- "Death has come for you, and will not be denied."
- — Tallan Quot, Order of the Stilled Flesh
A Death Cult is a group within the Imperium that expresses their worship of the divine God-Emperor through the art and exploration of death. Death and blood underpin human existence. It is a common truism that only through continued blood-sacrifice in the face of a hostile universe will mankind prevail, a sacrifice likened in the Imperial Creed to the bodily sacrifice of the Emperor Himself.
So it is in these beliefs that Death Cults flourish within the Imperium, a dark shadow of the more readily recognised sects of the Imperial faith, making them some of the most dangerous heretical cults that the Inquisition can encounter. Some are no doubt deluded, corrupted by the Ruinous Powers or swayed by far older and more terrible influences, but many are devout followers of the Golden Throne.
To these individuals, every death, every cut, every welling of blood is an act of worship to the immortal Emperor of Mankind. Such Death Cults can vary widely in purpose, creed, makeup, and scope, but even the least suspect walks something of a tightrope between the sublime and the damned. Most so-called Death Cults, despite their differences, can be divided into three broad categories, Sanguinary Cults, Necrophagic Cults and Resurrectionist Cults.
Notable Death Cult Variants
Perhaps the most commonplace and famed sub-division of the Death Cults, Sanguinary Cults focus on the act of bloodshed itself -- the manifold art of killing and the moment of extinction. Often honing the skills of the assassin beyond the ken of normal men, such cults are tolerated or at least wilfully ignored by the Imperial authorities despite their heretical and even vampiric tendencies. This tolerance is because they are known to be implacable in their hatred of Mankind's enemies, supplying the Adeptus Ministorum and the Inquisition with invaluable adepts of murder and fanatical killers loyal to the cause. Some have even more shadowy connections to the mysterious Officio Assassinorum, the secret organisation that provides unparalleled adepts of murder for the High Lords of Terra.
Many Sanguinary Cults spring into being in the fertile soil provided by the harsh conditions found on many Feral and Feudal Worlds. However, the shadows of the underhive, the viperous intrigues of the noble's court, and even the travails of deep space can equally create the conditions where ritual societies dedicated to the deadly arts of the blade, bullet, and poison can flourish.
The Calixis Sector has numerous such Sanguinary Cults and sacrificial societies present scattered across many worlds, and indeed, the population of the outcast Feudal World of Fervious is largely governed by them. The most famous of the Death Cultists, without doubt, are the assassin-mystics of the Moritat, which has sub-cults and cells operating right across the sector and indeed beyond.
Necrophagic Cults are the most blatantly heretical and terrible of all Death Cults, with sects often springing up on worlds ravaged by incessant warfare or planet-wide famine, pandemic disease, or other terrible disasters. In desperation and often goaded by outside influence, the people's faith and devotion take on an increasingly malign turn, with human sacrifice, cannibalism, and necrotic rituals becoming widespread. In such cases the members of these cults rapidly become irretrievably insane and physically corrupt, and are often the playthings of Warp entities, while the vile leaders of such cults walk a tightrope between burgeoning malefic power and utter madness. Necrophagic Cults are never tolerated by the Imperial authorities and are hounded to destruction wherever uncovered.
Within the Calixis Sector, Necrophagic Cults have been known to spring up in the wake of long-burning wars (as has happened on Tranch and Malice in recent years), on isolated and savage worlds such as Endrite, and in the dark Space Hulks and other vessels in space where stricken survivors or desperate stowaways devolve into a form of mutant cannibal known to the voiders as Ghillam or Hold-Gaunts. But of all these tales, none can compare to the ancient stories of the appalling Saynay Clan of Dusk, whose half-mythic ghoulish histories have given the children of the Calixis Sector nightmares for centuries.
Resurrectionist or Revivicator Cults
Rarely encountered but insidious in nature, Resurrectionist Cults ultimately seek to conquer the secrets of life and death itself. Some Resurrectionist Cults preach a doctrine of the Emperor's triumph over death and the conquest of human weakness, while others entreat darker masters, pursue utterly forbidden sciences, or hide baleful xenos or Warp-spawned influences at their hearts. Often they espouse the goal of attaining physical immortality for the faithful and will go to unspeakable lengths to obtain their ends.
