detail in his message had caused it to be routed directly for the attention of Malcador the Sigillite, Regent of Terra and the second highest authority in the entire Imperium. That detail was the naming of the leader of the Dark Brotherhood.
The warrior dubbed the Nemean was already known to Malcador, for he was one of a score of Legionaries identified by the former Luna Wolf and member of the Crusader Host, Severian. The Sigillite's intent was to gather each of those named by Severian and muster them into a cadre of warriors directly under his control, a band he would dub the Knights-Errant. It fell to the most senior of these, the Agentia Primus Nathaniel Garro, to go forth into the galaxy and recruit all twenty to his master's cause. And thus Garro was dispatched to the Pale Stars, his mission to return with the leader of the Dark Brotherhood at his side that the Nemean might swear himself to the cause of Malcador the Sigillite.
The Coming of the Herald
At 017008.M31, a grey-hulled, dagger-prowed warp-sprinter named Eusebeian Herald plunged from the churning warp storms closing in upon the outlying system of Optera, a trail of rapidly dissolving warpstuff forming a kilometres-long contrail in her wake. The Herald had been laid down at Saturn by the hands of the most skilled ship-wrights of that domain and utilised hybrid technologies jealously guarded by the Terrawatt Clans of Ancient Terra and denounced as heresy by the Martian Priesthood. Not only had she survived the tempest but she had made the journey in mere weeks and carried her passengers safely through the otherwise impenetrable Immaterium to the frontier of the Pale Stars. It was a voyage few would have dared and even fewer could have survived.
Aboard the Eusebeian Herald was a contingent of the Knights-Errant -- Garro, formerly of the Death Guard, Callion Zaven, once of the Emperor's Children, and Tylos Rubio, a scion of the Ultramarines. Each Legionary had been named by Severian and the Sigillite had foreseen they would each prove vital in averting the fall of the Imperium and combating what he had prophesised would come in its aftermath. In the Dark Brotherhood and their mysterious leader, Malcador hoped to secure another weapon for his long, silent war against the darkness. been named by Severian and the Sigillite.
The Conclave of Optera
At Optera, Garro ordered the Astropath assigned to his mission to send forth a signal, its allegorical cipher imprint unique and composed for this specific circumstance. The message could only be understood by an Astropath bound to the service of the Legiones Astartes, and its precise content only deciphered by one whose loyalties lay truly with Terra. The message called for the recipients to gather at Optera and Garro chose as the meeting place a ruined, megalithic structure high atop a rocky plateau overlooking the cratered wastes of Optera IV There were numerous risks inherent in the sending of such a message, Nathaniel Garro, the Agentia Primus but in the Sigillite's view, still greater advantage to be won, and so the Astropath's mind-song went out across the storm-wracked reaches of the Pale Stars. Twenty days later, Garro convened his parley.
In the shadows of the cyclopean ruins of the ancient alien fane, Garro and his fellow Knights-Errant waited in silence as the churning skies were split by the contrails of a dozen gunships and landing craft of varying types. Each circled about the ruined fane several times before committing to land, and after an hour, the wide temple plaza had come to resemble the landing apron of a Legiones Astartes operating base, Garro, Zaven and Rubio standing impassively at its centre.
At the appointed time, a dozen assault ramps lowered and from each vessel a group of warriors emerged, some openiy bearing Legion colours, others with heraldry deliberately obscured. If Garro and his fellow Knights-Errant were at all taken aback by the Legion colours represented before them, they hid their surprise behind stony countenances or blank-faced battle helms. In truth however, aside from the black clad reavers of the Dark Brotherhood, none could have anticipated the presence of Legionaries from two other Legions.
