"Just as they who do not do their duty are not remembered, so too will we be forgotten should we fail. In the annals of history let it be recorded that on this day and at this time, His most divine light shone once more onto this world, shrouded in darkness and hidden from His sight for these four millennia gone."
- —First entry in the annals of the grand conquest of Karlack, meme-scribed 779.M41
Much of what has come to pass during the Imperium's great crusade into the Jericho Reach can be laid at the feet of one man: Tiber Achilus.
During its planning and early years, the Lord Militant was the catalyst of nearly every move the Imperium's forces made within the lost sector, even influencing the decisions and actions of those only nominally under his control such as the Inquisition, the Ecclesiarchy, the various Space Marine Chapters, and the Deathwatch.
Imperial scholars and historians have often used an ancient adage when talking of the Achilus Crusade, "If you know the man, you will know the mission." The truth of this wisdom can be seen in every fortified world and every glorious victory and every ignominious defeat which mark his nine standard years in command of the Imperium's bid to reclaim the Reach.
Those that dig deeper into the man that was Tiber Achilus, however, have found more questions than answers and some disturbing and damning coincidences.
The story of Tiber Achilus began thousands of light years from the Jericho Reach and many years before the Imperium's discovery of the Warp Gate that connected the Calixis Sector to the Reach. Born in the Ixaniad Sector on the Hive World of Lordrium, Achilus was a product of a long and noble line of generals and commanders which had served the Ixaniad Sector's lords for centuries.
The lexographers of Lordrium however record his birth year as laced with prophecy and portent. It was written that on the day of his birth there was an unanticipated convergence of Lordrium's seven moons and a rolling eclipse that lasted for almost a solar week over the hive city in which he lived.
Other signs included sightings of strange visitors to the hive: thin graceful men dressed in robes who never showed their faces and vanished when approached. Strange ships were spotted in orbit, appearing only on the edge of sensor sweeps and disappearing before their existence could be confirmed.
These peculiar events however were not associated with the then-infant Achilus, as despite his high birth he was but one of a dozen sons of the Achilus line and merely another spire brat in the eyes of the nobles of Lordrium. As he grew to adulthood, Tiber Achilus began to distinguish himself from his brothers and sisters and live up to the grand legacy of his name.
A masterful swordsman and canny tactician, he excelled in the ranks of the Lordrium officer cadre as a cadet, earning a bloody reputation as a duellist even before his second naming day.
While his siblings largely succumbed to the vices of nobility and the decadence of their highborn lifestyle, Tiber became even more driven to succeed with each passing year, as if he knew somehow there was a task for which he had been born and which only he could complete.
His first taste of combat came during the Redgarvi Ashlander Riots on Lordrium, as a twenty year old officer of the 38th Hive Korlo Planetary Defence Force regiment. As in his previous endeavours, he made a name for himself quickly, securing the hive's central lifters in a series of bloody battles and brutal holding actions against the Redgarvi hordes.
For his courage and his skill he was awarded both the Lordrium Silver Shield and a place in the Sector Lord's own personal regiment, the Ixaniad Purebloods.
It was over the next forty Terran years in the service of the Purebloods that Tiber Achilus would earn sector-wide reputation, even becoming a known commander in the nearby Scarus and Calixis Sectors for his role in the fringe campaign.
A rising star of the Astra Militarum and stalwart ally of the Imperial Navy, Achilus travelled extensively and made many contacts with the noble houses and prominent Imperial organisations of the region. It was said by those that met the man that he had an air about him, a natural charisma or presence that seemed to call out to those around him and put them at ease.
Such was this strange effect he had on both allies and enemies that in the many years he served in the Purebloods, not one of his peers had anything bad to say about him, nor did he seem to make any political foes at all. This feat was remarkable among the Imperial military structure and practically unique among his kind.
It was during this period of ascension that one of the more unusual incidents surrounding Achilus occurred. It was while he was campaigning in the Formorian Sector against the Khrave and their allies, cleansing the cursed Sydratie Seven Systems. After defeating a Khrave vanguard fleet around the world of Taryo he made planet-fall with a battalion of Purebloods to clear out any xenos which had escaped the fighting and landed on the world.
