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The Geratomran Reconquest was but one of a series of brushfire wars the Imperium of Man fought in the wake of the Macharian Crusade. With the great crusade of Lord Commander Solar Macharius drawing in the military resources of virtually all the Segmentum Pacificus and half the Segmentum Tempestus, several worlds turned from the Emperor's light. One was the Industrial World of Geratomro, which entered a state of open rebellion after being unable to meet the required Imperial Tithe fixed by the Adeptus Administratum.

Faced with the resistance of Geratomro's remaining Planetary Defence Forces, and with several other worlds on the brink of open revolt, the Segmentum authorities decided that a show of force was necessary. The options of Exterminatus and orbital bombardment were considered and then dismissed, for Geratomro was a promising Industrial World whose resources might one day again benefit the Imperium.

As isolating the Gerat System through the use of a naval blockade would take too long to bring the rebels to their knees, it was decided that a planetary assault using ground forces was the only realistic option. Several preexisting Battlegroups of the Astra Militarum were redirected to Geratomro and after their initial successes they were forced to face not only Heretic Astartes of the traitorous Emperor's Children Legion, but also elements of an unidentified Traitor Titan Legion.

The carefully laid plans to bring Geratomro back into the Imperial fold with as little planetary damage as possible had to be dismissed once the Imperial forces needed to ensure that the servants of Chaos could not unleash their most terrible allies into realspace -- the daemonic legions of the Chaos Gods.

Thanks to the actions of a small contingent of Black Templars Space Marines of the Michaelus Crusade and the heroic contribution of Honoured Lieutenant Colaron Artem Lo Bannick of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company, the daemonic incursion was prevented and Geratomro was not transformed into a new Daemon World in service to the Ruinous Powers.

History

Prelude

When Lord Commander Solar Macharius secured the High Lords of Terra's support to launch the Macharian Crusade in the early 41st Millennium, the Lord Solar turned to the Adeptus Administratum, and more specifically the Departmento Munitorum, to assemble the countless regiments of Astra Militarum that would be needed to reconquer the Halo Zone in the name of the Emperor.

All across the Segmentum Pacificus and the Segmentum Tempestus, Departmento Munitorum Assessor Teams began to exact the Imperial Tithe, claiming men and materiel for the new Imperial Crusade. However, due to the setbacks later encountered by the Lord Solar's armies, the tithes expected from the worlds supplying the Crusade steadily increased.

The Devil's Choice

In 394.M41, a new Munitorum delegation under the authority of both Senior Assessor Borowisk and Tithemaster Querol was dispatched to Geratomro. The world's ruler, Planetary Governatrice Missrine Huratal I, was reluctant to welcome the envoys for it was the ninth time in only seven Terran years that the Departmento Munitorum had demanded that Geratomro provide more troops for the Macharian Crusade.

While Geratomro had readily complied with all the prior requests, this time the planetary government of Geratomro intended to refuse the Imperial envoys: the previous tithes had bled Geratomro dry of manpower. Women and children now worked in the fields and in Geratomro's manufactoria. Most of the world's men had been drafted into the Planetary Defence Forces, a necessary measure since some of the moons of Gerat V had already been attacked by xenos raiders. Any further loss of manpower would render Geratomro unable to meet the requirements of the Exacta, the Imperial Tithe of economic resources gathered by another division of the Adeptus Administratum.

Vainly, Missrine Huratal I pleaded for the Administratum envoys to turn back and leave Geratomro in peace. She argued that if they were to leave, the Macharian Crusade would merely be short 50,000 troops while Geratomro would still be able to fulfill the requirements of its tithe to the Departmento Exacta. Even the xenos -- while posing a threat -- could be held at bay with the forces the governor had at her disposal. In short, the human cost of an invasion of Geratomro to enforce compliance would doubtlessly be far higher than the number of troops the Administratum wanted to raise from the world.

This message was continuously relayed to the approaching Tithe Fleet, first through astropathic message and once they had reached Geratomro's orbit, through hololitic communication, but still Senior Assessor Borowisk and Tithemaster Querol could not be swayed. A confrontation was inevitable.

The Envoys of Terra

As soon as the Tithe Fleet arrived in low orbit around Geratomro, the Administratum delegation pushed for a meeting with the Planetary Governatrice. A delegation numbering several hundred individuals was assembled and brought planetside to the planetary capital of Magor's Seat. Almost immediately, Senior Assessor Borowisk demanded to be received by Missrine Huratal I, a meeting she delayed for several solar hours.

Administratum Symbol

The sigil of the Adeptus Administratum

This show of resistance by the Planetary Governatrice only served to further unnerve the senior Administratum envoys. Finally, the Governatrice's personal armsmen, the Yellow Guard, opened the towering doors to the great Hall of Magor, Missrine Huratal's throne room. A wave of incense preceded the Administratum delegation as it proceeded towards the throne accompanied by the augmented, droning chants of several hundred Priests of the Adeptus Ministorum. To the sound of hymns to the Emperor's glory and magnificence, the vast retinue advanced behind its master, Senior Assessor Borowisk.

The senior Adept of the Administratum was a tall, slender man, his almost corpse-like thinness revealing that he had been born on a low gravity world. On Geratomro where the gravity was at best average, the Senior Assessor had to rely on a piston-assisted, medical exo-skeleton called an Ambulator Frame to move at all, a stark contrast to the mountains of flesh and fat that constituted the gathered Geratomran nobility. But despite his physical frailty, the Senior Assessor advanced without fear along the great Hall of Magor, betraying a confidence the Planetary Governatrice mistook for the arrogance of a conquering general.

Having expected a difficult audience, Borowisk's retinue fielded a great number of armed guards, anonymous men in the black uniforms of the Administratum's own battalions rather than soldiers of any particular regiment of the Astra Militarum, but the majority of the advancing column went unarmed: ecclesiastical Priests, robed Adepts bearing Data-Slates, Lexmechanics detailing the events on great strips of parchment, Servo-Skulls measuring everything from the hall's dimensions to the circumference of the ornate hats the noblemen wore and other Servitors whose back-mounted generators filled the air with a continuous hum once the hymns had stopped.

"Lady Governatrice, your tithe is overdue! You flout the primary and only rule of planetary governership. Release the military assets owed or pay the consequences. This is your only warning," Borowisk said with a powerful voice. It was a requirement of his position, a show of strength and determination that the Departmento Munitorum would not and could not allow one world to go unpunished for withholding the Emperor's Harvest.

Quite incongruously, Missrine Huratal I did not answer the Senior Assessor but began to tell the gathered assembly a fairy tale well-known on her world -- the story of the Devil-in-the-Bush. It was a cautionary story intended to teach Imperial citizens never to accept a gift from the baleful denizens of the Warp. The tale concerned the notion of "a devil's choice," a choice where both options invariably led to the same tragic outcome, be it death, ruin or devastation. It was a devil's choice that the Administratum was forcing upon Geratomro: refuse the Departmento Munitorum and be punished or refuse the Departmento Exacta and be punished nonetheless. Faced with such an impossible choice, Missrine Huratal I decided on an alternative: refuse both demands and hope that the Imperium of Mankind currently lacked the strength of arms to mete out the promised retribution.

In response, at Borowisk's signal, the Administratum guards levelled their Lasguns at the Planetary Governatrice and opened fire. But Missrine Huratal I barely flinched. Her personal Conversion Field flickered brightly, absorbing the first shots before her Yellow Guard -- who had taken up perfect firing positions during her story-telling -- cut the emissaries down in volleys of disciplined lasfire. A few noblemen and noblewomen died in the cross-fire, but the Administratum delegation was slaughtered to the last Adept. Geratomro was now in rebellion against the Imperium.

Within a single solar hour of the insurrection's start, Geratomro's main Adeptus Arbites precinct had been leveled by concentrated artillery fire while the Tithe Fleet was attacked by Geratomro's Defence Lasers. With their Void Shields lowered, the Departmento Munitorum's fleet suffered heavy losses but remained on station to land the troops of General Jonathan Hern. Despite fierce fighting, the mostly Cadian troops were unable to capture the spaceport of Matua Superior and were forced to retreat. Thus did the campaign remembered as the Geratomran Reconquest begin in defeat.

Imperial Response

With the initial recovery force having suffered heavily under the Traitors' assault, it was clear that Geratomro's resistance needed to be broken before it sparked a new wave of revolts across the Agritha Sub-sector -- and possibly beyond. In truth, the Imperium generally had only four options to deal with rebellious worlds: an Exterminatus action, orbital bombardment, planetary isolation or a planetary assault.

The first two options were quickly dismissed, for the Imperium was loathe to sacrifice an inhabitable planet without good reason. Likewise, as Geratomro's orbital defences were still operational it was too risky to unleash the warships of the Imperial Navy for an orbital bombardment. While blockading and isolating Geratomro and leaving it over to neglect was a viable option, the several solar decades or even Terran centuries required for this kind of venture to succeed would have an immediate and deleterious affect on the Macharian Crusade's supply lines.

In order to reestablish Imperial Law and present an example to other worlds considering rebellion, a great show of strength was required, a display of power which would let every potentially seditious Imperial Governor in the sub-sector know what happened to those who defied the will of the Lords of Terra.

To show the rebellious world the true strength of the Imperium's armed forces, much consideration was given to the composition of the final battlegroup, with great care taken to ensure that every major Adepta of the Imperium was represented. Fortunately for the senior Adepts of the Departmento Munitorum, such forces were already near-by.

Having fought alongside Battlegroup Kalidar in the Kalidar War, a small Crusade Fleet of Black Templars Space Marines was still available and was more than willing to lend their strength to the Geratomran Reconquest. Likewise, the Adeptus Mechanicus had previously deployed a single maniple of Battle Titans from the Legio Crucis to the sub-sector capital of Agritha to ward it from the attention of the Drukhari. It was seconded to the Geratomran Reconquest after some minor negotiations.

In the end, no less than three full-fledged battlegroups of the Astra Militarum were rerouted to Geratomro, a mighty show of force intended to deny the growing rumours of the Imperium's weakness.

Forcing a Landing

Hostilities began on 082.398.M41 when the gathered Imperial forces moved to capture the city of Matua Superior, a landing zone chosen for the presence of a spaceport. Since the Imperium wished to capture both the city and spaceport intact, the attacking Astra Militarum regiments were under strict orders to limit collateral damage and unnecessary destruction to the surrounding infrastructure.

Orbital landings are among the most dangerous operations undertaken by Imperial forces and even conservative estimates placed the losses suffered during the transfer from orbit to surface at 20%, a testimony to the potency of Matua Superior's air-defence network. The brunt of the assault was carried out by the men of the 477th Paragonian Foot which was supported by all the super-heavy tank companies available to the campaign.

The troops disembarked in a torrential rain, Geratomro's climate wracked by the stress put on it by the supporting Lance-strikes of the Imperial Navy. For while Matua Superior was to be captured intact, the city surrounding it would not escape unscathed. While quite humble in size, the solar months of waiting between the two Imperial landings had given the defenders time to considerably fortify the city's surroundings. These fortifications included a trench system and a cordon of defensive bastions. With the rain turning the ground into a quagmire, the assaulting Imperials readied themselves for a difficult fight.

Under the oversight of Captain-General Iskhandrian of Atraxia, Matua Superior was assailed from three directions at once. The northern landing zone was given over to the Atraxian regiments who were ordered to capture and hold the port facilities before the enemy could sabotage them. From the west, the remains of the initial reclamation force were ordered to venture further into the city and link up with those elements left behind on Geratomro which had until now been laying siege to Matua Superior. The main assault would come from the south and was given to the united Paragonian Regiments of Battlegroup Genthus and Kalidar. Their mission was to capture the southern landing zone before pressing into the city.

