The Betalis III Campaign, also known as the Battle of Betalis III, was a military campaign fought in 894.M41 by the Space Wolves Space Marine Chapter and regiments of the Astra Militarum against the enigmatic Craftworld Eldar and their Corsair allies on the Industrial World of Betalis III.
After many solar months of fighting, the Imperial armed forces were able to push the Aeldari back and secure Betalis III. Unknown to the Imperials, the Aeldari of the Mymeara and Alaitoc Craftworlds were fighting to retrieve the Exarch Armour of one of their lost Phoenix Lords known as Irillyth, the "Shade of Twilight," the long-lost master of the Shadow Spectres Aspect Warriors.
Ghosts in the Shadows
Opening Moves 024.894.M41
Located deep within the glacial fields of Betalis III's eastern continent, Relay Station NX87-04 formed part of the global surveillance network that kept permanent watch over the Ice world's vast uninhabitable wastelands. That it had functioned without issue for centuries in such harsh conditions was a testament to the consummate skills of the Adeptus Mechanicus tech-priests who had seeded the planet with scores of such installations during its transformation into an Imperium mining colony. On the eve of its four hundred and fifth year of perfect operation the relay station abruptly ceased transmitting.
The Logis-adept monitoring the relay station thousands of kilometres away at the planet's spaceport, port Ryira, instantly went into cerebral shock and let out a soul-piercing scream; the sudden loss of data collapsing its higher brain functions which had exclusively devoted to processing NX87-04's constant stream of tech-scripts and binary ciphers its entire life. Its death cry sent a shock wave through the living, breathing bio-processor it was physically and mentally connected to, rendering five other adepts catatonic and leaving vast tracts of the planet's eastern-most continent unmonitored until repairs could be affected and the damaged bio-components replaced
On a world where temperatures had been sub-zero for millennia and lethal ice storms whipped up with little warning, the malfunction of NX87-04 was initially blamed on local conditions, and it was left to the trans-mechanic specialists of the Adeptus Mechanicus on-site to resolve the issue and revive the relay station's Machine Spirit. It was only when a Sentinel patrol from a nearby garrison was ordered to investigate the still-silent facility two solar days later that the isolated relay station was found to have been attacked and destroyed.
The frozen bodies of its massacred trans-mechanics were lain scattered throughout the station's charred remains, the horrific injuries consistent with those caused by monofilament projectile weapons. A report of the patrol's grisly discovery was immediately dispatched to port Ryira and as alarms blared throughout the facility, the planet's defence forces steeled themselves for further attacks.
Over the solar weeks that followed the Ice World's global surveillance network was targeted by more raids; each facility being attacked under cover of darkness and with little, if any, warning. The motive for the attacks completely eluded Betalis III's Planetary Governor, Jamuel Escava, and the representatives of the noble mining families who oversaw production on the Ice World. The planet was of little strategic importance and of only minor economic worth to the sub-sector.
Aside from the sixty-two million citizen-workers and their families living in settlements clustered around the planet's ore mines and refineries, and the fifteen thousand Administratum support staff based at Port Ryira, the planet was a desolate wasteland devoid of life. One of only two planets fit for habitation in the system, it was a stark contrast to the neighbouring Industrial World of Betalis IV.
Even the aristocratic families granted mining charters on Betalis III generations before by the Administratum rarely visited their distant dominion. Instead their will was imposed by hundreds of petty bureaucrats, prefects and stewards charged with meeting the planet's annual Administratum tithes and ensuring that every last bit of profit possible after that was ground from the planet's bedrock and the unfortunate souls who lived upon it.
The escalating raids were quickly attributed to the Eldar Corsairs that the system's Imperial Navy fleet had previously encountered in the Betalis System's outer asteroid belt and the Karina Nebula beyond it. The Corsairs, identified as being aligned to the Void Dragons cadre, had posed a serious threat in the past to the human colonists of Betalis III, launching attacks upon isolated communities whenever the opportunity had presented itself. Regular patrols by the system's fleet had kept them in check in recent years, but it was now obvious from the increasing sightings reported by the crews of cargo transports travelling to and from the system that those circumstances had changed.
Meanwhile, on Betalis III, as the profile of the raids on the Ice World differed little from the Corsairs' modus operandi, Planetary Governor Escava dispatched his forces as he had done previously. Now though these joined by men from the Cadia 6th Armoured Regiment, elements of which had been recently transferred to the planet to undergo hostile environment training. With their skills and experience, Planetary Governor Escava desperately hoped that, maybe, the fighting men of Cadia would put an end to this persistent problem once and for all.
Even with the aid of the vastly more experienced Cadian squads, hunting down the raiders was not as simple a matter as Planetary Governor Escava thought. As soon as a report of a raid was received, the Guardsmen were immediately dispatched in squadrons of Arvus Lighters across the frozen landscape. Of the raiding party though there would be no sign, only the destruction it had wrought upon yet another relay station or isolated outpost and indication of its passing. On the rare occasion there were terrified beyond rational sense, babbling incoherently about lights in the darkness before mercifully succumbing to their wounds.
The horrific game of cat and mouse was to go on for solar weeks; the planet's overseers and stewards voicing their concerns ever louder with each attack, fearful that the situation would soon hamper their ability to meet the mining cartels' Administratum obligations. And so it might have continued had not greater military minds been watching events unfold on Betalis III from afar.
The Return of a Warrior 032.894.M41
A solar month after the attack on Relay Station NX87-04, a shuttlecraft set down on the primary landing strip at Port Ryira. Onboard was General Myndoras Odon, commander of the 6th Cadian Armoured Regiment and a decorated veteran of over thirty campaigns fought in the name of the Emperor. Recovering from the injuries he'd received whilst commanding the regiment in its successful defence of the Agri-World, Saras VII, the General had abruptly cut short his rehabilitation, giving only two solar hours notice of his impending arrival to the now nervously waiting Planetary Governor Escava.
Striding past the fawning diplomats from the mining cartels that had hastily gathered to greet him, the General's first action was to reassume command of all divisions of the Cadian 6th garrisoned on the planet. Bowing to the General's superior military expertise, some might suggest almost too eagerly, Planetary Governor Escava put the planet's defence forces at the Astra Militarum commander's disposal.
Only a few solar hours behind the General's ship but already filling long-range pict-screens at Port Ryira was an armada of vessels, on board which was the remainder of the Cadian 6th Armoured Regiment. Their headquarters had been temporarily based on the system's primary planet, Betalis IV, and the General had issued orders whilst en route that they were to redeploy to Betalis III; his assessment of the situation was that events unfolding on the planet were serious enough to warrant their immediate relocation.
General Odon's long years of tactical training and battlefield experience had led him to conclude that the seemingly indiscriminate attacks were neither random nor the actions of opportunists taking advantage of what the General saw as a woefully poorly defended star system; an abomination he would be taking up with the commanders of its Imperial Navy fleet forthwith. Each attack had been planned by minds infinitely greater than those they had been toying with, and were undoubtedly, in his opinion, part of a much wider initiative.
Although none of the facilities attacked were directly connected, by plotting the raids and then projecting where the next one would most likely occur, General Odon had realised that a tipping point would soon be reached where Betalis III's entire global surveillance network would be rendered inoperative with the removal of just four more relay stations thousands of kilometres apart from each other. With the planet unmonitored, and units from the 6th Cadian Armoured Regiment and Planetary Defence Forces spread too thin across its surface chasing ghosts, the world would be utterly unprepared for the much larger invasion General Odon believed the attacks were a prelude to. Betalis III's custodians had been foolishly dancing to someone else's tune and General Odon had arrived to put a stop to it.
Knowing that time was a precious commodity he could now ill afford to waste and with not enough men or armament to protect the entire planet, General Odon ordered that all Imperial Guard and planetary defence forces be recalled from the less populated southern and western continents with immediate effect. This raised a heated storm of protests from the cartels' representatives who feared what would happen if they lost the total control they currently exerted over the belligerent population, still bitter over what they saw as the 'twisted' promises made to their ancestors centuries before. If the workers were not kept in check it was feared that riots would soon break out, affecting production rates and preventing the cartels from meeting the planet's stringent Administratum tithe.
But during times of war rarely do the priorities of the common man, their Imperial overseers and the might of the military concur, and whilst the cartels petitioned furiously for him to rescind his order, the General had far greater concerns. He believed that what they would all soon face was far worse than a barely restrained militant population or the Administratum's vast chapters of auditors and bureaucrats. General Odon suspected that whoever was behind the raids was already massing its forces in the unmonitored glacial wastelands, and should they gain a foothold on Betalis III, then the infinitely more valuable industrial world and staging point of Betalis IV would be their next target. Betalis III was nothing more than a stepping stone, in his eyes, to the indispensable strategic gem that hung in its heavens.
The Dies Is Cast 040.894.M41
The decision to recall the Imperial Guard squads from the southern and western continents achieved far more than a storm of protests from the planet's prefects; it also provoked the enemy into action, something General Odon had been counting on.
