The Ebon Drake was a prototype Assault Cruiser built by the shipwrights of the XVIII Legion of the Legiones Astartes on Nocturne and Prometheus. Allegedly developed and designed by the Primarch Vulkan himself, the Ebon Drake was commissioned shortly before the outbreak of the Horus Heresy. As the first of its kind and of an as yet untested design, the Ebon Drake was held in reserve and did not travel with the Salamanders' fleet on the campaign that resulted in the Drop Site Massacre, thus escaping destruction. Later in the interstellar civil war, the vessel would be selected by Nomus Rhy'tan, Lord Chaplain and Keeper of Nocturne in Vulkan's absence to carry a single company of Salamanders Astartes to distant Istvaan V and discover the fate of their Legion and Primarch. The epic voyage of the Ebon Drake is closely linked to mighty figures from the Salamanders' history such as Cassian Vaughn and Xiaphas Jurr, but was also the origin of the ad hoc formation of the Shattered Legions later known as the Disciples of the Flames, whose deeds remain among the darkest and most secretive parts of the Salamanders' legacy. The configuration of the Ebon Drake was the first to combine Attack Craft carrier capabilities and the powerful firepower of the Bombardment Cannon, and stands as the precursor of the present-day Adeptus Astartes Strike Cruiser.
To understand the revolution inherent to the Ebon Drake 's design, one must first understand the reality of the Imperium's ship-building and naval doctrines in the 30th and early 31st Millennia. During the tumultuous years of the Great Crusade, the Imperium did not strive to develop new types of warships, with the notable exceptions of the towering Gloriana-class Battleships intended to become the flagships of the warfleets of the Legiones Astartes and the secretly developed Abyss-class Battleships used by the Word Bearers Legion. The vast majority of the fleets of the Legiones Astartes consisted of ancient warships that had once served the original Terran void navies or had been built in the vast Mechanicum orbital shipyards of Jupiter and Neptune following the signing of the Treaty of Mars and the alliance between Terra and the Red Planet that forged the Imperium of Man. Yet, even as the Imperium constantly expanded its domains, the philosophy behind its voidships' construction never changed. Warships were assumed to be powerful voidcraft bearing vast batteries of ancient, terrible and earth-shattering power whilst being covered in nigh-impenetrable armour. The inherent technical flaw to this conception was that these vessels were lumbering behemoths and though powerful, they were often ill-suited to the many strategic challenges faced by the Emperor's elite, for the ancestors of these mighty vessels had all been designed and engineered by mortal men. Whilst the Techmarines of the Legions saw to it that each vessel was adapted to be crewed and operated by Space Marines, and many tried to improve on the initial design, none before the Salamanders had the courage to build a voidcraft specifically designed for the needs of the transhuman Legiones Astartes.
Thus, the Ebon Drake became the first of a new breed of Imperial warships, lean hunters created to bring swift death to the enemies of Mankind, intended to blast voidcraft asunder and purge enemy strongholds. Where previous designs emphasized ship-to-ship combat and sheer durability, the Ebon Drake benefited from a far more powerful Plasma Drive core, making it faster than most vessels of the same size while losing none of its durability thanks to the use of new and more sophisticated alloys. The focus of the design was planetary invasions and rapid-strikes, and so the new warship incorporated extensive flight decks capable of housing both the newer Thunderhawk gunships and the old Stormbird aircraft, as well as numerous launch bays to allow for the rapid deployment of Drop Pods.
In his wisdom, Vulkan shared the design of the Ebon Drake with several of his brother Primarchs, some of whom showed genuine interest in this new design. But by the time the Horus Heresy erupted, no Space Marine Legion had started begun to manufacture the new vessels save for a few isolated prototypes. It was not until 019.M31, in the midst of the Great Scouring, that the plans of the Ebon Drake would resurface in modified form to arm the fleets of the newly-constituted Second Founding Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, becoming the first Strike Cruisers.