The Fall of Matua Superior

Ferried planetside by the heavy-duty landers of the Imperial Navy, both the 7th and 8th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Companies were deployed to support the 477th's advance. Due to a malfunction of one of the landing claws, the 7th's command tank, the Hellhammer Ostrakhan's Rebirth remained locked in its transport position, forcing the three remaining super-heavy tanks of the company to advance without their commanding officer.

Under the guidance of Honoured Lieutenant Corlaron Artem Lo Bannick of the Baneblade Cortein's Honour, the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company spear-headed the assault on the city. Their task was to eliminate Matua Superior's most potent defences, a fortified battery of Macrocannons with direct lines of sight on the southern landing fields.

Located in big, fortified bastions of ferrocrete, these towers posed a serious threat to the entire landing if not destroyed. Fortunately, the enemy was slow to turn this artillery towards the Imperials, a fact which indicated either a lack of training by the Planetary Defence Militia or a serious lack of manpower.

As the first shells landed on the southern landing zone, the crew of the transport still holding Ostrakhan's Rebirth choose to take off despite Honoured Captain Hannick's vehement protests that he and his tank would not be ferried off-world again. Just as they took off, the lander was hit by a glancing shot by the Macrocannons, and it crashed back to earth and caught fire. Ostrakhan's Rebirth, feared lost, shot its way out through the burning debris of the transport and emerged more or less unscathed into the pounding rain.

In retaliation, the company's sole Shadowsword, Lux Imperator, fired its mighty Volcano Cannon at the Macrocannon battery, neatly decapitating one of the towers and silencing its gun. As Ostrakhan's Rebirth churned through the mud, intent on rejoining the leading elements of its company, the general order to attack the city was given.

The more advanced Baneblades, Cortein's Honour and Artemen Ultrus, were overtaken by the swifter Leman Russ Battle Tanks of the Paragonian 42nd Armoured Regiment and the 322nd Armoured Veterans. Lux Imperator tried to fire again, but the capricious weapon refused to comply, forcing both Baneblades to the fore in order to deal with the remaining Macrocannons.

While it took them several shots to zero in, before long the Baneblades' Mega Battle Cannons were hammering the leftmost tower, slowly eating away at its wall before the giant gun at its top was toppled. The last remaining gun emplacement continued to fire, albeit more slowly than its counterparts. Three Macrocannon shells hit the landing zones, destroying two light landers and annihilating an entire Platoon of the 477th just as it was disembarking.

Colonel Sholana of the 42nd Paragonian Armoured called in a Lance strike to silence the last tower, but the shot went wide, leaving the Baneblades to finish the job. A lucky shot killed the Macrocannon's crew, finally freeing the 7th Paragonian Heavy Tank Company to secure the landing zone. Now the attack on Matua Superior could begin in earnest.

As the other regiments of Battlegroup Genthus deployed in their own landing zone, the 7th Company received new orders to link up with the Stormlords of the 8th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company and take out a big link in the fortifications protecting the city's approaches. This was a fort in the shape of a six-pointed star. Four of its branches featured turret-mounted artillery pieces firing at the regiments of the 2nd Gulem Recovery Force.

After a quick exchange on the Vox, the two companies commanding officers agreed to deviate from the original plan and speed up the attack, the 8th following in the 7th Company's wake to better shield the complement of infantry within their hulls and without whom they would be unable to secure their objective. Lux Imperator was tasked with targeting the forts' main weapons and silenced all but one before another malfunction struck. The tank's Machine Spirit was obviously still not back to its normal self after it had been captured by the Orks on Kalidar.

With their most potent weapon out of order, the Hellhammer and Baneblades would have to carry the load for the Imperial assault, but the fort was well constructed and at long range even the Mega Battle Cannon shells of Cortein's Honour and Artemen Ultrus simply ricocheted off its thick armour. The only option left was to close with the target so that the Baneblades' and Hellhammer's Demolisher Cannons could open a breach for the Stormlords. This meant daring the fort's complement of heavy weapons -- mostly Lascannons and Missile Launchers -- which could well harm the super-heavy tanks.

Fortunately for the tankers, the Geratomran Planetary Defence Militia was not very experienced and failed to do any real damage. The 7th Company's three advancing tanks soon opened up with their own twin-linked, sponson-mounted Heavy Bolters, which targeted the fort's firing slits and forced its occupants to seek shelter. Combining their fire for more effect, the Baneblades and the lone Hellhammer fired all of their primary and secondary weaponry at once, finally opening a breach in the fort's armoured sides. As if on cue, Honoured Lieutenant Hurnigen confirmed Lux Imperator was ready to fire again and a second breach was opened.

Stormlord Battle

A Stormlord of the Astra Militarum charging enemy lines.

The Stormlords surged forward. Using their tanks' armoured weight as primitive battering rams, Honoured Lieutenant Lo Parrigar's "Lucky Eights" broke through the weakened portions of the fortress' walls, clearing the space behind with a thunderous roar and stream of shells from their Vulcan Mega Bolters. As soon as the weapons cycled down, the embarked troops emerged from the Stormlords' troop compartments and began clearing the fort. Soon the Company Standard of the 477th Paragonian Foot's 8th Company was flying over the fort, indicating its capture.

The capture of the fort heralded the end of the fight. With their primary defensive fortification in enemy hands, the spaceport lost and the Atraxians pressing in from the north, the defenders of Matua Superior lost heart. Other regiments pressed deeper into the city and by the seventh hour of the landing, Matua Superior's lord civil sued for peace and offered an unconditional surrender of all his remaining troops.

Imperial Justice

Even before the capitulation had become effective, Imperial justice was dealt out to those who had turned from the Emperor's divine light. Any who had taken up arms against the soldiers of the Imperium, met a swift end by firing squad. Matua Superior's ruler would ultimately suffer a similar fate but not before the Imperium had reestablished its full control over the city.

On the local day following Matua Superior's surrender, more than five thousand men of the Astra Militarum participated in a grand parade across the city. Representatives of all the regiments fighting on Geratomro were convened to march down the ceremonial avenues, the parade led by the metal beasts of the two super-heavy tank companies: the Paragonian 7th and the Atraxian 18th. Servo-skulls hovered over the parade relaying words of encouragement to the conquered populace which dutifully cheered the marching troops on. From the city's streets, the population could also observe the descent of the great coffin-ship carrying the mighty battle-engines of the Legio Crucis, the Titans' arrival precisely scheduled to coincide with the parade as another show of force to cull Geratomro's remaining hostile cities.

At the end of the parade, the troops filled into the great square beneath the Basilica of the Emperor's Light, Matua Superior's greatest religious edifice, while they waited for the conclusion of the procession. A great stage had been erected the night before, a thing of brutish architecture with the notable exception of its lectern which was shaped like an Aquila, its wings spreading to either sides. Two crude cages had been hung from gibbets, their doors open and waiting for their occupants.

At a prearranged signal, the Servo-skulls scattered all over the city, ready to relay what would happen in the square. The door of the great cathedral opened and a great Imperial delegation filed out of the Basilica, General-Captain Iskhandrian at their head. Matua Superior's twin rulers, the Lord Civil and the city's military commander, Colonel Maden, as well as other Geratomran dignitaries captured by the Imperial troops, were ushered forward and brought onto the stage guarded by the Tempestus Scions of the Atraxian Guard Paramount.

After a sermon from the army's most senior Priest, Colonel Maden was brought forth and read a statement from the lectern in which he repented his sins, denounced himself and his men as fools and cowards for having been led astray by the false promises of a corrupt planetary ruler. Yet he rejoiced, for by his actions he hoped to earn the Benevolent Emperor's forgiveness.

After this speech, both the Lord Civil and the Colonel were led to the cages and firmly locked within them. This caused some hilarity amongst the Ogryns of the 36th Ogryn Auxilia for the bulk of the fat Lord Civil's body was too great to easily fit in the cage and he needed to be forced within by two Atraxian troopers. Once his cage was locked, the Atraxian Guard Paramount began assembling wood beneath them before two grim-looking troopers thrust burning torches into the piles. The screams of Matua Superior's burning leader were dutifully transmitted across the entire city while the gathered troops watched on in silence.

What may be seen as gratuitous cruelty was in truth a deliberate act: by showing the ruthlessness of Imperial justice and offering to show some leniency in its execution, General Iskhandrian hoped to bring other local leaders to lay down their weapons before the arrival of the Imperial troops.

Within two solar days of the capture of Matua Superior and the death of its rebellious rulers, five major settlements surrendered.

Advance on Magor's Seat

While all across Geratomro the defenders broke or surrendered in the wake of Matua Superior's fall, there was one notable exception: the Yellow Guard, Missrine Huratal's elite troops, who remained fanatically loyal to the House of Magor which they had protected for thousands of Terran years. While not numerous enough to hold an entire frontline, the Yellow Guard had been tasked with the defence of Geratomro's capital city, Magor's Seat, and were wise enough not to trust only in static defences. The Yellow Guard had taken up defensive positions across the major arteries linking Matua Superior to Magor's Seat, effectively locking down the approaches to the Imperial army's ultimate objective with a minimum of troops.

The Yellow Guard conducted several cleverly devised ambushes and delaying actions that considerably slowed the Imperial advance. Frustrated by these delays, Captain-General Iskhandrian ordered his heaviest elements to the front, but even against the Super Heavy Tank Companies, the Yellow Guard was able to hold its on. The 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company was targeted by a suicide attack, the Yellow Guard using Augur-detectable landmines to block the road, forcing the Emperor's mighty engines of war to cross across fields where they risked becoming bogged down by the muddy terrain.

This fate befell the Hellhammer called Ostrakhan's Rebirth and effectively disrupted the 7th's formation. The Yellow Guard counterattacked with seven Leman Russ tanks which, while all destroyed in the effort, nevertheless were able to immobilise the Baneblade Artemen Ultrus by targeting its tracks. Worse yet, the Shadowsword Lux Imperator suffered another catastrophic system failure which killed its gunner and injured several other crew members. For the relatively modest price of a few score of infantrymen and seven regular tanks, the enemy had reduced the fighting strength of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company by 75%.

Only a few solar minutes after the suicide attack an urgent message reached the 7th Company: elements of the 477th Paragonian Foot were requesting their assistance to take a strategically vital objective.

Hill Seven-Beta

Designated Hill Seven-Beta, the target was a small fortress created through the combination of rugged natural terrain and man-made obstacles.

The hill was a modestly-sized rocky outcrop, but it dominated the predominantly flat landscape stretching between Matua Superior and the great Drava Highway leading to Magor's Seat. The source of the Drava River was atop Hill Seven Beta, a small stream that grew into a large river several miles downstream. The hill ran from the northeast to the southwest, parallel to the main road leading out of Matua Superior. The Yellow Guard had established a hardened artillery redoubt there, enhancing the hill's natural defences with tank traps, reinforced trenches and pill-boxes.

Two previous attacks by the 477th had already been repelled with severe losses. During the first assault, the 16th Company had lost all its Chimeras to well-trained heavy weapon teams, mostly man-portable Autocannons and Missile Launchers supplemented by a few Lascannons. The second assault had benefited from the support of five Leman Russ tanks but the armoured support had drawn out the defenders' main asset: an extremely rare Destroyer Tank Hunter. With that tank's Heavy Laser Destroyer making short work of the Imperials' Leman Russes, the second assault had failed as well.

Destroyer of the Valhallan Armoured Regiment

A Destroyer Tank Hunter laying an ambush.

In the meantime, the Yellow Guard's artillery hammered the main road, which was clogged by traffic. Between those companies and regiments moving towards Magor's Seat and the wounded returning to the field hospitals in Matua Superior, the road was crowded with Imperial troops. The continuous downpour had turned the unpaved road into a quagmire, causing an ever-growing traffic jam. In such conditions, every single artillery shell wreaked havoc. The Imperials had no choice but to reduce Hill Seven-Beta if their assault on the planetary capital was to continue.

