The Kalidar War was but one of a series of minor conflicts between the Imperium of Man and its enemies that destabilised the Segmentum Pacificus at the time of the Macharian Crusade. With the Imperium's gaze fixed upon expansion, several key star systems were left severely weakened, one of which was the Kalidar System that was home to the strategic Industrial World of Kalidar in the Chiros Sector.
The conflict began in 395.M41 when an Ork invasion, a dreaded WAAAGH!, fell upon Kalidar. Led by the Warlord Gratzdakka Wur Mekdakka, the Blood Axes klan descended upon the unsuspecting Industrial World. The planetary capital of Hive Meradon quickly fell before the green-skinned invaders and the Orks gained access to Kalidar's most precious resource: the psycho-reactive Lorelei crystals. Under the direction of Gratzdakka's chief advisor and powerful Weirdboy, the Warphead Greeneyes, the Orks begin to amass considerable amounts of Lorelei crystals to power their strange, experimental technology.
Delayed by severe Warp turbulence, Imperial reinforcements took nearly two Terran years to reach their designated warzone. Spear-headed by the Paragonian Regiments of the Astra Militarum, the Imperial assault quickly encountered several setbacks. Having grossly underestimated the tactical abilities of the Orks and the psychic mastery of Greeneyes, the Imperial counterattack suffered from several well-planned ambushes that lead to high casualties. Only once Imperial tacticians became aware of these factors were the Imperial forces able to regain the initiative and ultimately defeat the xenos invaders.
"Orks are Orks are Orks, and we're the best in the galaxy! But us, we're the best yet, better than the best of the best. We're Blood Axes, Gorkier than Gork and Morkier than everyone. We are strong and we are smart! We're going to tear you all apart, snick snick! Better than a Goff, and sneakier than a Deathskull. We are strong and deadly, but we are cunning too..."
- —Translated message from Warlord Gratzdakka prior to the Kalidar invasion
Imperial historians have struggled to reconstruct the events of the initial Greenskin invasion of Kalidar. Lacking any meaningful orbital defences, Kalidar made for a tempting target, but no Imperial tactician would have dared to predict an attack on the isolated Desert World. To this day, the highest echelons of the Imperium's military regard the Orks as little more than savages -- hulking, greenskinned thieves and pirates drawn to civilised worlds to seize their loot or to experience the military challenge they offer. Yet none of these criteria can be said to apply to Kalidar.
Kalidar was attacked either out of sheer bad luck because it was simply in the path of the WAAAGH!, or it was deliberately chosen as a target by the Orks for the very same reason the Imperium coveted its possession as well--the world's rich deposits of psycho-reactive Lorelei crystals. As the latter motivation would imply that Orks are capable of complex reasoning and able to grasp the very notion of strategic resources, it is often dismissed out of hand by most Imperial Adepts.
Whatever the reason for their arrival, the Orks landed nearly unopposed on Kalidar's southern hemisphere and quickly made for its administrative capital, the Hive City of Hive Meradon. Planetary Governor Lozallio Cann was soon besieged in his own city, but his Astropaths were able to project a distress call before the hive city was overrun. It would seem that instead of pressing their advantage, the Orks chose to linger at Hive Meradon, enslaving the local population of Humans and mutants to work the Lorelei mines and in the workshops of their Mekboyz. This gave the Imperium the opportunity to mount an effective response.
To Break The Stalemate
Recently freed for service by the successful conclusion of the Indranis Campaign, a sizeable Battlegroup of Astra Militarum regiments -- the Dentares Wargroup -- was rerouted to Kalidar following the Ork assault. Having suffered heavy casualties against the Aeldari, the Wargroup was expected to make a stop at the lunar colonies of Paragon from which many of its regiments had been raised.
To further strengthen the Imperial expeditionary force, two new regiments were raised, the 42nd Paragonian Armoured and the 63rd Paragonian Mechanised Infantry Regiments. While both regiments were made up of Paragonian troops, their officers were drawn from regiments depleted by the Dentares Suppression. It is a testimony to the organisational skills of the Departmento Munitorum and the Paragonian authorities under Planetary Commander Gondannick Lo Materiak that the raising of these two regiments did not delay the reinforcement more than a solar week.
Officially renamed Battlegroup Kalidar, the Battlegroup embarked for its scheduled 4 solar month journey to Kalidar. However, severe turbulence in the Warp-turbulence delayed its transit, so that by the time the Imperial reinforcements reached the beleaguered world, 2 Terran years had passed.
Battlegroup Kalidar was a motley collection of hardened veterans and green troops, which despite the harsh training provided by Training Sergeants drawn from the Cadian Shock Troops had yet to see their first battle. While most of the battlegroup's regiments were drawn from Paragon, its command rested with Captain-General Iskhandrian of Atraxia, a seasoned Astra Militarum general who had commanded the Dentares Suppression. The Battlegroup was further complemented by the addition of two regiments of Savlar Chem-Dogs, who were also veterans of the Dentares Suppression.
By 397.M41, when Battlegroup Kalidar finally reached its destination, the situation on the ground had changed. The Orks had tried to break through the subterranean transit network. But the valiant efforts of the local military forces had blocked the Orks' progress, forcing the Greenskins to move their troops above ground where Kalidar's fierce climate could thin their numbers and slow their advance.
Fortunately for Kalidar's defenders, a small detachment of Space Marines from the Black Templars Chapter had also heard the distress signal and responded. The Space Marines' involvement helped to stem the tide of Greenskins, ensuring that no other hive city fell to their assault. However the Orks grew bolder and began to roam far and wide from Hive Kimeradon, besieging several key mining facilities and threatening Hive Modulus.
Fully aware of the difficult conditions his troops would face once on the Desert World's surface, Captain-General Iskhandrian planned for a quick war. The army group would land as close as possible to the enemy, in Hive Modulus, and clear the surrounding parts of the Kalidarian desert before pressing straight for Hive Kimeradon where Imperial intelligence had located the leader of the WAAAGH!, Warlord Gratzdakka.
From the start, the prosecution of the Kalidar War would heavily rely on the quick progress of the battlegroup's armour and mechanised infantry regiments, especially since these formations could be supported by no less than two super-heavy tank companies, the Atraxian 18th and the Paragonian 7th, both of which were at full strength.
The Kostoval Rout
"Enemy line impact in six minutes. Your coming actions honour the dead. Prepare to scour this world free of the Emperor's foe."
- —Message from Company Captain Malliant (KIA) to the men of 3rd Company, 42nd Paragonian Armoured Regiment
On 3.267.397.M41, three solar days after having set foot on Kalidar, the Imperial troops launched their first counterattack. As some of the battlegroup's regiments were still transitioning planetside, this first engagement was a limited operation involving only the battlegroup's most mobile elements.
Their designated target was the Urta Mine Complex, a heavy-duty refinery for Lorelei crystals harvested in the Kostoval Flats. Located near Hive Modulus, the besieged Urta Mine Complex marked the furthest point of the enemy's advance. For two solar months, the Orks had laid siege to it, fighting running battles -- both on the surface and underground -- with the miners and Imperial troops detached to support them.
With one of Kalidar's fierce sandstorms sweeping in, Captain-General Iskhandrian chose to use the weather to mask the tell-tale dust-clouds of a heavily mechanised advance. The battle plan was simple: advance under cover of the storm and surprise the Ork-held siege lines from two directions at once.
Designated Formations Alpha and Beta, each salient of the Imperial attack was compromised of two full companies of Leman Russ Tanks drawn from the 42nd Paragonian Regiment -- one of the newly raised formations -- as well as embarked infantry from the Atraxian Regiments and the Savlar Chem-Dogs. Each formation would further benefit from the support of the Baneblades and other tanks of the super-heavy tank companies, with the 7th Paragonian part of Formation Beta and the 18th Atraxian allotted to Formation Alpha.
Despite Kalidar's difficult atmospheric conditions which played havoc with the Astra Militarum's long and short-range communications, the Imperial troops were able to keep their formations together while advancing through the sandstorm. Adopting the standard Tactica Imperium formation known as "Solon's Axe," the armoured elements of both formations climbed the last dune separating them from the Ork trenches and launched their attack.
While Formation Alpha plunged deep into the Ork-lines, Formation Beta almost immediately ran into trouble at the southern end of the line. Instead of dug-in bands of Orks trading fire with the beleaguered defenders, they found thousands of Greenskins arrayed in crisp battle lines and shouting their war-chants. Here and there, the greater forms of Deff Dreads and Killa Kans could be seen, hemmed in between mobs of Ork Boyz and eagerly snapping their Power Klaws at the onrushing Imperials. Brightly coloured Battlewagons and other armoured units were also part of the Greenskin horde.
Undeterred by this sight, the Imperial formations rushed on, utilising the lull in the storm for maximum effect. The Leman Russ tanks opened up with their Battle Cannons, quickly joined by the Baneblades and their heavier Mega Battle Cannons. Just as they were to enter effective range with their hull-mounted Heavy Bolters, the sandstorm surged forward, catching up with the Imperial advance.
As visibility degraded, the keen eyes of the commander of the Leman Russ Indomitable Fury, Lieutenant Colaron Artem Lo Bannick, saw how hidden trap doors and blankets were thrown open, Ork Tankbustaz suddenly appearing on the formation's flanks. The Imperial tanks had run into an ambush!
As the first Rokkitz began to take their toll upon the battle tanks, the main horde surged forward. Oblivious to the members of their mobs mowed down by the tanks' Heavy Bolters or crushed beneath the rolling tracks, the Orks launched themselves at the Imperial tanks, climbing on top of their hulls and trying to break in with their Stikkbombz or Tankbusta Bombz.
