- "We are fighting a war. Not a war of conquest, not the war we were made to fight, but a war for the oaths we made and the blood we shed to make the Imperium. We will never see the end of this war, but if we can bring that end a step closer,if our deaths cost the enemy a hundredfold, then the future will remember us."
The Battle of Phall was a major void engagement that took place following the start of the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium with the Istvaan III Atrocity, between the entirety of the Iron Warriors Legion's fleet and a formidable Imperial Fists Legion Retribution Fleet. At the command of the Warmaster Horus, Perturabo, Primarch of the Iron Warriors Legion, was sent to halt an encroaching Imperial Fists fleet that had originally been sent to Istvaan III by Rogal Dorn to reinforce the beleaguered Loyalists trapped on that world. The Traitors could not allow such a strong complement of Astartes to infiltrate their controlled area of space, for they would have seriously disrupted preparations for the Traitors' attack on Terra.
Commanding the entirety of his Legion's war fleet, Perturabo led his warships in a sudden and devastating attack upon the Imperial Fists fleet in the nearby Phall System where the Loyalists had massed. Ultimately Perturabo failed in his attempt to annihilate the entirety of the Loyalist fleet, due to the vigilance and foresight of Captain Alexis Polux, the commander of the Imperial Fists Retribution Fleet, who had kept the warships under his command at a high state of combat-readiness. Though they sustained significant damage, Captain Polux was able to launch a successful counterattack against the Iron Warriors' fleet and inflict significant damage as well as destroy or disable multiple capital ships.
When the Retribution Fleet's Astropaths finally managed to make contact with Terra, they received a direct order from Rogal Dorn recalling the Retribution Fleet to Terra to prepare the defences of the Imperial Palace. Launching a bold counterstrike, the Imperial Fists drove off the embattled Traitor fleet and managed to break orbit and manoeuvre to their jump points, where they entered the Warp and made for Terra to prepare for the Traitors' coming assault upon the homeworld of Mankind.
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. This devastating and tragic campaign came to be known by Imperial historians as the Istvaan III Atrocity. During the initial orbital bombardment of Istvaan III, 70 Loyalists of the Death Guard Legion and the Imperial Saint Euphrati Keeler led by Battle-Captain Nathaniel Garro had commandeered the Imperial frigate Eisenstein and, evading the Traitor forces of Horus, were able to escape from the Istvaan System into the Immaterium, after being told what was happening on the planet.
The Eisenstein was badly damaged by the Death Guard battleship Terminus Est during its escape from Istvaan III and it was assaulted by undead minions, including the first known Plague Marines of Nurgle while it was within the Immaterium. This assault by Warp entities forced the ship to make an emergency blind-jump and emergence from the Warp. The repeated traumas left all of the frigate's astropaths dead, and its lone Navigator was mortally wounded. However, Garro managed to attract the attention of passing Loyalist starships by setting the vessel's Warp-Drives to self-destruct and ejecting them from the starship. The Imperial Fists Legion's massive mobile fortress-monastery Phalanx and the Legion's fleet had been becalmed in the Warp for some time due to the waxing power of the Ruinous Powers as the Heresy began, and their Navigators sensed the detonation of the Eisenstein's Warp-Drives. Charting an immediate course for the location of the detonation, Dorn met with Garro, who explained to him all that had happened with the Traitor Legions. Dorn was reluctant to believe Garro's tale, but overwhelming proof from a Remembrancer (journalist) named Mersadie Oliton who had escaped from Horus' flagship, the Vengeful Spirit, and Garro's dogged insistence finally convinced the Primarch of Horus' perfidy.
When Dorn had seen the evidence of his brother’s treachery in the Istvaan System, he had wanted to go and confront Horus himself, to hear the traitor’s confession and bring retribution with his own hands. But duty had held him back: duty to the Emperor and the Imperium that Horus now sought to destroy. He and his First Captain Sigismund set course and returned to Terra, but not before Dorn had sent his sons as emissaries of his anger. He had named it a Retribution Fleet; 30,000 Imperial Fists Legionaries comprised of 300 companies and over 500 warships had struck out towards Istvaan III, a third of the VIIth Legion, a force great enough to subdue a hundred worlds, bearing a brother’s wrath. Captain Alexis Polux of the 405th Company was attached to this Retribution Fleet under the command of veteran Captain Yonnad, Master of the Retribution Fleet.
