- "The Emperor consigned us to the care of a tyrant who sought to see us dead and forgotten; now the Raven Lord himself is dead, we care not to see the collar of servitude clasped around our necks once more, neither in service to the turncoat Warmaster or a failed empire."
- —Praetor Narat Kirine, Lord of the Ashen Claws, 011.M31
The Ashen Claws were originally the 18th Chapter of the Raven Guard Legion during the Unification Wars, Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras of the late 30th and early 31st Millennia. Comprised of several thousand Astartes, near every one was a Terran-born Veteran of the old XIXth Legion, before their reunification with their lost Primarch Corvus Corax upon the world of Deliverance during the Great Crusade.
Following the Battle of Gate Forty-Two during the Great Crusade campaign in the Akum-sothos Cluster, those that survived the crucible of that deadly near-suicidal assault were gathered together and despatched by Corax into the northeastern reaches of the Ghoul Stars to bring the light of the Emperor to the outer darkness. Considered a Renegade Blackshield force, the Ashen Claws believed themselves to be continuing the work of the Great Crusade, carving a swathe of blood and ash across the void in memory of a dream which had turned to nightmare with the Warmaster Horus' betrayal at Istvaan III. Their ultimate fate remains unknown.
The Raven's Cast-OffsEdit
The term "Ashen Claws" is not one immediately known to Imperial scholars of that most tumultuous period of the Imperium's history, the Horus Heresy. It is not listed as the title of any existing Chapter, battalion or fleet within the eighteen Space Marine Legions at the outbreak of the civil war, nor is it a title taken by one of those ad-hoc formations that survived to the war's end. Indeed, a casual search of the Imperial Archives on Terra reveals but a few possible references: an Acheron-class Battleship that was designated the Ashen Claw, a Solar Auxilia cohort whose unofficial designation was the "Ash Claws," and the patriarch of the Knight House Moritain, whose honourary titles include "He whose claws rend all to ash."
Obviously, none of these are linked to the unknown Legiones Astartes force that ravaged the Nostramo Sector in 011.M31. However, those with the access to the sealed vaults of the archives might uncover two further references that offer a potential answer to the puzzle. The first of these comes from the Legion records of the XIXth Legion, in the times before the Primarch Corvus Corax took command and the warriors of the XIXth fought under the patronage of Horus Lupercal. These records note that among the Chapters of the XIXth Legion there was a Chapter by the name of the Ashen Claws, a name carried over from the Terran Xeric tribes that these fierce warriors were recruited from. The Raven Guard of modern times hold no record of these warriors. Indeed, of the original Terran recruits of the Legion little is known, as it seems Corax bore a measure of ill-will towards the Terran recruits within his Legion, both their time under the tutelage of Horus and their heritage as slaver-warlords in the Asiatic Dustfields of Ancient Terra marked them out as unworthy in the eyes of their new master. Some observed that Horus treated the XIXth Legion like a Chapter of his own Legion rather than one with its own identity and destiny to forge. The XIXth Legion remained close to their Terran roots, their demeanour not deviating far from that of the savage Xeric tribes.
By the time the Raven Lord took command of his Legion, the Great Crusade was over a standard century old. Corax was quick to impose the style of war he had perfected on Lycaeus over that which had come to define the XIXth Legion, melding stealth and guile with vigilance and swiftness. It was during these early years that much of the native demeanour of the old XIXth Legion, particularly the more cold-blooded ways of the Xeric tribes, was purged. The Legion had so often served in oppression, repression and occupation forces that Corax saw in some of the Terrans of his XIXth Legion something akin to the slavers of Lycaeus. Several of the Legion's highest-ranking officers were displaced or reassigned to non-command roles, including Shade Lord Arkhas Fal, who had commanded the XIXth Legion as its Master for three solar decades before the coming of the Raven Lord.
