The Purge of the Contqual Sub-sector was an Imperial military campaign carried out by the Iron Hands Space Marine Chapter against the Forces of Chaos. The taint of the Contqual Sub-sector began late in the year 812.M41 when the Contqual High Governor fell easy prey to the corruption of the Chaos God of Pleasure, Slaanesh. From the High Governor's court, the taint spread quickly and within a single month the entire Sub-sector seethed with the corruption of Chaos.
The cleansing of Contqual was tasked to the Iron Hands who have always burned with hatred for Chaos in all its myriad forms since the disaster that befell the ancient Iron Hands Legion from which they descend during the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V. The Iron Hands stormed into the Contqual Sub-sector with a speed akin to chained lightning, seizing several planets before resistance could even be organised by the region's servants of Chaos. Four Iron Hands Clan Companies were engaged throughout the sub-sector on various suppression missions.
Soon the Iron Hands identified the sub-sector's Industrial World of Shardenus as the primary source of the Chaos corruption. The honour of cleansing this world fell to Lord Clan Commander Arven Rauth and the Iron Hands' Clan Raukaan. Though massively outnumbered and sustaining significant losses, the Iron Hands cut through the Heretics and their daemons like an ebon-armoured storm.
The world was brought to heel in short order as the rest of the Sub-sector fell to the fury of the Iron Hands with equal speed, the citizens of many worlds turning on their tainted masters and pleading with the Iron Hands for mercy. But the sons of Ferrus Manus are not known for their forgiveness and the Chapter fell on the worlds of the sub-sector with a cleansing wrath, executing one in every three civilians in a great and bloody purge, which the Chapter intended as a righteous punishment to the people of the region for allowing the taint of Chaos to sweep over the worlds of the Contqual Sub-sector.
The citizens of the Contqual Sub-sector lived a decadent and carefree existence, believing they had created a paradise free from the ugliness found throughout much of the rest of the Imperium of Man. As far as Imperial scholars can determine, the taint of the Contqual Sub-sector began late in the year 812.M41 when the Contqual High Governor fell easy prey to the corruption of the Chaos God of Pleasure, Slaanesh. From the High Governor's court the taint spread quickly and within a single month the entire Sub-sector seethed with the corruption of Chaos. The task of cleansing the taint of such heresy was given to the stalwart Iron Hands Space Marine Chapter, who vehemently despised Chaos in all its myriad forms. Within a matter of months the Iron Hands fell upon the Chaos-afflicted sub-sector. Soon dozens of worlds capitulated to the ruthless efficiency of the unforgiving Space Marines, who took control of over seventy-two percent of the Contqual Sub-sector, with the enemy withdrawing from all of the active war zones, save for one. The Iron Hands soon identified the Industrial World of Shardenus as the heart of corruption, with the cancer spreading from the Hive City of Shardenus Prime which served as the capital of the world. The task of cleansing Shardenus fell to Lord Clan Commander Arven Rauth and the Iron Hands' Clan Raukaan.
Dissension in the Ranks
After conducting the first-stage assaults, the Imperial commanders gathered the enormous forces at their disposal in readiness for the assault on Shardenus’ hive spires. Planetfall had been achieved with acceptable losses, mostly due to the fire unleashed by Imperial Navy Destroyers from orbit as well as clinical strikes launched by Iron Hands Tactical Squads. Yet, no one was under any illusion that the next stage would be as easy. The spire cluster of Shardenus Prime was Void-Shielded, ringed with artillery-studded walls and defended by millions of defenders. That fortress hive was the principal target, the nexus of the entire campaign, the linchpin upon which the fate of a dozen worlds and billions of lives rested. Shardenus Prime itself was a vision of hell, a smog-choked nightmare of hyper-industry and contamination that served as the home of millions of men and women. The Imperial commanders expected that the casualties would be high amongst the assaulting Imperial Guard units. This put the Imperial Guard's Lord General Raji Nethata at odds with Lord Clan Commander Rauth. It was said that the Iron Hands commander was careless with the lives of those non-Astartes that he served alongside. Casualty rates amongst the Imperial Guard had been several points higher than normal throughout the Contqual campaign. Nethata did not like seeing his men used as expendable adjuncts to Rauth's enthusiasm, and had boldly stood up to the Astartes commander on several occasions.
The Lord General advocated alternative tactics, vocally, in the strategic briefings. Shardenus was a world of hive cities. The Shardenus Prime cluster constituted the governing centre, the industrial and administrative capital, of the planet. Many other such hives existed across Shardenus' northern continent. These hive cities processed the planet's food and weapon stockpiles. Nethata wanted to attack them first, to starve Shardenus Prime of supplies and wait for it to weaken. The outer hives would be softer targets and would be destroyed within a month's time. Lord Clan Commander Rauth rejected this plan because he could ill-afford for the principal hives to grow hungry. The hives could be taken by direct assault, in multiple locations, enabling the Imperial forces to maintain a constantly moving front. The central hive would fall once the outer spires had been compromised. Nethata objected to this plan because he knew that his forces would be ravaged during the assaults the Iron Hands had planned. The Iron Hands commander understood this, but Rauth also understood that all suffer who uphold the will of the Emperor. His requirement for speed was of the utmost importance, for Rauth did not know what horrors lay beyond within the spires, but he could guess at how the taint of Chaos had warped the inhabitants of Shardenus Prime.
Coming of the God-Machines
Adding to the already formidable Imperial force arrayed against Shardenus Prime, the military forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus soon joined their Imperial allies on the surface of Shardenus. A Battlegroup of Titans had arrived in five massive Mechanicus transport barques covered in baroque bronze imagery -- angels, demigods, mythical beasts, arcane machinery of long-forgotten provenance. These mighty starships were nearly twice as tall as they were deep and wide. Almost all of their bulk was taken up by single, immense load-bays. Lord Clan Commander Rauth and his senior Iron Hands officers as well as Lord General Nethata and his entire Imperial Guard force had gathered in formation to greet the lead Titan of what was designated Battlegroup Praxes. The Warlord-class Battle Titan Terribilis Vindicta had come to Shardenus, ready to march alongside four other Titans of the fabled Legio Astorum, the "Warp Runners." The Guardsmen erupted with shouts of acclamation, reassured by the presence of the God-Machines. Unlike Space Marines, whose actions seemed to have little to do with their safety or protection, Titans were always visible, looming over the battlefield ready to unleash a hurricane of destructive hellfire at the enemy.
