Warning: This is a longer one. Not cos I’m being verbose… but cos this is the Blood Angels we’re talking about here… and there was a LOT to this one.
I am… not what you’d call a fan of vampires. This was not always the case, and it’s actually a bit embarassing for Your Noobness here. Being a Gen-X-er, we didn’t have the Twilight novels. Or the specific flavor of bad taste required to want to read such things. Oh no. We had Anne Rice’s Lestat novels and shows like Forever Knight. (Hey, my parents had the original Dark Shadows, so I dodged a bullet there.) We had Bram Stoker’s Dracula, complete with Gary Freakin’ Oldman and a Pinball Game to boot! We had Castlevania: Symphony of the Knight. We had Vampire Hunter D. And I had all that stuff, along with the occasional daydream of only living at night, feeding on the evildoer…
It all got a bit old for Your Noobness at the turn of the century when I was out in Seattle. I was goth-ed out. I was much more into science and science fiction by then. Of the classic horror archetypes, I was more Mad Scientist than Creature of the Night. Several friends over time have tried to introduce me to White Wolf Games and Vampire: The Masquerade. And I will say I’ve given it an honest try a couple of times. White Wolf are a bunch of keen writers. And I trust they’ll let me know if they ever fit a ruleset into their books full of purple prose. I’d be more interested in Mage: The Ascension than Vampire though. I left all that blood-suckage behind about half a decade before I started seeing Twilight merch behind the windows of Hot Topic. I was pretty much done, but left with preconceptions about vampires all the same.
So. With the release of the new Mephiston mini, as well as the Blood of Baal volume, as well as two related novels from the Black Library, as WELL as having spoken about Mephiston in the Thanksgiving Podcast… well, it seems like the world is trying to tell me something. I can take a hint. So let’s me look into and read up on The Blood Angels.
So to start with… I’m seeing that they were one of the founding LEGIONS of the first founding. Not just a chapter that came after when Guilliman broke them up to prevent later tragic betrayals like Horus’ Heresy. (And if I say that these guys NEVER really recovered from that, you may also say that’s putting it lightly.) So these guys have ALWAYS been around. They’re the longest living, (imagine that.) on the order of living up to a thousand years. They’ve had, due to attrition, to get replenishment from their successor chapters of late… and there are a LOT of those. They’re also getting some Primaris troops from Guilliman and Cawl, as well as the tech to make more little Blood Angel Primaris marines of their own. And this… well may not be the best of things, considering their genetic… Well, let’s be kind and call them expressive pre-dispositions.
Ya see… when The Emprah (How’s it going Pyrrhus?!) made the original legions of Space Marines, it was still kind of an experimental thing. He was trying different ways to make them and make more from those original prototypes. And then they ALL got stolen and flung through the warp as infants to far off worlds and they had to be found again. But when they were found again later on, they all had genetic flaws due to their interaction with The Warp. This would become important much later.
Now the Primarchs, or these original templates for the modern chapters of the Space Marines created by the Emprah if you will, made one for the Blood Angels who came to be called Sanguinius… Again with the names. Literally: ‘Being like the color of blood red’… Or optimistic in horrible circumstances. Sanguinius was eventually found on the inhabited moon of Baal, Baal Secondus. If that sounds familiar in light of recent releases, it’s that Baal is pretty much the Blood Angels’ throneworld. Anyway, iitty-bitty Sang had itty bitty lil wings on after his time in the Warp. And the locals, or ‘THE FOLK OF PURE BLOOD‘ as they liked to call themselves, just about killed him as a mutant. But then they decided to raise him instead. Yay them! He grew. His wings grew. He was a product of superbeing technology after all. So of course he grew up to be a literal angelic paragon of the species. By the time he was fully grown (which wasn’t long) he was being worshiped as divine by the indigenous populace. And that’s how the Emprah found him.
He and the Emprah were immediately bros. Or perhaps father and son might be a better comparison. They didn’t even ‘Marvel Misunderstanding’ fight, like most of the primarchs did when He found them. Sanguinius just knelt and joined the imperium. The Emperor raised Sanguinius’ warriors up to Space Marines with his rediscovered son’s gene seed, and now you’ve got the 9th Legion. The Blood Angels.
And honestly, it would seem that Sang here was perhaps the closest genetic expression of their father, the Emprah there was. The Primarch and Warmaster Horus (with whom you are all familiar by now by his famous Heresy) was one of Sang’s bestest buds. And even Horus acknowledged the fact of Sang’s nobility and purity. I mean you’ve heard the term ‘Mary Sue‘. (Originally spawned in the Trek Fandom, but very much appropriated in the 21st century by the Twilight Saga.) Someone so perfect they are not to honestly be believed. Usually a self-inserted character by fanfic authors. The male version of this character trope has been referred to as a ‘Gary Stu‘. And I am SO getting this vibe off both the Emperor and Sanguinius here.
