"A less likely place for life, I have never seen."
- —Captain Dominique Valduris of the Omnissiah's Dispatch
The system's primary star is a fierce, blue-white supergiant. This star is orbited by a second brown dwarf in a tidally locked orbit. Inside this brown dwarf's penumbra, Pyrathas also hangs in a tidally locked orbit, shielded from the fury of the supergiant.
This unique location affords Pyrathas a distinct defence against outside incursion, making it an advantageous location for an Imperial Fortress World.
Due to the difficulty of reaching the planet, nearly all of Pyrathas' population is involved in the operation of the large fortress complexes that cover the planet.
Pyrathas acts as one of the main points through which Imperial Navy forces are reassigned throughout space of the Achilus Crusade.
Pyrathas has no exports, and requires a large supply of munitions and food usually brought in through the Jericho-Maw Warp Gate. Its primary purpose is in the management and distribution of Imperial forces throughout the crusade's salients of operation.
The harsh atmosphere and craggy, barren landscape leaves little in the way of planetary resources to be exploited.
In a galaxy plagued with oddities and anomalies, Pyrathas nevertheless deserves mention. Although ignored by the Humans of the ancient Jericho Sector, this world has become a lynchpin of the Iron Collar and a vital resource for the crusade's Acheros Salient.
Pyrathas was discovered almost by accident, in the second year of the Achilus Crusade. As the crusade fleets advanced into what would become the Iron Collar, Explorator ships ranged ahead, cataloguing new worlds for conquest.
When the frigate Omnissiah's Dispatch dropped out of the Warp on the edges of System Designate 018-9J0-5B, they found a star system dominated by a fierce, blue-white supergiant star.
The fury of the star's heat had long ago blasted every planet to half-molten cinders -- save one. An immense jovian-type gas giant, Pyrathas Majorus (itself a smouldering brown dwarf star) whipped around the supergiant in a tidally locked orbit.
Tucked safely in its penumbra, a single moon was likewise tidally locked, heated by the embers of its planet, and possessed of a breathable atmosphere. The captain decided to investigate.
The moon that would become known as Pyrathas was a harsh, inhospitable place. Low gravity had created a world of towering cliffs, high mountains, and deep fjords. The constant gravitational stresses generated massive volcanoes, leaving the atmosphere a grey haze, and life had not evolved past hardy lichens and mosses.
At first glance, Pyrathas had nothing useful to offer the crusade. However, Lord Militant Tiber Achilus and his staff saw an opportunity in Pyrathas -- a shielded anchorage, protected by the fury of its sun, and ideally placed between the Fortress Worlds of Karlack and Hethgard.
On Achilus' command, Pyrathas became the latest link in the rapidly forming Iron Collar. The rough terrain proved ideally suited for fortifications. Legions of Adeptus Munitorum convict-labourers capped the mountains with adamantium bastions and dug extensive launch bays for Lightning and Thunderbolt fighters into the cliffs.
In areas of active volcanism, they sank deep geothermal shunts to power concealed Defence Laser batteries. Meanwhile, the Adeptus Mechanicus constructed large orbital docks around the moon to service the needs of the myriad warships that would soon come.
Within a single Terran decade, Pyrathas had been transformed into the Iron Collar's second largest anchorage for the Imperial Navy, surpassed only by Karlack itself.
Unlike the majority of the other Fortress Worlds, the Navy took some pains to conceal Pyrathas' exact location from its adversaries.
Pyrathas' coordinates are considered a Magenta-level secret, and the signs and counter-signs allowing a vessel to enter weapons range are only possessed by the pilots of system defence monitors who wait on the edges of the star system to escort arriving vessels.
Of course, the Navy realised that it could not maintain Pyrathas' location as a secret forever, and also installed scores of orbital laser and torpedo batteries.
In the years since, Pyrathas has become a valuable fortress in the Iron Collar. When the fleet of the Orpheus Salient succeeded well beyond the crusade's plans, Pyrathas served as a transit centre for Astra Militarum regiments and military supplies retasked to the nearby Acheros Salient.
When the tendrils of Hive Fleet Dagon began to curl around the crusade forces in the Orpheus Salient, Pyrathas saw its role reappraised. It remained a transit centre, but the flow of troops and materiel reversed to staunch the dangers of Dagon.
Certain crusade commanders -- Pyrathas' Captain Skor among them -- have privately voiced the opinion that should the Tyranid hive fleet defeat the crusade and consume the Jericho Reach, Pyrathas may prove a final Imperial refuge against the swarm.
The furious glare of the blue supergiant makes approaching the anchorage without the protection of Void Shields suicidal, and thus far the Tyranid Hive Ships encountered do not have a suitable alternative.