When the fleet had translated back into reality on the edge of the Istvaan System, the power of the Warp Storm caused Geller Fields to fail as hulls sheared into fragments and burned in the fires of their own reactors. Some ships had reached safety, but many had died, their corpses spat out of the Warp to freeze in the void. Two hundred warships were lost, their remains left spinning in the light of a forgotten star. The Imperial Fists had found Captain Polux in the remains of one of those broken wrecks. He was one of the few survivors. Nearly 10,000 Imperial Fists were gone, a staggering loss that was difficult to grasp. Now only 363 warships remained -- a force that was still one-fifth of the VIIth Legion’s full strength. Yonnad had not survived, and since Polux had been designated as his successor, the right of command of the remaining Retribution Fleet fell to him. Though he felt deeply honoured he also felt completely alone. The truth was that he did not fear the responsibility of such a heavy burden for Yonnad was the Legion’s finest fleet master and Captain Polux his best pupil. But the new Fleet Master had doubts that he was the best choice, for there were other men that had survived the wreck of the fleet that were more worthy: commanders with more campaign experience, higher in the rolls of honour, and more skilled at arms. But the Imperial Fists followed form and order to the letter, something not so easily set aside.
The Imperial Fists' warfleet established a base of operations in the Phall System. The two habitable planets of Phall were unremarkable agrarian worlds, lightly populated and of no great strategic importance. For reasons they could not ascertain, the Warp was calm in this region and the Imperial Fists found that they could navigate to and from the system with some surety. With their Astropaths blind and as time wore on, the Legion’s commanders had grown increasingly frustrated. Though a few amongst the senior captains and battlegroup commanders might chafe at Polux's orders, the majority of the fleet’s commanders could not fault the young fleet master. The fleet was vulnerable, and an attack was likely. In such a position one needed to create a solid defence and conserve fighting strength. Polux's deployment addressed all of these needs with a direct elegance. The Retribution Fleet formed a sphere close to the ocean world of Phall II. Each commander in the fleet led a battlegroup of smaller vessels. Every battlegroup moved on a precise looped course. Together the whole resembled a cage spun from the tails of comets.
Captain Polux quickly established a routine. While regular scouting missions were launched into the Warp, the Legion’s Astropaths busied themselves with trying to break through the Warp-Storms and make contact with Terra and in particular the Loyalists at Istvaan III. The fleet was kept at full battle-stations and Polux relentlessly drilled his shield-equipped Breacher squads, honing their skills at war like a blade edge made sharp only by harsh practice. They wanted to be prepared in case of any inevitable boarding actions. When an enemy came the Imperial Fists needed to be ready. The opinions of others, whether they agreed with Polux or not, were of no consequence -- strength required obedience, not thought.
Wrath of Iron
The Drop Site Massacre of Istvaan V was one of the major turning points that occurred early in the great galactic civil war that engulfed the Imperium of Man following the tragic events that played out on Istvaan III. After the news of the Istvaan III Atrocity was brought to the Emperor of Mankind by the Loyalists aboard the Death Guard Frigate Eisenstein, He ordered the combined forces of seven Space Marine Legions to assault the positions of Horus and his Traitor Legions in the Istvaan System. During that assault on the world of Istvaan V, three Loyalist Astartes Legions -- the Iron Hands, the Salamanders and the Raven Guard -- were betrayed by the 4 other Legions of the Loyalist second wave -- the Alpha Legion, Night Lords, Iron Warriors, and a large contingent of Word Bearers -- who they had believed were loyal to the Emperor of Mankind, but in fact had already betrayed the Imperium and secretly turned to the service of the rebellious Warmaster Horus and Chaos. As the Loyalists retreated back towards what they believed were friendly lines, the hidden Traitors revealed their allegiance by opening fire upon the Loyalists, catching them between a Traitor hammer and anvil and nearly destroying all three Loyalist Legions. This victory demolished what the Loyalists had believed to be their numerical superiority and opened the path to the conquest of Terra for Horus and his allies amongst the Forces of Chaos.
