- "They shall be my sons, and in them will live the hopes of a unified humanity. Theirs will be the strength to prevail, not only when victory lies within easy reach, but even when it seems unattainable, when doom settles like a shroud all about. In those times of darkness, my noble sons will shine the brightest of all."
- —Attributed to the Emperor of Mankind
The Ultramar Campaign was an attempt by the Warmaster of Chaos, Abaddon the Despoiler, to prevent the resurrection of the Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman during the 13th Black Crusade of 999.M41. To this end, he despatched a portion of his forces to launch an invasion of the Ultramar Sub-sector in the Eastern Fringe.
In the days immediately after the fall of Cadia at the climax of the 13th Black Crusade, Abaddon the Despoiler, Lord of the Black Legion, was informed by the Chaos Sorcerer Zaraphiston of a disturbing reality. The Sorcerer had discovered through his Warp-scryings that the Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl had escaped Cadia's destruction with a device in his possession that could turn the tide of the Long War in favour of the Imperium of Man. The Despoiler also learned that Cawl was one of a number of survivors of Cadia, now calling themselves the Celestinian Crusade, who had escaped into the Webway with the aid of the Eldar Ynnari and were making their way to Macragge, the homeworld of the Ultramarines Chapter. To neutralise the nascent threat to his coming triumph over the Corpse-Emperor, the Despoiler detached a portion of his Black Fleet and ordered a Chaos invasion of the Realm of Ultramar as part of the 13th Black Crusade.
The Celestinian Crusade, named for Saint Celestine, the Living Saint who had come to aid the defenders of Cadia in their darkest hour, was led not only by its namesake but also by Archmagos Cawl, Marshal Marius Amalrich of the Black Templars, and Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax of the Ordo Hereticus. These individuals, joined by the Ynnari's commanders Yvraine, the Daughter of Shades, and her war leader The Visarch, first stepped from the Webway and onto the soil of the Shrine World of Laphis in the Macragge System. They were surprised to discover that they had set foot in a war zone, but they soon defeated the local Chaos forces that had been in the vicinity of the Webway portal. The Celestinians and their uneasy Eldar allies defeated the Heldrakes besieging the local Ultramarines fortress and then convinced the Space Marines to grant them passage to Macragge, though Yvraine and the Visarch sent the majority of the Ynnari back into the Webway to carry out missions more pressing for their people.
The Celestinians arrived at Macragge aboard an Ultramarines Strike Cruiser to discover that the capital world of Ultramar had come under a full-scale invasion by the Forces of Chaos. While a massive battle raged in orbit between the Chaos and Loyalist fleets, on the ground the Fortress of Hera, the Ultramarines' fortress-monastery, was in danger of falling to the Archenemy. Gaining an audience with Marneus Calgar, the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines and the Lord of Macragge, Belisarius Cawl revealed that he was over 10,000 standard years old and had known the Ultramarines' Primarch Roboute Guilliman during the time of the Horus Heresy. Cawl explained that he had been tasked by Guilliman with finding a way to restore the Primarch to life even before his mortal wounding by the Daemon Primarch Fulgrim in the time after the Heresy. Within the auto-reliquary he had kept with him since before coming to Cadia, Cawl maintained a unique suit of Artificer Armour, the Armour of Fate, that could sustain the Primarch's life functions, and the Emperor's Sword, a weapon in which was embedded a small portion of the Emperor's own psychic essence.
Though Calgar and his Chapter Council were wary of the Celestinians, especially because they had openly allied themselves with xenos, Chief Librarian Tigurius supported their story. He explained to Calgar that he had been having prophetic dreams and the arrival of the Celestinians was no coincidence. In fact, it might be the Ultramarines' only hope in the face of the Chaos onslaught. Calgar accepted this explanation, and allowed the Celestinians and the Ynnari into the Temple of Correction where Guilliman sat in stasis despite his reservations about the newcomers.
While Cawl began his work on the time-frozen body of Guilliman, seated upon his throne in the temple, the Black Legion took notice of the activity and launched a massive assault upon the Temple of Corrections, fearful of what the Loyalists were attempting. The Celestinians, aided by the Ultramarines' officers and the 3rd Brotherhood of the Grey Knights led by Grand Master Aldrik Voldus who had come to Macragge to aid the defence, faced off against over a hundred Black Legionaries. Yet, even as the Loyalists fought to give Cawl just one more solar second to complete his work, more Chaos forces poured into the shrine from above using Dreadclaw assault boats, and the defenders quickly found themselves overwhelmed.
Only then, at the last, did Yvraine call upon the power of her patron, Ynnead, the recently awakened Eldar God of the Dead. The alien god's power over life and death combined with Cawl's arcane technology to heal the Primarch's wound and awaken him from his ten-thousand-year slumber. An awakened and enraged Primarch proved more than the Chaos attackers were prepared to deal with. Guilliman shattered the attacking Forces of Chaos and provided an extraordinary surge in morale for his Ultramarines and the other Loyalist forces. The Imperials quickly swept the Black Legion before them, breaking the back of the Chaos assault upon the Ultramarines fortress-monastery. In that one moment of resurrection, the fate of Macragge and of all Ultramar was decided.
In the wake of the battle in the Temple of Correction, Guilliman was crowned as the restored Primarch of the Ultramarines Chapter and all of its Successor Chapters, and as the Lord Macragge and ruler of Ultramar. Marneus Calgar happily ceded the role of Chapter leadership to his gene-father, while Guilliman declared that the autonomy of all the worlds that had once belonged to the Realm of Ultramar and gone their separate ways in the millennia since the Horus Heresy was revoked. Ultramar was to be restored to what it had been in the golden age of the Imperium, a miniature stellar empire comprising five hundred human-settled worlds. Once in full control of the Loyalist forces on Macragge, the Primarch's strategic genius was unleashed, and the Forces of Chaos were driven off of Macragge and then from most of Ultramar within approximately seven solar months. At that time, Yvarine, the Visarch, and the remaining small force of Ynnari took their leave to pursue their own agenda, with the Primarch's wary blessing -- and thanks.
During this time, the Primarch found himself suffering from a spiritual malaise, as he was forced to come to grips with the reality of the Imperium of Man in the late 41st Millennium. Far from the golden rule of prosperity, scientific wonder and freedom promised by the Emperor, the Imperium in His absence had degenerated into a despotic, tyrannical regime defined by ignorance, fear and superstition. At first despairing, Guilliman finally found hope for humanity's future once more deep in his heart and declared that he must make his way from Macragge through the roiling tides of the Warp to Terra. There he would consult with his father, the Emperor, and determine what must be done to save the Imperium from the servants of the Dark Gods.
And so began the fateful Terran Crusade...
The 13th Black Crusade
For 10,000 standard years the Emperor of Mankind has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Terra, His withered body little more than a husk of the great man that He once was. His grand vision, the Imperium of Man, endures -- yet it does not prosper, for it lingers under a pall of misery and persecution, suspicion and mistrust. It is assailed on all sides and from within by Heretics, witches and aliens, and only by the endless sacrifice of countless citizens does the Imperium continue to exist. Yet now, at the close of the 41st Millennium, the people of the Imperium face their greatest trial. Orks wreak havoc across the galaxy, the Tau Empire expands in the Eastern Fringe, the Tyranids send vast alien swarms from beyond the stars to consume all in their path, and the Necrons awaken to reclaim what was once theirs. And above all, more deadly than any other foe, the Forces of Chaos choose this moment to begin their most concerted invasion of the Imperium. Under the eye of Abaddon the Despoiler and his 13th Black Crusade, countless worlds have already fallen. Madness and heresy are rife and violent Warp Storms tear great rents in the galaxy. Blind in their ignorance, the High Lords of Terra send billions to their deaths in a bid to save the Imperium. Yet it took the Eldar, a more far-sighted race, to realise that what the Imperium needs now is a hero, a symbol of the Emperor's will made manifest. The Imperium needs a Primarch.
The full might of the 13th Black Crusade assailed the Fortress World of Cadia, which stood as the lone sentinel of the Cadian Gate, the only predictably stable way out of the Warp maelstrom known as the Eye of Terror. Though severely outnumbered and assailed on all sides, the Imperial defenders held their ground, mounting a valiant defence under the superlative leadership of the Lord Castellan of Cadia, Ursarkar E. Creed. As the conflict became increasingly desperate, many heroes of the Imperium gathered on Cadia. Space Marines from multiple Chapters lent their strength to the defence, including the Black Templars of Marshal Marius Amalrich, and the Imperial Fists of Captain Tor Garadon, who brought the Star Fort Phalanx into the war. Saint Celestine swept down upon Cadia in its darkest hour, her miracles instilling faith in its ragged protectors. Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax, long a prisoner of the Necron Lord Trazyn the Infinite, was released from captivity to lend her prodigious will and talents to the cause. Yet the key to victory upon Cadia was discovered by the ancient Martian Tech-priest, Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Urged on by the Harlequin Shadowseer Sylandri Veilwalker, he had unlocked the secrets of the Necron-built black pylons that studded the surface of Cadia and other worlds throughout the Cadia System. Abaddon had long sought out these ancient and mysterious structures to destroy them during his many Black Crusades, which weakened the veil between reality and the Immaterium. In truth, Cawl had been en route to honour an ancient pact made with the Lord of Ultramar many Terran millennia ago, but on Cadia he saw a chance to reverse the Despoiler's work and perhaps close the Eye of Terror forever. But it was not to be.
Though the servants of the Emperor fought with dogged determination and courage, Cawl's works were undone when the pylons were destroyed and Cadia was dealt a final death blow. Those few Imperial defenders that were left alive were forced to flee before the flood of the Forces of Chaos that assailed the doomed world. As they did so a terrible Warp rift yawned in their wake as the Eye of Terror actually began to expand. Yet there was still one chance of salvation that remained -- Cawl's ancient pact and the mysterious artefact that he transported within an armoured auto-reliquary. Declaring themselves the Celestinian Crusade in honour of the Living Saint who still lit their way through the darkness, the surviving warriors of the Imperium made for the Macragge System within the Realm of Ultrmar, with the forces of the Despoiler hot on their heels.
At the same time, the Eldar race had been rocked to its very foundation by a cosmic upheaval of great significance. Ynnead, the Eldar God of the Dead, had awoken in the æther and chosen a former Eldar of Craftworld Biel-Tan to be his prophet. Yvraine, the Daughter of Shades, had walked many Paths during her long life, from that of dancer to Warlock to Aspect Warrior. She eventually had become a famed Corsair leader until a mutiny forced her to flee into the Webway, where she ended up in the Dark City of Commorragh, the primary home of the Dark Eldar. Fighting as a gladiatrix in the dark city's infamous Crucibael arena, she defeated many foes before having fallen to a priestess of Morai-Heg, however, while she lay between life and death, she was resurrected by Ynnead and chosen to act his prophet in the material realm. Her rebirth caused a great Dysjunction within Commorragh, and the Dark City was beset by the daemonic servants of Slaanesh. Fleeing the Dark Eldar forces of the Dark City's Supreme Overlord, Asdrubael Vect, Yvraine, aided by the mysterious warrior known as the Visarch, and followed by some of the Dark Eldar who believed in her cause, successfully brought word of the Whispering God's awakening to Craftworld Biel-Tan. While there, the Craftworld underwent a swift and terrible cycle of death and rebirth that brought the Yncarne, avatar of Ynnead, into being. Some amongst the Eldar embraced Yvraine's belief that the cycle of death and rebirth would be their salvation, and became her followers, known as the Ynnari -- the Reborn. Others rejected this upstart's teachings as arrogance and dangerous in the extreme. But Yvraine pressed on regardless, and departed Biel-Tan in search of the time-lost artefacts known as the Croneswords and formulated a desperate plan to turn back the tides of Chaos.
It was this mission that brought Yvraine through the Webway to the frozen moon of Klaisus in orbit of the Fortress World of Kasr Holn in the Cadia System, leading an army of the Eldar from every faction who once more laid claim to the ancient name of Aeldari. They emerged from the moon's Webway gate just in time to rescue the Celestinian Crusade from their pursuers. Driving off the Heretic Astartes of the Black Legion, the Ynnari negotiated common cause with the Celestinians, agreeing to aid them in reaching the Realm of Ultramar. Thus, as Warp Storms billowed and spread across the galaxy, the assembled pilgrims hastened through the Webway, bearing a thin sliver of hope between them.
The Invasion of Ultramar
In the closing years of the 41st Millennium, the stellar realm of Ultramar came under sustained attack from myriad foes. Menacing shapes stirred in the intergalactic void, the Tyranids of Hive Fleet Leviathan drifting inexorably towards Guilliman's realm. The Arch-Arsonist of Charadon, one of the greatest Ork Warlords in the galaxy, led a monstrous WAAAGH! from his anarchic domain with the intent of overrunning the Ultramarines' eastern defences. Yet the greatest threat of them all was that posed by the dark servants of Chaos.
A vast horde of Traitors, Renegades, mutants and madmen fell upon Ultramar under the leadership of the foul Daemon Prince M'kar the Reborn. That invasion plunged dozens of worlds into bloody battle, war raging from the worlds of Espandor and Tarentus to oceanic Talassar. Yet eventually, after long solar months of sorrow, bloodshed and loss, the Ultramarines prevailed. M'kar was defeated and his armies driven off, pursued to the stellar void beyond the bounds of Ultramar.
So began a period of rebuilding and consolidation across Ultramar, as Marneus Calgar and his Chapter led their peoples' efforts to shore up the battered defences of their realm. It was a period of repose and recovery that was to be all too swiftly ended.
Acting upon the prophetic revelations of the Sorcerer Zaraphiston, Abaddon the Despoiler hurled a fresh coalition of Chaos Space Marine warbands against the defences of Ultramar. Though the Despoiler himself was engaged in the ongoing fighting of the 13th Black Crusade around the recently-shattered Cadian Gate, his influence as Arch-champion and Warmaster of the Dark Gods extended far. So it was that he was able to muster a sizeable force of warriors from the Black Legion, the Iron Warriors, the Night Lords and a number of other Traitor factions, and hurl them against the worlds of Ultramar. While some warbands struck at the outer star systems in an effort to tie up potential Loyalist reinforcements, the main Traitor horde rode the tempestuous currents of the Warp straight into the Macragge System itself. So began a desperate and bloody invasion...
- "They shall be pure of heart and strong of body, untainted by doubt and unsullied by self-aggrandisement. They will be bright stars upon the firmament of battle, angels of death whose shining wings bring swift annihilation to the enemies of Man. So it shall be for a thousand times a thousand years, unto the very end of eternity and the extinction of mortal flesh."
