The Knight of Ashes, once named Luk Tan Chimaeros, is a Freeblade of the Imperial Knights who has been active across the galaxy in the wake of the Donatos War. Luk Tan Chimaeros was the last son of a disgraced Knight House that turned Renegade and entered into the service of Chaos. After swearing the Freeblade Oath he embarked on a personal quest for vengeance and forgiveness, trying to atone for the betrayal by House Chimaeros of the Emperor and the other Knight Houses of Adrastapol.
In hunting the witch -- his own mother -- who had corrupted his House, the Knight of Ashes hopes to earn his redemption and one day return to his homeworld. Whereas most Freeblades seek solitude, the passion of the Knight of Ashes is such that other Freeblades are drawn to him.
Together they have formed "the Exiles," a band of misfit Knights hunting for their elusive prey. Guided by the hands of prophecy, the Knight of Ashes and his followers would play an instrumental role in the defeat of WAAAGH! Killfist during the Second Ork War.
The tale of the Knight of Ashes begins in the distant Majestis System, and more specifically on the Knight World of Adrastapol. What began almost as a fairy tale however soon became a story of misery and woe.
Luk Tan Chimaeros was born in an era of relative peace. His father, Gerraint Tan Chimaeros, was not only the ruler of House Chimaeros, but also the High King of Adrastapol, a semi-hereditary title which he had won through his great victory over the Orks of WAAAGH! Skarjaw.
It was during this conflict -- locally known as the Ork Wars -- that High King Gerraint would encounter his future consort and Luk's mother, Alicia Tan Manticos. She was a scion of House Manticos, a Knight House of noble provenance that had terribly suffered under the Orks' rampage and whose ancestral home had been destroyed. It was in the ruins of her former home that Gerraint Tan Chimaeros encountered the wounded Alicia, then barely more than a girl.
As staunch traditionalists, House Manticos' strict laws of succession did not allow for Alicia, as a woman, to claim leadership over House Manticos. The leaderless House was therefor placed under the control of the High King. Since Gerraint and Alicia had fallen in love, none of the other Houses objected when House Manticos was simply absorbed into House Chimaeros. Unable to marry Alicia officially, Gerraint nevertheless openly showed his affection for her and created the title of Royal Consort for her, a position he invested with much authority. Due to her intelligence, Alicia quickly became the High King's chief advisor and a well-liked figure both within and outside House Chimaeros.
With the birth of their son, Luk, both Gerraint and Alicia celebrated their newfound joy as a family. Although officially a bastard, High King Gerraint ensured that Luk would be able to carry the Tan Chimaeros name and one day become House Chimaeros' ruler. Even Luk's half-brother, Gerraint's legitimate son with his queen, Gedric Tan Chimaeros, rejoiced at his father's newfound joy.
Since the days of the Ork Wars, the lords of House Chimaeros and House Draconis had always been firm friends. To further the friendship between the two Houses and upon Alicia's advice, Luk spend much time with Danial Tan Draconis, the son of Baron Tolwyn Tan Draconis. Being of similar age, the two boys became inseparable friends, marveling at the adventures of Sir Adrastapol, a fictional Knight who served as the embodiment of all the values inherent to the Chivalric Code. Together they and prepared for the day they too would start their training as Squires.
Luk's friendship with Danial was so strong that it easily handled their change in status. With the untimely death of Gedric Tan Chimaeros, Luk's father lost the crown of the High King to his friend Tolwyn Tan Draconis since under Adrastapolian law no High King could serve without a legitimate heir. Gerraint was reduced in station to a Baron. With their positions suddenly reversed, the two boys entered adolescence and began their training under the austere gaze and rigorous regime of High King Tolwyn's best Noble, Herald Markos Dar Draconis, a hero of the Ork Wars.
Throughout their training, Luk distinguished himself as a capable, if hot-headed fighter. His eagerness and recklessness in a fight were traits that needed to be tempered by restraint and focus. Unfortunately, Markos Dar Draconis' failed his pupil in this manner in a spectacular fashion, as Luk remained a warrior defined by his willingness to rush into a fight. With other tutors drawn from House Chimaeros, Luk rapidly mastered the art of sword fighting and became adept at wielding House Chimaeros' exotic signature weapon, the chimersword.
As Luk and Danial grew older, the time came for them to choose an Imperial Knight in their respective Houses' armouries. As a renewed mark of friendship, both of them were drawn to the Knight Errant and the destructive power of its Thermal Cannon and its secondary focus on hand-to-hand combat. Luk successfully bonded with the Throne Mechanicum of the Knight armour known as Sword of Heroes which still loyally serves him to this day.
As news reached Adrastapol of a conflict arising on the Industrial World of Donatos Primus, the training of the two young men was accelerated until they were deemed ready to pass the Ritual of Becoming intended to recognise them as fully-fledged Knights.
The Birth of the Knight of Ashes
As a recently anointed Knight, Luk Tan Chimaeros was selected to accompany the delegation of Adrastapolian Nobles who travelled to Donatos Primus to fight in the Emperor's name in what would later be referred to as the Donatos War but at first was considered a mere uprising.
Luk's selection was by no means a sign of privilege, as High King Tolwyn had mobilised over 300 Imperial Knights from all the major Houses of Adrastapol to answer the call of war. While this number might have been seen as excessive, by the time the Imperium called upon the Knights of Adrastapol to act, the vile taint of Chaos had been uncovered on Donatos. Worse yet, the presence of Chaos Space Marines had been confirmed on Donatos Primus. It was the Scribed Blade, a warband of the dreaded Word Bearers Traitor Legion commanded by the bloodthirsty Dark Apostle Varakh'Lorr.
The chronicles of the Sage-strategist Sendraghorst record Luk Tan Chimaeros' first engagement as the landing on the Pentakhost Peninsula, one of the few pockets of Imperial resistance remaining on Donatos Primus. Proudly bearing the colours of House Chimaeros, Luk fought in a Lance alongside his childhood friend, Danial Tan Draconis and their tutor, Markos Dar Draconis, slaughtering the Chaos Cultists resisting the remaining Donatosian Planetary Defence Forces.
With the Word Bearers mysteriously absent from the fight, the Imperial troops advanced against the enemy, until the followers of the Ruinous Powers were besieged in the planet's mightiest stronghold, the Valle Electrum. However, calamity soon struck -- in the middle of the battle to gain control of the Valle Electrum's outer defences, the Knights of House Chimaeros and House Wyvorn turned their guns upon their fellow Knights. What ought to have been a hard-fought victory quickly turned into a rout for the Loyalists as the Word Bearers emerged from hiding and counterattacked in force. Betrayed and outflanked, High King Tolwyn nevertheless succeeded in turning the rout into a better organised retreat.
As the Loyalist Knights desperately sought to escape the deadly ambush, a group of House Draconis Knights stumbled upon Sword of Heroes. While damaged, the Knight Errant piloted by Luk still fought off a second Knight in the livery of House Chimaeros. Without thinking, Danial Tan Draconis surged forwards in Oath of Flame, eager to aid his friend. Together, they quickly defeated Luk's opponent.
While Danial never truly believed that Luk had been involved in his father's betrayal, the other Knights, chief amongst them Luk's mentor, Markos Dar Draconis, were reluctant to trust a Chimaeros Knight so quickly. Thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Jennika Tan Draconis, Danial's older sister, Luk's life was spared and he was taken captive as a prisoner of war.
During the retreat from the Valle Electrum, Luk witnessed his own father kill High King Tolwyn while he was leading the doomed rearguard which bravely sacrificed itself so that their fellow Knights might live. Having narrowly escaped with their lives, the remaining Knights of the three loyal Houses found a hiding place where they could recover. As the legitimate heir to the throne, Danial Tan Draconis was proclaimed the new High King of Adrastapol to counter the Traitor Gerraint's claim.
One of the first actions of the new High King was to counter the accusations of treachery against his friend.Like all the other Loyalists, Luk had been betrayed by the Renegade Knights of Houses Chimaeros and Wyvorn. He had been denied the warding agent that had protected the Traitor Knights from the pernicious scrap-code unleashed by the Word Bearers and that was now wreaking havoc on the Imperial Vox network and the Loyalist Knights' targeting systems. Many remained unconvinced of Luk's innocence, voicing the opinion that Luk might be a spy sent by his father, the usurper, to lead them into a new ambush.