Signs of Chaos
Once the plan of attack was finalised, the Iron Hands led the assault on Shardenus Prime against the hive cluster's outlying bunkers located across the industrial wasteland known as the Gorgas Maleon, with Clave Arx, an Iron Hands squad, spearheading the Imperial attack. They charged forward, quickly and relentlessly, outmatching their adversaries amongst Shardenus' Traitor Planetary Defence Forces with sheer ferocity. Within one of the main bunker complexes, the Iron Hands made their way slowly, purposely, purging the crowded area clean of all life. At the far end of the inner chamber they found a set of doors that when wrenched open led to a tunnel. This passageway led steeply down, and was sparsely lit by fault strip-lumens. Ten metres down the tunnel was another closed doorway. Beyond the doors were multiple targets, but the Iron Hands did not hestitate to blast the doors open with explosives. It was there that the Astartes encountered the first signs of the Chaotic nature of the threat they faced, as they came into contact with multiple mutants tainted by Chaotic corruption. With cool efficiency, the Iron Hands killed their grotesque forms in silence, clearing the outlying bunkers of the Chaos filth.
The Clave Arx swept on, encountering several more mutants, some carrying projectile weapons, but their presence was an irrelevance. With the bunker secured, the Iron Hands had come to an understanding, only too well, that this task was not fit for mortal troops. If the specimens thus far encountered were anything to be judged by, then mutation would be endemic in the spires of Shardenus Prime. The Iron Hands would encounter more mutants the closer they got to the hive's Capitolis. The troops sent to defend the Helat and the outer perimeter of the Gorgas Maleon were the least tainted, the ones the Traitors were happiest to eliminate. The mutants encountered thus far were a warning -- intended to intimidate the mortals -- and the Archenemy wished to show the Imperials what awaited them within the hive city and what could happen to them if they were taken alive. The attack on the walls of Shardenus Prime was imminent, and Lord Clan Commander Rauth wanted his mortal Guardsmen kept out of all kill missions until then, for he knew that the mutants would terrify them. For as long as possible, he wished them to fear nothing but the wrath of their Space Marine commanders.
After encountering the mutants and realising the full extent of what they were about to face, Lord Commander Rauth met with Lord General Nethata in the Iron Hands' command headquarters to revise the plans for the main assault. Rauth informed Nethata that the plans had changed. The Iron Hands would spearhead the assault with an attack on the remaining Heretic bunkers in the wasteland of the Gorgas Maleon. The Imperial Guard troops were to form the spearhead against the hives themselves, without the Space Marines' support. Nethata was incredulous at this new turn of events, for the assault plans had already been made with the expectation of the Iron Hands' involvement, and there was little time to alter them. Rauth explained that the threat level from the remaining Gorgas bunkers was higher than calculated. They had to be purged before the Imperial forces could advance. Once this important task was completed, the Iron Hands would join their allies in the hive complex itself. Nethata protested that the assault must wait, but the Lord Commander insisted that it could not.
Nethata then insisted on heavy support for his troops from the Titans of the Legio Astorum, but the Titans were not yet ready to deploy, as they were still in the preparation stage. Nethata would have to utilise the two battalions of drop-troops from the 32nd Harakoni Warhawks Regiment, plus the use of artillery cover from the 4th Galamoth Armoured. The Iron Hands commander informed Nethata that he could debate the decision all he wished; the decision had been made and would not be altered. As they spoke, the Iron Hands were already moving across the Gorgas Maleon, rooting out residual resistance and saving the Imperial Guard troops from that dangerous task. When their work was complete they would return to the main assault, and the Imperial forces would recalibrate as needed. Seeing that the Astartes commander would not budge on his decision, Nethata informed Rauth that he needed to depart to ensure that the assault did not degenerate into a bloodbath. Rauth gave the Lord General his leave, but warned him not to delay the assault out of excessive care for the lives of his men. Its timing had to remain as previously determined. Nethata informed the Astartes Lord Commander that he would record a formal protest in the campaign logs, because his men would die needlessly at the whims of an uncaring, cold-hearted metahuman commander. Rauth cared little for the Lord General's intemperate attitude. The mortal general had received his orders. Before departing, Nethata informed Rauth that he would soon see the mettle of the Imperial Guard, and perhaps, once he had seen what they were capable of, he would be less free with his demands and remember that they were only human. Just as the Astartes themselves had once been.
The spearhead of the Imperial Guard assault against Shardenus Prime would be carried out by the 32nd Harakoni Warhawks. They were honoured with the first strike of the glorious campaign against Shardenus Prime, carrying the fight to the heretical enemy. These elite troops were to drop behind the walls of the hive city from their Valkyrie assault carriers by Grav-Chute, break the walls and create a breach for the other Imperial Guard regiments to come through. Such work was extremely dangerous and many of the Warhawks would not return. But as seasoned veterans, an elite amongst Guard regiments, the Imperial command's trust was placed in the Warhawks' capable hands. Within the hives, Imperial agents and cells of insurgents loyal to the Imperium had been activated and the defence towers would be attacked from within. Galamoth artillery trains had been brought forward and would advance in the Harakoni Regiment's wake.
Within the spires, a small cell of Imperial operatives broke out of Melemar Secundus hive at ground level from the claustrophobic, sewage-clogged underhive tunnels. They made their way towards one of the defence towers, less than a kilometre away, but the little used ground between it and the Melamar Spire was like a maze and was strewn with half-hidden obstacles. As they made their way towards their objective, the hive cluster's defence grid opened up against the encroaching Imperial attack. In the meantime, the Harakoni's Valkyries had reached their full attack velocity. Moving in concert, the waves of gunships thundered over the pitted landscape of the Gorgas Maleon, sweeping in long, broken lines. None of them had their fuselage lights on, and in the gloom of Shardenus’ perpetual industrial twilight they looked like hordes of dark-winged spectres racing in for the kill. As the gunships moved closer to their objective, the barrage of fire from the hive cluster ahead of them intensified. Streams of tracer rounds found their targets, striking Vulture gunships and Valkyries, the pieces of the destroyed Imperial aircraft ploughing long trails through the ruined buildings below. Gunships kept taking direct hits and blew apart in mid-air. The volume of fire from the hive cluster's walls kept getting thicker -- far too much to evade for long. To their credit, the Harakoni pilots boldly maintained their attack speed and pushed on with their mission, regardless of the cost in lives.
Orders were frantically relayed to the 4th Galamoth Armoured Regiment's commanders to make all haste in bringing up their artillery into their designated positions, but they were hampered by the terrain. Because of the lack of artillery support, the waves of Harakoni gunships streaking towards the hive cluster were rapidly thinned out. Close to a quarter of them were destroyed before they even reached the wall, and it was clear that the volume of fire from the hive cluster's defence towers was only increasing. The main advance of Imperial Guard troops had their targets arranged along the southeastern walls of the hive complex, between the Vannon and Rovax Gates and south of the gigantic Melamar hives, but everything was proceeding too slowly, and the Harakoni gunships were dangerously exposed. In the absence of the Titans and the Iron Hands, the whole shape of the assault looked enormously fragile. Reserve wings were sent into the assault as ordered. Lord General Nethata ordered that all Imperial Guard forces be diverted to the attack zone. All that was needed to ensure that the assault was a success was a breach in the hive complex's wall, just a single opening through which the Imperial troops could pour through.
