- "Thirteen times shall the Traitor King go forth.
In the End Times the iron fortress shall be cast down.
Its walls breached and its Gate forced open.
Those that dwell beyond shall spill through it.
The air shall burn and the ground shall melt,
The Daemon shall lie down with the machine,
Brother shall slay brother with fire and sword.
And the sky-wound shall pour its malice forth.
The Eye shall stare unblinking at its prize,
and the Traitor King shall cross the bridge of stars.
He shall return to finish the Warmonger's red work,
Upon holy soil shall the fate of man be decided."
- — The Liber Malefact
The 13th Black Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler that began in 999.M41 resulted in the largest clash between Imperial and Chaos forces seen in the Milky Way Galaxy since the Horus Heresy ten thousand Terran years before. Abaddon raised the greatest army in service to the Chaos Gods since the time of Horus, and intended to bring an end to the Long War by driving on Terra, slaying the Emperor of Mankind upon His Golden Throne and at last completing the task the Traitor Legions had begun millennia before.
The campaign began with a massive assault by the Forces of Chaos out of the Eye of Terror into the sectors of the Segmentum Obscurus directly adjacent to the Cadian Gate. Fighting erupted on dozens, if not hundreds, of worlds within this region of the galaxy, with the ultimate objective of Chaos the seizure of the Cadia System and the Fortress World of Cadia at its heart. This victory would remove the last major bastion preventing Abaddon from unleashing his full force upon the Imperium of Man's defences and assaulting Terra for the second time in ten thousand standard years.
The forward elements of the Black Fleet of Abaddon were ultimately forced to retreat from the Cadia System by the combined forces of the Imperial Navy and the Necrons. With the withdrawal of the Chaos warfleet, the Imperial defenders of Cadia, led by its new Lord Castellan, Ursarkar E. Creed, were able to defeat the remaining servants of the Ruinous Powers who had made planetfall in the initial assault on the Fortress World.
But this victory proved to be no more than a brief respite. Abaddon launched a second, far larger assault on the Cadian Gate that unleashed the full daemonic fury of the Eye of Terror directly upon an already-battered Cadia. Though the arrival of some unexpected Imperial reinforcements prevented Abaddon from personally sealing his victory by crushing Cadia's defenders, and led to the destruction of the Blackstone Fortress Will of Eternity, the Despoiler unleashed a brutal contingency plan. He had the massive fragments of the Will of Eternity hurled from orbit like an artificial asteroid onto the surface of Cadia. The strike destroyed what remained of Cadia's faltering defences and the network of Necron-built Cadian Pylons that had long prevented the Eye of Terror from naturally expanding into the Cadian Gate. Within only solar hours, most of Cadia was in the process of being consumed by the Immaterium when the tectonic instability caused by the impact of the Blackstone Fortress finally caused Cadia to tear itself apart.
By that time, the few surviving Imperial forces had evacuated the planet, harried by the ships of the Black Fleet. The 13th Black Crusade had been a triumph for the servants of the Dark Gods, and the Eye of Terror began to slowly expand without limit, opening Abaddon the Despoiler's coveted Crimson Path to Terra and creating the Great Rift.
Yet a handful of Imperial heroes had successfully escaped the fall of Cadia with the aid of the newborn Eldar faction known as the Ynnari through a Webway gate found on the ice moon of Klaisus in the Cadian System. Together, these Imperials -- the so-called Celestinian Crusade -- would forge an uneasy alliance with the xenos that would offer a new hope for the servants of the Emperor in their fight against the waxing power of the Archenemy -- the resurrection of the Primarch Roboute Guilliman.
An Age of Darkness
It seems that the end of days must surely be nigh. Traitors, mutants and Heretics rebel in unprecedented numbers. The curse of the psyker runs rampant through Humanity's collective soul. The hellish energies of the Warp press close against the veil of reality, and every day brings inevitable doom a little closer...
To dwell within the Imperium of Man is to inhabit a dystopian nightmare. The faceless masses of Humanity are little more than grist for the mill of survival, an ever-abundant fuel source that keeps the bloody wheels turning. Endless billions labour in the fire-lit confines of factory worlds, entire generations living and dying without ever seeing the sky. Hive cities groan with the weight of unimaginably vast human populations, whose existences are naught but toil and sorrow. From the bellies of leviathan warships to the mindless drudgery of city-sized scriptorums, from the crowded warrens of lightless underhives to the frozen misery of perilous asteroid mines, every day is filled with hardship for the common folk of the Emperor's realm. It is well that it is so. Those with their heads bowed by exhaustion cannot look up to see the horrors pressing close from the darkness above.
The same cannot be said for Humanity's leaders. To them falls the burden of knowledge, and the terrible weight of responsibility. Many times throughout its history, the Imperium has known great danger, yet rarely have matters been as bleak as this. The barbarous Orks multiply and spread in every corner of the galaxy, bringing mindless devastation to all in their path. The deathless legions of the Necrons rise from their Tomb Worlds and ply the stars, seeking to exterminate the human vermin infesting their empire of old. On the Eastern Fringe, the Imperium faces the growing threat of the technologically superior Tau Empire, while from the outer darkness beyond the galaxy come the questing tendrils of the Tyranid Hive Fleets, devouring every world they overrun. Yet all of these pale beside the most insidious threat of all, that of Chaos. From beyond the veil of reality, the Ruinous Powers exhort their mortal followers to ever greater acts of diabolic cruelty and destruction, while daemonic legions rip their way through the skin of realspace in terrifying numbers.
The defenders of the Imperium stand firm against these nightmarish threats. The teeming ranks of the Astra Militarum and Adeptus Mechanicus fight alongside the elite warriors of the Space Marines, the Adepta Sororitas and Grey Knights. For all their efforts, more worlds are lost every standard year, even supposedly impregnable strongholds such as Enceladus and Minisotira being swallowed by anarchy. Dark omens and dread portents run rife. The Oracle of Ulandros has spoken for the first time in ten generations, prophesying death on a scale never seen before. The famed Silver Saints of Callistos II weep tears of blood and ichor, and will not stop. Seers and mystics across the Imperium are beset by grandiose visions of mighty angels and monstrous devils doing battle in a firmament lit by ghostly fres. Even as much of the Segmentum Pacificus falls ominously silent, Astropathic choirs throughout Segmentum Solar have been overwhelmed by ﬂoods of psychic cries issuing from every other corner of the galaxy. Around the Eye of Terror, Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade hammers against the Cadian Gate. In the Fenris System, brother fights brother as Magnus the Red wreaks a terrible vengeance upon those who wronged him. War is everywhere, from one end of the Imperium to the other, and yet those with the curse of foresight whisper of worse to come. Darkness looms upon the horizon, they warn. A Stygian tidal wave rushes closer with every passing hour to drown all of Humanity beneath its icy waters.
The Gothic War's Outcome
- "Like the great storm of the Heresy, the forces of the True Gods will descend upon the False Emperor's minions. The stars will tremble at their passage, the mighty armadas of the Warmasters will bring annihilation to a hundred worlds. Great shall be the slaughter, most pleasing shall be the flow of blood. The fools who follow the Emperor will be brought low, forced to their knees amidst the corpses of their families and friends. The thrice-cursed one shall become as a living god, the power to destroy the Weakling Emperor shall be within his grasp. Know this, for these things will come to pass and the galaxy itself will be the spoils of victory."
- —Constanze the Prophetess, burned as a Heretic, 356.M38To understand the full course and impact of the 13th Black Crusade upon the galaxy, it is first necessary to retell the tale of Abaddon the Despoiler's 12th Black Crusade, better known in Imperial records as the Gothic War. Like many sector-wide conflicts with the Archenemy, the Gothic War began slowly, with sporadic Chaotic raids against smaller Imperial outposts in the year 139.M41. Vessels whose crews had been stricken with diseases sacred to the Plague Lord Nurgle were discovered adrift in the Athena Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus, along with sightings of the Chaos warship Plagueclaw, and Astropaths began reporting unsettling disturbances in the Warp that slowly cut off the Gothic Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus from the rest of Imperial space. Panic and anarchy became widespread in the Gothic Sector as fanatical religious sects arose, believing that the Emperor was displeased with them. Hysteria spread throughout the sector and on many Imperial worlds order broke down completely. The Imperial Navy lost several starships to "accidents" in space dock that were subsequently blamed on poor maintenance and faulty ammunition -- a rather too convenient explanation for many. Three standard years after the first Chaos raid on the Imperial listening post at Arx, in 142.M41, the forces of Abaddon the Despoiler, the Warmaster of the Black Legion and leader of the allied forces of Chaos Undivided, struck out at the Gothic Sector from the Eye of Terror.
Abaddon's Chaos warfleets struck at a dozen Imperial bases and sent the warships of the Imperial Navy's Battlefleet Gothic reeling. Chaotic starships attacked all across the Gothic Sector and the first inkling of Abaddon's true intentions in launching the 12th Black Crusade against the sector was to come to light in the Rebo System, where one of the mysterious xenos Blackstone Fortresses orbited the fifth planet. These massive edifices of unknown alien origin had been refitted by the Imperium to serve as orbital bases for the starships of Battlefleet Gothic. For the first time in the history of the Imperium, one of these fortresses fell to Abaddon's forces and he was soon to make horrifying use of the captured base's advanced alien technology.
Abaddon's fleet possessed a devastating weapon, never before seen by the Imperium in the hands of the Forces of Chaos, called the Planet Killer. Its name was not simply born from the arrogance of its Dark Mechanicus builders, but was a well-deserved epithet as Abaddon demonstrated at the Cardinal World of Savaven. The account of the utter destruction of Savaven as witnessed by Jeremiah Soldagen, Savaven's orbital defence commander, still has the power to chill one's soul. His description of entire continents splitting apart, burning skies and the planet breaking up into pieces is solemn reading. Fourteen million people died within a single solar hour and the crippling effects of this on Imperial morale at the time should not be underestimated; many worlds were hurriedly -- though unfortunately not always entirely -- evacuated before the Planet Killer arrived.
Another Blackstone Fortress fell to Chaos at the world of Brinaga. At Fularis II, Abaddon was to demonstrate the true power of these ancient xenos constructs. Exact information regarding the incident remains sketchy in Imperial records, but the evidence points to a massive energy beam being unleashed from the Blackstone Fortress that scoured Fularis II bare, stripping its atmosphere and transforming its surface into a barren, rocky plain.
Imperial forces were continually engaged throughout the Gothic Sector, from the Hammerhead Deeps to the Cyclops Cluster, desperate to halt the might of the Chaos warfleets' Black Crusade. At the beginning of 151.M41, Lord-High Admiral Cornelius Ravensburg, the Imperial Navy flag officer in command of Battlefleet Gothic, took the fight to the enemy, resulting in the clash at the Battle of Gethsemane where he was able to utterly destroy a Chaos warfleet of considerable size. Eldar vessels also fought in this battle. Though many Imperial historians believe their role to have been minimal, the evidence indicates that the Eldar's involvement against the Forces of Chaos was considerable during the latter stages of the Gothic War through the use of their Webway Warp Gates.
News of this great victory invigorated the Imperial Navy and as the Warp Storms that had isolated the Gothic Sector for over a solar decade began to abate as the Dark Gods grew wrathful and capricious at their forces' defeat, Imperial vessels from neighbouring sectors were finally able to reinforce the Lord Admiral's bloodied Battlefleet Gothic. Abaddon then brought the full power of the Blackstone Fortresses he had captured to bear on the star of Tarantis, the mustering point for the new Imperial starships entering the Gothic Sector, in an attempt to stem Battlefleet Gothic's reinforcements. Combining their power, the Blackstones destabilised the Tarantis star and caused it to go nova, destroying everything still within the star system in spectacular fashion.
The final battle of the Gothic War was fought at the world of Shindelgeist, where the Imperial Blackstone V still floated in the depths of space. A trap was sprung by the Lord Admiral and the Eldar, who defeated Abaddon's greatest warfleet in a truly magnificient three-solar-day-long battle. In an act of spite, Abaddon sought to destroy the star there also and had it not been for the sacrifice of Captain Abridal on the Flame of Purity, the victory could have proved a hollow one. Abaddon had been defeated, though he escaped back into the Eye of Terror with two of his captured Blackstone Fortresses. Various sources claimed at the time that they must have been destroyed. Unfortunately, as the 13th Black Crusade would demonstrate, this was merely wishful thinking on the part of the Imperium.
Plague of Typhus
As the end of the 41st Millennium drew closer, the first signs that Abaddon's next long-feared assault was imminent came in the form of numerous sightings of drifting vessels emerging from the Warp in the sectors of Imperial space surrounding the Eye of Terror in the Segmentum Obscurus. The Astropathic station at Belisar Majoris was the first to report that it had detected a large number of Space Hulks approaching the outer reaches of the Belisar and Agripinaa Systems. The first indications were that the majority of these Hulks were uninhabited, but this turned out to be wrong. Estimates also placed these vessels converging on multiple vectors for the core planets of each sub-sector of the Agripinaa Sector. While the sheer number of Space Hulks suddenly emerging out of the Warp at this time was rare, it was not exceptional.
In response to this alarming report, Marshal Helk, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Guard's 2nd Army Group, ordered the deployment of additional troops aboard the 211st, 340th and 401st Naval Interdiction Squadrons, with a view to affecting boarding operations on those Hulks suspected of harbouring life. The Commissariat tripled attachment levels to these units, and all higher command ranks were informed of the possibility that these vessels might carry the taint of the Warp. The vessels of the Adeptus Astartes boarded those Hulks that they could, but their numbers were limited, as always. The Space Marines found these Hulks to be Chaos-twisted and disease-ridden nightmares, and subsequently, every such vessel encountered was destroyed with torpedoes and bombardment by Macrocannons, but for some it was already too late.
In what could not have been a coincidence, outbreaks of virulent sickness erupted among many Imperial Navy starship crews within a day of a reported sighting of the dreaded Chaos starship Plagueclaw in the outer reaches of the Urthwart System by Captain Roark of the Dauntless-class Light Cruiser Duke Lurstophan. As the sickness spread throughout the region, Imperial naval forces and the number of starships fit for duty fell exponentially with the disease's progression, and then even more Space Hulks dropped out of the Warp, converging on vital strategic worlds.
Ships from neighbouring sub-sectors rushed to destroy the Hulks and a small, ad hoc fleet was assembled at the vast orbital shipyards of the Dead World of Belis Corona in the sector of the same name under the command of the Imperial Navy's Admiral Quarren. The Imperial fleet surged from port and began the hunt for the Plagueclaw, though they were to encounter something far, far worse. In the shadow of the Frenerax Dust Cloud, the Imperial fleet was ambushed by a force of Chaos warships led by the Terminus Est, the flagship of the Herald of Nurgle, the Chaos Lord Typhus of the Death Guard Traitor Legion. The battle was short and bloody, with several Imperial warships crippled in the opening salvo of torpedoes, while others were overrun by vile, diseased creatures that vomited forth from the loathsome Chaos boarding craft. Admiral Quarren recovered well from his shock and rallied his forces superbly, counterattacking and fighting his way clear of the Chaos warfleet's trap. Typhus did not pursue and the majority of Quarren's fleet was able to limp back to port at Belis Corona. The Battle of Frenerax had been a costly disaster for the Imperium, but there was much worse to come.
During the return journey to Belis Corona, thousands of Imperial Navy crewmen sickened and died and only with the help of system pilots was the Imperial fleet able to dock safely.
But if the situation at Belis Corona was bad, it was worse elsewhere. Many of the Plague Hulks had slipped through the Imperial defensive net and the same contagion that had struck down the Imperial starships' crews was spreading like wildfire through many inhabited worlds in the Cadian and Agripinaa Sectors as well as those of the Belis Corona Sector. The Hive World of Subiaco Diablo proved to be an ideal breeding ground for the unknown plague and was quickly quarantined by officers from the Adeptus Administratum's Officio Medicae, but not before millions of people had already sickened and died. Within a solar month, a dozen other worlds reported cases of the same plague and panic spread throughout the Segmentum Obscuras as transit between neighbouring sectors was halted by the Imperial Navy in an attempt to stop further infection.
As the epidemic spread, apocalyptic religious sects once more began to appear on every world afflicted with the disease, just as they had before the outbreak of the Gothic War, preaching that the Emperor's wrath had descended upon them and was a punishment for their sins of wickedness and vice. Only the truly faithful would be spared the Curse of Unbelief, as they named the plague, and hordes of flagellants filled the streets of every world adjacent to the Eye of Terror. The continued health of these fanatics in the face of the plague gave their words the sheen of truth and millions flocked to hear their extreme rhetoric out of fear for their lives. The plague continued to spread, but it was on Subiaco Diablo that the true horror of the disease was finally revealed. To the shock and disgust of the planet's inhabitants, the mass graves deep in the ash plains of the Hive World that contained the bodies of the afflicted heaved and split open and the corpses of those who had perished in the plague climbed up from the lime-encrusted ground. Soon millions of shambling corpses were advancing on the nearby hive city that they had once called home, clawing their way inside and attacking the already disease-weakened inhabitants.
Within months, plague zombies were climbing from their graves on scores of worlds throughout the Segmentum's Belis Corona and Agripinaa Sectors and Imperial forces were stretched to their limits in containing these Chaos abominations as well as mobs of flagellating zealots who burned medicae ward facilities to the ground in their misguided attempts to stop the spread of the plague. Paralysed by the sheer scale of the zombie epidemic, the Imperial Navy forces in these regions were completely unprepared for the vast Chaos warfleet that emerged from the Warp at the edge of the Subiaco Diablo System and surged into Imperial space. The Herald of Nurgle, the Traveller, Typhus of the Death Guard, had come to reap the harvest of his plague of undeath and there was nothing to stand in his way as he claimed the world of Subiaco Diablo as the newest province in the Plague Lord's eternal kingdom of death.
Signs and Portents
As the Zombie Plague known as the Curse of Unbelief swept through many Imperial worlds throughout the Belis Corona and Agripnaa Sectors, fanatical cults preaching that the Imperium had forsaken the teachings of the Emperor grew in number. They decried the sufferers' sickness as just punishment for their wickedness, claiming that only in the flames of purgation could the cure be found, and they would provide both. On the worlds of Malin's Reach and Lelithar, Imperial rule all but broke down as the plague crippled the authorities' ability to contain the rantings of self-proclaimed "Prophets of the End Times" who whipped entire populations into frenzies of insanity. The Ecclesiarchy had despatched the highest officers of the Imperial Church to quiet the souls of the people, yet at this time of direst need the Adeptus Ministorum had itself become embroiled in internecine conflict. A number of Cardinals had cast their lot with those who preached that the Emperor's judgment had found His servants wanting, rendering the Synods of the sectors surrounding the Eye of Terror impotent and powerless to impose their spiritual authority when it was most desperately needed. Naval facilities and symbols of Imperial rule were openly attacked and over the following solar weeks, mob rule virtually replaced that of the Administratum on many outlying worlds.
Overpopulated Hive Worlds as far apart as the Scarus and the Cadian Sectors erupted in violence, seemingly without cause. Even the higher echelons of Hive World Tabor and the naval base at Belis Corona proved to be riven with Chaos Cults. Charismatic demagogues incited frenzied mobs to fight the ruthless, crushing oppression inherent in the Imperium's system of rule, and hundreds of thousands heeded their seditious ravings. Assassinations and poisonings heralded new eras of anarchy in key warzones, and whole supply fleets mysteriously vanished. Nemesis Tessera, St. Josmane's Hope and Lelithar were all ravaged by insurrection. In the panicked streets of Thracian Primaris, one man alone had succeeded in uniting the desperate citizens against the evils of Chaos as a raving prophet. The worlds of the Belis Corona System underwent a massive recruitment drive for the Imperial Guard and the Imperial Navy, and priestly delegations stirred up the new Imperial conscripts into a fever of righteous anger.
In the wake of such a catastrophic breakdown of Imperial rule on so many planets in the sectors surrounding the Eye of Terror, vast disturbances were sensed in the Warp, stirring the already volatile medium of the Empyrean into new and violent life. The fringes of Warp Storm Baphomael expanded to engulf the edges of the Cadian System and many of the Astropaths based there reported terrible visions and bloody omens that all pointed to a time of coming war. Reports kept pouring in which indicated a horrifying escalation in the scale of these disturbances. While news from across the Segmentum was sketchy at best, it appeared that a massive psychic backlash had caused the Astropathic Choir Chamber at Belisar in one of the spires of Hive Teriax to explode. The top nine levels of the spire had been obliterated and the death toll was numbered in the tens of thousands.
Any doubt that Chaos was in the ascendant was cast aside following these events on almost every civilised world. Even on Cadia the Imperium had seen signs of recidivist activity. So close to the Eye, the Cadians had come to expect the taint of the Warp to afflict those of weak soul, and they had learned to recognise and excise its influence wherever it was found. In one notable incident, Lord Commissar Salin seconded a company of Kasrkin assigned to headquarters security and led a raid upon the barracks of the 92nd Cadian Regiment. He rounded up a cadre of senior officers who, he claimed, were in league with agents of the Warp. No evidence of his accusation was presented to the General Staff and there was no duty upon the Lord Commissar to do so. The officers were summarily executed upon the parade ground of Kasr Orlak. That highly regarded officers of the Cadian military might have thrown in their lot with the Archenemy filled many souls with shame and confirmed the worst of their fears. A dark time was surely approaching.
The Voice of the Emperor
On the world of Lelithar, a powerful figure had arisen amongst the raving cults and fanatics, proclaiming himself to be the "Voice of the Emperor." An orator of fearsome skill, this mysterious individual had roused entire populations with his passionate speeches. Many within the Cadian Sector High Command advocated the extermination of this individual, lest his outpourings lead to further unrest. However, all across the system the backlash of those still faithful to the Imperium began. The Inquisition's Ordos Cadia, the representative of the three Ordos in the Cadian Sector, believed this so-called "Voice of the Emperor" to be an individual of the utmost danger. Lelithar was home to several thousand Planetary Defence Force regiments divided into 65 Army Groups, and it appeared that an estimated 40 percent of their personnel had thrown in their lot with the so-called "Voice." Many of these units had deserted, a large number actually making it off-world, where they had dispersed to varying locations including the worlds of Yayor, Amistel, Albitern and Bar-el. That the Imperial forces had lost such a body of men to a demagogue was cause for grave concern in itself, but it was enough for the High Command that the Ordo Hereticus wanted him dead.
Within a solar week, there was a great resurgence of orthodox piety amongst the Imperial citizenry, as a reaction against the so-called "Voice of the Emperor." Sector High Command had initially feared that the teachings of this Heretic might plunge the region into the depths of apostasy, yet the people actually rallied against his twisted followers, casting down his prophets and decrying his false words. His days were numbered as Inquisitorial agents of the Throne hunted the elusive "Voice." Though Chaos and anarchy had come to a great many worlds of the Imperium, they still had reason for hope, for all was not lost while their faith remained strong. The great strength of the Imperium was finally stirring. The Cadian Sector High Command ordered a muster to take place at Cadia, upon the ancient and venerated Tyrok Fields, so that the Imperium could begin the Emperor's work in earnest.
Sabotage and Insurrection
Several systems in the Scarus Sector soon reported enemy activity as did three sub-sectors located along the Cassandra Spar. Reports also came from Phonosar Prime, indicating an attack by warriors thought to be of the Night Lords Traitor Legion. The raid was timed to coincide with the local annual Festival of the Three Maidens, a holy time for the population of Phonosar Prime and its three moons, during which the adherents fasted and meditated upon their own weaknesses, the better to serve their Lord the God-Emperor. Evidently, the attackers took advantage of the fact that most of the world's population were cloistered in prayer and descended upon the world's capital city of Medea like a pack of feral predators upon its prey. Survivors reported that the enemy made planetfall at Medea's primary generatorium, destroying it and plunging the city into darkness before crippling the metropolis' reserve power facilities. With the city's power grid out of action, the Traitors stalked the streets, killing wantonly as and when they saw fit. It was many solar hours before the Planetary Defence Forces could be mobilised to face the threat, although many militia units mounted heroic improvised counterattacks, all to no avail. By the time the native defence forces were able to muster, the raiders had vanished into the darkness, leaving a death toll of many thousands in their wake.
The world of Xersia had also suffered at the hands of the enemy. A delegation from the Order of the Wounded Heart, an Order Militant of the Adepta Sororitas, had arrived on the planet. Immediately after the Battle-Sisters' arrival, it was reported that a small force of unidentified Traitor Marines had been defeated when they came to the aid of a Chaos Cult that the Sisters were seeking to purge. It appears the cult had chosen their moment to call upon the Traitor Astartes with great care, hoping that the counterattack would wipe out the small force of Battle-Sisters as they closed upon their target. It is a great credit to the Sororitas that they defeated both the cultists and the Renegades, and a commendation was passed on to their Canoness Superior. Sector High Command also received garbled Astropathic communications from forces in the Helotas, Sarlax, Vagera and Skyren Systems over the following twelve solar hours. Though no details were immediately confirmed, High Command feared the worst.
The Ormantep Raid
The listening station at the world of Ormantep had also come under attack by Traitor forces. The attackers were a small, elite company of Black Legionaries who fell upon the listening post with cold, methodical brutality and cut down all they encountered. However, they seemed specifically determined to murder the Astropathic Choir that resided within the central keep. The unit of Cadian Kasrkin defending the station mounted a heroic defence that held off the Chaos Space Marines for several solar hours before aid came from a totally unanticipated quarter. It appears that the Traitors were repelled, though by a force the Imperium has no record of. As the Traitors closed on the hastily-constructed barricades of the Ormantep listening station's inner sanctum, survivors reported that the night was filled with a mournful howl which sounded from all directions. As the Black Legionaries faltered in their attack and cast glances in all directions, the rearmost were dragged into the shadows. Soon, the Chaos Space Marines were firing their Bolters on full automatic and emptying entire magazines into the gloom, as more were set upon by an enemy the Kasrkin defenders could not discern. In only solar minutes, the Black Legionaries were all dead. Their bodies were found savagely ripped open as if by hugely powerful jaws or raked by savage claws. The only evidence of this mysterious force that attacked them was the distorted Vox-recording of the howls that filled the complex in the moments before the Chaos Space Marines attacked. It would later be determined by Imperial scholars that these mysterious "saviours" were none other than the long-lost Space Wolves 13th Great Company, lost for ten millennia within the Warp since the closing days of the Horus Heresy. Reports indicated only a handful, at most, of the station's personnel had survived the attack, and they had requested a naval task force redirect to Ormantep to ascertain what exactly had occurred. All of this came at a time when civil disorder across the surrounding sectors in the Segmentum Obscurus had reached unprecedented levels. Now the Imperial forces had to guard against both traitors within and traitors without.
Battle of Tyrok Fields
During the outset of Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade, an act of the basest treachery struck at the heart of the Imperium's defences. At the time, Cadia was alive with the diligent preparations of the servants of the Emperor. Regiments of Cadian Shock Troopers were being mustered alongside the Adeptus Mechanicus' Titan Legions and Skitarii. Regiments of mighty-thewed feral warriors stood alongside the brightly accoutred troops of the Mordian Iron Guard. Amongst this mighty throng, faith welled strong and the morale of every man soared to see the amassed power of the Emperor. But a vile serpent lay ready to strike. The regiments of the Volscani Cataphracts had landed on Cadia to join the muster at Kasr Ty'rok. Yet, in truth, the troops and officers of the Volscani regiments feared to face the Forces of Chaos again, and even if they had not formally pledged their allegiance to the Dark Gods, they had decided that it was better to die in clean battle against men in service to a dark cause than to stand at the gate to the Warp and close ranks in the face of the powers of Hell once more. As the defenders of the Cadian Gate prepared for conflict, the traitorous Volscani Cataphracts revealed their new allegiance to the Ruinous Powers when they unexpectedly struck in force at the Imperial Guard troops being mustered at the Tyrok Fields.
The Traitors slaughtered thousands of loyal Guardsmen before any response could be coordinated. The intent of the Volscani's treason was revealed as they swarmed aboard the Leviathan, Excubitoi Castellum, which served as the command vehicle of the Governor Primus Marius Porelska of Cadia. The Traitors proceeded to slaughter him and much of the senior command of Cadia's armed forces. This included the commander-in-chief of the defenders of the Cadian Gate, who was killed in the brutal attack. At the darkest moment, then-Colonel Ursarkar E. Creed took control of the dire situation. Rallying the 8th Cadian Shock Troops Regiment, the bloodied Imperial defenders were quickly organised and ordered to advance upon the Traitors. The 8th Cadian led the charge into the ranks of the Volscani. Creed and Jarran Kell, his Regimental Standard Bearer and most trusted friend, led the way during the counterattack, and it was they who reached the command deck first and succeeded in preventing the foul desecration of the fallen body of the Governor Primus.
The Governor had fallen, as a Cadian should, with a blade in his hand and Heretics at his feet. Creed carried the body of the Governor back to the battlements of the Leviathan, wrapped in the banner of the 8th Cadian. Many more Cadian regiments came upon the scene and a great throng of them gathered around. Colonel Creed, being a pious man, allowed them to sing their praise to the God-Emperor and then from his lofty position he delivered his first exhortation to the armies of Cadia, to strive without rest until every disciple of Chaos had suffered the same fate as the Volscani. The host demanded that Ursarkar should take command. Three times he refused the offer, but ultimately he acceded to the will of the massed regiments of Cadia. As ever, greatness thrust itself upon Ursarkar E. Creed and he could but strain to bear its weight. Through Creed's actions, what might have been a grievous defeat for the Imperium and a nefarious victory for the hordes of the Archenemy, was turned into a defining moment for the defenders of Cadia. Every man and woman of the Fortress World swore to repurpose themselves to the defence of the Emperor's realm.
Preparations for War
Following the betrayal on Cadia, pleas for aid from Imperial forces beyond the Cadian Sector had been despatched to military commands in the surrounding sectors. Warriors from the lauded Chapters of the Astartes Praeses and from the Space Wolves were expected to reinforce the beleaguered Imperial forces. Naval assets had been promised from Cypra Mundi and regimental muster had begun in many nearby sectors. The full might of the Imperium was gathering, but only time would tell whether or not it would arrive in time. That a major Chaos incursion was imminent was now beyond doubt, but the Archenemy would find the Imperium ready, if only the preparations could be completed in time.
Creed promoted those Imperial Guard officers he felt were worthy and ruthlessly demoted or transferred those officers he deemed ineffectual. Though many resented his brusque manner, and he had undoubtedly made many enemies amongst the established Cadian officer class, many believed that his approach was a necessary one, considering the monumental task at hand. Though Cadian morale had been dealt a terrible blow by the betrayal at Kasr Ty'rok, Ursakar E. Creed had rallied the Imperial Guard and Planetary Defence Forces charged with the defence of Cadia and the Cadian Gate magnificently as Cadia's new commander-in-chief and Lord Castellan. Though many senior officers had seen men who had fought a hundred battles over their careers waver, a single word from Creed could galvanise them into action. The man was imbued with fierce resolution, and those under him could not help but be infected by it.
The work of organising the forces at Cadia's disposal continued at a rapid pace as the penultimate year of the 41st Millennium opened. As was standard practice, each world contributed regiments and organised its forces into battle groups, and Sector High Command assigned Departmento Munitorum support services to each as they become available. Cadia was fortunate in that many worlds of the Segmentum Obscurus followed the Cadian example with regard to regimental structure, equipment and combat doctrine, though there were notable exceptions to this rule, with Imperial Guard units such as those raised from the worlds of Finreht and Mordant. With a starting establishment of six to nine Imperial Guard regiments per battle group, and at least six such groups formed into an army, Cadian Sector High Command had been able to assign a minimum of ten army groups to the defence of every notable world in the region, with the capital worlds assigned as many as one hundred. Of course, experiences showed that these battle groups would soon break down once they were required to redeploy to meet combat needs as a conflict developed, and staff officers on the ground would need to organise their forces as best they were able. Such was the reality of staff work when one was required to coordinate highly diverse units over such vast distances.
The Storm Breaks
- "And lo, as the veil is drawn on the last age of Man, the Despoiler shall gather his hosts once more. Where twelve times before the Faithful have cast him out, now shall he prove their undoing. For Man has grown weak, despairing at the woes of the galaxy. Where are the Faithful now? Where are the men that stood beside our Lord the Immortal Emperor and at His side conquered all? Gone. They are less than ashes in the cold, cold earth. At the Thirteenth hour shall the Despoiler return. All Humanity shall tremble, for lo, his doom is upon him."
- — The last Oration of the Heretic Archivist of the Gethsemene Reclusium
With the worlds of the Cadian Gate all but on their knees with the weight of internal strife and the outbreak of the so-called Plague of Unbelief, Abaddon the Despoiler launched an invasion into the Emperor's realm and unleashed a power beyond imagining, the scale of which had not been seen since the darkest days of the Horus Heresy.
As part of their constant vigil around the Eye of Terror, highly trained units of Cadian Kasrkin often pushed into the outer reaches of that swirling maelstrom, desperate to find some indication of where the first blow would land in early 999.M41. Astropathic divination pointed towards the blighted world of Urthwart, a world already taken by Chaos, its population enslaved and sacrificed to the Dark Gods. Finding nothing alive on Urthwart, merely death and hideous Plague Zombies infected with the Curse of Unbelief, the Karskin prepared to withdraw. Suddenly, a frantic Vox communication from the Cadians' warships in orbit reported numerous vessels advancing on Urthwart from the Eye of Terror. The Karskin attempted to fall back to their dropships to return to their troop carriers, but it was already too late. The Imperial ships in orbit were either crippled or were forced to disengage and make best speed for Cadia. There was to be no escape for the Karskin who were stranded on Urthwart as a massive vessel, larger than the most gargantuan capital ship of the Imperium, approached the doomed world: the Planet Killer. Few were aware of the existence of this monstrous ship, for it had been thought lost at the Battle of Kharlos II during the Gothic War centuries earlier. Oblivious to their fate, the stranded Cadians could do nothing as the incomprehensible power of the Planet Killer was unleashed in a devastating lance of energy that annihilated the blighted world they were trapped upon and reduced it to spinning pieces of molten rock floating in the void. As Urthwart died, collapsing in on itself, a Chaos warfleet composed of hundreds of warships and hulking troop transports surged from the depths of the Eye of Terror, heralding the beginning of Abaddon the Despoiler's fearful 13th Black Crusade. A psychic death scream, more piercing than the Astronomican itself, ripped through the ether from the doomed world of Urthwart.
Astropaths and forward Imperial listening posts detected the emergence into realspace of a Traitor warfleet consisting of hundreds of warships and hulking troop transport vessels. All were on a course for Cadia. Reports indicated that the Plagueclaw and Terminus Est, along with a massive flotilla of Plague Hulks, had emerged in the Subiaco Diablo System. Worse than this, unconfirmed reports claimed that two Blackstone Fortresses accompanied the Chaos warfleet. Cadian Sector High Command found this last fact difficult to countenance, though given the state of the sector in the previous solar months, they could not discount the possibility that these ancient xenos weapons still existed within the hands of the Forces of Chaos.
Imperial naval experts began plotting worlds likely to be chosen as targets for the Planet Killer's attentions. Intelligence gathered during the Gothic War indicated that the Planet Killer was a ponderous vessel, and its planet-cracking Armageddon Gun took a great deal of time to power up and exert its effect upon a world once it was functional. The vessel was likely to be accompanied by a large fleet, which would be employed to subdue and distract the Imperium's own naval forces until the Planet Killer could unleash its main weapon. All available Imperial naval assets had therefore been tasked with locating such a flotilla, and system defence pickets were put on high alert for any signs of an unusually large Chaos warfleet approaching one of their worlds.
The wave of Abaddon's invasion soon broke across the sectors surrounding the Cadian Gate, and it became evident that the Inquisition Fortress World of Nemesis Tessera was to be the main target of the first phase of Chaos assaults. This was first realised when the Archenemy launched an assault on the Chima Lomas System. Nereus, the primary world of the system, was taken by enemy forces with contemptuous ease. In the Cadian High Command's best reckoning, Chima Lomas had not been a target in its own right, but had been taken merely to secure the Forces of Chaos' lines of communication along the Rhoke Conduit. Native defence forces, amounting to seventeen Planetary Defence Force army groups supported by the Imperial Guard's Battlegroup Neth, contested the enemy's planetfall three hundred kilometres south of the Nereus Delta. Going by the few intelligence reports on the situation they possessed, the Cadian High Command was able to determine that the valiant defenders of Nereus had held up an invasion force at least fifty times their own strength for a whole solar day. The last transmission the Cadian High Command received from General Neth suggested that he was prepared to sell his forces dearly.
Having crushed Chima Lomas, Abaddon's forces dispersed as they entered the Kensi Gulf, with splinter forces separating to assault the world of Ovaris Gulag, where no command communications had been received in over a solar month. The voyage across the Kensi Gulf to Nemesis Tessera was accomplished with alarming speed, with all elements of the Chaotic fleet translating into the target system within a solar week of one another -- a feat of astronavigation through the Warp that the Navis Nobilite suggested to the Cadian High Command would only be possible with the aid of the darkest of sorcerous arts. Why the enemy had chosen an Inquisitorial Fortress World like Nemesis Tessera as the initial target of its assault remained a mystery. Cadian Sector High Command's best guess was that the system was chosen out of sheer hatred for the most potent agents of the Golden Throne.
That the forces of the Archenemy regarded the destruction of Nemesis Tessera as of the utmost importance was evident from the Sector High Command's observations and from intercepted communications. The forces of the Archenemy invested an unusual amount of its resources in this assault. After the Forces of Chaos made their landings, it appeared that the Inquisition's fortress might be able to hold, yet Cadian High Command could only speculate that the icy surface of that grim world must have been infested with millions of Traitors and Heretics who had made planetfall upon it. They estimated that those who did not fall to Nemesis Tessera's inhospitable climate would soon be hunted down and exterminated by the blessed agents of the Inquisition. But soon the Segmentum High Command came to realise that the assault on Nemesis Tessera had been but a prelude to the even greater storm that was about to engulf the Cadian Sector.
Soon the skies above the worlds of the Imperium in the Segmentum Obscuras turned black with innumerable dropcraft as the dread Forces of Chaos began their invasion. The Planet Killer itself, Abaddon's flagship, drifted ever closer to the Cadian System. Terrible, mighty Chaos Space Marines trod the surface of worlds they had not set foot upon for ten millennia and their hatred and thirst for vengeance truly knew no bounds. The Imperial Navy, for long solar weeks forced to fight a desperate holding action against the seemingly endless waves of Chaotic vessels, was eventually reinforced. With their orbital defences already breached and the fleet forced into withdrawal, world after world in the Cadian Sector came under attack. Initially the Imperial forces held, even throwing the enemy back at Belisar, Macharia, Vigilatum and especially Xersia and Kantrael. Yet the enemy soon found their weak points, throwing countless thousands of lowborn filth at the Imperial forces so that the Chaos armada's real masters, the Traitor Marines, could exploit them.
The Chaos warfleets continued their inexorable advance upon Cadia, only stopping to allow the Blackstone Fortresses to scour Demios Binary to a barren rock. Lightning arcs of incandescent energies razed the planet's surface bare, killing millions of Imperial servants and destroying every structure in a matter of solar hours. Chaos vessels quickly overwhelmed the orbital defences of Solar Mariatus, the outermost planet of the Cadian System, and hundreds of dropships carrying Traitor Guard regiments of the now-infamous Volscani Cataphracts descended to the surface, attacking the mining outposts and capturing the valuable ore refineries from the defending units of the 23rd Cadian Regiment. The Traitor forces established a forward base of operations on Solar Mariatus from which to launch attacks throughout the system.
Saint Josmane's Hope
The first of the inner worlds of the Cadian System to fall was the Prison World of Saint Josmane's Hope, whose inmates were believed to have thrown their lot in with the invaders in the vain hope of being granted freedom following an insurrection stirred up by an organisation known as the Correction Rehabilitation Movement (CRM) -- a possible Chaos front. They were granted only eternal damnation, for their liberators turned out to be the Renegade Space Marines of the Violators warband, devoted servants of Slaanesh, the Prince of Pleasure. Brutal, close-quarters fighting erupted all across the continent-sized prison and many of the guards kept a last bullet for themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken by the frenzied inmates. Welcoming the Traitor forces as liberators, the inmates were to be horrifyingly disabused of this notion as those allowed to live through the "pleasures" inflicted upon them by the Slaaneshi Astartes were instead taken as slaves for the Chaos warfleet or conscripted into its armies of Traitor Guard.
Many officers within Cadian High Command had not heard of the Violators until they had been invited to a closed session briefing along with Lord Castellan Creed, where a representative of the Inquisition imparted to them the awful truth concerning these hedonistic Heretics, so that Imperial forces would be better prepared to combat them. What they were told about the Violators' activities filled even hardened veterans with horror, for no man, no matter his crime, deserved to have the attentions of such vile creatures visited upon him. Soon the defences of every one of the worlds in the Cadian System were sorely tested, and despite the efforts of the Commissariat to maintain Imperial morale through censorship of news, word spread of the atrocities being committed upon Saint Josmane's Hope.
Following a solar week of disastrous events upon the penal world, the Lord Castellan issued an order the like of which many believed they would never be required to enact. The world of Saint Josmane's Hope was to be subjected to Exterminatus and destroyed utterly. The enaction of an Exterminatus was beyond the resources available to the Imperial forces present in the system; the agents of the Inquisition confirmed this and said that their own ships that carried the needed weapons of mass destruction were many solar weeks distant. Logan Grimnar, the Great Wolf (Chapter Master) of the Space Wolves, also confirmed that none of the available vessels of his Chapter fleet carried Cyclonic Torpedoes, and neither did any Astartes warship within range. The Imperial Navy put forward the plan of instigating a massive bombardment of the world using Nova Cannons, in the hope of causing a degree of tectonic instability, but all available intelligence suggested that the Chaotic fleets blockading Saint Josmane's Hope's orbital space were too strong. The bombardment vessels would not survive to launch a single shell, let alone the hundred or more required to complete the task.
Finally, it was put forth by the Adeptus Mechanicus' representative that tectonic instability could be created by overloading the generatorium grid of the planet's main prison complex. The resulting explosion would pierce the world's crust, thereby causing a meltdown to "sing" through the planet's outer crust and into its mantle. This would cause the crust, followed by the planetary mantle, to tear itself apart. The only drawback to this plan was that such an objective would need to be completed by a team of operatives on the ground, for it could not be attempted remotely. A special team was assembled in short order and given the moniker "Strike Force Herald." It was composed of an unlikely mix which included Astartes from the Space Wolves, Howling Griffons, Subjugators and Iron Knights Chapters, three squads from three different Imperial Guard regiments, a Death Cult Assassin, five Tech-priests and a number of additional support personnel, in addition to an unnamed pair of Inquisitors. This small force was assembled in under a solar hour after the Cadian High Command approved the plan, and it immediately left for Saint Josmane's Hope. Twenty-four solar hours before this strike force was due to achieve its objective, the evacuation order was issued to those few forces the Imperium still commanded on the surface of Saint Josmane's Hope. The order was given after Strike Force Herald made planetfall.
Following the issue of the evacuation order, Imperial forces upon the planet began a fighting withdrawal worthy of the greatest of commanders. Never had anyone heard or read of such heroism as was displayed during the desperate rearguard actions of that day. Regiments laid down their lives so that entire armies could escape to their transports. Even as those transports departed, men stood their ground at the overrun landing areas and fought to the death rather than board the escape vessels, so determined were they that their comrades should live to fight another day. The Imperial force's plan was ultimately successful and Saint Josmane's Hope was destroyed. Unfortunately, none of the operatives of Strike Force Herald survived to return to Cadia after carrying out this desperate mission to tell the tale of their own heroics.
The Greenskin Threat
With Warp Storms rendering Astropathic communications erratic, the Segmentum Obscuras High Command continued to experience enormous difficulties coordinating command and control of its forces. Communications from the more distant sectors was particularly affected, and Imperial Commanders were advised that those communications they did receive from distant sources were not to be trusted, due to psychodynamic distortion. A particularly implausible report from the Scarus Sector indicated that in addition to Chaos attacks, the defenders there faced the menace of the Orks. After action reports cited the world of Mordax Prime as the initial focus of a massive Ork incursion which occurred at the same time as the Chaos assault was first hitting the Segmentum, and if this were just an isolated case High Command would normally have written off the communication as misinformation caused by inexperienced troops facing an enemy they had no experience with. However, every major star system in the Scarus Sector soon logged similar reports, so they had to be taken seriously until more detailed information was forthcoming.
Invasion of Cadia
On Cadia, Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed led his Cadian 8th Regiment (now being referred to as "the Lord Castellan's Own") on an operation to hunt down and exterminate a group of Volscani Cataphracts who, unknown to Cadian High Command, had escaped the chaos of the Tyrok Fields and were attempting to link up with elements of Abaddon's invasion force. The Lord Castellan had always been known as an officer who would fight at the frontline with no hesitation whatsoever, leading his men and setting the standard for his junior officers. The 8th Cadian brought the enemy to battle at Kasr Vasan, in the shadow of the Cadian Pylon that dominated the Vasani Moors. The battle was brief yet vicious in intensity, and not a single Traitor was allowed to escape with his worthless life. It later proved fortunate that Creed had wasted no time whatsoever in launching his assault, for a Chaos Space Marine force, believed to be the vanguard of a larger Black Legion warband, caught up with him as dusk fell, necessitating a hasty withdrawal across the moors. It was said that the true test of a general was the ability to disengage in the face of a superior foe, and the 8th Cadian regrouped, to head back out onto the moors to face the Black Legion on more favourable terms.
Following the evacuation and subsequent destruction of Saint Josmane's Hope in order to deny the forces of the Despoiler a forward staging point, the Imperial defenders initially rallied well, falling back in good order to key points in the Cadian System. Imperial morale was bolstered by a bold series of counterattacks, but these successes were to prove short-lived, and the Despoiler had committed yet more of his diabolical forces to the Cadian System. With the Forces of Chaos now fully committed to the Siege of Cadia, the beleaguered defenders could only pray help arrived soon, before all was lost.