Battle of Gate Forty-TwoEdit
Following Horus Lupercal's elevation to the rank of Warmaster, the Raven Guard was recalled from operations along the coreward edge of the Ghoul Stars and ordered to take part in a joint campaign in the Akum-sothos Cluster, which had fallen to a form of mass-psychosis and violently rejected unity with Terra. The Aukum-Sothos Cluster was a small group of habitable worlds on the very edge of the Ghoul Stars that had been brought to Imperial Compliance by the Luna Wolves in the opening years of the Great Crusade, but its people had fallen to a form of mass-psychosis and violently rejected unity with Terra. This unheralded secession was later determined to have been caused by xenos parasites which matured within the eye sockets of their hosts, in this case the unfortunate population of the cluster. As they matured, the parasites gained rudimentary control over their hosts and formed what amounted to a wholly alien, gestalt consciousness focused on a cabal of primary hosts dubbed the "Unsighted Kings." This region of space erupted into open revolt against the Imperium in 002.M31. The newly ascended Warmaster Horus refused to see the cluster of worlds he himself had brought to Compliance slip from the Imperium's grip and so he vowed an Oath of Moment to reclaim its worlds no matter the cost.
Horus had formulated a plan to cast down the Unsighted Kings in a lightning war that would purge the afflicted population while retaining the cluster's highly developed infrastructure for future re-population. Furthermore, a rapid victory would demonstrate to Horus' brother-Primarchs that the Emperor had been correct to elevate him to so high a rank. The Warmaster's plan called for the bulk of four Legions -- the Luna Wolves, Space Wolves, Iron Warriors and Raven Guard -- to converge on the heavily fortified lair of the Unsighted Kings before a final, overwhelming assault was launched. Having brought the outer worlds of the cluster to heel in a matter of solar weeks, the Warmaster called a council of his brother-Primarchs, one part of his plan calling for the Raven Guard to make a frontal assault directly into the guns of the defenders of Gate Forty-Two. Corax argued against what he denounced as a waste of resources and a needless squandering of his warriors' lives, nearly coming to blows with Perturabo, who accused his brother Primarch of dereliction of duty, with only the intervention of Leman Russ staying bloodshed.
During the Battle of Gate Forty-Two, knowing their particular demeanour would carry them forward, the Corax assigned many of his Terran-dominated companies to the vanguard, in particular those whose captains appeared the most willing to play their part in the Warmaster's plan. The assault that followed was hailed as the Legion's darkest hour, a grim honour that, tragically, would be displaced just a few standard years later at Istvaan V. At the height of the battle, the assault companies decimated and the attack faltering in the face of overwhelming fire, Corax himself led the forlorn hope, his battle cry firing the XIXth Legion to such efforts that the breach was carried and Gate Forty-Two taken. The honour of slaying the Unsighted Kings was claimed by Horus as Warmaster and at the moment of their execution, the xenos' hold over the population was dispelled. The Akum-Sothos Cluster was delivered and the Warmaster's prize was reclaimed. The cost was terrible, however, for not only had countless millions of hosts been crippled in mind and body, but thousands of Raven Guard, the bulk of them Terran-born, had given their lives before the shattered walls.
Though the Battle of Gate Forty-Two was counted a victory by (and indeed for) Horus, its effects were far-reaching. The XIXth Legion was sorely depleted, leaving only 80,000 Raven Guard Astartes under the Primarch's command and making it the smallest of the Legiones Astartes. Corax removed himself and his Legion from his brother's command, swearing bitterly never to serve alongside Horus again. One last consequence of the Battle of Gate Forty-Two lingered still. In its aftermath, those line officers who, before the coming of their Primarch, had served for so long under Horus' command were gone, and so the Warmaster was able to exert little in the way of influence over the Raven Lord's Legion. Many of these Terrans had been inducted into the Warrior Lodges, and with their deaths these unseen political bodies all but vanished from the Raven Guard. It has been claimed by his detractors that in assigning the Terran-born Legionaries to the assault wave that would suffer the greatest losses, Corax did his Legion a service, consolidating his power and paving the way for a future more in line with his own vision. As a result, the Legion was largely spared the wave of insurrection that was transmitted through so many of the Legions by the hidden auspices of the lodges when the Heresy began.
