The Reclamation of Kathur was one of the many sub-campaigns making up the 13th Black Crusade in 999.M41. Having been afflicted by the Curse of Unbelief, the Shrine World of Kathur was a primary and well-publicised target for reclamation by the forces of the Imperium of Man in order to boost the morale and faith of the Imperial warriors fighting for their lives all around Cadia.
Believing that the opposition would only be cultists and zombies, the Imperial plan was straightforward, with a first battlegroup under the command of Overseer Maggrig sent to secure Solthane, the capital of Kathur, to recover the most important Imperial relics housed in the city, and establish a base for the more numerous forces which would then scour the world of the Plague Zombies city by city.
Ancient debts of honour saw the Raven Guard Chapter commit one half-company of Space Marines to the endeavour. Unfortunately for the servants of the Emperor, the Plague Zombie outbreak on Kathur was but a consequence of a trapped Daemon Prince's psychic plea for help, and when it was answered by Typhus, arriving in force in the Terminus Est, the Imperial spearhead was forced into a desperate race to eliminate the trapped Daemon Prince before Nurgle's Herald could free it.
Legends of the Great Crusade
"...Lord Admiral Kathur and his vessel, 'In Purity Protected,' chased the 'Aggrieved' from Terra and engaged it here, above the world that would one day be named for him..."
- — Inquisitor Bastian Caius, explaining the truth to the Cadian 88th
In official Imperial records, the Shrine World of Kathur serves as the resting place of Saint Kathur, one of the most successful commanders of the Imperial Army, who brought dozens of worlds into Imperial Compliance alongside elements of the Raven Guard Legion and died during the battle for the world. In truth, Saint Kathur died above Kathur, but during the Great Scouring, while pursuing retreating elements of the traitorous XIV Legion into the Eye of Terror. Above the world that would ultimately bear his name, Kathur and his Emperor-class Battleship In Purity Protected brought to heel the Death Guard Battle Barge Aggrieved. The Traitor vessel managed to destroy In Purity Protected, but was in turn so badly damaged that it crashed on the world below, burying its Daemon Prince commanding officer beneath innumerable tons of rubble and debris.
Honouring the sacrifice of Kathur, the nascent Ecclesiarchy proclaimed him an Imperial saint, and built a massive cathedral on the crash site of the Aggrieved, with the faith of the visiting Imperial pilgrims unknowingly keeping the daemonic master of the ship trapped within its remains. It would be over ten millennia later, during Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade, that the power of Chaos would finally wax strong enough to allow the trapped daemon to overcome the power of Imperial faith.
Curse of Unbelief
"We will stand before the Throne, and we will not flinch before His judgement, for we die doing our duty. The Emperor protects!"
- — Final transmission from the Adeptus Arbites central precinct-house in Solthane, being overrun by Plague Zombies
With the influx of power from the 13th Black Crusade and the focus of the imprisoned daemon, the will of Nurgle manifested upon Kathur as an outbreak of the Curse of Unbelief. At first, the Kathurian authorities were unresponsive: outbreaks of communicable disease were a common happenstance on a world where thousands of pilgrims transitted daily, and Kathur's only answer was to increase the patrols tasked with gathering and incinerating the dead. When reports started to filter back up of the dead rising and attacking the living, the Imperial Cult priests of Kathur recognised the dire peril amongst them, but by then it was already too late, as packs of living dead were spreading the infection almost exponentially. The Adeptus Arbites and elements of the Shrine World's Planetary Defense Force attempted to maintain order but failed, and Imperial control would collapse totally over the following twenty solar days. The planetary government of Kathur did manage to send an astropathic plea for help to Cadian High Command.
