The fall of the Wings of Death is a tale of egocentricity, arrogance and pride. Created to be saviours of the people, the Wings were originally a bright spark of hope in the broken Aetherius Stars. The arrival of brother Astartes doomed the Chapter, beginning a descent into self-pity and mourning of shattered honour. Hounded by angelic-daemons, the Wings blamed their own bereavements on others, finding no fault in their own actions. Their thirst for praise and acceptance drove them into the arms of Chaos, into the bosom of Ynsoldea. In the very place they were meant to bring peace they now bring nothing but destruction, becoming the very thing they were created to destroy.
The origins of the Wings of Death are rooted at the start of the thirty-third millennium. After several large-scale incursions into the Imperium, numerous fronts had begun to falter under the pressure of the relentless attacks. In response, the High Lords decided there was an urgent requirement for new chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, and ordered a new founding. One such chapter was the Wings of Death who began their life under the tutelage of the Lions Excisio. A naturally barbaric chapter, these veterans guided the young Astartes into the heat of battle.
Their brutal surgical strikes made the Wings the catalyst for almost all of the victories of the Olorun Campaign, allowing the Imperium to form a stable power base within the Aetherius Stars. As the Imperial Guard finished pacifying the worlds of the Olorun system and specialists brought in to structure the new lands, the Wings looked outwards into the Stars. Continuing their crusade, the Chapter quickly brought a handful of systems to heel gaining a reputation as a valuable ally of the newly formed Olorun Sub-sector Command. Watching eyes hidden deep in the darkness had noticed the growing wealth and power of the Imperium in their lands; they gathered their forces to assault the gains of the Wings.
The Ork Empire Shakgrot and the Chaos war host of De’Kol formed an unholy alliance, urging each other into the guns of the Imperium. It was against these two foes that the Wings tasted their first defeats but also their first truly heroic victories. The defence of three systems finally turned into a counter-assault across four, guardsmen advancing towards the banners of the Chapter who had already found battle. With the enemy routed and forced to flee back into the void of the Aetherius Stars, the Wings had become the figurehead of the sub-sector, toasted across more than a dozen planets and revered as demigods of the Emperor. The Shakgrot-De’Kol wars had only succeeded in cementing the bond between the Chapter and their allies.
Chasing the last remnants of the De’Kol war host, the Wings tore through countless worlds. This onslaught doubled the region requiring the defence of the Imperium, surpassing the capabilities of the sub-sector forces. Although Command pleaded with the Chapter to halt their expansion and to allow time of recuperation, stabilisation and indoctrination of the new populations, the Wings refused. In their eyes, not fighting their crusade when they had the strength to do so would be a crime against the Chapter.
Soon these combat loses became too much, their recruitment rate could not sustain the Chapter any longer. Reluctantly the Wings ceased active operations, leaving the Aetherius Stars for the first time since entering them. The Chapter's retreat abandoned the under-strength Imperial Guard regiments in the hands of a newly founded chapter; the Disciples of Man.
For a time the Wings were absent from the Stars, vowing not to return until they could swear never to falter in their duty. A new influx of recruits swelled the ranks and trained rigorously across dozens of worlds, eager to prove themselves in battle. These skirmishes were for a distant administration for whose internal politics and troubles the Wings cared little. They had become blinkered to the larger purpose of their mission, granting them unquestionable faith, but a cold isolation that would eventually damn them.
Firmly believing that they had once again achieved optimum-fighting efficiency, the Wings returned to the Olorun sub-sector and the Aetherius Stars but found the situation much changed. Many of the worlds, which the Chapter had shed blood for, had been lost to resurgent enemies, the Imperium forced to shorten its borders to be able to fully defend them. Outraged and hurt by the wasting of their lives, the Chapter lost themselves in the history of the past one hundred years, desperate to find answers for their pain. They found such a thing in the Disciples of Man, those who had suggested the withdrawal from the most isolated planets to allow the Imperium to regroup and secure the ground it had managed to keep. The strategy had worked beautifully, the Disciples were able to push the enemy back and retake many of the lost planets more thoroughly than the Wings had ever managed. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Wings, they had been cowards.