An uncharted planet, Taryo was a labyrinth of frozen canyons and ice tunnels which forced Achilus to divide his landing party into platoons to find the surviving xenos.
After hours of searching, Achilus and the men with him became lost, stumbling into an ancient ruin of strange but familiar architecture. Almost immediately Aeldari pathfinders attacked them and their platoon was cut down in a matter of minutes leaving only Achilus and a few of his troops alive.
A secret report from one of these survivors (gathered years later by the Ordo Xenos) recounts what happened next. Apparently even as the leader of the pathfinders loomed over the wounded Achilus to finish him, she seemed to pause, looking closer at the general before turning to her warriors and motioning for them to retreat.
Why this occurred was never documented and Achilus never spoke of it, however the eye witnesses swear that when the alien looked at Achilus it seemed to recognise him.
First Lord Militant of the Crusade
To lead an Imperial Crusade, a commander must have more than just experience, charisma and favour. In such an undertaking it is not enough for a man to be the greatest in his field or the most idolised among his peers, he must have something more.
When the Warp Gate to the Jericho Reach was discovered and the first whispers of crusade began to permeate among the upper echelons of the Imperium, Achilus found himself drawn to the cause, struck by the righteousness of conquering the Jericho Reach and bringing its worlds back into the light of the God-Emperor.
It was as if this was the moment of greatness he had been waiting for, and typical of his confidence and drive, he wasted no time in rallying support and gathering together allies to make his dream a reality.
Here history turns up yet more anomalies and curiosities, as even though Achilus was a man of power and influence, even he should have had a long struggle to win the hearts and minds of three sectors as well as the favour of the High Lords of Terra to mandate his claim to lead the crusade.
Typically such a political viper's nest could take Terran years to resolve as families and military commanders circled and skirmished to gain the power to make a petition to the High Lords. In the case of Tiber Achilus it took only solar months.
Rivals changed their allegiance when they learnt of his intent, while stubborn holdouts came round to his way of thinking. At the time it was seen as the great charisma and connections Achilus must have had and seemed to speak of his ability to hold together the many factions which would make up a crusade and thus favour him for the job.
A closer look however revealed more than just the persuasive tongue of a much loved commander, but in some cases complete shifts in stance or personality for particular opponents. Even the brief spate of assassinations (typical of many a significant ascension within the Imperium) seemed as much for show as to aid Tiber Achilus.
For better or worse however in those first months following the formation of the crusade, Tiber Achilus was named Lord Militant and the crusade had begun.
Tiber Achilus was only to lead the crusade for nine short standard years, and oversee just the very beginning of its push into the Reach. In that time he proved an able commander and a strong presence for the Imperial forces, holding together the at times fragmented organisations and officers under his control.
Into the Breach
It was to take several Terran years to gather the needed men and resources for the crusade, and in that time Achilus spent much of his waking hours with his tacticians pouring over the data gathered by the Explorator fleets and advanced scouts.
The large region beyond the gate (dubbed the Well of Night due to its lack of worlds or stars) worried him, and he set upon making his first priority finding a suitable world on the edge of the Well in which to set up a permanent Imperial presence within the Reach.
Studying the charts of the region around the Warp Gate, Achilus settled on a number of possible life-sustaining worlds that would suit his purposes. Most prominent among them were Karlack, Calisi, Alphos and Spite.
Though Calisi and Alphos were closer to the Warp Gate than either Karlack or Spite, Achilus ended up discounting them, even though they would make excellent outposts and strong points. They were too poor in resources to support the kind of production he wanted to eventually put out.
Spite was seemingly ideal, however Imperial spies who had visited the world reported that is was tainted by xenos sympathizers and its weak governing council already considering treaty with the approaching T'au Empire.
Thus, Achilus chose Karlack, a world still nominally loyal to the Imperium which could be quickly subdued and exploited, and which in turn could be turned into a factory to fuel the crusade.
Another concern for Achilus was the nature of the Imperial force he would be commanding, comprising troops and commanders from nearly every arm of the Imperial war machine and coming from scores of worlds and several sectors, sometimes with bitter rivalries.
Literally legions of diplomats and liaison officers worked ceaselessly to ensure that those commanders and units with grudges remained in different warzones. Troop ships and camps were often designated for regiments from specific sectors and systems, so that they would not mix with those they either hated or those that were too foreign to be trusted.
