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Arks of Omen Campaign

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Arks of Omen Campaign
AOMBattle.jpg
A Chaos Balefleet moves
Conflict Long War
Date Early M42
Location Galaxy-wide, primarily in Imperium Nihilus
Outcome Strategic Chaos Victory[7c]
The Key activated[7c]
Combatants
Imperium Forces of Chaos Various unaligned Xenos

Farsight Enclaves
Eldar
Orks
Necrons
Tyranids
Dark Eldar
Leagues of Votann
Enslavers
Kalavassi
Commanders
Primarch Lion El'Jonson
Regent Dante
Fleetmaster Trincus Abconcis (KIA)
Inquisitor Lord Torquemada Coteaz
Inquisitor Glori Emagna (KIA)
Grand Master Azrael
Chapter Master Nymarn (KIA)
Grand Master Nakir
Chapter Master Yosharo DuGal
Chief Librarian Tigurius
Chief Librarian Ezekiel
Brother-Captain Drystann Cromm (KIA)
Master Sammael
Master Belial (WIA)
Asmodai
Captain Albaar
Chaplain Julianos
Captain Aphael
Master Lazarus
Captain Hibogen Khan
Groupmaster Kelmer (KIA)
Canoness Verity Kade (MIA)
Canoness Felicita (Corrupted)
Admiral Ignacious Pell (KIA)
Groupmaster Persepha Xeng
Groupmaster Ira Threnodar (KIA)
Groupmaster Josiah Bolsett III
Groupmaster Zavadan Mael
Warmaster Ezekyle Abaddon
Vashtorr
Daemon Primarch Angron (Banished)
Khârn
Lord Invocatus
Lord Karakka Bloodfist
Captain Falkus Kibre
Daemon Prince Dreagh'or (Banished)
Daemon Prince Ughalax
Lord Gakhar
Flenseling Prince
Lord Glass
Sorcerer Lord Xorphas (KIA)
Captain Falkus Kibre
Warsmith Czagra
Lord Apophari Quen
Lord Gulthorg
Sorcerer Lord Hasomet
Lord Thavak
Scourgemaster Ulghata
Dark Magos Persephora Hexxen
Lady Maeve
Commander Farsight
Necron Lord Somatatek
Warboss Skullkrakka
Warboss Grymzag
Warboss Bolgrog Bigtusk
Warboss Skragga Fundastomp
Mekboss Da Smoggboss
Strength
See Order of Battle See Order of Battle See Order of Battle
Losses/Survivors
Galaxy-wide destruction
Grievous losses to the Unforgiven
Heavy


The Arks of Omen Campaign was a major galaxy-wide offensive recently launched by Abaddon the Despoiler and his armies. Its purpose was to complete a mysterious artifact known as The Key to The Lock and activate The Weapon, which has the power to destroy the Imperium.[1a]

Overview

Prelude

The campaign began as part of the greater War of Beasts, when Black Legion forces led by Warpsmith Vask engaged in the Vigilus warzone raided the Mechanicum artificial moon of Pergamatros. After launching a data-assault upon the moon's power and control systems, which revealed the hidden moon's location, the Black Legion vessel Unrepentant appeared in the system. Despite formidable defenses, including Defense Lasers, Skitarii, and a maniple of Reaver Titans of the Legio Maledictus, Vask and the Dark Mechanicus Magos Persephora Hexxen led overwhelming forces which swept aside their foes. Dark Magos Juregg was able to penetrate the moons data-vaults, hoping to gather data for the Despoiler’s favor. However unknown to the Magos, the data-tome he brought back to the Vengeful Spirit was part of a greater plan by the Daemon Vashtorr.[1a]

Months later, as Abaddon oversaw the continued repairs to his flagship the Vengeful Spirit, the data-tome proved to be a portal that allowed Vashtorr to manifest on the bridge directly in the presence of The Despoiler. Upon meeting, Vashtorr presented Abaddon with a prophecy of a burning sky and stars blazing bright enough to drown out the darkness. He was candid with The Despoiler, declaring that while the ruler of the Forge of Souls, he was unsatisfied with his status and wished to become a fifth Chaos God in his own right. Vashtorr believed this could be achieved if he could fulfill this prophecy, and offered an alliance with Abaddon. The Despoiler was unimpressed, and Vashtorr bid that they move together on the nearby world of Magdalor to demonstrate the value of an alliance where the next fragment of the mysterious “Key” lay.[1a]

Part 1: Abaddon Strikes

Revelation on Magdalor

Magdalor was the homeworld of the troubled Iron Angels Space Marines. Despite their replenished gene-seed stock and numbers, they nonetheless sported a formidable fleet and committed themselves to fight to the end upon the arrival of the Vengeful Spirit in their system. As battles erupted across space between the Iron Angels and Traitor armadas, several hundred Iron Angels manned the formidable defenses of their Fortress-Monastery known as the Angels’ Crown. Black Legion and Cultist forces landed on the surface of Magdalor while the Despoiler, Falkus Kibre, and his Bringers of Despair launched a teleportation assault into the heart of the Angels’ Crown. After defeating three Iron Angels Librarians, it became clear that the Iron Angels resistance was ultimately doomed as their forces were overwhelmed by the traitor onslaught.[1b]

After having crushed the last serious resistance, Abaddon set about sacking the Fortress-Monastery but discovered scenes of carnage and Daemonic corruption deep within its walls. Someone had already torn out the heart of the Angels’ Crown, and soon enough Abaddon met the shackled Daemons and mutant engines of Vashtorr’s own host. Here, the Iron Angels Chapter Master Nymarn and the last of the 1st Company were staging a final stand. However, thanks to Vashtorr, horrifying monstrosities erupted from the machineries of the Apothecarion and Reclusiam as Abaddon himself struck down Nymarn. After the battle, Vashtorr’s forces ignored all but a tall marble pillar floating in a suspensor field. Dubbed the Oathing Stone by the Iron Angels, Abaddon was initially unimpressed with the pillar but after hours of closed meeting with Vashtorr was informed of its true nature. After learning of its true purpose as a fragment of The Key, Abaddon let out a great laugh and became committed to working with Vashtorr.[1b]

Over the next several months, the Black Legion began to corral and mutate enormous Space Hulks under the direction of Vashtorr. Having spent many days and heavy casualties clearing these constructs of various foes, Vashtorr used his techno-sorcery to corrupt the Hulks even further. Various Chaos Champions either commanded by or allied to Abaddon were placed in charge of these reborn Space Hulks, which soon became known as the Arks of Omen, and their purpose was to assail worlds throughout the galaxy to secure further fragments of The Key. Each Ark was commanded by a Champion of Chaos, either one of Abaddon’s own subordinates or an allied Chaos Lord that had pledged fealty to The Despoiler.[1b]

Abaddon invades Magdalor[1b]

The Arks Unleashed

Even as Vashtorr labored to construct additional Arks, Abaddon unleashed those he had already built upon the galaxy. More than a dozen Arks made up this initial onslaught, each accompanied by a flotilla of Chaos vessels in dark contrast to the fleets of the Indomitus Crusade. Notable assaults launched in this first wave were conducted against the ice moons of Korbrach and the industrial sprawls of Vaingloria. After weeks of bloody siege on the Shrine World of Lume IV, Iron Warriors Warsmith Czagra, commander of the Ark of Omen Ogre, tore open the world’s innermost reliquarium to secure a Key-Fragment which took the form of an ancient fire-blackened cogitator bank held in a stasis field. On Hassp, Alpha Legion agents penetrated an ancient dig-site to secure a key-fragment that appeared to be a meteorite embedded in the planet’s bedrock. Upon recovery of a Key-Fragment, they were presented before the Warp Portal aboard each Ark and claimed by Abaddon and Vashtorr.[1c] On Aggamedes, the Ark Bloodmaw and its escorts began a month-long conflict against the maniples of Graia that saw entire planets depopulated. Amidst the Rasputar Cluster, the Bane of Life plunged into an ongoing war between the Leagues of Votann of the Kronus Hegemony and the Orks of Waaagh! Skullkrakka. At the Serpessa Nebulae, Flensemaster Thavak of the Night Lords found his Balefleet beset at every turn by Eldar of Ulthwe and Dark Eldar of the Kabal of the Iron Thorn.[1b][1c]

