- "Your future life shall be a series of trials, one after the other, until you attain the glory that is your due at the side of the Emperor. You shall face the hardest first, so that we know we are not wasting our time."
- — Deathspeaker Sighelm of the Celestial Lions
The Celestial Lions is a Loyalist Successor Chapter of the stoic Imperial Fists, raised in the 38th Millennium during an unknown Founding. Following the 25th Founding sometime in the latter half of the 40th Millennium, the Celestial Lions became a part of a triumvirate of Space Marine Chapters which included the Emperor's Spears and the now-extinct Star Scorpions, as a part of the Adeptus Vaelarii, better known as the "Sentinels of the Veil." These three Chapters were charged with the sacred duty to stand sentinel over the scattered worlds of the region of space known as Elara's Veil.
Since its inception, the Chapter has had a long and glorious history, stretching back over 4,000 Terran years, but events set in motion over five solar decades ago during a routine assault on the world of Khattar in 948.M41 nearly proved to be the Chapter's undoing in the wake of the Third War for Armageddon, from which less than a company of Celestial Lions emerged intact.
Targeted by a faction of the Inquisition to serve as an example of what happened to an Adeptus Astartes Chapter that stood against them in Imperial politics, the Celestial Lions survived only due to the intervention of the Black Templars, fellow scions of their Primarch Rogal Dorn. The few surviving Celestial Lions have returned to their homeworld of Elysium IX under the command of their new Chapter Master Ekene Dubaku to begin the painstaking process of rebuilding their Chapter's numbers back to full strength.
The Celestial Lions is a Successor Chapter raised from the genestock of the Imperial Fists' Primarch Rogal Dorn. It was created during an unnamed Founding of the latter years of the 38th Millennium. Over the next four Terran millennia, the Lions proved to be a resolute Chapter and true scions of Dorn, fiercely defending the realms of Man from the enemies of the Emperor. But the Lions' fierce pride and strict moral principles may have contributed to the path that led towards their near-destruction as a Chapter.
The Khattar Insurrection
- "Khattar is the world where this pathetic grudge began. It is where the Inquisition first betrayed the Celestial Lions. You could argue, as other Chapters have argued upon hearing this rumour, that it was also where the Lions damned themselves by their own naivety."
The Inquisition is a highly secretive organisation, bound by no Imperial law or authority save its own and that of the God-Emperor. Its only mission is seeing to the protection of humanity. Acting as the secret police force of the Imperium, the Inquisitors hunt down any and all of the myriad threats to the stability of the Emperor's realm, from the corruption caused by the Forces of Chaos, Heretics, mutants and rebels, to assaults from vicious alien species like the Tyranids, Orks or Drukhari.
But the Inquisition does not exist in the sense most Imperial citizens believe -- as a cohesive, interlinked cobweb of organised power. It is made up of individual men and women with wildly different ideologies, tactics and goals, invested with ultimate authority and immunity from all persecution and autonomy from all law. Everything else comes down to what they achieve, and what personal power they amass. Even their precious Ordos are simply lines of alignment, philosophies of specialisation and intent, not armies of organised allegiance. Their power is both utterly real and a cunning illusion, all at once.
The Inquisition is, in all ways, the exact opposite of the Adeptus Astartes, whose temporal authority has been decreased since the Horus Heresy, yet these genetically enhanced transhuman warriors play an essential role in the defence of the Imperium, needing no illusion of commanding great power. Their Chapter fleets and brotherhoods speak for themselves.
But Inquisitors are granted that most nebulous of virtues: authority. When an Inquisitor calls upon Imperial resources, he or she relies on the threat of authority, rather than any real organisation lending support to their needs.
This was the case when the Inquisition called upon the Celestial Lions in 948.M41, to come to its aid to help put down a planet-wide revolt on the Shrine World of Khattar. Few Chapters knew of what happened on Khattar, and even fewer spoke of it. Of those that were aware of the planet's annihilation, most likely did not regard it as a true threat to the autonomy of the Adeptus Astartes, preferring to focus on their own concerns and their own wars.
What little people knew of Khattar came down to a conflict of pride and duty between the Lions and their Inquisitorial allies -- the kind of conflict that takes place a thousand times each Terran year across the Imperium's vast spread of worlds. Many of these disagreements turn to bloodshed; what made the Lions' situation so galling was that they had reacted with a measure of composure and reason, when they had every right to draw their Bolters and finish it in a blunter, more efficient matter.
Khattar was a world of priests and preachers, of followers and the faithful -- an Ecclesiarchy world in thrall to the ivory tower priests of the Imperial Creed. The priesthood had secretly fallen into deviancy, and as so many do, they prayed to the Ruinous Powers, and their dark untruths carried the faithful masses away from the Emperor's light, spreading to the highest echelons and furthest reaches. The apostates had corrupted the people of Khattar through blasphemy and lies, compelling enough to sound like truth to a society weary of their prayers going unanswered. Though the Emperor was immortal and mighty beyond reckoning, he was in truth no god. But Mankind, in its blessed ignorance, worshipped him as one.
Yet false gods cannot answer prayers. How tempting it must seem to those sects and societies far from Terra to seek other answers when pleading with the Emperor who brought only silence. The Planetary Defence Forces of Khattar did not rise up to purge the revolt, they joined it. And soon more were still to come: Astra Militarum regiments in nearby systems did the same, such was the ferocity of Khattar's blasphemy.
It was Inquisitor Apollyon who pleaded for the support of the Celestial Lions, for his efforts to crush the faithless lies had met with failure after failure. The Inquisitor possessed an Imperial Navy blockade, but nothing in the way of surface troops. So in the wake of his failure, the Lions made planetfall in full force. Hundreds of Astartes rained holy fire, sacred iron and true faith on a world that had forgotten the taste of all three.
Slaughter soon followed, as the rebel forces were comprised of mere men and women, following the lies of false prophets. The Lions utterly destroyed them -- all of them -- every man and woman with a weapon in their hands. The Chapter quenched the rebellion in a matter of weeks. No armies existed once they were finished with Khattar, not even a town militia. Nowhere on that world did a single priest still draw breath. With the armed resistance annihilated, the Celestial Lions returned to their ships in orbit. Whatever heresy lingered among the defenceless population was under the eyes of others then -- no longer a matter for bolter and blades. Such misplaced faith the Lions had in their allies on that day.
As with any cleansing, the Lions expected preachers of the Imperial Creed to take over, shepherding the lost populace back to enlightenment. It took several solar days for the Chapter to recover their war material, honour their dead, and prepare to leave. Meanwhile, Apollyon's underlings worked on the world below, assessing the population of eight billion for signs of further deviancy.
As the Lions departed, their warships scarcely out of orbit, Apollyon's warship opened fire on the world below. The rest of the Imperial Navy blockade fired with him, targeting cities and population centres. As the Lions watched the Imperial warships carry out Apollyon's orders for Exterminatus, spitting fire onto the world they had just bled to cleanse of corruption, they became enraged as they witnessed their honour burn with those cities. Every shot they had fired was betrayed as a waste in an instant.
The Celestial Lions' lords demanded the blockade to cease fire and answer for its actions. Apollyon refused, claiming that he had determined the entire population tainted beyond salvation. He even thanked the Lions for their worthy efforts, though they were in vain. A solar hour later, Khattar's cities were dust.