The Primarch Perturabo and his warfleet sat waiting patiently in the Istvaan System, awaiting new orders from the Warmaster. Their patience paid off, as they soon received word from the Warmaster that over 300 Loyalist warships were caught in a backwater system like fish in a whirlpool. A fleet of ships pinned in place and waiting for extermination, and here were all of those ships' dispositions and characteristics, listed and laid out for him. Though he knew that this was a fleet of one of the mighty Legiones Astartes, this wasn't just any ordinary fleet. This was a fleet composed of the Iron Warriors' most hated rivals, that of the Sons of Dorn. The information had been gathered first-hand by scout elements in the system. But in the Lord of Iron's mind, he knew that the intel that he had received from the Warmaster was too perfect...too neat. How could the Warmaster have achieved such a thing? It was daunting in its implication. Perturabo realised that this was no random event, this had been planned before the Iron Warriors had come to kill the weakling Legions of Istvaan V. But then what else would he expect from the Warmaster? Perturabo thought of the massacre they had just committed, of the the Legions they had butchered. They were weak and destroying them had been nothing more than another task to be completed. But the Imperial Fists were rivals of old, arrogant pretenders to honours and reputations they had bought with lies. The possibility of breaking Dorn's sons was a prospect so rich the Primarch could almost taste it. This was obviously a part of the price of their allegiance to Horus. The chance to break one enemy bought by the deaths of others.
The Iron Warriors' Captains questioned the Lord of Iron of how they would be able to engage the Imperial Fists through the tumult of the raging Warp Storm. Perturabo responded that their passage would be possible, for the Warmaster had guaranteed it. That anyone could make such a guarantee staggered the Primarch's subordinate commanders. Warsmith Forrix, one of Perturabo's vaunted Triarchs, cautioned the Lord of Iron that if the Imperial Fists suspected the possibility of an attack, they would be prepared. But Warmsith Berrosus, the 2nd Grand Company commander interjected that if it was First Captain Sigismund who commanded the Imperial Fists Fleet, then he would not sit patiently in his cage. Sigismund would make attempts to break through the storms, making them less prepared, and more vulnerable. Perturabo believed that, without a doubt, Sigismund commanded this fleet, for his brother Primarch would not have trusted this fleet to another. Berossus offered to take his fleet, an equal number of ships, to launch an immediate attack to break the Loyalist fleet. The Lord of Iron struck down the Warsmith's request, informing his subordinate commanders that the Imperial Fists must not simply be broken, they must be ground to nothing. Dorn did not deign to come himself, therefore his favoured pup would bleed for him. All of the ships currently under Warsmith Berossus' command would go, but it would be the Lord of Iron who commanded the attack himself.
The attack led by Perturabo was sudden and overwhelming. From his flag ship the Iron Blood, the Iron Warriors Primarch commanded the first one hundred ships that burst into reality at the same moment. The Iron Warriors vessels brought their weapons to bear, firing as one upon the Imperial Fists vessel Hammer of Terra. The doomed vessel exploded spectacularly as the enemy salvo set off a chain reaction in the ship’s plasma engines. Within seconds of the death of the Hammer of Terra 12 of its sisters followed, consumed by nova-shell explosions and torpedo spreads. The Imperial Fists’ grand cruiser Sulla fired a single salvo before macro-shell fire stripped its shields and its hull became molten slag. The six destroyers clustered around it ended in the explosion of its plasma reactor. The Crusader and Legate lasted scant seconds longer. They and their escorts took a trio of vortex warheads and vanished into the hungering dark. Twenty-four grand cruisers and battle-barges made up the tip of the Iron Warriors' fleet. In close formation around the capital ship Contrador they moved as one. They rammed through the debris of their kills, fire and molten metal smearing their prows. Around the Iron Blood hundreds of warships followed in close formation. Behind them hundreds more pulled themselves from the warp to add to the Iron Warriors fleet.
Initially, the Imperial Fists' fleet fragmented under the attack. Flame-wreathed battle-barges pulled back, trying to outpace the guns of the Iron Warriors. Heavy cruisers staggered in their flight, the first one taking fire and then the next, while faster strike cruisers tried to cover the heavier warships as they pulled away. As the golden fleet broke into pieces the Iron Warriors continued to press forwards. Smaller ships crippled targets, and then larger ships delivered the killing blows. It was methodical and merciless, like a siege drill eating through rock. Plunging his fleet into the midst of the Loyalist fleet, Pertuabo’s strategy was to scatter the Imperial Fists' fleet formation and then destroy it piecemeal. His plan was dependent upon the loyal ships not being able to fight back quickly enough to break the momentum of his thrust. However, Captain Polux and his fleet commanders quickly recovered from the shock and suddenness of Perturabo's attack and fought back.