Cadian High Command eventually received word that the fleets of the Iron Knights and Imperial Fists Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes had established contact. Lord Castellan Creed was also in conference with the Great Wolf Logan Grimnar of the Space Wolves Chapter, planning how best the Space Marines might be deployed. Though the Cadian Sector High Command held no authority over the Adeptus Astartes, Creed had indicated his support for Grimnar should he establish himself as the nominal head of the Space Marine Chapters operating in the region. Captain Echion of the Patriarchs of Ulixis, commander of the Ultramarines Honour Company, a specialised company of the Ultramarines that had been stationed at the Cadian Gate for many millennia, rotating officers and warriors from Ultramarines companies elsewhere and also drawing from the Ultramarines' Successor Chapters, also voiced his support for this arrangement. Lastly, the Cadian High Command also received word from the Adeptus Mechanicus temple at Kasr Gallan that the Ordo Reductor, consisting of ancient and venerated siege engines akin to the Dreadnoughts of the Astartes, was to reinforce the Cadian defences there.
More Bad News
Unfortunately, not all the news that reached the Cadian High Command at this time was good. The situation on the world of Lelithar had taken a drastic turn for the worse. In an attempt to bring to ground the Heretic calling himself the "Voice of the Emperor," the Legio Ignatum of the Collegia Titanica, the Death Spectres Space Marine Chapter and the Jouran Dragoons Imperial Guard Regiment laid siege to that world's capital city. Soon after the arrival of these forces a large proportion of Lelithar's native defence forces and populace rebelled and took up arms against their government, slaughtering the Planetary Governor and his staff in an orgy of bloodletting. The Lelithar security forces and the Adeptus Arbites reacted with commendable speed, breaking up suspected Chaos Cults and anti-Imperial organisations, but once again, Lelithar was plunged into anarchy. It concerned the Cadian High Command greatly that they were still unable to control Lelithar. Even with the presence of a Titan Legion and a Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes on the world, the rebels continued their actions and the "Voice of the Emperor" continued broadcasting his lies across the region.
Many within the Cadian High Command continued to labour on an analysis of the Traitor Legions' attacks. This task was ordered directly by the Lord Castellan, and had brought about a degree of conflict within the High Command, for Supreme Grand Master Azrael of the Dark Angels Chapter heard of this endeavour and ordered it to cease, stating that the actions of the Traitors were the business of the Astartes themselves, and were of no concern to mortal units. Creed rejected this assertion as patently ridiculous under the circumstances of the current crisis, and Logan Grimnar agreed with him. As a result, Azrael soon withdrew what cooperation the Dark Angels had been prepared to offer.
Multiple incidents of new Chaos incursions continued to be logged with the Cadian High Command, the greatest number of which involved the Night Lords Traitor Legion. Imperial analysts had reached the conclusion that this Legion had been employed in a vanguard role throughout the early stages of the Chaos invasion and it had been extremely effective in its mission. The Night Lords were notorious for the savagery of their assaults, as their predilection for inflicting wanton cruelty on all they encountered was well-known across the Imperium. The Archenemy was believed to have utilised the Night Lords in this role in order to foment panic in Imperial civilian populations as a result of the brutality of these attacks. The people of many worlds were consumed by panic that their planet would be the next to suffer at the hands of the Night Lords.
While the Night Lords had been deployed to serve as terror troops, the insidious Traitor Astartes of the Alpha Legion were employed by Abaddon as infiltrators. This particular force was one that the officers of the Cadian High Command had been briefed on by the Ordo Malleus, who considered their activities of dire import. Reports of scattered enemy attacks upon key Imperial facilities had been continuously received by the Cadian High Command, but these minor attacks had seemed to pale in significance when compared to the overall scale of the Chaos invasion. However, closer analysis along with the information received from the Inquisition lead the Imperial forces to believe that these attacks actually represented the work of the Alpha Legion. Further investigations revealed that a number of rear echelon supply and communication facilities were amongst the targets hit. One could not help but wonder whether these objectives were designed to hinder the movements of Imperial reinforcements into the region from further afield.
The Emperor's Children, led by the immortal favoured Chaos Champion of Slaanesh, Lucius the Eternal, feasted well upon the agony of the population of the world of Belisar. The Plague Marines of the Death Guard stalked across the battlefields of the planet Amistel, the ground beneath their feet cluttered with the unquiet corpses of those who the Plague of Unbelief had consumed. In the wake of these Traitor Legions come the hordes of the Lost and the Damned: Traitor Guard, mutants, Chaos Cultists and human fiends of the very worst aspect who despoiled the domains of Mankind by their very presence. The acts of wanton destruction and desecration they proceeded to carry out in the name of the Ruinous Powers shook even the most stoic defenders of the Imperium to the core.
War in the Void
While the war continued to go badly upon the surface of many worlds in the Cadian System, in particular Saint Josmane's Hope and Solar Mariatus, the war in space was fought more on the Imperium's terms. The Cadian System had been the focus of Abaddon's primary fleet actions, and the Imperium's fortunes there changed from day to day. The situation was highly fluid and the Chaotic naval forces found themselves stretched to exploit the victories they had won. Although the Imperial Navy's fleets could not hope to oppose those of the Archenemy in and around the orbital space of most of the worlds of the Cadian System, they continued to hold on to control of the inter-system space lanes within the Cadian Sector. The Imperium could not under any circumstances afford to let their guard waver, for it was upon one of these routes that they hoped to bring the Planet Killer to battle. To let it past was too terrible a failure to contemplate.
A fleet the size of which has not been seen since the end of the Gothic War eight standard centuries earlier had been despatched from Cypra Mundi, and arrived at Belis Corona in preparation for a massive Imperial counter-offensive into the Cadian Gate. The arrival of this vast armada allowed those Imperial vessels that had been fighting continuously since the beginning of the invasion a brief respite. Severely depleted ship's companies were bolstered through indiscriminate press-ganging, and hasty repairs and refits were undertaken on those vessels most in need of them.
The Imperial reinforcements were split into battlegroups, each tasked with bolstering the defences in a specific sector of the Segmentum Obscurus. The regions around the Eye of Terror encompass many millions of cubic light years, and only by the concentrated application of resources in those areas in most desperate need could the Imperial Navy hope to make inroads and slow, stall, and eventually repel the Chaos warfleets plaguing the region. During the latter stages of the campaign, when Abaddon's fleet was seen approaching the Agri-world of Lortox, the Ultramarines Honour Company distinguished itself with a bold, spaceborne counterassault against Abaddon's fleet as the Planet Killer closed with that Imperial world on the outskirts of the Agripinaa Sector. The action bought Lortox's Planetary Defence Forces time to evacuate a significant proportion of the population before the world was destroyed by Abaddon's horrific weapon of planetary destruction. The Ultramarines Honour Company managed to succeed in crippling the Planet Killer, but the massive vessel still had enough power to limp away. In the aftermath of the Lortox Evacuations, the Ultramarines Honour Company redeployed to Cadia and the surrounding star systems, launching a series of operations to hinder Abaddon's forces as they assaulted the Imperial positions. These attacks included a series of highly successful boarding actions against the lumbering Space Hulks being used to transport vast hordes of the Archenemy's troops to reinforce Abaddon's siege of Cadia.
It was a fool's dream to hope the Planet Killer could be found before it was brought to bear upon the Imperial forces. Without warning, it appeared in orbit over the world of Macharia. Though many could scarcely believe it, the world was destroyed by the massive vessel. It was lost, and with it millions of loyal and faithful subjects of the Emperor, dead at the hands of the Despoiler and his despicable weapon. Utter dread now descended upon the Segmentum Obscurus High Command. Despite the successes of the early solar weeks of the invasion, many had come to believe that this war might not be won in the short term. Where at first the Imperial forces fought to repulse Abaddon's assault, to deny him footholds upon Imperial worlds, they now fought to keep him from overwhelming them entirely. This was a grim paradigm, and one the Imperial forces were not ready to accept. They believed Abaddon dare not destroy Cadia, as its pylons were reckoned intrinsic to the continued stability of the Cadian Gate which he needed to move his forces deeper into Imperial space so that he could launch an assault upon Terra. So the Imperium would make its last stand upon Cadia and hold that world, no matter the cost.
Enemy of My Enemy
With every world in the Sectors Oculus (sectors surrounding the Eye of Terror) now embroiled in a war that had already claimed countless billions of lives, a new and unexpected faction suddenly took a hand in events. The ever-elusive ships of the Eldar had been sighted by the crews of many Imperial Navy vessels, and by troopers on the ground, across at least a dozen sectors. In the depths of interstellar space, these xenos warships reportedly intervened in battles between the Imperial Navy and the Chaos invaders, on occasion providing aid to Imperial warships and allowed them time to escape when overwhelmed, but at other times attacking them without provocation. The Dark Eldar had also been sighted, preying on the lesser worlds of the Cadian Sector. They had even taken slaves on the Feral World of Medusa, the homeworld of the Iron Hands Chapter. It was rumoured that a legendary Eldar faction referred to by the Ordo Xenos as Harlequins had been sighted on the battlefields of Agripinaa and Scelus.
The Eldar had also been sighted upon the worlds of the Cadian Gate. Cadian High Command had long been aware that the Eldar of the Ulthwé Craftworld maintained a strong presence in the vicinity of the Eye of Terror. Though little was known of their ways, it was widely believed that they ultimately worked torwards the downfall of the Archenemy. Indeed, the Black Guardians of Ulthwé had taken a hand in a number of battles, appearing unexpectedly and without any warning upon the surface of planets thought distant from Eldar activity. Upon Belis Corona, Eldar strike forces had freed Imperial Navy ground crews from the Chaos legions closing in on them. However, there were also reports from the Cadian System of the Eldar falling upon themselves in fits of madness, from the Agripinaa Sector of the Eldar attacking the warriors of the Ultramarines Honour Company, and that their ghost-ships harboured fiendish beasts of the Warp. As ever with these mercurial xenos, their motivations proved as alien as they were unpredictable.
An Ancient Foe
The Ordo Xenos also informed the Cadian High Command of yet another threat from an unexpected quarter, the return of the ancient and implacable xenos known as the Necrons who had been found to be active in the Sentinel Worlds. These soulless automatons were suspected to have lain dormant in some manner upon the Sentinel Worlds for many Terran years, perhaps for millennia. Though they had slumbered right underneath the Imperium's noses, somehow they had awoken, most likely in reaction to the activities of Abaddon and the Forces of Chaos. In some manner the Necrons were known to be the very antithesis of the Warp, stirred into activity by its waxing power. The Necrons' nature compelled them to oppose the Warp in all its forms, and for all intents and purposes, this adversarial posture could be considered in human terms an utter loathing for Chaos.
Chaos represented the greatest peril for the Imperium, yet Mankind paradoxically relied on the Warp for interstellar travel, communication and much more. The Necrons, however, received no such benefits from the Warp. They had no psykers to draw upon the Immaterium, while their highly advanced technology provided them with power over the material universe that rivalled the abilities of the strongest psykers. In practical terms, this meant that the Imperium could expect the newly awakened xenos to oppose the Forces of Chaos. However, this did not mean that the Imperial forces could or should treat them as allies, even in the loosest sense, for this ancient race was anathema to Humanity -- they were death incarnate to the entire species, who the Necron Lords viewed as primitive interlopers within the rightful territory of their ancient empire. Lord Castellan Creed immediately enacted orders for all Imperial forces to stay clear of this xenos race, and to allow them to engage the Forces of Chaos wherever and whenever it was their intention to do so. However, the Imperial forces were not, under any circumstances, to render aid to these xenos, for to do so would be to the ultimate harm of Mankind. The Imperium would tolerate the Necrons' presence in Imperial space only so long as expedience dictated. These ancient undying xenos might be the enemy of humanity's enemy, but that did not make them the Imperium's friend.
For the Greater Good
With the Imperium committing more and more resources towards the defence of the Cadian Gate after 997.M41, reports from the Eastern Fringe of the Ultima Segmentum suggested the Tau Empire was using this time when the Imperium's eyes were elsewhere to strengthen its defences, and even enlarge its own domain in what the Tau called the Third Sphere Expansion. Though the xenos had yet to threaten Imperial worlds at this time, and were largely expanding into uncontested Wilderness Space, Imperial Stategos keep one wary eye on the Tau Empire, lest they use this time of conflict and uncertainty to their own advantage, to the eternal cost of the Imperium.
The Imperium's commanders were right to be worried. In 999.M41, the Tau initiated a major military campaign to seize Imperial territory in the Eastern Fringe that would coincide with the 13th Black Crusade and become known as the Zeist Campaign. As the Imperium's military was heavily involved with preventing the breakout of the Forces of Chaos from the Cadian Gate on the other side of Imperial space, the Tau took advantage of this distraction to rapidly expand their territory. The Imperium responded with the despatch of several units drawn from the Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes to the Zeist Sector to blunt the Tau offensive. With the victory of the Astartes in destroying the last major Tau forward logistical base in the sector at the world of Augura, the Zeist Campaign marked the end of the Third Sphere Expansion, with the Tau Empire having grown to 133% of its prior size. Unfortunately for the Imperium, though the Space Marines had won the war and stopped the Tau's seizure of human territory, it was not possible to sanction a retaliatory thrust into Tau-held space as the individual Space Marine forces were required elsewhere in the galaxy to hold the line against the Forces of Chaos during the height of the 13th Black Crusade.
The Cadian High Command was also briefed by the Ordo Xenos on a number of other factions which assailed Mankind as the Forces of Chaos battered at the doors of the Cadian Gate. The Eldar were once again active in and around the Sectors Oculus. Inquisitorial forces attempted to ascertain their intentions, for their actions appeared contrary and mercurial -- one moment actively aiding Imperial forces, the next slaughtering them. The Cadian High Command held no illusions that the Eldar fought for anyone other than themselves, and proceeded to plan accordingly. The Orks appeared to be increasingly active in the Scarus Sector. The Ordo Xenos believed the Greenskins there had been building up for an invasion for some time, lurking in the unexplored depths of Wilderness Space and launching their attack with a low cunning few would expect of such barbarous creatures. Lastly, the Inquisition warned the Cadian High Command to be alert for seemingly incongruous reports of alien infiltrations in the region near the Subiaco Diablo System, particularly for attacks coming up from below the galactic plane. They would not expound further on what they meant by this, but insisted that the Cadian High Command should inform the Inquisition immediately should any such attacks by unknown xenos materialise. Despite being beset on all sides, the Imperial forces and their commanders remained imbued with a sense of righteous indignation. If every damned creature in the galaxy was now ranged against them, then they were determined to take them all into oblivion with the last cry of the human race.
Bearers of the Word
Within the Malin's Reach System, a new and even more dire threat had arisen. The Dark Apostle Erebus and his forces from the Word Bearers Traitor Legion were causing great damage to Imperial efforts to defend the region. This enemy was of a particularly insidious nature, as the self-styled Prophet of the Ruinous Powers sought to convert the people of the Imperium as much as to slaughter them. Spreading his foul corruption far and wide, he had managed to manipulate the Ultramarines Honour Company into an attack upon the world of Thasia, the fourth planet in the Malin's Reach System. The company hoped to draw Erebus to battle in the dark, methane-shrouded groves of the planet's surface, but found that the Dark Apostle had instead drawn them into a trap. The Word Bearers were far from Thasia by the time the Ultramarines arrived, who instead found a force of Eldar waiting for them at the site of one of those xenos' planet-bound Webway transit portals through the Warp. Upon making planetfall, Captain Echion, the leader of the Honour Company, ordered his force to make ready for battle, but not to launch an assault upon the xenos immediately. He had been advised by the Cadian High Command that the Eldar had on occasion aided Imperial forces, and though he knew well the duplicity of these xenos, he nonetheless afforded them the opportunity to retire without the need for bloodshed.
Unfortunately, the malicious xenos were of a mind for war, and launched an unprovoked attack upon Echion's forces. The battle that ensued was a prolonged and vicious one, with running combats being fought through the dark, vitrified forests. Death would come by stealth for both sides, and both sustained terrible levels of casualties. In time, Echion ordered his diminished force to regroup at its drop-zone for one last assault upon the duplicitous foe, but in doing so, found the enemy's positions abandoned. Upon coming to the Eldar portal, Echion's Librarian, Lesrus of the Sons of Guilliman, advised him that the xenos had fled through their Webway, and were working to seal the portal from afar. Echion washed his hands of the Eldar, determined never to give them the benefit of the doubt again, due to the loss of so many of his brethren for such little gain. So it transpired that Erebus had not only skillfully maneuvered two of his foes into wasting precious time in futile combat against each other, but he had made use of the distraction to launch an attack elsewhere, upon the primary world of the Malin's Reach System.
The world of Malin's Reach was subjected to hell over a period of three solar days and three nights. Warp Storms flared into being around the planet, shrouding its three moons behind a sickly violet haze, quickly followed by waking nightmares which wracked the population. Many took their own lives, so terrible were their visions of insanity made real, and many more roamed the streets enacting wanton acts of carnage and madness upon each other. On the third night the Word Bearers' landing craft streaked from the tortured sky, securing a drop-zone scant kilometres from the Ministorum District of the world's capital of Ruskin City. The defenders of Malin's Reach could only offer scant resistance to the Traitor Marines' assault as they were debilitated by the ordeal of many solar hours of psychic torture. The Word Bearers fell on Ruskin Cathedral committing such blasphemies that by Imperial edict, all loyal servants of the Emperor were forbidden to recount them, save for high-ranked individuals. Through some unknown means the Word Bearers were able to summon forth the creatures of the Warp into the ruined cathedral, before returning to their dropcraft and departing. The Imperial forces on Malin's Reach were sorely pressed for many solar days containing the daemonic incursion, and the creatures unleashed there were only banished when Captain Echion's forces arrived in orbit and obliterated the entire site with an orbital bombardment. It was, the commander of the Ultramarines Honour Company recounted, the only way to be sure. Though a great many of the Imperium's forces present on the world were lost in the barrage, along with the greater part of the capital city, it was considered a merciful end for the them. Such a slaughter was the terrible price of protecting the Emperor's domains from the remorseless daemonic servants of the Ruinous Powers.
War in the Webway
The Eldar Webway, the secret Labyrinthine Realm of the Eldar race through which the length of the galaxy can be traversed in but a single step, was penetrated during the 13th Black Crusade by intruders bent on nothing less than the theft of its most dreadful secrets. Ahriman, amongst the greatest of Chaos Sorcerers and the former Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion, had somehow gained access to the Webway. For millennia, this practitioner of the darkest of arts had sought this prize, and he intended to fathom the route through the Webway to the Black Library, the hidden Craftworld that was the repository of all the knowledge gained by the Eldar race over millions of Terran years on the subject of Chaos.
The Black Library was a "dark" Craftworld that eternally travelled through the infinite corridors of the Webway. Its location and route through the Webway were numbered among the greatest secrets of the Eldar races, and were hidden from all but the Harlequins and the members of the Black Council, the governing body of the Black Library within the Labyrinthine Dimension. Like all Craftworlds, the vessel was both sentient and psychoactive, hiding itself from all psychic probes, while simultaneously repelling Warp entities and other physical intrusions. The Black Library is an enormous construct with a scorched, crystalline appearance, covered in vanes and flourishes but with the typical flowing grace of Eldar architecture. The interior is an intentional maze comprised of all manner of convoluted passages, corridors, and chambers. Bubble vaults full of stasis caskets containing forbidden lore and dangerous artefacts hang from the superstructure, whilst inside and above are myriad citadels, obelisks, monoliths, and spires where the rest of the Craftworld's arcane contents are kept.
Such was the desperation of the situation that these guardians took an active role in the defence of their realm, for the Webway itself twisted and split like a live thing wherever Ahriman and his followers tread. Rumours of Warp-beasts the size of Battleships bolstering Ahriman's forces had implications too terrifying to contemplate. In response to Ahriman's intrusion, the Eldar launched a massive counterattack, the force of which belied their woefully low numbers. The activities of the Ulthwé Strike Forces increased beyond measure, and a desperate running battle was fought across the Webway and upon the surfaces of those worlds that harboured entrances to it. As a consequence, worlds within the Eye of Terror itself were fought over, as previously sealed entrances to the Webway were unsealed in the battle for dominance. Eidolon and Belial IV were two such worlds, Crone Worlds long ago lost to the Eldar race at the Fall of their empire ten millennia past, and now vital to the survival of their race. It was rumoured that one of the immortal Phoenix Lords, none other than Maugan-Ra, the Harvester of Souls, lead the Eldar forces across the Crone Worlds of the Belial System, and that ancient Eldar artefacts were unearthed by the forces of the Archenemy.
War Against the Kabalites
Defence of Ex Lucan VII
With the number of attacks by Eldar raiders increasing alarmingly, the Adeptus Astartes' command council deployed a number of Astartes forces tasked with the specific objective of challenging them. It appeared that these raids were actually being conducted by the Dark Eldar, the twisted kin of the xenos that resided on the Craftworlds, and though the Imperial forces held the entire Eldar race in due contempt, it was this faction which they decided to target in an effort to teach them the lesson that the might of the Imperium, although slow to react, was impossible to avoid forever. Aid finally came from an unexpected quarter for the the beleaguered forces of the Imperium in the form of the Dark Angels Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes. The Dark Angels, who had so pursued their own mysterious ends throughout the conflict, had finally extended their full cooperation in the effort. Acting upon intelligence passed to the Cadian High Command by the Ordo Xenos, and relayed to the Dark Angels by Supreme Grand Master Azrael, four entire companies of the Chapter, and three of a number of its Successor Chapters, collectively known as "Taskforce Shadowguard," staged upon the outlying Cadian Sector Mining World of Ex Lucan VII. There, the Astartes taskforce lay in wait within the hollow mountains of the Kyran Range, every vehicle powered down, in order to ambush a sizable Dark Eldar raiding force. Appearing out of nowhere through the Webway portals the Dark Eldar made extensive use of, the sadistic xenos wasted no time in launching their attack against the mining settlements of the Kyran Range. Taskforce Shadowguard revealed themselves and took the first raider force completely by surprise. Exploiting the momentum of victory, Taskforce Shadowguard executed a manoeuvre that smashed aside a second xenos force. Unable to coordinate their assault in order to create a breakthrough in the Astartes' lines, the Dark Eldar raiders were annihilated in a devastating massacre. The result was an outstanding victory for the forces of the Imperium that taught the deviant xenos a lesson that they would not soon forget.
The Imperial campaign against the Dark Eldar, though nothing more than a distraction from the maelstrom of the Despoiler's invasion, soon posted another victory. Another force of Dark Eldar raiders had been defeated, on this occasion by the Relictors Space Marine Chapter, upon the world of Xersia. The Relictors had not formally acknowledged the command authority of Logan Grimnar's Adeptus Astartes command council, and appeared to have launched this attack upon their own initiative, not as a response to command council directives. It was believed by the Cadian High Command that the Dark Eldar's raids simply attracted the Chapter's attentions, and the raiders paid for their crimes in blood.
Xersia was a well-garrisoned star system, and many of the Imperial forces present there witnessed the Relictors' assault. It was said that the Chapter slaughtered three entire Kabals, purging the system and hunting down every last xenos before slaying them without mercy. The Chapter's officers were said to bear arms of terrifying potency: swords able to spew cleansing flame, and axes that sucked the essence of the Emperor's foes from their bodies, leaving nothing behind but a dried husk. The Chapter marched under arcane banners and icons of tangible power, the followers of their enemies scattering before them. The Relictors delivered the Emperor's wrath wherever they passed. A number of Imperial Guard officers on the ground at Xersia attempted to contact the Relictors' Chapter Master, Commander Artekus Bardane, but the Chapter Master refused to acknowledge their communications.
Subsequent to this action, the Relictors appeared in a number of other campaigns before arriving in the Cadia System. The Chapter was known to have participated in an attack against a warband of the Word Bearers Traitor Legion on the world of Subiaco Diablo, during which an Inquisitorial task force disappeared under suspicious circumstances. They were next seen in the Cadian Sector, where they clashed with a Night Lords force at Exeltra Minor, before becoming embroiled in the suppression action against the Dark Eldar raiders at Xersia. The Chapter next appeared near Cadia itself. Upon their arrival in-system, the Great Wolf Logan Grimnar issued orders that the Chapter should reinforce the Imperial garrisons of Cadia. Commander Bardane refused to acknowledge Grimnar's orders, and his fleet departed the system, headed, by best estimates, for the Agri-world of Fremas. Grimnar was furious that the Relictors had refused to submit to his command. In a fit of rage, Grimnar ordered his most elite Wolf Scouts to track down the Relictors and discover the true nature of their mission.
Exactly what occurred at Fremas is a matter of some doubt, but the Pack of Wolf Scouts despatched by Logan Grimnar tracked the Relictors to the remote Diamedes Archive, where the Chapter appeared to have repulsed a Chaos attack before turning upon the Archive's defenders. None of the defenders were reported to have survived the assault, but Grimnar's men recovered partial video-logs that suggest the Relictors' objective was the sealed stasis vault at the heart of the mountain top fastness. The contents of this vault were known to but a handful of Adepts in the Imperium, most of whom resided on Terra. The Relictors' actions would later put them in conflict with both the Inquisition and later, the High Lords of Terra, which put the future of their Chapter in dire jeopardy.
Preparations and Counteroffensive
For long weeks the Imperial Navy had been forced to fight a desperate holding action against the seemingly endless waves of Chaos vessels, but its battlefleets had finally been reinforced. An Imperial fleet the size of which had not been seen since the end of the Gothic War eight standard centuries earlier had been despatched from Cypra Mundi, and staged itself at Belis Corona in preparation for a massive counter-offensive into the Cadian Gate. The arrival of this vast armada allowed those Imperial vessels that had been fighting continuously since the beginning of the invasion a brief respite. Severely depleted ship's companies were bolstered through indiscriminate press-ganging, and hasty repairs and refits were undertaken on those vessels most in need of them.
The Imperial reinforcements were split into battlegroups, each tasked with bolstering the Imperial defences in a specific sector of the Segmentum Obscurus. The regions around the Eye of Terror encompassed many millions of cubic light years, and only by the concentrated application of resources in those areas in most desperate need could the Imperial Navy hope to make inroads and slow, stall, and eventually repel the Chaos warfleets plaguing the region. If the Imperial Nary could somehow gain the upper hand in the conflict, it was hoped the enemy would soon find their forces cut off from aid and reinforcement. Although Ork mercenaries had reportedly joined the fray and the fleets of the Eldar had mysteriously been drawn away from the Cadian Gate for unknown reasons, the iron fist of the Imperium was slowly but deliberately being brought to bear. Ancient Defence Laser batteries upon Demios Binary combined with programs of orbital bombardment on Laurentix and Sewan to harass the servants of Chaos wherever they were to be found.
Lord Admiral Quarren, the commander of Imperial Navy assets in the Cadian System, had succeeded time and time again in defeating Chaos warfleets many times the size of his own, allowing reinforcements to enter the fray around the Fortress Worlds of the Cadian System. At the same time, a massive influx of reinforcements in the Scelus System of the Cadian Sector had penetrated the Chaos blockade of ships and minefields, and in the Belis Corona System of the Belis Corona Sector the entirety of Battlefleet Gothic had stormed into the fray. Infernal mines sewn across the battlefront accounted for the destruction of only a few vessels in the fleet, and now Battlefleet Gothic had the opportunity to avenge the losses it had suffered in the Gothic War at the hands of Abaddon the Despoiler's own warfleet. If the relentless momentum of the invasion could be slowed for just a short time, then the defenders on the ground would have a real chance of victory. The Imperial Navy had gambled all on this sector-wide retaliation and should it fail, then Battlefleet Obscurus would be so weakened that only the redeployment of fleets across the whole Imperium would hold any hope of holding back the Despoiler's invasion.
Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed soon ordered the redeployment of Imperial troops defending the Feral World of Scelus to bolster the defences there. Scelus was firmly under Imperial control following the defensive efforts of Lord Marshall Attica of the Imperial Guard and a number of Astartes forces. The problem had been the blockade which the Archenemy's warfleets had placed around Scelus itself, in order to prevent Imperial forces from redeploying. To expedite the breakout, there was a planned push upon the enemy forces located near the Mining World of Vermaard. The Cadian Sector High Command hoped that vessels of the Chaotic blockade fleet would be drawn off to oppose it. Simultaneously, a battle group upon the surface of Vermaard would launch a sudden frontal assault upon enemy positions, with the intention that the Chaotic blockade fleet would be forced to ferry ground troops from Scelus to Vermaard, thus complicating their departure. This ruse ultimately proved successful, too successful, and it reminded Imperial commanders that the reactions of the servants of the Ruinous Powers could never be fully anticipated.
The Vermaard Assault was a complete success in that it caught the enemy unawares. It appeared that the hordes of Chaos Cultists forming the Chaos presence upon Vermaard were engaged in some form of mass ritual, the culmination of which was disrupted by the Imperial forces' attack. The cultists were caught unprepared to defend their positions and were cut down with negligible losses to the Imperium's own forces. As anticipated, the enemy began to move troops upon the surface of Scelus up to orbit, and their warfleets waited for the troops transfer to be completed before setting off to relieve Vermaard.
At this point, Lord Marshall Attica made his breakout from Scelus, leading 40 percent of his force to their own transport ships and running the gauntlet of the remainder of the Chaotic blockade fleet. Though a number of his troop transport ships did not make it through the enemy lines, a great many did; enough, in fact, to render that portion of the operation a success. Indeed, the Imperial Navy could not possibly have hoped that such a great number of Chaos vessels would be pulled out of the line, for had more remained, Attica's breakout would have been far less of a success than it proved.
However, three solar days later, the Archenemy's reinforcements reached Vermaard. So great were the number of Chaotic troops ferried there that the Imperial forces stood next to no chance against them. History may never fully recount the sacrifices made at Vermaard so that Attica's force could reach Cadia. It appeared the Imperial forces had stirred up a veritable hornet's nest by interrupting the mass ritual there, but Imperial commanders could not help but wonder what evil might have transpired had they not acted.
Xenos Fleet Activities
The activities of the Craftworld Eldar against the Forces of Chaos had ceased unexpectedly at this point in the conflict. For many solar weeks the starships of the Eldar had been active across the Cadian Sector, in most instances striking against the assets of the Archenemy, though on occasion they had also attacked Imperial forces for no discernable reason. Now, it was as if they had simply disappeared. Entire staffs of Imperial savants, seers and Strategos had been assigned the task of tracing the activities and objectives of the Eldar, and were in constant communication with the Ordo Xenos in this regard. Long-range scouts had caught brief glimpses of movement, but as the Cadian High Command had already learned, when the Eldar wished to remain hidden, there was little even their most skilled crews could do to find them.
Progress was eventually made in determining the reason for the sudden disappearance of the Eldar fleets when an Imperial scout vessel managed to record traces of Eldar activity in System XT90304/G, an empty star system in Wilderness Space thirty light years to the galactic northeast of Belis Corona. On the outskirts of the system, the Imperial vessel picked up readings of a vessel of prodigious size, and managed to execute a single pict-capture before being detected. The pict-capture confirmed just why the Eldar had redirected their efforts. The forces of Abaddon were in possession of a Blackstone Fortress, an ancient xenos-forged engine of destruction not seen since the end of the Gothic War. As if the presence of the Planet Killer in the Sectors Oculus of the Segmentum Obscurus were not dire enough a threat, now the Imperium had to contend with this new threat. If the notoriously aloof and uncaring Eldar were prepared to throw the majority of their forces into combating the Blackstone Fortresses, the threat they represented must have been terrible indeed.
The Orks continued putting intolerable pressure on a number of worlds in the Scarus Sector, notably Lethe II and Mordax Prime. The Magi Biologus of the Adeptus Mechanicus believed these foul creatures to be working alongside Abaddon the Despoiler to further their own ends, though they did not consider it to be a true alliance as such. More likely the Orks were taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the Despoiler's invasion to launch new attacks against distracted Imperial targets.
The situation on these worlds was grim indeed. In particular, Mordax Prime could not be allowed to fall into Greenskin hands, for it was a Forge World of prodigious output and its loss would damage the Imperium's war effort. More to the point, the Imperial forces dreaded the monstrosities the Orks might turn the production lines of Mordax Prime to creating. Fifteen Imperial Guard Army Groups and 5 legions of cybernetic Mechanicus Skitarii troops continued to hold Mordax Prime, yet clearly such a large body of men was insufficient to stem the green tide engulfing that Forge World. The Segmentum Obscurus High Command drew up plans to send a further 35 to 40 regiments of the Imperial Guard to the world, drawn from the regional reserve to help bolster Mordax Prime's defences. Yet the Orks had set their sights upon capturing Mordax Prime, broadcasting their designs for the planet they referred to as "MoreDakka Prime" on every Imperial channel. Were it not for the fact that Mordax Prime was the sovereign preserve of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Imperial High Command seriously considered petitioning the Inquisition for an Exterminatus against the world before its vast resources fell to the enemy.
Tides of War
By this point in the conflict, on every world of the Cadian System, there was only war. Vigilatum was all but lost to the unholy servants of the Ruinous Powers, though a small Imperial rearguard, previously thought annihilated, held out, stubbornly defending the Naval Tac Logis facility. Solar Mariatus, too, was sorely pressed by the hordes of the Despoiler, and the Cadian Sector High Command had ordered the world reinforced, lest its output of munitions and other materiel essential to the ongoing war effort be lost -- a blow the beleaguered Imperial defenders could ill afford. With Imperial Navy reinforcements inbound, the defenders of Cadia had to hold out just a little while longer.
Ursarkar Creed had been hailed by many as the most able Imperial Guard commander since the legendary Lord Solar Macharius, yet many Imperial observers noted that his sub-commanders had not proved themselves quite so capable. So sudden and mobile had Abaddon's invasion proved that many Imperial Commanders at the star system and planetary level had simply been unable to coordinate their actions, and were reacting to the enemy's attacks rather than dictating their own terms of battle. Creed had issued stern orders to his subordinates to take the initiative at a planetary level or fall to the enemy, for the choice was that simple.
Though the Archenemy had gained temporary advantage over Imperial forces at Vermaard, the Imperium was now firmly in control of Scelus. A number of cross-substantiated Astropathic communications confirmed that the situation on that Feral World was positive. Creed ordered a further 20 Imperial Guard regiments from Scelus to be made ready for transit to other Cadian Sector warzones, an order that would be executed if and when the Warp Storms scarring the sector abated. But after long solar days of silence from across the Cadian Sector, a single message managed to penetrate the ether. The Scarus Sector fared ill, and its Imperial defenders begged that the Cadian High Command despatch reinforcements with all haste. Only the industrial Hive World of Thracian Primaris stood before the tide of the Ork menace and the Chaos filth assaulting the sector, and with each passing solar day another world in the Scarus Sector slipped further from the Imperium's grasp. It appeared that Belis Corona was suffering at the hands of the Archenemy, and even the Imperial Navy was having a difficult time of it in this region.
Elsewhere, the Imperial Navy's Battlegroup Eclipse managed to halt the predations of an inbound Dark Eldar fleet. Despite being severely outmatched, the Imperial Navy's vessels managed to cause catastrophic damage on the weakling ships of the Dark Eldar, many brave crewmen giving their lives in the process. These xenos evidently employed some manner of cloaking device, for at first the Battlegroup believed them to be a previously unknown Chaos warfleet. That they were able to defeat this attack was cause for great celebration, but the Imperial Navy knew it had to increase its vigilance tenfold against further such incursions.
Fall of Ibrium
Abaddon soon unleashed a new and calamitous phase in his invasion. One of his allies, the infamous iconoclast and blasphemer Erebus, the Dark Apostle of the Word Bearers Traitor Legion, had unleashed the foulest of forbidden sorceries upon the loyal subjects of the God-Emperor of Mankind. Upon the world of Ibrium, a Shrine World of the Ecclesiarchy, the Dark Apostle had ordered the building of immense cathedrals' dedicated to the Dark Powers of the Warp. That these monstrosities existed upon such a formerly sacred world was a profanity beyond words, but, according to Imperial intelligence reports, they were constructed at the expense of a million souls; souls promised to the Emperor. Upon the completion of these dark monuments, Erebus ordered the ritual execution of every last innocent who still drew breath on the planet at the completion of their labours. The Dark Apostle's sins did not end at genocide. The rites by which the peoples of Ibrium were sacrificed drew forth the full fury of the Empyrean, unleashing its anger upon the domains of Mankind. Seething Warp Storms that threatened to cut the Cadian System off entirely from the outside wracked Imperial space lanes, and the Eye of Terror throbbed with malevolent purpose.
The raw stuff of the Warp had been unleashed, pouring through the rents in the thin skein of reality created by the Word Bearers' incantations, and calling up vast Warp Storms across the region. Many outlying worlds of the segmentum, such as Scelus and Caliban, were now engulfed in raging tempests, some simply cut off from aid, others reduced to shifting realms of madness as the denizens of the Empyrean ran riot across entire worlds. Ibrium was amongst the worst-affected worlds: where once proud Ecclesiarchy Cathedrals had stood, now blasphemous monuments to the powers of the Warp proclaimed the dominion of Chaos. Across the Cadian Sector, where kilometre-high hive cities had once pieced the clouds, now gargantuan charnel houses dominated worlds forever lost to Mankind.
Soon Astropathic communications from vessels caught in the flaring of the Eye of Terror and at least three Warp Storms in the immediate region lead the Cadian High Command to conclude that Erebus intended to isolate the Imperial forces by making Warp-travel all but impossible. To a certain degree, Erebus had succeeded, though the Imperial forces were still able to remain in contact with the majority of their commands by way of Astropathic relay. The Warp Storms continued to grow more intense with each passing solar day, and the Cadian Sector High Command's command and control capability was stretched to the limit. Contact was lost with entire worlds, armies and fleets, and unfortunately the High Command was forced to rely upon increasingly compromised Astropathic communications for each scrap of information that could be garnered about the overall situation.
Despite the interference from the Warp, Astropathic reports continued to trickle in to the Cadian High Command. The most disturbing of these was a transmission from a Planetary Defence Force major upon the world of Tabor, whose brutal accounts of the events afflicting his garrison made for gruesome reading. If the report was to be believed, none other than Khârn of the World Eaters Traitor Legion, the so-called "Betrayer," had fallen upon that doomed world and shed the blood of its brave defenders in the name of his unspeakable patron Khorne the Blood God. Despite the arrival of this fiend, Imperial forces had made gains upon Tabor and across the Agripinaa Sector. If the Imperial defenders could somehow contain Khârn's mad rampage, the strategic situation in that region would be, at the very least, somewhat more acceptable.
Pursuit of the Voice
During the campaigns of the 13th Black Crusade, the Dark Angels' and Space Wolves' ancient mutual rivalry caused severe disruptions to Imperial defensive efforts in the Sentinel Worlds area. Though both forces operated in the same region for several solar weeks, they refused to coordinate their actions, harming the ability of the Imperial Guard commanders on the ground to act, for they could not rely upon the aid of either Chapter. The situation soon changed, as the Dark Angels abruptly left the area in search of Renegade individuals they refused to identify. The Dark Angels sought the shadowy Heretic calling himself the "Voice of the Emperor," who was operating on the world of Lelithar.
The Dark Angels launched a number of strikes against this figure, but on each occasion found that the pressures of constant attacks upon their hallowed ground in the Caliban System forced them to redeploy their forces. Each time the Dark Angels managed to close on the suspected location of the Voice, he somehow proved able to slip through their clutches, leaving behind taunting, heretical graffiti. The Voice transmitted a number of all-channel Vox-casts throughout the war, making obscure references to the I Legion's earliest history, as well as making astonishing claims against their Primarch Lion El'Jonson. The Dark Angels and their Unforgiven Successor Chapters vehemently rebutted these blasphemous broadcasts. The Dark Angels and the Chapters of the Unforgiven relentlessly pursued this Heretic and his followers and eventually captured him. But as the Voice lay languishing within the holds of one of their vessels, he somehow, through some as yet unidentified means, managed to effect his escape.
The Green Kroosade
With the Forces of Chaos overwhelming every Imperial world within the vicinity of the Eye of Terror, a large force of Orks took advantage of the state of anarchy threatening many star systems, and launched an all-out attack upon the worlds of the Scarus Sector. This so-called "Green Kroosade" was remarkably well-coordinated for an Ork invasion, and soon succeeded in grinding down the defences of several Imperial worlds, notably Lethe XI. The Black Templars Chapter diverted a number of Fighting Companies to oppose them, lest they gather into a fully-fledged WAAAGH!
The Battle of Kasr Holn
The Forces of Chaos continued to hit Imperial forces hard across the entire region surrounding the Eye of Terror. The Fortress World of Kasr Holn, one of the outer planets of the Cadia System, had borne the brunt of the Chaotic ground assault on Cadia over a number of solar days, with wave after wave of frenzied mutants assaulting the walls of the Fortress World's capital city. Fifteen regiments of Cadian Shock Troops manned the defences there, and an entire Legion of the Adeptus Titanicus was deployed. Were it only the seemingly endless hordes of ill-disciplined mutants attacking Kasr Holn's capital, the Imperial defenders might have been able to contain them there, but the assaults were led by none other than the Traitor Astartes of the Black Legion.
The Black Legionaries were content to allow the thousands of mutants to crash against the Kasr Holn capital's defences, in order to wear down and deplete their materiel stores through sheer attrition. Each wave had been repulsed, but only at the cost of many brave defenders, and with little or no affect on the Archenemy force's numbers. Just when the attackers were sent once more into an undisciplined rout, the Black Legionaries launched their own attack. These attacks cost the Imperial defenders dear, though fortunately they were unable to pierce the defenders' lines. Yet with each successive wave they were only able to kill a handful of the enemy, while the casualties the defenders sustained were intolerably high.
Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed moved his headquarters from Cadia to Kasr Holn to counter the crisis rapidly developing there, believing that his inspiring presence would make the same difference as the addition of several regiments. He led a bold counterattack at the head of the Cadian 8th Regiment, "the Lord Castellan's Own," against the Forces of Chaos, sallying forth with the Imperial forces once the latest wave of mutants had receded, and struck at the Black Legion before the Chaos Space Marines' own assault could develop. This Imperial counterattack was a resounding success, and as Creed returned to the walls of Kasr Holn's capital at the head of the 8th Cadian, the entire length of the eastern wall erupted with the cheers of many thousands of men. But soon the Battle of Kasr Holn took on a new and unanticipated turn, one that could scarcely be believed had it not been witnessed personally.
At the height of the next assault of the mutants upon the eastern wall of the Kasr Holn capital city's primary fortress, at the moment when it appeared as if the Black Legion would force a breach, the feral 13th Great Company of Space Wolves appeared from behind the Traitors' lines and inflicted a crushing defeat upon them. Both the Chaos attackers and the Imperial defenders heard with their own ears the animalistic howls emitted by these barbarous warriors, even though many were at their station some distance from the fighting. The sound chilled everyone who heard it to the core. Fortunately, the affect upon the enemy was greater still. The vile mutants fled first, turning their backs and fleeing in an instant. Their Black Legion masters attempted to forestall the rout, firing upon the mutants in an effort to render them more terrified of their own masters' retribution than they were of the 13th Company. But their efforts were wasted, and many Black Legionaries were trampled as the mutants stampeded from the walls. Soon, the Black Legionaries were themselves assaulted, and those not cut down from the rear were forced to quit the field, an event unheard of to date for the fierce Chaos Space Marines of Abaddon's own Traitor Legion. The 13th Company's attack was over almost as soon as it had begun, and they soon withdrew, making no attempt to communicate with the other Imperial forces as they did so.
With so many sectors of the Segmentum Obscurus now cut-off from Imperial reinforcement by the actions of the Forces of Chaos, the war had escalated by a degree of magnitude in those areas still accessible to both sides. The fighting in such regions as the Cadian, Scarus and Agripinaa Sectors had reached an unprecedented level, with millions throwing themselves upon the crucible of utter and total war to save the Cadian Gate from falling irrecoverably into the clutches of the Ruinous Powers. In an amazing twist of fate, the Imperial reinforcements from Battlefleet Solar arrived many solar weeks earlier than expected, for the tides of the Warp have never been predictable. The Lost 13th Company of the Space Wolves added their feral might to the battle for the Chaos-infested capital city of Kasr Holn, and the mighty vessel Duke Lurstophan, at the head of the Imperial Navy's Battlegroup Roark, braved the Warp Storms to bring aid to the besieged Cadia System. Under the bruised and crackling skies of his homeworld, Ursakar E. Creed, the Lord Castellan of Cadia, had launched a major counterassault against the Forces of Chaos infesting the Fortress World while the White Scars Chapter engaged the troops of the Archenemy across the Cadian Sector. Not a single man was spared, and the death tolls spiraled ever upward.
Space Marine Crusade
After many long solar weeks of beleaguered, stubborn resistance, the defenders of the Cadian Gate were finally reinforced by the combined forces of dozens of Space Marine Chapters. This Imperial Crusade had been gathered from the most distant regions of the galaxy, answering the call-to-arms issued when the forces of Abaddon had first commenced their invasion. The Space Marine Crusade was greeted with adulation and joy by the battered and bloody defenders of the Cadian Gate. Those Space Marines who had fought at the Gate since the beginning of the conflict were now joined by their brethren, and all stood ready to take the fight to the Archenemy with the courage and conviction that only the Space Marines could display.
The simmering rivalries between the Space Wolves and the Dark Angels stationed in the Sentinel Worlds were eclipsed by the alleged Fallen Angel sighting near the ruins of Caliban, and the rumours of an artefact of the Primarch Leman Russ that was held on the world of Nemesis Tessera. The Blood Angels, after their arrival at Kasr Partox on Cadia, prepared for the assault of the largest horde of World Eaters seen in living memory. Typhus, the Herald of Nurgle, took a personal hand in the battle for the world of Macharia, teleporting in and slaughtering platoon after platoon of Cadian Guardsmen before returning to his flagship. His gift of fear infected the Cadians' ranks even quicker than the plagues he spread by his mere presence.