All of this petty military and planetary rivalry however paled in comparison when measured against the problems Achilus faced when dealing with the Deathwatch, Inquisition, and Ministorum. Loosely under his command, each of these Imperial organisations had their own agendas and ideas as to the role they would play in the coming crusade.
The Ministorum, primarily concerned with the bringing of Imperial worlds back into the fold of the Imperial Creed, made extensive demands on Achilus for control over strategic placement of their forces and the right to be the first to land on heathen worlds or deal with heathen governments.
In the case of the Inquisition and the Deathwatch, the Warmaster held a pivotal advantage; a secret source amongst the High Lords of Terra had given him much information about the activities of both in the region. Achilus knew full well they held secrets about the Reach which could prove vital to the success of his campaign -- the Deathwatch especially as they maintained a presence in the region and had done so for centuries.
Try as he might though, Achilus could not exert any direct power over the Deathwatch's Astartes or force them to pass on their secret knowledge.
In a relatively short amount of time Achilus had mustered a mighty armada of vessels and troops and embarked through the Warp Gate and into the Jericho Reach -- its was the eve of the Feast of the Emperor's Ascension in 777.M41.
Aboard his flagship the Proclamation of Wrath, Achilus made a pronouncement to his staff officers which was recorded by his war-scribes for the official crusade annuals:
"There can be nothing so great as what we do this day and though I may not live to see the completion of this mighty task, I can stand before the God-Emperor when I die and say I was here when it began."
Unknown to Achilus, his words would ring more true than he might have suspected. Like a righteous tide, the ships of the crusade spread out from the Warp Gate and set out for the worlds of Calisi, Alphos, Hethgard, Pyrathas, Spite, and Karlack.
This was the first phase of the crusade, and part of Achilus' initial plan to take the worlds outlying the Warp Gate and fortify them, creating an impregnable bastion with which to launch further assaults into the sector and with which to protect the Warp Gate itself.
Calisi and Alphos fell quickly, within the first year and without great loss to the crusade (the greatest disaster of the Alphos campaign was when the Mars-class Battlecruiser Spirit of Penance incinerated almost an entire regiment of the Terrax Guard due to an error by her captain).
Almost immediately, second wave forces moved through the Warp Gate and began the rapid fortification of the worlds, turning what were once minor colonies into towering edifices of plasteel and ferrocrete bristling with Macrocannon and lance turrets.
Hethgard and Pyrathas took longer, both due to distance and a greater resistance by their populations. Hethgard especially posed a problem for the crusaders, and though many of its nations and minor city states were welcoming of the Imperium (or at least not foolish enough to oppose it), some resisted or tried to subvert the crusaders.
Achilus expressly forbade excessive planetary bombardment as the mines were too valuable, and so it fell to the Astra Militarum to root the enemy out themselves.
Though it was not known at the time, agents of the Stigmartus had infiltrated Hethgard and stirred up some of its population against the crusade, turning mines into underground fortress temples and people into slaves of the Dark Gods.
Hethgard was eventually subdued, though not before thousands of guardsmen had lost their lives, hacked to death in the dark depths of its mines.
In contrast to the other setbacks, Karlack proved a perfect choice for the crusade to create its headquarters and the simple farmers and peasants of that green world welcomed Achilus with open arms. Almost immediately the Lord Militant began to fortify and in a few short Terran years much of the world's forests and farmland had been stripped bare, replaced with hive-like munitoriums and factories or mustering grounds for troops.
Everywhere great winches topped deep mines working endlessly as they harvested the world's untapped mineral riches. In orbit, the Adeptus Mechanicus performed an incredible feat of engineering as they built a shipyard from space hulks and second-line vessels. This feat was so large that it could be seen from the planet by the naked eye, glinting in the sky.
While Achilus fortified Karlack, his troops were fighting for their lives on Spite. In one of the first great treacheries of the crusade, the people of Spite turned on the crusaders after welcoming them into their cities under banners of treaty.
In the great Mirrored Palace, the emissaries of the crusade were cut down in a brutal ambush while all across the landing zones Imperial Guard regiments found themselves suddenly under attack. The rebels of Spite (and their T'au masters) however had badly underestimated the will and strength of the forces arrayed against them.