The Voyage of the Ebon Drake
The Ebon Drake 's operational career began in 006.M31, shortly after the bulk of the Salamanders Legion had departed their homeworld of Nocturne to answer the Emperor's call to arm to bring his rebellious son, the Warmaster Horus Lupercal and his allies to justice. The prototype Assault Cruiser had just completed an extensive period of trials and manoeuvres and was ready to enter the XVIII Legion's fleet, which led to its selection for a mission of great importance. With no news of their lord or their legion, the Keeper of Nocturne, Lord Chaplain Nomus Rhy'tan became increasingly restless. Fearing that inaction might mean that he would fail in his duties as Protector of Nocturne and Prometheus, Rhy'tan decided to send out a modest expedition force to ascertain the fate of the Primarch and their Legion. Dictated by necessity, Vulkan having left no more than 3,000 Legionaries behind, this expedition would comprise a single augmented company and a single ship. Given the ships new design and superior technical standards, Rhy'Tan's choice quickly fell upon Ebon Drake. His duties preventing him from leaving Nocturne, Nomus Rhy'tan appointed one of his own students, a promising young officer of Proximal-birth, Lieutenant-Chaplain Xiaphas Jurr as the expedition's commander and the Ebon Drake 's first captain. As the warship's mission was to discover the fate of their Legion, the Lord Chaplain was careful that each of the seven Realms of Nocturne would be represented, choosing the best and most promising warriors from those Neophytes recently inducted as Legionaries. To make up for their lack of experience, Rhy'tan also detached 30 Firedrakes from his own bodyguard to the Ebon Drake, all seasoned warriors whose steadfast courage and determination would bolster the yet unblooded Neophytes' resolve should they meet some unforeseen enemies.
Under the impulse of Xiaphas Jurr, the Ebon Drake soon departed Nocturne, the Lieutenant-Chaplain pressing for quick departure as he saw his commission as more than a simple strategic mission, but rather a matter of deep belief in his Primarch -- in other times some would have even called it a sacred errand. From the start of their voyage, Lieutenant-Chaplain Jurr gave his crew no respite, pushing the ship itself, its crew and his Legionaries to the limits of their abilities through a punishing regime of combat-drills. With aetheric interferences and Warp Storms continuously worsening, the crew of the Ebon Drake would not be able to set course directly to its intended location but would need to take a far more circuitous route, only passing short periods of times in the Warp before translating back into realspace to get their bearings. Jurr hoped that this way they might actually gather some useful information and perhaps learn of their Primarch's fate. Unfortunately, much regarding the Ebon Drake 's odyssey has been lost, consumed in the flames of the civil war, or sequestered by writ of the Holy Inquisition. While some on board the Ebon Drake like Jurr himself kept a journal, their knowledge remains untapped. However, a comprehensive search of the Augur logs of the uncounted millions of navigation beacons and astropathic relay stations that dot the Imperium's domains allows at least a partial reconstitution of the route used by the Ebon Drake whose long journey led her across paths rarely trod by other stellar travellers.From what information could be gathered, it is the general consensus of Imperial savants that the first emergence of the Ebon Drake was at the highly industrialised world of Sulis. In response to the growing unrest and rumours of war and civil unrest, the lords of Sulis had chosen to isolate themselves from their neighbours, enforcing their isolation through the use of heavily-fortified gun platforms and lumbering Defence Monitors. While the Ebon Drake approached with messages of support from Nocturne, the Salamanders' vessel was met with insults and weapons fire. Sulis would recognise the Emperor as its ruler no longer, nor would it bow to the authority of the Warmaster, determined to forge its own destiny amongst the stars, or so the Vox-hails from Sulis claimed. While such secessionist tendencies were quite common during the chaos of the Horus Heresy, with no news of the civil war or the Drop Site Massacre, the Salamanders of the Ebon Drake saw such an affront to the spirit of the Great Crusade to be intolerable. Sulis needed to be punished and crushed into submission. Over the next three solar days, the Ebon Drake would use its superior speed and weaponry to knock out one gun platform after another, each orbital station then scoured clean by vengeful Salamanders boarding parties, Xiaphas Jurr leading many of these assaults personally. The world's Defence Monitors and interdiction barges, while powerfully armed for their size, could not hope to match the prototype Cruiser's sheer speed and the Ebon Drake easily evaded all attempts to run her down or surround her. The Salamanders' final objective was Sulis' principal orbital station, which they quickly cleared of the secessionist Solar Auxilia regiment guarding it before crippling the void station's gravity engines, letting the entire facility crash down upon the golden palace-city of Sulis' ruling elite. When the Ebon Drake left the system, she left behind a world that could offer no resistance to the Imperium, little knowing that this would later lead Sulis to fall without struggle into the hands of the Warmaster.
