Kulth is a War World and the former capital of the Calixis Sector's Periphery Sub-sector. It is currently the capital of the Secessionist Severan Dominate and the most important theatre of the Spinward Front. Kulth is the strategic lynchpin of the Spinward Front, for it occupies a unique position in relation to the numerous factions intent upon conquering the Periphery.
Kulth bestrides the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit and is the last Imperial planet within the borders of the Periphery Sub-sector before the route plunges into the lawless voids of inter-sector Wilderness Space. Its orbit is strewn with countless void-docks constructed to accommodate Warp vessels laying over on their way to or from the Scarus Sector. Yet with the coming of the war, most of these have fallen silent and cold, while others have become low-gravity, vacuum-haunted warzones in their own right.
The surface of Kulth was once considered an arcadia, its rolling hills and fertile, grassy plains ripe for different types of exploitation. It was Duke Severus I's dream that the world would become a haven for the nobles of the nascent Calixis Sector, and it was to that end that he built his own soaring palace on the glittering coast of the primary continent. This formidable pile was wrought from marble of deep crimson, and so became known as the Sanguine Palace. He issued invitations to those military leaders that had served under him to come to Kulth and receive his patent of nobility, hoping to establish a hierarchical order with himself at the apex and numerous vassal lordlings owing him fealty.
For several years, it appeared that Duke Severus’ dream might be realised. Then, Drusus was elevated to the rank of the first Lord Sector of Calixis, and one of his first deeds was to create a stable and prosperous region out of the war-torn ruin left in the wake of the Angevin Crusade. The Calyx Expanse became the Calixis Sector and it was carved up into sub-sectors, each with its own prefect and capital world. Kulth was declared the capital of the Periphery, a term Severus perceived straight away as an insult to all his achievements during the Crusade. Despite the terms of his Warrant of Trade, Severus I's world was ripped from him by Drusus’ servants. A massive Administratum mission descended upon the verdant grasslands and set in motion the process by which Kulth was turned into the administrative centre of the new sub-sector.
Severus I lived out his days in the faded glory of his coastal palace, closing its shutters to block the sight of the Adeptus Administratum presence sprawling across the land. Within a few decades, Severus was dead, though his line clung on to possession of his palace and a scant few other holdings. Meanwhile, a huge Imperial workforce raised up the labyrinthine administration necessary to oversee an entire sub-sector. The orbital voiddocks were constructed and Kulth became a busy shipping hub, its wealth founded not on patents of nobility, but on levies placed on the Imperial shipping passing to and from the Scarus Sector.
Despite the bitter fate of the line’s sire, the scions of Duke Severus remained on Kulth, stoking their hatred of Drusus and all his works yet forced to hide it from all around them. House Severus' palace grew ever more tumbledown, yet the family retained sufficient income from its off-world concerns to cling on to a vestige of nobility, if not true power. When at last Severus XIII finally clawed his way to the rank of Lord Sub-Sector of the Periphery, he retained his house's palace as his court as an act of remembrance to his long dead forebear.
Over the course of several Terran years, Severus carried out a ruthless, yet largely unseen, purge of Kulth’s Adepta presence until ultimately, only those loyal to him and his line occupied positions of true power. House Severus' palace became a bustling noble court frequented by a curious mixture of sycophants and murderers, those who would do anything to remain in favour and those willing to kill anyone for a fee. Beneath the outward displays of fealty boiled a heady mix of decadence and heresy, epicurean dilatants competing for favour with xenos assassins in the dusty, decrepit halls.
Then came WAAAGH! Grimtoof. Initially, it was only those worlds beyond the Periphery’s borders that suffered the Orks’ predations and it was many months before the full extent of the crisis was realised on Kulth. Even then, Severus believed he could hold the barbarous xenos at bay using the forces under his command, without compromising his ambitions by beseeching the Calixian Lord Sector for assistance. He was proved wrong in short order and saw no alternative but to declare the secession of the Severan Dominate from the Imperium.