- —Primarch Roboute Guilliman
A Realm at War
High in the Atheron Mountains of the Shrine World of Laphis in the Macragge System, unearthly energies stirred. They flowed in barely perceptible currents, whipping up dust and ash as they washed across a corpse-scattered plateau. Gradually they picked up pace, invisible forces tugging at the flames that licked from wrecked main battle tanks, and causing billowing smoke to curl into sluggish vortices. A handful of living warriors remained on that arid mountaintop, Chaos Space Marines clad in the brutal armour of the Black Legion. They stood amidst the mounded dead of recent battle, a few of their own fallen scattered amongst heaps of Ultramar Defence Auxilia. The Traitors checked handheld scrying devices and raised spiked Bolters, panning their weapons as they sought the source of the aetheric buildup. Harsh voices barked challenges through fanged Vox grills, while sensors swept the cobalt-blue sky above and the hulking forms of mountains that rose beyond the plateau's edge. Still no enemy revealed themselves.
With sudden fury the building energies roared, hurling Heretic Astartes from their feet. The surging power was dragged inwards to a tight point, and there it coalesced into a towering structure. Tall and elegant, the curved edifce shimmered into view as though it had stood atop the mountain for a thousand standard years. The air swam around it, and from within spat a hail of firepower. Roars of anger and pain rose from the Traitors as monomolecular discs cut through armour and shattered eye lenses. Blood sprayed dark across sun-bleached stone. Severed limbs encased in black Power Armour clanged to the ground as ancient Heretics were cut to pieces by the sudden firestorm.
As the Chaos Space Marines reeled, the Ynnari and Celestinians burst from the Webway entrance. Yvraine and the Visarch led a force much reduced; deeming it unwise to appear suddenly in the bounds of Ultramar at the head of an entire warhost, many of their followers, guided by the Farseer Eldrad Ulthran and the Autarch Meliniel, had departed on other crucial missions. The two remaining Eldar leaders sprinted across the plateau with breathtaking speed, empowered by the deaths of their enemies and weaving like dancers around the bolt shells that roared in their direction. The Visarch skidded low, sliding under a thumping volley of fire to ram his blade through a Traitor's breastplate. Yvraine, meanwhile, leapt nimbly over a hail of shots, planting one foot atop a Black Legionary's Bolter and vaulting over his head. The Prophet of Ynnead swept her blade in a flashing arc, and her victim's helm left his neck an instant before his form crumbled to glowing ash.
More warriors surged from thin air to join the Ynnari charge. Swift-footed Dire Avengers and Klaive-wielding Incubi charged out alongside bellowing Black Templars Space Marines, their ingrained hatred for each other put aside. Marshal Marius Amalrich and Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax stormed out of the Webway side by side, blades lashing out to shed Heretic blood once more. The winged figure of Saint Celestine soared above them, her Geminae Superia leaping at her side with Bolt Pistols blazing. The Battle-Sisters of the Order of Our Martyred Lady followed them into battle, guns flaring as they spat fire at the traitorous foe. Behind them all came the Magos Belisarius Cawl, skittering on his many mechanical legs as his precious auto-reliquary trundled along behind him. Skitarii and Kataphron Battle Servitors advanced with him, and the ground shook at the tread of a pair of towering House Taranis Knights that brought up the rear.
The Black Legionaries did not panic at this sudden assault, as lesser warriors might have. Their numbers were few, however, and their attackers had the advantage of complete surprise. Mass-reactive bolts blew a handful of Skitarii apart, and two of the Visarch's Incubi were beaten down and bludgeoned to death at close quarters. Yet between the flashing blades of the Celestinians and the Ynnari -- who seemed to move with greater speed and skill by the moment -- all but a few of the Black Legionaries were swiftly cut down.
The last of the Traitors fell back in good order, determined to bear word of what they had seen to their masters. It was not to be; none escaped the howling firestorm as the Knights braced their legs and let fly with gatling cannons and armour-piercing missiles. Fire billowed, shrapnel flew, and the fleeing Traitor Marines were reduced to bloody tatters.
As quickly as it had begun, the one-sided battle was over. The Celestinians and Ynnari were left standing amongst the freshly fallen dead with their weapons smoking in their hands. Terse orders were given, warriors jogging out to establish a bristling perimeter of guns around the Webway portal. The Eldar and humans had fought together, yet they remained wary of one another, leaving tacit gaps between their formations as they deployed.
Thus shielded, the leaders of the Ynnari and the Celestinians gathered beneath the harsh blue sky. Questions needed to be asked, and facts established. The Imperial Vox channels were found to be thick with clipped exchanges between Space Marine officers, Defence Auxilia regiments, starship captains and countless others. All were clearly engaged in fierce battle against Chaos forces, with dread names such as the Black Legion, the Alpha Legion, the Iron Warriors and the Emperor's Children ringing through the Vox. Palls of smoke rose from horizon to horizon, while the skies above were crisscrossed with contrails. Ultramar, it appeared, was a realm plunged into a desperate war for survival.
Hot winds hissed across the barren plateau, bearing the distant rattle of gunfire and thump of explosions to Katarinya Greyfax's ears.
"Macragge is invaded," she said dourly. "This is grave news."
"You are labouring under a misapprehension," said Cawl. "According to my internal gyro-cartolog, we do not stand upon the surface of Macragge. We are located one hundred and sixty million miles spinward of our intended destination, allowing for variable positioning and empyric distort."
"Then where are we?" demanded the Inquisitor, rounding upon the tall xenos priestess standing nearby. Yvraine turned to Greyfax with a cold, imperious look. The Ynnari leader lowered her blade with slow deliberation, her head cocked to one side as though listening to something only she could hear. When she spoke, her voice was cold as the grave, and Greyfax felt a shiver at the faint, insectile susurrus that scratched behind the alien's words.
"Would you have been gladdened, Mon-Keigh, to find that my people kept a hidden way upon the surface of one of your most prized worlds? I think not."
"No," growled Marshal Amalrich, "we would not." The Black Templar had been more grim than ever since the battle on Klaisus. Greyfax knew that he had taken the fall of Cadia, and the subsequent alliance of the Celestinians with the xenos, very badly.
"The Marshal is right," said Saint Celestine. "Such knowledge would have unsettled us. But it would, perhaps, have eased our road. Where, then, do we stand? And how shall we proceed along our appointed path?"
All looked to Yvraine. The Daughter of Shades made a show of staring off to the far horizon, her Gyrinx winding around the train of her dress, rumbling a leonine growl.
"This is the world that your species calls Laphis, in the star system of Macragge," she said, her voice drifting around them like cold mist. "In order to proceed, we need only locate representatives of the Ultramarines present upon this world."
"And what if they are disinclined to lend us their assistance?" prodded Sister Eleanor, one of Celestine's Geminae Superia. "We walk with xenos at our side, and come uninvited to their world. Are they not as like to shoot us as to offer welcome?"
"That is your concern, not ours," replied Yvraine, her tone dismissive. "These are your Emperor's finest warriors, are they not? Surely they have the mental discipline to discern friend from foe."
"They have the mental discipline to remain wary of xenos trickery," rumbled Amalrich. "And to suspect those who traffic with such creatures."
"We pilgrims will convince them that our cause is holy and just," said Celestine forcefully, shooting a stern glance at the scowling Marshal. "And that our alliance is an honest one. But not by standing here and arguing. We must move at once, for darkness draws close, and time grows short."
Through the Flames
At Saint Celestine's urging, the Crusade forces and their Ynnari allies moved off through the Atheron Mountains. Events were moving quickly now, accelerating like a river in full flood tide, and the pilgrims did not have the luxury of time. Cadia had fallen, but worse -- judging from the ferocity with which he had pursued his broken foes, and his knowledge of their intended destination -- Abaddon the Despoiler knew something of their mission.
From the heights of the plateau, a broad, packed-earth roadway led down the mountainside. Wide enough for several Baneblades to pass side by side, the roadway angled steadily downward between taller mountain peaks, and its entire length was lined with ancient stone supports. Atop these stood sombre statues of robed figures with the unmistakably oversized features of Space Marines. Lit braziers in the statues' hands trailed streamers of incense, and the allies saw heaps of devotional offerings and prayer papers piled at the effigies' feet.
As they travelled, the Celestinians and Ynnari kept their weapons ready and their eyes fixed warily on the horizon. They threaded their way between occasional wrecked tanks and scattered corpses, both of Defence Auxilia and traitorous Chaos Cultists. The bodies looked to have fallen a matter of solar hours earlier, their blood still congealing around them and local insects only just beginning to settle, but the pilgrims saw no sign of living beings along their road, whether friend or foe.
Archmagos Cawl assured his comrades that they were travelling in a favourable direction, their road carrying them towards a large urban centre and -- if his Vox-thieves and the local cartographia inloads were accurate -- the Ultramarines fortification that watched over it. The extraordinary allies spoke little as they pressed on. They listened instead to the sighing of the wind through the high places, the crunch of their footfalls on dry earth, and the distant clangour of battle borne to them through the thin mountain air.
Those sounds grew suddenly louder as the road wound around the towering flank of a sun-scorched mountain. Ahead, less than a Terran mile distant, a ferrocrete bastion loomed over the roadway, built into the mountainside itself. The stylised U of the Ultramarines was embossed proudly upon the structure's flank, and twin Icarus Autocannon arrays swivelled back and forth atop its battlement, barrels pistoning as they hammered fire into the sky.
The barrage of shots was aimed at a brood of Heldrake Daemon Engines. The draconic war machines swooped and circled, diving down to gout baleflame across the bastion's ramparts before soaring away again with soul-chilling roars.
One of the Heldrakes broke off in the direction of the pilgrims. Marshal Amalrich was the first to react, yelling for everyone to spread out and run for the cover of the Imperial bastion.
The Knights of House Taranis swiftly overtook them all, their Noble pilots spurring their mechanical steeds into a loping run. The massive war engines shook the ground as they advanced, guns swivelling skywards with ominous menace. One of the Knights bore an Icarus Autocannon array atop its broad carapace, and as the Heldrake swooped into range, the towering construct let fly. Avenger Gatling Cannons and Heavy Stubbers joined the fusillade, filling the air with a storm of projectiles that ripped the wing from the approaching Daemon Engine and sent it spinning down to detonate against the mountainside. Another of the roaring Heldrakes was blown apart as it banked around to attack the pilgrims, while the third broke off its attack and jetted away into the hard blue skies, dwindling until it was nothing more than a speck.
The Knights stomped to a halt, weapons ticking as they cooled, and the rest of the pilgrims quickly caught up to them. Moments later, the armoured portal set into the bastion's feet hissed as its pressure-locks disengaged. The heavy door swung open and a trio of Ultramarines Battle-Brothers emerged, Bolters raised. The Space Marines advanced, pacing carefully forward with their weapons trained on the Ynnari.
Voice amplifed by his Vox grill, one of their number barked a challenge to the newcomers, asking who they were, where they hailed from and why they travelled in the company of xenos.
The conversation that followed was tense, but measured discipline prevailed. Perhaps if the allies had come to a world of a less rational or temperate Chapter, matters might have escalated towards violence.
For the Ultramarines, the combined presence of an Inquisitor and the Living Saint -- albeit appearing less than cordial towards one another -- was enough to offset the presence of the Eldar at their side. Saint Celestine explained that their mission was a divine pilgrimage ordained by the Emperor Himself, and that Archmagos Cawl and his autoreliquary must reach the Lord of Ultramar with all haste.
The Living Saint smiled in an entirely unsurprised fashion when the Ultramarines revealed that a flight of Stormravens was even now en route to their bastion. The gunships had been requested to provide air interdiction against the packs of Heldrakes harassing fortifications in this region. However, two gunships could be spared to transport the leaders of the Ynnari and Celestinians up to the Strike Cruiser Sword of Honour, which in turn could bear them on to Macragge. The Ultramarines explained that the Lord of Ultramar had, indeed, returned to the Fortress of Hera just solar days earlier. They would see Cawl and his allies there safely.
While they awaited the inbound gunships, the pilgrims split their forces. All of the Ynnari, save Yvraine and the Visarch, would return to the Webway portal, departing this world to spread the word of Ynnead's awakening amongst their people.
As a gesture of good will to their hosts, Celestine asked the Battle-Sisters of Our Martyred Lady to remain on Laphis. Along with the Knights of House Taranis, they would place themselves at the disposal of the Ultramarines, and aid in the ongoing defence of the planet.
So it was that, as the Ultramarines Stormravens burned hard for orbit just solar minutes later, they bore a much-reduced company up to the waiting Strike Cruiser. From the Celestinians came Greyfax, Marshal Amalrich and a handful of Black Templars, Celestine and her Geminae Superia, and Cawl, accompanied by Kataphron Servitors and Skitarii.
The gunships docked with their parent warship and, once they had been formally introduced to the cruiser's captain, the allies were ushered into confnement quarters under heavy guard. The Eldar bristled at this treatment, as did Marshal Amalrich and his Astartes, but Saint Celestine pacified her comrades once more with firm words of faith and acceptance.
So began a grim and frustrating journey, trammelled in a spartan suite of brushed steel chambers and corridors, watched constantly by silent Chapter helots armed with heavy naval shotguns.
Solar hours ran slowly into solar days. The omnipresent rumble of the ship's engines, and the sluggish stirring of artificial gravity and recycled air, became simple facts of existence. The Visarch trained endlessly, even deigning to spar with Marshal Amalrich. Inquisitor Greyfax, meanwhile -- with the aid of Archmagos Cawl -- was purged of the Necron Mindshackle Scarabs that had enforced her captivity. This process was effected over several solar days, and wracked the Inquisitor with terrible agonies as the invasive cyber-parasites were strained from her blood stream.
Despite the pain that she endured, Greyfax's iron will never faltered, nor did she show any but the most minor outward signs of pain. Instead, she concentrated on keeping a wary eye on Saint Celestine. In private, Greyfax was beginning to suspect that Celestine's apparent divinity was more than a sham. She had seen the Living Saint battle against Arch-heretics and twisted Traitors; she had seen her predict events about which she could not have known in advance; she had seen how the light of Celestine's faith repelled the wicked and brought new strength to the righteous.
Yet Greyfax was an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus, a Witch Finder whose first duty was to doubt and to suspect all that seemed fair in case it concealed foulness at its heart. In Greyfax's long experience, true miracles were few and far between, and that which seemed a gift from the Emperor was, more often than not, a tainted temptation laid by the Gods of Chaos. Thus, even as the seeds of hope grew in her heart that Celestine might be uncorrupted, and even through her own agonies, Katarinya Greyfax kept watch over the Living Saint, alert for the slightest hint of duplicity.