The Empty Void
Following the events at Sulis, the path of the Ebon Drake becomes even more obscure. What information could be gathered about this part of the vessel's odyssey was compiled from the fragmentary log entries recovered from the Ebon Drake 's wreckage which was discovered during the Great Scouring that followed the Horus Heresy. The ship's log mentions that three Legionaries mysteriously vanished while the Ebon Drake passed through the Warp Storm known as the "Oasis of Nightmare" followed by an encounter with a strange crystalline xenos craft of unknown mark and provenance. While this encounter soon turned to violence, the strange vessel's weapons cut off power on the Ebon Drake, leaving the Cruiser a dead weight drifting in space, but made no attempt to either permanently damage or board the drifting Astartes voidship. It would take several solar days for the Salamanders vessel to restore power, by which time the mysterious xenos ship had long since left the system. Likewise, the annals of the Portmaster of Valthrudnir -- a world only recently brought to Imperial Compliance at the time -- mentions the sighting of "a craft marked with the sigil of a great black dragon crewed by void-devils." This superficial description may or may not refer to the Ebon Drake.The Ebon Drake continued to circumvent the great Warp anomaly known as the Maelstrom, occasionally encountering other Imperial or Traitor vessels. The chronicles of the IV Legion, the Iron Warriors, state that one of their vessels, the Grand Cruiser Grim Paragon -- one of several line-units left behind to watch over the Legion's homeworld of Olympia -- was heavily damaged as it intercepted a vessel of unknown class bearing the markings of the Salamanders Legion. The Vox-logs state that the unknown vessel entered the system seeking word of the battle at Istvaan V. Perhaps damaged in its encounter with the Grim Paragon, the Ebon Drake 's next stop seems to have been the great Mechanicum Forge World of Anvillus, a mighty bastion of Imperial might and the greatest storehouse of ammunition and weaponry of the entire Great Crusade. Unfortunately for Jurr and his crew, while still distant from the frontlines, the Warmaster's shadow had already fallen upon mighty Anvillus. The embers of discontent had flared into open conflict between factions of the Machine God's followers. Where the Ebon Drake came looking for resupply and repairs, it found only war and strife. For outsiders, both factions were virtually indistinguishable and soon the Ebon Drake found itself in the crosshairs of both parties. Closing at slow speed with the Forge World, the Salamanders warship witnessed titanic duels between seemingly identical fleets of Mechanicum siege-monitors. The Astartes vessel was bombarded by Vox-broadcasts of seemingly incoherent machine code, interrogative missives from interchangeable steel-faced Magi and other insidious data-djinns intended to subvert the core-systems of the Ebon Drake with the intent of leaving her helpless in the void. Were it not for the unique engineering of the prototype vessel and its own powerful Machine Spirit, such an assault would have surely succeeded. Instead of crippling the vessel, the Ebon Drake suffered only minor damage, such as non-essential systems suffering cascade failures and confusion on the bridge and the ship's Enginarium, but the ship remained largely combat-ready.
Loathe to become embroiled in what he regarded as internal strife, Xiaphas Jurr ordered all available power diverted to the engines and the Ebon Drake soon plotted a course out-system, evading plasma carronades from approaching Mechanicum siege-monitors, but unable to evade a spread of Boarding Torpedoes. Whilst Jurr's warriors cleaned the corridors of the vessel from the frenzied Murder-Servitors that had gained ingress, Jurr assessed their situation. This last in a series of ill-fated encounters had cost the Ebon Drake dearly. The ship's outer hull sustained serious damage and numerous internal systems needed to be repaired or purged from the insidious data-djinns preventing them from working correctly. Worst still, the casualties to the ship's company meant that Jurr was dangerously low on uninjured warriors. It seemed that without refit and an influx of new fighters, the Ebon Drake 's mission would be doomed to fail.The next reliable data concerning the Ebon Drake places her at Baal, the homeworld of the IX Legion, the Blood Angels. Given the welcome they had received at Olympia, it might seem surprising that Jurr chose to head towards another Legiones Astartes homeworld, yet there is also some reason in it. In contrast to the Iron Warriors, the Blood Angels had not been part of the great punitive expedition despatched to Istvaan V. In fact, acting upon the Warmaster's orders -- who hid his secret intent to overthrow his father under the mask of loyalty -- the angelic Primarch Sanguinius had taken much of his Blood Angels Legion to the outer rim in an effort to pacify the Signus Cluster. With no news of their own Primarch, Jurr might have hoped for some sympathy for their own mission. Upon entering the Baal System, all that remained to greet Xiaphas Jurr was a small garrison under the command of veteran Legionary Warden Arkhad.