The Battle of Gate Forty-Two has often been noted by scholars of the Great Crusade as the pyre that Corvus Corax hoped would burn his Legion clean of what he saw as the unwelcome taint of many of the Terran recruits. However, if such was his intent then it was not entirely successful, for some few among those who Corax had placed amongst the vanguard yet survived. Chief amongst them was Nerat Kirine, the brutally efficient Terran Praetor of the Legion's Ashen Claws Chapter, whose inspired hit and run tactics had brought his Veteran Legionaries through the fires of battle bloodied but unbroken. Several thousand of the 18th Chapter, the Ashen Claws, remained, near every one a Terran-born Veteran of the old XIXth Legion, and many were angered by the callous disregard the Raven Lord had shown for their lives and record of loyal service to the Imperium.
In the aftermath of the battle, several of the participating Legions, notably the Raven Guard, Luna Wolves and Iron Warriors, were to contribute warriors to a number of Great Crusade fleets dispatched further into the uncharted reaches of the Ghoul Stars to locate and eradicate any further xenos nests before they could trouble the Imperium. The surviving warriors of the Ashen Claws were marshalled in the aftermath of the battle, but not to receive the honours bestowed upon those of other Legions that had fought in the battle. Instead, the Raven Lord formed the vast majority of the remaining Veterans of the old XIXth Legion, along with those freed from Deliverance whose crimes and demeanour left them ill at odds with the Primarch's perception of his Legion, and formed them into Crusade fleets. These fleets were dispatched into the dim stars of the northeastern galactic fringe, known to explorers of the time as the Ghoul Stars, there to bring the light of the Emperor to the dark at the edges of the galaxy, far from the eyes of the fledgling Imperium and the brooding lord of the Raven Guard.
Carrion Birds AllEdit
- "...And as Ilium falls to dust and ruin, so does the inevitable doom of Rhome hasten towards us."
- — Attr. to the Helac warlord Skypio Aemilanos
What became of the Ashen Claws is subject to much conjecture, but extant sources revealed that the Ashen Claws became an independent Blackshield raiding force that followed a mandate of greed and mercenary intent, and only nominally fought for the Emperor during the Horus Heresy. What became of them following the end of the galaxy-wide conflict, wouldn't be revealed until over half a standard century had passed, following the Great Scouring. Full research into the origins of the Ashen Claws fleet notes that they were despatched on-Crusade in 002.M31, the commander of the expedition, Praetor Calvus, a Deliverance survivor known for his loyalty to Corax. What fate Praetor Calvus met is unknown, but it is likely that by the return of the Ashen Claws in 011.M31 he had perished. With an original complement of thirteen capital-class voidcraft, a score of smaller starships and some 4,000 of the Legiones Astartes assembled from the survivors of the fighting in Akum-sothos, the fleet was a significant force, even assuming that nine standard years of Crusading had taken its toll on the fleet. In fact, it is this slow bleeding of resources and manpower over the course of their exile that likely led to the tactics displayed in the few records the Divisio Militaris possessed of their actions, all of which seem to have been focused on the acquisition of resources and munitions.
Following the fragmentation and collapse of the Nostramo Sector in 011.M31, at the recommendation of the Divisio Militaris, the High Lords of Terra issued an edict declaring the Nostramo Sector and those sectors adjoining it a forbidden zone to Imperial craft, save those with special dispensation. The borders of the Imperium contracted and a great swathe of space was abandoned to the ravages of xenos predators and the few scattered bands of rebels that lingered on remote worlds. With the final fate of the Ashen Claws undocumented, it may be that they also lurk somewhere within these forbidden stars, that far from the eyes of the Imperium those worlds brought to Compliance by their final Crusade still survive. Some Imperial scholars wonder perhaps, in the face of the changes wrought on the Emperor's realm in the wake of His hollow victory at the end of the Heresy, if perhaps they chose the wiser course.
At Empire's EndEdit
Many Imperial scholars scoured the archives of Terra over the course of many years and several expeditions to the lowest vaults seeking answers to the riddle of the Nostramo Sector. Little more would be uncovered for some years as forces within the battered Imperium moved to secure their power and those who were seen as relics of a time now past were pushed aside. The next piece of the puzzle would emerge in 011.M31, coming from the distant halls of Ultramar, passed into the hands of a noted Imperial scholar by a loyal acolyte whose travels had led him down distant trails, including the battles fought by those fragments of the Ultramarines that were separated from their brethren by the advance of the Word Bearers, left isolated after the fall of Honourum. In the final days of 011.M31, under the command of Arceas Odenathus of the 10th Chapter, the Ultramarines moved to assault the world of Desperation, on the coreward edge of the Nostramo Sector, seeking to establish a zone of Loyalist control in the Dominion of Storms. While the result of the battle is of little consequence, the circumstances that brought its conclusion have much import on the answer to the question of what happened to the Ashen Claws.
