Plague of Unbelief
The Plague of Unbelief is considered part of the Age of Apostasy, although it occurred several decades after Goge Vandire's death and Sebastian Thor's ascension to the position of Ecclesiarch. Many false prophets appeared throughout the anarchic Age of Apostasy, some little more than madmen leading rebel armies, others spiritual demagogues who commanded worlds and armies. The most powerful of these was the apostate Cardinal of Gathalamor, Bucharis, whose heresies reached such proportions they became known as the Plague of Unbelief.
Bucharis headed a small diocese to the galactic south-west of Terra on a planet called Gathalamor. It was not a rich planet and much of the population lived in poverty, but Bucharis was jealous and outraged at his peers' achievements. He vowed to build one of the biggest temples to the Emperor's glory in the galaxy. To achieve this, he enslaved the population of Gathalamor, treating them brutally, as if they were all slaves at his command. Still Bucharis needed more resources and men to meet the ever growing need for his ambitious plans. In a radical move, he used a large group of thugs and cut-throats to conquer the nearby world of Rhanda. The planet had many rich mines producing all of the vital materials Bucharis needed to complete his designs. Also, the personal wealth of Bucharis grew from the profits made from the sale of precious ores and resources. Two other major players in the Plague of Unbelief were Admiral Sehalla of the Imperial Navy, and Colonel Gasto of the Rigellian XXV Imperial Guard Regiment. Bucharis met with both of them on Rhanda and they joined forces under the Cardinal's command. Now, Bucharis had both naval support and real soldiers to fight for him, and he used them to carve out a small empire to the galactic west of Terra. He conquered fifty planets in seven years, using their resources to reinforce his army and continue his building plans.
His empire was hidden from the Imperium by vast Warp Storms covering the entire region, and news of Sebastian Thor's ascension and the reorganisation of the Ecclesiarchy had not reached the general population. It had, however, reached Bucharis. He used his control of the Navy to make sure no news of this reached the population, as it would mean the end of his empire. Instead, he announced that the Ecclesiarchy had fallen and that it was corrupted by traitors and heretics. Taking after Goge Vandire, he declared himself to be the mouth of the Emperor, and positioned himself as the head of the Adeptus Ministorum within his miniature empire. He gave elegant speeches to the people and they lapped it up, believing his words to bear the truth: that Earth was a lost cause and Gathalamor was the centre of the Imperial Cult now. His speeches spread to other worlds he had not conquered and his teachings became law. People were taught to look after themselves, or else they were less than human and didn't deserve to live. His speeches were met with thunderous applause, and many people believed that this was the way humans would survive: by striving for their own selfish advancement; the weak would be left behind and the strong would survive.
After these speeches, Bucharis's planets were transformed into worlds where mobs ruled and fought amongst themselves, and where petty nobles used their wealth and independence to rule. Neighbors often fought and families split over the spoils from the arising chaos. The strongest who rose to power and caught the eye of Bucharis were rewarded with more power, and often led units of mercenary guards to enforce the Cardinal's will. Those who succeeded were rewarded with lavish gifts and those who failed were punished accordingly. Even though Bucharis's empire was growing, he was hesitant of getting too close to Terra. Therefore he forged a path directly north, leaving a bloody trail of death and destruction in his wake. In the south, he stopped just short of Bakka, fearful that Sehalla's fleet would draw more attention to the young empire. Farther to the north, he gave Cadia and the Eye of Terror a wide berth, fearful of drawing the attention of the forces of Chaos and the Chaos Space Marines (although it is possible that the warp storms were created by some evil machination of the gods of Chaos, in an attempt to rend the Imperium apart even further than the Age of Apostasy already had). Eventually, he had consolidated his power over every planet he conquered and so he moved on. Three more Imperial Guard regiments had joined him, and when he moved on Hydraphur, the Segmentum Pacificus Navy bowed down, believing Bucharis's words. Bucharis' forces were now massed, and able to strike at the heart of the Imperium, using surprise and cunning to overwhelm the enemy before they brought their superior numbers to bear. Fortunately for the Imperium of Man, Bucharis made a fatal mistake.