The first such group were clad in the distinctive red and gold of the Legiones Astartes Blood Angels, a Legion which had vanished almost to a man having been despatched to the far galactic east almost five years earlier and not heard of since. It was known that a small honour guard had been drawn by lots to remain on the Legion's home world of Baal, while the remainder mustered at the Nartaba System before proceeding to follow the deployment orders issued by the Warmaster some time before his betrayal had been revealed at Istvaan. Garro was stunned to see before him a captain of the Three Hundred Companies, putting a lie to the tragedy of the supposed extinction of the IXth Legion and its beatific Primarch, the Angel Sanguinius.
The second group of warriors were clad in ivory-white battle plate, each a suit of Mark II Legiones Astartes power armour heavily modified by the Legion's artificers and bearing the lightning bolt icon of the Vth Legion -- the White Scars. The status of Vth was known to Garro, but he would not speak of such things openly, for now at least. The remainder of the Legiones Astartes who gathered beneath the towering columns of the xenos temple were a disparate band indeed. No two warriors wore exactly the same mark or pattern of armour nor carried the same class of weapon. In many cases their battle plate was a heterogeneous admixture of components clearly acquired from a wide range of sources, some elements entirely foreign even to Garro's experienced eye. The one feature common to each and every one of these warriors was the fact that their armour was uniformly black. Here and there however, micro fractures, scars and buffs betrayed hints of older colours, from blood crimson to sea green, hinting at prior allegiances. Considering the panoply of gunmetal grey in which the Knights-Errant themselves were clad, Garro once again declined to pass comment on the strangers' appearance.
At last, the leader of each group stepped forward into the centre of the gathering and Garro did likewise, the four Legiones Astartes leaders removing their battle helms so that they could address one another face to face, according to the ancient laws of war.
The leader of the Blood Angels declared himself battle-captain of the 121st Company of the Three Hundred, naming himself Serron. Garro knew that the 121st had failed to assemble at Nartaba and Serron proceeded to recount how the war ships bearing his command had been caught in a fierce warp storm and cast upon the turbulent currents of the Immaterium. Swept along helplessly for what the Blood Angels perceived as mere days, the vessels were ejected violently from the Warp on the fringes of the Maelstrom, which for no explicable reason had been stirred into a raging vortex that cast its baleful tides for hundreds of light years in all directions. The vessels of the 121st had fought valiantly to escape the currents of the Maelstrom and, according to Serron, detected Garro's astro-telepathic call as they traversed the Mirabala Straits. Though Serron's company had known great hardship during their voyage, for them the order to muster at Nartaba had been issued mere weeks before -- meanwhile, over four years had passed in the material universe.
The leader of the White Scars contingent was a cold-eyed warrior, his stony features marked by a web of intricately applied ritual scars. He named himself Nirun, leader of a band of five hundred or so Legionaries drawn from several different Legion sub-groups, known to the White Scars as "Brotherhoods." Garro knew that the Brotherhoods of that Legion were far more to them than tactical divisions -- each was a band of warriors so tightly knit that a Legionary could no more transfer between Brotherhoods than he could between Legions. The spectacle of a group of White Scar Legionaries drawn from different Brotherhoods was highly unusual, but Garro perceived an explanation in the Warrior Lodge tokens many of them bore. Every token carried the same symbol -- the serrated beak of a Chogorian raptor. Nirun offered no explanation for his presence in the Pale Stars, and Garro did not seek one, for now at least.
The Shadowed Counsel
And then the leader of the Dark Brotherhood stepped forward and lowered the hood that had obscured his features. The stark light of Optera's sun revealed the warrior-leader's face as a mass of scars that twisted his mouth into a permanent scowl, his eyes jagged shards of black ice. Garro knew instantly that the Nemean was indeed the warrior he had been tasked with recruiting to the cause ofTerra, but how he would do so given the presence of the remainder of the Dark Brotherhood as well as the Blood Angels and White Scars contingents was another matter entirely.
