I really enjoyed writing it and I hope it shows. Many thanks to Ferrata, Ace Debonair(e) Sigismund Himself, Strike Captain Lysimachus, Grey Hunter Ydalir, Hemal and Nephren-ka for the feedback and ideas during the development process.
Unable to stand by and allow the Imperium to destroy their homeworld of Caliban, the Dark Angels were forced to rebel against the Emperor, and even their own uncaring Primarch, Lion El’Jonson. With the advent of the Dornian Heresy, Luther took the Astartes under his command to Istvaan, and publically allied the legion with the rebellion, assuring that the Dark Angels would forever be seen as traitors by the Imperium. Though they were able to defeat the Lion on his vengeful return to Caliban, the Emperor’s psychic intervention to save those Unforgiven Dark Angels who had remained loyal to Jonson reduced the planet to an uninhabitable ruin. With their homeworld destroyed, Luther and his Dark Angels wield the power of the Warp as a weapon in their search for the Unforgiven, that they might finally convince them of their error in supporting the Lion during the schism.
However, in the face of such adversity the nobility of the human spirit still prevailed. Knightly orders, sworn to protect the people of Caliban, made it their calling to hunt down and destroy the great beasts. It was one of these expeditions that came across the infant primarch wandering deep in the heart of the forests. Having been starved of human contact, the boy was feral, and yet his presence and spirit was unmistakable. The leader of the knights, a great man called Luther, adopted the child as though he were his own son, and named him Lion El’Jonson, or ‘The Lion, the son of the Forest’ in their dialect. Many and varied were the tests and trials to be accepted into the Order, as the knights called themselves, but Luther was an excellent tutor, and the Lion a natural warrior and strategist. From Walking the Spiral, where they honed their sword-craft into a defence against any foe, to the Verbatim - their book of tactics and teachings - Jonson excelled. When he returned from the quest to hunt down and kill one of the great beasts, he did so bearing the body of the most feared and terrible creature on the planet; that of a Calibanite lion. Such a feat was more than enough to see him admitted to the Order as a full Knight.
Luther had always been seen as a future leader of the Order, but the arrival of the Lion had changed all that. Jonson had been gene-crafted to command the Emperor’s legions, and these innate skills saw him rapidly eclipse his mentor. But for all of the Lion’s peerless talents, an echo of the feral forest child still remained. There was a coldness and detachment from human emotion about him, his bonhomie always a fraction forced and stilted. To Luther’s credit, he was never taunted by petty jealousy, as within the Lion El’Jonson he saw the chance to do something more than simply continue the endless war against the great beasts. There was an opportunity to unite all of the knightly orders and eliminate the abominations from the face of the world once and for all. Certain that Jonson was the saviour of Caliban and its people, Luther put aside personal ambition, and made it his sole purpose to ensure their shared vision came to fruition.
Though it took many years of blood and toil, the great beasts were systematically purged from the forests, with the forbidding Northwilds their last refuge. The final sweep brought them into contact with a group calling themselves the Knights of Lupus, which had always been vehemently opposed to their crusade. Upon approaching their fortress, it became clear why this had been so. In their isolation, they had taken to the study of sorcery, and even held a menagerie of the great beasts. That a knight could ever fall to such corruption filled Luther with loathing, and the resulting war was crushing and swift. With their protectors destroyed, the crusade to purify Caliban continued apace, and inside a short span the very last great beast was put to the sword by the Lion himself.
Shortly after, as though it had been some form of knightly test of his worth, the Emperor arrived upon Caliban to greet His lost son. With Him came the Astartes of the First Legion, super-beings which had been patterned upon Jonson’s own genetic code. The Lion was named lord and primarch of the new Dark Angels, and Caliban became the legion’s new homeworld. Jonson decreed that the best of the Order be inducted into the legion, and to ensure that they always had a plentiful supply of arms and weapons, Caliban was to take its place in the Imperium as a ‘properly industrialised world’.
As only the youngest members of the Order were able to be fully transformed with the gifts of gene-seed, Luther was denied the chance to become a full Astartes. Instead he was given extensive augmentation using the new Imperial science, and made up for any deficiency with characteristic skill and resolve. By the time the Dark Angels were ready to take their allotted place in the Emperor’s Great Crusade, Luther had risen through merit to once more become Jonson’s second in command.
