- "For an age, no one cared about the Periphery or the cold reaches beyond its borders. The light of the Emperor just never really shone this far. Now the Orks want it, the Secessionists want it, the Eldar want it, and even those powers we don’t name want it. Stands without reason that after all this time, after centuries of not caring, the Imperium should decide it wants the Periphery after all..."
- —Evidence submitted in the court martial of San Durra
The Periphery Sub-sector, also known simply as the Periphery, is an outlying frontier sub-sector of the Calixis Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus. It lies between the Calixis Sector and the nearby Scarus Sector and is currently embroiled in a three-way conflict between the forces of the Imperium of Man, the Secessionist Severan Dominate and the Ork hordes of WAAAGH! Grimtoof. The Departmento Munitorum has named the region of conflict within the sub-sector the Spinward Front, and the three-way war of attrition being fought there is rapidly becoming a major strain on the military forces and resources of the Calixis Sector.
The Periphery is aptly named, and not simply because of its position on the edges of the Calixis Sector. Its worlds have been slowly decaying for almost as long as the sector has been in existence, side-lined by those regions with more valuable natural resources, better developed infrastructure, and more prosperous mercantile concerns. In many ways, the sub-sector has always served as a buffer against any enemy that might emerge from the vast gulfs of Wilderness Space separating the Calixis and Scarus Sectors, and with the arrival of WAAAGH! Grimtoof, that is exactly what has happened.
For most of those Imperial Guard troops assigned to the Spinward Front, it is clear that the Imperium is fighting not to defend some valuable resource or strategically vital location, but to prosecute a bitterly hated enemy. Of those worlds considered part of the Periphery Sub-sector proper, Kulth is entirely consumed by war, while several others lie close enough to hostilities that they too may soon be plunged into the bloodshed. The Imperium is fighting a war on two fronts though, simultaneously seeking to repel WAAAGH! Grimtoof and suppressing the Severan Dominate. The current front line has largely stabilised at the spinward border of the Periphery, and standard Imperial military doctrine calls for the fortification and reinforcement of its core worlds in order to conduct a “defence in depth” against the invading Orks. No such reinforcement or fortification has yet been instigated, the ongoing Achilus Crusade in the Jericho Reach drawing away any Imperial forces that might be employed to do so.
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 invasion 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.
Worlds of the Periphery
Confronted with the combined crisis of xenos invasion, traitorous secession, Dark Eldar raids, Chaos assaults, and religious-inspired anarchy, the Imperium has now declared the Periphery Sub-sector of the Calixis Sector and its spinward marches a formal war zone. The entire area is designated as the Spinward Front by the Departmento Munitorum and it falls into three broadly defined partitions.
The first is the Periphery Sub-sector itself, a region that has been crumbling from within for many generations and is likely to be sent into terminal decline with the recent upheavals. Most of the planets in the Periphery are Frontier Worlds, existing on the lawless fringes of Imperial space where life is especially brutal and short. The laws the Adeptus Arbites enforce across the Calixis Sector appear distant and irrelevant codes to those who fight just to survive on the decrepit frontiers.
The second part of the Spinward Front is that area invaded by WAAAGH! Grimtoof. Most of the worlds captured by Warlord Git-Slaver’s invasion previously fell under the rule of Severus XIII, but now look well and truly lost to the Imperium.
The third part of the Spinward Front is the Severan Dominate, a cluster of worlds beyond the spinward border of the Calixis Sector that Duke Severus XIII has declared under his direct rule, effectively seceding from the rule of the Emperor of Mankind. The planets of the Severan Dominate are in the main barren wastes, but their position along the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit renders them strategically essential to the security of the entire Segmentum Obscurus. The majority of the area is fast becoming a cauldron of war, as ever greater numbers of Imperial troops are committed there.
The War World of 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 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 Imperial Guard 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 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.
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’s 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.
The Ganf System occupies a position of minor strategic importance within the Calixis Sector, serving as a hub and layover point on the Warp routes that connect the world of Vaxanide and Sepheris Secundus. Ganf Magna, the Mining World that is the primary settled planet of the system, is a dusty frontier crawling with recidivists, Heretics, and outcasts, yet it is also the sole producer of polygum, a naturally occurring substance with applications in bionic limb grafting, industrial grade nutritional synthesis, and parasite infestation control. This single export draws Chartist Captains to Ganf Magna, where those with the right trade warrants can earn themselves a respectable profit selling it on to the Forge Worlds and manufacturing centres of the sector.
Ganf Magna is host to a sizable population of Feral Orks, as are several other worlds in the system, a fact that has drawn investigation by the alien-hunting Inquisitors of the Ordo Xenos. Orks are known to reproduce by the unconscious dissemination of microscopic spores, a process accelerated by the conditions of warfare. Thus, any battlefield over which the Orks fight is tainted with billions of spores. A proportion will in time develop into more of the warlike creatures, unless the land is thoroughly scoured. The fact that the authorities on Ganf Magna, such as they are, have been fighting a losing war against an infestation of so-called “Feral Orks” -- Orks that have spawned independently and have yet to make contact with others of their kind -- suggests that either a large war was once fought there or that the planet has been deliberately “sown” with spores. No extant archive exists that describes such a prior war, while the theory of deliberate infestation is too far-fetched for most to accept. Those that advance the theory point to the fact that Ganf Magna appears to lie in the path of WAAAGH! Grimtoof and as its leading edge gets closer, the Feral Ork population becomes ever more aggressive.