Bucharis's mistake was to challenge the Space Wolves. Like almost every Space Marine Chapter, the Wolves protect a small number of planets within close proximity of their homeworld, Fenris. As the armies of Bucharis moved north, they eventually encroached onto the Wolves' protectorate.
As Bucharis' massive fleet dropped out of the warp, it encountered a Space Wolves Strike Cruiser called the Claw of Russ. After a brief battle, the Cruiser escaped into the warp, although not before it destroyed a Navy Cruiser and Transport Ship. Bucharis passed this off as a chance encounter, but this arrogance was to cost him dearly.
He ordered his ships to continue, taking planet after planet, until they jumped into the fifth system. Here they met a surprise. This system contained Fenris itself, and as soon as the Navy powered down their warp drives, the Space Wolves fleet attacked. The Space Wolves were outnumbered and outgunned, but even this didn't stop them. They tore a hole in the Navy fleet before retreating to lick their wounds and begin a hit-and-run attack role. They managed to keep about two thirds of Bucharis' fleet occupied, but he still managed to make a landing on Fenris. Hundreds of transport ships descended into the thick, stormy atmosphere of Fenris and several were destroyed by the storms alone, and more by the defensive batteries from the ground. Despite this, a landing base was established and thousands of Guardsmen swarmed out onto the ice of the northern regions of the planet. Despite the poor conditions, the troops of Bucharis were enraged at the loss of so many of their compatriots and vowed to destroy the Space Wolves. Any Fenrisian captured was put to work supplying the Guardsmen and laying out makeshift roads across the glacial flats. Though they were enslaved, the Fenrisians were not to be kept down easily. Several regiments of Imperial Guardsmen were kept out of the fighting to keep the slaves from revolting. Bucharis had conquered most of the planet before he approached the vast polar fortress, The Fang.
They surrounded it and waited for more forces to be shuttled down from orbit. The Space Wolves fleet maintained their hit and run tactics, destroying transport ships before they managed to reach orbit. Despite this, the hills were swarming with Guardsmen. Gigantic cannons bombarded the Fang and orbital ships rained fire from above. The mountains shook, creating avalanches and destruction. Still, the defenses of the Fang remained intact. This allowed the Space Wolves to sally forth and destroy the earthworks and giant cannons of the Apostate Cardinal. Wolf Scouts were dispatched to disrupt the supply lines and many cannons fell quiet due to a lack of ammunition. The hills were full of tunnels that the Blood Claws used to reach deep into the enemy army, killing with their bare fists to save ammunition. Long Fangs were even known to blow apart mountains to crush the armoured columns of the enemy. Dreadnoughts were used to smash into the heart of marching columns. All of this dragged on for months. Bucharis sent in suicide missions promising great wealth for the first man to breach the walls. After three years, millions had died as the Space Wolves had countered every attempted storming of the citadel. Bucharis drew in more and more forces until even those on far away Gathalamor were down to a quarter of their normal strength. Bucharis believed his planets to be under his total control, so he felt he could draw this many guardsmen away from their former occupation.
Fate, as it has a habit of doing, intervened again, except this time it would bring disaster for Bucharis. A vast Space Wolves force of Battle Barges emerged at the edge of the system. Bucharis's fleet was taken completely by surprise and the Space Wolves fleet left no time between arriving and attacking. Nearly half of Bucharis's fleet was destroyed in the first attack and, trapped between the new arrivals and the harassing Space Wolves fleet, Admiral Sehalla ordered a retreat. The Space Wolves wasted no time in pursuit and powered directly for Fenris. The furious attack of the returning Space Wolves was vicious, tens of thousands of traitor Guardsmen died. The attack from orbit was led by Kyrl Grimblood and they blasted the Guardsmen from the mountainsides. Even those who escaped this attack eventually died in the inhospitable snowy wastes of Asaheim. They were attacked by the giant wolf packs that makes Fenris such a deadly planet. In all of the danger, Bucharis managed to escape on a shuttle and met up with Admiral Sehalla, who jumped out of the warp briefly enough to pick up the shuttle. Bucharis decided to leave Fenris to the Space Wolves and retreated his northern forces to bolster his defenses and consolidate his hold over the rest of his empire.