Years turned into decades, and while the Astartes of the training garrison continued to perform their duties admirably, there was no sign of them ever being allowed to rejoin the Great Crusade, or even that the Lion would return to his own homeworld. Though it was not discussed openly, there was a growing unease that their primarch had turned his back on Caliban. Worse still was the way their beloved planet had been changed since the arrival of the Imperium. Its verdant forests had been all-but destroyed to make way for mines and manufactories, and its people had been forced out of their ‘unproductive’ settlements. Instead they were housed in grey, soulless hive-cities called arcologies. Despite the introduction of Imperial medical technologies, health and life expectancy had if anything begun to worsen, and simmering discontent had broken out into strikes, civil disobedience and even riots.
Luther recognised that Caliban’s true riches lay not in its minerals or war production, but in the courage and vitality of its people, yet time and again his protests over the devastation of their planet in despatches to the Lion were ignored. When the astropathic response finally came, it chilled Luther to the bone. Instead of throwing his support behind Luther’s calls, he seemed concerned primarily with ensuring that his expedition’s lines of supply did not become over-extended. Their success had taken the legion so far from the homeworld that Jonson had long considered recruiting closer to the front lines. If the industrialisation of Caliban had reduced their suitability as aspirants, then now would seem the prudent time for the training garrison to select a more productive world. The revelation that his primarch was willing to turn his back on their home so completely shocked Luther to the core. He had always considered Lion El’Jonson to be the deliverer of his planet and saviour of its people, but now it was clear that he was willing to see Caliban and its people pay the price for his naked ambition.
Tragedy was piled upon tragedy when an investigation into the riots at the Northwilds arcology revealed massed sacrifices and the practice of base sorcery. Such practices had echoes of atrocities they had witnessed on Warp-corrupted planets during their short time in the Great Crusade, although they never thought such things could occur on Caliban. While they were able to stop the rite from being completed, and the entity prevented from manifesting, it laid bare the canker at Caliban’s heart. The arcology had been built upon the remains of the Knights of Lupus’ fortress – the group which had sheltered the great beasts - but the corruption which permeated the area still endured. The Dark Angels were not alone in comprehending the grave nature of the situation, as Imperial investigators dug through the ruins, and came to the same conclusion. From having witnessed the purges the Imperium meted out to the populations of such warp-tainted planets, Luther knew that the same fate would befall his world if news of it got out. He could not stand by and let Caliban and its people be destroyed. Their only option was to break away from the Imperium.
At Luther’s command, all communication and travel out of Caliban was stopped, and the Imperial representatives preparing reports on the matter taken into custody. Non-indigenous workers and military personnel were hunted down and interned, and the few Terran-born Dark Angels among their ranks made to choose where their true loyalties lay. For a short while their secret was safe, but it was only a matter of time before the silence, or merely the interruption in the flow of recruits to the Lion’s expeditions, would be noticed.
In preparation for the inevitable Imperial response, every possible advantage was sought. This even included appealing to the mythical race of creatures known as the Watchers in the Dark, which according to folklore were said to be the guardians of the Calibanite forests. Even with all of the planet’s formidable defences at their disposal, and the armouries emptied to equip the civilian population, they would eventually be crushed by the might of the Imperium. Only then did Luther learn of another, much more potent source of power that could be wielded – that of the daemon which lay beneath the Northwilds.
The mysterious Lord Cypher proved to be not just the guardian of the legion’s traditions, but also the keeper of forbidden knowledge into the nature of Chaos. He claimed that the Knights of Lupus had made a close study of such things, and that their great library, which held all manner of arcane secrets, had not in fact been burned. Luther was revolted by the idea of embracing the power they had so long fought against, but with the shadow of death looming large, he regretfully accepted Cypher’s aid.
Though Luther was unwilling to abandon his prepared defences, Dorn’s rebellion seemed to be their only chance at throwing off the oppressive yoke of the Imperium. Dorn made offers of aid in their fight, and pointed out that the Lion’s expeditions were so deeply entrenched within the Ghoul Stars that Luther’s forces would be able to make the trip to Istvaan and back comfortably before the loyalists would be able to get back to Caliban. Though the offers of aid were tempting, what finally convinced Luther to join Dorn at Istvaan was that it would be the perfect opportunity to irreparably blacken Lion El’Jonson’s reputation. By going to Istvaan, the Dark Angels – all Dark Angels - would be seen as traitors and heretics however vociferously it might be denied by their primarch.
