"Beware, for the Antipath doth engender the workings of the idle and the isolated to corruption and falsity; as the prey-beast that becomes separated from the herd becomes meat for the predators, so does the wayward artificer become the vessel of hereteknica."
- — Stanza 7433-XV of the Castigations of the Logistica Corpus
Zhao-Arkhad, also spelled Zhao-Arkkad, is a major Forge World of the Adeptus Mechanicus as well as a Death World that sits at the heart of its own small stellar empire. The Sovereign Omnissian Domain of Zhao-Arkhad lies on the borders of the Segmentum Tempestus and the Segmentum Obscurus. Remote and isolated for much of its troubled history, the planet is perhaps best known for being the home of the Titan Legion known as the Legio Xestobiax ("Iron Vigil") which gained a dubious reputation during the Burning of Prospero.
Long-suspected to delve into forbidden technologies and considered suspect for their close ties with one of the most notable Traitor Legions of the Legiones Astartes, the Arkhadian forge-fanes were excommunicated by Fabricator-General Zagreus Kane during the dark years of the Horus Heresy.
Brought back into the light of the Imperium of Mankind during the Great Scouring, both Zhao-Arkhad and the Legio Xestobiax have since been declared only guilty by association and purged of the Heretek practices they used in the past. It was during this reconsecration that Mechanicum Assay Teams from the great Forge World of Metalica would rediscover the Standard Template Construct database for the Crassus Armoured Assault Transport, the Praetor Armoured Assault Launcher and the Dominus Heavy Siege Bombard which are now manufactured on many Imperial Forge Worlds.
Much of the knowledge of Zhao-Arkhad is based on the data recovered by the Metalican Mechanicum during the Great Scouring and even these records are cursory and fragmentary at best. Hence, the specifics of the Forge World's curious history, especially its beginnings, remain unknown. What is certain is that Zhao-Arkhad was initially founded by a Mechanicum Ark expedition heralding from sacred Mars itself. The timeframe of its inception is still debated amongst scholars but is generally agreed upon as falling in the latter years of the Dark Age of Technology.
To reach their final destination, the Mechanicum Ark must have been flung widely off course from their intended target. What lore remains indicates that powerful Warp Storms were responsible for wrecking the Ark's Warp-Drives as well as damaging its more conventional engines, thus prompting an emergency translation back into realspace. When the Mechanicum Ark reentered reality, be it by the hand of fate or blind luck, it was amid the uncharted and unknown stars of the deep galactic south.
Orbiting a white star, the system they had emerged in counted numerous minor volcanically-active planets, gas giants and thick webs of asteroid belts, but only one verdant green world capable of harbouring life. That any world within range of the stricken Ark was serviceable was viewed as a miracle by many colonists. Calculating that this world offered their only chance at survival, the Mechanicum Ark limped towards its destination, gathering more information as it closed with the planet: its atmosphere harboured oxygen and the three moons orbiting it were determined to possess heavy mineral concentrations, making it suitable for settlement and offering the opportunity for potential expansion. Full of confidence, the colonists named this new system Zhao and landed their craft on the new world.
It was only after the landing that the colonists realised that their new haven was a blighted one. Fate had delivered them onto a Death World. The tropical world boasted an atmospheric oxygen level far above the Terran norm, while local flora quickly proved highly toxic for any unaugmented human. The prevailing climate was that of a tropical rainforest with wildly fluctuating temperatures and ceaseless rainfall which brought humidity to severe levels.
These harsh atmospheric conditions left the colonists with little choice but to remain in those sections of their force-landed ark and its cargo-holds that could be fully air-locked and were able to shield them from Zhao-Arkhad's weather. The first parties to venture outside the downed vessel soon testified to their new homeworld's ability to sustain life: grossly enlarged fauna that grew at a speed seldom seen and an extensive population of monstrously large arthropods and ophidian beasts provided a snapshot of the planet's hostile ecosystem.
From the outset, the aggression level of these beasts threatened the very existence of the colony and if it had not been for the handful of Titans that had survived in the Ark's holds, the colonists' survival would not have been possible. Thus began the Titans' unceasing "iron vigil" which would later become the cognomen of the Legio Xestobiax, the Forge World's most powerful protectors.
