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Literature / Word Bearers

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Their walls will fall.
Their faith will fail.
Their flesh will tear.

Please resist the urge to put examples on this page or link to this page on tropes unless you are citing from 40K novels in which the Word Bearers feature. Examples which are specific to rulebooks and other in-universe fluff should go on either the Warhammer 40,000 page or in the Word Bearers section of the Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Marines page.

The Word Bearers trilogy of books by Anthony Reynolds consists of Dark Apostle, Dark Disciple and Dark Creed, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. There are also a couple of short stories in the Horus Heresy novel series that act as backstory for several of the characters. The series focuses on the titular legion of Chaos Space Marines, rather than 40K's "good guys" like the Space Marines or the Tau. The books also go into more detail about the traditions and beliefs of the Word Bearers, expanding upon the threadbare picture of one of the most infamous legions in 40k canon.

The main plot focuses on a specific Host commanded by the Dark Apostle Jarulek and his apprentice Marduk on their search for an artifact that supposedly predates humanity. The prophecies say it will turn the tide of the war against the Imperium but other than that they know nothing. The remainder follows Marduk has he continues his master's work, eventually rising to become Dark Apostle himself and getting caught up in the machinations and intrigue of the Legion's higher-ups.

Also check out the character sheet.

Word Bearers contains the following tropes

  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: This is how Marduk got his job. With a healthy dosage of Cold-Blooded Torture and Mind Rape to make sure he was quite up to Dark Apostle standards after he had already established his copious asskicking credentials.
  • Ax-Crazy: Many of the Word Bearers but Burias and Khalaxis stand out even among them.
  • Badass Army: The Word Bearers. A single squad of Terminators manages to tear down a TITAN.
  • Badass Preacher: The Word Bearers have this as their hat.
  • BFS: Marduk has a daemon chainsword known as Bohrg'ash. It's huge, can kill with the merest blow, and drinks blood. Possibly implying it is inhabited by a daemon of Khorne.
  • Big Bad: Each novel in the trilogy has a different main antagonist.
    • In Dark Apostle, the Big Bad is Villain Protagonist Jarulek, who leads his Word Bearers to attack the planet Tanakreg and enslave its population in order to uncover a Necron weapon hidden beneath the planet’s crust.
    • In Dark Disciple, the Big Bad is Dracon Alith Drazjaer, leader of the Dark Eldar raiders attacking Perdus Skylla.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The inside of the Necron Monolith at the end of the first book. Even Marduk, a freaking Chaos Space Marine who thinks the Warp is a neat place and whose home is a daemon world, is confused by what he finds inside the Monolith.
  • Blood for Mortar: The Ghethsemenacht is a tower made of recycled Imperial buildings and glued together with human puree, built as a monument to the Chaos Gods. One of the slaves working on it discovers this when he finds a human tooth in the mortar.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Nexus Arrangement is not only a significant plot device in the first book but ultimately becomes a key element in the third.
  • Cool Helmet: Kol Badar had one, which was wrought with the visage of a snarling daemon.
  • Cool Old Guy: While an outsider would view the Warmonger as horrific, the Word Bearers view him as a Cool Old Guy. Partly because he is Nightmare Fuel, and also because he directly brought the fight to Terra before becoming a Dreadnought.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Darioq used creative thinking, a practice that is very much frowned upon by the deeply logic-inclined Adeptus Mecanicus. It took Kol Badar by surprise.
  • Demonic Possession: Burias and Darioq are the two main characters who are possessed. In Dark Apostle, Marduk sacrificed members of a subordinate cult so their bodies could be used in summoning the Kathartes.
  • Description Porn: All over the place. The rituals and actions of the reverent Word Bearers are some of the most prominently described.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Dark Apostle: The Elysian Drop Troopers honour their dead by putting funerary tokens on their eyes and cremating their bodies. Magos Darioq finds this an illogical waste of resources, and requests permission to render the corpses down to a nutrient paste for his Skitarii. Upon hearing this, Brigadier-General Havorn tells Darioq to go to hell.