Despite the relatively small number of Dark Angels present at Istvaan, the legion reaped a bloody tally against the loyalist Raven Guard. Corax’s desperation to find Rogal Dorn drove them to attack the rebel lines time and again, only to find their famed feints predicted, cut off and destroyed with consummate skill. When the slaughter was over, and the survivors spread the word of the rebellion across the Imperium, the name of Lion El’Jonson was spoken with the same contempt as that of Guilliman, Manus, Vulkan and Dorn. His task complete, Luther returned to his homeworld not with weapons or siege-masters, but with certain arcane devices crafted to his own specification, and a name. It was the true name of the daemonic entity which dwelled beneath the savage Northwilds of Caliban.
While the weak of mind were susceptible to the corruptions of Chaos, Luther proved to be naturally adept at wielding it as a weapon without being affected by its more self-destructive excesses. He taught this ability, which he called ‘Walking the Spiral’ due to its similarities to the Calibanite method of practicing swordplay, to the rest of the training garrison, the better to protect them against the coming storm.
So it was that Lion El’Jonson returned to Caliban for the first time in more than half a century, and he did it at the head of a massed war-fleet. Luther had dubbed them the ‘Unforgiven’, both by the Imperium for their perceived treachery, and for the way they had betrayed Caliban. The angry hails for an explanation, so long met with stony silence, finally received a response, as every orbital defence battery and missile silo opened fire. Almost ignored amongst the exchange of firepower, the true danger to the fleet was summoned from beneath the Northwilds, and unleashed against the Lion’s ships. Coils of warp-energy made daemon-flesh materialised around the vessels, constricting and crushing hulls like eggshells.
The sky was raked with fire as - in extremis - drop-pods blossomed from the dying ships. Countless thousands of Dark Angels rained down upon their homeworld not in their usual coordinated strikes, but simply to escape certain death in orbit. With no preliminary bombardment to suppress enemy ground fire, the result was similar to the catastrophe which had befallen the loyal legions at Istvaan. Those that reached the ground alive were met not only by Luther’s Astartes and a well armed civilian militia, but by spectral shades of great beasts which lurked within every shadow. Slowly but surely, the Unforgiven were surrounded, isolated and pinned down. They were losing, and yet despite all this, Lion El’Jonson still fought his way through to the fortress-monastery, and challenged Luther to a battle to the death. Though a primarch, Jonson was little match for the power his mentor now wielded, and after a titanic battle, he was left broken and bloodied, the Lion Sword shattered into pieces.
Before Luther could administer the final blow, a presence in the aether far different to the chorus of the daemonic made itself known. A great shuddering groan echoed through the fortress-monastery, shattering the very rock beneath their feet and plunging Jonson down into the depths of a bottomless chasm. All across the planet, the embattled loyalist Astartes were enveloped by mystic portals of psychic force and plucked from existence before they could be cleanly executed. Any celebration was short lived, as the remains of the portals pulsed and fluxed wildly in the warp-saturated environment. From across the planet they converged upon the Northwilds, all the while growing larger and more destructive. All of their attempts to divert or disrupt the vortices ended in failure, and when they at last reached a critical mass, the resulting explosion was the equivalent to that of an exterminatus device.
The Dark Angels had broken from the Imperium and made war against their primarch to save Caliban and its people, and yet still they had failed. In the scant hours before the end, there had barely been time for the Astartes to reach orbit, let alone evacuate the population to safety. In stunned silence they watched in horror as the planet’s crust disintegrated and the atmosphere boiled off into space, only leaving when the mountain-sized lumps of debris lifted into space by the explosion became too much of a threat. For a time they travelled without destination, simply letting the currents of the warp carry them. Though the civil war raged around them they fought for neither side, other than to defend themselves or to take supplies that they needed. They were lost souls, bereft of meaning or purpose.
When their aimless wanderings eventually threw them together with the Space Wolves, it seemed as though their prayers for oblivion were about to be answered. There had always been barely concealed enmity between Russ’ legion and the Dark Angel Expeditions, but instead of a battle, they instead found a reason to carry on. Like them, the Space Wolves had aligned themselves with Chaos, specifically the worship of Khorne, but had become locked into a downward spiral of self-destruction and bloodlust. Luther and Russ bonded over their shared hatred of Jonson, and the Space Wolf was particularly appreciative of the shattered Lion Sword, which had been rescued from Caliban as a trophy. Though the intricacies of Walking the Spiral were far beyond the comprehension of the Space Wolves, the Dark Angels were at least able to teach them the rudiments, so that they could channel their aggression.
