Monarchia, along with its false temples of Emperor-worship, was destroyed by the warriors of the Ultramarines Legion as an object lesson in the folly of false religion. The entirety of the XVIIth Legion was then forced to kneel in the ashes of their devotion by the psychic power of the Emperor Himself, while the Ultramarines stood over them in judgement, that which they had seen as worthy devotion now labelled treasonous.
Suffering such a humiliating rebuke at the hands of the Ultramarines, this insult would apparently fester within the XVIIth Legion and drive them and their Primarch Lorgar Aurelian willingly into heresy and service to Chaos.
Lorgar, Primarch of the XVIIth Legion, was unusual because he was less martial in nature than his brothers. Lorgar possessed an abiding faith that religion represented the pinnacle of human expression and a deeply-held belief that the Emperor of Mankind was actually a divine being made manifest in the mortal realm.
As a result, Lorgar was determined to spread his own faith in the divine Emperor to every world that his Legion encountered in the course of the Great Crusade, a policy that would be in direct contradiction to the atheistic principles of the Imperial Truth.
The rumours came first: whispers passed between Imperial forces who had fought alongside the Word Bearers. Talk began to circulate of the ritualistic practices of the XVIIth Legion, of the fervour of their zeal and devotion to the Great Crusade. Some even went so far as to wonder if the XVIIth Legion, once such rabid opponents of all forms of superstitious belief that they had been nicknamed "the Iconoclasts" when they had been called the Imperial Heralds, had not succumbed to the superstitious practices they had once persecuted.
The rumours multiplied, but if they reached the highest circles of the Imperium, they triggered no action. The Great Crusade was a war of expansion spread across the galaxy. Numberless fleets and hundreds of thousands of armies came into existence, separated by vast distances and joined only by the tenuous links of Warp travel and astrotelepathy.
The sheer scale and dynamism of such an endeavour made absolute knowledge a rare commodity. The Emperor and the War Council did not have the time or means to do anything but trust that those who led the Crusade acted as the Emperor would wish. Rumour, hearsay and unkind suspicion were not enough to call the motivations of one of the Legions into question.
At the last, it was not talk of belief that brought the Word Bearers' wrongs to light, but the arithmetic of conquest. Conquering worlds took time and resources, but rebuilding them and bringing them to believe in the Emperor as a god took far longer again. Over the years, the Word Bearers' rate of conquest had slowed to a crawl. Where the other Legions brought dozens of worlds to Imperial Compliance, the Word Bearers would claim a handful by comparison.
The disparity eventually became too much to be ignored. The military bureaucracy that had grown up around the War Council sent expeditions to a cluster of worlds conquered by the Word Bearers. Was there some factor that had caused the Word Bearers greater difficulties than other Legions? The emissaries and expeditions found their answer.
The XVIIth Legion had not been slowed by resistance, but because they lingered after their conquests. The rebuilding of a planet's faith and social structures took time, as did the rebuilding of cities and the raising of temples from which the faith could be maintained. And the faith gifted to the worlds they conquered was the belief that the Emperor was a god, the one, true God of all Mankind.
During this period, the absolute loyalty of Lorgar and the Word Bearers Legion to the Emperor and His Imperium was unquestionable. Their Compliant worlds regularly delivered tithes in the Emperor's name, and the orders of Terra were accepted without question throughout the worlds liberated by the Word Bearers.
Lorgar and his Legion had successfully prosecuted the Emperor's Great Crusade for almost a standard century, and in that time the Emperor had never once admonished His zealous son or the Word Bearers Legion for their fervent worship of Him even though such doctrine clashed with the Emperor's policy of spreading the Imperial Truth.
But the Emperor, for all His love of His son, was deeply disturbed. He had initially tolerated the beliefs of His deeply religious son, but as the Great Crusade reached its height, the Emperor found Himself increasingly frustrated with the slow pace with which Lorgar conquered and then brought worlds into Compliance for the Imperium.
The Emperor finally ordered the Word Bearers to cease their religious activities, as their mission was to reunify the galaxy under the banner of the secular Imperial Truth, not preach the word of the Emperor's personal divinity. The Emperor had long opposed the spread of organised religion and was determined to use the creation of the new Imperium of Man to enshrine reason and science, not religion, as the true guiding light of a new interstellar human civilisation.
The Emperor was particularly troubled by any notion that He should be worshiped as a god and the actions of the Word Bearers Legion in slaughtering those who refused to accept the Emperor's divinity stank of the religious excesses that had so often poisoned human history.
Once the truth was revealed, it was only a matter of time before the Emperor would be moved to censure the Word Bearers. The links of cause and effect are poorly recorded, but it seems that the Emperor waited for some time after the initial reports reached His court. That He sent missions to assay many more worlds conquered by the Word Bearers is known.