The tactical sense of this move was lost on the Wings, and their distaste for the Disciples only worsened as they discovered that many recaptured worlds now praised the new chapter as their saviours. The Wings believed the young chapter were either unable to do their duty, or deceitful for allowing planets to fall only to return them for their own glory. The Wings threw themselves into a series of vicious campaigns aimed at those lost worlds, a move that would only damage their reputation amongst the commanders of the sub-sector.
It was during this period that the first of a number of extraordinary events occurred. On the small mining planet of Rhamiel, an enemy stronghold that a Wings detachment had been unable to secure suddenly fell in the middle of the night to an unknown force. Advancing on the now undefended fortress, the Wings discovered no trace of their unidentified ally bar a scattering of unnatural feathers that the chapter’s librarians confirmed carried the stench of the daemonic about them. Believing the traitorous enemy to have summoned warp-beings that had then turned upon them, the detachment handed over command of the compound to the Imperial Guard, for defensive duties were not the responsibility of mighty Astartes.
The events upon Rhamiel were not isolated, and over the following centuries a further seven cases were reported to the sub-sector’s high command. All followed the same pattern; the enemies of the Wings mysteriously slaughtered whilst little trace of their assailants remained. The reports each contained mention of feathers of daemonic origin and all concluded that their enemy had fallen to the Ruinous Powers that had been rife in the Aetherius Stars after the Heresy. Eventually, though, doubt began to fall upon the Wings of Death.
During the Culex Rebellion alone, four such instances occurred, causing much speculation from Imperial scholars. The revolt caused renewed vigour to understand these appearances, and the Exspes Testimony was drafted with the sole intention of researching the daemons. Unfortunately, the author was not without vice and eager for fame, he played to the scaremongers who believed the Wings of Death to be involved. Due to the decisiveness of the text and the sub-sector's fever against corruption, an external investigation into the Chapter was ordered.
Chapter Master Adnachiel deplored such accusations, but was supremely confident that the Wings would be exonerated. The intrusive investigation was allowed to proceed with the Chapter welcoming Inquisitor Cathegus into the vast Library of Angels that held all their records. Their engagements were watched over by either by aides of the Inquisitor or brothers of the Disciples of Man, ensuring that the Wings played no role in summoning the daemons.
Although their loyalty was in question, the Wings were fierce in their pursuit of enemies, engaging in countless conflicts across many systems. Cathegus’ verdict, entitled the Perfidelis Report, concluded that the Wings of Death were indeed loyal to the Emperor and the daemonic events that had hounded them were merely unfortunate coincidences at best or a cunning strategy by the Ruinous Powers to disrupt the Imperium at worst. Though given a full pardon and an apology by all those involved in the accusations, the Chapter never forgave those who had doubted them and further blamed the Disciples of Man for aiding the investigation.
The Wings became a much-isolated force after the Perfidelis Report, their trust in their allies broken by how little support they had received in their time of need. They looked on enviously as the Disciples of Man acted as the vanguard for numerous famous campaigns, whilst the Wings headed their own, smaller ones. Only able to gain assistance from a few Imperial Guard regiments, the Chapter absorbed the brunt of these wars. Even during these dark days, the Chapter’s faith in the Angelicus Crusade’s holy cause drove them into the heat of battle, each engagement earning them back a fragment of their precious honour.
During this time, the daemonic creatures that had plagued the Chapter were present more than ever. Whispers of the Perfidelis Report begin to resurface; maybe the conclusion had been hasty, maybe victory counts alone had persuaded the Inquisitor. Once more, suspicion began to fall upon the Chapter, deeming their isolation from the Imperium an ill fortune, perhaps they had already strayed too far from the Emperor’s gaze. Through all of this, the Chapter prevailed, their martial strength and unwavering faith never allowing them to falter.