By the time the second wave of Arks of Omen was launched, the corrupted Hulks were now present across every Imperium segmentum and many major war zones. Sometimes they ignored Imperial holdings altogether, targeting worlds inhabited by Orks, Tyranids, or even other heretic factions to claim their prize. Had it not been for the presence of the Arks themselves, Imperial authorities would not have placed these incidents as part of a larger pattern. Famed Lord Inquisitor Coteaz of the Ordo Malleus received word from the Eldar of the larger Chaos plan. The Inquisition responded accordingly with investigation teams to the Balefleets true purpose, and while several Arks were boarded and purged at great cost during Imperial counter-attacks, many more continued to wreak havoc upon the galaxy. [1b]

Cortosa III

One of the most notable Chaos assaults took place on the Fortress World of Cortosa III. Garrisoned by over 200 Imperial Guard Regiments, at the heart of its Fortum Primus was a martial museum which held a key-fragment in the shape of a sword. However, thanks to its Psyker seers, the high command of the world had foreseen the Chaos assault even before it arrived and thus when the Ark Ogre arrived in-system, it faced not only Imperial Guard but also a Sisters of Battle convent and Black Templars force. Due to the Arks advanced navigational systems, It was able to bypass these loyalist reinforcements and rapidly assault Cortosa III itself. The assault was led by the Sons of Rot under Gulthorg the Blighted, who sought not only to acquire the key fragment for Abaddon but also secure the planet in Nurgle’s name.[1c]

To that end, Lord Gulthorg deployed the Plaguecrows and Vermin Guard with dealing with the Imperial fleet in the system while he, the Sons of Rot, his Morbidax Traitor Guard Regiments, Dark Mechanicus vivisectors, and the Chaos Knights of House Gnaw launched an assault on Cortosa itself. After ferociously contested landings, fighting erupted across the Munifica Maxima, the fortified mountain range of Absolutis Colossi, and the training Plains of the Expans Martial. Viral weapons reduced thousands of loyalists to a bubbling slime, out of which daemons of Vashtorr emerged. However, a huge loyalist armored spearhead swept between the towers of the Arcadia Ballistus and into the Expans Martial, throwing back House Gnaw Knights. At the same time, a vicious orbital battle erupted as the Imperial reinforcements attempted to punch through the Traitor blockade. Costly boarding actions saw vessels on both sides scattered and destroyed.[1c]

In the end, the Imperial defenders unity proved to be the traitors undoing, at least as far as the Sons of Rot were concerned. As rival Chaos warbands fought on their own, Gulthorg was forced abandon command of the ground war and return with many of his own Sons of Rot to garrison his Ark against Imperial assaults. This was the moment Alpha Legion forces concealed within the traitors had waited for, and they hijacked vox channels which caused a portion of the traitor host to abandon their positions and throw themselves Fortum Primus. The frenzied assault succeeded in penetrating the fortress and securing the Key-Fragment, but traitor positions across the greater system fell apart.[1c]

Reprisals

By the second wave, it was becoming clear these Chaos assaults were part of a greater strategic coordination and not isolated Space Hulk raids. Despite this, it was still difficult for the foes of Chaos to understand what Abaddon’s goal was or where his Arks would appear next. As the Arks drove deeper into the furthest reaches of the void, they attracted the attention of alien horrors such as the Kalavassi and Enslavers, who managed to damage the Ark Blackened Tower. The Ark Sobbing God soon found itself boarded by swarms of Hive Fleet Kraken, forcing Scourgemaster Ulghata and his surviving forces to retreat deep into their vessel and resist the invaders.[1d]

Despite these setbacks, the Arks continued on their mission. On the Tomb World of Vol, the Ark Beast in Scarlet caught the slumbering Szarekhan Dynasty Necrons unawares and tore the key-fragment from them before departing. Unbeknownst to the Thousand Sons Sorcerer Lord Hasomet however, the slain Necron Lord Somatatek was promptly resurrected and outraged by the dishonorable attack., He gathered a fleet of his own and set out to bring vengeance down upon the Beast in Scarlet.[1d]

At the Onalpa System, the Ark of Omen Colossus translated into local space. Boasting a huge compliment of Traitor Titans, the Balefleet scattered the defenders as Dark Magi and their servants descended upon the rich worlds of Onalpa to sate their greed. This proved an opening which allowed the Ultramarines under Chaplain Julianos to board the ‘’Colossus’’. While nearly every Ultramarine of the boarding party was lost, they succeeded into causing an engine meltdown to destroy it. Meanwhile, Eldar Corsairs of the Diamond Talon boarded the Ark Devourer of Hope, crippling its command center.[1d]

Another Balefleet under Lady Maeve of House Grendyl arrived in the Polyhadra System expecting to claim their prize from local Orks. Instead, they found a thriving enclave of the Greater Thurian League. Squat Kin had long since sliced apart the world Maeve sought, the key-fragment having since been moved into the Galactic Core. Before she could disengage and pursue her prize however, she sought to punish the Squats for what they had done. Soon, a savage battle erupted. Other Xenos forces actively sought out the Balefleets to destroy them, such as Craftworlds Ulthwe, Saim-Hann, Yme-Loc, and their allies including Harlequins, Dark Eldar, Corsairs, and Exodites.[1d]

Meanwhile, the Inquisitor Coteaz was continuing his investigation into what the Eldar had warned him of. He and other Inquisitors requisitioned large resources to intercept and if possible, destroy the Arks wherever they may appear. The Inquisition succeeded in having the Iron Hands under Captain Albaar board the Morbidius as well as the mysterious destruction of the Reaper’s Shadow. As the Ark Night Terror bore down on the Agri-Worlds of the Saganas Belt deep in Imperium Nihilus, its Regent Dante led a counterattack. However, when they arrived, they found the Balefleet wrecked, the corpses of dead Astartes withered in bolter rounds and withered in sulphureous residue. [1d]

Ironically, many of the Arks were assailed by their fellow Traitor Astartes, either to foil Abaddon’s plans for their own agenda or simply to capture one of the vessels. Such was the case of an Ark which meant missing in Red Corsairs territory within The Maelstrom. For their part, the Word Bearers broke the bindings placed upon the Ark Neverlight, unleashing a tide of Daemonic entities that consumed the attackers, defenders, and nearby Mining World of Karmyne. After the Ark Dirge Discordant was scuttled by Khornate forces at the Chyron System while in search for a more significant key fragment, Abaddon took to the field directly to shatter the host. He then took his forces to Chyron Tertius, resolved to claim the fragment. In the ensuing battle against Imperial Guard The Despoiler succeeded in smashing aside the Cadians and claiming the fragment.[1d]

However, it was during the battle on Chyron Tertius that Abaddon was informed by Vashtorr that Angron had been spotted on the world of Malakbael, a location of an important Key-Fragment. The Red Angel was battling Indomitus Crusade Fleet Quartus, and Vashtorr notified Abaddon that he wished to travel to Malakbael himself to deal with the situation.[1d]

Part 2: Angron

Porents and Preparations

Much to the misfortune of the Imperium, Angron had recently returned to the Materium aboard the Conqueror. Around the Daemon Primarch gathered a force which included noted World Eaters Chaos Lords such as Kossolax and Karakka Bloodfist as well as other Chaos Space Marine warbands and even Xenos mercenaries. The reborn Red Angel made way for Malakbael in search of a beacon which had been tormenting him with its psychic light, known as the Choral Engine. The engine had recently been aiding Indomitus Crusade Fleet Quartus in a string of victories, but to the forces of Chaos it was anathema much like the light of the Astronomican.[3a]

Even before discovering the Red Angel had returned, the Grey Knights under 4th Brotherhood Brother-Captain Drystann Cromm dispatched the Strike Cruiser Unrelenting to the Malak System to investigate Warp anomalies. There, Cromm met with Fleetmaster Trincus Abconcis and they discussed the nature of the Choral Engine. Cromm next traveled to the surface of Malakbael and questioned Inquisitor Glori Emagna, quickly surmising that a vast traitor host would soon be drawn to its light. He quickly notified the Imperials at the Malak System to ready themselves for war. Afterwards, he would discover the true origin of the Choral Engine.[3a]

