Characters / Warhammer 40000 Imperium

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In an empire of a million worlds, how much can one man truly matter? Only one being is truly essential to its continued existence, hail his name, the Master of Mankind. And he has not spoken in ten thousand years...

The Imperium of Man, ruled from Holy Terra, is The Empire of Warhammer 40,000, and a particularly brutal and dystopian one at that. After the collapse of galactic civilization, a being known only as The Emperor of Mankind led his Great Crusade to reunify humanity in an enlightened new order. But just when a new golden age seemed imminent, the newly-forged Imperium was wracked by civil war as half of the Emperor's sons turned against him. The Horus Heresy was ultimately quashed, but at a terrible price: countless worlds were left in cinders, untold trillions were dead, and the Emperor himself was mortally wounded and forced to "ascend" to the Golden Throne, an arcane life-support machine.

Ten thousand years later the Emperor is venerated as a God, the Imperium's technology has barely progressed, Witch Hunts are commonplace since every rogue psyker is a potential gateway for the Legions of Hell, thousands of souls are sacrificed each day to power the Golden Throne and the psychic navigational aid known as the Astronomican, planets deemed tainted beyond salvation are subject to Exterminatus, and the sheer size of the Terran bureaucracy means that entire planetary populations can be forgotten due to filing errors.

Though it is by far the largest and most powerful faction in the galaxy, the Imperium is nonetheless an empire under constant siege from the rival powers of the galaxy. However, its greatest threats come from within, in the form of heretics undermining the authority of the High Lords of Terra or Ecclesiarchy, recidivists who understandably want to get the hell out from under the heel of such an oppressive government, or mutants and rogue psykers who threaten the purity of the human race itself. This siege mentality makes the Imperium a paranoid and superstitious place, but also keeps much of the populace in line — though it is a far cry from the Emperor's original vision, it is the only thing standing between mankind and extinction. At least, that's what the various higher ups like to believe...

Important pre-Heresy figures include the Emperor, the Primarchs, and Malcador the Sigillite. Post-Heresy, there are a number of significant factions that form the backbone of the current Imperium.


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    General tropes relating to the Imperium 