While the surviving Knights grudgingly accepted their new lord's judgement, several elders openly distrusted Luk. Now forced to shamefully hide from their enemy, tempers soon flared against Luk, the only House Chimaeros Knight the frustrated Loyalists could readily strike at. The vocal leader of these older Knights, Markos Dar Draconis, the slain king's Herald, challenged Luk Tan Chimaeros to an honour duel. Although it pained him to do so, Luk had no choice to accept and face his former mentor, for the Chivalric Code forbid him from refusing the challenge.
Dozens of idle Knights -- most from Houses Minotos and Draconis -- formed a ring around the two contestants. One of them, Sire Vancenz Dar Draconis, had the to go to the High King and warn him about what was unfolding, but even the High King could not stop an honour duel.
The two combatants faced off with their blades, though it seemed that Luk Tan Chimaeros was sure to lose against his old master. His opponent used his greater mass to smash through Luk's defences, and Markos repeatedly punched Luk in the face, splitting his lip. One of Markos' lunges scored a glancing hit on Luk's arm, his flaming draconblade scorching his sleeve. Despite an attempt by the High King to appease both combatants, neither would back down.
Luk's chimersword met Markos' draconblade repeatedly. Markos' blade Orksbane, a moniker acquired during the bloody Ork Wars, possessed a fierce reputation, as did the man wielding it. While Luk was quicker and more agile on his feet, the sheer strength of Markos' blows sent numbing shocks through his arms every time their blades met. Luk was certain that if the duel went on for long, his opponent's greater strength would prevail. He needed to put an end to the fight, and fast.
Pushed back into a corner of the ring, Luk threw himself into a forward roll, passing beneath his opponent's guard. Coming up fast behind Markos, Luk and the Draconis veteran exchanged a flurry of blows. Once again, Markos scored a hit, his downwards sweeps drawing a thin line of blood across Luk's chest. With blood spilled, honour was satisfied, but Markos Dar Draconis continued to press his advantage.
Luk stepped back, putting more distance between himself and Orkbane’s flaming edge, grimacing as he did so. Suddenly, the Chimaeros Knight turned one of his backsteps into a graceful pirouette, twisting the handle of his chimersword as he did so. With a clatter, the cables on the inside of the chimersword's blade relaxed, transforming the previously solid object into a whip composed of metal discs. Using his greater reach, Luk's blade wrapped around Marko's swordarm just as the Herald was raising it to block the incoming blow. The Herald roared in pain as the discs bit deep into his flesh, and he let go of Orksbane out of reflex. With a swift flick of the wrist, Luk disarmed his opponent, letting the draconblade clatter to the floor, its blade still ignited.
A lesser Knight would have conceded victory at this point, but Markos Dar Draconis was made of sterner stuff. Gritting through the pain, the Herald used his injured hand to hold on to the whip and gave it a hard yank. Clearly surprised, Luk lost his balance and tumbled forward, giving Markos the opportunity to brutally headbutt his former student. The sound of breaking cartilage was heard even over the din of the crowd. A second headbutt sent Luk reeling.
The heavier Draconis Knight slammed into his younger opponent, performing a movement perfected by countless generations of brawlers, wrestlers and pit-fighters. Markos sent the Chimaeros Knight crashing to the ground, Luk hitting his head on the floor. The former Herald seized Luk by the front of his bodyglove and repeatedly punched Luk in the face.
"Go on, Markos, beat him to death!" yelled one of the attending Draconis Knights, "Show him what Traitors get!" The shout pulled Markos' attention from his opponent. "Dishonour doesn't beget dishonour, Garath", growled Markos. "You know better," the Herald continued before turning his back on Luk and heading to where Orksbane rested on the ground. Markos Dar Draconis retrieved his blade, turned and then walked back to stand over his fallen opponent. "Sorry, lad," said the old warrior, raising his blade, point down for the kill-stroke.
As the sword thrust down, Luk rolled to one side, clearly not as out of the fight as he had led Markos to believe. Luk used his right fist to fling some dirt into Markos' eyes, blinding the heavy-set warrior just before Luk kicked out at the Herald's knee, dislocating the joint. The Draconis Knight crashed to the ground with a cry of agony, and sprang to his feet, now standing over Markos. He was bruised and bloodied, but he stood nonetheless.
Luk retrieved his sword and positioned himself over his prone opponent. "Stay down, old man!" he spat through broken teeth. Infuriated, Markos managed to stand up by using his sword as a crutch. Both fighters were now bloodied, but neither would back down.
The fight resumed, more sluggishly than before. The Herald heavily favoured his uninjured leg, giving Luk the advantage. For the second time, Luk turned his chimersword into a whip, and used it to send Markos crashing to the ground. Markos held up his draconsblade to ward off the follow-up attack, but as he was falling Luk put all his weight into a savage backwards jerk. The coils of the chimersword tensed and Orksbane’s blade snapped in two.
With his enemy lying in the dirt, urging him to finish the job, Luk turned his back on his opponent and faced his friend Danial. He rammed his sword into the ground and knelt before him. "High King of Adrastapol, Danial Tan Draconis, hear my vow, I beseech you," he intoned. Danial was silent for a moment before the ritual words came back to him.
"I hear your vow, Luk Tan Chimaeros," the king answered.
"Tan Chimaeros no longer," continued Luk. "By this vow I renounce that name, and spit upon its dishonour. By this vow, I discard my rights, my titles, my lands and my House. By this vow, I declare myself Freeblade, and ask that you, my king, recognise me as such."
"Very well, Luk Kar Chimaeros." replied the High King, "I name thee Freeblade. By what title shall you be known henceforth?"
"I will be the Knight of Ashes, my liege. For they are all I have left."
"Then so be it," said Danial. In one fluid motion, the High King drew his own draconblade and placed its tip against the kneeling Noble's chest, directly over Luk's heart.
"Rise, Luk Kar Chimaeros, once-son of the Traitor Gerraint Tan Chimaeros, now the Knight of Ashes."
To Hunt a Witch
Having renounced his name and donned the mantle of a Freeblade, Luk was now legally protected from reprisal, for the Chivalric Code forbid any honourable Knight from pursuing another for their previous failings or those of their House as soon as they had taken the Oath and forever expunged their connection to their past.
After the duel, Luk was personally selected by the High King to join him in a counterattack against the traitorous Knights of House Chimaeros. Sentries hidden in the ruins around the Loyalists' subterranean hiding place reported spotting a small group of no more than a dozen Renegade Knights. With the numbers on his side, High King Danial wanted to spill some Traitor blood. He took the majority of the survivors, some 30 Imperial Knights, with him.
Tracking the enemy Knights by Auspex, the Loyalist contingent followed the Renegade Knights to an abandoned Adeptus Arbites precinct fortress whose menacing black tower pierced the sky just beneath a great cliff. Believing the enemy trapped within, the High King ordered the attack. The vengeful Adrastapolian Nobles easily overcame the sentries and forced an entry through the fortress' thick walls. Nine Renegade Knights were slain on the walls or inside the fortress' courtyard.
Within the fortress, the Loyalists' rampage was halted when they discovered three Imperial Knights standing with their backs to the cliff, their auto-pennants lowered as a sign of surrender. At their head stood the Knight Gallant Blade Aggressor, the personal steed of Sire Hectour Dar Manticos, Gerraint's right-hand man. The Gallant had lowered its Reaper Chainsword, but awkwardly held out its Thunderstrike Gauntlet, its fingers half-closed and its palm turned upwards, forming a type of cage. Only when the machine's fingers slowly opened could the Loyalists see who had been trapped within...
It was Alicia Kar Manticos, Luk's mother.
Despite his Knights urging the High King to take immediate action, Danial recognised that any violent action might well end in the former consort's death. He thus offered to parley with the Knights holding her captive. Their demands came as no surprise to the Loyalist Knights. The Traitors wanted their complete surrender in exchange for the life of the consort.
Conflicting emotions raged within Luk's heart, including fear for his mother's life, love and compassion for his friends, hatred for those Knights who resorted to extortion to achieve their goals. On a private Vox channel, the Knight of Ashes tried to reason with his oldest friend, fully understanding that the High King would not and could not give in to such demands. Although Danial offered the three Knights an honorable surrender and the solemn promise that their lives would be spared, their demands were rejected.