To the colonists of Zhao-Arkhad, it must have seemed as if the fertile world consciously resisted every attempt at colonisation. The myriad different species of trees formed a dense canopy that let through little sunlight, but at the same time these trees were so tall that they reached above the cloud level, which meant that the storms and monsoon rains formed directly over the colonists' heads, the foliage of the canopy further trapping the humidity below, causing intense corrosion that reached previously unseen levels.
Even when the colonists tried to cut these trees down, the oxygen-rich atmosphere and the increased sunlight let the ground erupt with new saplings, the forest growing even thicker in the short-lived clearings made by the colonists. Where the canopy grew so thick as to entirely block the rays of Zhao's star, great macro-predators made their lairs, and the ferocity of these beasts ensured that the colonists' Titans never ran out of targets.
The only human-edible produce of Zhao-Arkhad proved to be a tuber, and even this had to be boiled and filtered repeatedly for many solar hours before it could be consumed with no or few ill-effects. But even with Zhao-Arkhad trying to kill them, the human colonists held on. As Mankind has always done and will continue to do, the colonists of Zhao-Arkhad forged their home through adversity, driven by their iron faith in the Omnissiah and the Martian doctrine of unceasing labour.
Quickly realising that expansion across Zhao-Arkhad's surface would be futile, the colonists decided to live beneath the ground, where the atmosphere could be more easily regulated and they would be safe from the predations of Zhao-Arkhad's macro-fauna. Using the deteriorating shell of their colony ark as cover, deep access shafts were cut into the subsurface, allowing the colonists to abandon the cannibalised wreckage of their starship and start a new existence deep below the surface.
This venture marked the foundation of the world's first forge-fane. Others would eventually follow, as painstaking expeditions were sent out into the wild, braving the dangers of the rain forests, exploring new regions and sinking new biomes and forge-fanes into the ground. As the first forge-fanes slowly became functional, the worker caste was granted new technologies that allowed them to complete their work with greater speed and efficiency.
Each Terran year, more forge-fanes were founded and within the space of one Terran century, Zhao-Arkhad reached the rank of a fully self-sustaining Forge World. To mark this occasion, the world's Planetary Governor, now bearing the newly-created title of Supreme Domini of Zhao-Arkhad, announced the start of the First Conjunction, a period of time during which the Forge World would aim towards becoming fully equipped and functional, a golden age of economic expansion that would allow Zhao-Arkhad to grow strong.
As part of the First Conjunction, the settlers of Zhao-Arkhad not only limited their ambitions to just the development of their world, but also turned their gaze skywards. The three moons orbiting Zhao-Arkhad -- which were designated Arkhad I, II and III -- harboured welcome mineral resources the Forge World needed desperately to grow and evolve. With this goal in mind, permanent mining bases were established on each moon. To reach them, the first transorbital spacecraft were manufactured from repurposed materials drawn from the remains of the Mechanicum Ark and powered using simple hydrogen torch engines.
As exploitation began on Zhao-Arkhad's moons, it was quickly deemed more efficient to harbour much of the labour force on lunar colonies rather than on Zhao-Arkhad itself. The First Conjunction would last for an entire Terran millennium before it was declared complete by the office of the Supreme Domini. By its own accord, each forge-fane was now considered fully operational while the population of the servile workers in their lunar bases had risen into the hundreds of thousands, each generation of workers totally devoted to generating resources for their masters' use below. The Supreme Domini and the governing Magister Locum of every forge-fane had long awaited the announcement of the First Conjunction's completion and had already laid out the objectives for their second phase of expansion, the Second Conjunction. Unknowingly, Zhao-Arkhad had entered its last years of prosperity.
With the lunar transportation fleet now numbering dozens of transportation barques and shuttles, the influx of raw materials extracted from the lunar colonies permitted the forge-fanes to expand and research new and more efficient technologies. Yet, this was still not enough for the Tech-adepts to achieve their desired ends. While useful, the materials extracted from the lunar colonies lacked the essential properties needed to develop the more advanced technologies each forge-fane secretly or openly coveted. In particular, the moons lacked void-worthy materials that would allow the domains of Zhao-Arkhad to grow beyond their own orbit and let them claim the entire Zhao System and its untapped resources.
A first step to achieving this goal was to settle and claim the neighbouring volcanic world of Nytos. To ensure that the effort expended on this venture would not be in vain, the Magi of Zhao-Arkhad launched a new space program to send unmanned survey probes to Nytos. What these probes found confirmed the Magi's supposition: Nytos did harbour the rare elements desired by the forge-fanes. With the lunar colonies rapidly reaching the limits of their production, the necessary surplus population for a grand settlement expedition existed, and so the colonisation of Nytos was fixed as the first great target of Zhao-Arkhad's Second Conjunction.