  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The Imperium is a cross between the worst parts of Nazi Germany and the Spanish Inquisition; however, they come across as one of the less evil factions in this dump of a universe — especially when compared to some of the other groups.
  • Alternative Calendar: An interesting case in that the standard Imperial Calendar uses the same year count as the Anno Domini/Gregorian one, although the actual dating tends to vary depending on the planet.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • Since the magic system of 40K is based on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, belief can have power. Belief can also make someone fall to the Ruinous Powers and become a monster, or make someone into a Knight Templar working against those same gods.
    • It should be noted that while religious belief isn't treated nicely, outright atheism is treated as even worse. The reason no one saw the Horus Heresy coming and didn't believe it once it started was because the Imperial Truth had outlawed all belief in demons, magic, etc. The Emperor vehemently refused to be worshiped as a god, to the point of ordering the Ultramarines to slaughter Imperial citizens whose only crime was being taught by the Word Bearers that they should do so.
    • The reason the Imperial way had outlawed such beliefs was because the Emperor had determined the relationship between the Warp and physical beings, and wanted to avoid making the Chaos entities stronger. What he didn't realise was that even without active belief/worship, the Chaos Gods are strengthened simply by humans going about their day-to-day existence; fighting, loving, planning, sickening and dying — an effective way to combat this is fervent belief in something else (i.e. the Emperor). The Imperium did some pretty stupid things at both extremes. They never hit the interim point between fanatically denying there is anything other than what strict real-world science teaches to just as fanatically revering the God Emperor. This point, where the society in question doesn't worship anything but, at the same time, openly recognizes and seeks to guard against Chaos, tends to be shown as being just as effective at fighting against Chaos as the Imperial Cult.
  • Big Fancy Castle: The Imperial Palace, a massive construct made of gold which covers most of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Tibetan Plateau, and is not only visible from orbit, but also visible from Mars. It's the heart of the Administratum and, most importantly, the site of the Golden Throne.
  • Bizarre Human Biology: All the various abhumans, but especially the superhuman Space Marines.
  • Blind Seer: Astropaths, sanctioned psykers that act as the Imperium's communications network, are rendered blind (and sometimes even more crippled than that, to the point of losing other senses) by the Soul Binding ritual that reshapes their minds.
  • Bling of War: Good God-Emperor, yes. They even gold-plate some of their starships.
  • The Caligula: More than a few Planetary Governors (Herman von Strab of Armageddon was pretty blatant.
  • Can't Argue With Humies: You'll know if an in-setting character is or isn't a typical human based on whether or not they shoot down reasonable statements, arguments, questions and/or criticisms spoken by aliens with canned variations of, "You're an alien; your opinion is worthless!" This superiority complex is prevalent amongst Space Marines and especially Imperial Guard players as well.
  • Catchphrase: "For the Emperor!" and "The Emperor protects!"
  • Central Themes:
    • The Fallen Greatness of Man: Everywhere in the Imperium, there is decay of mind, body, and spirit. Once, the armies of Man were led by Demigods; now, the forces of the Imperium are fragmented and distrustful of each other. The God-Emperor conquered the galaxy in a few centuries, but the Imperium now struggles to merely survive. Men once rearranged the stars to better suit themselves, but Imperial technology has been largely stagnant, when not actually regressive, for over ten thousand years. "In ancient times, men built wonders, laid claim to the stars and sought to better themselves for the good of all. But we are much wiser now."
      • During the Golden Age of Technology the galaxy was already explored by humans. The government was benevolent and liberal to allow xeno races to coexist peacefully, despite being able to crush it with little effort. But then the Age of Strife came, losing almost all technology achievements and bringing us research monopoly and A.I. prohibition.
    • Mortality and Insignificance of the Individual: The galaxy is a big place, trillions battle for humanity's survival, thousands of wars rage unchecked, and against this backdrop, the death of millions and destruction of entire worlds is rendered insignificant. Imperial Dogma reflects this: there are death and skull motifs everywhere, and Imperial culture is an especially fatalistic one. "Serve the Emperor, for tomorrow you may be dead."
    • The End Justifies the Means: The Imperium's war is ultimately one of survival; merely living to see the next day is hailed as victory, and the price of defeat is extinction of the human race and destruction of the very fabric of reality. Against that, what is a few million lives, or even an entire world? What mercy can one afford to those who would bend knee to the Xeno or Daemon? Better that they all die. And of the loyal souls lost? Well, "The Martyr's Grave is the Keystone of the Imperium."
  • Character Exaggeration: Much of what's been described about the Imperial Guard for this trope can apply to the Imperium as a whole. While the Imperium's bleak, "Grim Dark" nature is exaggerated by some to the point of Flanderization, the sheer size and expanse of the Emperor's realms mean that the more brutal and dystopian parts of it tend to stand out more. Meanwhile, many settled worlds are roughly AD 1000-2000 in terms of development and otherwise relatively quiet compared to the average Hive World, with some planets explicitly described as being paradises. There are whole regions of the Imperium that are pockets of stable, relatively safe calm, such as Ultramar. In other words, there actually are halfway-pleasant places to live if you're lucky — or if your name isn't Ciaphas Cain. Games-Workshop is largely to blame for this; they regularly try to assert (or reassert) the dystopian nature of the setting, and planets not infected by "grimdark" can lead people to wonder if it's really as bad as they say.