Despite being hard-pressed on all fronts, High Command saw a golden opportunity for a morale-boosting easy victory over the forces of the Archenemy, and immediately assembled a task force to reclaim Kathur. Appointing the very devout General Finneas Maggrig of the Imperial Guard as overall commander of the endeavour, the Cadian High Command planned a quick two-stage campaign: a battlegroup composed of immediately available forces would spearhead the Reclamation, with orders to secure Solthane, Kathur's capital city and its priceless Imperial shrines and relics. When the second, much larger battlegroup arrived, Solthane would serve as a secure base and staging area for the scouring of the infected from the rest of the world. The first group was composed of several Imperial Guard regiments, including the Vednikan 12th and 303rd Rifles, the Uriah 25th Kiridian Irregulars, the Janus 3rd and 6th Skarran Rangers, the 40th Hadris Rift Armoured and the 88th Cadian Mechanised Infantry regiment. Their transports were escorted to Kathur by a small Imperial Navy detachment, composed of the Dominator-class Cruiser Depth of Fury, two Dauntless-class Light Cruisers and two squadrons of Escorts. While modest, the battlegroup was judged of sufficient size to beat off any marauding Chaos vessel or opportunistic pirate pack, and deliver the troop transports safely to Kathur. Cadian High Command was pleasantly surprised when the spearhead group was reinforced by the Raven Guard Strike Cruiser Second Shadow carrying fifty Space Marines of the Raven Guard's 5th Company. Despite being hard-pressed across the Segmentum Obscurus, for the Raven Guard the reclamation of Kathur was a matter of honour: ten millennia before, Lord Admiral Kathur had fought alongside the XIX Legion and assisted them during the dark days of the Horus Heresy. The sons of Corax intended to see his final resting place restored to the light of the Emperor. Captain Corvane Valar pledged his support, stating that he and his battle-brothers would assist with the liberation of Solthane and liberate the final resting place of Saint Kathur.
"Primary threat! Primary threat confirmed! Traitor Astartes... The Death Guard are here!"
- — Spectrum-wide Vox-communication of the Cadian 88th upon encountering Plague Marines in Solthane.
After an uneventful voyage through the Warp, the Imperial spearhead made planetfall near the planetary capital of Solthane, and immediately sent out their faster elements to perform a reconnaissance in force. Encountering only light resistance from bands of shambling Plague Zombies and the occasional group of Nurglite Chaos Cultists, Overseer Maggrig ordered the Janus 6th Regiment to press forward and seize the largest of Solthane's cathedrals in order to use it as a base, staging area and Vox-relay facility, since the peculiar conditions on Kathur made normal Vox communications extremely unreliable.
Unfortunately, the Janus 6th's invasion of the city roused massive numbers of Plague Zombies from their death-like slumber, and the regiment of Guardsmen became trapped in the massive cathedral, caught between two hordes of shambling undead rising from the surrounding buildings and the catacombs beneath their objective. The Janus 6th dug in and requested help, and Overseer Maggrig sent the Cadian 88th, which was busy with updating the maps of the city and clearing secondary targets, in support. The 3rd Company of the 88th, under the command of Captain Parmenion Thade, made its way to the cathedral with all haste, but in vain: by the time they arrived the Janus 6th had been overrun. The Cadians, only three hundred strong and unable to enter the massive building with their support Chimeras and Sentinels, were wary of entering the now obvious deathtrap, and Thade ordered his men forward prudently, first calling in Kasrkin air support, and then ordering a general withdrawal when the resistance intensified. This last order would save his company's life. Only a few solar minutes later, large groups of well-equipped Renegade Planetary Defence Force cultists led by individual Death Guard Traitor Marines moved to encircle them. But the Chaos forces' pincer movement fell short and only resulted in a running firefight that inflicted few casualties on the retreating Cadians. Thade immediately ordered the presence of Traitor Astartes to be reported to all Imperial forces, and retreated with his company toward the Imperial landing site.