The Nytos Disaster
Reaching the goals of the Second Conjunction was no easy task. While the lunar colonies had yielded welcome mineral wealth, none of the moons harboured any of the specialist materials necessary to build additional long-range spacecraft. As Zhao-Arkhad had already consumed all void-worthy materials from their original Mechanicum Ark for the construction of their lunar transport fleet and a small conveyor fleet in use by the Legio Xestobiax, the Magi were faced with a difficult decision.
In the end, military considerations tipped the balance and it was decided that several transport barges would be wrecked and their materials used for the creation of a single explorer vessel which would transport up to 20,000 colonists to their new home. For this purpose, the hydro-torch engines of the lunar barges would be linked into great reactor blocks to allow the vessel to break free of the grip of Zhao-Arkhad's gravity.
The explorer's atmospheric pressure systems and life support were equally boosted to allow the ship and its crew to survive the estimated six solar months of travel unscathed. Most of the ship was crafted from salvaged material, all of which had suffered from some level of corrosion due to the oxygen and humidity-rich surface on which the Ark had landed, or had been freshly forged from far more common ores with lesser strength. The Nytos expedition was led by the Forge-Domini of Zhao-Arkhad's prime forge-fane, who would personally command and maintain the ship while en route to Nytos.
The launch of the Nytos explorer-vessel -- whose name went unrecorded or was perhaps purged from official records -- was declared a major success. Across the Zhao-Arkhad lunar colonies, those servile workers chosen to be part of the expedition were celebrated as "blessed in the sight of the Machine God." Many festivities were organised as the vessel departed on its voyage. For the first three solar months of its trip, everything went according to plan. But about half-way to their intended goal, the rear of the vessel was struck by a meteorite no more than two centimetres in diameter.
Weakened by the corrosive effects of Zhao-Arkhad's atmosphere, the hull proved incapable of withstanding such a minor strike, and the impact initiated a chain-reaction of ruptures that led to an explosive decompression of the vessel's interior, exposing the colonists to the fatal vacuum of the void. In a matter of a few solar minutes, Zhao-Arkhad's great venture had turned to disaster. The loss of the Nytos explorer-vessel was the first great crisis encountered by the forge-fanes of Zhao-Arkhad, and many were those who secretly blamed the Supreme-Domini for it.
Fearing the adverse effect the news of this tragic accident might have on the servile worker caste, which severely outnumbered the Magi, the loss of the expeditionary vessel was deliberately kept secret for fear the heavily indoctrinated and religious workers might see the vessel's loss as an ill-omen, or even worse, the judgement of the Machine God upon their masters. Still in need of new resources for its planned expansion, Zhao-Arkhad turned its attention to mining the Ilotar asteroid field, far less rich than Nytos had been, but closer and more readily accessible.
However, the cruel hand of fate was not quite done with Zhao-Arkhad, or as the ancient Terran proverb says, "disasters never come alone." Shortly after the Nytos Disaster, the Zhao System was increasingly plagued by Empyreal turbulences and Warp Storms the like of which had stranded the Mechanicum Ark on Zhao-Arkhad in the first place. Strange events grew widespread among the lunar colonies; from otherwise harmless strange glowing lights or auras that haunted the tunnels and caverns of the deep forge-fanes and the lunar mines, to infrequent occurrences of Warp entity possession or sudden insanity. Most affected were those of the worker caste who unknowingly manifested the psyker-gift. Becoming suddenly aware of the emergence of psykers in their midst, the Magi of Zhao-Arkhad, and especially those of the Eminarii forge-fane began to see them as an interesting new research-subjects, but would not yet act upon it.
This would soon change, for with the Warp Storms came the first predation of xenos corsairs, believed to belong to the Aeldari race. The corsairs' attention was drawn to the lunar colonies and the void stations established in the asteroid belt but curiously never touched Zhao-Arkhad itself. However, the Magi knew that they could not survive without their workers and the resources they generated and fiercely sought to protect these from the corsairs' baleful attention.