It was possible that the Inquisitor was astute in his observations. Heresy had clearly taken root throughout Khattar's society. Perhaps it had wormed as deep as Apollyon claimed. Inquisitors were capable of determining the corruption in the minds of men in the space of a heartbeat, and a man in Apollyon's position could afford no chances. The Inquisitor had acted within the rights granted by his rank; he did as many of his Inquisitorial kindred would do. He also did as many Chapter Masters would have done.
But that did not make it right, or virtuous. It merely made it real. Perhaps Apollyon was merely a hasty fool to whom human life meant little. This mournful truth was one that those who witnessed the Inquisitor's heinous actions would have to live with. He was hardly the first man of exalted rank to have his morals decay in a position of power.
Despite their ire, instead of violence, the Lions' Chapter command sent word throughout the sub-sector, warning all Imperial outposts and regional governors about what had occurred and decrying the actions of the Inquisition. Word was sent directly to Terra -- a delegation of Deathspeakers and Warleaders chosen for the task, to show the gravity of the situation.
They would never set foot on the holy Throneworld. Their vessel was found two Terran years later, dead in the void, deep in Ork-controlled space. All damage was indicative of a ruinous Warp flight. There were no signs of weapons fire on the hull. It was a common-enough occurrence. The interior of such unfortunate vessels had all life torn into genetic scrap; all metal mutated and poisoned beyond salvage.
Over the coming solar decades, the Celestial Lions kept demanding an investigation into the Khattar Massacre. They sent word to any Imperial officials who would listen, from planetary regents to the priest-kings of Ecclesiarchy Shrine Worlds. If any such investigation took place, it remained a mystery to the Lions. The Chapter's highly vocal denouncement of the Inquisition and demand for investigation raised the ire of many important people within the Imperium's most senior circles. This may have contributed to the recent misfortune which nearly destroyed the Chapter.
The Third War for Armageddon
In 998.M41, the Third War for Armageddon began. This was a massive conflict between the Imperium of Man and the largest Ork WAAAGH! ever raised, led by the Greenskin Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka. The war was fought on the Hive World of Armageddon where Ghazghkull Thraka had launched his first attempt to seize the planet exactly 57 Terran years before. The conflict eventually drew in portions of more than 25 Space Marine Chapters, dozens of Astra Militarum regiments, and several Titan Legions.
The Celestial Lions had brought 983 warriors to this world. Their entire Chapter had landed on Armageddon but for the most remote, uninitiated training forces still spread across the Segmentum. By the time they stood in defence of the Mannheim Gap, they had been on the surface for three solar months and sixteen days, defending Hive Volcanus on the west coast of the subcontinent of Armageddon Prime. In that span of time, all of which was spent Bolter-to-blade in the city's burning streets, they suffered casualties far, far in advance of any other Chapter.
Everywhere they fought, the enemy struck back in overwhelming numbers. Countless times they were deployed to reinforce elements of the Imperial Guard that were already long dead by the time the Lions arrived, leaving the Space Marines deep in enemy territory without an easy path for withdrawal.
On at least fifteen catalogued occasions, they were ordered to advance on specific critical objectives, only to find themselves alone without the planned support forces or the promised reinforcements. As casualties mounted, ambushes were common, even on routine patrols through pacified territory.
The Lions were assigned to hold crucial districts and sectors, and accordingly moved in force to cover all necessary ground. Yet they found their patrols being hit harder than any orbital intelligence had predicted possible. The enemy would appear in numbers undreamed, rising from ambushes in sectors that were recorded as being cleansed beforehand.
The Lions were granted orbital picts and Auspex-scrye readouts from Hive Command, only to find their intelligence scarcely matched the embattled realities of their deployment zones. Time and again, the Lions jumped into the fire. They had no choice, for the Chapter would not allow the city to fall and they could not allow the enemy to live.
It did not take long for them to rely first and foremost on their own scanners and Scouts, but their equipment suffered unexpected deterioration and frequent jamming; their Scouts often fell silent while out in the city alone. Sometimes the Lions would find their Scouts' bodies, but usually they were lost.
Pict-feeds from their vessels in orbit were distorted from the void war playing out above, but those rare, wrecked visual clues were the most reliable intelligence they could muster. The Lions swore by them, thanking the thrall-captains of their warships for any and all devoted efforts. But these also grew more infrequent as their fleet was massacred in the sky.
The Lions had fought well. No other Space Marine Chapter would cast aspersions on their fighting character. Their difficult straits had arisen from apparent ill-fortune: orders given but never received, or too slowly answered. There were many reports of Vox interference and orders never reaching their warship's captains. Much of it reeked of enemy guile.
The Lions' Battle Barge Serenkai was boarded and overwhelmed when it pulled free of the Black Templars spearhead, failing to heed orders to maintain formation. The Cruiser Lavi took four solar hours to die from structural haemorrhage when it collided with the wounded Flesh Tearers flagship Victus. The Nubica destroyed itself when it was boarded, choosing sacrifice over capture. Only three vessels from the Lion's fleet remained during the latter part of the conflict. And those who might have borne closer witness to what had actually happened were in their graves.
It was difficult to know which of these events were born of sabotage or treachery, rather than honest battle. If the Inquisition had moved against the Lions, it was doing so with a tenacity and subtlety rarely seen among its agents.
Less than a solar month into the campaign, rearming runs from orbit began to grow as rare as reliable intelligence. Celestial Lions drop-ships were destroyed high in the atmosphere on two occasions, and on another, Volcanus' own wall-guns malfunctioned and destroyed an incoming shipment, blowing seven loaded Thunderhawks gunships out of the sky.
Mere solar weeks into the war, half the Chapter already lay dead, the names of the slain added each dawn to the rolls of honour. The survivors fought on, for contained within each surviving Celestial Lion was a nourishing well of resolve that did credit to any son of Dorn. And then came the conflict in the Mannheim Gap.
The Mannheim Gap
- "Grimaldus. They lied to us about the Mannheim Gap. They sent us there to die. You know of whom I speak. We cannot outrun the echoes of Khattar. We pay the price now for our virtue in the past. The Celestial Lions will never leave this world. A handful of us remain, but we know the truth. We died at the Mannheim Gap. We died the day the sun rose over the scrap-iron bodies of alien gods."
The Mannheim Gap on Armageddon was a canyon running through the mountains north of Hive Volcanus. It was a rent in Armageddon's priceless earth, torn open by the slow, active dance of the world's tectonics. Any who dwelled there for more than a handful of solar weeks knew that Armageddon was not a world that slept easy, whether due to Greenskins, dust storms, or yet another war.
The Celestial Lions were told the canyon had to be assaulted, for it was a nest of mechanical heresy where the aliens were constructing their scrap iron god-machines or Gargants. Hive Volcanus' forces had to strike before the alien Gargants became active, or the tide would forever turn against the city's defenders. The Astra Militarum could not be trusted to deal such a surgical strike, nor could the hive city organise a mass withdrawal and redeployment of its deeply entrenched Guard elements to make it a plausible option. The task fell to the Lions.