We can only speculate as to why: perhaps He did not want to believe it of His son, perhaps He wanted to be sure, perhaps He was simply gathering information before acting. Some sources indicate that the Emperor confronted Lorgar during this time, that He even told him that if he persisted he would have to suffer the consequences. Imperial scholars cannot know now if this is true, too much has been forgotten, and too much more must never be remembered. What is known, at least, is that the Emperor acted.
In 964.M30, the Emperor rose from His endeavours and called another of His sons to his side. Roboute Guilliman, the primarch of the XIIIth Legion, had a reputation for careful leadership and unbending honesty. No one else witnessed what passed between the two, and Guilliman refused to speak of it, but it can be speculated why the Emperor chose the Ultramarines to be His tool of censure.
It seemed clear that the Emperor did not wish Lorgar or his sons broken, merely set back on the correct path. The Ultramarines Legion were a Legion with an exemplary record of victories and Compliant worlds. Ultramar was even then a growing realm of hundreds of obedient and prosperous star systems.
Across the galaxy the Ultramarines had pushed back the boundaries of the Imperium with energy and a mind for what should follow in the wake of war. They were the Word Bearers' mirror and shadow, alike in so many ways and different in so many others: a living example of what the Word Bearers could be.
Perhaps that was the message carried by the choice of the Ultramarines; that there was hope for glory beyond the shame that must come. Whatever the subtleties of the message of censure, it would, however, be delivered in a manner that could leave no doubt to its meaning.
The Emperor ordered a task force composed of the entire Ultramarines Legion and accompanied by a force of his elite personal bodyguards, the Legio Custodes and the Imperial Regent, Malcador the Sigillite, to raze the capital city of the planet Khur, a world dear to the Word Bearers, who considered its capital, Monarchia, the "perfect city" because of the intense religious devotion of its citizens and the sheer number of cathedrals and monuments dedicated to the worship of the Emperor as the god of humanity.
Following the city's destruction by the Ultramarines, the entire Word Bearers Legion, 100,000 Space Marines strong, were ordered to assemble on the planet's surface, within sight of the smoldering ruins of Monarchia, where its Astartes were humiliated and rebuked by the Emperor Himself, who psychically forced everyone, including Lorgar, to kneel before Him in the ashes of a city which stood for all they had believed and done. He explained to them that they had failed both Him and humanity. He was no god, and would suffer no such belief in His realm.
The Emperor departed, leaving a primarch chastised and a Legion humbled. Lorgar was stunned by his father's reproach and refusal to accept his worship, and fell into a deep melancholy. Some may say that future generations could see all that would come to pass was born in that moment.
That Lorgar was shaken by the shattering of his universe seems likely, but what action did it prompt? At the time some thought that the XVIIth Legion had withdrawn in shame, and that its return to the Great Crusade was fuelled by a wish to atone. Such a kind reading of events no longer rings true.
Instead it seems likely that Lorgar's fall began after Monarchia, that the dark powers of the Warp reached out to him in his moment of doubt and offered him that which the Emperor had denied him: a higher power to believe in. It is not known whom these voices were that counselled him, and the hands that guided him to damnation. Again much remains hidden, but a number of candidates seem likely.
Kor Phaeron, Lorgar's surrogate father on Colchis and close advisor, seems a likely source of poison, as does the Legion's First Chaplain Erebus. Both were steeped in the Old Faith of Colchis, a faith that was likely tainted by the powers of the Warp long before Lorgar fell from the sky.
The word "Pilgrimage" is also one of the few fragments that has emerged as linked with that time, thought its precise significance can now only be guessed at. What cannot now be doubted is that the Word Bearers who re-joined the Great Crusade after the razing of Monarchia no longer served the Emperor.
For over four solar decades the XVIIth Legion wore a false face of loyalty and planted the seeds that would eventually bloom into a galaxy-spanning civil war. The precise nature of their preparations is only open to supposition, but much can be deduced from Lorgar's character and the atrocities that would come later.
First, it seems likely that the Word Bearers' renewed energy in the Great Crusade was a cover for its rapid growth in size, as well as the seeding of its new corrupting creed and belief in Chaos onto new Imperial worlds. It must also have been during this time that the Legion was cleansed of dissent.
The last of the old Iconoclasts who had been a part of the Imperial Heralds, the few Terran-born Astartes of the Legion, and those who would not embrace the new faith must have been put quietly to the sword.
The corruption of much of the apparatus of the Imperium also must have occurred in this time. So it was that when Horus finally fell to the temptations of the Ruinous Powers, Lorgar had already long prepared the ground for war.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre, by Alan Bligh, pp. 140, 260
- The Horus Heresy - Book Five: Tempest, by Alan Bligh, pp. 16-17, 21, 28, 31, 56, 106, 254
- The First Heretic (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- The Purge (Novella) by Ben Counter