The Imperium's reprisals were swift and brutal. Even before the sun had set on the first day, the Deathwatch (represented by less than half a dozen Kill-teams) had slain the entire high ranking civilian and military command of Spite, including a number of T'au envoys. Within a solar week, the world was in the hands of the Imperium, and though civil unrest would continue for several standard years, the crusaders could now settle in and begin to fortify.
Thus with the securing of the key worlds of Karlack, Calisi, Alphos, Hethgard, Pyrathas, and Spite, Achilus had in the space of less than five years secured a foothold within the Jericho Reach. He had created a defensive line which would become known by the Imperium and her enemies alike as the Iron Collar.
Against the T'au
Entrenched and well supplied, Tiber Achilus now turned his attentions to what he perceived as the first major threat to Imperial dominion with the sector: the T'au.
His scouts had already gathered vast amounts of data on the T'au Empire's presence within the Jericho Reach, and even before the crusade was formed it was believed that they would likely be the most significant and well organised opposition any Imperial force would have to face.
These initial intelligence reports, as well as what little the Deathwatch were willing to pass on, seemed to paint a picture of a stable and expanding interstellar power with control over a significant number of both Human and xenos worlds.
The crusade's experiences with Spite and the sedition of its population was also a factor and certainly for Achilus sealed in his mind the notion that these aliens were his primary adversary.
It may have also been because Achilus considered xenos the most significant of all the Imperium’s foes, more insidious and cunning than the Heretic or rebel and more numerous than the daemon or mortal servant of the Warp.
Whatever the motivation, the result was the same. The Lord Militant chose to make his first and most direct attacks against the T'au, pushing into the southern regions of the Reach to vanquish what he considered his primary foe.
Mustering around Karlack and Spite, Achilus marshalled four battle groups, containing the bulk of his ships of the line and roughly half of his front line regiments, drawn largely from the Calixian levies. In the vanguard of each battle group, Achilus placed his shock troops and several companies from the Chapters of Adeptus Astartes operating in the Reach.
Rheelas, Argoth, Kaggeran, and Wrath were the targets of these battle groups. Achilus hoped that with overwhelming numbers and by striking all four worlds simultaneously he would triumph over any T'au defenders or T'au sympathisers present, capturing the worlds and their systems in short order.
Largely unknown to the crusaders, however, was that the worlds they aimed to assault existed outside the T'au military cordon, and the Velk'Han Sept Fire Caste had already decided to pull back from the advancing Imperials.
In their wake, the T'au left behind stealth teams with the dual purposes of confounding the enemy as well as gathering data on his strength and tactics.
The assaults on Rheelas, Argoth, and Kaggeran (which would later become collectively known as the "Quarantined Worlds") were swift and decisive. On the Mining World of Rheelas only minor skirmishes marred what otherwise would have been the triumphant return of the Imperium.
Within hours of the fleet darkening Rheelas' sky, Adeptus Astartes had taken the Granite Spire of Rhee and placed the world's governor and his staff under their 'protection'. It was a similar story on Argoth and Kaggeran, a few rebels making feeble stands against regiments of guardsmen and planetary leaders quickly bowing to Imperial rule.
This was of course according to the plans of the Water Caste, who in the days before the invasion had cautioned patience in their Human allies and a promise that the T'au would return to take their world into the fold of the empire.
As a result, Achilus wasted little time setting up garrisons on all three worlds, but moved the bulk of his troops to more pressing warzones. Achilus' failure to completely pacify the quarantined worlds would come back to haunt the crusade long after the Lord Militant's demise.
For the moment, however, Rheelas, Argoth and Kaggeran had been taken. It seemed to the commanders that they have overestimated the strength of the T'au so close to the Well of Night, which in turn led to them blundering into an expertly timed counter-attack on the world of Wrath.
Wrath was the furthest of the four objective worlds and the only place where the T'au chose to make a stand, largely to test the capabilities of the crusaders. Using auspex bafflers and echo-sentries scattered along the edges of the system, the T'au Tal'Sha Cadre was able to move its fleet in behind the Imperial assault forces undetected.