  • Church Militant: The Adeptus Ministorum, or Ecclesiarchy, exhorts Imperial citizens to kill and die in the Emperor's name. The Ecclesiarchy also supplies priests and preachers to help whip the Imperial Guard into a zealous frenzy, and while it's technically restricted from having its own dedicated army, it employs the the Sisters of Battle, the military orders of the Adepta Sororitas, as the Decree Passive states that it may not have "men under arms".
  • City Planet: The Imperium has two types. The first type are Hive Worlds, planets whose surfaces have been covered with Hive Cities. Life on these worlds are especially unpleasant for the lower classes living in the under hives, even for the Imperium. The second type are Forge Worlds, planets devoted wholly to building the technology the Imperium needs.
  • Civil War:
    • The Horus Heresy was what turned the Imperium into the barely functioning husk that it is.
    • The Age of Apostasy started as a struggle for dominance between the Administratum and the Ecclesiarchy, which Goge Vandire ended by becoming head of both, and then became a civil war when the Space Marines and the Adeptus Mechanicus rebelled against Vandire's increasingly repressive and bloody rule.
    • The Badab War, the biggest Space Marine vs Space Marine war since the Horus Heresy, is very much an example as to why there are limits to the number of Astartes in a regular chapter.
    • If you're a planetary governor, making a bargain with the Tau or the forces of Chaos is an easy way to bring the wrath of the Imperium upon you.
  • Common Tongue: Imperial or Low Gothic, which is used for everyday conversation (and is translated into English for the sake of convenience).
  • Corrupt Church: As the Ecclesiarch became the most powerful of the High Lords, the Ecclesiarchy became wealthy and at times corrupt. This "Temple Tendency" is considered heresy by the Inquisition following the Age of Apostasy, and is purged with extreme prejudice.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: During the Age of Technology, humanity became completely reliant on the Standard Template Construct system for technological development and proliferation, with no other system being nearly as reliable or easily reproducible. Also, control of the process was ceded to the AIs running the STCs so humans could enjoy other pursuits. The Men of Iron took advantage of this in their rebellion, corrupting STC databases and wrecking as much of the actual machinery of the STCs as they could. When they were finally stopped, humanity had only fragments of its technological base remaining and few, if any people who had any knowledge of how to fix anything. Millennia later, the current Imperium is still suffering from the effects of this loss of tech knowledge.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Imperial Cult in general, which seems to incorporate several (likely distorted) elements from Catholicism in its veneration to the God-Emperor.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The Imperium is going down and they're taking everyone they can with them.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: It is shown time and time again that the harsh conditions of the Imperium do not equal a very well-run state. The only thing keeping humanity together is constant outside threats from xenos forces and Chaos, and its size means the exponential growth is barely outpacing the exponential decay.
  • The Empire: Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Fantastic Racism: Fantastic in how bad it gets.
    • Xenophobia is deeply entrenched in the Imperial Cult, and every Imperial citizen is expected to hate and fear aliens. This also extends to extreme genetic deviations in humanity itself, as the human genome is considered sacred. While abhumans are tolerated, and some such as Ogryns and Ratlings are useful in the Imperial Guard, mutants are treated as abominations or worse, and creating retroviruses that seek to change it is among the greatest of sins. The Space Marines are technically transhuman, but since they are protectors of the Imperium and were created by the Emperor himself, they are both revered and feared as his "Angels of Death."
    • The Imperium's most hated foes are the Gue'vesa infantry, of all people. Not because they're especially vicious or anything, but rather because they're viewed as race traitors by abandoning the Imperium for the Tau Empire.
  • Feudal Future: A necessity, given the Imperium's sheer size and the unreliability of interstellar communication. But note that a planetary overlord is not necessarily a baron or other hereditary title: so long as a governor provides the necessary tithes in manpower, sends their psykers to the Black Ships, and keeps things in some semblance of order, the High Lords of Terra don't care if it's a monarchy or republic.
  • Forever War: Ten thousand years and counting.
  • The Government: The Adeptus Terra, the "Priesthood of Earth," is an umbrella organization that includes the major Adepts, or government servants. In practice, though, the organizations of the Adeptus Terra are autonomous (and seriously distrustful) of each other.
  • Hopeless War: The Imperium is dying, the vultures are circling, but it has a lot of fight in it yet. A mere hundred years ago, it was at its strongest ever, conquering a thousand worlds in a mere decade, and it still has men and tanks enough to throw into the meatgrinder.
  • A House Divided: Many Imperial institutions were deliberately designed to monitor and check the others' power, which reduces their effectiveness but keeps one man from seizing control. For example, the Ecclesiarchy is banned from keeping "men under arms" to stop cardinals from becoming warlords, while the Imperial Guard is wholly reliant on the Imperial Navy for troop transport for the same reason.
    • Almost all of these draconian laws were put in place after Learning The Hard Way. Hobbes Was Right.
  • Human Resources:
    • Almost every world in the Imperium is required to tithe a portion of its population as soldiers for the Imperial Guard. Some worlds, such as Cadia and Catachan, are so known for this that they label humans as their primary export. The exceptions are worlds controlled by the Space Marines, as their populations are generally expected to work for the benefit of whichever Chapter is in charge.
    • Imperial worlds' psykers are rounded up to be collected by the Blackships of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and taken back to Terra for testing. Those with sufficient potential and control are trained as battlefield psykers, astropaths, or even future Inquisitors, while the rest are sacrificed to power the Astronomican or maintain the Golden Throne.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: With the Imperium's religious fanaticism, aggressiveness in taking over the Galaxy, overzealous anthropocentricism (see above), and their ability to make Nineteen Eighty-Four look like the cliched portrayals of 1950s America, it doesn't take a genius to see why fans sometimes call the Imperials "Catholic Space Nazis."
  • Humans Are Morons: The average Imperial citizen's source of knowledge is enormously untrue propaganda, leaving them ignorant, fearful and superstitious; said traits are even extolled barefaced with those exact words by said propaganda. This doesn't necessarily mean that Imperials are idiots so much as they're either unaware of what's lurking all around them or would rather not know what's out to kill them.
  • Humans Are Warriors: This is why humanity is still alive in a galaxy where everything wants them dead; they have a great many and powerful warriors. Though not particularly great on an individual basis, there's a lot of individuals.
  • Hypocrite:
    • There are quite a lot of Imperial citizens who would like to slay all psykers indiscriminately. Leaving aside the fact that a lack of psykers would cause the Imperium to collapse in a matter of days (if not hours), such an ideology also neatly ignores the uncomfortable fact that the Emperor himself is/was a psyker.
    • The Imperium holds the purity of the human form sacred and regularly hunts down mutants and others with "defects". Their greatest soldiers, the Space Marines, are packed with so many biological and cybernetic enhancements that they can't really be considered human anymore, and they use Ogryns and other abhumans in their Imperial Guard regiments even though they're blatantly mutants.
    • Special mention goes to their policy on Xenos. Their most common accusations are that Eldar are arrogant and always look out for themselves above the lives of others, Orks are murderous, stupid and trigger-happy and the Tau are sinister imperialists with skeletons in the closet. It never dawns on them that all these things could be said about the Imperium as well.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Rogue Traders are starship captains who seek fame and fortune on the galactic frontiers, discovering long-lost human settlements, exploiting alien species before the inevitable genocide campaign, or searching for ancient archeotech. The more successful ones own military-grade capital ships, if not their own worlds to govern.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner:
    • The Adeptus Arbites are basically expies of Judge Dredd, although instead of pounding a beat, they act as Internal Affairs, to frequent resentment, to planetary police and governments; otherwise, they concentrate on rebellion, civil unrest, smuggling, and interplanetary organised crime.
    • The aptly named Inquisition also functions in this respect, being literally above the law and able to render judgement as they see fit whenever they see fit. Inquisitor Lord Karamazov famously executed a young man because people believed he was the reincarnation of the Emperor (he thought otherwise). Karamazov basically skipped the trial and went straight to roasting the boy on the spot. While later findings would vindicate Karamazov's decision, the Thorian Inquisitors felt Karamazov did it to spite them.
  • Just Before the End: The 40K epoch has optimistically been labeled The Time of Ending.
  • Kill It with Fire: This is official policy to all threats to the Imperium — which is everyone.
  • Light Is Not Good: Uses quite some angelic imagery and themes, but it's not really that much better to any other side. Of course, the Imperials say they're the good guys.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: The Imperium of Man is basically the culture of Medieval Europe and everything from the 11th-20th Centuries with technology far beyond it, hence the nickname of "Catholic Space Nazis." Meanwhile, the Horus Heresy books suggest that the earlier days of the Imperium took quite a bit from the Roman Empire, with the Imperial Palace in particular looking much more Roman than the Gothic-inspired architecture of the post-Heresy years.
  • Martyrdom Culture: This telling line of wisdom from the Imperium: "Even a man who has nothing can still have faith. Even a man who has nothing can still offer his life."
    • ...AND MANY MORE!
    • Within the Imperium, there are lines known as "Thoughts for the Day", sayings attached to official documents. To sum it up, the Thoughts tell you that life sucks and something horrible is going to kill you in a horrible way, so you might as well kill as many of them for the Emperor as you can before you die.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: A billion isn't even considered a significant loss for the Imperium.
  • Necessarily Evil: The alternative to some of the Imperium's policies is dying out or being conquered. Yeah, it's that kind of setting.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Administratum has planets of them, one of which is on the verge of a civil war on where to store the files.
