"If you must strike a dangerous foe, your blow must be so severe that you need never fear of his vengeance."
- —Remark 223.XVII, from the Codicils of Roboute Guilliman
The Battle of Calth, also referred to as the Calth Atrocity, was the name given by later Imperial scholars to the treacherous campaign conducted during the early stages of the Horus Heresy in beginning in 007.M31 by the traitorous XVIIth Space Marine Legion, the Word Bearers, on behalf of the Warmaster Horus against their hated rivals, the XIIIth Space Marine Legion, better known as the Ultramarines.
The campaign was launched by the Word Bearers' Primarch Lorgar Aurelian with the goal of exterminating the XIIIth Space Marine Legion outright. The purpose of the Word Bearers' invasion of the Ultramarines' Realm of Ultramar in the Eastern Fringes of the galaxy was to tie down the XIIIth Legion and prevent them from reinforcing their fellow Loyalists as the Traitor Legions marched relentlessly on Terra itself.
The crux of the campaign came on the Agri-world of Calth in the Ultramar Sector, where the Ultramarines successfully broke the Word Bearers' surprise assault after a viciously-fought siege action, though at the cost of terrible casualties and the complete destruction of Calth's atmosphere and once-verdant biosphere.
As a result of the devastation wrought by the Word Bearers during the Calth Atrocity upon the Veridia System's sun, future generations of Calth's people were required to live deep underground in massive subterranean hive cities to escape their world's radiation-scorched, airless surface.
While both the Ultramarines and their Primarch Roboute Guilliman survived the Word Bearers' assault, the campaign successfully prevented the Ultramarines from participating in the Siege of Terra just as Horus had planned.
Striking a Blow for Horus
During the opening days of the terrible conflict that would become known as the Horus Heresy in later years, the Warmaster Horus launched his treacherous attack on the world of Istvaan III against the Loyalist elements within four of the Space Marine Legions that turned to Chaos, including the Sons of Horus, the Emperor's Children, the World Eaters and the Death Guard. It is believed by Imperial savants that the Loyalists made up approximately one-third of the combatants at Istvaan III. Having successfully purged the remaining Loyalists from the Traitor Legions, Horus plotted the next stages of his insurrection against his once-beloved father, the Emperor of Mankind. When word reached Terra of the Warmaster’s treachery at Istvaan III - a result of the flight of the frigate Eisenstein under the command of Captain Nathaniel Garro and a small group of Loyalist Space Marines from the Death Guard Legion - the Emperor ordered the deployment of seven Loyalist Astartes Legions to the Istvaan System to bring Horus to account for his actions.
While Horus made his plans for what would become known as the infamous Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V, the Warmaster sent word to the XVIIth Legion's Primarch Lorgar that the time had come for his Astartes, the Word Bearers, to strike against the Imperium. The Warmaster was keenly aware of the bitter hatred that Lorgar had for his Primarch brother Roboute Guilliman and his XIIIth Legion, the Ultramarines. The Emperor had grown impatient with the Word Bearers progress in the Great Crusade as they began to delay longer and longer at their conquests, building temples and fanes in His honour, many among the Officio Militaris and the Emperor's inner council began to question their priorities. In 963.M30 the Emperor sent Malcador the Sigillite, first among his councillors, and Roboute Guilliman of the Ultramarines to correct Lorgar's ways. At His order, the Word Bearers were publicly censured and the city of Monarchia on the distant world of Khur, along with its false temples, was destroyed by the warriors of Ultramar as an object lesson in the folly of false religion. The entirety of the XVIIth Legion was then forced to kneel in the ashes of their devotion while the Ultramarines stood over them in judgement, that which they had seen as worthy devotion now labelled treasonous. The Ultramarines had taken no pleasure in this act, which was intended to teach Lorgar and his Astartes to adhere to the atheistic doctrines of the Imperial Truth rather than spread the false belief that the Emperor was divine to all the worlds that they conquered. Yet Lorgar and the Word Bearers had never forgiven the Ultramarines for this action and they longed for vengeance against the XIIIth Legion.
It is unlikely that the true architect of the Calth atrocities will ever be known, but weighed against the innumerable sins committed by both Lorgar and Horus, the attribution of this one offence is inconsequential. What is known is that the earliest stages of the assault on Ultramar were laid down long before Horus arrived at the fateful worlds of Istvaan, in the year 005.M31, with a series of orders issued under the seal of the Warmaster dispatching a number of Legions to campaigns in the furthest reaches of the Imperium. Of these, the Blood Angels were sent forth in their entirety to Signus, the Dark Angels to Tsagualsa and Ultramarines would muster alongside the Word Bearers at Calth. Horus told Lorgar that he had fed Guilliman false intelligence in regard to a possible threat within the Veridian System in the Segmentum Tempestus, far to the galactic south of Terra. This supposed threat stemmed from the Orks of the Ghaslakh Empire. Horus had ordered the XIIIth and the XVIIth Legions to muster and meet at the world of Calth in the Ultramarines' Realm of Ultramar, in order to conduct a massive joint campaign of extermination against the Ghaslakh xenohold, a common mission for the Astartes during the final days of the Great Crusade.
Gathering at Saturn those of his Legion who had been embarked on crusades in distant parts of the galaxy, Roboute Guilliman would depart the Sol System mere months before news of Horus' rebellion reached the Emperor's ears. The turbulent state of the Empyrean in those years would see the Ultramarines' main strength journey to Calth by a winding and obtuse trail which would also cloak them from all attempts by Terra to recall them or forewarn them of Horus' actions. The Word Bearers, delayed by the slaughter at Istvaan, would not arrive at Calth until the majority of the XIIIth Legion had already gathered, travelling a path of blood and ashes of their creation.
It would be at Calth that Lorgar would launch a surprise attack on the Ultramarines whilst they were gathered for the campaign against the Orks of Ghaslakh. The XIIIth Legion would be caught completely unaware while the Word Bearers would use the advantage of surprise to completely annihilate their hated rivals. The assault at Calth would also allow the Word Bearers to reveal that they, too, now served the Ruinous Powers. Calth was not chosen as the site of the confrontation between the Word Bearers and the Ultramarines by chance, for the Word Bearers intended to destroy one of the jewels in the Ultramarines' realm of Ultramar (then known as the Ultramar Coalition), just as the XIIIth Legion had destroyed one of the Word Bearers' greatest achievements, the sacred city of Monarchia, four decades earlier.
As the Word Bearers entered Ultramar space, Lorgar prepared his Legion for the inevitable slaughter that would follow. Command of the main assault force was given to Kor Phaeron, the First Captain of the XVIIth Legion and one of Lorgar's most favoured champions. Calth was to be Kor Phaeron's operation to execute, far more than it was Lorgar's. Kor Phaeron had planned the assault of Calth for his Primarch meticulously, and executed it with the aid of the Dark Apostle Erebus. The punishment and annihilation of the XIIIth Legion was the campaign's principal aim; the humiliation and execution of Lorgar's hated rival Roboute Guilliman was a secondary objective. But for Lorgar, the assault would also mark his first opportunity to gain true favour in the eyes of the Dark Gods he now served; to prove to them that he had earned his place as their Chosen One.
The first phase of the Word Bearers' attack plan involved the capture of a vessel of the Ultramarines' fleet. The act which heralded the Battle of Calth went unseen and undetected at the time, by human eyes at least, for it was performed in the silent outer reaches of the Veridian System. That act was the taking of an aged fleet auxiliary tender by the name of the Campanile, and no report was made of this event and none survived it. Whether she was captured by some warp-tainted psyker fated to die as an act of ritual sacrifice, or some warp entity breached her hull, slaughtered the entire crew and took total control of the vessel's systems matters not. The use to which she was employed betrays the genius of a Primarch allied in unspeakable compact with powers then only just stirring and known to few others than he. Soon after the Campanile fell silent, an event barely noted by the massively over-taxed Veridian System Control, the first of the Word Bearers fleet broke Warp to complete the conjunction of the two Legions. The Traitors intended to use the captured vessel to strike a crippling surprise blow against the Ultramarines' massed fleet that would mark the start of their vicious assault.
The Calth Conjunction
Calth was a verdant Agri-World in the Veridian System of Ultramar whose manufacturing output at the time of the Horus Heresy would have rivalled that of Macragge in only two to three more decades. There was even talk of constructing a superorbital ring like that which encircled Terra and was intended to get cargo to and from orbit as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The most important and heavily populated worlds of the Imperium had all constructed similar rings, which were marvels of human technology and engineering and symbols of the new Golden Age that the Emperor intended to create for Mankind. Calth intended to join Macragge, Saramanth, Konor, Occluda and Iax as the most important worlds of the Ultramar Sector, whose influence already extended across a vast swathe of the Imperium's Segmentum Ultima. Calth's people hoped that their world would become one of the anchor points of the glorious new Imperial civilisation that would come to full fruition after the end of the Great Crusade.
Roboute Guilliman and a sizeable portion of the XIIIth Legion had been stationed near the moons of Saturn in the Sol System when they received their orders to mass at Calth from Horus. Some within the Primarch’s command questioned the need for the deployment of so large an Astartes force; the size of the combined Ultramarines/Word Bearer force would have been the largest since the Ullanor Crusade. The Ultramarines' officers had seen the tactical audits and knew that the Orks of Ghalaskh presented little real threat to the Imperium. But the wiser, more experienced Chapter Masters realised that the Ultramarines were to lend a little shine to the tarnished reputation of the Word Bearers by operating in concert with them, and the assault on Ghalaskh was intended to demonstrate the authority of the Warmaster over all of the Legiones Astartes.
Regardless of the Ultramarines' trepidations or personal feelings, Roboute Guilliman acquiesced to Horus' rightful authority and moved his Legion to the world of Calth in order to rendezvous with other elements of the Ultramarines and take on supplies for the coming campaign. The Ultramarines would then join with the Word Bearers and combine their efforts to crush the Greenskins. In truth, Guilliman still had misgivings about the actions that the Ultramarines had been ordered to take by the Emperor against the XVIIth Legion during their chastisement at Khur. Guilliman felt that the Emperor had been wrong to use the Ultramarines as an instrument of humiliation against a brother Legion and as an example of Astartes perfection. Guilliman was correct in believing that relations between the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers had been poisoned by what had happened on Khur, but wrongly thought that Horus had ordered the two Legions to work jointly in the pacification of Ghalaskh in an attempt to close the rift that had opened between them.
Signs and Portents
There were many portents of the tragedy soon to unfold upon Calth. Given the extraordinary thoroughness with which the XIIIth Legion maintained its readiness, it might have been considered tragic, or incompetent, that so few were heeded. The first signs of the Word Bearers betrayal was the minor interruption in Vox traffic around Calth that was attributed to solar distortion -- the void was known to forever creak and whisper around the audible and electromagnetic ranges. Soon there were various reports of a voice chanting over Calthian Vox-links in Calth space. This eerie chanting soon interfered with the main orbital data-feed between the orbital installations and the surface of Calth for several seconds. An hour later, there were two more bursts of such interference, the source of which remained undetermined. Calth Communications Control reported an hour later that there were "a series of malfunction events" and warned that further communication disruptions might be expected during the day until the problem was identified. An hour after that, on the night side of Calth, the first of the bad dreams began.
There were psychic portents as well. Hundreds of Ultramarines Battle-Brothers had been Librarians before the Emperor's decree at the Council of Nikaea banned the Space Marine Legions' use of psykers. Many Astartes Librarians of the Legions resented the Decrees of Nikaea, but honoured their oath to the Emperor and surrendered their Librarian panoply and wargear, returning to the lines as ordinary Battle-Brothers. Before the attack on Calth, those gifted with psychic abilities suffered severe headaches and pain behind the eyes. They ignored the pain, chalking it up to nothing more than fatigue after having gone without rest for several days during the preparation phase for the coming campaign against the Orks. It had not been possible to shut down higher mental functions and sleep, or at least remedially meditate. This mysterious pain was actually a warning sign broadcast through the Warp of the impending approach of the Forces of Chaos. The former Librarians all ignored the headaches. Few would survive the coming assault long enough to regret it.
For days the Word Bearers' Chaos Cult echelons chanted monotonously into the ether as they conducted sacrificial rituals intended to bring forth the entities of the Warp to supplement the forces of the XVIIth Legion in the battle to come. Eight names were now repeatedly and constantly broadcast into the data flows of Calth's global Cogitator network. No data filter or noospheric barrier would block the repeating code or erase it, because it was only composed of regular characters. They were neither toxic code nor viral data, but once they were inside the system, and especially once they had been read and absorbed by the Mechanicus' noosphere, they began to grow in size. Soon these names became combinations of letters and then longer, deeper meanings essentially a form of runic Chaotic sorcery. These implanted meanings were caustic, infectious and indelible. There were eight of them, the sacred number of Chaos -- the Octed.
At the orbital watchtower high above Calth, located at the Kalkas Fortalice, Uhl Kehal Hesst, a Mechanicus Server of Instrumentation, detected scrapcode within the global Cogitator system -- the dull amber threads of diseased information buried in the mass of healthy data. There was 2% more of it than any Analyticae projection had calculated for the Calth noosphere, the entirety of Cogitator data being used across Calth's global system, even under the irregular circumstances wrought by the conjunction of Imperial forces on the planet below. This was an unacceptable margin of error for the system, and the Mechanicus' senior Tech-priests reported the problem to Guilliman. They informed the Primarch that the scrapcode problem had been identified as a hindrance and that, though regrettable, these things did often happen within complex Cogitator systems and should not hamper his Legion's preparations for the coming campaign.
Multiple Word Bearer vessels had already arrived in the Calth System, which included at least a half dozen or so crimson-coloured vessels, unusual for the Word Bearers, since the XVIIth Legion's colours were a flat steel grey. Counted amongst their number was the massive Infidus Imperator -- a Grand Cruiser and the flagship of the Word Bearers' First Captain Kor Phaeron, as well as Destiny's Hand, the Battle-Barge of the Dark Apostle Erebus. The Dark Apostle was tasked with a vital mission on behalf of the Warmaster. While the rest of the XVIIth Legion's vessels stationed themselves to the rear of the massive orbital flotilla gathering above the world, Erebus teleported down to Calth's surface, to the Satric Plateau, located 2,000 kilometres north of Numinous City. Covered in frost from the hard winter, this particular area was selected as the best potential site to conduct the blasphemous Chaotic ritual Erebus had been tasked to perform, for the Immaterium vectors aligned perfectly and the barrier between realspace and the Empyrean was particularly thin in that part of Calth.