As the crusaders unloaded their vessels from low orbit the T'au attacked, targeting the vulnerable transport ships and strafing the drops as they fell into orbit. In the opening hours of the attack, thousands of guardsmen and millions of tonnes of materiel were lost before they even touched the ground, vaporised or incinerated in their grav-harnesses and cargo cradles.
Only the timely intervention of Strike Cruisers from the Dark Sons Chapter managed to stop it becoming a complete massacre and allowed enough troops to land and overwhelm the T'au defensive positions on the planet's surface.
In the face of the Space Marine assault, the T'au Tal'Sha Cadre pulled back toward the Black Reef. The T'au forces disengaged smoothly and abandoned the world in the space of mere solar hours, as their commanders had always intended.
This was a kind of warfare that at first baffled the Imperial crusaders, and they could not understand how the T'au could so easily give ground or abandon whole worlds. It was, however, the T'au tactical and strategic flexibility which would make them so dangerous.
Veteran commanders quickly learned that T'au retreats were usually only preludes to counterattacks, often made once the Imperium had advanced and over-extended its lines.
Many commanders urged Achilus to press the T'au, and argued that if they could so easily snatch worlds from the xenos they should make an assault on the T'au core worlds themselves.
In fact at the time the T'au were still reacting to the arrival of the crusade and their forces were scattered across the sector (many committed to holding off Stigmartus attacks from those worlds facing the Hadex Anomaly).
Thus a decisive and aggressive thrust through their lines might have been successful and prevented much of the carnage which was to follow. Achilus however was mindful of not overextending supply lines and leaving vulnerable worlds in his wake, and so he gave the order to hold, reorganise, and fortify.
While his commanders grumbled, the more hot-headed among them considered the "old man" far too cautious, though they could not deny that so far the crusade had been incredibly successful, and it seemed that there was nothing that could halt its progress.
Of course these first years were a time that would later become known by the commanders as the "false dawn," a time when the true extent of the Imperium's enemies were still unknown and the true battle for the Reach had not yet begun.
The First Failures
When the first Imperial scouts had passed through the Warp Gate they found a sector of scattered rebel and alien worlds, but they failed to find any pattern or coordination between them. What they did not discover, and what Achilus was soon to encounter, was the Stigmartus, a sector-spanning cabal of Chaos worshippers.
The Stigmartus had dominated the worlds around the Hadex Anomaly and beyond for centuries, soaking entire systems in an endless orgy of blood and depravity. Initially the crusaders thought they faced minor rebels and scattered cults, such as those encountered during the pacification of Hethgard.
However as the crusading forces made their first forays into what was once the core of the old Cellebos Sub-sector, they met with organised and powerful resistance.
Even as their forces fortified against the T'au and pressed forward into the wild zones of the rimward reaches, the Stigmartus was moving, gathering its forces and making prayers to its dark gods for victory over the servants of the False Emperor.
At this time, it was only some members of the Inquisition and the Deathwatch (given their long presence in the Reach) that were fully aware of the extent to which the Stigmartus commanded these core sector worlds, and the staggering amount of resources at their command. It was however a reality which the crusade was soon to face.
Lost in the Warp
Achilus' death was to prove as interesting and unusual as his life, shrouded in mystery and strange circumstance. It was in the year 786.M41, during a routine voyage from Alphos to Karlack that the Lord Militant's vessel the Proclamation of Wrath was lost to the Warp.
While the Warp is always a dangerous place, and no journey through it can ever be said to be completely safe, Achilus and his vessel were lost on a trip that should have taken solar days at most and on a Warp route as established and stable as any within the sector.
Stranger still is that of the twelve vessels within his fleet that day only the Wrath was lost; all the others arrived at Karlack completely unharmed.
Reports from the other captains and their Navigators are varied as to what happened to the Wrath, some saying it was swallowed by a sudden vortex in the Warp, others that its Geller Field must have failed, allowing the horrors of the Warp to consume it.
There were even some reports that Achilus and his vessel had translated from the Warp to realspace, disappearing somewhere into the deep void between worlds. Whatever the truth, the Wrath utterly vanished and Achilus was considered lost.
Unwilling to accept such an explanation for the death of the Lord Militant, many agencies and individuals sought answers, not least among them the Inquisition. A secret inquest led by Inquisitor Kya Tellemain of the Ordo Malleus spent the next few years examining logs and hunting down leads.