The Supreme-Domini declared that all efforts should now be concentrated on the defence of the servile colonies and off-world outposts. This edict is known to have bred particular discontent amongst the forge-fanes as the central authority of the Supreme-Domini began to assert itself and require ever greater portions of the forge-fane's wealth and resources to be directed to military needs. Soon, discontented voices began to murmur that the xenos' depredations were a visible sign that the Omnissiah had turned His gaze from the Supreme-Domini for his failures.
It was during these years of continued militarisation of the Forge World's production that the Eminarii forge-fane grew to prominence. All over Zhao-Arkhad, some few forge-fanes had begun to apply reclamation protocols to the gear and bodies of their enemies, all with the tacit approval of the Supreme-Domini who believed that the end -- the survival of the Forge World -- would justify the means.
As such, xenos weaponry and materials were soon given new purpose by strengthening Zhao-Arkhad's ever-growing arsenal, a practice that would justly be considered as a perversion of the sacred designs of the Omnissiah on every other Mechanicum Forge World. This was, however, not enough for the Eminarii, who chose to tread down an even darker path. Petitioned by Magos Tacitus Proctor of the Eminarii forge-fane, the Supreme-Domini allowed the forge-fane to requisition and experiment on the emergent psyker population of the lunar colonies. Magos Proctor's goal was to replicate the precognitive skills some of the psykers had manifested, thus greatly increasing the potency of Zhao-Arkhad's defences.
Whilst replication naturally proved difficult to achieve, some measure of success was met by augmenting the cerebral cortexes of Battle-Automata with "synthetic" mapped neural networks and harvested cortical material which increased the automatas' responsiveness and seemed to grant near-precognitive levels of response time to threat stimuli. The fact that such techno-arcana had long been proscribed by the Mechanicum since the fall of Old Night seemed not to have hindered the Eminarii forge in pursuing its researches and stands as testimony to the extreme deviation in doctrine that had occurred on the isolated Forge World.
Properly impressed with the abilities of these new cybernetica cortexes, the Supreme Domini declared that each colony would be provided with these "Eminarii" hybrid Battle-Automata as well as the base combat models assembled in the Kiarii forge-fane, while other forge-fanes contributed in other ways to the defences of Arkhad I, II and III, be it through the production of static gun emplacements, fortifications or simple ammunition.
An immediate decrease in damage inflicted and servile casualties caused was recorded in the raids of the xenos corsairs, marking the Zhao-Arkhad defensive project as a great success for all of the forge-fanes involved. Yet the other forge-fanes found that disproportionate attention was laid on the efforts of the Kiarii and Eminarii forges, with some even openly talking of favouritism for them from the Supreme Domini.
This talk only masked the growing tensions between these favoured forge-fanes and the other forges of Zhao-Arkhad. Even as Zhao-Arkhad was forced to constantly face xenos raids and other harrowing, otherworldly incursions, the Forge World began to tear itself apart in the internecine conflict that was later known as the Kiarii Wars.
The Kiarii Wars
The Kiarii Wars that erupted in 827.M27 and which would last for more than three solar decades marked the end of Zhao-Arkhad's prosperity and unity of purpose. In the wake of the successful defence of the lunar colonies and the contribution of the hybrid Battle-Automata clades to this venture, the Kiarii and Eminarii forge-fanes began to work closely together, first at the injunction of the Supreme Domini, who pushed for a mass-production of the Eminarii hybrid Battle-Automata and later of their own free will, since the success of these hybrids had elevated them in the Supreme Domini's esteem.
The union between the Kiarii and Eminarii forge-fanes was further solidified by the development of the first exemplars of the Black Iron Cores which began testing amongst the Legio Xestobiax, earning them even more attention and gratitude from the office of the Supreme-Domini. While some forge-fanes had been called upon to work with the Kiarii and Eminarii, most forge-fanes viewed the Eminarii's rise in influence with barely hidden contempt. Not all of the forge-fanes had fully embraced the Zhao-Arkhad mentality that the end would justify the means and had purposefully refused to pursue Heretek practices like the Eminarii.
In fact, many of the smaller fanes were openly shocked at the blatant disregard the Eminarii and Kiarii forge-fanes and even the Supreme-Domini showed for the Forge World's doctrinal purity. With the rise of the Eminarii and Kiarii, those forge-fanes that would form the so-called "Purist" faction grew anxious over the growing power of the Eminarii and their allies. As fewer and fewer forge-fanes subscribed to the ideology that using the enemy's technology against them or studying forbidden technologies would result in survival, the battle-lines were drawn.