Fuming that his advance elements had been overwhelmed and at the loss of his intended staging ground, Overseer Maggrig summoned Captain Thade and his subordinate officers, Sergeant Ban Jevrian of the Kasrkin, Enginseer Bylam Osiron and Scout-Lieutenant Adar Vertain (leader of the Sentinel detachement) for a dressing-down. His fury abated when faced with the irrefutable evidence of the overwhelming numbers of zombies, and the presence of Chaos Cultists led by Chaos Space Marines, but he still decided to impose a Commissar on Thade's command, to punish them for withdrawing without being ordered to do so. Overseer Maggrig also informed them that Inquisitor Bastian Caius of the Ordo Sepulturum had "requested" that their company be detached to his command, which warranted the presence of a Commissar even further, as a warden against any possible corruption. The Cadians took the punishment stoically, and left to reorganise their formation and meet with the Inquisitor, leaving the general to draw up his plans for the reconquest of Solthane.
" Zaur... answer me this... Since coming here, to Kathur... Do you hear the voices, too?"
After reporting to Inquisitor Caius, who revealed to Thade that the main goal of the Ordo Sepulturum was to discover the exact cause of plague zombie outbreaks but little else, the Cadians were introduced to their new Commissar. Overseer Maggrig had added a petty insult to his punishment by selecting a non-Cadian Commissar, disregarding the Cadian tradition of having Cadian-born Commissars assigned to them. Yet Thade was pleasantly surprised, for the man facing him, Adjatay Tionenji, was not some unthinking living book of regulations (the kind of Commissars most Imperial Guard personnel dread), but actually a competent, if extremely fanatical, officer.
The next morning, Overseer Maggrig summoned all his underlings to a war conference where he detailed his plans for the retaking of Solthane. His plan was straightforward, with each of the four regiments under his command given a clear objective and vector of attack, and realistic time schedule to advance in a united front, yet still with time enough to clear the reclaimed buildings of any remaining zombies. The presence of Chaos Space Marines was a concern, but Maggrig was confident that their actual number was low, for even a company-sized force of Traitor Astartes would never have hidden inside the city, but hammered the Imperial forces as they attempted to land. The only objection to the overall plan came from Colonel Josuah Lockwood, the commanding officer of the Cadian 88th, who argued against committing the totality of their forces to retake the city, suggesting instead that the Imperials leave a small force behind with Vox-boosters to serve as overall coordinator. Maggrig waved the objection away, stating that the Imperial Navy ships in orbit would provide battle-coordination, and that every gun was needed in the city. The meeting was then interrupted by the arrival of Brother-Captain Corvane Valar of the Raven Guard, who quickly analysed the Imperial battle plan, and decided where to deploy his troops in order to maximise their efficiency. The Space Marine then saluted and made to depart, but he was interrupted by Seth Roscrain, the Cadian 88th's Sanctioned Psyker, who asked if the Raven Guard contingent included a Librarian, and if he could confer with him. The boldness of the request shocked the other officers into silence, but Captain Valar merely asked why, and when Roscrain explained that he had received a dire portent when reading the Imperial Tarot, but was unable to interpret it and now sought the council of one more powerful and versed in Warp-lore than he was, the Space Marine acceded to his request.
Roscrain then left the meeting to confer with the Raven Guard Codicier Zauren Kale. The Cadian explained to his Space Marine counterpart that he had read in the Tarot that despite all evidence to the contrary, Chaos was not done with Kathur; and that according to his premonition, another being, a personal enemy of both the Cadians and the Raven Guard, and a rival to Abaddon the Despoiler, would be coming to Kathur. Codicier Kale reassured him, for his own readings forewarned of the very same events. Emboldened, Roscrain dared ask the more powerful psyker if he too could hear spectral voices coming from the Empyrean. He himself had picked them up when attempting to rescue the Janus 6th Regiment the day before, but had been unable to understand nor explain them and, wary of being shot on the spot for daemonic possession, had not reported this fact to his superiors. Kale merely smiled and established a psychic meld between them both, allowing the Cadian to hear what he heard: the first voice, the one coming from Kathur, was a deafeningly loud plea for assistance, and the second, much fainter, but growing stronger each passing moment, was a reassurance that help was on its way.
Coming of the Traveller
"That... was close, my Lord! Had they fired their main gun again..."
- —Terminus Est bridge officer, after reporting the destruction of Depth of Fury.