The Beginning of the End
The attack on Fenris had taken a heavy toll on the rebellious Imperial Guard forces, slowing, but not stopping, the expansion of his other armies. His many trusted sub-commanders were moving westward, taking more and more planets. Eventually, they arrived in one system, Chiros. Here they would be stopped. Reports came back to Bucharis of major setbacks and problems faced on Chiros. It was not a poor planet, its surface primarily covered in forests with a human population of no more than a few million. Most of its wealth came from exporting luxury goods, furs, elixirs and narcotics. Bucharis could not understand why a planet would resist him and risk total destruction. Bucharis abandoned Fenris and, being fairly close to Chiros, he ordered the fleet to Gathalamor while he assessed the situation. Reports came in that, despite horrendous casualties, the Chirosians were no closer to surrender than they had been before the attack began. The commander of the fleet had refrained from the use of devastating orbital bombardments as he saw the planet as a good place for Bucharis to retire to, hoping to gain some favor by sparing it. Bucharis agreed with this idea, pleased at the foresight of his commander. He then sent three more companies of Imperial Guard to aid in the conquest, certain that these forces would beat the Chirosians. Unfortunately for the rogue cardinal, it was not to be. The commander soon reported back to Bucharis of his surrender to the Chirosians. Bucharis was stunned. He knew the Imperial Guard were not as good as the Space Marines, but surely an entire regiment should have easily conquered such a small population. Eventually Bucharis's agents returned, bringing reports of what had happened. It appeared that the forces faced by the Imperial Guard were not just the usual small units brought together in times of war, but had been the entire population of the planet. Each had a hunting rifle or other weapon and spread themselves throughout the planet's surface, in the woods and jungles and hills. Millions of marksmen had wiped out wave after wave of invaders in destructive ambushes before retreating back to their hunting lodges, hidden deep in the woods. The whole planet had become dangerous. Supplies were intercepted and there was no respite. A suicide squad had run into the centre of the camp and detonated explosives, and then the army lost the will to fight on.
After the news of the defeat spread to other worlds, planet after planet began a revolt. First was the mining planet Guryan. The miners had cut down their guards and strangled others with their shackles. After Guryan came Dolsia and Vaust. It seemed the rebel worlds were cutting a swath through the empire, straight towards Gathalamor. On Colcha, Bucharis laid a trap and managed to destroy a small fleet that appeared around the planet. One shuttle survived however, and landed on the planet. Fredreich Khust, overall commander of the sector, was wary of the shuttle that had landed, and so kept his men and tanks on the planet on full alert. A year after the shuttle landed, the population of Colcha went berserk. They burnt the fields, stormed the barracks but lost three quarters of their numbers before overcoming the guards. They stampeded their vast herds of gigantic gorbeasts into tank companies, crushing the war machines under a thunderous storm of house-sized animals. They dammed rivers, flooding their own homes and whole towns where Khust's men were billeted. Even the elderly and young children hurled makeshift grenades made from the local distilled fuel, setting fire to the air vents of Leman Russ tanks and choking the crews inside. All across both continents the people of Colcha stopped at nothing to rid themselves of their enslavers. Eventually, Khust's forces were overwhelmed and pushed from the planet. The populations of Lima Rogan, Troudor and many others revolted, pushing Bucharis' forces further back. Bucharis' coffers were emptying more rapidly than they could be filled. Many of his soldiers deserted and there was infighting and dissension even within the highest ranks of his army. Still the revolts continued, and finally, Methalor, the closest planet to Gathalamor, revolted, its principal hive destroyed by an inferno started when the inhabitants overloaded the geothermal power grid. Bucharis was worried now. He doubled the cordon on his system and had all ships searched as they entered. After the fall of Methalor a messenger arrived at the Cardinal Palace on Gathalamor. With a defiant look and a stern voice, the messenger proclaimed himself the envoy of Confessor Dolan Chirosius. Confessor Dolan called for the immediate surrender of Bucharis. The Cardinal was ordered to resign his position, renounce his heresies and throw himself on the mercy of the Emperor.