Kulth is now a scorched, corpse-strewn wasteland, its continents carved up into the ever-shifting territories of whichever army has most recently committed the most resources to taking it. The Sanguine Palace still stands, protected from orbital strike by multiple void domes thought to have been acquired by pacts with outcast factions of the Cult Mechanicus. The palace is surrounded on all quarters by the most formidable defences on all of Kulth and has never fallen, though both the Imperium and the Orks have come close to taking its outer precincts on several occasions.
The battle for Kulth has been raging for 83 standard years, the fates of each faction waxing and waning as entire armies are fed into the meat grinder. At times, one party has all but crushed another, only to be counter-attacked by the third. At present, the Severan Dominate is confined to one part of the world’s primary continent, while the vast bulk of the fighting rages between the forces of the Imperium and the Orks. How long this state might last is a question beyond even the most gifted of strategic precognosticators, however, and it could switch at any moment.
It is to Kulth that the majority of newly raised Astra Militarum regiments are likely to be sent, for its savage battle zones chew through men and machines at a rapacious rate. The world is a war zone in its own right, the Imperium's forces commanded by Lord General Ghanzorik in person. The Imperium's Kulth High Command is well-established in a formidable chain of bastions and fortresses near the world's north pole, known as Fort Drusus (a title Severus XIII believes to be a deliberate insult), and this nigh-impregnable ring of ceramite and plasteel is tested daily by the relentless frontal assaults of the Orks.
Those Imperial Guardsmen that survive more than a few solar days soon learn that very little on Kulth is permanent, the front line shifting miles each and every day. No sooner is a position carried than it is lost to counter-attack; no sooner is a garrison established than the defenders are shipped out to bolster another assault. Ghanzorik is the most dogged of leaders, and those serving beneath him hold him in a mixture of respect and fear. Most know that he will do anything to fulfil his duty to the Emperor, but that this includes sacrificing countless numbers of his own troops should he deem it necessary. Not for nothing is Ghanzorik known by many on the front line as “Old Steel and Blood,” a title the dour old general is said to secretly revel in.
As the supreme commander of the Imperium's military forces on the Spinward Front, General Ghanzorik is an officer with a fearsome reputation, as much amongst his own staff as his enemies. He was commissioned into the 61st Maccabian Janissaries in 775.M41, and in 780.M41 his regiment was dispatched through the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate to serve in the hellish war zones of the Jericho Reach.
Over two standard decades, Ghanzorik proved himself an able leader, his regiment primarily engaged prosecuting the wars of the Achilus Crusade's Orpheus Salient. Of the sights he witnessed during those bloody years, Ghanzorik rarely speaks, but he is known to have sustained a number of grievous wounds while commanding his troops from the very front. Upon receiving one such wound that almost proved fatal, Ghanzorik was informed of his ascension to the Imperial General Staff and, while he initially protested what he saw as the loss of his regiment, he soon found himself commanding entire Army Groups, where his courage, tactical skill, and determination found an entirely new expression.
With the secession of the Severan Dominate and the establishment of the Spinward Front, Ghanzorik was raised up still higher, granted the title Lord Marshal and given the grave responsibility of repulsing an Ork invasion, putting down a pernicious rebellion, and bringing order to a region of space long known for its lawlessness. Ghanzorik soon earned his nickname, committing countless troops to the Relief of Kulth. Yet, despite his initial success in holding the Orks at the Sub-sector’s capital world, Ghanzorik appears to be operating with one hand tied behind his back.
The situation in the Spinward Front is dire indeed, and seemingly warrants far more military resources than have been assigned to it. While the most highly placed in the sector’s military authorities understand there is a grave need to send forces through the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate and to use the Spinward Front as a cover for the high levels of recruitment, others believe that a deliberate policy exists to ensure that the Severan Dominate and the Orks of WAAAGH! Grimtoof grind each other to mutual destruction. How complicit “Old Steel and Blood” might be in such a conspiracy, none can say, nor can they predict how he might react if he himself discovers the truth.