Suddenly fate intervened, as if the God-Emperor Himself had answered the Imperial Guard's prayers. The night sky of Shardenus lit up with a large, neon-orange explosion. The hidden Imperial resistance cells within the hive cluster had successfully sabotaged one of the defence towers. Though the tower still reared up, a shadowy shape against the dark of the sky, it burned in a roaring inferno. Gouts of flame shot out of rents in the walls as the generators on its first level exploded. This caused a chain reaction as explosions bulged outward from where the ammunition deposits ignited. The Valkyrie pilots saw the explosion and banked towards it, racing towards the perimeter wall of the hive cluster. The parapet erupted with las-fire and Bolter fire, and every second another Valkyrie went down in flames, flailing and rolling into the devastation of the Gorgas wastelands. The sabotaged defence tower collapsed in a riot of broken masonry. Its destruction opened up a narrow corridor between the curtains of incoming Heretic fire. Small-bore projectile weapons still shot through the night, but the space overlooked by the toppling tower was free of the worst of the devastating barrages.
Directly below the Valkyries was the parapet level of the walls, a long, flat strip that ran along the top of an immense barrier, over 30 metres wide and studded with gun-points and elevator access hatches. Anti-aircraft fire from smaller batteries flared up at them, strafing the gunships and scarring their armour plate. The attack carriers switched to their VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) drives and dropped low over the parapet, lowering themselves above their target. As the rear ramps of their aircraft lowered, the pilots informed their passengers that they were in position. One by one, the men in the crew-bays jumped from the open hatches. Once the last had exited, the Valkyries flew to a higher elevation. All across the breach in the defences, Imperial gunships broke in and unloaded their troops along the parapet, hovering on labouring engines and waiting for the signal to turn around and head back.
The 32nd Harakoni Warhawks commander, Colonel Aikino, was the first to land amongst the enemy, his Grav-Chute giving out just before he hit the parapet. The rest of his squad came down around him, cutting out their chutes and brandishing Lasguns. The drop troops proceeded to assault the tower to the north of the breach in an attempt to widen the opening in the Heretics' defences. As the Harakoni troops closed in on the tower, grey-uniformed soldiers swarmed out to meet them, emerging from hatches in the parapet floor and hunkering down behind bulkheads and strongpoints. The entire width of the parapet was soon engulfed in a firestorm of las-beams from all directions, punctuated by the bounce and crack of hurled Frag Grenades. Without hesitation, Aikino led the charge against the enemy as the Warhawks tore into battle alongside their commander in a wave of fury.
Exploiting the Breach
The first wave of Valkyrie attack carriers had gone in. Nearly all the troop carriers had been destroyed, either on their long attack runs or during their attempt to return to base after dropping their contingent of men. The reserve wings were already committed, hurtling straight into the line of fire and taking just as heavy casualties. Tactical feeds estimated up to a thousand Harakoni Warhawks had been deposited along the parapets -- enough to attract the attention of the hive cluster’s garrisons, but not enough to sustain a position for any length of time. In the meantime, the 4th Galamoth Armoured was finally in range and had begun their artillery barrage. Nethata was incensed at the news. Had Space Marines been available they would have been able to punch holes in the perimeter far more efficiently than mortal drop troops. The Lord General ordered the commanders of the Ferik main battle divisions to throw caution to the wind. He did not care what those regiments' casualties were -- they must close on the breach and commence the main Imperial assault. He knew that the Harakoni Warhawks were pinned down. Until the walls were secured, a ground assault would be a massacre. Once the Imperials were committed fully, it would be an act of cowardice if they withdrew now.
In the south-east sector of the hive cluster's walls, the battle raged just as it had been doing for over an hour. The beleaguered Harakoni drop troops defended the areas of the walls they had taken, though their territory was being inexorably whittled away by the Heretics. Beyond the walls, out in the Gorgas, the Imperial Guard's Ferik tactical brigades struggled to make headway. Heavy munitions were dragged up into position only to be destroyed by the defence towers on the walls. The main Imperial assault on Shardenus Prime, for all its speed and daring, had foundered in a bloody mire of destruction. None of the Imperial commanders looked at these signals on the hololith covering the main table in their command bunker. All of them were focused instead intently on a whole array of light-points that had just appeared on the opposite side of the enemy hive cluster, moving fast. They had come out of nowhere, as if summoned from the very ash of the plains themselves. Without warning, the newly appeared enemy forces emerged from the western hinterland zone, overlapping with the walls on the far side of the Shardenus Prime hive complex. At that moment, the Imperial Guard command post received a brief Vox message from Clan Commander Rauth, ordering Lord General Nethata to maintain the assault and to disregard any losses. The Space Marines had engaged the enemy across sectors 9-6 on the southwest Melamar quadrant. The Iron Hands indicated that they did not require assistance. The Iron Hands' commander then concluded his brief message after acknowledging the sacrifice of Nethata's troops. Then the feed went dead, preventing any reply from the Imperial Guard. Much to his shock, the Lord General realised that the Iron Hands had used the Imperial Guard troops simply as a diversion for the primary assault which they intended to carry out.
Sons of Ferrus Manus Unleashed
Using the Imperial Guard assault as a diversion, the Iron Hands themselves launched an attack on the Melamar quadrant of the Shardenus Prime hive cluster, inserting themselves into the cluster using Clan Raukaan's Thunderhawk gunships. Las-beams and Heavy Bolter fire scythed out in all directions, aiming for the squadrons of Thunderhawks hovering over the parapets of the hive cluster. Those shots that made contact fizzled out on the gunships’ heavy plate armour or reflected wildly out into the sky. The gunships lowered their bow-ramps and the Iron Hands of Clave Arx leapt out into the air. Soon the Space Marines crashed into the rockcrete surface of the parapet, falling from the heavens like vengeful avatars of war. The Thunderhawks shot overhead, banked sharply and brought their cannons to bear on the Heretics' fixed anti-aircraft defences. The Iron Hands fell in alongside one another, laying down Bolter volleys in careful, disciplined bursts. The squad progressed steadily, soundlessly, moving methodically through the ash-wind like red-eyed golems of Terran legend. Across the parapet, Thunderhawks dropped other Claves (squads) into the battlezone. They all did the same thing -- advanced steadily across the walls, heading for the defence towers and the access tubes that led further into the hive cluster.