The Ebon Drake managed to limp into orbit of the IX Legion's fortress-monastery where her crew was finally able to secure a place at an orbital dock to conduct much needed repairs. Warden Arkhad extended his courtesy to Jurr's company and allowed his ship to be fully resupplied, a decision he would later come to regret. Following the tragic outcome of the Drop Site Massacre, Baal had become a safe haven for a multitude of Imperial formations falling back from the northern edge of the galaxy. Whilst Baal did not feel as isolated as Nocturne and it was bustling with activity from a host of Astartes drawn from different Legions, the world still carried the same despondent air as the Salamanders' homeworld.
It would be on Baal that Xiaphas Jurr and the crew of the Ebon Drake would learn of the horrific truth of what had truly occurred in the Istvaan-system, but even those survivors to whom they talked could only offer fragmentary tales and vague recollection of the events pf the Dropsite Massacre. None of these survivors had been close to any of the Primarchs and so the fates of Ferrus Manus of the Iron Hands, Corvus Corax of the Raven Guard and Vulkan himself were still unknown, but many where those Legionaries to mourn their gene-sire as if he was dead. In fact, Warden Arkhad had even ordered the building of several surrogate tombs in memory of those Primarchs and other heroes of the Imperium that were believed to have been slain on Istvaan V. But even in this bleak hour when the crew of the Ebon Drake learnt the truth about the Warmaster's betrayal, there was a cause to rejoice, for amongst the survivors of the Dropsite Massacre featured also Legionaries of the XVIII Legion.
Readying themselves to sell their lives dearly and make a defiant last stand against the Warmaster's hordes, these battered survivors were led by Praetor-Captain Kar'Tor, once numbered as one of the most valiant sons of Nocturne and heir-designate to the Protectorate of Themis City, the City of Warlords, a warrior and officer for whom Xiaphas Jurr held nothing but utter respect and adulation. But Kar'Tor's warrior-spirit had been broken on the black sands of Istvaan V and seeing so many Battle-Brothers die had filled him with a sombre melancholy. When Xiaphas Jurr announced his intent to pursue his mission and asked for volunteers to join him aboard the Ebon Drake, Kar'Tor went so far as to forbid any of his Legionaries from taking up Jurr's offer. Yet, despite Kar'Tor's harsh words and the grim sense of doom which reigned on Baal, some warriors in whom the fires of hope still burned brightly agreed to follow Jurr. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them -- thirty-eight Legionaries -- were drawn from the Salamanders Legion. Where deemed efficient and possible, these seasoned veterans were put in charge of the still relatively inexperienced squads that made up Jurr's company. With them also came a group of seventeen battered but unbroken Raven Guard under the nominal leadership of Veteran Legionary Aleckto Kirhane.
Most of these survivors had escaped the Drop Site Massacre on-board the fabled Thunderhawk gunship Ohidoran before seizing a Cruiser belonging to the Night Lords Legion, the Warlock, and escaping. Having fought the Warmaster's allies during the Liberation of Numinal, the Warlock had also reached Baal. Her complement of warriors, most of them having recovered from serious wounds, were eager to exact their vengeance on those Legions that had betrayed them. Last to join the new intake of troops were a trio of hulking Terminators in Cataphractii Pattern Terminator Armour bearing the black and silver emblems of the Iron Hands, for they had sworn an oath to re-join their Primarch or die trying.