A Word Bearers strike team already on Calth awaited the Dark Apostle. Its leader was Essember Zote, one of the dreaded daemon-possessed Word Bearers known as the Gal Vorbak. He had with him a work party of the Tzenvar Kaul, “The Recursive Family”, one of the many Chaos Cults serving the XVIIth Legion. This was to be the point of the true conjunction on Calth. The men of the Kaul laid out a circle of polished black rocks upon the ground, each taken from the volcanic slopes of Istvaan V and marked with a blasphemous sigil. These were arranged in a perfect circle a kilometre in diameter. The rocks were summoning stones, whose latent Chaotic power could make one sick just by holding them.
The men of the Tzenvar Kaul approached the summoning circle, each carrying other offerings from the Istvaan System. Marching in procession, they bore along portable stasis flasks, the fluid within murky with blood, as they contained Progenoid Glands and gene-seed harvested from all the Legions that had fought each other on Istvaan III and Istvaan V, Traitor and Loyalists alike. The Kaul carried the flasks into the circle and the moment that they crossed the mystical border created by the summoning stones, the bearers started to whimper and retch. Several passed out, or suffered strokes, and fell, smashing the flasks. As the moon rose into perfect alignment, Erebus took his Vox-link and sent a message to the Traitors in orbit. The time had come for the Word Bearers to have their revenge against the Ultramarines and their insufferable Primarch.
Aboard the docked Ultramarines vessel Samothrace in high orbit of Calth, Captain Sorot Tchure of the Word Bearers was enjoying a formal dinner arranged by his Ultramarines counterpart and friend, Honorius Luciel, the Captain of the 209th Company. Receiving his order to carry out his part of the plan, Tchure returned back to the dining table with his fellow Word Bearers. As the two Astartes officers struck up a conversation, the Ultramarines captain was aware that his counterpart seemed agitated.
Tchure shared with Luciel that he had recently learned a bit of useful warcraft whilst fighting in the Istvaan System that he thought his Ultramarines counterpart would appreciate. Unaware of any recent Imperial campaigns within the Istvaan System, Luciel's interest was piqued. The Word Bearers officer spoke of the art of betrayal and its inherent power because the treachery ran so deep, especially if it was committed against a trusted ally or close friend. Asked to join the advance into the Ultramar System, he told Luciel that he had to prove his commitment. The Word Bearer subtly tried to warn Luciel that in order to show that he was loyal to the XVIIth Legion's new cause he must first betray his friend. Realising, too late, the meaning of Tchure's obscure warning, Luciel rose to his feet to defend himself, but was cut down with a well-placed plasma shot through his chest. Tchure and the rest of his Word Bearers then opened fire upon the other startled Ultramarines at the dinner, killing Luciel's entire entourage, the heart of the leadership of the 209th Company. They were then offered as a sacrifice to the Ruinous Powers -- the first casualties of the Battle of Calth.
Aboard the bridge of the Samothrace, an alarm alerted the Officer of the Watch of a malfunction. Accessing his Cogitator for clarification, he was shocked when he saw the phrase: weapons discharge, company deck. Activating the vessel's internal Vox system and rousing deck protection, the Officer of the Watch began to cordon and secure the entire deck used to house the 209th Company. Suddenly, general quarters was sounded, as the bridge came alive with a cacophony of various alarms, klaxons and bells all screeching and booming; the proximity alarm, the collision warning alert, the course defect advisor as well as many others. Looking at the main screen for visual verification, the Officer of the Watch saw a starship heading at full collision speed for the heart of the Ultramarines fleet gathered above Calth.
The captured tender Campanile had crossed the inner defence ring of Calth, its codes accepted as authentic by the orbital defence grid. The mass of the Ultramarines' fleet lay in its path as well as Calth's massive orbital dock yard complex. As it passed within the orbit of Calth’s moon, it began an abrupt acceleration. The captured vessel screamed into Calth’s orbit like a streaking projectile fired from a bolter, heading directly for the Calth Fleet Yards and the fledgling infrastructure of the planet's first proper superorbital ring. It somehow managed to miss some of the larger vessels, grazing them with its Void Shields and skimming the surface of others. Smaller craft that lay in the Campanile 's path were utterly annihilated; cargo boats, lighters, ferries, maintenance riggers. The Ultramar Azimuth Graving Dock was vaporised by the runaway vessel. Several Ultramarines vessels suffered catastrophic hull damage and multiple orbital manufactory modules were destroyed, instantly killing thousands of Imperial Artificers and engineers. The Campanile lost none of its momentum and continued with its suicidal orbital plunge.
Still moving, the captured vessel punched through a hollow construction spheroid that housed three separate vessels, obliterating them all. The assembly ruptured and the debris was propelled into the attached habitat modules, voiding them into space. The devastating trajectory of the Campanile caused the Calth Veridian Anchor to shudder under the onslaught. Internal explosions occurred throughout the structure as even more starships in various states of disrepair were destroyed or catastrophically damaged. Larger Battleships exploded as their power plants and vast ammunition stockpiles were critically compromised. Huge, burning sections of the orbital yards' superstructure as well as the debris of destroyed vessels rained down upon the surface of Calth. The Ultramar Zenith Graving Dock suffered integral gravimetric failure and dropping out of orbit, twisting and breaking as it plummeted to the planet below. The massive Grand Cruiser Antrodamicus, supported by the dock, ripped free of its moorings and slid backwards, caught in the gravity of Calth. With its drives off-line it had no power to stabilise itself or prevent its inevitable doom.
The Campanile continued to plow through the orbital installations surrounding Calth, shooting forward like a solid projectile, a gargantuan mass of streaking death. It annihilated a pair of slipways and the ships within them, ramming through the vital data-engine hub and destroying multiple data-engines as well. As the automatics failed and the noosphere experienced a critical and fatal interrupt, the orbital fleet yard’s power core was obliterated, killing over 35,000 men and women. The Campanile finally broke up, still travelling at immensely high realspace velocities, and a large chunk of the disintegrating vessel spun out of control and destroyed another Ultramarines Battleship. The remaining pieces of the Campanile cleared the far side of the Calth Veridian Anchor and rained down, burning like meteorites, upon the surface of the planet.
Aboard the Samothrace, Sorot Tchure and his Astartes killed most of the ship's crew. Advancing to the main bridge, burning through blast hatches that had been closed in desperation, Tchure confronted the ship's captain, who solemnly announced his disinclination to assist the traitorous Word Bearer. Ignoring the officer, Tchure brutally killed him, letting the body drop to the deck. The Word Bearers then proceeded to coldly murder the entire bridge crew. The Battle of Calth had begun in earnest, as the Word Bearers and their Chaos Cultists began forming up in their thousands for the brutal assault upon the surface.
Assault at High Anchor
The vast orbital shipyard that was the Calth Veridian Anchor was damaged beyond the possibility of salvation or stabilisation by the ruinous trajectory of the Campanile. With the destruction of Calth's main data-engine hub the Mechanicus' ability to communicate with all of its various installations across the world' orbital plane had been torn out, their systems compromised beyond repair. All the various orbital stations that rode at Calth's high anchor had been shattered beyond repair, consumed by firestorms from within when enough atmosphere remained to fuel the blazes. The Ultramarines fleet and Calth's orbital fleet yard infrastructure had suffered a grievous injury while the death toll amongst Imperial personnel and Calthian civilians in the orbital habitats was catastrophic. In the first few seconds after the initial impact of the Campanile, starships across the high anchorage attempted to desperately power up their drives and bring their weapon systems back online. Some attempted to generate enough power in the vain hope of raising their Void Shields or to slip from their moorings in order to reposition in case of an attack.
Then the massive Grand Cruiser of the Word Bearers Legion known to the Ultramarines as the Raptorous Rex, but which the Word Bearers had renamed the Infidus Imperator ("False Emperor") to display their new allegiance opened fire. Kor Phaeron ordered the massive warship that was his flagship to discharge all of its primary Lance weapons at the Battle Barge Sons of Ultramar, obliterating it in one brutal salvo. In formation behind the massive Word Bearers flagship, other warships of the XVIIth Legion's fleet, including the Crown of Colchis, the Battleship Kamiel, the Flame of Purity, the Spear of Sedros and the Battle Barge Destiny's Hand, all opened fire upon the remains of the Ultramarines fleet riding at high anchor.
Shipmaster Ouon Hommed, the captain of the Ultramarines' heavy destroyer Sanctity of Saramanth, saw the Infidus begin its merciless prowl along the anchorage's line of docked Loyalist vessels. He understood that the vessel was executing starships the way a man might execute a row of helpless prisoners. The Sanctity was sitting at anchor with its drives cold and it would take at least 50 minutes to rouse the ship to operational readiness, a reality for every starship in the fleet of the XIIIth Legion which had been sitting cold at high anchor for the conjunction with the incoming Word Bearers. All of their power plants were at lowest yield for the purposes of maintenance, loading and embarkation checks with their drives, weapons and shields off-line, leaving them all under the protective aegis of Calth's planetary defence grid. The Word Bearers continued their onslaught of the Loyalist fleet unabated, leaving Roboute Guilliman to witness the perfidy of his brother Lorgar first-hand.
Wolves Among the Flock
"My brother, hear me. Warriors of the XVIIth Legion, hear me. This violence is against the code of the Legiones Astartes and against the will of our father, the Emperor. In the name of the Five Hundred Worlds of Ultramar, I implore you to cease fire and stand down. Open communication with me. Let us speak. Let us settle this. This action is an error of the most tragic kind. Cease fire. I, Roboute Guilliman, give you my solemn pledge that we will deal with each other frankly and fairly if these hostilities can be suspended. I urge you to respond."
Upon witnessing the Word Bearers' attack, Roboute Guilliman and his officers concluded that the sons of Lorgar had made some tragic mistake. Some reached the conclusion that the Word Bearers had misconstrued the death of Calth Veridian Anchor as an enemy assault and were firing blindly, their systems or their wits so blasted by the calamity that they were unable to tell friend from foe. Others concluded that the Word Bearers feared that the Ultramarines had taken it upon themselves to censure them again in a repetition of Monarchia, that if the Word Bearers' worst unspoken fears had been confirmed, they saw no alternative but to fight for their very lives. The tortured vox channels were choked with attempts to contact the Word Bearers and restore sanity, but even those few vessels whose hailing systems were functioning were unsuccessful -- the Word Bearers would not, or could not, answer.
From the first moment of disaster, the bridge crew of the Ultramarines flagship, Macragge's Honour, had fought valiantly to restore vox capability and establish contact with the Word Bearers. Now, contact was made, albeit limited to a grainy, flickering holo projection and sibilant audio transmission laced with static and feedback. Guilliman demanded his brother stand his fleet down, swearing to Lorgar that the Ultramarines had played no part in whatever disaster had visited Calth. Lorgar had no interest in conversing with his brother and instead spat a bitter curse before terminating the link. In that moment Guilliman saw that what was unfolding could be no accident. With his fleet burning and the Word Bearers crippling or destroying ever more of his vessels with each passing minute, the Primarch of the Ultramarines gave an order he had never imagined he would have cause to speak. With bitter resolve, Roboute Guilliman ordered his sons to defend themselves, authorising measures up to and including return of weapons fire.
From Bad to Worse
"Then the angel took up the censer and filled it with fire of the altar and cast it down to the land; and there followed earthquake, thunder, lightning and death."
- — The Apocrypha Terra
Shortly after the Campanile exploded in orbit, the datashock from the resulting scrapcode onslaught killed Mechanicus Server Uhl Kehal Hesst through a vicious neural biofeedback mechanism commonly known as datashock amongst Tech-adepts (more officially termed hypertraumatic inload syndrome). Weapons fire hit the orbital watchtower at Kalkas Fortalice a nanosecond after the shock wave of data was unleashed by the Word Bearers' coordinated assault. The data noosphere of Calth immediately collapsed. The tower's manifold field stuttered out. Hesst felt and absorbed the shared neural agony of several thousand deaths: his Mechanicus brethren aboard the primary shipyard, aboard the docked vessels, and in the tower around him as they died and their agony was transmitted from their dying neural cortexes through their augmetic systems into the noosphere they had been connected to at the time of their deaths. With the death of Hesst and his fellow Mechanicus personnel, all of the networked Cogitator systems of Calth went off-line. Calth’s planetary defence grid ceased to function, leaving the entire Ultramarines fleet completely unable to mount any defence against the Traitor warships' attack.
Fortunately Hesst's second-in-command, Meer Edv Tawren, a Magos of Analyticae, was not killed by the infected scrapcode. It was basic Mechanicus data server protocol that saved her life, for it required a server's second-in-command to unplug his or her neural interface from the data noosphere when a significant scrapcode assault was under way so that there was no danger of the deputy also being compromised by the infected data. This operational safety measure saved Tawren from far more than just a scrapcode infection. When Hesst died in her arms, he charged his deputy to connect herself to a working server to attempt the reconstruction of the noosphere and bring the orbital defences back online. Magos Tawren would play a pivotal role in the coming conflict.
Debris began to fall from the clouds, trailing fire like meteorites, raining across the fertile river valley of Kalkas Fortalice. Some of the heavier pieces of falling debris struck buildings, exploding them like artillery strikes. The hail of debris had only begun as larger objects begin to fall – parts of ships, orbitals and the docking yards. Magos Tawren saw the unfolding disaster before her sensors did. She saw the Grand Cruiser Antrodamicus falling backwards into the atmosphere, stern first, towards Kalkas Fortalice.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the Ultramarines, Kor Phaeron materialised aboard the Samothrace through arcane means. The Word Bearers used the Samothrace to slip past the Ultramarines into the gates of the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard. Behind it, Calth's main orbital shipyard continued to burn. No one challenged the Samothrace, since it was an Ultramarines vessel running for cover and Vox and noosphere communications amongst all of the orbital installations was completely dead. No one aboard the orbital habitats within the Zetsun Verid Yard questioned the fact that their yard's infrastructure had not been targetted by the Traitors even though all the fleet yards around it had been obliterated. The Samothrace pulled into the ship docks between two Escort vessels sheltered in the yard space. The Ultramarines put up intense resistance, but eventually the Zetsun Verid Yard also fell to the Word Bearers. The Traitors' only setback was that the destruction of Calth's planetary data noosphere was so complete, it took the Word Bearers' Dark Mechanicus allies longer than expected to reconstruct a workable planetary data network. The reason the Traitors had spared the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard was that it contained an advanced data-engine hub capable of substituting itself, in the event of an emergency, for the primary data hub of the Calthian noosphere located at the Calth Veridian Anchor.
The Dark Mechanicum Tech-adepts brought the Zetsun Verid Yard systems online and its data-engine resumed normal operations. Sensing that the planetary weapons grid was inactive, and that the inactivity had been caused by the inexplicable loss of the data-engine hub located aboard the Calth Veridian Anchor, the Zetsun Verid data-engine automatically obeyed its standard protocols and assumed control over the planetary data network and the planetary defence system, bringing the Calthian weapons grid back online.