The main defence tower loomed before them, already burning from the strafing runs of Clan Raukaan's Thunderhawks. Clave Arx advanced, relentlessly and methodically, killing any resistance by the Heretics they encountered. The Iron Hands made their way downwards, descending a long stairwell two levels down. There they encountered makeshift barricades hastily assembled across a large domed chamber, each one manned by dozens of grey-armoured Heretic troopers. The Iron Hands did not hesitate, and charged straight at the nearest defenders, tearing them apart with thundering blasts of Bolter fire and sweeping blade movements. The Space Marines ripped through the resistance like a swollen storm-wave crashing into an unprepared coast. The Iron Hands' objective lay ahead of them, on the far side of the domed chamber. Huge circular blast doors protected the entrance to the access tunnels leading into the heart of the hive cluster. Once the gateway had been taken, the rest of Shardenus Prime would open up before them, ripe for conquest. The defenders knew that just as well, and fought like daemons to hold the Iron Hands back. Despite their ferocity, Clan Raukaan was outnumbered many times over by the massed ranks of mortal defenders. The preturnatural agility and prowess of each Space Marine was needed just to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming Heretic fire.
Behind the Traitor forces, came an almighty crash. Clave Prime had entered the chamber, and Raukaan's Chief Librarian Telach was with them, Warp lightning slashing across his midnight-blue Power Armour. Beside him came the greatest warriors of Clan Raukaan, unleashed in their full, terrible glory. Imanol, Veteran Sergeant of Clave Prime, resplendent in massive Terminator Armour, barrelled into combat like some great Mechanicus war engine. His entourage, enhanced with elaborate bionics that was visible through their night-black battle-plate, were scarcely less fearsome. Dominating them all was the Lord Commander Arven Rauth, cracking the ground beneath his imposing Terminator-clad bulk, wreathed in a lambent aura of electrical discharge. In one hand he carried a Power Axe, in the other a Storm Bolter, and his helm's lenses flashed the colour of raw heartblood. Alongside him came the Iron Father Khatir, as intimidating a presence as any of the Astartes, his gauntlets bleeding waves of blue-edged flame. Judgement had truly come to the world of Shardenus.
Lord General Nethata's Lament
Princeps Lopi informed Lord General Nethata that his Titans were now available for deployment. With the perimeter of Shardenus Prime breached, the Imperial forces would have need of the Titan Battlegroup's heavy weapons soon. The walls had been compromised west of the Rovax Gate, while the main assault of the Imperial Guard along the eastern walls, the one led by Nethata's regiments, was withdrawn after taking heavy losses. Not one member of the 32nd Harakoni Warhawks was recovered. Nethata believed that the loss of thousands of men establishing a temporary breach in the walls had accomplished an objective whose cost could not be justified. The Imperial Guard regiments had launched their assault knowing nothing of the Iron Hands' positions, or of their true intentions. The Space Marines had used Nethata's men to concentrate the hive complex's defenders along the eastern wall sections while they came in from the west. The Astartes had even commandeered units under Nethata's direct command, driving them alongside the Iron Hands' own advance, wasting those men's lives in their haste to press on towards Shardenus Prime's Capitolis.
God-Machines March to War
Princeps Lopi strode forwards, locked within the command throne that lay at the heart of his Warlord-class Titan Terribilis Vindicta, while ahead of his God-Machine ran the smaller Warhound-class Scout Titans, loping around the ruined cityscape of the Gorgas wastelands. The Warlord Titan Vindicta came along behind at a more stately pace, walking in tandem with its counterpart Castigatio. The immense, ruined pillars of the south-facing Rovax Gate loomed before them, crowned with wrecked turbo-laser housings and a vast ranked battery of disabled Heavy Bolters. The gate housing reared up over three hundred metres into the sky, a riot of gothic statuary and Imperial iconography. A vista of desolation opened up before the crew. Immediately ahead of them was a wide open area known as the Maw, a kilometres-wide expanse of empty parade grounds, low-profile manufactoria and disused generatoria. Imperial standards bearing the marks of the Imperial Guard's Ferik Tactical Guard regiments dotted the landscape, marking points where objectives had been taken. Lopi knew that the entire Maw had been cleansed following pinpoint raids by Iron Hands squads, and that the real fighting lay ahead -- in the two gigantic Melamar hives and beyond.
Lord Clan Commander Arven Rauth contacted the Princeps, requesting the Titans' presence in sector 7-6, where the Iron Hands were troubled by enemy armoured units. Lopi acknowledged the Iron Hands commander's request and ordered his Titans to follow. In the narrow gap between two spires, designated Melamar Primus and Melamar Secundus, several groups of Traitor armour had taken up position and were hurling shells into a sector of Melamar Primus that the Titans' sensor grid indicated was occupied by Loyalist forces. Lopi picked out a whole line of Traitor Basilisks recoiling as their payloads were unleashed. Each of them bore strange, heretical symbols in purple and grey on their armour plate, that the Titan crewmembers found that they could not look at for too long without risking a sharp headache. The Titans opened up with their terrifying weaponry, hurling a barrage of spitting, roaring, crackling energy into the enemy's ranks. Across the devastation of the Maw, already scoured into patches of molten metal by the predations of the Iron Hands, the God-Machines of the Legio Astorum strode into the inferno, and on their shoulders came the storm of the Omnissiah’s wrath.
As the Titans engaged the enemy in the Maw, Lord Commander Rauth ordered his Iron Hands to accelerate their advance. After cleansing the two Melamar spires, they moved on the hive cluster's Capitolis. Rauth required the services of Chief Librarian Telach, for he possessed no intelligence on the transit routes towards their objectives. By this time, the Imperial forces had suffered through nearly two full standard days of combat against a seemingly endless tide of corrupted mortals, and the fighting had taken its toll on his spirit. Telach found that his head throbbed within its Psychic Hood. Unlike his Battle-Brothers, who fought only with their physical attributes, Telach drew on the powers of the Warp, and the effort required to tap into that capricious well of psychic power was significant. Using his innate abilities, Telach let his consciousness drift out of his body, using his psychic sight to determine the enemy's positions. As his disembodied spirit approached a massive gateway swept up out of the shadows, he encountered psychic resistance. As Telach masked his presence and attempted to penetrate within, he detected the presence of the Archenemy. He instinctively knew that the Iron Hands had not seen the full extent of the enemy forces yet.
Suddenly, something else made its presence known. Something vast and ancient, like some creature of a deep ocean sweeping out of the abyss to feed. Even as he rushed back to his mortal body, back to where his physical form would afford him some level of protection against whatever dwelt in the Capitolis, Telach heard the creature’s voice, as seductive as honey, but sadistic and immeasurably, infinitely cruel. Telach broke the psychic link, and his projected self snapped back into its mortal bounds. He confirmed the Lord Clan Commander's suspicions. If the Iron Hands were able to force passage through the hive complex's subterranean tunnels, they would be able to forgo facing the heavy wall defences of the Capitolis. Telach warned the Lord Commander to be aware, for he recognised the unknown Chaotic presence in the Capitolis: the Iron Hands had fought it before.
