Cassian Vaughn, known also as Cassian Dracos, the Fallen Master, the Twice-Dead and The Avatar of the Sacred Flame, was the first Lord Commander of the XVIII Legion from the time it was founded on Terra during the Unification Wars until the discovery of the Primarch Vulkan on the world of Nocturne during the Great Crusade. Cassian was mortally wounded in battle against the Orks, but such was the esteem in which Vulkan held this warrior that he undertook to fashion for him a unique Dreadnought sarcophagus known as the Dracos Revenant, or the Iron Dragon. It was forged of a nigh-impregnable and unknown alloy said to come from deep beneath Old Earth that none save Vulkan was able to master and shape to his will. During the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V, Cassian fought with unmatched fury, first spearheading the attack against the enemy then, as the second wave showed their true colours as supporters of the traitorous Warmaster Horus, standing fast though all around him were slaughtered. Surviving where most of his Legion had perished, Cassian Vaughn's tale becomes intermingled with that of the famed Ebon Drake, alongside which he would return to the battlefields of the 31st Millenium, most notoriously during the Third Siege of Mezoa. His final fate remains unknown.
In the initial explosion of Expeditionary Fleets departing Terra during the early years of the Great Crusade, the XVIII Legion was left behind to rebuild its strength, having fought in their first major battle for which they became publicly identified; the Assault of the Tempest Galleries in the dying days of the Unification Wars on Old Earth. In this, the Legion alone achieved a victory against impossible odds and survived, although barely, taking savage losses which reduced the newly invested Legion's active strength from around 20,000 to little more than 1,000 warriors, although in doing so they secured themselves a place of glory and honour in the roll of the Imperium's forces. The XVIII Legion was often deployed piecemeal as fresh Chapters of the Legion were readied and pressing demands called for Space Marine involvement. This meant that for the first few decades of the Great Crusade, Legionaries of the XVIII were assigned across a considerable number of different reinforcement battle groups and specialist units.
In particular, they were used to add the might of the Astartes to emergency interdiction taskforces sent in to deal with sudden threats arising "behind the lines" of the advancing Crusade, such as deadly Space Hulks appearing without warning from the Empyrean, or in response to xenos corsair raids and rising dangers unexpectedly disturbed by a fresh human colonising presence in a star system. In many of these cases, the warriors of the Legion would be the only Space Marine contingent taking part in the conflict, forcing them into close co-operation with other human forces (often in a command and spearhead role), and inevitably plunged them directly into the heaviest fighting and most hazardous theatres of battle.
Seldom then did the XVIII Legion fight on a battlefield of their own choosing, and while Imperial Compliance actions for the Legion during this time were few and far between, its roll of battle honours was extensive, as was the diversity of its foes and the victories it secured. For the XVIII this created a paradoxical reputation both as saviour but also a herald of bloody deeds, forlorn hopes and last-ditch holding actions. It was during one such campaign that the newly discovered Primarch Vulkan came to his Legion in the hour of their need. The XVIII, led by their Lord Commander Cassian Vaughn, had become embroiled in the rear-guard defence of a cluster of colony worlds near the Taras Division against a wave of Ork marauders. With the bulk of the Legiones Astartes either engaged with the Expedition Fleets breaching space towards the Eastern Fringe or committed as reserves against the horrors of the Rangda Incursion from the Halo Stars to the Galactic North, the XVIII was the only Space Marine Legion able to respond to the crisis. Fighting against vast and overwhelming odds, the Legion's primary force, numbering some 19,000 Space Marines, had marshalled the local defenders and held out for nearly a standard year in a series of running battles against well over a million Ork raiders scattered across hundreds of ramshackle voidships, "Rok" asteroid vessels and dozens of Space Hulks. The actions of the XVIII Legion had allowed the evacuations of three entire planetary populations to the nominal safety of the Taras System, but at a terrible cost. As the conflict progressed, they suffered the grievous wounding of their commander, while the remainder of the Legion became all but trapped on the Dead World of Antaem -- a lightning-rod drawing the Orks to them for battle. Taras was far from the embattled frontier of the expanding Great Crusade, and assistance from other Legions would have been difficult to obtain, but regardless such aid was not asked for by the XVIII, who had determined to succeed alone or die in the attempt, knowing that by bleeding the Ork marauder fleet of its strength, countless human lives would be saved. Their Primarch, however, learning of their plight, refused to stand by and brought his plans to join them to rapid fruition.