Amidst the enforced tedium, none noticed when Yvraine beckoned Cawl away into a recessed cargo bay in which his auto-reliquary had been stored. Beneath the mindless gaze of Cawl's Kataphron Servitors, the Emissary of Ynnead spoke earnestly with the Archmagos Dominus.
The mysterious discussion waxed long, Yvraine labouring to convince the intractable Magos of certain unpalatable truths. Eventually, Cawl nodded his cowled head in agreement, a single, curt gesture that brought the clandestine meeting to an end. Satisfed, Yvraine swept away in a whirl of whispering skirts, leaving the looming Archmagos Dominus to contemplate the ramifications of their meeting.
The Siege of Hera
At last, after solar days of realspace transit, the Sword of Honour reached Macragge's orbital envelope. The Celestinians and their allies were hurried through the starship's corridors under armed escort. The Strike Cruiser shook around them, the unmistakable shudder of gun batteries discharging and void shields soaking up monumental kinetic impacts. As they boarded their Stormraven gunships once more, the pilgrims saw through the embarkation deck's shimmering Void Shields that their craft was under heavy attack. The Stormraven pilots reported that a sizeable Chaos armada was even now engaging the Ultramar Defence Fleet over Macragge, the two factions' lumbering Battleships and blade-fast Escorts filling the void with Lance beams and torpedoes. The Chaos attack was focussed primarily upon the Fortress of Hera itself, the titanic fortification covering much of Magna Macragge Civitas, capital city of the Ultramarines Chapter planet. Regardless, the gunship pilots vowed to get their charges down safely, and deliver them for their audience with the Lord of Ultramar. Marneus Calgar had been alerted of their coming via heavily encrypted Vox communiqué, and awaited their arrival with interest. This last comment was delivered in a flat tone which suggested that perhaps the Lord of Ultramar felt he had more pressing matters to attend to than their mysterious, holy mission.
Nonetheless, the Stormravens lifted off with a scream of powerful thrusters. With their passengers strapped in and Cawl's auto-reliquary firmly secured, the pugnacious gunships fired their ramjets and shot out into the fire-lit void of space. Macragge turned slowly below them, a vast orb of blue, white, green and grey. Closer, bedlam lit the blackness. Lance beams stabbed and seared. Broken wrecks of once-proud warships tumbled through the void, chunks of metal and globules of liquid spreading slowly away from their blazing carcasses. Entire wings of Stormhawk Interceptors hurtled through blizzards of flak fire to execute daring strafing runs upon lumbering Chaos Cruisers.
From what sigils the pilgrims could make out, it appeared that Abaddon and his Black Legion were attacking Macragge in significant numbers. Nor were they alone. Spacecraft bearing the icons of the Iron Warriors, the Purge, the Night Lords and many more clove through the gloom above the planet. Glinting specks rained from their flanks, swarms of Dreadclaw Drop Pods and armoured Attack Craft arcing down on invasion trajectories.
Accompanied by an escort squadron of Stormhawks, the Ultramarines gunships turned their noses downward and dived through the madness of battle. They hit Macragge's upper atmosphere travelling at immense speeds, and flame washed across their hulls as they shuddered and shook with the violence of re-entry.
Watching through external pict emitters, the Celestinians and Ynnari saw the flames flutter away. They were replaced by a dizzying vista of towering mountains that grew rapidly larger as the Stormravens hurtled downward. In the midst of the mountain peaks sprawled an immense, fortifed cityscape, lit from end to end by the muzzle flare of flak batteries and missile silos all hurling their wrath up into the skies. Heldrakes and Traitor fighter craft swarmed thick above the Fortress of Hera, weaving at speed between towering statues and monolithic buildings to strafe the defenders, or dump tons of ordnance onto ground targets. Explosions brought down colonnaded templums and looming hab-stacks throughout Magna Macragge Civitas, while the Ultramarines' withering return fire saw dozens of Chaos Attack Craft blown apart with every suicidal pass they made. Even as they fell, Heretics steered into the Ultramarines' defences, demolishing gun towers and massacring warriors.
The Stormravens sped downward, making for the immense fortifications that dominated the heart of the city. A wave of Renegade Drop Pods thundered around them, speeding past like meteors and almost knocking one transport from the sky. Wings tucked tight to their metallic bodies, a pack of Heldrakes dropped behind them, and the escorting Stormhawks peeled off to intercept as the metallic beasts tried to latch onto the diving gunships.
Surrounded by streams of cannon fire and tumbling comets of metal and flame, the Stormravens screamed onward. They plunged headlong through their comrades' curtain of anti-aircraft fire, only the superhuman reflexes and skill of the Ultramarine pilots preventing their craft from being torn apart by the countless threats through which they flew. The pilgrims clung onto their restraining straps for dear life as they were shaken violently back and forth while the gunships ran the gauntlet of aerial approach to the Fortress of Hera. Then, finally, the gunships decelerated, raising their noses and arcing gracefully into an armoured hangar set into the flanks of the edifice. At last, the Celestinians and the Ynnari had reached their destination.
The pilgrims emerged from their scorched, battered gunships into one of the fortress' many embarkation hangars. They found themselves surrounded by urgent bustle on every side. Around the hangar entrance, Chapter Serfs crewed thumping anti-aircraft cannons that swivelled within gyroscopic cages as they chased their targets across the skies. Bulky Servitors lumbered back and forth, hauling carriages of ammunition to keep the guns fed. Further back within the hangar, Stormtalon and Stormraven gunships were refuelling, re-arming and undergoing swift binharic baptisms beneath the ministrations of Chapter Techmarines. Servo-arms whined. Welding braziers sparked and flared. The sound of rivet cannons buzzed and thumped through the cavernous chamber over the clipped voices of Defence Auxilia and robed serfs. Hundreds of men and women went about their business within the hangar, grim-faced and determined, and this was but one chamber within a fortress the size of a city.
Through the military bustle marched a band of Chapter Serfs, led by a single Ultramarines Battle-Brother. The warrior's helm was white and gold, and his armour bore numerous oath papers and honour markings. The helots who followed him bore gilded Autoguns and stern expressions -- the uniform tabards of several were spattered with what looked like fresh blood, and it was clear to all that these soldiers had come directly from the defence of the fortress' walls.
Announcing himself as Veteran Sergeant Cassean, the Ultramarine welcomed the Celestinians to the Fortress of Hera. He took a moment to nod respectfully to Marshal Amalrich and his Battle-Brothers, then requested that Cawl and his companions follow. Cassean turned briskly without waiting for an answer and marched away across the hangar floor. Left with little choice, the uneasy allies followed the brusque sergeant as he ascended a long, granite ramp and led them into the corridors of the Ultramarines fortress. They marched along at a brisk pace, through grand chambers of marble statuary and gilt ornamentation, across railed walkways hung with magnificent Ultramarines banners, and across void-shielded courtyards where Battle-Brothers blazed Bolter fire from the fire steps above. The din of battle was never far away. Thunderous explosions shook the walls around them from time to time, causing dust to fall like snow and electrosconces to flicker.
Making their way across an armaglass-shielded sky bridge, the pilgrims got their first clear look out across the fortress proper. Towering fortifications sprawled away in all directions, their guns pouring fire into the sky and spitting death at the foes that pressed close outside the walls or landed within the fortress' grounds. The pilgrims saw Ultramarines Terminators striding relentlessly along armoured battlements, driving back Jump Pack-wearing Traitors with storms of fire. They saw squadrons of anti-aircraft tanks drawn up amidst ornamental gardens, launching missiles skyward to blast plummeting Chaos Assault Craft from the air. In the distance, a monstrous Traitor Titan was framed by the breach it had torn in the fortress' outer curtain wall. The great war engine's guns blazed like poisoned stars, and its Void Shields flickered and burst as the phenomenal firepower of the Ultramarines hammered into them.
Hastened along by Sergeant Cassean, the Celestinians and Ynnari climbed a statue-lined stairway of marble and brushed steel, passing a squad of battle-scarred Ultramarines jogging the other way. At the stairway's head, the party emerged into a broad circular chamber with a frescoed floor, and walls and ceiling of void-shielded transparisteel. A massive bank of ornate consoles and holomaps dominated the chamber's centre, Servitors wired into its inset thrones and chattering binharic cant back and forth to one another. Dozens of robed functionaries, Quill Servitors, Chapter Serfs and strategos talked animatedly as they hurried around the central hololith, which projected a real-time map of the entire complex into the air. Runes and signifers swarmed across it in such profusion that the Fortress of Hera appeared to be caught up in a cyclone of data.
Standing before the display, faces set in frowns of concentration, were Chapter Master Marneus Calgar, First Captain Agemman, Chief Librarian Tigurius, and a Grey Knight whose scrollwork chest plate announced him as Grand Master Aldrik Voldus. As Cassean led the pilgrims around the table, the hubbub died away, all eyes turning toward the extraordinary group.
Solemnly, the Chapter Serfs moved aside and knelt with their heads bowed to the Lord of Ultramar, forming a corridor through which the pilgrims advanced. As they drew to a halt before Calgar and his assembled advisors, Marshal Amalrich too dropped to one knee with his sword held out before him, its point to the ground and his hands resting on its cross guard. His Battle-Brothers followed his example, showing their absolute respect for a hero of the Imperium. Inquisitor Greyfax bowed deeply, as did Celestine and her Geminae Superia. Only Cawl and the Ynnari remained standing, impassive despite the gravitas of the moment. Behind them, Cawl's auto-reliquary hissed and hummed, its mysterious contents still veiled by thick armour plates.
In a clear voice, Cassean announced the pilgrims one by one. As the sergeant finished speaking and stepped back, an expectant hush fell. Explosions blossomed in the sky outside. Gunships and Heldrakes raced past, the chatter of their guns muted by the thick insulation of the strategium. The huge strategium console continued to rattle and hum with flowing information. Finally, Calgar said that he had no notion of who Belisarius Cawl might be, nor had he ever made any sort of pact with any Priest of Mars. On Saint Celestine's face there dawned a look of calm revelation, but the rest of the Celestinians turned their horrified expressions upon the Archmagos in their midst. Yet Cawl's next words caused greater consternation still, for he stated flatly that he had not come to see Marneus Calgar. Cawl had travelled across the galaxy to attend the Lord of Ultramar, and now demanded to be taken to him at once. The auto-reliquary, he stated, must be delivered to the Shrine of Roboute Guilliman.
The outcry that followed Cawl's demand was immediate and intense. Marneus Calgar's expression grew thunderous as his advisors and Chapter Serfs cried out in shock. Auto-quills scratched a mad tattoo upon reams of parchment as hooded scribes frantically recorded every detail of this dramatic moment. The pilgrims exclaimed in anger and confusion, Greyfax turning upon Cawl and squaring up to the looming Magos as she barked a demand for immediate explanation. Only the Ynnari seemed unsurprised by this development, the Visarch standing statue still while Yvraine wore a faint smile upon her alabaster features, as though enjoying some private joke.
From amidst the tumult of voices, First Captain Agemman's voice rose in a Vox-amplifed boom. The Ultramarines First Captain issued a demand for calm, urging those around him to remember where they stood and the conduct that was expected of them. As quiet was restored, Agemman turned to Calgar and said in no uncertain terms that he did not trust these newcomers, nor the mysterious device they brought with them. The First Captain counselled that, with such immediate danger all around and a furious battle to win, there was only one viable solution at this time. The pilgrims should be put into confinement, and their mysterious package locked down in a stasis vault until its contents could be safely examined. As for the xenos, Agemman counselled that they be swiftly destroyed lest they pose a threat to the safety of the Chapter Master or the Fortress of Hera.
Saint Celestine spoke up then, attempting to explain the divine nature of her mission and the revelations she had received from the Emperor. She found herself staring into the muzzles of several Honour Guard Bolters -- not to mention the Condemnor Bolter of Inquisitor Greyfax, whose Puritan suspicions had been fired anew -- a clear indication that now was the time for the rulers of Ultramar to speak, and not their visitors.
All eyes rested upon Calgar as he looked to Chief Librarian Tigurius for further counsel. Though not even the vigilant warriors of the Honour Guard saw it, in that moment both Yvraine and the Visarch tensed themselves in preparation for battle, subtle muscle contractions and minuscule alterations in posture leaving the Ynnari poised to fight their way out should matters turn against them.
The Librarian remained silent for several long heartbeats, his weathered features contemplative. When he spoke, Tigurius' voice was deep and resonant, rich with power and wisdom. He reminded his Chapter Master that he had experienced troubling visions in the solar days leading up to the attack upon Macragge. Tigurius had seen a flight of iron birds take wing from a distant, crimson orb full of churning cogs. In the visions, those avian shapes had soared through fire and shadow that spilled from a ruptured castle gate of vast size. They had clutched a blazing sword in their jagged claws, and their wings had shone with holy light as they flew toward Ultramar. Through the ruptured gateway had been visible a staring, slit-pupilled eye, and as the birds neared Macragge, a giant maw full of blooded fangs had yawned wide around them, ready to bite down with crushing force.
The Chief Librarian had believed that his visions concerned the fall of Cadia and the subsequent attack by the Black Legion upon Ultramar. Certainly they had spurred the readying of the fortress' defences, and the sending of astropathic communiqués that had brought the Ultramar Defence Fleet back to the Chapter planet at the critical moment.
Now, though, Tigurius declared himself convinced that the visions pertained also to these travellers. The Chief Librarian said that he was willing to vouch for their presence, even that of the mysterious Eldar, and that he believed their arrival to be the Emperor's will made manifest.
Hushed whispers ran through the strategium at this pronouncement, and Calgar nodded solemnly. Without further comment, the Chapter Master bade the Celestinians speak, and explain their presence in their own words. Between them, Inquisitor Greyfax, Marshal Amalrich and Saint Celestine did as they were asked, relaying the bloody tale of Cadia's fall and their subsequent flight. Even Yvraine of the Ynnari deigned to speak a little, providing a few, scant details that went some way toward explaining the aliens' presence amongst the group. The only one who refused to divulge further information was Belisarius Cawl; despite Marneus Calgar's repeated questioning, the Archmagos would not elaborate upon what his auto-reliquary contained, or what he expected to occur within the shrine.
