- "Woe unto he who forsakes his vows, behold that thrice-cursed is he in his blasphemy: Firstly that his brothers shall spurn him and bear his presence no more. Secondly that the Primarch’s blessing is denied to him and by his Chapter he shall be disowned. Thirdly that the Immortal God-Emperor shall turn His face from him and he shall be forever Unforgiven."
- — Excerpt from the Castigation of Mentheus, M36 (redacted)
A Deathwatch Black Shield or simply, a Black Shield, is a rare Astartes who has severed all bonds with his former Chapter and has purposely obscured his Chapter's heraldry. In effect, the Battle-Brother is abandoning his Chapter through self-imposed exile. He then presents himself before a Watch Commander in order to petition for admittance to the Deathwatch. What little passes between the Watch Commander and the supplicant is kept forever secret between them, but it is uncommon for the Black Shield to reveal more than bare details other than his name and basic training.
The motivations for petitioning to join the ranks of the elite Deathwatch are many and varied, for no two supplicants share the same reasons for taking up the Black Shield. One universal trait is clear amongst Black Shields: a fierce determination to expunge the sins of their past through service in the Deathwatch. The Black Shield then devotes his life to serving the Deathwatch and completing his own personal redemption, so that perhaps at some point he will consider himself worthy of bearing his Chapter symbol again and even returning to his home Chapter once more.
Amongst the Adeptus Astartes, the Chapter icon is a sacred symbol of all that their Chapter stands for, a mark of all the proud history that can be traced back to the Chapter's very Founding. To wear the Chapter icon is a subject of intense pride for a Space Marine, and to deface or obscure it is treated as a heinous crime. It is said by some that Traitors prove themselves to the Ruinous Powers by spurning their Chapter icon and the Imperial Aquila as evidence of their willingness to turn their back on their Primarch and the Emperor of Mankind. However, amongst the ranks of the Deathwatch there are anonymous warriors who bear no Chapter mark, their right pauldron showing only featureless black. By ancient tradition, a Space Marine with his heraldry obscured may present himself before a Watch Commander and petition for admittance to the Deathwatch. He may not be questioned or pressed to divulge anything about his origins, all such information having been ritually obliterated by the removal of his Chapter's mark. Should he be accepted, only the silvered skull of the Deathwatch will mark out the allegiance of these so-called "Black Shields", who shun the company of other Space Marines until the time of battle is upon them. Such warriors are unique to the Deathwatch and even there, they are regarded as figures of ill omen.
The Black Shield is a Space Marine without a Chapter, an individual who has severed himself from the very things that defined him as a Battle-Brother of the Adeptus Astartes. Though fully within his rights to refuse admittance, a Watch Commander will seldom refuse. The Deathwatch is an alliance of Chapters open to all Chapters, and for those of no Chapter it offers a path to atonement for any willing to undertake it. A lifetime spent guarding the outer reaches of the galaxy against the alien threat will perhaps earn a Black Shield the right to be interred in the tombs of the fallen in a great Watch Fortress one day. In this way, in death at least, the Black Shield can reforge the bonds of brotherhood he once chose to sever. Black Shields are a rarity, for a Watch Commander will seldom see more than a handful in his lifetime. No two share the same motivation for taking up the Black Shield, and speculation as to their motives follows them wherever they go. But one thing remains universal amongst all Black Shields; their overriding need and zealous determination to exorcise the demons of their past through faithful and vigilant service to the Deathwatch. A Black Shield is known to maintain a gruelling penitent’s regime of prayer and self-castigation between training exercises to harden himself for the battles ahead. In battle they fight without consideration for their wounds or the perils of the battlefield to achieve the Kill-team’s goals.
Always knowing their own worth in the great struggle against the enemies of Mankind, no Space Marine fights recklessly. That cannot be said for a Black Shield, for he will think nothing of placing himself as bait in a trap or drawing enemy fire. These fatalistic individuals do not seek personal glory through their actions and will do nothing to imperil those around them, but they will always stand ready to give their life if such circumstances arise. In the Black Shield's mind he is dead already, and his life only has value in how it may best serve the Deathwatch. A Black Shield accepts the most dreadful privation and hardship as his lot. He will unquestioningly accept missions felt too low and inglorious for other Space Marines to perform. Whether at the forefront of a Kill-team purging a nest of enemies or cloistered for a long and lonely vigil in a Watch Station, a Black Shield offers no complaint. They become pure instruments of the Deathwatch with no thought to their own future. On rare occasions, thanks to their unwavering dedication, Black Shields rise through the ranks of the Deathwatch. In the past, Black Shields have become Deathwatch Chaplains, Watch Captains and, in the case of a bare few, even Watch Commanders.