As the only vehicle still combat-ready in the entire 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company, the Baneblade Cortein's Honour was ordered to help the 16th Company with the capture of their objective. The Baneblade advanced slowly, the traffic on the road forcing it to move parallel to the highway, across fields and orchards where the Baneblade's lumbering speed was greatly reduced. Seven solar hours passed before Cortein's Honour even got to the combat zone. Seven long hours that cost countless lives.

Cortein's Honour linked up with 16th Company under Captain Lubin Lo Santelligen just as the enemy artillery had finally zeroed in on the 16th's command post in a requisitioned agricolae. With the first ranging shots falling around the farm-buildings, Hounoured Lieutenant Colaron Vor Anselm Lo Bannick had little time to devise a battle-plan.

His intent was to use the Baneblade as a shock-assault element, attacking the hill from the north-northeast as the previous assault had done but to evacuate the position before the Destroyer could get its bearings. Cortein's Honour would then circle the hill and attack from the opposite direction which the enemy believed safe because it was too steep for conventional armoured vehicles to cross. However, with its greater mass and lower centre of gravity, the Baneblade could go where the lighter Leman Russes could not.

However, this plan put the supporting infantry at great risk, leaving them without armour cover and facing enemy fire for twenty solar minutes while Cortein's Honour moved into position -- a fact Captain Lo Santelligen clearly resented.

Covered by the fire of their own Heavy Weapons Squads, the 16th Company of the 477th Paragonian Foot mounted their third assault on Hill Seven-Beta, distracting the enemy while Cortein's Honour repositioned itself. As predicted, the Baneblade was able to climb the steep slope previously identified by Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick.

The super-heavy tank attacked the Yellow Guard's vulnerable rear, blasting them with all its weapons. With commendable speed, the enemy Destroyer turned around to engage its designated target. While Cortein's Honour fired the first shot in their duel, the huge shell of its Mega Battle Cannon missed, the Destroyer's low hull and terrain making it a difficult target.

In response, the Destroyer scored a direct hit on the Baneblade's turret, but a slight bump in the terrain caused the shot to go slightly awry. Its blast punctured the Baneblade's thick armour and ravaged the inside of Cortein's Honour, molten metal showering one of the crewman, killing him. The beam marginally missed the Baneblade's tactical officer whose console was obliterated, but he escaped only with second degree burns on half his face and right arm.

With the Destroyer having found its mark, Cortein's Honour used its Smoke Launchers to hide behind a thick cloud of white smoke. The Destroyer fired twice into the thick wall of smoke, missing the Baneblade both times. At the second shot, Cortein's Honour’s logic-engines calculated the Destroyer's approximate location.

Surging out of the cloud of concealing smoke at full power, the Baneblade delivered the killing shot before turning its multiple guns on the remaining defenders, its Demolisher Cannon proving most effective in cracking open enemy bunkers so the infantry of 16th Company could clear them in brutal close-quarters fighting.

When the sun rose, it found Hill Seven-Beta in Imperial hands. The 477th Paragonian Foot reported no captives.

Coup d'État

While the forces of the Yellow Guard desperately sought to slow the Imperial advance, both sides blissfully ignored the profound changes wrought in the planetary capital of Magor's Seat.

During a confused night of which several diverging accounts exist, both the Planetary Governatrice Missrine Huratal I and her designated heir, her artificial child Missrine Huratal II, were slain. The throne of Geratomro's planetary ruler therefore fell to Dostain Huratal, the architect of Geratomro's rebellion against the Imperium -- for it was he who had suggested to Missrine Huratal I not to give in to the demands of the Departmento Munitorum.

What truly happened remains uncorroborated, since every person involved was slain in the later stages of the rebellion, but the evidence suggests that Dostain Huratal was in league with another official in the line of succession, Pollein Huratal, and together they conducted a bloody coup, no doubt on the orders of far more sinister masters. Following the change of government, the first trace of the involvement of Chaos in the outbreak of the rebellion was found on Geratomro.

The Advance Resumes

With the successful capture of Hill Seven-Beta, the Imperial advance could resume, it pace further quickened by the end of the storms that had followed in the wake of the planetary landing. Captain Lo Santelligen's men were ordered to remain on-site, holding the position in case of an enemy counterattack none of the officers truly believed was likely.

After the end of the fight, the crewmen of Cortein's Honour were able to take stock of the damage done to their tank. The Baneblade had lost its right sponson-mounted Lascannon, and while the Twin-linked Heavy Bolters were salvageable they responded sluggishly to the commands of Third Gunner Leonates. The Heavy Laser Destroyer of the enemy tank-hunter had caused the most damage: two of the super-heavy's Cogitators had been destroyed and the other three were functioning below optimal capacity, their Machine Spirits in shock at the death of their comrades.

As a result, several systems were nonoperational such as the logic-engines, tactical hololithic projection and targeting arrays. The long-range Vox, initially deemed salvageable, ultimately proved too damaged to restore, requiring Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick to use the 16th Company's Vox to report back to Honoured Captain Lo Hannick for new orders.

Overall, Cortein's Honour’s ability to function was impaired but not compromised: its engines and weapon systems were still working even if the systems supporting them were not. The Baneblade's crew would need to adapt and fight a war like the tankers of Old Earth had -- alone, without communication and relying solely on their skills and the marksmanship of their gunners.

Although Captain Lo Santelligen clearly wished to see Cortein's Honour remain with his company, the Baneblade had received different orders. After one local day of rest and repairs, the super-heavy tank was supposed to link up with other elements of the Imperial advance on Highway 4 and make straight for Magor's Seat. A forward base was scheduled to be erected a short distance from the planetary capital to serve as a staging ground for the final Imperial assault.

Instead of using the crowded road which would have slowed them down, Cortein's Honour navigated the vast fields bordering the Drava to link up with its convoy at one of the bridges crossing the wide river. Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick had to rely on physical, printed charts to get his tank to the rendezvous point, though the nice weather allowed the Baneblade's crew to enjoy a modicum of Geratomro's true natural beauty.

After passing several abandoned villages, Cortein's Honour discovered a pair of railroad tracks heading towards the capital that it could follow. The tracks' path took the Baneblade straight to Highway 4. It was only as they approached the coordinates provided by Honoured Captain Lo Hannick that the crew noticed something was amiss.

A New Enemy

As night fell upon the lone Baneblade, the sky to the east was illuminated by the telltale sign of an orbital bombardment. Believing it to be the work of the Imperial Navy, the crew of Cortein's Honour observed the process with cold detachment while the Baneblade continued to follow the railroad tracks to its destination. Little did they know that the lights and explosions illuminating the night sky were in truth the work of the enemy.

The Geratomran rebels had somehow contacted off-world reinforcements. A small Chaos warfleet had broken out of the Immaterium, using the local sun as a means to escape Augur-detection, and the warfleet had breached the Imperial Navy's blockade to reach Geratomro and deploy its troops. While ultimately the Chaos fleet was outgunned and was not able to hold orbital superiority for long, the Chaos forces' landing could not be prevented. The most elite of the foot-soldiers of Chaos had come to Geratomro, the dreaded Chaos Space Marines -- veterans of the Long War which had raged since the end of the Horus Heresy, ten thousand Terran years before.

As formidable as their Loyalist brothers, the Heretic Astartes did not waste any time mustering their troops, deploying directly in the teeth of their opponents' advance. While a small contingent of Chaos Space Marines secured Magor's Seat against the Imperial troops mustering to assault it, other elements where left to roam the countryside around the planetary capital, seeking out and destroying the columns of reinforcements still moving down from Matua Superior. Cortein's Honour unintentionally encountered one of these ambushes.

Driving through the night, the Baneblade had made good progress. Its crew was even allowed to take short periods of rests with the notable exception of their driver, a transfer from the notorious Savlar Chem-Dogs. In the early hours of the next morning, the tank's commander, Honoured Lieutenant Colaron Vor Ansem Lo Bannick was woken abruptly by a blazing light. This was produced by the beams of the Baneblade's Searchlight and headlights reflecting off a thick wall of fog. Conscious that the luminescence could draw unwanted attention, the Honoured Lieutenant immediately ordered that the lights be killed. With the fog still thickening, the Baneblade was forced to slow down, for Cortein's Honour could only navigate by eye, since its Augur systems were still out of order.

The first sign of something awry came as a sickly-sweet scent that rose impossibly from the marshlands the tank was crossing. As a cautionary measure, Honoured Lieutenant Bannick ordered his crew to don their Rebreathers. At the first opportunity, the Baneblade left the railroad tracks, and slowly approached the rendezvous point. Still unknown to the Baneblade's crew, the railroad tracks had in fact led them across the Drava River so that they were ahead of the coordinates they were supposed to reach.

The fog began to clear and as the crew looked out at their surroundings they could make out the mighty pillars of the bridges allowing Highway 4 to cross the Drava. Raising his Magnoculars, Bannick could clearly see that one of the pillars was missing, which had caused the bridge to collapse. Calling everyone to battle-stations, Cortein's Honour cautiously lumbered closer.

Ambush on Highway 4

With the bridge gone, Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick correctly assumed that the armoured column they were supposed to link up with was caught on the other side of the river. To confirm his assumption, the Baneblade's commander ordered his vehicle up the highway to try and locate the promised convoy. Once at that location Cortein's Honour sighted an immobilised column of vehicles, mostly Leman Russ battle tanks and Chimera APCs as well as a few flat-bed trucks. But the column didn't move. In fact nothing was moving. Raising his Magnoculars, the Honoured Lieutenant could see that the first vehicle in the column was nothing more than a burnt-out shell.

With the identity of the enemy still unclear, Cortein's Honour needed to properly assess the situation. This meant crossing the Drava and getting a look for themselves. The crew was in luck, for while the Drava was a wide river, at the junction with Highway 4 it was not very deep. Since the riverbed had been consolidated with pebble stones, the super-heavy tank could attempt to cross it without getting bogged down. The only precaution needed was to close all the lower hatches and the Baneblade would be good to go.

The Baneblade's driver took Cortein's Honour across the Drava, moving slowly to prevent water entering through the exhaust pipes into the tank's mighty generatorium. The water sizzled and turned into vapour where it touched the Baneblade's engines, but Cortein's Honour made it across without further impediment. As they passed the height of the broken pillar, Bannick's First Gunner carefully studied the structure's broken remains. His conclusion was unequivocal: the concentrated blast-marks indicated that the bridge had been brought down by Demolition Charges and no Battle Cannon. The bridge had indeed been sabotaged. But the identity of the perpetrator remained unclear.

As the Baneblade drew near, the crew could make out the telltale sign of carrion birds flying over the column, confirming their worst suspicions. Stopping at a safe distance from the immobilised column of vehicles, Cortein's Honour hid in the leeway of the earthworks carrying Highway 4 towards the broken bridge. Bannick decided to progress on foot, taking with him the two most expendables members of his crew, the First and Second Loaders, a Paragonian of the Vaskigen Clan and another transfer from one of the warrior clans of the Feral World of Bosovar, a small pinkish man named Gollph. Having armed themselves with Lasguns from the Baneblade's small armoury, the three men investigated the fate of the Imperial column.

Hundreds of corpses littered the four wide lanes of the highway, some having already started to bloat in the warm midday sun. The road was painted red by the blood of fellow Imperial soldiers, the bodies broken open and severed limbs lying all about. The gore was such that Vaskigen initially thought that the Drukhari might be responsible, but to the trained eye the slain Guardsmen displayed the wounds typical of people slain by mass-reactive bolts.

This observation was quickly confirmed when further down the ambush site the trio encountered the first enemy casualty: it was undoubtedly a Space Marine, but its appearance was vastly different from that of the Black Templars Bannick had witnessed fighting on Kalidar. The dead Astartes' Power Armour was clad in violent hues of pink and purple. Had Bannick possessed the necessary security-clearance he would had quite easily identified the livery of the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion, the Heretic Astartes dedicated to the service of Slaanesh, the Dark Prince.