Having re-established contact with the other Chapter Masters fighting in the region, Logan Grimnar, the commander of the Adeptus Astartes' command council for the campaign, dictated that all Astartes efforts should be focussed on the defence of the Cadian, Belis Corona and Agripinaa Sectors of the segmentum. Now that contact had been made with those Chapters newly arrived in the segmentum, a coordinated attack could be launched that was set to sweep away the invaders in one fell swoop. Many within the Cadian High Command prayed that two of the greatest Astartes Chapters to serve the Imperium, the Dark Angels and the Space Wolves, would set aside their internecine disagreements for long enough for their efforts to bear fruit.
With so many Space Marines now bolstering the Imperial defence, the forces of the Traitor Legions had not been idle. The Chaos rearguard joined the fray, engaging the Space Marines in every theatre of the war. Those Traitors who had turned upon their master and their kin ten millennia past were consumed with hatred for their erstwhile Battle-Brothers, and threw themselves at the new arrivals with wanton bloodlust. With such legendary warriors as the Blood Angels, the Black Templars, the Imperial Fists, the Howling Griffons, the White Scars and many more now defending Imperial space from Abaddon's invasion, the Imperium at long last possessed a real chance to successfully turn back the 13th Black Crusade.
Four companies of the Blood Angels answered the call to defend the Cadian Gate, arriving towards the middle of the conflict. A significant force of Blood Angels immediately fell upon the Chaos hordes assaulting the world of Agripinaa, and they sought out the leader of the attacking forces, the notorious Chaos Champion of Khorne Kossolax the Foresworn and his World Eaters warband, the Foresworn. In an epic confrontation likened to the mythic conflict between the Blood Angels' Primarch Sanguinius and the mighty Bloodthirster Ka'bandha at the closing of the Ultimate Gate during the height of the Horus Heresy at the Battle of Terra, the Blood Angels took the fight directly to the enemy.
Kossolax, fully aware that his bodyguard was no match for the frenzied Sons of Sanguinius, called upon the slavering daemons of Khorne for aid. The summoning rite was an act of wanton, traitorous carnage, as the warlord ordered his World Eaters to sacrifice the lives of their Chaos Cultist allies in order to gain the favour of the Blood God. Uncounted thousands were slaughtered in mere solar hours, their blood flowing in rivers through the corridors of Agripinaa's primary Hive City, and cascading from ventilation grills as waterfalls of gore. The sacrifice had the desired result, and as the first of the Blood Angels' veteran Assault Squads screamed into battle, a blasphemous avatar of the Blood God, another Bloodthirster, ripped its way through the skein of reality to confront the Sons of Sanguinius.
The first Blood Angels to meet the Greater Daemon were torn limb from limb, the beast devouring their sundered bodies as a taunt to their Battle-Brothers. The remaining Space Marines were sent into paroxysms of rage at such desecration, and threw themselves at the daemon with no thought for their own safety. At the height of the battle, the Sanguinary High Priest Numitor confronted the daemon, and dealt it a blow that stunned it for a brief moment. Seizing the advantage, the brothers of the Death Company leapt upon its back, but the daemon recovered, and severed the High Priest's arm with a crack of its long whip. The priest was holding one of the sacred Chapter relics known as a Blood Chalice, which bore an infinitesimal amount of the blood of the Chapter's Primarch, and the blessed liquid was spilled across the tarnished paving.
At that moment, a deathly still overcame the scene, as the Blood Angels were momentarily shocked beyond action at the sight of their Primarch's sacred blood seeping into the ground. Then, the silence was broken, as Numitor staggered to his feet and bellowed the words of the Rite of Exsanguination. The assembled brethren of the Death Company were overcome with visions of the last time their Primarch's blood had been spilt by a servant of Chaos, when Sanguinius had fallen at the hands of the Arch-Traitor Horus.
The Death Company went berserk. They hacked down the Bloodthirster in a savage, rage-fuelled frenzy, oblivious to the fact that it dragged half their number down with it, before turning their hatred upon the warband of Kossolax the Foresworn. The World Eaters were expelled from Agripinaa at great cost to the Blood Angels, though the annals of the Chapter's history will celebrate the casting out of the Greater Daemon. The Chaos Champion Kossolax was not found at the hive city, and the Sanguinary High Priest Numitor vowed to hunt him down, no matter the cost.
The Blood Angels often hurl themselves into the Imperium's greatest and most terrible wars, fighting with a dynamism and determination that leaves even their brother Space Marines in awe. Of late, they have found themselves stretched thinner than ever, fighting simultaneously in the Third War for Armageddon, in actions around the Eye of Terror, and against the onrushing horror of Hive Fleet Leviathan. It was on the Shield Worlds of Cryptus that Commander Dante and many of his finest Battle-Brothers faced the horrors of the Cryptoid Tendril. This splinter fleet of Hive Fleet Leviathan was headed straight for the Blood Angels' homeworld of Baal, and its advance had to be stopped. The Blood Angels prevailed against their xenos foes, yet Baal was still at risk. Dante's forces made all speed through the Warp to return and bolster the defences of the Blood Angels Chapter planet, but they were still many solar weeks distant when word reached them from High Chaplain Astorath the Grim.
A new threat had emerged in the Diamor System, an invasion by the armies of Chaos that could undermine the defences of the Cadian Gate if it were allowed to succeed. Already the High Chaplain was en route at the head of the Blood Angels' 5th Company, but greater strength would be required to defeat the traitorous foe. With a heavy heart, Commander Dante diverted much of his own force, knowing that every warrior sent away was another who could not defend Baal. Yet they were the Blood Angels. They could do no less. Dante pressed on towards Baal with little more than an Honour Guard at his side, while the rest of his warriors turned their voidcraft and made for the Diamor System.
The tides of the Warp proved fickle. The warships of the Blood Angels' 1st and 2nd Companies made up considerable time on Astorath and his 5th Company warriors, and translated into the Diamor System within only solar minutes of their brothers. It was almost as though some other agency wished to see them burst simultaneously into realspace. The momentary delay proved crucial, for it was all that stood between First Captain Karlaen's forces and sudden damnation. As the First Captain established contact with the 5th Company's vessels, Death Company Chaplain Daenor informed him of their plight. As the Blood Angels' vessels translated in-system, they were suddenly enveloped by a severe psychic attack. It was Warp sorcery of some kind that engulfed the Blood Angels' voidships like a storm, but worse were its effects upon the minds of all on board. The storm inflicted visions of the sort every Blood Angel had hoped never to see. The malefic sorcery struck at the Chapter's genetic curse -- it unleashed the Black Rage. Though exact numbers remained uncertain, it appeared that almost the entirety of the 5th Company had been affected.
There was a moment's pause as Karlaen digested this terrible news. The Black Rage. All Blood Angels dreaded its touch, but to have it forced upon them by some artifice of the foe...it was a violation of the highest order. Lord Astorath and Death Company Chaplain Daenor, the other Chaplains on board and their Librarians, all those with psyker training or psychic defences had survived. The rest had fallen to the curse. The mortal helots who made up the warships' crews had cloistered themselves in terror, with some having been slain by the affected Battle-Brothers. It was sheer bedlam aboard the vessels of the 5th Company. First Captain Karlaen immediately despatched the Chaplains of both the 1st and 2nd Companies, as well as the Sanguinary Guard to aid the beleaguered survivors and bring their fallen under control in an attempt to restore their ships to order.
Vengeance and Death
After they brought their fallen brethren under control and determined the wider strategic situation in the system, the Blood Angels wasted no time in launching their attack. They could not do so quickly enough, for already it seemed as though the enemy's plans were well advanced. Crimson Slaughter warbands were present at all the primary Adeptus Mechanicus hubs. Enemy forces were heavily investing the north and south hemispheres of the world of Amethal as expected, concentrated around multiple dig sites. At Hub Beta-Secundus, the Death Company dropped in two waves. Chaplain Daenor and his brothers came down well within the Mechanicus complex, landing between the advance elements of the Crimson Slaughter and their prize. The Crimson Slaughter had struck at the five major concentrations of Mechanicum forces on the planet. The five zones were given separate War Zone designations by the Crimson Slaughter: Carnage, Cruelty, Hatred, Malice and Perdition. Chaos Lord Kranon the Relentless himself led the Chaos advance in War Zone Carnage. Meanwhile, Astorath and Lemartes led the main force of the Death Company against the outer edge of the dig site's defences, seeking to encircle them in a constricting ring of carnage. The Crimson Slaughter soon found themselves trapped against the defence lines they had so recently overrun.
The devastation wrought by the Death Company was breathtaking. The Crimson Slaughter were pushed back on every front, forced to huddle amongst the wrecked defences on Beta-Secundus' outskirts. Many of the Traitors were becoming slow and clumsy, burdened by uncontrollable mutation or shuddering with Warp energies that were causing them to literally burst into flames. The Crimson Slaughter attack had lost all momentum. It was fragmenting by the solar second, caught from both sides by Death Company and Mechanicus forces. Daenor proudly noted that his Death Company warriors had fought with magnificent strength and courage, despite their terrible affliction. Though the enemy had thrown everything at them, from brass-sinewed Daemon Engines to disgusting Warpcraft, still Daenor's warriors had prevailed. The Blood Angels continued to press their attack, intent on killing every last Traitor present on Amethal.
Defence of Amethal
Leading elements consisting of the 1st, 2nd and the afflicted 5th Companies, Astrorath the Grim and Lemartes put the Traitor forces to flight. The arrival of the Blood Angels had changed the tides of war upon Amethal, and made possible a concerted counteroffensive on every front. Moreover, the attack by the Death Company upon Hub Beta-Secundus had seen Kranon the Relentless and his elite guard hurled back in disarray. For a time, it looked as though the war was turning resoundingly in the Imperium's favour. When the Chaos response came, however, it proved unexpectedly devastating. The true architect behind the Traitors' attack, the Chaos Sorcerer Lord Xorphas of the Black Legion, had planned for this inevitable outcome. As he continued enacting a dark ritual, a large World Eaters' murderfleet arrived in-system, led by the infamous Berzerker Khârn the Betrayer. This conglomeration of World Eaters warbands was a Khornate force of prodigious size, known as the Butcherhorde, led by the indomitable might of The Betrayer himself.
Khârn's forces, led by the Berzerker Lords Korbadash and Vrakha, launched an immediate Dreadclaw Drop Pod assault on Amethal. Soon, Khârn himself appeared at the vanguard of the murderous horde, slaying Imperial forces with unimaginable brutality. But the Butcherhorde faced fierce resistance as the might of the Death Company met the World Eaters head on. The favoured of Khorne duelled Death Company Chaplain Daenor, but was led into an ambush by an Imperial Reaver-class Titan of the Legio Metalica. This attack marked the beginning of a counteroffensive by that Loyalist Titan Legion, which decimated the Traitor forces. But this merely forestalled the Traitors' advance, as their sheer numbers soon began to overwhelm the Blood Angels' forces.
Yet the expert leadership of Astorath and Death Company Chaplain Daenor restored some order to the afflicted brothers' ranks. Spearheaded by the furious Chaplain Lemartes, the Death Company then counter-charged their enemies, dictating the shape of the battle rather than waiting to be overwhelmed. It was a daring move, and one that slowed the Khornate advance. Yet soon enough the massively outnumbered Blood Angels sustained appalling casualties. Over ninety percent of the Death Company were slain by the time multiple God-engines of the Legio Metalica were able to reach the engagement area. The thunderous advance of the Titans drove the Khornate forces back and fractured their cohesion, providing time for Astorath and Lemartes to extract the last remnants of their forces. Chaplain Daenor was born from the battlefield by Astorath himself, hacked and mangled by Khârn the Betrayer. The loss of the Death Company brothers was acceptable, for it had always been their destiny to perish in selfless battle, and they had sold themselves as dearly as they could. Astorath would not allow Daenor to perish, however, for the Death Company Chaplain was amongst the most accomplished of his order.
In the wake of the Titans' attack, the surviving Khornate warbands scattered away from Hub Beta-Secundus, marauding at will across the rest of the world in search of blood and skulls. The surviving Legio Metalica God-engines also disengaged, the Titans' strength needed elsewhere to defend against the fresh waves of Daemon Engines being flown in from Ioline. Nor was this danger restricted to Hub Beta-Secundus. As the war raged across the surface of Amethal, Imperial counterattacks were being driven back or ground down by huge packs of newly-forged Daemon Engines. The Traitors were receiving a steady stream of powerful reinforcements. The Imperial forces were not. By the inescapable arithmetic of war, it could only be a matter of time before the Forces of Chaos were victorious.
Just as the Blood Angels' attack on the Daemon Engine factories of Ioline seemed doomed to costly failure, there came the manifestation of a mysterious power that has long aided Sanguinius' sons in their darkest hours. Blazing with golden light, the Sanguinor dropped from the storm-lashed heavens and rallied the Blood Angels. With the help of their avenging angel, the Blood Angels successfully destroyed the Hex Infernium, denying the Traitors any further reinforcements of Daemon Engines. As the Crimson Slaughter continued to bleed against the might of the valiant Blood Angels, the Chaos Lord Xorphas rejoiced as his machinations finally came to fruition. The Sorcerer planned to use the slaughter and carnage on Amethal to help power the Chaotic artefact known as the Banshee Stone to create a vast Warp rift that would drown the Diamor System in a veritable tidal wave of daemons. The resulting destruction wreaked by the Neverborn would extend Abaddon the Despoiler's Crimson Path from Cadia to Diamor, and hopefully, one day, Terra itself.
The Screaming Pit
In the wake of the Archangels' destruction of Ioline, the war for the Diamor System entered its finale. Within solar hours of the Hex Infernium's destruction, word reached the Imperial leadership of combat escalating across the star system. Meanwhile, Chaos ground forces moved to strike the killing blow. The time had come for victory, or death. Stirred to action by the destruction of Ioline, the Black Legion struck at Amethal directly. They concentrated their full force upon Hub Beta-Secundus, and the dark prize that lurked there. The Imperial forces had gathered to form a great noose, marshalling their strength before they struck the last blow to eradicate the Chaos threat once and for all. The plan belonged to Captain Aphael, whose own forces formed the southernmost element of the offensive. As one, the armies of the Imperium advanced across the burned-out kill zone that the Mechanicus had cleared so many solar weeks before. They charged into the blizzard of fire hurled from on high by the warships of the Black Legion. Barrage bombs sailed down to explode with enormous force, sending Knights sprawling and turning squads of Skitarii to ash. Lance beams hammered Titan Void Shields, or atomised squads of Assault Marines. Yet though the bombardment was heavy and the destruction horrific, the Imperial forces did not slacken their pace. While battle raged on the planet below, vast warships duelled in the void high above.
The Adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus understood the true prize that the Black Legion sought upon Amethal, even if few others did. It was the thing that had brought Technoarchaeologist Dominus Ivasnophon and his followers from the Forge World of Metalica to this cursed planet. It was a power of unbelievable magnitude, though the Imperium and the Traitors sought it for very different reasons. Lord Xorphas knew its true nature, for it was he and his cabal who had located it for Abaddon. The Despoiler had set his forces in motion as soon as it had been identified. The battle to come would bear upon the success of the 13th Black Crusade, for it offered an opportunity to extend Abaddon's Crimson Path like a bloody wound across Imperial space. The secret that the Black Legion sought, and that the Adeptus Mechanicus were racing against them to seize, lay deep beneath the surface of Amethal. It was ancient -- unspeakably, unimaginably so. Known as the Banshee Stone, it was a prison the size of a world, forged by godlike beings before Terra had even spawned its first single-celled organisms. It was a cage for the infernal creatures of the Warp, a daemonic weapon to dwarf the Damnation Cache that had slipped through Abaddon's fingers on the world of Pandorax. And, according to the divinations of the Chaos Lord Xorphas and his followers, it was full to the brim with howling daemons. It required only the correct ritual to be broken open, at which point the sudden release of so many Warp entities would tear a gaping wound in reality itself.
While battle raged between the Blood Angels and the Black Legion, Xorphas, a potent Black Legion Chaos Sorcerer, arrived at the lip of the War Zone Carnage's main excavation site at Hub Beta-Secundus. Their objective was the "gate" of the primordial daemon cage. Thanks to the Crimson Slaughter, Lord Xorphas knew where the cage's wards were weakest, and where its inmates' powers could leak through. Though the Blood Angels fought the Forces of Chaos to a standstill, and looked as if they would achieve inevitable victory, the heroes of the Blood Angels felt a terrible sense that they had been manoeuvred into attacking too late. With their foes gone, the red-armoured warriors rushed down the earth ramp and into the flickering depths of the excavation site. There they faced the screaming horror of the Chaos artefact known as the Banshee Stone, a twisted crystal the size of a boarding torpedo around which blood was welling through the cracking bedrock in lapping tides.
Though the ritual was not yet complete, Lord Xorphas realised that he was out of time. This would not be another Pandorax, however. The Banshee Stone had reached a terrible pitch of disharmony, and massive damage had been wrought upon the arcane wards that held the daemon cage closed. It might not rupture immediately, but it would not last long. With a booming psychic command, the Sorcerer ordered the retreat. Abandoning the Banshee Stone to run on for as long as it could, Xorphas and his cabal stormed up the ramp that led out of the pit. Accompanied by black-armoured Terminators, the Sorcerer and his acolytes unleashed the full fury of their psychic might to drive back the Blood Angels who rushed to meet them. With breathing space secured and a clear teleport lock established, the Black Legion was whisked away in a blaze of Warplight, leaving its foes raging in its wake. On the planet's surface the slaughter continued for many solar hours before the last of the Traitor forces were destroyed. Only by the combined efforts of Librarian Asmasael and his psychically-attuned brothers was the Banshee Stone's hideous lament silenced. By that time, the Traitor fleet had scattered, making for predetermined retreat coordinates.
The Blood Angels than extracted their forces from Amethal's surface. In the solar hours that followed, a roiling blast wave swept across the planet's surface, obliterating all trace of Chaotic industry on the planet, and leaving nothing but blackened, glowing ash in its wake. It took seven solar days before the fury of the global firestorms burned down to fume and smoke, by which time the planet was little more than a ravaged shell. The destruction was unimaginable, but the Blood Angels had their victory, and had dealt Xorphas' forces a dire blow. Of the Sanguinor, there was no sign. Karlaen himself had seen him escape the destruction of Ioline, a streak of gold soaring away into the heavens. When the hour was once again dark enough, he would return to aid his brothers.
The Imperium believed that they had won a great victory on Amethal, that they had foiled the Despoiler's plans once again. But Librarian Asmasael realised that the enemy had done more damage to the Banshee Stone than the Blood Angels had first realised. Perhaps defeat on Amethal had not been avoided, but merely delayed. Unknown to the Imperial forces, already, the cracks in the crystal that served as a daemonic cage had spread beyond repair, even had anyone living known how to fix them. The energies of the Banshee Stone were no longer needed -- it was just a matter of time before the Sorcerer Xorphas and his followers completed their diabolical task. The bars of the daemon cage would break--iy was only a matter of time. As they gathered their forces to depart the system and return to Baal, the Blood Angels left behind Librarian Asmasael and a squad of 10th Company Scouts. These Blood Angels would remain on Amethal, attempting to gauge the true extent of the damage done, and standing watch if -- when -- the prison of the Banshee Stone threatened to break asunder.
Seven of the eight companies despatched by the Howling Griffons became engaged in a gruelling trench-war on Amistel Majoris. Having broken through the Death Guard Plague Fleet blockading the world, the 2nd to 8th Companies arrived in time to bolster the regiments of the Astra Militaris' Drookian Fen Guard, who were suffering horrific losses to the hell-spawned epidemics unleashed by the Traitor forces arrayed against them. Within solar days, the Howling Griffons and the Legio Astorum's Titans were the only force able to man the extensive defences constructed by the Drookians. Any warrior caught in the open and not protected by Power Armour when the plague winds hit was ensured an excruciating death, and an eternity of servitude as a Plague Zombie in Nurgle's legions of undead.
The 1st Company of the Howling Griffons, including Chapter Master Alvaro, was at the time based on the Chapter Battle Barge Force of Destiny, and was engaged in the persecution of a particularly vicious company of Night Lords Chaos Space Marines known as the Chosen, commanded by the infamous Daemon Prince Periclitor. It was widely known that the Howling Griffons harboured a particularly deep hatred of this Daemon Prince. While that hatred served the greater needs of the Imperium's defence against the Forces of Chaos, no other authority sought to question Alvaro's actions.
The Iron Knights Chapter had been engaged upon a self-imposed penitent Crusade for a number of solar decades when Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade smashed into the defenders of the Cadian Gate, and they were amongst the first of the Chapters in the region to respond. The Chapter's elite 1st Company soon became mired in the defence of Amistel Majoris, bolstering the flagging defences of the Howling Griffons Chapter as they fought a gruelling trench war against the unremitting assaults of the Plague Marines of the Death Guard Traitor Legion. The warzone soon became a plague-ridden quagmire, the decomposing bodies of the Plague God's victims forming putrid, sucking swamps through which the defenders were forced to wade in order to bring battle to their foes.
A sickly patina of filth soon marred the Iron Knights' gleaming blue-grey armour, and the company's Chaplains were forced to perform daily rites of purification in order to keep the virulent plague at bay. Recent sermons by these Chaplains had linked the Chapter's continuing presence in the warzone with their eventual redemption in the eyes of the Emperor, vowing that the world would only fall at the cost of the entire Chapter. By the third solar week of the Black Crusade, Amistel Majoris was considered sufficiently secure that a portion of its Space Marine defenders could be spared to reinforce the Cadian System, which, in the days following the destruction of Saint Josmane's Hope, was in desperate need of aid.
Upon arriving at the Cadian Gate, the Doom Eagles Chapter despatched forces to a number of warzones, notably areas that had already suffered terribly at the hands of the Forces of Chaos. The largest of these detachments, under the command of Captain Luctus of the 3rd Company, was involved in operations within the Belis Corona Sub-sector of the Belis Corona Sector, where the notoriously pious Chapter battled those who had fallen to the Curse of Unbelief. Only those without the strength of faith to resist were afflicted by the Zombie Plague, and it has been noted that not a single Doom Eagles Battle-Brother was affected by its blight. The Doom Eagles proved effective in combating the Plague Zombies infesting many worlds of the sub-sector, though, typically for this aloof Chapter, they had refused all offers of support in consolidating these successes.
Adeptus Astartes Reinforcements
A number of other Space Marine Chapters contributed to the overall defence of the Cadian Gate during the 13th Black Crusade. These Chapters included:
- Harbingers - Although they had most recently been purging Orks from the Piscinan Belt, the Harbingers Chapter had an old score to settle with the Death Guard. The Chapters' enmity towards these Traitors could be traced back to a raid on their homeworld of Birmingham, "the Black Planet," by the Death Guard, aided by the infamous Renegade known as Fabius Bile. Their Chapter Master, Nimrod Grudge, received early word of the outbreak of the Plague of Unbelief and mobilised the Chapter accordingly. Leaving most of the Chapter either in the Piscina System or on the Black Planet, the Harbingers' 1st, 4th, 7th and 9th Companies boarded their Battle Barge, Unrelenting Fury, and set course for the world of Nemesis Tessera. Immediately upon their arrival they were recruited for a special mission. As the Harbingers were known for their skill in the art of boarding Space Hulks and launching planetary assaults, it could only be assumed that their mission involved the use of that particular skill set.
- Marines Exemplar - Led by their Chapter Master, Commander Maxim Absolon, the Marines Exemplar committed all but a single Reserve Company to the defence of the Cadian Gate early in the conflict, arriving less than a solar week after the Space Wolves Chapter. Accepting Logan Grimnar as the more experienced commander, Absolon allowed his companies to be deployed according to the Great Wolf's strategy, which saw them despatched across all the warzones of the segmentum to bolster those Imperial defences most in danger of falling. Tragically, Absolon was lost in the opening phase of the conflict, as his company attempted to extract the senior staff of an Astropathic way station before the forces of Abaddon overwhelmed the jungle moon on which it was located. The 5th Columnus Regiment, a Traitor Guard unit led by the demagogue Colonel Jobe, was making a push towards the Belis Corona System, but had first to secure the jungle moon. Greatly outnumbered, Absolon led his force in a desperate breakout, and although the majority of his company escaped, the commander's Thunderhawk gunship was shot down, exploding as it failed to clear the jungle canopy. Absolon was listed as missing in action, though the Marines Exemplar did not give up hope that he might have survived the crash and was still active behind enemy lines. However, Absolon's second-in-command and successor, Captain Raoul, distanced the Chapter from Logan Grimnar's Adeptus Astartes command council, preferring instead to deploy the companies of his Chapter as his own advisors saw fit.
- Sons of Dorn - The Sons of Dorn Chapter deployed the bulk of their Chapter in the defence of the Imperium from the predations of Abbadon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade. They valiantly defended the same worlds along the Eye of Terror that their Chapter's legendary hero, Alexandros the Great, had liberated millennia earlier. More than half the Chapter was involved.
- Subjugators - The Subjugators Chapter despatched three companies directly to Cadia within solar days of receiving word that the Despoiler had returned, vowing that the remainder of the Chapter's resources would be mustered as soon as was possible. The Chapter arrived aboard two mighty Battle-Barges just as the Chaos warfleet was commencing its initial invasion of the Cadia System. The Subjugators threw themselves straight into the conflict, during which the 3rd Company distinguished itself by triggering the reactor overload that destroyed one of the Ramilies-class Starforts orbiting Cadia, at the very moment the Forces of Chaos gained control over it. Only a handful of the 3rd Company escaped the subsequent explosion, but their heroic sacrifice undoubtedly saved the lives of many thousands of Imperial defenders on the surface of Cadia, who would otherwise have found themselves facing the might of the starfort's guns. Yet the Subjugators were reduced to a state of disarray after losing the majority of the 3rd Company in this manner. The 1st and 5th Companies took heavy casualties during the Siege of Cadia itself, notably in the defence of Kasr Gallan and the subsequent rearguard actions during the desperate Tarn Retreat, and were in serious need of resupply. The Subjugators were a recently Founded Chapter, and as such, maintained only small reserves of gene-seed. The loss of the 168 Battle-Brothers who fell on Cadia was a terrible blow to the Chapter, particularly as the Subjugators' Apothecaries were in most cases unable to recover the gene-seed of the fallen. The Chapter was eventually faced with the choice of whether to retire from the conflict and regroup, allowing time to rebuild their numbers, or to fight on regardless, and risk the death of the Chapter through sheer attrition, before it had even had a real chance to make its mark in the annals of the Imperium.
- White Scars - The first contingent of White Scars to reach the Cadian Gate was the Brotherhood of Khajog Khan, a leader known for his victories during the Third War for Armageddon and a dozen other campaigns. Khajog led his force against the Chaos hordes massing on Cadia, launching a series of devastating hit-and-run attacks across that world's bleak moors. Within a short period of time Khajog's Brotherhood had become a major threat to Abaddon's plans, striking deep within enemy-held territory. So effective were their actions that the sieges of Kasrs Myrak, Soliq and Rantik were lifted as Chaos forces were diverted to hunt down and confront the elusive White Scars. It would seem that Khajog's attacks were in fact too effective, for Abaddon himself ordered the Brotherhood hunted down and destroyed once and for all. He knew that the White Scars planned on diverting his forces piecemeal to oppose them, but he reasoned that a full-scale response would be beyond the scope of the small Loyalist force to face. Ordering the 1st Company of the Black Legion, as well as uncounted hordes of mutants, Traitors and Chaos Cultists out onto the moors, the Despoiler began his hunt. It was through the divinations of Abaddon's most senior advisor, the Chaos Sorcerer Zaraphiston, that Khajog was finally located. Unaware that his force was being watched through Zaraphiston's scrying, Khajog launched a raid against an enemy slave train west of Lake Terror, only to discover that the convoy contained not Imperial prisoners, but the Chosen of Abaddon. The first wave of White Scars bikers hit the convoy, only to find themselves hurtling headlong into the guns of the Black Legion. The four Bike Squads, realising they stood little chance against such a foe, continued their charge nonetheless, determined to buy time for the other warriors of the Brotherhood to regroup. The warriors of the first wave sold their lives dearly, and Khajog reluctantly ordered his men to withdraw, vowing that he would return at a time of his own choosing to avenge the deaths of his Battle-Brothers. But Khajog did not get to choose the manner of his next confrontation with the enemy, for as his Brotherhood sped across the moors they found every route cut off by the Forces of Chaos. At length, Khajog decided that to flee in the face of the enemy was an insult to the honour of his Chapter, and resolved to make a last stand at the base of a Pylon on the shores of the Caducades Sea. With the Pylon to their backs and the massed hordes of Chaos to their fore, the warriors of Khajog's Brotherhood chose to defend themselves according to the ancient traditions of their homeworld of Chogoris by launching a suicidal charge against the enemy. The 60 White Scars smashed into a horde at least fifty times their own number, Khajog Khan at their head bellowing the battlecry of his Chapter. As the Brotherhood smashed through the ranks of the horde, its warriors were torn from their saddles, one by one falling to the sheer weight of numbers arrayed against them. Khajog rode his own Attack Bike through a sea of mutated bodies, clawed arms and whiplash tentacles seeking to drag him under with every metre he gained. Khajog Khan was the last of his Brotherhood to fall that day, and the Stormseers of the White Scars claim that his shade remains upon the shattered ruin of Cadia, unwilling and unable to return to the Chapter's homeworld of Chogoris until vengeance is visited upon the heads of those who slew him.
When Abaddon's fleet was seen approaching the Agri-world of Lortox, the Ultramarines Honour Company distinguished itself with a bold, spaceborne counter-assault against Abaddon's fleet as the Planet Killer closed with that Imperial world on the outskirts of the Agripinaa Sector. The action bought Lortox's Planetary Defence Forces time to evacuate a significant proportion of the population before the world was destroyed by the Despoiler's horrific weapon of planetary destruction. The Ultramarines Honour Company managed to succeed in crippling the Planet Killer, but the massive warship still had enough power to limp away. In the aftermath of the Lortox Evacuations, the Honour Company redeployed to Cadia and the surrounding star systems, launching a series of operations to hinder Abaddon's forces as they assaulted the Imperial positions. These attacks included a series of highly successful boarding actions against the lumbering Space Hulks being used to transport vast hordes of enemy troops to reinforce Abaddon's siege of Cadia.
Upon their arrival in the Segmentum Obscurus, the Black Templars Chapter's first action was the relief of Thracian Primaris, which had sustained heavy assaults by the Forces of Chaos for some solar weeks. The bulk of the force consisted of Brethren previously embarked upon the hunt for Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, the infamous Ork Warlord who had unleashed such devastation upon the Imperial Hive World of Armageddon, and their participation in the action on Thracian Primaris left the pursuing Black Templars Crusades severely understrength. The Black Templars scattered the poorly led and deployed Chaos warfleet in short order, breaking through the blockade to make an uncontested planetfall at the Departmento Munitorum Logistical Support Centre at Hive Demeter. The Brethren were welcomed as liberators by the beleaguered populace, but chose not to remain on the Hive World for long, moving on to drive the Forces of Chaos across the Scarus Sector back towards the Eye of Terror.
Battle of Medusa
When the forces of Abaddon the Despoiler spilled forth from the Cadian Gate in 999.M41 to launch his 13th Black Crusade, the Iron Hands Space Marine Chapter knew that their homeworld of Medusa faced imminent invasion due to their close proximity to the Eye of Terror, and so the Chapter scrambled to prepare their defences. Given that Medusa was the only world from which the Iron Hands recruited new brethren, they were forced to defend it above all other considerations. While it is known that two of the Chapter's Clan Companies were deployed elsewhere in the defence of the region, the greater strength of the Chapter was used in the defence of their homeworld.
The largest battle in the defence of Medusa came when all 10 of the gargantuan tracked fortresses of the Iron Hands' Clan Companies faced the invading Traitor Guardsmen of the Haradni 13th Heavy Armoured Regiment. The geologically unstable plains of Medusa played host to one of the largest armoured clashes the galaxy has seen since the infamous Battle of Tallarn during the Horus Heresy, when over 10,000 Traitor tanks stormed towards the waiting Iron Hands fortresses. The ensuing battle raged for five solar days and five solar nights, as the Traitors closed within firing range of the Iron Hands' mobile fortresses. When the Iron Hands opened fire, it is said that over a hundred tanks were destroyed in the first volley, for each Clan Company commanded firepower equal to a Centurio Ordinatus of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
On the fifth solar day, at the height of the battle, the Traitors broke through the Iron Hands' lines, and an armoured company of Traitors outflanked one of the Chapter's mobile fortresses and fired shell after shell into it at nearly point blank range. The Iron Hands responded by launching a furious counterattack spearheaded by Assault Squads armed with Melta Bombs who leapt from the crenelated towers of the mobile fortress to land atop the enemy tanks. Though many Astartes lost their lives in the attack, shot down by pintle-mounted weapons or ground beneath the enemy vehicles' armoured tracks, their counterattack was successful in disabling or destroying the majority of the Traitor armour and sending the rest into a disorderly retreat. It was then that the Iron Hands launched an armoured assault of their own, as whole formations of Predator Annihilator tanks disgorged from the mobile fortresses to run down and destroy the Heretic tanks with ravening beams of Lascannon fire. The Iron Hands managed to secure Medusa by the midpoint of the larger 13th Black Crusade campaign and were able to deploy several Clan Companies to the defence of the Cadian System, though they arrived too late to save Cadia from its fate, and an Iron Hands naval task force was despatched to reinforce the naval world of Vigilatum.
Battle of Kasr Tyrok
The Dark Angels and the Space Wolves appeared to set aside their ancient vendetta long enough for Supreme Grand Master Azrael and the Great Wolf Logan Grimnar to come to a mutual, but temporary, understanding. The two Chapters took to the field together, intent upon proving to the Archenemy that the combined forces of the Space Wolves and the Dark Angels Chapters were far greater than the sum of their parts. The exact circumstances and details of this arrangement have been kept from all who were not members of either Chapter. Both Chapters took to the field together in the defence of Kasr Tyrok upon the world of Cadia against a substantial force of Chaos mutants. The combined force of Dark Angels and Space Wolves smashed into the rear of the mutant mob, cutting them down without mercy, and each Chapter's Astartes sought to outdo the other in their skill at arms. As the last few mutants were despatched, the Chapter's friendly banter soon turned less comradely, and insults filled the air. Victory had been achieved, but the Sons of the Lion and the Sons of Russ soon parted ways, their long-time rivalry rearing its ugly head once again.
Battle of Kasr Vasan
The lauded Imperial Fists Chapter arrived at the Cadian Gate as part of the massive Adeptus Astartes reinforcement of the region, five companies smashing into the forces of the Archenemy besieging Cadia as soon as contact was made. After an initial space engagement that saw the Chapter's Battle Barges and Strike Cruisers take a fearsome toll on the Chaos warfleet in the Cadian System, three of the companies carried out a combat drop on Cadia itself, while the other two dispersed to bolster the defences in surrounding sectors, including reinforcing the Iron Hands Chapter at their homeworld of Medusa.
The 1st, 2nd and elements of the 3rd Companies were instrumental in the defence of key points on Cadia, manning the walls of a number of fortresses with the steadfast resolution for which they are famed throughout the Imperium. In these actions, the 2nd Company was noted for exceptional acts of gallantry, overcoming a horde of mutants from the notorious Stigmatus Covenant numbering almost 10,000 heretical fanatics. At the height of the Chaos assault on the walls of Kasr Vasan, the company commander, Captain Tialo, gave his life holding a breach in the fortifications, repelling a mob of mutants numbering several hundred before succumbing to the terrible wounds inflicted upon him. The Captain's body refused to die, however, and was held in stasis by the Chapter's Techmarines, who hoped to inter it within the mighty form of a Dreadnought so that the renowned warrior might continue to battle the forces of darkness beyond the death of his mortal body.
Battle of Kasr Gehr
- "Let me make one thing clear, gentlemen. We are now in the fight of our lives. The Archenemy has come to our home, with greater force and fury than ever before. All that stands between him and victory is us. Us, gentlemen. It is we who must stand before the enemy and turn him back. Why? Because we're here and there's no one else to do it for us. So if any man here believes he cannot do his duty to the Emperor, then he should present himself before the regimental commissars and stop wasting my time."
- — Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed, addressing the Cadian commands during the Defense of Cadia
The skies above warzones burned with the falling of orbital ordnance, and the chants of a billion lunatics resounded. The tread of mighty Battle Titans shook the earth, and Imperial Navy fighter craft screamed overhead. The last days of the conflict had come upon the Imperium of Man. The Imperial forces could only pray that no servant of the Emperor faltered in his duties to the Master of Mankind, for to do so was to surrender Humanity itself on the eternal pyre of damnation and ruin. The final stage of the 13th Black Crusade was fought across the Cadian, Agripinaa, Belis Corona, Scarus and Chinchare Sectors of the Segmentum Obscurus.
On Cadia, the strongholds of the Emperor fell one by one. The Viklas and Cadus lines of battle buckled beneath the relentless hammering of uncounted enemy troops. The Imperial forces on Cadia had been engaged upon a mobile defence, with Lord Castellan Creed marshalling the Astra Militarum regiments under his command to meet each enemy and cut it off before an unstoppable assault developed. But such were the numbers of the Archenemy's forces that this strategy quickly proved to be increasingly untenable, forcing the Cadian defenders onto the defensive, as they began to fall back to Kasr Partox. An entire Traitor Titan Legion marched in line across the horizon, framed against the blazing sky as millions of tons of ordnance fell from orbit. Hordes of mutants swarmed under the Titan's feet, sacrificing themselves to the twisted God-machines. Living artillery stalked the battlefield, spewing shells the size of tanks. The chanting of a million madmen could be heard from the ramparts of Kasr Gehr.
But the Cadian 8th Regiment stood arrayed in companies across Kasr Gehr's parade ground; proud, courageous and resolute, honour writ large upon the faces of each and every trooper. The Lord Castellan knew he was consigning many within his beloved regiment to their inevitable deaths. Furthermore, the troopers knew it, and were proud to know it. They cared not, for they would uphold the pride of the "Lord Castellan's Own", Cadia and their sacred duty to the God-Emperor. That evening, the enemy launched their assault upon the citadel. It was presaged by a terrible, chilling wailing that bit deep into each man's sanity, but none wavered. Then a thunderous artillery barrage rained death and destruction upon the walls, but still the 8th Cadian refused to falter. Then came the first waves, and the men and women of the 8th Cadian opened fire upon them. A blazing wall of lasfire sprang across the rapidly closing gap before the walls, and the enemy fell by the thousands. Many exhausted their Lasguns' charges in what seemed mere moments, and reached for a second charge when the regimental standard bearer, Jarran Kell, bellowed the Castellan's orders for every second company to stand down from the walls. The rearguard would assemble, and so the retreat of the Imperial forces towards Kasr Partox began.
Some ten companies had held to the last to allow the remainder of the 8th Cadian time to fall back. These brave 3,000 troops were to abandon their positions at the last possible moment, but something went wrong. They were encircled, cut off and eventually overrun and captured. A solar day later, the Imperial forces learned of the fate of the men captured at Kasr Gehr. They were ritually disembowelled before the Imperial positions on the Viklas line. The effect upon Imperial morale was utterly devastating, and it was all the Commissars could do to contain the air of defeat that soon settled over many units. As the battle for Cadia reached towards its climax, the will of its defenders hung on a knife's edge.
Death of Macharia
It was a fool's dream to hope the Planet Killer could be found before it was brought to bear upon the Imperial forces. Without warning, it appeared in orbit over the world of Macharia in the Cadian System. Though many could scarcely believe it, the world was destroyed by the massive vessel. It was lost, and with it millions of the Emperor's loyal and faithful subjects, dead at the hands of Abaddon the Despoiler and his most fearsome and despicable weapon. Utter dread now descended upon the Cadian High Command. Despite the many successes won by Imperial forces, many Cadian officers had come to believe that the war might not be won in the short term. Where at first the Imperial forces had fought to repulse the assault of the Despoiler, to deny Abaddon footholds upon their worlds, they now fought to keep the Forces of Chaos from simply overwhelming them entirely. This was a grim paradigm, and one the Imperial forces were not ready to accept. They believed Abaddon dare not destroy Cadia using his Planet Killer or the Blackstone Fortresses, as the Fortress World's ancient xenos-built Pylons were reckoned intrinsic to the continued stability of the Cadian Gate's passage out of the Eye of Terror and deeper into Imperial space. So the Imperium's defenders decided that they would stand and hold at Cadia, no matter the cost.
Battle of Kasr Partox
The valiant Imperial defenders of Cadia made their final stand upon the ramparts of Kasr Partox against the Forces of Chaos arrayed against them. A massive force of the Archenemy stood to assault the valiant Imperial defenders. The fortress city was protected by a scant 23 regiments of the Cadian Shock Troops. Alongside the regiments of Cadia stood a host of units drawn from worlds near and far, such as the Knovians, Gundronites, Mordants, Thracians, Jourans and a thousand more. The Battle-Brothers of the Adeptus Astartes were also counted amongst the Imperial defenders, including the Chapters of the Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, Doom Eagles and many more that are not named in the Imperial records. There were also many other servants of the God-Emperor present, including the Battle-Sisters of the Orders Militant of the Adepta Sororitas, the mighty Grey Knights, scores of Inquisitors, the siege dreadnoughts of the Ordo Reductor, the mighty God-machines of the Collegia Titanica and the Mechanicus' own cybernetic Skitarii warriors. And amongst them all, the Confessors of the Imperial Cult made their way, admonishing each and every man and woman to hold true to the Emperor.
But the Imperial defenders' numbers paled in comparison to those arrayed against them. Even from atop the mighty walls of the Kasr's Castellum, it was observed that not a single square metre of ground was not held by the defenders or trodden upon by the enemy. It seemed as if every twisted denizen of the Eye of Terror had converged before the walls of Kastr Partox.
In the ensuing slaughter, the Imperials were forced to abandon Kasr Partox and retreat towards the Caducades Sea, where they hoped to make their final stand at Kasr Gallan. With Kasr Partox fallen, the Imperial command and control structure was demolished. The Imperial retreat from Kasr Partox saw the most intense fighting of the 13th Black Crusade, with many thousands of lives given up so that the bulk of the Imperial forces might escape. The Imperial forces managed to make it to the Caducades Sea, leaving behind thousands of dead, their bodies defiled by the blasphemous Chaos horde. The Imperial ground forces fled aboard transport ships across the Caducades Sea, forced to abandon the bulk of their heavy equipment.
One of the last groups to leave was the Ecclesiarchal delegation, whose thousands of preachers had attended to the spiritual well-being of the Imperial forces throughout the fighting withdrawal from Partox. Some of these remained in the port, determined to preach the word of the Emperor until the very end, and their sonorous chants at times were said to drown out even the thunderous explosions of enemy artillery. A company of Space Marines from the Subjugators, whose numbers had been so reduced during their participation in the defence of Cadia so as to threaten the very survival of their Chapter, chose to also make a final stand there, vowing to evacuate only when all else was lost. Astra Militarum engineers planted munitions at the heart of the port in order to ensure its destruction.
The Battle of Cadia in Space and A Brief Respite
The Imperial fleet in orbit of Cadia above the valiant Imperial defenders on the ground was also gathered for its final stand. Should they fail, the world of Cadia and all who stood upon it would be scoured away by the power of the Warp. This had been Abaddon's plan all along in launching the 13th Black Crusade; everything had led to this particular moment.
Soon the battle in orbit was underway. The toll taken upon the Imperium's defenders was fearsome indeed, but this desperate endeavour was worthy of the greatest of sacrifices, for failure meant that the Cadian Gate would lie open for Abaddon to launch his campaign against Terra and succeed where his master Horus had once failed. The details of the battle in orbit that ultimately saw the Forces of Chaos repulsed are difficult to piece together in the wake of the chaos caused to the Cadian High Command by the Imperial retreat from Kasr Partox. Admiral Quarren, who commanded the Imperial fleet that defended Cadia, reported that the bulk of his fleet was destroyed, many vessels having paid the ultimate price to throw back the servants of the Dark Gods.
At the height of this battle, unreliable reports indicate that a fleet of Necron vessels appeared as if from nowhere and assaulted both the Blackstone Fortress and the Chaos warfleet. So confused and incomplete are the Imperial records of this engagement that the Cadian High Command may never piece together the true details of how victory was won in orbit. Regardless of their reasons for doing so, the Necron ships, alongside their unwitting Imperial allies, forced the Blackstone Fortress to disengage from its approach on Cadia, and contact with it was lost soon after as it fled the Cadia System. The remaining Chaos vessels followed it and also withdrew from the system. With the retreat of the Archenemy's orbital support, the Imperial defenders on the surface of Cadia rallied from their defeats to eliminate the Forces of Chaos who stood against them and reclaim the sacred soil of the Fortress World for the Emperor...for a time.
The Cadian Pylons
In a galaxy replete with mysteries, the Cadian Pylons are amongst the most enduring. There are over five thousand such edifices scattered across the surface of Cadia, each one standing some five hundred yards above the surface, and reaching two hundred and fifty yards below. Reports differ, but it is understood that there could be anywhere between two and three thousand more concealed below ground as the result of tectonic movement down the ages.
Despite millennia of study, the Adeptus Mechanicus have yet to discover the purpose of the pylons. Servitors sent within invariably cease to function or suffer circuit overload; all attempts to breach the structures' gleaming surfaces have met with failure. Any recovered data is fragmentary at best, and contradictory at worst. Even the identity of the pylons' creators is shrouded in mystery.