In the meantime, Lord General Nethata had grown impatient with the Iron Hands, and decided to depart the relative safety of his command bunker to rendezvous with the forces under his command. He departed in his personal command Baneblade Malevolentia. Nethata was thoroughly frustrated with Arven Rauth -- the implacable, inscrutable, infuriating Lord Clan Commander Rauth. Getting tactical information from the Clan Commander was next to impossible. One moment, Rauth would demand the redeployment of whole regiments of the Imperial Guard's Ferik regulars for some obscure purpose, the next he would issue a formal protest at Nethata’s request for a single Iron Hands squad in return. Every time a detachment of Imperial Guard troops was assigned to Rauth’s command it took horrendous casualties, to the extent that Nethata had started to wonder whether his men were being gunned down by the Astartes' side. Nethata was an Imperial commander in his own right, used to having the final say over the lives of millions of men and thousands of companies. He had always carried out that duty soberly, mindful of the many and varied factors involved in the proper conduct of war. Every order he had issued as a Lord General of the Imperial Guard had been made in the full knowledge that he bore the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
Nethata had been ordered to rendezvous with the Galamoth 4th and 9th Armoured Regiments in the area known as the Maw. The coordinates for the rendezvous had come from Clan Commander Rauth. Nethata observed that a smaller structure stood to the east of the principal hive spire -- a lesser spire, relatively intact along its southern face. Enemy positions lodged high up in the walls had not been the target of Rauth’s assault, and the smaller spire still mustered a volume of fire on his right flank. If Nethata had been in overall command, he would have moved to neutralise that threat before pressing on towards the centre of the hive cluster. That would have been the prudent thing to have done. Nethata decided to make a change of plans. He knew that the Iron Hands only respected strength. He would show them strength alright -- mortal strength. He ordered his entire armoured column to proceed to their rendezvous with the Galamoth regiments as planned, but the flanking position could not be allowed to persist.
The Iron Hands continued their relentless advance on the Capitolis. They crunched their way through a thick layer of burned, twisted and ruined bodies. Corpses stretched away fore and aft, interlocking and overlapping into a carpet of cadavers. The hive of Melamar Primus was finally secured. The tunnel approaches were now under assault and Rauth made clear to his Battle-Brothers that he would lead the attack beyond. Though Telach had warned his brothers of the potent Chaotic presence in the spires, it was clear that the normally stoic Chief Librarian had been unnerved by what he had sensed. Rauth ordered heavy support to be put in place and he contacted Princeps Lopi. Rauth did not intend to have the Iron Hands enter the Capitolis unprepared. All of the Claves of Clan Raukaan were to be assembled and the Librarians deployed, but most of all, Rauth wanted the support of the Titans. Rauth ordered the Princeps to send the Warhound Scout Titans into the hive complex itself to break the enemy's spirit.
Princep Lopis' own Warlord Battle Titan had made its way across the open space of the Maw and through the narrow gap between the Melamar Primus and Melamar Secundus hives. Striding through the valley between sheer walls on either side, it had waded through whole detachments of heavy armour, crunching the wreckage beneath its feet and grinding the smoking remnants into the ash-soil. The enemy had nothing with which to fight back. Their tanks were too slow and too bogged down in the morass of semi-derelict buildings to respond adequately. Only the Heretics' ferocious wall-mounted artillery packed a big enough punch to trouble the war machines of the Legio Astorum. Melamar Secundus had been ravaged by the relentless barrage of the Titan assault and ad become a pyramid of fire. Huge rents had been gouged out of the hive’s protective plating, exposing the layers of habunits within. Flames the size of Thunderhawks rippled up the precipitous edges, fed by the wind and spilled Promethium. Secondary explosions rocked the spire from within, spewing out gobbets of smoke and sparks. The fire positions were black holes gouged deep into Melamar’s heart. The Princeps received the priority request from Rauth in regards to the tasking for the Warhounds. He authorised their use as fire support for the Iron Hands. The remaining Warlord Titans had bigger prey to stalk.
Assault on the Capitolis
As the Iron Hands pushed onwards, they encountered all manner of Chaos corruption and filth. The vast subterranean gates to the Capitolis, the terminus of the long transit tunnels, stretched away above them, massive and imposing. Huge pillars of adamantium reared up from the floor, banded with granite and carved into exotic swirls. Stone and metal glimmered in the dark, outlined with shrouds of corpse-light that flickered and swayed rhythmically. Daemons wheeled and dived in front of the gates, tearing through the air like flocks of raptors. Dozens of them had come through a Warp portal and into the tunnels beneath the Capitolis of Shardenus Prime, shrieking and throwing themselves into combat. As they passed, auras of madness lingered in the smoggy dark. The physical elements themselves seemed to recoil from the daemons' presence, leaving eddies of ash hanging in the air like the wash of ships in oil-fouled water. Some were downed by the hail of Bolter fire that rose up to greet them. Others veered their way through the barrage and came crashing to earth, only to meet the massed blades of the Claves' Astartes. Their death-screams echoed up into the shadow-shrouded vaults, bouncing from the pillars and running down the grav-train tracks.
But daemons, even Lesser Daemons such as these Slaaneshi Daemonettes, were more than a match for individual Iron Hands, and their capriciousness in battle was for a purpose. As Chief Librarian Telach knew, but few other mortal humans did, daemons never died. Their fragile physical forms in realspace could be shattered, banishing their essence back to the shadow world that spawned them, but respite from their malice was only temporary. So it was that the daemons opened themselves to risk so casually. Throughout it all, the Claves fought silently, grimly, mechanically. They stayed in close formation, matching the daemons’ unfocused rage with stoic resolve. The Astartes used their blades with precise, limited movements, and withdrew again when the work was done. Bolters were fired sparingly once the creatures had dropped to ground level. Every Iron Hands Battle-Brother knew that daemons were undone better with the weapons of eternity – swords, knives, axes, fists. The brutality unfolded – two mingled furies locked together in an close-pressed, desperate orgy of committed bloodletting. Slowly, painfully, the ground was won. Unlike the earlier fighting conducted against the masses of mutated human troops, this time the Iron Hands took heavy casualties. Each step was paid for in Astartes blood, but the Claves remained resolute. They ignored the dead and fought their way up towards the towering gates of the Capitolis.