The slain Chaos Space Marine carried an archaic Bolter, the weapon's sides decorated with the carvings of leering faces. Now that he knew what he was looking for, Bannick quickly identified several dead Astartes, all of them lying in a heap of slain foes. He also recognised one of the burnt-out husks as a Rhino, an armoured troop transport almost exclusively used by Space Marines.

Bannick was about to order a hasty retreat to the security of the Baneblade when Gollph discovered a survivor. The soldier's face was covered in blood and both his arms and legs had been broken, but he was undoubtedly still alive, his cracked lips trying to say something none of them could hear. Gollph was reluctant to draw closer as on Bosovar booby-trapping the corpse of a defeated enemy was a common enough tactic, but Vaskigen was not so careful.

Upon seeing the Paragonian uniform of the severely wounded man, he rushed to help his comrade from another regiment, springing the trap. Both the helpless victim and the First Loader were torn to pieces by an explosion, perhaps a hidden Krak Grenade. Had the Second Loader not jumped upon Bannick and pressed him to the ground they too would have been slain by the explosion.

If the trap failed to do maximum damage, the explosion did not fail to draw the enemy's attention. Somewhere out of sight, engines began revving, prompting the two surviving tankers to hurriedly leave the ambush site and join their comrades in the Baneblade. Rushing back to their tank, Bannick ordered his driver to prep the engine via his Micro-bead, and Cortein's Honour’s powerful power plant sprang back to life.

Perhaps half a Terran mile down the highway, their opponents came out of their hiding places, including three tanks Bannick quickly identified as Predator Annihilators, dedicated tank-killers thanks to their two pairs of Lascannons. Far lighter than the lumbering Baneblade, the Predators capitalised on their greater speed to close with their new target. Even launched at full speed, the Predators rained terribly accurate lasfire upon Cortein's Honour. Two quickly broke off to the right, trying to attack the Baneblade from its wounded side. Cortein's Honour began to back away, firing its guns but all of its shots missed due to the Metus Astartes, the psychological shock regular human beings face when first fighting the transhuman Space Marines.

The Predators continued to press the advantage, trying to get a clear shot at the Baneblade's back where its armour was the thinnest. Third Gunner Leonates raked one of the Predators with Heavy Bolter fire, damaging one of its sponson-mounted Augur arrays and disabling one of his target's Lascannons. Almost in response, one of the other Predators scored a direct hit on the Baneblade's vulnerable turret windows, melting the armourglass. Even if the Baneblade's armour was proof against their weapons, the enemy could disable Cortein's Honour in a number of different ways.

The Baneblade was herded back to the Drava, the enemy undoubtedly thinking to catch the super-heavy tank between their guns and the river. Obviously they didn't know that the river posed no true obstacle to Cortein's Honour. Two of the Predators were still driving on the highway, using the road's elevation to fire down at the Baneblade. The thirds followed a parallel course to their own, making sure to stay out of the Demolisher Cannon's frontal firing arc. Its turret-mounted weaponry destroyed the Baneblade's left sponson, bringing its tertiary weaponry down to one pair of Heavy Bolters.

Barely slowing down so as not to drown its engines, Cortein's Honour reached the Drava and slithered down the banks into the water. With two of their enemies still on the highway, the Baneblade made a sharp right turn, placing itself directly beneath the bridge. Cortein's Honour’s turret tracked the remaining Predator as it reached the riverbank and killed it with a direct hit of its Mega Battle Cannon. The crew cheered at their first kill, but the two remaining enemy tanks were still at large.

The Emperor's Children decided to split up, one remaining on the bridge while the other descended on the left side on the highway to flush the enemy out from under the bridge. As the second Predator entered the Drava it emerged on the Baneblade's wounded left side. Again a steady stream of ruby lasbeams began to hammer Cortein's Honour.

Alarms sounded inside the super-heavy tank as the Predator on the bridge finally got a fix on the Baneblade. Cortein's Honour retreated further into the deeper waters of the Drava, its more powerful engine allowing it to put some distance between itself and the pursuing Predator. The Mega Battle Cannon roared again, shooting at the tank above it but it only succeeded in blowing a piece of rockcrete from the bridge's fabric. Every crewman aboard the Baneblade realised that the enemy was gaining the upper hand.

The true mettle of an Imperial Tank Commander is his ability to find a solution to his problems even in the thick of a seemingly hopeless fight. By any accounts, Honoured Lieutenant Colaron Vor Anselm Lo Bannick was such an exceptional officer. Faced with a numerically superior and more mobile enemy, Bannick took the only sensible decision he could: rob the enemy of its advantage by forcing it to run right into the guns of his own tank.

Bannick ordered his driver to take shelter between the two legs of the great pillars supporting the highway's bridge over the Drava. Its flanks secured by the huge pillars of rockcrete, the front arc of the Baneblade would be secured by its Demolisher Cannon, while the rear was covered by the tank's main armament. Either way the enemy attacked, he would face a weapon capable of annihilating it with a single shot.

As the solar seconds stretched into minutes, the nervous crew of Cortein's Honour believed the enemy would not take the risk, but in the end the Chaos Space Marines' constant blood-lust won out. The two remaining Predators attacked the Baneblade simultaneously, one from the front and one from the rear.

The first caught a Demolisher shell head-on and exploded in spectacular fashion, but the second proved luckier when the armour-piercing shell from the Baneblade's Mega Battle Cannon glanced off its angled turret armour. Swearing, the First Gunner quickly reloaded as the Predator turned all four of its Lascannons on Cortein's Honour, readying itself for the killing blow.

With nothing left to lose, Honoured Lieutenant Bannick ordered Cortein's Honour to ram the lighter tank, the Baneblade surging backwards. This unexpected movement threw off the Predator's aim and instead of hitting the Baneblade's engines, it pierced one of Cortein's Honour’s auxiliary fuel tanks, causing it to detonate and showering the Baneblade with burning Promethium.

Cortein's Honour crashed into the enemy tank, the Baneblade's greater weight slowly pushing the lighter tank into deeper water. Once they reached the end of the gravel bed, the Predator began to sag, allowing the Baneblade to upturn it. Before the Predator's crew could bail out, a final shot from Cortein's Honour rang out, obliterating the last of its enemies.

A Hero's Welcome

The failed ambush against Cortein's Honour had cost the tank dearly, resulting in further damage. The confrontation with the final Predator had taken its toll on the Baneblade's engines and it was only by disengaging the reactor's safeties that Cortein's Honour was able to move at all. Resolute, the Baneblade followed Highway 4 to its final objective: the Astra Militarum castella established outside Magor's Seat.

When the super-heavy tank finally reached the gates of the Imperial encampment, it found a citadel under siege. Artillery fire sporadically fell around the perimeter while the sky was filled with the burning trails of orbital debris from the naval battle raging over Geratomro. In the distance, no more than twenty kilometers away, the spires of Magor's Seat could be seen, the sky over the city filled with the multiple rocket flares of descending vessels from orbit. What was supposed to be the last stepping stone leading to a crushing victory had now become a fortress under siege.

When Cortein's Honour presented itself before the castella's main entrance, it found its gates closed and the mouths of several heavy weapons pointed at it. Two octagonal rockcrete bunkers flanked the gates, further reinforced by walls of piled sandbags. A sentry, a sergeant-at-arms of the Cadian Shock Troops, approached Baneblade, a look of surprise on his face. Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick soon learned why -- the Baneblade had been assumed destroyed alongside the rest of the convoy. After the briefest of examinations, the sentry let them pass, indicating where the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company was billeted.

As the Baneblade crossed into the Imperial encampment, a ragged cheer welcomed them, the infantrymen -- especially those from Paragon -- applauding the Baneblade's unexpected return. The cheers of their fellow soldiers warned the members of their unit long before the turret of Cortein's Honour could be seen so that by the time the Baneblade reached the small courtyard where the other engines of the company were parked a small crowd had gathered. Even the Tech-priests stopped their inspection of the other super-heavies to assess the damage on Cortein's Honour. Almost as soon as Bannick had climbed down from his cupola, Honoured Captain Hannick was there ushering him into his tent for an urgent briefing.

Race To Victory

During Bannick's absence, Hannick's health had greatly deteriorated so that the briefing was frequently interrupted by his violent fits of coughing which left him out of breath. Still, Hannick insisted upon conducting the briefing himself.

In less than 24 solar hours, the Archenemy had managed to turn the tables upon the soldiers of the Astra Militarum. As soon as the Chaos fleet had reached Geratomro's orbit, it had begun landing its troops, mostly small mobile units which immediately began to attack the army's lines of reinforcements and supply-lines. It was just such a group that Cortein's Honour had encountered.

Stretched out over a large front, the Imperial units been butchered, the army now encamped at the gate of the enemy capital cut off from its rear lines. The 7th Company itself had lost all its supporting elements to just such an attack, which considerably weakened their abilities off the battlefield. The enemy had the sense not to engage the remainder of the 7th, but had focused its attention on destroying the company's support elements: the troop-transport conveying the company's Tech-adepts, the mobile manufactoria, the motive shrine and the Atlas Recovery Tanks. All had been lost in the enemy attack.

The situation in orbit was as chaotic as on the ground, with the enemy fleet holding positions above Magor's Seat and still in the process of landing yet more troops on Geratomro. The Imperial Navy had maneuvered to protect the castella, both fleets fighting at what was for them point-blank range. Several Chaos attacks on the castella had already been repelled with the aid of the Imperial fleet. The Imperial Navy's bombardments kept the base safe from further ground attacks and an orbital assault by the Chaos Fleet. Both fleets were waging a fierce naval battle for control of the world's orbital space above their heads.

The Chaos troops on Geratomro's surface had yet to receive their heaviest elements, for amidst the vessels of the Chaos fleet was a huge transport vessel akin to an Ark Mechanicus. This meant that within the next several solar days the enemy would benefit from the arrival of dreaded Chaos Titans.

The prospect of facing the powerful engines of destruction of one of the dreaded Traitor Titan Legions struck fear in most Imperial hearts. While the Astra Militarum encampment benefited from the support of a small detachment of Titans from the Legio Crucis, these included only two of the lighter god-engines, the Warhound-class Scout Titan War's Gift and Princeps Yolandesh's own steed, the Reaver-class Battle Titan Ultimate Sanction. This represented too small a force to successfully face the mightiest creations of the Dark Mechanicum.

To counter this threat, Captain-General Iskhandrian had ordered the battlegroup's three Super Heavy Tank Companies -- the 18th Atraxian and the 7th and 8th Paragonian -- to form two ad-hoc units, Groups Epsilon and Ultra, which would be placed directly under the command of Princeps Yolandesh.

While Group Epsilon would support the army's advance on Magor's Seat and act as bait for the enemy Titans, Group Ultra would include all the Imperial army's Shadowswords and lay an ambush for the Chaos god-engines At the same time, Iskhandrian revoked his order limiting collateral damage, for any fight involving Space Marines would be a difficult one that required his troops to unleash every weapon at their disposal.

Almost as an afterthought, Honoured Captain Hannick informed his officers that an Inquisitor named Lord Militant Vesh had attached himself to the army's command staff and had begun issuing orders of his own -- every tank of the 7th Paragonian Super-Heavy Company would henceforth be accompanied by a Commissar.

In truth, Imperial High Command had not shared all of its intelligence with the troops on the ground. Inquisitor Vesh had recognised that the Emperor's Children were employing delaying tactics and that the enemy was fixated on achieving its victory through unconventional means. All pretense at strategy was dropped for one desperate and mad dash for Magor's Seat, a final attack that would decide the fate of Geratomro.