These commanders argue (amongst themselves, where their thoughts will not be labelled seditious by the Commissariat) that should the crusade falter and fail, what Astra Militarum and fleet elements that could not be evacuated through the Warp Gate should be pulled back to Pyrathas, where they can wait for an Imperial counter-offensive.
Some even more pessimistic voices argue that the more likely outcome is that the Imperium would attempt to destroy the Warp Gate. Although this would strand the forces remaining within the Jericho Reach, they postulate that the Tyranids would wipe out the Chaos and T'au-held worlds, leaving Imperial forces free to "pick up the scraps" after they passed.
What none of these individuals speak of, but all fear, is that the supreme adaptability of the Tyranids may lead to some new way for them to endure the glare of Pyrathas' sun, and consume the world anyway.
The surface of Pyrathas is a hellish, inhospitable place; a craggy world of jutting peaks, sharp ridges, and deep fjords, with little life beyond hardy algae and lichens. The climate is exacerbated by the world's unique stellar geometry. As it is tidally locked with Pyrathas Majorus, half the world has never seen the sun.
On this side of Pyrathas, the fjords fill with glaciers and every peak is covered with a cap of snow that has not melted in millions of years. At the far point, the very air is so cold that it can freeze a man's lungs the moment he inhales.
On the other side, the baleful but muted glare of Pyrathas Majorus warms the world like hands held close to a smouldering ember. Here life is possible, but only just. The constant glow from the brown dwarf keeps its moon above freezing, but the world is constantly lit by a deep red glow.
Those stationed here find this environment so psychologically unsettling that the thick shutters covering most of the structures' windows remain permanently sealed.
Even so, the installations on Pyrathas have grown to an impressive size, even larger than Adamant Station above it. Scattered along the rocky cliffs of one of Pyrathas' larger oceans, the fortifications have been dubbed "Fortress Illium," and they have capped the cliffs and ridges in steel and adamantium.
Due to the unique stellar geography of Pyrathas, many of the Fortress World's installations are concentrated in orbit.
However, the Astra Militarum still maintains substantial fortifications on the surface, along with Munitorum supply depots, sustenance-mills, and mining installations.
Pyrathas' primary orbital installation, Adamant Station looms over the moon like a vast, ironwork spiderweb. Adamant is an orbital warehouse, the void-dock for dozens of starships at any one time. Stretching many hundreds of kilometres across the sky, this mid-orbit installation is so large that it is easily visible from the surface.
Scores of defence laser batteries comprise the outermost sections of Adamant Station, linked together with massive adamantium chains and straining grav-links. Together, these stations provide an interlinking field of lance fire covering many of the approaches to the station -- with free-orbiting batteries on the far side of the moon defending against the rest.
Further inward, the station becomes a maze of docking bays, loading stations, and orbital cargo vaults. These facilities allow the flow of vital supplies between two crusade salients. Naval anchorages are segregated from the transport docks, though most of the Navy warships prefer independent orbital anchorages high above Adamant.
The centre of the station hosts its command basilica, as well as vast gaping launch bays for flights of Furies, Starhawks, and other Attack Craft. In the centre is a massive orbital tower, capable of ferrying large quantities of troops and supplies to the surface installations.
Since the crisis of the Orpheus Salient, Adamant's facilities have been working triple-shifts to accommodate the increased movement of supplies.
In the perpetual darkness of Pyrathas Majorus' shadow, arc-welders, manoeuvring thrusters, and stab-lights illuminate the facility in an inconstant, actinic glare. In such conditions, accidents are quite common, and the rate of fatalities amongst the indentured workers and even able voidmen has steadily increased.
To maintain the urgent work pace, the Navy has begun searching far afield for warm bodies to replace Adamant's losses. This is no easy task, however. In these desperate times, manpower has become a valuable commodity in the crusade.
Many Imperial Navy voidships have suffered heavy losses in the battles against the Tyranids. Too many vessels struggled back to port as half-gutted hulks, their crews decimated by the horrific monsters used by the Tyranids as boarders.
Not only does repairing these vessels require far too much time and effort from Adamant's facilities, the ships' captains demand facilities like Adamant give up their best trained crews to replace their losses.
All this means that Adamant is severely understaffed. Captain Skor continues to place ever more tersely worded requests to Commodore Hemelschot about the manpower situation, however the commodore has his own concerns and may not be able to help.
The situation is desperate enough that some senior bosuns have taken to ambushing isolated groups of Guardsmen passing through the station and press-ganging them into the Navy. In response, the Commissariat and senior sergeants of the Astra Militarum have taken to escorting their troops en masse from transports to the surface installations under their control, even releasing small arms to their troops to defend themselves.