As more praise and gratitude was laid in the hands of the Chapter, the warmth of the Emperor slowly returned to the hearts of the Wings of Death. Their campaigns grew in size, returning to the splendour of their earlier actions, and even occurrences of their daemonic stalkers began to reduce in frequency. Sadly, just as the Chapter seemed to be leaving the depression of the Perfidelis Report behind them, fate struck their pride another cruel blow.
In the great halls of Aeternus, heart of the Olorun system, the bells tolled in celebration for it was three thousand years since the coming of the Disciples of Man. Whilst the capital world praised the younger chapter, the Wings of Death to a marine were engaged in battle. At the forefront of their minds was the lack of their own remembrance, their broken vanity driving them forward into the ranks of the enemy. The tangible relationships that had been painfully reformed lay obliterated in this single instance.
Believing they could resolve the sins of others with the blood of the enemy, the Wings tore towards the edges of Imperial space. Abandoning the hordes of the Imperial Guard behind them to garrison duties, the Chapter took the burden of the causalities as they attempted to find peace once more. True to their word, they never ceased in their holy cause, even when reduced to fewer than two Battle Companies. The advancement of their campaigns was slow, having to return to planets numerous times, as rebellious forces usurped their new lords. Only their faith in themselves kept them fighting, unable to accept they could fail in their duty. These wars would have decimated the Wings beyond the Imperium’s ability, or willingness, to rebuild the Chapter, if it was not for the warp-beings.
With a primal fury, the Chapter disregarded tactical caution and broke through countless ambushes and traps. Without warning, the halls flooded with the crazed citizens of Puch and it seemed the Wings would fall into the history books forever. In their hour of need, it was not the white armour of the Disciples of Man who came to their aid, but the white wings of daemons. With their vigour renewed, the Wings of Death soon brought victory to the Imperium.
In the aftermath of the Puch Rebellion, the Lord Governor of the sub-sector, who originated from the world, held a great festival to rejoice in the triumph. Not wanting to taint their Lord Governor’s home world, the reports left out all mention of the daemons that had aided the Imperium, with the Disciples of Man taking the honour as the saviours. Though they were invited to join the celebration, the Wings never entered the Olorun system, instead limping away to lick their wounds.
It was a turbulent time for the Wings of Death, though their ranks swelled with new recruits to fill the void left by the deaths of so many brothers, they were born into a bitter chapter. The Misgiving of Puch had torn the last shred of hope out of the Chapter, never again would they let lesser men insult them. In this aura of misery, a prophet visited them. A woman who spoke of the Chapter like a child she had nurtured, a prodigy that had matured. She reminded them of who had saved them on Puch, who had aided them countless times before – not the Imperium, not their brethren Astartes, but the angels their shared patron had sent. With the slightest wave of her hand, ghostly images appeared aboard the Eagle’s Pride, all those brothers that had fallen since the start of the Angelicus Crusade – stood side-by-side were ancient Chapter Masters like Adnachiel and Ambriel, marines who had given their lives centuries before. The gesture was too much for the shattered pride of the Wings of Death and they realised the true destiny of their lives. Without a single voice in favour of the Emperor, the Wings pledged their hearts to the prophet and her patron, Ynsoldea. Their first act in Her service was redemption.
The Wings disappeared from Imperial contact for nearly half century, believed to be recuperating from their losses on the fringes of space, before emerging in the Discelo system, home to the Disciples of Man. Offering gestures of brotherhood and penance for their actions, the Wings were granted access to the most sacred of inner sanctums of the Disciples' Fortress-Monastery. From here, they tore the soul out of the loyal chapter without risking the lives of their own men, catching a peaceful enemy unawares. In a slaughter that lasted for seventeen nights and seventeen days, the entire planetary population of Discelo was culled and its cities burnt to the ground. The desecration of the world did not end with simple bloodshed; the monastery itself was reduced to nothing more than rubble, but not before anything of use was pillaged. By the time the Disciples had heard of the destruction of Discelo, the Wings had long disappeared.