Primitive Void Shielding protected the site from orbital bombardment. The Lions had to strike overland, without Drop Pods, marching into the ravine alongside their tanks, attacking in battalion regiments like some echo of the Horus Heresy and the millennia of crude warfare before it. The Lions reconnoitred, of course. They scouted and watched, deeming Imperial intelligence reliable. None of the alien god-walkers were infused with life. But time was not on their side. Every solar hour they spent behind their fortress walls was another solar hour that brought the Gargant machines closer to awakening.
Five hundred Celestial Lions Astartes attacked. The last half of the Chapter went to war, knowing that the enemy numbers were beyond the capability of the Imperial Guard to confront. They chose to bring overwhelming force and to strike fast and hard, seeking to counter their crippling inability to strike from the skies. Five hundred Space Marines were involved and some Chapters had taken whole worlds with a quarter of that number.
The Lion commanders were right to commit their full fury. Any Chapter Master would have done the same. There was no possible way the enemy could have known such a force was coming to destroy them, and there was simply no way to prepare for an assault by five hundred Space Marine warriors. Strike with ferocity and destroy the enemy and then fall back before getting entrenched in a full-scale battle. It should have worked.
In truth, the Gargants were not sleeping, they were simply waiting. Despite this setback, if that was all they had to deal with, the Lions might still have fought their way clear without being slaughtered. They might have even won, despite dying to the last man. The Lions' gold battle tanks raged skywards, streams of Lascannon fire bursting thin shields and scoring holes in the hulls of the towering enemy war machines. Warleaders shouted orders, in control of their warriors even in the heat of battle, establishing where to strike, where to push through the Orks' lines, where to move in defence of tank battalions threatened by enemy infantry.
Even when the Gargants awoke, the last half of a noble Chapter still fought to win. They would purge the canyon at the cost of their own lives. Dorn himself would have stood with them that day. But the tide truly turned. The enemy ambush unfolded further as Greenskins spilled from the earth, pouring in hordes from warrens within the canyon sides and the rocky ground. There were thousands of them, roaring beneath fanged war banners and standards made from crucified Celestial Lions taken in other battles. This fresh army surged into the ravine, filling it like sand in an hourglass, blocking all hope of withdrawal and eliminating any chance of victory.
Somehow the Orks knew that the Lions were coming. There could be no other reason to bury whole war-clans under the rock, waiting for such an assault. Their overlord was a beast clad in scrapwork armour -- the biggest Greenskin the Lions had ever seen. He ate the dead -- his own, and the Lions. Warleader Vularkh buried the war-sword Je'hara in the beast's belly and carved three metres of stinking alien guts free. It did nothing.
The Lions fought back as they fell, but they knew they were betrayed. A traitor, somewhere, had fed word to the enemy, and the Orks made the most of their ambush. But soon, the extent of the treachery was revealed, as sniper fire, deadly accurate, rained down from the canyon walls. Not the solid shell rattle of Greenskin projectile throwers, for the Lions knew how the Orks fought. This was viciously precise laser weaponry, knifing through their officers' helms from above. Deathspeakers, Warleaders, Spiritwalkers, even Pride Leaders, cut down with fire too precise, too clinical, to be that of the Greenskin enemy.
It took the Lions four solar hours to fight free. They carved their way back the way they came, abandoning a sea of dead tanks, slain Battle-Brothers, and butchered green enemy bodies. The gene-seed of half the Chapter lay rotting at the bottom of that canyon, unharvested by the Lions' Lifebinders and defiled by the thousands of foes they left alive.
The Lions had fled from the field, and the most valiant battle the Celestial Lions ever fought was that retreat. Never had they faced such odds, and the last of them cut their way free, pulling their brothers from the storm of blades and fell back to their fortress with the enemy at their heels. The xenos flooded their forward base before most of their survivors had even arrived. The Celestial Lions had to fight just to escape their own falling fortress. Even then, for every gunship that raced free, another two were shot down in flames.
The survivors of the Celestial Lions returned to Hive Volcanus. Only three officers were left at dusk of that day, three officers above the rank of Pride Leader. Deathspeaker Julkhara, who called Reclusiarch Merek Grimaldus of the Black Templars brother; Warleader Vakembi, the last surviving Captain of the Chapter; and Lifebinder Kei-Tukh, the Lion's only living Apothecary. The Chapter's future rested on his skills.
But the final insult was yet to play out. The last gasp in this drama of shame and treachery occurred later that same, terrible evening. The Lion's territory inside the city was a cold foundry, nearly lightless, with a perimeter of rockcrete patrolled by their remaining warriors.
Lifebinder Kei-Tukh did not survive the first night after their terrible defeat. The Lions found him at dawn, slouched against their last Land Raider, shot through the eye-lens. The gene-seed he had carried was gone, and he would harvest no more.
The depths of the Celestial Lions' plight on Armageddon were dire indeed: they had lost their fleet, their armoury, their officers and almost all hope of rebuilding their Chapter. They couldn't even cling to pride, after the shame of defeat. All that remained to them was the truth. The Lions vowed to survive long enough to speak it. The Imperium needed to know what had happened to them on Armageddon, where they had been betrayed by others who claimed to serve the Emperor.
The Dark Truth
The remaining Celestial Lions then determined to die on Armageddon alongside their brothers, as was right and honourable if the Chapter could not be revived. Deathspeaker Julkhara reached out to Reclusiarch Grimaldus, a fellow son of Dorn, to know the truth behind their coming last stand, and ensure those that shared their Primarch's blood never spoke ill of the Celestial Lions' fall.
Julkhara sent a lone Storm Eagle from Hive Volcanus to seek help from the Hero of Helsreach -- the zealous Chaplain Grimaldus, who had recently held the besieged Hive Helsreach against thousands of Orks. Convalescing for several solar weeks after being buried alive in the rubble of the collapsed Temple of the Emperor Ascendant, Grimaldus soon received word of the discovery of a crashed Storm Eagle. The downed Celestial Lions gunship had fallen victim to the fearful winds and violent storms that wracked Armageddon's skies, heralding the infamous Season of Fire.
Acquiring a Valkyrie from the 101st Armageddon Steel Legion regiment, Grimaldus and his subordinate Chaplain Initiate Cyneric departed the safety of the hive city to investigate the crash site despite the horrendous weather conditions. The air was severe enough to scald unprotected flesh, and while the Astartes' Power Armour offered a shield against the elements, it wouldn't protect them for long.
Grimaldus was unable to determine the Chapter origin of the Storm Eagle from its outward appearance, as whatever colours it had borne into battle were long gone, stolen by the storm. Its symbols of allegiance were similarly eroded by ash and dirt in the turbulent air. Smashing his way through the ship's bulkhead with his Crozius Maul, Grimaldus and Cyneric found the body of a lone Space Marine pilot, clad in burnished gold, lying in ungainly repose where the deck met the weapon-racked walls. The Reclusiarch recognised the Chapter's colours -- the Celestial Lions. But this discovery left more questions than answers.
Grimaldus couldn't understand what this gunship was doing all the way out in this remote location, so far from Hive Volcanus, nearly half a world away from its point of origin. Removing the dead Space Marine's azure helmet, the faint signs of darkening decay in evidence clearly indicated that he had been several solar days dead. Upon further inspection Grimaldus discovered a hololithic imagifier the size of a human fist mag-locked to the dead warrior's belt.