As the last Guardsmen were shuttled back to Port Ryira, a cargo vessel flying supplies between the mining facilities on the southern ice plains of the continent was attacked and destroyed. Before his ship disappeared from Port Ryira's screens, the pilot relayed back a single pict-image of his pursuers. It showed two sleek craft clearly of Eldar origin; each with their weapons illuminated with an unearthly glow as they powered up to blast the cargo ship from the skies.
The message from the planet's assailants was loud and clear. The war for Betalis III had begun.
The Search for Arms and Armour
Even with thousands of Imperial Guard regiments in a constant state of readiness, the wheels of bureaucracy within the Departmento Munitorum grind woefully slowly. The order for the Hammer of the Emperor to strike may not be issued for weeks, months, or even years once a request for aid is first received as it makes its way through the seemingly endless chain of command. Those seeking assistance are therefore wise to look to their own defence in case they do not receive reinforcements in time or at all. Therefore, invoking his full powers as Consul Militant of the Betalis system, a position granted to him upon his return to active service, General Odon first issued a system wide decree that all resources, both military and otherwise, were now part of the building war effort. Attached to this decree was notice that anyone who dared to object would be swiftly transferred to the ranks of the Arbites penal battalion, charged as traitors for supporting the Eldar cause.
As the superior military force on the planet, the Cadian 6th Regiment would form the core of the army, but what the regiment delivered in terms of experience and ability it lacked in equipment. It was sorely in need of tanks and had only half of its usual complement available. The remainder had not yet been replaced after they were destroyed in the war against the Orks on Saras VII.
The Cadia 6th Regiment's officers first scoured Betalis III for anything with tracks and armour they could use. All of Betalis III's heavy armour, what little there was of it, was immediately stripped from the Planetary Defence Force and added to that of the Cadian regiment, along with its squadrons of Malcador Infernus flamer tanks and Crassus armoured assault transports
General Odon's next action was to gain consensus from the system's Imperial Navy commander that all non-essential flights be grounded on the planet to protect what little air support he would have to call upon during the conflict. The Imperial Navy's small defensive air fleet was comprised of little more than a squadron of Marauder Destroyers and another of Thunderbolts, with the majority of its "civilian" craft being Arvus cargo shuttles and bulk transports. General Odon knew that the Eldar would first and foremost seek superiority in the skies before committing any ground troops. With little to match their craft in terms of speed or manoeuvrability, this would be a hard battle for the Betalis system fleet, but one it would participate in regardless.
Then the General's staff turned their attention to the colonists of the Ice World. The Planetary Governor had been in the process of building up and training recruits to meet the planet's Departmento Munitorum manpower tithes. The recruits, men and women mostly drawn from the Planetary Defence Force and workers militia, had been given the temporary title of the 28th Betalis Rifles. They had virtually no equipment or heavy weapons, but had already undergone training with the Cadian 6th and were considered battle ready. General Odon gave the order for their reassignment. Theses near-raw recruits had little experience but he needed the manpower. If nothing else they would free up more experienced Guardsmen from garrison and security duties. Their commander, Colonel Empteda, was a capable and loyal officer who had achieved good results in training the conscripts, and General Odon saw no need to replace him.
The search for troops also led directly to the cells of the Adeptus Arbites. The life of the common man of the Imperium is rarely an easy one. War and disease take all too many from the Emperor's light too soon and those who survive will likely endure such hardships that each day is a constant struggle with little reward or comfort other than what can take, whether willingly or otherwise, from another.
On Betalis III the descendants of the original colonists survived their grim existence with their ancestors' bitter hatred for their overseers bred deep into their psyche. With absolute control over their lives, the cartels' enforcers made sure there was little time between work shifts for them to dwell upon their discontentment. Still though, tempers regularly ran high and even minor scuffles or disagreements frequently escalated into riots among the general populace, and the swift, harsh penalties dealt out for even the smallest infraction meant there was rarely a cell empty in the many Arbites compounds on the world. It was to these that the General's staff turned next, and each prisoner, regardless of his crime or sentence, was armed and given the chance to redeem himself.
The final addition to the burgeoning defence force was the primary mining cartel family's personal guard. The absent cartel family's representative on the planet, Lord-steward Vlaar, was a practical man, who recognised that the sooner the Eldar threat was removed from Betalis III, the quicker normal operations would resume. The cartel's personal guard consisted of a thousand troops granted for ceremonial duties and protection should the members if the noble mining family who owned the Administratum mandate ever visit. The guard looked smart on the parade ground and had their own squadrons on Leman Russ and Chimera, but like the Betalis 28th had never seen any combat action. The General's staff took them anyway. In return Lord-steward Vlaar lobbied for and, to the surprise of many of the rival cartel families' representatives, was given the rank of colonel.
Having exhausted what Betalis III could offer, the General's staff then turned to other sources of manpower. Neighbouring Betalis IV, also now on high alert, was currently the staging point of the Vaust 14th Armoured Regiment. The Vaustian commander was ordered to turn control of the regiment over to the Cadians; theirs was the senior force and the needs of the Betalis system overrode his previous orders. The regiment comprised men conscripted from Vaust's hive gangs and workers, and although they lacked the Cadian's tradition of service and sacrifice, the regiment was well-equipped with Chimeras and Leman Russ. It also had a heavy tank company of ageing but fully-functional Macharius battle tanks. These would be essential, especially as the Cadians had little in the way of truly heavy armament, just a few surviving battle-worn squadrons of Baneblades, Stormblades and Shadowswords
A flotilla of vessels used by the mining cartels had already been prepared for the regiment's immediate transfer when its young colonel, in command of the regiment through nothing but sheer fluke of birthright, sent his response. Although he sympathized with the predicament that General Odon faced, he would not deviate from his original orders until sector command sent new instructions. The Vaust 14th would stay on Betalis IV. A skirmish on some backwater planet was not part of the Vaustian colonel's current concerns.
The Intervention 048.894.M41
The defiance of the Vaust 14th's commander ended with the arrival of Inquisitor-lord Hestaphus Danzk at Port Ryira. The Inquisitor-lord, an agent of the great institution of the Ordo Xenos, swept into General Odon's command room unannounced and unchallenged. Accompanying the Inquisitor-lord was his retinue: three Cadian Guardsmen, an Adeptus Mechanicus Tech-priest upon whose arm perched a huge black bird, cables from the implants upon its skull linking it with its creator, and two Ogryns. Dragged unceremoniously between the two megalithic thugs was the pitiful sight of the young Vaustian colonel, all evidence of his former rank ripped unceremoniously from his soiled uniform.
Ordered by his superiors to investigate the growing reports of Eldar in the system, Inquisitor-lord Danzk had been en-route to Betalis III when he had intercepted the young colonel's complaints to his commanders regarding General Odon's orders. Diverting to Betalis IV, Danzk had arrested the Colonel and his entire command staff and sentenced them to serve in the newly formed Arbites penal battalion until the end of the war.
The Vaust 14th Armoured Regiment was immediately redeployed to Betalis III and within days their Leman Russ, Chimeras, Macharius and Ogryn Auxilia Company were reassigned to reinforce the Cadian squads. Some of the Cadian 6th Regiment's officers were also distributed throughout the new regiment's ranks, replacing the inexperienced officers drawn from the hive world's ruling families with much more experienced Cadian sergeants and veterans. Commissars were also posted amongst the platoons to quash any dissent with their customary finality.
As well as providing a solution to the army's lack of ground troops, the Inquisitor-lord had also called upon other resources, some even the new Consul Militant did not have access to. Also in the vicinity of the Betalis system was a convoy destined for the Yarant system, containing a Titan transport of the Legio Gryphonicus — the War Griffons. General Odon forwarded an astropathic request to the War Griffons home world requesting its temporary reassignment. The request was approved and in addition a strike force of Elysian Drop Troops accompanying the convoy was also diverted. The Elysians, under the command of a Captain Isarta, would provide their own airborne transports and form a mobile reserve for the defence force. En-route to the system Inquisitor-lord Danzk had also petitioned the Space Wolves Chapter for aid. There had been reports of their presence in a neighbouring system, and if the Space Marines heeded the call for reinforcements, then their added might would see a formidable force assembled for the defence of the planet.
With all available options exhausted and the Eldar Corsairs now openly mounting daylight raids on the other two continents, their populations left to fend for themselves by the order of the General, the Betalis III defence force was split into three battle groups.
Colonel Empteda would take command of the first. His battle group was ordered to immediately head to the Bregan Glacier. The glacier loomed over the entrance to the Tarundor Peninsula, and if it were to fall into enemy hands then movement on and off the peninsula, where the Imperium's forces were based, would be severely restricted. It was essential that it was in Imperial hands before the war began.
Meanwhile, the two other battle groups would remain on alert at Port Ryira. Only when the full scale of the enemy's forces and its intentions were absolutely clear would the largest battle group, led by General Myndoras Odon, deploy. The last of the three battle groups, commanded by Colonel Vlaar, would remain at the space port unless the deployment of its reserve forces was deemed absolutely necessary.
Until that time, the defenders of the Ice World of Betalis III prepared for war.