Needless to say, this has only increased tensions on the station, and already several reports of isolated skirmishes have arrived on Skor's desk.
Some senior warrant officers whisper that the captain is considering another means of solving his problem. They say he has been in constant talks with Lieutenant Commander Alaxis McKale about leading an expedition off-station in order to find additional personnel somewhere else.
Illium is centred around the base of the orbital tower that links it to Adamant Station. Through it flows a constant torrent of supplies and Imperial Guardsmen -- the former destined for the vast supply caverns cut into the bedrock below the base, the latter to wait inside the labyrinthine stretches of barracks surrounding the central bastion.
Most of Illium's installations -- supply caverns, barracks, sustenance processors, hab-farms, laboritoriums, medicae facilities, repair and maintenance depots, and even a small forge maintained by the Adeptus Mechanicus -- exist within the kilometres of caverns carved under the surface. The population of a major city lives, works, and prepares to fight under the ground.
Above their heads, thousands of kilometres of trenches, bastions, fortifications, walls, and razor wire stretch out from the central bastion. Every sector has overlapping artillery emplacements, supported by shorter-ranged mortar positions and buttressed with air defence emplacements.
Every cliff along the ocean has hangers cut into the very rock for Thunderbolt, Lightning, and Marauder aircraft. In the five standard years since she first took command of Illium, General Helga Vastorpoole has kept the Imperial Guard regiments transferring through Illium constantly busy.
Under the philosophy that idle hands can only cause trouble, she keeps those staying in her fortress busy constructing new and improved fortifications.
Any enemy foolish enough to attack Illium would come under fire from Hydra Autocannon emplacements and Icarus Lascannons upon entering the atmosphere. The mountains around the fortress contained many cunningly disguised air defences, supported by long-range Manticore launchers and their deadly Storm Eagle missiles.
Once on the ground, enemies would still have to contend with constant airstrikes from Marauder bombers, and long range shelling from the base's Earthshaker Cannons.
Then, when they finally launched their attack, they would have to chew through kilometres of interlinked defences, trenches, bunkers, block-houses, and underground sally ports -- all the while under fire from Heavy Bolters, Colossus siege mortars, and the lasguns of tens of thousands of veteran Guardsmen.
The defences seem impregnable, and General Vastorpoole certainly believes they are. However, they have yet to be tested by either the Tyranids or the Stigmartus, and both are incredibly dangerous foes.
Ice Station Zeta
On the far side of Pyrathas from Illium is Ice Station Zeta. Laid atop one of the largest glaciers on Pyrathas, Zeta is a Phaeton Pattern research complex with a single landing pad, spartan living quarters, several extremely advanced research facilities, and a permanent defence detachment of two squads of Storm Troopers.
Zeta is operated by the Biologis branch of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Here, several Genetors frantically research possible biological weapons or defences against the Tyranids.
The station takes every precaution with the volatile and dangerous materials they are utilizing, but its biggest safeguard is being a world away from any other Humans on the planet.
Still, its presence is kept secret from the Imperial Guard and Navy commanders of Pyrathas. Instead, the Mechanicus has maintained ties with the Ordo Xenos and the Deathwatch Librarian Zadkiel, who secretly sponsor their endeavours.
At the tip of the shadow cast by the gas giant Pyrathas Majorus, the Navy maintains an observatory station to watch for approaching enemies.
A tiny disk only three hundred metres across, Penumbra Outpost maintains a crew of slightly less than two hundred malcontents, failures, and washed-up junior officers.
The station is lightly defended, and Captain Skor's feeling is that it is completely expendable in the case of a major attack. Because of this, he consciously sends his worst to crew it, so they will be out of his way.
This plan may backfire, however. Unknown to his superiors, the current commander of Penumbra Outpost, Lieutenant Vance Ulderhoff, is a traitor to the Imperium.
Captured by the Stigmartus during one of the salient's battles five years ago, Ulderhoff survived when the rest of his unit was executed by giving up valuable Imperial secrets. The Stigmartus decided to return him to Imperial lines, hoping he would prove some use as a double agent.
Ulderhoff eventually ended up on Pyrathas, and then on Penumbra Outpost when his malingering ways earned him one too many official reprimands. He is eager to let his true masters know about Pyrathas' location, but as of yet has no way to dispatch any message.
Until he finds one, he waits, doing just enough of his duty to ensure he won't be executed for complete failure.
- Lieutenant Commander Alaxis McKale
- General Helga Vastorpoole
- Captain Sylas Skor
- Lieutenant Vance Ulderhoff
- Deathwatch: The Jericho Reach (RPG), pp. 9-12