Abandoning all pretense of fear and helplessness, Alicia Dar Manticos suddenly stood unassisted, ignoring the wind and rain battering her slender form. Sire Hectour opened the digits of his Thunderstrike Gauntlet, freeing her. Yet the consort made no move to escape. Instead she began to speak and impossibly, every Knight in King Danial's party could hear her though she spoke unassisted.
"I suppose that was really too much to hope for," she began, "the complete surrender of the new High King and all his Knights, for the life of one consort? Arrogance on my part, I fear..." Taking the time to reassure her son that she was unharmed, Alicia stated in no uncertain terms that she not only knew of Gerraint's intentions to betray the other Adrastapolian Knights, but had even had a hand in the planning of that betrayal.
Too numbed by the revelations of his mother, the Knight of Ashes stood passively, trying to come to grips with this new and terrible revelation. Many other Knights felt the same way, except for Grandmarshal Gustev of House Minotos. "Heresy!" roared the old warrior when Alicia openly admitted that she venerated one of the dread Chaos Gods, Tzeentch, rather than the divine Emperor of Mankind. This revelation restored the composure of the gathered Knights. His blood already up, Grandmarshal Gustev charged Blade Aggressor while High King Danial finally gave the order to fire.
A chorus of spectral voices suddenly rose from Luk's Throne Mechanicum, the ghosts of his ancestors urging him to act. For once they were unanimous: "Reclaim your honour! Kill the Traitor!"
Explosions and searing beams of directed energy engulfed the three enemy Knights, the light so bright that Sword of Heroes’ optic dampers kicked in, dulling the Freeblade's view of the scene. Blinking the filters away, Luk beheld a terrible sight. The three Chimaeros Knights stood unharmed, protected by a dying wall of eldritch, blue flames invoked by Alicia.
"Witch!" roared Gustev Tan Minotos as he stormed forwards, correctly identifying the nature of the enemy they now faced. Her beautiful features set in a cold mask, Alicia raised her hand and uttered a series of strange words. A ray of searing blue and purple flames erupted from her outstretched hand, stabbing into the Grandmarshal's Knight. Impossibly, the flames penetrated through Thunderhymn’s Ion Shield and buried themselves deep into the Imperial Knight's armour. Where the flames touched, the Knight underwent a terrible transmutation.
Adamantium and plasteel turned to flesh and bone. "Emperor protect me!" cried Gustev over the Vox, moments before his body was absorbed by the now living flesh of Thunderhymn, the Grandmarshal dying with a horrible gurgling sound. Fang-filled mouths opened at random all over the heaving mound of flesh the war machine had become, each one vomiting forth lurid streams of fire.
In a spray of blood, the mountain of flesh suddenly birthed rubbery tentacles and spars of bones. Hundreds of eyes of all size and colour opened upon its body before the gargantuan Chaos Spawn fixed its attention upon the Loyalist Knights, its horrific body adopting the likeness of Grandmarshal Gustev's tortured face.
This fresh horror finally shook the Knight of Ashes from his lethargy. Fighting down the bile rising from his stomach, Luk aimed his Knight Errant's Thermal Cannon at his mother and fired. The heat ray it unleashed speared towards Alicia, who simply swatted it aside with her sorcerous power. With a final look of betrayal at her son, the witch mouthed a prayer to Tzeentch, and teleported herself and the three Traitor Knights away. As soon as the three Renegade Knights had disappeared, the mighty cliffs towering over the Loyalist Knights' heads shuddered with the sounds of explosions. Thousands of tons of rock came tumbling down as the Loyalisrs realised to their horror their assault had been a trap all along!
Several Loyalists perished, crushed by the gigatons of stone and masonry that fell upon them. Miraculously both the High King and the Knight of Ashes escaped unharmed.
Victory Through Adversity
This second betrayal served only to strengthen the resolve of the Knight of Ashes. With unflinching loyalty, Luk went on to assist High King Danial and fought alongside him until the victorious conclusion of the Donatos War. Together, the two young Knights famously led the charge of the surviving Adrastapolian Knights against the impressive defences of the Valle Electrum. Fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the High King, the Knight of Ashes followed the trace left by his treacherous mother, confronting her and the leader of the Word Bearers on Donatos, the infamous Dark Apostle Varakh'Lorr as they both wrestled for control over a large sacrificial beacon whose power ensured ascension to daemonhood.
Although his father, Gerraint Tan Chimaeros, was ultimately slain by another Knight, Luk was finally able to face his mother. Already weakened by her sorcerous duel against Varakh'Lorr, this time Alicia felt the blast of Sword of Heroes’ Thermal Cannon. The force of the exothermic ray was enough to propel her through a wall, but a post-engagement search failed to recover her body. Convinced that his mother was still alive, Luk Kar Chimaeros solemnly swore to hunt her down wherever she had fled.
Despite his desire to pursue this quest, the Knight of Ashes could not refuse his friend when the new High King bid him to return with them to Adrastapol. In the wake of the High King's official coronation, the Knight of Ashes was summoned before the court, resplendent in his new livery. He wore an ash-grey bodyglove and a simple tabard bearing his new Freeblade heraldry -- a roaring chimera laying on its back, a sword trust through its heart.
Before High King Danial let his best friend embark upon his quest, the ruler of Adrastapol presented him with a final gift, a finely-crafted draconblade, the ancestral weapon of House Draconis. Departing with the blessings of his friends and the High King himself, the Knight of Ashes took to the stars, departing Adrastapol on the very afternoon Danial bid him farewell.
The Hunt Begins
Thanks to House Draconis' generosity, Luk Kar Chimaeros booked passage on a fast starship. A small retinue of Sacristans accompanied him in order to maintain Sword of Heroes and a small staff of pages and manservants would see to the more mundane aspects of his expedition. Otherwise the Knight of Ashes was alone.
Picking up the trail of his mother on the world of Ghamdor, the Knight of Ashes hunted her down from one end of the Tyvorian Spiral to the other. On Undul, Sacramento and Pydos, he arrived too late to confront her, instead dealing with whatever sinister machinations or nasty surprises Alicia left in her wake. Soon the Knight of Ashes gained a reputation for putting down rebellions, unearthing conspirators and defeating the unholy creatures of Chaos.
Having gained quite the reputation, other Freeblade Knights soon flocked to the Knight of Ashes, looking to him for guidance and a chance to atone for their own failures. Afraid to lose track of his prey, the Knight of Ashes sought not only to follow, but to intercept the witch before she could work her evil. But this meant knowing in advance where his Emperor-forsaken mother wished to go, a feat that was considered impossible.
Finally, on U'latu, the Knight of Ashes found what he sought -- an aging gas-prospector told him of a distant Desert World, Kandakkha, and the mighty seer who lived there, the Oracle of the Silver Eye. Setting a course for Kandakkha, the Knight of Ashes and his fellow Exiles found the world in a state of strife. An armoured warband of Heretic Astra Militarum had spread its corruption to several of the desert-clans and was now hunting the last Loyalist clans in an effort to claim Kandhakka. Allying himself with one of the loyal clans, the Knight of Ashes led the Exiles into battle, easily defeating the armoured column of Traitor Guardsmen under the guns of their Knights.
In the wake of the Heretics' slaughter, a mounted clansman guided the Exiles to the active volcano upon which the oracle lived. The fiery mountain was called Lorgukhu in the local tongue, a name that did nothing to alleviate the Knight of Ashes' fears. Dismounting from Sword of Heroes, Luk ascended the volcano on foot after having armed himself with a pair of Bolt Pistols and a Chainsword. Following a path on the volcano's flanks, Luk finally reached the mouth of a deep cave. Human bones had been strung on wires, giving the cave's entrance a sinister look. Refusing to turn back after such a long climb, Luk entered the cave and met the Oracle of the Silver Eye.
The oracle was an old woman, thin and frail, her skin almost leathery with age and the harsh kiss of Kandakkha's sun. In one hand, she held an ornate staff topped with a silver Aquila, the same design repeated on her pale robes. On her forehead, the woman wore a blindfold hiding her third eye, for she had once been a member of the Navis Nobilite, one of the Navigators the Imperium relied upon to navigate its starships through the dangers of the Warp.
