The Battle of Castobel
“To the darkness, I bring fire. To the ignorant, I bring faith. Those who welcome these gifts may live, but I will visit naught but death and eternal damnation on those who refuse them.”
After the Great Heresy, Rogal Dorn, primarch of the Imperial Fists, resisted the breaking up of the Legions into smaller Chapters. It was only when the Imperial Fists were branded heretics that Dorn relented, allowing his beloved Legion to be subdivided into Chapters. One of the new Chapters born of this time was the Black Templars.
To prove his loyalty to the Emperor, the first Chapter Master of the Black Templars—the High Marshal Sigismund—assembled a massive war fleet and began the greatest Space Marine Crusade in the history of the Imperium. It has lasted for 10,000 years.
Eschewing the establishment of a home world, the Black Templars took to the stars in a mighty war fleet. Rather than constructing a single Chapter fortress-monastery as most Space Marine Chapters do, the Black Templars determined to establish a chapter keep upon each world they conquered, to keep watch for treachery, to stage future Crusades, and to recruit new Battle-Brothers.
The ten-millennia-long Crusade of the Black Templars has seen its warriors embroiled in some of the most momentous conflicts ever to engulf the Imperium. The High Marshals have followed the example of their founder and taken the fight to the realms of the alien, the heretic, and the witch. The Black Templars are crusaders, holy warriors battling to bring the truth and light of the Emperor to the unconquered worlds of the galaxy. With bolt shell and chainsword, the Black Templars convert the benighted to the light of the Master of Mankind and destroy those who refuse to welcome his truth. Each Crusade is directed by the will of the Marshal in command, and each is despatched by the decree of the High Marshal of the Black Templars to fulfil their prime mission to cleanse the stars.
Despite that Rogal Dorn eventually accepted the dictates of the Codex Astartes, the Black Templars are organised in a different manner to many Space Marine Chapters and deviate from the strictures of Guilliman’s great tome in several notable ways. One deviation is in the recruitment and training of its warriors. The Black Templars have no Scout company in which new recruits may prove their mettle. The Chapter must judge the worthiness of its recruits in other ways. From the monolithic chapter keeps they establish on every world the Black Templars conquer, the Chaplains maintain a strict vigil over the world and judge the worth of those warriors who attract their notice. Often, there will be contests of arms or other equally lethal trials held for those who aspire to joining the Chapter. Only the bravest warriors can hope to reach the final stages of selection and even then only a fraction will meet the Chaplains’ high standards.
An aspirant is brought to the chapter keep, where the Apothecaries administer tissue compatibility tests and root out any latent mutation to ensure that he is of sufficient purity and strength to become a Neophyte. Not all survive these processes, as the Black Templars tolerate no weakness. Should the aspirant survive, he becomes a Neophyte and so begins the ritual surgery that will turn him into a superhuman warrior. Here too, an aspirant may fail. Thanks to the degeneration of knowledge, implant surgery is heavily ritualised. It is often accompanied by scarring, incantation, prayer, fasting, and arcane practices that unintentionally compromise medical efficiency.
Once a Neophyte begins his training, he severs all links with the world of his birth and begins a life dedicated to the Emperor. Once he is deemed ready, he will be taken under the wing of an Initiate and complete his training in the fires of battle, where he will either learn or die. When he finally becomes an Initiate himself, he can no longer be considered human. Any chance for a normal life is gone forever, but though a great and terrible sacrifice, it is made willingly.
Once accepted within one of a Crusade’s Fighting Companies, an Initiate fights and hones his craft of death, building his legend and forging his hero’s name before one day going on to train a Neophyte himself. In this way, the experience and wisdom of the Initiates is preserved and passed on to new recruits. The greatest warriors in a Fighting Company will be organised into the Marshal’s household, the equivalent of a Codex Chapter’s First Company. Known as the Sword Brethren, these Space Marines are mighty heroes whose deeds become part of the Chapter’s history. It is every Black Templar’s ambition to become one of these elite. Clad in the finest suits of armour and bedecked with purity seals, the Sword Brethren are the very image of a baroque warrior-knight. When a Marshal dies, it is from the Sword Brethren that his replacement will be drawn, and only the best and bravest are worthy of this great honour. Which Black Templar will succeed the Marshal is determined by ritual combat, during which all who would contest the right to lead the Crusade will battle one another with various weapons as well as pitting their strategic and tactical prowess against their opponent. The winner earns the right to be Marshal, subject to the approval of the High Marshal, and the Sword Brethren swear new oaths of loyalty to the winner. Aside from the Marshal’s household, larger Crusades are broken down into a number of Fighting Companies, each led by a Sword Brethren afforded the honorific of ‘Castellan.’Within the Fighting Company, individual squads are gathered and dispersed in a fairly ad-hoc fashion. Initiates fight side by side regularly out of familiarity and comradeship rather than any imposed organisation. Due to the Chapter’s focus on engaging the foe in the blood and fury of honourable close combat, there is a notable lack of heavy weapons in the Fighting Companies. Such heavy weapons are mounted on vehicles and Dreadnoughts, leaving the Battle-Brothers to close on their foe unhindered.