In the aftermath of Cromm's visit, Abcondis ordered many Battlegroups send whatever reinforcements that could be spared back to Malakbael to strengthen its defenses. Soon enough, Admiral Ignacious Pell arrived with three task forces from Battle Group Betaris while Groupmaster Zavadan Mael arrived with four task forces of Battle Group Dominus. Canoness Verity Kade of the Order of the Argent Shroud arrived aboard the Dauntless Class Light Cruiser Mercy in Death. Groupmaster Persepha Xeng and her ancient Nemesis Class Fleet Carrier Bountiful Hate came at the head of five task forces from Battle Group Jovia. Groupmaster Josiah Bolsett III of Battle Group Kilox arrived, leading two full task forces. Even Space Marines in the form of the Yosharo DuGal arrived under Chapter Master Yosharo DuGal himself.[3a]

The forces of Battle Group Alphae were deployed throughout the Malak System, which Abcondis aboard his flagship Honour of Terra hung in orbit over Malakbael itself along with two task forces worth of warships. Other taskforces were assigned to guard Malakra and Malakshet which Task Force X under Groupmaster Ira Threnodar was broken into smaller squadrons to conduct patrols. Battle Group Forthrax was assigned to watch the Malakandrias asteroid belt known as the Barren Reach. Around the Choral Engine itself, the Imperials erected a great bastion known as the Fortress of Light. Soon enough, the forces of the Malak system were colossal and its defenses were beyond imposing.[3a]

However after a full week of waiting, there was still no sign of the invaders and many including Fleetmaster Abcondis grew doubtful that an attack of coming, and became frustrated that these great resources could be better used elsewhere. Thus he was almost relieved when on the seventh hour of the eight day that a large Chaos fleet burst from the Warp at the edges of the Malak System.[3a]

Battle of the Malak

Angron leads his fleet against the Malak System[3b]

At the head of the Chaos fleet large enough to conquer an entire Sector was the Ark of Omen Stygian Heart. They included not only conventional vessels by also ship-sized Daemon Engines. The Chaos forces made straight for Malakbael, ignoring all other worlds in the system for now. Such a force would have initially created great panic for the Imperials, but Abcondis and the rest of his staff were well-prepared. He immediately ordered Groupmasters Threnodar and Xeng to lead their forces to intercept while ordering defense fleets over Malakvar, Malakshet, and Malakbael to act as a second wave.[3b]

Such was the size of the Imperial fleet that thousands of Torpedoes struck the Chaos armada simultaneously. Despite taking great damage, the Chaos vessels fought with great skill and ferocity and inflicted similar losses on the Imperials. Their every action seemed calculated to push near Malakbael while also buying time, as if they were waiting for something. However, a boarding attack by the Void Tridents against a Red Corsairs Desecrator Class Battleship and the destruction of a Repulsive Class Grand Cruiser succeeded in seemingly turning the tide. Abcondis grew more confident, and began to feel as if he should have called the Grey Knights warning alarmist. It was then that everything changed for the Imperials, in a matter of seconds no less. The disaster began when Astropaths on Malakbael plugged into the Choral Engine began to scream. Then the divining mirrors of the Grey Knights broke apart. Soon enough, a second traitor fleet far greater in size than the first began to arrive in-system. Looming over it all was the Conqueror, atop which perched Angron himself.[3b]

Perhaps unusually lucid for the rageful avatar of Khorne, Angron carefully divided his fleet into three thrusts like a trident. The first prong formed around the Ark of Omen Clarion Dire and and tore away towards Malakra, a feint to force the world's defenders to dig in. It was then instructed to use Malakra's gravity well to slingshot themselves recklessly through the enemy lines towards Malakbael. The second prong, led by the World Eaters Battle Barge Exsanguinator, climbed rapidly above the galactic plane to bare down on the fringes of the Malakandrias asteroid belt to assault Malakbael's defenses head-on. Angron the Conqueror led the third prong, arcing close to the star Malak itself before powering up from below the galactic plane to give a killing thrust at Malakbael itself. For their part, the Imperials responded quickly but were beset by both panic and grim determination. Angron's war cry had reached the ears of every soul within the System, and all knew the Red Angel had come for slaughter. Commissars had to put down maddened riots aboard both vessels and planetside. Yet for every ship or bastion that fell into panic, there was another that retained discipline and order. For many within Fleet Quartus, this was not the first time they had fought the forces of Chaos. Abcondis himself faced the new threat with a surprising enthusiastic readiness.[3b]

After quickly reforming his lines, Abcondis ordered Groupmaster Threnodar to abandon her pursuit of the damaged Stygian Heart and return to him. However many other Imperial fleets and garrions in the system were undermanned to meet a threat of this scale, and amongst the first casualties was Task Force VI of Battle Group Forthrax. While they had initially joined with the Void Talons under Captain Ugoshi to conduct hit-and-run attacks from the asteroid belt against the fleet of the Exsanguinator, they were quickly overwhelmed by the size of the enemy force. The Void Talons failed in their attempts to board World Eaters vessels, being pushed back by frenzied counterattacks. Captain Ughosi himself was slain in one such fight, and in the end only some ships of the Daemon Prince Dreagh'or took the bait to move into the asteroid belt to be destroyed. After the Exsanguinator destroyed the Void Talons strike cruiser Noble Blade, Task Force VI fragmented.[3b]

Meanwhile on the far side of the Malak System, the Clarion Dire and its escorts under Lord Karakka Bloodfist bore down upon the Jungle World of Malakra with suicidal speed. Commanding from the Mars Class Battlecruiser Cry of Wrath, Admiral Ignacious Pell ordered his forces to blunt the enemy assault despite knowing his own assets were insufficient for such a task. Two task forces had been dispatched to battle the Stygian Heart, and he now ordered them return with all haste. At the same time, Sisters of Battle under Canoness Kade arrived over the Ice World of Malakshet, eager to join the fight. She stripped three full task forces from Malakshet, leaving only a handful of formations to garrison the planet then made for Malakra. Fortunately for the Imperials, the recalled task forces arrived just minutes before the Chaos fleet did. Pell ordered all ships open fire as the Chaos armada simply rushed towards Malakra, seemingly on a collision course.[3b]

Skirting close to its atmosphere and deliberately allowing themselves to fall into Malakra's gravity well, the Khornate ships were able to swing themselves on their axis and veer straight into the scattered Imperial formation. Some failed in the risky maneuver and crashed into Malakra with catastrophic result for all involved, while others simply collided with Imperial ships. What followed was a great slaughter as the Clarion Dire slingshoted itself through the Imperial lines and on towards Malakbael. In their wake, they left a mauled Imperial flotilla still trying to put itself back together and pursue. Only a timely teleportation assault by the Ultramarines of the Strike Cruiser Prandium prevented Pell himself from being killed by a World Eaters boarding party. Furious and dismayed, Pell sent word to Canoness Kade that she should make for Malakbael.[3b]

While he still had eight full task forces around Malakbael, the rest of the system was woefully underprepared to meet the Chaos threat. He finally ascended to Groupmaster Threnodar, allowing her and Xeng to lead the might of their system patrol force on an intercept course with the Conqueror. With almost seven task forces at their command, the two Groupmasters rallied from their battle against the Stygian Heart and launched a mighty counterattack. Their vessels included not only those of the Imperial Navy, but also those of the White Scars, Imperial Fists, Howling Griffons, and Basilikon Astra. Carnage erupted as the two great fleets met. While the World Eaters still had the numeric advantage, the Imperials had the advantage in discipline. Soon enough the Imperials were able to take advantage of the Worlds ships tendency to fight like lone feral dogs to isolate and destroy them in piecemeal. Three major vessels were destroyed in such a fashion. At the same time, the Imperial Fists Codicier Vorn Dylas led a boarding action of the World Eaters ship Bloodied Fang and turned its Lance batteries on its unsuspecting escorts. Hibogen Khan led his White Scars in a rapid that crippled two Chaos Strike Cruisers. Meanwhile, Groupmaster Threnodar herself led a formation of three Imperial Battleships - including her own Resplendent - to kill the Conqueror.[3b]