    • Dark Disciple: The Word Bearers honour their fallen by carving the eight-pointed star of Chaos Undivided on their foreheads and daubing their eyelids with blood while saying funerary rites. When Namar-sin is killed by Dark Eldar Mandrakes, his fellow Champion Sabtec honours him by saying a eulogy, harvesting several of his fingers as trophies, and eating his heart, sharing the meat (and the trophies) with the surviving members of Namar-sin’s squad.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Probably one of the reasons why the Word Bearers are one of the few Chaos Legions who have not split itself apart, despite being one of the most gleefully evil organizations in the setting. They still act in combat like an organized force, bringing suppressive fire to assist their close combat troops and attempting to minimize their own casualties. Also, some of the legionnaires show real brotherhood and friendship with each other.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The Skyllan Interdiction's guard dogs start barking when they catch the scent of a Dark Eldar Mandrake hidden in the shadows, though their handlers dismiss the warnings. It does not end well for them.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Gehemehnet's bricks are mortared with the liquefied bodies of countless dead slaves, its mere presence thins the veil between the real world and the Warp, it's so tall that it breaks the laws of physics, empowering it drains a Dark Apostle of their life force, and it is both sentient and evil. The Word Bearers use them to turn ordinary planets into Daemon Worlds, and this one has been modified to crack open Tanakreg so Jarulek can get at the Necron ruins beneath the surface.
  • Evil Versus Evil: In Dark Disciple, the Word Bearers come into conflict with Dark Eldar raiders and marauding Genestealers while trying to accomplish their goals on Perdus Skylla.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The Chaos Marine Rhamas gets bitten by a Genestealer, infecting him with its genetic code. His superhuman biology can't fight off the infection, forcing Rhamas's brothers to Mercy Kill him before he turns.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Marduk is this in the manner that only Chaos can create. Of course, he's more or less a stern, irritable, psychopathic, and mildly abusive father. Who will tear apart anyone who messes with those under his command.
    • General Havorn is this too, in a much more genuine example.
  • Field Promotion: Captain Laron, after Colonel Boerl is killed.
  • Foreshadowing: In Dark Disciple, the Genestealer-worshipping cultists all have blue-tinted skin and a feverish gleam in their eyes, foreshadowing the reveal that Dios, whose blue skin and gleaming eyes were written off as the result of exposure to extreme cold, is a Genestealer hybrid.
  • Four-Star Badass: Kol Badar serves as the Coryphaus, dragon and military second-in-command, to Jarulek, then to Marduk.
  • Genuine Human Hide: An old belief from Colchis (the Word Bearers original homeworld) holds that wearing the flesh of powerful individuals gives the wearer the dead's powers. What else do you expect from a feudal world which worshiped the Chaos Gods?
  • Greater-Scope Villain: In Dark Disciple, Big Bad Drazjaer is a vassal of Asdrubael Vect. While Vect never appears in the book, his "extortionate" demands for tribute drive Drazjaer to attack Perdus Skylla and kidnap thousands of people in order to meet his quota, and later to capture several of the Word Bearers in order to impress Vect and to cover shortfalls in slave captures caused by the Tyranids.
  • Hope Spot: Near the end of Dark Apostle, Brigadier-General Havorn encounters Burias and apparently kills the un-helmeted Chaos Marine with a shot to the face. He starts to walk away, only for Burias—whose daemonic powers have already healed the wound—to grab him, spin him around and rip out his heart.
  • Human Notepad: Jarulek takes this trope to its (il)logical extreme. Every inch of his body—including the inside of his mouth (teeth, gums, tongue) and the jelly of his eyes—is covered with inscribed passages from the Book of Lorgar as a display of his fanatical devotion to Chaos Undivided.
  • Human Resources:
    • The Gehemehnet requires massive amounts of human corpses grinded into Blood Mortar.