Since the destruction of the Disciples, the Wings of Death have embarked on an all-out assault on the Aetherius Stars. Their campaign, dubbed the Daemonicus Crusade by Imperial scholars, has crumbled the Olorun sub-sector in size and wealth, the planets’ worth to the Imperium barely better than before the creation of the Wings. This bloodshed has been brought on two fronts, the civil unrest and out-right rebellion caused through the preaching of Ynsoldea. As entire cultures erupt in brutal wars from within, there is little the Imperium can do besides pray.
Unfortunately, this is a mere ripple of desolation in comparison to that the Chapter itself weighs upon the sub-sector. The fleets of the Wings appear without warning, dropping out of the Immaterium to assault the planet of their choosing. These poorly defended worlds have little hope against the might of Astartes, and soon only blood soaks the ground. Before any effective response can be mustered, the Wings retreat into the shadows to plan their next attack. Massacres such as that of Sorush, and the Dawn of the Endless Night, have ripped the beating heart out of the Olorun sub-sector. Morale and hope are now myths barely whispered by Imperial Commanders, as world after world plummets into anarchy. Even the capital world of Olorun has not escaped the fury of the Wings, the traitorous marines having set foot on the surface three times to bludgeon the civilians into despair.
There have, however, been some who have made a stand against the renegades, with the most effective being Inquisitor Chigi of the Ordo Malleus. The life work of Chigi, the Degeneris Report, tracked the movements and engagements of the Wings of Death since their creation, and for the first time allowed the Imperium to gain valuable insights into the Chapter. Though their targets are difficult to predict, their thirst for acceptance, even in a negative light, revealed that they could be goaded into wars were others would ignore such obvious traps. This allowed the Wings to be brought to battle on multiple occasions, resulting in shattering wars that damaged both sides dearly. Forced to defend their Hives, the people of Mihr manipulated the Wings in to assaulting the highly fortified spires instead of the many weaker ones. The Veronian 87th claimed a famous victory over the Chapter in the forests of Baron Samedi, setting their names forever in the chronicles of the Imperium.
Away from the gaze of the Imperium, the Wings have found battle against the Orks of the Shakgrot clan, an ancient rivalry that has yet to end. Raiders have foolishly attempted to pillage the fleets of the Chapter, paying in blood for their impetuousness. Alien worlds belonging to the Drakor, Ha'then and Brem-inor have all endured wars with the warriors of Ynsoldea. Though the Wings have never splintered into roaming war bands like many that fall to the clutches of Chaos, they have fought against their Ruinous brethren. The De'Kol Martyrs have been purged from the stars, as have the Prophets of Tze and the Mathanian Armies.
How the Wings are able to resupply their munitions and armour is unknown to the Imperium. The Iron Arrogance is known to act as a forge ship, but alone it should not be sufficient to support the Chapter. Whether they hold an empire or group of worlds to strike out from is unknown, the best evidence only suggesting a small number of isolated planets that pledge their services to the Chapter.
The Degeneris Report contained such powerful information that Chigi and his work proved the greatest threat to the Chapter, and they moved against the Inquisitor relentlessly until they captured him. Since Chigi’s death in the torture chambers aboard the Judgment of Ynsoldea, many aspiring members of the Ordos have attempted to rekindle this work. However, none have had the drive and talents of Chigi, and so the threat the Degeneris Report represents to the Wings of Death diminishes with each passing year.
Central to the well-being of the Wings of Death is their knowledge that they are superior to all others. To them this is not a belief, it is a fact proved on the battlefield over millennia. They know that their cause is righteous, their sword-arm strong and their guile limitless. Only in Ynsoldea have they found a being worthy of respect outside of the Chapter, as a brother that bears the winged skull will deem himself an avatar of war without equal. Before their fall, they venerated neither their primarch nor the Emperor, these distant figures paling in the light of their own comrades.