Tale of House Severan
Almost two thousand standard years ago in the mid-39th Millennium, the Calixis Sector was hewn from the xenos-haunted depths of the unexplored region of the Segmentum Obscurus once known as the Calyx Expanse by the blood, sweat, and tears of the countless thousands of Imperial martyrs who prosecuted the Angevin Crusade. The endeavour was a mighty one and only made possible by the combined efforts of numerous arms of the Imperium’s military machine. Hundreds of regiments of the Imperial Guard fought across worlds boiling with xenos corruption, millions-strong advances spearheaded by the elite Adeptus Astartes. The skies were darkened by the massed fighter wings of the Imperial Navy while warships as numerous as the stars themselves burned across the void. The war machines of the Adeptus Titanicus bestrode the battlefields like armoured gods while the private armies of the most ambitious of Rogue Trader houses fought in the hope of one day ruling those worlds wrested from the dead grip of nameless xenos fiends. It was one of these militant Rogue Trader princes that led some of the boldest thrusts into the region, so deep into the Calyx Expanse that he all but broke through into the Wilderness Zones beyond. That man was Duke Severus I, the bearer of a Warrant of Trade granted to his line by the High Lords of Terra themselves. Yet, his name is all but unknown in the Calixis Sector, while those of lesser men are celebrated across a hundred systems and more.
The deeds of Severus I and his companions were so heroic that they should be known and celebrated across not just the Calixis Sector, but the entire Imperium. It was Duke Severus who unlocked the Markayn Marches Sub-sector by plasma-boiling the hideous xenos spawning seas of Cantus Extremis, breaking a deadlock that had stalled the advance of three million Imperial troops. It was Severus who discovered and charted the Warp route between Dreah and Iocanthos, when the fleet-masters of the Imperial Navy were convinced the path spinward must surely lie between the Prol System and Fedrid. It is even said that a mighty Warp beast assailed the Duke’s flagship as he closed on Ganf Magna, the creature’s vast tentacles wrapping about the vessel so that when Severus ordered an emergency translation into realspace, the thing was dragged through too. Weakened by exposure to the laws of the material realm, the beast was eventually defeated. But before it faded from existence, Duke Severus himself hacked out a single, crystalline eye several metres in diameter and worth the ransom of a High Lord of Terra.
As great as his numerous victories were, it was the duke’s deeds in forging the Periphery Sub-sector that earned him true glory, for a short time at least. Of the Heretic and xenos fiends the duke’s fleet confronted as it ranged ahead of the main Angevin Crusade advance between Sepheris Secundus and Sinophia, the few extant archives are all but silent -- the Inquisition and other bodies having determined such truths unfit for public dissemination. In most cases, only the names of otherwise unknown battles remain. The Scouring of Cyclopea Nine; the Kulth Landings; the Retreat from Avitohol, closely followed by the Avitohol Reprisals; the War of Ash, in which a thousand xenos vessels are said to have been sent plummeting through the upper atmosphere of Sisk, the survivors ruthlessly hunted down by vengeful human natives. It was at the Second Battle of Kulth that the duke’s greatest moment came, his armies counterattacked by a millions-strong horde of slavering xenos monstrosities. Little is known beyond a faded entry in a crumbling tome, locked in the stasis vaults beneath the Lucid Palace on Scintilla, stating that the duke rallied his armies in person, even as the xenos horde closed in on all quarters and all seemed lost. The unknown scribe goes on to claim that Duke Severus faced a xenos being of such monstrous nature that his greatest champions were struck down by madness, but that he was not, delivering the killing blow with his own hand and turning the battle and the entire campaign in an instant. The xenos hordes were put to rout and with them, those human-held worlds that had resisted the Imperium’s advance capitulated. The region that would one day become known as the Periphery Sub-sector was opened up and a Warp route discovered that connected the region to the distant Scarus Sector, ensuring its fortunes as shipping hubs sprung up along its length.