Kar'Tor was not the only one harbouring resentment towards Xiaphas Jurr, for Warden Arkhad, the Seneschal of Baal who had happily welcomed the Ebon Drake 's company to his world was also opposed to a fully-armed Astartes Cruiser leaving Baal. In Arkhad's eyes, Jurr's sacred mission was folly, an unwritten warrant of death that would see them all destroyed, whereas if they stayed on Baal, they might stand a slim chance of holding the Blood Angels' homeworld against the Traitors. Unwilling to acknowledge the importance of Jurr's mission, it was only when the Ebon Drake menacingly pointed its Bombardment Cannon at Baal's orbital docks that Arkhad reluctantly allowed the Salamanders vessel to leave and pass through the defence grid unmolested. As the Ebon Drake broke free of Baal's orbit, Warden Arkhad addressed them with these bitter words of parting: "For the sake of the dead you have damned all those who now stand in the Emperor's name. Do not return to Baal; for you stand no less as Traitors than those who now march under Horus' banner." Pondering the truth of these words, the Ebon Drake reached the system's Mandeville Point and readied itself for Warp translation, its course set for the Istvaan System and the heart of darkness.
From the Ashes of Istvaan
Leaving Baal behind, the Ebon Drake found the Warp becoming ever more turbulent as they closed with the Istvaan System. Yet the Salamanders vessel stayed true to her course, guided as it was by the deft hands and keen eye of its Navigator. Ship logs and other accounts and records from the vessel's crew indicate that the stand-off with his fellow Loyalists at Baal had considerably shaken Xiaphas Jurr. He had intended to make one last stop before setting course for Istvaan at the great Armada Imperialis mustering point of Port Maw, but Warden Arkhad's parting words had stirred the embers of doubt within the Lieutenant-Chaplain's mind. More and more often, Jurr sought counsel not with his fellow Legionaries, but those occult rituals of augury and divination native to his birthworld of Proximal Secundus. In particular, Xiaphas Jurr began conducting rituals of the Drakken-Asca ceremony, the Dragon's Ash Ritual, an obscure practice within the Promethean Cult which was barely tolerated by the Primarch himself. Be it at the hands of one of his rituals or through the benefit of his own intellect, Jurr's choice to avoid contact even with those believed to be his allies proved to be an excellent choice, for unknown to the Salamanders, Port Maw and the entire Manachean Commonwealth had already been conquered by Horus' armies.
Having avoided certain destruction, the Ebon Drake pushed on through the whirling aetheric vortex that later Imperial savants would theorise had been created not to bar passage to those who sought entrance, but to prevent escape, cutting off the northernmost star systems of the galaxy from the rest of the Imperium. The Warp Storms of this region were so fierce they effectively cast an impenetrable veil around the Istvaan System, a veil neither Navigator nor Astropath was able to pierce. Yet, Xiaphas Jurr had sworn an oath to Nomus Rhy'tan, an oath he bore on his flesh thanks to the votive forge inside Jurr's quarters. He would reach Istvaan V and discover the Primarch's fate. Sensor-blind, with its Geller Fields straining under the stress of the difficult crossing, the Ebon Drake punched through the ravening tides of the Empyrean, the violence of the aetheric storms forcing them to conduct an emergency translation back into realspace at the very edge of the Istvaan System. Facing a host of unknowns, Jurr ordered every soul onboard the Ebon Drake to battle-stations even before the ship translated back into reality. With its weapons armed and every Astartes aboard ready to repel boarders, the Ebon Drake entered the Istvaan System ready for battle. While Jurr expected to be greeted by the guns of the Warmaster's marshalled fleet or even a monumental shrine to his great treachery, the Ebon Drake found only the cold remains of a battle long fought and forgotten.
The vista that greeted Jurr and his companions made for a very bleak sight. In the swathes of space between the planets of the Istvaan System, great hulks and debris fields filled the void, the broken remains of once-proud Legiones Astartes starships left to rot in space. Even as they closed with Istvaan V, the crude pits dug by the Traitors to dispose of the bodies could be seen from space, the slain having been stripped of every piece of usable equipment by Adeptus Mechancus reclamation columns. With no vast armada and no grand palace celebrating Horus' victory to vent their rage upon, doubt again began to assail Jurr's mind: Could this be a trap? And if it wasn't, where were the Warmaster's armies? While to those who have studied history or heard the stories of these dark times, the actions of Horus amid the northern fringes of the Imperium and the birth of the Dark Compliance hold no secret, to the crew of the Ebon Drake the Traitor Legions' absence only added to their many questions, none of which could be readily answered. Making its way through the remains of the fierce void-battle, the Ebon Drake reached high orbit above Istvaan V without any enemy waiting for them in ambush. Nevertheless, her crew refused to relax, the absence of enemy vessels only serving to make them more resentful and cautious. Despite the total absence of resistance, it would take Jurr several solar hours to ascertain that they were indeed alone before letting the first dropcraft leave the Cruiser's hangar bays. The sight of the brutalised orb of Istvaan V quickly quashed all hope they had of finding one of the missing Primarchs alive.