Though the initial assault on the Night Lords holdfast succeeded, the Loyalist ground assault forces soon fell prey to cunningly wrought ambushes and sabotage. The Loyalist fleet were also subjected to near-continuous raids by small squadrons of Night Lords spacecraft in orbit, targeting isolated voidcraft and lumbering transport barges. The Loyalists were hard-pressed to fully suppress these raids while bound to protect those troops they had landed on the surface, placing them in an invidious position of their own success in the initial stages of the assault. However, the intercession of a fleet of unmarked warships of Imperial pattern was to shift the balance in the Loyalists' favour. Emerging some distance from Desperation, this unknown fleet, comprised of six capital-class vessels, older Hoplon Pattern Assault Cruisers of Jovian design, moved to engage the Night Lords starships. Caught between the Loyalist vessels and the ebon-hulled craft, the Night Lords Cruisers fell victim to a withering crossfire that left them in ruins.
Now in control of orbital space above Desperation, the Ultramarines attempted to make contact with the craft that had come to their aid. The battle-scarred starships had disabled their ident broadcast signals, and did not display any sign of Legion heraldry on their hulls, yet their actions would have the Loyalists suppose them enemies of the Traitor Warmaster. Their attempts to communicate, intending to secure their co-operation in the reduction of the Night Lords' positions on the surface in the Emperor's name, met with curt rebuff. The acting commander identified himself as Kirine, and soon the craft under his command approached the planet and began to launch their own landing craft. Once they landed upon Desperation's surface the landing craft disgorged a host of Legiones Astartes clad in worn battle-plate bearing a heraldry of black and red. Organised into small and fast-moving units, these Astartes engaged in brutal strike and face assaults against the Ultramarines in the area. With their surviving squads falling back to sound defensive positions, the Raven Guard were able to occupy the armourium, bringing up their landing craft with the apparent intent of looting the store of arms and munitions kept within.
Augmented by fresh Ultramarines from the 10th and 22nd Chapters, the cast-off Raven Guard Blackshields fought ferociously on the planet's surface, focusing their efforts upon the site of a vast armourium, fending off probing attacks from Night Lords Terror Squads. A stream of Raven Guard shuttle craft emptied the armourium under the watchful eye of squadrons of Fire Raptor gunships attempting to force the enemy out of geo-synchronous orbit of the armourium. A breakthrough in the defences thrown up around the armourium was forced by the Destroyers of the 22nd Chapter, their Leviathan Pattern Siege Dreadnoughts battering down the hastily erected barricades under heavy fire. With a hole punched into their fortifications, the Raven Guard were forced into a fighting retreat, evacuating as many of their units as possible as the noose was closed. The last of their units, a squad of Cataphractii Terminators, sealed the doors of the armourium behind them, having most likely teleported to the waiting Cruiser above. In the wake of the Raven Guard's evacuation, Night Lords units began a hive-wide counterattack, surging forwards into the exhausted Ultramarines units across the city. In defence of their own troops, the Loyalists were forced to evacuate those forces on the ground, suffering heavy casualties in the process. By necessity this left them unable to oppose the retreat of the Raven Guard Cruisers, which left orbit in possession of a sizable store of munitions, but having paid for them in the blood of their fallen brethren.
Long years have passed since the original report on the Ashen Claws was entered into the archives of the Divisio Militaris, a relic of times past that had been reborn anew to serve a changed empire. Few in the new Imperium cared to look back at what once was, and of those even less had time for the forgotten mysteries of a war that had passed into legend and myth -- yet some few still harken to the words of past scribes. Passed to their hands by those who still remembered the day when the Emperor walked among His people was the last piece of the puzzle, a warning perhaps that in the dark beyond, there yet remained those who were unwilling to accept the new order that now overtook the Imperium. A long-range Astropathic message was sent by Far Rim Monitoring Station Occludus, 108th Independent Company, by Captain Crysos Morturg, Commanding.