Facing the three leaders gathered at the heart of the ruined xenos temple, their mustered hosts arrayed behind them, Garro began an address he hoped would stir the hearts of each and convince them to return at his side to Terra. Unsure of the extent of their knowledge of the disaster that the Warmaster had brought down upon the Imperium, he resolved to offer a true and complete account of events, knowing that in this matter above all others truth was his greatest ally. He spoke first of the events of Istvaan III, eliciting a stunned denial from Captain Serron, followed by grim-faced and stoic acceptance of his words. When he spoke of the massacre at Istvaan V, he noted a stirring in the ranks of the Dark Brotherhood, silenced at a stroke by the slightest gesture from their brooding leader. He spoke of Loyalist and Traitor, terms that were anathema to many of those gathered before him and yet seemingly familiar to others. He described the desperate battles fought along the leading edge of the Warmaster's advance on Terra and the treachery that had been brought to bear on distant Calth, decribing it in his own words, for unknown to all but Rubio and Zaven, Garro himself had witnessed the horrors that had unfolded in its immediate aftermath.
All of this the three Legiones Astartes war leaders heeded with little interruption, until at the last Garro reached the crux of his mission to the Pale Stars. The Sigillite had ordered him to recruit the leader known as the Nemean into the ranks of the Knights-Errant, but before him lay the opportunity to achieve so much more. And so the Agentia Primus invited all three leaders and their warriors to return with him to Terra and to serve the Emperor's Regent in the coming war.
His address complete, Garro stepped back to stand alongside his fellow Knights-Errant and await a response. Silence rang out for an age, before at last Captain Serron stepped forward. If it was true that Sanguinius was lost, Serron declared, his grief barely contained as he spoke, then the 121st Company had no place in the galaxy other than at the very forefront of war. Serron would bend knee to no other, he swore, instead stating that he and his warriors would go forth into the fires of war and seek out the foe wherever they might be found.
Garro nodded grimly, knowing from the cast of Serron's voice that the Blood Angel would consider no other path. With those words, Serron turned and departed, the Legionaries of the 121st not hesitating to follow him from the alien temple.
Next, the leader of the White Scars stepped forward to declare his position. His Primarch's wishes in this matter were unknown to him and until such time as he received orders from the Great Khan himself, Nirun would continue on his current path. What that path might be, he would not relate to the Agentia Primus nor any other, and with his refusal of Garro's offer Nirun led his warriors from the temple and was gone. At the last, the Agentia Primus and the Nemean faced each other in the centre of the cyclopean ruins, the wind that keened through the jagged marble columns the only sound. The Blackshield lord had but one question for Garro -- what of his sire? But before Garro could answer, a bright explosion blossomed in the sky far overhead, followed seconds later by the rolling thunder of an explosion -- it was a sound that every warrior present had heard many times throughout his service. It was the sound of a spacecraft destroyed in low orbit by enemy fire. All eyes turned to the skies as debris arced downwards, each fragment as large as a gunship and trailing a churning black contrail behind. Moments later, the shout went up from the ranks of the Dark Brotherhood -- a shout accusing the Knights-Errant of a betrayal as craven as any that Garro had laid at the Warmaster's feet. Weapons were drawn as curses echoed about the temple, and a second explosion rent the skies.
Garro's vox-link chimed in his ear and the captain of the Eusebeian Herald confirmed what he had already guessed. The Traitors must somehow have broken his Astropath's cipher, a feat that only the Alpha Legion could achieve. In an instant, chaos claimed the formerly solemn gathering. Blackshields bellowed in rage or denial, some at the skies, some at their brothers but the greater number at Garro and the other two Knights-Errant. It appeared in that instant that Garro's entire mission to the Pale Stars stood at the brink of failure, until the Nemean spread his arms wide to ward his fractious warriors back. Locking eyes with the Agentia Primus, the Nemean repeated his earlier demand -- what of his sire?