Embracing Ynsoldea as their goddess, the Wings opened themselves up to the dogma of Her followers. Ynsoldea is one of the many lesser Chaos gods that form the pantheon of the Ruinous Powers, although Her power is only limited to the stretches of the Aetherius Stars. A warrior-female with broad angelic wings that curl around Her armour body, She is both a mighty soldier and a tormented soul. Legends tell that Her pierced heart continuously bleeds, a wound caused by the mighty Khorne when she challenged for his throne. Known by many names, including the Bleeding Goddess and the Black Angel, She feeds on the anguish of the prideful, the depression felt by those who feel betrayed by weaker beings; within the Wings She found Her greatest source of power.
Those that follow the Black Angel are typically drawn to battle to prove their worth, firm in the knowledge that they are warriors of the truest ilk. Across the Aetherius Stars, there are an increasing number of cults of Ynsoldea as the Wings spread Her message. Alongside the sermons, rituals have filtered down from chapter to worshippers. The veteran piercing of one heart as a sign of respect towards Ynsoldea, echoing Her every bleeding heart has become commonplace amongst the goddess' pilgrims. Such actions are invariably fatal in normal humans, but an Astartes will endure the torment.
Traditionally known as the Armada of Light within the Aetherius Stars, the Wings of Death fleet has always been a formidable force. Freshly produced from the shipyards of Lebe V and granted to the Chapter upon creation, the Eagle’s Pride is the flagship of the Armada. As well as being a fierce space faring monster, the Pride is also the heart of the chapter, with the labyrinth of corridors leading from its reliquary, to the vital gene-seed stock that ensures the future of the Wings and the Library of Angels that records their past. When the Armada of Light used to arrive in a system, it was an occasion for hope, salvation and joy. It now stands for dread, misery and destruction.
Hundreds, if not thousands, are herded into vast holding pens aboard the Eagle’s Pride. Those who cry after their first nights are quickly culled whilst the survivors are forced to compete in gruelling physical activities for the sparse food supplies they are given. Those too weak to win, or unable to break into the many gangs which form, swiftly die. An unfortunate recruit, taken young from their homes, may spend the better part of a decade in these pens, all the time a poisonous hatred for the Chapter building up inside of them.
At the end of the process, revenge is offered when a single Battle Brother is placed in an arena with ten possible recruits each armed with a short dagger. This is the final chance for the youngster to prove himself, even if unwillingly. The marine uses his combat abilities to incapacitate those selected by his sergeant as worthy to become a member of the Wings of Death, whilst the remaining souls are ruthlessly culled. On rare occasions, in a frenzy of hatred, the teens swamp and kill the Battle Brother; it is said that the famous Captain Nisroc single-handedly defeated his foe.
Once selected to become the very thing they despise, a recruit is mind-wiped of all his past memories, his hatred of the Chapter, his home world and even his own name. The next eight years are of constant indoctrination into the ways of the Wings of Death. The scout’s mind becomes versed in the glories of the Chapter; they murmur the litanies of Ynsoldea as they sleep and heroes long dead haunt their dreams. These years are one of total absorption into the Chapter, and when they finally are able to don their suit of power armour, their love for the Wings is unfaltering. The final initiation is the new recruit's naming ceremony were they spend eight days in the Temple of Ynsoldea until She speaks their name to them through the chaplain.
The Wings of Death still maintain a strong chain of command, the Chapter Master demanding the respect and obedience of the entire chapter. No longer bound to the Codex Astartes, the Chapter’s numbers have waxed and waned over the millennia since their betrayal, depending on the availability of resources and the attrition of war. At its peak, the Chapter grew to twenty-three companies, although an Imperial campaign, coupled with a number of crushing defeats for the Wings, quickly obliterated many of these companies. It is rumoured amongst the sub-sector that once the Chapter was on the brink of extinction, heralding over two centuries of relative peace.