The Kiarii Wars began in 827.M27 with the assassination of the Forge-Domini of the Kiarii forge-fane, then the largest military-specialist forge-fane as its task was the production of divers classes of Battle-Automata-chassis and their weapons. The Forge-Domini suffered severe rad poisoning from a contaminated nutrient shot, a nutrient shot that could be traced back to the Niare nutri-fane, a fane notoriously aligned with the "Purist" faction. Paranoia soon flared into open conflict, as first the Kiarii and Eminarii and later their supporters took up arms against the Purists, seeking retribution for the assassination of the Kiarii Forge-Domini. By the time the Forge-Domini succumbed to the poison six solar hours later, the first shot of the Kiarii Wars had already been fired.
Yet, their was no sudden explosion of violence, for the civil war was more a sporadic, slow-burning conflagration that was marked more by border clashes, sabotage or individual assassination attempts than two Taghmata forces openly facing off on the battlefield. The fighting was mostly contained to the Eminarii and Kiarii forge-fanes, the latter of which suffered considerable damage due to its lack of effective leadership. Many of the smaller, more specialised forge-, nutri- or hydro-fanes were attacked by larger fanes against which they stood little to no chance. The Supreme-Domini retreated to an orbital fortress and did not participate physically in the ensuing carnage. She barred the Legio Xestobiax from intervening but ordered her own forces to occupy vital planetary infrastructures and defend them from any aggression.
While she openly condemned the violence and repeatedly called for a ceasefire, her calls, communications and envoys were largely ignored. Eventually, pressure from external xenos attacks, several workers' strikes and revolts and general depredation caused the civil war to wane. In almost three solar decades of fighting, approximately 80% of Zhao-Arkhad's forge-fanes had sustained damage, with fully half of them running at minimal capacities and a further 20% either rendered non-functional or destroyed outright. The results of the Kiarii Wars were inconclusive, for while the Kiarii forge-fane was almost destroyed by its opponents and the Eminarii forge-fane had been severely damaged, the might of their hybrid Battle-Automata had inflicted considerable more damage on their opponents' armies.
With the "Purist" faction claiming victory in all but name, the Supreme-Domini was finally able to convene every Forge-Domini at a council called in order to broker a peace, but when the negotiations began, it quickly became obvious that both parties had quite different views on how to proceed. The Purists naturally advocated for the dissident forges of the Eminarii and the late Kiarii to be punished for the sins their researches had committed against the Machine God, portraying their creations as dangerous Malefica which needed to be terminated.
For her own reasons, the Supreme-Domini was loathe to accept this proposition as the security of all Zhao-Arkhad's domains now heavily rested on those hybrid automata the Purists wanted destroyed. On the other side, the Eminarii, now clearly the leader of their faction, merely called for an armistice. While more to the liking of the Supreme-Domini, this proposition was equally problematic since it would not prevent the Purists from attacking again.
From the Supreme-Domini's prespective, the wars had started only because the Purists did not share the beliefs of the Eminarii faction. In the end, she chose a quite different path to resolve the conflict: isolation. Since neither of the two factions were ready to recant their beliefs and cohabitation between the two doctrines only lead to strife, each and every forge-fane was forbidden from maintaining contact with its neighbours, allowing each forge-fane's research to become their sole property.
Cooperation like the joint-venture between the Eminarii and Kiarii forge-fanes was no longer allowed as every forge-fane would treat directly with the Office of the Supreme-Domini which would now oversee the global efforts of Zhao-Arkhad, becoming the central authority all others would rely upon to acquire the resources they needed to further their research.
To prevent physical contact, many tunnels that had previously allowed for movement between forges were collapsed or filled, the rest passing under the authority of the Supreme-Domini whose forces would patrol them exclusively. In addition, each forge-fane was permitted only defensive clade emplacements amongst the lunar colonies and those were forfeit to the control of the Supreme-Domini.
Thus did Zhao-Arkhad return to peace. For the next several Terran years, the forge-fanes worked on isolating themselves from their neighbours and the Forge-World sunk into a strange, guarded, knife-edge stability that doubtlessly arrested Zhao-Arkhad's further development, but offered its people a stability which would last until the world's discovery by the roaming fleets of the Imperium of Man. If the Kriarii Wars had had one true victor, it was the Office of the Supreme-Domini, for it now held complete control over the Taghmata Zhao-Arkhad, the industrial output of the lunar colonies and the newly-established mining colony on Nytos which had been founded by refugees trying to escape the violence unleashed by the Kiarii Wars.