Overseer Maggrig's reaction to the warnings that Chaos reinforcements were on their way was to press his attack forward with all haste. He was confident that the Imperial Navy group in orbit could deal with any single Chaos voidcraft, and, even should enemy reinforcements make planetfall, the Imperial spearhead would be in a better position to withstand a siege from within the city rather than in the open ground surrounding it. While sound, the order came too late, for the assault was barely underway when a massive Plague Armada, over twenty capital ships led by none other than the ancient Battleship Terminus Est, emerged from the Warp in close vicinity to Kathur. The Traveller, Typhus, the Herald of Nurgle, had come. He was the ancient enemy of both the Cadians and the Raven Guard the Emperor's Tarot had hinted at, for the creature once known as Calas Typhon, First Captain of the Death Guard Legion, had slaughtered the Raven Guard in the orbit over Istvaan V during the Dropsite Massacre, and destroyed the XIX Legion's flagship, Shadow of the Emperor. In the ten millennia afterward Typhus had plagued the Cadian Sector with his patron god's foul blessings.
Hopelessly outnumbered by the Chaos warfleet, the Imperial Navy battlegroup decided to go down fighting. Lantyre Stryden, Flag-Captain of the Depth of Fury and overall commander of the Imperial space assets gave but a single order to his warships: drawing his sabre and pointing it toward Terminus Est, he spoke but three words: "Kill! That! Ship!". Outnumbered seven to one, the Imperial battlegroup could not hope to last, and made straight for the Chaos flagship, with each smaller Imperial warship sacrificing itself in turn in order to buy more time for their Dominator-class Cruiser to fire its fearsome Nova Cannon. Twice it fired, and twice it hammered Terminus Est, blasting the ancient Battleship's prow apart, and gutting its underside. But it would not be sufficient, and while building up power for a third shot, the Depth of Fury was in turn hammered by its damaged but still-battleworthy opponent, and destroyed when catastrophic damage to the Nova Cannon systems caused it to overload.
The Chaotic warfleet then made for Kathur, where only the Second Shadow remained in orbit. Captain Valar, aware that the Death Guard would eventually make planetfall in order to claim their prize, had used the time bought by the other Imperial warships to prepare his half-company for war. The Raven Guard made an immediate planetary drop with all available personnel, while at the same time launching Boarding Torpedoes at the Terminus Est. Typhus' amusement turned to outrage when the boarding craft turned out to be filled with explosives rather than live opponents, compounding the damage from the Depth of Fury's Nova Cannon. Terminus Est was forced to abort its approach, and Second Shadow pounced amongst its remaining foes, claiming three capital vessel kills before finally succumbing. With all Imperial voidships destroyed, Terminus Est finally made orbit around Kathur, and Typhus ordered his retinue of deadly Plague Marines to accompany him to the surface.
Race against Oblivion
"The 'Aggrieved' crash-landed on this planet ten millennia ago, and something aboard the ship's wreckage has finally woken up... Something powerful enough to cause the plague that killed this world, and so important to the Death Guard that the Herald himself has come to meet it... We have to reach the wreck of the 'Aggrieved' before the Herald does!"
With the destruction of the Imperial ships, the situation on the ground spiraled out of control. General Maggrig's four-pronged attack relied heavily on the Vox amplification and overall coordination furnished by the fleet, and when the orbiting warships were destroyed, each regiment, then company, then platoon was ultimately isolated; small islands of defiant humanity against an unrelenting tide of shambling undead. The only exception was the Cadian 88th's 3rd Company, who, under the orders of Inquisitor Caius, fought as a single unit, and managed to break free. They were reinforced by the Raven Guard, and Captain Valar announced that he would make a last stand against the approaching Death Guard, exacting what revenge he could on Mortarion get before succumbing. Captain Thade wanted to stand and fight alongside the Astartes, but Inquisitor Caius dissuaded him. Since Sanctioned Psyker Roscrain was only able to hear the plea for help clearly when in the general vicinity of the prison of the creature who had summoned the Death Guard to this world, he planned to use the erratic psyker as some form of crude Auspex and use the time bought by the fleet and the Raven Guard to cheat the Herald of Nurgle of his prize.