Even as the Leman Russes churned forward, ploughing through the enemy lines, towering figures soon emerged from the sandstorm, the fat-bellied figures of Ork Stompaz. No less then seven of the Titan-grade walkers were advancing on the Imperial formation, their heavy artillery-pieces taking a serious toll on the Imperial tanks.
The super-heavy tanks of the 7th Paragonian replied in kind, the combined fire of the company's two Baneblades, Mars Triumphant and Artemen Ultrus, causing one of the Stompaz to explode. With casualties increasing, Beta's advance had stalled, whereas Alpha's attack proceeded according to plan. Soon Beta's infantry support was calling for a retreat, leaving the tanks unsupported against the walkers and the infantry.
A general withdrawal was called soon after. The remains of the 42nd Paragonian Armour, now under the command of Lieutenant Bannick, and the yet unscathed 7th Paragonian Super-Heavy covered the retreat. The company's only Shadowsword, Lux Imperator, transformed one more Stompa into molten slag through a well-aimed shot of its Volcano Cannon.
Mars Triumphant and Artemen Ultrus continued to work hand in hand, concentrating their fire on a one-armed Stompa which had lost his gigantic close-combat weapon and was now coming at them, its gatling gun hammering Mars Trumphant’s thick armour plating before it was brought down. With three Stompaz destroyed in short order, doubtlessly intimidated by that display of power, the Orks' enthusiasm to press on was diminished, giving the survivors of Beta's main line time to regroup.
Adopting a single line, the survivors of 2nd and 3rd Company stopped to steady their aim, still shooting at the enemy. On the left, Formation Alpha had diverted their course to aid its overwhelmed counterpart. Herded by 4th and 5th Companies' guns, the Atraxian 18th and Alpha's infantry support cut down the Orks as wheat before the scythe. Ork Nobz tried to gather their Boyz around them and lead a charge, but the fire-discipline of the Astra Militarum ensured that none of these charges succeeded.
As the battle was about to turn in the Imperium's favour, an even larger shape emerged from the bellowing sandstorm. Dwarfing even the Stompaz before it, a gigantic Ork Gargant stepped out of the storm, a palpable sense of malevolence preceding it. Its arms bristling with all kind of weaponry, this Gargant carried two great globes on ridged conducting rods high upon its back, weird energies playing about them and the super-heavy walker's grotesque faceplate.
From the sense of unease that befell the Imperial troops it soon became clear that the gargantuan warmachine carried a psyker within, a powerful Weirdboy, or even one of the dreaded "Warpheadz." Quickly recuperating from the shock of having to face a Titan, Honoured Captain Hannick, the commanding officer of the 7th Paragonian Super-Heavy Company, ordered all his tanks to fire at the monstrosity.
Mars Triumphant, Artemen Ultrus and Hannick's own tank, the Hellhammer Ostrakhan's Rebirth, fired their main weaponry as well as their hull-mounted Demolisher Cannons at the new opponent, but nothing managed to penetrate the defensive shield psychically generated around its ugly form. The Gargant's huge jaw was gradually lowered, a strange cannon protruding from it like an obscene tongue. Following 7th Company's lead, all of the Leman Russ tanks redirected their fire upon the Gargant, their shells vanishing in guts of flame and green lightning as they impacted the Gargant's psychic shield.
With a blinding lightning flash, Lux Imperator unleashed the power of its Titan-killing Volcano Cannon, but even the Shadowsword failed to bring the Gargant's shields down. Weathering the storm, the Gargant deployed its main weapon, its tongue-cannon vomiting a braided spout of green Warp-energy. Everything the green lightning struck vanished, men, Chimeras and Leman Russes alike.
Mars Triumphant was strafed by the blast, lurching to the side as if it had been kicked by a gargantuan monster, half of its systems shorting out. As the more mundane of the Gargant's weapons began to fire, the coordinated retreat soon became a rout, Imperial troops fleeing before the invincible giant slaughtering them.
Where others fled, the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Tank Company held their ground. With the Gargant's shield inviolable, the super-heavy tanks concentrated their fire on the Gargant's support walkers, felling one more Stompa while the Shadowsword's main cannon -- the Imperials' only true Titan-killing weapon -- recharged. Lux Imperator fired a second time, but still the enemy shield held. Having quite literally drawn the Gargant's malevolent gaze upon itself, the Shadowsword became the next target of the Gargant's tongue-cannon, the green lightning turning sand to glass before hitting Lux Imperator head-on, destroying it in a viridian flash.
With the loss of Lux Imperator, all hopes of victory were lost. Without psykers of their own and unable to contact the Imperial Navy in low orbit to unleash a planetary bombardment, both Imperial formations quickly retreated. A rearguard was assembled to die on the Orks' guns and buy their comrades time to fall back into the protective confines of the storm and escape the Gargant's devastating weaponry.
Six Chimeras and their complement of troops as well as three battered Leman Russ tanks of the 2nd Company of the 42nd Regiment were chosen to make the sacrifice. Loath to expend the lives of good men, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein of the Baneblade Mars Triumphant had his tank retreat slowly with its front facing the enemy, covering the rearguard for as long as he could.
The enemy Titan was focused on trading shots with the remaining super-heavy tank, not paying attention to the doomed troops on its left. Some survivors of the rout joined the rearguard, hoping to escape the hell they had waded into, but the commanding sergeant was adamant that his orders were not to retreat.
Out of the sandstorm emerged a lone figure in the purple uniform of a Paragonian officer: Lieutenant Bannick. Taking control of the rearguard by dint of his rank, Lieutenant Bannick countermanded his superiors' orders, telling the troops under his command to ready for departure. Without further delay, the Lieutenant clambered aboard one of the Leman Russes, and ordered his new squadron to load armour-piercing shells.
The Lieutenant's keen eyes had noticed that the force field that protected the enemy Gargant seemed to be extremely limited. Even in close proximity to the Titan, the Stompa's own shields did not flare up when they should have interacted with those of the Gargant, meaning the larger walker was not protected from interaction with its smaller companion. It was the Lieutenant's hope that by targeting and disabling the smaller walker, the Stompa would collapse onto the Gargant's foot or in its path and cause a collision that would stop the Gargant from pursuing the retreating Imperial formations.
Biding his time, Lieutenant Bannick carefully coordinated his squadron's fire and the las-beams and shells found their mark. As the head of the Stompa exploded, the big walker toppled to the left, its wreckage falling right in front of the Gargant's colossal foot. When the Gargant's armoured skirt caught upon the wreckage of the Stompa, the Ork Titan was unable to move, forcing the murderous walker to stop in its tracks. Pinned fast, the furious Gargant continued to fire its weapons, but to no avail. The retreating Imperials were soon out of reach, and vanished into the billowing clouds of the sandstorm.
Back from the Brink
Although the Ork ambush on the Kostoval Flats had not succeeded in destroying the northern army, the so-called "Kostoval Rout" had cost the battlegroup dearly. The 42nd Paragonian Armoured Regiment had fared the worst, losing no less than 23 main battle tanks in its first engagement. The supporting regiments of mechanised infantry -- both Atraxian and Paragonian -- had fared little better; only the Chem-Dogs had somehow escaped the fate of the other regiments. Even after the battle ended, casualties amongst the Imperial regiments continued to rise as troopers and tankers alike succumbed to their wounds or fell prey to the pernicious and fatal local affliction known as "dustlung."
The Orks were also responsible for the ever-rising body count, ambushing Imperial patrols, booby-trapping salvageable wrecks or conducting hit-and-run attacks with their Speed Freeks. The Greenskins especially targeted the 42nd's Atlas recovery teams, hindering the Imperium's attempt to reclaim their precious warmachines before Gratzdakka's Mekboyz could transform them into Looted Leman Russes, a fate that also awaited the abandoned Lux Imperator.
Even outside the regiments that had suffered casulaties in the rout, morale was low. Feeling himself responsible for the heavy losses of the 42nd Armoured Regiment, Colonel Sholana -- the 42nd's commander -- attempted to hand in his resignation, but General Verkerigen -- the leader of the Paragonian Regiments on Kalidar and commander of the northern battlegroup -- would not have it. He ordered the 42nd Armoured Regiment to remain in the line. To boost the failing morale of the army, the officers sought ways to improve the troops' spirits while Captain-General Iskhandrian revised his plans.
The Fate of Lieutenant Bannick
Imperial propaganda soon found a suitable candidate in Lieutenant Colaron Artem Lo Bannick, a disgraced Paragonian nobleman who had fled before the law by joining the Astra Militarum. The young officer had shown great talent and a keen eye, having been the first to spot the Ork ambush on the Kostoval Flats and served as the commanding officer of the rearguard which ultimately prevented the Gargant -- now referred to as "Greeneyes" because of the emerald arcs of energy unleashed by its central cannon -- from pursuing and annihilating the retreating Imperial forces.
While his efforts had doubtlessly saved countless lives, the Lieutenant's actions were also under scrutiny. By ordering the rearguard's retreat he had countermanded the order of a superior officer, an act that some commanders and the Commissariat wanted to treat as an act of insubordination. Furthermore, during his valiant efforts to save his comrades, the Lieutenant's Rebreather-unit had malfunctioned, and so Lieutenant Bannick was slowly dying of dustlung.
However, believing Bannick to be chosen by the Machine Spirit of the Baneblade Mars Triumphant, one of the Adeptus Mechanicus' Tech-priests, Enginseer Brasslock, secured for Lieutenant Bannick the expensive lungwash-treatment the Mechanicus had developed which he needed to survive. With the Lieutenant's survival now guaranteed, all charges against him were dismissed. Lieutenant Colaron Artem Lo Bannick was decorated for his courage and transferred to the prestigious 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company, there to serve on the tank he had helped save: Mars Triumphant.