Numerous wars have been fought on Ganf Magna in an effort to cleanse its surface of the Feral Orks once and for all, with Imperial Guard regiments drafted in from other worlds in the sector to bolster locally raised forces. Such “cleansings” must be carried out with ever greater frequency, for each time one is concluded, even more spores are released and even more Feral Orks brought into being by the species’ bizarre reproductive cycle.
Ganf Magna is host to a large Departmento Munitorum depot facility able to accommodate numerous regiments in a vast barrack complex not far from the settlement of Gulch. The depot is a staging post for regiments charged with cleansing operations against the Feral Orks and, while at least one regiment is to be found training and acclimatising, several more might be recovering from losses suffered out in the Greenskin-infested wastes. Gulch provides numerous distractions for troopers weary of battle, though whether or not they are able to avail themselves depends on their regiment’s Commissars. Gulch is host to numerous bars, gambling dens, black markets, bordellos, flophouses, and even less salubrious dens of recidivism, most of which are essential to the morale of a body of troops recently returned from the front line. It is said that there is no vice not catered to in Gulch, despite the efforts of the Commissariat and the regimental provosts. These grimfaced men and women prowl the ramshackle, neon-lit streets, Stun Mauls ready to use against any wayward troopers who take their brief period of liberty for granted and overstep what few limits are placed upon them.
The Sisk System lies close to the rimward flank of WAAAGH! Grimtoof’s main advance and, as such, is preparing for an imminent invasion. The Spinward Front’s military authorities are drawing up plans for the first regimental founding in the world’s history.
Sisk is classified as a Feudal World by the Administratum, meaning it is ruled by a land-owning noble caste and that its general level of technology is barely more advanced than the use of gunpowder. Sisk has very little contact with the Calixis Sector or with the Imperium at large and this has been the case since its earliest days. Communication with the institutions of the Calixis Sector is deliberately limited, the small Adepta presence assigned to the world operating in or from a number of void stations in orbit. The reason for this restriction is long lost to most, but the highest-placed know that it is a holdover from the days before the Angevin Crusade conquered the benighted depths of the Calyx Expanse. Though few are now aware of it, the native peoples of Sisk resisted the Crusade’s advance and it was only the actions of Duke Severus I that eventually forced them into Imperial Compliance. Since that time, a pall of sullen bitterness has hung over the population, as if the shame of that distant age is seeped into the very stones of its walled cities.
There is another reason why Sisk has remained isolated, however, and why it has yet to be subjected to a regimental tithe. The population seems more prone than others to genetic deviancy, instances of mutation running at higher levels than in other worlds in the region. These mutations appear relatively stable and one of the tasks of the Adepta presence has been to ascertain if they constitute a classifiable Abhuman strain. Most of Sisk’s sizable mutant population are possessed of additional joints in their arms, legs, hands and feet, giving them a distinctive and disturbing, loping gait when they move. Where there are mutants, of course, there are frequently psykers, and herein lies the reason for the Adepta presence remaining in orbit. As the Planetary Governor of Sisk, it falls to Lord Gavvit to monitor the rate of psyker manifestation and conduct regular purges to hunt down those not rendered to his enforcers by the population itself. Countless times throughout its history, some rogue psyker has risen to power on Sisk, perhaps even gaining dominance over an army of his people, before the authorities have conducted a brutal witch hunt in which thousands must be thrown onto the pyre.
The surface of the world is a bleak and unforgiving land of windswept moors, foul swamps, and deep, brooding forests of twisted and malformed trees. The people live in high-walled cities, protected, so they hope, from mutant bands that roam the wilderness that are often driven to cannibalism and worse by the harshness of their existence. Very few outsiders live openly on the surface, though Lord Gavvit does maintain a number of hidden monitoring stations from which he can spy upon his subjects.
Imperial Guardsmen operating on Sisk are likely to be taking part in one of the periodic mutant purges, but they might be unfortunate enough to be taking part in a witch hunt, perhaps drafted into an Ordo Hereticus operation or supporting an Adepta Sororitas mission. They will be garrisoned on one of the orbital stations, but not likely the gilded palace that is Lord Gavvit’s personal domain. All too soon, they will be fighting across the mutant-haunted wilderness, cursing the relentless wind and rain and the shrieking, multiple-jointed cannibals that attack seemingly out of the mists themselves.
Spinward of the region claimed by the Severan Dominate, bestriding the Calixis-Scarus Warp route, lies a star system once claimed by the Adeptus Mechanicus but long thought abandoned by the followers of the Cult Mechanicus. Orbiting the unclassified world of Sabriel is a vast artificial body, its original purpose long forgotten. The Spinward Front High Command is currently drafting plans to reconnoitre Sabriel in the hope that an Imperial Guard presence could be established there and a new front opened up against the Orks as well as the Secessionists. Such a mission would be highly perilous, however, for reinforcing and supplying it in the face of counterattack would be all but impossible. Nonetheless, several ambitious regimental commanders have already volunteered their units to take the artificial planet of Sabriel, ignorant of what perils may lurk there...