The Sundered and the Black
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 Legio, Auxilia regiments and Mechanicum Taghmata that sided with the Arch-Traitor and those who remained loyal 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 Dropsite 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 war bands that were once part of the known Traitor Legions fighting independently persisted throughout the war. In some cases, outcasts forces proudly bore their original colours and may have regarded themselves as the true inheritors of their Legions. Thus can perhaps be explained, at least in part, persistent stories and evidence long since suppressed of midnight clad warriors in defaced Night Lords heraldry savagely attacking Traitor forces at the liberation of Estaban 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 examples would be the 34th Millennial of the Emperor's Children (the "Death Eagles") bore 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 Legiones 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 here 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, make 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. 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.
The origin of a Black Shield can vary greatly. Some may be the sole survivors of their Chapters with all of their Battle-Brothers lost to war, disaster or the irreversible deterioration of their gene-stock. With no other Chapter organisation left, the survivor joins the Deathwatch to mark his final years. The saga of his Chapter is over and now it only remains for him to fill his ending with purpose. To do so in the guise of a Black Shield is an act of pious humility from a warrior who honours his brothers so much that he will set aside his personal glory so that the actions of the living may never besmirch the legend of the dead.
A darker origin for a Black Shield is that of one whose Battle-Brothers have turned away from their duty and the Emperor’s Grace. Alone amongst his fellows the Black Shield did not fall into corruption or the subtle traps of the Archenemy, keeping his faith when all about him lost theirs. He may have suffered terrible trials as madness spread through the ranks of his comrades. Friends or even trusted leaders may have turned against him for refusing to embrace their new creed and join their foul rites. He may have witnessed the soul-blasting sight of daemonic servants of the Ruinous Powers disporting themselves in the once-hallowed halls of his own fortress-monastery. Such a Black Shield is driven by disgust to turn forever from the twisted mockery his Chapter has become, and evinces a deep personal desire to expunge the sins of his Battle-Brothers through his own zeal and purpose. It has been whispered that Black Shields also include those that have damned themselves in some way. Perhaps they gave heed to the honeyed promises of the Archenemy in a moment of weakness, or gave way to overweening pride and anger, or were tainted by contact with aliens or other dark forces. It is said that those who have rediscovered the Emperor’s Light may yet seek to absolve their traitorous past through service in the Deathwatch, forever striving to make amends for their fall from grace. Whether redemption can ever be truly found for the Lost and the Damned only the God-Emperor Himself can say.
A Space Marine who feels that they have failed their Chapter in some critical undertaking may choose to take the Black Shield to forever hide the shame of their failure. A great relic entrusted to their care may have been lost, or a vital mission they led miscarried in tragic fashion with unconscionable casualties. The Black Shield may even have had to refuse some suicidal or pointless order in the heat of battle with the best of reasons and yet feel that they can no longer remain amongst their Chapter. Regardless of their reasons, the Battle-Brother will be struck from the Chapter annals without further comment and forever forgotten. It is believed that some of the sternest Chapters even exercise this permanent exile as a form of punishment, even though such a separation would be more kindly served by death. Still, a trained Space Marine is a resource not to be squandered and the Deathwatch can find duties for those rejected by their masters.
Black Shield Wargear
- Plasma Gun
- Close Combat Weapon (Chainsword, Combi-weapons, Power Weapon or Power Fist)
- Melta Bomb
Notable Black Shields
- "Masters of the Watch, I come before you with nothing but the plate I wear and this most sacred of weapons. All else I have lost. I require only a purpose, that I might direct my righteous fury and earn absolution for the sins I am about to divulge."
- — Brother Vigilant, before the Chamber of Vigilance after his arrival on Watch Fortress Erioch
- Deathwatch Chaplain Vigilant - The individual known as Brother Vigilant arrived in the final hours of 812.M41 to Watch Fortress Erioch aboard a badly damaged Inquisitorial courier vessel belonging to an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor who had departed only a month before on some urgent, unknown mission. The Inquisitor was nowhere to be found and the crew had died from void exposure or radiation sickness within a week of departure, leaving only a single clue as to what had brought the vessel to Erioch. A stasis-crypt was found within the courier's hold, containing a single Space Marine in a Sus-an Membrane-induced coma, clad in battle-scarred black warplate and clutching a Crozius Arcanum that had seen much use. Upon the nameless Battle-Brother's awakening, Watch Commander Mordigael gathered the Chamber of Vigilance at the newcomer’s urgent request, to hear his case. Three days passed, as he explained himself and put his fate at the mercy of the Master of the Vigil. Whatever was said is sealed by agreement of the Master of the Vigil and the Inquisitor of the Chamber, never to be spoken of again, and the bearer of this news was granted leave to swear the Apocryphon Oath and begin a Vigil without end, taking the name Brother Vigilant in place of his own. However, instead of taking to the field immediately, Brother Vigilant spent three standard years in intense study, learning the many rites and rituals of the Deathwatch, before he emerged to do battle with the Emperor’s enemies, bearing once again the scarred and war-worn Crozius Arcanum he arrived with, having taken up the mantle of a Deathwatch Chaplain. At present, Brother Vigilant operates from Watch Station Andronicus, departing frequently with itinerant Kill-teams venturing deeper into space contested by the Tau.
