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- "We are the angels macabre, the death that strikes from the shadows. We cut the life-cords of our foes even before they realise that death is upon them. We are the Grave Lords, and we will not be denied."
- — Dargus Mortane, The Grave Lord, Primarch of the XVIII Legion
The Grave Lords are one of the 20 Space Marine Legions of the Legiones Astartes originally created by the Emperor of Mankind to help carry out his Great Crusade to reunite the disparate lost worlds of humanity and unite them into one unified Imperium of Man. The origins of the XVIII Legion is shrouded in mystery and since their inception, they have remained a Legion apart from its fellow Legiones Astartes due to the unnatural aura of death that radiates from them like a shadow of the grave. Despite such misgiving, the XVIII Legion quickly garnered a fearsome reputation as terror troops and retributors of the Emperor. Led by their foreboding Primarch Dargus Mortane, the Grave Lord, the XVIII Legion fought on the leading edge of the Expeditionary Fleets of the Great Crusade, taking the fight even into the lost worlds of the foreboding outer dark, known as the Ghoul Stars. What occurred during their time within this vast tract of unexplored wilderness space is unknown. However, when the Grave Lords returned to the Imperium proper, they had been irrevocably changed.
The origins of the XVIII Legion hearkens back to the closing days of the Wars of Unification on Terra. Perhaps had they been created for some higher purpose, then their inevitable descent in madness might have been avoided, but instead their history is one of corrupted ideology and atrocity. Even when they still served the Emperor as one his Legiones Astartes Legions, their dark nature and barbarous actions were ever questioned. At the time, they were considered a necessary tool - monsters used to fight the horrors of Old Night - to drag an ignorant and superstitious age back into the light. Many of the Legion's detractors point out that the Grave Lords were an aberration - damned from the moment they were born - a misjudgment compounded by circumstances. The XVIII Legion was born in the cradle of darkness from the moment of their birth.
The first recruits were taken from the pale and sallow youths of the linked hive sinks of Ursh, an ever-hungering gateway to darkness and murder. Here, amongst the vast, lightless and neverending catacombs, lived people who were the descendants of the original survivors that had fled the surface world and the horrors of Old Night, seeking refuge in the shadows. Living in a world surrounded by the ravages of incessant warfare, planet-wide famine and other terrible disasters, these men and women came to develop a dark creed of death. Living desperate lives in a seemingly uncaring universe, these first adherents formed a cult of death - the Moritats - believing that death and blood underpinned human existence and that in order to survive, one must become a tool of death itself. Only through continued blood-sacrifice in the face of a hostile universe would mankind thus prevail. The Moritats honed themselves in the skills of the assassin beyond the ken of normal men, becoming dedicated to the deadly arts of blade, bullet and poison. They became implacable in their hatred towards Mankind's enemies, including those who utilised sorcery, forbidden lore or dark technology for their own gains or to enslave their fellow man.
To further hone their skills, this cult would send out individual assassins to the surface world to slay one of the many techno-barbarian warlords or slaver lords. Once a Moritat was despatched, he or she was as relentless and inescapable as the march of time itself. Every facet of their impeccable and formidable training was turned to the art of achieving a single kill. The Moritats believed by removing such evil from existence, they believed they brought a small measure of balance and justice to an uncaring and cruel universe. Soon the surface dwellers came to fear the shadows cast by these superlative killers, for they were the personification of unforgiving justice made real. And so it was, through the long years of the Age of Strife. Somehow this strain of humanity not only survived, but thrived by murder and death.
Following the end of Old Night, the Emperor of Mankind launched the Wars of Unification, to conquer the techno-barbarian overlords and unite the disparate nations under His singular rule. Indeed, when the Emperor discovered the hardened and elite killers of Ursh's hab-sinks, in His wisdom, he took the strongest and hardiest of their youth, and had them screened for their physical suitability and for specific psychological profiles, choosing only the most ruthless, cruel and cunning amongst them. The newly created gene-seed of the XVIII Legion was well-paired with these first recruits, accentuating their pale complexion and gaunt appearance, but enhancing their ability to see through darkness far above that of the average Legionary of other Legions. But such gifts came at a cost, for they could no longer look upon the sun or the light of the stars without the use of filters or flare buffers.