The Cadians agreed, and pushed toward the central cathedral of Solthane, leaving Captain Valar and his Space Marines to their glorious last stand. Once there, the Cadians disembarked, and while Enginseer Osiron hard-wired his Servitors into the Chimeras, with the instruction to fire upon anything that approached, Thade gave his Sentinel pilots the choice of dying on foot with them or dying while harassing the Death Guard at the controls of their combat walkers, with the pilots unanimously choosing the latter. This unorthodox method of command did not go well with Tionenji, and when Thade compounded the Commissar's misgivings by ignoring the late General Maggrig's orders against the use of heavy weapons in order to preserve the holy structures, he drew his Bolt Pistol, intent on relieving Thade of command. But before he could even point his weapon, Tionenji found himself staring down the gun of every other Cadian officer or squad-leader present. The stand-off was broken by an annoyed Inquisitor Caius, who reminded everyone that they still had a mission to accomplish, and that such trivial matters of chain-of-command could wait until if and when they had fulfilled it.
The Cadians then ventured forth into the massive building, guided by their Sanctioned Psyker. After what seemed like solar hours descending under the surface of Kathur, they finally managed to discover the wreckage of the Aggrieved: it was the cathedral's very foundation. At that moment, the trapped Daemon made its move, and attempted to possess the body of Seth Roscrain. When he became aware of the intrusion, Roscrain attempted to fight it, engaging the corrupted monster in a psychic duel. It was a gesture of defiance, for the weakened psyker stood no chance against such a potent Warp entity, yet Seth fought, and forced the Daemon to squander precious resources from its already ebbing reserves of psychic strength. When Roscrain finally succumbed, the Daemon manifested in the psyker's body and, emboldened by Typhus' closeness, engaged the Cadians in battle. Inquisitor Caius attempted a ritual of banishment, but it merely pushed the Daemon back, and the beast retaliated, hammering at the Inquisitor with all its psychic might. Caius threw all his being in this last battle, and while he would lose it, he would ultimately win the war: killing the Inquisitor overexerted the Daemon who started to unravel from realspace, unable to maintain its presence in the Materium. The Cadians were quick to capitalise on this, and swarmed the weakening beast, eventually managing to destroy it.
"Any of you remember Brother-Sergeant Arlus? ... He was blessed by the Grandfather for his actions on Terra, but squandered his gift. And this shall be the last time I allow the whining of distant fools to distract me from my duty. Come! We return to 'Terminus Est'... And then, to Cadia!"
Typhus arrived at the entrance of the cathedral just in time to sense the psychic plea for help from his fellow servant of Nurgle fade away. The Raven Guard had hammered his escort with hit-and-run ambushes, delaying his advance and claiming four scores of Plague Marines before being eradicated, and the Cadian Sentinel pilots and trapped Chimeras only compounded the damage, forcing the warriors of the XIV Legion to waste precious time destroying the armoured personnel carriers and driving off the deceptively fast light walkers. Furious, Typhus turned his back on Kathur, vowing he would never again waste his time, men and ships to aid those too weak to aid themselves.
Inside the catacombs, the Cadians wearily counted their dead, and prepared to turn back to the surface. The last casualty of the conflict was Commissar Tionenji, victim of a quick stab from Kasrkin Sergeant Jevrian while no one was watching. The Commissar had threatened the Cadians' commanding officer, and thus unknowingly signed his own death warrant. The Cadians then retreated to their initial landing area, where they set up an improvised camp from where to scavenge for the necessary materiel to survive until the main battlegroup arrived.
When the main Imperial forces arrived, they made planetfall without any obstruction, Typhus having long left with his forces. The Reclamation then proceeded according to the original plan, with Kathur being scoured building by building and city by city of the encroaching undead, and restored for Imperial use. The Cadian 88th was praised for its success, reformed, and returned to the Cadian battlefield under the command of freshly promoted Colonel Parmenion Thade.
- Cadian Blood (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden