- "You have committed the ultimate heresy. Not only have you turned your back on the Emperor and stepped from His light, you have profaned His name and almost destroyed everything He has striven to build. You have perverted and twisted the path He has laid for Mankind to tread. As your own decrees have stated, there can be no mercy for such a crime, no pity for such a criminal. I renounce your lordship; you walk in the darkness and cannot be allowed to live. Your sentence has been long overdue and now it is time for you to die."
The Reign of Blood was the name of the brutal period of Imperial history that occurred in the early centuries of the 36th Millennium, when the power-hungry tyrant, the Renegade High Lord of Terra Goge Vandire, gained direct control over the Adeptus Ministorum as well as the Adeptus Administratum by usurping the position of Ecclesiarch. This made him the single most powerful individual in the Imperium since the time of the Great Crusade, and this allowed him to place his own rule above that of the Emperor of Mankind.
While Vandire ruled, he carried out massive purges of the Ecclesiarchy and the rest of the Adeptus Terra as well as a campaign of targeted killings and assassinations of countless perceived Traitors, Heretics and conspirators against his rule. Fortunately, his brutal reign came to an end with the coming of the preacher Sebastian Thor and his reborn Confederation of Light, a sect of the Imperial Cult based on the previous Confederation of Light's banned teachings, that sought to end Goge Vandire's corruption of Imperial theology.
High Lord Vandire was in power for almost a standard century before finally being overthrown in the midst of the Terran Crusade and slain by his own bodyguards, the Daughters of the Emperor, who later became the Sisters of Battle. The end of the Reign of Blood resulted in a major reformation of the Ecclesiarchy, the creation of the Imperial Inquisition's Ordo Hereticus to police those enemies of the Imperium who lay within its own structures and the creation of the Adepta Sororitas to serve as both the Ecclesiarchy's new military force and the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Hereticus.
At the dawn of the 34th Millennium the Adeptus Ministorum held nigh total power, which it used to ensure that every single subject of the Emperor of Mankind in the Imperium paid his dues, both spiritually and financially, to the duly appointed officers of the faith. Zeal eclipsed reason, and misrule reigned supreme. The word of the Emperor was subverted wholesale by corrupt ideologues, each struggling to usurp total control for themselves. In time, the Ministorum exercised such power that it began to dictate the policies of the Senatorum Imperialis of the High Lords of Terra. The Ecclesiarch came to be viewed as speaking with the authority of the Emperor Himself, and he influenced every aspect of the governance of the Imperium.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the other great bureaucracies of the Imperium should grow resentful of the Ministorum. The Adeptus Administratum in particular found its own powers greatly curtailed, for the Ministorum's tithes took precedence over its own raising of funds and resources, leaving little in the coffers to pay for the running of the Imperium. The Administratum's influence soon waned so far that the Ministorum was able to dictate policy in secular matters as well. The raising and deployment of armies, the prosecution of wars, the commitment of significant Imperial resources and the appointment of sector lords all fell under the effective control of the Ministorum. In time, other institutions began to distrust the Ministorum's power, and the Adeptus Astartes and the Adeptus Mechanicus in particular became increasingly estranged. This dark period of history in the 36th Millennium came to be known as the Age of Apostasy.
Seeds of Heresy
Over the course of the 35th Millennium, the Administratum managed to claw back some of its former influence, but only through a series of machinations that were ultimately to the detriment of the Imperium as a whole. By the insinuation of covert supporters into key positions of power across the Imperium, the Administratum slowly eroded its rival's power and ensured that those officials the Ministorum did succeed in placing were weak, incompetent or venal. Though this ruthlessly instigated policy regained some of the Administratum's lost power, it set in motion a series of events that would see the Imperium face its greatest catastrophe since the Horus Heresy.
In an effort to reverse the decline in its fortunes, Ecclesiarch Benedin IV declared that the Ministorum's upper echelons would move from Terra to the planet of Ophelia VII, a world in the Segmentum Tempestus and one of the richest in the Imperium after Terra and Mars. Moving the operations of the Holy Synod to Ophelia VII was a vast undertaking, but the effort proved well worthwhile. Separated from the machinations of the Senatorum Imperialis by ten thousand light years, the Ministorum's power waxed anew. The Synod became a force unto itself, and freed from the interference of the other High Lords the Ecclesiarch was able to raise entire armies and fleets in order to enforce its newfound influence across the Imperium. These forces, known as the Frateris Templar, came to rival the conventional military armies and fleets of the Imperium, and they soon came to be greatly resented wherever they travelled.
Three hundred standard years into this new age of influence and power in the late 35th Millennium, Greigor XI was elected to the rank of Ecclesiarch. Heralded as a deeply spiritual individual who desired only that the faithful work together as one, Greigor announced that the Holy Synod would return to its rightful home on Terra, the seat of the Emperor and the heart of the Imperium. The cardinals opposed this course, not least because the Ministorum was so firmly entrenched upon Ophelia VII that a move would be a vast logistical exercise that would stretch the institution's resources to the limit. Subsequent history would prove the naysayers entirely correct, but none were able to deter Greigor from his grand undertaking. The relocation took over a decade to organise and carry out, and it was only possible due to a massive increase in the Ministorum's tithes. Greigor XI was discovered dead, the victim of food poisoning. The true cause of his death may never be known, but the anarchy deepened still further as the Ministorum's upper echelons continued as before, imposing more unreasonable demands on their congregations. Eventually, entire worlds buckled under the strain, their own populations starving to fund the reconstruction of the long-abandoned Ecclesiarchy palaces on Terra.
Age of Apostasy
As if the situation could not get any worse, the entire Imperium was soon plunged in the early 36th Millennium into even deeper despair. The incidence of Warp Storms, a phenomenon that cuts off vast swathes of the Imperium's space from interstellar travel, increased by an order of magnitude. The Warp began to seethe with roiling energies which bled forth into realspace, making travel between anything other than worlds in the same planetary system increasingly perilous. The central governance of worlds that was limited to only periodic contact at the best of times entirely collapsed. Seeing that their foes were tearing themselves apart, the myriad enemies of humanity struck. The Traitor Legions sallied forth from the Eye of Terror, using their own blasphemous sorceries to strike planets otherwise cut off from outside aid. Orks traversed the Warp in their ramshackle Space Hulks, uncaring where the tides of the Empyrean regurgitated them and wreaking havoc in regions previously beyond their reach. The Dark Eldar used their Webway to freely navigate the galaxy, and struck wherever they desired, dragging millions of captives screaming to their infernal realm of Commorragh, to suffer tortures and degradations beyond a sane man's imagination.
The entire Imperium was gripped by an apocalyptic frenzy of doom and anarchy. Countless new sects sprung into being, many proclaiming that the God-Emperor was enacting his final judgement upon Mankind and that the End Times were at hand. No world was untouched by the anarchy, as whole populations rose up in increasingly bizarre and extravagant acts of penance and self-flagellation. Anyone who dared attempt to reason with such doomsayers were declared Heretics, and world after world tore themselves apart in an orgy of bloodletting and violent penance.
Rise of High Lord Goge Vandire
Goge Vandire was the 361st Master of the Adeptus Administratum, a position he had attained in the early centuries of the 36th Millennium by the ruthless application of bribes, threats and outright assassination. A strident opponent of the Ministorum, Vandire had plotted against it for many years. Shortly before his ascension to the rank of High Lord of Terra, Vandire brought about the selection of a man of his own choosing to head the Ecclesiarchy, ensuring that none could stand before his subsequent rise. The new Ecclesiarch, Paulis III, was perhaps the weakest man ever to have served in that office, and soon after his ascension rumours regarding the myriad degeneracies in which he revelled began to circulate amongst the upper echelons of the Imperium's ruling bodies. As confidence in the new Ecclesiarch plummeted, Goge Vandire made his move.
Leading a band of his most trusted retainers, the Master of the Administratum forced entry into the Ecclesiarchal Palace, gunning down any who attempted to deny them access to Paulis' personal wing. It is said that when Vandire and his men came upon the Ecclesiarch, he was engaged in some vile debauchery that, were if known to the people, would bring eternal shame down upon the entire Imperium. Without trial or appeal, Paulis was slain. In a daring coup, Vandire proclaimed himself both the new Ecclesiarch and Master of the Administratum, claiming control of both institutions.
The next days saw the High Lord consolidate his power in a series of brutal purgings of the Holy Synod. Many Cardinals simply fled before Vandire's warriors could come for them, while others were defiant, mounting futile, if brave objections. These were slaughtered, to be replaced with men either so weak that they would obey Vandire's every word, or by cunning supporters who shared his own agenda. With his power base firmly established, High Lord Vandire was able to give free rein to the unfettered extremes of his ambition. Whether or not Vandire was unbalanced before his rise, after it was achieved he plumbed new depths of insanity. The High Lord claimed that he spoke with the authority of the Emperor Himself, and that he communed with the God-Emperor during the many trance-like fugues into which he would regularly fall. Coming out of these trances, the High Lord would enter a rage, insisting that his every utterance be transcribed by the army of clerks that waited on his every word. Many of these orders defied logic, with Vandire taking violent action against whole sections of the Imperium's population.
Breaking Lord Phaedrus
During this time, Vandire had considerable trouble bringing the Adeptus Astra Telepathica under his control. Lord Phaedrus, the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, was a potent psyker and as such was not swayed by Vandire's charisma or charm. Phaedrus saw through Vandire's veil of lies and deceits, and understood the corrupt High Lord's true intentions. Vandire realised that Phaedrus was using his considerable psychic abilities to stay one step ahead of him, and simply killing Phaedrus would never do, for he would just be replaced by a powerful psyker of equal potency. To remove Phaedrus required a much more cunning plan.
Luring the Master of the Astra Telepathica into a trap, Vandire utilised the innate anti-psyker abilities of a Culexus Temple Assassin to nullify Phaedrus' psychic abilities. The helpless Phaedrus was then strapped into a specially prepared life-support machine, where the Culexus Assassin permanently severed Phaedrus' ability to tap into the Warp, making him incapable of using psychic powers. Such an operation would have normally killed the powerful psyker, but with the life-support system and a bribed Magos Biologis, Vandire was able to keep Phaedrus alive. Robbed of his psychic powers, Phaedrus was utterly distraught, which resulted in his multiple attempts to take his own life. But Vandire was always there to thwart him, removing the blade from his hand or to loosen the noose around his neck. In the end, Phaedrus was broken and Vandire achieved his aim: control over the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. If Phaedrus did his bidding, Vandire promised that he would not disclose the loss of his psychic capabilities to his subordinates, who would have immediately replaced him, and even worse, pitied him. With his powerful position put in jeopardy, Phaedrus had little choice in the matter and acquiesced to all of Vandire's heretical demands.
Brides of the Emperor
Through trickery and manipulation, Vandire's grip on the Imperium increased still further when he managed to co-opt Alicia Dominica and her Sisters of the newly-discovered all-female religious order known as the Daughters of the Emperor from the world of San Leor into his personal bodyguard, renaming them the Brides of the Emperor. Vandire convinced the Daughters that he was personally blessed by the Emperor when he told Dominica to fire a weapon at him. The shot bounced off of the High Lord, who was secretly wearing a Conversion Field generator, though he pretended that it was the Emperor Himself who would not allow him to be harmed, earning the Daughters' absolute but naive loyalty. He then took the Daughters as his new Ecclesiarchal bodyguard back with him to Terra. From then on, the warrior women became his personal retinue of soldiers and companions, and Vandire called them the Brides of the Emperor. They were trained by the best mentors in the Imperial Guard to combine their own skills with the modern weapons of war. Word of their dedication to the protection of Vandire spread throughout the Imperium. They were his constant guardians and his silent executioners, who would kill with a word from their lord.
The Brides not only served as Vandire's bodyguard, but also as his servants and companions. They tasted the High Lord's food, fed him when he fell weak with illness, nursed his frail body back to health and entertained him with singing, dancing and other, more exotic skills. For all their gaiety on occasion, the Brides of the Emperor were still hardened fighters, and when the Holy Synod of the Ecclesiarchy tried to have Vandire assassinated a few years later to rid themselves of the tyrant, the Brides went into the Synod's meeting chambers, locked the doors, and emerged an hour later carrying the severed heads of every Cardinal present.
Reign of Blood
This violent repression and wanton slaughter continued for seven standard decades after Vandire's ascension to the Ecclesiarchal Palace, and provided a new name for Vandire's rule -- the Reign of Blood. The immense resources of the Adeptus Ministorum were directed towards bloodthirsty pograms against often imagined Heretics and the building of immense new monuments to the Emperor and Vandire. However, Vandire's insanity was always directed outwards, and though distant planets boasted mile-high spires and cathedrals, the Terran Ecclesiarchal Palace was allowed to fall into decay once more. Vast wings of the palace fell silent, none save the Brides of the Emperor daring to enter the presence of the High Lord, so erratic had his outbursts become. For the masses, there were only two choices. Submit utterly to the rule of High Lord Vandire, or be crushed by the Brides of the Emperor and the Frateris Templar. Those worlds not gripped by anarchy or locked within the deadly embrace of Warp Storms were entirely in Vandire's thrall, the toils of the populations directed towards his glory. Yet, in one distant corner of the galaxy, upon the once decimated world of Dimmamar, there sparked a glimmer of hope. That hope was a man, and his name was Sebastian Thor.
Sebastian Thor was a supremely humble priest of the Imperial Creed, who never courted or coveted the immense power he would one day come to wield. He was a simple preacher, but the passion and wisdom of his oratory caused the faithful of Dimmamar to flock to him from far and wide. He spoke out against the injustice of the High Lord's rule, and while most who did so would soon be ruthlessly suppressed, his supporters always protected him from the attentions of Vandire's agents. In fact, many of the assassins dispatched to deal with the bothersome backwater rabble-rouser were converted themselves, and protected him against many subsequent assassination attempts. In a rage, Vandire mustered a vast army of the Frateris Templar at the Clax System, and dispatched them to Dimmamar to reduce the nest of Heretics to ashes once and for all. The army never arrived, for the vessels of the fleet that carried it were torn apart as they traversed the Warp, by a Warp Storm so mighty it afflicts the region still, 4,000 Terran years later. Astropaths and others gifted with the psyker's power claim the screams of those slain in the so-called "Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath" can be heard there even now.
Soon, Thor had amassed a sizeable following, and people were even travelling from off-world to hear his impassioned sermons. It was then that members of the proscribed Confederation of Light came to Thor, men who had hidden their faith since the dark time of the First War of Faith in the 33rd Millennium. What words passed between Sebastian Thor and these hooded ambassadors may never be known, but Thor and the Confederation became as one, and those who had been so ruthlessly suppressed centuries earlier were once more a force in the galaxy.
The Adeptus Astartes and the Adeptus Mechanicus had both become estranged from Terra, fortifying their own fiefdoms while undertaking their traditional duties as best they could. Space Marines still stood against marauding aliens and the Forge Worlds of the Mechanicus still churned out the arms and armaments needed to defend humanity from its many enemies. Yet, both institutions did so according to their own judgement, rarely coordinating their long-term goals with those of Terra. The Mechanicus and the mighty Space Marine Chapters continued to play only a small role in the events of the Age of Apostasy. The vagaries of Warp travel made any long distance journeys hazardous at best and impossible in some areas. Instead, the Adeptus Astartes' Chapter planets and the Forge Worlds of the Adeptus Mechanicus became fortresses amidst a sea of anarchy. These organisations were on the defensive, protecting the few star systems they could from the ravages of the Age of Apostasy and the carnage of Vandire's Reign of Blood. With news of Sebastian Thor and the spread of his mighty army of the faithful -- the Confederation of Light -- many Space Marine Chapter Masters in the Segmentum Solar and the sectors nearest to Terra in the rest of the Imperium began voicing their support for this reform movement.
The Chapter Masters of the Adeptus Astartes and the Fabricators of the Adeptus Mechanicus began to voice their concerns. Gastaph Hedriatix, the Fabricator-General of Mars and the very highest of the servants of the Machine God, issued a demand to the Holy Synod of the Ecclesiarchy. The High Lord had to be immediately indicted and called to account for his deeds. In response, Vandire dissolved the Senatorum Imperialis, the Council of the High Lords of Terra, and ordered what forces he had left to assault those of the Adeptus Astartes and the Adeptus Mechanicus who questioned his authority. Needless to say, most of Vandire's commanders refused such a suicidal course of action, and the insane High Lord condemned these as Heretics. Finally, the Fabricator-General saw that he and his allies had no choice but to depose Vandire themselves. A vast army of Adeptus Mechanicus Tech-Guard, spearheaded by four Chapters of Space Marines -- the Imperial Fists, Fire Hawks, Soul Drinkers, and Black Templars, launched themselves towards Terra to besiege the Ecclesiarchal Palace in 378.M36 in what became known as the Terran Crusade.
Reign of Blood Ends
Ultimately, it was not the armies of the Space Marines and the Tech-Priests that brought about the doom of the High Lord Vandire. It was his most trusted companions, the sisterhood of the Brides of the Emperor.
Throughout the Reign of Blood, one faction had remained apart from the bloodshed and devastation of the era. Within the secure walls of the Imperial Palace, the Adeptus Custodes, the guardians of the Emperor Himself, had continued their eternal vigil over the Golden Throne. To escape the anarchy that prevailed in the wider Imperium, and to ensure the protection of the Emperor, the Custodians had cut themselves off from the outside completely. Only scraps of information passed through the sealed walls of that most sacred of places in the galaxy, and it was only when the Space Marines and the Adeptus Mechanicus moved against Vandire that the full extent of the treachery perpetrated by the Renegade High Lord became known to them. In secret meetings with the commanders of the Space Marines, the Adeptus Custodes learned of the Reign of Blood and how the Brides of the Emperor defended the traitorous High Lord. The mysterious order advised the Space Marines to continue their attack while they would do what they could.
A small contingent of Custodians, led by a Centurion of the Companions, made its way into the very heart of Vandire's domain. Surfacing within the Ecclesiarchal Palace not far from Vandire's audience chamber, they were confronted by the Brides of the Emperor. Calling for a truce and a parley, the Centurion laid down his weapons and walked unarmed to meet the guardians of Vandire. For an hour he made an impassioned plea for the Brides to revoke their oaths, striving to convince them that they were fighting for evil, not the Emperor. However, they were not to be swayed by his arguments, and the nameless Centurion had only one option left. Leaving his men as hostages, the Centurion guided their leader, Alicia Dominica and her personal bodyguard of five female warriors (Arabella, Katherine, Lucia, Mina, and Silvana), into the center of the Imperial Palace itself -- the Sanctum Imperialis, to stand before the God-Emperor upon his Golden Throne.
What occurred in this most sacred of chambers is not recorded, but when the Brides of the Emperor stepped through the Eternity Gate once more into the Outer Palace, their eyes burned with unparalleled anger and hatred. Without a word, the Centurion led them back through the dark places of the earth, this time leading them directly back to Vandire's Audience Chamber in the Ecclesiarchal Palace. Alicia Dominica spoke of the treachery of Vandire and his depraved corruption of the Ecclesiarchy, but most of all she spoke of his twisted perversion of their own Order. Burning with shame and anger, they renounced the name of the Brides of the Emperor and once again became the Daughters of the Emperor.
Alicia Dominica and her vengeful Sisters confronted the corrupt Vandire within his own chambers. The words that she spoke during this confrontation are engraved upon the black marble of her sarcophagus:
"You have committed the ultimate heresy. Not only have you turned your back on the Emperor and stepped from His light, you have profaned His name and almost destroyed everything He has striven to build. You have perverted and twisted the path He has laid for Mankind to tread. As your own decrees have stated, there can be no mercy for such a crime, no pity for such a criminal. I renounce your lordship; you walk in the darkness and cannot be allowed to live. Your sentence has been long overdue and now it is time for you to die."
With this proclamation, Dominica drew her Power Sword and held it aloft for all to see. Vandire glanced around the assembled warriors, his brow knitted in confusion. Even at the end, the insane High Lord appeared so divorced from reality that he could scarcely comprehend Alicia's words. Shaking his head slightly, the High Lord whispered his last words, "I don't have time to die...I'm too busy!" The Power Sword slashed down, beheading the traitorous High Lord in one stroke. It is said that Vandire's Rosarius, which had protected him upon San Leor, now failed him, its gleaming form cleaved in two by Alicia's blow. The Reign of Blood had ended with a blade wielded by the hand of true faith.
With Vandire's death, order was restored to the Imperium. Sebastian Thor became the new Ecclesiarch, and he moved to dismantle most of Vandire's "reforms" and the political power base he had used to enact his tyranny. Independent High Lords of Terra were restored to all of the positions on the Senatorum Imperialis, and the Ecclesiarchy and the Administratum once more became autonomous, and highly competitive, Adepta. To restore the proper role of the Adeptus Ministorum in the Imperium, Thor dismantled the fanatical legions and fleets of the Frateris Templar, and issued the Decree Passive, which held that the Ecclesiarchy could maintain "no men under arms." However, seeing that the Ministorum still had need of armed protectors who could work the will of the God-Emperor and undertake Wars of Faith when necessary, Thor soon exploited the loophole in his own decree and transformed the Daughters of the Emperor into the Adepta Sororitas' Orders Militant, who became better known in the Imperial imagination as the Sisters of Battle. Thor also reshaped the Ecclesiarchy, founding the Holy Synod of Terra, a council comprised of all the Cardinals in the Imperium, which would collectively shape religious doctrine for the state, thus preventing any one man from reshaping the Imperial Creed to his own benefit. One unexpected outcome of the Reign of Blood were the secret Wars of Vindication that began within the Officio Assassinorum and led to outright conflict within the Imperial Palace itself for a time.
But Thor was not the only one who sought to restore balance to the Imperium's political structure. To prevent another tyrant like Vandire from ever again arising from within the Imperium's own internal power structure, two new divisions of the Inquisition were created: the Ordo Hereticus, tasked with eliminating all threats to the Emperor's will which came from within the Imperium, no matter how high up they were to be found, and the Ordo Sicarius, which was tasked with policing the Officio Assassinorum and ensuring that no Imperial Assassin would ever again get diverted from his task to serve his own ambitions. The Sisters of Battle were named the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Hereticus, for while they shared the faith of the Ministorum, their ultimate loyalty was to the God-Emperor alone -- and the Inquisition always spoke for the Emperor. In a clash between the Ministorum and the needs of the Imperium as defined by the Ordo Hereticus, the Orders Militant always looked to the Inquisition first.
- Codex: Assassins (2nd Edition), pg. 24
- Codex: Black Templars (4th Edition), pg. 19
- Codex Imperialis (2nd Edition)
- Codex: Sisters of Battle (2nd Edition), pp. 13-14, 16, 18, 35
- Codex: Witch Hunter (3rd Edition), pp. 4, 6
- Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs (RPG), pg. 9-14, 36
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), p. 61-64
- Inquisitor (Sourcebook), pp. 108-109
- Necromunda (Sourcebook) (2nd Edition), pp. 123, 191-198
- Necromunda (Sourcebook) (1st Edition), pg. 81
- Necromunda Magazine Vol. 1, 2, "House of Iron", pp. 28-29
- Necromunda Magazine 2, pp. 30-35
- Necromunda: Outlanders Rulebook pg. 33, 77
- Necromunda: Underhive (Living Rulebook edition), pg. 79
- Sisters of Battle (5th Edition)
- Warhammer Monthly 18, pg. 3
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 158-159
- White Dwarf 312 (UK), "Righteous Victories" by Graham McNeill
- White Dwarf 302 (US), "Necromunda - The Iron Lords", pg. 91
- White Dwarf 196 (UK), "'Eavy Metal: Redemptionists - The Witch Hunters", pp. 5, 54
- White Dwarf 191 (UK), pg. 6
- White Dwarf 190 (UK), "Gang Warfare!", pg. 8
- The Outcast Dead (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Mechanicum (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Daenyathos (Novella) by Ben Counter
- Outlander (Novel) by Matt Keefe, pp. 12, 34, 163-164, 207
- The Redeemer (Graphic Novel) written by Pat Mills and Debbie Gallagher and illustrated by Wayne Reynolds