Breakthrough in the Vorsanii Aridity
With the Orks continuing to siege the Urta Mine Complex and creeping ever closer to Hive Modulus, the northern Imperial army was at risk of becoming trapped in that hive city. Imperial scouting parties riding swift Salamander Scout Vehicles had reported that the Greenskins had invested several smaller abandoned mine-complexes in Modulus' immediate vicinity. These were not the teeming multitudes of WAAAGH! Gratzdakka's main force, but isolated bands of outriders and light armour, the so-called "Speed Freeks." Sensing an opportunity, Captain-General Iskhandrian marked these roaming bands of Greenskins for extermination.
The remaining mechanised elements of the Imperial battlegroup were reorganised into raiding groups, each benefiting from the support of one of the operational super-heavy tanks. While the tanks and their mechanised infantry support would draw the Orks out, teams of Savlar Chem-Dogs would conduct a subterranean assault, using the mines' own tunnels to plant atomantic explosives beneath the Ork encampments.
It was during one of these raids that Lieutenant Bannick again proved his worth. Detached by his Tank Commander, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein, to act as an additional scout for the raiding group including Mars Triumphant, Bannick led his Salamander into the thick of the firefight, reached the Ork encampment safely, liberated human prisoners and then evacuated the area before the atomantic mine destroyed it.
This series of small victories and Bannick's rescue of the captured soldiers were the morale boost that High Command had so desperately needed. Over two solar weeks of raids, the Orks were forced to retreat to the inner deserts, abandoning all pretense to claiming Hive Modulus.
In a rare display of strategic awareness, the Blood Axes lifted the siege of the Urta Mine Complex, the risk of being outflanked by the forces of the Imperium becoming too great. The unified front the Orks had presented during the first Imperial counterattack fragmented and the smaller bands of Greenskins proved no match for the coordinated Imperial troops. Two more of the Stompaz were brought down in a series of running battles and with still no sign of the dreaded Gargant, the northern army seemed on the cusp of victory.
With the northern Imperial army advancing into the area of the Kalidarian desert known as Macaree's Tablelands, General Iskhandrian called for a halt. To further improve the army's morale, a banquet was held on board Iskhandrian's lavishly furnished Command Leviathan, the Magnificence, to which all the officers of importance were conveyed. The invitation also included the tank commanders of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company and the heroic Lieutenant Bannick.
At the banquet's opening, Captain-General Iskhandrian redecorated Lieutenant Bannick and gifted him with a finely-crafted sword. Intended as a gesture of respect, Bannick soon cursed the blade as it tangled with the legs of his chair every time he had to stand up to salute a superior officer. This occurred often, since almost every one present at the table outranked Bannick.
Fortunately there were also a few exceptions: the Astropath Prime, Mastraen, and his two cymonculous aides, Maldon and Logan, the battlegroup's senior Navigator, High Chaplain Moktarn of the Ecclesiarchy and the army's two Primaris Psykers. Two Magi of the Martian Mechanicus were also present, completing the group of senior commanders of every Imperial force fighting on Kalidar.
Following the official presentations, the guests were seated at the long table of lacquered wood. Captain-General Iskhandrian delivered a speech praising their efforts and the course the war had taken. The general believed that in only three solar weeks they would be celebrating the liberation of Hive Kimeradon and a successful conclusion to the war. Iskhandrian's words were greeted with a moderate amount of applause, as most of the experienced officers present at the table gave the general's optimistic timetable little credit. As the feast began, the guests turned their attention to the multitude of different and opulent dishes served that had been imported at great cost from distant sectors, each accompanied by a rare and exotic vintage.
Seated at one end of the table, Bannick and Cortein faced Colonel-Commissar Damartes, commander of one of the Savlar regiments and Commodore Spasduki of the Imperial Navy. Both discussed the reasons why the Savlar fought with such determination until they were joined by an unusually tall and powerfully muscled man. Once the newcomer was seated next to the officers it became apparent that he was not a mortal, but a Space Marine: Brother Arnegis of the Black Templars, Steward to Castellan Thieme.
Eating four times the quantity of a normal human, the Black Templar proved eloquent on matters of faith but participated little once the conversation moved on to other matters. An increasingly careless and perhaps drunk Commodore Spasduki began a dangerous line of conversation, deploring the lack of resources available for those who should hold the line while the Segmentum's resources and manpower were primarily going to the Macharian Crusade.
Having faced the Blood Axes on Valhalla, the Commodore criticised Iskhandrian's reliance on the outdated precepts of the Tactica Imperialis, and urged him not to underestimate these Orks. At such blatantly seditious talk, Colonel-Commissar Damartes began to reach for his sidearm before the Commodore clarified his views on the matter and the Colonel-Commissar was seemingly placated. Unsettled, Commodore Spasduki tried to leave the table, claiming he was due to report in, but he was stopped by a sudden arrival.
Having noticed the tension between the two guests, one of the Astropath Prime's acolytes -- Maldon -- had joined the table, a glass of fine wine in his hand. Maldon reassured the Commodore that even if the Adeptus Mechanicus' technology was reaching its limit on Kalidar, in himself and his fellow Adepts of the Scholastika Psykana the Imperium had the means to establish a fully functioning communication grid on Kalidar. In fact, more Astropaths and Sanctioned Psykers were already en route to reinforce them.
The Astropath concluded by raising his glass and toasting their victory. Suddenly, Maldon froze in his movement before repeating the last sentences of his address and toasting again, his arm jerking upwards spasmodically. Veins stood out on the astropath's head as Maldon sought to fight back some kind of seizure. "...To...vict..." the Astropath managed to say through gritted teeth before his goblet of fine crystal shattered in his hand, blood and wine staining the fine tablecloth of the banquet table.
Terror filled the Astropath's eyes as Maldon began to shake violently, his head jerking from left to right so fast his face became a blur. Green sparks of lightning cracked from his fingers and across his breastplate. With a loud bang, the thick, psycho-reactive collar Maldon wore exploded, silencing all conversation in the great dining hall. Other psykers at the table began to scream, blood running from their own noses and eyes before they collapsed into their food. The hall was filled with the tumult of chairs being pushed back, swords being drawn and safeties switched off.
Slowly, the Astropath rose into their air on a cascade of eldritch energy and green sparkles. Warp-born energies grounded themselves through the raised weapons, searing the hands of their owners who dropped them with curses on their lips. Maldon rose higher, drifting in a circle, his face and neck covered in a black substance: the inside of his had brainpan cooked and liquified, and begun to slowly seep out of his eyes and ears.
With an audible crack of splintering bone, Maldon's jaw dropped, his face glowing with greenish energy. Like a puppet jerking on its strings, the dead Astropath relayed his last message in a guttural voice that was not his own. "Hur, hur, hur," the inhuman voice gloated, "I see you, I see you all! There is no escape! This world belongs to the green! You are all dead! All of you! And I am coming for you!"
After uttering these words, Maldon convulsed with such strength that he broke his spine. In a fountain of blood, the Astropath's head exploded before his inert body fell onto the banquet table, shattering the plates and glasses still arrayed upon it.
At the same time, a klaxon began to wail and an explosion shook the Magnificence, sending the gathered officers sprawling. One of the hall's crystal chandeliers fell crashed into the table before the normal illumination cut out and was replaced by the green glow of emergency lighting. "Attention, attention!" the Vox-hailer called. "All hands to battle stations, we are under attack. Repeat, we are under attack."
The Unseen Blow
Under the cover of yet another sandstorm, the Greenskins had infiltrated the Imperial camp. Worse, it seemed that a large group of Ork stealth-specialists, the dreaded Kommandoz, had succeeded in breaking into the Magnificence. Once inside the Command Leviathan, these infiltrators' first target was the Leviathan's long-range communication array, the sole relay powerful enough to link the Imperial ground forces to their orbital support. The Orks also sabotaged the vehicle's interior security system before dispersing throughout the Magnificence and clashing with patrols of Atraxian Guard Paramount.
In the banquet hall, the gathered officers recuperated and called for action. While the senior officers headed to the massive vehicle's command deck to direct their troops, the junior officers like Lieutenant Bannick were ordered back to their units. Alone or in small groups, these officers scattered throughout the Magnificence, each heading in a different direction, hoping to evade the Orks' trap. Lieutenant Bannick followed Commodore Spaduski, both rushing to the long-range communication array. They encountered a squad of Tempestus Scions who confirmed that the communication array had been knocked out.
As the Magnificence was rocked by another series of explosions, the Sergeant of the Guard Paramount split up his squad, sending six troops to reinforce the defences on the command deck while retaining two others and himself to escort Spasduki and Bannick. While Spasduki made his way to the astropathic choir, Bannick was escorted to the Leviathan's outer hull and a sally-port from which he would be able to exit.
The characteristic sound of Las-fire and the heavy boom of the Orks' more primitive percussion weapons soon told Bannick and his guide, a Storm Trooper named Milites, that this exit was compromised. Milites led Bannick to an exterior service hatch instead that was usually used to control the Leviathan's enormous armoured tracks. Ultimately Bannick needed to drop down the last six metres, but thanks to Kalidar's low gravity Bannick did not injure himself in the fall.
As the wind and sand battered at him, Bannick drew his Laspistol. The sandstorm proved a fierce one. Within solar minutes his ears were full of the stuff, its small grains hammering the lenses of his googles like Stubber-fire. With visibility reduced to a few feet in front of him, Bannick fully expected an Ork to jump at him at every moment. Fighting his own panic, the Lieutenant advanced in the direction of the nearest camp. A squad of Guardsmen had managed to mount an effective defence, unleashing disciplined volleys of Las-fire at the Greenskins. Unfortunately, they were so focussed on the enemy in front of them that they did not see the Orks outflanking them. Soon the Guardsmen found themselves in bloody hand-to-handy combat where the Orks had the advantage.