Why then, are the deeds of Severus I unknown to the peoples of the Calixis Sector? The answer is simple and lies in that most basic of human flaws -- the sin of hubris. Duke Severus I had been promised much by the terms of his Warrant of Trade, but in truth the High Lords of Terra had never expected him to survive the terrors that lurked in the Calyx Expanse. Before being granted his title, the duke was a senior courtier of the Senatorum Imperialis on Terra and his political trajectory was carrying him towards a seat on that highest of councils. His numerous rivals found this greatly disconcerting, for they believed Severus to have murdered numerous of his compatriots during his rise to power. These rivals engineered the granting of the Warrant of Trade, forcing Severus to embark on a Crusade they hoped would end his ambitions, his career, and his life. Severus was fully aware of the High Lords’ intentions and when he succeeded in carving the Periphery from the darkness of the Calyx Expanse, he interpreted the terms of his warrant to justify him claiming it as his personal realm, exempt from the laws and demands placed on the rest of the Imperium. In essence, Severus installed himself as the exclusive ruler of his own private empire within the boundaries of the Imperium, which in his eyes he had earned by the spilling of his blood and that of countless thousands of his followers.
In other circumstances, Severus I might have been allowed to realise his ambition, for the frontiers of the Imperium are often expanded by men with similar dreams of avarice and power, only to be absorbed into the greater mass of sectors generations later. This might have been the case with Severus, were it not for the simultaneous rise of a man who regarded him as a vainglorious and self-interested robber baron interested only in expanding his own domains off of the blood, sweat, and tears of millions of the God-Emperor’s faithful servants. This man was Lord General Militant Drusus, the man who had succeeded Lord General Militant Golgenna Angevin as the leader of the Angevin Crusade that conquered the Calyx Expanse. While Severus had been conquering the Periphery for his own ends, Drusus had been leading the armies of the Imperial Guard in a series of victories every bit as glorious as those earned by the duke. While Severus set about consolidating his power after the Second Battle of Kulth, Drusus fought on, claiming untold worlds for the God-Emperor of Mankind. Following his apparent death at the hands of the agents of rivals (which may, or may not have included Severus) and subsequent resurrection, Drusus was beatified by the Ecclesiarchy as a Living Saint and is celebrated to this day as the patron Imperial saint of the Calixis Sector.
Duke Severus was soon eclipsed by Saint Drusus and his plans to establish his own realm were cast to ashes. With every one of the leading lights of the Angevin Crusade openly worshipping Drusus as a paragon of the Emperor's justice, none would support Severus in his own ambitions. For a time, Severus turned his back upon his former peers amongst the Angevin Crusade, eventually only speaking with the famous Rogue Trader Sibylline Haarlock. What passed between the two remains unrecorded and some believe that Haarlock denounced Severus upon learning of his intentions to establish his own private realm. By the time Drusus was pronounced the first Lord Sector of Calixis, Severus was a broken man. He died in 417.M39, less than a month before Drusus himself passed away. To the last, he was a resentful, bitter man, turned by the cruelty of fate from a noble merchant-admiral to a paranoid recluse.
A Fateful Deal
But Duke Severus I did not die the last of his line. Before he passed, he recounted his sad tale to his first-born son, and in the telling it must surely have been distilled into a hateful story of lesser men allying against one of whom they were jealous. The son passed the tale on to his son, and again the story was filtered in the telling until all that remained was a twisted kernel, only barely resembling the truth. Generation after generation of House Severus heard, and then repeated, this tale of doom, until in 779.M41 Duke Severus XIII assumed power over what little remained of his house. Unlike his predecessors, Severus the Thirteenth had managed to claw his way up the rungs of power in the Calixis Sector, drawing upon methods and means yet to be fully revealed. In 799.M41, he assumed the appointment to which he had worked his entire life, the position from which he might finally realise the dreams of his entire line. He ascended to the position of Lord Sub-Sector, the Adeptus Administratum prefect of the region his eponymous forebear had founded -- the Periphery.
But in truth, Severus XIII could never have gained ascendancy over his peers to become the recognised Imperial governor of the Periphery without the aid of the Dark Eldar group known as the Children of Thorns. This outcast Dark Eldar Kabal, exiled from the Dark City of Commorragh, is made up of the dregs of Dark Eldar society -- escaped slaves, disgraced nobles, and defeated champions -- and its members are ever watchful for opportunities to gain weapons and slaves they can use to fuel their bid for a return to power in Commorragh. In aiding Severus XIII, the Children of Thorns Kabal has gained easy access to a region in which the Imperium’s forces are unable to oppose their realspace raids. Thousands of men, women and children are dragged screaming back to the dark sub-reality sinks of the Dark City in the Labyrinthine Dimension of the Webway, yet there are those that question whether the kabal’s involvement in the wars of the Spinward Front might be more pernicious still. Some fear that the Dark Eldar might be working towards another agenda entirely -- one that can only bring more doom and disaster upon the war-torn worlds of the Periphery and beyond.
His ambitions echoing those of his progenitor, Severus XIII believed that the Periphery should be his, yet he knew that overtly declaring secession from the Imperium would cause the Sub-sector's Loyalist Planetary Governors to rise up against him and bring the force of the Imperium crashing down upon his head. Instead, he sought allies in the darkness spinward of the Periphery, his spies seeking out any who might lend him aid, no matter their price. Waiting in the darkness, his spies discovered the Dark Eldar of the outcast Children of Thorns Kabal, and vile pacts were made in exchange for the aliens' lethal services. Severus XIII consigned entire Frontier Worlds to the Dark Eldar’s cruel mercies, ensuring that when realspace raids occurred, the sub-sector’s military reserves were always too distant to intervene. Xenos chattel-barques swollen with slaves delivered hundreds of thousands of human beings to their doom in the pits of Commorragh, while the court of Severus XIII gained a host of new veiled courtiers and black-eyed assassins.
For over a standard decade, Severus and his cruel agent-allies worked tirelessly to cut the ties between the Periphery and the sector at large, one at a time, so that none even noticed as it was slowly transformed into his personal realm. Planetary Governors resistant to corruption or subversion were quietly removed, but always the eight worlds closest to the border with the Malfian Sub-sector were maintained in a state of outward normality. The worlds spinward of them were entirely in the sway of the noble, who had at last attained his ancestor’s dream of an independent stellar empire of his own in all but name.
The Green Tide
None can tell what might have come of Severus’ fiefdom had events continued unchecked. Perhaps he would have grown so bold as to risk openly declaring secession, or perhaps his shadowy allies would have turned upon him in his hubris. Instead, it was another xenos species that decided the matter. An Ork WAAAGH! under the Warlord Ghenghiz Grimtoof, the self-titled “Git-Slaver,” came crashing out of the darkness and fell upon the outermost fringes of Severus’ pocket empire, slaying millions in a few short months. The Planetary Defence Forces of these worlds were geared largely towards the suppression of their own populations, or else for blustering parades honouring their master in House Severus, and few were able to mount anything like a capable resistance. World after world slipped from Severus’ grasp as the Git-Slaver’s Orks rampaged all but unchecked through his realm. There was nothing either he or his sinister allies could do to halt them.
Severus XIII brooded upon his granite throne as millions perished. His closest advisors counselled him to beseech the Imperium for aid, yet all were silenced by the executioner’s blow. At the last, his counsellors all dead or fled, Severus was left alone and his empire all but fallen. In a moment of grim revelation he saw they had all been correct. He dispatched his own kin to the court of the Calixian Lord Sector Marius Hax on Scintilla to beg for aid against the Ork invasion. Though most of the messengers were intercepted by unknown assassins or fell prey to other, equally deadly fates, one got through. Severus’ own granddaughter went before Sector Lord Hax and delivered the plea for aid. Hax simply laughed at her.
The patrician Calixian Sector Governor had been watching the Periphery from afar for years and knew well the treachery of Severus XIII, though how much he was aware of its origins, he did not reveal. Later hearsay implied that some link between Severus and Hax, some dark tie, perhaps even a blood tie, stayed his hand as Severus built his own private realm. Yet, when the Orks attacked, it was to Hax’s own benefit, for it humbled Severus and forced him out of the wilderness in a very public manner. At length, Hax agreed that the Orks must be checked and the Calixis Sector’s military reserves were mobilised.