The Silence Ends 053.894.M41
The colossal blue star of the Betalis system was an ancient traveler. It had passed across the western spiral arms of the galaxy for billions of years trailed by a ghostly shroud, and had figured in the myths and legends of the region in many guises. To the worlds of the Pashek Consortium it was the all-seeing eye of a terrifying cyclopean god that constantly watched and judged their every move. But to the Bad Moon Ork Warlord Gobteef Fangmaw, it had been a huge sparkling jewel dropped by the Ork god Gork (or possibly Mork) himself. Driven by his insatiable greed to possess the star-sized gem, the Ork warlord had swept across the sector at the head of a gargantuan WAAAGH! millions of Orks strong; his murderous rampage only being halted when he was slain by a rival Goff Ork Warlord.
To the Imperium the Betalis star was none of these things. What they found instead when their survey ships examined and catalogued it was just another seething ball of plasma and radiation like so many others within the Emperor's domain. The star was nothing more than a minor sun that had been spewing its stellar matter out into the voids of space for millennia before it converged together again in a vast cloud of star dust nearly a light year away.
Known as the Karina Nebula, the Betalis Dust Cloud or simply EPN31953 by Imperial xeno-cartographers, to the Eldar the hazy expanse was the Maiden's Veil. Nothing more than an insignificant smudge on the star charts of the Imperial Navy, to the fathomless minds of the Eldar it was a place avoided by those few who lived upon the Craftworlds who were privy to its terrible secret. But for the young Eldar who sought a life free of the restrictions and constraints of the Eldar star palaces, it held no such fear. Instead for millennia it drew them like moths to a flame to join other such outcasts of their slowly dying race within its gossamer veil, and where now a massive Corsair fleet was massing in preparation for its assault upon Betalis system.
Eyes Wide in the Wilderness
The destruction of Betalis III's global surveillance network by the Eldar Corsairs put General Odon's forces at a serious disadvantage. Without it vast stretches of the eastern continent could not be monitored, nor could they platforms. The platform's sensors had been designed to penetrate the highly reflective stellar matter that poured through the system from the Betalis sun. It would require many days of delicate recalibration by tech-adepts before they could be refocused on the planet, let alone provide images of sufficient quality for the battle group's commanders to use.
Again Inquisitor-lord Danzk provided the solution. Amongst his retinue was an Adeptus Mechanicus tech-priest, Mydeaus, whom the Inquisitor-lord had rescued over thirty years before from a Chaos cultist uprising on the hive world of Hemisphere. With the relay stations and power systems of the surveillance network damaged too far beyond even the tech-priest's ability to repair by the Eldar raids, he set to work on an alternative. Working without rest for two days and nights, the tech-priest put the now redundant monitoring system at Port Ryira to a new purpose. From its bio-mechanical components he created scores of surveillance servitors, mostly static devices but some even capable of low level flight. These were then distributed to key locations across the eastern continent by the Inquisitor's retinue; the three Cadians and tech-priest facing the very real risk of discovery at any moment by the increasing patrols mounted by Eldar jetbike squadrons.
Within hours of the last of the devices being activated, the full scale of the Eldar incursion was realised. Monitoring the feeds from the servitors on the banks of pict-screens in his command Chimera, Inquisitor-lord Danzk informed General Odon that the defenders of Betalis III faced not one but two massive Eldar Battle host.
The Battle for the Betalis System
The early warning systems on the Watchful Saviour, Betalis III's primary orbiting defence platform, burst into life as the Corsair armada crossed into the system's outer reaches. As one the dour robed figures of its choir rose up from their ornately carved wooden stalls and began to chant the Canticle of the Observant Son; the low droning call to arms a sombre contrast to the shrieking sirens that had also been triggered by the approach of the enemy ships.
Far above them in the Watchful Saviour's towering spires, its gun crews prepared for battle. Scores of Imperial Navy indentured workers heaved the platform's massive macro cannons and lance weapons forward into their firing positions; the bundles of chains they hauled them along with cutting deep into their hands and shoulders as they strained with the mammoth effort required of their task.
Many levels below, deep in the core of the platform, Adeptus Mechanicus adepts blessed the workings of the station's plasma generator, the long black filaments of their elector-brushes smearing holy oils and unguents thickly upon its age-stained cogs and arcane gears. Then, only when they were satisfied they had bestowed upon them sufficient blessings and anointments, did the worshippers of the Omnissiah each take hold of one of the generator's primary valves and, with a softly whispered prayer, awaken the dormant machine spirit within.
Two hours after its sensors had detected the approaching Corsair ships, the gun crews of the Watchful Saviour opened fire at maximum range, their blinding beams of light slicing deep into the flight path of the oncoming fleet. Their efforts went unrewarded thought as the beams harmlessly dissipated beyond the swarming ships. Again and again the crews fired but to little effect, the defence lasers glowing red hot as their crews laboured to track and hit the elusive targets whose holo-fields redirected and dispersed the shots with ease.
Then, from behind the second moon of the ice world, the system's Imperial Naval fleet joined the battle - dozens of Fury interceptors, defence monitors and system ships, their numbers pitifully few in comparison to the massed Eldar craft. The Fury interceptors accelerated once they were clear of the moon, the fastest in the small fleet their orders were to lure the Eldar off their current course and onto the guns of the slower but better armed and armoured system ships. In response the first wave of Corsairs immediately engaged them.
Twisting and spiralling through space, the Eldar craft flew directly at the oncoming formation, paying scant regard to the barrage of lascannon shots and missiles the Imperium's interceptors fired as they closed the range. Then, each turning their sleek vessels through near impossible angles, they arced back round upon the flanks of their prey; the xenos pilots obliterating most of the Imperial Navy squadrons in a synchronous attack that was as prefect in its coordinated execution as it was deadly. With the first wave devoted to destroying the remnants of the Fury squadrons of Aconite and Hellebore frigates advanced to engage the Imperium's system ships and defence monitors formation; the long elegant xenos escort ships stubbed with pulsar lances and torpedo launchers.
The Holy Retribution, one of the few system ships assigned to the Betalis fleet, was the first to suffer their attentions. Weapons battery after weapons battery was fired by the Holy Retribution's gun crews; the ratings and indentured workers inside the ship preparing the next volley the instant their weapons were discharged. Then, as the ship's trajectory curved past the moon, the long range lance fire of the Watchful Saviour joined its salvos. Caught within the firestorm dozens of Corsair craft were laid to waste; their blasted remains soon drifting amongst those of the Fury interceptors that had been destroyed minutes before.
For almost an hour the battle raged. First the Corsairs edged ever closer towards the ship and in return would be caught up in its intense gunfire or trapped within the lancing beams of the Watchful Saviour. But as time wore on Eldar weapons fire took its toll upon the Holy Retribution. With insufficient Fury squadrons to protect it, the agile and powerful Eldar Darkstar fighters inflicted enough damage to overload its shield generators, and dove in to strafe its gun decks and command spire the moment they failed.
With external bulkheads compromised and the fractured metres-thick panels of armour-glass surrounding the command deck threatening to breach any moment, the Holy Retribution's commander, Flag-Captain Mevuen, gave the order for his dying vessel to be turned towards the one area of the system's outer reaches that all Imperial vessels had so far given a wide berth. Entering the region with the Corsairs still strafing his vessel, Flag-Captain Mevuen opened up the ship wide vox-network and started to recite the Common Prayer of the Fleet, the sound of the centuries old ship tearing apart clearly audible around him. The venerable flag-captain had not gotten far through his sombre liturgy when an Eldar Darkstar fighter, its alien identity not recognised by the remnants of the minefield seeded in the Betalis system centuries before by the Divine Unification, triggered one of the abandoned mines. As the power generation crystals on the Eldar craft shattered and its hull fragmented, its debris field set off further mines, critically damaging the Holy Retribution and scores of other Corsair vessels that had swarmed around the dying ship.
The explosions tore through the Holy Retribution, causing its shields to fail and its bulkheads to be ripped apart, sending thousands of Imperial Navy crewmen into the cold vacuum of space. In the few areas of the vast ship where the crew were not immediately ejected into the void, men fought amongst themselves for places in the few undamaged salvation pods. Those fortunate to escape were either immediately targeted and destroyed by Eldar Corsair vessels or slowly drifted through the system until they reached the safety of one of the inhabited planets.
Whilst the destruction of the Holy Retribution played out across the edge of the Betalis system, the rest of the Corsair fleet maintained their course towards the Watchful Saviour and the last few remaining Fury squadrons and system ships that now stood guard over it.
Virtually unopposed, the first wave of Darkstars scored multiple direct hits, their shots punching through its shields and critically damaging the platform's gravitic-stabilisers. With a sickening motion, the massive platform began to list, and anything not securely fixed down began to roll and slide across the decks, crushing all in its way as the Watchful Saviour tilted and began to drift out of its geo-stationary orbit.