The Fate of Lux Imperator

As the other officers of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company left the tent, Honoured Captain Lo Hannick asked Bannick to stay and discuss the status of Cortein's Honour. While the Baneblade had suffered dearly during the last engagements, the Honoured Lieutenant was confident that the Adeptus Mechanicus would be able to repair Cortein's Honour in under five solar hour.

Reluctantly, Hannick refuted this claim: the loss of their supply train would mean that Cortein's Honour’s much-needed repairs would need to wait until after their victory -- even the battleworthy super-heavy tanks would need to be resupplied using the stock of the Paragonian 8th and Atraxian 18th. While the tank was operational, Hannick vehemently refused to let Cortein's Honour leave the camp, convinced that the absence of a functioning Vox would put the whole venture in jeopardy. However, this didn't mean that the Baneblade's crew couldn't join the fight for Geratomro's capital.

The Enginseers attached to Hannick's command had successfully convinced the Honoured Captain that the Shadowsword's traumatised Machine Spirit was to blame for the series of malfunctions Lux Imperator had suffered on Geratomro. During the 7th's previous deployment on the Desert World of Kalidar, Lux Imperator had indeed been captured by the Orks and forced to fight the soldiers of the Astra Militarum before being recaptured by the forces of the Imperium.

Having served alongside and fought against Lux Imperator during this conflict, the Enginseers believed that Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick somehow shared a sympathetic link to the tank and that he would be able to master it. It was also their belief that by slaying a worthy enemy in battle, the imbalance in Lux Imperator’s humours could be revised. Hannick ordered Bannick to merge the crews of Cortein's Honour and Lux Imperator in any way he saw fit and assume temporary command of the Shadowsword.

Bannick chose to rely mostly on his own crew, a wise choice considering that his own First Gunner, a Paragonian named Meggen, was also trained in the use of the sophisticated Targeting Arrays of the Shadowsword's potent Volcano Cannon. In the end, Bannick replaced all of the crew members except for Lux Imperator’s attached Tech-priest. Before nightfall, the Commissar appointed by Lord Inquisitor Vesh had also arrived, completing the crew.

The Battle for Magor's Seat

As the Imperial tacticians had foreseen, the Chaos Warfleet retreated once the great Ark Mechanicus delivered its precious cargo. The naval duel had cost both fleets dearly. One vessel had been downed, crashing with earth-shattering force onto Geratomro's surface and plunging the planet's entire southern hemisphere into darkness, the sun's rays occluded by thick black clouds of pulverised earth and rock. The air itself tasted of metal and dirt and some troopers began to wear their Rebreathers at all times as a precaution.

Under the cover of night, the super-heavy tanks of the new composite unit designated "Ultra" left the Imperial encampment well before dawn. Thick, black rain had begun to fall, an unclean mix of ash, earth and atomised human bodies. Visibility fell to a few hundred yards, requiring the four tanks of Ultra to navigate solely by Augur, all of their lights dimmed so as not to give away their position.

Progress was slow, for the landscape before them had become a broken, war-blasted wasteland. These were the once fertile plains designated Magor's Fields. Whatever beauty the land possessed had been torn away, transformed into a lunar landscape of craters by orbital bombardments and conventional artillery strikes.

Ultra was comprised of only four tanks under the nominal command of Honoured Captain Lo Parrigar, commander of the "Lucky Eights." His was the only Stormlord in the formation and the other three were Titan-killing Shadowswords. Of these, two were drawn from the Atraxian 18th Super Heavy Company and called Indominus and World Burner. Their simple grey livery easily distinguished them from Lux Imperator which bore the standard tan-and-green camouflage pattern favoured for fighting on temperate worlds such as Geratomro. While Parrigar's Stormlord -- the Righteous Vengeance -- led the way, the unit was led by Lieutenant Askelios in World Burner, the most experienced Shadowsword commander in the entire army.

The four super-heavies of Ultra were not entirely alone, for several Atlas Recovery Tanks accompanied them, their powerful engines and large Dozer Blades needed to transform their chosen hiding spot into a defensive position. As the group progressed further on the edge of the wasteland, it encountered a very large crater -- large enough for the three Shadowswords to lie within and maintain a good line of fire on the outlying district of Magor's Seat, making it the perfect spot to lay their ambush.

As soon as the three Shadowswords had secured themselves, the Atlases began their work. The Stormlord's complement of embarked infantry, led by Bannick's cousin, began digging a simple line of trenches to defend their position from enemy infantry. Wishing to escape the scrutiny of their attached Commissar, a vulture of a man answering to the name Chensormen, several of Lux Imperator’s crew chose to step outside into the rain rather than help their comrades dig trenches.

The work was completed some ten solar minutes before the scheduled beginning of the assault. The 18th's support vehicles withdrew, leaving Ultra alone. Hidden behind their earthworks, the three Shadowswords lay in wait, their capacitors empty and reactors turned down to minimum. While this would blind them to enemy Augurs, this also left the Shadowswords vulnerable, for they would be unable to fire or move without giving away their position.

Around them, Jonas' infantry platoon occupied the freshly-dug trenches, while Righteous Vengeance acted as a mobile reserve and watched the formation's vulnerable rear. Anticipating an encounter with enemy Chaos Space Marines, Lieutenant Jonas Vor Anselm Lo Bannick had ordered his weapon specialists to form a Special Weapons Squad, their Meltaguns and Plasma Guns capable of cracking open the enemy's Power Armour. All that remained to do was to wait.

As the agreed hour for the start of the assault arrived, a huge column of troops and engines of war left the Imperial encampment, the advance sheltered from enemy interference by the continued bombardment of the Imperial Navy. At the head of the column advanced the Titans of the Legio Crucis. The Warhound-class Titan War's Gift opened the way, zigzaging to the left and right of the advance, scouting the way for its heavier counterpart, the Reaver-class Titan Ultimate Sanction, Princeps Yolandesh's engine. They were to be the bait to draw out the enemy Titans out in the open.

Further to the west, the main Imperial army followed what remained of Highway 4. At its head a big concentration of tanks of various types led the way, with composite unit Epsilon roughly in the middle of the armoured column. Led by Honoured Captain Lo Hannick and his Hellhammer Ostrakhan's Rebirth, two Baneblades -- Artemen Ultrus and Fidelus -- two Stormlords of the 8th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company and a single Stormsword, the Refutation of Sin, advanced in tight formation. Behind them followed the APCs and finally the marching columns of the infantry.

With the highway having been reduced to much the same state as Magor's Fields, the advance proved slow. While unit Ultra kept to strict Vox-silence, the marching army followed no such restraints and flooded the communication channels with status updates, call signs and orders. But the enemy soon showed his hand.

To Slay a God-Engine

The first signs of the impending battle came as a slow, metronomic beat which at first was indistinguishable from the rumble of Imperial artillery still firing at the city. Only when a faint tremor was felt did Bannick's crew realize that they were hearing the footsteps of advancing god-engines: the Traitor Titans had taken the bait!

As the men inside Lux Imperator readied themselves, Princeps Gonzar of War's Gift began relaying his findings through an open Vox-channel, with all three Shadowswords listening in. A maniple of three Traitor Titans was closing rapidly with the advancing army. The first two were identified as enemy Reaver-class Battle Titans, but the last was a corrupted enemy Warlord-class Titan. Hopelessly outgunned, Princeps Yolandesh and Gonzar nevertheless primed their warmachines for battle, still communicating on an open Vox so that the ambushing Shadowswords knew what was happening.

As Ultimate Sanction primed its weapons, many of the medium tanks detached from the main army, rushing to reinforce War's Messenger against the two enemy Reavers. The two medium Battle Titans had split, trying to catch the more nimble Warhound between them, the Warhound’s agility having kept it out of their arcs of fire.

Hundreds of Battle Cannons let loose, hammering at the southern-most Reaver, stripping away some of its Void Shields. Ultimate Sanction also directed its fire at this target, its carapace-mounted Apocalypse Missile Launcher and arm-mounted Volcano Cannon further weakening its target.

While the lighter Titans duelled, the enemy Warlord was closing on the Imperial army. Still the Shadowswords did not reveal themselves. Ultimate Sanction’s timing had to be impeccable if its crew wanted to disable the far heavier enemy Battle Titan and claim victory. Revealing their intentions too soon would only see the ambushing super-heavy tanks destroyed, shortly followed by Ultimate Sanction and the rest of the Imperial army.

As hoped, the enemy Warlord emerged from the outlying hab-blocks of Magor's Seat and fixed its attention on the smaller Imperial Reaver. Ultimate Sanction sounded its warhorns, directing all of its firepower at its far-larger opponent. The Warlord answered in kind, both Titans' weapons now hammering at their adversary's Void Shields.

One after the other, Ultimate Sanction’s protective shields collapsed until the last failed and the shots began to hammer against its thick armour. By the time the Reaver’s crew had redirected power to the Void Shield generators, Ultimate Sanction had lost its Apocalypse Missile Launcher. Its shields back online, Princeps Yolandesh gave the Imperial Navy the order to begin orbital bombardment on the Traitor Warlord.

Three columns of blinding light, each one as wide as an entire city-block, punched through the dark clouds and onto the battlefield. Where they hit the ground, they sent up geysers of super-heated steam, burrowing deep into the earth. But orbital bombardment was notoriously imprecise and unfit to hit anything smaller than a city. All three Lance strikes missed their intended target, but in truth none had expected them to hit it in the first place.

The tremendous amount of energy expended overloaded the Augurs of both sides' war engines. For a few moments the enemy Warlord was blind and deaf. "Charge now!" Lieutenant Askelios ordered as the three Shadowswords finally revealed their position, the capacitors of their hull-mounted Volcano Cannons now fully charged. A second volley of Lance strikes rained down from the sky, blinding the Chaos Titans for a few more precious seconds as one after the other Indominus, World Burner and Lux Imperator prepared to fire.

A final volley of Lance strikes rained down from the heavens, this time scoring a glancing hit on the Warlord’s Void Shields, causing several to collapse. Seizing the opportunity, Princeps Yolandesh ordered Ultimate Sanction to fire everything it possessed at the Traitor Titan, stripping it of its final layer of protection.

The Warlord angrily blared its warhorns, just before a trio of Lance beams hit its left knee. Molten metal coursed down its leg as the towering engine of war staggered and stumbled to one side. The Warlord’s gigantic frame swayed but did not fall. With its wrecked right knee locked in place the great armoured beast was immobilised, but still had all its teeth.

The Warlord turned its head in the direction of the three Titan-killers, its blood-red eye-lenses glaring menacingly. The Chaos Titan's head had been fashioned to look like a human skull still clad in remnants of shrunken, pallid flesh beneath an antique helmet. While its carapace-mounted weaponry and right arm still tracked Ultimate Sanction, the Warlord pointed the enormous cannon of its right arm at Ultra's position. A blast of coherent light streamed from the enormous muzzle and engulfed the three Shadowswords.

The blast annihilated both Indominus and World Burner, the death cries of their crews mercifully cut short on the Vox as the equipment failed. The strength of the blast was such that Lux Imperator’s bulk was practically lifted up, the tank's hull coming to rest half-buried in its former earthworks. All of the Shadowsword's primary systems had shorted out, killed by the electromagnetic pulse of the Titan's weapon. Luckily, the fail-safes had engaged and Lux Imperator would be operational again in only a short time. Miraculously, the entire crew had survived.

As soon as Bannick returned to consciousness he roused his remaining crew to battle. Lux Imperator could still fight and would do so according to the original plan. Bannick's first order was for his comms crewman to send an encrypted data-blurt to Princeps Yolandesh confirming their active status. If Ultimate Sanction and War's Messenger could occupy the enemy Warlord long enough, the Shadowsword would try yet again to take out the god-engine's damaged right knee.