As the three Battleships converged on the Conqueror, the flagship suddenly powered forward and unleashed a vicious salvo which damaged the Oberon Class Battleship Veracity and forced the already damaged Blade of Aquilant to abandon its attack run. Then it used its Ursus Claws to ensnare the Resplendent and drag it in close. It was at this moment that the Red Angel himself took flight, tearing through the hull of the Conqueror and into the void of space before plunging towards the Resplendant. Despite nearly being torn in half by a Lance blast, Angron plowed through a Imperial Navy Frigate attempting to free the Resplendent and continued his dive towards the vessel. Angron was repeatedly blown to bits by Imperial fire, but rematerialized within seconds and eventually was able to materialize on the bridge of the Resplendent. Groupmaster Threnodar died with honor as the crippling of her ship turned the tide of the wider battle in favor of the World Eaters. Soon enough four Imperial capital ships were lost as well as the White Scars Battle Barge Steed of Kumblai. Seeing this new development, Xeng ordered a retreat as the World Eaters led a frenzied pursuit.[3b]

By now, the Exsanguinator and its fleet had attacked the defenses around Malakbael itself as Fleetmaster Abcondis sent Task Forces Alphae II and Irasmus VII out on a flanking arcs while Groupmaster Bolsett led a screening force up to meet the front. The strategy worked in encircling elements of the traitor host and inflicting heavy casualties, forcing Lord Dreagh'or to lose momentum but failing to halt the attack entirely. As Imperial orbital defenses hammered the World Eaters, the Exsanguinator thundered on. However just then the Grey Knights Strike Cruiser Unrelenting leapt into the fray alongside Abcondis' own flagship and Chapter Master DuGal. The Imperials may have prevailed in this sudden attack had it not been for Angron, who had by now scattered the last of Xeng's ships and was plunging into the battle over Malakbael. In his wake followed the rest of the World Eaters and was met by DuGal's forces while Abcondis sought to deal with the Exsanguinator. What followed was a bloody stalemate as Angron himself plunged into the atmosphere of Malakbael and towards the Choral Engine.[3b]

Meanwhile, Canoness Kade finally met the Clarion Dire in battle, swinging alongside the enemy spearhead and engaging in a running battle that wrought carnage on both sides. Kade led a last-ditch boarding assault aboard the Ark of Omen, leading not only Sisters of Battle but also Space Marines. However soon enough all contact with these brave invaders were lost, and none ever discovered their fate. One clue may lay with the fact that the Clarion Dire plunged suddenly into the Warp just before it was to reach Malakbael.[3b]

Planetfall

Angron quickly arrived over the central dome of the Choral Engine, with some small part of him perhaps wishing that its energies may finally destroy him for good. Enduring a punishing salvo by the Imperial defenses, Angron managed to reach the Fortress of Light and slaughtered all he came across. Slaying Space Marines and downing Valkyries, Angron fought his way into the citadels missile silos and caused a catastrophic chain reaction that annihilated all within. Angron continued to fight his way deep into the interior of the fortress, the energy of the Choral Engine and his own Butchers Nails mixing together in a discord of agony upon his mind. Breaking down the gates to the fortress' inner sanctum, Angron was determined to destroy the Choral Engine forever.[3c]

In space, Abcondis continued to wage a valiant defense as Admiral Pell managed to gain the upper hand against the fleet of the Clarion Dire. However the Conqueror had now arrived and was battling in orbit over Malakbael's upper atmosphere as the Void Talons, Imperial Fists, and Howling Griffons attempted to stop them. By now Abcondis had learned of Angron's rampage inside the Fortress of Light and considered the gravest threat to his defense. He ordered the Honour of Terra to come about and rally the largest remaining vessels in a path towards the Conqueror and its invasion flotilla. The maneuver drew the attention of dozens of smaller Chaos vessels, with some plunging towards Abcondis' fleet while others sought to secure a secondary drop zone in order to land Titans. However the World Eaters were able to use Dreadclaws to board the Honour of Terra. Despite counterattacks by Voidsmen, Ultramarines under Lieutenant Scipion, and Kastelan Robots, the Imperials were quickly overwhelmed when Kharn the Betrayer and his Butcherhorde entered the Imperial flagship. Lieutenant Scipion informed Abcondis that if he wished to live, he would have to abandon ship. Abcondis issued an order for all combat-capable crew to abandon the fight in orbit and redeploy on the surface to take part in the defense of the Choral Engine. While hoping to turn around the situation on the ground, he also sought to hold out until naval reinforcements from Admiral Pell could turn the tide in space.[3c]

Back on Malakbael's surface, Imperial ground forces fought on as best they could. These consisted of Knights of House Terryn, Sisters of Battle from the Order of Our Martyred Lady, and Imperial Guard Regiments of the Death Korps of Krieg and Ulathu Artillery. They desperately attempted to hold back Traitor Titans at great cost, with the Dark Mechanicum engines slaughtering thousands for each loss of their own. About their feet, twisted Skitarii and Servitors snatched up loyalists for experimentation. Outnumbered Krieg platoons did all they could to hold the Hereteks back, often dying to the last man in the process. In Malakbael's southern hemisphere, the great spaceport-city of Hallowed Helm burned at the hands of Lord Invocatus. Despite the best efforts of the Sons of Medusa and Imperial Fists, the traitor orbital bombardment had wreaked great destruction as World Eaters tanks and Daemon Engines came in Invocatus' wake. Invocatus ploughed through the Imperial formations, refusing to get bogged down in the Imperial Fists fortified poisitions by simply outflanking them. All across the world, sacred sites such as the Sanctum of the God-Emperor Resplendent, the temple of Mount Ephnari, and the Library of the Star Pilgrims became bloody battlefields. Not even the arrival of Abcondis' reinforcements from space was enough to turn the tide[3c].

Abcondis and the Honour of Terra led a spearhead of warships in a desperate low-orbit attack run against the Conqueror, blowing apart multiple traitor vessels in his path even as his own flagship was a battlefield at the hands of Kharn the Betrayer. As the ships wrestled at close range in the upper atmosphere, the Machine Spirit of the Conqueror rebelled. Unwilling to be slain, the spirit triggered its Warp Engines and crash-translated into the Empyrean. By this time Kharn and his forces had finally reached Abcondis' bridge, and his last transmission was that of gunfire and screams.[3c]

Soon enough, the slaughter on Malakbael allowed Khornate Daemons to finally fully manifest on Malakbael's surface. This caused a general disaster for the Imperial Guard Regiments that soon turned into a general rout despite the Choral Engine's light eventually forcing the creatures back into the Warp. Nowhere was the bloodshed more horrific than within the Fortress of Light, where Angron was able to summon eight Bloodthirsters to his side alongside Skull Cannons, Bloodletters, Bloodcrushers, and even a Lord of Skulls. This terrifying host quickly swept aside the last of the Imperial defenses inside the citadel's outer ring and reached the gatehouse to the inner sanctum. Angron and his Bloodthirster honour guard slaughtered the final Imperial Fists standing his way to reach the Choral Engine itself.[3c]

Meanwhile aboard the Exsanguinator, Brother-Captain Cromm and his Grey Knights continued their boarding assault. The Grey Knights managed to fight their way to the bridge of the vessel, confronting the Daemon Prince Dreagh'or. The battle there was savage and cost Cromm many brothers, but they succeeded in bashing Dreag'hor back into the Warp. Robbed of its link to its master, the Exsanguinator began to die. While the loss of the vessel was a major blow to Chaos forces, Cromm cursed the time and resources it had cost. Cromm then set about to teleporting to Malakbael's surface in order to confront Angron.[3c]

As the battle raged, the Stygian Heart had limped away under orders by Apophari Quen, who sought to ascertain what action should be taken. It was then that Vashtorr the Arkifane materialized aboard the damaged Ark.[3c]

Murder-Curse

It was then that Inquisitor Emagna's voice erupted over the Vox, issuing scorn to the traitors as she had her tech-adepts disable the last failsafes over the barely-understood Choral Engine. Convinced that the light of the Emperor shined through the engine and could turn back the host, she amplified the power of the Choral Engine and let out a massive psychic shock wave. The blast caused Angron to tumble down from the air in agony and scour the Daemons from existence. Subsequent shockwaves followed, each decimating the traitor hosts but also causing mortals to hear the psychic screams of the Psykers slaved to the engine in their own minds. The raw power triggered heacaches, visions, strange voices, and other bizarre phenomena. Yet despite all of this, Emagna's plan seemed to be working. Robbed of their Daemonic allies and with their Cultist and Traitor Guard slaves shaken, the World Eaters momentum fell apart. Of the Daemons, only Angron and his eight Bloodthirsters remained and even they were wracked with pain. Regardless of this, they continued their frenzied advance towards the Choral Engine.[3c]