  • Obviously Evil: In this case "Obviously Morally Grey" The Imperium's use of grim cyborgs, skulls, and intimidatingly large architecture makes it clear they are not about being nice people.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Staunchly on Order's side with its focus on stability and law and such, and zealously fighting Chaos.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The Schola Progenium, run by the Ecclesiarchy, is an orphanage for children of Imperial soldiers and officials, where they receive a strong Imperial Cult upbringing, with graduates often going on to become Commissars, Inquisitors, Assassins, and other Imperial officials, while a number of the girls go on to join the Adepta Sororitas. Military exercises, harsh discipline, and caustic, unyielding instructors are commonplace, and deaths are not uncommon although they're meant to be avoided as this deprives the Imperial military structure of future recruits.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The Imperium was founded as an enlightened, secular society disdainful of "daemons" or afterlives, not because the Emperor thought such things didn't exist, but because he was trying to starve the Chaos gods and keep his people from delving into matters best left unknown. This Imperial Truth backfired spectacularly, and today the Imperium clings to their belief in the God-Emperor because they know damn well what's out to get them.
  • Planet Terra: They call it Holy Terra, but still played straight.
  • The Protagonist: As the largest faction and the main human government, various works of Warhammer 40,000 operate with the Imperium as the main characters. 40K being what it is, "protagonist" is the most neutral term to call the Imperium. Calling them The Heroes would be giving them too much credit, while calling them Villain Protagonists is not giving them enough credit.
  • Puny Earthlings: An unaugmented human is one of the physically weakest sapients in the galaxy. They make up for this with the Space Marines, the best tanks and Humongous Mecha, a decent amount of psychic potential (the Imperium's psykers outnumber the Eldar, but their psykers' abilities far outstrip those of the Imperium's), and a lot of manpower.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Imperium has always had shades of this, but when the Emperor actually reigned, things were a lot more pleasant. After the Horus Heresy, well...
  • Regent for Life: The High Lords of Terra rule the Imperium of Man in the name of the God-Emperor. Since the Emperor isn't likely to get off the Golden Throne anytime soon, they've been running the show for the last ten thousand years. They include, but are not limited to, the Master of the Administratum, the Ecclesiarch, the Fabricator-General of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, the Lord Commander of the Imperial Guard, the Lord High Admiral of the Imperial Navy, the Grand-Provost Marshal of the Adeptus Arbites, and representatives of the Navis Nobilite and Inquisition.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: There are leaders and officials who are actually sane across the Imperium, though preservers of the "grimdark" will have you believe that for every one of them, there are two or three others who are Obstructive Bureaucrats, General Failures and/or Knight Templars.
  • Right Hand vs. Left Hand: This was institutionalized after the Horus Heresy to make sure no one man could ever topple the Imperium again. A constant, low grade civil war is a small price to pay for this balance in the eyes of the High Lords. Although after ten thousand years, the policy is beginning to backfire on them.
  • Sacred Language: High Gothic (which sounds like Latin) and is used as the official language of records for the Adeptus Terra.
  • Scam Religion: In very early materials, the Imperial Faith was a blatantly false screed used to keep less-civilised worlds in line, which, to the embarrassment of other powerful forces, was beginning to be taken over by true believers. This was Retconned partway through First Edition in favour of a more or less sincere theocratic element within the Adeptus Terra.
  • Species Loyalty: Official policy. Those who ally with xenos instead of killing them are considered the worst of traitors.
  • Starship Luxurious: The upper decks of their ships, certainly. The officers, astropaths, navigators, and other important people live in what are, essentially, palaces that have been vacuum-sealed and welded to the top of the ship.
    • Not so much for the rest of the crew in the hulls of these ships.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Imperial Tarot is occasionally consulted as another manifestation of the God-Emperor's will and foresight.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Nobody denies that the Imperium is the most dystopian and tyrannical government humanity has ever known, but nothing else could survive the unending torrent of horrors that are trying to devour, exterminate, seduce, brainwash, corrupt, vaporize and/or otherwise destroy humanity.
  • Treachery Cover Up: After the Horus Heresy, attempts were made to excise that dark period from history with varying success. Some worlds are dumbstruck when they are confronted by Traitor Marines, while on others Horus's fall to darkness is common knowledge. This has had subtle effects on virtually all of Imperial society. For example, all canonical Space Marine chapters have Chaplains, Badass Preachers of the Imperial Cult whose primary task is to keep their charges from falling to Chaos. But, pre-Heresy, the Chaplains only existed amongst one Legion, the Word Bearers, and this intense devotion to religion made them the very first Legion to fall to Chaos.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: The Adeptus Administratum (the Imperial Bureaucracy), as the administrative and bureaucratic arm of the Adeptus Terra, assesses the tithes worlds must pay to the Imperium, takes census data, and maintains copious records of virtually everything. Unfortunately, ten thousand years has resulted in enormous bureaucratic incompetence. Whole planets can be lost due to rounding errors, Imperial Guard reinforcements can be anywhere from months to centuries late because of bureaucratic inertia, and departments will continue to function long after they're obsolete. The Master of the Administratum is its head and is generally regarded as the most powerful of the High Lords, something the Ecclesiarch has had problems with a few times.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Imperium is struggling in a constant Hopeless War for their own survival against everything else. In 10,000 years it's still smaller than it was Pre-Heresy.
  • Wizarding School: The Adeptus Astra Telepathica recruits and trains psykers into the service of the Imperium.