As Lux Imperator struggled to free itself from the bottom of the crater it had sled into, its crew quickly ran diagnostics to assess the damages done to the super heavy vehicle. First Gunner Meggen declared the Volcano Cannon to be operational but reported the targeting sensors caked in mud, effectually rendering Lux Imperator blind. Someone would need to get out and manually clean them. Just as Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick was about to order a crewman to do so, Honoured Lieutenant Lo Parrigar of Righteous Vengeance contacted him over the Vox: his own sensors had picked up Chaos Space Marines rapidly approaching their position.

While Lux Imperator went on with its efforts to rejoin the fight, in the dugout surrounding Ultra's position, Lieutenant Jonas Vor Artem Lo Bannick nervously scanned his surroundings. While almost at full strength, his platoon was ill-equipped to face the Heretic Astartes. He feared the terrible gifts their dark pantheon had granted those superhuman warriors.

As he had done with the special weapons, the lieutenant had concentrated all his heavy weapons into a single Heavy Weapons Squad, its two Heavy Bolters and single Autocannon the heaviest firearms he could muster. Of course, Righteous Vengeance would support them, its Vulcan Mega Bolter more than a match for the enemy's armour, but in this terrain its effectiveness was limited.

The Titans' battle and orbital barrage had broken the landscape even further, creating ridges of low hills and craters which the torrential rain was turning into so many little ponds and lakes. Just below the vast crater where they had established their defensive position, a sizeable and deep pond had formed, an obstacle that would slow mortals but might have little affect upon the Emperor's Children.

Still unable to see the enemy, the lieutenant's gaze drifted over to the Titans. War's Gift had abandoned its supporting elements to come to the aid of Ultimate Sanction, leaving the standard tanks to deal with the enemy Reavers. The remaining Imperial super-heavy tanks, Formation Epsilon, now advanced to engage that same target. Unable to move due to its crippled right knee, the Warlord was tracking the Imperial Reaver with only its carapace weapons and left arm, as Princeps Yolandesh had discovered a location beyond its enemy's firing arc. A flash of brilliant light suddenly illuminated the scene of battle, heralding the death of one of the enemy Reavers.

While the rest of the Imperial army cheered at the sight, Lieutenant Jonas and his men froze, the blast having revealed large, armoured shapes moving towards them in the rain. Their Bolters mag-locked to their chest, the Chaos Space Marines came running at them. With inhuman speed, the first reached the little lake and crossed it in a single jump.

Like a hideous beetle, the transhuman warrior ascended the steep slope, punching the earth with his fists to get a better hold. The Imperial Guardsmen opened up with their Lasguns. Some of the Traitor Marines stopped at the other side of the pond, laying down covering fire with their own Bolters, their triple staccato bursts answering the hail of the Imperials' lasbolts.

Lux Imperator slowly climbed the slope of the crater it had slid into. The enemy charge hit home just as it passed the broken shell of Indomitus. Righteous Vengeance advanced too, coming to rest where the fight was thickest. Honoured Lieutenant Colaron Vor Artem Lo Bannick did not spare the battle a second glance, because his true target remained the Traitor Warlord.

War's Gift was to the Chaos Warlord’s rear, repeatedly hitting it with its Vulcan Mega Bolter and its Plasma Blastgun, but even these mighty weapons did little harm to the towering monstrosity before it. Conscious that the Warhound posed little threat to it, the enemy Princeps only unleashed his right arm's weaponry at it, the swifter Warhound nimbly dancing beyond the Warlord’s blasts.

All of the Chaos Titan's other weapons were trained on Ultimate Sanction, the Reaver desperately trying to exit the other Titan's frontal firing arc. If it got behind the Warlord it would be able to destroy it at leisure, but the distance was too vast. Ultimate Sanction was simply playing for time.

As soon as the Shadowsword reached the crater's ridge, Lux Imperator slightly corrected its position before disengaging its drive unit. As the Volcano Cannon charged, the bloody red burst of an enemy Lascannon directly impacted on the Shadowsword's hull. The crew fired back with the tank's secondary weaponry, forcing the enemy infantry back into cover.

As the Volcano Canon reached 54% charge, the crew of Lux Imperator witnessed the death of Ultimate Sanction. The Reaver’s last Void Shield flickered out just as the Chaos Warlord’s left arm unleashed its fiery might. A shaft of bright lightning sheared into Ultimate Sanction, annihilating the Reaver’s left arm.

The Reaver started to topple to the right, but Princeps Yolandesh compensated, regaining his Titan's equilibrium by doing three quick-paced footsteps to the right. This was to be his doom, for Ultimate Sanction had re-entered the Warlord’s firing arc. Tilting its right arm at maximum traverse, the Traitor Warlord delivered the killing shot. The Reaver’s plasma reactor went critical, annihilating Princeps Yolandesh and its entire crew in a titanic explosion that left a mushroom-shaped cloud in its wake.

For the second time, Lux Imperator’s sensors were blinded. As the capacitors hit 100% charge, Honoured Lieutenant Lo Bannick climbed into the tank's cupola, opened the top hatch and used visual observation. Unsure if the enemy Titan's Void Shields had been overloaded by the explosive blast of Ultimate Sanction’s destruction, Bannick held his shot.

War's Gift still darted about, evading the larger Titan's blasts. Defiantly, the Warhound fired its Mega Bolter, the hundreds of shells embedding themselves in the Warlord’s leg armour. With the Chaos Titan's shields thus confirmed as down, Bannick gave the order to fire. With pin-point accuracy, the blast of the Volcano Cannon hit the Titan's wounded knee, shearing through it.

For a moment, the enemy Warlord stood tall and Bannick feared they had wasted their last shot, but then the towering god-engine came crashing down. The Warlord fell to the right, crushing its weapon-arm under its own weight.

War's Gift moved to the front, careful not to enter the downed god-engine's remaining arks of fire. The smaller Titan leveled the multi-barrelled body of its Vulcan Mega Bolter at the fallen Titan's head before unleashing a long volley of shells.

The Warlord’s command deck disintegrated under the repeated impacts of the shells, the sound of shredding metal drowned by the triumphant howling of War's Gift’s warhorns. The execution done, the Warhound turned and headed to where the Imperial tanks still battled the remaining enemy Reaver.

Clash of the Demi-Gods

The Paragonian infantrymen were too busy fighting off the Emperor's Children's attack to cheer at the Warlord’s destruction. Despite their best efforts, hurling Frag Grenades right into the faces of the onrushing Chaos Space Marines barely slowed them down. Jonas watch in horror as one of the transhuman monsters lost an arm to a volley of Autocannon fire only for him to switch to his sidearm and continue to fight.

Another of these brutes came directly at Jonas and his platoon's Commissar despite having a bolt embedded in his chest-armour. Still fizzing with its propellant charge, the bolt detonated seconds later, nearly ripping the Space Marine's head from his torso.

Chosen of Lucius

Emperor's Children Chaos Space Marines in battle.

The morale of Jonas' men faltered at the sight of the Chaos Space Marines' unholy resilience. As the first turned to take flight, he was immediately gunned down by Commissar Suliban, momentarily bolstering Imperial morale, but both officers knew that this was a fight they couldn't win. Lieutenant Bannick contacted Honoured Lieutenant Lo Parrigar on the Vox, calling for the Stormlord to extract them.

Having dealt with the Warlord, Honoured Lieutenant Bannick was about to order Lux Imperator to bring its secondary weapons to bear on the enemy infantry when an armoured gauntlet seized him by the back of his raincoat. With one swift motion, the tanker was lifted out of his hatch.

With horror, Bannick stared into the mouth-grille of a Heretic Astartes. Almost casually, the towering warrior unpinned a frag grenade from his belt and threw it down the still-open hatch. The Traitor Marine stood still, waiting for the dull crump and tongue of yellow fire that marked the grenade's detonation before throwing Bannick off the roof. With slow, deliberate movements, the Chaos Space Marine mag-locked his Bolter to his side and jumped down after him, eager to finish the job hand to hand.

Back among the infantry, as the Righteous Vengeance came up behind Jonas' platoon, the lieutenant gave the order to fall back. Abandoning their heavy weapons where they stood, Jonas' men vacated the dugout and surrounding trenches in an uncoordinated rush, each man for himself, just as the bulk of the Chaos Space Marines reached the slope's top. Several dozen troopers were mercilessly gunned down in their retreat by laughing Traitor Marines before they noticed the onrushing super-heavy tank.

The barrels of its hull-mounted Vulcan Mega Bolter already spinning, and the Twin-linked Heavy Bolters of its sponsons facing forward, Righteous Vengeance unleashed its attack. The Vulcan Mega Bolter roared and a portion of the trenchworks disintegrated alongside the enemies sheltering there. Jonas threw himself to the ground, rolling to his side and shielding his ears with his hands as the Heavy Bolters opened up just as the Stormlord's right sponson passed overhead. Still groggy from the cacophony, Jonas got up and headed for the rear-mounted access ladders.

The lieutenant saw several men shot down as they attempted to climb up, their bodies literally exploding when hit by a bolt. From the fighting deck, Meltaguns and Plasma Guns replied, keeping the enemy from closing in on the tank. Climbing the blood-slick ladder, Jonas finally reached the relative safety of the Stormlord's open fighting deck. Righteous Vengeance fired its Mega Bolter again, buying his men precious seconds to close with the tank.

Unsteadily Corlaron Vor Anselm Lo Bannick rose from the mud, his hands fumbling to draw his Power Sword. With shock, Bannick saw Lux Imperator drive away, its own sponson-weapons covering the retreat of his cousin's platoon. Controlling his own panic, Bannick readied himself to face the Chaos Space Marine alone. As his enemy approached, Bannick did not activate his weapon, luring his enemy to attack. When the Chaos Space Marine was in striking distance, Bannick swiftly pressed his sword's activation stud. Still shielding the blade, the scabbard was disintegrated by the blade's disruption field and Bannick executed a perfect fencer's blow, piercing his enemy's plastron and going straight for the heart.

An unexpected back-hand blow sent Bannick sprawling into the mud, his enemy obviously still alive. Letting out a gasp of surprise, the Chaos Space Marine went for the sword embedded within him, and deactivated it before pulling it from the wound. The towering warrior held the sword in his grasp, and examined the blood flowing along its blade with interest before letting it drop to the ground. The Traitor Marine's gaze fell on Bannick and he advanced again on the fallen Imperial Tank Commander.

As new Chaos Space Marines emerged from the downpour, Jonas recognized that they would have to retreat. Although it sat ill with the lieutenant, he understood that high command could not risk a super-heavy tank for the lives of a few Imperial Guard infantry soldiers. The lieutenant helped Commissar Suliban up the ladder just as Righteous Vengeance was beginning to leave.

Realising their fate, some desperate troopers held on to the tank's armoured sides and tracks, but most were felled by Bolter fire. As Righteous Vengeance began to pick up speed, Jonas cursed under his breath as his badly savaged ears picked up the sound of more engines. Out in the rain several headlights had appeared. The enemy was pursuing them!

Bannick watched with a sense of grim foreboding as his killer slowly advanced upon him. To his surprise, the Traitor Marine did not kill him outright but unclasped his helmet. His neck-seal gave off whips of compressed air, heavily scented with perfume before revealing a face of exquisite beauty. Far more beautiful than any statue he had ever seen, the Chaos Space Marine's noble features were marked by swirling purple tattoos that somehow accentuated his beauty.

Dumbstruck by the thing's handsomeness, Bannick froze, hanging on the creature's every word as it talked in an ancient form of High Gothic. The dark warrior complemented him on his swordsmanship, and thanked him for the reminder about the virtues of pain. Bannick recoiled as the towering warrior unsheathed a long, silver blade form its scabbard, but the warrior deftly pinned him in place, an armoured boot firmly planted on Bannick's arm.