For three solar days, heavily-armed search parties roamed the dust plains, witnessing the extent of the losses suffered by the three Shattered Legions. Xiaphas Jurr did not tread the surface of Istvaan V, but chose to remain aboard the Ebon Drake, casting augury after augury while the ship's sensors and Augurs swept the surface in endless new sweep-configuration. All the Loyalist Legionaries found was ruin, wreckage and the silent corpses of the dead with no sign whatsoever of the fates of Vulkan, Ferrus Manus or Corvus Corax. It was only on the third solar day that things changed. Led by the feverish half-dreams of Xiaphas Jurr, who had not allowed himself to rest since their departure from Baal, the Cruiser's sensors detected an anomaly in the geologic strata of one of the glass plains of the Urgall Depression, a testimony to the Traitor's use of atomic weaponry to finish off the last of the Loyalists.
The object shown on the Augur readings seemed to be of significant mass and of unknown composition. Better yet, it was broadcasting a faint, almost undetectable signal on an exotic wavelength known to the highest echelons of the Salamanders' command structure. If it hadn't been for Xiaphas Jurr's insistence and strange practices, they might have missed the transmission, dismissing it as some lingering radioactivity. Morale, which had ebbed considerably since their arrival at Istvaan V, flared to new heights as many Legionaries assembled on the planet's surface. Lacking heavy machinery suited to delicate excavation work, the transhuman crew of the Ebon Drake tore at the fused black sand with their Combat Blades and even their bare hands.
In ominous silence, the work parties laboured for an entire solar day until they uncovered a massive metallic object, blacker even than the black sand they had been digging in. Even revealed, the object was so massive that it took the combined might of three Iron Hands Cataphractii Terminators to heft it from the clutches of Istvaan V's hungry maw, where it had rested for more than a standard year. Even though it had been fused by unimaginable heat, scoured and scorched by atomic fire and abandoned to rot beneath the surface of a dead world, the object they had torn from the dark heart of Istvaan V was still unmistakably the armoured sarcophagus of a Mark IV Castaferrum Pattern Dreadnought.
All its limbs save the stump of its right arm had been shorn away in the gruesome battle it had fought. The ornate heraldry worked into what remained of its hull still proudly proclaimed the identity of the Dreadnought's occupant: Cassian Dracos, the last man to have born the title of Master of the XVIII Legion. Consulting a readout of the Shattered Legions' dead, one of the Legionaries confirmed that Cassian Vaughn had not been confirmed as killed in action. There on the barren grey plains of the Urgall Depression, surrounded by the wreckage and the dead of his Legion, Xiaphas Jurr, with shaking hands, connected the sarcophagus to an external Vox unit, and the haunting, hypnotic voice of a man twice dead rumbled forth over the assembled warriors of three orphaned Astartes Legions:
"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!"
Dracos' words filled the hearts of every Astartes with hope, even those Legionaries not of the Salamanders daring to believe that their respective Primarchs might also have survived. Such was the Venerable Dreadnought's reputation that none doubted his words. Dracos -- who would soon gain the new title of "the Twice Dead" -- had a positive effect on the Space Marines' morale. Where previously they were sulking, brooding individuals, the warriors of the Shattered Legions moved once again with purpose and the easy camaraderie of warrior-brothers. With all the reverence due his rank, the battered sarcophagus of the Iron Dragon was transported to the Ebon Drake. As later pict-captures would prove, those who had trod the surface of Istvaan V also left with numerous memento mori, including pieces of shattered armour taken from the corpses of their fallen brothers and turned into votive talismans. The Ebon Drake lingered for a short time in the Istvaan System, during which Cassian Dracos began to exert his influence upon the Ebon Drake 's company, slowly turning them into the Disciples of the Flames.