Some amongst the Cult Mechanicus believe the spires to be the work of the Necrons, or their mortal antecedents the Necrontyr, but then there are those on Mars equally convinced that the pylons were constructed by the Old Ones for the sole purpose of destroying the Necrons and their former C'tan overlords. The one thing all investigators agree upon is that the pylons are responsible for the stable Warp-corridor known as the Cadian Gate. Adepts conjecture that they emit a becalming signal, taming the roiling energies of the Immaterium. Why this should be so, or even to what wider purpose this could be pressed, remained a mystery, though the Cadian Pylons would play an unexpected role in Cadia's final days...
The Shadow Descends
- "The Omnissiah filled the galaxy with mysteries so that we might learn from them, coming step by step closer to His perfect being. To ignore them, even in the face of war, is heresy."
- —Archmagos Belisarius Cawl
In the Grip of War
For ten thousand standard years, the bleak nether-wastes of the Eye of Terror gnawed at the fabric of the galaxy, spewing their horrors into the Imperium of Man. And for every one of those ten thousand standard years, Cadia stood firm, an adamantium bastion given strength and purpose by the ﬂesh, blood and bone of the faithful. There are no records of how many valiant souls have fallen defending the Fortress Worlds of the Cadian Gate. But by their sacrifce, the tide of Traitors, Heretics and daemons is stemmed. By their example, a thousand worlds have known what little peace can be sought in this bleakest of epochs.
But as the darkness grew ever darker, and the blaze of the Astronomican guttered like a wind-blown candle, the Eye of Terror pulsed, its baleful energies spiralling outwards. Abaddon the Despoiler, heir to the cursed mantle of the Archtraitor Horus, had at last unleashed the full might of his 13th Black Crusade. With a shriek that echoed through nightmares from Medusa to Ultramar, the Despoiler's ﬂeet slipped its moorings. Eternally vigilant Cadia, lynchpin of the Imperium’s defences, was the target.
But Cadia stood ready. Abaddon's campaign had long been foreseen by mystics and strategists alike, and the fortresses of the Gate prepared for its coming. The leviathan warships of Imperial battleﬂeets prowled the icy currents of deep space. From the radiation-torn wastes of Prosan to the ice-ridged plains of Solar Mariatus, slab-sided Kasr-bastions were expanded. Their already-formidable garrisons of Cadian Shock Troopers were reinforced by forces from across the Imperium. The splendid colours of Knightly households ﬂew alongside the proud sigils of the Adeptus Astartes; the scuttling war engines of the Adeptus Mechanicus mustered alongside gleaming ranks of the Adepta Sororitas. And everywhere, the warriors of Cadia itself, drilled and trained for this moment, and this moment alone, awaited the battle that would define the galaxy for thousands of Terran years to come.
Millions had perished in the opening assault, and millions more in the inexorable slaughter that followed. Worlds burned. Warriors uncounted bled their last for scraps of worthless, ravaged ground. Graveyards of twisted wreckage twitched in the solar winds, marking the demise of ﬂeets whose frepower could have unmade whole systems. There was no time for mourning, for despair. Cadia's defenders battled on until all strength left them, and then went again into the fight, for there was no respite from the onslaught.
Had this been a simple contest of arms, the Imperium might have had confidence in Cadia's defences. But Abaddon's weapons were not limited to mortal means. The blessings of the Dark Gods were upon him, and their talents his to command. Plague devoured fortresses before a shot could be fired. Madness claimed the devout and the profane alike. And betrayal -- the false promises whispered by prophets of damnation -- this was the mightiest card in the Despoiler's hand. As heresy spread, brother fought brother. Regiments were torn apart from within, or purged with fire. Bastions, though secure from invaders, collapsed into infighting as the righteous vied with the corrupt.
Yet it was from one such betrayal that hope blossomed anew. When a cataclysmic act of treachery saw the slaughter of the Cadian High Command at Tyrok Fields, Ursarkar E. Creed –- commander of the famed Cadian 8th Regiment -- took up the role of Lord Castellan of Cadia, and shouldered the burden of directing Cadia's embattled forces. Creed's rise altered the course of the conflict. His cold, calculating demeanour commanded the respect of common-born soldiers, the war-tempered brotherhoods of the Adeptus Astartes and even, it is said, of the xenos forces rumoured to have played some part in Cadia's defence.
Through Creed's efforts, and through those of unsung heroes too numerous to tally, the Chaos incursion slowed and was finally repulsed. In its wake, it left a planetary system on the edge of collapse, and warriors too weary for celebration. Cadia's defenders had no way of contacting the system's outer worlds –- communication relays and Astropathic choir beacons had been shattered. Those Astropaths who risked setting their minds adrift on the tides of the Warp suffered seizures, or else were consumed by the ravenous entities lurking beyond reality's veil. As artificers laboured to restore the humbled Cadian defences, and sporadic battles raged with those invaders still present on Cadian soil, Creed contacted the remnant of the Imperial Navy still in orbit. At his request, those few vessels capable of moving under their own power departed to perform a reconnaissance of the outer system.
In their absence, Creed grew ever more convinced that another assault was on its way. In all the long solar months of fighting, there had been no reports of Abaddon himself making planetfall. Would the Despoiler, mortal foe of everything the Imperium stood for, yield his conquest without so much as lifting a blade in its cause? Creed's instincts told him otherwise, and he was too old a soldier not to trust them.
Creed knew there was nothing he could do to prevent the Despoiler's fleet from making passage through the Cadian Gate. What vessels of the Imperial Navy yet remained in orbit were little more than listing wrecks. The one exception was the Space Wolves' Battle Barge Firemane's Fang, coaxed from the brink of reactor overload by the ministrations of its Iron Priests. It alone could fight as a warship should. The others would roar like dragons should the foe come within range, but they could not pursue an enemy clawing hard for deep space.
On the other hand, Creed suspected that pursuit would not be called for. Cadia was a symbol of the Imperium's resilience, and Abaddon's repeated failure. Pride would surely not let him bypass Cadia. Though they would perhaps perish in the process, the armies of Cadia could fulfil one last, vital function. Every solar day they endured -- every solar hour -- was time in which reinforcements could arrive and cast Abaddon's forces back into the Warp, this time for good. Thus Creed set his mind to issuing a challenge the Despoiler could not ignore.
Only one of Cadia's chief fortresses had survived the invasion. Kasr Kraf lay on the edge of the Elysion Fields -- a great expanse on the continent of Cadia Secundus, dominated by the famously unfathomable Cadian Pylons. Creed withdrew his command behind Kasr Kraf's walls, and set about what preparations he could to ready the fortress for what he increasingly regarded as an inevitable battle. Under Creed's basilisk gaze, archeologists' tunnel networks and caverns were expanded and made ready for a last-ditch defence. Adepts of the Cult Mechanicus laboured night and day, stripping components from shattered bastions to coax new life into reparable aegis defences and weapons emplacements.
All across Cadia Secundus, the tale was the same. Regiment upon regiment of Cadian Shock Troopers laboured to restore defences savaged by bombardment and invasion. They did not strive alone. Savaged Adeptus Astartes Battle Companies -- sometimes reduced to little more than a handful of squads –- took their place in the defences, their colours and heraldry bright against the drab Cadian fatigues. North of Kasr Kraf, Orven Highfell garrisoned his Battle-Brothers in the ruins of Kasr Jark. However, the Fenris-born Great Company of Space Wolves was seldom to be found within the walls, electing instead to scour the cratered plains for the daemons who had roamed there only solar days before. Though still haunted by the cost of recent campaigns, the Space Wolves were determined to bring honour to both their new Wolf Lord, and their old: the slain Egil Iron Wolf, whose icons and name the company still bore until the stain of his death could be washed away.
Further north still, the Dark Angels' 4th Company reinforced the ruined superstructure of their own crashed Strike Cruiser, Sword of Defiance, enough of whose armaments had survived the crash to render the downed Battleship a formidable fortress in its own right. Guttural prayers echoed across the broken bastion-lines to the south of Kasr Kraf, each syllable in the thick sanctum-cant of the Black Templars. Even now, Marshal Marius Amalrich had little faith that the Cadian Guardsmen would hold, and had divided the warriors of his Cruxis Crusade amongst them to thicken their ardour.
Across the valley from Creed's fortress, the Battle-Sisters of the Adepta Sororitas' Order of Our Martyred Lady garrisoned the sprawling shrine of Saint Morrican. Whenever the wind blew from the east, it carried gusts of incense across Kasr Kraf's walls. Creed was glad to see the determination the pungent fumes instilled in his troops, but felt little stirring in his own heart. He had long since placed his faith in the roar of bombardment and the fighting spirit of the Cadian soldier. To his mind, there was no sense wishing for miracles unless you were prepared to forge them yourself. And so he did.
In the days that followed, Creed drilled his soldiers hard, leaving them so weary they had no energy for doubt, or even for fear. For the first time, the massed regiments of Cadia understood the harsh tutelage that had made Creed's own command, the Cadian 8th, the formidable instrument of war it had become. As for the 8th themselves, they took perverse pride in the hardships meted out onto their comrades. The veterans amongst their ranks knew exactly why Creed acted as he did -- they even welcomed his tirades, knowing they would temper others as they themselves had been tempered.
But Creed's preparations were not restrained to the reforging of flesh and blood. He salvaged the remains of the Astropathic choir beacon from ruined Kasr Luten and had it installed in Kasr Kraf. The beacon's bonded Astropaths were long since dead, and so Creed requisitioned whatever psykers remained to him on Cadia, and ordered them inducted into the jury-rigged beacon. Very few were Astropaths -- most were Sanctioned Psykers of the Scholastica Psykana. But Creed gambled that their raw power would help the true Astropaths punch through the psychic turbulence that had severed Cadia from the wider Imperium, and bring him some badly-needed reinforcements.
As the contraption was prepared, the metallic tang of oil and unguent rankled Creed's nostrils. Lights flickered fitfully on access panels. Data streams scuttled across monitor displays, their meaning as shrouded in mystery as as the as the robed figure who stood silent watch over them.
"Is it ready?"
Magos Klarn broke his vigil to stare at Creed. He was more human than most of those the Lord Castellan had dealt with over the years -- at least, on the surface -- but still there was something arachnid about the jerky precision of his movements. A spider at the heart of his web.
"It will serve." Klarn's words had a metallic edge. "It is not without risk."
Creed let his gaze fall across the ten-score capsules, arranged about the chamber in three concentric rings. Each held a psyker, wired body and soul into the mechanisms of the choral beacon. Bundled cables spiralled away between one capsule and the next, the strands of Klarn's web, binding its prey together. On the central dais, a lone Astropath hung suspended from a forest of cables and datalines. The beacon needed a focus -- one who would shape the distress hymnal and give it purpose. And maybe, just maybe, punch through the roiling Warp tides that had enveloped Cadia. Creed approached the dais and stared up into the Astropath's empty eye sockets.
"You understand what is required?"
Pallid ﬂesh twitched, the Astropath's rictus of pain giving way to a moment of stillness. "I do."
Creed nodded. What more was there to say? Turning his back on the Astropath, he focussed his attention on the magos.
The magos hunched over the console, Mechadendrites working in concert with gauntleted hands. Creed felt the psychic pressure wave build. Every nightmare he'd ever had -- every fear he'd ever admitted -- clawed at the back of his brain, called forth by a hundred wailing voices. Capsules sparked, their vis-plates cracking and falling dark. The Astropath threw back his head and issued a tremulous, pitiful scream. The pressure in Creed's mind burst. The Astropath slumped lifeless against the cables, black ﬂuid trickling from his empty eyes.
"Mortality rate at ninety-two percent," grated the magos. "Within anticipated projections."
Creed swallowed, banishing his nightmares back to their cage. "Did it work?"
"Data is inconclusive." The magos offered a shrug, his Mechadendrites mimicking the hunching of his shoulders. "What next?"
"Next?" Creed snorted. Reinforcements would come, or they would not. Either way, the answer was the same. "We fight. Cadia stands."
After the attempt was made, this strategy met with objections within Creed's own command. A few viewed it as the squandering of a finite resource, and most feared that untrained minds would draw Warp-born horrors directly onto Cadia itself. Creed had already resolved to press ahead when a defence monitor –- the sole survivor of the reconnaissance fleet –- limped into outer orbit.
The Pyrax Orchades' starboard flank was a ruin of scored and seared metal. Two-thirds of its crew were dead, and the rest would perish from rad-poisoning before the day was out. The sole remaining officer gave a garbled account of what he'd seen, but the sensor readings allowed no ambiguity. Abaddon's Black Fleet was inbound for Cadia -- an angry swarm of warships, daemon vessels and Space Hulks so massive it eclipsed the stars. Worse, at its core sat the malevolent planet-killing bulk of a Blackstone Fortress.
Creed's fears had come to pass. Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade hadn't ended. Indeed, it had barely begun.
Far from Cadia, amidst the dust-blown wastes of the world of Eriad VI, a fifty-year labour teetered on the brink of disaster.
For thousands of standard years, the Eriad System had been considered worthless. Bathed in the radioactive grip of an angry star, its planets had little in the way of resources to make human colonisation worthwhile. Strategically, it had been judged expendable. In the early 32nd Millennium, the Imperial Navy established an orbital outpost at Eriad VI. For a time, the world was used as a staging area, only to be abandoned when Abaddon the Despoiler's 4th Black Crusade swept through the Eriad System in the 34th Millennium. With the great citadel of Kromarch under threat from Abaddon's forces, naval high command had no desire to squander limited resources on an outpost with so little value. The defence of Eriad VI ended almost with the first salvo, and Abaddon's crusade swept onwards.
Eriad went unremarked upon by the scribes of the Administratum for nearly six standard millennia, until Warp Storm Storael forced the Explorator vessel Wayward Eye to make an emergency re-entry into realspace. Locked within the Eriad System by the vagaries of Storael, the Wayward Eye's captain took it upon himself to perform a detailed survey of the system. In the process, he discovered that the surface of Eriad VI had been subjected to massive bombardments in the distant past. Subsequent investigations revealed technological fragments of unknown origin scattered across the northern continent, with the suggestion of further secrets sealed deeper beneath the surface. It was unclear how such treasures could have gone unnoticed during the Imperium's prior presence in the system, but the Wayward Eye's captain surmised that the bombardment itself must have revealed Eriad VI's secrets.
Before the captain could complete his investigations, the Warp Storm at last cleared. Long overdue, the Wayward Eye submitted a report of its findings and left the Eriad System behind, as uninhabited as the day the Explorator ship had arrived. It would not remain so for long.
In the years that followed, two fleets arrived at Eriad. The first was the Conclave Acquisitorius of Archmagos Belisarius Cawl. Having received the Wayward Eye's report en route to his original destination, Cawl waylaid the fleet's mission to make orbit, hungry to learn the secrets hidden beneath Eriad VI's cratered skin. The ancient Tech-priest had spent the better part of ten millennia engaged in his repetitive labours on Mars, and the temptation of new discoveries was too strong to deny. Establishing a compound in the artefact-rich fields of the northern continent, Cawl began the delicate business of retrieval and investigation. The recovered artefacts varied massively in size. Some were no larger than a Servo-skull, while others dwarfed the Kataphron Battle Servitors who stood silent sentry upon the dig site's perimeter. All were fused and cracked, giving few clues to their original purpose. But the mysteries tantalised Cawl, and he resolved to bore deeper into Eriad's crust to find his answers.
It was then that the second fleet arrived in the system.
Cawl's ships had been drawn to Eriad by the lure of hidden knowledge. The newcomers -- an Ork fleet under the brutish dominion of Big Mek Gangrek -- were drawn by the engine-signatures of Cawl's own vessels. Gangrek had visions of seizing the Mechanicus ships, swelling his own fleet to match his ambitions. In this, his reach badly exceeded his grasp. Gangrek's ramshackle vessels were obliterated in a savage near-orbit battle, his crews escaping fiery demise only through a last minute tellyporta evacuation. Cawl, satisfied that the victory had fallen well within calculated parameters, returned his attention to his excavations.
Gangrek's Boyz quickly adapted to Eriad VI's high-rad environment -- more than that, they thrived. Spared the fury of orbital bombardment by roiling dust storms, they harried Cawl's compound. Each raid garnered wrecks and stolen technology to be pressed into service alongside the Kill Kroozer debris still raining down upon the Eriadan badlands.
Cawl's Adepts saw only the sporadic nature of the raids, and did not recognise the larger plan -- chiefly because Gangrek had no fixed goal. The Mek was unpredictable even by Ork standards. This was anathema to the rigorous, methodical warriors of the Omnissiah -- what they could not anticipate they could not defeat. Time and again, Skitarii patrols found themselves ambushed and overrun. Ironstriders braved the dust storms to close in on Gangrek's outposts, only to discover that the lean-to buildings had been mined, and that their own staging bastions were under fire.
Finally, Cawl ripped his attention from his studies, taking direct command of the incipient disaster. Recognising the need to set Gangrek an irresistible lure, he ordered the next supply drop to occur on the very edge of the compound. The Mek's hunger for looted materiel had been the only constant in his inconstant war, and Cawl was determined to take whatever advantage he could.
Thus, when Gangrek's Boyz stormed the landing fields, they discovered transport craft not bursting with supplies, but with waiting Skitarii. The ensuing battle lasted well into the frozen Eriadan night, Shoota-fire and bellowed battle cries vying with the methodical volleys of Skitarii rifles and the machine-argot of Electro-Priests.
Under Cawl's direct leadership, the warriors of the Adeptus Mechanicus won their first real victory since the Greenskins had come to Eriad VI. The Mechanicus compound held, though only by the slimmest of measures. The turning point came with Gangrek's fiery demise in the rays of Cawl's Solar Atomiser. But though the Orks withdrew, thousands more remained beyond the arc-fences. It was clear to the Archmagos that his hold on Eriad VI was slipping. Weighing the probabilities, he regretfully decided to abandon his studies and return to the original mission that had brought him from Mars. He had indulged his curiosities for too long, imperilled the valuable cargo aboard his ship and forgotten his obligations. Giving the evacuation order, Cawl descended into the tunnels one last time.
Cawl ran a hand across the smooth, black shard. If only he had more time! They deeper they delved into Eriad VI, the more complete were the fragments. Discovery could be mere solar days -- hours -- away.
"No." Impatience would gain him nothing. Whatever treasures this planet held, they could wait. He could not risk leaving the relic aboard his Ark Mechanicus any longer. "I will return."
Now they would collapse the tunnels, seal the Greenskins away from their prize. And on that glorious day of return, the Orks would quail before the Omnissiah's fury.
Cawl turned to leave, but halted, uncertain. He swept his gaze around the cavern, eye lenses clicking and whirring as they scoured the shadows. He was alone. And yet, instinct told him otherwise. More than instinct. Was that the ghost of laughter?
A shadow shifted. Cawl had the sense of a hooded woman, a featureless mask swirling like smoke.
The recalibration came without conscious direction. Implants slid smoothly into war mode. Power ﬂooded the circuits of the Atomiser, the sensation like blood-ﬂow returning to a numbed limb. Binharic data ﬂooded the empty tiers of Cawl's mind, divine algorithms seeking out the intruder's weaknesses.
The intruder leaned closer. "Do you not remember me, Belisarius?"
Cawl scoured the jumbled bibelots archived in his third consciousness. Fragments of memory, and a name. Veilwalker.
A data-burst suddenly lit up his mind. She had come to him in his forge on Mars, where he had laboured so long at his sacred task. She had compelled him to venture forth, to take his precious cargo to its long-intended destination. The time is now, she had whispered, and he had been unable to resist. How strange that, until now, he had forgotten that meeting.
The Shadowseer's mask settled, forming a countenance that Cawl hadn't seen for millennia. The likeness lingered for a moment, then dissolved into a vortex of dancing light.
"If you are here to remind me once again of old promises, xenos, then you have come too late. My ships are already preparing to depart as we speak," Cawl said.
Veilwalker laughed. "The music of destiny is changing. The dancers must learn new steps, or perish in the fading notes."
Cawl stared at her blankly.
"I am here to tell you to keep digging," said Sylandri Veilwalker. Then, in a ﬂicker of light, she was gone.
A Dolorous Warning
The first alarm came from the Bell of Saint Gerstahl. For thousands upon thousands of standard years, it had sat in silence upon its pedestal, content to while away eternity in the vast collection of artefacts possessed by Trazyn the Infinite. Then, on a day seemingly little different to any other in the unchanging hallways of Solemnace, the bell began chiming with ever greater force -- in full and inexplicable defiance of the stasis vault housing it.
The first doleful note it chimed split the vaulted ceiling of the bell's stasis chamber, unleashing a flood of coolant that instantly dissolved the last examples of Ooliac sand-sculpture in existence. The second note triggered a logic cascade within the circuits of Solemnace's master program, causing it to wrongly command each and every one of the Tomb World's Necron Warrior legions to return to stasis-sleep. By the time the Bell of Saint Gerstahl sounded its third chime, the reverberations had grown sufficiently destructive that even the composite alloys of Necron "flesh" could not withstand its onslaught. Trazyn lost five surrogate bodies in his increasingly desperate attempts to bring about silence. After the thirteenth chime -- and just as the collateral damage finally outpaced Solemnace's Canoptek custodians' ability to contain it -- the Bell of Saint Gerstahl finally fell silent.
Pausing only to cast the contraption into the depths of the Webway -- where he profoundly hoped it would bedevil the Eldar as much as it had lately inconvenienced him -- the Lord of Solemnace pondered the meaning of it all.
Departing Solemnace, Trazyn made for Thanatos, Crownworld of the Necron Oruscar Dynasty and home to the wonders of the Celestial Orrery. His welcome in those halls was less than effusive -- in part due to a misunderstanding over the Oruscar Glyph of Dominance, which had gone missing during a prior visit. However, after bargains were struck and promises made, Trazyn was finally permitted access to the Orrery itself -- if under the watchful gaze of Oruscar Lychguards.
As he stepped into the whirling sphere of living metal and holographic light, Trazyn realised something was amiss. The intricate webs that formed the links of the Orrery were under-lit by a crimson stain. It pulsed beneath the weave of worlds like an infection, forcing its way to the surface. Something was coming. Something that would change the shape of the galaxy. Thus far, it had gone unnoticed, but there was no hiding anything from the Celestial Orrery, for it was not merely a representation of the galaxy, but a perfect reflection of it.
Trazyn realised the Oruscar had known about the rising corruption for centuries -- perhaps even millennia -- but had made no move to combat it. They could not, for inaction was the price of custodianship. But Trazyn had no such restraint -- indeed, he acknowledged no master save his own amusement. He could act, if he chose. After untold millennia, there was some appeal in playing at selflessness...But where to begin? Where was the cause of the corruption?
Trazyn lost track of time studying the Orrery's pathways, searching for the wellspring of the galaxy's woes -- the source of the blight worming its way through the galaxy's heart. At last he found it, far to the galactic northwest, bordering the Eye of Terror. In the Orrery, that world was catalogued as a string of trinary data, whose details Trazyn deliberately forgot. To the Imperium, it was known as Cadia. Trazyn could not recall setting foot there, not in all his travels. To his understanding, it was a drab, grey world, of interest only to the bellicose. On the other hand, if the role of saviour grew tiring, Cadia would surely offer opportunities to expand his collection.
The door shuddered, then hissed open. Water crystals formed on the pock-marked metal of Trazyn's body. He didn't even need to examine the status panel to know that Phalanxes ZX/48 through ZX/128 wouldn't marshal for battle any time soon. They were frozen solid. Just like all the others.
"Why did I ever bring that wretched bell here?" Trazyn muttered, even though he knew precisely why he'd done so.
The Shrine World's guardians had been just as desperate to keep the Bell of Saint Gerstahl as the Black Legion had been to destroy it. Thousands of lives, cast into oblivion in pursuit of one singular artefact. And all for nothing, as events had transpired. That story alone made it worth preservation -- or so Trazyn had originally thought. Now, with half his stasis vaults collapsed or ankle-deep in coolant, and his legions frozen at the command of Solemnace's damaged master program...
Trazyn keyed the release. The door jerked closed. He could hardly make the journey undefended. Cadia was a near-permanent war zone, and he’d not survived the endless aeons since biotransference by taking unnecessary risks.
Perhaps one of his peers would lend him a phalanx or two. Imotekh of the Sautekh, perhaps? No...Not after Somonor. In fact, now Trazyn came to consider it, he didn't have any peers left who wouldn't turn him down outright, or else use the opportunity to assassinate him.
Then perhaps one of his contacts within the Imperium itself? No. They were too parochial. There had been that one Inquisitor... A shame what had happened to her, but humans took such great delight in killing one another. No, sadly Valeria would be of no assistance, but maybe she held the key -- or at least invited a certain sardonic justice. His spirits restored, Trazyn headed deeper in the catacombs, searching for one particular vault...
The Fate of Phalanx
As the tides of the 13th Black Crusade washed across the Cadian Gate, jealous eyes sought advantage elsewhere.
The Iron Warriors Warsmith Shon'tu and the Daemon Prince Be'lakor thought to upstage Abaddon's latest crusade by striking directly at Terra. Emerging from a Warp rift at the heart of the battle-fortress Phalanx, they sought to seize command of the mighty vessel and turn its unparalleled weaponry on the Emperor's Imperial Palace itself.
Victory seemed assured. Five companies of the Imperial Fists had already departed upon the Crusade of Vengeance, unleashing the righteous fury of the sons of Rogal Dorn against the fortresses of Medrengard. Three others were scattered across the Segmentum Obscurus on missions of vital import. That left some thirty Battle-Brothers of the 1st Company, alongside the newly reconstituted and unblooded 3rd, to repel the assault on their beloved sanctum.
Captain Tor Garadon, master of the 3rd Company, took command, rallying the bond-serfs of Phalanx's crew alongside his Battle-Brothers. Though badly outnumbered, the defenders of the venerable battle-fortress knew every hall and chamber of their home, and used that knowledge to bloody effect. Ground was yielded only to draw the snarling daemons into the jaws of ambush. The armoured castellum -- fortresses within the fortress -- kept firing until their ammunition was spent and their positions overrun by the Iron Warriors' clanking war engines.
It was not enough. Assaulted by the insidiousness of the Dark Gods and the machine viruses of Shon'tu's Warpsmiths, the very flesh of Phalanx rebelled. Automated defences turned on their creators. Rad-baffles cut out, flooding hallways with reactor waste. Gravitic and life support failed across the entire forward superstructure. Hangars vented without warning. And wherever the Iron Warriors advanced, elegant stonework and golden panelling that had endured since the time of Dorn writhed and twisted, screaming faces distending the surfaces from within. Soon, whole decks resembled nothing so much as the nightmare bastions of Medrengard.
The Imperial Fists held their ground with a tenacity worthy of their long-dead Primarch, but with every passing moment, more of the fortress ship succumbed to the infestation. Already the Machine Spirits of its dorsal batteries eroded beneath the Warpsmiths' insidious designs. Garadon knew that a planetary bombardment would soon follow. The last testament of Dorn's great prize would be one of failure -- worse, it would be one of treachery.
Faced with the unthinkable, Garadon took the only course open to him. This was a foe that could not be bested by Bolter and Chainsword, nor even through the unswerving valour of the Adeptus Astartes. Withdrawing his forces from the infected sections, he ordered Phalanx's weaponry turned inward. With them, he would cut away the disease as would a chirurgeon. Garadon felt each strike of the Fusion Beamers as if upon his own flesh, but the necessity of the hour allowed for no compromise.
Fully one-tenth of Phalanx's mass was lost to that scouring, either obliterated by the strike of its own weaponry, or cut free by the same to suffer a fiery demise in Terra's atmosphere. But the sacrifice had been worth it. As Holy Terra consumed Phalanx's ravaged flesh, the machine virus' hold was shattered. Seizing the opportunity, Garadon set Phalanx onto a blind heading, hurling the fortress adrift into the tides of the Immaterium. Whatever the fortress' fate, it would not be wielded as a weapon by the Ruinous Powers. With the worst of all fates cheated, Garadon rallied what remained of his Battle-Brothers and set forth to scour the last of Shon'tu's presence from Phalanx.
Alas, Garadon had underestimated his foes. Though the bulk of the Iron Warriors had perished during the excision of Phalanx's corruption, the fury and resolve of Be'lakor's daemons had heightened the moment the fortress plunged into the Immaterium. Thus, though Shon'tu's death beneath the vengeful Power Fists of Terminator Squad Furan did much to restore lost honour, it did little to alter Phalanx's fate. His forces weary and diminished, Garadon elected to make his stand in the Chamber of Storms, beneath the granite gaze of Chapter Masters long-dead -- witnesses to their inheritors' valour. As the golden cloth of the 3rd Company's banner defiantly unfurled, Be'lakor's mocking laughter echoed around the chamber.
The defenders of Phalanx gave no ground that day. The roar of Bolters vied with the screams of dying daemons and the blasphemous curses of the damned. Hellfire blackened the walls, and shrivelled the souls of the fallen. Be'lakor spent his forces carelessly, hurling them into oblivion with the surety of a general on the brink of victory. Malice and disappointment doubtless played their part also, for with Phalanx's departure from Terra, Be'lakor's quest to overmatch Abaddon's glories had met with rank failure. Once again, the First Damned had slipped into the shadow of a mortal champion. Thus Be'lakor spent the coin of his thralls' lives carelessly, confident that the tides of the Warp would replenish his ranks where those of Phalanx's defenders would only diminish.
But not all forces within the unpredictable Immaterium bend their knee to the dark designs of Chaos. As Be'lakor at last deigned to join the battle, one such faction drew nigh. Hellfire found itself contested by the flames of sacrifice as the spectral Battle-Brothers of the Legion of the Damned entered the fray. Daemons withered in the spirit-fires, and no matter how Be'lakor railed and pleaded with his dark masters, his ranks were not renewed.
Caught between the Sons of Dorn and the sepulchral warriors of the Legion, the daemons' grip upon Phalanx slackened. The Chamber of Storms, no longer the site of a last stand, now became the stage upon which a great victory played out. By the time Be'lakor, his undying flesh rent and pummelled by the grasp of Garadon's Power Fist, cast himself into the nothingness beyond Phalanx's Gellar Field, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Phalanx had been saved.
As Phalanx's crew wrestled to bring the mighty fortress under control, Garadon took stock of his losses. The price of victory had been steep. A tenth of Phalanx's structure had been lost to save the remainder. The ravaged whole was marred by altogether too many wrecked weapons emplacements, launch bays and Void Shield projectors, and manned by a mortal crew little above half strength. Of Garadon's 3rd Company, the Sentinels of Terra, only forty-eight Battle-Brothers would fight again. Of Sergeant Furan's demi-company of the 1st, a mere fifteen Astartes survived. As seemed ever the case, a great victory for the Sons of Dorn had come at an equally great cost.
Oddly, the Legion of the Damned had not vanished at battle's close, as was usually their wont. Instead, they stood silent vigil in the Chamber of Storms, unmoving and unspeaking. Save for Garadon himself, all avoided that hallowed place, discomforted by the grim spectres whose presence seemed to chill the air even as Warp fire crackled across their armour. But not even Garadon could bring himself to question the cadaverous sergeant who stood at the Legion's head. That they were waiting for something seemed obvious, but what?
Commodore Trevaux, Phalanx's senior surviving officer, recommended that the battle-fortress set return course for Terra, or else make full speed for the great shipyards of Mars to commence much-needed repairs. Garadon was of a mind to agree, but couldn't shake the feeling that fate had other plans for venerable Phalanx.
No sooner had Phalanx's heading altered towards Terra once more than Librarians intercepted a garbled and desperately brief distress hymnal. Cadia called for aid. Trevaux and Furan argued that neither Phalanx nor its crew were in any condition to respond, but Garadon overruled all objections. A sword sheathed, he argued, served no one. Phalanx's first duty was not to itself, but to the Imperium, and all present knew Cadia's importance. The decision made, Phalanx's aged Plasma Drives fired anew, ploughing a new furrow through the Immaterium. Only when the tremors of stressed metal faded away did Garadon's eye fall across a shadowed corner of the fortress' command sanctum. Fire flickered in the darkness, and the Legion's sergeant offered what might have been a brief nod, or it might equally have been a motion that belonged entirely to Garadon's imagination.
The Might of the Despoiler
In the interplanetary void of the Cadian System, Abaddon's true assault gathered pace. Like a spear cast from the depths of the Eye of Terror, the Black Fleet flew true for Cadia, the chief bastion of resistance remaining within the Cadian Gate.
The Black Fleet's outriders were but fodder to shield the grim-prowed warships that came behind. Interplanetary haulers and cargo-hulks, they were barely armed, but their crews possessed all the fiery zeal of recent converts to the way of unbelief. Beyond this swarm came score upon score of blasphemous war vessels: the ebon Cruisers of the Despoiler's own court; Plague Ships, their lumpen hulls belching vile fluids into the void with every course correction; the cabal-ships of the Thousand Sons; and the blood-red leviathans of the World Eaters. And amongst them, vessels of malefic legend, the virulent Terminus Est, the Fortress of Agony and the ominous bulk of the Will of Eternity -- last known survivor of the Blackstone Fortresses of the Gothic Sector.
Few under Abaddon's command knew his true purpose in grinding Cadia beneath his heel. Most gave it little thought. For the dark prophets of the Word Bearers and their teeming disciples, this was destiny, foretold by the Chaos Gods long ago. For the Night Lords and their ilk, this was the hour in which terror would reign. For the Alpha Legion, this was but another stage in a many-faceted and eternal design, no more or less vital than a dozen other strands. Other warlords came to spread the blessings of their gods, to forge their own legends or to slake ten thousand standard years of hatred in the blood of the Imperium's defenders. Others still had no lucid motivation. The madness of war was upon them, and they would fight until its fury was spent.
All who sought to stall that onslaught's passage paid with their lives and their souls. The remnants of Battlefleets Corona and Scarus, themselves bloodied during the first wave of the 13th Crusade, met the outliers of the Despoiler's fleet in the outer orbit of Vigilatum. Their crews fought to the last, mantras of faith upon their lips even as the atomic fire of breached Plasma Reactors consumed them.
Still Abaddon's fleet swept on.
As the first Chaos Cruisers entered the Iron Graveyard -- the drifting remains of a Cadian Sector fleet lost during the very first Black Crusade -- their rimward flank evaporated beneath sustained Nova Cannon fire. Admiral Dostov had concealed the surviving Victory-class Battleships of his battlegroup amidst the lifeless wrecks, and they now sought retribution for their comrades lost at Vigilatum. Had valour alone been enough to light the forges of triumph, Dostov would have smithed a mighty blade in that hour. But Abaddon could have suffered tenfold the losses Dostov inflicted before it even sparked his notice. Fresh bones soon littered the Iron Graveyard, and still Abaddon's fleet swept on.
On Cadia, the revelation that Abaddon yet had a Blackstone Fortress at his command threw Creed and his fellow Imperial commanders into a flurry of activity. The Blackstone alone possessed sufficient firepower to cleave Cadia's crippled orbital defences, and then scour all traces of life from the world itself.
One hope remained. From the very moment Abaddon had revealed the Blackstones' true potential back in the days of the Gothic War nearly a thousand standard years before, the Cult Mechanicus had laboured to counter the Warp-beam's fury. Conventional defences alone were of little use -- neither shield nor armour could abate the raw, unmaking energies of the Immaterium itself. Necessity being the whip-crack behind invention, a partial solution was found. By amalgamating the sciences of the Void Shield and Gellar Field, it was possible to emit an energy canopy to destabilise and dissipate the Warp-beam projected by a Blackstone Fortress. Cadia's null-array had been completed shortly before the first onset of the 13th Black Crusade. Unfortunately, none of the projection emplacements had survived the siege intact.
Thus far, Creed had focussed his reconstruction efforts on restoring the defences necessary to fight a conventional war. With word of the Will of Eternity’s approach, this now changed. Every Adept of the Machine God on Cadia was tasked with breathing new life into the null-array. Bastions and emplacements painstakingly restored to function were stripped anew. Tech-priests and Enginseers laboured without rest, passing far beyond natural tolerances as they strove to achieve the impossible.
By the time Abaddon's fleet was within a solar day of orbit, it was clear that those efforts would not be enough. Cadia was rich in flesh and bone, in faith, and even in determination. But time? Time had run out. Magos Klarn dourly reported that even at best projections, Kasr Kraf's null-array could not be coaxed even to partial effectiveness. More time was needed, and there was none.
It was then that Sven Bloodhowl of the Space Wolves proposed a solution -- or at least the hope of one. His Battle Barge, the Firemane's Fang, was the sole motive vessel left in orbit around Cadia. His Firehowlers would take the ship into the heart of Abaddon's fleet, board the Will of Eternity, and do what they could to slow its progress.
Such was the counsel of desperation, but in dark times desperation must be embraced, and transmuted into strength. Thus Bloodhowl's Great Company did not undertake this mission alone. All told, near two hundred Battle-Brothers of the Adeptus Astartes embarked the Firemane's Fang. Only fifty-eight hailed from Sven's own brotherhood. Others came from companies that had been torn asunder during the initial invasion of Cadia, lone Battle-Brothers and shattered squads determined to strike one last blow against the Despoiler's forces and claim revenge for their fallen brothers. So too went the survivors of the Cadian 13th Regiment, accompanied by a full maniple of Martian Skitarii.
The garrison of Kasr Kraf cheered as the bright star of the 'Firemane's Fang broke orbit, but contact was lost almost at once, and the cheers faded soon after. Creed's mantra of "Cadia stands" echoed along the redoubts and bastions of Cadia. Few embraced it at first, though all dissenters were careful to avoid voicing their doubts. Cadia had already severed Abaddon's left hand; perhaps the right could be similarly crushed, but even valour needed firm ground on which to stand, and the Will of Eternity had the power to strip that away.
Creed knew the mood of his soldiers, for their doubts were his also. Inactivity gnawed at him, so he combated it with action. As the projected hour grew steadily closer, Creed remained on the move, touring the defences of Cadia Secundus, greeting his officers with firm handshakes and clear eyes, addressing the assembled ranks of veterans and initiates alike with confidence that could have moved mountains, had he only set it to that purpose. That confidence billowed in all who heard his words, holding back the fears each man and woman felt. Cadia stands. The words took on new meaning in Creed's wake. Cadia would stand for the Emperor, but it would also stand for Ursakar E. Creed.
None could have guessed that Creed's fears were every ounce as heavy as their own. Perhaps more so, for with each passing solar hour, he grew ever more convinced that the light of the Emperor no longer touched upon the Cadian Gate, that the Father of Mankind had abandoned them all to the darkness. Creed chided himself for his doubts, reminded himself that such thoughts were those of the apostate, the Heretic. Yet still the doubts remained, hidden from all. Or almost so. Though the two never spoke of it, Jarran Kell knew the darkness gathering in Creed's mind, but he kept that secret, as he had kept many others over the years.
The vanguard of Abaddon's fleet arrived at dawn, greeted by a salvo of fire and defiance. The crippled warships in orbit levelled their last fury against the Black Fleet, joined in wrath by the planetary batteries Creed had worked so hard to restore. Plasma Drives flamed and went dark, delivering Traitor vessels into the merciless embrace of Cadia's gravity well. The sky blazed with pinpricks of fire, each marking the creation of another martyr or a Heretic's long-overdue demise.
But this was merely the forerunner, the prologue. As the last of Cadia's hobbled fleet blazed into darkness, a new moon appeared in the sky, an eight-pointed star of abyssal stone, broken only by the angry red glare of a single, cyclopean eye.
All of Cadia held its breath. The Will of Eternity had come at the appointed hour. Bloodhowl had failed. His sacrifice, and that of his Battle-Brothers, had been for nothing.
The eye blazed. A beam of searing light leapt planetward, and dispersed amongst the clouds.
Cheers erupted across Kasr Kraf, none more heartfelt than those of its Lord Castellan. Only Magos Klarn remained silent. He'd personally inspected the Kasr Kraf's projection grid less than a solar hour before, only to find his Adepts slain, and alien technology interwoven with the array's circuits -- technology that goaded the troubled Machine Spirits to trebled efficiency, making that one array capable of shielding all of Cadia. The mystery rankled at Klarn, who even without the deaths of his acolytes would have distrusted any binharic miracle that did not arise from his own hand. But as the cheers faded and the skies blackened with Traitor drop-ships, he tore his attention back to the breaking storm. The mystery would wait.
The Siege of Cadia Secundus had begun.
The Siege of Cadia Secundus
At an unseen signal, bright sparks marred the brooding silhouettes of the Black Fleet. With a thunderous roar, the first bombardment wave hammered past the descending drop-ships -- heralds of death for the slaughter to come.
The bedrock of Cadia Secundus, already battered from the first invasion by the Forces of Chaos, churned anew beneath a storm of Macrocannons, Melta Torpedoes and hellfire. Void Shields buckled under the implacable storm, Skyshields crackled. Some held, others collapsed in bursts of brilliant light, secondary explosions coming close behind as the barrage swept the stones behind clean of life.
Outbound fire blazed from the bastions of Kasr Kraf, the fortress' Defence Lasers and Skyfire batteries scouring the heavens for incoming drop-ships. Most fired blind, but accuracy mattered little -- the Despoiler's forces swarmed like flies come to a feast.
West of Kasr Kraf, the macro batteries of Kasr Stark roared one last time, the bellow of the guns consumed by a deafening thunder-crack as a Melta Torpedo pierced the subterranean magazine. To the north, the wreck of the Sword of Defiance roared a broadside into the skies, the spread of cannon-fire destroying a skull-prowed drop-ship and sending its Heldrake escorts pinwheeling away. Valkyrie gunships of Clavin Strekka's Howling 119th Regiment screamed into pre-arranged clear-fire corridors between salvoes, then broke away across the furious skies, braving fire and counterfire as they hunted their prey. Across the redoubts of Cadia Secundus, anxious hearts prayed that the foe's nerve would break, that the siege would be won in the skies and not upon the walls of Kasr Kraf and its outliers.
Such was a vain hope. The drop-ships were too many, and the defences too few. The southernmost spur of Kasr Kraf's Martyr's Rampart shattered as its Void Shields failed. Fresh salvoes crashed home to exploit the weakness, unseating guns the size of hab-blocks and burying hundreds beneath charred rubble. Creed saw the destruction, and sent orders for the survivors to withdraw. Kasr Kraf yet had three unbreached and thinly-defended curtain walls about its central keep. There was no sense in losing lives in a wasteland when fortifications cried out for defenders.
At once, the Cadian defenders abandoned the Martyr's Rampart, risking the bombardment's fury to reach the comparative shelter of Kasr Kraf. Fortune abandoned hundreds in that hour. Soon the churned field between the southern rampart and first curtain wall was a field of smouldering wrecks and scorched corpses. But for every stalwart soul who perished, another four reached the outer curtain. Officers bellowed instructions, and the survivors rallied to fresh defences. Only the Black Templars made no move to retreat. Marshal Amalrich spat on Creed's orders. He had chosen his ground, and would defend it to the last.
As the drop-ships closed for final approach, their Heldrake escorts peeled away, strafing the ramparts of Kasr Kraf and the makeshift redoubts of the Shrine of Saint Morrican. A new sound filled the air -- a shrill wail like sinners burning in the fires of damnation, but multiplied ten thousand times over. Seconds later, the first Dreadclaw slammed onto the walls of Kasr Kraf. Ramps crashed down, disgorging warriors of the Word Bearers and the Alpha Legion into the heart of Creed's defences. At first, the massed volleys of the Astra Militarum defenders drove the invaders back. But then blasphemous icons rose high into air choked with smoke and dying screams. The fabric of reality cracked, and howling daemons joined the fray.
Everywhere the tale was the same, the roar of Traitors' Bolters joined by the bellowed battle-cries of blood-slicked daemonkin. Gun emplacements fell from within even as they traded fire with the foe, their defenders torn apart by hellblade and claw. Some platoons, stricken with terror, threw down their arms and fled. Most fought and died to the last, urged on by the fiery sermons of their Adeptus Ministorum priests, their resolve stiffened by the certainty that there was no escape in this hour. In that bloody charnel, a soldier's only freedom was to choose how he died; most clutched their weapons tight, and met their doom with defiance.
Nowhere in that initial onslaught was the fighting harder than the Shrine of Saint Morrican. The tang of the Sisters of Battle's faith was both irresistible and anathema to the rampant daemons, and the lure of it goaded them time and again onto that ground. But alone perhaps of those who fought that day, the Order of Our Martyred Lady never wavered, never took a backward step. Under the twin gazes of Canonesses Genevieve and Eleanor, they met the yowling horde with Bolter and holy flame, driving all taint from the walls of the shrine. For those who watched the embattled walls of Kasr Kraf, it seemed that the smoke-spume of war found no purchase on the Shrine of Saint Morrican, driven back by the golden light dancing about its spires.
To the east, the first landing craft touched down in the cratered valleys. Daemon-possessed war engines rumbled across the broken ground, driving hard for Kasr Kraf's eastern curtain walls. Battle Cannons roared from concealed emplacements as the tanks of the Cadian 252nd opened fire. The Black Legion spearhead disintegrated in a tangled mass of metal and corrupted flesh, but theirs was a tide without end. Chaos Baneblades rumbled on, their treads crushing the wreckage of their forerunners, their shells hammering at the curtain wall. With a mighty rumble, the eastern outer wall partially collapsed, the rubble crushing three squadrons of Leman Russ Tanks. Their growling engines drowning out the roars of victory, a swarm of skull-bedecked Chaos Rhinos broke cover from behind the mighty Baneblades and drove hard for the newly-formed breach.
Far to the north, the patchwork defences of Kasr Jark shuddered beneath the shell-fire of an Iron Warriors siege battery upon the Kolarak Plains. Unwilling to wallow behind the walls, Orven Highfell ordered his brothers to their transports. Warsmith Krom Gat had come prepared for a counter-assault, having fortified his position with drop-bastions and lines of cursed aegis designed to slow any attacker long enough to bring the big guns to bear. But caution had never been Highfell's way, and no spawn of the daemon-forges would stay the fury of the Fenris-born. Sweeping aside all in their path, the Ironwolves descended into Krom Gat's citadel, using its own trenches and bastions as cover against the raging artillery.