The effects were devastating. Gun crews and ratings were drowned as the huge vats of chemicals that hung over the defence lasers, their toxic contents used to prevent the weapons from overheating, broke free from their mountings, engulfing the frantically fleeing men in an acidic tidal wave. In the apothecarium, the Watchful Saviour's surgeon-master was near-fatally maimed when shelves storing surgical implements tipped over him mid-operation, their razor-sharp blades slicing him from head to toes with scores of incisions. A worse fate though was to befall the crews who worked in the bays permanently exposed to the outer void. As soon as the Watchful Saviour had begun to list, the bulkhead doors leading to the open sections of the platform automatically sealed shut. With their escape routes cut off, hundreds died when the protective energy field between the crew and space fluctuated for a few seconds, exposing them to the intense radiation of the Betalis system's star.
Volleys from a third Corsair wave finished off the stricken platform, its return fire slackening as pyres raged within it and its compartments flooded with toxic smoke. With defeat imminent and his guns falling silent one by one, Flag-captain Basas, the Watchful Saviour's commander, ordered the platform's evacuation. Salvation pods were frantically loaded with the wounded and the lucky few unscathed survivors and the ejected towards the planet below.
The few Imperial Navy ships that had survived the first assault retreated into the outer regions of the Betalis star, its radiation shielding them from the sensors of the Corsair fleet that now dominated the Betalis system.
Having won the battle for the skies above Betalis III, the Eldar immediately turned their attention to the planet below.
The Battle At Alnitac Prime 0555.894.M41
"O Eternal God-Emperor; who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the warp; Who hast compassed the void with bounds until day and night come to an end; Be pleased to receive in Thy Almighty and most gracious..."
- —Last transmission of the Holy Retribution. All eight thousand and thirty-two souls consigned to the Emperor's grace at the Battle for the Betalis System.
The first major land offensive of the Betalis III war took place at Alnitac Prime, a vast facility that refined chemicals used in the production of Promethium, and that stretched for over fifty kilometres across and through the Bregan Glacier. Flowing down from the Escarta mountain range at the infinitesimal speed of less than half a metre a standard century, the glacier, its ice marbled with the dark grey ash that constantly fell like snow from the refinery's forest of chimneys and cooling towers, loomed ominously over the eastern edge of the Alacian Plains.
The plains were little more than an icy wilderness but across them lay the entrance to the Isthmus of Tarundor, the land bridge which connected the north-eastern peninsula, and ultimately Port Ryira, to the rest of the eastern continent. The two Eldar forces, that of Alaitoc in the south of the continent and the other from Mymeara speeding eastwards from its portal near the western coast, were expected to converge on the Alacian Plains. General Odon was preparing his battle group to oppose them there, and whoever controlled the glacier would hold an advantage in the battle to come.
Dispatched in a fast moving convoy of Leman Russ, Malcador, Praetors and Crassus armoured assaults transports and taking advantage of the road networks that fed the facility's instable appetite for Betalis III's raw materials, Battle Group Empteda deployed on the glacier on the evening on the third day of its departure from Port Ryira. As Colonel Empteda watched over the battle group's preparations, already thousands of workers and their families had left their hab blocks behind and set out on the perilous trek to seek shelter elsewhere, heading either for the northern and eastern highway tunnels or the networks of the canyons and caves in the surrounding mountains. Each man, woman and child knew the enemy was coming; the only question was when would it arrive?
True to form, the Eldar did not keep the defenders waiting long. In the pre-dawn hours of the fourth day, as the battle group's Sentinel forward reconnaissance squads patrolled the southern most regions of the glacier, the came under fire from squadrons of Eldar Grav-tanks and Vyper Jetbikes that had flown ahead of the main Mymeara force, skimming low across the Alacian Plains and up over the leading edge of the ice wall. Near invisible in the darkness, they registered as little more than faint smudges on the Sentinels' sensors as one by one the walker squadrons were annihilated; Eldar Rangers already concealed in the surrounding ice canyons expertly guided their air-borne brethren in.
Joining the Mymeara craft shortly after, the first wave of Corsair vessels began their attack run on the facility. The battle group was ready and waiting for them though. As the Nightwings, Phoenix and Vampires soared down, they were met with a tremendous firestorm of las shot and artillery shell. What heavy armour his command staff could muster, but he had not sent the young colonel into battle empty handed. Prior to leaving their base on the neighbouring industrial world, the officers of the Cadian 6th had ordered their men to completely strip its resupply depots of all the guns, ordnance and ammunition they could lay their hands on. Little remained by the time the final Cadian squad left for the Ice World. Each ship in the fleet had been stacked to the gunnels with enough armament to defend the planet for months, and amongst this huge arsenal had been a consignment of defence platforms due to be distributed to wars elsewhere in the sector. Now, a large stretch of the glacier bristled with the barrels of those guns as they unleashed salvo upon salvo into the oncoming Eldar attack formation.
The thunder of Battle Group Empteda's heavy weapons shook the surrounding mountain ranges to their core, triggering avalanches and rock falls that roared down their slopes, burying hundreds of refugees who had gambled that safety lay in the cave systems rather than heading east to risk the long walk across the sub-zero tundra. Undeterred by the firestorm they had flown into, the Eldar flyers soared over the facility and once their attack run was complete, raced upwards into heavens. With barely enough time to reload, the Guardsmen soon spotted scores of white contrails on the horizon which augured the approach of a second Corsair wave.
The Guardsmen manning the defence platforms unleashed another booming volley as the enemy came within range. Shell after shot swept the sky as the crews swung their heavy weapons round to follow the flight paths of the sleek, darting ships before they too rose up above the facility at break-neck speed and out of range. The second attack had lasted no longer than the first and although both enemy forces had given their all, neither had inflicted a death blow upon the other.
As silence descended once more upon Alnitac Prime, the gun crews reloaded and scanned the horizon, waiting for the tell-tale signs of contrails to appear once again. The next attack came swiftly, although not from the air but instead from the surrounding mountains as sniper fire ripped through the heavy weapons platforms. The Corsairs had been little more than a diversion, a feint to buy time for the Eldar Rangers to move up so that their guns were within range of the battle group. Those Guardsmen who survived the opening volley were immediately pinned down, using what little cover their weapons platforms provided or lying motionless amongst the bodies of their fallen comrades as sniper fire ricocheted along the platforms' metalwork.
Watching the battle back at Alnitac Prime, Colonel Empteda initiated the next part of his plan. On his command the heavily armoured Leman Russ, Chimera and Praetor armoured assault launcher squadrons waiting there sprang into action, their exhausts belching black oily fumes into the freezing cold air as they accelerated towards the besieged lines of heavy weapon platforms. With no chance of locating the Eldar hidden amongst the vast network of ravines surrounding them, Colonel Empteda had turned to one of the few weapons in the Imperial Guard arsenal he had in abundance -- overwhelming firepower. The tanks' gunners sent round after round into the mountains, the shells setting off a lethal hailstorm of shrapnel as rocks and ice exploded with deadly effect.
As the tanks prowled the battlefield and the sniper fire ceased, the survivors from the Vaust 14th and Betalis 28th regiments on the platforms began to celebrate believing the Eldar had been destroyed. They had done it. They had seen off two attacks and lived. The more experienced Cadians amongst them remained grimly silent. They knew the Eldar were not so easily beaten and would soon be back. Something Colonel Empteda was more than ready to face, and in the few minutes when the pace of the battle briefly paused, he gave the order for the next part of his plan to commence.
Speeding down the glacier from Alnitac Prime came the last of the vehicles Empteda had at his disposal. As they sped along, their tracks rumbled over the facility massive air vents that were interspersed along the glacier. Only a day before these vital lifelines had supplied precious clean air to dilute the toxic fumes that spewed from the furnaces in the facility below, preventing the suffocation of the thousands who toiled at them day and night. Hastily abandoned by the workers, those furnaces still burned fiercely and where once men and women had laboured, something else now moved in their place, transported to the glacier within the holds of the Crassus.
The two waves of Imperial vehicles soon joined together and reformed into three huge blocks as they picked up speed, creating a new frontline a kilometre down the glacier. Now at the rear, the static heavy weapons platforms then took on the role of artillery. Once more the Corsair pilots swooped down, and in return the tank crews opened fire as the heavily armoured blocks rumbled forwards. Shuriken cannon and star cannon traded shots with heavy bolters and autocannons as the graceful craft strafed the battleline. The range was so close between the two sides that holo-fields and armour mattered little. In the furious fire fight the tight Imperial formation and its near constant bombardment evened the odds.
Teams of Jetbike riders skimmed across the surface of the glacier behind the Corsairs, following up on the attacks of the larger craft. The slow lumbering Imperial force continued to roll stubbornly forwards; each driver trusting his safety to his armoured vehicle and its guns, and remaining within the formation. Fight together and live, stand alone and die. The choice was simple, however gaps were starting to appear, and even originally fully loaded, ammunition supplies were also running low through the near constant rate of fire.
At Alnitac Prime Colonel Empteda watched on solemnly as the brave Guardsmen under his command fought on. Had they been given more time and resources they might have succeeded but the young colonel knew such hope for the folly it was. It was clear that the Eldar's air superiority and increasing numbers would have eventually swept away the battle group regardless. His men had done well to last this long. Already he'd had word from Odon's command staff that the main forces of the Mymeara host were deploying onto the Alacian Plains. If he didn't act now, then the Eldar would gain the higher ground and Battle Group wouldn't stand a chance.