Now as the song says, here’s the part of the story… that gets a little bit sad.
And you also may be thinking to yourself, “This is more about the Blood Angels’ Primarch than their chapter of the Space Marines.” And you’d be right about that so far. This Space Marines chapter is very much bound up in the origins and the tragedy of their Primarch in rather a big way. Who they are, why they are the way they are and how they got that way is part of that story too. Y’see, when ol’ Warmaster Horus (also Sanguinius’ brother and one of his bestest friends ever) was turned to Chaos and lost his grace, turning his legions upon the Emperor and his once-allies, he was pretty much, “Yeah. Sang’s not going to betray our dad with me and my legions. I mean this is Sanguinius the Perfect we’re talking about here.” Except Horus knew something that no-one else did about Mr. Winged Perfection here. His gene flaw. One Sanguinius had kept to himself alone. One Horus discovered when he literally found our blonde haired angel drinking the blood of one of his own men that he’d freshly murdered. The Red Thirst.
AHA! I hear you cry. Here’s the Vampirism! And you’d KINDA be right. It’s not any biological NEED to live some blasphemous anti-life in defiance of God or anything like the traditional kinda Vampire lore. (THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE! THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE!!) This is more of a slow but eventual mental degeneration into bloodlust and madness. But this is more just a self-destructive yearning that manifests itself in a thirst for blood. This isn’t your rosy-cheeked but somehow repulsively awful-ness of a fully fed vampire; though the blood angels are very pale with the elongated canine teeth you might expect. This is more like your Anne Rice or similarly inspired pale-but-beautiful anime vampires with a tragic but dark secret. (Cue: Sting – Moon Over Bourbon Street.) So this is KINDA Vampirism, but meaningfully divergent enough for copyright purposes.
But wait… it gets worse.
Putting a VERY long story of sad betrayal of Sanguinius by an increasingly insane and hateful Horus short; Sanguinius battled a Daemon Lord that knocked him unconscious with the psychic backlash of 500 of his battle brothers demise. And this kind of kick-started in Sanguinius the OTHER curse of the Blood Angels… The Black Rage. But more on that in a little. At this point in the story, Sanguinius has got a darkness opening up in him. He’s got a dark anger living in him that’s ready to wipe out any being of Chaos he sees. One that’s hungry for vengeance for his fallen brethren. Coming at this from a more literary point of view, I get the idea that here is where Sanguinius knows he must eventually go too. Cos while he’s not lost his grace yet… he knows it’s just a matter of time.
Anyway, on with Sang’s ‘Semi-Perfect’ life. After that battle, he gets to Ultramar, and Guilliman proclaims the guy to be the rightful heir to Emperor Pyrrhus, ( I AM STILL CALLING HIM THAT!) and Emperor of the Second Imperium. And much drama happens between him, Guilliman, Lion El’Johnson, Konrad Curze and the like, and then we move on to The Battle of Terra (capitalized on purpose). And near the end of that battle, Horus invites the Emperor aboard his flagship for a final confrontation between the two. (before loyalists who were already en route showed up to kick Horus to the cold concrete, that is.) Sanguinius went with him.
Sanguinius was, of course, psychically gifted like his dad. (cos of course he was.) And among his gifts was precognition. Prophecy, that is. He knew what was about to happen. So I’m guessing Sang was a bit of a fatalist, cos he went anyway. And while fighting through Horus’ flagship, he got separated from the group. And met his brother, Horus on his own. They fought, though Sang knew he was outmatched before the Chaos-Swole Horus. And Horus killed him in the most painful ways he possibly could, generating a psychic pain and anguish so profound it was projected through space and time. And it was heard in every Blood Angel thereafter. And here’s where the Black Rage comes in.
And if you want, consider someone in the throes of a really bad moment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Someone entirely lost in a moment of trauma in their past. Reliving it with all the pain, fear, anger and distress they felt at the time. Every one of the Blood Angels with Sanguinius’ gene-seed has this. They still feel this all-consuming moment of Sanguinius’ death. All the time. Every day. And they keep it at bay for the most part. But the ‘Black Rage’ Sanguinius felt while being murdered by his brother Horus is something that eventually consumes every Blood Angel in the end. It may be sooner. It may be in 1000 years. But eventually… That madness and the Red Thirst overcomes them. And they become irrevocably locked in that Black Rage.
This is why Sanguinius’ backstory is so tied up in this chapter of the Space Marines. Members of the Blood Angels that fall to the Thirst and the Rage are put in special units. NO they’re not still fighting alongside their former battle brothers. Like I said, they’re IRREVOCABLY insane with rage. So they basically put brothers like this in black armor and put em in the DEATH COMPANY. Essentially, they send companies or Black Enraged marines to enemy space. So they can burn themselves out in battle. Killing as many as they can in the armies of chaos until they’re spent in death. (I’ve actually seen this in Doctor Who.)