For long seconds, Bannick considered helping his comrades, but decided against it: he was a tanker, and would be of greater help if he could get back to the Mars Triumphant and prepare it for combat. The Lieutenant pressed on past the tents of the infantry to the area where the 7th Heavy Tank Company was billeted. As he crossed the park of standing vehicles, he almost stumbled into a lone Ork crouching over the tracks of a Leman Russ Battle Tank.
Fumbling with something in its hand, the creature quickly departed without looking back. Once he was sure the Ork would not return, Bannick advanced to check on what the Greenskin had been doing. He quickly discovered the bomb the Ork had planted there, a simple yet effective device of six sticks of pliable explosives linked to a mechanical clock that acted as timer and detonator.
Bannick lowered his Laspistol and shot the clock, careful not to hit the explosives before detaching the bomb and throwing it as far as he could from the tank. The storm would burrow it beneath the sand and keep it safe long enough to scramble a team of artificers to safely dispose of it.
Scanning his surroundings, Bannick just made out the S-shaped footsteps of the Ork, heading towards the next tank in line. Sheltering himself from the wind in the lee of the tank he had just saved, Bannick activated the Micro-bead incorporated in his respirator-unit, trying to raise his headquarters on the Vox.
The attack on the Magnificence was only a feint, the true target was the Imperial force's vehicles. But the raging sandstorm and Kalidar's turbulent magnetosphere meant that no one could hear him. To get through, he would need a more powerful emitter -- like the one on board Mars Triumphant. With a new sense of urgency, Bannick headed to the mesa's central ground where the super heavy tanks were parked.
As he drew nearer to his target, Lieutenant Bannick could hear the welcome sound of Heavy Bolter fire, proof that some of the crew were at their post. A sizeable group of Orks were mustering for the charge on Mars Triumphant, but the suppressive fire of the Baneblade's tertiary weapon systems were doing an admirable job of keeping the brutes at bay. Bannick weighed his options.
With visibility so low, whoever was manning the gun would be trigger-happy, shooting at the merest hint of movement. Commending his soul to the Emperor, Bannick lurched forward, throwing himself flat on the ground. As expected, a volley of fat bolts passed over him. He rolled in time to see a big Ork bearing down on him from the back. The Greenskin raised a huge pistol, and aimed it at the helpless Lieutenant and pressed the trigger.
The weapon clicked dryly, its firing mechanism clogged by sand or its barrel obstructed by Kalidar's fine dust. Bannick quickly lashed out with his sword, slicing at the Ork's leg. The fine blade presented to him by General Iskhandrian sliced into the Ork's limb, just below the kneecap, drawing blood. With an angry roar, the Ork tried to grab him but the severe limp the Greenskin now possessed gave Bannick more than enough time to evade. Leaving the Ork to roar and shout, Bannick turned tail and ran towards his unit.
With something approaching joy, Bannick could see that all three of 7th Company's remaining tanks were partially active, their Twin-linked Heavy Bolter turrets constantly tracking. About thirty metres from the tanks, a line of dead Orks attested to the crews' valiant efforts. None of the tanks was moving, their engines doubtlessly still dormant.
Bannick approached from the left, sheltering behind Ostrakhan's Rebirth 's thick armour and ducking beneath the Hellhammer's arcs of fire. As he rounded the tank's front, a trio of Bolt-rounds cut into his path, fired from Mars Triumphant’s left sponson. No others came, for even in the sandstorm a man's silhouette was considerably smaller than that of an Ork. Bannick sprinted towards his war machine, and aided by Kalidar's low gravity, jumped straight onto the Baneblade's forward chassis. Climbing around the silent Demolisher Cannon, Bannick finally entered Mars Triumphant through the forward hatch.
The Strength of Desperation
With Honoured Lieutenant Cortein still on the Magnificence, Bannick was the highest ranking officer on board Mars Triumphant and he immediately took over from Sergeant Ganlick, the Baneblade's Second Gunner. The situation was grim: only half of the crew were aboard, and with Mars’ reactor due a full-maintenance check on the next day, it had been deactivated beyond the abilities of Tech-Aspirant Vorkosigen to reawake it.
Mars Triumphant was running on back-up batteries only, hence the silence of the tank's main weaponry. Bannick took over on the Third Gunnery Station -- the one that controlled the tank's sponson-weapons -- sending Ganlick on top to man the pintle-mounted Heavy Stubber. At least the short-range Vox-systems worked and Bannick could keep contact with Artemen Ultrus, the formation's second Baneblade and Ostrakhan's Rebirth. Hounoured Lieutenant Marteken of Artemen Ultrus was also at his post and Bannick was relieved not to be in command of the whole formation.
Using the tanks' immobility to their advantage, the Orks outflanked them, attacking from both sides. Remembering the bomb he had defused, Bannick shouted a warning, but it was too late. The Orks swarmed Ostrakhan's Rebirth, using their Krak Grenades to blow its hatch apart and butcher its crew.
The Hellhammer's guns soon fell silent and it took a moment for Bannick to notice that Ganlick's Heavy Stubber had stopped firing as well. Entering through the tank's open hatch, an Ork had forced its way down the Baneblade's turret, its huge, muscular form barely fitting through the narrow opening.
Bannick threw himself on the ground just as the Ork's knife cut into his seat. The force behind the blow was such that it cleaved straight through the back of his seat. With no room to wield his sword, Bannick instead reached for his Laspistol, hoping it would be enough to slay the Ork. Another crew-member, Third Loader Marsello, cried out, distracting the Ork long enough for Bannick to squeeze off a shot.
The searing laser-bolt hit the creature in the shoulder, failing to do any real damage. With a brutal lurch, the Ork floored Bannick before killing Marsello with his knife. Winded despite the heavy breastplate he was still wearing, Bannick realised that he had let go of his sidearm. Staring at him, the Ork gestured to the gun, challenging him.
With the blood of his former crewmate still dripping on the turret's floor, Bannick lunged for his sidearm. Instead of raising himself, the young officer rolled sideways, letting himself drop down the ladder linking the Baneblade's turret to the main chassis. He hit the floor hard, cutting his hand on a bunk door that had been left ajar, but his desperate stunt had allowed him to put some distance between himself and the Ork.
Even as the brutish Greenskin was reaching through the hatch with his apishly long arms, Bannick fired another shot. Just like the first, the second seemed to infuriate the Ork more than hurt him. With the Greenskin squeezing himself down the ladder, Bannick retreated further along the corridor linking the main space to the driver's compartment. With the corridor too narrow to wield its knife, the Ork came on, trying to grab Bannick and finish him off with his bare hands. Fortunately for Bannick, the Greenskin was far too large to squeeze himself through the narrow corridor. Eventually, the Ork became stuck.
Hearing the commotion unfolding a few metres from him, Tech-Aspirant Vorkosigen emerged from the rearward compartment which housed Mars Triumphant’s mighty generator. Seeing the Ork in front of him, the tanker quickly seized a large spanner and began to hit the Ork with it. His first blow crashed onto the creature's thick skull, drawing blood. Too big to turn around and deal with this new opponent, the furious Ork bellowed its rage, renewing his efforts to come to grip with Bannick.
Recognising the futility of trying to harm the brute with his Laspistol, Bannick looked around to find another weapon. His eyes fell on the thick cables running the length of the corridor: the Lascannon-feeds. A plan quickly formed in the young Lieutenant's mind.
Hitting the cable's quick release switch, Bannick disconnected the cable's end, grasping it in one hand. The Ork was not facing him but was trying to get at Vorkosigen, still hammering at the Ork's backside with his improvised weapon. "Ork!" Bannick shouted, trying to get the creature's attention. When this failed, Bannick shot the Ork in the face, the las-bolt burning away one of the creature's ears. The Ork howled in genuine pain and turned his full attention at the human that had wounded him, bellowing his rage.
His roar was abruptly cut short when Bannick rammed the live end of the cable deep into the brutes' mouth. With the other end of the cable still attached to the Baneblade's batteries, megawatts of energy surged through the Ork's body, the Greenskin dancing and twitching as the electricity ran through him. The smell of burnt flesh quickly filled the compartment and as the charred body of the Greenskin hung limply in the corridor, Bannick repeatedly shot it in the face, just to be sure the Ork was truly dead.
As the Imperial camp roused itself into action and the senior officers directed their efforts, the fighting shifted from the vehicle park to other areas before the Greenskins vanished as quickly as they had appeared.
The Butcher's Bill
While Honoured Captain Hannick lead several squads of Guardsmen and even some tanks to the relief of 7th Company, the fighting continued. The Magnificence was still in the process of being cleared of the last surviving Kommandoz when the army's logistic support went to work, assessing the damage. Venting his anger at the incompetence of the troops charged with the protection of his super heavy tanks, Honoured Captain Hannick watched as the slaughtered crew of Ostrakhan's Rebirth were carried out of the charred remains of his tank.
The Orks had ensured that the Hellhammer would be out of commission for the foreseeable future, torching the inside of Hannick's command vehicle with incendiaries. This effectively reduced the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company to half-strength.
As the Enginseers of the Adeptus Mechanicus began their work on Ostrakhan's Rebirth, the Paragonian officers were quickly joined by the remaining crew of Mars Triumphant. They carried dire news, for apparently, the Orks' primary objective had not been the assassination of the Imperial High Command or even the sabotage of their ground vehicles but a kidnapping. A third detachment of Kommandoz -- the largest and best-equipped party -- had attacked the quarters of the Adeptus Mechanicus, killing its sentries and seizing Adept Brasslock, 7th Company's Chief-Enginseer.