Another noticeable trait was that these Legionaries seem to take on an unnatural aura. Whether this was a result of their gene-seed implantation or simply a biological quirk, due to the circumstances of their birth, the Legionaries of the XVIII seemed to emanate an almost palpable aura of dread and horror. Extant reports indicate that mortal soldiers of Auxilia Imperialis units reported that when they fought alongside the XVIII Legion, they could barely tolerate being in the presence of these fearful Astartes, causing many troopers to quake in fear, and sometimes, even break ranks and attempt to flee in abject terror. This required the use of a larger number of Discipline Masters to be present within these regiments, whenever they fought in the same warzone as the XVIII, to ensure discipline and order was maintained amongst the rank-and-file - often through the extensive use of summary executions. This earned the XVIII Legion the moniker, 'Gallow Walkers' - for wherever these Astartes walked, death followed them.
The first use of the XVIII Legion was to bring to heel those who believed they could simply bend their knee to the Emperor, professing their 'loyalty', but still had the temerity to fall back into the forbidden ways of Old Night. When such crimes were discovered, and required not simply crushing but fierce retribution, the Emperor would deploy the XVIII Legion. These grim warriors were well-suited for the task at hand, displaying a propensity for moral absolution and a drive to enact retribution. Even in the earliest days of their existence, the XVIII stood apart from its brother Legions. Where other Legions fought with righteousness and devotion to the Imperial Truth, the grim warriors of the XVIII Legion fought with the cold fury that only the condemned and redeemed could know. Dour and mirthless, few of them formed bonds with other Legions that were common during those early days. They took no joy in battle, nor glory in conquest. All that mattered was that they carried out their duty.
The Emperor gave the Gallow Walkers carte blanche to bring rebellious nations back into the Imperial fold, and to ensure that those who even thought of declaring independence, to reconconsider the wisdom of such actions. The Gallow Walkers took this task to heart, to re-impose the rule of Imperial law on these faltering mortal rulers. Often, the XVIII would send a lone emissary, or Herald, to deliver Emperor's ultimatum - recant or be destroyed - for once the sun set and night came, death would come with it.
Clad in slate-grey armour with segments of it painted black, his face hidden by a helm with a leering death's head painted upon it, the Herald would dutifully deliver the words of the Emperor, sometimes, even unto his imminent death. Some, on seeing such a fearful warrior, would surrender outright, renouncing those who conspired to plot against the Emperor and give them up to be punished. Other would refuse. But always after the Herald delivered his dire message, his brothers would come to deliver retribution. Once the alloted time had lapsed, the die was cast and the destruction of the enemy began. This uncompromising, brutal Legion would then descend upon the rebellious nation, bringing bolter and blade to those that would turn from the light of the Emperor. Those that resisted were made brutal examples of, becoming bloody public exhibitions to the folly of resistance.
The Gallow Walkers did their duty, knowing full well that the price they paid was to be feared, loathed and reviled by the very people they were sworn to protect. They quickly garnered a reputation as terror troops - habitually adorning their battle-plate with grisly adornments such as hanging bones, flayed skin of their victims and the applying of death mask symbols to their helmets, lending these Astartes a fearsome aspect. The XVIII Legion took it upon themselves to do terrible things necessary to keep the status quo - to ensure that the Imperium wouldn't slip further into anarchy and rebellion - protecting humanity from its own dark nature.
The Grave LordEdit
The Great CrusadeEdit
Legion Organization Edit
Legion Combat DoctrineEdit
- "First a pillar was made to face the city gate, and then they flayed all the rebel leaders...then they..clad the pillar in the flayed skins. Then they gathered random people...men...women...AND...by the Emperor...even the children!...The screams...I can still hear them when I close my eyes!"
(At this point the subject wails for a few minutes and then moans incoherently. He then composes himself and continues his testimony)
"...then they hung their skins from the city walls. The rest of the captives were killed by blades and flung in a bloody heap, and the remains of the young children were burned. The blackened bones and skulls of the slain were then taken and piled high in tottering heaps. Then as quickly as they had appeared, the sable-clad warriors departed as swiftly and silently as the grave."
- — Imperialis Militant recording: Witness testimony of Jorus Goyavitch, survivor, Slaughter of Vladislav, Nekhrun System Atrocities (Subject was terminated upon completion of inquiry.)