When Vulkan arrived he did not do so alone, for he brought with him 3,000 new Initiates -- the first of the XVIII Legion to be raised from the new Legion homeworld of Nocturne -- along with a host of new warships, war machines and arms, all fabricated to the Primarch's own exacting specifications. They fell upon the Ork marauders like a thunderbolt, and shattered the largest of the Space Hulks orbiting Antaem, Vulkan leading his warriors within, purging the vast conglomeration of wreckage and rock with fire and planting Seismic Charges at its heart to destroy it. Spurred on by this unexpected aid, the rest of the XVIII hurled themselves in renewed fury at the Orks besieging them, slaughtering and scattering the greenskinned xenos before them, heedless of their depleted munitions and manpower, leaving nothing for a reserve should they fail. Caught between this hammer and anvil of savagery that over-matched their own, the Ork horde was broken and put to flight, and the survivors were relentlessly pursued and consumed by fire.
In the aftermath, the two halves of the XVIII Legion met and were unified upon Antaem's dead coral plains. As their saviours removed their helms and the Terran Legionaries looked upon the faces of their brothers and he that was their gene-father, they could not help but know that they were one and their Primarch had come to claim them. The survivors of the Terran XVIII knelt immediately, it is said, before their Primarch, but Vulkan bid them rise, saying that all his sons were equals and he was no petty king needing shows of obedience. Instead, it was he who knelt in honour of the lives they had saved and the price they had paid. Then, seeking out the mortally-wounded Lord Commander Vaughn, he conferred the formal transfer of the Legion's mastery by presenting the fallen warrior with the broken Power Klaw of the Ork Warlord who had struck him down to seal the pact between him and his Legion -- they would fight for him, but he would fight for them in turn.
Such was the honour and esteem in which Vulkan held this warrior, who had commanded his sons with unflinching honour and self-sacrifice, he undertook to fashion for him the Dracos Revenant, a unique Dreadnought sarcophagus of unsurpassed sophistication and resilience. One of a number of unique wonders wrought by Vulkan, it was forged of a nigh-impenetrable and unknown alloy, a relic it was said from deep beneath Old Earth that none but Vulkan was able to master and shape to his will. But as the years went on, though the Dreadnought who had been Cassian Dracos' will to fight was undimmed, his mind grew increasingly unclear and dislocated outside of the battlefield, and he was allowed to remain in slumber for longer periods, awoken only in the direst of need and to participate in the gravest of conflicts.
During the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V, Cassian Dracos fought with unmatched fury, first spearheading the attack against the enemy then, as the second wave showed their true colours, standing fast though all around him were slaughtered. Dracos rampaged through the Traitor lines, reliving his first death as the XVIII Legion once again faced oblivion. Eventually, even his thick Dreadnought armour was burned through and pierced in a dozen places by a blizzard of heavy weapons fire, but he fought on, crashing into the encircling foe and leaving a trail of devastation in his wake. Leaving a trail of dead behind him, Dracos was only stopped by an orbital lance strike that glassed an entire battlefield. Horus and his generals left Istvaan V certain that the old warlord's life had been ended along with his Primarch and Legion.
- "Be like the quenched blade fresh from tempering; cold and hard on the exterior, the red heat of the forge burning unseen within"
- — The Uncollected Writings of Ferrus Manus
Fortunately for the Imperium, Horus' assumption of Cassian Dracos' death would prove wrong. For over a standard year, Cassian Dracos was trapped between the vitrified plains of the Urgall Depression. Scorched, blackened and fused by the unimaginable heat from the orbital strike, Cassian’s dreadnought chassis had lost all limbs but for the stump of his right arm, yet the warrior within had endured. Yet, the battered shell of the Dragon Revenant, far from intact but not yet willing to surrender to his final inevitable death, would be recovered by Xiaphas Jurr and the crew of the Ebon Drake when they arrived at Istvaan V in quest of their Primarch's true fate. Lacking proper equipment, the landing party constituted of the assembled warriors of the three orphaned Legions dug the black sands with their bare hands and combat blades. With trembling hands, Xiaphas Jurr connected the sarcophagus to an exterior vox unit, which soon spoke with the voice of a man twice dead -- "You come seeking our father, but he is not here. I searched for him on the field of battle until they struck me down with a sword of flame that scorched the very heavens, and yet I did not die. I searched for him in the endless vaults of the dead where the crushing blackness tore at my very soul, and yet I endured. I was tested once again through the crucible, and I tell you this -- Vulkan does not walk among the dead!"