More so than even the Sanguinary Cults, these groups attract insane and desperate individuals to their ranks, those who have lost everything, become the most degenerate Heretics or follow the wildest of deviant creeds. Some Resurrectionists even practice ritual revivification to indoctrinate their members. The most extreme examples of such sects believe that the Emperor's plan is for Mankind to follow Him into a blessed "immortality of the flesh." They even claim that it is possible through the use of utterly forbidden archeotech to free the Emperor from the Golden Throne to walk among His people, "dead-but-alive-everlasting" to quote the darkly renowned Credo Mortifex. Such cults are hated by both the Adeptus Ministorum and the Adeptus Mechanicus and must throw up a murderous veil of secrecy and superstition in order to survive.
Notable Death Cults
- Sons of Dispater - The Sons of Dispater care only for money. For them, every life has its price and only the station of the target and the ease of the kill mitigate the cost. The Sons started life as a mercenary company taking part in the vicious trade wars that flared up in the Calixis Sector. It slowly coalesced into its modern shape, but with this refinement, it evolved to become a freelance guild of assassins, providing skilled murderers, duellists and saboteurs to anyone who could afford them. Over the years, the Sons have built up a well-deserved reputation for reliability and lethality and their reach extends outwards from their centre of operations on Malfi to almost every important world in the sector. While their only loyalty is to the gelt they have been paid, the organisation does consider its contracts to be inviolate, realising long ago that an organisation of turncoat assassins would have a very short life expectancy. Thus, any member of the Sons that betrays a contract had better hide their tracks very carefully or risk the wrath of their own. The Inquisition is not above hiring an assassin trained by the Sons of Dispater, valuing their skills and predicable motivations. Likewise, the assassin may have fallen foul of the Inquisition unwittingly (a member of the Holy Ordos is one of the few targets the Sons consider off-limits), and now has little option but to make amends.
- Astral Knifes - As members of a proscribed Imperial Death Cult, the Astral Knives must keep their beliefs secret to all but their most trusted confidants. A secret society within the closed society of the Voidborn, the Astral Knife cult takes it upon themselves, as a sacred duty, to keep Mankind safe during voyages through the Warp. If a voyage suffers, dark portents are witnessed or danger draws close in the Warp, the Astral Knives carry out a sacrifice to ensure the Emperor's protection. Those most obviously "unclean" targets, such as mutants and psykers, are selected first, but almost anyone might be selected in consultation with ritual foretelling. Some fifty standard years ago, the Ordos Calixis declared the Astral Knives a heretical sect after it was found that worshippers of the Ruinous Powers had infiltrated large parts of the cult, and a concerted purge was undertaken. Despite this, the entrenched and widely dispersed Death Cult lives on, although scattered and in far fewer numbers than before. An Astral Knife cultist is usually born rather than made, with certain void families having long traditions of involvement with the cult, either as assassins themselves or in tacitly providing support. Nor are they ravening killers. They are taught instead that their murders, often arranged to seem as accidents, are a dreadful but necessary duty. Some members grieve over their victims when appropriate, although many seek to hone their skills further by taking payment for the use of their skills among the Voidborn, particularly if the target is a "dirtsider" or not of the ship. Some more Radical elements of the Inquisition have chosen, where possible, to absorb the surviving untainted Astral Knives into their service as skilled spies and killers, and the Knives for their part are keen to prove their faith.