Of all the worlds of the Periphery, Sinophia came the closest to carving its place in the annals of the Calixis Sector. Long ago, the unclassified world of Sinophia was a distant outpost of the Ixaniad Sector, but with the coming of the Angevin Crusade in the early 39th Millennium, it suddenly became the jumping off point in the conquest of the Calyx Expanse. For a generation, Sinophia was the staging world and the mustering ground for vast armies and fleets of the faithful, who came from light years in all directions to cast the horrors of the Expanse back into the darkness of the Halo Stars and conquer the region for the God-Emperor of Mankind.
But Sinophia’s glory was brief and the rot soon set in. Now, its once mighty cities are crumbling piles of decay, its population a mere fraction of its former density. As if to rub salt into the wounds, the world has been afflicted by Tech-heresy, its numerous Cult Mechanicus shrines bolting their portals as if to deny the horrible truths stalking the thoroughfares without. Many are those who dream of service in the Imperial Guard, seeing it as a means of escaping their misery, yet Sinophia’s Planetary Defence Forces are rated sub-par and no such tithing is likely to occur.
Despite its condition, Sinophia is still of some strategic importance to the Periphery Sub-sector, for it bestrides the Calixis- Scarus Warp conduit. Imperial fleets destined for Kulth and the contested worlds of the Severan Dominate beyond it have been staging at Sinophia with increasing frequency. Perhaps the world might resurrect its all-but forgotten role of mustering ground for forces of conquest, reprising its former glories at the dawn of the Angevin Crusade.
The eponymous capital of the Cyclopea System is a world of ruin, decay, and bitter curses, sharing something of the cruel malaise, yet nothing of the former glory, of its neighbour Sinophia. The Forge World of Cyclopea is a place of dust and debris, its barren surface strewn with the faded remnants of some long extinct civilisation. These relics take the form of megalithic monuments raised by unknown masons in ages long past, and no one can tell whether the builders were even human, though no taint of the xenos is known to linger. Many of Cyclopea’s settlements are built using the ruined megaliths as foundations or pilings, while others cling to the sheer sides of the very largest. The tallest soar so high into the dismal skies that they pierce the very clouds, human habitations clinging precariously to their crumbling surfaces in search of some hint of untainted sunlight.
The people of Cyclopea are known to be every bit as morbid as the world of their birth, as if touched by some aeons-old soul-curse. They are grim and dour and they shun even those few pleasures others might cleave to in a universe of oppression and war. As with Sinophia, numerous Tech-heresies have sprung into being, nurtured by the tinker-witches who skulk in the deep shadows of the towering megaliths.
Few regimental tithings have ever been raised from Cyclopea, its dues rendered by other means such as base manufacturing and the processing of a variety of bulk ores. With the recent upheavals in the Spinward Front, however, the Departmento Munitorum has dispatched several Imperial Guard regiments to Cyclopea to prepare it for a full-scale, enforced regimental tithe. Very soon, hundreds of thousands are to be offered the choice of service in the Imperial Guard or death.
Classified as a Dead World, Sleef has long been forbidden space to the void farers of the Calixis Sector. With the Ork invasion of the nearby worlds of Letum and Pertinax, however, there are those amongst the Spinward Front High Command who are calling for Sleef to be opened up for fortification lest the xenos utilise it as a means of striking further into the Calixis Sector. To date, such proposals have been overruled on the advice of various highly ranked members of the Inquisition's Ordos Calixis. What secrets might await any Imperial Guard regiment dispatched to reinforce Sleef remains to be seen, for thus far the Inquisition’s counsel has been heeded.
A Frontier World spinward of Sinophia, Kalf is host to a planetwide desert of shifting sand seas that harbour a number of highly aggressive autochthonic life forms, including the notorious Kalfian Sand Devil. Of late, Kalf has served as a staging ground for Imperial Guard regiments deploying to Kulth, yet the activities of another enemy has caused several to remain there to guard against a new threat. A Dark Eldar force identified as the retinue of the Haemonculus Tevriel Vektesh has launched numerous realspace raids into the system, and in particular into the deeps of the Kalfian sand seas, to unknown ends. Imperial Guard units tasked with engaging the Dark Eldar have found the environment and its native life forms every bit as deadly an enemy as the Haemonculous and her cruel followers, and several entire companies have failed to return from search and engage missions.
Beyond the spinward marches of the Periphery Sub-sector, the void seethes with the nucleonic fires of dozens of slain stars. What processes led to the creation of this burning nebula are unknown, and the region is the subject of cautionary tales told by those few void farers who have traversed its outer fringes. At the heart of the region lies a zone of relative calm sometimes referred to as the Heart of Cthulgha, about which countless superstitious stories are uttered. Something is said to lie deep in the heart of the Cthulgha Nebula. A silent, tomblike structure is said to drift through the raging fires, protected by the most potent of Void Shields and the most holy of wards. Some claim it is some manner of sentinel and that it watches over the infernal nebula, ever vigilant for the return of some ancient nightmare that even the Orks, who hold no fear of death, flee from in abject horror.
The green-skinned, barbarous Orks have plagued Mankind and the other star-faring species for as long as they has traversed space and it is probable they are Mankind’s oldest xenos foe. The Emperor Himself is said to have fought, and defeated, one of the species’ mightiest leaders during the Great Crusade, averting the rise of an Ork empire that might have grown so powerful as to threaten the Imperium’s manifest destiny to rule the stars. No sector of space is free of their anarchic presence, for they infest the entire galaxy. Ork society, such as it is, is focused on continuing strife, the process of powerful individuals rising to command their own stellar empires pushing the species ever onward. Through ceaseless conflict with themselves and with other species, the Orks spread across entire sectors of space. Once established, they are all but impossible to repulse and so the anarchic, ramshackle Greenskin empires expand across the void, staining vast tracts of the galaxy with their vile presence.
The coming of WAAAGH! Grimtoof was a huge shock to the military of the Calixis Sector, for it came from a quadrant of Wilderness Space beyond the Periphery Sub-sector not known to host any such force. The star systems in that region were only partially catalogued and all-but unexplored, but the long range patrols of the Imperial Navy's Battlefleet Calixis should have picked up any nascent threat. If these patrols did detect any such sign, then the intelligence was certainly not acted upon. The Periphery found itself the target of a massive Ork invasion and Severus XIII felt compelled to declare the secession of his worlds and the creation of his Severan Dominate. Some have whispered that the Calixian Lord Sector Marius Hax was, in fact, informed of the oncoming storm, yet chose to withhold the information from Severus, perhaps anticipating, or precipitating in, the Sub-sector prefect’s treachery. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is certain that when WAAAGH! Grimtoof smashed into the worlds beyond the Periphery’s spinward borders, none were in the slightest bit prepared or able to repulse them. Four entire star systems fell in as many months and over a dozen more are now in the grip of total war as the forces of humanity, whether loyal to the Imperium or to the beleaguered Severan Dominate, fight desperately to hold the anarchic xenos foe at bay.
Of the first worlds to have fallen to WAAAGH! Grimtoof, very little is known and, while they were ostensibly within the borders of the Dominate, Severus XIII had little or no real power over them. Most exist as names or codes on the stellar charts of the Imperial Navy and may not have known the tread of outsiders for many millennia. The outermost is a dismal world named Deluge, which was host to a small community of mendicant Imperial aesthetes thought to have settled there in the aftermath of the Angevin Crusade. Of the monks’ fate nothing is known, but Deluge has been under the hobnailed heel of Grimtoof Git-Slaver for so long that it is unlikely any are still alive.
The world of Porphyry was the second settled planet to fall to WAAAGH! Grimtoof, the Adeptus Mechanicus stripmining facility present there making it a tempting target to the avaricious xenos. The fate of the servants of the Cult Mechanicus remains unknown. Of late, Imperial Navy long range sweeps have detected stray Vox signals suggesting some remnant of the Adeptus Mechanicus forces still exist, though in what form none can say. Perhaps it is no more than an automated beacon cycling endlessly into the void, but perhaps it represents a small group that somehow continues to hold out.
Between Porphyry and the leading edge of the Ork invasion lies a cluster of worlds linked by minor, barely known and highly unstable Warp routes. Even the largest of these are unexplored and as such have only astrocartographic identifiers, including KW-9 and XD-777. Closest to the border with the Severan Dominate is the world of Augury, a planet long shunned even by the pirates and outcasts that haunt such regions. The Orks took Augury six months into their invasion, but they seem unwilling to commit sufficient forces to keep hold of it and the Severan Dominate has retaken it on several occasions. Currently, Dominate forces have been compelled to vacate Augury by the need to bolster nearby Lukius, and so it nominally falls under those worlds in the thrall of Grimtoof Git-Slaver.
Trailing Augury is a line of systems once claimed by the Severan Dominate but currently fighting desperately for their own survival in the face of the xenos invasion. The Imperium is largely unaware and uncaring of their fate and the Dominate is unable to project forces much further than Lukius and Augury. The worlds of Pertinax, Letum, Melqart, and Iris form a lost front, the peoples of each fighting alone to keep the Orks at bay.
Several amongst the Spinward Front’s Imperial High Command have proposed sending Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy units to bolster the defence of these beleaguered worlds and in so doing draw Ork forces away from more valuable war zones. Such proposals have met with dogmatic intransigence, for the worlds lie beyond the effective rule of the Imperium. A number of missions have been launched to ascertain how effective such operations might be, but to date they have all met with such overwhelming Ork forces that none have returned with any useful intelligence.
Under Greenskin Occupation
Those worlds that have suffered the presence of the Git-Slaver’s invasion fall into three types types. Those that fell in the opening phase of the invasion are now largely desolate wastes reduced to ashes by the unleashing of total war. Several of these have now spawned populations of Feral Orks, which are likely to be unaware that they were “seeded” by the passage of a mighty WAAAGH! Even now they are struggling to gain power and momentum of their own, so that the greatest of their leaders might launch their own migration.
The second type is where the forces of humanity, whether the Imperium, Severan Dominate, or native, are holding on and all-consuming war now rages. Such planetary war zones are the scenes of epic battles of attrition consuming thousands of warriors of all sides each day. There are at least a dozen primary worlds of this type in the Spinward Front, and countless more planets and systems where war waxes and wanes as the embittered foes launch massive salients or counter-attacks.
The last type is relatively new and its appearance heralds a new phase in Grimtoof Git-Slaver’s invasion. Several of those worlds the Warlord’s forces have captured have not been razed to ashes, nor their populations slaughtered for food or for sport. Rather, they have been taken largely intact and their populations have been enslaved in sprawling, forced labour camps and slave-foundries, forced at gunpoint to manufacture the crude arms and ammunition used by the barbarous Orks. This turn of events signals a failure on the part of the Imperium, for it means the Orks have been allowed to consolidate their gains to such an extent that their migration is becoming an occupation. Previous experience teaches that if the Orks are allowed to establish a new stellar empire, their inexorable pattern of strife and migration will make a new invasion inevitable. With the source just beyond the Calixis Sector’s borders it will prove a hundred times more challenging to halt. Some whisper that the Spinward Front High Command has been negligent in allowing this state of affairs to develop, for with a full commitment of forces, the Orks could have been defeated decades ago and the Severan Dominate would never have come into being. With the drain on resources by the Jericho Reach and the upheavals caused by the recent appearance of the Dei-Phage,however, it is hard to see how events could have proceeded differently. The situation is a perfect example of the perils that beset the Imperium at every turn, with entire star systems falling, or being ceded, as forces are deployed in other, more important regions despite the potential loss of millions of the Emperor’s loyal subjects.
Th Feral World of Avitohol lies within the borders of the Periphery Sub-sector, and has been part of the region’s infrastructure since the founding of the Calixis Sector almost two thousand standard years ago. When the Angevin Crusade first made planetfall there under the command of Duke Severus I, they found a fertile, windswept land ruled by primitive and warlike human nomads. This barbaric culture lived and died by the possession of the great herds of gargantuan bovine creatures thought to have been genetically engineered from the yaks of Old Earth and brought to Avitohol at some point during the Dark Age of Technology. These beasts have such prodigious appetites that they must continually migrate across the endless plains and they are so massive and stubborn that all the nomad tribes could do was follow along in their wake or on their backs.
This mode of existence led to the Imperium drawing upon the herds of Avitohol as a food source, but it also meant that the human tribes would never be able to settle and enjoy the fruits of their world’s integration into the greater empire of Man. Instead, the tribes maintained their aeons-old ways and the Chartist Captains of the Calixis Sector came once each season to purchase a share of Avitohol’s mighty herds to feed the teeming masses on the distant Hive Worlds. This way of life continued almost without interruption until, one day, the skies turned black with the contrails of countless thousands of drop vessels and soon the grasslands were set alight in a raging inferno that swept from one horizon to the next. WAAAGH! Grimtoof had come to Avitohol and nothing would ever be the same again.
On Avitohol, Ghenghiz Grimtoof Git-Slaver found a world teeming with humans and ripe for exploitation. Despite being fearsome warriors, the natives were tragically outgunned and, though the tribes came together for the first time in recorded history, they could not defeat the overwhelming numbers of bloodthirsty rampaging Orks. Within three standard months the steppes were reduced to a smoking, corpse-strewn wasteland. Those nomad warriors that could not flee to the deepest wilderness regions were enslaved. Grimtoof informed the captured natives that they would be allowed to live, so long as they worked to build what he believed would be his greatest work -- a world of foundries, ruled over by a palace as great, in his mind, as any the Imperium had ever built.
The invasion of Avitohol caused great consternation within the ranks of the Spinward Front High Command, for no stable Warp route exists between it and the nearest Ork-held star system. This is not to say that a route could not be forged, but traversing the uncharted currents of the Warp in such a manner is generally beyond all but the most experienced or desperate Navigators. Not anticipating an assault from that vector, the Imperium had failed to reinforce Avitohol, and so when the Orks came they were unopposed. To make matters worse, Avitohol represents the apex of a new Greenskin salient, the tip of WAAAGH! Grimtoof plunged deep into the Periphery. When Avitohol fell, heads rolled amongst the general staff, several veteran commanders losing their stars or their lives as punishment for the unforgivable dereliction in duty.
Its upper echelons drastically re-ordered, Spinward Front High Command ordered a hasty counter-attack on Avitohol before the Git-Slaver could fully consolidate his gains. The Imperium launched the largest planetstrike operation of the conflict with the Orks -- twenty entire Imperial Guard regiments landing in three successive waves and striking out for Grimtoof ’s half-built “kapital.” The battles that followed have entered into the consciousness of the Spinward Front High Command staff corps, or at least those not executed for incompetence by the Commissariat following the massive Imperial defeat that ensued. Despite initial gains, the Imperial Guard soon found their advances surrounded on all sides by far larger numbers of Orks than any had prepared for. In days, the assault ground down into a bloody slog to win every metre, before stalling entirely and becoming a bitter war of attrition. Lord Marshal Ghanzorik was faced with the choice of committing still more resources to a battle it was clear to all he could not hope to win. Vowing to return to Avitohol at the head of an army ten times the size of that committed to the operation, Ghanzorik ordered those Imperial troops who could leave to do so. It is estimated that less than thirty per cent of the units on Avitohol when the withdrawal order was given made it off-world. The remainder either died glorious but unheralded deaths, refusing to surrender to impossible odds, or they were captured and set to work in Grimtoof ’s foundries.
In the aftermath of the failed assault on Avitohol, Lord Marshal Ghanzorik unleashed a ferocious purge of his intelligence units, who he blamed for multiple failures. Not a single intelligence officer between the rank of General and Major is said to have survived Ghanzorik’s purge, further reinforcing his reputation and his nickname of “Old Steel and Blood.” In so doing, Ghanzorik became something of a folk hero amongst the Imperial Guard's rank-and-file, whose ire was shifted from the command corps to the intelligence advisors.