The Black Templars have no single home world. Instead, they live in their Crusade fleets, upon many battle-barges, strike cruisers, training vessels, and gigantic forgeships. The Black Templars establish chapter keeps on every world they conquer or reclaim for the Emperor. The main purpose of the chapter keeps is to recruit new Space Marines from the population, and to act as staging posts for mustering the Crusades. These chapter keeps are sizeable, with chambers to accommodate two to three companies of Space Marines, but are far smaller than the fortress-monasteries of other Chapters. However, there have been hundreds of chapter keeps established over the millennia, some of which are still standing, others which have fallen into ruin and disrepair and are no longer manned. The High Marshal himself has his own battle-barge, the Eternal Crusader, and he can travel from Crusade to Crusade lending his military genius and spiritual guidance to those under his command. The Eternal Crusader is gigantic, even for a battle-barge, having been expanded and refitted over ten thousand years with extra docking facilities for escort ships, additional launch bays for shuttles and Thunderhawk gunships, as well as accommodation for twice as many Space Marines than a normal battle-barge.
All Space Marines are renowned for their fervent dedication, but the extent of the Black Templars’ faith is often described as fanatical. They seek nothing less than to crush every last enemy of mankind. They have absolutely no tolerance of heretics, mutants, witches, aliens, or any other abomination against the Emperor. For ten thousand years they have crusaded to prove their loyalty, and this creed has become so embedded in their doctrines that they are utterly ruthless towards anyone or anything perceived as a threat to the Emperor. They have been known to mercilessly wipe out entire planetary populations to expunge the sin of heresy, while the mere presence of a witch on the battlefield drives them into a zealous fury against which few enemies have any hope of standing. The Black Templars’ professed loathing of the witch even extends to those psykers in the employ of the Imperium. Although the Chapter must utilise astropaths, Navigators, and others with such talents, the Black Templars are loath to do so, and eschew the use of librarians in the ranks of the Space Marines.
In battle, the Black Templars seek to continue to fight in the manner of their founder, Sigismund, preferring close combat over ranged warfare. Face-to-face with his enemy, a Black Templar seeks to earn glory and respect and be sure that his foe is truly vanquished, fighting with righteous fury and the noblest ideals of honour.
This is truly emphasised by the fanaticism of Black Templar Battle-Brothers, whose righteous anger makes them loathe to retreat before an enemy. They will instead drive towards the foe relentlessly, their own casualties only serving to spur them on still further, hungry for vengeance on the slayers of their brethren.
Central to each Black Templar’s dedication to the Emperor is the swearing of powerful oaths of faith and protection. On the eve of battle, it is customary for a Black Templar to renew one of these vows to the Emperor. The specific vow undertaken focuses the thoughts of the warrior on a specific aspect of his duties, encouraging extreme bravery, ruthlessness, and sacred revulsion of the foe.
Although utterly loyal to the Emperor, the Black Templars are at the extreme end of independence from the Imperium’s authorities. Some would say the Chapter verges on a rogue element. The Chapter’s fleet-based nature and the goals of its ten-thousand-year Crusade take the Black Templars throughout the entire galaxy, and it is primarily the will of the Marshals that drives the Crusades ever onwards. Like all Space Marines, the Black Templars do not consider themselves subject to the rule of the Imperium’s power structures, and each Crusade is effectively an autonomous fighting force, though they may choose to respond to requests for aid by others in the vicinity.
When the Crusade fleet makes war upon the foes of the Emperor, there are two main tactics the Black Templars use to destroy the enemy. The most brutal is the orbital assault, known to the few that have survived it as “death from above.” The Black Templars drop into action in the wake of a devastating orbital bombardment, using drop pods and Thunderhawk gunships. With paralysing suddenness, the Space Marines surgically destroy their targets, leaving the enemy leaderless and disorganised, incapable of anything more than surrender or flight.
If the Crusade is able to land heavy equipment, an equally destructive tactic is the armoured spearhead. Indeed, the Land Raider Crusader, a war machine that excels in the role of linebreaker, first saw service with the Chapter. Manoeuvring at speed, behind a far-ranging screen of bikes and land speeders, the Black Templars smash their powerful tanks unerringly through the weak link in the enemy army, armoured columns slashing left and right before eliminating the remaining enemy strongpoints.