Kulth, the capital of the Periphery Sub-sector, was relieved, though in truth the Imperium never committed sufficient force to truly turn the tide against the Orks. The worlds beyond the Periphery descended into a churning cauldron of total war, yet so many Calixian troops were being committed to the secret war in the Jericho Reach that to many in the highest Imperial circles of the sector the endeavour in the Periphery seemed to have little hope of success. Some whispered that those who prosecuted the distant Achilus Crusade had need of a war closer to home to mask the huge drain on resources, and so a deadlock in the Periphery was at best convenient, and at worst deliberately maintained.
While the situation on Kulth was stabilised, the war beyond the Periphery was going badly for Severus XIII. While the Orks plundered the worlds of Deluge, KW-9, Pertinax, and a score of lesser star systems, a myriad of other threats rose up. Despite the pacts Severus believed he had secured with the Dark Eldar, the pernicious children of Commorragh launched ever more audacious raids against those worlds of the Periphery on the verges of the war zone. Drawn by the near total collapse of the Imperium’s power in the region, the servants of Chaos, in particular the warband of Chaos Space Marines led by Sektoth the False Whisperer, launched a series of brutal assaults, pursuing their own blasphemous missions.
Beset upon all quarters, Severus XIII announced his personal annexation of the chaotic zone of space beyond the Periphery into what he termed the “Severan Dominate” until the crisis had passed. Lord Sector Hax was incensed, declaring Severus a Secessionist and a Traitor, and the war escalated to a previously unseen pitch. The servants of Chaos now walk openly upon the war-torn worlds, doing the unknowable bidding of their masters, while the Dark Eldar raid where they will, their pact with Severus XIII all but torn up. The Orks have now entered the second phase of their WAAAGH!, the focus shifting from slaughter to enslavement. The Ork Warlord has established his own bastion world at Avitohol and enslaved its populace so that countless millions of tons of ramshackle war materiel are being churned out to feed the greenskinned species’ incessant hunger for weapons and munitions. The lines are drawn and the pressure on the front is increasing, and it is only the far more pressing needs of the Jericho Reach fronts that keep the Imperium from flooding the Spinward Front with so many regiments of the Imperial Guard that all resistance is crushed. Each year that the Severan Dominate is not brought to heel is another year it spends reinforcing its core worlds, and another year the Orks’ strength becomes ever more established. And all the while, the Forces of Chaos move unchecked through the region, and mad prophets whisper of an imminent manifestation of Komus, the dreaded Tyrant Star that has long afflicted the Calixis Sector.
Imperial Forces Present on Kulth
Lord General Ghanzorik’s forces represent the greatest operational concentration of the Imperium’s military resources in the entire Calixis Sector, but still they are insufficient to strike the decisive blow that will take the world once and for all. At the last estimate, they numbered at least five million troops, around two thirds serving in front line combat units and the remainder committed to second line reserve and support formations. In addition to these, countless more are engaged in the ceaseless logistical duties by which such a large force is maintained. Regiments are drawn from all over the Calixis Sector and every world able to raise a tithe is represented in Ghanzorik's armies. With the events surrounding the recent rise of the daemon known as the Dei-Phage who was mistakenly believed to be the resurrection of Saint Drusus, numerous regiments have been drafted in from sectors much further afield, at least in part to ensure their loyalty cannot be called into question. These include regiments from Cadia, Tallarn, Vostroya and many other famed Imperial Guard homeworlds. Rather than being raised specifically for the war on Kulth, these regiments have been drawn from Segmentum Obscurus reserves or re-tasked and diverted from whatever operations they were initially raised to undertake. Some are long-service veterans with more than a decade of experience at the front line, but they will be bitterly disappointed if they expect to be assigned to fight a battle from which victory might derive settlement rights. The war on Kulth is expected to grind on for decades to come.