While the pilgrims spoke their piece, the war raged on. Information continued to stream in regarding troop deployments, attack and counterattack patterns, enemy drop sites, ammunition counts, and endless other articles of strategic intelligence. Marneus Calgar absorbed them all even as he listened to the pilgrims, issuing curt orders where required and keeping one eye always fixed upon the ever-shifting holomap that hung overhead. The Chapter Master wished to understand these strange visitors and the supposed pact they served, but he would not neglect the defence of his fortress while he did so.
Finally, Greyfax concluded their tale, adding that she was empowered to act as the Emperor's representative in this matter, and that she would gladly take responsibility for Cawl's summary execution should he prove false. Calgar raised a hand to forestall further comment, both from the pilgrims and from the frowning Captain Agemman. Then, in a sombre voice, Calgar pronounced his verdict.
The Chapter Master would permit the Celestinians to bring their auto-reliquary to the Shrine of Guilliman, though they would do so under heavy Ultramarines guard. Calgar said that while he understood and welcomed Agemman's prudent counsel, they lived in unusual days. The worshippers of Chaos had set foot upon the bedrock of Macragge once again, while the Warp churned to madness all around them. Calgar judged that the foe had been aided greatly by the supernatural beings they worshipped in this desperate endeavour. He would not turn his back upon the precognitive powers of his own Chief Librarian, or the wisdom of the Living Saint, at such a time as this, even if he had been given precious little reason to trust Archmagos Cawl.
Had Agemman been a hot-tempered Space Wolf or relentlessly logical Iron Hand, he might have contested such a ruling. Instead, he accepted his lord's judgement with stoicism. Belisarius Cawl went to speak, but Calgar forestalled him. The Chapter Master gave his permission for the Ynnari to accompany their allies, for it seemed clear to him that great events were afoot that bore the hand of the Emperor upon them. The presence of the Ynnari could be no accident, and whatever the Emperor's will was in this matter, Marneus Calgar would not be the one to contravene it.
Wasting no time, the Lord of Macragge issued his orders. He charged Agemman to remain in the strategium, taking personal command of the defence of the Fortress of Hera. Tigurius and Voldus would accompany the pilgrims to the Shrine of Guilliman, as would a heavily armed complement of Honour Guard, 3rd Company Battle-Brothers and 1st Company Terminators. Should the Celestinians or xenos prove treacherous, they would not find themselves short of executioners.
Celestine spoke words of thanks to Marneus Calgar, praising his sagacity. By comparison, Yvraine's features were inscrutable, while Cawl merely seemed impatient, as though irritated by such petty wrangling and keen to be about his business. As the pilgrims set off once more, Inquisitor Greyfax and Marshal Amalrich exchanged a loaded glance, before moving to position themselves at the very rear of the motley procession with weapons ready. The Ultramarines would not be the only ones to turn guns upon Cawl and his questionable choice of allies if their intentions should prove false.
Outside, the battle raged on as Macragge's sun dipped slowly behind the Crown Mountains. Fire lit the twilight as wave upon wave of Heretics plunged down from the firmament. As the pilgrims and their armed guards made for the Shrine of Guilliman, the Traitors without redoubled their efforts, the outcome of the battle hanging in the balance.
Revelation and Rebirth
Entering the resting place of Roboute Guilliman was like stepping into some doleful warrior's afterlife. The chamber itself was enormous, a vaulted sepulchre through which a Warlord-class Battle Titan could have strode without hindrance. Marble columns held aloft a ceiling of stained armaglass and obsidian inlaid with theldrite moonsilver. Guilliman's greatest deeds were depicted in spectacular friezes and statuary, arranged around the chamber and lit artfully by flickering electrosconces to lend the images the greatest possible gravitas. Huge braziers of devotional incense burned throughout the shrine, lacing the air with subtle scents, while from cherub-visaged laud hailers spilled a steady background murmur of martial arias and reverent prayer.
Despite the grandeur of the shrine, the pilgrims' eyes were drawn to the splendid figure enthroned within a pool of stark white illumination at one end of the chamber. There, upon a throne of marble, gold and finely worked adamantium, sat Roboute Guilliman. Esoteric machineries loomed over the Primarch's throne, thrumming and whispering as they fed remarkable energies through ribbed cables to enfold him in a rippling stasis field. Guilliman sat as though in repose, his eyes closed and his blood glinting jewel-like in a delicate necklace about his throat. Guilliman wore his finely-crafted Power Armour, still marred by the damage it had sustained during his final duel with the Daemon Primarch Fulgrim. Across his knees was laid a grand blade of prodigious size, the "Emperor's Sword", once wielded by the hand of the Master of Mankind Himself. Though the Primarch sat peacefully upon his throne, the force of his presence was palpable.
The pilgrims approached the throne in reverent silence, their Ultramarines escort marching alongside them and Cawl's auto-reliquary at their rear. The group drew to a halt near the foot of the steps that led up to the Primarch, where countless Ultramarines had knelt in communion over the millennia. Marneus Calgar moved forward to stand at the very base of the steps, bowing his head reverently to his Primarch for a moment before turning to face the assembled pilgrims. The sounds of furious battle were still audible, even in this sacred place, muffled and distant but inescapable.
Calgar drew a deep breath, and then asked once more for Belisarius Cawl to state his business here. The Chapter Master had indulged his visitors thus far, but with a desperate battle raging outside his fortress' walls, he could offer them no more time or patience.
Magos Cawl inclined his head, and told an incredible tale. Cawl explained that, in the years before Guilliman was mortally wounded, the Primarch had summoned him into his confidence. Cawl's memengrams of that meeting were eroded and incomplete, but he believed that Guilliman had seen in him the potential for great things. The Magos had been charged with a great labour by Roboute Guilliman, one for which he would be richly rewarded with information that only a Primarch could provide. Cawl stated that he was not at liberty to reveal the nature of his task, forestalling Calgar's angry response by explaining that his labours had been divided into two distinct parts, and that he was here to deliver on the first of those. He brought a magnificent new suit of armour fit for the Ultramarines Primarch, one whose ancillary systems possessed the power to heal Guilliman's grievous wounds. Stunned silence reigned at this announcement. To bring back a living, breathing Primarch, to restore one of the Emperor's greatest sons to the Imperium in its hour of need; such a notion filled the Imperial warriors with awed wonderment.
Yvraine spoke up, explaining her presence at this seminal moment. She was the Emissary of Ynnead, the Eldar God of the Dead, and her powers would be vital to Guilliman's restoration. Reading the puzzlement on her audience's features, Yvraine explained with sharp impatience that such a miracle could not be brought about without sacrifice. Cawl had laboured long and hard to fulfill the Primarch's request, but without Ynnead's aid, the fruits of that labour would not be enough. In order for Roboute Guilliman to live once more, first he must die.
Where Cawl's words had been met by shocked silence, Yvraine's raised a storm. Calgar exclaimed his fury at such a notion, vowing that no xenos witch would ever lay hand upon the Primarch while he drew breath. Grand Master Aldrik Voldus moved to stand alongside Calgar, his expression grim, and Greyfax and Marshal Amalrich followed his example. The surrounding Ultramarines raised their weapons, pointing them at Cawl, the Ynnari, even the hulking shape of the auto-reliquary itself. They awaited only their master's order to open fire.
Yet others raised their voices in support of this apparent insanity. Cawl blurted loudly that he was bound by the terms of his pact with Guilliman, and that he must bring it to completion. Saint Celestine too spoke up, imploring those around her to have faith, and asserting that this was, indeed, the will of the Emperor. Most unexpected of the proponents was Chief Librarian Tigurius, who strode, Force Staff ringing against the stone floor, to stand alongside Magos Cawl. Tigurius spoke in a calm voice that cut through the clamour, asking Lord Calgar to trust his counsel and saying once more that he had seen hints of this future in his visions. It was a scene of anger and confusion, but it was about to get worse.
Amongst the storm of angry voices and brandished weapons, Marneus Calgar's Vox chimed insistently in his ear. Angrily, the Chapter Master accepted the priority Vox hail, but his words of rebuke died on his lips. Calgar's voice boomed over the commotion, his shout of warning coming a split-second before the stained armaglass of the shrine's ceiling exploded inward.
Shattered crystal filled the air, shards the size of Storm Shields embedding themselves in walls, floor and armoured bodies. A huge shape smashed through into the shrine, a plummeting mass of blue metal travelling at the speed of a runaway mag-train. Hurtling down at an oblique angle, an Ultramarines Thunderhawk gunship slammed into the shrine's floor and skidded out of control. The aircraft was badly damaged, flames pouring from rents in its hull, one wing ripped away. It slewed drunkenly across the shrine's floor, away from the pilgrims and their Ultramarines guards, ploughing through a marble column and bringing it down in a thunderous avalanche of precious stone. The Thunderhawk slammed into the shrine's far wall, demolishing a statue of Guilliman battling Alpharius, before listing onto its side with a deafening clang.
Even as the stricken vehicle was settling to a stop, its assault ramp burst open with a shriek of torn metal. Spilling from within came Chaos Space Marines in twisted armour of black and gold, spiked Jump Packs melded to their backs and deafening war cries ringing from their Vox grills.
The Ultramarines responded with instant efficiency, Bolters and Assault Cannons roaring to life. A hail of shots ripped into the Black Legion Raptors, puffs of blood bursting from their avian forms as they jerked and danced amidst the fusillade. Still the Ultramarines were not quick enough to prevent catastrophe. Screaming their defiance, a trio of Raptors jetted through the rain of fire to slam spiked icons into the temple's floor. Tall spears of adamantium and iron, the icons were festooned with macabre trophies and anointed in daemonic gore. Empyric energies whirled around them, and reality rent apart with the calamitous thunder of teleportation flares.
With exemplary discipline, the Ultramarines coolly shifted their aim. Bolts and blasts tore into the Black Legion Terminators, ringing from their armour with cacophonous fury. Yet these were chosen warriors imbued with the daemonic gifts of the Dark Gods. Though several of the massive Black Legionaries stumbled or fell, the rest shrugged off the salvo and began a grinding advance, firing back as they came.
Marneus Calgar looked about himself aghast. The Shrine of Guilliman, the sacred heart of the Ultramarines Chapter, had been profaned by the minions of Chaos. Already a thunderous gunfight was erupting, Ultramarines hurling themselves into cover, returning fire at their attackers from behind columns and statuary. It was clear to all that the enemy were driving for the fallen Primarch. Calgar was forcibly reminded of a prior warning given by Aldrik Voldus in the astropathic communiqué he had sent to Macragge telling the Ultramarines that the Grey Knights would be offering their aid because they feared that Chaos planned an assault that could impact the entire Imperium's future. Calgar was still deeply suspicious of Cawl, the Ynnari and those who had accompanied them, yet here was a threat far clearer and more diabolical than them. With a stern demand that his visitors refrain from acting until he had the situation under control, the Chapter Master activated the energy fields around his Power Fists, known as the Gauntlets of Ultramar, and strode into the fight.
He was not alone. Turning from the shrine, Saint Celestine drew her Ardent Blade. With a hymn of battle upon her lips and her Geminae Superia at her side, the Living Saint leapt toward the foe. Amalrich did the same, bellowing oaths of hate as he and his last few Battle-Brothers ran headlong at the Black Legionaries.
Grand Master Voldus, too, moved to join the fight. He bit off orders into his Vox bead as he advanced, loosing shots from his Storm Bolter even as he called in reinforcement from his Grey Knights Battle-Brothers. The Imperial counterattack met the Black Legion assault in the middle of the shrine with a rending crash of metal on metal, and blood fell like rain as the two forces tore into one another.
All throughout the shrine, tales of heroism and sacrifice played out. Inquisitor Greyfax took a glancing shot to her ribs in the opening moments of the fight. The bolt shell dented her armour, driving the air from her lungs, but by the grace of the Emperor it failed to detonate. Greyfax, seeing black spots before her eyes, dropped hastily into the cover of a marble pew only a few dozen Terran feet from the base of Guilliman's throne. Sucking down several deep breaths, Greyfax leant around the edge of the pew and fired off a tight burst of shells from her Condemnor Bolter. The rounds roared across the shrine, punching into the faceplate of a Black Legion Raptor and blowing his helm apart in a bloody spray.
Greyfax's bionic eye switched rapidly through multiple scrying filters, collating tactical data and cogitating threat assessments at the speed of thought. To her fore, the Inquisitor saw Saint Celestine slicing her way through the Black Legion Terminators, spinning and leaping through the air as she clove the Traitors apart with her blade. One of the Geminae Superia was badly wounded, the armoured Seraphim sprawled in a slick of blood. The other was still fighting, emptying her Bolt Pistol into the foe. Greyfax still did not fully trust the Saint, but she could not fault the woman's selflessness or skill.
Nearby, Marneus Calgar and Grand Master Voldus fought side by side, weathering the thunderous blows of their hulking enemies as they smashed and impaled one Traitor after another. As Greyfax watched, Voldus loosed a ruinous shock wave of psychic force from his outstretched gauntlet, hurling a Chaos Terminator through the air to demolish another towering statue. Still the Traitors pressed forward, and as they did so new warriors appeared to fill the gaps in their ranks. Teleport energies flared again, clearing to reveal a trio of Terminator-armoured Black Legion Sorcerers, flanked by monstrous warriors of fleshmetal and living weaponry. At the same time, Dreadclaw Drop Pods plunged through the shattered armaglass above, slamming into the ground behind the advancing Black Legionaries. From within spilled more of Abaddon's chosen warriors, Heretic Astartes including bellowing Khorne Berzerkers charging forward to join the fray.
The Ultramarines stood their ground, despite being increasingly outnumbered. Veterans rattled volleys of fire into the advancing foe, ripping Black Legionaries off their feet or blasting them into glowing ash with bolts of plasma. Blue-armoured Terminators duelled with their blackarmoured counterparts, Heavy Flamers spewing fire across adamantium and ceramite as Power Fists delivered crushing blows. Marshal Amalrich and his brothers hurled themselves in alongside the Ultramarines, howling Chainswords and lashing Lightning Claws reaping a tally of Traitor lives. One Black Templar fell to a Chainfist's swipe, but still his brothers fought on.
Greyfax's Psyocculum chimed a warning as Warp energies built amidst the battle. Following the device's quavering brass needle, the Inquisitor saw the trio of Black Legion Sorcerers with their staves raised, black fire boiling around them. Greyfax lined up her Condemnor Bolter and launched a blessed silver stake at the nearest Sorcerer. She cursed as the holy projectile impaled her target but did not fell him, then she ducked down to reload as bolt shells blew craters in her cover. As she did so, Greyfax saw that not all of the pilgrims, nor indeed all of their hosts, had joined the fight.
The Inquisitor swore again as she saw Cawl hunched, spider-like, over the controls of his auto-reliquary. The Magos' metallic fingers danced across runic keys, his Mechadendrites slithering from one socket-port to another while the Ynnari and Skitarii stood guard over him. Beside them stood the Ultramarines Chief Librarian, Warp light glowing from his eyes and weaving around his skull-topped stave. As Greyfax watched, several frothing Berzerkers charged at Tigurius. The Librarian barked a string of syllables that caused the Khorne-worshippers to implode in a crumpled mass of flesh and metal. Greyfax's Psyocculum burbled confused readings as the life energies of the three Berzerkers left their bodies but did not vanish altogether. Ghost returns flickered around the two Ynnari, and Greyfax's suspicions of the Eldar deepened as she realised that they had -- in some fashion that she did not yet comprehend -- been empowered by the stolen animus.
Greyfax pushed herself to her feet again, intending to dash across the open ground and command Cawl to cease in the name of the Holy Ordos of the Inquisition. At that moment, a stitching line of Autocannon fire marched along the top of the pew. Explosions of fire and shrapnel burst around the Inquisitor, hurling her from her feet. Greyfax fired back at her attackers, lashing out with her telepathic powers as she did so, but she was -- for the moment -- pinned in place.
Marneus Calgar swung his right gauntlet in a punishing arc, hammering it up through his enemy's guard and catching a Chaos Terminator square under the jaw. His enemy's helm disappeared in a blizzard of metal and blood, his corpse slamming down onto its back with bone-breaking force. Before the Traitor even hit the ground, Calgar was already turning on the spot, both gauntlets held out from his body and bolters thundering. The Chapter Master revolved in a half-circle, blazing rounds into the Black Legionaries on every side and eviscerating another of them with explosive shells. Blocking the return swipe of a crackling Power Mace, Calgar prepared to swing another titanic blow into his enemies. Then he caught sight of movement at the base of Guilliman's throne, and cold horror clenched in his chest.
Calgar saw the Martian Tech-priest step back from his auto-reliquary with the air of one completing a satisfying task. The dome-shaped device hummed forward, unfurling like the petals of some huge, carnivorous flower. The watching Chapter Master was at the wrong angle to see inside the machine, but he had a fleeting impression of glowing energies, unfurling Mechadendrites, clamping pincer-limbs and whirring bone-drills that filled him with revulsion.
The auto-reliquary was rising and stretching out, enfolding the Primarch's form in its metallic embrace. At the same moment, the xenos witch-priestess lunged with preternatural grace, evading whistling bolt shells as she raised her blade high.
"No!" bellowed Calgar, finding his voice. "I command you to stop! In the Emperor's name, Brother Tigurius, stop them!" The Chapter Master's dismay rose to new heights as Tigurius looked straight at him, and shook his head.
"Do it!", shouted the Chief Librarian, blazing psychic energies into the foe that pressed close all around. "And may the Emperor condemn me if you have played me false, xenos."
In desperation, Calgar raised his Bolters and prepared to fire at the Eldar witch, but Yvraine's blade fell lightning fast, hacking through the cabling that fed power to Guilliman's stasis field. Energies flared, and from within the closing arms of the autoreliquary, Calgar heard a rattling sigh that would haunt him until his dying day.
"What have you done?" he roared, despair and fury blazing through him like a firestorm. Fists clenched, Calgar turned upon the Traitors that had forced this terrible tragedy to come to pass, and waded back into the fight with unstoppable fury.
The auto-reliquary engulfed Roboute Guilliman and his throne entirely, runic designators and auto-lumen flickering in mesmerising patterns across its surface. As though spurred by the sight, the Black Legionaries redoubled the intensity of their attack.
Bellowing war cries, the Black Legion Terminators drove hard into their foes. Marneus Calgar was pushed back by his enemies, his battle plate cracked by the crunching blow of a Power Maul. Braving the Chapter Master's lashing gauntlets, a band of Traitor Terminators surrounded him entirely so that their brethren could break away towards the auto-reliquary. Gunfire echoed thunderously around the shrine as the Traitors let fly into Cawl's unfolded device. Bolts and shells alike exploded harmlessly as they struck hardened void shielding, unable to punch through the Archmagos' data-wards to damage the device behind.
The last of the Raptors formed into a single talon and bounded across the shrine. Their Jump Packs howled, and terrifying screams burst from their Vox grills. They were met by a thin line of Ultramarines Veterans, the Loyalist Astartes abandoning cover to interpose themselves between the Chaos assault troops and Guilliman's throne with Bolters blazing. Several Raptors fell, but the Ultramarines paid for their bravery as the enemy's Obliterators opened fire. Plasma blasts and Lascannon beams smashed the Veterans from their feet, reducing chest cavities to blackened craters and helmed heads to scatters of ash.
The Chaos Sorcerers leading the attack drew deep upon the energies of the Warp, risking damnation in their haste to break through. Two of the psychically-empowered warriors unleashed a storm of crackling black lightning at Grand Master Voldus, driving the Grey Knight to one knee with their combined fury. The Grey Knight's eyes glowed and the runes on his armour shimmered with power as he roared counter-incantations. Meanwhile, the last of the Sorcerers stormed toward the Primarch's throne, arms raised above his head and voice booming from his Vox grill. As the Sorcerer chanted, so the Temple of Correction began to shudder and shake. Pillars split from bottom to top, chunks of marble the size of Drop Pods shearing off to crash down into the fight. Gaping rents yawned wide in the floor, swallowing warriors from both sides, and the frescoed ceiling became webbed with cracks.
Realising that the Sorcerer was attempting to bring one end of the shrine down upon Guilliman's throne, Tigurius brandished his staff and focussed his psychic energies to unmake the Chaos worshipper's incantation. Yet the Chief Librarian's concentration was shattered as a fresh wave of Khorne Berzerkers hurled themselves at him. Tigurius frantically parried one roaring Chainaxe after another with his staff, cursing as he felt the powers of the Empyrean draining away from his touch. The Ynnari were suddenly there beside him, fighting with blistering speed. Never had Tigurius seen living creatures move with such swiftness and grace, Yvraine and the Visarch blurring through the air and leaving greyed-out after-images in their wake as they ruthlessly laid the Berzerkers low.
All across the shaking temple, the dwindling forces of the Imperium fought like lions to hold back their foes. Celestine still hacked and cut, span and leapt, leaving a trail of slain Black Legionaries in her wake. Archmagos Cawl sent blasts of searing energy ripping through the Chaos ranks while intoning binharic psalms to fortify his allies' weapons and wargear. Marshal Amalrich, accompanied now by just two remaining Sword Brethren, fought tirelessly atop a heap of Black Legion corpses. Teleport energies flared once more and a squad of Grey Knights Paladins flashed into being, bolstering their Grand Master's psychic defences with their own.
For a moment the battle hung in the balance. Then a second flight of Dreadclaw Drop Pods began their descent upon the shrine, fires billowing around their hulls as they fell. No scattered handful of reinforcements was this, but a pinpoint attack wave of ten armoured pods, held in reserve by the masters of the Chaos invasion and hurled in to strike the killing blow. Heldrakes dived alongside them, jaw cannons chattering to tear a path through Ultramarines interceptors and gunships. More than one of the plummeting Daemon Engines hurled itself into flak fire, compelled to self-sacrifice in order to shield the Dreadclaws from harm. Thus protected, all ten pods flashed down through the sundered dome of the Shrine of Guilliman, touching down amidst billowing clouds of smoke and sulphurous flame.
As one, the Dreadclaws irised open to disgorge squad after squad of heretical killers. An entire Traitor warband surged into battle, the Talons of the Despoiler deployed en masse to sweep away all resistance in the shrine. It was a force whose combined strength could subdue worlds, one hundred super-human murderers, fresh and ready for battle. The Black Legion reinforcements struck the Imperial defence like a battering ram.
Ultramarines Veterans and Honour Guard fell as they were riddled with overwhelming bolt fire. Courageous Terminators crumpled, even their potent armour unable to withstand the hammering volleys of Bolter, Melta and plasma fire that engulfed them. Marneus Calgar roared in defiance as he was borne to the ground by a surging mass of foes that swung, stabbed and stamped at him. Marshal Amalrich and his brothers charged down the mound of corpses rather than be caught in the open by the foe's massed firepower, determined to hack down as many of their tainted kin as they could before they were slain. Saint Celestine, too, swooped down upon the mass of foes. Her remaining sister had been smashed from the air by a plasma blast, and even the Saint herself was now fighting one-handed, her left arm hanging broken at her side. Still she sang out a hymn to the Emperor, determined to meet death with words of purity and hope on her lips.
Everywhere the massed Chaos worshippers pressed forward, engulfng the shrinking islands of Imperial resistance, while sorcerous energies continued to tear at the shrine itself. Not a single defender took a step backward, but it was clear that their lives could now be measured in solar minutes at most.
The Avenging Son
The foremost Black Legionaries were mere Terran yards away from the foot of Guilliman's throne when the rune-panels on Cawl's auto-reliquary flickered from red to green. A single chime sounded, a clear, pure note that cut through the clangour like a knife. The Archmagos himself, fighting back-to-back with the Ynnari and Chief Librarian Tigurius, emitted an uncharacteristic blurt of binharic triumph. The next moment, the outstretched armatures of the auto-reliquary folded back with a gaseous hiss to reveal a sight of breathtaking splendour.
Where before Roboute Guilliman had sat, a pale, stasis-locked revenant, now the Primarch stood awake, alert and very much alive. His presence was immense, dominant as a thunderhead suddenly filling the shrine with its crushing pressure. Guilliman was clad in a magnificent new suit of Power Armour, an ornate masterwork that had travelled all the way from the forges of Mars within Cawl's auto-reliquary. In one hand the Ultramarines Primarch held the Emperor's Sword, lit now from hilt to tip with leaping flames, and in his eyes was a look of such murderous intensity that even the Loyalists within the shrine quailed to see it.
It was as though a spell had settled over the shrine. Though outside the din of war thundered on, within that echoing chamber friend and foe alike stared awestruck at the legendary figure reborn in their midst. An incoherent scream of rage shattered the silence, a single Khorne Berzerker charging headlong through the stunned combatants to launch himself in a flying leap at the Primarch. Guilliman moved with such blistering speed that the Ynnari themselves would have struggled to match it. His burning blade drew a pyrotechnic arc through the air as it swung, bisecting the Khorne Berzerker at the waist and hurling his severed halves to the ground.
As the Chaos worshipper's armoured corpse crashed to the floor, the spell was broken. With a great howl of hate, the Black Legion warriors surged towards Roboute Guilliman. Wordlessly, the noble demigod strode to meet them, and the carnage truly began.
Saint Celestine looked upon the towering form of the Primarch reborn, and knew the abiding satisfaction of her faith being borne out once more. A son of the God-Emperor Himself, a demigod of battle to lead the Imperium out of the darkness that, with each passing solar day, seemed more certain to engulf it entirely. In what greater endeavour could she have played a part? What single event could possibly be more important than the manifestation of this breathtaking miracle? Humbly, Celestine offered up her profound thanks to the Emperor for permitting her to be a part of such a wondrous thing.
Around her, the battle still raged, yet every aspect of the conflict had changed for Celestine in that singular moment of rebirth. The strewn corpses of Imperial warriors were no longer a tragic waste, but instead the fallen bodies of martyrs whose sacrifice would be immortalised forever. The traitorous killers filling the shrine were no longer hated despoilers, but instead merely the first of an endless tally of Heretics that Guilliman would lay low. Her own hurts no longer mattered, whether the physical wounds to her own body or the spiritual rents opened by the deaths of her Geminae Superia.
"Thank you", intoned Celestine, a single golden tear rolling down her cheek as she turned her face to the heavens. "Thank you, my Emperor. He is a blessing we do not deserve."
Snarling, a Black Legionary lunged at Celestine with a serrated blade in hand. Presumably he thought her distracted in her moment of sublime gratitude, but he could not have been more mistaken. With the fires of faith searing through her veins, Celestine turned the golden radiance of her gaze upon the Heretic and smiled beatifically as she felt her broken arm heal itself anew. The Ardent Blade came up in a single, swift movement and ran the Heretic Astartes through.
Even as her assailant fell back with blood gushing from his mouth, the Living Saint launched herself skyward and soared across the shrine. She alighted beside Inquisitor Greyfax, who was stood atop a sarcophagus pouring Bolter fire into the Heretics massed on every side.
"I erred", shouted Greyfax over the roar of her Bolter. "And I shall do penance. You truly are an instrument of the Emperor's will."
"Vigilance is not a sin, Katarinya Greyfax", replied Celestine, slashing her blade through the enemies before her. "You serve Him as surely as I."
"Indeed", said Greyfax with a curt nod. "Then let us serve him together, as true warriors of faith." With that, she raised her blade and lunged into the foe, Celestine leaping at her side.
First to die was the Sorcerer whose powers had shaken the temple to its foundations. Guilliman raised his mighty gauntlet, the Hand of Dominion, and a storm of armour-piercing fire erupted from beneath it to rip the tainted psyker to pieces.
Next to fall were the remaining Black Legion Berzerkers. Following their comrade's example, they flung themselves screaming at the reborn Primarch. Like their fellows, they were reduced to so much armoured meat, smashed from the air with terrifying speed. Guilliman was running now, storming forward through the hail of bolts and shells unleashed by the Black Legionaries. Rounds exploded against the Primarch's armour, but none could pierce its inviolable plates.
As he crashed into the front ranks of Black Legionaries, Guilliman let out a building roar of pure, undiluted fury. The Primarch's first blow threw a Black Legionary high into the air, blood streaming behind the corpse in a red trail. His second strike smashed a Traitor Terminator into a bronze and marble column with enough force to drive the Chaos worshipper clean through it, and out the other side. A spiked Power Fist swung for Guilliman's chest, only to be lopped from its wielder's arm before the blow could land. Guilliman's return swing parted his attacker's head from his shoulders, cauterising the stump of the Traitor's neck as the body crumpled to the floor. On it went, the Primarch moving with such speed that even the Heretics' superhuman reactions couldn't save them. None could match Guilliman. None could even come close, and the few opponents that landed lucky blows found their weapons turned aside by the Primarch's masterwork armour.
As the Black Legion hurled itself towards the towering warrior in its midst, so the pressure lessened upon the surviving Loyalists in the shrine. Full of vengeance, inspired by the spectacle of the Primarch, the last of the Celestinians and their allies threw themselves back into the fight with renewed vigour.