Still content to meet annihilation and oblivion, the Dark Angels accompanied their new comrades on their journey to Terra, but their progress through the warp seemed as aimless as before. The currents of the Empyrean seemed particularly erratic, leaving them becalmed, or delivering them far from their intended destination. It was at one such wrong turn that they found themselves near to a backwater world, devoid of intelligent life but for a single reading of distinctly Astartes origin. To their amazement, the Dark Angels found that it belonged to one of Jonson’s Unforgiven, who had disappeared so mysteriously from Caliban. Only under the most excruciating of tortures did the man’s tongue finally loosen, to say that he had been saved by the grace of the Emperor Himself.
This revelation filled Luther and the Dark Angels with a drive and determination they had thought lost. Not only did they know who was to blame for the destruction of Caliban, but the Unforgiven were still out there to be captured and convinced to renounce the Lion. When the news that Dorn’s Heresy had been broken robbed them of the chance to kill the Emperor, it was at least tempered by the knowledge that they could still track down and enlighten their former brothers.
Even for one with Luther’s unearthly powers, the Runes of Caliban were all-but impossible to decipher. Only when one of the Unforgiven was on the verge of re-entering the physical plane does the precise time and place of this event become apparent. As soon as this occurs, the closest Dark Angels fleets break off from their current engagements – even leaving allies in the midst of battle - to track down and capture their erstwhile brother.
It was not long before the Imperium became aware that the Dark Angels had returned to Caliban, and although they remain ignorant of the true purpose of these visits, they took every opportunity to bring the legion to battle. Due to Luther’s interrogation of the Runes, he knows approximately when the next appearance will occur, and the legion fights with an unbreakable determination to destroy any defences that stand in their way. The length to which the legion goes to identify the arrival of one of the Unforgiven is similarly reflected in the care taken to ensure they capture their target alive, with masters who bring back a corpse frequently meeting the same fate.
Once safely back in the bosom of their legion, the Unforgiven are persuaded of their error in having sided with Lion El’Jonson and turning their backs upon Caliban. If they continue to resist, the Interrogator-Librarians are forced to use ever more extreme methods to ensure their enlightenment. For those subjects who continue to resist to the point where only death would silence their devotion to the Lion, there is but one possibility for redemption; their bodies and souls are given over to entities from the Warp. Although they see the need to possess their brothers as a great failure of their skills and oratory, sometimes such things are the only way for the Unforgiven to finally achieve forgiveness.
As Luther and the Dark Angels grew ever more adept at wielding the power of Chaos, their schemes to destabilise the Imperium became increasingly ambitious. They found that through the precise placement of cults and massed blood sacrifices, terrible and destructive resonances could be set in place within the warp to effects far greater than the sum of their parts. The most notable example of this came in M36, when the Dark Angels took advantage of a natural increase in the activity of the Empyrean to wreath almost the whole of the Imperium in debilitating warp-storms. The Astronomicon was obscured, war-fleets were lost forever, and whole sectors were completely cut off, raising the spectre of a return to Old Night.
With warp travel compromised, forge worlds sat idle without raw materials, the populations of hive worlds starved or turned to cannibalism, and Imperial armies could not arrive in time to crush dissent or repel Chaos attacks. As the walls between the real and the immaterial wore thin and a widespread loss of faith in the Emperor swept the galaxy, it was joined by the daemonic pandemic of living death known as the Plague of Unbelief.
Just as the Imperium teetered on the brink of destruction, the Dark Angels’ plans were thwarted by the self-sacrifice of Lorgar of the Word Bearers at Dimmamar. Just as the precise placement of cults had brought effects far beyond the sum of their parts, the events of Dimmamar disrupted the carefully orchestrated resonances, and averted it from reaching its full apocalyptic crescendo. The Dark Angels could, however, take comfort that through their actions they had caused the death of one of the few remaining loyalist primarchs, and better, the hated Ecclesiarch of the Emperor’s Ministorum.
Ever since that time, the Dark Angels have been patiently working to divine ever-more potent and destructive methods to destabilise the Imperium, and are certain that eventually they will be responsible for the death of their most hated foe – the Emperor Himself.
In combat, the Dark Angels are strictly controlled and intensely focussed upon their mission – a trait all-too often lacking in other Chaos Legions. While hunting down their former brothers, it is of the utmost importance that the target is taken alive. This precludes the use of orbital bombardments or artillery, but as soon as the Unforgiven has been secured, the full fury of the legion is unleashed to eliminate any witnesses. On more conventional battlefields, the power of Chaos is wielded to great effect. Their Interrogator-Librarians can hurl magicks at the enemy, conjure up terrible nightmares to stalk the battlefield or predict the path of future events. They can also anoint their brothers to carry the blessings of the Dark Gods for the duration of the battle.