Soon enough, the enraged but strangely invigorated Angron reached the inner sanctum of the Choral Engine. Angron were met by explosives placed by Emagna and an ambush by Tempestus Scions and 60 Grey Knights under Cromm. The Space Marines began a banishment ritual as the Tempestus Scions fell in agony before the presence of the Daemon. Grey Knight Terminators and 2 Dreadknights closed on Angron, and the Daemon Primarch finally fell to one knee. It was then that the first of Angron's Bloodthirster bodyguards arrived, forcing to shift the Dreadnoughts attention. Chaos erupted in the inner chamber and Inquisitor Emagna herself was beheaded by one of the creatures. Nonetheless, Cromm and his Paladins continued to close on Angron and complete their banishment ritual. The maddened Primarch threw itself at his attackers, and despite slaying multiple Paladins took a grievous blow from Cromm's own Nemesis Daemon Hammer. The Daemon suffered another blow but before the third could be delivered, dropped Samni'arius from his grip and grabbed the haft of Cromm's hammer. He then brought Spinegrinder down with meteroic force, carving the Brother-Captain in two. Finally cleared of obstacles, Angron moved on the Choral Engine and struck it with his axe.[3c]

In that moment, Angron's pure rage transformed himself into a supernatural conduit that connected both the Materium and Immaterium. As he struck, he channeled not only his own rage, but that of the Blood God itself. Khorne himself appeared in Angron's mind, invigorating him with the Blood God's own blade. In this moment the Choral Engine erupted in a great crimson explosion as Angron and his bloodthirsters were torn apart. Soon only Angron's incorpeal conciousness endured within the chamber. As Angron's physical form slowly regenerated, he saw Khorne's great murder-curse along with countless Daemons erupt from the wound left in reality where the Choral Engine had stood.[3c]

The destruction of the Choral Engine proved catastrophic for the Imperium. The blast tore Malakbael itself in two and sent a wave of madness that swept across the entire System, killing nearly everyone planetside in minutes. While small numbers of Space Marines were successfully evacuated, many orbiting ships were forcibly thrown into the Warp. Malakvar and even distant Malakshet suffered punishing debris storms from the death of Malakbael, and the incoming fleet of Admiral Pell was pelted with wreckage of the world and suffered grievous loses. Even so, the dead were arguably the lucky ones.[3d]

Within minutes of the death of Malakbael, madness took hold of whatever Imperial survivors were left. Loyalists began to fall into berserker madness, turning on one another and howling in rage to the Blood God. The effected could no longer speak or recognize friend from foe. As carnage erupted across the remains of Indomitus Crusade Fleet Quartus, seemingly random individuals were able to resist the madness but only fell at the hands of their former allies. Aboard his own flagship, Admiral Pell was eaten alive by his own rabid crew.[3d]

The Arkifane's Prize

It was into this madness that Arkifane appeared at the head of the Stygian Heart. He road like some infernal boatsman into the devastation, seemingly immune to its effects. He moved on the ruins of Malakbael, identifying the broken husk where the Choral Engine's geothermal syphon coil once existed. As he moved closer to the coil, now a great rune of Khorne, the Stygian Heart began to come apart but he formed bits of the vessel to create a staircase. Vashtorr moved forward to where the core of Malakbael once stood. Taking a dark mass of stone from the core of Malakbael, Arkifane then stepped through a Warp portal, having achieved what he had set out to do.[3d]

In the aftermath of the debacle at Malakbael, nearly all of Fleet Quartus had been lost. The wave of madness had spread through the fleets Navigators and Astropaths, corrupting 80% of Battlegroups Alphae, Betaris, Dominus, Forthrax, Irasmus, Jovia, and Kilox. Space Marines and Sisters of Battle fell as easily as Inquisitors, Priests, and common serfs. Only the Grey Knights, Sisters of Silence, and Custodes were truly immune. The disaster was exacerbated by the fact that the fragments of Fleet Quartus that remained began frenzied killing sprees across the Galaxy, cutting bloody paths all the way back to the Imperium Sanctus and being declared Excommunicate Traitoris. The disaster would have far-reaching consequences for years to come.[3d]

Part 3: The Siege of The Rock

Vashtorr invades The Rock

Preparations

After Angron's destruction of Crusade Fleet Quartus, Vashtorr sought to launch his own assault on The Rock, the mobile Fortress-Monastery of the Dark Angels and one of the most formidable fortresses in the Imperium. Seeing another Key-Fragment, he did not seek to undertake such a momentous task alone, using his ties with Abaddon to mobilize several Balefleets and Chaos Space Marine forces from the Black Legion under Xorphas, Iron Warriors provided by Vashtorr's sometimes-ally Perturabo, and Word Bearers alongside his own Cultist and Daemonic host known as the Cult of the Arkifane. Vashtorr himself rode at the head of the Ark of Omen Orac Unleashed. Using his Ark's infernal Artificial Intelligence known as the Orac Myriad, Vashtorr was able to locate The Rock and its escort fleet and developed a plan to ambush the Dark Angels and planned to use a diabolical Warp-Weapon known as The Unmaker to bombard the Fortress-Monastery Void Shield array known as the Gorgon's Aegis into submission.[4]

The world of Marwent's Reach had recently cancelled its Tithe to the Imperium due to their need to defend themselves from a sudden Chaos Knight invasion. Unlike their distress calls, this drew swift attention from the Imperium and Fleet Primus' Task Force XII under Ultramarines Chief Librarian Varro Tigurius was dispatched to relieve the beleagured world and restore its tribute payments. After learning their hated arch-enemy House Korvax was assailing Marwent's Reach, House Raven proved eager to aid Tigurius in his task. The Dark-hooded Heretic Astartes who were marching alongside the Chaos Knights also drew the attention of the Dark Angels. Thus did the Strike Cruiser Implacable Justice appear in the Valvire System with a compliment of Ravenwing under Sammael. After confirming the presence of Fallen, The Rock itself and its escort fleet carrying over half the Chapter's strength appeared in the System.[5a]

War for the Rock

Vashtorr's assault came as the Dark Angels home fleet was rushing to the aid of Marwent's Reach. Having his own fleet materialize out of the Warp at ambush-angles, unleashing a punishing void salvo on the Dark Angels fleet. Reacting quickly, Chief Librarian Ezekiel transferred fleet command to Sammael and attempted to make full-course towards Marwent's Reach in order to link up with Task Force XII as Sammael dispersed his own ships to initiate a fighting retreat. The Dark Angels fleet however suffered heavy losses, losing the warships The Revenged, Silent Sentinel, Primarch's Roar, Obsidian Sword, and Valiant Ire. Meanwhile, the damaged Frigate Solemn Vow suffered a Gellar Field failure and was overrun by Daemons.[5a]

The Dark Angels did not suffer alone however, and a squad of Deathwing Knights was able to board the Traitor Grand Cruiser Vandabraxis, taking control of its guns to destroy the vessel itself. The Implacable Justice meanwhile unleashed waves of Ravenwing Black Knights piloting fighter craft to cripple several traitor vessels. The Rock and its fleet escorts managed to cripple a quarter of the traitor host, but ultimately failed to prevent the Dark Angels home from being boarded.[5a]

With the Dark Angels fleet dispersed, The Rock now faced the Orac Unleashed alone. Utilizing gigantic energy projectors mounted on his Balefleets escorts, Vashtorr charged The Unmaker aboard the Orac Unleashed. The cannon aboard the Ark combined with the other energy projectors, unleashing a massive black of Warp-energy that disabled The Rock's Void Shield array known as the Gorgon's Aegis. The Arkifane next launched a series of landing craft and Boarding Torpedoes, and The Rock itself was soon boarded as the Dark Angels Master of the Forge sought to restore the Gorgon's Aegis.[5a] Aboard the Rock itself, Supreme Grand Master Azrael appointed Belial as overall commander of The Rock's defense, while Ezekiel, Lazarus, Asmodai, and Azrael himself led detachments to turn every corridor of The Rock into a killing field. Despite the scale of the assault, the Arkifane knew he was unlikely to fully capture The Rock or wipe out the Dark Angels. This was not his goal however, he simply sought to drive the Dark Angels back as he ventured deep within the vaults of The Rock to acquire the prize he sought.[4]