In 063.M31, while conducting a routine sweep along the outer edges of the restricted sectors of the Ghoul Stars, Imperial strike craft of a Deep Range Patrol intercepted a fragment of an Astropathic message bearing Imperial code-memes of ancient provenance. The transmission date appended to the message would have it as being less than a standard year old, but this must have been in error as no human realms were known to have survived in the Ghoul Stars. As such, the nature of the message led Imperial authorities to believe that it might be some kind of Warp echo, perhaps dating back to the days of the Great Crusade, although it showed none of the degradation that usually accompanied such echoes.
A full transliteration follows:
"...Fourth Company reports the asteroid settlements of the Orcades brought into Compliance as per the edict of the Second Crusade, one thousand souls claimed as bondsmen for the Legion that it may grow and prosper. Expect our return to Atargatis within the month for reassignment."
Chapter Combat DoctrineEdit
- "One knife in the dark is worth a thousand swords at dawn."
- — Ancient Proverb
Based on the eyewitness reports and evidence discovered by Battlefleet Vengeance, a Retribution Fleet of the IXth (Blood Angels) Legion's 33rd Company during their sojourn into the Nostramo Sector in 017.M31, they quickly encountered evidence of a mysterious Legiones Astartes force that had marauded across the sector on multiple worlds. They found spent bolt shells and fragments of battle-plate in a black and red heraldry that was unknown to them. The Blood Angels Tech-adepts were able to coax from several machines through interminable invocations and ritual, recordings that gave a disturbing insight into the final days of many of these ravaged worlds. Many of these planets, it seemed, had not been merely destroyed, but rendered into a warning for other systems in the sector, its armies utterly annihilated and its population herded into the depths of its hive cities before they collapsed were sealed within -- a price of their defiance. These tactics matched well the descriptions of the practices of the Dark Compliance inflicted by the Sons of Horus on a number of worlds during the Horus Heresy, yet many of the worlds in the Nostramo Sector were already sworn in service to the Warmaster's cause through their Night Lords masters and would seem an unlikely target for such terror tactics.
In all of the scant reports of encounters between forces engaged in the grand wars of the Horus Heresy and the piratical warband known as the Ashen Claws, the forces of that enigmatic group have displayed a marked preference for the deployment of orbital interface craft, almost to the exclusion of other types of support unit. While, as with all the Legiones Astartes, the armoured transhuman infantry of the Space Marines remains the core of their operations, all of the great Legions supplement these forces with a variety of support units, each intended to fulfil a specific goal upon the field of battle. Not so the Ashen Claws; whether by necessity or tactical preference these raiders and pillagers deployed a variety of interface fighters, bombers and Assault Craft in support of their fast moving infantry forces, shunning the slower-moving armoured columns that typified some Legions.
Perhaps this extreme military specialisation is a consequence of the supposed limited manpower and materiel available to such a splinter faction of the larger conflict, reinforced by need and circumstance. If this is so then it must be assumed that the Ashen Claws had already prosecuted war in this limited fashion for some time in order to explain their experience and skill in the deployment of such ad hoc formations and tactics. Honed perhaps to a keen edge on long since forgotten alien worlds in the deep black beyond the Imperium's borders, these tactics proved a deadly surprise to those forces they encountered on their return to Imperial space.
As evidenced by the few recorded instances of the Ashen Claws in combat, their ground assaults are preceded by a wave of interface fighters and gunships, Storm Eagles and Primaris-Lightnings tasked with the elimination of anti-aircraft defences and key strongpoints. Following these craft are massed Kharybdis Assault Claw and Dreadclaw Drop Pod squadrons, packed with the fleet-moving infantry squads favoured by the Ashen Claws. Though lacking in certain patterns of more recently issued equipment, the raiding fleet known as the Ashen Claws seemed well supplied with the oft-maligned Drop Pod known as the Kharybdis Assault Claw, often deploying squadrons with abandon during the closing phases of a void battle. Operating in the deep void and within the atmosphere of a planet as both transport and heavy gunship, these craft appear to be one of the favoured transports for Veteran infantry units among the Ashen Claws. These infantry formations rarely sought to hold ground, instead seeking to suppress and circumvent the enemy's main strength and defeat him piecemeal. The aim of such attacks was almost always the seizure of munitions and weaponry rather than conquest or simple slaughter, a focus that left more conventionally-minded tacticians among the Legiones Astartes wrong-footed when facing them in battle.