Whispering a brief prayer for the Emperor's forgiveness Colonel Empteda turned to the men behind him who controlled the Cyclops demolition vehicles now positioned throughout the depths of the facility, and with one word ended the Battle at Alnitac Prime: 'Detonate'.
A Prayer for the Fallen
Kiloemetres away from the glacier, Inquisitor-lord Danzk recited the Prayer for the Fallen as he watched the destruction of Battle Group Empteda and its attackers through the eyes of a hovering servitor. The detonation of the Cyclops demolition vehicles deployed through the facility during the battle had set off a catastrophic chain reaction amongst its furnaces and huge chemical storage vats. The blast that immediately followed liquefied the ice field above it, launching the battle group and billions of tonnes of melted ice and molten rock straight up into the vast flock of Eldar craft circling above.
Battle Group Empteda could never have held the glacier or facility against the arrayed might of the Eldar and its young colonel had known that as soon as he'd received his orders. But Inquisitor-lord Danzk had respectfully acknowledged that Colonel Empteda had performed his duty without question, and through his selfless sacrifice and that of his men he had succeeded in denying that Eldar the advantage of the higher ground and bought Battle Group Odon the time it so desperately needed.
His sombre liturgy complete, Inquisitor Danzk severed his connection with the servitor and looked out with his own eyes upon the impressive sight of the massed ranks of Battle Group Odon arrayed across the westward entrance to the Tarundor Isthmus below him.
The full might of Battle Group Odon dominated the approach to the Tarundor Isthmus. Tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and Guardsmen stood arrayed on the Alacian Plains ready to meet the Eldar assault head-on. As dense black smoke billowed up from the Bregan Glacier, the wreckage from the explosion there still burning fiercely, reports were received that the host of Mymeara had swept on to the west Alacian Plains and begun its approach. Heralding their arrival, and first to come within range of the massed guns of the Imperial Guard, were their Corsair allies, an armada of Phoenix, Hornets and Nightwings that dived down through the gathering storm clouds at break-neck speed.
As at Alnitac, the Imperial Guardsmen met the attack with a barrage of devastating firepower, Chimeras, Praetors, Baneblades, Stormblades, Shadowswords, Macharius and Leman Russ lending their fury to the heavy artillery onslaught. The Corsair ships soared in undeterred, their agile pilots weaving and threading their craft through the air, their shuriken cannons and missile launchers returning fire as all around them shells and missiles exploded.
First blood went to Betalis III's defenders as a Void Dragon Nightwing, its swept wing hull adorned with the symbol of its cadre, was ripped from the sky; its destroyer was a Hydra Flak tank, one of the precious few deployed with the battle group. With its systems trained on the horizon, the Hydra's logic-spirit had swung the tank's autocannons into action as soon as it had detected movement, tearing through one of the Nightwing's curved wings and sending it spiralling into a terminal dive that not even the superior skills of its Eldar pilot could recover from.
The Nightwing's destruction lifted the morale of the Guardsmen more than any rousing speech the Ministorum priests could deliver. In that one moment they raised up from the depths of despair they had fallen into upon seeing the destruction of Battle Group Empteda. The rate of attrition intensified as more Corsairs came within range of the heavy guns, weapons fire from both sides causing death and unparalleled carnage at such close quarters. Amidst the furious assault, Leman Russ were hit and damaged as the Corsairs found their marks and in return the xenos ships were blasted from the skies, straying too close to the battle group's many guns. Soon though, even the most battle-thirsty Corsair pilots saw that to continue would ultimately mean their death; they broke off, speeding up through the gathering storm clouds and beyond to regroup and tend to their wounds. The opening moves of the battle had been played out and the Alacian Plains were littered with its casualties.
With the forces of Mymeara on the plains and reports coming in of the host of Craftworld Alaitoc now approaching from the south, General Odon gave the order for the battle group to separate into two companies. It was a bold move, and one those Imperial Guard commanders who religiously followed the doctrines of the Tactica Imperialis would have considered foolhardy and reckless. However, as each Eldar Craftworld's force outnumbered the battle group many times over, if it remained in a single block it would be quickly overwhelmed and destroyed.
The first company, Vengeance, comprised the tank squadrons: Leman Russ, Hydras and Chimeras. The second company, designated Retribution, was mainly infantry, deployed in Crassus armoured assault transports with what little General Odon could spare in terms of Leman Russ and Praetors acting as escort. Company Vengeance had orders to head west. It was to lure in as many Eldar craft as it could and take the inevitable first hit. This would give Company Retribution the chance to intercept the approaching Alaitoc land forces in the south. Joining Retribution and Vengeance on the Alacian Plains would be the Titans of the Legio Gryphonicus - four Reavers and four Warhounds - which had just reached the warzone from Port Ryira.
The original plan had been for the Legio Gryphonicus Titans to lend their much needed support to Vengeance's tank squadrons. Now they had a different objective. The surveillance network set up by Inquisitor-lord Danzk's retinue around the eastern continent had relayed back images of at least eight Eldar Titans emerging from the Mymeara portal. Amongst them and now somewhere on the northern edge of the Alacian Plains were two massive Eldar Phantom Titans, and the princeps of the colossal war machines of the Imperium had orders to destroy them.
The Assault on Vengeance
Deployed directly in the path of the Mymeara host, Company Vengeance, with General Odon leading from the fore, clashed with the Eldar forces as the last rays of the system's cold blue sun were smothered by snow clouds pouring in from the north. Skimming ahead of Mymeara's infantry was a vast armada, hundreds of squadrons of Jetbikes, Hornets and Vypers. In stark contrast to their Corsair brethren, Mymeara's pilots demonstrated no desire to dive down upon their Imperial foe and satisfy a barely checked thirst for battle. Instead they came in low, in tight surgical formations, forcing the rear ranks of Vengeance to hold fast their fire lest their shells impact among their own front lines. The change in tactics served the Eldar well.
The wake of that devastating first sortie was strewn with the hulls of over seventy Leman Russ and Chimera, their thick armour plating scored by shuriken fire or the crew killed as pulse laser and prism cannon fire penetrated their tank's armour. But such losses were expected. Against the more chaotic attacks of the Corsair pilots, standard tank tactics had sufficed, but to maintain such tight formations when faced with the main body of the Eldar assault would have proved suicidal - their more disciplined pilots would simply have stayed out of range of Vengeance's guns and attacked from afar. Once the battle was underway, Vengeance's numbers would be too few to repeat that manoeuvre. Instead they would engage the aircraft in smaller groups, the experienced tank crews of the Cadian 6th fighting the battle on their own terms.
The plan worked, but not as effectively as Odon had bargained for. Having recently fought the Ork horde on Saras VII, a force that barely kept in check at the best of times by its Blood Axe warlord, the Cadian officers reverted to the tactics which had worked there. These had to be quickly countermanded and replaced with more effective manoeuvres to use against the disciplined Eldar army. As if the attack from the air wasn't enough for the Imperial forces to contend with, the first of the Eldar land forces arrived.
Deploying swiftly from the Mymeara portal far off in the west, squadrons of Wasps, the Eldar race's long-legged assault walkers, launched themselves into the heart of the battle, their pilots using a combination of the Wasps' speed and the manoeuvrability afforded by their jump jets to land amongst Company Vengeance's squadrons. The tactic soon found some of the less experienced sponson gunners from the Vaust 14th blasting away at tanks from their own side as they became fixated on the target in their sights, oblivious to anything else. Then, as the Jetbikes, Hornets and Vypers came round again for a second attack run, the Eldar Wasps would propel themselves swiftly out of range as the Eldar craft cut yet another swathe of destruction through Vengeance's lines, adding to the steadily growing numbers of burning tanks littering the battlefield.
With the benefit of General Odon's years of experience though, the Imperial Guard force was nothing if not adaptable. The veteran tank commander ordered the Cadian crews to split up their squadrons; one tank from each was to separate off, presenting itself as the vulnerable target the Eldar pilots were prowling the battlefield for. Once it had secured their attentions, it was to speed off as fast as it could, luring the xenos flyers straight onto the waiting guns of the rest of its squadron. It was not a precise or reliable tactic, but when it did work it was devastatingly effective.
The Gods of War
Out on the ice plains, the Reavers and Warhound Titans of the Legio Gryphonicus were closing upon sector 45-3, where the last sighting of the Eldar Phantom Titans had been reported. To search the vast wasteland more efficiently, they had split into two. The first group, the demi-maniple Invictus, was moving across the north of the Alacian Plains, a single Reaver Battle Titan flanked by a pair of Warhounds. The larger of the two, the Exaro maniple, was sweeping up from the south and comprised three Reaver Titans and a pair of Warhounds. Both groups were shadowed by the heavy armour of Battle Group Odon, the few squadrons of Baneblades, Shadowswords and Stromblades that the Cadian 6th Regiment's command staff could secure in the short time they'd had to assemble the army.