Directly in the path of the Iron Warriors a lone battleship turned to meet its enemy. Forgotten hands had made the Oath of Stone under the light of a sun far from Terra. It had been old before it served the Imperium, and it had aged in scars and honours since. Its guns blazed, filling the closing space between it and the enemy with fire. Its target was a grand cruiser that bore the name Stheno. The Iron Warriors ship faltered, its void envelope peeling back as it pushed forwards through the storm of fire. Lance beams spat from the Oath of Stone and suddenly the Stheno was burning, a glowing gouge running from its spade-shaped prow to its fins. The Oath of Stone surged forwards to finish its kill, but the Stheno was only one ship amongst a closing fist of iron. Three heavy cruisers fired. Energy crackled across the Oath of Stone’s void shields as they burst like oily bubbles. Shells and missiles hammered into the old ship. Its armour cracked and glowed. Crenellated gun towers sheared off, scattering clouds of stone and metal in their wake. Hundred-metre armour plates flaked off its hull. Deep inside the hull fire ran between compartments, suffocating those it did not burn. Trailing wreckage, the Oath of Stone continued to close and fire on the Stheno. For a moment it seemed as if it would face down the might of an entire fleet and survive. Then a line of turbolaser fire cut its engines in two. Building-sized thrusters fell away as explosions kindled in the wound. With the last of its momentum and guttering engines’ power the Oath of Stone rammed the Stheno. It hit the grand cruiser in the belly, its prow ramming through the iron ship’s spine. The Stheno shuddered, transfixed like a fish on a spear. Gas and fluid sprayed from its hull. For a moment the two spun on, locked together in death. Then the Oath of Stone’s prow ripped free of the Stheno's hull, and pulled the guts of the grand cruiser with it. Discarded and dying the Stheno drifted on, turning end over end, like a broken spear thrown at the night sky. The rest of the Iron Warriors fleet did not even slow down.
Around the Iron Blood hundreds of warships followed in close formation. Behind them hundreds more pulled themselves from the warp to add to the Iron Warriors fleet. Months ago scout units had captured details of the Imperial Fists' fleet, each capturing a single snapshot of data and pushing it into the mind of the astropath slaved to each machine. The psykers' death screams had cut through the storms, carrying dream images of the Imperial Fists fleet. They had used that data to plan, and that plan was a timetable for obliteration. Perturabo ordered his Second Captain to scour the Imperial Fists fleet to find where Sigismund lurked. He was to be found, not killed. That honour would belong to the Lord of Iron. The killing continued with murderous rhythm. The ships at the front of the Iron Warriors fleet had begun to split into groups to hunt smaller Imperial Fists ships. Behind them fresh arrivals advanced in a tight block. These were the macro-vessels, vast cliff-sided ships filled with battalions of Iron Warriors and thousands of slave troops. Beside them lurked the hell burners. Old system ships, orbital haulers and tugs, they had ridden through the warp on tethers behind the macro-ships. Unstable plasma fuel and munitions filled each of the ramshackle craft. Their slave crews, lobotomised into blind obedience, drove the hell burners into the throats of the Imperial Fists guns. Many detonated before they reached their victims, but more did not. Chains of explosions formed glowing nebulae that hung in the void like lava clotting in water.
The Imperial Fists ships that emerged from these infernos were half dead, their armour peeling from their superstructure, their weapons blind. The macro-vessels poured boarding craft onto the crippled ships as they limped from the firestorm. The Imperial Fists crews did not die swiftly. Swamped by thousands of slaves, they held until the Iron Warriors came to finish them in person. Dozens of ships died this way, gutted from within and left to drift, their insides filled with the dead of both sides. To the Iron Warriors the process of victory had begun and the only question was how long it would take to complete. The first sign that all was not as it seemed was a bright explosion on the trailing edge of the Iron Warriors fleet. The Imperial Fists cruiser Veritas and a destroyer wing cut towards their prey. Their target was a grand cruiser, a hulking brute named Calibos. The destroyers released a spread of fast-running torpedoes towards the Iron Warriors ship as they closed. It tried to evade but turned too slowly. Blisters of fire opened along its dark metal back. The destroyers accelerated past the injured ship. The Calibos listed drunkenly, its course veering as the rest of the fleet pulled away. The Veritas struck an instant later, its dorsal cannons crumpling the Calibos's shields and punching through its carapace. Half dead, it tried to turn its prow towards its attacker. The Veritas raced past, broadsides raking the Iron Warriors ship. The grand cruiser exploded in a shockwave of energy and atomised matter. As the Iron Warriors fleet responded the Veritas and its strike group was beyond its reach and turning for its next attack run. It was the first blow of many.