With the decapitation of the Spinward Front’s intelligence infrastructure came another purge, one that could only be instigated with the express aid of the Inquisition's Ordos Calixis. Avitohol was declared a Forbidden World and all reference to what had occurred there was struck from the records. Lethal dataslayers were released into Cogitator networks across the entire sector and, while many physical or isolated records no doubt survive, almost all mention of the fate of Avitohol and its would-be liberators is now destroyed. So far as those that ply the Warp routes of the Calixis Sector are concerned, Avitohol is simply out of bounds, none having any notion that it is, in fact, the capital world of a nascent Ork empire on the very edges of the Calixis Sector, nor that millions of natives and captured Imperial Guardsmen labour there under the yoke of Ghenghiz Grimtoof the Git-Slaver’s despotic regime, forced to manufacture arms and ammunition for the Orks.
Though the Imperium has withdrawn its forces from Avitohol, the world is far from free of war. Firstly, numerous Imperial Guardsmen escaped the initial encirclements that slaughtered so many of their fellows and even years later many of these still fight on, organised into ad hoc units and striking the Orks wherever they can. The object of these attacks is two-fold -- if sufficient damage can be done to the Orks’ war effort, then perhaps the Imperium will consider a return to Avitohol, but they also hope to free as many as possible of the hundreds of thousands of their fellows captured during the withdrawal. Ork hunter-killer-eater mobs roam the blasted steppes in search of insurgents and, to many, it is as if war has never gone away. Some of the most organised of these guerrillas have made contact with those surviving nomad tribes of humans that still exist in the deepest wildernesses and have launched a number of highly effective joint attacks on the Greenskins' infrastructure.
Ghenghiz Grimtoof the Git-Slayer's Iron Mountain
Several years after his invasion of Avitohol and the enslavement of its native peoples, Grimtoof Git-Slaver has constructed for himself a formidable Ork stellar empire. That empire has as its capital a structure now rivalling the average Imperial hive city in size, a teetering spire so tall its peak skewers the clouds and constructed from the scrap of an entire sub-sector at war. At the very summit of this grim, rusted edifice, which Grimtoof has dubbed Iron Mountain, is the lair of the Git-Slaver, a huge throne room with one face open to the skies, the walls bedecked with trophies from a hundred battlefields and more. Opposite the open wall is Grimtoof’s throne, a massive seat constructed from the weapons and armour of the greatest of his foes.
Seated upon his throne, the Git-Slaver glowers out across the ashen steppes of Avitohol, brooding sullenly on the next stage of his conquest. By his side are his most trusted Nobz, those with more to gain in protecting his life than betraying him. About the dais are chained numerous captives, for Grimtoof delights in laying low the champions of his enemies in such a way. It is said that Imperial Guard Marshals have suffered such treatment, as well as aliens, including a Succubus of a Dark Eldar Wych Cult, though she escaped within days of her capture, leaving a trail of dead Nobz behind her. By day, the vast expanse of the chamber floor is filled with Orks of all stations, some receiving their orders to conquer distant worlds, others seeking some favour from their dread overlord. Several hundred of the diminutive Gretchin slave race scamper to and fro, running errands and attending to their master’s every need. On occasion, Grimtoof has even ordered the largest of his Gargants to attend his throne by crossing the steppes far below to stand before the Iron Mountain. From his throne, the Git-Slaver looks down at even the mightiest of his race’s creations, and with a grunt orders the destruction of countless foes.
Yet, even though his nascent empire is by far the most powerful of its type in the region, perhaps even in the entire Segmentum Obscurus, Grimtoof the Git-Slaver is entirely unsatisfied. Like all successful Ork Warlords, he is prone to fits of violent rage, but of late, Grimtoof has been known to enter protracted periods of dour brooding. With no warning, he dismisses his entire court and sits alone upon his throne, his brow furrowed and his red eyes glowering out across the blasted steppes of Avitohol. What thoughts of doom and bloodshed cross his blunt consciousness none can say. Perhaps with his WAAAGH! entering its new stage, Grimtoof expects a challenger greater than any he has faced before to appear before him. Or perhaps he ponders the next stage of his endeavour, when his great work is complete and the entire Calixis Sector will tremble before him, his armies fuelled by the toil of scores of enslaved worlds. The Orkish mind is a tiny thing, capable of little more than thoughts of violence, yet the scope of that violence in the mind of one such as Ghenghiz Grimtoof the Git-Slaver must be limitless.
As a political entity, the Severan Dominate exists only in the head of its titular figurehead Severus XIII, and in the hearts of those of his followers who fight to maintain its tenuous borders. As far as the Imperium is concerned, it is nothing more than a collection of rebel worlds dominated by an arrogant Secessionist, its peoples having betrayed their very humanity. Despite the Imperium’s refusal to acknowledge the entity’s existence, its troops on the ground have come to refer to the rebels they fight as “Dominates,” investing them with an identity and a cause, against which the Guardsmen can rally.
The core worlds of the Severan Dominate lie along the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit, while a number of subsidiary worlds are located on lesser spurs of this great route. None of the core worlds are untouched by war. At various times, they are being attacked by the forces of the Imperium or those of Grimtoof Git-Slaver, while numerous other foes take advantage of the general anarchy that has gripped the region. The Dark Eldar launch massive realspace raids wherever they will, their agreements with Severus XIII only barely holding, while the followers of various Chaos Lords operate openly and according to their own unknowable agendas.