- Knight-Warden Alaric - Alaric is a mystery come forth from the depths of the void. This Deathwatch Black Shield has proved to be indispensable to the Dead Cabal -- a handful of like-minded, inquisitive Deathwatch Space Marines that have been drawn back to the study of nearly-deserted Watch Stations, now known as the Dead Stations, and the ancient traces of knowledge and prophecy they contained. These members of the Long Watch have since dedicated their lives to finally unravelling the enigma of the Jericho Reach known as the Dark Pattern -- a series of mysterious events that continue to unfold, presaged in numerous ancient prophecies foretelling of great strife and darkness are coming to pass in this area of space. The Knight-Warden has provided the Dead Cabal with nearly prophetic insight into the workings of the Suhbekhar Dynasty, his knowledge of the Necrons rivalling even that of Master of the Forge Xerill. During his tenure among the Deathwatch, the mysterious Battle-Brother has earned a reputation for arriving, unexpectedly and without warning, where he is needed most. The members of no less than a dozen Deathwatch Kill-teams owe their lives to the silent warrior, each facing insurmountable odds only to find salvation in the arrival of the Knight-Warden, his head bowed in silent salute and his Power Flail swinging. Not even his brothers within the Dead Cabal can say how the Knight-Warden knows where he is needed, though the unquestioning certainty with which he conducts himself defies the notion that his actions are without direction.
- Deathwatch Battle-Brother Hail - In the year 651.M37, a brother of the Deathwing bearing no Chapter device arrived at Watch Fortress Erioch. This brother "Black Shield" called himself Hail, and was the lone Space Marine occupant of the rapid strike vessel Unquiet Angel. Hail claimed that he had learned the location of the remains of the vanished 4th Company of the Black Consuls Chapter, a force lost in its entirety a millennia earlier, and sought the aid of Watch Fortress Erioch in seeking them out. Following the convening of the Chamber of Vigilance, a Kill-team joined Hail aboard the Unquiet Angel. Hail led the Kill-team to a massive Space Hulk drifting in the dead space on the edge of the Phaegis System. The Kill-team boarded the vessel and succeed in recovering the banner of the Black Consuls 4th Company and a number of other relics, despite being assaulted by scores of warp ghouls and other foul creatures. In gratitude for the eventual return of their remains some decades later when the conveyor ship despatched from Erioch reached them, the Black Consuls renewed their oaths to the Deathwatch with a pledge of Battle-Brothers three times what it was previously.
- Deathwatch Battle-Brother Janus- Brother Janus is a Black Shield, and characteristically about whom little is known. He bears a chain about his neck that appears the twin of that once carried by Brother Andruk of the Crimson Castellans, but whether there is any association between the fallen hero of the Lux Veritatis and the Black Shield must remain a mystery. Brother Janus had taken his Apocryphon Oath a mere ten days before this operation, and his presence on the Strike Force was specifically requested by Inquisitor Ramaeus. It is reported that Brother Janus fought alongside Inquisitor Ramaeus at some stage during the attack on the ritual site and, although no corroborative records confirm it, some claim that the two know one another and converse as if old compatriots.
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 319
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pp. 100-103
- Deathwatch: The Emperor's Chosen (RPG), pg. 76
- Deathwatch: The Jericho Reach (RPG), pp. 78-79
- Deathwatch: The Outer Reach (RPG), pp. 24-25
- Deathwatch: Know No Fear - A History of the Jericho Reach (Supplement), pg. 7
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest by Alan Bligh with Andy Hoare & Neil Wylie, pp. 19, 158, 216
- Xenos Hunters (Anthology):
- The Alien Hunters (Short Story) by Andy Chambers
- The Vorago Fastness (Short Story) by David Annandale
- Mission: Purge (Audio Drama) by Gav Thorpe