Once freed and activated, it gave rise to a flickering blue image -- the ghost of another warrior in another city -- wearing the heraldry of the Celestial Lions and carrying a skull-faced helmet beneath one arm. Grimaldus recognised the fellow Chaplain as Deathspeaker Julkhara, whose wavering voice brought grim tidings, "Grimaldus. They lied to us about the Mannheim Gap. They sent us here to die."
Grimaldus and Cyneric departed the crash site and made their way back to the protective walls of Hive Helsreach. Once safely inside, the Reclusiarch sent a secure Vox message to the Eternal Crusader, the flagship of the Black Templars' High Marshal Helbrecht. When he contacted the mighty vessel, he relayed his orders to a Chapter Serf, instructing him to complete four tasks: first, he was to make contact with every vessel of the Celestial Lions Chapter still in orbit so that he could have a full accounting of their war fleet. Second, they were to contact whatever command structure remained in place at Hive Volcanus and to acquire a detailed report of every Adeptus Astartes casualty in that region since the war's commencement. Third, he and Cyneric needed a gunship to return to the Eternal Crusader. If the coming storm hit before arrangements could be made, they would risk teleportation.
For the fourth and final order, the Eternal Crusader was to make contact with the ranking officer of the Celestial Lions, garrisoned at Hive Volcanus. He warned that the transmission would most assuredly be monitored, no matter what encryption processes were run. The following message was to be delivered -- Grimaldus knew he had to be careful how he worded his message -- it was only six words. "No pity. No remorse. No fear."
Back aboard the Eternal Crusader Reclusiarch Grimaldus met with High Marshal Helbrecht, producing for him the hand-held holorecorder which relayed the dire message from the Celestial Lions' Deathspeaker. The High Marshal inquired as to what the Reclusiarch hoped to accomplish. Grimaldus sought to establish contact with the Celestial Lions to take stock of their losses, and if possible to destroy those who had betrayed them.
But the High Marshal knew in his hearts that this would be impossible no matter how much it appealed to him. The High Marshal warned Grimaldus that he risked dragging the Chapter into direct conflict with the Inquisition. The High Marshal sympathised with Grimaldus' cause, for injustice must be stopped and impurity must be purged. But the Eternal Crusader was to set sail in three solar days in order to pursue the fleeing Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, the Ork Warlord who had led his massive WAAAGH! in the invasion of Armageddon.
The Reclusiarch requested to be left behind. The High Marshal was surprised by Grimaldus' request. He was caught between the purity of a war against external enemies, and a just war against an internal foe. Grimaldus would fight both, if he could. The Ork Warlord's death, however, took priority over all else. The arch-warlord responsible for Armageddon could not be allowed to flee from their grasp, for retribution called as loud as justice.
But Helbrecht could not overlook that the Celestial Lions' devastating losses were the principal reason he believed his Reclusiarch's concerns were valid. Justice called to them, and at the very least, the Black Templars wished to learn the truth of the matter. He ordered Grimaldus to go to Hive Volcanus to learn the truth of what happened. If the Celestial Lions were destined to die, the High Marshal wished to hear the truth of their tale before it was too late.
The Last Officer
- "Anyone who trusts an agent of the Inquisition has earned the right to be named naive, Cyneric. There is a reason the Adeptus Astartes stand apart from the Imperium -- autonomous; loyal to the empire's ideals, but rarely its function. The Lions' most grievous error was forgetting that."
Soon Grimaldus and his charge made their way to Armageddon Prime, where Hive Volcanus was still besieged by the enemy and the winds were more often free of the burning sand and ash that so blighted the other side of the world. The Celestial Lions' firebase was located atop a natural rise in the landscape, supremely defensible, with great battlements and sacred statuary of fallen Imperial heroes staring down at any who would dare bring the fight to those dark walls.
The whole site was already in ruin. The pair of Black Templars were honoured for their presence by the remaining Lions. Grimaldus noticed right away that several of the Celestial Lions were plundering their own firebase's supplies, loading up their surviving Thunderhawks with brutal efficiency. The warriors themselves kept at least one hand free to reach for a Bolter at a moment's notice.
A lone Space Marine came forward, bearing the black helm of a Pride Leader. He knelt before the Reclusiarch and removed his dark helmet. Grimaldus was greeted by the sight of a face that was a warm, rich brown complexion of a human born to equatorial climes. Though he had never been to the Lions' homeworld of Elysium IX, he had met many of its dark-skinned sons. They were a culture of hunters: proud from birth to death, true Scions of Dorn.
Grimaldus did not recognise the warrior who introduced himself as Pride Leader Ekene Dubaku. "Pride Leader" was the Lions' term for a Squad Sergeant. This did not bode well. Dubaku was now the senior surviving Lion who led those that remained. The Veteran Marine explained that there were ninety-six Lions still drawing breath upon Armageddon, and that he had inherited command from Warleader Vakembei, he of the Spear That Hunts Hearts who had been slain eighteen solar days earlier. Grimaldus knew Vakembei, a stalwart Space Marine officer and deadly swordsman.
The Reclusiarch inquired as to the whereabouts of Deathspeaker Julkhara. The Pride Leader replied that he had been slain by the "kine" (a Celestial Lions' term for cattle or beasts -- the Greenskins) nearly twenty-four solar days past. Now the surviving Lions were looting what was left of their supplies at their forward base. They had little choice, since it was overrun. Their fallback stronghold was within Hive Volcanus itself, but they risked raids in this forward area every three solar days.
Ammunition was low -- production and resupply from their fleet had dropped to almost nothing. Grimaldus wondered why the Celestial Lions had not requested aid from the other Chapters present on Armageddon, but understood that Dorn's blood ran thick in the veins of his descendants. It was difficult to lay such pride aside, even in the face of devastation. Especially then, for that was when a warrior was truly tested. There was no other time more fit for proving that a man was strong enough to stand alone.
Dubaku explained that they had swallowed their pride long enough to request aid from the Flesh Tearers and the Black Templars, but the former were as depleted as they were, and the latter were preparing to take the fight out to the stars in pursuit of the fleeing Ork Warlord. The Lions felt they had no right to beg for scraps while being left behind. So they existed by plundering their fallen fortress and looting their own dead.
This confirmed for Grimaldus that Julkhara's summons had been a personal one. It had cost his pride dearly to send it. The Reclusiarch was struck by one thing above all else: the Celestial Lions were effectively dead. While a hundred yet remained, the Chapter operated now without a single voice from their Chapter's high command, and their ranking Veteran officer was a squad sergeant.
Grimaldus ordered the Lions to finish loading their gunships, then he wanted Dubaku to tell him everything that had happened to the Chapter since they made planetfall. It remained to be seen just what Julkhara expected of the Black Templar, or what Grimaldus could actually achieve for the Lions. It already felt less like he had been summoned to save the Lions, and more like he had been called to hold vigil, watching over the Chapter as it died.
The Pride Leader's tale was grim. The Reclusiarch's blood ran cold as Dubaku revealed each new betrayal that had occurred. Grimaldus quickly realised that the surviving Lions meant to die on this world. The Pride Leader confirmed this was true. The Lions intended to die alongside their brothers, as it should be. Deathspeaker Julkhara wished for Grimaldus to know the truth behind their coming last stand, and ensure that those who shared their Primarch's blood never spoke ill of their sacrifice.