As Guilliman cleared the foes from around the foot of his throne, Tigurius, Cawl and the Ynnari followed him into the gap. Yvraine blurred through the air, felling a Chaos Space Marine before cart-wheeling between two more and leaving them as crumbling statues of dust and ash. A Traitor raised his Plasma Gun to blast the whirling priestess, only for the Visarch's sword to lop his arms off at the elbows. The Champion of Ynnead reversed his grip on his blade, ramming it through his victim's helm before basking in the escaping psychic energies of the Traitor Marine's corrupted soul.
Tigurius released a thunderous barrage of aetheric energies, thumping tectonic shock waves that hurled Heretic Astartes from their feet and shattered their armour like porcelain. The Chief Librarian felt Guilliman's gaze upon him then, for just a heartbeat. The Primarch's appraising stare seemed to strip Tigurius down to his soul. Then Guilliman stormed on through the enemy ranks.
With every blow, the Primarch of the Ultramarines sent mutated corpses tumbling through the air. His expression was graven granite and frozen hate, a mask of vengeful anger that had endured millennia.
For Guilliman, his last memory was a desperate battle against a tainted brother, a fraternal contest of godlike strength and barbed, hateful taunts -- then poison and pain beyond endurance. Now he found himself in strange surroundings, facing a twisted horde of creatures that were nightmarish parodies of the Adeptus Astartes ideal.
Not that his apparent allies struck Guilliman as much more familiar, but he could at least detect who in this vast sepulchre was tainted by Chaos and who was not. For now, that was enough. The Primarch compartmentalised his questions for later, and concentrated solely on the battle at hand.
The Black Legionaries continued to hurl themselves at the reborn Lord of Ultramar, clearly willing to sustain any amount of casualties if it meant laying Guilliman low. Yet they were laughably outmatched in almost every regard. Sweeping the Emperor's Sword in wide arcs, firing off hammering volleys from the Hand of Dominion, the Primarch reaped a bloody tally as he drove the Traitors back. As they retreated, so the prone form of Marneus Calgar was revealed, his armour cracked and his face beaten bloody. Guilliman paused for a moment in his rampage, looking down upon this fallen son with an unreadable expression on his face.
Calgar stirred, one eye opening to look up at the Primarch reborn. Satisfied that his scion lived, Guilliman pressed on, leaving the fallen Chapter Master to stare in disbelief at his resurrected gene-sire.
Across the chamber, Grand Master Voldus and his Paladins were driving the surviving Chaos Sorcerers back. The Heretics were powerful psykers both, but neither could hold a candle to Voldus' preeminent power. Surrounded by a crackling vortex of empyric energies, the Grand Master strode through the dark flames and molten lightnings conjured by his foes. Propelled as much by thought as by his steely sinews, Voldus' lightning-wreathed Nemesis Daemonhammer Malleus Argyrum swung in an unstoppable arc and slammed into the helm of the closest Sorcerer. Ceramite, flesh and bone exploded in a crackling spray, and the Traitor toppled backwards as a headless corpse.
The last of the Heretic leaders lost his nerve, barking orders at his underlings to cover his retreat from the shrine. The Sorcerer turned, lumbering in his Terminator Armour, and found himself face-to-face with Roboute Guilliman. Screaming witch-light rushed in as the Sorcerer attempted to conjure a potent curse. Before he could even spit the jagged syllables to unleash his power, the Sorcerer was hoisted bodily off the ground, Guilliman's Hand of Dominion clamped firmly around the Traitor's gorget. In a breathtaking display of strength, the Primarch lifted his foe high into the air, Guilliman's face a cold mask of disgust. The Sorcerer made a last, croaking attempt to speak before the Emperor's Sword slammed through the Traitor's midriff, and ripped it swiftly upward. Ancient armour and corrupt flesh parted as easily as silk, and the Sorcerer's innards spilled out in a rush to splatter upon the flagstones.
Leaderless, reaped like corn by the seemingly unstoppable Primarch and his allies, the last of the Black Legionaries turned and fled. Not a single one of them would escape the Fortress of Hera alive.
By the time reinforcements reached the Temple of Correction, the fighting was done. Every single Ultramarine who rushed into that vaulted space dropped to their knees in worshipful awe at the sight of their Primarch reborn.
Calm now, Roboute Guilliman took charge of his warriors. He asked no questions, save those of a purely strategic nature. He made no reference to the circumstances of his rebirth, his long repose, or the strangers that he found himself surrounded by, and none dared raise such matters with him. The Primarch would doubtless seek answers, but caught between wonder and a kind of overawed fear, the Ultramarines, the Celestinians, and even the Ynnari kept their own counsel. Besides, war still raged outside the shrine.
News of the Primarch's rise spread like wildfire through the Fortress of Hera. It was proclaimed from every Vox speaker, shouted from every rampart, and broadcast from the vocal emitters of countless Cybercherubim that fluttered through the cauldron of war. Guilliman ensured that it was so, for he understood well that his living presence would embolden his armies and cow his enemies. Ultramarines and Ultramar Defence Auxilia alike knew first bewilderment, then newfound strength as they processed this incredible news. The Chaos worshippers, by comparison, faltered in their attack. Even the most feared of their Champions were eclipsed by the martial glory of a living, breathing Primarch, and ripples of unease spread through the Heretic throng at the thought of facing him.
Guilliman made straight for the fortress' strategium, and -- in a dramatically charged moment that would become enshrined in statuary -- formally accepted command of the defence from First Captain Agemman. Marneus Calgar stood at his Primarch's side during this exchange, sorely wounded and supported by two Honour Guards, yet determined to be present all the same. Guilliman showed his nobility by humbly requesting the Chapter Master's leave to assume full command of the Ultramarines at that time. Calgar shrugged off his Battle-Brothers and, grimacing in pain, knelt before his gene-sire. He matched Guilliman's solemnity as he offered unending fealty to the Primarch, and bequeathed full control of the Chapter to him in perpetuity.
Like an impresario settling before his instrument, Guilliman spread his hands upon the strategium table and took a deep breath before beginning to command. With his every utterance, the invaders' plight became more apparent. The Primarch's strategic acumen, his tactical genius and miraculous mental acuity were unmatched. The leaders of the Ultramarines looked on in amazement as Guilliman marshalled the defenders like regicide pieces, drinking in reams of strategic data and issuing a steady stream of orders that turned one fight after another in the defenders' favour. Calgar and his lieutenants had executed a superhuman campaign of defiance against the invaders, but the Primarch was operating on a different mental plane.
At Guilliman's command, thunderous overlapping firestorms and interlaced webs of interceptor strikes cleared the airspace over the Fortress of Hera. No longer threatened from above, Ultramarines reserves and vast numbers of Defence Auxilia flowed into the fight in masterful deployment patterns. Feints, ambushes, false retreats and sudden, overwhelming counterattacks ripped through the Chaos forces and drove them from within the fortress' grounds. Guilliman wielded hundreds of thousands of warriors at once, predicting every move his enemies made and countering before they had even thought to act.
By the time the Primarch and his coterie strode out to lead the fight in person, the Chaos attackers were reeling in disarray. The attack led by Guilliman into the heart of their lines was like a final bolt round placed between the eyes of a wounded enemy. Black Legionaries, Iron Warriors, Alpha Legion and Night Lords -- all were hurled back from the walls. Traitor Titans toppled like vast, flaming trees to smash down in ruin. Just three solar hours after his resurrection, Roboute Guilliman concluded the wholesale purge of Chaos invaders from the Fortress of Hera, and confidently proclaimed the Ultramarines' stronghold secure.
There now came a time where breath could be drawn, and stock taken. Even as lumbering Servitors and Chapter Serf work gangs laboured to shore up the fortress' battered defences, Guilliman summoned a select company to attend him in the Chapter Master's sanctum. This had long been the domain and throne room of Marneus Calgar. Now it would become the sanctum of the Primarch himself, and it was here that he was formally invested as Lord of Ultramar and Master of the Ultramarines once more. Calgar, Tigurius, Agemman and their closest lieutenants were present for Guilliman’s elevation, as were representative brothers from every company of the Chapter. The Celestinians, too, attended Guilliman's formal coronation, the Saint herself ceremonially bestowing her blessings upon the Primarch. Even the Ynnari watched from the sidelines as this momentous event occurred; they lurked amongst the shadows, a silent and staunchly unremarked-upon presence whose expressions remained cold and watchful.
As the ceremony concluded, Guilliman rose and addressed the assembly. There was much to be done, and countless questions to which the Primarch required answers. Before he could act further, Roboute Guilliman needed to know everything that had occurred during his long absence.
- "Even gods have their limits. Mortal weapons may fail to harm them, this is true. But pride, arrogance, an excess of devotion to their mortal servants -- these are barbs with which even the most divine of beings may be brought low."
The Warp is, in many ways, a mirror of our reality. Like a dark and fathomless pool, its surface ripples with the impact of momentous events, or great outbursts of passion and emotion. The resurrection of Roboute Guilliman sent bow waves of psychic energy rolling outward through the Immaterium, racing tsunamis of turmoil that did not go unnoticed.
One by one, the Champions of the Dark Gods of Chaos became aware of the resurrected Primarch. Reclining amidst an endless banquet of souls, Fulgrim pouted in displeasure as daemon imps whispered the news into his ear. The Daemon Primarch of the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion bestirred himself from his velvet throne, vowing to his depraved god Slaanesh that this time, he would ensure Guilliman's eternal fall from grace.
In hidden fanes and crystalline mazes, the greatest daemons of Tzeentch watched as the weft and weave of fate rippled and changed with the implications of Guilliman's return. Reading their master's will in the shattered facets of the future, each set itself to the task of tainting, tempting or destroying the Ultramarines Primarch in a myriad of subtly varied fashions.
Deep within the noisome swamps of Nurgle's Garden in the Realm of Chaos, a conclave of Great Unclean Ones listened indulgently to the frantic babbling of messenger flies. They leered in delight, bile and maggots slopping down their festering chins. A Primarch! One untouched and untainted by any of Nurgle's brothers. Their pestilential master would no doubt value such a prize most highly. Perhaps, they chortled mockingly, they might even arrange a final reconciliation between the bitter Daemon Primarch Mortarion and his brother. Such an opportunity had not presented itself in thousands of standard years, and the Great Unclean Ones hummed a cheerful ditty as they began to concoct a sickness fit for a demigod.
Elsewhere in the galaxy, the Mendox Cataclysm was coming to its hideous conclusion. Along a war front that spanned entire star systems, the Champions of Khorne burned eighty-eight Imperial worlds at once. Amidst the rising flames of their genocide, Champions of Khorne both mortal and daemonic witnessed visions of their furious deity, raging against Guilliman's return. His apoplectic bellows rang as thunder through the skies of the dying planets, and Warp Storms shuddered into being through rents in reality as though the Blood God was hacking at the stars with his ruinous blade. The servants of the other Dark Gods might try to corrupt Guilliman, to mislead or despoil him. Yet Khorne's servants knew that their master had no patience for such things. Instead, they fell to battle amongst each other, warring for the right to hunt down the reborn Primarch and claim his skull.
Other dark lords, too, saw the glowing beacon of Guilliman's rebirth from afar and began to marshal their forces accordingly. Forewarned by the prophetic visions of Zaraphiston, Abaddon the Despoiler had fashioned a loose alliance of Traitor Marine warbands to strike Guilliman down before his resurrection could occur. It was this that had spurred the sudden, frenzied Chaos invasion of Ultramar, but -- even with the aid of a sizeable force of Black Legionaries -- Abaddon's vassal warlords had failed in their initial gambit. Furious, Abaddon summoned and bound the Lord of Change Kairos Fateweaver, sending him winging his way across the galaxy to gather fresh forces against the Primarch.
Upon far-flung hell worlds, Magnus the Red and the Death Lord Mortarion received word of their brother's awakening. Their reactions were as different as fire and ice. Mortarion raged, a cold and virulent storm of anger whirling around him until its echoes in realspace seeded seven new and terrible plagues upon luckless Imperial worlds. Mired amid plans that were nearing fruition, the Daemon Primarch of the Death Guard Traitor Legion could not yet act to strike at Guilliman. Instead, as he stared with glowing eyes across the mist-wreathed parade grounds of his Plague Planet, and the massed ranks of Death Guard there assembled, Mortarion vowed that he would render Guilliman and his empire to rot soon enough.
Magnus, by comparison, gave a booming laugh of utter delight. Like a fortune teller who flips their final tarot card and gains sudden insight, the Crimson King saw now before him paths of glorious fate, where before had been a wilderness of confusion. Magnus began to issue orders, his words bursting forth as swarms of crystalline insects. They flitted away to marshal the thrallbands of his once proud Space Marine Legion, the Thousand Sons. Already, the cyclopean Daemon Primarch had revenged himself upon one hated foe of old, setting the Fenris System of the Space Wolves alight in the fires of retribution. Now, he saw a chance to punish another.
So the might of the Warp began to gather, coiling and writhing like a serpents' nest. Traitor Marine warbands rode the dark tides of the Empyrean toward Ultramar, howling with naked bloodlust and swearing vows to strike Guilliman down in the name of the Ruinous Powers.
Swathes of the galaxy were already riven with Warp Storms that had spilled through the Cadian Gate with all the ferocity of Old Night, or been unleashed by the shattering of the Eldar Craftworld Biel-Tan. Now those tempests spread further, as the Primordial Annihilator turned its full attentions upon realspace. Screaming maws burst open between the stars, horrifyingly immense, yawning gulfs ringed by mountainous fangs and coiling, ectoplasmic tentacles. Dozens of worlds were plunged into darkness and terror as time shattered apart around them, and the energies of the Immaterium burst their banks to flood into realspace.
Within the Warp, wars ended even as fresh ones began. Daemonic legions were pulled away from nightmarish battlefields and hurled through breaches in the veil of reality, charged with hunting down and putting an end to the reborn Primarch. Yet the servants of the Dark Gods are ever opportunists, and believed that this moment of distraction could be used to strike at their respective masters' rivals amongst the Chaos pantheon.
Mounted upon a cogwork scorpion the size of a city, Khorne's blood legions drove headlong into the winding edges of the Lord of Change's Crystal Labyrinth, swarms of flame-belching Tzeentchian daemons pouring out to meet them like insects defending their kicked hive. At the same time, Slaanesh's cavalcade of hedonism hacked its way into the Garden of Nurgle, even as the Plague God's infamous Sluggardhost came squirming through the brimstone caverns beneath Khorne's Ironfire Bastion. Soon enough, fresh wars raged throughout the domains of the Chaos Gods, their eternal rivalries stoked by the momentous events, yet still a portion of their attentions were focused upon the fate of Roboute Guilliman, and upon their worshippers' schemes to lay him low.