Still suspicious of a possible trap, Luk's hands never stayed far from his weapons, although the oracle proved genuine. At the end of their conversation, she handed him a parchment detailing where he could find Alicia Kar Manticos in the future. With it came two warnings First, his mother knew of his coming for she also had acquired the necessary knowledge and power to gaze into the future. Second, his homeworld, Adrastapol, was in great danger, a danger only Luk and his band of misfit Knights could thwart.
Anger filled Luk's heart as he realised he would depart with only more unanswered questions. He wonder if the seer was perhaps in league with Alicia.
The oracle sensed his questions. "Trust me that I take no pleasure in this. It is as much of a burden to speak these words as it is for you to hear them," she told the Freeblade. "The quarry of your hunt is foul and deserves to be purged with the Emperor's light. Yet the threat to Adrastapol is as real as you or I, and without you they will fall. Even with you, perhaps. But can you truly turn away and know that you did not try?"
Before Luk had reached the bottom of the mountain path, he had made his decision. It was time to go home.
Return to Adrastapol
In Luk's absence, his homeworld had become the target of an Ork WAAAGH!. Led by a Warlord of terrible reputation, Gorgrok Killfist of the Death Skulls klan, the Greenskins had sparked what was remembered as the Second Ork War. Luk's vessel, the Unbroken, a former Cruiser of the Imperial Navy, arrived in the Majestis System a few solar weeks into the conflict. Killfist's massive fleet already clogged Adrastapol's high orbit.
Expertly led by its captain, a hard-bitten ruffian from Valhalla answering to the name of Shas, the Unbroken dared the Orks' guns and despite a steady pounding successfully reached Adrastapol's atmosphere with enough time to conduct a combat drop for its cargo of Knights. The unexpectedly swift response of the Orks forced the Unbroken to release its drop ships and Drop Pods early, missing the intended drop zone by several hundred Terran miles.
In the end, the Knight of Ashes and his Exiles, as well as their supporting troops and Sacristans, landed on the wrong side of the Adrapotine Mountains, in a region known as the Diaphane Highlands. This was House Pegasson land and a border fort watched over the mountain pass leading deeper into Marchioness Lauret's lands. Even from orbit, the Knight's Auspex systems had detected the energy signatures of a large warband of Orks swarming the fort. As the Exiles exited their Dropkeep, a pang of nostalgia and guilt swelled up in the Knight of Ashes' heart, returning as he was to his homeworld with his oath to hunt down his mother unfulfilled.
The Vesserine Grenadiers of Colonel Gesmund disembarked in orderly fashion from their own drop ships, ranks of disciplined soldiers in dark blue Carapace Armour and distinctive crested helmets filing out of their vessels, ready to embark into their Tauroxes. The Vesserines were a former Astra Militarum regiment that had been disbanded by the Departmento Munitorum and whose remnants had become something akin to mercenaries, pledging their numbers to Luk Kar Chimaeros on Tanos Station where they had been left stranded.
In exchange for payment, the Vesserines had fought alongside the Exiles for several Terran years and the Knight of Ashes had come to value the infantry support offered by these hardened veterans. Colonel Gesmund commanded several platoons of Grenadiers as well as Heavy Weapons Teams and a squadron of Bane Wolves: an useful addition to the Exiles' forces.
As the small force neared the border fort they could see that its walls had been smeared with Ork glyphs. Ragged banners with crude symbols were hanging from its broken battlements and the Orks had began impaling dead militiamen, all of them wearing the Flak Armour and tabards of House Pegasson on long spikes. A single fallen Imperial Knight lay defeated in front of the fort's opened gates, Orks and Gretchins swarming over it like insects. They prodded it with crowbars and other tools to cannibalise it and create yet more Ork war machines.
Without hesitation the Exiles charged, their Heavy Stubbers enough to mow down the party of Greenskins scavenging the fallen Knight. As the survivors fled, the Vesserines gave chase, making sure that none survived. From the fort's courtyard a small group of Deffkoptas took flight, their pilots turning their twin-linked Rokkit Launchas against the Knight but the erratic flight path of their missiles and the Knights' Ion Shields ensured that they did no harm.
Disciplined and accurate return fire from the Exiles quickly silenced the Ork aircraft. With no signs of further enemies in the vicinity, Luk Kar Chimaeros decided to unmount, enter the fort and discover if the garrison's long-range Vox relay was still operational.
While the remaining forces established a perimeter around the captured fort, the Knight of Ashes and Sire J'madus Hw'ss, formerly of House Krast, led two squads of Vesserines into the fort itself. The small garrison had acquitted themselves well before being overrun, their corpses still strewn around the fortress. Thanks to his many bionic augmentations, Sire Hw'ss was able to determine that the defenders had died roughly three solar days before and that whatever warband had slaughtered them had obviously moved on.
The Greenskins the Exiles had slain had been stragglers and looters. Throughout the complex they encountered only one living Greenskin -- the pilot of an immobilised Deff Dread. Its weapons and legs blown off, the Ork Dreadnought presented no threat but the Knight of Ashes would not suffer any xenos to live. Claiming a Flamer from one of the Vesserines, it was with visible satisfaction that Luk Kar Chimaeros burned the Ork trapped within the walker alive.
Thanks to the technological expertise of Sire Hw'ss who resanctified and placated the distressed Machine Spirit of the Vox relay, Luk was able to reach the Draconspire and talk to his friend High King Danial. The news was grim -- as they spoke, a large horde of Orks were already besieging the Draconspire, their heavy artillery hammering at the fortress' Void Shields.
The master of the WAAAGH!, Warlord Gorgork Killfist, was commanding the siege, but House Draconis lacked the strength to vanquish him alone. While Luk desired nothing more than come to his friend's aid, High King Danial entrusted the Knight of Ashes with a far more vital mission -- to gather whatever forces House Pegasson and House Minotos could spare and march upon the Draconspire to lift the siege. As the communication suddenly broke off, the Knight of Ashes knew that his next destination was the Pegasson Eyrie.
The Lady of Miracles
Over the following solar days, the Exiles and their retinue made their way to the lands of House Pegasson. They encountered several small bands of Orks, and slew them without hindering their progress. When they finally reached Pass Khabyn, they witnessed a scene of desolation.
Behind a forest of robust evergreens, Orks swarmed the pass, firing at a thin line of barricades. Several hundred Orks charged up the slope, swarming over one of their Stompas. To cope with the difficult terrain, the Stompa had been outfitted with a pair of gigantic tracks, a feature most vehicles in the Ork horde shared, as a host of captured Imperial tanks, Warbuggyz and Trukkz were heading for the upper pass.
A single House Pegasson Knight had been defending it, but was now pinned to the rocky walls of the looming mountains, its limbs and body transfixed by long spears of metal. The Mekboyz were already swarming over it and fighting over the most interesting parts of the powerful Imperial war machine.
Coming up on the Orks' rear, the Exiles stopped just long enough to formulate a battle plan before launching themselves at the enemy. Their main target was the Stompa, as the launch tubes mounted upon its right shoulder clearly indicating the origin of the projectiles that had destroyed the Pegasson Knight. As the first projectiles hit its rear, the Stompa labouriously turned, the rearmost squadrons and bands of Orks following suit, only too glad to face a worthy enemy.
As the killing began, the Vox came alive as a captain of the Pegasson Defence Militia, Adrastapol's PDF, tried to contact the Exiles. The officer explained that the pass was marked for collapse, and House Pegasson intended to bury the Orks and their war engines under gigatons of rubble by blowing Demolition Charges set into the mountains' flanks. The Knight of Ashes quickly altered his plan. They would immobilize the Stompa and break through the Orks' line to reach the Imperials before the pass collapsed.
As the Stompa continued its ponderous turn, its Supa-gatler began to spin, readying to fire. As soon as the Orks lined up a target, it unleashed its fire, shredding several Tauroxes of Gesmund's Vesserines and a few Sacristan Walkers. The Supa-gatler's shells began to churn up the ground before hitting the Void, Sire Ranulf Vo-Geiss having foolishly charged ahead and left the protection offered by the lance's overlapping Ion Shields. Several shots punctured its hull, wounding the pilot as well as damaging his Knight.
Cursing his fellow Freeblade's battlelust, the Knight of Ashes fought his way through the Ork horde, killing foes with shots from his Knight's Thermal Cannon and his heavy tread. Crimson Death stunned the Stompa with a first shot from its Positron Driver, giving its fellow Exiles time to wound the larger walker.
Luk ordered Lady Kastarada to cover the stricken Void while Sword of Heroes and Duty Unending closed with their chosen foe. Crimson Death fired again, its second shot causing a chain of explosions in the Stompa's right weapon arm. As the Stompa's Mega-Choppa roared to life, Lady Ekhatarina blew its right track to pieces while the Knight of Ashes charged ahead. Nimbly side-stepping the Stompa's slow blow, Luk Kar Chimaeros blew the Ork walker's head apart, silencing the beast once and for all.
With the Stompa disabled, the Exiles successfully crossed the enemy lines before the charges detonated and the entire pass was choked by tons of snow, earth and rocks. With some difficulty, Sire Ranulf was extracted from Void’s cockpit, his chest bloody and his left legs barely clinging to the rest of his body. As the Sacristans rushed him into a heated medicae-pod, the Knight of Ashes went to meet with the officer commanding the pass' defenders.
Despite the officer's misgivings and lack of trust in the Knight of Ashes' true identity, the Exiles were swiftly granted passage to the heartlands of the Pegasson demesne and its mighty fortress, the Eyrie. True to her word, the militia captain had voxed ahead and made preparations so the lone lance of Knights could pass the outer defences unhindered, but she had made clear that the Exiles would not be permitted to enter the Eyrie while mounted.
Leaving their steeds behind and donning their Rebreathers to compensate for the thin mountain air, the Exiles progressed on foot and were welcomed by one of Luk's old acquaintances, Lady Eleanat Dar Pegasson. Heartened by the display of affection and respect only two warriors who had fought in the same war can display, the Knight of Ashes and his small entourage where swiftly brought before the ruler of House Pegasson, Marchioness Lauret Tan Pegasson, the Lady of Miracles.
Where Lady Eleanat's kind words had kindled hope, Luk's optimism quickly turned to ash in the face of the frigid welcome he received in the Marchioness' throne room. While few Knights and courtiers had been able to gather on such short notice, several of the present Knights were vocal about their distrust for the last scion of House Chimaeros.
Although there were those like Lady Eleanat who defended Luk's honour and his actions, Luk's detractors nearly gained the upper hand and only his repeated mention of the authority of the High King allowed Luk to speak. His message delivered, the Marchioness bid him to convene at a later time during which she would pray for guidance.
Three solar hours later, Lady Eleanat came to visit the Knight of Ashes in the luxuriously furnished room the Exiles had been quartered in. She brought good tidings, for not only would the wounded Sire Ranulf live but the Marchioness had agreed to personally accompany him on his mission. No less than 48 Imperial Knights and the entirety of the Pegassine air force would follow the Knight of Ashes into the lands of House Minotos.
The Rescue of House Minotos
Transported by the heavy landers of the Pegassine Air Force, the Knight of Ashes and his fellow Exiles landed directly on Heroes' Ridge, a large hill overlooking the Ironfields and offering a perfect view of the city of Minosaal and the seat of House Minotos, the Iron Maze. As Lightnings in the white and blue of House Pegasson battled Ork junk-aircraft, the four remaining Exiles assembled and took in the vista.
The city of Minosaal was burning, little more than a ruined wasteland teeming with Orks. The city's great armoured gates had been thrown down and its walls sported great holes where Ork heavy walkers had forced their way through. Mobs of Orks and mechanised warbands swarmed the three highways linking the city to the Iron Maze.
The great fortress of House Minotos itself was burning, black smoke rising from its many towers and redoubts. The innermost fortresses and bastions had clearly been overrun, crude banners bearing Ork glyphs hanging from its firing slits and battlements. Yet the exterior bastions were still fighting, pouring fire on the enemy. House Minotos was not yet beaten.
After a rousing speech, Marchioness Lauret Tan Pegasson ordered her Knights to charge. The Exiles formed a single lance that acted alongside those of House Pegasson. As the Knights charged the Orks' vulnerable rear, the Pegassine Air Force raced overhead, Imperial fighters duelling their xenos counterparts while Marauder Bombers conducted perilously close bombing runs which consumed the Orks in large explosions or the great whooshing of igniting incendiaries. Thanks to this air cover, the Imperial Knights reached the broken walls of Minosaal without casualties, but by now the Greenskins had seen their approach and part of the horde surged back to meet them.
The Exiles progressed along the easternmost highway, following the large road to their designated objective, a great plaza dominated by a statue of a minotos or minotaur as the mythical creature had been known on Old Earth. As befit a commander, the Knight of Ashes was at the front of the spearhead, Sword of Heroes leading Duty Unending and Wrath Inescapable.
With no close combat weapon of its own, Crimson Death followed a safe distance behind. At first the streets of Minosaal were empty, but they filled in a heartbeat, mobs of Boyz crowding the ruined streets and buildings while Lootaz seemingly emerged from every window and rooftop, their heavy weapons firing down at the Exiles.
Luk annihilated a squadron of Greenskin tanks and linked one their Heavy Stubbers to Sword of Heroes’ Machine Spirit which began targeting the Orks at the windows. Wrath Inescapable collapsed a tower right onto the on-rushing infantry while Duty Unending thinned their ranks with disciplined shots from her Knight's Battlecannon.
A Gorkanaut rumbled through the surrounding debris, its rotary cannon spitting shells which bounced off the Lance's Ion Shields. Crimson Death quickly silenced it with a well-placed shot from its exotic weapons, but the utter devastation of their forward elements didn't even slow the Orks' momentum. As the Greenskins closed with their Knights, Marauders and Lightning aircraft came around for a second pass, annihilating those Orks in the open.
Crashing through the front of a shop to Luk's right, a second Gorkanaut charged him, and the Knight of Ashes deftly parried the walker's claw with his Reaper Chainsword before sliding under his opponent's guard and slicing it off. The Knight of Ashes' return-swing decapitated the Ork walker, leaving it to crash into the street.
Another Gorkanaut came at Luk while he side-stepped his falling foe but the heavy walker was intercepted by Lady Maia in Wrath Inescapable which slammed into the fat-bellied Ork walker, causing it to fall on its side before executing it with a point-blank shot from its Thermal Cannon.
Grinning, the Knight of Ashes moved on. Luk saw on his strategic overlay that the Marchioness' own lance had almost reached the walls of the Iron Maze. The Pegassine Air Force was performing admirably, simultaneously protecting the Marchioness' flanks while supporting the flanking Knights against the Ork counterattack. Booming their Vox-horns, the Knights of House Minotos sallied forth from their own sections of the Iron Maze, trapping the Orks between twin fronts of vengeful Imperial Knights.
As Sword of Heroes rounded the corner of the Imperial cathedral that dominated their objective, a powerful explosion snuffed out its Ion Shield, damaging its close combat arm at the same time. Wincing from the sympathetic pain he felt through the Knight's Throne Mechanicum, Luk steadied his Knight before scanning for his enemy.
"Baneblade!" one of the Exiles suddenly exclaimed. The former Imperial super-heavy tank was cowering behind the decapitated statue at the centre of the plaza, the barrel of its Mega Battle Cannon still smoking. On foot and Trukks more Greenskins charged at the Exiles. Crimson Death fired, scoring twin hits on the Baneblade, but the glyph and spike-covered super-heavy tank still rumbled forward despite the internal explosions ravaging its crew compartment.
As the remaining Exiles scattered, Crimson Death fired again, but to no avail. In response, the captured tank's hull-mounted Demolisher Cannon snuffed out Crimson Death’s Ion Shield. Wrath Inescapable bravely stepped in front of the vulnerable Knight, catching the Baneblade's Lascannon-shots on her own shield.
The Baneblade's main gun was tracking Crimson Death, ready to fire when Sword of Heroes killed it, shooting at very close range. The tank's explosion engulfed Sword of Heroes, scorching its painting and heating up the Knight's hull. The hull remained intact but Luk could feel the heat radiating from the cockpit hatch, hot enough to scorch flesh. His reactor was red-lining and the Knight of Ashes hurriedly shut down every nonessential system.
With two Knights out of the fight, the Exiles played no further part in the battle. Duty Unending and Wrath Inescapable stood guard over their stricken comrades to fend off several smaller attacks, before the Vesserines and their own Sacristans secured the plaza. With the help of their walkers, the Sacristans attached to the Exiles began repairs on the two stricken Knights.