Cyneric argued that the Celestial Lions should return to Elysium IX, to endure the shame if they must, as the Crimson Fists endured their shame after the Battle of Rynn's World. They had to rebuild their Chapter -- the galaxy must not lose the Celestial Lions forever.
But the remaining Lions scoffed at this suggestion. Their Chapter had been savaged beyond resurrection. Men, material, knowledge...all of it was gone. They had nothing to hand down to any generation that would follow them. The remaining Lions refused to flee like cowards. But it was not cowardice Cyneric advocated, it was survival -- survival to preserve precious blood, and to rise again to fight another day.
Grimaldus agreed with both opposing viewpoints, for a glorious last stand was no more less respectable than preserving the infinite value of a Space Marine Chapter. But Grimaldus wondered if Cyneric would advocate shame if he were the one facing the prospect of so glorious a last stand. Easier to speak of shame than endure it. And yet Grimaldus was just as determined that the Chapter had to survive.
The remaining Lions explained to Grimaldus that the Inquisition wanted to silence them. But the Reclusiarch assured them that this was not the case. They were using the Celestial Lions to make an example. The Lions were in fact the most recent casualty in the Inquisition's campaign to rein in the political autonomy of the Adeptus Astartes. The Inquisition tolerated no attacks on its sovereign rights -- yet the Lions had challenged them. And now all would bear witness to the price of their Chapter's rebellion.
The sabotages, the conflicting orders, the ambushes, all would lead to the destruction of a Space Marine Chapter. Millions of Imperial citizens would hear of how the Celestial Lions were killed on Armageddon. A mere handful would know the truth behind their deaths, and each of those would be Adeptus Astartes officers who would tread with much more caution when they dealt with the Inquisition in the future. The lesson would be learned, just as Inquisitor Apollyon's cronies wished.
Digesting this information, Pride Leader Dubaku explained to the Reclusiarch that his Chapter would make for the Mannheim Gap and that, though many of the Gargants were gone, it was still a well-defended Ork stronghold. It remained a cancer in Hive Volcanus' territory, and it must fall.
This seemed idealistic at best to Grimaldus. He informed the Lions that in fact, it would not fall. Not to a handful of Lions, no matter how noble and proud they were. Dubaku countered that they would die trying, for this was where the Celestial Lions had chosen to die. It had to be there, for then their bones would lie alongside their brothers. Grimaldus inquired if the Lions would fight alone, to which Debaku replied that they would. Volcanus could not spare its Astra Militarum regiments.
Even with Mannheim emptied of Gargants in the solar weeks since the massacre -- a fact they still could not be certain was true -- it was still a difficult target, rich with the enemy's presence. Five of the Lions' Battle Companies had failed to take it. A few thousand Guardsmen would be nothing more than spitting into the wind. The Lions could not trust any of the Guardsmen in any case, for the Inquisition's talons were everywhere.
After hearing their tale of woe, Grimaldus decided that Cyneric had been right. The Lions' death would be a disservice to the Imperium, no matter the greatness of their glorious last stand; no matter the heroism of individual warriors as they spent their life's blood. The Lions argued that this was how they wanted it to end -- to finish their legacy in fire, not in centuries of painstaking laboratory work to preserve their bloodline. They wanted to die as warriors.
Indeed they would, thought Grimaldus, a hundred warriors, dying in glory...and denying the possibility of thousands of warriors who might be needed in a darker future. It was Dorn's way to fight on no matter the odds. Death against overwhelming numbers was no shame to any warrior born of the Imperial Fists' gene-seed. Yet, those were lessons first taught ten thousand Terran years ago, when the Imperium was so much stronger. The last centuries of the current Dark Millennium had all but bled Mankind's empire dry. Yet the Reclusiarch still admired Dubaku for his hunger to taste a glorious death, even if it was a last charge few would remember.
Dubaku informed the Reclusiarch that they would not delay the inevitable and were prepared to make their last stand almost immediately. His Chapter would gather their resources the next day at their forward base, and make one last scouting run for supplies and survivors. The Lions would then charge to their final war at dawn the day after. The Pride Leader made one last request of the stern Chaplain. He requested that Grimaldus grant final unction to the surviving Celestial Lions warriors.
The Black Templar had only agreed to speak of the Lions' death, and that he understood how it had happened and why they had chosen to act as they did. But now they wished for him to also bless their damnation. The Lions had no surviving Deathspeakers and so they wanted Grimaldus to bless the warriors of another Chapter, sharing the Black Templars' sacred rituals, and vowing before the Emperor and Rogal Dorn that their death would be a noble testament to the Imperial Fists' bloodline.
Grimaldus looked upon the surviving Celestial Lions, standing amongst them during their desperate, respectful silence. Grimaldus felt he had no choice, could not grant his blessing to the suicide of the Chapter and refused to perform the requested rite upon the Lions.
Grimaldus and his charge then departed the Celestial Lions' forward base and made for the Eternal Crusader. He went there to put an audacious plan into motion. The Chaplain knew he could not return to Hive Helsreach, for the Season of Fire played its tempestuous games around the city, harsh enough to kill sky traffic but not quite violent enough to interfere with Vox signals.
Utilising the flagship's powerful communication array, he was able to amplify his transmitter's signal to send a message through. Making contact with the Imperial forces on the ground, he relayed a series of orders to one of the Astra Militarum officers present there. It took several more solar hours of coordinating Helsreach's defences from high orbit. Grimaldus knew a great many Guard officers were going to Vox skyward for confirmation in the hours to come.
Time passed, as Grimaldus spoke with eighty-one Astra Militarum officers and eleven Naval captains. As his clearance was Rubicon-grade, no one dared to question his orders. Cyneric questioned the senior Chaplain's motives, and wondered if he hadn't exceeded his authority. But Grimaldus argued that the Lions' survival would be for the best and he was depleting Hive Helsreach's defences to march alongside the Lions back into the Mannheim Gap.
The Reclusiarch explained that the city was vastly overdefended now, with entire battalions sitting idle and awaiting redeployment. It was an irritating truth; would that they had such a problem when the real war was being fought. The soldiers in Helsreach were actually bored. They did not do well with tedium, especially when left alone with nothing to do and no one to shoot.
Cyneric felt that Grimaldus was playing on the people's regard for him. The Hero of Helsreach called them to war. Of course they would follow. But he was sure it was their war. The Reclusiarch argued that it was their world. And it was the only chance the Celestial Lions had, if they were to survive.
The Lions' unseen enemies might well allow them to die in the glory they deserved. But their deaths served nothing but to ease the soreness of wounded pride. The Celestial Lions must not die on Armageddon and without help, the Chapter was doomed. Everything depended on just how fast Grimaldus' forces at Helsreach could break out from the storm, and redeploy halfway across the world.
The Second Mannheim Siege
- "I am remaining on the war-world. Someone must fight alongside the Lions, saving them from futile glory and the worst excesses of their otherwise pure blood... The Lions have no Chaplains remaining, and they are our cousins. Honour and brotherhood demand this of me. The Lions cannot call upon the resources of their hive city, but they will not fight alone...Let Volcanus hide behind its walls. Helsreach is going to war."