The Word Bearers were now in control of the effective firepower of a major Imperial battlefleet. The firepower of this defence system was distributed across the surface of Calth and its orbit. Kor Phaeron had his Dark Mechanicus Magi bring online the 962 orbital defence platforms as well as several ground-based stations, including the weapon pits located at Calth's poles. The Calthian planetary weapons grid was capable of keeping at bay an entire expeditionary fleet or primary battlegroup and it soon began to fire on the orders of the Word Bearers, assaulting all of the neighbouring planets and spaceborne Imperial facilities in the Veridian System.
The Ultramarines fleet had scattered, having been reduced to about a fifth of its original strength by the Word Bearers' surprise attack. Those vessels that remained either fled to the far side of the Veridian star to avoid an attack by the Word Bearers' fleet and the inexorable fire of Calth's defence grid or, like Primarch Guilliman’s flagship, the Macragge’s Honour, lay helpless and drifting in Calth's high orbital anchor zone. There were virtually no warships left for the Ultramarines to fight the Traitors in the void. It was simply a matter of time before the Word Bearers picked off the remaining warships of the XIIIth Legion's fleet. Next, the Calthian defence grid destroyed the local Forge World of Verida Forge, a small moon with offensive capabilities. It then assaulted a Star Fort near the Veridian System's Mandeville Point and several more Loyalist capital ships, vaporising them all.
The Ultramarines' 1st Chapter Commander, Marius Gage, was the first amongst the Loyalists to recognise the attack pattern of the Word Bearers' fleet. Many of the surviving Ultramarines starships were the largest and most powerful capital ships in the XIIIth Legion's fleet. With the Traitors firmly in control of Calth's planetary weapons grid the Word Bearers could easily pick off the most serious threats at their leisure. Those ships that had been spared were all helpless and drifting, like the Macragge’s Honour. The moment they shook off the effects of the scrapcode assault, began to start up their drives, or raised their Void Shields, Calth's weapons grid would target and destroy them. The Word Bearers intended to take as many of the XIIIth Legion's capital ships intact as they could to bolster their own fleet and enhance their overall striking power in the longer conflict to come against the Loyalists.
As the southern island cities were being pounded to dust and vapour, the battle in the void was spilling ever further across Calth Near-Space. The world was ringed by over nine hundred orbital defence platforms, each bristling with lance turrets, weapons batteries and torpedo launch tubes, but each had been rendered as defenceless and impotent as an unarmed freighter by the usurpation of the defence grid's command systems. Many of these platforms, even the smallest of which were served by crews of hundreds, were engaged and crippled in scornfully opportunistic strikes by passing Word Bearers war ships, while others were simply ignored. A number, however, were singled out for destruction or boarding, again suggesting the existence of some underlying and esoteric pattern to the entire attack. In a phenomenon that would be repeated countless times, the Word Bearers sought out specific enemies to slay in specific ways, as if in doing so they would honour their Primarch, or some other still higher power.
Across Calth Near-Space, boarding torpedoes and assault claws exploded from the launch bays of Word Bearers vessels to smash into the armoured flanks of scores of defence platforms. Even as the assault claws fusion-burned through metres-thick armour and torpedoes bored deep into their guts, the platforms' defenders mustered. All available hands were scrambled to oppose the Word Bearers boarding parties, but it was the Solar Auxilia stationed on each platform who would bear the brunt of the fighting. While not as strong or as heavily armed and armoured as the trans-human Legiones Astartes they would be fighting, these defenders were nonetheless the elite of Calth's human forces. Configured according to the long-approved and highly efficacious "Solar" pattern, these units were equipped with vacuum-warded void armour and so could fight even in areas depressurised by the breaching of a platform's outer skin. While not as potent as Legiones Astartes bolters, their weapons were still capable of inflicting significant damage when massed against targets that they could scarcely miss in the platforms' cramped interiors.
The greatest advantage the Solar Auxilia defence units had over lesser troops and pressed station hands was their chain of command. Well organised and relentlessly drilled in every facet of "Zone Mortalis" warfare, they could be relied upon to stand resolute against any foe and, if necessary, to die in pursuit of their sacred duty. On a hundred orbital defence stations and more, Word Bearers boarding parties forced their way along passageways swept with torrential blizzards of laser, plasma and flame. The defenders were on home ground and had trained countless times to undertake such duties, and so made the boarders pay dearly for the first few gains they made. The Word Bearers weathered the storm, striding inexorably into the very jaws of death. Ceramite armour cracked and degraded layer by layer as round after round impacted, but few were the truly telling killing blows the defenders could land, and so with lethal inevitability, the Legiones Astartes closed on the defenders' positions. Even then the Solar Auxilia enacted tactical protocols born of generations of void warfare mastered by their Saturnine forebears before the Unification Wars. Lasrifle sections fell back along pre-ordained routes while Veletaris Storm Sections held the attackers at bay with fearsome volleys of volkite fire and searing blasts of flame. Others simply held their position, maintaining a steady rate of fire as death came for them, determined to the last to buy their comrades time to fall back to the next defensible position. But the Word Bearers had gained a foothold and, ultimately, the bold defenders were doomed.
As the battle spilled ever deeper into the guts of the defence platforms, the passageways and chambers were transformed into charnel houses. In places, the defenders' resolve was sorely tested when confronted with the unfamiliar combat doctrines certain Word Bearers Legionaries employed. Some chanted mournful plainsong as they advanced, an atonal dirge filling the hearts of all who heard it with dread. Others halted after every kill, pausing to enact grisly mutilation upon the recently fallen. In still more cases, the Word Bearers refrained from slaying cornered or overrun foe, instead handing them off to following mortal units to clap in irons and drag off as prisoners. The fate of these unfortunates can only be guessed at, for the last that was seen of most does not bear recounting.
On a scant handful of orbital defence platforms, the Solar Auxilia defenders were successful in repelling Word Bearers assaults, but not without paying a heavy price indeed. On Platform Principia-Veridia 27/ K, a sub-cohort of the 222nd Calth Solar Auxilia rad-purged an entire marshalling deck just as a Word Bearers void-breaching party forced its way on board. The resulting flood of neutron radiation was so intense that even the trans-human physiologies of the attacking Legiones Astartes could not fully protect them. The first of the attackers wavered and the auxiliaries of the 222nd fixed bayonets and charged, their Solar pattern void armour able to fend off the radiation only so long as it took the charge to strike home. Dozens of the stricken Legiones Astartes were overrun before they could react, and seconds later the auxiliaries themselves fell victim to the radiation. Not a single warrior of either side survived, the rad-flooded chamber forming a tomb for enemies locked in a mutual death-struggle for all time.
The defence of Platform Elipsia-Veridia 09/Q was equally successful and equally lethal for both sides. In this instance, it is thought that a substantial force of Terminator armour-equipped Word Bearers utilised a rare teleportarium array to board the station and launch a brutal coups de main attack on the station's primary strategium. The station master had scant moments to react and so mounted a noble, if futile, defence of his bridge. The attack had bypassed the large sub-cohort of the 255th Calth Solar Auxilia stationed on Elipsia-Veridia 09/Q , the Word Bearers judging that the defence would collapse with the strategium captured. This did not occur however, for the 255th was commanded by the veteran Lord Marshall Turnus, a beloved leader of advanced years and with countless victories to his name. Determined to strike back at the Traitors even if they could not possibly be repulsed, Turnus ordered the station's Mechanicum magos prime to overload the platform's plasma reactor. The magos refused the Lord Marshall's instruction and so died at Turnus' hand, a bolt round detonating within his platinum-chased skull. His deputy, however, acceded when the Lord Marshall repeated the order, and within minutes the entire platform was consumed in atomic fire, briefly forming a new, deathly star in the tortured skies above Calth.
Elsewhere however, even the elite of the Solar Auxilia could not stem the inexorable tide of assault nor blunt the zealous fury of the Legiones Astartes Word Bearers. Valiant troopers died by the thousand, and at last the Word Bearers' intent in boarding specific orbital defence platforms was revealed as the same scene was enacted upon the bridges of scores of defence platforms. Those commanders taken alive were forced to bear witness to the destruction heaped upon the world whose defence they were sworn to. Compelled to watch by the vice-like grip of a Word Bearers Dark Apostle or other senior officer, the last sight these men and women saw served as a vital component in the vast and terrible ritual unfolding on Calth. Much later, it was determined that the intent of this cruelty was to sear the sight of the dying world into each victim's consciousness as an act of witnessing, a scene the Word Bearers believed the dead would take with them to the afterlife as evidence to the powers that hold sway there of the Traitor Legion's deeds.
The Honour of Macragge
"Lorgar of Colchis. You may consider the following. One: I entirely withdraw my previous offer of solemn ceasefire. It is cancelled, and will not be made again, to you or to any other of your motherless bastards. Two: you are no longer any brother of mine. I will find you, I will kill you, and I will hurl your toxic corpse into hell's mouth."
Two solar hours into the orbital battle, the Master of Vox of the Ultramarines flagship reported to Roboute Guilliman that the Word Bearers flagship, the Fidelitas Lex, had opened a lithocast-hailing channel. The Primarch of the Ultramarines stepped onto the holocaster platform at the centre of his bridge as the hooded figure of his brother Primarch Lorgar manifested before him in grainy hard-light. For perhaps the first time in his life, the famously measured Guilliman was lost to fury. He raged at his brother for his betrayal and swore to exact merciless vengeance. Guilliman denounced Lorgar's very sanity and swore that he and all his sons would be punished. But the Lorgar that listened to all of this with a smirk upon his lips and the remainder of his face hidden in shadow was not the being Guilliman had once known. No longer was Lorgar the cerebral seeker after truth who had debated the nature of the universe with his brother Magnus for days on end, nor was he the over-zealous son who had brought upon himself the censure of the father-Emperor he had decalred a god. Neither was Lorgar the chastened warrior who alone of all the Primarchs sought not conquest, but enlightenment. Here instead was a transcended being radiating a newfound self-assurance, as if he and he alone was party to knowledge still hidden from others, but which they would soon learn whether they willed it or not. No longer cowed or eclipsed before a more overtly purposeful or assured Primarch, Lorgar was the very essence of phlegmatic defiance.
More shocking than Lorgar's manner, however, were the words he now spoke to Guilliman. With scornful derision, he informed the Lord of Ultramar that, contrary to Guilliman's assumptions, Lorgar's treachery was not vengeance for Monarchia and neither was it an isolated event. Rather, it was part of a long-planned scheme of impossible scope and ambition, and that no less than half of their brother Primarchs were complicit in it, including the greatest of their number, Horus. Three of their brother Primarchs, Lorgar claimed, were in fact already dead, a claim that history would reveal as erroneous, yet which he himself had every cause to make at that time. Guilliman was rendered speechless by the staggering hubris evident in Lorgar's words, yet he knew his brother spoke the truth, unpalatable as it may be. In that moment, he swore anew to end his brother's betrayal, even if it was the final act in his long and loyal service. Even if it was revealed as utterly contrary to sound tactics and sane strategy, Guilliman's sole intent at that moment was to hunt Lorgar down and slay his brother by his own hand.
But it was not to be. Lorgar's hard-light avatar suddenly twisted, mutating into a monster torn from nightmare or the imagination of a madman. Guilliman ordered the hololith link terminated in disgust at what he dismissed as grotesque theatricality. Only then did it become evident that the hololithic signal lock had already been cut. The thing of eyes, teeth, tentacles, scales and unreal flesh standing in the centre of the bridge of the Macragge's Honour had transubstantiated from hololithic hard-light to corporeal flesh and the abomination was revealed to the horrified bridge crew and the enraged Primarch as all too real.
An instant later, the entire bridge erupted in an explosion of phantasmagoric viscera, blowing out its armoured viewing dome and blasting its occupants into the void. At a stroke, the Ultramarines were bereft of their beloved Primarch and their beleaguered fleet had lost its flagship. What occurred next had no known precedent in the annals of the Great Crusade, for while the scions of the great Navigator Houses of Terra had some inkling of what lurked beyond, such knowledge was denied to all others, even the Legiones Astartes. The thing that had manifested on the bridge had exploded in a fountain of gore and the force of the detonation had breached the hull. The Primarch, who had been standing at the very eye of the storm, had been blown upwards and outwards through the breach in an instant, the writhing remains of the monster into which Lorgar's lithic avatar had transformed snaring his mighty form in a thrashing mass of spiralling pseudopods and motile shadow.
The bridge crew were given no opportunity to save the Primarch, or even in most cases themselves. A dozen senior officers were swept up in the maelstrom of blood, debris and howling air, and blasted into the void in Guilliman's wake, vacuum snatching the screams from their throats. Shipmaster Zedoff, the veteran captain of the Macragge's Honour, was eviscerated by shards of armoured glass, his shredded body dragged from his command throne in a storm of ruined flesh. Even Space Marines had little chance of escaping the chaos, Chapter Master Vared casting away all void-breach protocol as he was witnessed attempting to aid his Primarch by launching himself upwards into the slipstream of blood and wreckage. He was never seen again. The First Chapter Master, Marius Gage, had been able to grasp hold of a railing at the moment of the breach and pulled himself along the tortured bridge towards the main portal, which was sealing off against the void even as he struggled towards it. Metres from the armoured hatch, Gage came across the grievously wounded Chapter Master Banzor and pulled his fellow Legion officer through the portal as the blast doors lowered. Banzor died soon after, but Gage had no chance to mourn him for the destruction on the bridge was but one torment being visited upon the Macragge's Honour. The entire conning tower was disintegrating around him and deafening howls of bestial insanity were flooding the corridors, accompanied by the screeching of tortured metal, the roar of escaping atmosphere and the wet screams of crew being slaughtered.
Those few who survived the destruction on the bridge, almost exclusively Legiones Astartes, for mortal flesh was too fragile to withstand such hurts, were forced to flee downwards, pursued all the while by death as, deck by deck, the conning tower crumbled into the void. If any expected respite upon reaching the main body of the vessel, they were to be disappointed. The barrel-vaulted companionway which passed along the uppermost decks of the Macragge's Honour presented a scene ripped bloody and ragged from the worst excesses of Old Night. Crew hands were cut down, blood and severed limbs cast in all directions by things of warp-born shadow and searing empyreal fire. The more experienced warriors knew that catastrophic warp breach could bring on chronic hallucination and mass psychosis, while some were party to the theories that certain anti-life forms were able to exist in the shadowed depths of the Warp itself. But this was no warp breach, for the Macragge's Honour was in realspace.