Despite their long sojourn at Phall, they had been kept in a state of constant battle-readiness. This policy paid off for the Imperial Fists as they began to concentrate their fire at the leading ships of Perturabo’s fleet. It was what the months of planning had been for, the hundreds of hours of training. The Retribution Fleet was ready to resist an attack, but they faced an enemy far greater than Captain Polux had ever planned for. The Iron Warriors had taken losses, but their strength remained. If the Imperial Fists had broken in the first moments they would have died. If they attempted to fight the Iron Warriors head on they would have been slaughtered. The Iron Warriors knew their weaknesses, the Imperial Fists theirs. The Iron Warriors had hoped to find the Loyalists unprepared, but they had not cracked after the first attack. The Imperial Fists defence had snapped back into place like the cogs of a clockwork mechanism. It was an unfixed fortress made of moving strike groups, fading resistance and punishing counter-attacks. Slower battleships drew fire, pulling Iron Warriors ships out of formation, while on the edge of the battle sphere fast strike groups looped around and through the margins of the Iron Warriors fleet. They struck again and again, crippling, destroying, trimming ships from the edge of the enemy fleet like fat carved from meat. The Iron Warriors fleet was pulling itself apart as it tried to engage the Imperial Fists, and it bled at every turn. The Imperial Fists rallied and began inflicting casualties, significant casualties. The Iron Warriors still had greater numbers, but that margin quickly diminished.
Commanded by Imperial Fists 14th Company Commander, Captain Amandus Tyr guided the vessel Halcyon through the battle storm. Its leaf-blade hull glowed with reflected light from explosions and weapons fire. The void was thick with debris and plasma clouds, tumbling together like blood and entrails sinking through water. The Halcyon fired as it dived, prow and dorsal weapons thrusting ahead of its path. Behind it two of its sister ships followed: Unity and Truth. They were smaller, knife blades to the Halcyon’s spear tip. They spun, their flank batteries spiralling a bright helix around them as they sliced through the Iron Warriors fleet. This near to the core of the Iron Warriors formation, the hulls of enemy ships were so close that the gunners could aim by sight. The Halcyon and its escorts relied on raw speed and aggression to keep them alive. Though the Imperial Fists had lost two ships in three passes they had managed to kill four times as many. As the Halcyon continued its attack run, it approached the Iron Warriors battle cruiser Dominator. The Halcyon rotated on its axis, swooping under the Dominator, its flank batteries firing. The belly of the Iron Warriors ship split open in a string of explosions. The Unity and Truth followed close behind the Halcyon, hammering into the gaping gut wound in the Dominator's hull. It disintegrated, plasma from its ruptured heart burning it from within. The Halcyon arced away from its kill, engines clawing for speed as it aimed for the edge of the battle sphere. The Iron Warriors battle-barge came out of the surrounding swirl of battle. The Unity vanished in a spread of detonations. As the Halcyon came out of its attack run, Captain Tyr spied a massive vessel -- 15 kilometres of cold iron and battle-blackened adamantium. This vessel was the oldest daughter of the ship forges of Olympia, a breaker of fleets and planets -- the Iron Blood. Tyr knew that only one being had ever been her master, the Lord of Iron. The Imperial Fists commander ordered the vox-master to get a signal to Fleet Master Polux, to warn him that Perturabo was there.
When Tyr informed Fleet Master Polux of Perturabo's flagship leading the enemy fleet, the Captain did not expect the response that he received; Polux immediately placed 50 ships under Tyr's command. The Iron Warriors fleet was pulling itself apart as it tried to engage the Imperial Fists, and it bled at every turn. But that was not enough. Not enough for Polux, not enough for his lost battle-brothers, not enough of a blood price for betrayal. Tyr's objective was the Iron Blood. He was to execute Perturabo. Captain Tyr led an assault force of 53 Terminator Armour-clad veterans to assault the Lord of Iron's flagship. They were going to go into battle against another Legion, against a Primarch. It was a battle none of them had ever thought they would fight, but there was no doubt or hesitancy amongst them. Polux had ordered this strike against Perturabo. That had surprised Tyr; he had though that his brother lacked the boldness for such a gambit. That this mission might be his last did not matter. That was the nature of war, and the Imperial Fists knew that death was often the price of victory.