Arranging for an Imperial Navy shuttle, both Grimaldus and Cyneric deployed to the surface of Armageddon. Dawn was less than a solar hour away as they broke cloud cover above the Lions' ruined fortress stronghold. Grimaldus wondered if the Lions would have already left their fallen fortress by the time they arrived, marching towards their last stand.
Besides the remaining four dust-blasted and paint-stripped Thunderhawks possessed by the Lions resting upon the wide rooftop platform, dozens of inelegant, blocky troop landers had joined them there. Struggling to locate an unmarked, untaken patch of ground, Grimaldus ordered the shuttle to break off its descent, as both he and Cyneric jumped from the ship's rear bay.
The pair of Black Templars descended from the sky to the ground by utlising their Jump Packs. Pride Leader Dubaku was taken aback by the return of the Black Templars. Grimaldus replied that he thought that the Lions might appreciate the extra bodies. The Reclusiarch was greeted by General Kyranov of the Armageddon Steel Legion, the acting commander of the Imperial military forces at Helsreach. Within the solar hour a war council was called, ordained before a battalion of revving tanks. The plan was simple -- they would march into the Mannheim Gap, and they would destroy anything that moved or breathed.
Dubaku stood with Grimaldus at the heart of the impromptu conclave, his anger a palpable thing. He directed his ire at the Reclusiarch, who he felt had overstepped his authority. The Pride Leader didn't appreciate these interlopers who threatened to interfere with their personal vendetta and their glorious last stand. He argued with Grimaldus that this was the Celestial Lions' fight and no one else's. Dubaku warned Grimaldus that when the time came, when they confronted the Ork Warlord responsible for so many of his Battle-Brothers' deaths, it would be a Lion's blade that killed the creature. Grimaldus vowed grimly that it would be so.
And so, the forces gathered from Helsreach marched in long, armoured columns towards the Mannheim Gap. Every hope they possessed that Mannheim would be near devoid of Ork Titans was crushed before the first Steel Legion soldier had set foot on the loose rock slopes leading down into the canyon.
The enemy was present in grotesque force. Great sockets in the rigging and stanchions along the canyon walls marked the absence of several Gargants, but many more were undergoing repair or reawakening after fighting in recent battles. The ravine was choked by multitudes of Orks going about their work, and thousands of mouldering corpses piled up into a sea of decaying organic matter.
Gold armour, darkened and soiled by waste, showed among the barricades of the looted dead. The dead Celestial Lions had been heaped in undignified repose with their xenos murderers, and their ceramite -- useless to the junkyard heresy that constituted Greenskin technology -- was left to encase the rotting warriors amidst their flesh cairns.
The Imperial force advanced over the sea of the disrespected dead, for tearing the barricades down was not an option. The Guardsmen climbed and waded through the sea of bodies or rode on the hulls of their tanks. Above the advance rode the gunship fleet, all flanking the four remaining Thunderhawks in the Celestial Lions' arsenal. The moment they streaked through the ravine's trench, cannonfire began to bring them down in tumbling fireballs.
The Steel Legion did not baulk at the sight of such a vast enemy horde. They ploughed into the enemy's disarrayed ranks, slaughtering them to make room on fields of their bodies for the gunships to land. The first hours of the battle were unremarkable only for their ferocity. The Imperial Guard's massed cannonades devastated the Greenskin war machines. In reply, the Orks butchered the Guard at every point along the advance where it fell to men and women with bayonets to hold the line. As was so often the way of the Astra Militarum, they had the stronger steel, but the enemy had the stronger flesh.
In such a grinding lock of armies, winning and losing was relative. The Imperial force pushed deep into the canyon as hundreds of men and women fell face down into the dirt. Behind the Space Marines lay a graveyard of tanks, practically all their own, all lost to enemy cannonfire. Lining the canyon's walls were the burning metal corpses of towering god-constructs, holed by missiles and tank shells, melting to slag in the flames of the Imperial Guard's bombardment. Stubber fire rattled against their ceramite harmlessly, but scythed Guardsmen down in droves. Still the Imperials advanced, sloshing through a rising torrent of blood. It was knee-deep on most of the humans, turning all advancement into a sweating wade through filth.
Soon the pivotal moment of the battle came upon Grimaldus, as it had so many times before, his heraldry often drawing enemy commanders to him as often as he fought his way to them. It happened again at Mannheim, though he tried to avoid it. The largest of the Orks, doubtless hunting the Reclusiarch by heraldry, launched itself at Grimaldus from behind. It was a thing of blunt fangs, sinewy muscle and hammering limbs -- larger than Grimaldus, and both stronger and faster than him. A Celestial Lion called out to the Reclusiarch, reminding him that the Ork Warlord was the Pride Leader's kill.
Grimaldus faced off against the massive beast, swinging his Crozius maul at the foul creature, but the powerful Greenskin moved as if immune to everything thrown against it. Las-fire lanced off the creature, going ignored against its armour, and equally ignored as the volleys scored fingertip-sized holes in its flesh. Celestial Lions charged the creature but the hulking warlord countered their feeble assaults with a sweep of his mighty mangling claw.
As Grimaldus was driven to his knees and eventually struck to the ground, Dubaku finally came between the two combatants with a leap and a roar. He held his hand back, bidding Grimaldus to remain away. The Reclusiarch had to force himself to obey, something he would never have countenanced in any other circumstance. But they had fought this battle for a bloodline's pride, and here was the moment of reckoning.
Dubaku beat his blade against his chestplate, staring at the Greenskin lord in its powered suit of tank armour scrap. Despite the cacophony of battle that raged all around them, Grimaldus could hear the Celestial Lion's words as clearly as if they had left his own mouth: "In whatever underworld your foul breed believes, you shall tell your pig-blooded ancestors that you died to the blade of Ekene of Elysium, Lion of the Emperor."
No one knew it then, but at that moment, the Pride Leader was the last Lion still standing. Dubaku attacked, his Chainsword worthless against the beast's claw. He had just as little hope of parrying the creature's cudgel with his Combat Knife. So what he lacked in strength, he poured into speed -- never blocking, always dodging. The battle did not pause around the two combatants. Soon both the Pride Leader and the Ork Warlord were bleeding from a score of wounds.
The Chainsword had found its way through armour joints and plunged into soft tissue; the Power Claw had mangled the Celestial Lion's armour each time it fell. Soon, Dubaku was backing away. Fighting such a beast was no task for one warrior alone, no matter the pleasure of pride. Then came a thunderclap of noise as a massive electrical burst turned the air to charged static. Orks and men in their droves cried out in pain at the sonic boom. The orbital shield was no longer functioning.
Somehow at some point in the hours of melee, while the Reclusiarch fought with the Lions, the Steel Legion had laid explosives at the base of the Void Shield reactor. The Emperor alone knew when, where, and how. No sooner had the shield imploded, spitting its static charge in all directions, than a powerful and priority channel Vox-rune chimed loudly in the Reclusiarch's retinal display. Grimaldus activated it as he watched the Pride Leader and the Ork lord stagger around each other, wounded animals too proud to die.
Soon Grimaldus heard a familiar voice -- it was High Marshal Helbrecht. He informed the Chaplain that the Black Templars were ready to reinforce their position. All he had to do was give the word. Grimaldus informed the High Marshal to blacken the sky. At that moment the severely wounded Celestial Lion was down before Grimaldus could reach him. The beast clutched Dubaku's arm in its mangling claw, crushing it at the biceps before ripping it free. The Pride Leader retaliated by ramming his Chainsword in an awkward thrust into the creature's throat. Deflected by armour, it barely bit. His assault came at the cost of his leg, as the iron claw scissored through the limb at the knee, dropping him on his back into the slime.