To the beleaguered defenders, it looked as if the entire ship had been boarded by creatures of no catalogued xeno-type at the very height of the battle the Word Bearers had initiated. Only the superior mental conditioning of the Legiones Astartes could bear such a weight of betrayal and horror, and many of the surviving officers reached the immediate conclusion that their traitorous brother Legion had unleashed some form of xenos-terror organism as yet another weapon in their perfidious arsenal. But the Ultramarines had no chance to mount a coordinated defence of the flagship, for the enemy's numbers were simply too great. Human crew were slaughtered, their minds overcome by primal terror at what they were witnessing. Lithe, horned creatures congealed of the roiling energies of warp space, whose skin glowed like lava and who carried wickedly barbed long swords, butchered those too stunned or too slow to flee. Other incarnated entities included bloated, plague-ridden corpse-things, one-eyed and drooling and using rusted cleavers to hew the helpless crew like meat on a butcher's block. Still others were deceptively mock-human, lithe and fleet of foot, possessed of viciously sharp claws that they used to sever and stab and gut foes who were stood helpless and enraptured at their approach. These and a thousand other insanities descended upon the flagship, until soon even the shattered chain of command that had survived the loss of the bridge was gone. It was as if a scene of ancient, apocalyptic mysticism was playing out, and the Space Marines of the XIIIth Legion were confronted with nightmarish foes against which the laws of reality themselves held no sway. Chaos, bloodshed and anarchy claimed the interior of the Macragge's Honour.
The battle devolved into a bitter struggle for survival as individual warriors were cut off from their fellows and swept into the bowels of the vessel or else overwhelmed and slaughtered out of hand. First Chapter Master Gage and Antoli, so far as each knew the only Legion officers still alive, did what they could to restore sanity, ordering the crew to go to ground, to barricade themselves into whatever compartments they could while any and all Ultramarines, naval armsmen and soldiers of the Imperial Army were to rally together. Even this ostensibly straightforward order was almost impossible to enact. Wave after wave of horror flowed through the entire length of the Macragge's Honour, witnesses later describing how the angles of the bulkheads and the spaces between shadows were seen to wrinkle and fold in upon themselves before snapping taut once more to reveal savage wounds in the very skin of reality. It was through these wounds, which later would be described as "micro-rifts", that the creatures came.
Across the ship, individual Legiones Astartes and naval officers fought bravely to repel the invaders. Falling back on long-established counter-incursion protocols, they ordered what responses they could. Entire sections were purged of breathable atmosphere or flooded with toxic gas, while others were plasma-scoured or subjected to worked. The creatures came on and ever on, impervious to effects that would have scoured the ship of any known life form. Such failures were compounded because the vessel's internal command and control systems had been crippled early in the betrayal, and with so many senior Ultramarines dead and lower-tier officers isolated from one another, the same mistakes were made over and over. The Ultramarines' famed ability to analyse any challenge and reason their way to victory broke down entirely, through no fault of their own.
Worse still, the creatures were able to shrug off even the heaviest weight of fire from the Space Marines' bolters and other weapons. They swarmed unharmed through hails of fire to fall upon the defenders with otherworldly savagery. The creatures followed no perceivable strategy or logic, and it was apparent they had no objective but to shed blood. It would later be observed that they appeared more to be culling prey than fighting an opponent in any conventional sense, an observation many others would make before the end.
The Killers Close In
Unknown to the surviving Ultramarines Legion officers or any of the defenders desperately holding back the tide of horror spilling through the Macragge's Honour, a hunting pack of Word Bearers cruisers was closing in on the flagship through the burning void. Though the Ultramarines vessel was far larger than the enemy war ships, the Macragge's Honour was not only defenceless without its bridge, but its crew could scarcely defend their vessel from boarders whilst fighting a desperate battle for their very survival within. The cruisers took up position about the wounded flagship, matching her now drifting, directionless course before firing close range boarding grapnels across the void, tethering hunters and prey together so that the boarding assault could begin. Within minutes, dozens of Word Bearers assault groups were crossing the gulf between vessels. The Macragge's Honour was heavily armoured against external assault, however, and although her outer skin was studded with scores of air-gates of all sizes, the enemy would have to fusion-burn their way in before a full boarding action could get underway.
Order from Chaos
As the Word Bearers breacher squads were to begin their attack on the exterior of the flagship, the balance of the battle for the vessel's interior shifted. Pockets of organised and stoic resistance began to coalesce, individual warriors drawn towards leaders able to command the fight-back by their own heroic example.
Chapter Master Klord Empion, commander of the 9th Chapter, was one such leader, a warrior who was attending to duties elsewhere on the flagship when the bridge was breached. Empion was fortunate to have with him at the time of the incursion a large number of warriors and sub-officers from his chapter's command cadre. He quickly built this into the core of a force with which to repel the attackers, and which was soon reinforced as it fought its way along Deck Thirty-five gathering dozens of Legiones Astartes, naval armsmen and Solar Auxilia troops. Empion had no explanation for the nature of the attack against the vessel, but he knew that only a steady and determined counter-advance towards the forward sections offered any hope of linking up with other forces and holding the ship.
Meanwhile, Captain Heutonicus of the 161st Company had taken command of a small band of isolated Ultramarines initiates only recently ascended to the status of Legionary. The first battle these young warriors fought was against a foe none had any inkling how to counter and for many it would be their last. It fell to Captain Heutonicus not just to keep his charges alive but to lead them in battle, a task in which he excelled despite the odds against him. Barely a quarter of the initiates fighting under Captain Heutonicus survived that day, but those who did were blooded in extremis and many went on to become warriors of great renown. But that was far in the future and numerous indescribable horrors lay ahead as the captain led his force through the fiend-haunted chambers of Deck Twenty in an effort to link up with other survivor groups.
Of all the tales of courage and honour told of the defence of the Macragge's Honour, one frequently recounted is that of Sergeant Aeonid Thiel of the 135th Company. At the moment of the breaching of the flagship's bridge, Thiel was under censure awaiting a hearing with the Primarch himself in an antechamber lined with dozens of Lord Guilliman's personal weapons. Confronted by the first of the attackers, Thiel had reached for the nearest weapons to hand -- an electromagnetic longsword and a Kehletai friction axe, both impossibly rare and incredibly potent examples of lost weaponsmiths' arts. Wielding the Primarch's exotic weaponry, Thiel fought his way through a horde of foes, quickly discovering that the creatures were significantly more vulnerable to the effects of his axe and sword than they were to those of his bolt pistol. Thiel was gifted with the rare ability to think outside of accepted dogma, indeed, it was this very characteristic that had earned him the mark of censure -- the red-painted battle helm which he wore still. Thiel named the invaders "Daemons", recognising that they were something other than aliens, psychic manifestation or even some unknown xenos strain somehow able to reside within the Warp. He saw that they were creatures from humanity's darkest nightmares in a very literal sense.
As he fought, Thiel came upon other warriors fighting back to back against the waves of attackers. He was soon leading an ad hoc force of several dozen Legionaries, armsmen, Solar Auxilia and even abhuman stokers determined to fight for their flagship. He made brief contact with both Empion and Heutonicus, and between them the three were able to coordinate an advance across several decks that would see them converge in the proximity of the conning tower, or what remained of it. It was near this location that Thiel encountered the severely wounded First Chapter Master Gage, saving the senior Legion officer from certain death at the hands of a warp-born horror that had already severed his right arm.
Still fighting off the blood-taint of a warp entity's venom, Gage saw straight away that Thiel's methods were working and should be disseminated throughout the whole force. The First Chapter Master agreed with Thiel's observation that the creatures were more susceptible to melee weaponry, though he reserved judgement on the sergeant's theory that this weakness was derived from arcane rituals used to summon them in the ancient myths of humanity. Nevertheless, Gage was an experienced officer and wise enough to know that in his wounded state he could not lead the force effectively. Tactical leadership was turned over to Thiel while an apothecary stabilised the First Chapter Master, and soon after, the forces under Thiel, Empion and Heutonicus were combined.
Master and Commander
With the immediate situation stabilising, Gage was able to gather information from scattered Ultramarines forces and formulate a plan to retake control of the Macragge's Honour. The fate of the Primarch remained unknown and few allowed themselves to dwell on it lest they be overcome with grief and lose what edge they might have retained. Rather, the First Chapter Master ordered the force to make for the flagship's auxiliary bridge, located several dozen levels directly below the destroyed conning tower. This plan was in itself insufficient to gain anything more than the most superficial control of the massive vessel; for that, the skills of an experienced shipmaster would be required, and the flagship's captain, Shipmaster Zedoff, had been slain along with the majority of the bridge cadre.
Here, at last, the fates looked kindly upon the Ultramarines. Mere minutes before the loss of the bridge, the Macragge's Honour had recovered a number of salvation craft ejected by the Sanctity of Saramanth earlier in the battle, and amongst the survivors was her captain, Shipmaster Hammed. Gage had no way of knowing if Hammed lived or had been slaughtered along with so many others among the crew, but he knew that in the veteran shipmaster lay the best, perhaps the only hope of regaining control of the beleaguered flagship.
It fell to Sergeant Aeonid Thiel to lead the search for the shipmaster, he and his force making for the primary starboard launch deck while Gage and Empion led the remainder of the force towards the auxiliary bridge. The distance was not great and overall the tide of invaders was mercifully receding. Yet many of the warp entities were the equal of a Space Marine and some were considerably stronger, so that even reaching the launch deck cost the Ultramarines irreplaceable losses. When Thiel reached his destination, he found the deck swarming with the same crimson-skinned, horned creatures that he and his warriors had faced in such large numbers at the beginning of the battle. The horde was converging on a single point, which Thiel realised with horror was that occupied by the survivors of the Sanctity of Saramanth. Shipmaster Hammed had survived the destruction of his vessel and the manifestation of an entire army of warp creatures, yet even as the tides of horror receded, the last of the invaders were descending upon him.
In an instant, Sergeant Thiel saw his chance to rescue Shipmaster Hammed, but he had to act without even a second's delay. He led his force out onto the launch deck, ordering sustained and rapid fire even though he knew the bolts would do little more than distract the fiends. But distraction was exactly what the sergeant intended, for as the horde turned upon this new threat, the creatures' attentions torn from the cornered shipmaster to the attacking Ultramarines, Thiel ordered the loading deck platform upon which Hammed and the other survivors were standing to be lowered. The Ultramarines had to keep the warp entities engaged long enough for the platform to deliver the survivors to safety and so they poured a relentless rain of bolter fire into the horde, all the while taking measured steps backwards towards the deck entrance. At last the shrieking horde closed to within metres of the firing line, and Thiel judged that the shipmaster was safe. With a final step back, the Ultramarines crossed through the hatch and the blast door crashed down. The enraged howls of the warp creatures were as loud as the impacts of their weapons and claws pounding upon the other side of the portal. Shipmaster Hammed was safe.
Servants of the Machine
As Thiel's force extracted Shipmaster Hammed, First Chapter Master Gage, now largely recovered from his injuries thanks to the superhuman physiology of the Legiones Astartes, led his own force towards the auxiliary bridge. The route took the column through an area of the Macragge's Honour that was the exclusive domain of the vessel's Mechanicum contingent; one that had clearly seen heavy fighting already, for the deck was strewn with the severed limbs and cyber-organs of scores of tech-adepts, Skitarii, battle-automata and combat servitors. Gage ordered his squads to slow their advance and to remain vigilant for remnants of the wave of warp fiends that had inflicted the slaughter, as well as any survivors that might be there. It was not long before signs of both were detected.
At the heart of the area was a sacred machine fane dedicated to the Omnissiah. The chamber was counted as the holy of holies by the Tech-Priests and the only outsiders normally permitted to enter were Techmarines, members of the Legiones Astartes who had been inducted into certain of the mysteries of the machine. The chamber was sealed by an armoured portal two dozen metres high and from beyond this came weapons fire intermingled with the now all too familiar sounds of attacking creatures from the Warp. Gage saw he had no choice but to violate the sanctity of the machine fane, and while he held to the secular Imperial Truth and had witnessed the worst excesses of heathen religiosity, he was wise enough to respect his allies' beliefs as mighty gears engaged and pistons spat great gouts of vented gas as the brass portal ground inwards to reveal a sight unlike any other the veteran Chapter Master had witnessed.
The interior of the machine fane resembled the inner workings of a great engine, a towering altar dominating the central space. About this was gathered a group of Mechanicum Tech-Priests of various Orders, each unleashing a relentless stream of fire into a circle of lithe Daemons capering about them. The incense and smoke-filled air was ravaged by volkite rays and pulsing waves of focused radiation. The attacking creatures, however, were all but impervious to the effects of weapons that could melt the flesh from the bones of mortal men. They shrieked and cackled mockingly at their touch, darting back and forth to deliver graceful, yet utterly deadly caresses with long, razor-edged claws. When the Ultramarines crossed the threshold into the machine fane, the creatures immediately ceased their tormenting of the adepts and hissed in sibilant challenge to this newly appeared foe.
Where Thiel had ordered his Legionaries to fire upon the entities to distract them, Gage's intent was quite different. With a bellowed order, he called for bolters to be stowed and hand-to-hand weapons to be drawn. Combat blades, chainswords and bayonets were all brought forth and the First Chapter Master brandished the Primarch's own friction axe, which Thiel had passed to him, so that all might see and follow his example. Shouting the war cries of Ultramar, the squads advanced in perfect formation to engage the warp things in the measured fury of hand-to-hand combat. Razor-sharp claws lashed from nowhere to lacerate power armour and rend Legiones Astartes flesh, and in a dozen seconds the same number of brave Space Marines fell. But more Legionaries stepped into their place in the line. Face to face, the creatures were revealed as nightmarish mockeries of the human form, their faces both alien and androgynous. They were surrounded by a musk of cloying scent which threatened to overwhelm those battle-brothers dispossessed of their helms with lethargy or delirium.
Following the Ultramarines' example, the tech-adepts cornered at the machine altar cast aside their myriad exotic weapons and took up their ceremonial axes and staves. Blurting binaric war-cant across the chamber, the magos ordered the battle-automata and combat servitors to add their weight to the fight, and soon the tide was turned.
The wicked glee vanished from the warp creatures' leering faces as the realisation of their impending defeat came too late. They were surrounded, the Ultramarines on one side and the Mechanicum on the other as the battle lines pressed ever inwards. A minute later the last of the vile warp-things dissipated to nothing as their phantasmagoric forms were hewn apart by chainswords and pounded into the deck by the massive fists of the Castellax-class Battle Automata.
Having secured the shipmaster and the senior Mechanicum magos, the Ultramarines Legion had won a very real hope of regaining control of the Macragge's Honour. It was not until both Gage's and Thiel's forces at last fought their way through what remained of the warp incursion and rendezvoused at the auxiliary bridge that either knew for certain that the other had succeeded in their mission. It was a tense wait for the first squads to arrive at the muster point, but it was soon apparent that both forces had achieved their equally vital objectives.