In the wake of the Ork attack, Captain-General Iskhandrian called for an emergency meeting in the Magnificence’s command centre, the so-called Chamber of Strategies. Sharing its space with the Leviathan's own command deck which occupied the lower level of the Leviathan's command tower, the Chamber of Strategies was bristling with activity as the senior commanders of the Imperial army gathered together.
The powerful voice of Commander UvTerra filled the Leviathan's command deck, demanding updates on the damage done by the Orks. The Kommandoz had hit the Magnificence hard. The big explosion Bannick had felt while exiting the behemoth had been a sizeable armour-breaching charge that had destroyed the Leviathan's right track, effectively immobilizing it.
One of the fortress-vehicle's three main entrances had been destroyed and the Orks had planted two bombs within, expertly eliminating the Leviathan's means of communication. The Imperial ground forces currently had no technological means to contact their fleet-assets in orbit or the southern army group. Fortunately the Magnificence’s astropathic choir had not been hit, for it now constituted Iskhandrian's only means to coordinate his troops.
Led by a still-irritated Honoured Captain Hannick, the officers of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company joined the meeting. They were surprised to see that Sanctioned Psyker Logan and a small choir of Astropaths around Astropath Prime Mastraen surrounding the Leviathan's astropathic relay, gently chanting.
Opposite them were five Preachers of the Adeptus Ministorum, while modified Servitors filled the air with the heavy smell and smoke of incense. Standing at a high bronze lectern, two Tempestus Scions standing behind him, Captain-General Iskhandrian adressed the gathered crowd, his previously immaculate dress-uniform now splattered with Ork-blood -- a testimony to how close the Greenskins had come to success. Over the commander of the Imperial forces on Kalidar, a cyber-Cherub wept at the most recent list of casualties.
The gathered officers were quick to realize that some of their number were absent. While four had been killed in the assassination attempt of Iskhandrian, several senior commanders were absent and were not yet listed as casualties. Colonel Gemael, responsible for setting up camp, was one of the absentees, as were Tulligen and Ostilek, two other senior commanders of the Atraxian regiments. As General-Captain Iskhandrian would reveal in the opening lines of his speech, all three had been incarcerated and awaited their trial.
The charge levied against them was treasonous inability to adapt. Gemael especially had a reputation as a hopeless dogmatist, one who firmly believed in the tenets of the Tactica Imperium. Gemael had even ordered several of his troopers executed for voicing their concerns the Orks might outsmart their patrols and perimeter defences, solely because officially the Tactica Imperium stated that the Greenskins were incapable of stealth and guile -- that it said different in other parts or other versions of the cumbersome work mattered little. In that respect, Iskhandrian and Gemael had been alike, but Iskhandrian was ruthless enough to sacrifice one of his protégés to safeguard his own career.
Without acknowledging his own short-comings, Iskhandrian promoted the leader of the Paragonian Regiments, General Lo Basteen, as his second in command before letting Sanctioned Psyker Logan continue the briefing. For those that had been present at the banquet his report held precious little that was new: the Orks possessed a powerful psyker, a Warphead. This Warphead had developed an uncanny mastery of his craft, mastering skills that so far the Imperium had only encountered with the Aeldari or the Renegades who adored the Ruinous Powers. That this "Greeneyes" was able to invade the mind of a trained and sanctioned psyker over vast distances and despite the disturbances caused by the Lorelei and Kalidar's turbulent magnetosphere were all testimonies to the Ork's true power.
It soon became evident that the Ork witch, or perhaps others of its kind, had indeed infiltrated the minds of the gathered officers previously, discreetly siphoning tactical intelligence -- hence the Kostoval Rout and even the attack on their camp. The astropaths' and priests' efforts to shield the Chamber of Strategies from the Orks' prying mind suddenly became clear: Iskhandrian wished to confuse the Orks by entrusting his plan only to those that would execute them. Those not privy to the plan's details were encouraged to feed the Orks false information by thinking on the Orks' motives for being on Kalidar in the first place.
One of Iskhandrian's aides continued by revealing telling information. A long-range reconnaissance flight had been conducted by a specially modified Lightning and brought back photographs of their principal objective, the fallen hive city of Meradon, now more commonly called Orktown. The pictures revealed a vast construction at the bottom of the hive which Imperial tacticians now believed to be a psychic amplifier fueled by great quantities of Lorelei crystals.
Not only did the device considerably enhance Greeneyes' power, it also made Imperial astropathic communications increasingly difficult as well as providing Hive Kimeradon with Omnicron-level psychic shielding; in other words, Hive Meradon was void-shielded to a degree that even the firepower of Commodore Spasduki's entire orbiting squadron could not penetrate.
Therefore, the elimination of Greeneyes and his covenant of shaman-witches had become priority target number one for the entire Imperial war effort on Kalidar. With the Imperial Navy unable to act, the ground forces would need to launch an offensive on Hive Meradon by themselves.
To achieve this goal, Captain-General Iskhandrian and his advisers had devised a highly unorthodox plan involving all of the northern army group's remaining mobile assets. Two formations of tanks and mechanised infantry would pass through the impracticable region of the Ozymandian Basin, a region the Imperials wished to avoid because of its large deposits of yet-untapped Lorelei.
The reserves of Lorelei crystals in the Basin were so potent that they had prevented the region from being settled, causing the construction crew of the unfinished hive city of Kimeradon to slaughter each other in their madness. The Imperial strategists now gambled that the Lorelei deposits of the Ozymandian Basin would be able to shroud the formation's movement and the thoughts of its crew from the Ork psyker.
To further limit the chances of discovery, only the chief of this expedition, Captain Exertaxes of the 121st Atraxian Mechanised Regiment and the vehicles' drivers would remain awake. The rest of the crews would be put in a three-days-long sleep, a hibernation that would mask their trail until they reached the heart of the Ozymandian Basin. By following a previously established list of way-points, this formation was to circumvent Orktown's main defences and strike directly at the psychic amplifier. To this end, each of the twin formations' sole super heavy tanks were issued with special ammunition, Lorelei shells psychically-charged to disrupt the catalyzing properties of the psychic amplifier.
A Perilous Journey Begins
Having distinguished themselves during the raid on the Imperial camp, Honoured Lieutenant Cortain and his Baneblade Mars Triumphant were chosen to act as Captain Exertaxes' second-in-command. Iskhandrian's change of mind had allowed Imperial forces to move swiftly, using the same sandstorm that had benefited the Orks to cover the formations' departure. All non-essential personnel had been drugged to induce a 72 solar-hours-long sleep period during which their dreams would reveal little of use to the Orks. Only the drivers remained at their stations.
Three solar days into their journey, the crews awakened, the storm still sheltering the formation from prying eyes. Mars Triumphant, a company of Leman Russes of the 42nd Paragonian Regiment and fifty troopers of the Atraxian Mechanised Infantry in their Chimera APCs travelled in single file through the desert of the Penumbric Badlands. Several Trojans accompanied them, carrying the expedition's vital supplies of Promethium-barrels and ammunition on towed flatbeds, their journey scheduled to last a little over three local weeks.
A lone Atlas Recovery Tank served as a transport for the formation's Enginseer and Astropath. These personnel were their only mean of communication with the rest of the army, for the Lorelei crystal deposits were also creating rogue EM-fields that rendered the Vox and other traditional means of communication next to useless. Only focused infra-red communication beams seemed to get through, and then only to short distances.
Aboard each vehicle, the mood was sombre. The crews had been told their ultimate destination only when they woke, three solar days in. Hive Meradon. Orktown. The heart of enemy territory. In the minds of all they were on a suicide mission nobody had volunteered for. Conditions were also particularly hard. Even two local weeks into their journey, the sandstorm had not abated, keeping the tanks' crew confined within.
Kalidar's thin dust gradually attacked the vehicles, scratching the paint from their hulls and clogging the intake valves. The air became still and hot, the tanks' interior systems scrubbing as much CO2 as they could. Unable to wash, the crewmen and their tanks stank of sweat and other bodily odors. They awoke stiff from being forced to sleep at their battle-stations, as only Mars Triumphant boasted its own moderate bunks in the tank's interior. Even when they slept, the Lorelei affected them, and many crewmen suffered horrific nightmares or destabilizing dreams. Several minor incidences of violence between crew members were reported even before the column reached the truly difficult terrain of the mountains bordering the Ozymandian Basin.
To Reach Orktown
In the meantime, Gratzdakka's Kommandoz had returned to Hive Meradon and delivered him the price he sought: Adept Brasslock. The captured Tech-priest had suffered greatly. His captors had beaten him repeatedly, so that most of the voyage through the Kalidarian desert he had been unconscious. Once in the fallen hive city, he also had to suffer from the grim attentions of Ork Painboyz that had stripped him of most of his augmetics. Realizing that removing his Mechadendrites would end with his death, the Orks had settled for simply cutting the artificial limbs off.
Brasslock nearly died on their operating table when they wrenched out his right arm, damaging his secondary circulatory system, but the attending Mekboy had reacted quickly and saved his life. Crude, Orkish oil was now running through his machine components, a vile offence at the perfection of the Omnissiah's sacred creations. Once the Orks' curiosity had been satisfied, Brasslock was unceremoniously dumped in a cage, feverish and sore, for the Orks' examination had been done without any sort of anesthetic.