Grimaldus was on the beast's back a heartbeat later, securing himself by digging into the creature's armour with his boots as he wrapped his severed weapon chain around its bleeding, sweating throat. The chain garrotted taut, cracking sinew in the beast's throat. The iron claw battered at the Reclusiarch, shearing chunks of ceramite away. It staggered without toppling, gasped without truly suffocating. Even this -- even strangling it with his last remaining weapon -- could not kill it.
All Grimaldus could do was buy Dubaku the moments he needed to crawl free, which he quickly did. And Cyneric was waiting, a Bolter in his remaining hand. The mutilated Celestial Lion reached up for it, clutching it one-handed in a pistol grip, and aimed it up as he lay back in the sludge. Grimaldus dropped back, not completely, but enough to pull the chain tighter, adding his weight to his strength, and wrenching the beast's head back to bare its throat.
The Bolter sang once, and the kick of something heavy struck near the chain. With a muffled burst, the Ork's head came free, tumbling back over its shoulders and landing with the Chaplain in the filth. The armoured body stood there without anything existing above its neck -- still too stubborn, too strong, to fall.
Once he got to his feet, Grimaldus reclaimed his maul from the fallen beast. Then he tossed the thing's slack-jawed head to Dubaku where he lay. The battle continued to rage, as the men and women Grimaldus had led there fought their way further down the canyon. Dubaku looked up at the darkening sky as the Black Templars descended in a massive Drop Pod assault upon the Mannheim Gap. The Lion's only reaction was to rise as best he could, and pull his helmet clear. He ordered the Reclusiarch to help him stand. He didn't want to meet the High Marshal on his back. Cyneric and Grimaldus hauled Dubaku up between them. While they did so, the Guard's Vox link erupted in cheers, as Lord Helbrecht blackened the sky with Templar Drop Pods.
Reclusiarch Grimaldus bid his farewell to the newly-installed Chapter Master Ekene Dubaku of the Celestial Lions, escorted by his surviving few warriors onto the Black Templars Strike Cruiser Blade of the Seventh Son, with its course plotted for the distant world of Elysium IX. Dubaku now bore a bionic leg and a noticeable limp, his physiology not entirely adjusted to the augmetic replacement yet. The armour he wore was gold war-plate of an ancient Imperial Fists champion, granted as a gift from the Eternal Crusader's Halls of Memory. His cloak was that of Helbrecht's own Sword Brethren, red on black, elegantly cast over one shoulder.
It was not known if this was the very same cloak Helbrecht had granted to Dubaku when he forced him to take the oath of lordship over his depleted Chapter. At his hip, bound by chains of black iron, was the flayed, polished skull of the Greenskin Warlord they had killed together. An honour indeed, to be named on a Chapter Master's prime trophy.
The Black Templars Honour Guard comprised to bid him good journey consisted of the Reclusiarch, the newly promoted Chaplain Cyneric, and the High Marshal's household knights, clad in ceremonial colours. The Reclusiarch hoped most fervently, as time passed, that Chapter Master Dubaku's efforts in reconstructing the Celestial Lions and training the generation to follow him continued to go well. Grimaldus knew with grim satisfaction that they would most likely never meet again, as Dubaku was sworn to a life of defending what he could hold, and the Black Templars always sailed forth on the attack against the foes of the Emperor.
- Khattar Insurrection (948.M41) - During the event known as the Khattar Insurrection, five companies of the Celestial Lions were attached to Inquisitor Apollyon in order to crush the ongoing revolt on the main planet, Khattar. The orbital defences were nothing to the Space Marines and they soon landed on the world against virtually no opposition. As the campaign progressed and the number of prisoners increased, it became evident that this was no mere minor rebellion. Apparently the Imperial Cult's priesthood on Khattar had been corrupted by Chaos and had led the leaders of the world into the arms of the Chaos God Slaanesh. Local Renegade Astra Militarum and Planetary Defence Force regiments were quickly defeated and within a matter of solar weeks the rebellion was crushed. The detachment of the Celestial Lions boarded their voidships and left for their fortress-monastery. As the Astartes warships left orbit, the Imperial Navy, under the orders of Inquisitor Apollyon, carried out an Exterminatus action and bombarded the planet with Cyclonic Torpedoes, obliterating its entire population. This action horrified the Celestial Lions, who proceeded to condemn the Inquisitor for wiping out the population of a planet that had been cleansed of all heretical taint and whose people had largely remained innocent. Captain Saul, the commander of the Imperial Navy flagship in orbit of Khattar, had attempted to halt the bombardment, but could not countermand the order of an Inquisitor. From then on, the Celestial Lions were highly vocal political opponents of the Inquisition, as they believed it had been unnecessary to destroy the planet and all its people. They proclaimed a series of very loud and very public condemnations against the Inquisition that was intended to reach the powers-that-be within the highest echelons of the Imperium. A delegation of senior Chapter officers left for Terra to further their cause, but the starship never arrived. It was blown wildly off course by a freak Warp Storm, far into Ork territory. The wreckage was eventually found two standard years after the disappearance of the vessel, although this was not enough to deter the Celestial Lions, who kept demanding an investigation into the events surrounding the destruction of Khattar. Their efforts, though valiant, were completely in vain. The Inquisition technically answers to no one but itself and the Emperor, and is immune to any outside pressure or criticism, even from the Adeptus Astartes. Since the Khattar Insurrection the Celestial Lions have refused to work alongside the agents of the Inquisition again, and for its part, the Inquisition began to look into methods by which the Lions' constant criticism might be forever silenced.
- The Third War for Armageddon (998.M41) - With the outbreak of the Third War for Armageddon, the entire Celestial Lions Chapter was deployed to that crucial Imperial Hive World to defend Hive Volcanus. They suffered horrendous casualties within only solar months of arriving. The intelligence they received was horribly inaccurate and often led them into ambushes where they were outnumbered and outgunned. Some of the higher-ranking officers of the Chapter began to suspect this was intentional, a ploy to wipe out the entire Chapter as part of the political machinations of the Inquisition which they had vocally opposed since the events at Khattar for over a standard decade, but nothing could be proven. In a matter of solar weeks half the Chapter lay dead.