Hours passed. Solar Days. Still the battle raged. Some defenders seized what snatches of sleep they could in the fighting's sparse lulls and the hush that fell between the bombardments. Most remained awake, pushing health and sanity to their limits with whatever chems they could scrounge, rather than suffer the nightmares blowing like the wind over Cadia Secundus.
The walls of Kasr Kraf were swept clear, only to come under fresh assault from the horrors of the Warp. Kasr Jark, so lately saved from Krom Gat's bombardment, perished at the infernal sorceries of Elek Stane's Cyclopia Cabal. Three times did the blood-mad Berzerkers of the World Eaters hurl themselves at the Sword of Defiance's wreck. Three times did Master Korahael rally the Battle-Brothers of the Dark Angels' 4th Company. Three times were the scions of Khorne hurled bloodily back, only for their feral chant to rise again in the darkness beyond the Cruiser's crumpled hull.
They came again as night fell, a pack of howling beasts in blood-red ceramite across the eastern rise. The survivors of the Dark Angels' 4th Company no longer needed Master Korahael's instruction. Forty Battle-Brothers halted, forming a double ring about the tattered company standard. Bolters roared defance. The searing hiss of plasma crackled through still air.
"Blood for the Blood God!"
The first wave never reached the 4th, their broken bodies hurled back into the darkness by the disciplined Sons of the Lion. The fate of all Traitors. The second wave, lost to madness, surged over the bodies of the slain.
"For the Lion, and for the Emperor!"
Korahael levelled his Plasma Pistol. The shot took a snarling Berzerker in the chest. The brute took two more steps, then dropped, limbs twitching. The first Flamers fired, gouting bright Promethium into the night. Fresh notes of pain sounded amongst the fury.
An incensed Berzerker, his armour ablaze, launched himself at Korahael. The Chainaxe hacked down. Sparks ﬂew from the Power Sword's amethyst blade as Korahael swept aside its strike. The Berzerker roared a wordless challenge, one mad eye blazing hatefully from a ruined ceramite helm.
Letting go his pistol, Korahael set a second hand to his sword's hilt, and slammed his shoulder into the Berzerker's chest. The Traitor stumbled back, then fell into sudden silence as Korahael's sword swept his head from his shoulders.
Korahael glanced around for another foe, but the attack had ended as swiftly as it had begun, its prosecutors now dead upon the wind-blown plains. A twitch of white robes drew Korahael's eye. Apothecary Caraphon, moving with customary solemnity, recovering the gene-seed from the slain.
Korahael gazed down at the headless Berzerker, just one corpse amongst dozens. Even after two hundred standard years of service, he could not fathom why such warriors abandoned discipline as readily as they'd cast aside their loyalty. Discipline won battles. Discipline, and duty. But then, indiscipline was a plague all of its own. There were plenty amongst the Adeptus Astartes who bore its curse, who took trophies to assuage their pride, who rejoiced in tallying those they had slain.
Korahael retrieved his pistol and triggered his comms. "Report condition."
His sergeants sent in their casualty reports, Korahael's mood darkening with each one. Another three Battle-Brothers slain. It was little consolation that the 4th had reaped a far greater tally than it had suffered. They were being bled to death by Traitors without number. Fifty Battle-Brothers had set out from the wreck of the Sword. Now fewer than forty remained, and they had covered barely a third of the distance to the walls of Kasr Kraf. But what choice was there? The 4th would march on to its last if need be.
"Brother Caraphon, is your duty done?" asked Korahael.
"They are with me."
Korahael approved of Caraphon's choice of words. No brother was truly lost if their precious gene-seed was recovered. "Then we keep–"
There was a wail of tortured metal and the thunder of cannon-fire. Autocannon shells stitched a furrow in the dirt towards Korahael, further mangling the bodies of the slain. He threw himself aside, shoulder crunching against rock as he rolled clear, fragments of red-hot stone pattering off his armour.
Above, the Heldrake pulled out of its near-vertical dive and climbed away in preparation for another run.
"Bring it down!" Korahael bellowed. "Bring it down!"
His brothers knew their duty. Plumes of white smoke gouted from missile tubes as Squad Klarion's Devastators engaged the new threat. One missile lost lock almost immediately and spiralled away into the night. The second detonated against the Daemon Engine's port-side wing in a spray of fire and ichor. As the Heldrake reached apogee, the wing tore away. Its climb became a cacophonous dive, ending in a thunderous crump amidst the distant hills.
But Korahael found no cause for celebration. Brother Caraphon lay motionless in the dirt, his armour rent and his Reductor a bloody, mangled mess. The slain of the 4th were now truly lost, and the Chapter forever diminished.
"Traitor contacts to the north!"
Korahael dragged his gaze northwards at Sergeant Aramael's shout. The canyon mouth to the north was no longer empty, but choked with the dust trails of blackliveried bikers. And behind them, the dark silhouettes of Predator battle tanks. So it had come to this. "Reform the line! The Lion stands with us!"
A storm of Bolter fire heralded the bikers' approach. Korahael's armour shuddered; his left pauldron cracked, but the ceramite held. His Plasma Pistol shrieked in reply, sending bolt after bolt into the mass of bellowing engines.
Bikers crashed from their saddles, their corpses hurled into bone-crunching cartwheels across the plains. Plasma-fre reduced the lead Predator to fused scrap. Sergeant Baphon threw his hands to his neck, fingers clawing at the spiked chain around his throat. Then an engine roared, and he was dragged into the night, bellowing defance. Brother Traesal fell, his severed hand still clutching the company standard.
Korahael seized the fallen colours and hoisted them high. A Predator's lasfre blazed past him, searing Brother Malacas in half. The ceramite redoubt shrank inwards, the growl of engines growing ever louder. Korahael gripped the sacred standard tight. The enemy would take it only with his death.
The growl of engines became a roar. The Traitor Predator exploded in a blinding ﬂare of light. A thunderclap tore through the mass of bikers, then another, and another. To a chorus of jubilant howls, a spearhead of slate-grey battle tanks crested the eastern rise. Wolf-tail talismans streaming from trophy poles, they surged into the fray.
Korahael knew the markings. The Great Company of Orven Highfell. Undisciplined, like all the Sons of Fenris. Seekers of glory. Everything Korahael despised in a warrior. But just this once, he was glad to have them at his side...
Despite the intercession of the Knights of House Raven, the breach in the outermost eastern curtain wall was torn wider. Raptors and Night Lords terror-packs were swift to take advantage, screaming into the space between the walls in search of prey. To their honour, the defenders retreated in good order, one regiment laying down covering fire long enough for another to withdraw. But the Raptors were too swift, too hungry for slaughter. They overtook the stragglers, and then the rearguard.
Creed ordered the gates of the second curtain closed, sacrificing thousands to save ten times their number. Eight of the mighty portals slammed shut, severing the line of Imperial retreat. Hundreds perished at their bases, desperate souls howling pleas for deliverance at the comrades atop the gothic barbicans, the stoic readying their weapons for one last stand. But two of the gates remained open.
In the east, the barbican's commander held the gate too long, so desperate was he to preserve each and every soul who clamoured for the safety of his fortifications. As the gates at last rumbled closed, Helbrutes hurled themselves forward, holding the passage open through the strength of their daemon-forged sinew. Desperate fire rained down from the barbican's crest. The Helbrutes roared and fell, Power Scourges thrashing as vile life left them, but their sacrifice had bought time for a vast warband of Possessed to slip beyond the gates. Who knows what the cursed warriors would have wrought if not for the joint sacrifice of the Novamarines' 2nd Company and the Cadian 403rd Regiment, who held that daemonic onslaught in the shadow of the Jorus Redoubt long enough for the massed battle tanks of the Cadian 185th to pound the Traitors to bloody ruin. Scarce a hundred Conscripts of the 403rd survived, and the last Novamarine succumbed to his wounds before the echoes of Battle Cannon fire faded away.
In the west, the gate mechanisms failed, eaten away by a decay that sprang from no earthly cause. The barbican's commander ordered the 113th Death's Heads Baneblade company to plug the gap with their armoured bulk, but he was an age too late. A swarm of Chaos Cultists, inured to pain by their heresy in the service of the Plague God, hurled themselves into the flesh-shredding storm. And they kept coming, by the hundreds -- by the thousands. Heavy Bolters overheated, Autocannons ran dry, the weapons of war unable to keep pace with a horde uncaring of blood and pain. Only when the last cultist perished did the Black Legion advance amidst the carnage, a tide of hatred far beyond the weary defenders' ability to stem. The west gate fell, and with it the second curtain wall was lost.
"The gates are sealed, Lord Castellan."
Creed waved the lieutenant away from the topographic hologrid -- the only source of light in the gloomy bunker. He didn't know the man's name. He didn't expect either of them would live long enough for it to be worth the effort. Six solar months, that had always been the joke of the 8th. If you survived six solar months under his command, then General Creed would trouble himself to learn your name.
The siege went poorly, and yet as well as could be expected at the same time. In his pride, Abaddon sought to humble Cadia once and for all, even though it would cost him dearly. But were the two of them so different, in that regard? Pride would not allow Abaddon to pass on by, just as it had prevented Creed from yielding Cadia in the face of insuperable odds.
And then there was the matter of the null-array, buried beneath the command bastion. Whoever had stabilised it had brought Cadia these precious days. But who, and why? Magos Klarn either didn't know, or wasn't saying. Kasrkin search parties had scoured the tunnels, but to no result. Creed supposed he should be grateful, but the knowledge that some outside force had free reign of his fortress made his skin crawl. Faith of any kind no longer came easily to the Lord Castellan. Kell understood, of course. But the others?
No matter. Hope was a self-sustaining fire. Maintain the illusion long enough, and it would become the truth. And maybe, just maybe, Cadia would defy the Despoiler just one more time...
Creed turned his back on the hologrid. "Lieutenant? Your name, what is it?"
The young man's brow wrinkled in surprise. Surprise, and perhaps a little worry. "Kormachen, sir. Of the 88th."
Creed nodded. "Walk with me, Kormachen. It's past time I saw this battle with my own eyes."
The seventh solar day of the siege of Cadia Secundus opened with the roar of a new bombardment. Too long had the Sword of Defiance stood vigil over Kasr Kraf's northern flank, and now the invaders took steps to silence its guns once and for all. Shell after shell rained down, pulverising the downed Cruiser and unseating its few remaining guns. Even then, Korahael would have held firm, for no Scion of Caliban yields his ground willingly. But this was no ordinary bombardment -- it hailed from the diseased bulk of the Terminus Est, flagship of Typhus. Each shell that burst amidst the Sword’s hallowed halls brought with it unspeakable contagion -- diseases potent enough to take root even in the augmented flesh of the Adeptus Astartes. With his brothers liquefying inside their armour, Korahael had no choice but to abandon the Sword of Defiance. Alas, the plains still teemed with World Eaters, hungry to spill the Lion's blood.
Faith yet burned bright at the Shrine of Saint Morrican, but mortal might grew ever shorter in supply. That outpost alone had seen unremitting assault since the opening days of the siege, and all inside were bone-weary. The basilica had cowed assaults it had never been intended to face, but even for blessed redoubts there comes a breaking point. For the Shrine of Saint Morrican, that breaking point took the form of three Lords of Skulls, unleashed from the heart of Abaddon's own daemon-forges to overcome the shining beacon of faith. Warp-crafted cannons belched and roared, drowning the stones of the sainted basilica in boiling blood. Scores of Battle-Sisters boiled alive in their armour, dozens more were swept away. Still the Daemon Engines ground on, bones and rubble alike crunched to dust beneath their leviathan tracks.
Her sword raised high, Canoness Genevieve led the counter-assault, the fury of her Seraphim cleaving aside daemons so that the massed fire of Adepta Sororitas Retributors could fell the rumbling behemoths. Melta-beams converged, putting out the lead Daemon Engine's black heart. With a yawning thunderclap, the Lord of Skulls' reactor went critical, its fiery demise consuming one of its dark brothers, and the entire northeastern corner of the shrine. The basilica's walls could take no more. Inch by inch, the stones split apart, arches that had withstood millennia falling away into ruin. As the wounded Genevieve was borne away to the Hospitallers, Canoness Eleanor made preparations to retreat.
On the Kolarak Plains, the Space Wolves at last won their mighty victory against Krom Gat. After days of brutal trench warfare, the Warsmith was torn apart, and his body cast into the fires of his once-proud citadel. The price had been high. Fully half of the Ironwolves lay dead, and the Land Raider Ironfist would never see another battlefield. Yet even as the Sons of Fenris roared their victory, their Scouts sighted new foes advancing from the Gehennis Ridge: the Chaos Titans of the Legio Vulcanum. Highfell burned to test himself against the newfound enemy, but the wisdom of his trusted Wolf Guard, Olaf Ironhide, prevailed. Recovering their fallen, the Ironwolves took once more to their transports and fell back towards Kasr Kraf.
One by one, Kasr Kraf's outposts had fallen, but far to the south defiance yet burned. Marshal Amalrich's Black Templars had sworn to defend the Martyr's Rampart, and defend it they did, with every iota of the zeal and fury for which their Chapter was known. Though the walls were little more than rubble, they fought on -- an island of stalwart steel amidst the shifting tides of Chaos. Black Legion, Word Bearers and more sought to overwhelm Amalrich's outnumbered band with Chainsword and hellfire. Battle-Brothers perished in ones and twos, and their Crusade banner many times toppled from the crest. But the living found fresh strength in the sacrifice of the dead, and each time the banner fell it was raised higher than before.
By the dawning of the eighth solar day, the walls of Kasr Kraf came under direct bombardment from the wastelands, and its defenders' valour ebbed. Too many had witnessed the fate of the far-flung outposts, or else had heard rumours of the slaughter upon the curtain walls. None truly knew the scope of the onslaught, and that ignorance fanned fears to a bright and hungry flame. Neither priest nor Commissar could still the whispers, no matter how loudly they chanted the canticles of faith, or how brutally they suppressed dissent. Too swiftly, the belief spread. Cadia had endured too much. It could endure no more.
But for Ursakar E. Creed, the fortress might have fallen. The Lord Castellan knew well that the only way to combat unseen horror was not by speech, or by threat, but by example. Thus Creed forsook his command bunker and joined his soldiers upon the walls. He ate with them, stole what little sleep he could alongside them. As assault after assault crashed into the golden Kriegan Gates, Creed stood his turn behind the aegis lines, firing volleys alongside the common soldiers with a borrowed Lasgun. Those moments of theatrical defiance were the only times he looked upon the foe. At all others, he kept his back towards the carnage, a deliberate gesture of disdain. He took to pacing atop the grand bastion, even though its Void Shields had never recovered from the initial bombardment. He walked the ramparts where Skyshields had imploded, risking the raking fire of Heldrakes with those he commanded. And where Creed went, Kell went also, the tattered colours of the Cadian 8th Regiment rousing those hearts Creed's example could not.
Under Creed's gaze, the Kriegan Gates endured. But in the east, the fate of Kasr Kraf teetered on the brink.
There, at least, there was no shortage of resolve. The surviving Valkyries of the Howling 119th had ferried what remained of the north and eastern garrisons behind Kasr Kraf's walls. Battle-Sisters now took their place on those ramparts, the wounded Genevieve amongst them, and more of the black-liveried assault carriers braved the angry skies to carry the remnants of the Ironwolves and Korahael's 4th Company inside the stronghold. Yet not all the Ironwolves had returned, or so it was said. Rumours abounded of feral warriors prowling the killing ground beyond the wall, and wild howls touched the ramparts whenever the wind was in the east. If Orven Highfell knew anything of this, he offered no explanation.
The Legio Vulcanum ground on, implacable, unstoppable. The Traitor Princeps Malas Tiron had honed the business of war for ten thousand standard years, and knew exhaustively the corrupted God-engines under his command. Indeed, his consciousness flowed through them all -- a gift from the Dark Gods for his unswerving devotion. Possessed Warhounds were his eyes and ears, the Warlord Titan Vessel of Damnation his strong right arm, the Reaver maniple the bunched fingers of his left fist. When confronted by a foe, war machines across the formation combined their fire with uncanny accuracy. As Void Shields faded under the defenders' fire, Tiron reconfigured his formation, letting Titans as yet undamaged bear the brunt. Thus the vanguard of the Legio Vulcanum crept ever closer to the walls of Kasr Kraf, the God-machines all but unscarred, despite the ferocity of their foes.
The defenders of the eastern walls were saved, just as they had been before, by the intervention of the Howling 119th. With munitions running low, and barely a dozen flight-worthy assault carriers, the squadron took wing one last time, diving hard for the advancing Titans.
The skies about the Legio Vulcanum swarmed with Heldrakes, but the pilots of the 119th had learned a great deal about the Daemon Engines in the preceding days. Not enough to stand any chance of clearing them from the skies altogether, for their numbers were legion. Nor even for surviving more than a few solar minutes before being shredded by Warp-forged talons. But then, survival was not in the 119th's plan. Clavin Strekka, commander of the 119th, had noted how the lesser Titans seemed almost in thrall to the will of the lead monstrosity, Vessel of Damnation. Destroy the Warlord, or so Strekka reasoned, and the others might fall also.
Three Valkyries were ripped asunder by Heldrakes before they even entered weapons range. Two more strayed into the path of a Volcano Cannon, blasted to cinders before their crews even knew their danger. The others sped on, buffeted by surface-to-air fire, armour clattering beneath the roar of Hades Autocannons. Another Valkyrie disintegrated, but the first Hellstrike Missiles were away. Vessel of Damnation's Void Shields flared and guttered as the missiles struck. The 119th banked away, strafing clear of ground-based Autocannon fire, and prepared for another pass.
Only three Valkyries of the 119th remained, but Vessel of Damnation's Void Shields were down. Alas, for Strekka's last throw of the dice, the strikes of his squadron's Multi-lasers were but pinpricks against the God-engine's hull. A third pass, and Strekka was alone, his wingmen torn from the skies. Knowing he'd not live to make a fourth, Strekka commended his soul to the Emperor, set a collision course, and triggered his Valkyrie's afterburners.
The fireball marking the last act of the 119th blossomed skyward, clearly visible from Kasr Kraf's eastern ramparts. Vessel of Damnation juddered to a halt, green fire gouting from its ravaged skull. The remaining Titans lurched, suddenly directionless in the midst of battle. One Warhound came to a complete standstill long enough for Macrocannon batteries to track and blow it to scrap. Cheers rang out, but faded as the God-engines of the Legio Vulcanum recommenced their advance. Only Vessel of Damnation remained unmoving, its helm lost amid belching smoke.
Then came a black thunderbolt from the skies above. The defenders' cheers died ashen on their lips as the battle's architect at last took a personal hand in its prosecution. This was not the Despoiler himself, but his lieutenant, the Daemon Prince Urkanthos. Commander of the Black Fleet, and Scourgemaster of the Hounds of Abaddon, Urkanthos had been entrusted with securing the destruction of Cadia. But Abaddon's patience was not without limit, and Urkanthos sought to deliver victory before it was entirely expended.
As the black miasma of the Traitors' teleport beams crackled into nothing, a great howl arose amongst the mangled bodies beneath the golden Kriegan Gates. Urkanthos spread his wings wide, and the Hounds of Abaddon hurled themselves at the golden gates. Behind them came a fresh wave of Daemon Engines, Warp-spawned weapons spitting death at the battlements.
Up the bloody ground the Hounds surged, trampling the dead of both sides, heedless of the defenders' fire. Their war-cry was a booming bellow, more like the growl of a beast than the speech of men. Blood! Blood! Blood! Macrocannon shells burst amongst the formation, hurling broken bodies down the hills of corpses. Still the Hounds came on. Blood! Blood! Blood! Creed bellowed orders from atop the barbican, and the approach blazed brilliant with las-fire. Still the Hounds came on. Blood! Blood! Blood! By prearranged signal, a new bombardment began. The vessels of the Black Fleet pounded the approach to the Kriegan Gates, uncaring of their dark brothers' lives. Tortured Skyshields flared and died. Defenders were snatched into the abyss, or cast from their shattered strongholds. Traitors perished too, slain by the capricious fury of their own warships, but still the Hounds came on.
Inch by inch, Urkanthos gained ground, at last reaching the unsullied foot of the Kriegan Gates. The Hounds ignored wounds that would have felled lesser men; they disdained the burning Promethium that set their flesh ablaze. They would have nothing less than victory that day. Victory for Abaddon, Warmaster of the Eye of Terror, and blood for the Lord of Battles. Charges were set, and the Kriegan Gates -- weakened by the eighth solar day bombardment of starship and artillery fire -- finally tore asunder.
With a roar of triumph, Urkanthos swept into Kasr Kraf, the Hounds of Abaddon hard upon his heels.
The Fall of Kasr Kraf
When the Kriegan Gates came down, the defence of Cadia fell upon the shoulders of the Kasrkin. Creed had kept three Kasrkin regiments in reserve throughout the fighting, husbanded for a desperate hour such as this. Now he sent them to hold the line. Lasguns flared. The ruined Kriegan barbican vanished beneath the acrid discharge of cannon shells. The leading edge of the Hounds of Abaddon vanished, torn apart by the greatest single volley yet seen on Cadia Secundus.
Yet the Hounds were undismayed by their losses -- indeed, the slaughter lent them new fervour. The survivors struck the massed line of bayonets like a red wind, clawing at the wall of armoured flesh without thought for their own lives. Urkanthos led them, each swipe of his claws snatching a squad into Khorne's bloody embrace. With every foe that fell, the Daemon Prince felt the Blood God's blessings blossom. His armour-fused flesh thickened until it was harder than adamantium. As blood slicked across his wounds, they scabbed and closed. Urkanthos looked upon the massed ranks of Kasrkin and saw not a foe to be bested, but a banquet, an offering in the making to the only true God of Bloodshed.
The Kasrkin battled on beneath the ruin of Kasr Kraf's gates, but they did not fight alone. Creed's barked orders echoed from Vox-casters set across the fortress walls, sending ever more men into the meatgrinder at the gates. Conscripts of the 201st Cadian Regiment fought and died alongside the grizzled veterans of the 9th Cadian. Regiments from Mordia and Vostroya entered the slaughter, fighting for a world not their own, as was so often the duty of the Astra Militarum.
But numbers alone could not win out against the Hounds' daemon-spawned might. Worse, Urkanthos had reinforcements of his own. Slavering daemons emerged from the pooling blood, then sprang forth to further slick the stones. Maddened Cultists, ebon-clad Black Legionaries, hell-wrought behemoths -- they stormed across the ruined gates, seizing the opportunity to slaughter, and to perhaps catch the restless eyes of the Dark Gods.
The Kasrkin of the 2nd Cadian perished where they stood. Not a man amongst them gave ground. Others were not so valorous. The discipline of the 33rd Cadian shattered when their colonel was torn apart by Raptors. Wavering hearts turned callow. Like a dam giving way before storm waters, the 33rd broke and ran. With them went all hopes of holding the gateway, and their cowardly example sapped the valour from their comrades as surely as a daemon's roar. The trickle of the 33rd's rout became a flood as panic spread. Regimental colours were abandoned and weapons cast down. What had once been a bastion of defiance had split asunder, and Urkanthos' victory lay within his taloned grasp.
Even as the heart of Kasr Kraf wavered, old perils were renewed. Beyond the eastern wall, Baroness Vardus' Knights fought a losing duel with the surviving Titans of the Legio Vulcanum. Though the God-machines could no longer draw upon Princeps Tiron's direction, their firepower greatly outstripped that at the command of the Nobles of House Raven.
Vardus was no fool -- indeed, she'd slain men in duels for even hinting such was true -- and commanded a fighting retreat. Thus far, it had served her well, costing her only four brother Nobles in exchange for one Traitor Reaver destroyed, and another crippled. Yet a fighting retreat required ground to retreat to, and the Knights of House Raven were rapidly running out of room to manoeuvre. As the weary baroness ordered yet another withdrawal, her lance-mate disintegrated in an eruption of superheated light. Hurried interrogation of her synapse-web confirmed Vardus' greatest fear -- Vessel of Damnation had rejoined the fray.
Further south, knee-deep in the bodies of his foes, Marshal Amalrich experienced an uncharacteristic moment of doubt. Foes still offered their lives up to the Black Templars' positions, but no longer in the numbers that had graced previous days. Gazing north, Amalrich recognised the storm gathering over Kasr Kraf's Kriegan Gates. At last, the Marshal acknowledged what had been obvious to his peers from the first -- that the Black Templars' strength would have been better employed upon the walls of the fortress than at the Martyr's Rampart. Even generations after the fact, the stubbornness of Rogal Dorn still haunted his inheritors. But perhaps there was yet time to unmake the error. One of the Cruxis Crusade's Thunderhawks had been destroyed during the opening bombardment, but the other endured, untouched in a subterranean hangar. Swallowing the last of his pride, Amalrich gave orders to abandon the Martyr's Rampart.
At Kasr Kraf, the Hounds of Abaddon slaked their blades and thirsts upon the routing Guardsmen. Urkanthos bellowed with delight. He had been given one task, and one task alone: breach the fortress and destroy the machine that held the Will of Eternity's fury in abeyance. But now the Scourgemaster saw no reason to stop at such half-measures. Proud Cadia had broken. Its defenders trampled one another in their eagerness to flee his coming! He, Urkanthos, would do what Abaddon never had. He would shatter the last resolve of the Fortress World. The rewards of triumph would be his, and not the Warmaster of Chaos'.
A volley seared the air, its fury hot enough for the Daemon Prince to feel through his calloused skin. Where moments before there had been only a fleeing rabble, now the Hounds of Abaddon faced a manned aegis line, formed bayonets, and the unwavering ranks of the Cadian 8th Regiment.
Cadia stands! The lone voice, obdurate as the stones of Kasr Kraf, somehow carried across the tumult of battle. Other voices took up the battle-cry, the ranks of the once desperate thickening around their standards. Cadia stands! The third chorus was lost beneath the defiant roar of Battle Cannons and the dying screams of daemons. Newborn defiance rippled across the muster field as the soldiers of the Astra Militarum found anew their sundered courage. At the epicentre, Jarran Kell held aloft the colours of the Cadian 8th. At his side, his implacable expression giving no clue to the doubt in his heart, the Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed bellowed his mantra once more: Cadia stands!
Urkanthos' assault, grown overconfident in slaughter, burst against the breakwater of the Cadian 8th. The Hounds of Abaddon bore the brunt, torn to scraps by roiling cannon-fire. Raptors took to the air, seeking to pluck Creed from his command as they had the erstwhile colonel of the 33rd. Vox-amplifiers wailing, they ripped deep into Creed's platoon. But where the 33rd had broken and fled, the veterans of the 8th closed ranks. Scores perished before a bayonet rammed into the final Raptor's primary heart, but Creed was not amongst them. Kell's sleeve was crimson with blood, little of it his own, and dead at his feet lay the Raptor who'd come closest to laying low his beloved general.
The battle for the muster field stalled, both sides yet with numbers unbound to hurl into the battle, but neither able to gain traction over the foe. But the advantage at last lay again with the defenders, for Creed fought like a man whose hour had at last come. He never once laid hand on pistol nor blade. Instead, he wielded his soldiers as his weapon, striking hard for a weakness when it presented, and drawing back in the face of overwhelming odds. Hundreds, thousands of lives he spent in those desperate hours, though never carelessly. He bought time with the blood of his Shock Troopers -- not in the hope that help would arrive, for Creed had long since abandoned such fancies, but because every moment of defiance was now a prize without price, a wound to Abaddon's pride. Cadia stood, it was true, but only because Creed stood with it.
Around the fortress, Creed's allies lent what aid they could. Korahael's dwindled 4th Company fought beside the Ironwolves in the muster field's eastern extent and, though neither party would ever acknowledge as much, each was the salvation of the other on many occasions. The Astartes of other Chapters, their Battle-Brothers lost to the Cadian wars, set aside rivalries, forming a single demi-company of every colour and hue. The Sisters of Our Martyred Lady marshalled before the command bastion, their holy flames the bane of many a daemon, their righteous presence instilling fresh valour in the Conscripts of the 111th Cadian, deployed immediately to their fore.
But the greatest triumph in that hour belonged to Marshal Amalrich's Black Templars. Their Thunderhawk, hull smouldering and crippled engines belching smoke, ploughed into the muster field, disgorging the vengeful warriors of the Cruxis Crusade into the heart of the heretical foe. Each blow struck by a Son of Dorn that day was one of penance as much as fury, and was all the mightier for it.
Urkanthos' dreams of glorious victory withered in the face of that defiance, and his thoughts again turned to his orders. Destroy the null-array, and every drop of the defenders' valour would be for naught, burned away by the unstoppable energies of the Blackstone Fortress. Gathering the remnants of the Hounds of Abaddon to his side, Urkanthos carved a path for the command bastion and the prize within.
Creed marked the Daemon Prince's assault, but could do little to counter it, for it coincided with the arrival of a new threat. An armoured column, the Traitor Baneblade Vicanthrus at its head, ground its way over the dead and dying about the Kriegan Gates. The thunder-crack of Demolisher Cannons echoed around the crumbling bastions. Creed's leading ranks disintegrated under the bombardment. Voxes crackled, sergeants bellowed orders and the defenders' pattern of fire shifted to engage Vicanthrus.
The Whiteshield Conscripts of the 111th were little match for Urkanthos' retinue of damned, but they held the line to the last. Yet even when they were overcome, the Daemon Prince's route remained blocked, this time by the ardent Battle-Sisters of Our Martyred Lady.
Urkanthos hurled himself into the Sisters' ranks, exulting at each drop of martyr's blood to fleck his claws. Bolter-fire pattered off his carapace, and even the incandescent fury of Multi-Meltas were but a dull warmth upon his skin. Behind him came his last remaining Hounds. Of a dark brethren once numbering in the hundreds, now only a score remained. Lacking their master's protections, the Chaos Space Marines died hard, but die they did. It mattered not. Their purpose had only ever been to bring their master to his target. Before the last black heart stilled its motion, Urkanthos reached the command bastion's Egressium Gate.
But one last obstacle remained. A prayer upon their lips, the Sisters Genevieve and Eleanor led a host of Seraphim to bar Urkanthos' path. Bellowing with laughter, the Daemon Prince struck his assailants from the air, dashing their bodies to the ground as one might scatter a swarm of insects. Pain flared in Urkanthos' mutated chest. Again Genevieve struck, her blessed blade blazing with light as it clove the beast's cursed flesh.
Urkanthos staggered away, talons raised to shield against the Canoness' strike. An exultant Genevieve pursued, blade flashing. But in her zeal, the Canoness was deceived. The Daemon Prince was not cowed, but awaiting opportunity. As Genevieve struck again, Urkanthos ripped the blade from her grip and closed a taloned hand about her throat. Seeing her sister's danger, Eleanor lunged at the beast, her frenzied flurry hacking deep into his armoured skin, and all but severing a tattered wing. It was not enough. Genevieve's spine splintered under her captor's unholy strength, her last act to headbutt the brute between his burning eyes. Loosing a desolate cry, Eleanor lunged with all her strength, the point of her sword lodging beside Urkanthos' black heart. The Daemon Prince bellowed and smote her, lifeless, to the ground. Then he stalked away, the Power Sword still trapped within his flesh.
In the muster field, Marshal Amalrich prepared another assault against the looming Vicanthrus. One had already failed, hurled back by the enfilading fire of the Baneblade's Havoc escorts, but as Vicanthrus' turret swung to bear on the aegis lines of the Cadian 8th, the Black Templars gathered themselves for another attempt.
Vicanthrus' turret locked into position, but didn't fire. The super-heavy tank froze in position like some great metal beast locked in the throes of confusion. Then, at an unseen command, its weapons blazed to life. Not at the Black Templars of the Cruxis Crusade. Not at the Cadian 8th. But at its own compatriots. The warriors of the Black Legion never stood a chance. Vicanthrus' sponson-mounted weaponry shredded the Havocs who moments before had preserved it from Amalrich's fury. The turret swung about onto a new bearing, the heavy shells ripping apart an Alpha Legion Predator spearhead as if their hulls were forged of glass.
For a heartbeat, neither side knew what to make of the sudden betrayal. None had marked the cloaked figure who ducked briefly from the shadow of a ruined bastion, a flood of silvery nanomachines flowing from his hand and into the crannies of Vicanthrus' armour. That heartbeat was all Creed required. At his bellow, the heart of the 8th marched for the breached command bastion. The slaughtered Whiteshields and Battle-Sisters told a gruesome tale, and one boding ill for those who had fought so hard for Cadia.
Inside the command bastion, Urkanthos let the mangled body of Magos Klarn slide from his claws. A half-maniple of Skitarii had barred his way to this chamber, but not one of the Omnissiah-spawned weapons had hurt him so much as the blades of the twin Canonesses. Eleanor's sword still protruded from his flesh, the hilt burning like fire whenever the Daemon Prince touched it. But at least his goal was now within sight.
Beyond the edge of the buckled walkway, half a mile straight down into the bedrock of Cadia Secundus, the null-array's capacitors arced and crackled. Destroy them, and Cadia would be at the mercy of the Will of Eternity once more. Sweeping back his wings, Urkanthos plunged from the walkway, picking up speed as Cadia's gravity embraced him.
"Double time! faster, damn you, faster!" Creed bellowed the words to be heard over the madness of battle.
Obedient as ever, the veterans of the 8th Cadian Regiment picked up their pace, their march breaking into a run. Creed told himself there was still time, still the opportunity to catch the daemonic monstrosity before it undid all their efforts.
Hospitallers parted before Creed's command platoon, their faces uncharacteristically tight. The Order of Our Martyred Lady had fought fit to shame a Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, but had paid a steep toll in dead and wounded. At least they'd fared better than the 111th Whiteshields, Creed allowed.
The Order still endured in other parts of the fortress -- other reaches of the galaxy, even -- but the Whiteshields were no more. Would there be anyone to remember their sacrifce once Kasr Kraf fell?
The leading squads reached the wreckage of the Egressium Gate. Weapons ready, they fled inside. "Can we even kill the beast that did this?" Lieutenant Kormachen muttered.
Creed turned. The aide's face was pale, his eyes darting warily across the carnage. It took a dozen battles to make a veteran. Maybe more. How many had Kormachen seen? How many more would any of them see? Whatever happened, Cadia's time was ending. That much was clear.
Kell aimed a kick at the corpse of a tusked brute. "If it bleeds, it can die." He pointed at the broken body of a Canoness, drawing attention to the thick ichor spattered across her armour. "They made it bleed. So can we."
The ground trembled. The ululating wail of tortured air rippled outwards from the Egressium Gate.
Creed was still processing the meaning of the sound when his bodyguard, Sergeant Jarran Kell, shoved him clear. He struck the ground beside the slain Canoness just as the doorway exploded in fire. Kell crunched beside him, singed but hale. Kormachen wasn’t so fortunate. He barely had time to scream before the fireball engulfed him. The air flled with the sizzlepop of burning ﬂesh, and a brackish meaty stench. Other aides threw themselves clear, uniforms smouldering as the ﬂames took hold.
Kell hauled himself upright and offered Creed his hand. "Your luck holds, Lord Castellan."
Accepting Kell's hand, Creed rose. "You're my luck, Sergeant."
Creed looked at the blackened doorway. A vast crack split the outer face of the command bastion -- testament to the force of the explosion. The sounds of battle seemed muted now, as if they belonged to another world. Three squads had preceded them into the command bunker. They were surely dead. Not that it mattered. Not if the explosion meant what he thought. He found himself staring skyward without meaning to, searching for the angry cyclopean eye he knew he'd not see. Would there be any warning? Was there any point fighting on?
He shook the thought angrily away. There was always a point. That was a Cadian's duty. His purpose. Defance in the face of the inevitable. His stomach knotted with rising anger. He might fail in his charge to defend the Cadian Gate, but he'd never stop fighting. Never.
"Give the order, sergeant. We're going back to the muster feld. The 8th stands. Cadia stands."
A surviving aide, as pale as Kormachen had been moments before, pressed a manuscript to his lips -- a talisman. Quite possibly an heirloom. Many officers had them. "The Emperor protects."
Creed rounded on him, unable to contain his wrath. He dashed the scrip from the officer's hand, then ripped the aide's pistol from its holster.
"The Emperor?" Creed bellowed. "He's light years away!" He thrust the pistol into the officer's chest, forcing him back a step. "You want salvation, lad, you forge it with this! Not with prayer. Not with scripture. A soldier makes his own fate. He doesn't plead for miracles!"
The officer gaped open-mouthed. Not at Creed, but at something in the sky behind him, far above the command bastion. Kell was looking too, a grim smile upon his face. Clenching a fist to calm himself, Creed spun around and stared upward. He didn't see it at first, but when his eyes at last settled upon it, he was amazed they had ever failed to do so.
"Well, I'll be damned," said Creed. Then he cracked his first smile in ten standard years.
Echoes of the Past
Belisarius Cawl hadn't intended to remain on Eriad VI. Logic dictated he leave. Protocol insisted. Every moment he lingered, the greater the toll inflicted upon his forces by Gangrek's inheritors. And yet, the Archmagos could not bring himself to depart. The mystery called to him, stirred emotions long-atrophied by millennia of self-augmentation.
He had to know the meaning of Veilwalker's cryptic advice. Was it tied to the reliquary concealed aboard the Iron Revenant? Could he take the chance that it wasn't? The Shadowseer had implied that the secrets of Eriad VI would be uncovered now, or not at all. Cawl didn't doubt that his and Veilwalker's interests were at best in temporary alignment, but even a fleeting alliance had the potential to alter the Imperium's course. He'd seen it happen so many times -- even if he could no longer recall the details, or even the names of those involved. Too many broken fragments of yesterday, scattered like a mosaic. For all of Cawl's attempts to preserve it, the past lacked the texture of today.
Thus Cawl dug deeper, even as the defences of his compound wore away beneath the fury of Eriad VI's radstorms, and the bellicose deeds of the Greenskins. Each ruddy dawn brought fresh assaults on the perimeter, each night saw bastions abandoned as Skitarii fell back to secondary lines.
Still Cawl dug, pushing the borers to their limits in his hunger for knowledge. As predicted, each new level excavated brought greater knowledge. The fragments grew larger, the warping less pronounced. One piece confirmed the Archmagos' growing suspicions: the artefacts of Eriad VI predated not only Humanity, but most other life in the galaxy. The techniques of forging, the absence of visible circuitry -- these all pointed to an origin in the darkest of times. Perhaps at the hands of the Old Ones themselves, or else the Necrontyr.
Cawl's quest encompassed all thirty-seven solar hours of the Eriadan day. The deeper into the planet's crust he dug, the more urgent his search became.
Occasionally, he caught Veilwalker watching him from the shadows.
The Eldar Shadowseer seemed visible only to him. She came and went as she pleased, passing through shielding-lines and vacuum bulkheads like a ghost. Cawl came to wonder if she was truly there at all, or conjured by memory augments suffering rad-degradation. Each time, Cawl's conclusion was the same. It no longer mattered. The madness of discovery was upon him. He had to know.
By the fifth solar day, the Skitarii had fallen back to their inner perimeter. The Orks had suffered horrendous losses for their victory, but that only made them strive harder. The compound had become a challenge -- a guarantee of a worthy fight on a world otherwise bereft of life. All projections insisted that if the Greenskins launched another sustained assault, the compound would be overrun. Unfamiliar frustration crowding his secondary lobes, Cawl at last issued the order to withdraw.
It was then, of course, that the breakthrough came. As the colossal tunnelling machines settled into their final excavation patterns, one breached the roof of a vast natural cavern. The weakened rock beneath its treads gave way, and the borer plunged into darkness. The machine's bleating warning signals were severed by the finality of its impact with the stalagmite-strewn cavern floor, but its last transmission contained images of a slab-sided structure of black stone. At once, Cawl issued a hold on the evacuation. Commanding the Skitarii to defend the landing zone until his return, he descended into the depths.
Without warning, veilwaker was there, mask swirling with unreadable emotion. "Do you understand?"
Cawl nodded, too horrified by the implications to object to her presence. "The pylons. The Immaterium..."
"The one holds the other to its rhythm." Veilwalker's mask was an angry red. "Without these stones, dancers become slaves to a refrain bereft of order. The galaxy dies, reborn in madness."
"Can it be prevented?"
"Cadia is the end and the beginning."
Cadia. Where the pact was first forged. Coincidence? Cawl no longer believed in such things. "This is too important for riddles. Answer me plainly!"
But Veilwalker was gone, leaving the Magos with no answers, but perhaps a place to seek them.
Fires of Salvation
- "Despair, and you give yourself to the shadows. Believe, truly believe in the Emperor of Mankind, and you shall walk in His light no matter how dark the path you tread."
- —Saint Celestine
The Emperor's Light
She came wreathed in holy fire, an angel cast from the Emperor's hand and into the horror of war. Down she swept, a thunderbolt shrieking from a golden star newly arrived in the skies of Cadia. As she drew closer to the beleaguered walls of Kasr Kraf, the defenders gave voice to a name. It began with the survivors of the Order of Our Martyred Lady, but it spread like wildfire, borne upon the lips of the faithful, uttered in reverence and in jubilation.
Celestine. Prayers had been answered. The miracle had come.
She smote the muster fields without slowing, the firestorm of her wake scouring besiegers from the stones. On Celestine swept, her sword a blur of silvered light amongst the spiralling smoke. Daemons scattered before her, seared from reality by the blade of one who was a blazing counterpoint to their unfathomable darkness.
Strength returned to weary limbs. Defenders who had forsaken all hope forged new mettle from despair. The Emperor was with them still. Why else would He have sent His Living Saint to guide them to victory? United, they rose for one final effort, no fear remaining in their hearts. Even Creed, lost to seething emotion, forgot the threat of the Blackstone Fortress in distant orbit and fought alongside his men. With the exception of the zealous Black Templars, only the warriors of the Adeptus Astartes felt no stirring at the sight of Celestine. The Imperial Creed was not their faith. Theirs was a bond of brotherhood, of duty to long-dead Primarchs, but if the homilies of the Adeptus Ministorum would deliver victory that day, then so be it.
For one moment, one glorious moment, the attackers' ranks shuddered. The Baneblade Vicanthrus, still locked in sightless combat with the nanomachines shredding its system, vanished beneath a zealous tide of humanity. Cultists scattered, their apostatic dreams dispersed by the Living Saint's arrival. Then the Black Legion met the defenders’ newfound fury with their own blasphemous resolve. Despite their resurgence, outnumbered and outmatched, the defenders' counterattack stalled.
But faith renewed was not the only gift Celestine had brought to Kasr Kraf. Plasma Drives roared in the darkness. Landing gears crunched onto plascrete. The discordant notes of battle-hymns swelled, the chimes of blessed bells echoing along the walls. Even more than faith, even more than hope, the defenders of Kasr Kraf had needed reinforcements, and the Living Saint had provided.
Celestine had found them in the Warp, their transport's Plasma Drives all but dead through a Traitor's act, its Gellar Fields failing: five companies of the Order of Our Martyred Lady, thought lost some fourteen hundred standard years. Her light served as a beacon through the Empyrean, drawing the wounded vessel into the path of another craft and binding the two until realspace claimed them both once more. Now they came forth as her fiery sword, and to avenge a seeming-eternity adrift amidst the Immaterium. With their onset, the battle shifted once again -- this time in the defenders' favour.
Urkanthos lurched through the Egressium Gate, his wings scattering the ashen remains of what had once been men. The cursed machine holding the Blackstone Fortress' wrath at bay was no more. The Despoiler's will had been done. Cadia waited to die, and Urkanthos had no desire to die with it. It was time to depart and claim his reward.
A Guardsman ran headlong towards the Daemon Prince, bayonet lowered. Urkanthos eviscerated the mortal with a single savage swipe. Licking blood from his talons, he let the body fall upon the remains of the black-clad prayer-witches who'd sought to bar his ingress.
Slaughter still raged across the muster field, the tempo and scent of it somehow different. Urkanthos longed to join it, even though to do so was to risk annihilation beneath the Blackstone's gaze.
In a swoop of wings, she landed before Urkanthos, her armour glittering in the golden light of her halo. At last, the Daemon Prince recognised the altered stench -- the battlefield stank of her faith, her certainty.
"The corpse-bride," he growled.
The angel raised her sword, the point steady as a rock. "Your hour is done, beast."
Urkanthos laughed, the sound of it a rough peal of thunder. "It has only just begun. You are nothing. The echo of a false god. I will break you in half and set your skull upon Khorne's throne."
Agony wracked the Daemon Prince, a white heat searing the veins of his chest. Through slitted eyes, he saw the corpse-bride regarding him, unmoving. The pain passed. As ever, Urkanthos felt the stronger for it. Another trial endured.
"I am the Scourgemaster of the Black Fleet, the Right Hand of the Despoiler. You cannot match me alone."
Urkanthos pressed a taloned hand to the site of the faded agony. Something was wrong. The sword in his ﬂesh -- the prayer-witch's sword -- had gone. He spun around. Two prayer-witches stared back, their faces alive with light, their golden armour as radiant as a sun. Urkanthos, who never forgot those he slew, knew their faces. The twins he'd killed upon the threshold. His seething ichor dripped from the leftmost’s blade. The blade so lately trapped in his ﬂesh. The first glimmer of uncertainty trickled into the Daemon Prince's bartered soul.
"I am not alone," said Celestine. "And your hour is done."
With a roar, Urkanthos swept back his wings, and pounced.
Beyond the eastern wall, Baroness Vardus had marked the fire in the skies, but knew nothing of its meaning. She knew only that her bid to blunt the fury of the Legio Vulcanum had failed. Too many of her lance-mates were dead; all that remained was the glory of an honourable death. Yet as Vardus keyed her Knight's reactor to overload, gold-liveried Thunderhawks and Stormhawk Interceptors roared from the skies. The starboard quadrant of Vessel of Damnation 's carapace disintegrated under brilliant Turbolaser beams, and the Thunderhawks peeled away. With a grim smile, Vardus secured her reactor from overload. A suicide run was the strategy of the hopeless, and her hope was reborn.