Almost exactly ten hours after the main bridge of the Ultramarines flagship had been breached and their beloved Primarch lost, Shipmaster Hommed, with the aid of the two most senior magos rescued from the launch deck, gained control of the vessel. The auxiliary bridge was activated and control of the mighty war ship invested in Shipmaster Hommed. Within minutes, vox systems were re-awakening and contact was established with Ultramarines units on the surface of Calth for the first time since the destruction of Calth Veridian Anchor by the Campanile. These facts might have been cause for celebration in any other circumstance, but with the re-activation of the vessel's communications and augur systems came still more dire realisations. There was still no sign of the Primarch, Legion forces on the surface had been worse than decimated and of the fleet that had gathered in orbit, barely one fifth of the original number of vessels were battle-worthy. Furthermore, only now was the full extent of the boarding action against the Macragge's Honour realised.
Miracle of Miracles
It fell to Chapter Master Empion to formulate and oversee a daring counterboarding assault, drawing on every Ultramarines Legionary his staff could muster. Forty groups, each numbering up to thirty Space Marines, passed through the armoured air gates and advanced on their designated targets. Each was assigned a vital objective, from sabotaging the enemy's docking towers, detaching their void grapnels and fusion drill heads, to counterattacking Word Bearers moving across the outer hull. Using void harnesses to bolster the in-built capabilities of Legiones Astartes power armour, the squads moved rapidly towards their targets, each step a Legionary took under the low gravity conditions powering him forwards tens of metres, each parabolic burn of his harnesses' thrusters carrying him high over the deep valleys and towering hills of the ship's exterior architecture. The Legionaries were dwarfed by the sheer scale of the flagship's form, a city-scaled landscape of iron and ceramite, the wounded surface of Calth visible as it rose above the port side attitude thrusters in a spectacle that under more conventional circumstances would have taken the breath away. But on this day of betrayal, all that the counter-boarding squads cared for was the survival of their flagship.
The Ultramarines soon encountered their hated foe, for there was little possibility of a stealthy approach to battle in such conditions. The cobalt-armoured Ulttamarines had been observed as they traversed the slate-grey hull and soon mass reactive bolts were scything through the void on bright contrails. The Space Marines had been created for this mode of warfare and were equipped to the very highest standards, and so the battle was relentless and bitter. Bolt rounds which penetrated battle plate caused partial armour decompression before automated inner seals contained pressure loss, and even with a limb exposed to the vacuum, they could fight on for extended periods so long as oxygen reserves were not compromised. Soundless battle erupted across the hull, each Legionary able to hear only his own thunderous breathing and the urgent orders barked across the vox-net. When combatants clashed in melee, impacts sent victims rumbling away through the debris-strewn void, often trailing a cometary tail of blood globules and vented gas. Yet Chapter Master Empion's primary objective was not the destruction of the enemy boarding squads, as desirable a secondary mission as that clearly was to the Ultramarines. Three Legionaries in each squad carried a melta charge to sabotage the Word Bearers' heavy breaching equipment, and as the battle-brothers of both sides fought and bled, many of these specialists set to destroying the great fusion heads and boarding gantries with well-placed charges, many giving their lives in the process.
At one such objective, the tide of battle had turned inexorably against Squad Six, led by Sergeant Thiel. The Word Bearers had counter-attacked in far greater numbers than anticipated and the surviving Ultramarines were resigned to extracting what vengeance they could before being overwhelmed and slaughtered. But such a fate was not to be and instead something that many later named a miracle occurred. From the void came a demi-god clad in armour of cobalt and pearl, an inaudible roar distorting his usually calm visage. It was Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, and he was as a raw force of nature, his usual measured demeanour driven out by cold fury as he slew Word Bearers by the dozen. As incredible as the fact of the Primarch surviving the destruction of the bridge was, what would mystify future generations of gene-smiths was the fact that the Emperor's son wore no battle helm. He had fought for ten hours in a vacuum without any apparent oxygen supply, a feat that even the preternatural physiology of the Primarchs could not entirely account for. Many accept that the body of a Primarch could withstand the effects of ebullism, hypocapnia, pressure-driven body mass expansion and extremes of temperature for extended periods. That a Primarch's body could continue to function without oxygen, however, is beyond any known capability of even these most awe inspiring of trans-human super-beings.
The Primarch's intervention saved the lives of dozens of his sons. It fell to them though to persuade their gene-father to cease his furious battle on the flagship's outer hull and to rejoin his warriors within. The Primarch had fought for ten hours without respite, his sons believing him lost. Now he was returned to them, and for the first time since the beginning of the Battle of Calth, defeat and extinction did not seem inevitable.
"Leave no stone upon stone, salt the earth with the blood of the fallen and leave only ashes to mark their passing. Let Calth be the grave marker of the Ultramarines."
- — Nur Asoktan, the Butcher of Dainhold and master of the Word Bearers' Flayed Hand Chapter
Few records can accurately define when the killing began on the surface of Calth. Most historians assume that the Word Bearers acted as one, on the signal of the Campanile's death throes in orbit, yet information gleaned from necro-cortical probes and the few survivors of the fighting indicate that it was not so. Whether driven by bloodlust, the burning desire for revenge or simple miscommunication, many of the Word Bearers units began the slaughter long before ships began to rain down from the skies of that world. The most remote of the muster camps, established in the few remaining wilds of Calth, played host to a series of coldly executed massacres as the small contingents of Ultramarines, intended to act as hosts and emissaries of goodwill, were put to the knife by their erstwhile brothers. All along the northern coast, at the edge of the Satric Wastes, the Word Bearers built grotesque monuments to their treachery from the bones of their unsuspecting allies. Such actions cannot be truly considered any form of sane warfare as these isolated camps served only as assembly points that would spare Calth's cities any disruption due to the large numbers of the Legiones Astartes drilling nearby, and were mainly reserved for the use of the Word Bearers' late-arriving formations and thus served little strategic purpose. Much debate has been made of the reasons for these attacks, some attributing them to simple bloodlust or madness, while others see a malign pattern to these actions, ascribing them to some unfathomable Colchisian dogmatic practise.
In more populous areas, especially those nearest the great cities and space ports of Calth, such wholesale butchery was absent. Instead, the careful scholar will uncover a number of forgotten reports which indicate that certain XIIIth Legion commanders and their entourages were eliminated some hours prior to the beginning of open fighting on Calth, no doubt falling victim to Word Bearers assassination cadres which had infiltrated Ultramarines staging areas under the guise of friendship. Such cadres rarely survived their murderous attacks. Even confused and shocked, the Ultramarines responded to violent attack with immediate and deadly retribution, but by then the damage had already been done and the rigid chain of command that formed the backbone of the XIIIth Legion was shattered.
The savagery and perfidy of the Word Bearers' initial orbital assault left the Ultramarines and their allies reeling in shock. Their fleet had been decimated and was scattered across the Veridian System. Entire worlds within the system had been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Chaos Cultists infiltrated onto Calth by the Word Bearers in the months before the battle began as part of the build-up for the assault on the Orks of Ghalaskh attacked their former Loyalist allies in the Imperial Army, attempting to destroy them in the name of the Chaos Gods. The forces of the Word Bearers involved in the invasion of Calth numbered over 100,000 Astartes and included the traitorous elements of the Dark Mechanicus and fearsome Traitor Titans. Across the planet a brutal ground war soon erupted. The savagery of the Word Bearers’ assault threatened to overwhelm the beleaguered defenders within only a matter of hours. However, Kor Phaeron had underestimated the tenacity and resolve of the Ultramarines.
On the verdant fields of Komesh the Ultramarines 9th Chapter died, its half-assembled ranks overrun by a tide of scarlet warriors and armoured vehicles under the command of Foedral Fell. Small islands of cobalt blue shone sporadically across the plains as individual companies and small detachments made brave, but futile stands with whatever weapons and munitions that were at hand. The fighting at Komesh was to be some of the bloodiest of the entire engagement, with upwards of 15,000 Ultramarines slain; the survivors, barely 5,000 strong, would later fight their way free under the command of Tetrarch Tauro Nicodemus in a running battle that would last almost twenty long hours. Further north at the muster camps of Erud, within sight of Numinus City, engines of the Titan Legio Suturvora scattered and blasted elements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chapters of the Ultramarines Legion.
In the face of these angry metal gods, even Space Marines were as helpless as children, and hundreds died to each salvo the Titans loosed. Only determined resistance from armoured companies of the 1st Chapter forestalled the Ultramarines' complete destruction; Shadowsword and Falchion super-heavy tanks ambushing Titans as they strode unopposed through the retreating warriors of the XIIIth Legion. Though several Titans were grievously wounded by these attacks, only two Shadowsword tanks and a single damaged Falchion escaped the chaos within the muster zone, part of a column under Captain Sydance which fought its way clear of the massacre.
On the far side of Calth, where night currently reigned, in the sprawling munitions plants of Dainhold, the Word Bearers drove screaming swarms of ragged auxiliaries against the warriors of the XIIIth Legion that had barricaded themselves within the fortified manufactorum buildings. Only when the Ultramarines' guns had run dry and the corridors of the manufactoria were strewn with the blasted corpses of the fallen, did Nur Asoktan lead the Cataphractii-armoured elite of the Flayed Hand forwards to hunt down the surviving Ultramarines. Outmatched and cornered, the warriors of Ultramar fought on with combat blades and improvised explosive devices, severing power to several facilities so as to use the darkness to their advantage.
All across Calth, from the Satric wilds to the cities of Ourosene, the same brutally one-sided battles played out, the Ultramarines assaulted and overwhelmed by those they had expected to stand alongside them, their blood spilt and bodies raised as grotesque trophies. The orbital defence systems of Calth, hundreds of space borne weapons stations bristling with cannon intended to cripple the void craft of any attacker, were turned upon the planet by the Word Bearers, searing terrible wounds into the world and utterly annihilating any force of Ultramarines that had gathered in the open and leaving entire cities ablaze, their inhabitants nothing more than charred husks. Yet not all of the battles fought in the first few hours of the fighting on Calth were to the Word Bearers' advantage: whether by luck or some quirk of organisation, a few Loyalist units were not caught unprepared by the Word Bearers' treachery.
The Word Bearers' assault into the coastal bunker network of Sylator Province was halted by a cohort of battle-automata from Legio Cybernetica Magenim. Severed from the direct control of their Mechanicum overseer by the dumpshock that afflicted many magos in the wake of the orbital grid's destruction, the battle-automata of the cohort fell back on the core-logic of their cybernetica cortex and responded to any potential threat, no matter how inconceivable, with deadly force. In the wake of the battle-automata's rampage, a regiment of Solar Auxilia, the 14th Garnide Heavy Infantry, secured the bunker complex and dug in.
In the far north, along the icy shores of Thrascias, close to the remote location chosen by Erebus for the locus of his Ruinstorm ritual, a large force of Gal Vorbak butchered their way through the isolated towns of the region. The fate of those Calth natives captured during these raids is uncertain, but may be linked to the bizarre rituals undertaken by Erebus and other members of the Word Bearers command echelons. This obsession amongst the XVIIth Legion for the pursuit of seemingly meaningless religious rites over more practical concerns led to a number of setbacks during the fighting on Calth.
In the Thrascian wilderness, their obsession with rituals appears to have contributed to the Word Bearers' failure to engage the two thousand Destroyers of the Ultramarines 2nnd Chapter mustering in the bleak region, or perhaps they believed that such a small force was no threat to their operations. Unlike other Legiones Astartes units, many of whom reacted with shock and some dismay at the appearance of the Gal Vorbak, an effect these shock troops delighted in exploiting, the veterans of the 22nd Chapter were long inured to confronting the most hideous and malignant xenos encountered by the expanding Imperium. Log excerpts recovered from the battlefields of Calth long after the fighting indicate that the officer cadre of the 22nd Chapter contingent, having no ability to confer with their fellow Ultramarines, made the assumption that the Word Bearers, either in part or as a whole, had been overtaken by some form of xenos contamination. Facing a threat they assumed was capable of suborning the potent physical form of a Legiones Astartes, the warriors of the 22nd swiftly deployed the most potent weaponry at their disposal and the fighting in Thrascias swiftly became a hell of phosphex and rad storms as Destroyers and Gal Vorbak clashed in bitter, unremitting combat.
At Barrtor, two Ultramarines captains of the 111th and 112th Companies decided to consolidate their commands with the forces of the Imperial Army and the Mechanicus in their region of the planet and pull back eastwards into the Sharud Province, since if they did nothing, they would be killed by the heavy debris falling from orbit following the Word Bearers' destruction of the orbital installations. Captain Phrastorex of the 112th decided that he would meet the Word Bearers' vanguard to determine what terrible accident had occurred in orbit while Captain Ekritus of the 111th would lead both Ultramarines companies into Sharud. Taking only a detachment of his Honour Guard with him, Phastorex walked down the slope to the flood plain where the local forces of the XVIIth Legion had finally arrived on-planet. Phastorex observed to his surprise that the Traitors already had their tanks and their Astartes formed up as if to begin an assault. As Phrastorex raised his hand in greeting to his fellow Astartes, the Word Bearers opened fire. Phastorex and his men were massacred by the Word Bearers before they could even comprehend such an act of base treachery. Captain Ekritus witnessed the massacre, and was eager to visit his vengeance upon the Traitors, but was restrained from rushing to his doom by his Battle-Brothers. Then, again without warning, the Word Bearers' Traitor Titans began to open fire on their position.
The shattered remnants of the 111th and 112th Companies retreated into the burning woods of the forest located east of the Boros to escape the Traitors' assault. The Word Bearers had coloured their Power Armour and their vehicles in the new crimson Legion colour scheme chosen in place of the XVIIth Legion's old steel-grey colours to herald their change of allegiance. It would not be long before the Ultramarines took to calling this new colour scheme "Traitor's Red," a moniker the Word Bearers relished. They had also adorned themselves with the abominable iconography of their new faith in Chaos, which their Loyalist counterparts saw as only further evidence of their corruption. The Word Bearers' Achilles and Proteus Pattern Land Raiders led their attack upon the Loyalist forces retreating before them. Captain Ekritus managed to find a position above the treeline from where he could see the vast hosts of the Word Bearers and their auxiliaries assaulting the Calthian towns along the river and the port of Boros. There were tens of thousands of Chaos Cultist soldiers, Battle Groups of Chaos Titans and endless phalanxes of crimson-armoured Chaos Space Marines. Ekritus watched in horror as the treacherous XVIIth Legion’s assault swept aside everything in its path.
There were bodies everywhere as the Word Bearers advanced without remorse against their unsuspecting victims; civilians, troops of the Imperial Army, and far too many Ultramarines. Men lay dead with their weapons still sheathed or covered, cut down without the opportunity to face their deaths. Heaps of cobalt-blue Power Armour that contained limp Astartes corpses lined the roadways and arterials. Some had been stacked against fences and walls like firewood whilst others had been cut open and emptied. A few had been nailed to posts, or against the sides of buildings. Some appeared to have been butchered or even…eaten. This was not just war, but desecration. It defied and shamed the codes and precepts of all the Legiones Astartes, traditions that had been set down by the Emperor Himself. The Word Bearers had perverted not only the laws and traditions of the Imperium, but the basic moral code of Mankind.