The Grave Lords have utilised the same brutal tactics throughout their centuries of existence. Unexpected violence is their calling card. When they conduct a campaign it is both an unsubtle and bloody affair, but brutally swift. Unlike many of their fellow Legions, the Grave Lords were kept under the tight control of the Emperor and the Terran Council and unleashed at their command as often to chastise those who would renege on their oaths of service as to destroy those who resist the Imperium's manifest destiny to rule the galaxy. When called upon to do so, the Grave Lords were often utilised to bring a rebellious world or defiant system back into the Imperial fold.
When enacting a retribution campaign upon a hapless world, the Grave Lords often arrive without warning or being bidden to do so. Boldly announcing their presence, the Grave Lords broadcast their brutal intentions to the doomed populace below, brushing aside any entreaties or supplications by those whom are to be judged. Striking seemingly from nowhere, they favour hit-and-run attacks to frontal assaults, before melting back into the darkness. Nowhere is safe from the Grave Lords' wrath, as they systematically work their way across a planet's surface rounding up captives from every home, hab and shack. Those that resist are brutally killed. With bones hanging from their battle-plate and death mask symbols applied to their helmets, these sable armoured Astartes appear as death incarnate, come to claim those who have transgressed the Emperor's laws.
The fate of these wretched souls are given over to the Legion's Torture Masters who place them in death pits. Placed upon flensing frames, the Sons use their ritual flaying knives to expertly remove the skin of their screaming victims, then display their bloody skins from the city's buildings, flapping in the breeze like gruesome flags. Over the course of many days, their victims are systematically tortured and slaughtered. The Sons variously flog their victims, break their limbs, cut out their eyes and roast them over slow fires. Soon a cloying, dense pall of black smoke and the stench of burning flesh permeates throughout the city. But always, the Grave Lords will leave their victims' tongues, so that the screams of the dying and soon-to-be dead echo throughout the city - a wailing doom and dire warning to their wayward kin - "This fate will be yours. Thus perish all traitors." Never once, throughout this entire ghastly process, will the ' utter a single word. When they finally complete their grim task, they depart as swiftly as they have come, leaving the traumatised survivors to look on in mute horror at the price of their resistance.
When the XVIII Legion enact their final act of retribution, their assaults are calculated exercises in ferocity, aimed to tear and rend until the foe lies in ruins or is driven to their inevitable death. In a final, calculated lightning assault, hundreds of sable clad warriors will descend upon the planet's surface and hit a narrow portion of its defences with overwhelming brutal force. These objectives are usually densely populated and ill-defended cities. If necessary, the Grave Lords will repeat this gruesome process on multiple worlds until a recalcitrant system finally surrenders out of abject terror. Their gruesome work done, the Grave Lords will then vanish back into the void.
The Grave Lords are an insular and taciturn Legion. This only becomes more pronounced when they are amongst other Legionaries. They possess a well-deserved reputation for merciless slaughter. In battle, a battle-brother of the Grave Lords does not tolerate any enemy, whether xenos, heretic, or even fellow humans who may have been misled into rebellion against the Imperium's rightful rule. They often grimly execute any opponents they encounter, even if they have surrendered, possess valuable intelligence, or are not front-line combatants. The other interesting and disturbing detail about the Grave Lords in battle is that they conduct themselves in complete silence. It is assumed that the Legion's senior leaders transfer any commands over a secured and encrypted internal vox net. When encountered, witnesses report that these Astartes abstain from issuing any word or sound to friend or foe. Instead, these silent warriors have been observed to seemingly make use of some form of communication through hand gestures with finger and thumb, presumably to convey concepts of great subtlety or intricate nature. The carnage the Grave Lords enact in such eerie silence is known to cause those who have beheld such silent horror - both allies and survivors - to be chilled to the very core of their souls.
The Grave Lords display a propensity for the use of violence and calculated, cold-blooded murder in order to achieve their aims. They have a keen understanding of the human psyche, and willingly employed such brutal tactics in order to maintain Imperial order. When committing such horrible acts, they often displayed cold indifference when enacting their brutal forms of justice - as cold and uncaring as their ritual flaying knives. Though deemed barbaric and bellicose in nature by many of their fellow Legiones Astartes, the Grave Lords were known to display unequivocal loyalty to the tenet, if not the letter, of enacting the Emperor's will against recalcitrant worlds.