While the threat of xenos raids could never be truly eradicated and the threat considerably limited the development of the new colony, the might of Zhao-Arkhad's armies mostly held the worst depredations at bay. Under the Supreme-Domini's authority, each of the lunar colonies would form its own militia to man the ever-growing orbital defences being built, while the forge-fanes had to contribute a certain tithe in order to allow for reconstruction and continual improvement of the defences. In exchange for this tithe, each forge-fane and even the lunar colonies were trusted to mostly conduct their own affairs as they deemed fit.
The Coming of the Imperium
It was not until the latter half of the Great Crusade that the Imperium's Expeditionary Fleets ventured into the deep galactic south and thus discovered the existence of Zhao-Arkhad. First contact was made indirectly, when a small Arkhadian mining-fleet which was exploiting the mineral-rich asteroids of the Ilotar Asteroid Belt encountered a beacon which transmitted an unknown and unrecognised signal in an ancient Terran language. The message promised peace and broadcasted a series of ident codes that would correspond with the identity markers of arriving vessels. In addition, the broadcast requested permission to land on the system's primary world.
News of this discovery was quickly forwarded to the Supreme-Domini, who ordered the mining fleet to remain on station so it could Auspex-check that the ships that would come were indeed of human origin. Within solar hours, the first vessels of the announced fleet emerged from the Warp at the Zhao System's Mandeville Point. The miners were quickly able to confirm that the fleet was indeed human, its ships being brute slabs of armour and weaponry and not the sleek hunter-killers of the despised xenos. Through hololithic transmissions, the mining fleet and the human vessels exchanged some words of greetings, again confirming the humanity of the newcomers.
The vessels which entered the Zhao System belonged to an Expeditionary Fleet of the Thousand Sons Legion of the Legiones Astartes, this particular squadron being commanded by Captain Itzal Apophis of the Fifth Fellowship. Upon his arrival, he was greeted by the Supreme-Domini herself and at her side stood Magos Tacitus Proctor, now Forge-Domini of the Eminarii Forge. Officially Proctor's presence was justified for the great contributions he and his forge had made in Zhao-Arkhad's continued survival.
Imperial Compliance was reached bloodlessly, the masters of Zhao-Arkhad only too delighted to be brought into the Imperium of Man and restore communications, however distant, with Holy Mars. It was perhaps indeed better for Zhao-Arkhad to have been discovered by an Expeditionary Fleet of the XV Legion, for many more technically-versed Astartes Legions such as the Iron Hands might have preferred to destroy them utterly upon learning how far they had strayed from the precepts of the Cult Mechanicus.
Even the great distance between Mars and Zhao-Arkhad worked in their favour, as given the long journey Zhao-Arkhad's first visitors from Mars would be Mechanicum envoys tasked to assay Zhao-Arkhad's production capabilities rather than a fleet of Mechanicum War Arks. In this again, the isolation of the Arkhadian forge-fanes worked in their favour, the considerable deviations from Martian dogma being easily hidden amongst purer forge-fanes.
Now a far-flung outpost of the Imperium's ever-expanding borders, Zhao-Arkhad would greatly benefit from its attachment to the wider domain of the Emperor, as gradually great quantities of materials and new technologies were made available to them. The xenos that had preyed on the Zhao System for so long were annihilated by the armies of the Great Crusade and the vessels of the Armada Imperialis.
On Zhao-Arkhad, the manufactoria began to run day and night, producing the goods needed by the Imperium's armies and the neighbouring worlds. Upon its discovery, the Arkhadian Mechanicum had begun reconfiguring a part of its mining fleet into new colony vessels to settle the next world in the Zhao System, but had to halt any plans for expansion following its reunification with the Imperium.
In return for the new influx of technologies and resources, Zhao-Arkhad grudgingly gave up several Maniples of the Legio Xestobiax in service to the Great Crusade. The militia regiments of the lunar colonies were transferred to the Imperial Army and the former mining barques became their mass-conveyors. Additionally, perhaps hoping to gain profit from such a close relation to Imperial power, the Kiarii forge-fane produced its own independent Taghmata for service in the Great Crusade.