Night was falling when two big brutes, the biggest Orks Brasslock had seen so far, came to fetch him. They grabbed him and effortlessly carried him through corridors and up stairways until they reached the remains of the Governor's Palace, rich furniture now broken, priceless rugs irremediably stained by filth and feces and the walls covered in crude Orkish glyphs.
On and on the two Nobz carried him until they reached the central chamber. There, seated on a throne fashioned out of the skulls and helmets of defeated foes sat the enemy Warlord, Gratzdakka. His bulk was so muscular that it put even the two Orks that had brought him up to shame. The enemy Warlord had a singular appearance, for more than any other Ork klan, the Blood Axes tried to ape the ways of the Imperium. This immediately became clear upon setting eyes on Gratzdakka.
The Warlord was wearing a fine-tailored uniform composed of a distinctive long-coat and high cap clearly inspired from the uniform of Imperial Commissars, while his massive feet had been stuck into steel-capped boots of black leather that had been polished so much they would have been approved by a drill-sergeant of the Mordian Iron Guard.
His chest was covered in so many medals that it was almost comical and his massive fingers all bore at least one fat golden ring. More of the precious metal was capping Gratzdakka's long, sabre-like teeth and the necklace of teeth hanging from around his thick neck, while above him two massive Power Axes had been crossed to recreate the emblem of the Blood Axes klan. Even Gratzdakka's attending Gretchin were dressed in the same manner, bringing him food or polishing his boots.
As Brasslock was thrown at Gratzdakka's feet, the Gretchin hauled at a long chain, bringing forth an almost naked fat human slave -- a translator. The Ork clearly wished to parley. On a signal from their lord, more uniformed Grotz approached bearing a bundle they emptied before Brasslock: several objects fell to the floor, some priceless artefacts, others merely junk, as the Orks had little understanding of what passed as wealth in human society.
Another gesture from Gratzdakka and another Ork brought in three human captives, all female, their dresses torn and a chain wrapped around their necks. The Ork was trying to bribe him! Furthermore, Gratzdakka was offering him a place amongst his Mekboyz, promising him to restore his body to his former glory and even improve upon it through the Orks' "superior" technology.
All this could be his... if Brasslock agreed to share his knowledge. Brasslock's two guards carried him to the great curved window located behind Gratzdakka's throne. From there Brasslock could see an industrious courtyard, Greenskins of every size toiling around the unmistakable shape of an Imperial super heavy tank: the Shadowsword Lux Imperator. Gratzdakka clearly wished to claim the tank as his personal Battle Fortress.
Brasslock stared in horror at what the Orks were doing with one of the tanks under his charge. His soul wept at the desecration of the purity of the machine. When Brasslock flatly refused Gratzdakka's proposition, there was none of the fits of rage the Tech-priest expected from such a violent species as the Orks.
Instead, the Warlord calmly stepped down from his throne and approached his prisoner. In broken Low Gothic, Gratzdakka said "Now that is a real, real shame. I tried to be nice, little human. I tried. You fix that," it said, pointing at the Shadowsword, "You get this. That's how you trade in the Imperroom". With something akin to regret, Gratzdakka called for his chief-Weirdboy: "Take him away, and get Greeneye! Tell him it's weirding time!"
Crossing the Ozymandian Basin
Oblivious to Brasslock's ordeal, the armoured column on Mars Triumphant had finally reached the outskirts of the Ozymandian Basin. Ranging ahead, a mixed detachment of Chimeras and Leman Russes was tasked with finding a way through the extensive mountain range delimiting the Basin, one practicable for the passage of the far-larger Baneblade. The task proved a difficult one and for an entire Terran day the formation had to stop to let the scouts do their work. The sandstorm was still unleashing its fury, complicating their search.
To those well-versed in geological studies, the barrier range around the Ozymandian Basin told its story. The mountains had not been formed normally by the shifting and grinding of tectonic plates but in a far more violent manner. In Kalidar's youth, roughly a million Terran years before, a gigantic meteor had impacted the planet, flash-melting the rock and forcing it into new shapes.
The rapidly-cooling rock had thrust up into mountains while inside the crater the Lorelei crystals had been compressed by the heat to a purity never encountered before -- hence its potency. The scouts finally discovered a passage through the range, a canyon carved out a fault in the rock by Kalidar's potent sandstorms. The wind howled inside the canyon, casting an eerie song that unnerved the tired men in their machines. The Imperials were tense already, for the canyon-pass climbed steadily, and a single wrong maneuver was likely to end with a fall of several hundred metres -- a grim prospect.
As the Baneblade was the widest engine of the convoy, Mars Triumphant had been positioned at the head of the advancing column. At one particularly narrow passagey, the weight of the Baneblade was so great that the super heavy tank slithered, part of its right track hanging precariously over the void. Through the skill of its driver, Mars Triumphant recovered its footing, but one of the Leman Russes was not so lucky.
Tank Five had been caught up in the miniature landslide caused by the Baneblade's weight. In its eagerness to escape his fate, the driver of the Leman Russ gunned his mount's engine, the tank's tracks spinning ineffectually in the sand. The tank's weight gradually dragged it to the right, down the slope and into the canyon. With a metallic bang, the right track went over the edge, the tank balancing precariously over the precipice.
Too panicked to hear the orders yelled through the patchy Vox or by his tank commander, the driver revved the engine to full power, the left track causing Tank Five's weight to shift ever so slightly, sealing the Leman Russ' fate. It tilted over the edge, the rhythm of its fall marked by a series of loud metallic clangs quickly carried away by the storm's fury. Incredibly, one of the tankers survived the fall, but the convoy had lost one of its battle tanks even before it had reached the most dangerous part of its journey.
Having descended into the Ozymandian Basin proper, the exhausted crewmen were given a small respite when the Imperial column set up camp. Tankers in thick protective gear erected airlocked tents so that the 150 crewmen could get their first proper night of sleep in weeks. The column's attached Enginseers checked the remaining vehicles for any damage caused by the storm and were relieved to notice that all remained fully operational.
Yet when the crewmen emerged from their tents on the next morning, many were hollow-eyed and tense, casting nervous looks above their shoulders. The Imperial expedition had had but a foretaste of the baleful exposition to the vast quantities of unrefined Lorelei-crystals beneath the Ozymandian Basin.
The further the column trekked into the Basin, the worse these manifestations of the so-called "Ghosts of Kalidar" became. Conversations which had died over the course of their journey suddenly came back to life, the tankers and infantrymen reluctant to go to sleep. Soon, these ghosts manifested themselves even in the middle of the day.
Having taken the lead of the convoy, Captain Exertaxes guided the vehicles under his command to the next waypoint on his map. As second-in-command, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein, aboard Mars Triumphant, had been issued a copy of the force's itinerary by Exertaxes. He was the fist to notice when Exertaxes' Command Chimera veered off-course, quickly followed by some of the Leman Russes.
On the Vox, Exertaxes was mumbling something about seeing the spires of Elidia -- which was entirely impossible as it was located on Atraxia. Disoriented by the Lorelei-induced visions, Exertaxes drove his Chimera straight into a patch of quickdust.
Immediately taking command of the formation, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein organised an adequate rescue. He dispatched two of his own crew -- amongst them Lieutenant Bannick -- to fetch the column's Atlas Recovery tank and tow the rapidly sinking Chimera with its heavy crane. The sudden activity on the Vox-network had had the benefit of making the Leman Russes stop shortly before being swallowed by the quickdust themselves. Both battle tanks were now quickly reversing away from the quickdust patch as the Atlas carefully drew nearer.
Bannick and his colleague were outfitted with special sand-shoes designed to spread their weight over a larger area of sand and thus avoid being swallowed by the swiftdust. Battling against the raging wind and the heavy weight of the Atlas' tow-chain, the two men approached the sinking Chimera: the rear of the armoured personnel carrier was protruding at a 45° angle, its turret and front-section already swallowed by the quickdust.
Panicked troopers were trying to escape the sinking Chimera, not realising that by opening the rear-hatch they were allowing more sand to slip and thus accelerating their rate of descent. Worse, the press of the quickdust was hindering the door from opening enough to let them exit. Likewise, the rushing sand prevented the door from closing as well.
With the tow points already sunk too deep, both men resolved to attach the guide-line and the towing cable through the grab handles. Although it was hard work, the two men finished quickly. Soon the Atlas' powerful engine laboured to pull the sinking Chimera out of the quickdust.
Standing too close to the sinking tank, Bannick's crewmate was sucked in. The rappelling line linking the two men together tensed, the loader's heavy bulk now pulling Bannick down with him. "Cut the rope!" pleaded the doomed crewman, but Bannick refused.
With a screech of tortured metal, one of the grab handles suddenly gave away, narrowly missing Bannick's head. The sudden lurch of the Chimera caused Bannick to lose his footing, and he too fell down into the quickdust, his legs almost instantly swallowed by the sand. Both men quickly vanished beneath the tawny grains, but through their valiant efforts they had saved the lives of the Chimera's occupants.
With a heavy heart, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein ordered the convoy to drive on.
Welcome to Scumtown
Unknown to the new commander of the Imperial formation, Bannick had survived. His Rebreather had kept the Lieutenant alive through his descent and at a certain depth, the quickdust opened up into a subterranean cave. His comrade was less fortunate. At some point in their descent his own rebreather had came off and the hapless crewman had suffocated.
However, Bannick's crewman's death had saved his own life. Still linked by their shared safety-line, the tanker's dead body acted as a kind of anchor, preventing Bannick from being swept away by the torrent of sand. Finally cutting himself loose, Bannick stepped out of the sandfall and took in his surroundings. He had landed in a sort of deep shaft like the ones central to the hive cities of Kalidar. Platforms and girders protruded from the walls and construction and excavation equipment still stood all about. Bannick quickly realised he must have landed in one of the branches of the abandoned construction site of Hive Kimeradon.