The Imperial Fists concentrated their fire at the leading ships of Perturabo's fleet. The impact of this was devastating to the Traitors as their lead ships were torn apart in the firestorm. As the lead ships were battered the following ships of Perturabo's fleet broke off their attack to regroup. This gave the Loyalists the chance to go on the offensive but before they did so, the fleet's Astropaths relayed a critical message to the loyal commanders. Finally, they had succeeded in making contact with Terra and the Imperial Fists had urgent orders to return there, by the will of their Primarch Rogal Dorn. These orders came with the highest priority. They Imperial Fists were not to let anything delay them. Coincidentally, a passage seemed to have somehow opened up in the storms, though the Imperial Fists were not sure how long it would last. If they were to obey their Primarch's orders, they had to withdraw while there was a chance of making it through the storms. Embattled against the Traitors of Perturabo and his Iron Warriors Legion the Loyalists had an opportunity to force the issue and launch a counterattack against Perturabo’s fleet, perhaps dealing a wound to the enemy so severe that the Iron Warriors might never recover. But they had their orders; it was the will of Rogal Dorn that they return post-haste.
When it came, the order to withdraw spread like poison through the Imperial Fists fleet. The first to run were the smaller craft, the frigates, gunboats and strike cruisers. Alone or in small squadrons, a hundred and thirty of the proudest warships of the Imperium fled the sphere of battle. Every Imperial Fist on every ship knew what the fleet master was doing, and why; it was a judgement of who was most likely to survive. It was also a death sentence for those that remained. Behind the fleeing ships their heavier cousins fired on the enemy with renewed fury. Rolling fire hit every Iron Warriors ship within range, clouding their sensors with a haze of energy as munitions detonated against void shields. It worked for a while, until the first of the Imperial Fists dropped into the warp. For a moment nothing changed. Then more of the fleeing ships vanished, and the Iron Warriors realised what was happening. They fell on the breaking Imperial Fists like starved jackals on wounded lions. A second wave of Imperial Fists craft began to run for the system's edge and the warp's embrace. The Lacedaemon, the ship that had carried the first Imperial Fists beyond the Sol system, was the first to break away. Its captain, the obedient Iago, pushed his ship until its engines bled raw plasma. Twelve Iron Warriors ships ran him down, raking the Lacedaemon with constant fire. Its hull blasted to a twisted ruin, the Lacedaemon fired back on its killers until the last inch of its hull integrity gave out. Of the rest of the second wave of retreat, a handful made it to clear space and jumped to the warp. Most followed the Lacedaemon to death.
The battle had become a slaughter. The Imperial Fists were running. Squadrons of ships tried to keep the Iron Warriors at bay while the others made for clear space and the possibility of escape. Freed of the pressure of attacks, the Iron Warriors fell on them. Every passing instant saw another ship die under Iron Warriors guns. They simply hammered them into twisted metal and cooling slag. There was an abandon to it, a wasteful brutality that required no skill. But the Imperial Fists died just the same. The Contrador and Polux's command ship, the Tribune, met in an embrace of fire and punctured metal. The Tribune fired every remaining weapon at the closing Iron Warriors ship. Macro-shells, lance beams and plasma jets flicked across the narrowing distance and broke over the Contrador's shields. The return fire blew out the Tribune 's gun decks and gouged a long wound in its side. The Contrador closed until it was drifting alongside the Tribune’s wounded flank. Assault pods and boarding torpedoes slid across the gap. A weak flurry of turret fire reached out to meet the swarm of assault craft and hammered a handful into wreckage. The rest came on, unconcerned and undeterred. They hit in a wave, punching through gold-plated armour and disgorging their cargo into the guts of the Tribune.