A Nightmare made Flesh
"At the breaking of the final seal, the hosts of hell were awakened and wroth poured forth upon the land."
- — Tactical auto-scribe intercept, Ithraca/ZK99.3344
Despite a few small victories, the onset of dusk over the capital city of Numinas appeared to herald the end of the Ultramarines Legion. In less than twelve hours, almost one hundred thousand Ultramarines had been slain and the Word Bearers controlled almost every major city and strategic target on Calth. With debris from the orbital massacre continuing to rain down on the besieged planet, orbital strikes obliterating vast swathes of the landscape and the catastrophic collateral damage caused by any battle between the Legiones Astartes, casualties amongst the civilian population were beyond nightmarish. Millions upon millions of Imperial citizens perished in fear and agony in the first few hours, and millions more continued to die as the fighting carried on. Indeed, the Word Bearers' intent seemed less to persecute the Ultramarines of the XIIIth Legion than it was to cause as much death and destruction as was possible.
This design, for it was not simply bloodlust or madness on the part of Lorgar's sons, was intended to facilitate some malign psychic ritual on a grand scale. While the deeper religious connotations of these actions amongst the Word Bearers remain unknown to us, the immediate consequences are well documented by the few survivors of the Battle for Calth. Many accounts attest to bizarre aberrant weather patterns during the early stages of the conflict -- freak typhoons, unnatural aurora and cloud cover being the most prevalent. As the death toll mounted and the fighting spread, these phenomena became more pronounced and the first instances of manifesting warp entities were recorded. Such creatures were all but unknown to the Imperium at large, the subject of long discredited legend and the ramblings of delusional Astropaths and Navigators, and their appearance only inflamed the abject panic which gripped many areas, even affecting the ranks of the usually stoic Legiones Astartes. The emergence of these aberrant manifestations follows no sane strategic plan. Indeed, the Word Bearers seem to have treated their appearance as a vital goal in and of itself rather than in furtherance of their military campaign. Most such incursions are noted as occurring in areas where the fighting was particularly fierce or the death toll excessively high, where their rampages, whilst stunningly brutal, rarely impacted on the wider strategic situation.
Not only were the surviving Loyalist elements tormented by the depredations of the Word Bearers' tenebrous allies, but also by the deterioration of the situation in the Veridia System. The Word Bearers had turned the full destructive capability of the Calth orbital defence platforms, as well as the formidable firepower of their own fleet, against the system's sun itself and the resulting flare in solar radiation was beginning to take its toll on the warriors on Calth's surface. Those not shielded from the sun's glare or protected by the augmented physiology of the Legiones Astartes, were soon blistered and burned, and most would later to succumb to extreme radiation poisoning. Only those scant enclaves that were within one of the few shielded structures still held by the Loyalists escaped this lingering death, though few who still lived could see this as anything but a temporary reprieve.
The Grand Cruiser Antrodamicus survived its unpowered fall through Calth's atmosphere from orbit largely intact, but its blazing bulk demolished a large swathe of the once teeming city of Kalkas Fortalice, clearing a patch two and a half kilometres wide. Meteoric debris continued to rain down from the sky all around it, bombarding the city and the surrounding landscape. Fortunately, Magos Tawren managed to flee the destruction of the Watchtower before the large vessel struck the planet's surface. Little information about what had occurred in orbit was available to the Loyalist survivors on the planet's surface.
They knew that there had been some major incident in orbit that was raining destruction down on Calth, but whether it was an accident or an attack remained unclear. But with the orbital fleet yards gone and all Vox traffic scrambled, there was no way for the remaining Loyalist units on Calth's surface to communicate with one another or with Ultramarines command.
Eventually, Magos Tawren and her Loyalist Skitarii forces managed to consolidate with the surviving Ultramarines of the 4th Company, including their commander, Captain Remus Ventanus. Assessing their desperate situation, Ventanus realised he had a vast horde of Chaos Cultists arrayed against his forces as well as hundreds of thousands of Traitor Astartes.
The Traitors also possessed multiple battle groups of massive Traitor Titan war engines within their ranks. Magos Tawren suggested seeking refuge at Leptius Numinus, the old Imperial gubernatorial palace on the plains of Calth. Leptius Numinus possessed a non-active but functional data-engine as well as a high-cast Vox transceiver array.
Though not currently operational, this equipment had been scrupulously maintained, and because the systems at the palace had been off-line when the Word Bearers began their assault, they might have been spared the scrapcode infection and electromagnetic pulse damage that had brought down networked communications all over the world. If the 4th Company and its allies could reactivate the data-engine at Leptius Numinus, they might be able to contact what remained of the XIIIth Legion's fleet in the Veridian System.
This plan proved successful and the Loyalists reached the old palace. The commander of Tawren’s Skitarii suggested that they utilise their dedicated emergency manifold to power up the palace's data-engine and Vox assembly and contact other possible surviving Ultramarines, Imperial Army or Loyalist Mechanicus forces. Ventanus eventually established short-range communications with other besieged Ultramarines units. His situation was not unique. All of the Ultramarines on Calth's surface found themselves mired in the same predicament. None knew what had befallen their Primarch, Roboute Guilliman, or even whether he was still alive.
Even as the 4th Company converged on Leptius Numinus, a large horde of Traitor forces commanded by the XVIIth Legion's Commander Morpal Cxir had already encircled the palace and launched an attack against its small group of valiant defenders. The Word Bearers used their vast hordes of Chaos Cultists as human fodder, driving them forward as they protected themselves from any significant counterattack.
Terrible carnage was inflicted upon the Loyalist defenders by packs of horrific daemons summoned from the Empyrean as they punched through any breaks within the defensive line. As the assault grew more fierce, the defenders of Leptius Numinus prepared to sell their lives dearly, but they were spared from that dark fate by the timely arrival of the 4th Company and its heavy armour support.
The reinforcements bolstered the defenders' resolve as they tore into the ranks of the Traitors and decimated their ranks. In the meantime, Tawren attempted to reactivate the data-engine and establish full communications with the remains of the Loyalists' fleet. Yet, Vetanus knew that although they were strong in spirit and well-armed, their forces could not hope to repel the Traitors' attacks indefinitely. It was only a matter of hours before the defenders' position would be overrun and everyone was slaughtered.
Despite the brutality of the Word Bearers' assault, Tawren focused on her duties and managed to reactivate the dormant data-engine. With it, she was able to gather a clearer picture of the situation, especially the truly catastrophic scale of the losses: the enormous death toll, the systematic annihilation of the Ultramarines’ fleet, millions slain and entire cities aflame as burning debris plowed into the surface of Calth from orbit.
Ventanus finally managed to contact Roboute Guilliman and provide him with a picture of what remained of the Loyalist ground forces on Calth. As many as 30,000 Ultramarines Battle-Brothers and 200,000 Imperial Army and Mechanicus warriors were still active in hundreds of scattered pockets of fierce resistance.
Coordinated, they could achieve more than if they continued to fight alone and unsupported. In any other circumstances, Calth would have been declared lost to the Traitors, but the XIIIth Legion's fierce resolve prevented them from giving into despair. Roboute Guilliman believed that the situation could be salvaged and the Word Bearers made to pay a price that they had not expected.
"Victory is a fickle mistress, failure a haphazard executioner; for those with the courage to persevere will not abide their dicatates."
Fortunately, amidst all this negative information, somehow Magos Tawren managed to discover a killcode that her former mentor Hesst had hidden within a secure data-engine at the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard that had then been closed off from the rest of Calth's planetary network. This data-engine was the manifest Cogitator of the Cargo Handling Guild, which was located in a secured bunker in the industrial zone between Numinus Starport and the Lanshear landing grounds. It was responsible for running cargo operations for both Numinus and Lanshear, and thus was more than powerful enough to manage the data load of the planetary weapons grid.
As a civilian Cogitator, it was not a primary military target during the Word Bearers' initial assault and Hesst had been able to take advantage of this before his death. Though he had suffered from the painful overload of the data-shock that was killing him, Hesst had managed to clean this data-engine with his killcode and then keep it severed from the broader planetary network. Contacting Guilliman aboard his flagship, the Macragge's Honour, Ventanus apprised his Primarch of the new developments.
He informed him that the enemy was controlling Calth's planetary defence grid using a captured data-engine on one of the surviving orbital platforms at the Zetsun Verid Yard. Magos Tawren would be able to purge the system of the Word Bearers scrapcode using this Cogitator, but could not access the Cargo Handling Guild's data-engine while the Word Bearers remained in control of the platform. They would need assistance from the Ultramarines in orbit in order to gain control of the platform and perform the purge of the planetary weapons grid.
Several plans were debated aboard the Macragge's Honour by the Ultramarines' commanders. Shipmaster Hommed recommended a ranged bombardment of the platform using the flagship's main weaponry. The Macragge’s Honour certainly possessed the needed firepower. Chapter Master Marius Gage seconded the suggestion. But if they did not make a direct kill of the Word Bearers holding the platform with the first salvo, there was a real danger that the enemy would retaliate using the planetary defence grid and finish off the Ultramarines' flagship. Chapter Master Klord Empion of the 9th Chapter opted instead for a close attack plan: bring the flagship back to full power, throw off the enemy Cruisers surrounding it and head straight for the orbital platform and eliminate it at close range, by ramming if necessary. Unfortunately, the moment the massive flagship began to move it would again become a target for a planetary weapons grid that could annihilate it all too easily. Finally, Chapter Master Gage’s alternative plan was considered: reroute all of the crippled warship's available power into its teleporter system and teleport a Kill-squad of Ultramarines, possibly two if the power lasted, directly to the Zesun Verid Yard to take control of the orbital platform from within.
Led by Roboute Guilliman himself, the first Kill-squad of 50 Ultramarines assembled at the flagship’s teleportation terminal. The transverse assembly deck of the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard was their chosen teleport destination. It was the largest interior space on the orbital platform, and thus made it less likely that imprecision in the teleport would lead to a large number of deaths. Their assault target was the Zetsun Verid Yard’s master control room, two decks up from the transverse assembly deck. Given the risk factor and the atrocious error margins of teleporter arrays, the teleport was considered a success. 46 members of the Kill-squad appeared with Guilliman on the transverse assembly deck of Zetsun Verid Yard. Only 4 Battle-Brothers had been lost during the transition and failed to rematerialise.
The Kill-squad immediately encountered heavy resistance from the Word Bearers, but with Roboute Guilliman at the fore, the enemy forces balked before the sheer killing power of an enraged son of the Emperor. With righteous fury the Primarch killed over a dozen Word Bearers single-handedly, including the daemon-possessed Astartes of the Word Bearers' vaunted Gal Vorbak. Though 8 Ultramarines were lost in the assault, the Kill-squad managed to break through into the master control room. A heavy barrage of Bolter fire greeted them as the real fight awaited. Within was the XVIIth Legion's First Captain Kor Phaeron, Black Cardinal and Master of the Faith, who ordered his men forward. Then he flew at Guilliman, summoning forth blasphemous energies from the Warp to assault the Primarch. Guilliman roared his challenge and charged.
Simultaneously on the beleaguered surface of Calth, the 4th Company struck along the Ketar Transit, a main access route that linked the container storage area to the northern facilities of the port at Lanshear. Their target was the data-engine of the Cargo Handling Guild located in the bunker system below the majestic edifice of the guildhall.
Ventanus led the foot advance across the broken streets himself, behind a column of Land Raiders. Word Bearers Astartes rose up to block the Loyalists' advance. Instead of overwhelming the Loyalist forces with well-directed firepower which might have broken or turned Ventanus’s charge, the Word Bearers simply waited for the inevitable clash of close combat. They relished the prospect of testing their Chaos-corrupted blades against the vaunted Ultramarines in hand-to-hand combat.
The Traitors wanted to prove themselves against the Astartes who had been held up to them so many times as the models of what it meant to be Space Marines. The charging cobalt-blue warriors of the Ultramarines met the solid crimson line of the Word Bearers with a crash. The fighting proved both brutal and unforgiving with neither side asking for, nor receiving, any kind of quarter.
Reaching the guildhall, Ventanus leapt the barricades, leading the assault forward. He tore into the fleeing Chaos Cultists who shrieked in fear at the prospect of facing the fierce Astartes officer. As the Ultramarines moved forward into the building they continued to be pounded by the XVIIth Legion's artillery and heavy weapons. Reaching the Cogitator that was their goal, Magos Tawren attempted to connect into it and upload the kill code that would shut down the planetary defence grid.
As the magos concentrated on gaining access to Calth's planetary defence system, the Loyalists' fate took a turn for the worst. The forces of the XVIIth Legion's Commander Hol Beloth descended upon the guildhall with a vengeance. He had come to punish the hated Ultramarines with a force of Traitor Titans, the Word Bearers' Terminator-armoured Cataphractii and the dreaded daemon-possessed Astartes of the Gal Vorbak.
The situation became grim for the Loyalists. Traitor Titans continued to fire upon the guildhall until its very foundations began to shake from the constant pounding. Ventanus checked with Tawren for a status update, but progress was slow as the magos attempted to establish her cybernetic neural connection with the server.
The situation outside was rapidly deteriorating as armoured columns in service to the Word Bearers moved into position and began firing at the Loyalists with a hail of shells and laser fire. Two Traitor Reaver-class Titans approached at full stride, intent on annihilating the servants of the Emperor. With the majority of his allied commanders already dead, Ventanus knew that his company line was all but broken.
The Ultramarines of the 4th Company had done all that they could do, for they could not stand against the overwhelming strength of Hol Beloth’s offensive. The weapons fire intensified as the Titans continued to pound the guildhall. Tawren finally managed to upload the kill code into Calth's network so that she could prepare to purge the planetary data system and wrest control back of the defence grid. But until that control had been wrested away from the enemy, there was nothing that she could do to aid the shrinking force of Loyalists.
As the Titans moved closer to the guildhall, the last Shadowsword accompanying the 4th Company fired and damaged one of the striding giants, but the pair of Titans returned fire in unison, destroying the super-heavy tank in a vast conflagration of Titan-grade weapons fire. Ventanus knew then that their attempt had all been for naught. The Traitors of the XVIIth Legion had seemingly won the Battle of Calth.
Back From the Brink
"Are we not Space Marines? Is this not the very task we were created for?"
High above Calth, in the master control room of the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard, Roboute Guilliman confronted Kor Phaeron. Instead of fighting the Primarch in honourable combat, the Word Bearers' First Captain resorted to using the sorcerous abilities granted him by the Chaos Gods, slamming the Primarch of the XIIIth Legion against the chamber wall with a column of wretched, living darkness that burst forth from the palm of his right hand.