As the Eldar Wasp squadrons launched their assault on Vengeance, the Reaver Battle Titan Invictus Nova and the Warhound Titans Tempus Prima and Magna Canis strode onto the frozen landscape of the northern Alacian Plains, the footfalls of the mechanical behemoths sinking metres deep into the permafrost as they searched for their foe. Without warning, five pulsar blasts slammed into the right flank of the Magna Canis from the mountains that edged the north of the Alacian Plains. The Warhound Titan staggered under the assault, waves of actinic energy flickering and sparking across its overloading void shields.
With a command born of instinct rather than conscious thought, the princeps of the Nova and Tempus instantly returned fire. With their target hidden from sight, both saturated the mountainous border land with lancing plasma bolts, setting off avalanches that roared down the mountain ranges. The Magna Canis, damaged but still functioning, quickly recovered and added its own awesome might to the bombardment; its plasma blastgun had been disabled in the attack and so the Canis' princeps ordered his moderatii to switch to its turbo-laser.
An explosion from the super-heavy vehicle squadron buffeted the demi-maniple. A Shadowsword had flipped over, smoke and flames pouring out of its ruptured hull. Not waiting to suffer the same fate, the rest of its squadron split apart as another fusillade flashed between them, knocking out the tracks of one super-heavy and barely missing another. With inhuman speed the machine spirit of the Invictus Nova calculated the fusillade origin point and located their attacker, although the Eldar giant was barely visible, so effective were its holo-fields. It was one of the Eldar Phantom Titans, and before the demi-maniple had time to react, it unleashed another savage volley, the energy bolts from its pulsar stitching along the ice only metres behind another swerving Baneblade.
In thunderous concert, the three Titans of the Legio Gryphonicus opened fire, but only the Nova's five apocalypse missiles had the range to reach their mark and they slammed into the Eldar Phantom's left shoulder, its holo-fields shimmering and flickering as they temporarily failed. Before the Imperium's Titans could follow up with a second barrage, a high-pitched shriek emanated from the mountains behind them. With an almighty scream the first Eldar Phantom's distortion cannon discharged a seething bolt of black warp energy into the heart of the demi-maniple. It hit the Magna Canis, passing cleanly through its void shields and wreathing its torso in a shroud of impenetrable darkness. The princeps of the two Titans watched in absolute horror as sections of the massive war machine momentarily vanished into the rift between realspace and the Immaterium and then reappeared moments later as nothing more than a twisted mass of darkly glowing metal. Unable to cope with the massive stress its systems had been placed under, the Canis' plasma reactor detonated. The blast shook the northern Alacian Plains, its deafening boom heard as far away as the Tormus Delta in the south, where the first Guardsmen of the Company Retribution were preparing to deploy.
Still kilometres south of the battle, the princeps of Titan Group Exaro desperately tried to make contact with the demi-maniple, but their repeated hails met with silence. Too far away to immediately come to their aid, the Exaro maniple could only pray that, when they arrived, the other two Legio Gryphonicus Titans had somehow survived.
The Darkest Hours
With no Imperial Navy support to provide air cover and Vengeance's heavy armour already fully engaged in the north, the Guardsmen of Company Retribution faced near impossible odds in their race to engage the Alaitoc host. But Retribution had two crucial factors in its favour -- time and the unforgiving landscape of the ice world. The Alaitoc portal was significantly further away from the Alacian Plains than that of the Mymeara Craftworld by thousands of kilometres, and directly in the path of its land forces lay the Tormus Delta.
Stretching across the entire southern edge of the Alacian Plains, the Tormus Delta was the result of millions of years of water erosion, a massive labyrinth of narrow canyons and gorges created at the confluence of two rivers that had frozen over millennia before. For Retribution to stand any chance against the Alaitoc host, it had to reach the Tormus Delta before the Eldar Craftworld's airborne armada crested its northern edge. General Odon planned to use Tormus to shield Retribution from the worst that Alaitoc's pilots could unleash upon it, but this move was not without its consequences. For Vengeance this almost certainly meant it would soon be fighting on a second front as Alaitoc's pilots turned northwards in search of more accessible targets.
Company Retribution's headlong charge to reach Tormus unopposed nearly succeeded, but just as the lead vehicles of its transport convoy were less than a kilometre away, the first of Alaitoc's Hornets, Falcons and Vypers, sleek and deadly craft emblazoned with its emblem of the sword of Khaine bisecting a red moon, shot over the northern edge of the Delta. The moment they were spotted, the order to accelerate whip-lashed through Retribution's convoy. Unlike at Alnitac, there was no time to organise a rolling defence and all the men of Retribution could do was hold tight and pray for the Emperor's protection.
Alaitoc's shuriken weapons and pulse lasers strafed the Imperium's convoy, but to little effect. The heavily plated hulls of the Crassus armoured assault transports ably protected the Guardsmen inside, with only a few vehicles being damaged by shots hitting their exposed tracks. The Guardsmen though could not stay within them forever and when they reached the Delta, their deployment was more of a mad dash for the shelter of its ice canyons than a carefully orchestrated manoeuvre. As Alaitoc's pilots banked round again for another aerial attack, the first Imperial Guard squads to reach the Tormus Delta barrelled out of their vehicles as fast as they could, quickly followed by thousands more Guardsmen following close on their heels
Soon, a sea of deserted vehicles began to stretch back across the Alacian Plains until those travelling at the rear of the convoy were forced either to ditch their own transports there and make their way through the labyrinth of abandoned Crassus on foot or break away and enter it via one of its many other entrances further to the east or west. By the time the last troops had entered the interior of Tormus, the landscape around it was littered with smouldering wreckage and hundreds of dead and wounded Guardsmen. In contrast, Alaitoc's pilots had survived the assault virtually unscathed, and as General Odon predicted, they immediately turned north to add their firepower to that of their Mymeara brethren.
Company Retribution advanced warily into the Tormus Delta, its squads scattered amongst the tangled pathways. With medium to long range vox-transmissions absorbed by the high walls of ice and rock, it was impossible to coordinate, let alone locate all the disparate bands of Guardsmen dispersed within the delta's midst. Barely having escaped the airborne assault and with no way to contact anyone not within line of sight, their officers followed the last order they had received -- locate and destroy the enemy.
The Eldar had taken full advantage of their earlier airborne attack to disperse their forces within the Delta. Alaitoc's Rangers, dropped in by the Eldar Falcons now making their way north towards Company Vengeance, had already advanced into the ice labyrinth, tearing through its winding passages with unnatural speed before agilely scaling sheer sided ice walls, seeking any advantage they could gain against the oncoming Imperium force. Hidden under their long, flowing chameleoline cloaks, scores of rangers were now positioned throughout the Delta, coordinating Alaitoc's advance with lethal precision.
They had been joined by hundreds of Eldar Corsair troops who mounted hit and run attacks upon the Imperial Guard squads as they worked their way further into the Delta. Using the element of surprise to their advantage, the bands of Corsairs stealthily worked their way along the tops of the canyon walls, then either fired directly down into the squads below them or dropped down and wreaked carnage in their midst. With the Imperium's officers unable to alert each other to the threat of ambush from above, dozens of Retribution's squads were completely wiped out by the vicious assaults of the Eldar outcasts. As Alaitoc's warriors joined in with the battle, the atrocities escalated. The most horrific fighting occurred in the north-west of the canyons. Eight squads of Guardsmen moving together were pinned down by sniper fire the moment they entered a large gorge. Firing at them from the overhanging cliffs, the Rangers forced the squads to seek what little shelter there was, their accurate shots hitting anyone who dared to break cover to fire at them. Hunkered down there was little the Guardsmen could do but pray that their frantic requests for assistance over the static filled vox-net would be answered. What came though did not wear the uniform of the Cadian 6th or any of the other hastily assembled regiments from the system; instead one of the most terrifying facets of the Eldar army unleashed itself upon them.
The Guardsmen watched with disbelieving eyes as tendrils of bright white energy clawed into realspace, quickly coalescing into pools of retina-blinding light. Before the Guardsmen could react, a lethal cloud of monomolecular wire spewed from each portal. The razor-sharp threads scattered through the gorge, effortlessly penetrating any environment suit they came into contact with. Within seconds the canyon was echoing with hideous screams as the victims of the lethal strands were eviscerated, the only evidence of the carnage wrought within their bodies a spray of blood splattered across the snow as the filaments retracted.
As each of the coruscating warp-lights faded, the Warp Spiders that had manifested within them leapt into action, wielding their powerblades in great sweeping arcs which sliced cleanly through torsos, severing limbs and heads from bodies with consummate skill. Then, with their first strike complete, the Aspect Warriors faded back into the Warp, the afterglow of their departure dazzling all whose eyes were hypnotically drawn to it, etching their sight with chaotic, leering faces that gazed hungrily at them from the Immaterium.
The gorge soon became little more than a charnel house as the massacre was repeated, despite the fierce resistance put up by those Guardsmen who had recovered the wit to do so. The Warp Spiders expertly traversed between realspace and warpspace until their objective was achieved, then vanished completely. It had taken them less than three minutes to kill over eighty Guardsmen and there was no evidence that the Aspect warriors had suffered any injury in return.