The blade was so sharp it effortlessly cut open Bannick's sleeve and flesh. Only when the Traitor Marine deliberately hit a nerve ending did Bannick cry out in pain. So fixated was the Chaos Space Marine on savouring the pain he visited upon his new captive that the sounds of nearby battle did not register with him. A twin line of bolts suddenly hammered into the Heretic Astartes' torso, blasting him into the mud. This time the Traitor did not rise again.

The tall and squat forms of an Adeptus Astartes Assault Bike slid to a halt in Bannick's field of vision. A tall, armoured figure swiftly dismounted and trained his Bolter on the downed Traitor. Framed by its headlight, the silhouette was unmistakably that of a Space Marine. As the figure advanced Bannick could make out the black of its Power Armour and the white of its pauldrons. Skulls, bones and other memento mori adorned the armour, its red trim revealed by the light. Bannick fully expected the Bolter to abruptly turn and end his life, but instead the towering warrior lowered his weapon and extended his left hand.

"Hail to you," intoned a deep voice, "though poorly met on this day of torrents and of treachery. You have survived one of the worst creatures this galaxy has to offer, son of Holy Terra, and yet you live. The Emperor of Mankind watches over you. Take my hand and be risen from the earth. Your struggles for the Imperium are not yet done."

Bannick seized the offered hand and was easily lifted back on his feet. Blinking the rain out of his eyes, Bannick could finally look at the emblem adorning the Space Marine's pauldrons and chest: it was that of a Gothic cross. "You are not going to kill me. You are of the Black Templars." Bannick said to chattering teeth, suddenly overwhelmed with cold.

"I am not going to kill you, I swear." the figure confirmed and then continued, "I am Adelard, Sword Brother of the Michaelus Crusade of the Black Templars Chapter, Adeptus Astartes, and loyal son of Rogal Dorn. You have nothing to fear. We are brothers, you and I. Warriors in the never-ending war. Come with me, and be safe."

Sacrifices

As the survivors of the ad hoc unit Ultra gathered around the two surviving super-heavy tanks, their mood was grim, for their losses had been severe.

Righteous Vengeance had fared the best, but its attached infantry platoon had been badly mauled by the Emperor's Children. Through the noble sacrifice of Third Gunner Leonates -- who had thrown himself onto the grenade -- Lux Imperator had survived with sufficient crewmen to remain functional. All of its officers had gathered around Honoured Lieutenant Bannick as his wound was dressed by the Field Chirurgeon of Jonas' command squad. From the troop deck of the Stormlord, the Imperial officers looked upon the Black Templars as they too mourned their dead.

Gathered around their two fallen brothers, the Black Templars recited a prayer before draping their bodies with Imperial scripture-covered shrouds. Their Assault Bikes were parked next to them and the location marked by a Locator Beacon so the Chapter's Apothecaries and Techmarines could return their gene-seed and wargear to the Chapter.

While a small detachment of Black Templars had accompanied them since the beginning of the Kalidar War, it was the first time Bannick had encountered the Space Marines on the battlefield. Apart from Adelhard, there were only five of them, one carrying an ornate ebony sword, the Black Sword which marked him as an Emperor's Champion. Their ritual prayer concluded, Sword Brother Adelhard explained the reasons behind the Black Templars' arrival.

Since the conclusion of their war against the Orks on Kalidar, one of the Black Templars, a Battle-Brother named Bastoigne had increasingly suffered from bleak visions he believed sent to him directly by the Emperor. The visions had shown him the face of the true enemy, legions of Daemonettes emerging from a gate of flesh on a world he knew and yet had never seen. This world had proven to be Geratomro. The visions had been accompanied by a prophecy: "Seek my light, so that it might banish the darkness." In High Gothic, the "light of the Emperor" translated as Lux Imperator.

With Brother Bastoigne having been thoroughly tested by the Chapter's Chaplains, their was no doubt that these visions were true and that they would need the help of the Lux Imperator to save this world from its ultimate corruption. Adelhard pointed to the clouds. While the rain had lessened, black storm clouds still filled the skies. They swirled in a strange fashion and on their edge possessed a luminous quality that the Astartes explained was the telltale sign of an imminent daemonic incursion.

The clear nervousness of even the normally iron-willed Commissars present was enough to convince Bannick that the Space Marine was telling the truth.

Led by the Bike Squad of the Black Templars, the two remaining super-heavy tanks of unit Ultra advanced through the deserted streets of Magor's Seat. Guided by the visions of Brother Bastoigne, the small party continued their progress into enemy territory.

Much to the frustration of the Black Templars, when they did encounter resistance, it was only smaller groups of ill-equipped militia, most of them too old or too young to serve in Geratomro's regular armies. Once their officers were killed, these soldiers of misfortune quickly surrendered. Of the Chaos Space Marines they had encountered outside of the city, there was no sign.

On Righteous Vengeance and Lux Imperator, both officers intermittently checked the Vox to determine how the main body of Imperial troops was faring. While it had also reached the suburbs of Magor's Seat, the main army had encountered far heavier resistance. A grim realisation dawned upon Bannick: they were being herded. The enemy wanted them to penetrate deeper into the city.

Bannick raised Sword Brother Adelhard on the short-range Vox, voicing his concerns that they were marching into a trap. With honest brutality, Adelhard confirmed that he was well aware of that, but as they wished to reach the city's center anyway he did not see any reason why he should not allow the enemy to facilitate their journey.

As they reached an area untouched by the Imperial bombardment and the other ravages of war, the nervous crewmen of Lux Imperator and Righteous Vengeance noticed the hideous nature of their surroundings. From the lumen posts and windows of ten-storey-high hab-blocks, decorations had been strung up, delicate garlands of papier-mâché hung across the streets. Much to the tankers' incredulity, cups and the other detritus of a city-wide celebration littered the ground, almost as if the inhabitants of Magor's Seat had celebrated their own defeat instead of trying to prevent it.

The feeling of incredulity was swiftly replaced by one of surprise as the super-heavy tanks passed a small public square. There they found the bodies of the revelers stacked in disorganised piles. Corpses, some of them skinned, had been crucified on lumen posts, the garlands now strung with human hearts and other organs ripped from the civilians' lifeless bodies. In the basin of a public fountain, the corpses had been piled as high as the fountain itself, all bearing the terrifying wounds of men and women locked into a bitter fight that ended with their mutual destruction. The tankers wondered what kind of madness had brought these people to kill their neighbors and loved ones in such a fashion. "Keep your eyes off the road," warned Adelhard as the group moved on in silence.

The Gate Opens

The road they had been following led to a crossing with Founder's Avenue, the great processional way leading directly to the city's palace and the plaza before it. Brother Bastoigne confirmed that their final destination was directly ahead and Sword Brother Adelhard bid Honoured Lieutenant Parrigar to remain and guard their backs. From this point on, only Lux Imperator and the Black Templars would face the madness that awaited them in Founder's Plaza.

AssaultBike00

A Black Templars Assault Bike squadron sweeps towards the enemy.

Gunning their Assault Bikes to full speed, the six Space Marines roared into Founder's Plaza, immune to the dreadful scene playing out before them. In years past, the Geratomrans had erected great marble pillars, each topped by a statue of Magor and one of his thirteen companions. The statues now emerged from a pile of corpses, some of them still wearing the gaudy party dresses of Geratomro's nobility.

At the centre of the plaza, a sizeable party of Chaos Space Marines had gathered around their leaders, a serpentine beast spotting four arms and a handsome swordsman standing on both sides of an archway of human flesh, the remains of the body of a horribly stretched and split female, her arms and legs hanging limply from her while at the arch's apex her head drunkenly rolled from one side to the other. Not far away from the once-human archway, a lone Emperor's Children Heretic Astartes restrained a fat man in ripped and soiled finery. It was none other than the Planetary Governor Dostain Huratal, whose face wore a mask of horror.

Many of the Emperor's Children in the plaza carried strange devices, terrifying weapons that looked more like musical instruments designed by a madman than actual weapons. These Sonic Weapons marked them as the dreaded Noise Marines. The Noise Marines filled the plaza with a great cacophony, the kaleidoscopically energy of the archway now throbbing and bulging outwards in time with the Emperor's Children war-instruments.

Twin-linked Bolters mounted on the Space Marines' bikes roared, and several of the macabre musicians went down. In response, the Noise Marines pointed their Sonic Blasters and Blastmasters at the onrushing Black Templars, unleashing sonic pulses that split the plaza's flagstone's apart and tore at the mounted corpses. One of the Black Templars was unseated, his bike transformed into a pile of scrap-metal by the sonic waves.

The Space Marine skidded across the plaza, sparks flying from his Power Armour before the Black Templar rolled on his shoulders. He pushed himself to his feet, drew his sword and bellowed his warcry: "For Dorn! For the Emperor!" before being shot down by Bolter fire. 

The other Black Templars charged then, the mass of their Assault Bikes enough to knock fully-armoured Chaos Space Marines out of their way. As they reached the centre of the square, they jumped off their mounts and allowed their bikes to crash headlong into yet more Emperor's Children as they charged other warriors. Surprised by the ferocity and speed of this attack, several Heretic Astartes were cut down before the Black Templars' advance could be stalled.

Sword Brother Adelhard cleaved a Heretic in two with a brutal blow of his Power Axe, his Bolt Pistol roaring defiantly at the enemy who swarmed him. The handsome swordsman in heavily decorated Power Armour closed with him, likely the Chaos Lord who led this warband of Emperor's Children. Chanting one of his Chapter's battlehymns, Adelhard cut a bloody path through the enemy, felling five Chaos Space Marines in quick succession before the Chaos Lord reached him.

The Chaos Lord decapitated a Black Templar attacking him before heading towards Adelhardm who ritually challenged him. "I am Sword Brother Adelhard of the Black Templars! I challenge you! May your death be as clean as your life has not!" The enemy warrior saluted, holding his elegant Power Sword before his face. "I am Damien Trastoon, and I have been killing the sons of Dorn since Horus declared war on the falsehood of the Emperor. It is I who shall be your death, knight," the Chaos Lord replied. "Let it be seen" muttered Adelhard as he charged his enemy.

A few metres away, the Emperor's Champion was fighting his way through Trastoon's warriors. Each blow from the Black Sword took an enemy's life before Brother Bastoigne finally stood before the purple abomination guarding the developing Warp Rift.

"Fiend!" he called out "In my dreams I have seen you. The Emperor has sent me to bring about your end. Stand forward and fight!" The Herald of Slaanesh stretched its four arms away from its serpentine body, a golden-handled sword instantly manifesting in each of its hands, their blades fashioned in exotic alloys and dripping with a variety of deadly poisons. With the speed of a serpent, the creature struck at the Emperor's Champion, who parried all of the daemon's attacks.

The Black Templars' charge had considerably thinned the enemy's number, but with their two best warriors locked in their respective duels, the two remaining Black Templars now faced a dozen remaining Heretic Astartes on their own. One quickly went down, beset on all sides, but not before one precision shot took the life of the Chaos Space Marine restraining Dostain Huratal. The disgraced Planetary Governor fell to the ground, instantly forgotten by those around him. Fuelled by the bloodshed unfolding around it, the Warp gate began to pulse with unholy light. Shadowy figures, both magnificent and terrifying to behold, danced on the other side of the membrane of shimmering energy.

Having witnessed the might of the Emperor's Angels of Death and the divine aura radiating from the Emperor's Champion, Dostain Huratal repented all his sins. He scanned the ground for a weapon, anything to allow him to aid the Black Templars in saving Geratomro from the horrible fate promised by the Herald of Slaanesh, the creature that had lured him by offering everything he ever wanted.

Dostain's eyes fell on his guard's Bolt Pistol, still in its holster at the dead Chaos Space Marine's side. Gritting his teeth because of his broken collarbone, the Planetary Governor took the cumbersome Bolt Pistol in his right hand. Far too heavy to lift it off the ground, Dostain pulled it upright, using his knee to hold the pistol up, and aimed the weapon's barrel at Trastoon's back.