The fight for The Rock broke into two distinct theatres. The first was upon the rocky plain surrounding The Rock's central command spire known as the Tower of Angels. Here, Iron Warriors and Black Legion armour alongside hordes of Daemon Engines drove on the surface of The Rock, threatening Belial's own strategium and emergency Void Shield generators. Belial ordered armored spearheads venture out and push back the traitor armor alongside a cadre of Librarians and Ravenwing Land Speeders. However it soon became apparent that the traitors were content to tie up the Dark Angels and force Belail's forces in place.[5b]

The second and most important theatre was deep within The Rock itself, as the Arkifane and his boarding parties sought to claim their prize. Here, fast-moving elements of the Dark Angels 8th and 10th Companies launched localized counter-attacks against each fresh breach point. Meanwhile, layered defenses drawn from the remaining forces secured crucial intersections, corridors, lifts, and other facilities. The initial fighting was a confused race to staunch one wound after another as the full weight of the chaos surprise attack came to bear. However in the face of overwhelming Chaos assaults led by Black Legion Terminators and Word Bearers-summoned Daemons, these Dark Angels detachments suffered grievous losses. But their sacrifice allowed time for a second layer of Dark Angels defenses to be erected, most notably in the Vault of banners under Chaplain Asmodai. Here, Asmodai led fifty Battle-Brothers and broke four successive Chaos assaults. In the Whispering Dome, Dark Angels Dreadnoughts and heavy weapons specialists fought a ferocious battle against Iron Warriors Warsmith Choragg.[5b]

While the Dark Angels scored some local victories, it became apparent that the main thrust towards the Forbidden Gate and Ascension Well Stairway led by Vashtorr himself could not be halted. Vashtorr was aided by Xorphas and the Word Bearers Dark Apostle Gar Hathon in summoning great Daemonic hordes and converging to dive deep into the heart of The Rock. Acting swiftly, Lazarus deployed holding forces through great great chambers of the region known as the Galleria Apscondael while Azrael raced to bring elite reinforcements. Soon enough, Azrael and the Inner Circle emerged with his forces at the south wall of the Gallerium Exactor in the expanse before the Nameless Gate. Fighting through both Daemons and Black Legionaires, Azrael declared no foe would cross the Nameless Gate. During the fierce fighting that followed, Azrael slew Xorphas. With their leader dead, the remaining Chaos Space Marines fell back as Daemons covered their retreat.[5b]

However it was then that Vashtorr and his own forces arrived, and the Arkifane met Azrael himself in battle as Ezekiel held off hordes of Daemons and Lazarus held the gate itself. The battle before the Nameless Gate exploded in savagery as Vashtorr hacked into the loyalist Vox, forcing many Dark Angels to remove their helmets or be driven mad. As the Arkifane and Azrael traded blows, it became clear the Dark Angel could not win the fight despite his own prowess. It was then however that something distracted Vashtorr enough for Azrael to wound the Daemon and retreat back into his own lines. Meanwhile in the void, the Rock drew closer to Marwent's Reach as Belial left the Strategium in the Tower of Angels to take to the field himself alongside a retinue of Deathwing Knights.[5b]

The Dark Master

Vashtorr and Be'lakor battle

It was then that the distraction Vashtorr had felt made itself known. All the lights aboard The Rock went out and the shadows began to dance. The Fallen alongside new warbands of Word Bearers and Alpha Legion emerged from these shadows, marching forward at the head of a new unexpected host. Chaos Knights of House Korvax manifested outside the Tower of Angels, assailing loyalist and traitor armour both. At the head of this host was Be'lakor, the Dark Master and a hated foe of Vashtorr.[5c]

Utter bedlam erupted throughout the Gallerium Exactor as the battle turned into a 3-sided bloodbath. Fortunately for the Imperials, the interrupted allowed the Dark Angels to consolidate their positions and regain strategic momentum. Amidst the chaos, Vashtorr and Be'lakor began a fearsome duel. Ultimately, by draining the power of nearby machinery and Void Shields, Vashtorr was able to summon enough energy to overcome Be'lakor's shadows. However the Dark Master still smiled a mocking grin and chided the Arkifane for his hubris. Be'lakor stated that none of Vashtorr's mattered now, for they were all about to be undone. To that, they need only to look out into space and see that Task Force XII had finally arrived to aid The Rock. It was then revealed that Be'lakor had engineered the invasion of Marwent's Reach in the first place.[5c]

As Tigurius' fleet closed in, Knights of House Raven were landed on The Rock and did battle with their Chaos counterparts of House Korvax. Raven Princeps Grevan was able to personally slay a traitor Knight Tyrant. At the same time, Ultramarines and Novamarines arrived and launched an offensive onto The Rock's surface as Tigurius himself led the main assault against Black Legionnaires embroiled against Dark Angels armour. By this time, Sammael had managed to turn the void war around in space and joined with Tigurius' own fleet. Be'lakor cared little however, for he had never intended to best any side in the war for The Rock but only to ruin Vashtorr's plans. Furious, Vashtorr summoned a great strength to himself and took control of many nearby gun-batteries, unleashing a barrage that toppled many war engines, warriors, and badly wounded Be'lakor himself. As Be'lakor vanished into the Warp, he did so with a howl of rage. As the Dark Master vanished, so did his Disciples.[5c]

It was now that the Dark Angels and Crusade reinforcements brought their full fury against Vashtorr's surviving forces. On the surface, Vashtorr knew all was lost and he raged at his ruined plans. He promptly commanded his surviving warships to converge on The Rock and extract his remaining forces. Precious few traitors were rescued, and the Arkifane himself teleporated back aboard the Orac Unleashed and exited from the warzone. In the aftermath of the battle, abandoned Chaos Space Marines were taken prisoner to the torments of the Dark Angels.[5c]

In the aftermath of the battle, Azrael greeted Tigurius and Grevan coldly and ordered the Imperials withdraw away from The Rock and the Dark Angels fleet. Used to dealing with the Unforgiven, Tigurius obeyed and The Rock and its escorts re-entered the Warp. However for the Dark Angels, this matter was far from over. Meanwhile, interrogations of captive Chaos Space Marines under Asmodai revealed that Vashtorr intended to flee to the Somnium Stars. In truth, this was part of a new plan being devised by the Arkifane.[5c]

Part 4: Farsight

Return to Arthas Moloch

Meanwhile, the Tau Farsight Enclaves battled an Ork Waaagh! under Warboss Nazdreg. In the end, Commander Farsight was able to launch an assault on the Ork fortress-world of Dregrokk and Nazdreg went missing in a massive vortex implosion. However just as the Tau withdrew back into space to plan their next move, a Balefleet under Daemon Prince Ughalax arrived in-system. Led by the Ark of Omen Unhallowed, they sought a Key-Fragment located on the world. Ughalax's host consisted of many and varied elements from World Eaters under Gakhar the Savage to the Night Lords warband under the Flenseling Prince. Alongside them were more than two score other Chaos Space Marine warbands, Traitor Guardsmen Regiments, Chaos Knights, and three maniples of the Legio Vulturum.[6a]

Ughalax observed the Tau and Greenskin fleets at war over Dreggrok, but resisting the temptation instead made for the nearby world of Arthas Moloch. Before he could give the command however, the World Eaters under Gakhar instead made right for the Xenos battle. This caused the Tau to withdraw and instead make for Arthas Moloch alongside a group of pursuing Orks. Farsight reached Arthas Moloch just hours ahead of his foes, intent on stopping Chaos' plan however it may manifest. He immediately landed upon the world then ordered his fleet scatter in the face of the incoming forces. Though melancholy at his forced return to this blighted world, he nonetheless organized his army to conduct a Kauyon-style guerilla campaign aimed at drawing the Orks and Chaos forces into destroying one another. So desperate was his situation that Farsight dispatched a Torpedo Drone to the Tau Empire requesting aid.[6a]

The first weeks of the war on Arthas Moloch were bloody and anarchic. The Tau sought to fight on their own terms, falling back from unfavorable engagements and seeking to bait rampaging Ork hordes into Chaos warbands. For his part, Ughalax was focused on recovering the Key-Fragment located on the world. The madness of the world scrambled the minds of his slaved Psykers, preventing the Fragment from being quickly recovered. While most of his forces held to their mission, some such as the Word Bearers under Asmor Bleakverse spent most of their time capturing victims for sacrifice. Meanwhile, the Thousand Sons of the Perplexing Weave became captivated by the worlds ancient ruins and abandoned their mission to instead purge Greenskins in a particularly well-preserved ruin belt. Despite the efficient Tau strategy, Ughalax was able to eventually discertain their tactics and inflicted increasingly heavy losses on them. During the withdrawal from Temporary Air base Zephyr33, Farsight's close confidant Commander Brightsword was slain.[6a]