    • Magos Darioq, seeing a waste of resources in terms of fuel and biological matter, asks Brigadier-General Havorn if he could use the troopers' bodies instead of having them cremated with honors. When asked why, he said that their bodies would be turned to nutrient paste to "feed" the combat servitors. Havorn was not pleased with this idea.
    • The Mechanicus can also grow more servitors in vats, and it's implied that they may be able to use a similar process as above to "recycle" a servitor instead of feeding one. They didn't make vat-grown servitors, however, since it was too time intensive.
  • Hero Antagonist: Aquilius of the White Consuls in Dark Creed.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: After his old friend Namar-sin is killed fighting gene-stealers, Sabtec declares that in honour of his service, the surviving Word Bearers would eat of his flesh.
  • Informed Ability: The mercenaries of the Skyllan Interdiction Force are stated to be better trained and equipped than most Imperial Guard regiments, but you wouldn’t know it from how easily the Word Bearers and Dark Eldar slaughter them in droves. In all fairness, even Imperial Guard regiments would be extremely hard-pressed to fight off both Tyranids and Dark Eldar simultaneously, and it's not like they got a chance to actually fight back.
  • Klingon Promotion: Marduk, but it was just as much self-defense at the time.
  • Mad Scientist: Darioq-Gren'dhal, who was this by Omnisiah standards for relying on creative thinking and altering holy technology, and became a lot more mad when he was possessed by the daemon Gren-dhal to make him obedient to the Word Bearers. They use him to blend xenos and Chaos technology together.
  • Mauve Shirt: Boerl, partially Laron.
  • The Magnificent: Jarulek the Blessed.
  • Mêlée à Trois: At the climax of Dark Disciple, the Undying One tries to kill Jarulek and Marduk just as Jarulek betrays Marduk. The ensuing fight leaves Jarulek dead, Marduk in a position to claim power over the warband, and Marduk getting away from the Undying One.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Darioq has four servo-arms and multiple mechadendrites coming out of his back, all of which can be used as weapons. They become even more dangerous after he is possessed and corrupted by the daemon Gren'dhal, gaining lamprey mouths and the ability to shoot streams of warp-fire.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the first book the World Bearers have awakened the Necrons.
  • Oh, Crap!: Marduk's reaction at Calth when the station he is currently on is boarded by Guilliman's squad of Ultramarines. Seeing as it includes Guilliman himself and a BFS armed Aeonid Thiel, it's quite justified.
  • Old Soldier:
    • The Warmonger, who was present at the Siege of the Emperor's Palace (in fact, he thinks he's still there most of the time) and serves as a pillar of spiritual support for the Host.
    • Kol Badar, who is also noted to have been around since the Horus Heresy.
  • One-Man Army: All the Chaos Marines, but Marduk gets bonus points for going to the Warp and fighting off an army of daemons to prove his strength as a follower of the Dark Gods.
  • Pet the Dog: Marduk is by no means a nice person, but when you add a certain amount of Fridge Brilliance, then a lot of his interactions with the Warmonger could be viewed as someone talking to a respected relative in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. When put in this light it makes the Warmonger's death at the hands of the Undying One and Marduk's subsequent reaction to it in Dark Creed all that much more of a Tear Jerker.
  • Punctuation Shaker: The names of daemons (Drak'shal, Gren'dhal).
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: In Dark Disciple, the Dark Eldar take advantage of the chaos engulfing Perdus Skylla to attack the refugee convoys heading for the moon’s spaceports, slaughtering many of them and enslaving the rest.
  • Rasputinian Death: Jarulek gets a hole burned through his abdomen, loses his hand to a chainsword, and gets cut in half at the waist. He survives just long enough to curse Marduk before the Undying One skewers his head and chucks his corpse into a bottomless abyss.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Dark Disciple, Ikorus Baranov receives a brief one from his Dark Eldar "clients" right before they enslave him:
    Baranov: (noticing that Dark Eldar warriors have begun to surround him) Ah, I think we should part ways now, honoured lord. I won't press you for the payment for this last group. Consider it a gift, a gift to honour the friendship between us.