    Important post-Heresy Imperial figures 

Goge Vandire

"I don't have time to die... I'm too busy!"
— Vandire's Famous Last Words

Goge Vandire attained the important position of Master of the Administratum, and thus a High Lord of Terra, through assassination and threats, and later manipulated the Ecclesiarch Paulis III to secure control over the Ecclesiarchy. He became known as a megalomaniac, and at the end, severely insane, triggering the Age of Apostasy that nearly tore the Imperium apart.

  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Vandire was executed by Alicia Dominica, the leader of the Brides of the Emperor, after she communed with the Emperor.
  • The Caligula: He quickly proved to be thoroughly insane, and would take great delight in torturing anyone, regardless of guilt or innocence, claiming he was 'purifying their soul'.
  • Evil Overlord: Vandire was the most powerful man in the Imperium since The Emperor himself.
  • Manipulative Bastard
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: During his takeover, the Cardinals who fled from him were destroyed in a Warp storm which he saw as a sign of The Emperor's favor. Later on, the army he sent to quash the Confederation of Light were also destroyed in a Warp storm. He also claimed to receive visions from The Emperor about who to kill.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Vandire got the Daughters of the Emperor to serve him by pretending to have magic powers (provided by much more advanced Imperial technology).
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Vandire killed the Ecclesiarch and took his place, which was unprecedented.

Sebastian Thor

Sebastian Thor was the shadowy and ill-defined figure who led the Confederation of Light and the people of the Imperium in the overthrow of the insane High Lord tyrant Goge Vandire.

  • Creepy Souvenir: Thor's head somehow ended up in Trazyn the Infinite's possession.
  • Messianic Archetype: Thor was believed to possess some of the power of the Emperor and gave rise to a Puritan belief in the Inquisition which holds that the Emperor will be reborn if he dies.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Very unusual for this series, Sebastian Thor died of natural causes.
  • Rebel Leader: Leader of the Confederation of Light opposing High Lord tyrant Goge Vandire.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Thor just wanted to go back to preaching after winning his rebellion but the Adeptus Custodes convinced (or frightened) him into becoming the new Ecclesiarch.


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