Whereas most Knight Houses now favoured the heavy Land Crawlers also used by the Adeptus Mechanicus, these Sacristan Walkers were relics of the past. Only the more traditionalist Houses such as House Hawkshroud still made use of the old "Ironlegs." The Sacristan walkers were quadrupedal constructs and roughly equivalent to a Sentinel of the Astra Militarum in terms of height. They carried a mixture of heavy weapons for their own protection as well as robotic arms carrying the various tools needed to resupply and repair their masters' steeds.
As the Exiles' Sacristans began their repairs on Sword of Heroes and Crimson Death, the Knight of Ashes followed the conclusion of the battle on his tactical vid-screen. Having cleansed the ruins of Minosaal of Orks , the three-pronged spear tip of the Pegassine assault was closing in on the Iron Maze, each formation following one of the great highways. They moved rapidly, their flanks kept secure by ground attacks conducted by House Pegasson's air force.
But the greatest carnage was unleashed by the Knights of House Minotos. Two formations of Knights, one led by Grandmarshal Kurt Tan Minotos and the other by his herald, Sire Wilhorm Dar Minotos, charged the Orks as they turned to engage the approaching Pegasson Knights. Venting their fury on the Orks, the Knights of Houses Minotos and Pegasson routed the horde, then hunted its survivors across the Ironfields.
Council of War
Eventually, Luk's and J'madus' Knights recovered their mobility after sufficient repairs. Limping through the corpse-choked streets of Minosaal, the Exiles reached the edge of the Ironfields where the two ruling House Nobles were bound to meet. Lauret Tan Pegasson and her Exalted Court dismounted, bidding the Knight of Ashes to join them as the formal envoy of the High King. Taking Ekhatarina with him as his second, Luk went to meet the ruler of House Minotos.
As they approached the gathering of Imperial Knights and House Minotos militia, Luk's eyes fixed on Grandmarshal Kurt Tan Minotos. The young leader of House Minotos looked shaken, his once perfectly coiffed and waxed mustache having grown into a messy tangle. The Grandmarshal's youthful features were now marred by a fresh scar down one cheek and he leaned heavily on his finely wrought Minotane warhammer. His ornate brass bodyglove was also dented and scratched, further evidence of the desperate fights that had raged in the Iron Maze's corridors.
In contrast, the Marchioness appeared regal in her unblemished bodyglove, her silvery eyes and data-tresses conferring an almost ethereal aura. Lady Ekhatarina was the first to notice that only three of Kurt's Exalted Court were with him, the remainder having been slain.
Both groups faced each other in silence. As the quiet stretched into long minutes, Kurt Tan Minotos finally broke the awkwardness by addressing the leader of House Pegasson directly. With a nod of her head, Lauret replied, acknowledging the presence of a fellow ruling Noble. The tone in their voices was icy. While Grandmarshal Kurt thanked House Pegasson for their intervention, he did not deviate one bit from the ritualistic answer featured in the Chivalric Code. This distant formality caused some grumbling among the Knights of House Pegasson.
"Allow me to extend to you the fullest thank of my house. You rode to our aid, unbidden and unlooked for, and you have my gratitude for the help you have rendered," the Grandmarshal said.
"Your gratitude should not be directed solely at me and mine, Grandmarshal," replied the Marchioness. "You owe thanks also to the Knight of Ashes. Without his counsel and his selfless example, we would still have been ensconced within our mountain fastness. You did not, as you say, choose to call for aid."
An expression of shock filled the Grandmarshal's face, reacting almost if the Marchioness had slapped him. Used to the constant courtesy of the High King, the ruler of House Minotos was unsettled by the harsh words directed at him by the Marchioness. But she had been playing the game of politics far longer and knew full well the effects her words would have on him.
At the mention of his name, the Grandmarshal's attention fixed on Luk and his companion, something like hate briefly flashing in his eyes. "Luk Kar Chimaeros, the Knight of Ashes," said the Grandmarshal. The Freeblade bowed as Lady Ekhatarina sketched a curtsy that stayed just to the right side of mocking. As Luk stated that he had come upon the High King's order, the Grandmarshal ignored him, choosing confrontation over obedience.
"Your father," the Grandmarshal continued, "betrayed this world and everyone on it. His deeds weakened us when we needed strength. He's partly to blame for all this. And now that you have taken the Freeblade oath, I know that, and despite it I promised myself that in my father's name, if I ever met you I would take this hammer to your skull, oath or not."
A collective gasp marked the shock of every Knight present. Some of the Pegasson Knights' hands inched closer to their weapons and even Kurt's own Knights now distanced themselves from their ruler.
"But here you stand," the Grandmarshal continued, "returned from your hunt, to a war you had no part in. Returned, I presume, to offer your blade. You bring the Knights of House Pegasson when I was too proud to ask them for aid. You bring word of the High King, still fighting when I have left him alone... You shame me, Knight of Ashes, and even as one part of me wants more than ever to strike you for that, the other knows this would be the act of a child and a fool. I have played the part of both for too damned long. My people have paid the price."
Silence greeted the Grandmarshal's words, only broken by the crackling of fire and the sound of distant gunfire, the last sound of House Minotos' retaliation against the Orks. With all eyes fixed on him, the Knight of Ashes walked into the ring of high-ranking Nobles and took a genuflection before the ruler of House Minotos, swearing to repair the damage his former House had caused to House Minotos.
Assuring the Knight of Ashes that he had already done so, Grandmarshal Kurt Tan Minotos did not accept the pledge. The Grandmarshal pledged his House to their current venture and amidst the cheers of the gathered Nobles and the booming of their Knight's Vox-horns, House Minotos joined the race to save House Draconis.
Breaking the Siege of the Draconspire
With the help of House Pegasson's fleet of heavy landers, both the forces of House Pegasson and the more numerous ranks of House Minotos Knights were swiftly transported over the Adrapotine Mountaines to the plains of the Valatane. With no reliable information as to how House Draconis had fared in its own campaign against the Orks, the Imperial warhost assembled some distance from the Draconspire, far away from the prying eyes of any xenos sentries Gorgrok would have the sensibility to deploy.
Deeming himself the most expendable of the army's leaders, the Knight of Ashes insisted upon personally leading a reconnaissance mission at the head of a squad of Colonel Gesmund's Vesserines. Leaving their Imperial Knight behind, Lady Ekhatarina and the Knight of Ashes travelled forwards in a Vesserine Taurox before continuing on foot. Behind the cover of a steep hill, the small party spied upon the foe using Magnoculars. What they saw was disheartening.
Several levels of the mighty fortress were burning and its exterior walls had been breached. A sea of Greenskins swarmed across the Draconspire's base, a sure sign that someone was still putting up a fight inside the Draconspire. The Ork Warlord had taken Northrise Battery as his new headquarters, the menacing silhouettes of fat-bellied Stompaz and one Gargant standing close by. All over the plains, Orks and Gretchin were in the process of cannibalizing fallen Imperial Knights, often fighting over the most precious parts.
The Vesserine troops quickly established an advanced command post, a mobile antenna and a bulky Vox-caster allowing them to report their findings to Lauret Tan Pegasson and Kurt Tan Minotos who had stayed with the troops. A Vesserine trooper rose and urgently signaled Luk to climb down the ridge. A priority Vox request had been made asking to speak to the commander of the Knight forces currently assembling on the Valatane Plains. Both Lauret and Kurt had agreed the message was for him, as they saw themselves only as military commanders while Luk was their unifying leader. Overcoming his surprise as the other Nobles' deference, the Freeblade seized the headset. "This is the Knight of Ashes, responding to priority Vox hail."
A familiar voice asked "Luk?" and relief flooded the Knight of Ashes' heart for it was the voice of Jennika Tan Draconis, one of Luk's best friends. His puzzlement grew when the Vox message also carried with it the override codes of an Imperial Inquisitor. The First Knight of House Draconis filled Luk in on the current situation. They needed immediate access to a Mastervox capable of contacting the Inquisitor's ship hiding somewhere in the Majestis System so they could call off the Exterminatus action on Adrastapol the Inquisitor had already ordered.