In orbit of Cadia, the weapons batteries of the Imperial Fists' newly-arrived battle-fortress Phalanx rumbled to life. Already the Black Fleet was reacting to the presence in its midst, but Phalanx's ageing shield generators held firm beneath broadside after broadside. Captain Garadon didn't care. In recent days he'd fought alongside the spectral Legion of the Damned. He'd torn the heart out of his own sacred charge to prevent it falling into the hands of the foe. And he'd witnessed a crippled Imperial Navy transport dock with Phalanx's forecastle amidst the tumult of the Warp. So many things he'd been sure he’d never see. So many events he swore he'd never understand. But this? Phalanx alone against the Black Fleet? This was retribution long overdue. But where was the Legion of the Damned? As Phalanx had entered realspace they'd faded to nothing, as silent in departure as arrival.
Phalanx bore down on the Will of Eternity, shields crackling as it brushed aside the leading edge of the Black Fleet. At Garadon's command, flank batteries engaged the Traitor Battleships, but its formidable prow guns lay silent. Phalanx had suffered too much from the ravages of time and its recent sacrifices, and its master sought to make sure that first planet-cracking salvo counted.
Another vessel would have perished already, battered into drifting scrap by the fury of the Black Fleet, but Phalanx was the Fist of Dorn, his first and greatest gift to the Emperor of Mankind. Even decaying and under-crewed, no other vessel in all the heavens was its peer. Even without the Escort fleet that was its right, the mighty battle-station held its own. But it could not do so forever. Already, sensor panels lit up in warning as the main body of Abaddon's fleet broke orbit to engage. Garadon paid those warnings no heed. There would be no surrender, no retreat. If this was to be Phalanx 's last battle, then so be it. Thus Garadon held his course, straight into the Will of Eternity's black maw.
The hammer of Sven Bloodhowl's Bolt Pistol clicked down on an empty chamber. Cursing his mistake, the Wolf Lord slammed another magazine home and squeezed off a round. The daemon's skull shattered, its black blade skittering across the polished black stone. Red eyes blazed in the darkness.
"Morkai's teeth!" Bloodhowl roared. "We can't stay here forever!"
As if to prove the point, the gates of the castellum yawned wide, and a ragged mob of mutated crewers surged across the narrow causeway. Heavy Bolters cut them down, reapers amongst the chaff.
Solvik Whitemane fell and did not rise, a gaping hole above his primary heart.
"What choice do we have?" snarled Jarn Frostclaw. "Those emplacements will tear us apart."
Bloodhowl recognised his own frustration in the Wolf Guard's tone. The solar hours since Firemane's Fang's destruction and the strike of the boarding torpedoes were a blur of never-ending battle, of brothers lost, and desperate marches through the darkness to outpace pursuit. Had it been solar days? Weeks? Bloodhowl no longer knew. Only that their duty was not yet done. His dozen survivors were only alive because the Traitors didn't seem to know the full capabilities of the Blackstone Fortress, and because the vessel itself seemed determined to aid the invaders. Bulkheads had unsealed. Automated defences disengaged without warning. Whatever passed for a Machine Spirit in the Will of Eternity wanted them to succeed. Like a frost wolf bloated by disease, it wanted to die.
Bloodhowl leaned around the bulkhead and tossed his last Frag Grenade into the screaming mass. It exploded with a dull crump, hurling bodies into the gantried abyss. "If that is our duty."
Frostclaw scowled, but nodded. "If that is our duty."
What made it worse was to fail with the objective in sight. Beyond the castellum, twisted cable-clusters betrayed the presence of a power interchange, a legacy of the Blackstone's service in the Imperial Navy before the Gothic War, now subverted by its crew of Traitors to channel power to its shields and weapons batteries. Destroy it, and a portion of the Will of Eternity would go truly dark. Perhaps even enough to give the remnants of the Cadian ﬂeet a chance to bring about its destruction.
A shift in the light drew Bloodhowl's gaze to the cracked viewport. Blue sparks chased across a golden prow the size of a star fort.
"Phalanx," he laughed. "So Dorn's stiffnecks want to play, do they?"
New shapes ﬂickered into existence around Bloodhowl, their sable Power Armour edged with ﬂame and mouldered bone. The newcomers advanced on the castellum, Bolters screeching ﬂame. Bloodhowl raised his Chainsword high.
"For Russ, and the Allfather!"
Thus did the Firehowlers of Fenris go one last time into glory.
Flame suddenly gouted from the Will of Eternity's flank. It was the tiniest of pinpricks, insignificant against the Blackstone Fortress' vast bulk. But with it, the shields across the lower portside quadrant sputtered and died. From the strategium of Phalanx, Garadon witnessed the moment of weakness; witnessed, and embraced it. The vessel's main batteries, dormant for centuries, roared with a fury to make their long-dead creator proud. The first salvo cracked the Will of Eternity's gleaming armour. The eleventh pounded it to dust.
Traitor Cruisers drove hard for Phalanx's main batteries, their captains ramming headlong into the fortress in the hope of halting their fury. Some guns fell silent, but not enough. Never enough. Phalanx gnawed at the Blackstone's obdurate hide, battering ever closer to its heart, inch by unforgiving inch. Garadon ignored the wailing klaxons warning of hull-breaches and the worried reports from his strategium crew. This was the Blackstone's hour to die, and Phalanx was to be its executioner.
Another salvo, and something inside the Will of Eternity shattered. A crack split the Blackstone's core, brilliant purple light bleeding across the stars. As the battered Phalanx limped to safety, the rupture spread, swallowing those vessels nearest to it. With a silent scream that echoed through the minds of every living soul across the Cadian Gate, the Will of Eternity broke apart, its arcane engines dissipating in dazzling aurorae across the outer atmosphere. By the time the glow faded, a third of the Black Fleet was gone, snatched into the Immaterium. Yet more voidships lay strewn across Cadia's southern pole, their blackened carcasses smoking. By some fluke of fate, the empty and cracked husk of the Will of Eternity remained in orbit, a dark and lifeless moon staring blindly down at its former prey.
Planetside, the Knights of House Raven joined their fire to that of the Imperial Fists' Thunderhawks, their volleys unceasing until Vessel of Damnation was naught but fused and blasted scrap. The Cadian 8th and the Sisters of Our Martyred Lady at their head, the defenders of Kasr Kraf drove the Heretics from the muster field. As Kell planted the flag of the 8th Cadian atop the reclaimed Kriegan Gates, Celestine and her Geminae Superia --- the slain Canonesses Genevieve and Eleanor, reborn through the divine glory of the Living Saint -- cast the lifeless corpse of the Daemon Prince Urkanthos from the walls. It was impossible to say whether it was that or the coruscating flare of purple light in the heavens that broke the will of the Traitor horde, but it broke all the same.
Harried by the Ironwolves, and by Baroness Vardus' Knights, the besiegers fled south. Cultists and Heretics, their apostasy spent, threw down their arms and begged for forgiveness, but the only mercy they found was that of holy Promethium. Thousands died, but as many escaped. Despite Phalanx's victory in the heavens, air superiority remained with the Despoiler's forces. Chaos Dropships swarmed the skies, gathering the scattered warbands in readiness for a new assault.
In the shattered remains of Kasr Kraf, Creed drew fresh plans. He knew this was no victory. At best, it was survival. Cadia held its breath.
Far above Cadia's surface, the Vengeful Spirit's iron-bound viewport afforded an excellent view of failure. The blue-white gem of Cadia hung suspended against the sea of stars. Sullied. Defiant. Whole.
Not so the shattered hull of the Will of Eternity. The once-mighty Blackstone Fortress was now a trail of debris stretching for leagues. The double-hull had fragmented into three substantive shards, the lesser of which was easily four times the mass of the Vengeful Spirit itself. All else was dust, or had been drawn into the Warp by the same cataclysm that had consumed so much of the Black Fleet. Prozus Ghael, the Will of Eternity’s captain, had survived that disaster where thousands had not. He would yet live for Terran centuries more before death was allowed to claim him, each moment of agony in the Vengeful Spirit’s dungeons amplifed a thousandfold by technicians of the most exquisite pain.
"Urkanthos has failed." Abaddon did not turn to address the warlords assembled at his command. Let the servants wait upon the whim of the master. Instead, he watched the drop-ships and transports swarming like insects, mustering the forces for the next assault. Hated Phalanx had withdrawn beyond the equator, running like a wounded cur from the fury of a blooded pack. Surprise had been the antiquated battle-fortress' chief weapon, and it was now spent.
At last, Abaddon turned to regard his lieutenants. Zaraphiston. Zagthean. Skyrak. Korda. All with gazes carefully averted lest the Scourgemaster's failure prove infectious. Glory and downfall. Two sides of the same blade, and one that cut indiscriminately. Who would be the first to risk the one for the other? Zagthean, perhaps. His rivalry with the banished Daemon Prince was as well known as that between their chosen divine patrons. Skyrak was too cautious. Korda too focussed on reclaiming his place in the Emperor's Children.
Zaraphiston ... Zaraphiston had probably cast the auguries, and already knew how the coming days would unfold. His silence as likely sprang from threat as from fear. Ygethmor would have spoken by now, eager to prove his worth, desperate to snatch scraps from the table. But Ygethmor was long dead. It mattered not. They mattered not. The decision was already made. Too often, the Vengeful Spirit had borne witness to failure. It would do so no longer.
"Lord Abaddon." Zagthean stepped forward as the Despoiler had known he would. "Grant me the burden of the next onslaught, and I shall lay the broken bodies of your enemies before your throne."
"No." The word reverberated around the chamber, inviting discord.
"For ten thousand years, this world has defied me. No more." Abaddon ripped Drach'nyen from its scabbard. The daemons within the blade cackled at his rage, their faces twisting mirthfully at the prospect of slaughter. "Gather your warriors. I will see Cadia unmade, and its armies broken for all time."
Zaraphiston leered, his manner as ever that of one who knew the answers to questions unvoiced. "And if not?"
Abaddon stabbed the daemonsword into the rusted deck, and set it quivering at his feet. "Then I will be dust, and you will fight like dogs for my throne. But one way or another, this ends."
The Clarion of Truth
As dawn broke the next morning, Promethium flames leapt hungrily towards the stars. The defenders of Kasr Kraf had neither manpower nor time to bury their dead, and so honoured them the only way they could -- in cleansing flame. Betimes, the wind shifted, carrying with it the thunder of battle from the south, as Baroness Vardus' Knights obliterated those Traitors abandoned by the Black Fleet. The pyres burned for two solar days and nights, fed by whatever fuel could be spared, preserving the honoured dead from the corruption of the Dark Gods, and the defilement of their living thralls.
Those final rites had come at Celestine's insistence, and Creed had yielded. Not out of necessity, nor even out of respect. The Lord Castellan of Cadia sought solely to keep his soldiers' minds and bodies occupied. Activity, fruitful or otherwise, was always the best way to buttress failing morale. They'd realise the grim truth soon enough -- a truth Creed had embraced even before Celestine had hurled Urkanthos' corpse from the top of the wall. Kasr Kraf's greatest moment of defiance had been its last. When the Despoiler's hordes came again -- and Creed was certain that they would, if only because the abyssal spectres of the Legion of the Damned now stood silent sentry out on the Elysion pylon fields -- the defiance of Cadia would continue elsewhere, if it did so at all.
Thus Creed left the Living Saint to her ministrations amidst the flames, grateful for whatever resolve she awoke, and entertained unthinkable notions of retreat. The arrival of Phalanx offered a new opportunity. Though devastated in the course of its lone stand against the Black Fleet, the battle-station was still capable of Warp travel. It could carry a vast portion of the forces stranded on Cadia to safety. A voice in Creed's head urged him to remain, to fight on. But the more he dwelt upon the matter, the more Creed came to wonder if that voice spoke with the forked tongue of pride, rather than duty. Perhaps Cadia's battle was at long last done, and it was time to defend the outer jaws of the Cadian Gate from Agripinaa or Belis Corona.
Little by little, reinforcements dribbled in from the outer system. Some were lost the moment they hit realspace, ill fortune bringing them under the guns of the Black Fleet. Others fared better, braving the dead-fire zone above Cadia's equator and coming safely into the waiting arms of mighty Phalanx. First to do so were Captain Ruis Tracinto's 5th Company of the Crimson Fists, driven back from Kasr Partox with the remnants of the Cadian 14th Regiment. A dozen battered Cruisers limped in from Solar Mariatus, their hangars crammed with the tanks of the Armoured 51st Regiment and the Knights of House Taranis. Their crew whispered tales of an escape in the face of inconceivable odds -- one achieved only when slate-grey Cruisers had emerged from the Warp and boarded the leading vessels of the pursuing Chaos fleet. Upon learning those Cruisers bore the faded brands of the Space Wolves, Creed inquired of Orven Highfell if further reinforcements might yet arrive from Fenris. He received no other answer than a stony glare.
The last to arrive was not only the most unexpected, but also the most welcome. An Adeptus Mechanicus fleet, inbound from the arid backwater of the Eriad System. Ever the pragmatist, Creed saw their arrival as an opportunity to remake a portion of Cadia's shattered defences. In this, he was disappointed. The newcomers had suffered travails of their own -- though the fleet remained battle-ready, their Skitarii maniple had been greatly thinned by strife, the ranks of artificiers and battle-masons expended to defend a now-abandoned archeologica site. Worse, the fleet's commander, the Archmagos Belisarius Cawl, intoned a warning that Creed was initially loathe to believe, for it meant that the danger to the Imperium -- indeed, to the galaxy as a whole -- was far greater than any yet knew.
In a council of war held within the remains of Kasr Kraf's command bastion, Cawl laid out the scope of his discoveries on Eriad. Few understood the detail of his theories. The Archmagos constantly slipped into and out of the buzzing binharic cant of the Omnissiah, and even those parts of the explanation rendered in High Gothic dealt in subjects so arcane that Cawl might as well not have shared them at all. Yet the singular, awful truth was plain enough. For long aeons, the Cadian Pylons, and others like them, had held the galaxy together. Without them, the tides of the Immaterium would consume all. Abaddon had spent ten thousand standard years obliterating the pylon fields, weakening the stitches holding reality together.
None present wanted to believe Cawl's words, but the clarion of truth has a sound peculiar to itself. Moreover, the theory made new sense of so much. The rising darkness of the passing millennia. The ever-increasing prevalence of Warp Storms. The Despoiler's constant obsession with assaulting Cadia. Abaddon's Black Crusades, so long dismissed as failures -- if ones greatly to the Imperium's cost -- had been the product of strategy more layered than any had believed. Cancephalus. Arkreath. Kromarch. The Gothic War. For millennia, they had been viewed as causes in and of themselves. Now they were revealed as camouflage for Abaddon's true agenda, one envisioned by an immortal's eye in the prosecution of a war without end.
Cawl did not speak of everything he knew or guessed. Veilwalker's cryptic missives remained his secret. But he assured all that hope was not lost -- that the pylons contained the key to Abaddon's defeat, as well as his victory. This last was merely a projection -- the first guess the Archmagos had entertained in many centuries, if not the first lie offered to allies unversed in the logical precepts of the Omnissiah. And yet Cawl told himself his words contained a kernel of truth. The pylons were tools, and it was one of the founding precepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus that the difference between tools and weapons existed only in narrow minds.
To hear Cawl speak of it, there was no way to know how many pylons had already fallen, or how close to the tipping point the galaxy had come. Yet one thing was clear to Creed: retreat from Cadia was no longer an option -- Abaddon would be denied his prize today, as he had in millennia past. All that remained was to determine how that impossible goal was to be achieved. And swiftly, before the quiescent Black Fleet awoke to new fury.
The first move occurred in the skies. Phalanx's abused Plasma Drives hauled the battle-fortress southward across the equator, attaining geostationary orbit over the pylon fields of Cadia Secundus. Every eye upon the bridge scoured the astral Auspexes and sensor banks for the Black Fleet's attempt to counter the move. No such retaliation came. Phalanx had taught Abaddon's captains caution, if not respect -- it seemed none amongst them had any stomach for mutually assured destruction that day.
With the skies thus secured from the threat of bombardment, Creed fashioned a new defence. Trenchworks and aegis lines were established across the Elysion pylon fields. The catacombs below, originally envisioned as a final line of defence, now became the sprawling heart of a makeshift fortress. Above ground, massed Cadian ranks waited alongside the Sisters of Our Martyred Lady. Below, Cawl's Adepts laboured beneath the unblinking gaze of their Skitarii protectors.
The dwindled forces of the Adeptus Astartes, now reinforced by the Crimson Fists' 5th Company and the survivors of Garadon's depleted command, formed a single strike force under Master Korahael. Only the Ironwolves forsook unity of purpose, striking out on their own to roam the Elysion perimeter. Korahael disdained their choice, blaming the ancient enmity between the Sons of Leman Russ and of the Lion. But Garadon wasn't so sure. He had fought alongside the Wolves of Fenris many times before, and had never known any so taciturn as the Ironwolves. That night, when the wind carried distant howls across Elysion, a chill passed through Garadon's bones, though he did not know why.
The wind howled about the crumbled spires as Highfell approached, his every step heavier than the last. No. It was not only the wind.
The Wolf Priest waited in silence at the door. Sundered by the Black Fleet's initial bombardment, the bastion was worthless as a redoubt, but it would yet serve as a cage.
"How many?" Highfell growled softly.
Harkan twitched his lip, the gesture setting the tips of his plaited moustache dancing. "Three more."
With an effort, Highfell kept his expression neutral. The Curse of the Wulfen had followed them ever since Mygdal. It would consume them all, given time.
He turned to Harkan, his face an unreadable mask. "Keep them bound. When battle comes, they will do their part. As will we all."
Solar hours crawled by. With every second, the inevitable grew closer. Fevered anticipation of the fateful hour grew worse than the fear of death. All who waited on the Elysion Fields, whether born of Cadia or some distant world, silently yearned for the battle to begin, for death or triumph to find them now, while they yet had nerve and strength to face it.
Celestine and her Geminae Superia hovered silently in the skies above, their radiance bright against a dark future. Yet even the Living Saint felt foreboding in those hours. Waking dreams assailed her with each new dawn -- visions of a fortress afire, of its defenders drowning beneath a bloody tide. Her wings damaged in those dreams, Celestine could not outrun that flood. Each time she made the attempt, its waters claimed her. And yet each time there was a presence beyond the tide -- a warrior's silhouette, familiar and yet not, trapped beyond a wall of ice strewn with the Black Legion's dead. Each dawn, Celestine blinked the vision away. Knowledge would come in its own time. Until then, the Emperor would guide her, as He always had. She was His hand.
Amidst the roots of the pylons, Belisarius Cawl wrestled with secrets denied to Mankind for ageless millennia. Fusion-welders assailed the faceless stone, blazing silently for solar hours untold as they sought samples for analysis. Cawl sent Servitor probes into smooth-edged breaches in the pylons' flanks, set loose every functional tech-scryer he had salvaged from the abandoned compound at Eriad VI. Nothing bore fruit. The black skin resisted all attempts to breach it. Contact was lost with each Servitor precisely six solar seconds after it vanished into the depths, and the scryers found nothing that was not already on record.
All Cawl knew for certain was that the pylons' low-level energy resonance, amply quantified by generations long dead, was growing in amplitude. Indeed, several of the pylons showed signs of fatigue, as if their silent exertions were as damaging to the structures themselves as to the squalling currents of the Immaterium. Cawl hypothesised that as one pylon field was destroyed, the burden intensified upon those that remained. When one field ceased to function, those on distant worlds automatically adapted. Was Cadia the last? The Archmagos had no way of knowing, but decided it was only logical to assume that it was. Still the pylons refused to yield their secrets. Until, that was, a cloaked figure made its presence known.
With his thoughts thus directed, the Archmagos at last grasped the elegance of the pylons' construction, of technologies whose meanest function far outstripped the dreams of his long-dead mentors. Though the detail remained as far beyond him as his explanation of the pylons' function was beyond his allies on the surface, Cawl at last grasped the shape of the makers' intent. Imagination awoken to fevered life by the possibilities, Cawl began his labours anew.
Meanwhile, in the silent void above Cadia's southern pole, dormant hangars stirred to life, and the first dropships blazed into an outer atmosphere choked with the debris of failed conquest.
The Battle of Elysion was about to begin.
Cawl disengaged his primary consciousness from the scryer's datascreen and stared upwards. The inscrutable bulk of the Cadian Pylon stood like a shadow against the strata of the cavern wall. Defiant. Mocking. Had he merely traded one world of obdurate secrets for another? Days of toil, and not even a scintilla of progress.
Had Veilwalker deceived him? Or had he deceived himself -- read more meaning into her words than had truly been there? Was it all a grand distraction, waylaying his attention while she stole the reliquary? Cawl felt his rebreather quicken. He could not imagine why she would do such a thing, but what cause did a xenos truly need for malice?
A familiar sensation crept across his sense-flaments. He was not alone. It seemed Cadia had yet more in common with Eriad VI than he had expected. "I projected your arrival before now, Veilwalker."
Cawl turned, servo-crawlers scuttling beneath him. The intruder was not the Eldar Shadowseer. Green eyes blazed from beneath a hood of metallic scale. The power core of a burnished staff glinted.
"I mean you no harm." The figure cocked his head to one side. "Are those the correct words? I find that no matter which I use, no one ever believes them." He paused. "Wait...What did you call me?"
Secondary circuits meshed, retrieving ancient data. A Necron. A soulless embodiment of the Motive Force. A blasphemy against the Omnissiah. Cawl's Arc Scourge slithered to life, energy crackling across its coils. "You are an abomination."
The Necron set his staff aside. "'Thief' normally suffices. I prefer 'honoured guest.' But abomination or thief, you and I have common cause."
Cawl willed the Arc Scourge's tendrils to war mode, already anticipating the joy of dissection. "Logic dictates otherwise."
"Then you don’t seek to understand the nature of this matrix?"
The Arc Scourge grew still at Cawl's wordless command. This was unexpected. Or was it the abomination's trick to preserve its mockery of existence? "You comprehend its secrets?"
"I was there when they were first erected. Or perhaps I wasn't. You of all people should understand that memory is a fickle thing."
Cawl allowed an angry hiss to rattle through his rebreather. "We share no commonality."
"Perhaps. I went to the fires of biotransference in chains. You, I think, have gladly sliced away your humanity piece by piece." The Necron stepped closer, eyes blazing. "But neither of us desires to see this galaxy ripped asunder by the Empyreal Ones. Destroy me if you wish. I will simply awaken elsewhere. Nothing will change. For me, for you ... for this world."
Cawl remained silent, probabilities warping and reforming with fresh data. First an Eldar had set him on this path, now a Necron offered to guide his steps. But if the knowledge preserved the Omnissiah's Imperium ... "Show me."
Sardonic laughter, dry as dust, echoed around the cavern. "I thought you'd never ask."
The Battle of the Elysion Fields
The first wave came from the west. Landers skirted the outer edge of Phalanx's bombardment zone, vomiting a filthy tide across the pylon field. They came from a hundred worlds, "liberated" from the worship of the False Emperor, their petty desires stoked by blasphemous canticle and empty promise until they roared liked a furnace. Hive gangers, manufactorum workers, deserters from the Emperor's light -- they swarmed about the pylons, a mass given purpose by the demagogic Dark Apostles railing in their midst. As they crossed a line invisible to the mortal eye, Phalanx's bombardment cannons roared, snatching hundreds of ragged madmen to their deaths. Still the Chaos Cultists came on.
The survivors of the Cadian 9th Regiment held their fire to the very last moment, ignoring the reckless Autogun and Stubber fire whining over their heads. Every man amongst them recalled the shame of the Kriegan Gates, where they had fled alongside the Cadian 33rd Regiment. Every man had lost comrades in the brutal culling that had followed, Commissars instilling discipline through bloody example. But one factor lent them resolve more than any other. The chanting mass bearing down upon the 9th served as a dark mirror -- a licentious path that could have been theirs, had fate been but a little different. The Guardsmen of the 9th hated the Cultists for daring to embrace a path they themselves had forsaken, and now punished them for it. At barked words of command, the 9th rose up out of their trenchlines and opened fire. Ragged Cultists screamed their last and fell dead amidst the dust. The voices of apostate preachers faded as cannon-fire sucked the air from their lungs. Hundreds crumpled beneath las-fire and Earthshaker Cannon bombardments, but thousands more came on, the boots of the living stomping the dead to bloody offal in their determination to reach the Cadian Shock Troops' lines.
Even as the Cultists thronged forward, the doleful roar of Plasma Drives heralded the arrival of new landing craft. Ramps slammed down into the dirt to the north and east, and Abaddon's second assault began.
The Battle-Sisters of Our Martyred Lady held the northern line. Celestine at their head, they met the rush of flame-belching Daemon Engines with the steadfast roar of Bolters and the choral bellow of their Exorcists. Seraphim sisterhoods jinked and soared through the maze of pylons, hunting Warpsmiths before their dark ministrations could return sundered war machines to the fray. To the east, Baroness Vardus' Knights served as artillery support for the tanks of the Cadian 185th Regiment, meeting the battle-scarred Titans of the Legio Vulcanum and the massed tanks of the Crimson Slaughter with fury fit to shake the roots of the world itself.
But it was in the south, where the Cadian 8th and 21st Regiments held the line, that Abaddon's true assault fell. There, amidst the ruins of pylons toppled in antiquity, the Black Legion advanced through the shrieking ruin of Phalanx's bombardment. They came in an armoured column two miles wide and twice that deep, the dust clouds of Chaos Space Marine biker outriders upon their flanks, and banners that had once challenged the defences of Terra itself ripping and snapping in the slipstream. Shells fell like black rain in their path, littering the southern approach with twisted wrecks. Heldrakes screeched overhead, strafing volleys shredding the makeshift artillery positions. The Hydras of the 8th Cadian engaged the Daemon-craft, but it was an unending flock. Mortal might could only disperse it, not see it destroyed.
With his allies beset on all sides, with no orbital support save Phalanx's bombardments, Korahael divided his Adeptus Astartes strike force; Amalrich's Black Templars and Garadon's Imperial Fists reinforced the southern lines, while the Crimson Fists and Korahael's own Dark Angels 4th Company lent their might to the north. Of the Ironwolves, there were no confirmed sightings, though the 8th's spotters noted that the wrecks of the Black Legion column lay thickest near a ruined bastion, some distance southwest of the trenchlines.
Hours passed. Abaddon's warbands closed around the pylon fields like a gauntleted fist, squeezing tight about Creed's command. To the south, the Black Legion cast aside their battered transports and hurled themselves bodily at the 8th Cadian, their guttural battle-cries a marrow-chilling herald to their onset.
In the east, Baroness Vardus found an honourable end worthy of her forebears, her crippled Knight dealing the deathblow to the Traitor Reaver Titan, Furioso Rex, before reactor containment failed. The baroness' death redoubled her lance-mates' determination -- in the proud history of House Raven, none perished so valiantly as they in that hour. Bereft of the Knights' heavy armament, the colonel of the Cadian 185th Regiment ordered a fighting retreat, in his terror forgetting there was no longer any ground to yield.
The eastern lines would have fallen in that hour, but for the intervention of Korahael's 4th Company, and Tracinto's 5th. Screaming from skies in golden Thunderhawks, they reached the breached trenchlines in the very moment Sevastus Kranon led his crimson-armoured Traitors in a final assault. As the Crimson Fists' veteran Devastators duelled with the surviving Titans, steadfast angel and fallen sabre clashed amidst the charred remnants of House Raven, bitter history lending fury to every blow.
At Kasr Kraf, the Cadian 9th Regiment had fled. At the Elysion Fields, they died by the hundred without faltering, matching the madness of their foes with a coward's zeal for redemption. Yet, little by little, their line of bayonets shrank inwards, overwhelmed. Seeing the danger, Creed ordered new reserves into the west, but the foe were too many. Though the banners of the 75th and the 403rd Cadian Regiments reached the western trenches before they were overrun, the 9th was beyond salvation. In death, they had earned redemption.
Day ground on into night, and then into day once again, each fleeting solar hour standing witness to martyrdoms by the score. Not one Daemon Engine laid a warped claw on the northern trenchlines, for the Sisters of Our Martyred Lady met them on the open plain beyond. The light of battle was upon them, the Will of the Emperor coursing through their veins. The Battle-Sisters paid a bloody price for their resolve, but they felt neither pain nor loss, for Celestine's presence was both a balm and a spur to holy madness.
In the east, Ruis Tracinto perished upon the Chainfist of Baranox the Blood-Haunted, only to be avenged in kind by Korahael's relic sword. In the south, the colonel of the 21st Cadian, driven mad by daemonic voices that had haunted him since the fall of Kasr Kraf, seized a Voxcaster and ordered his soldiers to retreat. He perished before he could repeat that command, the Emperor's Mercy delivered from Commissar Strang's smoking Bolt Pistol, but the damage had been done. The 21st, their morale already upon a bayonet's edge, wavered. Creed strove to rally them, his voice booming across the Vox-grid as it had so many times before, but now the Lord Castellan himself came under assault.
Abaddon had sworn to crush Cadia's last resistance himself, and he now came to do so. He did not enter the maelstrom of battle alone. The Bringers of Despair, their trophy racks thick with the heads of Cadian officers, teleported into the heart of Creed's command Skyshield. Dozens perished in bloody moments, ripped apart by the fury of the Black Legion's finest warriors. Only Creed survived, shoved aboard a Valkyrie at Jarran Kell's hand -- the colour sergeant's last act of fealty in a lifetime of unflinching service to his friend and commander.
The bolt shell struck a hammer-blow against Sergeant Jarran Kell's knee, shredding flesh and mangling bone. He fell, agony clawing at his thoughts. Still, he found the strength to push Creed aboard the waiting assault carrier. "Go! Go!"
The Valkryie's pilot needed no further encouragement. Engines howling, it sped skyward, bearing the Lord Castellan of Cadia to safety, or whatever illusion of it remained on the Elysion Fields. Only then did Kell afford himself the luxury of pain. Bracing the foot of the 8th Cadian's standard against the ground, he fell to his remaining knee. His vision clouded. Dark shapes loomed over him, monstrous silhouettes edged with blood-spattered gold.
A black gauntlet closed around Kell's throat, hoisting him up like a broken doll. Coal-black eyes stared from a pallid face. The Despoiler. Kell felt no fear. He was dead already, what more could even Abaddon the Traitor do to him? Only faith mattered now. Faith, and honour.
"Such dedication to so unworthy a cause," the Despoiler rumbled. "Pitiful."
With his last strength, Kell hawked a gobbet of bloody phlegm at his captor. "Cadia stands."
Abaddon snorted, his lip curling in sardonic disgust. "I don’t think so."
The last sound Jarran Kell ever heard was the crack of his own shattering spine.
With the 8th Cadian's command scattered or slain, and the 21st in full retreat, the southern front collapsed. Dark praises on their lips, the Chosen of Abaddon overran the few remaining trenches held by the 21st Cadian, and rampaged east across the Elysion Fields. Amalrich and Garadon planted their banners full in the Black Legion's path -- a ceramite wall of black and gold to serve as a breakwater against the tide. Had valour alone been the measure of victory, the Elysion Fields would have been won that day, but the Sons of Dorn were too few, and the Black Legion many. Their redoubt became an island swallowed by a sea of madness, and the Traitors swept on.
The artillery companies of the 185th Cadian Regiment perished first, overwhelmed from ground they had thought secure. As the black tide consumed the 185th's command squadrons, the battle-worn brothers of the Crimson Fists' 5th Company counterattacked, their Bolters reaping vengeance for their fallen captain. Robbed of his staunched allies, Korahael rallied the last of his Dark Angels in the shadow of a sky-scraping pylon. As the Crimson Slaughter howled fresh battle-cries, the Sons of Caliban prepared to sell their lives dearly.
In the west, the 75th and the 403rd Cadian Regiments defended a rampart of dead. The wall of charred and bloody flesh grew taller with each new onslaught, a treacherous, gore-slicked mass that claimed as many lives as the defenders' volleys, yet still the Chaos Cultists came on. As yet another assault ended in sodden ruin, the tone of the Cultists' chant altered. Hellfire flared across the points of rusted icons, dark prayers billowed with the smoke, and the first daemons clawed their way onto the Elysion Fields.
The hellspawn flickered, inconstant as dreams in the shadow of the ancient pylons, but their claws cut as savagely as always, their whispered promises and the droning of flies no less pervasive for the infirmity of flesh. Warpfire scoured the bloody rampart, lissom Daemonettes danced into the breaches, and the western front crumbled.
Celestine saw the danger. Only to the north had the Traitors' assault crumpled entirely, hammered and split by the unwavering zeal of the Adepta Sororitas. The Battle-Sisters had paid a high price for their victory, but it was victory nonetheless. The light of the Living Saint shone as bright as ever, the valour of her reborn Geminae Superia undimmed. Southwards they went, hymns of battle echoing about the pylons, the thunder of Bolters never far behind.
As the remnants of the Cadian 8th withdrew into the catacombs, Abaddon led his Chaos Terminators in bloody pursuit. Other warbands followed, and soon the outermost passageways resounded to the thunder of Autocannons and the screams of the dying. Their ranks bolstered by Cawl's Skitarii, the 8th fought like lions for every inch of those catacombs. Each blast door became a choke point where sacrifice bought precious moments -- each crossroads a corpse-strewn redoubt.
Creed fought with the rearguard, leading by example wherever he could. With their colours lost, their command dead upon the field above, he knew the 8th needed a talisman, a promise of hope in a battle swiftly turning to defeat. The 8th Cadian did not disappoint him. Not lightly had they been named the "Lord Castellan's Own." They would have followed Creed into the fires of a Daemon World had only he led them there, and with every defiant curse, every rearguard sacrificed to the Despoiler's onset, they proved themselves worthy of their beloved general.
Deeper still in the catacomb network, Archmagos Cawl laboured on. At Trazyn's direction, he focussed his attentions on the pylon that served as the command node for the Elysion Fields. With each moment, the tendrils of his machine consciousness wended deeper into the pylon's pathways, his understanding of its arcane constructions magnifying with each binharic calculation. At last, he comprehended the full scope and purpose of the pylon fields, the elegance of a design millennia beyond the advances of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
Trazyn the Infinite watched from the shadows, careful not to provoke the Kataphron Breachers tasked with his obliteration should he attempt betrayal. He still didn't know himself if he intended one. The possibilities offered by the immediate future were too tempting, yet too finely balanced. Had he come as thief or a saviour? Did he any longer know how to make the choice? Uncertain, the Necron watched the Archmagos at his work.
The western wall of the vast cavern collapsed with an ear-splitting roar. Black-armoured Traitors crashed into the line of waiting Electro-priests, a line that collapsed within moments of the first blow. Abaddon himself hacked and tore at their head, the Daemon Sword Drach'nyen cleaving alloy and bone without effort. Cawl saw none of it, his tri-level consciousness locked in the joys of discovery. Trazyn watched the Breachers' Torsion Cannons rip into the Traitors' ranks, and knew at once the Kataphrons could not prevail. Thief or saviour? The decision had been made for him. At least for the moment. Reaching beneath his scaled cloak, the Necron withdrew a gleaming fractal Tesseract Labyrinth and hurled it into the fray. It bounced twice, the shifting energy fields decomposing into glowing gossamer strands, then its captive dimensions unfolded in a burst of dazzling light, disgorging a new army into the war-torn cavern.
This was not a Necron legion, nor even a body of troops drawn from a single world. The Tesseract's contents comprised the merest fragment of Trazyn's Imperial collection, drawn from archives filled to bursting, or storage vaults given over to duplicate exhibits. Some had languished in Solemnace's stasis vaults for Terran millennia, the fleeting centuries passing unnoticed. Others had joined the collection in but recent times, their captivity measured in solar months or years.
For Lieutenant-Commander Cerantes of the Ultramarines, barely an eyeblink had passed since the dark days of the Horus Heresy. For his Contemptor Pattern Dreadnoughts and mortal brothers alike, no guidance was needed save the presence of the blasphemous icons of Chaos, and the Imperium's double-headed Aquila. The Dreadnought Talon at their head, the time-lost Ultramarines prosecuted their eternal battle anew.
Others were not so swift to react. The Vostroyan Firstborn's XXI Regiment, taken by the Necron Overlord during one of the innumerable Greenskin offensives along the Segmentum Obscurus, found themselves beset with stasis sickness, their heads swimming as perceptions snapped back into step with reality. But the roar of battle cures many ills of the mind, and the desire for survival transcends all existential doubt. Orders rang out, and the shaken Vostroyans entered the fray, joined by snipers from long-dead Tanith, Salamanders thought lost during the Klovian disaster, and a lone warrior in golden armour, his scarlet plume and eagle heraldry seldom seen so far from the cradle of Mankind on Terra.
With the arrival of the impossible reinforcements, the Black Legion assault stalled. His self-appointed duty done, Trazyn returned to the shadows. The role of saviour might perhaps have suited him in that hour, but self-sacrifice was a task he gladly left to organics.
Yet there was one amongst the Tesseract-loosed group who did not join the battle, but surveyed it coldly from the fringes. Katarinya Greyfax, Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus, was not known for leaping to rash conclusions, for she counted rashness as but one of the many paths to heresy. Her bodyguard, drawn from the 55th Kappic Eagles, had learned this harsh lesson over many standard years of indentured service. Though Lasguns were levelled and safeties disengaged, not a single Scion fired.
"Sir, we have movement amongst the Blackstone debris."
Commodore Trevaux crossed to the Auspex holo-display. Phalanx's sensors had taken as much of a hammering as the rest of the vessel, but fdelity enough remained to confirm the ensign's assessment. At least a dozen Traitor Cruisers risked oblivion amidst the debris cloud.
"What are those scum playing at?" he breathed.
The question was purely rhetorical. Whatever the Black Fleet sought in the ruins of the fortress, it was Trevaux's duty to see that it went undiscovered.
"Helm, get us underway. Set heading for the near edge of the debris cloud. Comms, relay a request to our Mechanicus allies to cover our abaft starboard engagement zone -- the shield generators are still down and we've dead sensors all across that quadrant."
The deck tremored as Phalanx got underway. Trevaux glanced again at the display for any response from the Black Fleet. He saw none. Was it a trap?
The communications officer looked up from his station. "Mechanicus ﬂeet confirms request."
On the holo-display, the bulk of the rust-red ﬂeet swung onto new headings. Only the Ark Mechanicus remained on station, well beyond weapons range. Trevaux knew he'd receive no explanation as to why, and gave silent thanks that the Adepts of Mars had lent him any vessels at all.
The Chime of Midnight
- "Faith. In the right hands, it is Humanity's greatest weapon. Yet even the finest blade is rendered fallible by its wielder. In the wrong hands, the mighty sword of faith can do more hurt to the Emperor's Realm than can all the treacherous daemons of the Warp combined. This is why those who profess to be the most holy amongst us must be put to the sternest test."
- —Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax
The Despoiler's Wrath
The nodal cavern shook with the fury of war. The bedrock of the planet trembled at the clash of immeasurable wills. As in the Elysion Fields above, this was no battle of tactics, of grand strategy calculated and unleashed. It was a brawl fought at the closest of quarters, the dying near enough to see the hatred in their slayers' eyes.
Lieutenant-Commander Cerantes of the Ultramarines Legion knew something was amiss. The broad strokes of the battle were correct, but the details were wrong. It seemed obvious that the foe was some nest of Traitors, fallen from the Emperor's light, but their heraldry was unfamiliar. Even the wargear of his allies was wrong, somehow... cruder...than it should have been. But one certainty overrode those doubts: the foes of the Imperium had risen, and would be put down by the might of Ultramar.
The thunderclap of a demolisher shell ripped Cawl from his binharic reverie just as the last synapse connection snapped into place. Many-faceted eyes took in the losing battle in the cavern; his cerebrum slipped into war mode. It would take time for the pylon node to process his instructions, for the schema he had fashioned to unfurl. His carapace crackled as tertiary life-support bled power into his weapon-augments. Vox-grilles cleared, the syllables of the Lingua Technis rising without conscious thought. Around the chamber, the voices of Electro-priests and Skitarii took up the chant, and wavering lines found strength in the Omnissiah's blessings.
The hunched figure of Belisarius Cawl quickened an unfamiliar uncertainty in Abaddon's black heart. Had the Adepts of Mars at last divined the strategy of aeons? Uncertainty blossomed into doubt. The Despoiler had sought to break Cadia's defenders before ushering them into oblivion. The brutal hierarchy of the Black Fleet required a show of strength; the Dark Gods demanded it. But had he erred? Horus had failed in his grand design by succumbing to bravado, for seeking battle when none was needed. Had he, Abaddon, now fallen into the clutches of pride?
Recognising the battle for Cadia had reached its last, deadly crux, Abaddon commanded his sorcerers to breach the Immaterium. No sooner had the first cracks torn reality's veil than a host of blood-hungry daemons burst free into the cavern. With a snarl not entirely directed at his foes, the Despoiler dredged up every last scrap of his Warp-granted strength, and hurled himself into battle anew.
The last Contemptor Dreadnought fell, ripped apart by a trio of Helbrutes, and the Ultramarines' fate grew bleak. Fire danced through the air, coalescing into the sombre shadows of the Legion of the Damned. Unyielding, they marched to the Ultramarines' rescue, Bolters spitting soulfire to consume the corrupt. A many-armed Slaaneshi daemon led a capering horde into the Vostroyan ranks, false and blasphemous promises spilling from its lips. Cawl's Solar Atomiser flared, and the beast disintegrated into glowing dust. Scions of the Kappic Eagles collapsed, retching bloody bile through their rebreathers as the bountiful gifts of Nurgle found purchase in their lungs. Kataphron Battle Servitors converged their fire, melting a pack of Maulerfiends to scrap. The cavern trembled, dust scattering from newly opened fissures. Colossal stalactites, millennia in the making, fell like stone rain, pulping Traitor and Loyalist alike.
The battle-cry thundered across the ruin of the breached cavern wall. It issued from a thousand voices, searing forth from a quarter the Black Legion assumed tight within their merciless grasp. The Cadian 8th Regiment fired again, then with Creed's battle-cry -- the call to arms that had kept Cadia defiant for those past weeks -- still upon their lips, they surged over broken stone and bloody corpses to avenge their comrades.
Howling shapes came with them, blurs of fang and slate-grey armour, the Ironwolves' sigils upon every pauldron. Wulfen led the charge, Battle-Brothers lost to the Space Wolves' ancestral curse since Cadia's encirclement. Even those who followed, Highfell amongst them, fought with a feral wildness in their eyes, their humanity slipping away with every blow struck. The Ironwolves had embraced this knowledge. They knew with certainty that the savagery of war would only accelerate their devolution, but they loosed the beasts in their souls all the same, for Russ and for the Allfather.
The Black Legion ground on. Ten thousand standard years of hate drove them, ten thousand Terran years of pride and fury. The Bringers of Despair tore at the time-lost Ultramarines with blade and fist, rending Cataphractii Armour and pulping the flesh beneath. The Talon of Horus ripped Cerantes' sword arm from its socket; Drach'nyen split him in two. Their captain's loss only stiffened his Battle-Brothers' resolve, and they met the fury of the Black Legion with discipline instilled at Roboute Guilliman's own hand. But even as the Kappic Eagles poured their fire into the Black Legion's flank, it became apparent that discipline and fury alone would not overcome ten thousand standard years of blessed hate. Something more was needed.
With a yawning groan, an area of ceiling the size of a landing field gave way. Cadians and Kappics scattered, or were crushed beneath the debris. The Black Legion fought on. Abaddon, Cerantes' sundered corpse lifeless at his feet, sought out the soul whose obliteration would at last break the defenders' will. Pride had led Abaddon to this hour; it could not be ignored, only sated. His black gaze settled on the heavyset general who had barely escaped him on the plains above. Ursarkar E. Creed. Cadia had stood too long through his efforts, and the Dark Gods would now take his soul. A bellowed command, and gore-slicked daemons sprang screaming at the Cadian 8th, the Chaos Terminators of the Black Legion close behind.
Golden light spilled through the sundered ceiling, flooding the nodal chamber. Celestine, the Living Saint, corpse-bride of the eternal Emperor. She showed no hesitation, no doubt. Fire streaming from her wingtips, she swooped to confront the Despoiler. Daemons pounced, but a sweep of the Ardent Blade cast them, broken, to the ground. Winged Possessed soared, talons clawing at limb and blade, but the Geminae Superia clove them from the air. Soon they faced one another: spiritual daughter of the beneficent Emperor, and heir to the greatest Traitor in the history of Mankind. No words were spoken. None were needed. Soulfire roiled as the Ardent Blade struck Drach'nyen, the wail of hope and despair shivering the spirits of all who heard it. Abaddon was the mightier by far. Alone, Celestine had no hope of triumph. But she was not alone. The Geminae Superia were ever at her side, the three fighting as one against the Despoiler of legends.
At the cavern's edge, Katarinya Greyfax beheld Celestine's arrival with revulsion. How long had she been gone that such heresy could take root? Battle-Sisters suffused with the power of idolatry? Warriors of the Adeptus Astartes revelling in the corruption of their own mutations? Spirits wreathed in hellfire? And yet the loyal soldiers of Cadia and Ultramar, known across the galaxy for their unswerving devotion, their purity, embraced these evils in the name of victory?
It was a cornerstone of Greyfax's Puritan certainty that evil had no shades, no lesser forms that could be tolerated in service to a larger goal. Purity was perfection, uncompromising, ideal. She had killed thousands for lesser sins than this. She had killed her own kind for wavering from the path. What victory could there be if adamant precepts were torn asunder?
The shadows reformed around her. Green eyes blazed. Greyfax aimed the muzzle of her Condemnor Pattern Bolter squarely between them. "Abomination."
"That word again." A metal hand gestured lazily across the cavern. "Stop me if this sounds familiar, but I suspect your priorities require re-evaluation."
"You sow corruption wherever you tread. Your reckoning is overdue." She pulled the trigger. Or she tried to. Her finger didn't respond.