Whereas most Dreadnoughts of his age craved a return to slumber, Cassian Dracos refused all offers of hibernation. Without outside help, his Vulkan-forged shell slowly began to restore his systems, a tech-miracle that only served to bolster Cassian Dracos' growing legend. Apart from a changed physical appearance due to the ordeal he had survived, Dracos' mental state was also affected by the isolation he had suffered under the black sands of Istvaan V. He was frequently lost to prolonged periods of near-incoherent prognostications and memories drawn from his centuries of battle, reliving past events with no notion for the present. Many of the ship's company came to him to receive wisdom and prophecy, both from amongst the Salamanders and those of their brother Legions. For the few short solar days the Ebon Drake stayed in orbit around Istvaan V, his followers began to modify their 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 affect only 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 armourium detached themselves from their routine and formed a semblance of a court around the Dreadnought. No explanation for these events is recorded in any official log retrieved from the Ebon Drake and no attempt was ever made by the crew to fully understand this strange phenomenon.
With their original mission fulfilled, many amongst the vessel's crew assumed that the Ebon Drake would eventually head back to Nocturne and report to Lord Chaplain Rhy'tan, but Cassian Dracos would not allow such a course to be plotted. Instead, the inscrutable Dreadnought insisted that they set course for the Coronid Deeps and more specifically the Forge World of Mezoa.
The Fires of Mezoa
Specialised in the fabrication of Legiones Astartes wargear as well as macro-ordinance and armour-plating for the vessels of the Armada Imperialis, Mezoa was a prize long covetted by the Warmaster Horus but the militant Forge World, fiercely loyal to the Emperor, had thus far resisted every attempt to seize it by force. Since the events of the Manachean War and the Treachery at Port Maw, it stood as a lone Loyalist system against a sea of darkness. Pressing for conquest, the Traitors gathered a large army and fleet to finally conquer Mezoa and bind it to the Warmaster's will. The Ebon Drake translated back into realspace just as battle was joined between the Traitor armada and the rag-tag Loyalist fleet defending Mezoa's orbit. Unsure as to which side the newly-arrived ship would declare its allegiance, the battle ebbed, no new explosions illuminating the void as both sides turned their powerful Augur banks toward the unidentified warship that had emerged behind the Traitors' battleline.
On the bridge of the Ebon Drake, the sensor and Vox-operators strove to make sense of the myriad jumbled identification markers and hails broadcast by the combatants. Several tense solar seconds passed while the ship's command crew tried to distinguish friend from foe, a period of time that could have seen the lone Cruiser quickly crippled had its arrival not plunged the Traitors' fleet into total disarray. With the situation now clear, the crew of the lone Assault Cruiser unleashed its batteries at the closest Traitor vessel, trying to manoeuver its way to join the Loyalist fleet standing sentinel over Mezoa, its powerful engine core letting it outpace its enemies.
Yet, even with the timely arrival of the Ebon Drake, the Loyalists remained at a serious disadvantage in terms of both numbers and tonnage, but the Salamanders' arrival had disrupted the enemy advance and so the void-battle raged on for more than nine solar hours, both sides locked in a bloody stalemate. In the end, the Traitors' unified command structure broke the balance, the Loyalists' fractious nature causing some ships to retreat and thus leaving their allies unsupported. Rather than face annihilation, the combined Loyalist fleet had to abandon the orbital space around Mezoa, regrouping at the system's outer planets or hiding in the inner asteroid belts.
Upon Cassian Dracos orders, the Ebon Drake ran the gauntlet with the approaching enemy fleet, daring its guns one last time to close with the Forge World at the risk of being crippled. In a quick pass, faciliated in this task by its many launch bays, the Ebon Drake quickly deployed the Disciples of the Flames onto the Forge World's surface before powering away. Of the half a dozen Imperial vessels trying to emulate this manoeuvre, only three rose again, the rest annihilated by the Traitors' guns. While on the ground, the Ebon Drake 's company would gain much honour in the Third Siege of Mezoa, while the Ebon Drake would hide amongst the worlds of the inner system, ready to counterattack when the enemy eventually broke.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Six: Retribution (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 33-53