The Black Templar Sword Brethren

Black Templars Sword Brethren are living heroes of their Chapter.

Trastoon landed a decisive blow against Adelhard, the Chaos Lord's shimmering blade cutting a deep furrow in Adelhard's armour. The blow bisected the power feeds of Adelhard's armour, its dead weight now dragging the Black Templar down. Triumphant, Trastoon raised his sword, ready for the killing blow, when Dostain finally fired.

The bolt flew true, and exploded on contact with Trastoon's wrist, destroying his swordhand. Furious, the Chaos Lord turned but started to laugh once he identified the shooter as the fat and wounded form of Dostain. Panicked, Dostain fired a second shot which hit Trastoon in the side. With a roar of effort, Adelhard suddenly rammed the spike of his Power Axe straight into Trastoon's jaw, killing him on the spot.

At almost the exact same time, the second duel reached its climax. The Herald of Slaanesh lunged forward, all four swords striking at once, trapping the Space Marine in an obscene and deadly embrace. As the Herald's sword pierced the Emperor's Champion's primary heart, the membrane separating the Immaterium from reality pushed outwards, a thousand pairs of hungry eyes appearing like voracious fish pressing at an underwater porthole.

The Herald of Slaanesh screeched triumphantly before its shout was abruptly cut short as the Black Sword burst from its spine. Thick blue ichor began to gush as Brother Bastoigne used the last beats of his secondary heart to turn the blade around and cut the wound open, almost cleaving the daemon's serpentine body in two.

Choking on its own blood, the demonic herald fell to the ground as Brother Bastoigne staggered back. The Space Marine plunged his sword into the ground and knelt, surrendering his own spirit to the Emperor in a ritual position of prayer.

Laughter resonated along the square as Brother Adelhard, the sole survivor of his squad, gave voice to his relief and joy. "You lose, daemon! There shall be no horror upon Geratomro this day," said the Black Templar as he advanced upon the dying creature. "There is but...one more death needed here, Templar..." the Herald of Slaanesh replied, "...and I have found it. The last of the house of Magor!"

With the final vestiges of its strength, the Herald of Slaanesh plucked a dagger from its belt and sent it flying towards a still-transfixed Dostain Huratal, the slender blade embedding itself straight between the governor's eyes. "It...is...you...who...loses," hissed the daemon as its physical body began to decompose into the aether.

With an anticlimactic PLOP, the veil between realities was lifted. A hideous laughter filled the square as Slaanesh's numberless brides, the Daemonettes, set foot on Geratomro, ready to consume the world and claim it in the name of the Dark Prince. Clicking their pincers in anticipation of the slaughter to come, the Daemonettes stepped into the Materium, tasting the sweet air of reality with forked tongues before fixing their gaze on Adelhard, the sole living being inside Founder's Plaza.

But hope remained.

Several hundred metres from the Warp Rift, on Founder's Avenue, Lux Imperator had used the time bought by the Black Templars to charge its Volcano Cannon and get a fix on the Warp Rift. Still retreating from the Lesser Daemons now pursuing him, Adelhard gave the signal to fire.

Lux Imperator fired at the open Warp Rift, the terrawatts of energy unleashed incinerating daemonic flesh before slamming into the unholy gateway. The gate exploded in violet unlight and for the briefest of moments the crewmembers of Lux Imperator gained a glimps of what awaited them on the other side of the gate, staring into the Realm of Chaos before the gate collapsed.

The whole plaza shuddered as if deciding whether it would stay in this realm or move into the next before a wash of energy blasted outwards, felling the statues of Founder's Plaza as the Daemonettes were all sucked back into the Immaterium.

As silence fell at last, Geratomro had been saved from a fate too horrible to contemplate.

Aftermath

While the fall of Magor's Seat marked the end of the Geratomran Reconquest, the planet's fate was yet to be decided. The Inquisition's acting representative, Lord Militant Vesh, issued his own set of orders. Having known the touch of Daemons, Geratomro would see a similar fate to that of the distant Hive World of Armageddon in the wake of the First War for Armageddon.

The remaining 300 million civilians from other Geratomran cities were declared traitoros in extremis. Stripped of their rights as citizens of the Imperium, Geratomro's people were forcefully placed into detention camps while their future was determined. Survivors of the Planetary Defence Forces or those with military experience would live out their days in the Penal Legions. The remainder of the population -- after having been rid of the old, the frail and the sick -- would be forced into indentured labour, serving as cheap slaves for the manufactoria of more loyal Imperial worlds.

Where normally the Inquisition would have purged or mind-wiped all Imperial troops that had direct contact with daemonic entities, the post-battle reports filed by Sword Brother Adelhard clearly stated that Lux Imperator had fired at maximum range and that none of its crewmen had ever laid eyes on any daemon.

Since the crew had showed the courage to kill those amongst its own ranks that had succumbed to enemy sorcery, the Inquisition did not push matters any further, not wanting to risk a direct confrontation with such a devout and powerful Chapter as the Black Templars.

With the fate of Geratomro's former population dealt with, the world was marked for recolonisation. After much political bickering, the Paragonian Regiments of the Astra Militarum were granted the rights of stewardship and settlement, their first task aid in the processing and relocation of Geratomro's former population. It may well be that in time the name of Geratomro will entirely be forgotten, replaced by the designation its new inhabitants chose for it -- New Paragon.

The harsh measures taken by the Imperium by forcibly removing the line of Magor from rulership over Geratomro proved effective in securing the loyalty of the wider sector for the Emperor. Contemplating the terrible fate of one of their own brought so low, several Planetary Governors previously on the brink of revolution quickly returned to the Loyalist fold.

In the solar month following the pacification, Adeptus Mechanicus recovery crew busied themselves gathering the remains of Princeps Yolandesh and her Titan while readying the captured Traitor Warlord for resanctification and transportation.

Ironically, in the end, Missrine Huratal I had been proven right: the absence of Geratomro's tithe contribution had barely slowed the course of the Macharian Crusade. But the Geratomran Conquest had required a vast expenditure of men and materiel, especially amongst the chronically undermanned Imperial Navy. But Huratal had always missed the point -- no outpost of humanity, no matter how small or remote, could ever free itself from the demands of the Emperor.

Imperial Order of Battle

The reclamation of Geratomro was only rendered possible through the combined efforts of no less then three previously independent Astra Militarum battlegroups and their respective reinforcements. Below is the Imperial order of battle for the Geratomran Reconquest with its nominal fighting strength at the beginning of the campaign in 398.M41.

Battlegroup Geratomro

Battlegroup Geratomro was formed to accompany Senior Assessor Borowisk to Geratomro. Intended more as a show of force to impress Planetary Governatrice Missrine Huratal I, the initial reclamation force was ill-prepared for the sudden violent actions undertaken by the Renegade Geratomran Planetary Defence Forces and suffered heavily while the Tithe Fleet was still in orbit. The battlegroup's core was comprised of experienced but severely depleted regiments of Cadian Shock Troops.

Designated Commanding Officer : General Jonatan Hern

Astra Militarum Regiments

  • 415th Cadian Infantry Regiment (strength at 18%)
  • 754th Cadian Armoured Regiment (strength at 28%)
  • 89th Cadian Artillery Regiment (strength at 76%)
  • Fourth Jupian Ironlords (strength at 17%) - The Ironlords are officially designated infantry regiments, however the low technological base of their homeworld means that the Ironlords do not meet the Departmento Munitorum's requirements for frontline service and need to be reequipped with more advanced weapons befitting the battlefields of the 41st Millennium. While petitioned to do so, the Departmento Munitorum had yet to reequip the regiment at the beginning of the Geratomran Reconquest.
  • First Drani New-Pledged (Infantry) (strength at 56%)
  • Second Drani New-Pledged (Rough Riders) (strength at 72%)
  • 36th Ogryn Auxilia (strength at 63%)

Battlegroup Kalidar

Battlegroup Kalidar doubtlessly fielded the most experienced troops of the entire campaign, as some of its regiments were veterans of the Dentares Suppression. By the time of the Geratomran Reconquest, the battlegroup had successfully concluded the Kalidar War and the follow-up actions on the sub-sector capital world of Agritha. Only the second wave of reinforcements raised from Bosovar was still unblooded. While mostly comprised of Paragonian Regiments, command was given to an Atraxian general.

Designated Commanding Officer : Captain-General Iskhandrian, advised by Grand Captain Olgau (Cc/ref Atraxian Command Protocols, Sibellius' Guide to Imperial Guard Regiments of the Segmentum Tempestus)

Astra Militarum Regiments

  • 121st Atraxian Mechanised Infantry (heavy infantry) (strength at 37%)
  • 122nd Atraxian Artillery (strength at 90%)
  • 18th Atraxian Super Heavy Tank Company (generalised) (full strength)
  • Atraxian Guard Paramount (Tempestus Scions)
  • 31st Bosovar Levy (strength at 99%) - The four regiments of Bosovar Levies were raised in 396.M41 on the Feral World of Artemis V.
  • 32nd Bosovar Levy (strength at 99%)
  • 33rd Bosovar Levy (strength at 100%)
  • 34rd Bosovar Levy (strength at 100%)
  • 23rd Paragonian Foot (strength at 50%)
  • 62nd/84th Mechanised Infantry (strength at 83%) - The 62nd/84th Mechanised Infantry Regiment was created by the fusion of the severely depleted 62nd Mechanised Infantry Regiment, a veteran of the Dentares Suppression and the 84th Paragonian Foot Regiment in the wake of the Kalidar War. The Paragonians, with their natural affinity for mechanised warfare, adapted quickly and performed well despite serving under mostly foreign officers.
  • 63rd Paragonian Mechanised (strength at 26%)
  • 42nd Paragonian Armoured (strength at 54%) - The 42nd Paragonian Armoured Regiment was officially disbanded at the end of the Kalidar War and its numbers reassigned for a future founding of a new regiment. The remains of the old 42nd remained with the battlegroup.
  • 322nd Paragonian Armoured Veterans (strength at 29%)
  • Seventh Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company (multirole) (strength at 100%)
  • 12th Savlar Light Infantry (strength at 72%)
  • 13th Savlar Light Infantry (strength at 57%)

Adeptus Astartes

Having also fought on Kalidar, the battlegroup's association with the Space Marines of the Black Templars Chapter continued throughout the Geratomran Reconquest. Led by the visions of their newly appointed Emperor's Champion, the members of the Black Templars' Michaelus Crusade would distinguish themselves on Geratomro by slaying Lord Damien Bastoon of the Emperor's Children and the Herald of Slaanesh and closing the Warp Rift that threatened to unleash a full-fledged daemonic incursion across the sector.

Designated Commanding Officer: Marshall Michaelus

  • 90 Battle-Brothers and associated support elements

Adeptus Mechanicus

Having fought alongside Battlegroup Kalidar on Agritha, Battlegroup Geratomro would benefit from the presence of the remainder of one maniple of Battle Titans of the Collegia Titanica, their unparalleled capacity for destruction enough to cow the rebellious Geratomrans into submission. While already depleted, the presence of these Titans proved instrumental in vanquishing the enemy's own Titan support.

Designated Commanding Officer: Princeps Yolandesh of the Legio Crucis

Battlegroup Genthus

Battlegroup Genthus was mainly comprised of the Paragonian Regiments of the 2nd Gulem Recovery Force which since its inception in 395.M41 had exclusively fought human insurrectionists and secessionists.

Designated Commanding Officer: General Maden Heldor Lo Basteen

Astra Militarum Regiments

  • 477th Paragonian Foot - The 477th Paragonian Foot was a double-size regiment.
  • Paragonian Black Suns (Tempestus Scions)
  • 109th Paragonian Artillery
  • 84th Paragonian Armoured Regiment
  • 8th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company (assault) (at 100% strength)

Sources

  • Shadowsword (Novel) by Guy Haley
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