Ughalax began to realize that he faced the stiffest Tau opposition in the ruin belts of Arthas Moloch's northern hemisphere. Intrigued, he began to believe that the Tau had hidden most of their command assets here or more importantly were defending something that they did not the Chaos forces to capture. The Orks meanwhile continued to pour down onto Arthas Moloch, and an especially group of Freebooterz even boarded the Unhallowed itself. With Nazdreg's disappearance, several Orks had risen to command the remnants of his Waaagh!. This included the Freebooter Beast Snagga Bolgrog Bigtusk, Gargant mob boss Skragga Fundastomp, and the Goff Mekboss Da Smoggboss and his up-armored Speedwaagh!. The Greenskins increasingly began to work together, forcing the Tau into smaller operational areas and frustrating Farsight.[6a] The heavy casualties and the loss of friends such as Brightsword and Ob'lotai began to take its mental toll of O'Shovah personally.[6b]

Commander Farsight and his forces upon the battlefield

War of Attrition

By this point, the Tau were being pushed into the ruin zone around the Great Star Dais. Rather than breakout, an increasingly frustrated Farsight instead established a series of corridors to drawn in most of his forces and established what was dubbed the Star Dais ExclusioN Zone. He then instructed his best commanders to focus on decapitation strikes against Ork and Chaos command assets which succeeded in knocking out many Greenskin and Chaos warlords alike including the Night Lords leader known as the Flenseling Prince. These strikes also proved to spark infighting amongst his enemies and bought time for the Tau Empire reinforcements he hoped were on their way. During these actions a vengeful Farsight fought in the thickest of the action, venting his frustrations upon his foes.[6b]

By the time of the Battle of the Haggard Tower against a huge Ork horde that the supposed Ethereal aid finally arrived from the Tau Empire during which Commander Bravestorm was badly injured. As Farsight oversaw the wounded Bravestorm's evacuation to a medical facility, a Drone appeared projecting the image of Ethereal Supreme Aun'va. Instead of offering salvation however, the holographic message stated that Farsight had turned his back on the Greater Good through his actions and that the entire Farsight Enclaves would be condemned with him. The message finished by stating he hoped Farsight would inflict much damage on the Chaos and Ork forces before his inevitable end. A furious Farsight destroyed the Drone with his Plasma Rifle then ordered his forces withdraw to their fallback positions while he went into a state of meditation to determine what their next move would be. In truth, Farsight had now become determined on his final desperate gambit to unleash the same enemies at the Great Star Dais upon his foes that he had encountered during his first visit to Arthas Moloch.[6b]

The Great Star Dais

Farsight immediately ordered the Tau Fleet scattered across the system return to Arthas Moloch and prepare for high-value extraction. All across the battlefront, Tau forces began to conduct a fighting and orderly withdrawal. As the Tau cordon decreased in size, Ork and Chaos forces began to clash more frequently and Farsight sought to exploit this. Soon only Farsight, his commanders, and a a few thousand warriors were left around the Great Star Dais.[6c]

At the same time, an Imperial Deathwatch force abroad the Sword Class Frigate Bleak Missive intercepted Farsights communique. Watch Captain Tholonius counceled his Codicier Cachecis, who in truth was an Alpha Legion infiltrator known as Lord Glass. Informing on the Deathwatch to Vashtorr, Lord Glass sought to acquire the Key-Fragment of Arthas Moloch before Ughalax could do so. Lord Glass activated his trigger phrase aboard the Bleak Missive (That of Looking Glass), causing 20 of the 34 Space Marines aboard to reveal their true allegiance and rise up. Taking their loyalist brothers by complete surprise, the Alpha Legion quickly overran the Frigate and set course for Arthas Moloch. Upon arriving they abandoned the vessel to make planetfall as the Bleak Missive was blasted from space. The Alpha Legion target as an ancient downed Dark Angels Dark Talon fighter jet, in which they believed the Key-Fragment was held.[6c]

By this point, Gakhar and his World Eaters had launched a full-scale assault on the first Tau defenses around the Great Star Dais. Massed waves of Cultists and Traitor Guardsmen absorbed the Tau volley fire, allowing the Chaos Space Marines to draw in close and rip the Xenos to pieces. In their wake came tanks and Daemon Engines. Ughalax himself surged forward alongside a column of Black Legion vehicles, and the Tau proved unable to halt the Chaos advance. Out on the ashen plains, Ork Gargants under Skragga Fundastomp fought the Chaos Titans of the Legio Vulturum as Knights and Stompas clashed around their feet. Other Ork warbands surged forward, creating a hectic three-sided battle for supremacy. A fourth faction entered the fray when the Alpha Legionnaires under Lord Glass arrived, seeking the downed Dark Talon fighter. Using Servitors to excavate the Dark Talon and the crystaline growth within, Lord Glass was overjoyed at acquiring the key-fragment before Ughalax. Now, they need only board the Unhallowed and offer up the fragment to the Warp Portal within to take credit with Vashtorr for the discovery.[6c]

Soon enough Ork and Chaos forces began to reach the Great Star Dais itself. Farsight pulled back his remaining forces while he and the remainder of The Eight (now reduced to five) made their stand on the Dais itself. Resisting the urge to surge forward and spill the blood of his enemies, Farsight instead stuck to his plan. This odd bloodlust was spreading throughout the Tau ranks, causing some normally disciplined warriors to venture out of their defenses to meet the oncoming foes. Farsight recognized some external force was influencing the Tau, but knew he must complete his mission before they all fell to madness. Only when the first wave of Berzerkers reached the Dais did Farsight and his remaining officers open fire. Orks soon entered the kill-box, and it was then that Farsight enacted his plan. He used the blood of the fallen enemies to influence the ancient structure, and soon enough Daemons began to manifest across the battlefield.[6c]

What followed was absolute bedlam as Orks, mortal followers of Chaos, Daemons, and Tau murdered one another. Using the anarchy as a distraction, Farsight ordered his remaining forces attempt to slip away. Tau warships were in orbit over Arthas Moloch's northern hemisphere, blasting a path through enemy vessels for extraction. However madness began to sweep through the Tau lines, and Farsight's battlesuit itself was transformed into a war engine to rival a Titan. His Dawn Blade had been replaced with an axe and skulls appeared across his armor. Farsight began to view his planned retreat of cowardice, and he soon lost himself in rage as he hacked apart enemies. However it was the thought that he should fight alone for himself and let his own troops too weak to survive fall that caused Farsight to recoile in horror, and a degree of sanity returned to him. As Farsight regained his senses and returned to his uncorrupted form, his battlesuit AI informed him that their window of retreat had now shrunk to mere minutes.[6c]

Jetting back to the Star Dais, Farsight gathered his remaining Eight to him and ordered that they were to fight no more this day. They would resist the urge to spill blood and instead shephered their surviving troops out of the battlezone. Extraction was all that mattered now, retreat was survival. Content to let the enemy destroy one another, the Tau withdrew north to the extraction zone.[6c]

Shortly after the Tau departed, the Chaos forces also disappeared, having seemingly achieved their objective. Only Greenskins remained on Arthas Moloch, who soon lost interest and looked elsewhere for a fight. After the enemy had departed, Farsight and his entourage quietly returned to Arthas Moloch to examine the Great Star Dais and investigate its status. Farsight was pleased to find the corruption was gone, and that organic life was beginning to develop on the world.[6c]

Part 5: The Battle of Idolatros

The Lure

Following Vashtorr's assault on The Rock, the Dark Angels and other chapters of the Unforgiven gathered in strength to learn of the Arkifane's stronghold and finish the Daemon once and for all. Ultimately, 3/4th of all Unforgiven strength was mustered at the great mobile Fortress-Monastery. Meanwhile, torture of captured Fallen revealed that Vashtorr had taken refuge in the Idolatros System in the Somnium Stars. Azrael and other assembled Inner Circle knew they were heading into a trap, but at the same time could not leave Vashtorr free to wreak havoc upon the Imperium. Azrael dispatched several taskforces of Unforgiven ahead of the main fleet in order to search for Vashtorr's inevitable trap. At the same time, Ezekiel and other Unforgiven Chief Librarians sought to unravel the strands of fate and forsee what awaited them in the Somnium Stars.[7a]