The recovery of Cassian Dracos and his message kindled new hope within the crew of the Ebon Drake, and even those warriors of the Iron Hands and the Raven Guard that accompanied them were heartened by the thought that their Primarchs might have survived. Few questioned or doubted Dracos' words, such was his reputation. With all haste, Cassian Dracos' Vulkan-forged shell was transferred to the Strike Cruiser, where his esoteric systems slowly began to repair themselves, a tech-miracle that only added to his growing legend. However, the former master of the XVIII Legion had not been left untouched by his prolonged and unsleeping entombment beneath the black and blood-soaked sands of Istvaan.
Whereas most Dreadnoughts of his age craved a return to slumber, Cassian Dracos refused all offers to be returned to hibernation. Apart from his changed physical appearance due to the ordeal he had survived, Dracos' mental state was also affected by the isolation he suffered. Lost in prolonged periods of near-incoherent prognostications and memories drawn from his centuries of battle, Dracos exerted a palpable influence over the company of the Ebon Drake. For the few short solar days the Ebon Drake stayed in orbit around Istvaan V, Dracos was revered as the Twice Dead. His followers, warriors drawn both from the Salamanders and their brother Legions, began to modify their personal heraldry with a myriad of devotional icons, forged with the greatest of care by the capable hands of the artisans from Nocturne. To further honour the venerable Dreadnought, many Legionaries scorched their emerald battle-plate black and applied images of fiery flames, glowing embers or artistic renditions of Vulkan upon it. Compiled by the diligent hands of Xiaphas Jurr, who took the title of The Prophet of Fire, the Ebon Drake’s company quickly changed. Even within their own chronicle, the crew of the Ebon Drake increasingly referred to themselves as the Disciples of the Flames, their nominal leader now Cassian Dracos. Yet, Vaughn's influence and strange charisma did not only affect the living crew of the Ebon Drake, but also the ship's Servitors and automata, which became unreliable in his presence. Several of the simple automata that usually performed the more mundane maintenance tasks aboard the Ebon Drake developed anomalous sub-routines in their neuro-cortexes and had to be forcefully reprogrammed to their original task. Seemingly without orders, several high-grade Servitors from the Armorium detached themselves from their routine and formed a semblance of a court around the Dreadnought.
From the command logs recovered in later years, it appears that when the Strike Cruiser left Istvaan V, it was Cassian Dracos who commanded her course. What truly motivated him to alter the Ebon Drake’s destination for the beleaguered Forge World of Mezoa instead of returning to Nocturne remains a mystery, but it would prove a fateful decision, for the situation on Mezoa was far grimmer than could readily be anticipated.
The Ebon Drake translated back into reality at the very edge of the Mezoan System, only to find itself emerging in the heart of a chaotic void battle where cruisers bearing the sigils of the Iron Warriors and Alpha Legion were firing at a rag-tag fleet of defenders that bore the Eternal Flame of Mezoa, the markings of several detachments of the Armada Imperialis and even the marred icons of the Legiones Astartes. The arrival of the lone Strike Cruiser from a Legion most thought destroyed gave the Ebon Drake’s crew enough time to filter through the confused ballet of identification tags and broadcasts of both fleets before openly declaring for Mezoa and joining the Loyalist fleet. For nine long solar hours, the numerically inferior Loyalists held the Traitors at bay, the naval engagement turning into a bloody stalemate before disunity took its toll. Where the enemy followed a single commander, the Loyalists had been drawn from several Imperial fractions, unused and in some cases unwilling to cooperate with each other. This fractured command structure would eventually allow the Warmaster Horus' lapdogs to claim victory. Forced to relinquish Mezoa's orbit to the enemy, the Loyalist fleet retreated. Few ships dared the enemy's guns to close one last time with the Forge World and even fewer survived, but the Ebon Drake was one of them, the revolutionary vessel successfully landing its complement of warriors on Mezoa's surface before making good its escape.