Exhausted, Bannick collapsed in the same chamber. When he woke up, he was not alone. A man stood above him, or more precisely a mutant. His eyes were too widely spaced and one of his arms was hulking and massive, almost as thick as an Ork's, and his hands sported only four fingers.
The mutant was wearing a sand-crusted coat and sand filters in his nostrils. In his good hand, the mutant held a long rifle, a hunter's weapon more than that of a warrior. Unable to pronounce the mutant's name, Bannick settled for calling him "Olli," though the mutant didn't seem to mind. Olli had obviously pillaged his crewmate's body as he now wore Astra Militarum-issued boots and a belt from which he drew forth an Imperial knife and canteen.
Olli proved very friendly, sharing his meagre rations with Bannick and gifting him a powerful talisman of unrefined Lorelei which would prevent Bannick from being affected by the Ghosts of Kalidar. In conversation, the mutant revealed he was a member of a wider community, the self-dubbed "Sandscum", free mutants who had fled from the Imperium's oppressive rule but still venerated the God-Emperor.
Well-versed in the lay of the land and its secrets, these mutants had established their community in the half-finished Hive Kimeradon, or "Scumtown" as they were calling it. Olli agreed to take Bannick to their leader, an individual calling himself Bruta.
Initially reluctant to help Bannick, Bruta was swayed to his cause after Bannick helped defeat a roaming patrol of Orks that had nearly discovered the entrance tunnels leading to Scumtown. Bannick was fascinated and also quite surprised to see how well Mayor Bruta was informed of what was happening inside Kalidar's hive cities or even on the movement of Imperial troops. Bannick's own clandestine mission had been trailed by native outriders loyal to Bruta since the day they had set out. Other parties were tracking both the main Imperial army and the Orks. The fact that they had not been discovered by either side spoke volumes about their discretion and stealth.
The Battle for Hive Meradon
Their hatred for the Orks outweighing their disdain of the Imperial ruling class on Kalidar, Mayor Bruta decided to help Bannick. Traveling swiftly on the back of a local beast, the sandpike -- a fast-running six-legged carnivorous pseudo-lizard -- Bruta and Bannick led a party of the mayor's able-bodied mutants through the Ozymandian Basin. The sandpikes were able to "swim" at phenomenal speed through the patches and lakes of quickdust they encountered and so the Sandscum travelled far faster than the Imperial armoured column under the command of Honoured Lieutenant Cortein. This, Bannick devised, was also the Sandscum's secret to guaranteeing their stealth, for they moved through the land avoided by both Greenskins and the Imperials.
The Sandscum caught up with the Imperial column roughly 40 kilometres from their intended target, on the same day the sandstorm finally cleared. While everybody was relieved to see that Bannick was alive, the expedition commanders were more interested by what information Mayor Bruta and his scout could offer. A council of war was arranged where the Imperial commanders, Captain Exertraxes and Honoured Lieutenant Cortein, would listen to what Bruta had to say.
The Sandscum having declared the air safe to breath, none of the Imperial were wearing their claustrophobic rebreaters and googles. Mayor Bruta warned the Imperial officers that their intended path of attack would take them straight into a dangerous area: with such a powerful storm having crossed, that region of the desert would now be filled with lakes of quickdust.
The only option was to pass through a region known as the Utrazi Pans, a prospect Captain Exertaxes was reluctant to agree to since the Pans featured an enormous heat sink marked by geysers of super-heated gas that spewed unpredictably from it. These gases were so hot they would be able to instantly cook the tankers even within their vehicles.
It was Honoured Lieutenant Cortein who pointed out that passing through the Utrazi Pans would allow the Imperial formation to attack the Orks from one of the few sectors the Greenskins had neither fortified nor mined. Orbital reconnaissance sent down from the Imperial Navy confirmed that their initially planned approach would run into these mine fields. By taking Bruta's route the formation could significantly improve their chances. After much reflection, Exertaxes decided to follow the Sandscum's advice.
Bruta also carried another gift for the tankers: Sandscum amulets like the one Olli had given to Bannick. Made of unrefined Lorelei crystal, the mayor theorised that if the amulets could counteract the effects of the Ghosts of Kalidar they might also offer a modicum of protection against the powers of the Ork witch.
Mere solar minutes after the conclusion of the meeting, a panicked Lieutenant Bausillak, the commander of the Atlas, reported that Astropath Valle's head had just exploded in a swelter of green fire. The Orks knew they were coming!
Despite having lost the element of surprise, the Imperial formation dutifully mounted their assault the next day. Their primary mission was to seek and destroy the enemy Gargant they had encountered on the Kostoval Flats. Once this mission was accomplished, they were to hold a strategic location designated Workshop Alpha 143 and await relief. Everyone recognised the suicidal nature of these orders, yet none had flinched at carrying them out.
After having crossed the Urzani Pans, the Imperial tanks adopted a large arrowhead formation with Mars Triumphant at its tip. The Imperial formation ploughed through Hive Meradon's surface town. Where needed, the Baneblade paved the way ahead with precise shots of its Demolisher Cannon.
Mounted in their Chimera APC, the Atraxian heavy infantry followed Mars Triumphant in while the Leman Russes delivered covering fire, replacing Imperial artillery. As soon as they had entered the surface town, the Imperial formation was assailed by Tankbustaz and Boyz. The Baneblade easily shrugged off the incoming fire but several Chimeras were struck and immobilised.
Never ones to miss out on a decent fight, the Orks launched themselves at the Baneblade with savage glee. Most did not carry any weapons capable of seriously harming the super heavy, but still they came on. Targets were so numerous that Bannick, who operated Mars’ sponsoon-mounted Heavy Bolters, had to watch out not to expend his ammunition too quickly.
With eyes on their target, the Baneblade's crew could finally recognise that this infamous Workshop Alpha 143 was in truth the Ork's main construction yard. And it was far from abandoned: five Stompaz were standing there like patrons crowding a small bar. Fortunately for the small taskforce, the Auspex-returns indicated that only two of them were operational, the others either undergoing repairs or still being constructed, but there was still no sign of the enemy Titan.
Just as the two operational Stompaz began to trade shots with Mars Triumphant, the skies above Hive Meradon were lit by an indigo beam of energy: the telltale sign of an orbital strike! With pinpoint-accuracy, the lance-strike annihilated the active Stompaz.
A long-range Vox-communication was relayed by the Baneblade's communication officer, confirming that Commodore Spasduki had led the Imperial Navy in a decisive counterattack against the Ork fleet, temporarily pressing them back so that his own flagship, the Heavy Cruiser Emperor's Lambent Glory, was free to support the ground forces.
With targetting coordinates provided directly by Mars Triumphant, the Imperial Navy began to level the construction yard, annihilating the dormant Stompaz. Their secondary objective accomplished, Cortein got Captain Exertaxes on the line, stating his intention to hunt down the Gargant with Mars Triumphant. Cortein suggested the Atraxian find a defensive position and let the Baneblade proceed alone, a proposition which Captain Exertaxes quickly refused. As if on cue, Mars Triumphant’s Auspex finally got a fix on the enemy Gargant. The hunt could begin.
Mars Triumphant Versus Lux Imperator
As the main army group began its offensive on Hive Meradon, Mars Triumphant set out to accomplish its mission. The enemy Gargant seemed to be retreating, drawn by the prospect of heavier combat on the other end of the surface town. Cortein's comm-officer suggested using the Navy's guns to annihilate it, but Cortein dismissed the idea because the Cruiser's accuracy would be reduced by the absence of ground-based telemetry and because the Gargant would already have entered the area of Orktown protected by the psychic amplifier.
As Mars Triumphant entered a great plaza, a console began to ping incessantly, recognising an Imperial vehicle nearby. Running the vehicle's recognition signal through his console, the comm-officer was astonished to receive a positive match: the unidentified vehicle was Lux Imperator!
Despite Brasslock's resistance, the Ork witch known as Greeneyes had successfully pried the secrets to reactivate the Shadowsword's Plasma Reactor from the Tech-priest's mind. Lux Imperator had subsequently been "kustomized" by Gratzdakka's Mekboyz to become one of the infamous Ork Battle Fortresses. To add to the insult, Brasslock himself had been impaled on one of the many decorative spikes added to the Shadowsword to make it more "Orky", his helpless form dangling from Lux Imperator’s chassis.
Knowing fully well that his own tank had little chance of surviving against the Shadowsword's Volcano Cannon, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein ordered his driver to take them out of the plaza by the shortest route. Its engine roaring at maximum power, Mars Triumphant turned, seeking cover in the low houses of the surface town just as Captain Exertaxes and his men entered the plaza. Cortein tried to warn the captain about the approaching menace, but the Atraxian officer did not let Cortein speak, instead promising to have him and his men court-martialed for fleeing before the enemy.
Lux Imperator finally entered the square, flattening a building in the process. Its appearance was much changed after only a short while in the possession of the xenos. A great iron maw had been welded to Lux Imperator’s front chassis, recreating the long tusked grin of the Orks. Turrets had been added to the Shadowsword's frame, springing up like ugly mushrooms on the tank's flanks. Some had not survived the super-heavy tank's brutal passage through the building, the remnants of their occupants now smeared on the tank's armour.
As befitted a great Ork Battlewagon, Lux Imperator sported a customised paintjob, the tank's hull daubed in a garish camouflage scheme, Orkish glyphs running in broad stripes along its flanks accompanied by the Blood Axes' emblem.