Notable Ashen ClawsEdit
- Praetor Nerat Kirine - The Terran-borne Nerat Kirine was formerly a Shade Captain of the XIXth Legion's 18th "Ashen Claws" Chapter; one that served as a potent exemplar of the early XIXth Legion's brutally efficient style of warfare. He was present during the Battle of Hell's Anvil, a campaign which typified the bloody-handed and cold-blooded ways of the early XIXth Legion that Corax would later seek to repress. This particular battle cemented the reputation of the XIXth Legion as harbingers of death for those units of the Imperial Army assigned to their support, for their daring decapitation strikes often left support units in the path of destruction with little hope of rescue. This remnant of their heritage as slave-masters and raiders in the dust plains of Old Earth did not find favour with the Raven Lord when he joined with the XIXth Legion. Following the ascension of Horus Lupercal to the esteemed rank of Warmaster of the Emperor's vast military forces, the Raven Guard were recalled to the Akum-sothas Cluster to help put down an insurrection that was instigated by the xenos influence of the so-called Unsighted Kings. Contrary to their usual tactics, Corax bowed to the Warmaster's wishes, and so ordered the Terran elements of the 18th Chapter to lead a near-suicidal assault on the enemy's fortifications. They were only carried through the fires of battle bloodied and unbroken by the brutal efficiency of then-Praetor Nerat Kirine. Several thousand of the 18th Chapter remained, but instead of being feted, they were instead marshalled by the Raven Lord and formed into a Crusading fleet. They were to carry the light of the Emperor into the outer darkness of the Ghoul Stars, apart from the greater bulk of the Legion. At some point when the Ashen Claws former commander, Praetor Calvus died, Nerat Kirine took command over the Crusading fleet. His ultimate fate, like that of the Ashen Claws, remains unknown.
- Praetor Calvus - When the Ashen Claws Chapter was despatched on-Crusade in 002.M31 following the Battle of Gate Forty-Two, Praetor Calvus, a Deliverance survivor known for his loyalty to Corax, was chosen to be the commander of the expedition. The fate that befell Praetor Calvus is unknown, but he more than likely had already perished by the time the Ashen Claws reemerged in 011.M31 and were encountered by a Blood Angels Retribution fleet during the scouring of the Nostramo System.
When the Ashen Claws were despatched on-Crusade in 002.M31 they possessed an original complement of thirteen capital voidcraft and a score of smaller starships, their exact classes unknown.
The Ashen Claws Chapter were observed to wear battle-plate of dull black, with the power pack, both pauldrons and vambraces coloured a dull red. Their helms were also daubed in this colour. Many of the Chapter's Legionaries were observed wearing baroque variations of older patterns of Power Armour once common during the Great Crusade. Many of the segmented plates also had symbols inscribed on them, not in a regimented pattern that would indicate marks of rank or status, but almost at random and in the form of primitive tribal runes or gang symbols like those once worn by the Sons of Horus. Many also bore the raptor and lightning bolt symbols of the Emperor, an honour usually reserved only for those Terran recruits who fought by His side on the battlefields of Ancient Terra and other worlds of the Solar System, and often considered a sign of Loyalist allegiance. Trophies from fallen enemies, in the form of fragments of weapons, and skulls and claws of xenos beasts adorned the warriors, many in forms never witnessed before, and small charms on carved green stone, similar perhaps to Terran jade.
The Ashen Claws icon is a strange sigil that would normally boast one of the Space Marine Legions, a circle ringed by jagged claws, ash-white on a field of red that matches the colour of dried blood, an ominous and sinister emblem. Its exact meaning is unclear.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Three: Extermination (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 150-151
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 132-147