Avatar of the Sacred Flame
Even as the Alpha Legion and Iron Warriors positioned their fleets in orbit above Mezoa, Cassian Dracos –- his heavy frame having been restored to the extent that he could move again -- led the Disciples of the Flame into Mezoa's central forge-fane. There, he met with Mezoa's rulers, the Norn-regents, a triad of truly venerable and ancient magos-sisters interlinked by a complex web of neural interface technology so that they formed a single intellect of towering power. Their meeting with the former Master of the XVIII Legion is still immortalised in the data-archives of Mezoa, the fire-blackened and battered shape of the Dragon Revenant standing before the emaciated forms of the Norn-regents, each one of their frail bodies suspended spider-like in the complex web of technology that linked them to Servitors, battle-automata and other thralls across the entire Forge World. Like every planetary ruler, the Norn-regents benefitted from the best security the Mechanicum could offer, in this case the towering figures of an entire cohort of Domitar-class Battle-Automata. Yet, when Cassian Dracos penetrated into the Norn-regents' throne room, these emotionless war machines fell back in halting steps. To the regents of Mezoa, the ancient Terran warlord spoke of his visions and the trials he had endured on Istvaan and under the sand of the Urgall Depression. He spoke of his search for Vulkan, of his conviction that the Primarch yet lived and of the sacrifice the XVIII Legion had endured, a tale of woe that had a lot in common with the schismatic creed of the Mezoan Magi.
Yet, it seems rather unlikely that this simple similarity of belief was reason enough for the accord that was sealed shortly afterwards. Did Cassian Dracos' supernatural influence on machines somehow also affect the Norn-regents? None can say for sure. Many scholars have wondered at the sudden acceptance Dracos met with the various groups he encountered during his voyages, some of them theorising that the entombed Dreadnought might have absorbed some sort of Warp-energy due to Istvaan V's position at the heart of one of the greatest Warp Storms ever encountered in human records. Some of them even hinted at a far darker possibility, given the catalytic effects of the immense bloodshed of the Drop Site Massacre was bound to have on the denizens of the Warp. Whatever the reason might be, at the end of this conclave, Cassian Dracos was formally recognised as a living avatar of the Machine God and granted a high-ranking position within Mezoa's Taghmata.
As the sky darkened with the Drop Pods of the invaders, Cassian Vaughn did not join his brethren in the defence of Mezoa, but was escorted by Mezoa's most skilled forge wrights into the world's deepest and holiest Sanctum, located in the forge-fane's hidden depths. There, in an undisclosed location, the Dracos Revenant was restored to its former glory and blessed with the most powerful benedictions of the Cult of the Eternal Flame. In the meantime, rearmed with the best weapons and tools of destruction Mezoa's armouries could offer, Xiaphas Jurr would lead the Disciples of the Flame against the Iron Warriors and the Alpha Legion. To guard their leader in his most vulnerable hours, fifty of their number would remain close to Vaughn, acting as his personal honour guard, while the rest of the Ebon Drake’s complement of warriors would join the defenders outside. Trough sheer determination and great sacrifice, Jurr and the defenders of Mezoa held the enemy at bay for nine long solar days, until the Third Siege of Mezoa finally reached its climax. Using the attack of the 114th Grand Battalion on the Tertial-05 bastion as a diversion, the Alpha Legion managed to penetrate inside the forge-fane itself. The enemy commander, Consul-Legatus Autilon Skorr personally led a cadre of his warriors into battle, leaving their allies to be slaughtered for the chance to strike at the Norn-queens. Clashing with a portion of Vaughn's personal guard, the Alpha Legion nevertheless succeeded in killing one of the sisters, her death shaking Mezoa to its core and causing untold havoc within Mezoa's Taghmata, but fortunately for the Imperium, the Tertial-05 bastion was held by the Disciples of the Flame and the valiant men of the 891st Lethe Cohort of the Solar Auxilia who successfully defended it. It was then -- in the Forge World's greatest hour of need -- that Cassian Dracos was returned to the battlefield.