The gates to the Capitolis had been shut. Their ornate, gilded surfaces still swam with witchlight, flickering out into the darkness of the tunnels in slowly ebbing swirls. With the banishment of the daemons and the destruction of the remaining enemy troops, the cavernous space before the portal had slumped into darkness once more. The stench of cordite and blood still lay heavy in the air. The cries of the dying and the wounded echoed eerily in the vast spaces, rebounding from the rockcrete walls like the forlorn wails of spectres. Rauth looked up at the immense baroque doors, ignoring the clangs and booms of activity around him. Every instinct within him urged him to break them down and surge on up into the hive spires beyond. That, for the time being, was impossible, even for him.
Telach’s successful closing of the Warp portals that the daemons had used had given the Iron Hands the breathing space they needed to regroup. The Claves, freed from battling the last of the daemons, had already stalked back down the length of the tunnels, slaughtering any residual Traitors they came across and corralling the surviving mortals into fresh columns for renewed assault. The respite would only be brief. They gathered their strength again, rounding up those mortals who could still march and giving the Emperor’s Mercy to those who could not. The summit was where the nightmares lay. Telach had divined that much, at least – whatever great evil he had sensed was located there, growing in power with every passing heartbeat. The Chief Librarian sensed the presence of the daemonic, the Neverborn. The daemons psychically taunted the Librarian with a proscribed name: the fallen Primarch Fulgrim, now lost to the Eye of Terror. The daemons probably did so to mislead the Iron Hands, or perhaps to taunt them with the truth. Rauth had heard the name as well while battling the horde of daemons. But in his hearts he knew that it was not a Daemon Primarch that waited for them. If it was, they would have been dead already.
As the Iron Hands approached the primary spire of the Capitolis, Telach could sense a malevolent presence that continued to grow. Thousands of souls had been fed to it; the veil between the worlds was growing weaker by the hour. To succeed, the Iron Hands needed the support of Nethata's armoured units, but the treacherous Imperial Guard commander had not answered his summons. The enemy was numerous; they could not kill them quickly enough. Rauth felt fresh frustration boiling within him. The entire campaign had been arranged around the union of forces -- the numerous mortals of the Imperial Guard to soak up the bulk of the enemy’s rage, freeing the Iron Hands to strike out at the real danger, the spirits of the Archenemy that no unmodified human could successfully battle. Rauth felt paralysed, hung between two equally unacceptable options. Part of him burned to crack open the gates that very moment, to tear into the tainted hive spire and burn his way up to the summit, damning the consequences of failure. Another part burned to take vengeance for Nethata’s treachery, to drag the mortals to heel and compel them to do their duty. With a heavy heart, Rauth gave the order to withdraw. The Iron Hands would move quickly, back out into the wastes, and take the needed armoured regiments by force. Then they would assault the Capitolis, their numbers restored, and break the spires. They could do it, if they left now. There would be no hesitation, and no restraint.
Rauth seethed. For the traitor Lord General Nethata there would be no mercy. No mercy for any of the mortals who had failed the Iron Hands' -- and the Emperor's -- purpose. Everything about this world was weak and perverse -- when the Iron Hands' task was accomplished, Rauth would scour the planet clean of its taint. A thousand years hence the fate of Shardenus would echo throughout the Imperium. Men would look to the Iron Hands' actions there and know the price of weakness. At that moment, the Chief Librarian halted his Lord Clan Commander. He sensed something happening at the peak of the primary spire. Something foreboding. Telach felt his mind flood with visions as soon as the explosions broke out. He didn not need to let his mindsight roam free -- the images crowded into his waking consciousness in a mad, overlapping rush. All of the Librarians felt it. He could see his three Codiciers – Nedim, Malik, Djeze -- reeling from the sudden deluge of psychic impressions. Even the non-psychic Battle-Brothers responded. Daemonspoor. Huge, huge daemonspoor. The Chief Librarian indicated that they had run out of time. They had to act now. A Warp rift was opening. A gateway between the realms. The world stood on the edge of damnation. If the Iron Hands did not act now, the world of Shardenus would be transformed into a playground for the daemonic.
Just as the Iron Hands were about to stride towards the gates, they received a comm-signal from Commissar-General Slavo Heriat of the 126th Ferik Tactical Regiment, informing them that Lord General Raji Nethata had been relieved of command due to insubordination. The remaining Galamoth and Ferik armoured divisions were heading for the deployments ordered by Rauth and the bombardment of Shardenus Prime would commence immediately. Satisfied, Rauth indicated to Telach to open the gates to the Capitolis. As Telach unbounded the last wards on the great gates, the Iron Hands could hear the howl of daemonic creatures on the far side. The Claves responded instantly. They drew blades and slammed magazines into place. Many still carried horrific injuries, and nearly all had sustained damage to their armour plate. Of more than a hundred Space Marines who had entered the tunnels beneath Shardenus Prime, less than seventy remained. They would take the creatures with speed, advancing and pausing for nothing. The Iron Hands had fought in the manner of their Chapter doctrine -- cold, methodical, remorseless. Now the urgency of the task had become fully apparent, as had the scale of the abomination before them. Such straits demanded the casting-off of fetters, the abandonment of control. Only rarely did the sons of Ferrus Manus abandon their meticulous way of war and adopt the ancient rage that lay deep in the gene-heritage of all the Adeptus Astartes. When that happened, there were few forces in the galaxy capable of resisting it: ten thousand Terran years of anger, of rage, of bitterness, all concentrated into a single, machine-augmented storm of vengeance. Now the storm was coming. Now Shardenus would face the wrath of iron.
Wrath of Iron
With a cry of For the Emperor! Clan Raukaan swept up to the portal into the Capitolis in a tide of darkness, charging into the maelstrom with murder in their eyes, blood on their armour and death kindling on their blades. The Iron Hands ran hard. Despite the weight of many tonnes of full battle-plate, the Astartes' speed and momentum was formidable. The Iron Hands all ran at the same pace, hitting the ground hard with heavy armoured treads. Beyond the gates, the Great Stair snaked away into the preternatural darkness, winding around a core of solid granite. It spiralled upwards, immense and majestic, curling like a massive python about the structural core of the hive spire. That core was gigantic – over sixty metres in diameter and lined with basalt pillars and mammoth iron bracings. Eyeless angels perched along its width, gazing sightlessly out over the enormous vaults. The Great Stair swept upwards around the core, vanishing into a dark haze as the marble-lined steps wound ever higher. It was surrounded on all sides by a vast gulf of emptiness, breached only by a web of flying buttresses and high arches that spanned it, branching out and forming a sprawling lattice linking the stairway to the rest of the hive. On the far side of the abyss, the vast inner walls of the hive spire stood, shrouded in shadow and smoke.