This is a growing problem. More and more of the Blood Angels are succumbing to their twin curses. They’re losing more troops than they’re making. And while it seemed the Primaris treatment had perhaps defeated the problem for a bit… it didn’t last. So as vaunted and admired as they are… It would seem that this is a chapter with an expiration date. Accelerated by the idea that these guys know exactly that. So they strive for a heroic death in service to the Emperor. Better to die in battle than to succumb to madness. But it’s diminishing their numbers faster than they can replenish them. So something’s gotta happen in their favor soon, or the Sons of Sanguinius will be a thing referred to in the past tense.
They are working on it… but it’s not going well. As they age, Blood Angel marines spend longer and longer between battles being transfused to scrub their blood of the curses that get ever more pronounced. But there’s not exactly a cure for it. The only brothers that seem to have come close are the Adeptus Mechanicus spawned Primaris and the successor chapter from the ‘cursed’ 21st founding, the Lamenters. Both exhibit the Blood Angel curses, but in delayed or reduced forms. And in the Lamenters, the pronounced lack seems to express itself in an equally pronounced melancholy and oddly… bad luck.
Now this is not to say that the Blood Angels aren’t entirely capable in battle. Putting it Pokemon terms, “THE EMPEROR USED ‘BLOOD ANGELS’, IT’S SUPER EFFECTIVE“. These guys are fierce and terrible in battle, as their curses would make them when they’re not busy being paragons of virtue. Most of them were uplifted when they were recruited from quite humble backgrounds, and were usually afflicted with some sort of disease or similarly awful circumstance. Therefore when raised up to that kind of angelic status, they’re still able to be as pious and virtuous as their brothers always have been. They don’t let it go to their heads. It puts me in mind of the Gray Wardens from Dragon Age to be honest, who had a similar blood rite of passage that eventually dooms them. That said, the 9th Legion here in the days of old were a whole order of magnitude fiercer than their fellows on the battle field before the Heresy. And that? That’s only gotten fiercer still.
Coupled with their curses, back in the day, the 9th Legion had another name on the battlefield… the ‘Eaters of the Dead’. But even this was more than just bloody-minded obeisance to the Red Thirst which they weren’t fully aware of in the days before the Heresy. They were just notably savage blood-shedders in the Emperor’s service. They actually have, LIKE ALL THE OTHER SPACE MARINES, the ability to absorb the skills and knowledge of their fallen foes by feasting on them. And the 9th gathered a lot of intelligence on their foes by doing just that. All space marines have a gland that allows this Omophagea, but in the 9th it was particularly robust and pronounced. (YA THINK?) The 9th Legion even practiced a form of cannabalism. Not from any grisly need to eat the dead. (much…) But to preserve the knowledge and skills of their fallen captains. They even took on the names of those they consumed that way to honor them.
Not that the legends of ‘The Immortal Ninth‘ did anything for their reputation back before Sanguinius was found in the days before the Heresy. Their single-minded dedication to battle, once committed, was to win it utterly. Their savagery and their… unique dining habits, made them a dark presence in the service of the Emperor. And one that was not just a little noticed by the other legions and chapters. And over time, an air of superstitious dread and revulsion has set in with those other chapters. The Imperial Fists wanted nothing to do with them back in the day. And the 9th Legion became more pariahs than paragons. It was all done in the name of brutal practicality. But done all the same.
It was when their Primarch, Sanguinius came to them that they found redemption from the violent monsterdom they were falling headlong into. Sanguinius reclaimed the 9th Legion and renamed them as the Blood Angels. He set them trials and directives to shed the animosity and dread they inspired. He brought strategy and the need for tempering wisdom to their bloodlust. He really reminded them of what they were meant to be in the first place. And he really turned the chapter around. Discipline and honor were added to the terrible fury they had in battle. And all the bad rumor and dread receded into legend. They still had the thirst, but the newly christened Blood Angels nobly kept that in check until they couldn’t, and then were ‘retired‘ honorably. And in the end, by the Great Crusade, the Blood Angels were storied and honorable paragons of the Emperor.
They’ve clung to that, despite all the breaks they’ve got going against them. They’re excited about the influx of Primaris, since they were pretty much resigned to flaming out and seeing their chapter extinguished by attrition. They figure they’ve got a fighting chance to fight once more. And even though the curses still resound in their newer recruits, they’re fighting with more dedication and zeal than ever.
And that’s Blood Angels. The Sons of Sanguinius. Beautiful and terrible. All shall behold them and despair. Paragons of virtue and brightness while at the same time humbled by the vilest and most terrible of curses. (In game-master terms, your stuff is so good I’mma give you two BIG flaws.) Seekers of perfection and beauty that they can never have.