With battle joined, the forces of Alaitoc and Retribution clashed throughout the Tormus Delta, thousands on both sides fighting for their lives within its icy labyrinth. Guardians, having already seeded crossing points between the canyons with heavy weapons platforms, fired at any Guardsman that passed within their sights. The troopers mounted their own ambushes in return, risking the slippery ascent up the canyon walls to stake out the upper pathways. From there they threw frag grenades down into the paths of war walkers who had been restricted to single file in the tighter confines of the delta. Then as the Eldar war walkers returned fire, the squads melted away, taking advantage of their lofty positions to leap out of danger and into the adjoining canyons. Death stalked the Tormus Delta, and who would win and who would survive would survive would be determined over the next few murderous hours.
The earlier defeat of the Phantom Titan was a victory the forces of Battle Group Odon desperately needed. In the west the battle was quickly turning against Vengeance and a new wave of Eldar craft had been reported appearing from the direction of the Mymeara portal. All who watched expected this second wave to reinforce the Mymeara attack, but instead they carried on heading west directly towards the Tarundor Isthmus. The actions of this breakaway Eldar forces were complete mystery to the veteran general, but with Battlegroup Odon's infantry and vehicles wholly committed on the Alacian Plains and in the Tormus Delta there was little he could do to prevent its advance.
War raged upon Betalis III, and in the heavens above it the few remaining Imperial Navy vessels in the Betalis system had retreated to the one place even the Corsairs would not dare venture: the corona of the crystal-blue Betalis star. Amongst its gaseous outer regions, the flotilla of Imperial Navy ships was almost invisible to the keen-sighted Outcast pilots and their sensors, but there was a high price to pay for the star's protection. Already its radiation was leeching through the outer hulls of the smaller craft and reports of fatalities were increasing by the hour. The risks of remaining near to the star though were far outweighed by those they'd face from what waited for them beyond it. The Corsair fleet of the Void Dragons now roamed the voids between the Betalis system's worlds unchallenged, easily picking off the few Imperial Navy vessels who had been unable to reach the safety of the star's corona in time. The Eldar stranglehold on the Betalis system though was to prove short-lived.
The first indication those fighting for survival on Betalis III had that reinforcements were on their way was when the Corsair armada that had joined in the assault on Company Vengeance turned their vessels starwards and deserted their Craftworld brethren. With billions of men and machines of war at its disposal, all that the galaxy-spanning Imperium of Mankind had needed was time, and General Odon request for reinforcements had been answered in full by the planets and Imperial Navy bases of neighbouring systems. Thousands of the Emperor's own were en-route to relieve the besieged defenders, and at the head of the speartip were the Strike Cruisers of the Space Wolves Great Company of Bran Redmaw.
The Space Wolves' battlefleet was first to appear at the system's outer boundaries, and like a ravening pack of wolves it tore a path straight through the Corsairs' Aconites, Nightshades and Hemlocks. Without stopping it continued towards Betalis III, the Eldar fleet soon realising why it had not turned to follow up on its initial strike. A second wave of Imperial ships had appeared in-system closely behind the Space Marines and the Corsairs were soon outflanked as the massive Imperial Navy armada rounded on them.
The Eldar outcasts at first held the advantage in terms of speed and agility and wove a deadly path through the squadrons of Imperial fighter craft as they launched. Soon though the Void Dragons were faced with overwhelming odds and for each ship they destroyed, the Corsairs found themselves evading the guns of two more. As well as coming to the aid of the defenders of Betalis III, sector command had determined that its system was to finally be scoured of the Eldar that had plagued it for centuries.
As the Imperial Navy engaged with the Void Dragons, Bran Redmaw's fleet continued towards Betalis III in a furious blaze of destruction. In all that time only once did it break its own counsel and contact those fighting on the planet below. The short message was broadcast by its Wolf Lord, Bran Redmaw himself, and was sent directly to Inquisitor-lord Danzk's command Chimera, the bitter hatred the Space Wolves Chapter reserved for the Inquisition still burning from their clash over the massacre at Armageddon centuries before.
"We fight for the All-father, Inquisitor. Do not cross our path."
Carnage within the Delta
The Space Wolves wasted little time deploying onto Betalis III. The skies above the Tormus Delta, where the men of Retribution were fighting a furious defence against Craftworld Alaitoc's forces, were slashed with over a score of fiery contrails as the Chapter's drop pods plummeted from the heavens, the Claws of Russ digging deep into the ice world as close to two hundred Space Wolves made planetfall. The instant the disembarkation ramps unfolded, each drop pod unleashed its deadly cargo, and with fire in their hearts and bolters at the ready, the Space Wolves stormed towards the icy labyrinth.
Company Retribution had already begun to reestablish communications even before the Space Wolves' drop pods had landed. As the Eldar Rangers and Corsairs had done before them, teams of vox operators had climbed above the transmission-deadening icy passageways and were now able to relay orders between the scattered forces. Sniper fire from the Eldar Rangers was taking a toll on their numbers, but enough were able to evade them for Retribution to finally start fighting as one coordinated force. The effects of this were soon felt by the Eldar. Where once the support platforms manned by pairs of Eldar Guardians had cut a swathe through the frozen passageways and dominated large sections of the Tormus Delta, Retribution's squads now set to work in a two-pronged assault. Moving through adjacent canyons, strike teams would fire mortars over the canyon walls or fix explosive charges to the thin barriers of ice and rock between them, discharging a lethal hail of shrapnel into the Guardians' positions as squads of Guardsmen, waiting just out of harm's way, stormed through the settling dust and eradicated any Eldar who had survived.
In the south-west of the Delta, where both sides had seen some of their fiercest encounters, Retribution's officers moved in their most experienced troops. Following a barrage of heavy weapons fire guided in by vox teams and Guardsmen acting as spotters, Veteran Cadian squads stormed the Eldar battle lines en masse. In response to Retribution's new offensive, Alaitoc's Farseers moved on squads of Dire Avengers, and their lightning fast assault soon cut into the Guardsmen's gains. The men and women of Retribution died in droves, whole squads being cut down by shuriken catapult fire or upon the blades wielded by the expert Eldar swordsmen. This, though was where the Sons of Russ came into their own.
The Space Wolves of Bran Redmaw's Company charged through the network of canyons and gorges, obliterating any resistance they met. Packs of Grey Hunters prowled the maze and the canyons echoed with the shriek and roar of shuriken fire and bolter rounds as they unleashed their wrath upon the Eldar. Then bloodied, their ceramite armour scored in numerous places, they would emerge triumphant and move on implacably to their next objective.
Of all the bloody conflicts the Space Wolves were involved in within the Tormus Delta, the most daring were initiated by Space Wolves Swiftclaw packs. Able to move at speed through the narrow, twisting passageways, the biker squads sowed havoc and confusion. The first an Eldar squad would know of their approach would be the roar of attack bike engines, followed by the thunder of bolter fire as they tore through their ranks, leaving nothing but carnage and death in their wake. The impatience of youth though usually comes with a lesson to learn, and in the heat of battle this rarely ends well for even those as powerful as the super human warriors of Mankind. Bolstered by their victories, it did not take long for the headstrong Swiftclaw packs to attempt to outdo each other's achievements, boasting over their vox comms of how far they moved behind enemy lines and the tally of their kills.
Like the much larger versions wielded by Mymeara's Phantom Titans, their wraithcannon created rifts between the Warp and realspace in the path of the bikers, instantly tearing apart one of the Space Wolves pack and throwing their Wolf Guard leader from his speeding vehicle as tendrils of the dark energy lashed out at it. Dazed but still conscious, the pack's Wolf Guard leader voxed an immediate request for reinforcements, knowing that his pack would not last long against such a foe. All Space Wolves in the vicinity not already engaged in combat would immediately come to their assistance, but in the meantime the Swiftclaws would have to deal with the implacable advance of the Wraithguard and Wraithseer on their own.
Those still mounted on their bikes roared towards the ethereal warriors, blasting bolter round after bolter round into them. Guided by the spirit stones of long dead Eldar, the towering Wraithguard showed no fear as they weathered the fire storm, and fired once more upon the bikes, killing another Swiftclaw as the Space Wolves jinked and weaved to avoid them. Lying injured beneath his bike and unable to move, the Wolf Guard pack leader ordered his battle-brothers to reform and concentrate their fire upon the leader of the Wraithguard, its Wraithseer.
Once an Eldar warlock who had died long ago, its spirit now once again directed the actions of its kin. Rather than trying to take out all the Wraithguard, if the Space Wolves could injure or kill it, they stood a greater chance of surviving their encounter with these ancient Eldar warriors. Snarling their rage, the Swiftclaws gunned their engines to full speed and circled round the wide gorge to attack the Wraithseer, the Wraithguard raising their wraithcannon to fire again. It was then that the Wolf Guard pack leader noticed that the Swiftclaws had made a tactical error. They had naturally closed formation as they had circled round. Given their proximity to each other, one hit on target by their enemy would see them all torn apart.