    Dark Eldar: Friendship? A curious, irrelevant mon-keigh concept. And honour? Where is the honour in betraying your own kind? Delivering them to an enemy, albeit superior, race? That is honourable in your eyes? (to his men) Enslave them.
  • Religion of Evil:
  • Real Men Love Jesus: The Word Bearers never lack for faith in the Dark Gods and are unstoppable killing machines all. This trope is also what has allowed the Warmonger to maintain some modicum of lucidity.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves:
    • Narrowly subverted in Dark Apostle, the Word Bearers spare, but enslave the cult and the conspirators that help them invade the city with no Astartes casualties. Not because that they don't trust them, but because they really don't respect normal humans, and they treat the ones that serve them little better.
    • Played straight in Dark Disciple. The rogue trader Ikorus Baranov, who has been charging his clients extortionate prices to evacuate them from Perdus Skylla before the Tyranids arrive and then selling them to Dark Eldar slavers to make extra money, gets enslaved himself when he runs out of captives to deliver.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In Dark Disciple, minor Imperial character Solon goes through hell and high water trying to get a young boy named Dios to the nearest spaceport so the boy can be evacuated before the Tyranids arrive and consume the planet. After enduring exposure to arctic temperatures, the loss of his crew, and being caught in the middle of a fight between the Word Bearers and the Dark Eldar, he finally reaches the spaceport and manages to get Dios onto the last shuttle. Little does Solon know that Dios is a Genestealer hybrid, and by helping him get off-planet he has doomed other worlds to future Tyranid infestation.
  • Spirit World: This is the way the Warp is depicted for the Word Bearers. Even though Marduk isn't a psyker, he can still use his powers of sorcery to enter spirit trances during which he can spy on and take control of people.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Marduk considers drinking note  a sin, and chastises Burias for helping himself to a bottle from a captive Imperial governor’s wine collection (and then tells Burias to undergo penance). Being a Chaos Space Marine, this does not detract from his evil in any way.
  • The Strategist: Kol Badar was this, having been capable of gaining victory in every battle he commanded due to his immense tactical genius.
  • The Starscream: Marduk to Jarulek in the first book. Ashkanez to Marduk in the third. The series goes out of its way from the beginning to cast Kol Badar as one as well so they can subvert it later when his loyalties to the Word Bearers were ultimately greater than his hatred for Marduk.
  • Supporting Leader: Since the Word Bearers are a religious institution before a military institution, total authority goes to the Dark Apostle. Kol Badar's position as Coryphaus puts him as the Dark Apostle's militant leader. While he's noted to have some difficulty with thinking laterally and unconventional tactics, Badar is very, very good at this.
  • Take My Hand!: In Dark Disciple, Marduk is ensnared by a Wych’s whip and nearly dragged out of the Idolator. Kol Badar manages to grab Marduk’s wrist, only to deliberately let go and allow Marduk to be captured (and hopefully killed) by the Dark Eldar.
  • Tin Tyrant: How do you show that you're a big, badass evil overlord in a setting where all your minions have Powered Armour? Simple. Don a suit of even larger Terminator Armour! Not enough? The Warmonger, a former Dark Apostle himself, is one insane(ly badass) Dreadnought.
  • Villain Protagonist: All of these books mainly focus on the Word Bearers as protagonists.
  • The Worm That Walks: The Undying One is a Necron Lord whose body is made up of thousands of scarabs that merge together. If pieces of the Undying One get shot off, they can turn back into scarabs, fly back into place, and remerge with its body as if it had never been damaged.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Played with, with the kathartes. In their visible form in realspace they look like terrifying daemon furies, but in the Warp they appear as angelic, predatory beings made of light. Of course, in order to appreciate something like that you'd have to go into the Warp, which means you have bigger things to worry about. More specifically, Marduk was able to see the immaterial realm when he sent his soul into the warp. See the Spirit World example above.
  • You Killed My Father: Kol Badar has it in for Marduk for killing his closest blood-brother during the Horus Heresy.