Although the legion does not allow daemons to possess their own bodies, the practice is used extensively for normal humans. Be they willing cultists or captives, these highly unpredictable forces are used as terror-weapons and cannon-fodder. Treated with contempt, any survivors are forgotten as soon as the battle is ended, without even a bolt-shell to end their pitiful existence. Treated with more care are captured enemy Astartes, whose far more robust physiques mean that they can stand up to the rigours of daemonic possession for far longer than a single battle. Of all the legions, the capture and desecration of a Word Bearer is always the most satisfying, as to witness their devotion to the Emperor curdle is truly a sight to behold.
The most brutal and dangerous of missions, from the storming of Imperial fortresses to the boarding of enemy warships, are spearheaded by the veteran brothers of the Deathwing. In remembrance of the forests of Caliban, their Terminator armour is of the darkest green, and nothing can stand against their implacable advance.
The legion’s other chapters are far more conventional, being composed of up to a thousand power armoured battle brothers. The chapters are self-sufficient, their fleets spread throughout the galaxy and each containing a contingent of Ravenwing the better to respond to the emergence of one of their erstwhile brothers. The masters of the chapter are supported by Interrogator-Librarians, who study the intricacies of the Empyrean and harness the power of the Warp in all its forms. The legion’s most senior members may be inducted into a group which is privy to the deepest secrets of Chaos. To enter this Inner Circle is to risk madness and death, and only those most adept at Walking the Spiral are permitted to transcend to this new level, and unlock the gifts therein.
Once the captured Unforgiven are convinced of their mistake in having followed the Lion, and of having turned their backs upon Caliban, either through persuasion or by possession, they are presented before Luther, and then returned to a place of honour within the chapter that found them. While these individuals are rarely allowed to rise to any position of authority, they are an important part of the chapter as they symbolise the reason why the Dark Angels continue to fight their Long War.
Now, with Dorn’s Heresy ten thousand years behind them, the overwhelming majority of the legion draws its heritage back to the new recruiting planets, such as Kimmeria, Tessera Rubis or Klades Tertius. Despite this, through their training and psycho-conditioning all brothers carry with them a deep sense of bereavement for the loss of noble Caliban. The legion pointedly avoids sowing the seeds of Chaos close to their recruiting worlds, so as to prevent their future brethren from becoming corrupted, and over the millennia the Dark Angels have become fiercely protective of these planets. Despite most of them being under Imperial rule, many a Dark Angel has fought and died in their defence. Be it against the Orks at Piscina IV or to purge the Plains World of Genestealer infestation, each brother is similarly driven to ensure that the nightmare of losing a homeworld is not repeated.
The Dark Angel’s skill at keeping the corrupting influence of the Warp at bay is reflected in the quality of their gene-seed, which is by far the least corrupted of any of the Chaos Legions. This is due mainly to their ability to Walk the Spiral, but it is also a tribute to the zeal of the legion’s apothecaries. Progenoids are harvested from the battle-brothers as soon as they mature to minimise the possibility of corruption, are minutely scrutinised, and stored inside specially shielded vaults until required. Although all of the implants continue to function, the gene-seed has accumulated a number of flaws. While not sufficient to noticeably impair their performance, the difference is apparent on the rare occasions they are able to compare it to progenoids harvested from captured members of the Unforgiven.
They have also attempted to educate the other Chaos Legions in aspects of their chosen paths, most notably in the case of the Space Wolves, but also the Raven Guard, who they tutored in the ways of Tzeentch after the loss of their mysterious progenitor. Other legions, such as the tortured Blood Angels and the self-loathing Salamanders, are less receptive to their insights, and are even openly hostile, for which they are all the poorer.
While Chaos is the means by which the Dark Angels carry out their plans, the thing that drives them is their endless hunt for the Unforgiven. Luther’s obsession, as the other Chaos Legions see it, with trying to obliterate any sign of his dead primarch’s existence, to the point of convincing the Lion’s followers of the righteousness of their cause at all costs, is seen as a dangerous distraction. There are countless examples where they have been fighting alongside other legions, only to break off from the assault at a critical juncture to investigate word of one of their brethren, and in the process handing their enemies a victory. This self-destructive urge has soured otherwise warm relations with allies, and has even been cited by outsiders as an unconscious manifestation of Malal within their character.