The nature of Warp travel is such that war can, and frequently does, ignite almost anywhere within the Severan Dominate. Imperial vessels can drop out of Warpspace at any point along the Calixis-Scarus conduit, making defence against such assaults all but impossible to coordinate in any meaningful way. As disruptive as these attacks are, they are difficult to maintain over extended periods, and so they tend to be prosecuted by the elite of the Imperium’s forces such as veteran Imperial Guard forces, Storm Trooper detachments or even the superhuman Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes. The bulk of long term operations on the Spinward Front are concentrated on those worlds nearer to the Calixis Sector’s borders, where countless thousands of troops are fed into the meat grinder of total war each day.
The Severan Dominate faces enemies at all quarters, yet somehow, it continues to withstand them all, if only tenuously. Its populations still rally to the cause of their despotic master and willingly renounce the rule of the Imperium. Severus and his agents have been able to separate the rule of the High Lords of Terra from religious devotion to the Emperor of Mankind in the hearts and minds of the people of the Dominate, supplanting the High Lords with Severus XIII while maintaining worship of the God-Emperor of Mankind. Thus, Severus’ agents preach that the High Lords are the true Traitors to the Emperor and to Mankind, while Severus is the rightful leader of the Dominate. The Imperium’s brutal suppression of this notion is held up as evidence of Severus’ creed, evidence that can scarcely be denied.
The Karacallia System contains an unusually high number of gas giants, many of which harbour resources of use to the Adeptus Mechanicus in the construction of Warp-Drives. Though logged, the system’s resources have never been properly exploited, its location some distance from the nearest Forge World, making it a perilous undertaking and the war making it all but impossible. The population of the Karacallia System is scattered across three-dozen and more satellites of the various gas giants and represents the descendants of a first wave of Imperial colonists dispatched there five standard centuries ago to populate the system and thus provide the raw manpower needed to exploit its resources in future generations. But the scheme never reached fruition and, though the population has thrived numerically, it has suffered greatly from its isolation. Thus it was not difficult for Severus to stoke the fires of rebellion on Karacallia, and the densely populated worlds are ripe recruiting grounds for the Dominates.
Of the dozens of populated worlds in the Karacallia System, not one is untouched by war. The Imperium has launched over thirty separate assaults since the beginning of the war and the Orks at least the same number. To date, none of these assaults has dislodged Severus’ forces, which fight with almost unholy zeal. Numerous Imperial Guard regiments have been committed to the system and, while substantial gains have been made in the past, most have been at the expense of losses elsewhere. While one satellite might be taken, another will fall, and so war ebbs and flows across the war torn moons and planetoids. The surfaces of the worlds are cratered, corpse- and debris-strewn wastelands, poisoned by the lethal gases Severus’ forces have unleashed and scoured lifeless by the weapons of the Imperium. The war there has been likened to an “island-hopping” campaign, with forces fighting for possession of the countless satellites and planetoids. It is rare for any single world to be held by one side for more than a few months before the enemy dislodges it, but still the war grinds ever on, the system’s location along the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit making its possession vital.
Thrax is a Frontier World located on the Calixis-Scarus Warp route, its once tranquil, now war torn plains host to an array of weird fungus forests. Thrax has suffered greatly at the hands of Grimtoof Git-Slaver’s forces, yet Severus has managed to cling tenuously to possession of the star system. The world of Thrax and several of its moons are densely populated, though technology is rarely more advanced than the black powder stage thanks to the system’s isolation. It is likely that Thrax was settled by human colonists long before the Age of the Imperium and never really integrated into the Emperor’s domains, even over the course of the ten thousand years since the Great Crusade. Rather, Thrax’s society has continued its lurching climb towards civilisation, the war on the Spinward Front setting it back millennia in one fell swoop.
The war has brought twofold suffering to the people of Thrax. On one hand, the advance of WAAAGH! Grimtoof has drawn numerous Ork warbands in search of slaves, and hundreds of thousands have been dragged off to serve in the Git-Slaver’s foundries. In response, Severus XIII has drawn equally heavily upon the world, forcing hundreds of thousands more to join the ranks of his own forces in the defence of the Severan Dominate. To make things worse still, the Imperium has launched a number of long-range strikes against Severus’ bases on Thrax, though given the distance from the Imperium’s lines, these attacks are invariably short-lived and highly focused, designed to cause strategic disruption to the Secessionists’ operations. The largest and most recent was in 815.M41, when the Imperial Guard launched a planetstrike against Thrax. Nine entire regiments were committed to an operation in the world’s southern hemisphere, the intention being to gain a lodgement which could be supplied by orbital drop as needed. The landings were contested by a native force of roughly equal size, but the Imperial Guard should have been able to prevail given the time and space to bring their superior firepower to bear. Tragically, the landings coincided with a massive Ork slave raid and the landing force’s orbital support was forced to withdraw in the face of the far larger enemy fleet. Cut off, the Guardsmen fought on, though under attack by two enemies. Exactly how many were slain is impossible to ascertain, though it is believed that the Orks captured thousands of troopers and dragged off to serve in Grimtoof’s foundries. A force of regimental size is believed to have broken out, however, the survivors vanishing into the wastes where they continue to operate as guerrillas, launching punishing attacks on Severus’ forces and living off of the alien land.