- Mannheim Gap Massacre (998.M41) - One particularly devastating battle in the Mannheim Gap saw 4 entire companies of the Celestial Lions exterminated by the combined forces of a Gargant under the command of the Ork Warlord Thogfang and the Razor Speed Freeks. Losses mounted and the battle ended with a very well-coordinated Greenskin attack on the Celestial Lions' base camp. It had been thought by the Celestial Lions that Thogfang's Gargants were still under construction and the Space Marines hoped to take the Orks by surprise before their war engines became operational. Unfortunately not only were the Gargants fully operational, they were waiting for the Celestial Lions, targeting the exact ridge where the Chapter had intended to launch their assault. Undaunted by this apparent betrayal, the Celestial Lions fought bravely and thought they could win. But then the Orks launched their trap and hundreds of buried tunnels opened behind the Lions' position, swarming their rear with thousands upon thousands of Orks. The last Captain of the Celestial Lions force, Vularakh, was eaten by Thogfang. The Imperials' losses mounted and the assault finally ended with a very well-coordinated attack on the Celestial Lions' base camp. This particular battle lasted for only three solar hours. Hundreds of Astartes fell to the overwhelming Ork forces. Sniper fire rained down from the mountain sides, relentlessly targeting the Chapter's Apothecaries. It should be noted that the sniper fire was not Ork in origin, for Imperial-issued Long-Las Sniper Rifles were the culprits, burning holes straight through the helmet and eye-lenses of many of the Chapter's officers and non-commissioned officers. Finally, a small Celestial Lions company was able to break through the Ork lines and fight their way back to Hive Volcanus. Only 96 Astartes survived the battle at Mannheim Gap. To make matters worse, the last Celestial Lions Apothecary was shot in the head within solar hours of arriving at Hive Volcanus; he was found slumped against his Rhino transport with a las burn straight through his temple, his slayer unknown. The dead Celestial Lions' gene-seed lay unharvested on the surface of Armageddon and the remaining Battle-Brothers of the Lions swore to die alongside their fallen brothers, fighting to the last to regain their honour even if it meant the death of their entire Chapter. Seeking one last hope for redemption, then (Pride Leader) Ekene Dubaku requested that Reclusiarch Grimaldus of the Black Templars Chapter perform the last rites on the Celestial Lions' survivors, who intended to return to the Mannheim Gap to die alongside their slain brothers. Grimaldus had arrived earlier to investigate a message sent by the last remaining DeathSpeaker of the Chapter who had been a personal friend. Yet he refused to perform the last rites and marshaled the remaining Imperial defenders of Hive Helsreach to march alongside the Celestial Lions. Grimaldus believed that if the honour of the Celestial Lions could be salvaged by destroying the Ork base, then the remaining Lions warriors would return to their homeworld and be content with rebuilding their Chapter. The battle that ensued cost the lives of almost all of the remaining Celestial Lions. However, Pride Leader Dubaku was able to slay Warlord Thogfang with Grimaldus' help, avenging the loss of his Captain and the grievous wound to the pride of his Chapter. Only then did Grimaldus signal for Black Templar reinforcements to enter the fray and the Knights of Dorn fought one last time on Armageddon. Afterwards, High Marshal Helbrecht, the Chapter Master of the Black Templars present on Armageddon, forced Dubaku to take the oath of Chapter Master to lead the remnant of his Lions and granted him an ancient suit of Power Armour dating back to the Great Crusade which still bore the original heraldry of the Imperial Fists Legion. The few remaining Celestial Lions departed for their homeworld on the Strike Cruiser Blade of the Seventh Son, another gift from the Black Templars, alongside a temporary detachment of Black Templars Astartes to aid in the the rebuilding of the proud and defiant Celestial Lions Chapter on their homeworld of Elysium IX.
The Lions are a hardened, veteran force fully able to embrace the concepts of the Codex Astartes. However, like their predecessors the Imperial Fists, the Chapter adheres to the precepts of the Codex in spirit, but deviates in several regards.
All ranks of the Chapter are able to make tactical decisions and are encouraged to act on their own initiative. The Celestial Lions combine all arms in flexible balanced battle groups each of which can present an opponent with a diversity of threats, then press their attack so swiftly that the foe is overwhelmed before he can react.
The Celestial Lions' order of battle contains several specialist formations and officer ranks not present in other Space Marine Chapters, though they largely resemble the standard Codex Astartes ranks in function if not title:
- Warleader (Captain) - Status designated by a black helmet.
- Deathspeaker (Chaplain)
- Spiritwalker (Librarian)
- Lifebinder (Apothecary)
- Pride Leader (Squad Sergeant)
Notable Celestial Lions
- Chapter Master Ekene Dubaku (Assassinated) - Ekene Dubaku was a Pride Leader (Squad Sergeant) of the Celestial Lions who was one of the few non-commissioned officers to survive the massacre at Mannheim Gap. When the Lions returned to assault Warlord Thogfang's camp, it was Dubaku who finally slew the monstrous Ork and thus regained his Chapter's honour with the aid of Reclusiarch Grimaldus of the Black Templars. For his skill, bravery and proven leadership ability, Dubaku was selected by High Marshal Helbrecht of the Black Templars to become the new Chapter Master of the surviving Celestial Lions and to oversee the rebuilding of his Chapter on their homeworld of Elysium IX with some aid from the Black Templars. Dubaku was gifted a suit of relic Imperial Fists Legion Power Armour dating back to the time of the Great Crusade in the 30th Millennium by Helbrecht, which he proudly wore as a badge of his office. Ekene Dubaku was later decapitated by a Callidus Assassin sent by the Inquisition, who was concealed as a thrall to Amadeus, a Space Marine of the Mentors Chapter who had been sent to inspect the Imperial forces in Elara's Veil.
- Warleader Dukambe (KIA) - Dukambe was a Warleader (Captain) of the Celestial Lions.
- Warleader Vularakh (KIA) - Vularakh was a Warleader (Captain) of the Celestial Lions.
- Warleader Vakembei (KIA) - Vakembei was a Warleader (Captain) of the Celestial Lions, and the predecessor of Pride Leader Ekene Dubaku.
- Deathspeaker Julkhara (KIA) - Julkhara was the last surviving Deathspeaker (Chaplain) of the Mannheim Gap Massacre and the one who contacted Reclusiarch Grimaldus of the Black Templars so that the Imperium might know the truth behind the Chapter's betrayal and demise. Though he did not survive to see the arrival of Grimaldus, he may have saved his Chapter with his message.
- Spiritwalker Azadah (KIA) - Azadah was a Spiritwalker (Librarian) of the Celestial Lions. He was killed in the massacre at the Mannheim Gap.
- Serenkai (Battle Barge) - The Serenkai was a Celestial Lions Battle Barge that was boarded and overwhelmed while fighting the Orks in orbit of Armageddon.
- Lavi (Strike Cruiser) - The Lavi took four solar hours to die from structural haemorrhage when it collided with the wounded Flesh Tearers flagship Victus.
- Blade of the Seventh Son (Strike Cruiser) - The Blade of the Seventh Son was gifted to the Celestial Lions by Reclusiarch Grimaldus of the Black Templars. The Blade of the Seventh Son serves as the flagship of the Celestial Lions.
Leonine iconography is often incorporated as decoration upon the armour of the Celestial Lions.
The Celestial Lions Chapter's Power Armour is primarily gold with azure shoulder plates and helmet. A Warleader is designated by a black helmet. The white squad specialty symbol (Tactical, Assault, Devastator or Veteran) is indicated on the right shoulder guard. A black Roman numeral centred on the squad specialty symbol indicates company number.
The Celestial Lions' Chapter badge is the profile of a white, roaring lion's head upon a field of azure. The lion's head is sometimes coloured gold for Astartes of the rank of Pride Leader and above. This symbol can also sometimes be surrounded by three four-pointed stars placed in a triangular pattern.
- Adeptus Astartes: Successor Chapters (7th Edition) (Limited Release Booklet), pg. 24
- White Dwarf 249, "Index Astartes - Emperor's Shield"
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