Amongst the Imperium’s forces on Kulth can be found every type and variation of fighting force. The Imperial Guard is an incredibly varied organisation and so even the main line infantry regiments range from small bodies of heavily-armed-and-armoured Grenadiers to massive formations equipped only with the crudest mass-produced weaponry. Supporting these infantry forces are artillery regiments fielding every imaginable form of heavy gun from massed mortars to super-heavy self-propelled artillery. Leading the infantry in their massed assaults are the tank companies, most equipped with the ubiquitous workhorse of Imperial Guard armoured forces -- the venerable Leman Russ main battle tank. Others go to war in the fearsome Baneblade or one of its variants, each so heavily armed it can slaughter hundreds of foes or even strike down the lumbering Gargants the Orks use as their version of Imperial Titans.
Mechanised infantry regiments ride to war in Chimera armoured personnel carriers, while numerous other regiments utilise all manner of riding beasts in the mode of classic mounted cavalry. A small number of regiments operate as Drop Troopers, and “Old Steel and Blood” is fortunate to have a corps of Elysian regiments at his disposal, for these are amongst the finest exponents of aerial and orbital assault in the entire Imperial Guard.
The majority of these forces are stationed at Fort Drusus, or at least mustered there before being assigned to one of the numerous front lines stretching across millions of kilometres of Kulth’s surface. Fort Drusus is a sprawling base the size of a city, its landing fields never silent as millions of tonnes of materiel are shipped in each and every day along with fresh meat for the front lines. Newly drafted regiments are lucky to be granted more than a day to acclimatise to Kulth’s atmosphere, which most note tastes like ash and smells of ballistic propellant -- a sensation they soon grow used to if they live long enough. Having marched or ridden out of Fort Drusus' mighty Aquila Gate, few ever return alive unless their regiment has suffered such a mauling it is forced to withdraw for reconstitution. Most only make the return journey through the Aquila Gate in a Munitorum body-bag, having given their all for the God-Emperor of Mankind.
Ork Forces Present on Kulth
The forces of Grimtoof Git-Slaver are even more varied than those of the Imperial Guard, so much so that Imperial intelligence cells have long since abandoned hope of tracking their composition. Instead, the Imperium focuses on estimating the numbers of warbands present and the numbers of Ork “Boyz” that make up each one. At present, it is estimated that the Git-Slaver has committed at least ten million Ork Boyz to Kulth, with countless more of the slave creatures known as Gretchin (or sometimes Grots) being herded into battle alongside, or often in front of them.
Of more use to the Imperium than crude numbers are details of what types of war machine the enemy can field. Ork forces tend to be a ramshackle riot of troops either swarming forward on foot or riding a range of mechanically improbable vehicles from light bikes to heavy Battlewagons. Some field large amounts of artillery, partly looted from a range of enemies but much of it patched together from scrap. Some field combat walkers of varying sizes and configurations, while others equip their foremost warriors with suits of armour as heavy as the Space Marines’ formidable Terminator Armour.
While there appears to be little in the way of logic or pattern to the composition of most Ork warbands, there are some that eschew any hint of balance and focus entirely on one type of force, often for no obvious reason other than the crudely expressed tastes of whichever leader has risen to power. Some warbands ride to war packed into fast but lightly armoured transports, those that reach the Imperial Guard lines leaping out directly into the defenders’ midst to unleash bloody mayhem. Others field only huge mobs of combat walkers, from light Killa Kans to Stompas almost the size of a Scout Titan.
It is rare for Orks to invest much in static defence, though they often “upgrade” those Imperial fortifications they capture. The greenskinned species is so bloodthirsty and violent that the Git-Slaver’s forces are far more likely to operate on the offensive. Frontal assaults so large the landscape seethes with alien bodies from one horizon to the next are not uncommon, the mighty Gargants stomping forward with their characteristic gait, unleashing firepower sufficient to flatten entire fortresses. The Orks revel in such displays of crude power, every one bellowing the praises of their primitive gods. To an Imperial Guard trooper manning the trench line for the first time, such a spectacle is sufficient to shatter the mind. Often the only thing more intimidating is the gaping muzzle of a Commissar’s Bolt Pistol, held ready to gun down any who should flee.