Trazyn opened his palm, a ﬂood of microscopic machines ﬂowing over his fingers. "I'm not a fool. The Mindshackle will not let you harm me."
Bile ﬂooded Greyfax's mouth. Anger seared it away. "You've corrupted me! As you did Valeria!"
"A precaution only. As for Valeria ... She had a remarkable brain. You robbed me of the opportunity for study."
Again Greyfax tried to pull the trigger. Again nothing happened. Useless.
"I brought you here out of common cause," said Trazyn. "I am not yet done with this world, and nor is your Imperium. If you seek to save it, I suggest you focus that formidable certainty of yours elsewhere. Our reckoning will wait."
With a snarl, Greyfax turned away.
At last, slivers of data congealed in the mechanical recesses of Cawl's mind. The nodal grid was ready. A labour that might yet overshadow ten thousand standard years of lesser works was prepared. And yet the Archmagos suffered an onset of doubt. What if the Necron had lied? Cawl's delvings had only scratched the surface -- there was still so much about the pylons' function that he could only guess at. As the last of the time-lost Ultramarines struck his dying blow, Cawl's priorities snapped back into focus. Logic dictated the unmistakable danger before his eyes take precedence over unsubstantiated premonition. Offering one last prayer to the Omnissiah, Cawl sent the command.
It began slowly. The resonant pulse of the Cadian Pylons -- normally unheard by all save Warp-sensitives -- grew steadily in pitch and volume. Louder it pulsed, a dull rumble consuming the roar of battle all across the Elysion Fields. Black lightning crackled along the pylons' flanks. Combatants from both sides collapsed, blood streaming from ears and noses. Psykers froze as their connection to the Immaterium faded, their conscious minds dragged into oblivion.
Black light leapt from the pylons' pinnacles -- not just from those upon the Elysion Fields, but every functioning pylon yet on Cadia. The beams converged in the upper atmosphere, the outer edge brushing Phalanx's golden flank. As the battle-fortress' engines flared in evasive action, the monolithic beam seared across the stars, a sable lance aimed at the heart of the Eye of Terror. Slowly, the shift too small for even the most sensitive of instruments to tally, the Warp rift known as the Ocularis Terribus began to shrink.
Though none in the nodal cavern knew the scope of Cawl's undertaking, its effects were immediate and pronounced. Abaddon's host of daemons, their hold on reality already made fickle by the pylons' formerly dormant state, slipped further into the abyss that spawned them. Daemon-fused Traitors bellowed their last as their cursed halves were torn into the void. Possessed war-engines fell silent.
Greyfax screamed wordlessly as the Immaterium-purging grasp of the pylons clawed at her mind. Righteous anger her anchor on reality's shores, she clung to the precipice, refusing to yield. Even Abaddon staggered under the assault, but the Despoiler had ever stood as much apart from his dark patrons as at their side, and he endured the fading of their blessings with snarling fortitude.
Others were not so fortunate. The Legion of the Damned, their presence in the mortal world ever inconstant, blinked out like wind-guttered candles, their flames snuffed by the pylons' power. Even Celestine, the manifestation of the Emperor's will, grew dim. The golden light faded, and with it the hopes of Mankind.
Faith -- the same faith that had sustained Cadia's defence in those darkest of hours -- began to recede. Valour faded alongside, not just from within the ranks of Lord Castellan Creed's swollen regiment, but also among the Kappic Eagles and the Vostroyans so recently set loose from Trazyn's ancient prison. As for the Black Legion, they cared not that the better part of their daemon host was swept away, and the remainder weakened. They saw only the physical proof of their ancient belief -- the False Emperor's light was fading -- and took new strength from the sight.
The battle for the nodal cavern shifted, its pace quickening. Orven Highfell died amongst his snarling brethren, gauntlets locked about a Bloodthirster's throat even as the beast tore him apart. Wulfen avenged him, ripping the daemon asunder with fang and claw. But one by one, they too succumbed to their wounds, the wake of dead and dying Traitors one last offering to the Allfather.
Creed stood firm, the 8th Cadian with him, as always. Their example spread to the stern men of Vostroya. The Kappic Eagles, determined that the Scions of the Schola Progenium would not be outdone by mere Imperial Guardsmen, found their courage in pride. Through it all, the duel of ideologies wore on; the Despoiler on one side, the Living Saint and her Geminae Superia upon the other. What had begun as an equal battle now favoured Abaddon. Before the Dark Gods had blessed him, he had stood amongst the greatest of the Legiones Astartes, seldom bested in battle. Bereft of the Emperor's Light, Celestine was a mortal shell, reborn too many times from the tides of the Immaterium. Her handmaidens were extensions of her faded psychic light, weakened by the Immaterium's recession. Though their resolve didn't waver, the outcome was never in doubt.
Eleanor spiralled away from the duel, blood oozing from her lips. Black Guard closed around Genevieve, a wall of Terminator Armour and roaring Chainswords that even her blessed sword could not pierce. Again and again, the Ardent Blade clashed with Drach'nyen, but Celestine's efforts were now given over solely to her own defence, and even these desperate parries grew weaker with every stroke. At last, a backhand blow cast Celestine to her knees.
Creed saw the Living Saint fall, and knew at once that her death would mark the end of all they had striven for. Bellowing orders, he threw the 8th Cadian forward in one last, desperate charge. Drach'nyen slashed down. Celestine screamed and convulsed. As Abaddon raised the Daemon Sword for a second strike, the Living Saint clambered unsteadily to her feet, one hand clamped over a bloody gash in her armour's side, but her gaze unfaltering.
Celestine knew no fear as she met the Despoiler's black gaze. All unfolded according to the Emperor's Will. He would catch her if she fell, as He had before. "You cannot win. Mankind will be free of your masters."
The pale brow heightened with unreadable emotion. "There is no freedom."
Drach'nyen speared forward.
Agony exploded behind Abaddon's eyes. Searing pain arced across his synapses. Neurons flared and died, consumed by an attack channelled through the fading skeins of the Immaterium. His Daemon-blade, meant to pierce Celestine's heart, froze mid-strike.
Katarinya Greyfax gritted her teeth, channelling into her psychic assault all the rage she had known since her reawakening. Though she was loathe to admit it, Trazyn had been correct -- her priorities had strayed. An Inquisitor's duty was to the Imperium, not to her own slighted being. Moreover, while all heresies must be purged by flame, some clamoured for its caress more urgently than others. Retribution would find the false saint -- of that Greyfax was certain -- but Abaddon's sins held the prior claim.
Blinded and staggering, the Despoiler fought back, his indomitable will meeting the psychic fire with some of its own. Strength already sapped by her constant battle against the pylons' pull, Greyfax's hold on his mind snapped. But she wasn't yet done. As the malediction faded, the Inquisitor's Condemnor Bolter roared.
Shells scattering off his armour, Abaddon started towards Celestine once more. A rush of bayonets blocked his path. The Cadian 8th were determined to preserve their beloved saint, even at the cost of their lives. And die they did, by the dozen, by the score, hacked apart as the Despoiler strove to reach the wounded Celestine. With their blood, they bought the saint precious moments.
The chamber shuddered. The nodal pylon flared again. Ceding war mode functions to his secondary and tertiary consciousnesses, Archmagos Cawl interrogated the datastreams from his surviving Servitors. It was working. The impossible was coming to pass. The Cadian pylon fields, dormant for thousands upon thousands of Terran years, were actually pushing back the Eye of Terror's warped embrace. Across the cavern, daemons lost their last foothold in realspace, cast back into oblivion by the pylons' black light, leaving behind naught but the bodies of their victims.
In space above, Navigators lost their bearings. The Cadian Gate, a legend of becalmed Warp-tides since the earliest days of the Imperium, grew motionless as a frozen millpond. The layered Void Shields of Phalanx collapsed to nothing as their connections to the Immaterium faded. Teleport relays flickered, their transit corridors defusing as the Warp receded. From Phalanx's strategium, Commodore Trevaux took in the rush of reports, and wondered what it all meant. Ahead, beyond the jet-black utterance of Cadia's pylons, Chaos Cruisers broke cover from amongst the Will of Eternity's debris field and drove hard for the safety of the Black Fleet's big guns. As reconnaissance Thunderhawks burned towards the Blackstone Fortress' grave, Trevaux kept a suspicious eye fixed on the Auspex holo-grid. His instincts screamed of imminent danger, but his conscious mind saw none. Unprepared to embrace one over the other, Trevaux watched and waited for new data.
Abaddon stood like a rock jutting in a river of flesh and bone, Drach'nyen carving a bloody swath with every strike. The Despoiler and the wounded saint became the battle's focus -- every soul within the nodal chamber, living or damned, knew that victory or defeat turned upon the fate of those champions. The Chaos Terminators of the Black Legion regained their master's side, only to come under renewed fire from Hot-shot Lasguns. The Vostroyan XXI were torn apart by a counter-charge of Power-Armoured Chosen. The stalemate ground on, a battle bloody enough to whet Khorne's appetites, had only the Lord of Battles been able to peer through the growing dead zone of the Cadian Pylon field.
Slowly, the fate of the northern flank turned, the Black Legion driven from the beleaguered Kappic Eagles by the massed fire of Cawl's maniples. Seizing the opportunity, Greyfax rejoined the embattled Storm Troopers, her every barked order laced with unambiguous threat. More afraid of the grim Inquisitor than the guns of the Black Legion, the Eagles advanced.
Taking command of a Kasrkin platoon, Creed led another charge across the bloody ground. The Lord Castellan had no doubts about his ability to match Abaddon might for might, but the Astra Militarum's way had ever been to overcome with numbers that which could not be bested through skill.
Trazyn the Infinite watched the battle from a rocky perch, aware that history unfolded before him. His taste for glory had faded, replaced by the urge to claim a trinket from the momentous hour. Perhaps a thief was all he was meant to be. Metal fingers toyed with a Tesseract Labyrinth, its unfathomable dimensions fit to carry a single trophy from embattled Cadia. But what should that trophy be? So many prizes worthy of preservation clamoured for attention. A stray Culverin blast shuddered Trazyn's stalagmite, and he retired to safer ground. The Tesseract would wait. Whatever his prize, its historic value would only increase as the course of victory tipped one way or the other.
Creed sighted along his pistol, and sent a laser burst through a Chaos Terminator's cracked eyepiece. Before him, a gout of Warp-tainted Promethium immolated a file of Kasrkin. A dark shape loomed through the flames, eyes burning like coals. The Talon of Horus roared, snatching the rest of Creed's escort into oblivion.
The air was thick with the screams of burning Kasrkin, the roar of gunfire and the Black Legion's harsh oaths. Creed twisted around, searching for allies in the dust and smoke. He found none, only the dead.
"Cadia stands!" Creed bellowed the mantra. No other voice took up the cry.
Mocking laughter cut across the cacophony. Creed raised his pistols, sending shot after shot into Abaddon's path. One raised a livid wound upon the Despoiler's pale brow. The others refracted across his baroque armour.
"Cadia is dead!" thundered Abaddon. "Even now, its doom comes."
The monstrous Lightning Claw lashed out. Creed fell amongst the dead, blood oozing from a ravaged arm, electricity arcing across his armour. His pistols had gone -- one cast aside by the claw's strike, the other slipping from a bloodied hand whose fingers had been sliced away. Yet Creed felt no fear, only defance. "Cadia lives while but one of its soldiers fights on."
Crackling talons closed around Creed's neck, hoisting him effortlessly into the air. "I set this world's fate in motion before I even made planetfall. But for hubris, I would never have set foot here at all. Your games with the pylons have only reinforced the folly of pride."
Creed clawed at the talons with his one good hand. They might as well have been carved from stone.
"But now?" rumbled Abaddon. "The corpse-bride has ﬂed. The will of Cadia is broken. The Imperium will follow. I do you the honour of being the last to die by my hand. Take solace in the knowledge that this benighted world will not long outlast you." Abaddon drew Creed in, choking off his attempts to speak. "Cadia has fallen."
Abaddon's grip tightened. The vertebrae of Creed's neck ground together. As darkness closed in, the Lord Castellan knew only shame. Cadia had stood proud for ten thousand standard years only to fall under his watch. The humiliation of failed duty was worse than any death.
A roar of pain dragged Creed out of the darkness. A golden figure, pale as death, stood behind the Despoiler, her sword thrust deep into his spine. The talons snapped open, and Creed fell.
"The Emperor protects," breathed Celestine.
The Death of Defiance
Abaddon lurched away from Celestine, her blade ripping free of his flesh. The wound seethed as if aflame. It had been millennia since he had last been hurt so, and his spirit boiled with the need for revenge. But as the Cadian 8th Regiment surged to reclaim their beloved general, Abaddon realised he had no time for the luxury of pride. The last vestiges of the Warp were retreating before the pylons' arcane energies. If he were to depart, it would have to be now. Reluctantly, his eyes never leaving Celestine's, Abaddon gave the order to withdraw.
As the Vengeful Spirit's teleport anchors engaged, the honourable warrior Abaddon had once been acknowledged the feat Cadia's defenders had managed. They had lost, though they did not yet know it. But they had also won. He had sought to break Cadia's spirit, send the vanquished souls of its garrisons screaming into the Warp. He had not done so.
Before the defenders' incredulous gazes, azure lighting crackled across the nodal cavern, and the surviving warriors of the Black Legion faded into nothingness. Creed pulled angrily away from the medic attempting to treat his hand, blinking away afterimages as the implications hammered home. I set this world's fate in motion before I even made planetfall, Abaddon had said. The Lord Castellan wished he could believe the words were mere bravado, but his heavy heart knew otherwise.
The void in Greyfax's mind grew larger, black and hungry against the red rage of her thoughts. Her weapons fell from numbed hands. She knew that to yield to it was to embrace oblivion, but still the temptation was there. She staggered, and sought to right herself before one of her bodyguard could help her do so. A hand seized Greyfax's shoulder and steadied her. Not that of a Tempestus Scion, but the Heretic Celestine.
"Endure," said the false saint. "It will not be forever."
Greyfax lurched away, the suddenness of the motion shooting fresh spikes of pain through her mind. "Touch me not, witch."
Celestine's lips curled into a supercilious smile. "If I am a witch, then why did you save me?"
"I struck at another. It is not the same."
"Or perhaps the Emperor's hand guided you, as it guided me."
"A miracle?" The throbbing pain made the disdain all the easier.
"Some call them so."
"There are no miracles," spat Greyfax. "Only delusions. I will break your heresy. You will beg for death." The void in her mind pulsed. Again she staggered. Again Celestine caught her.
"We shall see," said the false saint. Letting go of the Inquisitor's shoulder, she walked away.
Following the sudden cessation, Archmagos Cawl's first thought was to recheck the pylon nodal grid's function. Finding it satisfactory, he secured from war mode, and took inventory of his remaining forces. Greyfax shook with the effort of keeping her soul centred as the Warp-vacuum sought to claim it. Trazyn slipped the Tesseract Labyrinth beneath his cloak, and regretfully allowed that Ezekyle Abaddon would not grace his collection -- at least not that day. As for Celestine, the Living Saint stared upward, through the ruined cavern roof and into the starlit skies beyond, her manner that of one who already knew what would happen next.
On the surface, the Thunderhawks of the Crimson Slaughter and warped dropships of the Traitor Legions braved the Imperial defenders' fire, retrieving whatever dark brothers and Daemon Engines they could. The Cultists and Heretic citizenry, never more than fodder to weary Cadia's guns, were abandoned to their fate.
Tor Garadon rallied what remained of the Imperial Fists on Cadia. Scarce a score of Battle-Brothers from the 3rd Company still fought, some through horrendous wounds. Of the 1st Company, only Sergeant Furan remained. Garadon was struck by the irony. The 3rd had only been on Phalanx because they had been considered too inexperienced to join the Chapter's Crusade of Vengeance. Those who remained had nothing more to prove -- assuming they survived what was to come next. By contrast, Marshal Amalrich's Black Templars harried the retreating Traitors, slaughtering the crew of one dropship before they could take flight, and bringing another two down with missile fire.
Even discounting Amalrich's efforts, not all the Black Legion arrived safely at their destination. Caught in the turbulent currents of the Warp, scores were torn apart or simply scattered as monomolecular dust across Cadia's atmosphere. But Abaddon survived, bloody and consumed with fury at his failure. From the Vengeful Spirit's strategium, he sounded the knell of Cadia's doom.
Deep within the Will of Eternity's debris cloud, Warpsmiths heard Abaddon's order. All across the largest fragment of debris -- a mass of ancient stone the size of a small moon -- banks of Plasma Drives roared into life. The Blackstone Fortress' corpse shuddered as the engines fought to overcome the inertia of orbit. Then, slowly at first, but with ever-increasing velocity, the ungainly missile broke orbit, and roared planetwards.
Across the Black Fleet, Plasma Drives blazed as soon as the last dropships were aboard, pulling away from atmosphere at whatever speed their captains could urge. As the Vengeful Spirit led the exodus, Abaddon beheld the blue-grey orb of Cadia one last time. For ten thousand standard years, that world had been as much his foe as the warriors that garrisoned its fortresses. But nothing defied the will of Chaos forever. Nothing defied his will forever. Loosing a peal of dark laughter, the Despoiler decanted a draught of brulkwine into a chalice fashioned from the skull of Fabius Bile's clone of Horus and toasted the death of one ancient foe with the remains of another.
Aboard Phalanx, Commodore Trevaux at last realised the Chaos Cruisers’ purpose within the debris cloud, and ordered the battle-station's batteries to engage the improvised missile. But in death, the Blackstone Fortress resisted Phalanx's fire as it had failed to do in life. A section of the ramshackle drive-train went dark beneath the bombardment, but by then Cadia's gluttonous gravity well had seized the plunging Blackstone. All Trevaux could do was broadcast a warning to those on the planet's surface.
Down the Blackstone wreckage plunged, its outer edge blazing red with atmospheric friction. But the Will of Eternity had been forged to withstand fiercer fires than any that nature could provide. Though the last of the Warpsmiths perished, their hab-shelters burned away by Cadia's wrath, the main body plunged on, a bolt of flaming brimstone cast from Abaddon's dark hand.
All upon the planet's surface heard the Blackstone's coming. Its soul-wrenching onset screeched through the quickening winds, its presence already disrupting the complex web of thermals and weather patterns across the beleaguered planet. On the continent of Cadia Tertius, half a world away from the slaughter of the Elysion Fields, the defenders of scattered Imperial garrisons deemed too insignificant for Abaddon's attention beheld the Blackstone's onset as a pinprick of fire amidst shrieking skies. At first, it was taken for a voidship's reactor going critical in outer orbit. But as the moments ticked passed, and the fireball grew ever larger, it became clear that the light heralded an altogether different scale of disaster.
Winds howling about it, the artificial meteor impacted Cadia.
The Fall of Cadia
Cadia shuddered, impossible forces jarring it loose of age-old orbit. The survivors clinging to the ruined fortresses of Cadia Tertius barely had time to scream. Those beneath the vast impact site perished first, super-heated wind roaring in their ears before it seared flesh from bone, and reduced bone to scattered ash.
The Blackstone Fortress' remnant struck, gouging a crater hundreds of miles in breadth. Mountains crumbled to dust. Seas vanished into plumes of scalding steam. Continental plates rumbled and groaned as they shifted beneath titanic forces not seen since Cadia first cooled from the star-stuff of the galactic void.
The tremors spread, tidal waves and screaming particulate winds their heralds. Coastal bastions that had survived bombardment and siege drowned beneath the unnatural tide, ripped from their foundations and dragged beneath the squalling seas. The island of Ran Storn vanished entirely, its shell-ravaged landing fields drowned beneath the waves. A thousand miles inland on the continent of Cadia Secundus, the enduring spires of Kasr Vark at last fell, smashed apart by waters of the Caducades Sea as the tidal shelves buckled.
Forests that had been old when Mankind first settled Cadia burned away in the briefest of moments. Crustal platelets shattered and split, the furious life-blood of the world boiling forth. Long-dormant volcanoes flared to life along the Rossvar Mountains, pyroclastic flows consuming all in their path. The great killing fields of Tyrok, site of Creed's ascension to the rank of Lord Castellan, split asunder and vanished into magma-lit gloom, swallowed by the world's torment.
At the Elysion Fields, half a world away from the impact site, they heard the roar of the winds, and saw the dark onrush of particulate clouds that blocked out the sun. The canny sought what cover they could amongst the pylons and ruined war machines. The slow-witted perished, torn apart by the vaporised bones of Cadia. The prayers of Battle-Sisters and Chaos Cultists alike were snatched away by the planet's dying breath, unheard by any deity or saint. In the nodal cavern, the ceiling cracked wider yet, raining boulders down on Creed's bloodied victors.
The winds grew, hurling tanks across the pylon fields, crushing those who had sought shelter beneath them. Ancient pylons gave up their grasp on the bedrock, toppling like petrified trees. The pylon field's beam of dark light flickered as the monoliths fell. The retreat of the Immaterium faltered, and then slowly reversed.
The storm raged for solar minutes that seemed eternities, and then fell away into hurricane winds. They blew over a world forever altered. The continent of Cadia Tertius was gone, obliterated by fire and drowned beneath howling seas. The Krian Fault, bane of Cadia Tertius since the Age of Strife, had ruptured one last, fateful time, and the planetary crust split apart. Cadia Primus was half-drowned, its forested mountainsides now isolated islands scattered across a new ocean. Cadia Secundus lay wreathed in fire, its continental plates sinking as the pressure of their neighbours forced them steadily inwards. None of it mattered. Cadia was already dead.
But even then, there was worse to come. As the aftershocks of impact rippled through the dying rock, more pylons shattered against the dust-strewn tundra -- not just at the Elysion Fields, but at the lesser sites of Kasarn, Trosk and Vorg. As the pylons fell, the nodal web stuttered, and then withered entirely. The dark light beam, Cawl's spear into the heart of the Eye of Terror, flickered once more, and died. A new sound pealed through the howling winds -- the dark laughter of gods too long denied their prize. The crimson maelstrom of the Eye of Terror pulsed anew, and reached out to embrace sundered Cadia.
Cawl felt the nodal grid pull apart, the remaining pylons no match for the pressure of the resurgent Immaterium. Through his third consciousness, he dimly acknowledged the screams and the grinding of tortured rock. Then he slaved all his attention to the task at hand.
The Archmagos' secondary consciousness translated the alien whisper of the pylons to a static-filled ﬂow of Lingua-technis. Gaps appeared in the binharic equations, untranslatable fragments glowing with green fire. They had not been there before. Their presence confirmed the growing instability of the grid.
No! He would not fail, not after coming so close!
As Cawl's tertiary mind approximated translation for the unfamiliar code, his primary consciousness tightened its grip, as if to hold together the grid by will alone. His optics scoured the shuddering cavern for any trace of Trazyn -- but of the Necron, there was no sign. Curse him! And curse Veilwalker too, for setting him on this course. Failure changed nothing. Worse, it had jeopardised the pact. A ten thousand standard year geas, now thrown into jeopardy by perfidious xenos!
Rage overwhelmed the logic calculations of Cawl's tri-fold mind, passionless composure wilting beneath the realisation of his folly. The pylons were not the Omnissiah's work. And yet, blinded by pride, he had sought to bind them to holy purpose. He had erred, been seduced from the precepts of Mars by vainglory.
Skeins of binharic code slipped into dust beneath Cawl's grip. Equations breathed through his mind, more alien now than recognisable. He felt the nodal grid convulse, the last bindings falling away as critical pylons fell, a dark cancerous presence ﬂooding across Cadia's surface, rapacious, unstoppable. As the last binharic skeins slipped free of his grip, Cawl finally recognised his folly. The door he had sought to close forever had swung open wider than before. Tri-fold mind atremble, he disengaged from the dying grid.
"Cadia is lost," he breathed.
Save for the presence of the pylons, the Immaterium would have claimed Cadia long ago. The long-dead Necron artisans who had set the pylon fields in Cadia's living rock could not have foreseen the Eye of Terror's cataclysmic birth, could not have known the vital bulwark their works would become. But now, with the pylons' fall, the tendrils of the Warp laid their first loving caress upon Cadian realspace, and the daemons of the Dark Gods spilled forth.
These were not the flickering manifestations so lately loosed upon the world, their presence in realspace under constant challenge by the pylons' power. These were the servants of the Ruinous Powers, hale and whole, fed by the raw stuff of Chaos. They first appeared amidst drowned Cadia Tertius, where the Blackstone Fortress' demise had torn a rent in reality's veil through the sheer loss of life. But as the Eye of Terror slipped its ancient bounds, the rifts multiplied, dragging the beleaguered world into the bowels of the Immaterium.
Dark laughter echoed across skies still choked with particulate matter. Cadia's surviving psykers, at last freed from the tyranny of the pylons, came under new assault from the perils of the Warp. Most were slain at the hand of former allies, their possessed bodies ripped apart by laser and Bolter fire as flesh reshaped into new and terrible forms. Only those with a will of iron held back the daemons clawing at their thoughts, and only Katarinya Greyfax found the strength of mind to repel them entirely.
And yet, in that darkest hour, hope was reborn, for the restoration of the Immaterium saw also the renewed ascension of Celestine and her Geminae Superia. The Light of the Emperor restored, she led the survivors out of the chamber and into the wasteland of the Elysion Fields. None recognised the sight they beheld. Magma wended its sluggish path amidst the fallen pylons, consuming the bodies of the dead and their armaments of war. Here and there across the plains, sporadic fire rang out as the first daemons clawed their way onto the war-torn fields.
As the scant survivors of the Elysion Fields converged, drawn like flaremoths to Celestine's light, the Cadian 8th Regiment once again looked to Creed for leadership. For the first time since he had joined the Whiteshields, so many standard years ago, none was forthcoming. The Lord Castellan looked out upon the ruin of his world, his Cadia, and knew only despair.
Recognising that Creed's mind now roamed distant fields, and determined not to allow authority to fall into Celestine's dubious hands, Greyfax seized command. Using what remained of the planetary Vox-net, she issued the evacuation order. Cadia had fallen -- even if it endured the physical trauma of the Blackstone's collision, the Warp would soon claim it. Victory in the Imperium's name was worth the sacrifice of thousands, of millions, but the Inquisitor knew no victory could any longer be had on Cadia. Every living soul abandoned upon its sundered shores was but a sacrifice to the Dark Gods. Greyfax expected Celestine to challenge her order, to exhort Cadia to one last, glorious stand. But the golden saint merely took wing north through the howling winds to carry her blade against the daemons assailing the surviving Adepta Sororitas.
Thus began the last exodus of Cadia. From across the globe they came, in landing craft and transport vessels barely fit to fly, Plasma Drives burning hard for the safety of Phalanx and the rag-tag fleet sheltering in its shadow.
Not all came safe to their destinations. The overburdened engines failed amidst the howling winds, condemning their cargo to stomach-lurching freefall until the oblivion of impact. Others were peeled apart by winged daemons, or simply had their weakened hulls implode under the fantastic pressures. The Cadian 27th Regiment perished to the last man as their Tetrarch Heavy Lander's pilot succumbed to Warp-cast madness and ploughed the limping behemoth into the remains of the Trados Mountains.
Heldrakes and Harbingers, operating far from the trailing edge of the Black Fleet, risked the savage winds to spill more blood for the Dark Gods. Dogfights unfolded amongst swirling dust storms as the last of the Imperial Fists' Stormhawk Interceptors sought to clear the skies. Yet they were too few to keep the foe contained, and the evacuation fields of Elysion became shell-riddled mausoleums.
Elsewhere, the evacuation was dogged by the panic of stampeding masses. Just as the Immaterium came to consume Cadia, terror sought to devour its remaining populace. Some regiments kept their order. Others disintegrated into mindless mobs, clambering atop overloaded transports in their desperation to escape. At Kasr Luten and Kasr Gorsk, officers ordered their Kasrkin to fire into the crowds, and disorder became full-blooded riot.
At the Elysion Fields, the evacuation became a fighting retreat, every transport a target for soul-hungry daemons. In the north, Celestine's Adepta Sororitas slowly gave ground, but at a high cost to their foes. To the south, the tale was the same -- the daemons there were held by a ragged line of Guardsmen, buttressed at either end by Garadon's Imperial Fists and the Black Templars of the Cruxis Crusade. But despite their heroism, it soon became clear to Greyfax that the evacuation fields would soon be overrun. Flight-worthy voidcraft were too few, and growing scarcer with each passing moment. Some would have to be sacrificed for the rest to escape.
It was then that Creed at last roused himself from despair. The Lord Castellan's Own would hold Cadia one last time, he decreed. They would buy the time needed, as Cadia ever had, with an offering of blood and bone. Orders were issued, their bleak consequence plain to all who heard, but the Cadian 8th Regiment did not blanche at the duty placed before them. There was not one amongst them who did not feel the cold hand of fear, but none broke ranks or attempted desertion. Creed was Cadia, but more than that, he was of the 8th. He had led the regiment safely through fire and death where others had been consumed. There was not one amongst those ranks who did not owe the Lord Castellan their lives, and all accepted that the debt was due.
As the last Imperial transports soared into the hellish skies, the 8th fought and died amongst the ruins of their world. The Sisters of Our Martyred Lady and Marshal Amalrich's Black Templars were the last to depart, their bloodied survivors crowding aboard transports sent from the Iron Revenant to reclaim the Knights of House Taranis. Greyfax departed with them, her suspicious eye ever upon Celestine. But as the landing thrusters flared, the Inquisitor thought she heard a bellowed cry, clear and proud over the howling winds and the roar of cannons. It was a deep voice, bowed by the horrors of war, but not broken -- defiant to the last.
Creed waved his maimed hand in the air, signalling his troops and bellowing to be heard over the fury of the wind. "Fall back! Fall back!"
With a shudder, the Cadian line shrank towards the evacuation fields. The winds rose, stirring the dust-storm to new heights. Suddenly Creed was alone. A ﬂame-chased shadow passed overhead, the cog-toothed skull of the Adeptus Mechanicus emblazoned on its ﬂanks. Las-fire lanced from its prow, provoking daemonic screams from deeper within the dust-storm. Then engines roared, and the transport thundered skywards. The last transport. Cadia was now little more than a graveyard, haunted by the stubborn and the dead.
Creed stumbled. Despite the medics' valiant labours, his wounds still bled. He felt his strength ebbing as his lifeblood seeped into the greatcoat's fabric. One last effort. Then he'd rest. One last effort.
The storm parted – not before a daemon, but a metal giant in a scaled cloak. The wind snatched away Creed's hurried shot. Light glittered upon the figure's upraised palm, iridescent polygons billowing in a hypnotic dance.
"Ursarkar E. Creed." The giant's words slammed down like tombstones. "This need not be your end. Eternity awaits."
The giant's laughter followed Creed into darkness.
In the Teeth of the Storm
And so, a shrunken fleet of battered vessels and weary souls left Cadia's orbit, and set course for the system's edge. The Eye of Terror, no longer contained, spilled from its ancient bounds, a crimson trail of roiling flame bleeding through the Cadian Gate and into the galaxy.
There was no jubilation aboard the fleet, no sense of victory, despite the odds endured. Too many had perished before Greyfax issued her evacuation order, and even then a bare fraction of Cadia's surviving outposts had heard the desperate Vox-cast. At the 13th Black Crusade's inception, Cadia had been a world of some 850 million souls. Scarce 3 million now sought salvation from Abaddon's forces. The legend of Cadia might yet one day endure on another, distant world, but now its bloodlines teetered on the brink.
From the outset, Warp travel was decreed unwise, the starships' Navigators unable to see safe routes through the Immaterium. With the fall of the pylons, the navigable corridor of the Cadian Gate was collapsing in upon itself -- there was no surer way to embrace oblivion than risk those turbulent tides. So it was that the fleet's Plasma Drives were pushed up to -- and sometimes beyond -- their limits.
Once more under Tor Garadon's command, Phalanx took the lead, the threat of its guns driving Traitor Cruisers from the evacuation's path. Behind came the battle-scarred vessels of the Imperial Navy, and those few civilian voidcraft that had survived Cadia's fall. Last came the Mechanicus vessels of Belisarius Cawl. The Adepts of Mars had come late to the Cadian war zone, and their ships were the least damaged as a consequence. As the evacuee fleet crawled beyond the horizon of Cadia's gravity well, this changed.
Inured to the dangers of travel within the Eye of Terror's corona, Abaddon's most opportunistic captains now swarmed in relentless pursuit. The void blazed with light as waves of corsairs braved the Adeptus Mechanicus broadsides to claim prizes amongst the retreating fleet. All perished, their atoms scattered across the collapsing Cadian Gate by the unfaltering fire of Cawl's fleet, but few without leaving their mark.
Twenty solar hours into the retreat, the Dictator-class Cruiser Hand of Satarael was crippled by enemy fire, to the loss of all hands and ten thousand souls. In the next ten solar hours, two Frigates and a Light Cruiser met the same fate. Cawl bore the losses stoically, interpreting them as penance for his hubris on Cadia, and exhorted his Servitor-crews to further effort.
Forty solar hours into the retreat, the Plasma Drives failed on the agri-hauler, Pride of St. Cerephos. Faced with the choice of risking the whole fleet for the sake of those crammed like a slaughter-herd into the hauler's hold, Garadon took aboard what sparse transport craft escaped the wreck, but reluctantly abandoned the Pride to the enemy. The captains of the Emperor's Wrath and Dominus Victor, appalled at Garadon's pragmatism, defied his orders and went to the Pride's aid.
Their choice proved noble, but foolish. Scarce half of the Cadian soldiers aboard the Pride of St. Cerephoshad had been taken aboard the two Battleships when the leading edge of the Black Fleet caught up with them. Emperor's Wrath died without ever disengaging its docking beams, torn apart by a Traitor's broadside. Dominus Victor broke away, fires blazing all along its starboard flank but its Plasma Drives roaring at full force. With fortune and perseverance, it might even have regained the safety of Cawl's rearguard, had not its captain been slain during the fight. In panic, his subordinate ordered an emergency Warp jump, even knowing the dangers such a course presented. What heading he ordered was a mystery, for Dominus Victor never emerged from the Immaterium, the panic of those within a delicacy for thirsting Slaanesh. Thus another quarter million fell to the Black Fleet's guns -- a tenth of whom had perished through naught save misguided compassion.
The red orb of Cadia was barely a pinprick of light against the void. Scarce a solar day had passed, and it was already succumbing to the Eye of Terror's baleful influence. It would make a fine Daemon World, Abaddon decided, if the tectonic forces he'd set loose did not see it destroyed first. It mattered little either way. After ten millennia of preparation, the Crimson Path was now ready for him to tread. The only question was whether it would bring him to Terra before it split the galaxy asunder. Again, it mattered little either way.
He turned from the viewport as the strategium's doors rumbled open. Zaraphiston advanced across the rusted deck, the clawed foot of his Warp-stave clicking against the decaying mesh. "My Lord Abaddon, why do we not pursue?"
Abaddon frowned, leaning forward on the obsidian table that stood between them. A bold question -- too bold for obsequious Zaraphiston. "The Loyalists are beaten. Let the curs of the ﬂeet snap at their heels. They are worth no more than that."
The Chaos Sorcerer crossed to the viewport, his eyes settling upon the red orb of Cadia, transfixed upon the Crimson Path. "But one vessel carries something precious."
Abaddon sneered. "There is nothing of any value aboard Phalanx."
Zaraphiston's third eye blinked. His lips curled into a knowing smile. "I do not speak of Phalanx. The Ark Mechanicus. The relic that lies within its stasis hold."
Unease prickled at Abaddon's thoughts. "What have you seen? What have the auguries told you?"
Lost to sudden rage, the Despoiler brought his fist down on the table, shattering it into two. Zaraphiston stepped back, his smile fading.
In an effort to avoid further losses, Garadon slowed Phalanx's pace so as not to place unnecessary strain on vessels already overburdened. The least space-worthy vessels were brought aboard Phalanx's foredeck hangars, their hatches sealed tight to prevent the curious or treacherous entering the battle-fortress proper. Having almost lost Phalanx to invasion solar weeks earlier, Garadon refused to take any chances with it now -- especially as the fury of its guns was the only thing keeping Abaddon's capital ships at a respectful distance.
Still the losses mounted -- fatigue now as deadly a foe as the corsairs of Abaddon's fleet. Sleep was but a memory, banished by the chems consumed with rations during the long hours at battle-quarters. Two solar days after Dominus Victor's disappearance, mistakes by a weary gunnery crew aboard the Toxra Clavius saw the Destroyer's superstructure blown apart, setting the voidship adrift. Within solar hours of that disaster, a Primaris Psyker aboard Hades XII succumbed to the whispers in his waking dreams. The emergent Keeper of Secrets rampaged across three decks before the Whiteshields of the Cadian 79th Regiment -- by now as veteran in thought and deed as any of their comrades -- brought it down with unrelenting las-fire. Even after the daemon was purged, Garadon ordered Hades XII quarantined from the rest of the fleet. That status remained until Cawl's Ark Mechanicus, acting under Katarinya Greyfax's orders, blasted the Destroyer to twisted scrap to prevent any possibility of the heresy within infecting others.
One hundred and twelve solar hours into the retreat, at the very moment that the Daemon World once known as Cadia finally succumbed to its fiery death-throes, the evacuation fleet approached the outer orbit of Klaisus, Kasr Holn's icy moon. Phalanx's Navigators at last pronounced the tides of the Warp clear enough to attempt travel. Of the twenty-nine voidships that had left Cadia, sixteen remained, bearing just over two and a half million souls between them.
It was in that hour that the capital ships of the Black Fleet lost their apparent fear of Phalanx's guns. They dropped out of Warp transit just inside weapons range -- ten of the Black Fleet's mightiest vessels, the Vengeful Spirit at their head. A mix of Grand Cruisers and Battleships, they drove hard for the evacuation fleet's Adeptus Mechanicus rearguard, eschewing the oblique advance favoured by captains seeking to minimise their losses. Abaddon had come, and hell rode upon his heels.
Panicked comm-bursts crackled across Phalanx's strategium, cut off one by one as the vessels of the evacuee fleet slipped into the relative safety of the Warp. Cruisers, heavy transports, freighters, mining scows -- all departed the Cadian System for the last time, grateful to have escaped Cadia's doom, but fearful of the future that lay ahead. Garadon had time for a single heartfelt curse before Phalanx followed, its countdown too far advanced for safe interruption. With the yawning and creaking of strained metal, the mighty battle-fortress let slip the anchors of realspace and plunged into the Immaterium. Cawl's fleet, their departure deliberately staggered to guard against any vessel being left stranded, was alone.
The first shells burst amongst Cawl's formation. Fired at such extreme range, accuracy was impossible. Thus, it was only the most damnable ill-fortune that saw one shell explode against the Ark Mechanicus' aft shields. The detonation knocked two of the vessel's Plasma Drives out of alignment -- far worse, it crippled the Iron Revenant's Gellar Fields. For Cawl, and all aboard his ship, there could be no escape into the Warp.
Consumed with fear at the prospect of losing his sacred cargo, Cawl brought the Iron Revenant about to an evasion heading. As their flagship sought to make its escape, the remainder of the Adeptus Mechanicus fleet swung around into blockade formation, their captains accepting without question the sacrifice required of them. The last surviving interceptors boiled from their hangers. The first salvoes roared silently away into the void, raking the oncoming Cruisers. Of all Cawl's fleet, only the Ark Mechanicus could match one of Abaddon's vessels broadside to broadside -- and even then the Iron Revenant's weaponry was but a pale shadow of the Vengeful Spirit's -- but the directness of the Chaos Warfleet's approach offered initial fire superiority.
Salvo after salvo pounded the Traitor vessels, overloading shields and buckling armour. Servitor crews laboured with mechanical efficiency, loading and firing without trace of the fatigue that plagued unaugmented crews. Explosions flared in the ever-closing gap between the two fleets as the outnumbered interceptors clashed with Heldrakes and Hell Talons. Prow Lances flared, and liquefied adamantium ran like tears across the armoured flanks of the Adeptus Mechanicus warships. The Sanctus Malefic -- prow reduced to a torn and pock-marked ruin by torpedo salvoes, and its strategium crew dead -- peeled away on the whim of jammed rudders. But even had twice the vessels barred Abaddon's path, there would have been no halting that advance.
The captain of Strokkor's Fist -- his Auspex arrays blinded by shells -- lost his taste for a headlong assault, and gave orders for his Grand Cruiser to instead trade extreme-range volleys. Apocalyptia and the Vengeful Spirit, battered but hale, reached Cawl's picket line of Cruisers. The first Chaos broadsides thundered. Caught between the two, Arcses Phobos melted like ice before the flame, its shields and armour boiling into space moments before a destabilised Plasma Reactor consumed the vessel from within. Xanthos and Everos Mondas endured the first raking salvoes, only to perish in the teeth of the Chaos Cruisers that came behind.
Cerebos died snarling, trading broadsides with a Grand Cruiser twice its size before one last salvo broke its back. Stellaris Mons, its targeting systems obliterated by cannon fire, set collision course for its tormentor, the detonation of its Plasma Reactor shattering the Chaos Battleship's drive section, leaving it drifting amongst the debris. Alpha Scion, its interceptor screen shredded by the Black Fleet's fighters, was swarmed by assault boats. As its captain ordered a last valiant stand, Black Legion boarding parties ripped through the Cruiser's breaching bulkheads, and slaughtered the bridge crew. One by one, the ships of the Adeptus Mechanicus fleet went dark, or detonated in a flare of plasma.
The sacrifices were not in vain. Every moment bought was a moment in which the Iron Revenant's damaged Gellar Fields could be repaired. But the Ark Mechanicus quickly lost ground before the Vengeful Spirit, which alone of the Traitor fleet had ignored the blockade and come full-burn after its fleeing prize. Now, Abaddon secured the Battleship's prow guns from firing, not wanting their ferocious recall to slow the pace of pursuit. Little by little, the Battleship closed with its prey.
Recognising the inevitability that the Vengeful Spirit would soon overtake his injured Ark, Cawl pushed the systems beyond maximum tolerance. Super-heated steam roared from cracked coolant pipes. Klaxons sounded across the drive decks and pressure manifolds exceeded safety thresholds. It made little difference. Whatever additional acceleration the Archmagos coaxed from the Iron Revenant's damaged engines, it was never enough -- the Vengeful Spirit was closing too fast. In a matter of solar minutes the Battleship would draw level, and the broadsides would begin. Again and again, Cawl processed the probabilities of survival. Each time, the calculations returned vanishing and distant odds.
Curiosity had led Cawl to Cadia. Pride had held him there. Now the Iron Revenant would be lost, and its precious cargo alongside. He had failed.
"Increase drive threshold seventeen percent." The strategium shuddered as the Iron Revenant's crew enacted Cawl's orders. Greyfax needed no telepathy to know that Cawl understood the futility of his command. The Iron Revenant was doomed. But she would never have known of his secret had she not peered into his mind. An obligation, a sense of duty not yet fulflled, drove the Archmagos -- an imperative so closely guarded she could only see its shape, not its detail.
"We cannot outrun this fate," intoned Celestine.
Marshal Amalrich stirred, his low growl carrying a warning. "Would you have us offer our necks to the Despoiler without a fight?"
The false saint turned from the viewport. "I beheld this in a dream. A river of blood amongst the stars. The harder we struggle, the more certain our fate. We must find another way."
Greyfax felt the old anger rise at those words. "There is no salvation to be found in your heresy. If ..."
She fell silent at Cawl's impatient gesture. "Necessity considers all answers, however improbable their provenance."
"She is a Heretic!" Greyfax interjected.
Greyfax fell silent. She reminded herself that Cawl's artificial span far predated the Inquisition from which her authority sprang. She couldn't take his obedience for granted.
"A bold accusation," hissed Cawl, "for one whose blood seethes with Necron artifice. Do not deny it. I perceive the nanomachines writhing beneath your skin."
At once, Greyfax felt the mood in the strategium shift. Amalrich's expression darkened with fresh suspicion, reminding her of the Black Templars' unpredictable zeal. "I remain uncorrupted."
Cawl observed her thoughtfully. "So you say. I can even free you from their grasp. But for that, we must first survive." He shifted his attention to Celestine. "What else did your vision show? What must we do?"
The saint indicated Klaisus on the viewscreen. "We will find salvation within the ice. And then our crusade will begin anew."
Amalrich nodded. "Your crusade, lady. But we will follow while our strength remains."
Disgusted, Greyfax turned away. The Celestinian Crusade? The very thought of it made her skin crawl.
So the Iron Revenant set course for Klaisus, the ice moon, under Celestine's direction. Stressed Plasma Drives brought the Ark Mechanicus around on a new bearing, the motion affording the Iron Revenant one furious, unanswered broadside at the pursuing Vengeful Spirit. The Black Fleet Battleship, taken unawares by the sudden change of course, had no opportunity to evade the swarm of torpedoes that sped like rippy-fish towards its prow. Shields collapsed, armour crumpled. The prow cannons were blasted free of their mountings, and the colossal, eight-pointed star that served as the Vengeful Spirit's figurehead was reduced to mangled scrap. But that Battleship had survived the Siege of the Emperor's Palace -- it had borne wounds far greater than any the Iron Revenant could inflict. It would not go so quietly.
Whatever salvation awaited the Iron Revenant on Klaisus, Celestine's guidance now put the ship within range of the Vengeful Spirit's main guns. Abandoning the head-on course, Abaddon closed obliquely, his starboard batteries blazing as they gnawed at the Ark Mechanicus' hull. Unable to outpace the Battleship, the Iron Revenant did the only thing it could: it endured, meeting the Vengeful Spirit's fury with its own.
The two warships pounded at one another for over a solar hour, the pale disc of Klaisus growing ever larger. The Iron Revenant's Macrocannons crashed back on their bearings, unseated by enemy fire. Torpedo tubes spat their last. Hundreds perished in every broadside, their bodies thickening the Ark Mechanicus' causeways, or expelled by violent decompression to bob along the mangled outer hull.