Though Polux knew that the Tribune was as good as dead, he would claim its death price. With the Tribune lost, Polux ordered the remaining units aboard to withdraw and jump to Terra as ordered. On the external hull of the Tribune a hundred assault craft boosted into the void like a cloud of fireflies; the Tribune's contingent of Imperial Fists left their fortress for the last time. The 30 members of Polux's personal strike force were still with him, waiting. Before he departed he nodded to the enginseers. There was a flash of light and the Tribune's teleport chamber vanished from around us. Precisely five seconds later the enginseers performed their last duty. They never questioned the Fleet Master's order, never showed the slightest doubt or emotion at what was asked of them. The Tribune's plasma reactors overloaded. For a second the Tribune held its form, a golden fortress floating in black night, then it detonated. The Imperial Fists still on board were vaporised and their Iron Warriors enemies with them. Tongues of plasma licked out from the sun-hot core. Vast lumps of armour plating rode on the growing sphere of hot gases. The blast wave hit the Contrador, and broke fields and burnt out its sensors and range finders. Imperial Fists attack craft descended upon it a moment later like the vengeful spirits of the dead.
The killing began to slow. The Retribution Fleet was no more; only the crippled and dead remained. The Iron Warriors ships had stopped firing on their victims, as if the overwhelming firepower of the earlier battle had left them spent. Surrounded Imperial Fists remnants fired all they had into the face of their enemies. Some managed to strip the void shields off an Iron Warriors ship; some even put wounds into their hulls. But the Iron Warriors came on, shrugging off damage like a bull grox trampling a dog into the dirt. They swarmed their remaining enemies, their boarding pods clustering on golden hulls like ticks feeding on cattle. Their boarding parties struck plasma reactors, shutting them down and letting the ships choke to death without power. Life support systems, artificial gravity, and weapon systems went silent. Then the Iron Warriors left and the cold of the void reached into the lightless hulls to do its slow and silent work. A few Imperial Fists ships remained, fighting to the last, a shrinking cluster of resistance that became smaller by the second. They fought to the death, firing on enemies with undimmed fury, covering limping comrades even as the Iron Warriors brought them down. When the Tribune exploded amongst the last Imperial Fists ships few of the Iron Warriors took note. The Contrador had their kill, and the Primarch had the head of the Imperial Fist who had dared to stand against him. That the Contrador lingered at the site of its victory drew no suspicion. And so, sustaining horrific losses, the Imperial Fists Retribution Fleet withdrew from the massive void conflict and made good their escape.
Captain Polux and his strike force managed to fight their way to the Contrador's bridge and take control of the Iron Warriors warship. Polux ordered the Contrador to depart. As the Iron Warriors vessel's engines fired to full life, it moved away from the debris of its battle with the Tribune. Though the ship was severely damaged inside and out, half its crew dead, and its command seized by its enemies, it was still able to run. By the time the rest of the Iron Warriors fleet realised something was wrong the Contrador was already beyond their range. Its engines breathed comet trails as it made for the edge of the Phall System, deaf to the signals that followed its flight. The Iron Warriors pursued until the Contrador ripped a glowing hole in the starfield and dove into the storms beyond. The Imperial Fists fleet was gone. Some had managed to flee and jump to the warp, but most now drifted in the void, shattered and blackened. The force that had boarded the Iron Blood was dead to a man. The final dozen or so Imperial Fists Terminators that had miraculously managed to ridge the flagship's bridge, were slaughtered by the hand of the Lord of Iron himself. Their broken bodies lay scattered about his command throne. There was no enemy left to fight.
Meanwhile, the Contrador struggled to break through the violent Warp storm whose frustrated fury raged at the hull of the Iron Warriors' vessel. Some of the human crew had died, for there had been violence. Some of the crew had still held loyalty to their Iron Warriors masters but their futile attempts were quickly put down by the resolute and grim Imperial Fists. Others died of hunger, their bodies withering away to nothing. Their time in the Warp was impossible to measure, for time was inconsequential within the Immaterium. After an indeterminate time within the Warp, the Imperial Fists' Navigator finally discovered a way through the storm, detecting the faint luminescence of the holy Astronomican. Using the guiding holy light of Terra, the ship's navigator guided the Contrador back to Terra. But much to their shock, the surviving Imperial Fists emerged from the raging Warp Storm into a system not unlike their own. Weapon platforms and void stations ringed the planets in heavy chains as ships moved through the void. The forces gathered there were the greatest ever seen amongst the surviving Astartes. It was a star system made into a fortress, a seat of power and unbending might. Captain Polux and his Imperial Fists had not arrived in the Sol System. They had arrived in the Realm of Ultramar.
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pp. 342-343
- Shadows of Treachery (Anthology) edited by Christian Dunn and Nick Kyme, "The Crimson Fist" by John French, pp. 7-56 96-97