Though shaken, the Primarch rose to his feet to face his attacker. Guilliman charged once more but was slammed back into a bulkhead by another powerful dark beam of eldritch power. Guilliman attempted to stand, staggered, then fell. The force of the Black Cardinal’s blow had been so vicious that the Ceramite of the Primarch’s breastplate was cracked. Guilliman coughed and blood dripped from his mouth. He attempted to stand once more.
Kor Phaeron blasted him once more, this time with a strange negative electrical charge that caused Guilliman to seize as if he had been caught in a violent fit. The Primarch was left on his hands and knees, his whole form smouldering, his head bowed. The Word Bearers' Black Cardinal drew a Chaos dagger known as an Athame and stepped forward, the Primarch's fate in his hands. He had the opportunity to end the life of the great Primarch or, with his own hand, turn him to the Warmaster's cause.
Just as the Word Bearers' First Chaplain Erebus had turned the Warmaster to the service of the Dark Gods on Davin's moon, so too, would Kor Phaeron achieve the impossible and bring another Primarch over to the service of Chaos. One cut of the Chaos-corrupted blade would damage Guilliman's sanity whilst Kor Phaeron took advantage of his weakened state, and slowly sliced away the inhibitions that kept him loyal to the False Emperor. It would be a fitting revenge for the Ultramarines' actions on Khur, to return to the court of Lorgar and Horus with Roboute Guilliman as a willing and pliant ally in their Great Betrayal.
The vile Word Bearer stepped forth beside the wounded Primarch and put the blade of the Athame to Guilliman’s throat. The Primarch grunted through clenched teeth as the foul blade bit. Kor Phaeron attempted to cajole Guilliman into giving up and joining the blessed cause of the Dark Gods against the False Emperor. Guilliman only muttered in reply.
With every single word an effort, the Primarch explained to the Black Cardinal that he had made a grave error, for he had chosen to toy with a Primarch rather than kill him. The arrogant Word Bearer merely smiled, confident in his inevitable triumph. Guilliman made Kor Phaeron pay for his hubris. Though its energy field had long since shorted out and failed, Guilliman buried his armoured Power Fist in the Black Cardinal's chest and ripped out one of his black, beating hearts.
As one of the Ultramarines sergeants rushed to the wounded Primarch's aid, Guilliman ordered the sergeant to forget about him for the moment and to kill the planetary data network. Unable to figure out how to shut down the data-engines, Guilliman ordered the sergeant to shoot it. But the sergeant was out of ammunition, and so he unleashed his Power Sword instead in a shower of sparks and electrical fire.
On Calth's surface, the remnants of the 4th Company prepared to face their doom, defiant to the very end. The bunker 300 metres below the guildhall trembled as it was continuously struck by devastating salvos of enemy fire. Suddenly, Magos Tawren informed her Ultramarines allies that their circumstances had drastically changed – two Loyalist Titans had vectored into the fight. One of them had already made a kill against one of the Word Bearers Traitor Titans. Reinforcements had arrived to supplement the beleaguered 4th Company. The reinforcements exploded into the Lanshear Belt from the east, fast and mobile. One of the four governing Ultramarines Tetrarchs of Ultramar, Eikos Lamiad, the Primarch’s Champion, lead a ragged host of Imperial soldiery collected from the desert and the burning hills around the Holophusikon.
The reinforcements included a column of Land Raiders and other armour supported by three Titans: two Reavers and a massive Warlord-class Titan. An infantry force followed, moving rapidly. This force included mostly Ultramarines and Mechanicus Skitarii elements from Barrtor and the Sharud muster, but there were 20,000 Imperial Army troops as well, bringing lighter armoured vehicles and support weapons to bear. The relief force formed two prongs of assault. One was a Legion force led by a sergeant of the 112th Company named Anchise, and a captain of the 19th Company called Aethon. The other was predominantly composed of Imperial Army troops commanded by a Colonel Bartol of the 41st Neride Regiment, but it was now under the direct command of Eikos Lamiad and a lumbering Ultramarines Contemptor Pattern Dreadnought.
Hol Beloth’s Traitor forces flinched at the unbridled force of Loyalists' coordinated assault. Beloth had not believed that the shattered survivors of the XIIIth Legion would be able to organise a concerted response with such precision and effect. The assembled survivors of the Calth Atrocity soon expressed their fury and their vengeance against the Traitors of the XVIIth Legion, inflicting massive damage upon the enemy. Despite their efforts, Tawren still lacked the necessary control over the planetary data network to unleash the kill code.
Without warning, the planetary network was suddenly released from the Word Bearers' control by the events unfolding simultaneously in orbit and the swift strike of a Power Sword. The magos received the message: Control Suspended (engine failure). She did not hesitate to upload the kill code directly into the planetary data system which quickly burned through the corrupted numerics of the Octed scrapcode and allowed her to take full control of Calth's planetary defence grid.
She then ordered the orbital defence platforms to launch a devastating weapon strike upon the Traitor forces at Lanshear. Server Tawren informed all the Loyalists surrounding the guildhall to brace for impact. A column of deadly vertical light then struck the city-zone around the guildhall in the northern depot area of Lanshear as the orbital platforms unleashed a tactical nuclear strike against the Traitors.
It reduced Traitor Titans, armoured vehicles, Chaos Cult auxiliary and Word Bearers infantry formations to so much ash within only seconds. However, the weapon strike occurred less than half a kilometre from where the Loyalists had taken shelter from the coming impact.
Yet, the Ultramarines and Imperial Army forces remained untouched, though some eardrums had burst and many Imperial Army troops suffered radiation burns to any exposed skin. Hot ash plastered the rain-soaked Power Armour of the Space Marines, spattering them with the remnants of their enemies. Ironically, the Ultramarines' ash-covered armour soon appeared a gun-metal grey, the old livery of the Loyalist XVIIth Legion.
Magos Tawren next redeployed the defence grid elements available to her, hitting other surface targets. Simultaneously, she re-tasked the orbital platforms and began to systematically exact punishment upon the Word Bearers' fleet. It was now the crimson-hulled warships of the XVIIth Legion that were annihilated one by one. The dynamic of the entire battle had finally shifted in the Ultramarines' favour.
"The only sight more grievous to the eye than a battle lost is a battle won."
- — Attributed to Duke Artur, Warleader of Ancient Terra
High above, in orbit above Calth, Roboute Guilliman and his Kill-squad attempted to extract themselves from the burning master control room of the Zetsun Verid Fleet Yard. Flames and smoke rapidly filled the orbital habitats of the yard. The remainder of the Kill-squad retreated, packed tightly around their wounded, limping Primarch. As they awaited transport from the inbound Ultramarines flagship, the Primarch looked out one of the orbital platform's viewports and was stricken by what he observed. Their victory had come just in time for them to stare ultimate defeat in the face. He and his Astartes saw that while they had controlled the planetary defence grid, the Word Bearers had turned its potent weapons upon the Veridian System's sun, destabilising it. The stricken star cast a baleful shadow as it prepared to go supernova, unleashing a cataclysmic stellar explosion that would wipe out all life upon the surface of Calth.
Suddenly the Primarch’s attention was diverted when he looked below their position and saw half a dozen surviving Word Bearers carrying the bloody carcass of Kor Phaeron. Somehow, the wretched First Captain of the XVIIth Legion remained alive despite the fact that Guilliman had torn out his primary heart. Drawing their Bolters, the Ultramarines fired upon the retreating Word Bearers, just as their forms shimmered and vanished in a cascade of teleporter energy.
Guilliman contacted Chapter Master Gage aboard the Macragge’s Honour, and ordered him to hunt down the Infidus Imperator at all costs. He did not want Kor Phaeron to escape his ultimate fate to plague the Imperium once more. Though worried about his Primarch’s well-being, Guilliman informed Gage that they would secure one of the Ultramarines vessels docked at the Zetsun Verid Yard. The Word Bearers Grand Cruiser Infidus Imperator turned slowly in the debris-rich field of Calthian nearspace, as the wreckage of countless starships lay dying in flames behind it. It engaged its main drive and began a long, hard burn towards the outer reaches of the Veridian System. As it accelerated away, the Macragge’s Honour turned in pursuit, beginning one of the most infamous naval duels in Imperial history.
Recruitment of Rubio
While the remnants of the Ultramarines and the Imperial Army were making their exodus to the caverns beneath Calth to escape the irradiation of the world's surface, the Ultramarines' 21st Company, under the command of Captain Erikon Gaius, were dug in at one of the railway tunnels leading to Numinus City.
In the midst of their defence from the attacking Word Bearers, Nathaniel Garro, the former Battle-Captain of the Death Guard, arrived on a secret mission given to him by Malcador the Sigillite, the Regent of Terra, to recruit Tylos Rubio, a former Codicier of the XIIIth Legion.
At first, Rubio refused to abandon his brothers, but was left with no choice when in the face of the Word Bearers' overwhelming assault, he unleashed his dormant psyker abilities, saving his company but making him an outcast for disobeying the dictates of the Council of Nikaea that had disbanded the Space Marine Legions' Librarius corps.
Rubio, with little choice, then left Calth behind with Garro in his Stormbird. Rubio would become one of the Sigillites Knights-Errant and later one of seven Astartes drawn from both the Traitor and Loyalist Legions who would form the founding core of what became the secret Grey Knights Chapter of Space Marines.
At the same time that Lorgar had concentrated his Legion's offensive on Calth, a separate assault by the XVIIth Legion on the Ultramarines' homeworld of Macragge had been prepared, using a massive prototype Battleship specially constructed by Horus' allies in the Mechanicum before the start of the Heresy known as the Furious Abyss.
Had it succeeded in reaching Macragge, the Furious Abyss would likely have annihilated the planet, the remaining two Chapters of the Ultramarines Legion garrisoned there, and the stores of precious gene-seed in the XIIIth Legion's fortress-monastery, the Fortress of Hera.
Fortunately, the Furious Abyss was intercepted in the void before it reached Macragge by an ad hoc force led by the Ultramarines Captain Lysimachus Cestus and was destroyed, though at the cost of every one of the Ultramarines' lives.
The Underworld War
The Word Bearers' use of Calth's orbital defence platforms against Calth's sun destabilised it, tore away the outer layers of its photosphere and threatened to cause it to explode as a supernova. The Veridian System's star, its colour changing from a bright yellow to an angry blue as its internal composition shifted, immediately suffered a flare trauma, and shortly after unleashed massive solar flares that irradiated Calth with lethal levels of radiation and stripped away its once dense oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere.
The surface of Calth was no longer a safe environment for human habitation or any form of organic life, nor was it possible to evacuate the planet's remaining population in time. Therefore, Captain Ventanus sent out a warning over the planetary Vox and data network to all citizens, soldiers of the Imperial Army, Astartes of the XIIIth Legion, and any other loyal servant of the Imperium, to move with all haste to the subterranean arcology or arcology system closest to them.
The arcology systems offered sufficient protection for the remaining inhabitants of Calth and their defenders to survive the wave of solar death that was about to engulf their world. This message successfully reached many millions of people who successfully took shelter within Calth's underground warrens, which had originally been built to free up more land for agricultural cultivation.
It would take several Terran years for the remnants of the Ultramarines fleet to return to the Veridian System after the Loyalist survivors rode out the storm. Unfortunately, the forces of Chaos left on the planet also fled underground as well. Vetanus vowed that the Ultramarines and their allied Loyalist forces would continue to fight until every last Traitor on Calth had been exterminated. Thus began the phase of the conflict that would be remembered as the "Underworld War."
Yet, despite the Loyalists' last-minute victory and the survival of the Ultramarines Legion and its Primarch, the forces of Chaos could consider their assault on Calth a success. The XIIIth Legion had been badly crippled and no longer presented a viable threat to Horus' plan to drive on Terra.
Erebus had managed to complete his blasphemous ritual on Calth's surface, which summoned a Ruinstorm to the galaxy's Eastern Fringe -- a monstrous Warp Storm larger and more destructive than anything space-faring humanity had witnessed since the days of the Age of Strife. It would split the void asunder, dividing the galaxy in two and rendering vast tracts of the Imperium impassable for centuries.
The Ruinstorm would also isolate and trap those Loyalist forces caught behind it like the Ultramarines, preventing them from coordinating their efforts and supporting one another as the Traitor Legions moved towards Terra. It would even prevent them from warning each other, for a time, of the Warmaster's betrayal and the civil war that had begun to consume the Imperium. The Ruinstorm would leave Terra alone in the void, infinitely vulnerable to the approaching shadow of Horus.
Some of the warships destroyed during the Calth Atrocity would continue to circle the tortured Veridian star for over 100,000 years as frozen wrecks. They served as silent tombs for the dead, eternal funerary monuments to the greatest betrayal in human history.
The Ultramarines learned another hard lesson at Calth. The Calth Atrocity represented the Loyalist Astartes' first sustained experience with fighting the Warp entities later known as daemons in realspace. The Ultramarines realised that their decision to accept the anti-psyker dictates of the Council of Nikaea had led to their voluntary surrender of the one weapon that might have proved most potent against the horrors of the Warp.
It was almost as if the Traitors had known what was coming, and had orchestrated events so that the Imperium would voluntarily cast aside the only practical weapon it possessed against the sorceries of the Empyrean just before it was needed most. After the Ultramarines' experience at Calth, Roboute Guilliman sought to petition the Emperor for the revocation of the Edicts of Nikaea and the reinstatement of the corps of Librarians within all of the Loyalist Space Marine Legions.
When the Horus Heresy ended and Roboute Guilliman initiated the Second Founding and the Reformation of the Imperium as its first Lord Commander, he would get his wish, and the Imperium would once more make use of psychic powers against the forces of Chaos despite the inherent dangers.
The Martyrs of Calth
In the aftermath of the fighting on Calth, it was all but impossible to form an accurate picture of the losses incurred on the combatants. With the surface of the planet rendered all but uninhabitable by the actions of Kor Phaeron, it has since proved impractical to recover many of the fallen or verify the deaths of those who came to Calth with treachery in their hearts.
The Ultramarines recorded their casualties at the moment when Guilliman and the remains of the XIIIth Legion fleet departed Calth at 119,422 Legiones Astartes fallen in combat, with a further 28,392 rendered combat-incapable by battle injuries and trauma. Few of the chapters committed to Calth could muster even a quarter of their nominal strength, and some were so decimated that they faced being reorganised into other chapters and their old designations removed from the XIIIth Legion's order of battle.
Most of the injured were evacuated to the surviving craft of the fleet and swiftly returned to combat duties in the crisis that was unfolding across Ultramar, a crisis that forced Guilliman to order the prioritisation of military assets over the stranded civilians in the brief evacuation effort. Almost 40,000 Ultramarines, both wounded and combat-ready, were forced to remain on Calth, some as volunteers, set to the protection of those civilians who could not be evacuated, and others due to the brutal dictates of circumstance.