Returned to his former glory by the diligent ministrations of Mezoa's most gifted forge wrights, Cassian Dracos reemerged from the deep vaults of the forge-fane. However, instead of leading his honour guard against the rampaging Alpha Legion, he took his remaining warriors against the Iron Warriors at Tertial-05. As they advanced through the spires of the forge-fane, every robotic battle-automata they passed was seemingly shaken from whatever feedback-induced mania had befallen them and joined their throng, their cortexes now bound in servitude to the Iron Dragon. By the time they reached the battlefield, close to a thousand battle-automata had rallied around Cassian Dracos, their number sufficient to tip the battle in the defenders' favour. With grim determination, the Iron Warriors around Nârik Dreygur cowered in their makeshift fortress of iron and broken rockcrete, determined to meet the Loyalist charge guns blazing, but the assault they expected never came. Instead, Cassian Vaughn advanced alone, calling on the enemy commander to show himself. Standing atop his fortifications, Nârik Dreygur eyed the approaching Dreadnought, his own battle-automata refusing to engage Vaughn or bar his passage. What words the two commanders exchanged upon the battlefield remain largely unknown, but the Prophecies of the Flame records that, "Wheresoever is found the craft of the forge, the avatar of our lord Vulkan has power, even in the works of the enemy, even in the flesh of the enemy where it has felt the touch of the forge. So he turned foe to the cause of righteousness."
The sacred text further notes Dreygur's response. "Brother, once more an oath to us stands broken. The Alpha Legion has abandoned us once again. Now we shall show that we do not renege on our vows. The dead of Stranivar and Mezoa both call for vengeance, and we shall grant it to them." With these words the Iron Warriors ceased all hostilities against the Forge World's defenders and joined them in their march against their former allies, the vengeful Iron Warriors requesting the honour to lead the charge against the Alpha Legion. Surrounded, the Alpha Legion was soon routed, but unfortunately, the enemy commander managed to escape. Locked in combat with Autilon Skorr's personal bodyguard, the towering form of the Contemptor-class Dreadnought known as Ancient Nehalen, Cassian Dracos laid waste to an entire sub-section of the forge-fane before slaying his opponent. This would mark the end of the Third Siege of Mezoa and the beginning of Dracos' career as acting warlord of the Disciples of the Flame, with Nârik Dreygur as his new right hand. Following this initial success, Cassian Dracos would lead several bloody raids against Traitor-held systems, further weakening Horus' grip in this region of space.
The Dracos Revenant Endures
Cassian Dracos' final fate remains unknown. The Salamanders Chapter has continued over the millennia to have fallen Battle-Brothers interred within this Ancient's sarcophagus. Only the most highly individualistic, strong-willed and warlike-souls possess the remotest chance of surviving the Dreadnought's activation process. These fallen warriors' strength of will, combined with the dark Machine Spirit of the Dreadnought in which they are entombed for all eternity, make for a very potent warrior on the battlefield. The current occupant of the Dracos Revenant, known in the late 41st Millennium as the Iron Dragon, is Sokhar Bray'arth, called by his Battle-Brothers Bray'arth Ashmantle, a former Captain of the Salamanders 4th Company.
The Salamander's Primarch Vulkan was a master of the forge without peer. He personally etched intricate detailing on the ornately carved and segmented armour plates of the Dracos Revenant Dreadnought and symbols associated with the Promethean Cult of Nocturne. The chassis is also fitted with a number of secondary flame projectors as well as its main armament, allowing the ancient Dreadnought to wreathe itself in flame, incinerating anything that strays too close. The Dracos Revenant also possesses the following:
- Dreadfire Heavy Flamers - Vulkan designed two unique arm weapons for this Dreadnought chassis that made use of Dreadfire Close Combat Arms, each of which had an in-built Dreadfire Heavy Flamer that represented the Dracos Revenant 's potent and unique armament.
- Extra Armour
- Smoke Launcher
- Nuncio Vox
- The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre by Alan Bligh, pp. 117-118, 252
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution by Alan Bligh, pp. 37-44, 49, 252