The Warp itself burst out from the walls at all levels. Enormous growths snaked down from overhanging gargoyles, luminous and clutching. Screams echoed down from the high places, bouncing and refracting from twisting structures of living, weeping metal. Blood swilled down the stairs, frothing and boiling as the Iron Hands crashed up through it. Angry, violent lights wheeled and flickered in the vaults above, turning the echoing spaces into psychedelic, hallucinatory nightmares. The Iron Hands powered upwards, sprinting forwards, crashing through resistance with blunt, brutal force, pivoting on heels and bringing weapons into contact with crushing, shuddering violence. They slammed into knots of squealing mutants, cracking them open, hurling them apart and dealing death with savage purity. But mutants were not the worst of the dangers under the arches of the soaring Capitolis. The spire had been steeped in the baleful powers of the Warp, and everything within it sang with hatred, malice and madness. The winding core of the Capitolis had been turned into a maelstrom of spines, hooks, barbs, flails and toxins.
As the Iron Hands continued their relentless advance up the Great Stair, Commissar-General Heriat ordered the armoured units now under his command to fire upon the Capitolis. All along the line, a hundred Leman Russ tanks opened up, and the wasteland disappeared in a huge plume of dirty smoke. A fraction of a second later, a vast, rolling boom cracked out, echoing between the distant burning spires. Long trails lanced out through the air, straight as gun-shafts, before slamming into the soaring walls of the Capitolis. The colossal hive towered above them, dwarfing all else and filling the tank crews' viewfinders, but it was already burning. Explosions at the summit had spread, dropping like flaming tears from the distant pinnacles. A massive gouge ran down from the top of the pyramidal structure, still burning at its edges, revealing the innards of the structure within. The spire’s defenders -- such as they were -- initially seemed to have been caught off-guard. Many of their massive, wall-mounted cannons had been destroyed in the opening flurry of fire, as if their commanders had been distracted by the cascade of destruction descending from above.
Now, though, the Heretics' response had picked up. Lines of cannons on the parapets swung round and down, picking out the exposed formations of Loyalist armour. White beams of las-fire and hammering torrents of Heavy Bolter fire scythed down from the burning ramparts, cracking into static Leman Russ plate and breaking it open. The Capitolis’s cannons were huge -- as large as those that had been mounted on the outer perimeter -- and each direct hit utterly destroyed its target. Commissar-General Heriat’s forces were exposed, out in the open, hidden only by clouds of toxic matter. A prudent commander would have withdrawn before the carnage overwhelmed him. A prudent commander would have demanded to know why the two Warlord Battle Titans, the only things big enough to take on the spire’s enormous guns as equals, were standing immobile out in the wasteland and taking no part in the action. A prudent commander would have done something, anything, to ensure his survival in the face of such withering, deadening fire. But Heriat’s task was not to survive. Neither was it to destroy the spire from the outside -- he had nowhere near enough firepower for that. Heriat's task was simple and specific. All his guns were aimed at a small fraction of the Capitolis’ vast expanse. His commanders zeroed in on their coordinates with ruthless efficiency, ignoring the havoc wreaked among their ranks and doing nothing to lessen the dreadful impact of returning enemy fire.
Chief Librarian Telach sprinted up the stair, flanked by his three Codiciers. Only he knew the full measure of the monsters being birthed in the spire above. If the Warp rift opened, many more abominations would spill through, condemning Shardenus to a living hell of madness. The Lesser Daemons the Iron Hands had fought since entering the tunnels required only trivial sorcery to spin into being. The ones that were coming demanded sacrifices of worlds: they were devourers, the shrivers of souls, the bringers of torment. One of Fulgrim’s sons. And he had fought the Iron Hands before. Telach kept running, leaping up several steps at a time. Warp creatures crashed against his psychic shielding, burning away at the touch of the dreadful aegis around him. He had gone faster than the others, using his psychic gifts to propel him. Only Nedim, Malik and Djeze, similarly wreathed in layers of psychic fire and capable of using their powers to sustain them, had been able to keep up. Telach had blazed a trail up through the high places, using his Warp-summoned powers to speed him onwards. Even he had not been able to outrun the clouds of toxins that had rushed up the central core, sweeping through the ranks of mutants before them and laying them low. Now, with the swarms of Traitor creatures thinned out, every step, every boost, took him a little closer to the conflict that waited.
Telach kept going, ever upwards, ever higher, carving a path through the vaults of darkness like a spear of starlight surging up through layers of shadow. The pinnacle of the Capitolis was gone. Whole towers, domes and structures had gone, blasted apart in a storm of incendiary fury. What remained was a blunt, unstable, half-collapsed plateau at the very top of the hive. It was comprised of molten metal and broken pillars, riven with crevasses, still flickering with windswept flame, open to the elements and buffeted by Shardenus' endless, driving ash. Telach spun round, searching for the enemy that he had sensed for so long. His Codiciers pulled themselves free of the wreckage and joined him, their fists crackling with opalescent energies. Then he saw the Warp rift. It must have been enclosed once, hidden inside one of the Capitolis’ highest chambers and surrounded by the instruments of heretical ritual. Now those chambers and those instruments were gone, blasted apart in an orgy of fire, and the portal was out in the open, cast upon the uttermost summit of the shattered hive spire.
Telach strode up to the portal, feeling its unholy essence radiate across him. Out on the plains below, men continued to die, and fires continued to rage. His Codiciers followed him, each of them kindling fresh psychic fire from their Force Staffs. The Librarians had the power to destroy the rift. The damnation of Shardenus would be halted. Then, behind him, ten metres away, nearly on the edge of the dizzying drop, a pile of masonry stirred. Telach almost did not turn. His first thought was that it was a Lesser Daemon that had followed them up, one that his acolytes were capable of dealing with. But he did turn. Some note of disquiet made him look away from the rift and over to where the rubble was moving. With an echoing roar, the creature pulled itself free of the wreckage, and uncurled itself. Lightning snapped and fizzed around it, lancing down from the heavens as if drawn by its unholy presence. It was a giant; almost three times the height of a Terminator-clad Space Marine. It was a huge, shambling mess of armour plates, bulbous tumours of weeping flesh and gaudy, vivid swirls of decoration. The monster had once been human. It had once been like Telach was -- an Angel of Death, a Child of the Emperor. The daemon looked down on Telach and the Codiciers. It recognised what they were. Its gaze was deranged, out-of-focus. When it smiled, patches of stitched flesh broke away from its skull, bursting free of their sutures.