Garro answered with truth -- Terra had received no word from Lion El'Jonson, the Primarch of the Ist Legion. The Nemean responded with a solemn nod, but before he could address his band, a shouted curse went up from his warriors and gunfire split the air. The Dark Brotherhood fractured into rival groups and a vicious, close range fire fight erupted. What followed remains unknown, only that the meeting descended rapidly into armed conflict. Hard rounds and las blasts slammed into Garro as he withdrew, Rubio and Zaven attempting to drag him into cover before the weight of weapons fire grew too heavy even for his artificer-wrought Mark VI battle plate. Garro hesitated, sensing a turning point and an opportunity. Detaching a teleport homer from his belt he locked eyes with the Nemean. The other warrior took one glance at the chaos behind him and then nodded grimly. Garro thumbed an activation rune. With a flare of light and the crump of displaced air, all four were gone, teleported to safety aboard the Herald even as the Knights-Errant vessel dove hard through the skies above.
The Blood-Stained Stars
In the aftermath of the Alpha Legion's ambush at Optera, a bloody and bitter shadow war erupted across the systems of the Pale Stars. The Dark Brotherhood carved their way across the region, slaughtering any force that stood in their way until they vanished into the Eridayn Cataract, not to be encountered again for an age. The Blood Angels under Captain Serron threw themselves into all-out conflict, as if consumed by the need to atone for the sin of their own survival. The 121st Company clashed with Alpha Legion forces deep in the tainted mines of Kyro IV, upon the inner moons of 771/58 and through the xenos-haunted mire-seas of Sidaiva. Serron's force was last seen at Psiom Zeta-I, where it broke suddenly and inexplicably from a battle they were undoubtedly winning and instigated a hasty warp jump along a vector that would have taken the small fleet broadly in the direction of the Segmentum Solar. History does not record for certain what became of the 121st, although rumours persist that at least some of the company's number were counted as present at the very climax of the great heresy.
Of the White Scars that Garro encountered at Optera, still less can be said for certain but one fact alone is known. Nirun and his small force clashed with an Alpha Legion element under the direct command of Strike Master Ijax at Pharghos Rex, mere hours before the raging storms closed in upon the system and drowned it in the raw stuff of the Warp. That storm has yet to lift even now, and so the ultimate fate of both Legiones Astartes leaders remains beyond Imperial scholars' knowledge. Though none know the reason why, the name of the White Scars leader is entered into the roll of honour of the House of Orpheus, hinting at some confluence of Nirun's fate with that of the envoy Lorn Orpheus.
All that remains then is to complete the account of Garro, Zaven, Rubio and the warrior they had come to the Pale Stars to recruit to the cause of Malcador the Sigillite. The Nemean would take his place among the twenty chosen warriors that Garro had been tasked by Malcador to gather, but that is a tale that has yet to be satisfactorily concluded. Some say that the Nemean mustered with the defenders of Terra and that he stood to the last upon the walls of the great palace as hell itself descended upon the birth world of Humanity. As with so many accounts of those final days of the Age of Darkness, the truth is hidden beneath a pall of ashes and the crushed bones of the greatest heroes of the shattered Imperium.
Notable Dark Brotherhood Members
- Nemean Reaver - Though the facts surrounding the establishment of the Dark Brotherhood remain largely obscured, it is known that the Nemean was the group's first master, and it was to him that numerous Blackshields rallied as they sought to carve out their own domain deep with the Eridayn Cataract during the middle years of the Horus Heresy. 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 Ist 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 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 however, 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 very walls of the Imperial Palace during the very climax of the Horus Heresy.
The Blackshields of the Dark Brotherhood often wore battle plate constituted from different Legiones Astartes armour marks, and often included elements of dubious nature and origins. Other elements usually included improvised repairs and field modifications combined into a new divergent mark of armour. Not two examples of battle plate were exactly the same, especially when employed by the often highly idiosyncratic Blackshields. The only distinctive trait that was utilised by every warrior of this Blackshield warband was that they were all coloured uniformally black.
As the Horus Heresy ground on, many Blackshield warbands 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.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 29, 84-91, 94-96, 226-227