The messenger's remains were nailed to the gates of the Palace to be feasted on by rats and crows.
Dolan would be coming to Gathalamor soon and Bucharis wanted his slaves' first glimpse of their saviour to be one of a man bound with chains and whipped through the streets. Soon enough, Dolan's shuttle was boarded as it neared the world and the Confessor was taken into custody, charged with various acts of heresy and treason against the Emperor.
As Bucharis had intended, Dolan was chained and driven through the streets. Soldiers from his army whipped the Confessor with flails and hurled stones at him. They stuck hooks into his flesh and hung them with weights, driving him onwards with kicks and punches. The crowds however were not so impressed. There were no cheers of approval, but there were no cries of condemnation either. Dolan was dragged across the entire continent in this manner for over six months. All the while however, his fiery stare would not diminish and he never bowed to Bucharis. Bucharis then ordered a public trial, but it was totally rigged and would find Dolan guilty. After five months, the prosecution had finished and a thousand worlds waited for the results. Dolan represented himself and freely admitted to stirring up the people of all of the rebellious world to fight against Bucharis. He used the time to appeal to the masses, although Bucharis didn't see this. It was this speech that Bucharis allowed that eventually led to his downfall. Bucharis had Dolan tortured for eight months. When at last he died, his maimed body was flung from the walls of the Palace for the scavenging dogs and birds to feast upon. Despite the horrendous torments inflicted upon his body, Dolan's face exuded a calm serenity and peace lay like an aura across his corpse. Those who saw it wept openly, even though any who exhibited such grief were themselves accused of heresy and put to death. The scavengers never had their meal: Dolan's body disappeared shortly after and was never found.
The End of an Empire
Bucharis's plan to shame the Confessor backfired horribly. By allowing Dolan to speak he had given him the ability to rally the masses on all of the worlds ruled by Bucharis. When Dolan's death was announced, the entire empire erupted in rebellion. The populations of a thousand worlds overthrew their cruel overseers, almost at the same time. The men, women and children were inspired by the will of the Confessor and faced their enemies' guns with bare hands. Bucharis's palace was stormed as traitors from within opened the gates. Bucharis fled the palace as a small handful of loyal warriors held back the tide of doom coming his way. He used tunnels to escape the palace and ran to the spaceport, giving up all he had worked for to save his own life. Just as he was boarding a shuttle, the inhabitants overran the electric fences by piling on them to make them short-circuit. He was captured in a wave of screaming mobsters and his body was torn to pieces. His body was never recovered, but when the mass of citizens moved away, the scattered ashes of a fire was all that was left to mark the place of his death.
Trail of Unbelief
During the greater Plague of Unbelief, the Dark Angels began a two-decade long campaign beset with many battles to hunt down Machius, a lieutenant of Bucharis. Despite several ambushes by Night Lords along the way, the Dark Angels Ravenwing prevailed and was able to locate Machius on the plague-ridden planet of Gronmoth, capturing him in the Battle of Black Death.
Second Plague of Unbelief
Many years later during the closing years of M41, a Second Plague of Unbelief would emerge, this time around Segmentum Obscurus in the prelude to Abaddon the Despoilers Thirteenth Black Crusade. Here, the Plague was spread by fanatical sects that had arisen which attributed recent turmoil such as Chaos Space Marine raids, pestilence, and Plague Zombies to a deviation from the Emperors original message. Speculating that the strife was punishment for their sins, the Plague swept through the region of Imperial space surrounding the Eye of Terror and full-fledged rebellion soon erupted on many Imperial worlds. The chief instigator of this Plague of Unbelief was the mysterious Voice of the Emperor.
- Codex: Sisters of Battle (2nd Edition), pgs. 39-42
- Codex: Space Wolves (2nd Edition), [Needs Citation]