As for the Primarch himself, Guilliman was, as yet, unaware of the daemonic madness that his return had spurred. This was a mercy, for the Lord of Ultramar already had a crushing weight of questions and shock to deal with. Everything Guilliman knew was gone, replaced by the madness and horror of a future he had tried so desperately to prevent ten thousand standard years before.
Roboute Guilliman settled heavily into his new throne. The Primarch had despatched all of his attendants and advisors, even sending his Honour Guard to wait outside the sanctum. At last he could allow a little of his sorrow, trauma and pain to show, and Guilliman let his mask drop with a sigh of relief. Whatever had been done to him to bring him back, it had left the Primarch with a constant, gnawing ache that radiated from deep within. He suspected that pain would never leave him.
Physical hurts were the least of Guilliman's troubles. One by one, the Primarch had spoken with each of the Celestinians, the lords of the Ultramarines, and even Yvraine of the Ynnari. Solar days had been spent in deep, earnest conversation, Guilliman using every iota of his statesman's guile to set his guests at ease, to tease from them as much information as he could, and to hide his reactions to their words. Guilliman had thanked each of his visitors for their insights and their service to the Imperium, inwardly assessing each of his guests and showing them whatever aspect of his personality was surest to render them sympathetic and voluble.
Though he had not shown it, each fresh revelation struck the Primarch like a cannon shell. He was exhausted from staving off bewilderment and horror, hollowed out by pain. Guilliman groaned and placed his head in his hands, his new suit of armour hissing and humming with the motion.
"Millennia have passed", he murmured, unsure to whom he spoke. He knew only that he had to vocalise his situation before it drove him mad. Not for the first time since his return, Guilliman wished for one of his brothers to speak with. They, at least, might have understood.
"Thousands of years", he said. "And look what has become of them. Of us. Idolatry. Ignorance. Suffering and squalor, in the name of a god who never desired the title."
Guilliman shook his head and stood, pacing across the Chapter Master's sanctum to stare up at the banners hanging on the western wall. Each was the height of an Imperial Knight, a cascade of masterfully woven cloth depicting the glories of the Ultramarines.
Slain alien beasts, executed Heretic despots, worlds saved and worlds burned. The Chapter's proud iconography was much in evidence, but so was the Aquila of the Imperium and there, presiding over several of the heraldic designs, a figure with throne and halo who must surely be the Emperor.
"We failed, father", said Guilliman, his words tired and leaden with sorrow. "You failed your sons, and we, in our turn, failed you. And now, to compound our arrogance and vainglory, we have failed all of them, too. Did Horus not say that you sought godhood? He built a rebellion upon that claim. How he would gloat, to see the Imperium now."
Anger surged through the Lord of Ultramar, and he clenched his fists with the effort of self-restraint. He imagined destroying this chamber, tearing it apart and hurling its wreckage around like a wild beast. He dared not, lest these strangers in his Chapter's livery see through his facade. Though he wrestled with despair, the Primarch knew that he could not let his weakness show. Marneus Calgar, Tigurius, Agemman, all the others -- they looked at him as though he was the Emperor Himself. Guilliman was painfully aware of his symbolic quality, and of how desperate and dark the hour had become. He must show nothing but strength to his gene-sons, lest his despair taint their hearts, too.
"And yet, would it really matter," he sighed, turning his back on the banners and pacing across the chamber to stare through a stained glass window. Out there, across the war-torn immensity of the Fortress of Hera, Guilliman saw the sweeping bulwark where his old chambers had once been. They had belonged to his father, even before him. He had laid his plans there, spoken to his brothers, laughed and raged and -- on one occasion -- almost died. Now they were gone, buried beneath ugly agglomerations of buttressing and gun batteries. It was apt, he thought bitterly.
Guilliman's anger spilled over, and he spun on his heel, staring up at the woven Emperor with accusing eyes.
"Why do I still live," he snarled. "What more do you want from me? I gave everything I had to you, to them. Look what they've made of our dream. This bloated, rotting carcass of an empire is driven not by reason and hope but by fear, hate and ignorance. Better that we had all burned in the fires of Horus' ambition than live to see this." Even as he said it, Guilliman heard the lie in his words. Amongst his brothers, none had been more idealistic than Roboute Guilliman. None had envisioned a brighter future, not just for Mankind but also for the warriors of the Legiones Astartes. That flame of hope had been a part of him for as long as he had lived. Even now, as it was smothered by darkness and woe, Guilliman realised that his flame endured.
"There's hope still," he told himself, turning back to the window and placing one armoured palm against it. He stared out at the work gangs, labouring to repair the damage of war, and the Ultramarines stood proud and determined upon the ramparts. They had been born into this dark millennium, and had known nothing but the hardship, suffering and despair of unending conflict. Yet still they struggled on unbowed, despite the countless enemies ranged against them. Guilliman had seen a better age, one of hope and triumph. What right had he, a superhuman son of the Emperor Himself, to show any less strength and courage than his followers born in darkness?
Guilliman had seen what Humanity could achieve. Moreover, he knew what fruits Bellisarius Cawl's labours had borne beneath the surface of Mars. He believed that a better future for the Imperium was still possible. But only if those who tormented Mankind were first defeated.
"All of this misery," said Guilliman. "All of this suffering and pain. It is not the doing of Humanity, but of those who have betrayed us. Too long have the pawns of Chaos dictated our species' fate. That must end."
Guilliman felt new strength fill him. Inspired by it, the Primarch took his pain, and his desolation, and locked them away deep within his mind. But his rage he kept. That, he would have use for.
Later there would be time to mourn, to reason, to plan anew. Now was the time to fight, and to make his father's enemies pay for every horror they had inflicted upon the Imperium.
Battle for Macragge
Four solar days and nights after his coronation as the Lord of Ultramar, Roboute Guilliman emerged from seclusion. In his absence, Marneus Calgar had continued to lead the fight, ignoring his injuries as he coordinated the Ultramarines' war effort. Now, though, Calgar willingly ceded control of the campaign to his gene-sire. Recognising the vastly capable Chapter Master for the asset he was, Guilliman kept Calgar close at hand in the battles that followed, and asked his counsel constantly. Brother-Librarian Tigurius, too, swiftly became a trusted advisor, the Primarch accepting that in this darker age, the trappings and powers of the Librarius had -- by necessity -- also become darker. In a move that surprised many, Guilliman also included Voldus, Cawl, Saint Celestine and Inquisitor Greyfax amongst his coterie of lieutenants. The Primarch sought the insights of every arm of the Imperial war machine, recognising that in unity lay strength.
With his advisors at his side, and the unbowed might of the Ultramarines at his disposal, Guilliman began the reconquest of his homeworld. Wider galactic matters would have to wait; Macragge was still beset from every side, and if the Chapter planet fell, then even the resurrected Primarch would surely be dragged down by the tide of foes.
The war for Macragge lasted a little over a solar month, and its pace was blistering. Roboute Guilliman was a force of nature, an unstoppable avatar of the Emperor's will who drove his enemies before him like cattle. First came a series of lightning-fast offensives to clear the Valley of Laponis and the partially ruined city of Magna Civitas. Batteries of Iron Warriors siege guns were overrun. The semi-sentient artillery engines were blown apart by Melta charges, their whip-fisted overseers executed with swift efficiency. Chanting masses of Chaos Cultists were surrounded inside gilded domes and soaring habblocks, before being systematically cut apart. Agemman, Celestine and Greyfax led pinpoint strikes to take back the city's primary orbital batteries. Soon enough, ruby columns of light were spearing up into the heavens to drive the Chaos warships out of their geosynchronous orbits above the Ultramarines' fortress-monastery.
This was only the beginning. Led by the famed tank commander Antaro Chronus, roaring columns of Ultramarines armour swept the Traitor battle groups from the Magletine Highlands, and drove their survivors into the storm-tossed Pharamis Ocean. Grand Master Voldus and his 3rd Brotherhood of the Grey Knights lent their might to the reconquest when they spearheaded the strike against the corrupted city of Collosae. Here the silver-armoured Daemon Hunters fought a cat-and-mouse battle with cruel bands of Night Lords, who had veiled the city in an unnatural gloom. The Traitors were eventually driven out, and a mysterious blood ritual halted before it could come to fruition, though the entire city had subsequently to be levelled from orbit for fear of its Chaos taint.
Guilliman led attacks against Valmari, Mount Tarphus and the snowy Gallinus Pass, emerging triumphant at every turn. The Ultramarines swept all before them, combining their exceptional skill and discipline with the visionary battle plans of their Primarch into an unstoppable whole. The Ultramar Defence Auxilia followed up each new conquest, digging in and fortifying in great number so that any attempts by the Forces of Chaos to counterattack were met by overwhelming resistance. Though the Heretic Astartes fought furiously, and inflicted sore losses upon the Loyalists, they simply could not match the strategic acumen of Roboute Guilliman, and one Chaos warband after another was defeated. Even those who fled Macragge found no haven in the void, for their invasion craft had been surrounded and reduced to burning scrap by the Ultramar Defence Fleet.
Finally, after long solar weeks of vicious battle and a vast toll of the dead, the world of Macragge was liberated once more.
The Crown of Glories
The first steps had been taken upon the road of reconquest. Macragge was free of Chaos taint. Guilliman wished to press on, consumed by his desire to drive the Ruinous Powers from Ultramar. However, those he led needed time to regroup and consolidate. Countless wounded required attention. Hundreds of war machines needed repair.
Guilliman was wise enough to give his followers the time they needed. Meanwhile, Imperial reinforcements gathered around Macragge. Braving the Warp Storms raging through local space, Space Marine craft by the dozen assembled above the Ultramarines homeworld. Delegations from many Primogenitor Successor Chapters of the Ultramarines had ploughed through the Empyrean, risking terrible danger to see for themselves that the Primarch had returned. Novamarines, Sons of Orar, Genesis Chapter and countless others joined the growing throng, kneeling before the Primarch and swearing allegiance to him.
While the armies of the Ultramar Reconquest were gathering, a further opportunity presented itself. It was the Arch-Consul of Magna Civitas -- the closest Ultramar had to a conventional Planetary Governor -- who suggested that a grand victory parade could be held, and its majesty recorded on pict casts to be sent far and wide through the Imperium. The Consul said that people needed the light of hope in this dark hour, a shining example of victory to renew their faith not just in the Emperor, but in Guilliman reborn.
The Primarch acceded to this demand, though it sat ill with his bleak inner mood. Guilliman saw the wisdom in it, but he accepted such aggrandisement only grudgingly. Mere solar days after victory was declared, a grand triumph swept up from the Titan Gate to the very steps of the Fortress of Hera. Thousands of war engines and millions of warriors presented their colours and raised cheers and horn blasts to the skies. A seething sea of the city's residents packed the crater-pocked processionals and plazas to watch the proceedings, and voices beyond count rang out as one to cry Guilliman's praise in a single deafening roar.
Standing upon a marble-columned platform with his closest lieutenants at his side, the Primarch dutifully presented the most magnificent spectacle he could for the assembled masses. The Arch-Consul himself presented Guilliman with a stunningly wrought laurel wreath crafted in gold, urging the Primarch to don the gilded crown at once. The moment Guilliman did so, he found his mind filled with thoughts of future glories. This paltry triumph would be nothing compared to the breathtaking spectacle of his galactic conquest. The Primarch's armies would be beyond number, their adoration for their heroic lord so great that they would die for him gladly. Planets, systems, whole Segmentums would be renamed in honour of he who had liberated them, and the whipped dogs of Chaos would flee before him like the curs they were. Statues would be raised to commemorate Guilliman's majesty, and eventually even the Golden Throne of Terra itself would be his to mount. The Emperor's most loyal son deserved no less an inheritance, and he would have his due.
It was this last thought that wrenched Guilliman from the wreath's insidious curse. With a gasp, he tore the gilded crown from his head and bellowed a command for the Arch-Consul to be restrained. It was Grand Master Voldus who grabbed the robed dignitary, and as his blessed gauntlets touched the man's flesh it sizzled and crisped. The din of the triumph was colossal, an ocean swell of noise that hid the Arch-Consul's shrieks as the illusions that veiled him were unmade.
Guilliman and his lieutenants recoiled at the misshapen mutant thing that was revealed. Bulbous and deformed, the keening, fleshy abomination wore a glowing amulet about its neck on a thong of human skin. As Guilliman stared in disgust at this cursed fetish, he heard a susurration hissing within his mind that he had not heard since that fateful encounter on Thessala ten millennia before. In mocking tones, Fulgrim welcomed Guilliman back to his beloved Imperium. The Daemon Primarch revealed that he had concealed a fragment of his own animus in the amulet that his servant wore, and confessed disappointment that Guilliman had rejected his gift, the Crown of Glories. Many heroes great and pure had fallen to the trinket's blandishments, and Fulgrim had hoped that he could corrupt Guilliman in the same fashion. Yet the Slaaneshi Daemon Prince assured his brother that this was but the first of endless temptations that Guilliman would have to face. Laughing cruelly, he taunted that the Lord of Ultramar would never be able to trust any feeling of triumph or self-satisfaction again.
Disgusted, Guilliman drove his sword through the amulet and into the hideous creature that bore it, silencing the voice of the damned brother who had laid him low millennia past. Yet as the triumph rumbled on, Fulgrim's words continued to echo in Guilliman's mind. They would do so for many solar days to come.
War Zone Ultramar
As the armies of reconquest gathered upon Macragge, so ever more Imperial forces came seeking the Primarch. Some, like the Dark Angels and the Raven Guard, sent small delegations to determine the veracity of this miracle. Others came in hope and celebration, bands of Space Wolves, White Scars, Black Templars and others hastening to the Primarch's side. A glorious moment came to pass when the Black Templars made planetfall, for they were reunited with Marshal Marius Amalrich, who alone of his brotherhood had survived the battle in Guilliman's shrine. Taking one look at the zealous light in Amalrich's eyes, the Black Templars Chaplains declared him touched by the hand of the Emperor. The Marshal was brought aboard the Strike Cruiser Scourge of Heretics, and girded with the armour and the Black Sword of the Emperor's Champion.
Others, too, came to Ultramar upon the insistence of their seers, Astropaths, soothsayers and lords. Battleships of the Imperial Navy, regal Barons of Imperial-aligned Knight Worlds, fleets of warships from the Adeptus Mechanicus and their Titan Legions, processions from the Adeptus Administratum; all came to offer fealty to the Primarch.