Maesa is a world in utter ruin. At one time it was classed by the Administratum as a Frontier World, its population existing in a subsistence state in a number of scattered cities. When WAAAGH! Grimtoof descended upon Maesa, its people fought valiantly to defend their world, but ultimately had no chance of repulsing the overwhelming invasion. Within six months, the world had fallen, the surviving populace rounded up by the Orks in slave pens holding thousands in the grimmest conditions imaginable. Though Imperial forces were too far distant to intervene, a small infiltration mission had been launched to observe the invasion, and it was this team who were the first to observe a change in the Orks’ strategy. Instead of slaughtering the defeated natives as they so often did, the Orks rounded them up and set them to work in vast, ramshackle labour camps producing arms and armaments for the Warlord Grimtoof's vast armies. This event marked a turning point in the Ork invasion and its significance was so great that the team set off on the perilous return to the Spinward Front High Command immediately.
Though only a few members of the infiltration team made it back, those that did carried such important intelligence that the Imperial Navy mustered a scratch task force of long-range Cruisers and Escort squadrons, and set out for Maesa without delay. When they reached the planet, almost three months after its fall, they found a world transformed. The cities had become huge, ramshackled manufacturing centres and countless Ork vessels teemed in orbit as they loaded hundreds of thousands of tonnes of materiel every day. The task force’s orders were clear and, with a prayer upon his lips, the admiral commanding ordered the cities razed to the ground by a massive orbital bombardment. The Ork slave labour camps were destroyed in a single night, their manufacturing capacity utterly ruined, along with hundreds of thousands of enslaved Maesans, whose souls were commended to the Emperor.
Since this so-called “Scouring of Maesa,” the world has been transformed into a warzone. The Imperium has launched several planetstrike operations there, but the bulk of the fight has been undertaken by the natives themselves. Those not slain in the Scouring rose up against their alien overlords and now fight the bitterest of wars through the ruins of their former homes. The cities are blackened shells while the land all about is cratered and dead, yet still the Maesans fight on against the Orks. Grimtoof was outraged by the Scouring, for he views the numbers of slaves in his service as a measure of his power and he has ordered them all recaptured or slain. Though distant from the Imperium’s front lines, the battle for Maesa looks set to rage on until one side or the other is defeated.
The Feral World of Orbiana lies at the spinward extent of the Severan Dominate, representing the last human settled world along the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit before that twisting route plunges into the benighted depths of inter-sector Wilderness Space. Orbiana itself is a wild, savage world of raging storms and unpredictable weather fronts, its native population existing in a feral, nigh atavistic state. Orbiting the world is a massive defence platform, its plasma generators cold and its capital-scale weapons staring unblinking in the deep void. Though unconfirmed, it is thought that the platform must have been towed out past the Periphery in centuries gone by as a long forgotten plan to defend the Calixis Sector against some now extinct threat. Perhaps it was forgotten or deemed that towing it back was not worth the vast effort it would surely require, but whatever the truth, it has orbited Orbiana ever since. Recently, Severus has ordered the station restored, though those few Tech-adepts that still serve him have yet to succeed in doing so.
Orbiana has seen numerous Ork attacks throughout the course of the war, but it is too far from the Imperium’s territory to come under direct assault from that quarter. Nevertheless, several highly placed members of the Spinward Front High Command have expressed the opinion that an assault from the Dominate’s spinward flanks might crush the Secessionists once and for all. It is probable that these planners have no knowledge of the Orbiana defence platform and, were it to be restored to operational status before an assault was launched, the attackers might find themselves facing a well-prepared and potent defence where they least expected to discover it.
Lukius is a star system entirely devoured by war, for it represents the line in the sand across which Severus has vowed the Orks shall not advance. When it comes to the Dominate’s war against WAAAGH! Grimtoof, the War World of Lukius is far and away the most vital battleground and the one to which Severus has committed the bulk of his forces. It is probable that the Imperium’s Spinward Front High Command are not even aware of the world’s fate, for it lies on a trunk of the Calixis-Scarus Warp conduit and is, in effect, beyond the reach of the Imperium’s conventional forces. The native population of Lukius existed as primitive, tribal savages for many thousands of Terran years, but with the establishment of the Severan Dominate they have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 41st Millennium. Iron Age barbarians used to conducting war with little more than sharp spears have been drafted en masse into the armies of the Dominate, equipped with mass-produced Autoguns and clad in ill-wrought battle dress. Many have suffered a form of combat psychosis as a result of this drastic change, while others have taken to the war with apparent relish. These ramshackle armies go to war against the Orks of WAAAGH! Grimtoof and, from a distance, an observer might have difficulty determining which is which. Certainly, both sides are brutal and bloodthirsty, preferring to establish the victor in the anarchy of melee combat.
But it is not only the natives of Lukius that fight there for the Severan Dominate. Forces drafted from across Severus XIII's realm are shipped to the continent-sized battle zones, sometimes travelling for weeks only to be scythed down within minutes of setting foot on the surface. The Dominate’s forces lack the long-established infrastructure of the Departmento Munitorum, and so the armies might go hungry one month and run out of ammunition the next. Entire phalanxes of tanks might grind into action in majestic armoured assaults, only to run out of fuel before the battle is concluded. Some of the more primitive amongst the Dominate’s front line troopers have reached depths of savagery that would see them censured in the ranks of the Imperial Guard, gruesome trophy-taking being the least of their crimes. It is whispered that some of the native Lukians have turned to the eating of the flesh of their enemies when their own supplies have run low, and perhaps found it to their liking. What consequences the vile habit of eating Ork flesh might have remains to be seen, as does what might ensue if and when Imperial forces face these savage warriors.
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 330-348