While the Imperium’s presence on Kulth is subject to the rigid command structure of the Imperial Guard and other military bodies, the Orks control their massive armies by way of the timeless principle of “might makes right.” Grimtoof Git-Slaver has ultimate control over his forces on Kulth and every other world in the region, and although he is most often to be found at his “kapital” of Avitohol, he makes regular appearances at the very front line of his armies on Kulth. The Boyz need a regular reminder, it seems, of just who is in charge. When Grimtoof is not on Kulth, command is delegated in typically Orkish fashion to whichever of the warlords is strongest. At present, a particularly psychopathic warlord known as “Zog the ‘Zerker” is acting as Grimtoof’s second. It remains to be seen if Zog will overstep the bounds of his authority and suffer Grimtoof’s wrath or actually become strong enough to challenge his overlord. It goes without saying that several Imperial bodies, not least the Ordo Xenos, are watching the situation closely.
Severan Dominate Forces Present on Kulth
The armies of Severus XIII are nowhere near as varied as those of the Imperium or the Orks, as the Dominate possesses far fewer resources to draw upon in the appointment of their troops. The majority are infantry equipped with whatever weapons the Planetary Defence Forces of their homeworld were issued, and while some Dominate units appear almost indistinguishable from Imperial Guard units, others look more like a scruffy mob. Despite the relative lack of resources compared to the Imperium, the armies of the Dominate still make use of the more common marks of Imperial war machines, including the Leman Russ battle tank and the Chimera armour carrier. While the Imperial Guard makes only minimum use of locally-produced vehicles, the logistics train required to support such items being untenable over interstellar distances, the armies of the Dominate make extensive use of vehicle types rarely seen outside of the Periphery. These include light tanks, ambulatory gun platforms, and a number of crude but remarkably tough ground attack aircraft.
What the armies of the Dominate lack in advanced wargear and vehciles, however, they more than make up for in quantity. Though the worlds within the Dominate are not hugely populated, they are close at hand. While the Imperium must ship troops in from further away, the Dominate’s worlds are close by and its lines of communication correspondingly short. In addition, Severus XIII has proved remarkably adept at manipulating the hearts and minds of his peoples, such that those fighting to defend Kulth are invested with a righteous zeal rarely faced by the Imperium. They truly believe that Kulth is sacred ground granted to them by the Emperor Himself and that the distant High Lords of Terra have broken faith with them and their lord by gifting it to weak puppets such as the Calixian Lord Sector Marius Hax. Nothing makes this more obvious than the spectacle of the Imperial Aquila scoured from uniforms and the flanks of vehicles to be replaced with the proud profile of Severus XIII, his head crowned with a wreath of laurels. Despite their rejection of the High Lords, the defenders of Kulth regard themselves as faithful subjects of the God-Emperor and so many bear a wide variety of religious icons and personal relics. Of course, none know what vile pacts their master has undertaken in the pursuit of power.
Since the coming of WAAAGH! Grimtoof to Kulth, the armies of the Dominate have seen both huge gains and enormous setbacks. When the Orks first invaded, the defenders were horribly outmatched—within weeks of the first enemy drops, those of Severus XIII's forces not slain were falling back on the Sanguine Palace. When the Imperium came to Kulth’s aid, the Orks were thrown back in disarray, but it was not long before events drove Severus to declare his secession and the liberators became the enemy too. On three separate occasions, the armies of the Dominate have come within a hair’s breadth of expelling the Imperium from Kulth, yet each time the Orks have counter-attacked, on Kulth or a nearby star system, necessitating a desperate redeployment to avoid total collapse. The bones of Severus XIII's soldiers are now scattered across every square mile of Kulth’s surface, but so too are those of their enemies, whether Imperial, Ork, or any other foe that would contest their Emperor-given right to their world.
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 336-339