While the Thousand Sons had already discovered other minor Forge Worlds such as Shenzen and Boracora Lux, on Zhao-Arkhad, the sons of Magnus the Red lingered far longer than they should have and also took a keen interest in some of Zhao-Arkhad's research, especially those of the Eminarii forge-fane. The Thousand Sons seemed keenly interested in the Eminarii's psyker-imprint-based hybrid Battle-Automata and in hindsight the similarities between these hybrids and the Castellax-Achea-class Battle-Automata used by the Thousand Sons during the Fall of Prospero are many.
Here was a thing widely forbidden by the Mechanicum yet the Thousand Sons could easily get their hands on the design. To solidify this new relationship, the Thousand Sons advocated a formal alliance: the XV Legion would maintain a small garrison on Zhao-Arkhad, whilst the Forge World would open a sub-fane on the Thousand Sons' homeworld of Prospero, a sub-fane they argued should be run by Forge-Domini Proctor of Eminarii.
The Supreme-Domini quickly accepted, for such patronage could only favour Zhao-Arkhad, but even better, the Thousand Sons had offered the Supreme-Domini a means to placate the Purist faction by removing the leadership of the Eminarii forge-fane from the world, which would cement Zhao-Arkhad's fragile peace. The deal was struck and Zhao-Arkhad's later condemnation by association with the Thousand Sons after they were declared Traitors was sealed virtually at the very moment they were welcomed into the Imperium.
During what remained of the Great Crusade, Zhao-Arkhad knew a brief period of prosperity during which much of he Forge World's resources were spent in order to build and expand the Prosperine forge-fane, which like its Arkhadian counterparts was established under the burning sands of Prospero to ward it from Psychneuein-infestation. The sub-fane was so densely layered with Void Shields that it would survive the initial bombardment of the Imperial Censure Host later sent to punish Prospero virtually unscathed and offer fierce resistance to the invaders.
Most of the materials gifted to Zhao-Arkhad upon their Compliance were invested in the expansion of the Legio Xestobiax, which was granted a Prosperine Vigil to watch over Forge-Domini Proctor's new domain on Prospero. With the Kiarii taking up the call of the Great Crusade and focusing solely on manufacturing new, traditional patterns of Battle-Automata, the Purists were placated and peace reigned on Zhao-Arkhad until the fateful civil wars of the Horus Heresy broke out.
The Horus Heresy
Unlike other Forge Worlds that were officially approached by envoys of the Traitor Warmaster, Horus Lupercal, or of the Traitor Fabricator-General, Kelbor-Hal, Zhao-Arkhad's isolation seems to have prevented such diplomatic missions to bind it early on to the Traitor's cause. Indeed, the first to be involved in the fighting of the galactic civil war would be the Arkhadian forge-fane on Prospero when the Space Wolves of Leman Russ descended upon that world as part of the Imperial Censure Host despatched by the Emperor of Mankind to bring His wayward son, Magnus the Red, to account for breaking the Edict of Nikaea.
In what was later called the Burning of Prospero, the Arkhadian sub-fane resisted the initial bombardment virtually unscathed, having been protected by both its extensive network of Void Shield generators and the soil of Prospero itself. The forge-fane's small garrison of Legio Xestobiax Titans rose from their subterranean storage bunkers and defended their forge against a Maniple of the Legio Mortis.
That a minor Titan Legion from a backwater world like Zhao-Arkhad could match and even best the most powerful Titan Legion of the Great Crusade-era came as a shocking surprise to many tacticians. The Prosperine Taghmata also put up considerable and unexpected resistance but would prove nearly powerless against the mysterious Ordo Sinister which destroyed the forge-fane in the wake of the Legio Mortis ' failed assault.
Guilty by association for the actions of the Prosperine sub-fane, Zhao-Arkhad was condemned by the highest echelons of the Mechanicum and an inquisition and audit fleet was sent to punish the Forge World, even though the wars of the Heresy and the vagaries of the Warp saw to it that it never arrived. Located in a quadrant of the galaxy that saw none of the great fighting of the Horus Heresy, Zhao-Arkhad's fate was a peculiar one.
As they had done for millennia, the forge-fanes of Zhao-Arkhad remained isolated and never intervened as one of the major players in the Heresy. While the Supreme-Domini declared in favour of the Warmaster, the Purist faction quickly deposed her and condemned her to death, their task facilitated by the departure of the Thousand Sons garrison that had remained on Zhao-Arkhad as part of the treaty between the Forge World and the XV Legion.