Their deaths were prevented by the arrival of one of the Great Company's few Dreadnoughts. A steady stream of bolter casings fell to the ground as it fired into the gorge from the passage it had arrived from. The Dreadnought's rounds tore into the Wraithguards' position, critically damaging one of the five, its spirit stones and armour shattering like ice. In response to this new threat, the Wraithseer turned in one swift motion and, with an unnatural strength, threw its wraithblade at the Dreadnought.
The faintly glowing blade dove deep into the armour protecting the sarcophagus of the Space Wolves warrior within. The Wolf Guard raged as he witnessed the death of the Dreadnought's occupant. Powerless to help, he howled out his fury.
The Wolf Guard's battle-call did not go unanswered.
Fire From the Hills
Watched intently on the pict-screens of Port Ryira, the wave of over two hundred Mymeara Jetbikes, Vypers and Falcons that had earlier bypassed the battle against Company Vengeance flew on to the Tarundor Peninsula. The armada did not turn immediately north to Port Ryira as expected but continued directly eastwards towards the large mining complex of Aresta IV. The facility was home to over nine hundred workers and their families, and as air raid sirens blared through the had block shanty town that stretched across its eastern side, the workers' militia were already charging into position, manning the bunker sited heavy weapons that were the core of Aresta IV's defences. Joining them were the few elements of Battle Group Odon not fighting out on the Alacian Plains, mainly support staff and the first of the injured Guardsmen that had been brought back behind the battle lines.
Regardless of injury or rank, all who were capable of fighting picked up a Lasgun and prepared to defend themselves as the Eldar strike force launched itself upon the mining complex, Jetbikes and Vypers breaking formation diving down upon the defenders in a hail of shuriken discs and starcannon fire. In return shots from the heavy weapons bunkers and weapons batteries on the upper platforms of the complex pounded the skies. The assault from the air was swiftly followed by sniper fire from the hillsides surrounding the complex where Mymeara's Guardian squads and Rangers had moved into position during the opening attack. The Eldar, it seemed, were intent on removing whatever threat those at Aresta IV posed to them.
Had they believed the facility to be poorly defended, then the commanders of the Eldar strike force were sorely mistaken. Ordered to move immediately into the path of this new Eldar force by the Ordo Xenos Inquisitor-lord Danzk, Elysian Drop Troop squads had already deployed in the hills above Aresta IV. Laying low, the Elysians, near invisible in their camouflaged uniforms, rose up and ambushed the unsuspecting Guardian squads as they passed by.
The presence of the Elysians on the hillsides slowed the Eldar attack but it could do little to stop it. Pouring through the most vulnerable point of the facility, the hab block shanty town, Aspect warrior squads descended upon the militia. Howling Banshees haunted the area where the bunkers had been set up, their psychosonic battle screams paralysing all who opposed them so that there was little resistance from the Guardsmen and workers militia as they were cut down by the graceful warriors.
But it was at the entrance to the mines that the worst atrocities were committed by the Eldar. Massive mining vehicles had been driven in front of the entrance to protect the workers who sought shelter within. The vehicles were melted into little more than slag by the fusion guns of Mymeara Fire Dragons squads, leaving those sheltering within undefended as the Eldar advanced.
The nightmare unfolding at the Aresta IV facility would be short lived though. As the Eldar flyers made for another pass at the heavy weapons teams in the bunkers, Imperial Navy Fury Interceptors from the now orbiting fleet dived down through the clearing storm clouds, just as the troop transports of the Battle Group Vlaar appeared on the horizon.
Perhaps realising that the odds were soon to turn against them, the survivors at Aresta IV watched the Eldar flee.
Wrath of Titans
As the Imperium's waves of reinforcements began to spread out across the besieged eastern continent of Betalis III, the Legion Gryphonicus had already engaged once more with the Titans of the Mymeara Craftworld. Still following their original orders, given to them by Inquisitor-lord Danzk earlier that day, the princeps of the Titan maniples had tracked one of their foe to a region just north of where the battle between the Eldar and Company Vengeance was being fought on the Alacian Plains. En-route the Phantom Titan had also been joined by three Mymearan Revenant Titans. The second Phantom Titan, damaged earlier by the demi-maniple, had been observed by the Inquisitor-lord's servitors entering the coastal region of the Mymearan portal to the west, and was believed to have either journeyed back through it to the Craftworld or was now standing watch over the portal itself.
Knowing that the presence of the remaining Eldar Titans could tip the balance of battle against Company Vengeance, the princeps of the Invictus Nova had ordered his fellow Titan princeps to engage with the Eldar war striders before they got any nearer. Facing an enemy half its number but significantly superior in terms of armament and speed, the Imperial Titan princeps knew that the odds were against them as they stepped into battle once more.
The Legio Gryphonicus Titans split again into their two original groups. The demi-maniple Nova, now a Titan down after the destruction of the Warhound Magnus Canis, first attacked the Eldar Titans and then drew away eastwards into the heart of an ice storm. Their plan worked and the lead Eldar Steersman led his Titan host after them. In a series skirmishes and assaults that ran over almost half of the length of the continent, the two groups of Titans fought. Moving through terrain much more in their favour than the rocky battlefield further west, the demi-maniple worked its way north-east via a two kilometre section of the highway that wound through and over the mountains. Meanwhile the Exaro maniple headed west and the north again across another part of the highway. As the Eldar Titans followed demi-maniple Nova out on to the ice fields beyond, the Exaro maniple charged in behind them to cut off their exit point.
Over the next hour, the gods of war of both races fought a furious battle. With little shelter save for the vision, obscuring blizzard, the Imperium's princeps resorted to a pattern of feints and strikes to protect themselves from the Eldar's distortion cannons and pulsars. First the demi-maniple Nova would close within range of the Eldar and fire upon them. Then as soon as the Nova's shots were away, the Exaro maniple would attack, striding forwards to harry the Eldar Titans, attempting to prevent them from returning fire upon the Nova and its Warhound escort.
The battle was not without further casualties. The first was suffered by the Eldar. One of its Revenant Titans was destroyed as it attempted to break away and circle back around onto the flanks of the Exaro maniple. Spotting its ruse, the maniple's Princeps ordered three Reaver Titans and two Warhounds to fire upon its position. Their combined might overloaded the Revenant Titan's holo-fields and severed the power mechanisms within its leg casings. Unable to move, and with its lone crewman probably severely injured or dead already, the Eldar Titan self-detonated, denying certain elements of the Imperium the rare opportunity to study such advanced xenos technology first-hand. The Legion Gryphonicus did not escape unscathed either, its Warhound Titans suffering the worst attentions of their foes. Two from the Exaro maniple received direct hits from the twin pulse lasers of the Revenants, one being critically damaged and forced to retreat from the battlefield.
The Phantom Titan was to wreak the most devastation with its Distortion Cannon. At the height of the battle, it came close to destroying the Exaro itself when a shot from its arcane weapon glanced off the shields of the Battle Titan. Had the remaining Imperial Titans not come to its aid whilst the Titan and its crew recovered from the power surge that had temporarily crippled it, then it may have then been destroyed completely.
Although most of the Imperium's Titans suffered from serious battle damage in the engagement, they were to emerge victorious. With the threat of the Mymeara Craftworld Titans removed from Betalis III, the Legion Gryphonicus joined for the final hours of the war with mobile elements of Bran Redmaw's Company that had been set down by Thunderhawk gunships to assist Company Vengeance. The small force of Space Wolves Land Raiders and other vehicles, plus the Legion Gryphonicus Titans, then outflanked part of Alaitoc's armada, blunting its fury and preventing it from fully engaging with Company Vengeance.
The Tide Turns
With the hillsides around Aresta IV reinforced by the Elysian Drop Troops and forward sections of Battle Group Vlaar, the Imperial Navy squadrons turned west towards Company Vengeance. As the pilots approached the combat zone, they were met by an apocalyptic scene of devastation. Gone were the military-precise squadron formations, and instead remained a few tight pockets of resistance focused upon nothing but the utter annihilation of their foe. Out of the hundreds of Imperial tanks and other heavy armour deployed there, less than a third was left.
The joint Mymeara-Alaitoc war host had also taken a severe battering. Proving once again his reputation as an expert tank commander, General Odon had organised Vengeance into mobile blocks of tanks that bristled with guns, and for every Leman Russ or Chimera destroyed, four Eldar craft took serious damage or were blown out of the skies. It was the General's tactical experience that had enabled Vengeance to hold out for so long and as the advancing Imperial Navy battle-wing began to move within range, the Eldar aircraft broke formation and turned in the direction of the portal that had gained them access to the Emperor's world.
At the same moment in the Tormus Delta, Retribution's Vox network was flooded with reports that Alaitoc's land forces had also broken from battle. Minutes before their war cries had echoed through the canyons, but now the icy maze was near silent. Hundreds of kilometres above the delta, the pict-screens of the Imperial Navy fleet confirmed what all below already knew: the Eldar were retreating.
The forces of the Imperium had won the battle for Betalis III.
- Imperial Armour Volume Eleven - The Doom of Mymeara, pp. 14, 16-19, 23-27, 29, 34-37, 39-40, 42, 46-52
- White Dwarf Weekly 54 (February 07, 2015), "Parade Ground - Masque of the Winter Sun," pp. 25-30