At first Tellemain was convinced that the disappearance of Achilus had been the work of the Stigmartus and the Dark Gods, an elaborate plot to rob the Imperium of one of its greatest leaders. She even discovered fragments of evidence which seemed to point her in the direction she hoped the investigation would lead.
Unfortunately such leads always came to nought, and she only ever found more rumours and lies the deeper she dug. The most disturbing of these however, and the one which haunted her entire investigation, was the discovery that the Aeldari assassin Syndilian Shanyr had been sighted on Alphos only hours after the departure of the Lord Militant.
Never able to undeniably confirm the sighting or establish why he had been there (the alien left no clues and made no attacks if he had in fact been present) Tellemain could only wonder what role the pathfinder might have had in Achilus' death, and why?
Eventually pressure from the new Lord Militant along with the pressing concerns of the crusade put an end to Tellemain's investigation. The official histories recorded that Achilus and his vessel had been lost due to a Geller Field failure; a chance accident which could not have been foreseen.
Strangely however Tellemain herself disappeared not long after the investigation was closed, vanishing on a mission deep within the Orpheus Salient. Rumours within the Inquisition speculate that she was silenced for what she knew about the old Lord Militant's death.
Whether this is true or not, the day she vanished her Acolytes across the Reach went into hiding, as if they knew they too would soon be hunted for what they had learned.
"All great deeds are the work of great men. Ours is a galaxy shaped by the will of those with the courage to keep the light of humanity burning and the God-Emperor's divine dream alive; a dream of unification, faith, and Mankind's domination over our galaxy, now and forever."
- —Inscription on the wall of Achilus' Cenotaph
Tiber Achilus' death has been in many ways only the beginning of his role within the crusade that bears his name. In addition to lending his name to the Imperium's grand undertaking, his memory has become a corner stone of the morale and dedication to duty for many of the crusaders.
It has even become a tradition among many of the high ranking officers of both the Astra Militarum and Imperial Navy to take vows before Achilus' Cenotaph on Karlack before accepting their posts, pledging their loyalty to the crusade before the tomb of its father.
Ostensibly Solomon Tetrarchus seems to embrace this form of honour afforded his predecessor, though in reality he has little control over the ritual or the strong popularity it has garnered in the ranks.
In the Imperial Guard, troops favour those officers who have made their pledges at the Cenotaph of Achilus, the regiments responding well to those who have sought out the "Old Man's" favour before embarking on their combat missions. The Imperial Navy is little different, most captains feeling more secure knowing a man with the blessing of Achilus leads them.
Children of Achilus
In addition to his lingering presence within the minds of the crusade commanders, rumours also persist that Achilus has left behind another more sinister legacy. It is whispered that there exists a cult led by his most loyal officers, men and women deposed by Tetrarchus during the Council of Ashes and who still oppose the new Lord Militant's control of the crusade.
Known as the Children of Achilus, it is said that they hold positions throughout the fleets and armies of the crusade, sometimes directly under the control of a veteran of the Council of Ashes, sometimes with no apparent connection to this old guard though loyal nevertheless.
Not traitors to the Imperium (at least in their own eyes) the Children of Achilus work in subtle ways to undermine the strength of Tetrarchus within the sector, fouling up logistics, slowing down troop transfers and even passing on false or flawed intelligence to make the new Lord Militant look like a fool or incompetent.
The Ordo Hereticus made investigations into these rumours of a disgruntled officer cult within the crusade, though to date their efforts have turned up nothing. This either indicates that the rumours are indeed just rumours, or possibly that the infiltration of the Children of Achilus goes far deeper than even the Inquisition could have suspected.
Always willing to favour the more paranoid response, several Inquisitors have chosen the latter and maintain open investigations into the Children. However, in a sector rife with alien sedition and true heresy, most can only spare a few low-ranking Acolytes for such a frivolous endeavour.
Thus far their actions have potentially cost thousands of lives, but in the chaos of a full blown Imperial Crusade such military blunders regularly occur and draw little attention.
It is said that the Children of Achilus are escalating their operations and are currently planning something momentous to lay at Tetrarchus' door, something even he will not be able to ignore.
- Deathwatch - The Achilus Assault (RPG), pp. 14-17, 21-23