Captains are given the freedom of their company, roaming and slaughtering at their own pleasure. The Armada of Light is typically dispersed, so it is difficult to locate and destroy. It also makes it easier for the Wings to survive against the numerous hunters that wish the Chapter dead. Only the Chapter Master ever knows the location of all his captains, and even then, it is frequently retrospectively. This independence spreads to the organisation of the company and how the captain wishes to take his men to battle. Unable to recruit their own initiates, the companies rely on a supply of fresh brothers from the Chapter Master, ensuring captains always answer to the Chapter itself. Such dependence on the Eagle’s Pride has made it a prime target for the Imperium, as its destruction would mark a blow from which the Chapter would find it difficult to recover.
Remarkably, for a renegade chapter, the Wings have remained a coherent force bowing to the will of one man. Although the continuous supply of fresh Astartes demands the loyalty of the captains, it is a deeper respect that ensures the Chapter does not fragment. Placed second to the whole is the wants of personal gain, with complaints of ill justice quickly settled in the duelling cages. As martial ability is the sole character trait important to a brother, even two conflicting personalities will share a mutual regard for one another. This also guarantees that named successors rarely feel the backlash of politics that may dog even loyal chapters of the Imperium.
True to the teachings of the Lions Excisio, the Wings of Death have always favoured the combative arts of warfare. They are not the butchers or the fanatics of other chapters, but instead are absorbed by the finesse of combat, the precision of the blade and the white of the enemy’s eyes. Each marine will pride himself on the long days spent duelling with his brethren, the battle scars that have each taught him a valuable lesson. A cornerstone to the soul of the Chapter is their mastery of such weapons. Upon their implantation of the Black Carapace, a marine must dedicate his life to a single combat weapon; be it the sword, the axe or something more exotic. This plays a pivotal role in the ritual from brother to sergeant, were the Chapter’s artificers masterfully ensure that the rank equates to a weapon of equal power. Even those assigned ranged weaponry are still required to fulfil their oath. Many an enemy has assaulted the Devastators of the Chapter, believing them an easy prey, only to quickly learn the hard way about their mistake.
Like all Astartes, the Chapter specialise in rapid deployment, surgically striking weak sections of the enemy lines. Drop Pods, armoured transports and Land Speeders are frequently used in the Wings of Death forces, their disdain for defensive actions telling in their deployment. The early parts of the Angelicus Crusade only furthered their skills in dealing with such operations as they were quickly shipped from one battlefront to another. Only in rare circumstances would a force deploy by more mundane methods, when the brute force of orbital deployment would only in result in the death of many brothers.
Though most captains favour such methods, some companies operate differently according to the will of their leader. Captain Purah was famed for his defensive, stoic tactics; so counter to the traditional doctrine of the Chapter that the Imperium questioned whether if he was a true son of Ynsoldea. Still, Land Speeders, Assault Marines and Bike squads are commonplace in most forces - the rapid deployment and manoeuvrability of such equipment echoing in the hearts of all Wings.
Honoured with the purest of gene-seeds, that of Roboute Guilliman, the Wings can draw their lineage back, through the Lions Excisio, to the Ultramarines themselves. The last samples tithed to the Adeptus Mechanicus before the fall of the Chapter showed no hints of taint or signs of mutation. However, since their traitorous actions, the tendrils have Chaos have spoilt this genetic heritage. Unlike their traitorous brethren that hide within the Eye of Terror, or similar tears in reality, the Wings are not blessed with elongated life spans bar those few especially favoured by Ynsoldea. Mutations are rife amongst some companies, whilst others have remained surprisingly pure. The infamous Captain Sariel purged a vast swathe of the Aetherius Stars before his so-called Possessed Company fully fell to the changing ways of Chaos.
Whilst “In Ynsoldea’s name!” has become a popular battle cry since their fall, traditionally each brother would scream their own name as they charged into battle. Only the brethren of the Wings of Death would be so vain as to applaud themselves in combat.
Edited by Ferrata, 06 March 2011 - 11:03 AM.