Telach felt his hearts sink. He knew he had enough power to seal the Warp rift. He might have had enough power, acting in concert with his acolytes, to fight the daemon-creature, though that was uncertain. He could not do both. Even as he prepared to meet the onslaught he could sense the Warp rift weakening further. Every heartbeat brought it closer to rupture. The Libarians struck as one. The daemon rocked back on its cloven hooves, thrashing its arms through the deluge and hurling gouts of the silvery matter in all directions. The creature was wounded, as the backwash of the Librarians' combined psychic power streamed away behind it. But the daemon was too powerful and it made short work of the three Codiciers, using its formidable strength to rend and tear the Iron Hands Astartes into bloody flairs of gore and broken ceramite. The power of the Aether rushed to their aid, enveloping them in curtains of consuming fire, flaring out with each staff-strike and raging against the unholy aegis surrounding the daemon. Yet it was not enough. For all their speed, the creature of Chaos was faster. For all their strength, it was stronger. For all their Warp-mastery, the daemon was far, far more steeped in the sorcery of the Immaterium.
Only the Chief Librarian remained, though he was horribly wounded by the daemon-creature. The daemon thing taunted the Chief Librarian about the death of the Iron Hands' Primarch Ferrus Manus, claiming that it had been present when Ferrus had died on the bloody fields of Istvaan V. The abomination, a Daemon Prince, claimed to be none other than Julius Kaesoron, once the First Captain of the Emperor's Children Legion during the Horus Heresy. It was Kaesoron who had killed Gabriel Santar, the First Captain of the Iron Hands. The sons of Manus that now faced him were but mere shadows of their ancient predecessors. Kaesoron claimed that there was no sport in fighting such diminished creatures. As the creature continued to taunt Telach, more of his Iron Hands Battle-Brothers emerged from the spire below, but Telach knew they would be able to do nothing against such an arcane threat. He dragged himself away from where his brother warriors charged into battle against the Daemon Prince, hauling his broken body one-handed across the knife-sharp detritus of the plateau towards the widening Warp rift. With little time remaining, and his Force Staff broken, summoning the rituals of banishment were beyond him. All he had was himself, his own soul, pregnant with psychic power even as his body collapsed into oblivion. Telach valiantly sacrificed himself, throwing himself forwards, plunging into the vortex of Empyrean energies in an almighty blaze of light. The Warp rift was finally sealed. The winds of Shardenus howled and raced in the absence of the portal into the Immaterium.
With the sacrifice of the Chief Librarian, Rauth faced the Daemon Prince personally, swinging his blade wildly, bludgeoning the daemon's back. The creature staggered away from him, barely meeting each incoming thrust. Rauth hacked and parried with abandon, moving with terrible speed. The creature hung low over him. It had been wounded badly by the sudden withdrawal of its ethereal support. It was coming apart. Soon it would be hurled back from the mortal plane and into temporary oblivion, but it clung on, persisting in the world even as its physical shell collapsed around it. The Daemon Prince lamented the loss of the opportunity to transform the world of Shardenus into a "paradise." Kaesoron struck out at Rauth, plunging a taloned hand into the Iron Hand's chest in an attempt to burst his twin-hearts. The Lord Commander's own blade shot upwards, plunging deep into the daemon's neck. The daemon screamed, trying to withdraw, but Rauth would not let it. He surged to his feet, keeping his Power Sword extended, pushing it deeper into the creature’s unholy flesh. Kaesoron's claws broke off as it wrenched away, torn free of the gauntlets while they remained lodged in Rauth’s chest. The Iron Hand fought on regardless, ignoring the metal protruding from his torso and working his own weapon again with heavy, crushing strokes. The daemon lost its footing, crashing down hard against the serrated plateau. Rauth pursued it mercilessly, hacking at its flailing limbs, carving into the juddering flesh and smashing apart the remnants of its ancient armour.
Finally, Rauth stood over its heaving chest, gazing down at the obscene scrawls on its crushed battle-plate. The Daemon Prince looked up at him, surprise and hatred written across its otherworldly face. Rauth taunted the daemon, telling the creature that he had forgotten who he was fighting, for it had been a long time since he had hearts. Then Rauth plunged his blade down, severing the Daemon Prince's head from its neck in a single, terrible blow. The daemon’s face shrunk away, dissolving like flesh in acid. The sutures came loose, freeing up flaps of skin and exposing firmer, older flesh beneath. For a moment, before the last of the gaudy, rouged-streaked embellishments fluttered away, something like elegance was revealed – a taut, aristocratic visage, cruel and intelligent. There were some in the Imperium who might have recognised that face. Some lords of the Ordo Malleus might have identified the features of Julius Kaesoron, who had once been First Captain of the III Legion, and who had fought alongside gods in the age of wonder when the Imperium was first forged, who had strode across the bloodied plains of Laeran, of Istvaan, of Terra, and who, after the ruin of a Traitor’s hopes, had been slowly changed by the wearing horror of the Eye of Terror. They might have known what hopes had once been placed in him, how admired and feared he had been, and just how far into madness he had fallen at the end. Rauth knew none of that. He watched his enemy disintegrate, taking neither pleasure nor pity from the spectacle. Then the face was gone, collapsed into blood and muscle as its animating spirit dissipated.
Rauth looked over to where the Warp rift had been. Its guardians were destroyed. Those mutants that remained would be hunted down, chamber by chamber, before the entire Capitolis was purged with flame. After that would come the punishment, when the populace of Shardenus Prime would be held in judgement for their sins, for allowing malice and heresy to root itself amongst them and for failing to resist when the time of testing came. Judgement would come to them; when it did, it would be swift, austere and complete. Shardenus has been saved for the Imperium. Rauth looked out beyond the steaming outline of the daemon-corpse and across the burning wasteland. The Melamar spires to the south smouldered amid the boiling mists of toxic fug. Above them dark clouds raced still, underlit with sporadic bursts of lightning. When the Iron Hands' remaining work was done, the loyalty of the world of Shardenus would be unmatched. The Iron Hands would remake it. They would refashion Shardenus as an exemplar of the price of treachery and heresy.
The world of Shardenus was brought to heel in short order as the rest of the Contqual Sub-sector fell to the fury of the Iron Hands with equal speed, the citizens of many Contqual worlds turning on their tainted masters and pleading with the Iron Hands for mercy. But the sons of Ferrus Manus are not known for their forgiveness and the Chapter fell on the worlds of the sub-sector with a cleansing wrath, executing one in every three civilians in a great and bloody purge, which the Chapter intended to serve as a righteous punishment for allowing the taint of Chaos to sweep over the worlds of Contqual. Just a few weeks after their arrival, the Iron Hands departed, leaving a sub-sector that would become one of the most devoted of all those in the Imperium to the God-Emperor of Mankind in the wake of the Astartes' bloody passing. None of the survivors of the Iron Hands' purge doubted the cold retribution they would face should their faith in the Imperium and the Master of Mankind waver again.
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 45
- Wrath of Iron (Novel) by Chris Wraight