Aboard the Vengeful Spirit, Traitors flooded to their assault claws along passageways crushed by the Iron Revenant's broadsides. The Despoiler meant to claim his prize for himself, or else see it burn to nothing in Klaisus' thin atmosphere. As the Battleship shuddered with one final broadside, silencing the Iron Revenant's last interceptor batteries, the Dreadclaws screamed across the void.
As the garbled reports of boarding parties reached the Iron Revenant's strategium, Cawl knew the ship was lost. But it had served its purpose. The duelling vessels were now deep in Klaisus' orbit, and the relative shelter of the moon's swirling blizzards was but solar minutes away. Ceding command of the dying Ark to the crew, Cawl headed deeper into the ship, and began the process of unsealing the stasis vault.
As the Adepta Sororitas made for the undamaged portside hangars, Marshal Amalrich declared his Battle-Brothers would ensure the Iron Revenant died fighting. Greyfax argued against this course. To her mind, Cawl was already half-under Celestine's spell, and the Inquisitor wanted allies of her own close to hand. Still, Amalrich was resistant -- the Marshal's pride chafed from the long retreat, and only the presentation of the Inquisitorial Seal bent him to Greyfax's will.
So it was that a flight of transports spiralled planetwards, bearing their weary cargo. They used the dying Iron Revenant as cover against the Vengeful Spirit, and the last of the doomed Ark's fightercraft as escort. As Iron Revenant at last began to break apart, and the first Heldrakes screamed in pursuit, the fleeing convoy vanished into the howling snow-storms.
The Snows of Klaisus
The blizzards of frozen Klaisus might have blinded Abaddon's pursuit, but they did not end it. Enraged that his quarry might yet escape, the Despoiler launched every flight-worthy vessel at his command, scouring the surface for any trace of his prey.
Thus Cawl's trek across the glaciers became a fighting retreat, the survivors sent scrambling for cover amidst the rocks each time a Heldrake shrieked overhead. Such precautions were born more of hope than strategy -- there was no hiding the modified Triaros Armoured Conveyer that contained Cawl's precious reliquary, or the lumbering Knights of House Taranis -- but good fortune held for the first few solar hours of planetfall. On they trudged, the Adepta Sororitas following Celestine's holy light, each as unfaltering as she, even though the Living Saint offered no clue as to the path she struck, or her purpose for doing so. With them came the survivors of the Kappic Eagles, flesh blackening with frostbite, but determined to prove as unswerving as the Battle-Sisters. Inquisitor Greyfax and Marshal Amalrich's Black Templars brought up the rear, each Battle-Brother grim as death in the teeming blizzard.
Cawl followed Celestine unfalteringly through the swirling snows. With each step, he grew increasingly certain that the Living Saint knew his purpose -- the burden he had carried for so long. And if that was so, perhaps that had been Veilwalker's purpose in directing him to Cadia -- not to unlock the secrets of the pylons, but for Celestine to lead him to the pact's completion. The Living Saint was a vessel of the Omnissiah's tripartite will, His purpose was hers. Step by step, Cawl's resolve returned. He told himself that his path from Eriad VI had been a pilgrimage, a test. He chastened himself for ever doubting the Omnissiah's purpose and pressed on.
Then the snows stopped.
The Heldrakes came again soon after, their strafing runs leaving trails of dead and dying across the glacier. Two of the daemoncraft perished without even touching the frozen ground, blown out of the skies by Krak Missiles. A third tore a squad of Tempestus Scions apart with tooth and claw, and ripped a chunk of armour from the Triaros before Cawl's axe split its Warp-metal skull asunder.
From that moment on, there was no silence, no reprieve. Alerted to their quarry's presence, the Black Legion warbands converged upon the glacier. Running battles broke out upon the snowfields, the thunderous echoes of one skirmish scarcely fading before another began. Havocs rained fire down from the mountainous heights. Raptors struck from cloudless skies, their discordant battle-cries further shredding the nerves of men and women weary from solar weeks of strife. Bikers prowled the flanks, roaring into weapons range only when they believed their quarry's attention was elsewhere.
All perished. Seraphim swept the crags clear, the backwash of Promethium melting ice formed centuries before. Lasgun volleys cleared the skies of Raptors; the pounding cannons of Taranis Knights purged the icy fields of the Despoiler's bikers. But there were always more, their numbers ever-replenishing, while the ranks of Cawl's escort grew thinner with each passing solar hour. As ever more succumbed to their wounds, the survivors drew in closer to the Triaros Conveyer. Its projected Void Shields provided some protection for those closest to it, and, inexplicably, every Imperial soul present felt it their duty to protect whatever was inside. Greyfax's psychic interrogation of her wounded foes revealed that they were surrounded, and the noose was tightening. But there was nothing more to be done other than keep moving -- to perhaps break out of the encirclement and buy a few solar hours of respite.
On Celestine journeyed, leading her tattered pilgrimage ever higher into the jagged mountains. Tempestus Scions fell dead amidst the snows, skin blackened and eyes frozen. By this time, Greyfax had abandoned her attempts at questioning Celestine's purpose. Redoubtable though the Inquisitor was, hers was not the gene-forged fortitude of the Adeptus Astartes, and she needed all her breath for the endless march.
Still the Black Legion pursued, the roaring Plasma Drives of their dropships a constant echo through the mountain passes. As the mismatched company reached a ridge-line, Greyfax caught sight of a column of Traitor tanks, thick as beetles in the valley below.
When Cawl's escort reached the sunken gate of some ancient structure, its surface smoothed flat by the driving winds, they found it held against them by a sorcerous cabal. Another bloody skirmish saw the gateway claimed, but the smoke clouds rising from the wreck of a Predator revealed the company's position as clearly as any signal beacon. Before the last Sorcerer fell dead, the roar of engines echoed up from the valley.
"What do you see?" asked the false saint, mooving to stand beside the Inquisitor on the ridge.
It had to be a rhetorical question, Greyfax decided. No eye could have missed the spreading stain of Black Legion tanks across the glacier. "I see our death," she answered sourly.
"No," said Celestine. "Salvation awaits us."
Stilling her chattering teeth, Greyfax turned angrily away from the ridge-line. "Your lies are wasted on me, idolatress."
As ever, the false saint seemed to take no offence. "You serve the Emperor. You trust the Emperor. Why can you not believe His hand guides me?"
Greyfax drew closer. "I don't believe anything guides you. You're a Heretic, preying on the credulous. I should have let the Despoiler kill you. Were you not surrounded by your acolytes, I'd kill you now."
Celestine smiled. "Then I should kill you first, while I can?"
Greyfax squared her shoulders. "Yes."
The smile faded. "He has a plan for you too, Katarinya. I have seen it."
So saying, the false saint took wing. Katarinya Greyfax returned to her place in the procession of fools. But though her mood remained bleak, a small corner of her soul took heart from Celestine's words
Marshal Amalrich detailed half of his surviving Battle-Brothers to remain behind and guard the pass. The pursuit they faced was now no mere rabble of scattered warbands, he argued, but a column armed and arrayed for battle. Better a few of their number hold and delay that pursuit, buying time for the others to proceed. Volunteers were sought and found, and Emperor's Champion Garrein led his Battle-Brothers away down the dreary slopes, knowing that the next battle would also be their last.
On Celestine's path wound, ever higher into the peaks. As night fell, the echoes of battle faded from the slopes below. Those Black Templars still at Cawl's side knelt a moment in the snows, Amalrich's rumbling voice leading a warrior's chant of benediction for lost brothers. Then they pressed on unburdened by grief or guilt. By dawn, the snows came again, shielding Cawl's company from prying eyes, but also slowing their advance to a near standstill. They forged onwards, though at a painfully slow pace, and even Celestine's light seemed to fade.
As the pale sun reached apogee, the roar of engines came again through the slackening snows. Land Raiders slewed across the lower slopes, their teethed tracks biting deep into the permafrost as they clawed their way in pursuit.
At Celestine's urging, Cawl's company pressed on. As the Knights of House Taranis rained fire on their pursuers, their comrades fell back by squads, each giving covering fire for those that followed, expending their last precious ammunition in the wild climb for the summit. The heavy snowdrifts were taking their toll on the Triaros' tracks, and progress slowed to a crawl. Cawl's spirits, restored by faith during the long climb, wavered anew as he sought to soothe the Conveyor's wounded Machine Spirit. Helbrutes bellowed their mad praises, and the wail of the Raptors' Vox-casters set the air screaming.
The assault ramp of the nearest Land Raider crashed down, and Abaddon strode forth, his inner guard of Chaos Terminators at his back. The Despoiler's coming was too much for the last of the Kappic Eagles. Frozen and weary beyond reckoning, they fled uphill, all discipline forgotten. As the Despoiler advanced through the snows, Cawl took his place at the forefront of his dwindled company, and prepared to die for a pact that would never now be fulfilled.
The ice in front of Cawl exploded in a burst of dazzling light. Eldar Jetbikes hissed over the icy crest, underslung Shuriken Cannons rasping death at the Black Legion. Trails of fractured light followed, the whirl of vibrant colours dancing and reforming around leaping, pirouetting warriors. The crest, so lately occupied by the fleeing Scions, thickened with graceful warriors armoured in myriad colours. Behind them came slender combat walkers, their every stride rippling with grace and power, the searing light of their armament unanswerable.
The Black Legion fell back before the Eldar onslaught. They had prepared for battle against a fractured and weary foe, half-beaten by cold and despair. Instead, they had been met by an Ulthwé Strike Force and, behind them, Wyches of Commorragh, warriors of Biel-Tan, and Eldar from a number of other Craftworlds. Abaddon advanced into the maelstrom, bellowing at his warriors to follow. Those who did so perished, sliced apart by dancing blades or shredded by razor-edged shuriken. Twice the Despoiler led a charge towards the Triaros. Twice the Eldar hurled the Black Legion bloodily from the crest. Through it all, Cawl and his company staggered deeper into the xenos ranks until the crest was behind them.
Ahead, nestled in a natural valley, stretched the elegant spires of a Webway gate, its columns blazing with light. Celestine hovered above the portal's dancing energies, arms outspread in silent prayer.
Cawl topped the crest and gazed down into the mustering warhost. Subroutines drew archival data from storage, matching the strange shapes of xenos armour to records salvaged from a million scattered conflicts from across the galaxy.
A datacluster salvaged from Port Demesnus confirmed the presence of the notorious rune-witch, Eldrad Ulthran, but as for the others, his analysis returned no firm conclusions. It was scarcely surprising. The Eldar were inconstant, as ever-shifting as sand, changing personality as freely as they changed their masks. What did surprise Cawl was the motley nature of the xenos assemblage. He could access no prior reports of so many disparate Eldar cultures fighting together as one in this manner.
Two figures at the centre of the host were a true enigma. One, a female attired in an elaborate gown, appeared to be directing proceedings, moving with calm authority amid the swirling storm of colour. Beside her was a warrior in crimson, his raiment echoing both Craftworld Aspect Warrior armour and the crueller plate of the Commorrite "Dark Eldar" pirates. Cawl found no record of its design, even in the deepest Mechanicus archives.
With a ﬂicker of light, a familiar figure appeared at Cawl's side, the patterns of her mask dancing with light. Veilwalker.
"What is this?" Cawl asked. "Where are you taking us?"
"Into the light of a new dawn." The Shadowseer tilted her head, as if confused by the question. "Unless you prefer to remain in the darkness?"
With an effort, the Archmagos ignored what he hoped was an attempt at humour. "The Despoiler has a warship in orbit. You cannot hold them for long."
"We will not have to." The patterns of Veilwalker's mask danced with new light. "The ending has passed. It is time for a new beginning. There is a parley to be struck, if you have the courage."
The Shadowseer cast a graceful hand towards the Eldar host.
With but the merest hesitation, Cawl followed her into the future.
Cadia was lost, and the 13th Black Crusade had at last achieved the victory sought by the Dark Gods for ten thousand standard years.
But the war would continue...
At the culmination of Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade, the Cicatrix Maledictum had all but consumed Cadia. With the great pylons toppled by Abaddon's conquering hordes and the colossal Warp Storm of the Eye of Terror no longer held at bay, the dread powers of Chaos ravaged the planet beyond recovery. And still the neighbouring worlds and star systems were defiant.
Had Cadia not been famous for holding so long against the odds, it is likely the other planets in the system would have capitulated or given up almost immediately. No normal world could stand in the face of the horrendous, sanity-devouring armies that descended upon the Cadian Gate in such terrifying measure. However, the wider systems of Cadia, Belis Corona, and Agripinaa stood fast.
Perhaps, just as a veteran can lead lesser men to deeds of great heroism, Cadia had inspired those worlds around it to defend every nation and city to the last bullet. Perhaps Cadia's surviving soldiery lent strength through their hunger for retribution. Perhaps those battered by the storm simply fought for survival. Whatever the reason, the defenders of the Cadian Gate resolved to uphold the virtues of its lost lynchpin world come what may.
In the confusion of outright war, the hordes of Chaos began to turn upon themselves. Though they were ascendant, their ultimate conquest had yet to be clinched. Rival warlords, both mortal and daemonic, clashed over the spoils of victories not yet won. The Imperial defenders were quick to capitalise on each strategic misstep,for many were veterans of the wars upon Cadia, and they knew how to goad a fractious enemy into overextending its reach. From dissolution came destruction. Solar day by solar day the Imperial armies clawed back a semblance of control. Soon the war zone was in contention once more, the dread stranglehold of Chaos loosened by the sheer determination of the Astra Militarum and the vengeful fury of the Space Marines. Each new dawn was greeted by a scattering of ships from the Great Exodus, those fortunate souls who had braved the Empyrean tempests and lived to tell of it. Again and again the fighting escalated, the fires of war that had burned Cadia to cinders roaring to life anew upon the other worlds of the Cadian System, as well as those of the Belis Corona and Agripinaa Systems.
The 13th Black Crusade was the background to the original 2003 worldwide Eye of Terror Campaign whose result was basically a stalemate between the Imperium and the Forces of Chaos after Abaddon managed to gain a foothold on Cadia itself while failing to maintain space superiority in the Cadia System. For fourteen years, Games Workshop chose not to advance the timeline of the Warhammer 40,000 universe beyond this point in the fictional timeline. In January 2017, Games Workshop released the first in a new series of supplements designed to once more advance the Warhammer 40,000 timeline -- Gathering Storm - Part One - Fall of Cadia -- which retconned a great deal of the lore of the 13th Black Crusade and dramatically changed the outcome of Abaddon's assault on Cadia. In this new timeline, Abaddon destroyed the world of Cadia, seized complete control of the Cadian Gate, and began the Forces of Chaos' long-awaited second drive on Terra. For more on the outcome of the original version of the campaign, please see 13th Black Crusade (Original).
Imperial Order of Battle
- Ursarkar E. Creed - Lord Castellan of Cadia and overall Imperial Commander of the defence of Cadia.
- Logan Grimnar - Great Wolf (Chapter Master) of the Space Wolves Chapter and overall commander of the Adeptus Astartes forces in the Cadian System. A council of representatives from those Chapters of the Space Marines opposing Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade elected the irascible Great Wolf as their nominal head.
- Admiral Quarren - Commander of Battlefleet Cadia and overall commander of Imperial Navy forces, Admiral Quarren has been hailed a true hero of the Imperium, for his masterful defence of the space lanes was all that stood between survival, and utter defeat for the Imperium. Though Cadia is besieged, the Imperial Navy commands space, and is able to offer support to beleaguered forces on the ground. The only question is whether the rapid redeployment of almost the entirety of Battlefleet Gothic, along with a substantial proportion of Battlefleet Solar will leave the Navy dangerously overstretched elsewhere and unable to maintain the level of operations required to hold the line at the Cadian Gate.
- Saint Celestine - Saint Celestine is a revered Living Saint of the Adepta Sororitas' Order of Our Martyred Lady, a being of incredible psychic power and faith believed by many in the Imperium of Man to be have been resurrected as a tool of the Emperor of Mankind Himself. As a mortal, she was thought slain during a campaign against the Renegade Warmaster of Forrax, but has returned at various times since to rescue Imperial forces in danger of being destroyed by the enemies of the God-Emperor. Wings spread wide, halo blazing and Ardent Blade in hand, Saint Celestine is an embodiment of the God-Emperor's might. She shines like a star amid the smoke and fumes of the battlefield, radiating holy light. The faithful are filled with strength and courage by her presence even as Heretics recoil in terror. Those who ﬂee are wise to do so, for Celestine strikes like the Emperor's own judgment, smiting the unrighteous with a strength that belies her human form. With a gesture, the Living Saint calls fires of psychic retribution down from on high, or infuses her sick and injured allies with healing energies. The Geminae Superia fight at her side, the former Sororitas Canonesses Genevieve and Eleanor, hand-chosen champions who would lay down their lives -- and have, several times -- to protect the blessed saint from harm. Celestine's most recent and greatest intervention came in 999.M41, when she appeared on Cadia as it was under assault by Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade. She brought crucial reinforcements to the Imperial defenders and became one of the leaders of the Imperial survivors -- who named themselves the Celestinian Crusade in her honour -- after Cadia was destroyed by the forces of the Despoiler. With the aid of the newborn faction of the Eldar called the Ynnari, the Celestinian Crusade managed to flee the Cadia System through the Webway to the Realm of Ultramar and its capital world of Macragge. There, Celestine played an important role in the events that led to the resurrection of the Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman. Celestine joined the Terran Crusade that Guilliman proclaimed, and fought alongside it all the way to Holy Terra so that the Primarch could meet with his father, the Emperor. Once at the Imperial Palace, Celestine swore to stand with the Guilliman, now the Lord Commander of the Imperium, as he promised to unleash a great counteroffensive against the Forces of Chaos.
- Belisarius Cawl - Belisarius Cawl is a ten-thousand-standard-years-old Archmagos Dominus of the Adeptus Mechanicus, one of the ruling lords of the Priesthood of Mars. He played a pivotal role in the events of the 13th Black Crusade, the Celestinian Crusade and the Terran Crusade, and shared responsibility with the Ynnari for the resurrection of the Primarch Roboute Guilliman as the Lord Commander of the Imperium.
- Katarinya Greyfax - Katarinya Greyfax was a Puritan Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus who played a crucial role in the last days of the 13th Black Crusade before the fall of Cadia and in the resurrection of the Primarch Roboute Guilliman during the Terran Crusade. Later, she was tasked by Guilliman, now the Lord Commander of the Imperium, with hunting down the artefact known as the Hand of Darkness which the Primarch believed could be used to help seal the Great Rift that had cut the Imperium of Man in two after Abaddon the Despoiler's triumph at Cadia.
- Marius Amalrich - Marius Amalrich was a Marshal of the Black Templars Chapter of Space Marines who played a significant role in the final days of the 13th Black Crusade before the fall of Cadia, in the Celestinian Crusade that resurrected the Primarch Roboute Guilliman, and in the Terran Crusade Guilliman led to meet with his father the Emperor of Mankind on Holy Terra. After Guilliman's resurrection and the arrival of a new Black Templars Crusade at Macragge to support the efforts of the revived Primarch, Amalrich was recognised for his contributions and was named the Emperor's Champion by his Chapter's Chaplains. During a critical moment of the Terran Crusade aboard a Blackstone Fortress in the Warp rift called the Maelstrom, Amalrich stabbed the Bloodthirster Skarbrand the Exiled One through the chest with the Black Sword of the Emperor's Champion. Though this effort cost Amalrich his life, Guilliman exploited the wound to defeat the Greater Daemon of Khorne, escape from the trap set in the Maelstrom by Kairos Fateweaver and make his way to Terra.
Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes
- Angels of Absolution - 10 Companies
- Angels of Vigilance - 5 Companies
- Angels Sanguine - 7 Companies
- Blood Angels - 4 Companies
- Brazen Claws - 10 Companies
- Dark Angels - 10 Companies
- Death Spectres - 6 Companies
- Doom Eagles - 5 Companies
- Excoriators - 8 Companies
- Exorcists - 10 Companies
- Harbingers - 8 Companies
- Howling Griffons - 8 Companies
- Imperial Fists - 5 Companies
- Iron Hands - 10 Clans
- Iron Knights - 1 Company
- Iron Snakes - 5 Companies
- Marines Exemplar - 9 Companies
- Night Watch - 11 Companies
- Novamarines - 6 Companies
- Relictors - Declared Excommunicate Traitoris by the Inquisition during the 13th Black Crusade
- Space Wolves - 12 Great Companies
- Storm Warriors - 10 Companies
- Subjugators - 3 Companies
- Ultramarines - 1 Honour Company
- White Consuls - 10 Companies
- White Scars - 10 Companies
- Order of the Bloody Rose - 6 Preceptories
- Order of the Ebon Chalice - 4 Preceptories
- Order of Our Martyred Lady - 5 Preceptories
- Order of the Divine Lamentation
- Order of the Ermine Mantle - 3 Missions
- Order of the Maurdlin Countenance
- Order of the Silver Lily
- Order of the Sublime Adoration
- Order of the Wounded Heart - 1 Commandery
- Agripinaa Home Guard
- Avellorn Field Regiments
- Avellornian Gunners - 32 Squadrons
- Bar-El Penal Legions - 4 Legions
- Blitzen Heavy Armoured
- Cadian Shock Troops - 612 Regiments
- Cadian Youth Army - 36 Regional Commands
- Cadian Kasrkin - 486 Companies
- Catachan Jungle Fighters
- Cthonian Armoured Cavalry
- Death Korps of Krieg
- Dhonovar Heavy Armour - 5 Companies
- Drookian Fenguard - 16 Companies
- Finreht Highlanders - 3 Regiments
- Gudrunite Rifles - 47 Regiments
- Jouran Dragoons - 7 Regiments
- Kellersburg Irregulars - 3 Regiments
- Knovian Gharkas - 14 Regiments
- Mordian Iron Guard
- Necromundan 8th, "The Spiders" - 1 Regiment
- Narmenian Tank Brigades
- Narsine Yeomanry - 32 Battle Groups
- Praetorian Guard
- Thracian Guard - 35 Regiments
- Valhallan Ice Warriors
- Van De'Man's World, "Redbacks" - 5 Regiments
- Zenonian Free Companies - 9 Companies
- Abyssian IX
- Agrapinaa 67th Armoured Rifles
- 17th Alasia Prime Mobile Infantry
- 4th Alba Highland Militia
- Aldarriss 1st Regiment
- Alderia Royal Guards
- Alloran 5th
- 101st Amalgamated Regiment
- Amaquan 1st
- Ambrosian 35th
- Arborean Prime
- Arcturan 23rd Regiment
- 2nd Ardelan Rangers
- Arkaddian XXIV Irregulars
- Armageddon Steel Legion 37th
- Armageddon Steel Legion 23rd
- Arxan 4th Rifles
- Asarkin Mobile Infantry
- Attredan 5th Regiment
- 5th Augusta
- XIII Aurech Irregulars
- Aurellian XIV
- Azin 2nd Regiment
- 9th Balakovo Guards
- Bakka Sector Task Force
- Bakkan Battlegroup Hydrax
- Baraduun Keep
- Barbarossan 125th Infantry Regiment
- Battlegroup Deitweiler
- Battlegroup Gael
- Battlegroup Imperatis
- Battlegroup Maxima
- Battlegroup Nemesis
- Battlegroup Primus
- Battlegroup Tempest
- Bavarian 6th Army
- Bethus 28th Light Expeditionary Force
- Bifrost 121st Regiment
- 17th Bolshev Guard
- XLVII Boroeal Regiment
- 79th Britan Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment
- 122nd Bushrats
- Cadian 734th
- Cadian 556th
- Cadian 477th
- Cadian 379th
- Cadian 377th
- Cadian 366th
- Cadian 223rd
- Cadian 204th
- Cadian 173rd
- Cadian 148th
- Cadian 135th
- Cadian 131st
- Cadian 123rd
- Cadian 122nd
- Cadian 121st
- Cadian 107th
- Cadian 102nd
- Cadian 107th
- Cadian 95th
- Cadian 75th
- Cadian 69th
- Cadian 52nd
- Cadian 47th
- Cadian 45th
- Cadian 42nd
- Cadian 39th
- Cadian 33rd
- Cadian 32nd
- Cadian 27th
- Cadian 23rd
- Cadian 22nd
- Cadian 20th
- Cadian 14th
- Cadian 13th
- Cadian 12th
- Cadian 10th
- Cadian 9th
- Cadian 8th
- Cadian 7th
- Cadian 4th
- Cadian 3th
- Cadian 120th Armoured
- Cadian 9th Armoured
- Cadian 4th Old Guard
- Calax Vlll Regiment
- Calexian 7th
- Calmonian 198th
- Cambreadth 7th
- Camden 223rd
- Canteral V
- Caracan 132nd Armoured
- 4th Carillian Armoured Infantry
- Carolon Guards
- Carothian 313th Regiment
- Carthago 3rd
- Castellans 12th
- Catachan DI (501st)
- Catachan CCCXXIX (329th)
- Catachan CCCXXIII (323rd)
- Catachan CLXXXI (181st)
- Catachan CXII (112th)
- Catachan XXXVII (37th)
- CatachanXXXII (32nd)
- Catachan XXII (22nd)
- Catachan XVII (17th)
- Catachan XV (15th)
- Catachan XII (12th)
- Charon 492nd Mechanised
- 39th Chelsean
- Chudian 1st Armoured
- Cimmerian 6th Regiment
- Coban III
- Comagran 1st Regiment
- 1st Combine Replenishment Battlaion
- Corican 101st
- Corthasian Expeditionary Force
- Corvus 23rd
- Crinan IV
- Dalarian 3rd
- 35th Daltigoth Irregulars
- Danko's 114th
- Darien 54th Volunteer Infantry
- Darilian XVII
- Death Korps of Krieg 88th
- Death Korps of Krieg 27th Grenadier Guard
- Death Korps of Krieg 23rd
- Dernhelm 9th
- 153rd Desert Devils
- XII Diddiane Dragoons
- Dogs of KaBahh
- 9th Dominicus
- Drepanan 212th
- 122nd Drookian Fenguard
- Dterian 125th Regiment
- Durellian 4th
- 97th Eisen Irregulars
- 156th Elysian Drop Troops
- 158th Elysian Drop Troops
- 101st Elysian Drop Troops
- 41st Elysian Drop Troops, "Angel Guard"
- 16th Elysian Drop Troops
- Epsilonian Guard
- Erawan Freelancers
- Erland 22nd Motorized
- Falterravan Armoured
- 584th Firestarters
- Fists of Chonlhan
- XXI Flotte Coloniale
- Forax 206th Binary Mobile Intantry
- Framlingham Rifles
- Frumunda 23rd Armoured Infantry
- 13th Garlatan Drop Legion
- Garnthe 7th Armoured Cavalry Regiment
- Glavian Skirmishers 17th
- 14th Gleastonian Rifles
- Golokov 3rd Armoured Cavalry
- Gracian 1st
- 19th Grey Lancers
- 4th Grey Phantoms
- Grinnuth 27th
- Guardia 4th
- 43rd Gudrunite Rifles
- Hadley's Hope XI Rifle Regiment
- 137th Hadris Rift
- 43rd/65th Heidrun
- 425th Heliothrix Combine
- 1st Heronian Battle Group
- XII Holding Regiment
- Hussaria 41st Armoured
- Hyperion Guard
- 6th Hyrkan Regiment
- Iberian 1st
- Iionian 9th Dragoons
- Ionis XXII
- 12th Imbrium Dragoons
- Iron Tower Regiment
- Irridian XIV Ironlords
- Ishan 5th
- Istanian 3rd Infantry
- Ivlordian 16th Regiment
- Janus 1st Regiment
- Janus Xll Garrison Force
- Jarhardy Shock
- Jopall Indentured 114th Rifles
- Jopall Indentured 17th
- Jyhaddic 9th
- Kalevala 15th
- Kandorian 8192nd Light Infantry
- Karis 12th Regiment
- Katakurika First
- Kaylen Lancers
- Keldian Light Infantry
- Keltaxan 113th Regiment
- Khorporovka 3rd Crusade Army
- Khumium Militia
- Khymer 14th Regiment
- Kiridian 5th Regiment
- Knovian Gharkas 14th Company
- Kreigars 3rd
- Kruegers Reapers
- 51st Kynskite Dragoons
- Kyshakkian 21st Penal Legion
- 32nd Lanthan Drop Troops
- 14th Lieran Rifles
- 282nd Light Colonial Guard
- 93rd Lost Hope
- 31st Lucian
- Lunari 23rd Orbital Strike Group
- Macharian 24th
- Madeus 3rd
- 1st Maninninan Rangers
- Mercutian 141st Armoured
- 12thMethuselan Infantry (Mechanised)
- 3rd Mirra Nomads
- Miskolc Prime City Rats
- Mistian 213th Para-Troops
- 1stMolovian Guard
- 303rd Mordant Acid-Dogs
- 667th Mordian
- 113th Mordian
- 23rd Mordian
- 10th Mordian
- 7th Mordian
- Morloc 404th
- Mortimer IV
- Mulsarian VII Army
- 13th Munisipice Fusiliers
- Mycenean 1st Off-World
- 42ndMykran Rifles
- Nebian 3rd
- Necromunda 8th Infantry
- New Crobuzon Militia
- New Phraxian 42nd
- Nimbus 2nd
- Noctus 4th
- Nomulan Wolves
- Octavis 3rd
- Orthos XII
- 194 Parsus III
- Patrian 121st Light Infantry
- Patrol Group Aquila
- Peraxxian 101st "Dawn Breakers"
- Pheonix 49th
- 13th Pinolus V Task Force
- XVI Phobos
- Phrygian 32nd
- Phyrgian III
- 23rd Phyruss Rifles
- Phyruss 81st Regiment
- Phyrussian 10th
- Polaron Delence Force
- Polisian 43rd
- 303rd Praetorian
- 35th Praetorian
- 13th Praetorian
- Pyotorgors 292nd Arctic Rifles
- Rantaran 6th>
- Rardonian 104th
- Razacks Roughnecks
- Reconnaissance Regiment
- 73rdRescue Fleet
- 1st Rigan Rifles (Mechanised)
- Rimini 54th
- 12th Ritzos
- Royal Hernovan Grenadiers
- Royal Volpone 50th "Bluebloods"
- Royal Volpone 23rd
- Rygarian 8th Army
- Saharrian XLV
- Seced 13th
- 1st Sempernox
- Serennian Irregulars
- Sidoneon 95th
- Silar VII Sentinel Company
- 25th Skarran Guard
- Solus 13th
- 21st Sonnen Guard
- Sons of Mjolnir
- Soran 8th Regiment
- Sphynxium Diamonds
- Strike Force Antares
- Strike Force Crimson
- Strike Force Belarius
- 13th Studka Rifles
- 352nd Sturm Pioneers
- Supremacy Force Marchon
- Talasan 1st
- Tallarn Desert Raiders 506th
- Tanner IV 26th Regiment
- Tantris 1st
- Tarentum XXVII
- Task Force Perdius
- Task Force Damocles
- Telluride 39th Armoured Battle Group
- 1st Terratus Strike Regiment
- Teryaskian Red Guard
- The Raiders of Ar Rustaq
- 290th Thracian
- 1st Thunderers
- Torlean Armoured Guards
- Tralian 4th
- Tturas 18th "Orphans"
- 122nd Tuigan Marksmen
- Turian 264th Regulars
- Ulantii XIV
- Uriah 501st
- 1st Uthman
- Utican IV Desert Foxes
- 48th Valdian Rifles
- 451st Valhalla
- 301st Valhalla
- 7th Valhalla
- 5th Valhalla
- Vandeen Guard 9th
- Vandorian 23rd
- Vannheim 8th
- Vanth Defence Legion
- Varseen 71st Enclave Heavy Drop-Legion
- Vastadt 71st
- Vastadtian 32nd
- Vednikan 47th Rifles
- Victarian XXXI Tank Regiment
- Vitrian 43rd
- Vittorrian XVII
- Vittrian Dragoons
- Volcanica 1st
- 187th Wahation Guard
- Weylond 71st Fusiliers
- 181st Wolfpack
- 5th Yamin Regiment
- Yontisgrod Volunteers
- Zantinian 3rd Infantry Regiment
- Inquisitorial Task Forces - CLASSIFIED
- Grey Knights - CLASSIFIED
- Inquisitorial Storm Troopers
- Nemesis Tesera - estimated 38 Companies
- Ocularis Terribus War Zone - CLASSIFIED
- Engineer Corps - 18
- Siege Auxilia Corps - 28 Counter-siege batteries
- Agents - CLASSIFIED
- Disruption Squads - 37
- Augur Teams - 6
- Battlefleet Cadia - 12 Battleships, 12 Cruiser Squadrons, 21 Escort Squadrons
- Battlefleet Corona - 7 Battleships, 13 Cruiser Squadrons, 17 Escort Squadrons
- Battlefleet Gothic
- Battlefleet Scarus - 5 Battleships, 9 Cruiser Squadrons, 13 Escort Squadrons
- Battlefleet Solar
- Battlegroup Nemesis
- Battle Group Imperatis
- Bakka Sector Task Force
Vessels of Note
- Galathamor (Emperor-class Battleship) - Admiral Quarren's flagship.
- Honour & Duty (Emperor-class Battleship)
- Duke Lurstophan (Dauntless-class Light Cruiser)
- Abridal's Glory (Gothic-class Cruiser)
Estimated Fleet Assets
- Front Line Battle Groups - 21
- Rear Echelon Battle Groups - 36
- Independent Strike Groups - 4
- Space Marine Battle-Barges - estimated 21+
- Space Marine Strike Cruisers - estimated 150+
- Space Marine Escort Squadrons - estimated 200+
- Legio Astorum - Entire Legion
- Legio Gryphonicus - Entire Legion
- Legio Ignatum - Entire Legion
- Legio Metalica - Demi-Legion
- Ordo Reductor - Demi-Legion
- Ordo Sinister (Divisio Telepathica Psi-Titans) - CLASSIFIED
Other Mechanicus Assets
Forces of Chaos Order of Battle
- Abaddon the Despoiler - Warmaster of Chaos and overall commander of the Forces of Chaos
- Typhus - Herald of Nurgle, and Plague Fleet commander.
- Kossolax the Foresworn - Chaos Lord of the Foresworn Renegade Chaos Space Marines warband and fleet commander.
- Urkanthos - Urkanthos also sometimes called Urkrathos, was a Chaos Lord of the Black Legion of Chaos Space Marines and the former Lord Purgator of the Chosen of Abaddon. Within the ranks of the Black Legion are those who are bloody-handed servants of Khorne. Though not a single unified warband within the Black Legion, they are collectively known as the Hounds of Abaddon. Urkrathos, the current Lord Purgator and commander of the Legion's Black Fleet, claims all followers of Khorne within the Legion as his own and directs them according to the will of Abaddon the Despoiler, the Warmaster of Chaos and master of the Black Legion. It falls to the Lord Purgator to ensure that every man, woman and child left alive on a world conquered by the Black Legion is dragged in chains into the hold of the Legion's starships, and that no edifice remains undedicated to the Dark Gods. During the final stage of the 13th Black Crusade in 999.M41, Urkrathos achieved daemonhood and became a Daemon Prince after pleasing Khorne with the mass slaughter and loss of life caused by the destruction of three great Imperial warships in the Cadian Gate. The ascension of Urkanthos to daemonhood came as the Black
Fleet approached Cadia for its second assault upon the world. Surging in towards the Fortress World, Urkanthos had faced a trio of enemy Battleships whose captains had determined that -- if they could not defeat the oncoming Chaos horde -- they would at least slay the ﬂagship of its ﬂeetmaster. Through guile, ferocity and unmatched skill did Urkanthos captain his craft to victory over all three Imperial warships, blasting two to ruin before obliterating the final craft as it turned to ﬂee. Such a mighty tally of blood and skulls pleased Khorne greatly, and bought Urkanthos the reward of immortality that he had long sought. So did the master of the Hounds of Abaddon become more fearsome than ever before.
Chaos Space Marine Legions
- Alpha Legion - 20+ unconfirmed sightings in all sectors
- Black Legion - Major presence in all sectors
- Death Guard - Major presence in Subiaco Diablo
- Emperor's Children - Unconfirmed actions against Eldar reported
- Iron Warriors - Suspected presence in the Cadian System
- Night Lords - Unconfirmed reports of presence in all sectors
- Thousand Sons - Active in the Caliban and Prospero Sectors
- Word Bearers - Active in rear echelon sectors
- World Eaters - Significant involvement in all sectors
Renegade Chaos Space Marine Warbands
- Crimson Slaughter
- Extinction Angels
- The Pyre
- Sons of Malice
- Violators - 3 confirmed actions in Cadia Sector
- Warp Ghosts - Unconfirmed sighting in Agripnaa System
Major Traitor Guard Units
- 5th Columnus Regiment - Presence confirmed - Belis Corona
- 666th Regiment of Foot - Confirmed presence - Cadia
- Discilan Apostates - Unconfirmed
- Haradni 13th
- Jenen Ironclads - Major presence - Kromat System
- Sentrek Freemen
- The Traitor 4th - Significant presence - Kantrael System
- Ubridius Light Infantry - Major presence - Cadian Sector
- Volscani Cataphracts - Active - Cadia
Estimated Mutant Hordes
- The Anointed of Aq'si - 6 attacks confirmed - Belisar System
- The Shyis'slaa - Linked to cult uprisings - Albitern System
- The Stigmatus Convenant - Significant presence - Mackan System
- The Unsanctified - Unconfirmed involvement - Bar-el System
Traitor Titan Legions
- Death Stalkers - Unconfirmed involvement on Cadia
- Fire Masters - Limited presence in Cadian Sector
- Iron Skulls - Major force sighted on Vorga Torq
- Legio Mortis - Major presence confirmed on Cadia
- Legio Vulcanum I - 4 unconfirmed assaults on Belisar and Kromat
- Legio Vulcanum II - Suspected presence on Subiaco Diablo
- The Grand Fleet of Abaddon the Despoiler - 7 Battleships, 13 Heavy Cruisers, est. 23 Cruiser Squadrons, est. 30 Escort Squadrons
- The Grand Fleet of Kossolax the Foresworn - 1 Battleship, 3 Cruiser Squadrons, 8 Escort Squadrons
- The Plague Fleet of Typhus - Terminus Est, 2 Battleships, 3 Heavy Cruisers, 5 Cruiser Squadrons, est. 12 Escort Squadrons
- Plagueclaw (Unknown Class Capital Vessel)
- Darkblood (Styx-class Heavy Cruiser)
- Planet Killer (Undesignated Class Capital Vessel)
- Merciless Death (Despoiler-class Battleship)
- Fortress of Agony (Despoiler-class Battleship)
- Imperial Battlefleets - est. 38
- Blackstone Fortresses - 2, including Will of Eternity (Destroyed)
- "Wolf Pack" Squadrons - est. 19
Last Defence of Cadia
Armies of the Imperium Order of Battle
The final battles of Cadia had prevented the disaster of the 13th Black Crusade from being total. Though Cadia itself was lost, the defence of Kasr Kraf held up Abaddon's final assault, and the mayhem that followed allowed a great number of troops and military assets to reach the Imperial evacuation zone and depart.
Defence of Kasr Trunch
- Cadian Shock Troops - 127 Regiments
- Cadian Kasrkin - 65 Regiments
- Cadian Youth Corp - 12 Regiments
- Tithed Astra Militarum - 18 Regiments
- Skitarii - 5 Legions
- Siege Auxilia Corps - 528 Batteries
- Legio Metalica - A Demi-Legion
- Adepta Sororitas, Order of the Bloody Rose - 2 Preceptories
- Adeptus Astartes
Kasr Trunch Counterattack
- Black Consuls - 6 Companies
- Watchguards - 6 Companies
- Varied Astartes Chapters - 12 Companies
- Officio Assassinorum - Classified
The Long Retreat
- Cadian Shock Troops - 41 Regiments
- Cadian Kasrkin - 16 Regiments
- Zenonian Free Companies - 9 Companies
- Tithed Astra Militarum - 12 Regiments
- Dhonovar Heavy Armour - 5 Companies
- Legio Cybernetica - 3 Cohorts
- Adepta Sororitas, Order of the Ebon Chalice - 3 Preceptories
- Hallicon Armoured - 5 Regiments
- Ordo Reductor - A Demi-Legion
- Legio Ignatum - Full Legion
- Adeptus Astartes
Note: All the Adeptus Astartes assets were stripped from Mos Khazner's defence in an attempt to retake the orbital batteries. Their success allowed the Long Retreat.
The Lord Castellan's Last Stand
- Cadian Shock Troops - 99 Regiments
- Cadian Kasrkin - 6 Regiments
- Brazen Claws - 3 Companies
- Black Consuls - 2 Companies
- Centurio Ordinatus - 4 Ordinatus
- Legio Gryphonicus - A Demi-Legion
- Freeblades - Unknown
- Skitarii - 3 Legions
- Fort Drokz Penal Legions - 4 Legions
- House Krast - 2 Knight Households
- Legion of the Damned - Unknown
- Relictors - 2 Companies
- Harlequin Masque of the Hidden Path - 9 Troupes
- Varied Astartes Chapters - 5 Companies
Forces of Chaos Order of Battle
Abaddon the Despoiler led the final assault force against Cadia in person. With him came the legions of the hellish Eye of Terror, the manifold hosts of the Dark Gods amassed under a single banner. The cause that united them was not just the destruction of the Imperium, but the demise of the material realm itself.
- Black Legion - Full Traitor Legion
- Iron Warriors - Full Traitor Legion
- World Eaters - 5 Warbands
- Emperor's Children - Hedonistic Hosts
- Night Lords - 3 Warbands
- Death Guard - 3 Plague Companies
- Alpha Legion - Unknown
- Word Bearers - 5 Companies
- Legio Mortis - A Demi-Legion
- Khan'zhar the Red - Exalted Greater Daemon of Khorne
- Bloodguard - 8 Greater Daemons of Khorne
- Redhost - 8 Daemonic Legions
- Fellblades - 8 Daemonic Legions
- Kaghrexx's Destroyers - 8 Daemonic Legions
- Khârn the Betrayer - Legendary Chaos Lord
- Gorehands - 5 Companies
- Blood Engines (Traitor Astra Militarum) - Armour Battalion
- Skullcorps (Traitor Astra Militarum) - 18 Regiments
- Bloodemption - Chaos Cult
- Slogoth Poxbelly - Exalted Greater Daemon of Nurgle
- Drub'sla Plaguehost - 7 Daemonic Legions
- Three-Eyed Tolltakers - 7 Daemonic Legions
- Blightwalkers - 7 Daemonic Legions
- Nurgling Tide - Uncountable
- The Tainted - 7 Companies
- The Horned - Pestigor Legion
- The Risen - Plague Zombies
- Ogryn Brutepox - 3 Companies
- The Stigmatus Convent - Entire Chaos Cult
- The Viscous - Entire Chaos Cult
The Host Iridescent
- M'katchnar - Exalted Greater Daemon of Tzeentch
- Triumvirate of Arcanzarr - Daemon Coven
- Scintillating Host - 9 Daemonic Legions
- Legions of Shimmerlak - 9 Daemonic Legions
- Unkbolt Conflock - 9 Tzaangor Warflocks
- The Scourged - 4 Companies
- Eagles Iridescent - 3 Companies
- Kabal of Umbra - Entire Chaos Cult
The Decadent Horde
- Sidroh the Sinuous - Exalted Greater Daemon of Slaanesh
- The Writhing Host - 6 Daemonic Legions
- The Undulators - 6 Daemonic Legions
- Violators - 5 Warbands
- Children of Torment - 3 Warbands
- Pain Armoured Brigade - 2 Sonic Companies
- The Hedonastic - Entire Chaos Cult
- Tentacled Behemoth - Warp Monster
As befits Abaddon's cruelty and meticulous planning, thirteen massive transports of combat-drugged mutants, wretches, Plague Zombies and Chaos Spawn were crash-landed into the ruined city of Kasr Kharkovan, ensuring that many of the final assaults were performed by the least storied among his armies.
- 13th Black Crusade (Original)
- Roboute Guilliman
- Ultramar Campaign
- Terran Crusade
- Indomitus Crusade
- Great Rift
- Battlefleet Gothic, "The Galaxy"
- Battlefleet Gothic Magazine 15, "Chaos Space Marine Fleets," pp. 4-8
- Battlefleet Gothic Magazine 16, "The Growing Storm!: Eye of Terror Campaign," "The War of Belis Corona," pp. 2-9, 18-32
- Battlefleet Gothic Rulebook (Blue Book), pp. 92-103
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 24, 46
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pp. 4-14, 46
- Black Legion: A Codex Chaos Space Marines Supplement (Digital Edition), pg. 41
- The Thirteenth Black Crusade (Background Book) by Andy Hoare (list of Imperial Guard regiments on pp. 90-91)
- The Gathering Storm - Book One - Fall of Cadia (7th Edition), pp. 12-13, 16, 20, 22-23, 26-33, 35-37, 40-42, 44, 48-49,52-53, 58-60, 62-65, 68-69, 72-78, 80-86, 88
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (8th Edition), pg. 161
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 177, 230-231
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 148
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (4th Edition), pg. 136
- White Dwarf 295 (UK), "Chapter Approved: Extremis Diabolus"
- White Dwarf 287 (UK), "Death By A Thousand Cuts," pp. 34-43
- White Dwarf 286 (UK), "The Eye of the Storm: Space Marine Chapters fighting in the Eye of Terror"
- White Dwarf 284 (UK), "Humanity's Shield: Chapters involved in the defence of Cadia"
- White Dwarf 281 (US), "Codex Eye of Terror: The 13th Black Crusade," "Mark of the Wulfen," "The Gathering Forces: The Forces in the Eye of Terror," "Protectors of Mankind"
- White Dwarf 246 (US), "The Powers That Be," (by Jonathan Green)
- Cain's Last Stand (Novel) by Sandy Mitchell
- Eye of Terror Worldwide Campaign