- Moritat - The Moritat is an Imperial Death Cult, far older than the Calixis Sector itself. Some legends say it was brought to Calixis by adherents secreted among the forces of the Angevin Crusade who carved the sector into being. Others claim it was already seeded in place, waiting for the Imperials when they came. Regardless, the Moritat leans heavily on the Imperial Creed, albeit with a very bloody and mystical interpretation of its dogma. It teaches that only through the merciless application of violence and death can the Imperium be sustained, the weak and corrupt winnowed out and the Emperor's own great sacrifice honoured. In organisation, the Moritat is supremely difficult to infiltrate or pin down, operating in independent cells each led by a single master or mistress seeded in recruiting grounds such as underhives, Feral World wildernesses and war zones. The Moritat selects those who have already been "marked" by tragedy and bloodshed to serve the Emperor as a bringer of death to His enemies. They take these individuals from a young age and forge their bitterness and hate into a weapon. Training recruits relentlessly in the arts of destruction, deception and bloodletting, while at the same time indoctrinating them into their own brand of the Imperial faith and the mysteries of the cult. Moritat aspirants who survive this education become full members of the cult and are sent out alone into the wider Imperium -- a process they call the "travail" to hone their skills as assassins, vigilantes and peerless duellists, believing that only through continuous conflict and bloody experience can they become supreme in their arts and worthy to serve the Emperor. The existence of the Moritat is something of an open secret in the hierarchy of the Calixian noble houses and the Imperial Adepta, although facts about them are scarce in the extreme. The cult's existence also seems to benefit from some measure of toleration by the Imperium's higher powers, a fact that leads some to whisper that the Moritat's true sponsorship lies with the distant and dreaded temples of the Officio Assasinorum itself. For a Moritat Assassin, the chance to serve the Inquisition is a blessed thing -- dealing death to the God-Emperor's enemies first-hand and also a proving ground where they can test their skills against the most dire and powerful opposition imaginable. Many Inquisitors regard Moritat Assassins as invaluable resources, monsters of their own to fight the many monsters they must challenge.
Notable Death Cultists
- Severina and Sevora Devout - Raised from birth by an ancient sect known as the Emperor's Blades, Severina and Sevora are identical twin sisters who have been taught to wield a blade with astonishing speed, but are unable to read, write or speak. They communicate with an intricate sign language developed by the cult, and, when not actively hunting, they hone the ritual deathblows taught to them by the ancient masters and mistresses of the sect. Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn once investigated the Emperor's Blades, but found nothing but puritanical devotion to the God-Emperor. He hired the mysterious twins, taking three solar months to learn their peculiar language. The price he paid? At least one phial of blood from each of the twins' victims must be sent back to the cult's temple to be dedicated to the Emperor. A small price to pay for such lethal talents.
- Xurris Clorr - Born on a Feral World, this Death Cultist serves the Radical Inquisitor Thaddeus Hakk. She was sent by her master to find and retrieve his previous Acolyte, Interrogator Thirl. The tracker's mission failed, Thirl's prodigious psychic powers granting him full knowledge of the mission and allowing him to ambush his assassins before they even knew of their own doom. Xurris was the lone survivor of the ambush. Despite this, she refuses to acknowledge her failure, and continues to track the heretical Acolyte until she is victorious or dead.
- Seraph - The assassin known only as "Seraph" is a mind-wiped former Acolyte of Radical Inquisitor Antonia Mesmeron. Seraph knows very little about herself; only a few hints of her past remain before her service to the Inquisitor. What is clear is that Seraph was once a member of the Moritat cult before she was possessed by a sinister daemon during the Inquisitor's involvement in the Foulmind conspiracy on Protasia. The skills she learned as both an Acolyte and a Death Cultist have made Seraph doubly-feared, and at Inquisitor Mesmeron's side she claimed many lives with her specially-made lathe blades. After her possession, Seraph tore through the depths of Sender Hive on Laskin, weaving a bloody rampage that left no level of Imperial society unstained. Seraph's trail of destruction was halted only by the sacrifice of a squad of Storm Troopers and the personal intervention of Inquisitor Mesmeron, who arranged for a full exorcism of her valued Acolyte. This action was not taken lightly, for Mesmeron intended to use this exorcism to validate her own Oblationist views, and in this, she succeeded. After the exorcism, Seraph became stronger, colder, little more than a tool for her mistress' commands. Those who glimpse the Chaos-brand upon the woman's face find it is usually the last thing they ever see. Recently, Seraph has become more and more battle-hungry, seeking out ever more dangerous foes to fight in her mistress' service. Whether this activity is sanctioned by Inquisitor Mesmeron or a sign of something darker reemerging has yet to become clear.
- Dark Heresy: Radical's Handbook (RPG), pg. 234
- Dark Heresy: Beta Core Rulebook (2nd Edition) (RPG), pg. 43
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 22-25, 30-31
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pg. 74
- Deathwatch: Ark of the Lost Souls (RPG), pg. 74
- Inquisitor Rulebook (Specialty Game), pp. 140-141