Primarch's Curse: Call of the GraveEdit
Often, certain battle-brothers will display suicidal urges and a blatant disregard for overall combat doctrine. Gathered together in specialised units known as 'Death Seekers', these battle-brothers operate independently on the field of battle, and are often employed as efficient shock assault troops and assassins. Primarch Mortane will often utilise such afflicted brethren to undertake suicidal Zone Mortalis missions from which they are not expected to return. These battle-brothers will undertake such missions willingly, to rid themselves of the dark visions that plague their every waking moment, and to sell their lives dearly in service to their gene-sire.
When the Legion's genetic curse manifests itself in an affected Battle-Brother, it comes on in three stages:
- Stage 1 (The Shadow of Death): The Battle-Brother starts to see death in everything. He becomes distant and makes little effort to forge new alliances with new squad members, knowing they will soon be in the grave. He becomes more dismissive of death and the praising of the dead, seeing little glory in their sacrifice, only the inevitable end to their duty and another corpse to feed the gods of war. This attitude can grate on those around the Battle-Brother and he suffers with his fellowship when dealing with other soldiers or members of the Adeptus Astartes.
- Stage 2 (Death Cometh): The Battle-Brother cannot help but reflect on the worst side of a new development and will endeavour to find the worst aspect of even the most favourable of circumstances. Quite apart from causing friction within his squad, the drawing of focus onto potential problems and unforeseen dangers (regardless of the actual likelihood they will impact on the squad's mission) can cause compromises in command and less than direct tactical judgements.
- Stage 3 (The End is Nigh): Death is inevitable and the Battle-Brother is already a walking corpse just waiting for the moment when an enemy's blade or bullet ends him. Filled with visions of his own demise, the Battle-Brother begins to act recklessly, accepting that it is his time and there is nothing he can do to prevent it coming. This will not only place him in danger but can endanger his entire squad. The Battle-Brother does not contribute to the squad's cohesion as he fails to adequately aid them in battle. In addition, he tends not to gain the benefit of hiding behind cover, as even when behind barricades and walls he exposes himself to fire with little mind to remaining concealed.
Legion Culture & Beliefs Edit
Notable Legion Members Edit
Legion Appearance Edit
Legion Colours Edit
Legion Badge Edit
Notable Quotes Edit
By the Grave LordsEdit
- "The purging is at last at hand. The day of reckoning is here! Heretic defilers...they shall all be cleansed as they drown in lakes of blood. Now they will know why they fear death. Now they will learn why they fear the night."
- — Dargus Mortane, The Grave Lord, Primarch of the XVIII Legion
- "Many Legions go for the throat. We go for the eyes, the tongue. Then the hands. Then the feet. Then finally, we skin the crippled remains, and offer it up as an example for any still bearing witness."
- — Torture Master Primus Zephon Tántalos summarising the cruel methods commonly utilised by the Grave Lords Legion
- "Listen, can you hear that? Those deathly wails? Can you hear the whispers of the damned? Their boundless suffering and pain? That can only mean one thing...my brothers are coming. Nothing can save you now."
- — A dying Grave Lords Herald (Emissary), murdered in cold blood by the military forces of a non-compliant world.
- "Your offer to surrender has been received and rejected; we have not come to restore order or receive supplication, but to enact the Divine Emperor's judgement. Your loyalty has been weighed, measured and found wanting. Your fate has been writ by your own deeds. The time of judgement is at hand."
- — Grave Lords multi-channel vox-broadcast, before carrying out the forced compliance campaign of 13-55 (Mortikah V)
About the Grave LordsEdit
- "Our bloody-handed allies..cold killers over soldiers. Still, a blade of ill-repute can be reliable. More so than his honourable brother."
- — Antrioch Skullwrath, The War Champion, Primarch of the Honour Bound Legion
- "Out of all the legions that we have had the honor to fight alongside with, the Grave Lords have certainly proven almost unbearable. The methods they employ are unnecessarily brutal and without thought towards the consequences. "
- —Centurion Decimus, Imperators Legion, 17th Cohort
This article is authored by Algrim Whitefang.