What followed was a sort of anarchic stand-off, the remaining Forge-Domini unable to elect a new supreme representative. Individual forge-fanes declared themselves independent and took the initiative of seizing vessels and Navigators to depart Zhao-Arkhad, eager to secure new resources and thus secure their own supply lines. Many other forge-fanes chose to mirror their actions, vacating Zhao-Arkhad and acting like mercenaries in exchange for gifts of raw materials, resources or new technologies. Some of these warring Arkhadian forge-fanes would eventually ally themselves with the warbands of the Traitor Legions, especially those of the Death Guard Legion.
Other Arkhadian Magi chose to remain on their birthworld, either supporting the hope of restored order represented by the Imperium or simply wishing to be left alone. Meanwhile, the Taghmata Kriarii was fighting far in the galactic north alongside the Raven Guard at Priam and would not learn of their world's censure for two full standard years. On Zhao-Arkhad itself, paranoia became rampant, resulting in numerous internal purges of both the thrall and worker population. In the following years of bloodshed, Arkhadian forge-fanes would fight on both sides of the civil war, but would always remain a minor faction.
The Great Scouring
It was not before the Great Scouring that Zhao-Arkhad formally reentered the Imperium, subdued by a powerful warfleet despatched by the great Forge World of Metalica. Again information is scarce other than that Zhao-Arkhad was thoroughly purged of its Heretek beliefs and welcomed again into the fold of the Adeptus Mechanicus. It would be during this reclamation process that the Metalican envoys would discover an STC database containign the pattern of the powerful engines of war derived from the Crassus Armoured Assalt Transport. Between the damage of the war, the cull of its own population and the purges of the Metalican Mechanicum, the Zhao-Arkhad that was reunited with the Imperium was but a shadow of its former self and it would take many Terran centuries of reconstruction before the Forge World would eventually recover from the depredations of the Heresy.
The STC template for the Praetor Armoured Assault Launcher -- along with several others of note -- was thought lost until relatively recently when the Tech-priests of the re-consecrated Forge World of Zhao-Arkkad unearthed the data. With the dissemination of the powerful Crassus chassis, this has led to the introduction of a new mobile Praetor weapon platform by Zhao-Arkkad's manufactoria which has spread relatively swiftly through frontline regiments throughout the Segmentum Tempestus and beyond.
Zhao System Planets
- Zhao-Arkhad - Zhao-Arkhad, sometimes also spelled Zhao-Arkkad, is the central world of the Zhao System, a verdant green Death World whose rainforests hide macro-predators of a bygone age. Where the trees block out the sunlight, great serpents and armoured insects prey on the weaker lifeforms, including heavily armed humans. Zhao-Arkhad's atmosphere is toxic to unaugmented humans as it harbours too much oxygen for the human body to process, while the overbearing humidity renders breathing difficult. The high oxygen and humidity levels also make Zhao-Arkhad a bane to every manufactured good, especially of metallic composition, as it rusts far quicker and more severely than on any other known planet. Therefore, the forge-fanes of the Arkhadian Mechanicus are all subterranean. Most of the greater forge-fanes are devoted to the production of manufactured goods and only a small portion of their mass is dedicated to the production of food, energy or drinking water, relying instead on smaller satellite fanes to produce what they lack. These so-called nutri- and hydrofanes are used to feed Zhao-Arkhad's population, which remains unusually low for a Forge World as the working classes are exclusively housed on the great lunar colonies established on Zhao-Arkhad's three moons.
- Nytos - The volcanic world of Nytos is Zhao-Arkhad's principal colony in the Zhao System. Its surface is dominated by great mining colonies, as the considerably dense volcanic heart of Nytos holds heavy metals and other strategic substances required to fashion the more advanced forms of Imperial technology. The closest habitable world to Zhao-Arkhad, Nytos was only colonised in the 27th Millennium by refugees seeking to escape the violence brought to Zhao-Arkhad by the Kiarii Wars.
- Imperial Armour Aeronautica, pg. 24
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse Second Edition, pg. 14
- Imperial Armour Volume One Second Edition - Imperial Guard, pg. 129
- Imperial Armour Volume Eleven - The Doom of Mymeara, pg. 90
- The Horus Heresy - Book Seven: Inferno (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 170-177