As soon as it had entered the plaza, Lux Imperator stopped, unleashing the might of its main armament against the Atraxians, killing one Chimera and twelve men in a single shot. Keeping out of the Shadowsword's arc of fire, Mars Triumphant drove along a parallel street, its turret ready to fire at the captured Shadowsword as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
In the meantime, the Atraxian infantry scattered, their Chimeras peppering Lux Imperator with their Multi-Lasers, which did little more than scratch its paint. The Shadowsword fired a second shot before Mars Triumphant’s weapons spoke. Low-hulled against the buildings surrounding the square, Lux Imperator made for a difficult target and it was no surprise when the shot went wide.
A deadly game of cat and mouse began, with both super-heavy tanks trying to get the best arc of fire on each other. Using the low buildings of the surface town for cover, Mars Triumphant’s turret proved a sizeable advantage over Lux Imperator’s hull-mounted main weapon.
Honoured Lieutenant Cortein hoped to somehow immobilise the Shadowsword and destroy it, and he repeatedly had his tank drive through buildings to escape becoming a target. Several times the Baneblade clashed with roaming bands of Orks, blasting its way through every opponent as Imperial artillery began to shell the surface town. In the chaos surrounding them, the occupants of Mars Triumphant did not realise that they were being herded back to the square where the Atraxians had been slaughtered -- and to the Psy-Gargant waiting to face them there.
The Gargant suddenly loomed malevolently over the plaza. In a moment of clarity, Bannick realized that Imperial artillery had not stopped shelling the surface town, their shells were merely being absorbed by the psychic shield cast by Greeneyes aboard its Gargant.
Mars Triumphant’s Auspex pinged with renewed urgency, picking up the tell-tale signal of Lux Imperator’s capacitors charging to unleash the wrath of its Volcano Cannon. Cortein's comm-officer shouted a warning, but before anyone could act, Greeneyes focused his psychic powers on the Baneblade, trying to kill its crew so that the Blood Axes could claim yet another super-heavy tank. One after another, the crew fell into unconsciousness, blood dripping from noses and mouths.
When Bannick awoke, the Sandscum amulet he had been given was burning hot. Most of the crew had accepted Mayor Bruta's gifts, a gift that had just saved their lives. The lone crewman who had not worn one of the amulets was dead, his head having exploded in spectacular fashion. Mars Triumphant had been hit, and the Baneblade's reactor had gone cold. Reading the Orks' intentions, Hounoured Lieutenant Cortein ordered everyone back to their stations. The exterior periscope showed Ork infantry advancing on the dormant tank.
With only solar minutes to act and no power, three of the tankers manually hauled the special Lorelei shell from the Baneblade's magazine to the breach of its turret-mounted Mega Battle Cannon. Cortein's intent was clear: head straight for the Gargant and hope the Lorelei shell would act as the Magi of the Adeptus Mechanicus had predicted.
With a roar, Mars Triumphant’s reactor and engines came back to life. Guns blazing, the Baneblade lurched forward, Heavy Bolters mowing down the Boyz trying to capture it. With pin-point accuracy, the left Lascannon destroyed the last remaining Killa Kan covering the Orks, and the Grennskin the foot-soldiers scattered.
Watching the scene unfold from the bridge of his Gargant, Greeneyes bellowed in anger. The Gargant's conventional weapons opened fire, churning up the ground around the Baneblade. Mars Triumphant’s forward turret, which housed its Twin-linked Heavy Bolters, was badly dented before being destroyed, but the Baneblade's thick armour held, and the tank advanced on its target. Annoyed by the Baneblade's continued survival, Greeneyes' mind began to harness the power of the Orks' gestalt WAAAGH! energy, transforming their ire and battlelust into destructive energy. He hit a prominent red button on his console and a klaxon began to wail, informing the Psy-Gargant's captain that it was time to deploy the Warp Cannon.
With a clanking of gears and rattling of chains, the grotesque jaw of the Gargant dropped and the Warp Cannon was run out. Undeterred, the Baneblade continued its advance, the long-barrel of its main gun pointed at the towering warmachine. The Mega Battle Cannon fired and Greeneyes laughed at the pathetic efforts of the "humiez." But his laughter died in its throat as the shell passed straight through his psychic shield, penetrated the Ork walker's armour and exploded deep in the Gargant's bowels.
Compared to the size of the Gargant, the shell's entry wound seemed flimsy. Fire gushed from it and the Titan-class Ork walker was stopped in its tracks, but the Gargant's head and weaponry continued to fire at Mars Triumphant. The Baneblade's reactor was hit again, and power was lost throughout the vehicle.
All aboard believed they were as good as dead when green fire suddenly belched out of the Gargant's guts, roaring upwards. Wild, green lightning appeared around the Gargant's head. With a loud clap, one of its arms was snapped off, wreathed with the viridian energy.
Emboldened by their first hit, Mars Triumphant fired another Lorelei shell, its hull-mounted Demolisher Cannon now joining the fray. The Gargant was soon riddled with interior explosions. Despite the sudden exuberance, Cortein's comm-officer shouted a sudden warning. The Auspex had picked up the presence of the Lux Imperator rushing back to the square just before a wave of green energy spat from the self-immolating Gargant.
Mars Triumphant was hit with enough force that the entire Baneblade shifted counter-clockwise, its front badly dented. Green lightning danced along the Baneblade's consoles, shorting them out and causing the hololithic chart table to explode, showering the deck with glass shards. One of the crewman confirmed that the tank's driver had been killed and the Demolisher Cannon was lost as well.
With the internal Vox-system out, Cortein had to shout so that the remaining crewmen could hear him. He ordered everyone to abandon the tank. As the crew donned their protective goggles and respirators, Tech-aspirant Vorkosigen insisted on remaining: without him, the tank's reactor would fail and Mars Triumphant would be as good as dead. Lieutenant Bannick was put in charge of the survivors and tasked with getting them to safety. Bannick and Epperlariant carried an unconscious crewman between the two of them.
Exiting the wounded Baneblade, Bannick and his small band of survivors crossed the square, seeking shelter in the buildings around them. Human figures waved at them, survivors of Exertaxes' platoon who had fought off the Orks. It was only once in the relative safety of the crumbling workshop that Bannick could see that the psychic shield protecting Orktown was still up, as both artillery shells and lance strikes battered ineffectually at it. All hope of victory now rested with the two men aboard the dying Mars Triumphant -- and their time was almost up, for Lux Imperator had come back to finish its sister off.
Miraculously still alive, Adept Brasslock's world was one of constant pain. His mechanical components were on the verge of terminal shutdown and his body was delirious with fever, his wounds having become infected. Seeing Lux Imperator bearing down on Mars Triumphant, his still-human heart was filled with sadness.
Out of desperation, Brasslock reached out to Lux Imperator’s Machine Spirit. He felt that the Shadowsword's caged spirit was pained by being so roughly handled by the Orks. He began to chant the litanies of calming, soothing the Machine Spirit. The Shadowsword answered him, through coincidence or a miracle of the Omnissiah, Brasslock didn't know, but Lux Imperator suddenly suffered a catastrophic malfunction. The four terrawatts of energy accumulated in the Shadowsword's capacitors suddenly discharged, not into its gargantuan main gun but through the tank's hull, frying every Greenskin inside of it!
With a sigh of relief, Brasslock let go and drifted into unconsciousness.
Unaware of the small miracle that had saved his life, Honoured Lieutenant Cortein had descended into his Baneblade's main hull, and seated himself in the driver's seat. Mouthing a short prayer to the Emperor and the Omnissiah, he pulled the throttle and was rewarded by the sound of Mars Triumphant’s engine coming to life. He set the Baneblade on a collision course with the Gargant before crawling his way back to the shell-locker.
The air was so thick with smoke and fumes Cortein had to navigate by touch alone. Fetching a belt of Fragmentation Grenades from the tank's small armoury-locker, Cortein headed for the shell-locker where he wrapped the explosives around one of the high-explosive shells. When Mars Triumphant hit the Gargant in an ear-numbing din, Cortein mouthed a final prayer to the Emperor and depressed the firing button on one of the grenades.
The resulting explosion consumed Mars Triumphant, lifting the super-heavy tank several metres into the air before crashing back down. As Cortein had hoped, the destruction of the Baneblade ignited something inside the Gargant and it too was riddled with explosions. Debris rained down upon the square and with a loud bang of rushing air, the psychic shield warding Hive Meradon disappeared.
WAAAGH! Gratzdakka Defeated
As the psychic shield collapsed, the din of battle erupted all over the surface town. Shrieking artillery shells began to land all around the square and tall columns of lights linking the sky with the ground told of naval lance-fire annihilating enemy strongpoints and Stompaz from orbit.
The Orks assailing Bannick's position looked up to the sky, the fight momentarily forgotten, as did the Imperial survivors around him before Bannick bellowed the order to continue firing, shaking the Atraxian troops and tankers around him back into action.
Soon tear-shaped landing-craft could be seen streaming across the dark sky, the tell-tale signs of an Adeptus Astartes Drop Pod-insertion. The Black Templars had committed in force to reclaim Hive Meradon, no doubt striking at Gratzdakka himself. Assailed from the air as well as from the ground, the Orks' resistance quickly crumbled. By sunset, WAAAGH! Gratzdakka had been vanquished and the Kalidar War had come to an end.
In the wake of the Imperial victory, the survivors of the Mars Triumphant were reunited with their comrades of the 7th Paragonian Super Heavy Company. Honoured Captain Hannick personally debriefed them, revealing that the mission was initially intended to serve as a distraction, a diversion to draw Greeneyes' attention away from Iskhandrian's true intentions, thus allowing the Black Templars and the Imperial Navy to redeploy for their assault on Hive Meradon.
- Baneblade (Novel) by Guy Haley