Luk ordered the Vesserines to mount up and return to camp while simultaneously relaying landing coordinates to the Inquisitor's Aquila Lander. There would not be any well-ordained war council or clever battle plan this time, just a headlong rush to save Adrastapol from annihilation.
Battle on the Valatane Plains
Almost two hundred Knights charged the Orks on the Valatane Plains, making the assault in two separate spearheads. Led by the Freeblades of the Exiles and the Knight of Ashes himself, the right spearhead angled its path towards the Draconspire, overrunning the Greenskins' rear and silencing the batteries of Ork artillery that had been blasting away at the Draconspire's walls for solar weeks.
Lightning fighters of the Pegasson Air Force raced ahead, and cleared the skies of enemy Dakkajetz and Blitza-Bommerz. An armoured spearhead of Sacristan Crawlers and Ironlegs' accompanied by the Vesserine Grenadiers followed in their wake, neutralizing those scattered Ork survivors left in the wake of the Knights' charge.
As they fought their way through the Draconspire, the other spearhead headed to Northrise Battery. Led by the Marchioness and the Grandmarshal, they fared little better than the first. As the surprise of their arrival gradually wore off, huge numbers of Ork tanks and smaller combat walkers came at them. Whilst the Knights of House Pegasson interdicted the WAAAGH!'s forces outside the walls of Northrise Battery, House Minotos sought to capture the fortress and kill the horde's Warlord. Unknown to them, Gorgrok Killfist was not at Northrise Battery but leading the charge against the last barricade in the Draconspire's throne room.
Leading the charge, Sword of Heroes soon found itself in the ruins of the Draconspire's Blackpowder District, annihilating a band of Mekz and their retinue who were busy stripping the parts of a fallen Knight and trying to repair a pair of Huntsman tanks, a local variant of the common Leman Russ Tank.
Eight lances of Knights cleared the Draconspire's outer districts, killing all the Orks they could while retaining the maximum velocity. Their ultimate goal was Ottavio's Arch and the courtyard it held, for from there a single reinforced wall separated the outside from the throne room's outer audience chambers; a lance of Knights would be able to breach. "Keep moving," reminded Jennika Tan Draconis, who rode along with Colonel Gesmund in one of the Vesserines' Tauroxii. Praying to the God-Emperor that his old friend was still alive, the Knight of Ashes pressed on, fighting its way clear through the second and third walls, all the way to the Draconspire's central dungeon.
As Sword of Heroes broke through the throne room's western wall, Luk Kar Chimaeros fought back his sense of dread, hoping not to find all within slain by the Greenskins. Storming through the breach, the other Exiles followed him. Danial Tan Draconis, victoriously standying atop the corpse of the slain Gorgrok Killfist was rallying his last men against Gorgrok's retinue of MegaNobz. With shots, energy beams and rockets, the slain Warlord's retinue were annihilated, Orks now trying to flee through the crowded corridors. Hindered by their kindred still trying to come to grip with their enemy the Orks within the throne room were quickly put down, the disciplined fire of the Vesserines keeping the mob from swarming back into the throne room.
Jennika Tan Draconis quickly headed to her brother. Exhausted, light-headed from his wounds and the combatdrugs his medics had given him, the High King did not understand his sister's hurry, but her urgency finally cut though the numbness of the High King's mind. Gathering every able-bodied Nobleman around him, the High King led the survivors of House Draconis towards the Chamber of Ghosts where their Thrones Mechanicum rested. It was time for House Draconis to join the fight outside their walls.
To Save a World
In the meantime, the Imperial Knights led by the two House leaders were still assaulting Northrise Battery. Every time House Minotos broke through the Ork-held fortifications, the Greenskins would sacrifice one of their Stompaz to plug the gap. Even the rampage of Grandmarshal Kurt in his heavily modified Knight Gallant was not enough to seize dominion of their objective. Worse yet, Killfist's Gargant was also still in the fight, powering up its central weapon, an immense electromagnetic pulse-generator which had previously shut down all of the Draconspire's defences.
Just as another charge from House Minotos failed, the Orks began fleeing the vicinity of the Draconspire. Magnifying their vision, both Lauret and Kurt could soon see the High King leading the charge at the head of House Draconis' Knights."The High King! Danial Tan Draconis lives and he's riding to our aid!" exclaimed Kurt Tan Minotos, "For the sake of our world, we cannot let him down!"
Mowing down fleeing Orks before them, the forces of House Draconis and the Knight of Ashes thundered across the Valatane Plains, desperate to reach Northrise Battery before the Inquisitor's vessel would unleash the wrath of its Cyclonic Torpedoes. Unknown to the forces on the ground, the Light of Truth had already left its hiding spot and was now closing with Adrastapol.
Preceded by the Cherubs of the Heavenly Host, House Draconis meted out its vengeance against the Orks. The Sacristans quickly noticed the energy build-up within the Gargant, marking it as a priority target. At once all long-range weaponry targeted the towering Ork Titan, its Void Shields collapsing one after the other. A battle's worth of ordinance fell upon the Gargant's head, upper torso and arms. As its command deck was atomised, the Gargant toppled. As secondary explosions wracked its frame, the energy build-up continued. The Marchioness ordered all her Knights to unleash their weapons at once, concentrating their fire on the Gargant's main gun.
In a blinding flash of flight, the damaged weapon fired, destroying the remains of the Gargant and unleashing a new wave of crackling energy. "Evade!" ordered the High King and the Knights of Houses Minotos and Pegasson stepped back, their Ion Shields raised towards oncoming electromagnetic pulse.
As it washed over Oath of Flames, its Auspex crackled with static and its generator's power output fluctuated wildly. However, the Knights closest to the blast did not fare as well, as dozens suffered the same catastrophic shutdown the Draconspire and House Draconis had previously experienced.
With both Oracle and Gustev's Revenge victims of the pulse, command naturally transferred to the High King himself. While Kurt's forces had been caught in the blast, two lances of House Pegasson had moved far enough to remain operational. Led by Lady Eleanat, these lances joined the High King's army. They would join the Exiles and a lance of Knights Gallant under Herald Markos Dar Draconis to storm Northrise Battery and reclaim it. The was now possible because the Gargant's explosive demise had ripped a breach in the battery's fortifications.
Sword of Heroes and Wrath Inescapable were first through this gap, the two Knight Errants' Thermal Cannons making short work of a Stompa as it tried to plug the breach. The Exiles, Herald Marcos Dar Draconis in his Knight Honourblaze, Master of Faith Percivane Dar Draconis in Firestorm and their respective lances all followed. A huge formation of Ork tanks and walkers counterattacked and were ultimately destroyed, but not before a Deff Dread rammed its Power Saw through Duty Unending’s knee. Swearing at her bad luck, Lady Ekhatarina killed her opponent but would not be able to continue the fight. Switching to her Rapid-fire Battle Cannon, Lady Ekhatarina provided stationary cover while the other Knights pushed on.
As the Inquisitor's warship maneuvered in Adrastapol's high orbit, the Imperial Knights closed with their final target, the central building housing the defence laser's command systems. Vast numbers of Ork infantry swarmed forth and the Imperial Knights formed a firing line, unleashing everything they had against the resurgent enemy.
Although some Knights were lost, this final assault at last broke the Orks' back. As news of their Warlord's death spread, individual mobs of Orks began to rout. The Imperial Knights were victorious. With the members of the main force running perilously low on ammunition, only the fresher Knights of House Draconis gave chase.
Crammed with High Sacrsistan Polluxis and several of his Tech-priests in a Taurox, Jennika Tan Draconis raced to the Northrise Battery command post. Skittering to a halt before the building's entrance, Jennika and Colonel Gesmund led the charge inside the compound and mercilessly cut down the few Orks that still defied them. Even before the building had been cleared, Jennika used her Micro-bead to contact Inquisitor Massata who had opted to remain airborne. As the Aquila Lander thundered over the plains, Polluxis and his fellow Adepts scanned the battery's transorbital Vox for damages. Although the Orks had defiled the consoles, enough of the system was operational to suit their needs.
Before his shuttle had even touched down, Inquisitor Massate jumped from the lowered access-ramp, sprinting across the courtyard with all the speed his servo-assisted Power Armour allowed. He ignored the last convulsions of the battle still raging around him. Reaching the command post Vox-array, the Inquisitor transmitted his codes, cancelling the Exterminatus order just as the Light of Truth was about to enact it.