A grotesque cyber-synod of the Adeptus Ministorum descended upon the Fortress of Hera and insisted upon first confirming, and then proclaiming, Guilliman's alleged divinity. The horrified Primarch agreed to such beatification only after Celestine and Greyfax impressed upon him just how powerful the Ecclesiarchy was in the Imperium of the 41st Millennium. Better to have them as a firebrand ally than an obstreperous foe.
Before his departure from the fortress, Guilliman had one more order of business. He decreed that now was an age of wrath and war, in which learning and lore must be set aside. The Primarch shocked his Chapter by ordering the great Library of Ptolemy barred to all comers on pain of death. Every last tome, every lingering, dangerous secret contained within that ancient repository was locked behind adamantium bulkheads and Servitor guns. At the same time a new war room was built. This was the Strategium Ultra, from where Guilliman's reconquest could be plotted, tracked and coordinated.
When finally the armies of reconquest were ready to set out, Roboute Guilliman led them into battle with something akin to relief. After the endless political infighting and bureaucracy of this turgid new Imperium, the thought of a battlefield seemed almost welcoming.
Guilliman began with the Macragge System itself, several of whose worlds were beset by the Forces of Chaos. A warband of Iron Warriors known as the Bitter Sons had invaded the Hive World of Ardium, conquering one of the planet's three subterranean hive cities and fortifying its winding tunnel networks. Linking up with the surviving Auxilia garrisons of Hives Geodrane and Tarnis, Guilliman led elements of the Ultramarines 4th and 6th Companies through a subterranean hellscape to assault Hive Magmaria. The fighting was savage in the extreme, the outnumbered Iron Warriors clinging tenaciously to their defences until the last man. Corpses choked entire magtunnels, and blood filled the undersump until it overflowed through the hive's drainage grilles. In the end, Guilliman and his gore-drenched followers emerged victorious.
The Shrine World of Laphis became the site of the liberation's greatest naval engagement when the Ultramar Defence Fleet engaged the ships of the Alpha Legion blockading the planet. Marneus Calgar commanded the offensive, seated in the captain's throne aboard the ancient flagship Macragge's Honour. The Ultramarines vessels swept in through the void with their guns thundering, successfully driving back those Alpha Legion voidcraft engaged in surface bombardment. Triumph turned to horror when a flotilla of fleeing Imperial bulk carriers were revealed to be crewed by Alpha Legion Chaos Cultists. Packed with explosives, the lumbering haulers ploughed into the Ultramarines starships and crippled several. Calgar had expected treachery from his foes, however, and now revealed his own masterstroke as a second, reserve fleet of swift Strike Cruisers and frigates swept in from behind Laphis' third moon, Aurora. At the same time, elite strike units containing Ultramarines Techmarines dropped onto Laphis' surface and succeeded in awakening the world's battered orbital defence grid. Caught from three sides, the Alpha Legion warships were torn apart, left as a belt of drifting wreckage above the Shrine World.
Through such heroic actions was the Macragge System made secure, allowing the armies of Imperial reconquest to sweep on towards the neighbouring star systems that made up the Realm of Ultramar. That stellar domain had once comprised five hundred human-settled worlds, before Lord Guilliman had granted many their own sovereignty after the Horus Heresy. All such treatises the Primarch now declared null and void, the Five Hundred Worlds of Ultramar reborn like their ruler. In such grim and desperate times, he would see his personal empire forged anew, for in this, as in all things, Guilliman desired strength through unity.
Onward through shuddering Warp Storms and Traitor hosts swept the armies of Ultramar. Not once did they falter. Iron Hands fought alongside Praetors of Orpheus on Talasa Secundus. Dark Angels went to war beside Titans of the Legio Fulminari to liberate Ischara. The chanting processions of the Cult Mechanicus fought shoulder to shoulder with Novamarines and Battle-Sisters of the Order of the Ebon Chalice against mutant hordes on the killing fields of Konor Prime. Unified and elevated by the leadership of Roboute Guilliman, their war efforts coordinated with clockwork precision from the Strategium Ultra on Macragge, the armies of reconquest overcame Warp Storms, Traitor armies, and even daemonic incursions in their battle to drive the ravagers of Chaos from ever more worlds. Yet still the fight ground on, solar weeks becoming solar months, for Ultramar is a vast stellar realm and its numerous invaders, the fires of their old hatred stoked, were obstinate. The Long War raged, worlds burned, and blood stained the stars.
It was during the seventh solar month of the campaign to reconquer Ultramar that the first cases of a mysterious new sickness were reported. Throughout the Drohl, Talassar and Parmenio Systems, Ultramar Defence Auxilia found themselves weeping uncontrollably. In the midst of battle, warriors were blinded by endless streams of viscous, stinking tears that gummed their eyes open and soon turned them red raw. Overcome by sorrow, sufferers wailed and wept for solar days on end. In the worst cases, the so called "Weepers" were permanently blinded as their infected eyeballs festered and rotted from their skulls.
The disease, soon named the Sorrow, or the Weeping Plague, spread with alarming rapidity. Its vector was believed to be an infestation of tiny, biting mites that were found amidst rations, squirming inside uniforms and ammunition packs, and even spilled from the pages of opened Imperial Primers. Nothing stopped the mites from multiplying, and no sanitary measure could long keep them out. The siege of Leotold's Keep collapsed thanks to the pernicious influence of the Sorrow, while the previously devastating Ravishol offensive ground to a halt as its human soldiery were reduced to blinded, wailing revenants.
Roboute Guilliman hastened to Talassar, leaving the war in the Prandium System to the command of Chief Librarian Tigurius and Inquisitor Greyfax. Guilliman knew that only mortal soldiery had been afflicted with the Weeping -- no warrior of the Adeptus Astartes or tech-thrall of the Mechanicus had fallen prey to the sickness as yet. Furthermore, though they were not absolutely immune, only a very few cases had been reported amongst the ranks of the Adepta Sororitas. Some ascribed this to the presence of the Living Saint amongst the reconquest forces, but more believed that it was the enduring faith of the Battle-Sisters that protected them from sickness.
Whatever the truth, Guilliman did not fear the terrible disease, but was instead far more concerned for the fate of his mortal soldiery. The Primarch arrived upon the world of Ravishol expecting nothing but sadness and horror. Guilliman's shock, therefore, was as great as anyone's when instead he brought a miracle.
Braving the hammering flak screens of the Iron Warriors encampments on the circuit-plains, Guilliman had his Thunderhawk deliver him to the fortified Imperial encampment in the Soldermask Valley. Over the thunder of the encampment's Servitor guns -- busy keeping the enemy Daemon Engines at bay -- Guilliman ordered the camp's Ultramarine commander to lead him to the sick. There were several thousand of them in this encampment alone, tank crews, artillerymen and infantry soldiers trammelled for their own protection within huge prefabricated sheds. From outside, the muffled cacophony of the Weepers' lamentation was unsettling even for Roboute Guilliman, yet as the shed's armoured doors swung open, the sobbing slowly died away. One by one, the stricken Auxilia rose from their sick beds, blinking in amazement with eyes that could see once more. Even those who had lost their sight altogether subsided with sighs of relief, knowing their first true sleep in weeks. None could explain how, but Guilliman's presence had healed the Weepers.
The same thing occurred in three more encampments along the offensive's stalled front. Wherever Roboute Guilliman walked, the Sorrow was driven out and the mites that spread it died until they piled up in black drifts. The medicae and Apothecaries were at a loss, but the Ecclesiarchy were quick to declare the phenomenon miraculous. It was the Emperor's mercy, they bellowed, brandishing their Aquilas, and it shone from His son as healing light.
So began long solar weeks of relentless pilgrimage for Guilliman, as he rushed from one site of sickness to another. The Primarch knew that while he was engaged in healing his followers, his attentions were drawn away from the wider war. Yet of all the Emperor's sons, Guilliman was perhaps the most human, and his compassion would not allow him to ignore his followers' plight if he could heal them.
Solar days became weeks, during which the Weeping continued to spread and -- worse still -- recur at sites that the Primarch had already cleared. Without Guilliman's peerless genius the reconquest began to suffer, the Chaos forces overturning Imperial victories in the Veridian and Tarvan Systems. All the while, the dreadful Warp Storms that had riven Ultramar and its surroundings worsened further. Soon, whispered the Navigators, the empire of the Ultramarines might be cut off from the wider galaxy altogether, just as it once had ten thousand Terran years before during the time of the Ruinstorm.
It was Grand Master Aldrik Voldus who finally confronted Guilliman. In a heated argument, during which the Grand Master dared the Primarch's wrath, he forced Guilliman to acknowledge that which he already knew. Weeks of labour had been for nought. Guilliman was not healing his subjects, for such was not his gift. In the Weeping Plague, Voldus recognised all the hallmarks of Nurgle. Most likely, the Plague God was simply withdrawing his dubious blessings from his victims upon Guilliman's arrival, then gleefully restoring them once the Primarch had moved on. The Lord of Ultramar was playing into the Plague God's hands, his desire to save his people perverted into a never-ending trap of entropy and despair.
Though furious, Guilliman accepted Voldus' wisdom. Further, he saw that Nurgle's desire had been to trap him within his own realm, and to keep him from the wider galactic stage. The Primarch realised then that his desire for completeness, for a neat solution and an unsullied Ultramar was, in itself, an echo of mistakes he had made long ago. Nurgle did not wish Guilliman to leave Ultramar because there, the Primarch could be contained like a wasp in a bottle. But this war did not belong to Ultramar alone -- it was a war for the entire Imperium. Guilliman saw that he could waste no more time focussing solely upon his own stellar empire. He must tend, instead, to his father's.
With a heavy heart, Roboute Guilliman stopped his efforts to end the Weeping Plague, instead charging his Apothecaries and Chaplains with finding a spiritual cure for what was clearly a spiritual affliction.
The Primarch announced his intention to set out upon a great journey. Once before, when the Dark Gods had threatened the Imperium of Mankind, the Primarch of the Ultramarines had reached Terra too late to do his duty. He would not make that mistake again. Guilliman intended to journey to Terra, to kneel at the foot of the Golden Throne and ask his father for guidance.
Conscious of the worsening Warp Storms lashing the space lanes of Ultramar, Guilliman announced his intention to make for Terra as soon as a suitable force could be assembled. The Primarch would not travel alone; the galaxy had become a dark and dangerous place, while the attempts by Slaanesh and Nurgle to tempt and trick him had shown Guilliman that his resurrection had drawn the eyes of the Ruinous Powers.
The war across Ultramar was still ongoing, however, and with Guilliman leaving, it would require strategically gifted warriors to keep pushing the Forces of Chaos back. As such, Guilliman gathered a select force of Battle-Brothers from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies of the Ultramarines to accompany him to Terra, and gave the honour of their command to Captain Cato Sicarius. He further requested that Grand Master Aldrik Voldus and the Grey Knights of the 3rd Brotherhood join their Crusade. Others pledged their aid to the Primarch's cause, including the assembled strength of the Primogenitor Chapters, and Emperor's Champion Amalrich and his Black Templars brethren. The Living Saint, the Inquisitor and Archmagos Dominus Cawl accompanied the Primarch also -- whatever aid they or the military forces under their command could provide the Primarch would be gladly given. Guilliman gratefully accepted all offers of aid before commanding Marneus Calgar, Chief Librarian Tigurius and Captain Agemman to remain and lead the reconquest of Ultramar.
The Ynnari, meanwhile, chose this moment to depart. The Eldar had their own wars to fight, and had already lingered overlong amidst human affairs. Though Cadia had fallen, worlds still remained upon which the Necron-built black pylons stood strong. It was to these that the Ynnari would now attend, directing those of their race who would listen to defend them and thus hold back the expanding power of the Warp.
The Celestinian Crusade had come to its end with its objective met beyond its heroes' wildest expectations. In its place, the Terran Crusade would begin. Mere solar days after Guilliman made known his intentions, the Imperial fleet set out, engines burning hot as they began the long journey to the cradle of Mankind.
The audience chamber in the Fortress of Hera was empty but for Yvraine, the Visarch, and Guilliman. In a matter of solar hours, the Terran Crusade would depart Macragge, yet the Primarch had found a few moments to speak to the Ynnari leaders alone. Even after solar weeks of mutually fruitful alliance, most warriors would have been cautious of standing alone in the presence of two such sinister and powerful xenos. Guilliman was not most warriors.
"It will be a long and dangerous journey", said Yvraine. "The galaxy grows darker by the day. Have a care, Primarch. You may have cheated death once, but you are not invincible."
Guilliman nodded solemnly. "Can I say nothing that will convince you to join us on our road? I have come to value the strength of you and your warriors greatly these past weeks."
"You cannot", Yvraine replied. "Already we have given you the gift of rebirth, not to mention a number of our peoples' lives. Is that not enough?"
"It is a debt I'm sure won't be forgotten", said the Primarch. "Before you depart, tell me this. Cawl may have fashioned the armour that I wear, but it was not he alone who ensured my resurrection, was it?"
Yvraine smiled demurely. "His technology would have healed your physical wounds, Roboute, but you and I know that the worst damage had been done to your soul. So no, Primarch; it is by the grace of Ynnead that you stand once more amongst the living. If you wish to remain, however, I would caution you against removing your war-plate. Not that you could easily do so."
A flicker passed across Guilliman's features at this, a faint ghost of pain well-hidden, swiftly replaced by a stony mask of duty.
"I could press you for greater insights into the powers that brought me back, and assurances against any taint in their nature", said Guilliman, noting how the Ynnari stiffened their postures at this. "But I suspect that our newfound understanding is of more value to my father's realm than my own satisfaction. And that those answers would not come easily."
Yvraine inclined her head, while the Visarch silently eased his hand away from the hilt of his blade.
"Thus, instead, I shall simply wish you victory in your ongoing battles against our mutual foes."
"May you walk with fortune, Roboute Guilliman", said Yvraine. "And know that we shall stand together in battle again, before whatever end befalls us."
The Visarch offered an elaborate warrior's salute to Guilliman, who nodded curtly in return before the Eldar turned and swept gracefully from the chamber.
"No doubt we will", murmured the Primarch thoughtfully, watching the enigmatic xenos withdraw. "As long as it serves your needs..."
And with that, the Primarch turned his attention to the crusade to come. A long voyage to Terra through the perils of Empyrean, and the audience with his father the Emperor, ten thousand standard years overdue.
The Terran Crusade was about to begin...
- Gathering Storm - Part Three - Rise of the Primarch (7th Edition), pp. 4-47