Of the forces of the Excertus Imperialis, details are more vague, but it seems likely that at least half a million men-under-arms perished during the fighting, alongside the entire fighting complement of the Legio Praesagius.
Of the Word Bearers who landed on the surface of Calth, almost none would ever leave. It is estimated that 50,000 or more of Lorgar's sons and an uncounted mass of Auxilia troops were sacrificed in the battle, although only 20,000 are thought to have died in the initial fighting, with the remainder prosecuting the Underworld War on Calth for over a solar decade after the initial battle.
Just as bitter to the Ultramarines Legion was the damage inflicted on its fleet assets. Never renowned for the numbers of heavy combat void craft in its service, the losses suffered at Calth were crippling and hamstrung any effort to prosecute a war beyond the bounds of Ultramar.
Such was the Ultramarines' desperation, missions to salvage the hulks drifting in orbit above Calth were quickly authorised despite the death toll such missions exacted in the deadly radiation of the destabilised Veridia star.
Loyalist Forces Known Order of Battle
Legiones Astartes XIIIth ("Ultramarines") Personnel
- Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the XIIIth Legion
- Tauro Nicodemus, Tetrarch of Ultramar (Saramanth), Primarch's Champion
- Eikos Lamiad, Tetrarch of Ultramar (Konor), Primarch’s Champion
- Justarius, Venerable Dreadnought
- Telemechrus, Contemptor Dreadnought
- Marius Gage, Chapter Master, 1st Chapter
- Remus Ventanus, Captain, 4th Company
- Kiuz Selaton, Sergeant, 4th Company
- Lyros Sydance, Captain, 4th Company
- Archo, Sergeant, 4th Company
- Ankrion, Sergeant, 4th Company
- Barkha, Sergeant, 4th Company
- Naron Vattian, Scout, 4th Company
- Saur Damocles, Captain, 6th Company
- Domitian, Sergeant, 6th Company
- Braellen, 6th Company
- Androm, 6th Company
- Evexian, Captain, 7th Company
- Amant, 7th Company
- Lorchas, Captain, 9th Company
- Aethon, Captain, 19th Company
- Erikon Gaius, Captain, 21st Company
- Tylos Rubio, 21st Company
- Honoria, Captain, 23rd Company
- Teus Sullus, Captain, 39th Company
- Greavus, Sergeant, 39th Company
- Kaen Atreus, Chapter Master, 6th Chapter
- Klord Empion, Chapter Master, 9th Chapter
- Vared, Chapter Master, 11th Chapter
- Ekritus, Captain, 111th Company
- Phastorex, Captain, 112th Company
- Anchise, Sergeant, 112th Company
- Sharad Antoli, Chapter Master, 13th Chapter
- Taerone, Captain, 135th Company
- Aeonid Thiel, Sergeant, 135th Company [marked] - Thiel's helmet was painted red to indicate that he was marked for censure for running theoretical scenarios for combating other Space Marines - at the time, this was to satisfy his own curiosity and a yearning to account for all possibilities. However, due to the substantial losses amongst the XIII command personnel, Thiel emerged as a proficient leader and resourceful fighter. When the time came to organise the shattered remnants of the XIII into fighting squads, the new leaders were marked with the red helmet. This pattern continues to the present day.
- Evido Banzor, Chapter Master, 16th Chapter
- Heutonicus, Captain, 161st Company
- Jaer, Apothecary, 161st Company
- Kerso, 161st Company
- Bormarus, 161st Company
- Zabo, 161st Company
- Anteros, 161st Company
- Honorius Luciel, Captain, 209th Company
Legiones Astartes XIIIth Legion "The Ultramarines"
XIIIth Legion records of the Calth muster remain highly accurate with regards to their own numbers, and place the total amount of combat-ready Legiones Astartes deployed by the Ultramarines at 185,923 Space Marines.
Full deployment at Calth, all at a nominal strength of 10,000 Legionaries. These Chapters were concentrated around Calth's primary spaceport at Numinus City in western Erud:
- 1st Chapter
- 2nd Chapter
- 3rd Chapter
- 5th Chapter
- 6th Chapter
- 9th Chapter
- 11th Chapter
- 12th Chapter
- 13th Chapter
- 16th Chapter
Deployed to Calth after seeing heavy combat in the Eastern Fringe, all at a nominal strength of at least 6,000 Legionaries and slated for full resupply at the munitions plants of Dainhold before loading for transport outsystem:
- 8th Chapter
- 14th Chapter
- 15th Chapter
Comprising those chapters whose order of battle included large numbers of armoured vehicles, especially the 4th, known as the "Aurorans". These chapters were assigned to muster in the largely uninhabited continent of Ithraca:
- 17th Chapter
- 18th Chapter
- 23rd Chapter
- 4th Chapter
Known informally within the Legion as "The Eagles" and "The Hawks", the 20th Chapter having trained extensively for void combat and the 21st being renowned for the skill of its pilots. These two chapters were assigned to security duties among the orbital platforms and docked warships in Calth's local orbit:
- 20th Chapter
- 21st Chapter
Comprising the majority of the XIIIth Legion's Destroyer assets, and the stores of volatile and hazardous weaponry that characterised their operations. The 22nd Chapter, known as the "Nemesis" Chapter, was often deployed in small formations alongside other chapter units. At Calth, 2,000 Nemesis Legionaries were mustered along the desolate Thrascias Highlands, furthest from the densely populated cities of Calth:
- 22nd Chapter
- Aegis of Occluda (Severely Damaged)
- Antipathy – Cruiser (Destroyed)
- Antrodamicus – Grand Cruiser (Destroyed)
- Antropheles – Troop Transport (Destroyed)
- Burnabus – Escort (Catastrophic Damage)
- Campanile – Fleet Tender (Destroyed)
- Constellation of Tarmus – (Destroyed)
- Courage of Konor – Carrier (Destroyed)
- Deliverance of Terra (Destroyed)
- Gauntlet of Glory – Battle-Barge
- Gauntlet of Victory – Battle-Barge
- Gladius – Escort (Destroyed)
- High Assent
- Hope of Narmenia – Battle-Barge (Destroyed)
- Janiverse – Frigate (Destroyed)
- Jeriko Rex – Fast Escort (Catastrophic Damage)
- Johanipus Artemisia – Carrier (Destroyed)
- Macragge’s Honour – Flagship of Primarch Roboute Guilliman
- Menace of Fortis (Destroyed)
- Mlekrus – Strike Craft
- Remonstrance of Narthan Dume – Battleship (Destroyed)
- Sanctity of Saramanth – Heavy Destroyer (Destroyed)
- Solonim Woe
- Sons of Ultramar – Battle-Barge (Destroyed)
- Spirit of Konor – Battleship (Destroyed)
- Stations of Ultramar – Picket Cruiser (Destroyed)
- Steinhart – Carrier (Catastrophic Damage)
- Suspiria Majestrix – Grand Cruiser
- Tarmus Usurper (Catastrophic Damage)
- Testament of Andromeda – Carrier Ship (Moderate Damage)
- Triumph of Iax (Crippled)
- Ultimus Mundi – Battleship
- Valediction – Carrier (Destroyed)
- Vernax Absolom
- Vospherus – Carrier (Destroyed)
Adeptus Mechanicus Fleet
- Phobos Encoder (Destroyed)
- Legio Praesagius - "The True Messengers" - Long allied to the warriors of Ultramar, the Legio Praesagius deployed to Calth at full Legio strength, with nearly 118 god-engines landed in the southern continent of Ithraca prior to embarkation.
- Legio Oberon - "The Death Bolts" - Wardens of the newly founded Forge World of Anvari, a thrall domain of mighty Accatran, the Legio Oberon had undertaken to provide a demi-Legio force for the Ghaslakh Crusade. However, only two maniples of god-engines were to make planetfall before the arrival of the Word Bearers forces, grounding in eastern Ourosene and northern Erud. The remainder of the Legio's forces would not arrive until after the fighting had concluded.
- House Vornherr - One of the largest Knight Houses in the Segmentum, House Vornherr was oathed to fight alongside the Five Hundred Worlds unto death. Aside from a small honour guard of squires and barons left on their home world of Luhnborg-IX, the entire Household, consisting of around five hundred Knights, were mustered at the Platia island-city in Calth's southern oceans.
Excertus Imperialis Regiments
Over a million soldiers the Imperial Army were mustered for the planned Ghaslaskh Crusade, including several established army groups such as the Calaq War Host, and nearly a dozen newly raised regiments from the various cities and agricultural provinces of Calth. Also added to the muster was a number of Solar Auxilia pattern regiments in anticipation of void actions against Ork asteroid-craft at Ghaslakh, including the much renowned 41st Espandor High Guard. Other notable regiments include:
- 2nd Erud Ultima
- 6th Neride ‘Westerners’
- Neride Regulators 10th
- 14th Garnide Heavy Infantry
- 41st Espandor
- 19th Numinus
- 21st Numinus
- Numinus 61st, Regular Infantry
Excertus Imperialis Personnel
- Colonel Sparzi, commander, Neride 10th
- Bowe Hellock, Sergeant, Numinus 61st
- Dogent Krank, Numinus 61st
- Bale Rane, Numinus 61st
Adeptus Mechanicus Forces
- Kalkas Cohort of Skitarii
Adeptus Mechanicus Personnel
- Uhl Kehal Hesst, Server of Instrumentation
- Meer Edv Tawren, Tech-Magos of Analyticae
- Uldort, Tech-Magos
- Arook Serotid, Master of Skitarii
- Cyramica, Skitarii
- Shipmaster Sazar, Captain of Macragge's Honour
- Bohan Zedoff
- Pelot, Tech-Magos
- Shipmaster Ouon, captain of Sanctity of Saramanth
- Hommed, Representative of Macragge's Honour
Forces of Chaos Known Order of Battle
Legiones Astartes XVIIth Legion ("Word Bearers") Personnel
- Lorgar Aurelian, Primarch of the XVIIth Legion
- Kor Phaeron, The Black Cardinal
- Erebus, Dark Apostle
- Argel Tal, Crimson Lord of the Gal Vorbak
- Essember Zote, Battle-Brother, Gal Vorbak
- Foedral Fell, Commander
- Morpal Cxir, Commander
- Hol Beloth, Commander
- Maloq Kartho, Apostle to Hol Beloth
- Sorot Tchure, Captain
- Ulmor Nu
Legiones Astartes XVIIth Legion "Word Bearers"
Of those who arrived under the banner of the Word Bearers, exact information is more difficult to discern, as many units arrived under false colours and forged identification signals. Based on the pict-recordings of surviving Ultramarines units and other sources, the following Word Bearers chapters are known to have been presnet, at least in part, during the Calth atrocity:
- The Exalted Gate Chapter
- The Unspeaking Chapter
- The Twisting Rune Chapter
- The Third Hand Chapter
- The Black Comet Chapter
- The Osseus Throne Chapter
- The Graven Star Chapter
- The Asps of the Sacred Sands Chapter
- The Flayed Hand Chapter
- The Inscribed Chapter
- The Trifold Crown Chapter
In total, it is believed that the Word Bearers deployed no less than 50,000 Space Marines to the surface of Calth, few of which were evacuated. There appears no tactical basis for the chapters selected by Lorgar to participate in the Calth attack. Evidence acquired long after the events of the Battle of Calth suggests that these units were instead chosen for lack of devotion to Lorgar's new path or because of dangerous instability. In this, Calth served as the Word Bearers' crucible, burning away those elements of the Legion which had failed to prove themselves adequately to their fickle master.
Word Bearers Fleet
- Crown of Colchis
- Destiny’s Hand – Battle-Barge, flagship of Dark Apostle Erebus
- Flame of Purity
- Infidus Imperator – Grand Cruiser, flagship of First Captain Kor Phaeron
- Liber Colchis
- Spear of Sedros
Traitor Titan Legions
- Legio Suturvora (Infernus) - "The Fire Masters" - Secret agents of the Warmaster, the powerful Legio Suturvora was deployed at full strength to the Calth muster with the goal of destroying the Loyalist Titan force. The Legio, comprising at least 130 Titans, was further reinforced by a demi-Legio of the Legio Mortis.
Traitor Axuilia Units
In addition to Legiones Astartes assets, a great mass of cultic auxiliary units that accompanied the Word Bearers which may have numbered in excess of half a million men-under-arms, though the proficiency and sanity of most was questionable:
- The Ushmetar Kaul, "The Brotherhood of the Knife" - Largest and most effective of the warp cults deployed by the Word Bearers to Calth. The cult force was, it appears, organised into between 10-20 sub-sects, each at least 10,000 strong. Recorded as engaging in the most violent rites before, after and even during battle.
- The Tzenvar Kaul, "The Recursive Kin" - Observed to number many thousands of Abhumans and Mutants in their ranks, ranking them as third-line troops suitable only for hazardous environment labour, forlorn hope operations and Zone Mortalis "clearance" duties. Largely wiped out by counterattacks when the Ultramarines regained control of Calth's defence grid and initiated a heavy bombardment of Traitor units from orbit.
- The Jeharwanate, "The Ring" - Largely wiped out by counterattacks when the Ultramarines regained control of Calth's defence grid and initiated a heavy bombardment of Traitor units from orbit.
- The Kaul Mandari, "The Gene-kin" - Very little is known other than that this unusual cultic sect was bound by some aberrant combination of technology and genetics to the service of the Warp in such a way that they believed utterly they would be re-born immediately after their deaths into a new and glorious form. Accounts submitted by Ultramarines units following the Battle of Calth and the subsequent Underworld War describe incidents of spontaneous mutation as well as the bodily re-vivification of the dead. These baleful creatures were impervious to pain and trauma. Killing the returned Mandari took bravery, discipline and concentrated fire.
Traitor Auxilia Peronnel
- Criol Fowst, Confided Lieutenant
- Vil Teth, Gene-named
According to the novel Know No Fear, the Battle of Calth concluded just short of twenty-four hours after the Word Bearers launched their assault, a moment the Ultramarines later called Mark Zero, while the ground forces were evacuating the surface to escape the poisoned sun's radiation; however, according to the audio book Garro: Oath of Moment, the Ultramarines' 21st Company has been dug in "for days" following the initial Word Bearers attack.
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pp. 153, 158, 162-164
- The Horus Heresy - Book Five: Tempest (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 14-69, 82-83, 87-95, 100-105, 107, 109-115, 118, 126-127, 130, 132-145, 151-175, 236, 240, 248, 250-252
- Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Garro: Oath of Moment (Audio Book) by James Swallow
- The Chapter's Due (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Betrayer (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Battle for the Abyss (Novel) by Ben Counter
- Unremembered Empire (Novel) by Dan Abnett