To End a War
While the victory at the Draconspire marked a turning point in the Second Ork War, by no means did it mark the end. While Gorgrok Killfist had been slain and the leadership of the WAAAGH! fractured, the Orks' significant numbers still posed a threat to Adrastapol. Should a new Warlord emerge to unite the mobs, he might still win the war. To minimise this risk, one of the High King's first actions was to ride west to aid the Eyrie which was still under siege. With the help of the Inquisitor's mighty Oberon-class Battleship, the Bastion Fleet also broke the Orks' fleet, trapping the Greenskins on the surface.
Committed to see the conflict to its end, the Exiles remained on Adrastapol. The Knight of Ashes was given a seat on the newly-created War Council of Adrastapol, a unified body that virtually made him the equal of Lauret Tan Pegasson and Kurt Tan Minotos. Although several great battles and hundreds of smaller skirmishes occurred before Adrastapol was finally rid of the xenos taint, the Orks never rallied and were ultimately destroyed piecemeal.
The Hunt Resumes
Exactly one Terran year after the desperate victory during the siege of the Draconspire, the Knight of Ashes again tread the halls of House Draconis' fortress. Of the Exiles, only Lady Ekhatarina -- now widely regarded as his second-in-command -- accompanied him, which did not mean that they were alone. Herald Markos Dar Draconis was leading the way, followed by several other members of High King Danial's Exalted Court. All save Lady Suset, now High Queen of Adrastapol, were present as well as a tall, cloaked figure followed by a Lexmechanic.
The small group travelled to the High King and Queen's personal chambers, summoned there for an event of great importance. Outside the Draconspire, the population celebrated Victor's Day with a festival of light and a chorus of laughter. But within, the mood was far gloomier.
In accordance with the laws of hospitality, food and drinks had been prepared in abundance, but the royal couple had dismissed their staff and bodyguards, a testimony to the seriousness of the matters at hand. Having expected to see Jennika Tan Draconis already with the High King, the Knight of Ashes was disappointed to notice that she would not be present, but knew that whatever was keeping her must be important.
Discussions began with the High King asking Luk if he had reconsidered his offer - a full pardon and the right to found a new House with whomever would swear allegiance to him. As he had done previously, the Knight of Ashes declined the offer, stating his intent of continuing the hunt for his mother.
The hooded figure then drew back his hood, revealing himself as Inquisitor Tane Massata. With the High King's permission, the Inquisitor called the meeting to order around the High King's personal hololithic table.
"Today, my friends," began Danial Tan Draconis, "we officially toast victory over the Ork menace." All raised their glasses and echoed the High King's words, all save Massata who had refused any drink. "And today", intoned the Inquisitor, "with the full authority granted to me by my office as an Inquisitor of the Imperial Ordos, and speaking with the voice of the Emperor, I formally rescind the judgement placed upon Adrastapol and its Noble Houses. I find this world's people to be faithful, pure and true servants of the Emperor of Mankind."
Then the Knight of Ashes took the stage. "It is time, in this small and trusted company, that I reveal the location of Alicia Kar Manticos." Drawing the parchment given him by the Oracle of the Silver Eye, he showed all present that only a single word was inscribed on it. A name. Hastour.
And thus did the Knight of Ashes' hunt for redemption spark a full-fledged Imperial Crusade.
- Lady Ekhatarina Hespar - Former Herald of House Hawkshroud, Lady Ekhatarina Hespar was a member of the Exiles and frequently acted as Luk Kar Chimaeros' second-in-command. In battle, Lady Hespar pilots Duty Unending and has adopted a rich livery of yellow and purple. Outside of her Knight, she has been described as flamboyant, choosing to wear richly appointed and yet low-cut dresses which display many of her tattoos. Although Lady Ekhatarina has never been quite forthcoming about the reason for her exile, she was frank that her open homosexuality was not to blame. On several occasions, Lady Ekhatarina saved Luk's life, a favour that the Knight of Ashes repaid several times over, giving birth to something akin to a game between the two Freeblades. Lady Ekhatarina never failed to remark that the balance of their respective scores heavily favoured her rather than the leader of the Exiles.
- Lady Maia Kastarada - Lady Kastarada is the designated pilot of the Knight Errant known as Wrath Inescapable. Her Freeblade heraldry is a quartered livery of midnight blue and ice white. In person Lady Maia is a short, delicate and reserved woman who would fail to stand out in a crowd.
- Sire J'madus Hw'ss - Sire J'madus Hw'ss is the pilot of the strange suit of Knight armour called Crimson Death. Still attached to his former identity, Sire Hw'ss has never tried to hide the fact that he is a scion of House Krast and to this day Crimson Death wears a bastardized livery similar to that of his former House. While Crimson Death’s overall frame looks very much like that of the venerable Cerastus Pattern Knights of the Horus Heresy era, its weaponry differs from the Cerastus Knight-Atrapos it is commonly compared to. Crimson Death is equipped with two long-range weapons, one of them described as a Positron Driver. Unusually, Crimson Death carries an eight-legged Servitor within its frame which is able to conduct emergency repairs while still in battle. Outside of his Knight, Sire J'madus is known to wear large crimson robes like those of the Martian Priesthood. Although Hw'ss bears many augmetic implants, his overall appearance has been carefully designed to remain human.
- Sire Ranulf Vo-Geiss - Sire Ranulf Vo-Geiss is the pilot of the Imperial Knight simply named Void, a name that is oddly appropriate given his Knight's entirely black color scheme. When he is in battle, Sire Ranulf continuously chants battle-hymns and songs of lament, his sombre chants forming a counterpoint to the wrath of his Knight's Avenger Gatling Cannon. Even in person, Sire Ranulf makes for a most sinister apparition with his skeletal war-paint and the deep cowl he wears. Sire Ranulf was severely wounded in the Second Ork War, nearly losing his life and a leg whilst battling an Ork Stompa. His wounds were so severe that he not only missed out on the rest of the Second Ork War, but he was ultimately forced to replace his leg with a Pegassine bionic.
As with most Freeblade Knights, the livery of the Knight of Ashes has evolved over a long period of time. Whilst the name was claimed in the dark hours of the Donatos War, a complex livery would eventually come to adorn Sword of Heroes’ carapace and honorific banners. However, these designs were not completed until Luk Kar Chimaeros departed from Adrastapol.
Colours of the Knight of Ashes
Having eschewed all connection to his former Knight House, the Renegade House Chimaeros, Sword of Heroes’ Freeblade livery has entirely discarded the use of House Chimaeros' colours, using instead a livery of deep crimson and black.
The overall effect of the Freeblade's livery is to emulate the appearance of the Knights of House Draconis, hence deep yellow as a secondary colour on Sword of Heroes’ Reaper Chainsword and the bisected shin guards and shoulder plates. To display his own independence, the Knight of Ashes favours a checkered white and crimson pattern on his Knight's main armour, a pattern rarely used by the other Knight Houses of Adrastapol.
Arms of the Knight of Ashes
The arms of the Knight of Ashes where only chosen at the end of the Donatos War, once the victorious Knight Houses had returned to Adrastapol and the Freeblade had decided to embark on his quest to hunt down his mother, the Traitor Alicia Kar Manticos.
In direct reference to his Freeblade name, the Knight of Ashes has chosen a pale grey as his banner field. The banner further fields a chimera, lying on its back and pierced through by a black sword, a declaration of the Knight of Ashes' intentions -- to slay the monster responsible for the corruption of his former House while at the same time proclaiming the death of his former identity.
Sword of Heroes is a Questoris Pattern Knight equipped as a Knight Errant. It is armed with the Thermal Cannon and Reaper Chainsword-combination common to this design. Sword of Heroes’ anti-infantry weapon is a Heavy Stubber.
On an individual level, the Knight of Ashes is known to carry a multitude of personal weapons which also make him suitable for missions on foot. While having been gifted a master-crafted draconblade by his friend Danial Tan Draconis, the Knight of Ashes usually prefers the far more common Chainsword as his close-combat weapon.
Having been caught many times in firefights with those chaotic agents serving his quarry, the Knight of Ashes usually carries a pair of Bolt Pistols, even when piloting his Knight.
- Kingsblade (Novel) by Andy Clark
- Knightsblade (Novel) by Andy Clark