Soon enough, Ravenwing scout fleets returned with word of waiting traitor armadas within the Idolatros System. These included not only expected Cult of the Arkifane and Black Legion but also Emperor's Children, Death Guard, and Word Bearers. Largest of all was the Ark of Omen Netherworld Blade and its Balefleet, which was under control of the Dark Mechanicum. For their part, the Unforgiven Librarians under Ezekiel were able to confirm that Vashtorr indeed dwelt within the System, though they could offer little more information than that. Many other periphery Chaos fleets lay in the Unforgivens path, and Azrael declared that several chapters such as the Cowled Wardens, Blades of Vengeance, and Guardians of the Covenant strike in the Scrilem and Apostra Systems to deal with these foes.[7a]

Into Idolatros

When The Rock and its massive accompanying fleet finally arrived into the Idolatros System, it detected an unexpected concealed abberation but the Ravenwing scouts had been been accurate that a large Balefleet lay in the path of the Unforgiven. Soon enough both sides traded Torpedo fire and Attack Craft launched as the massive battle erupted.[7a]

The Unforgiven had a significant advantage in numbers, but the Chaos forces had the advantage of Vashtorr's infernal mastery of technology as well as their weapons being seemingly boosted by the power of the Somnium Stars. Soon enough, The Unforgiven suffered heavy casualties and several capital ships were lost to highly advanced Chaos weaponry. For its part, the Ark of Omen Netherworld Blade was able to destroy an entire squadron of Frigates of the Disciples of Caliban as well as two Strike Cruisers. Undeterred, the Dark Angels launched boarding actions against several Chaos Daemonships and destroyed them from within. From their strategium aboard The Rock, Azrael and his Inner Circle determined that the Netherworld Blade was simply stalling the best its could to buy time for reinforcements, reinforcements that the Unforgiven were simultaneously ambushing in the periphery systems.[7a]

Master Sammael led a Ravenwing detachment in boarding the Netherworld Blade from his flagship Implacable Justice. They were joined by reinforcements from several Unforgiven strike forces, as supporting capital ships knocked out the Ark of Omens engines one by one. Yet the Ark did not die quietly, and in its death throes destroyed the Redoubtable and badly damaged five other vessels. By the time the Unforgiven withdrew, the Ark was a shattered hollowed-out ruin. Satisfied, Azrael ordered his fleet regroup and make for their true target: Vashtorr.[7a]

Hours passed by as the Unforgiven fleet pressed deeper into the Idolatros System with only scattered signs of the enemy. During this time, Techmarines identified a mysterious Warp resonance that was seemingly growing in strength. Though its purpose could not be surmised, it began to interfere with mechanical systems and even the minds of those in the Unforgiven fleet. Finally, the Unforgiven fleet came in sight of what Vashtorr had been constructing: a planet-sized mechanical monstrosity of infernal Warp technology. To Azrael's horror, he realized that the Arkifane had acquired and modified the remnants of the ancient Dark Angels homeworld of Caliban.[7a] To the Forces of Chaos, they deemed the abomination Wyrmwood. Worse still, Abaddon the Despoiler and a large Black Legion fleet emerged from a Warp sub-dimension that had been constructed by Vashtorr's infernal technology.[7b]

Wyrmwood

The Supreme Grand Master of the Unforgiven ordered his fleet make a full-on attack on Vashtorr's perversion of the Dark Angels legacy. The Dark Angels led boarding parties on the ruin of Caliban (now reclassified as the Daemon World Wyrmwood), including Azrael himself. The basic Unforgiven plan was to clear the primary continent of orbital defenses to allow The Rock and its accompanying fleet to enact an Exterminatus on a scale unseen since the Horus Heresy. On the surface of Wyrmwood, the Unforgiven met not only Chaos Space Marines but also Daemons, Daemon Engines, Dark Skitarii, and Cultists. The Unforgiven fought their way towards a traitor bastion dubbed the Dark Cathedrum. Azrael and his own forces struck at a continental megastructure known as the Warpforge Palace, which Unforgiven Techmarines had identified as something similar to a Teleportarium which held the assembled Key-fragments the Chaos forces had assembled. Alongside Ezekiel, Belial, and Asmodai, Azrael struck at the Warpforge Palace as Angels of Redemption, Cowled Wardens, and Bladekeepers conducted diversionary attacks.

After many nightmarish hours of battle which included facing the Daemon Prince Paralaxese, Azrael and his entourage at last reached the heart of the Warpforged Palace. There, they confornted an altar of Calibanite ruins on which the Key-Fragments had been ferried. Now however, the altar was the site of a huge brass shrine to Khorne which was defended by World Eaters and House Bazhkar. At its center was a vast summoning circle, and from it emerged Angron, Primarch of the World Eaters.[7b]

In orbit, the Unforgiven found themselves hard-pressed by Abaddon's fleet led by the Vengeful Spirit and Vashtorr's Balefleet led by the Ark of Omen Orac Unleashed. The Unforgiven fleet was led by Grand Master Nakir of the Consecrators, but they were sandwiched between the weaponry of Wyrmwood and the Chaos armada. Abaddon and Falkus Kibre led a boarding operation of the Ravenwing flagship Impacable Justice, scuttling the vessel and sending its remains tumbling into the loyalist fleet. Its Warp Drive then detonated, devastating the Unforgiven. Fortunately for the Unforgiven, a loyalist armada of Blood Angels and Imperial Navy under Regent Dante soon translated into the Idolatros System. Though not knowing how these allies had known of the Unforgiven's crusade, Nakir nonetheless was relieved by these new arrivals. From his flagship Absolution's Ire, Dante ordered the attack. However still unknown to the Unforgiven, Dante carried with him a special passenger: Lion El'Jonson, the recently reawakened Primarch of the Dark Angels.[7b]

Dante's Arrival

To Dante's surprise however, the Lion no longer could be discovered aboard his flagship. The Blood Angels Chapter Master quickly surmrised that he had used his own new abilities to manifest on Caliban's surface. Trusting a son of the Emperor to carry out his own task, Dante proceeded with his own plan and sent Imperial Navy reinforcements to bolster the defenses of The Rock as his own Blood Angels fleet plunged into the desperate orbital battle. At his arrival, Dante proudly announced the return of Lion El'Jonson, which was met by utter disbelief and shock by the Unforgiven. Nakir bombarded Dante with questions and oaths before stating that he now owed the Blood Angels a debt which could never be repaid. Together, Nakir and Dante sought to stabilize the desperate situation in orbit. Seeing the Blood Angels fleet inbound, Abaddon ordered his ships disengage from their present actions and reform for a counterattack. For his part, Vashtorr was irked by these new arrivals but undeterred. He reorganized his vessels and led the Orac Unleashed towards The Rock.[7b]

Once within range of The Rock, Vashtorr used his technological mastery to establish contact with the prize he had sought all along: the ancient Tuchulcha engine, which had become embedded in The Rock millennia ago. Already, Vashtorr had acquired its sister engines Ouroboros and Plagueheart and with the third and final piece could create the Dissonance Engine in order to use The Key to access an Old One vault from the days of the War in Heaven. After exchanging a string of questions and dialog, Vashtorr and the Tuchulcha vanished into another realm entirely. Inside the pocket dimension at the heart of Wyrmwood, Vashtorr and Tuchulcha manifested alongside the Ouroboros and Plagueheart. Finally, the Arkifane began to complete his work by completing the Dissonance Engine. However the action proved to shatter the Orac Unleashed alongside its abominable intelligence, the Orac Myriad. Following the destruction of the Orac Unleashed, the Chaos fleet in orbit now found itself badly outmatched. The Rock and Imperial Navy vessels plunged forward, seeking to reinforce the Unforgiven and Blood Angels near Wyrmwood.[7b][7c]

Back on Wyrmwood's surface, Azrael led a desperate defense against the might of Angron and his World Eaters. The Deathwing and Librarians conducted a rearguard action to allow Azrael and the core of his force into a string of gothic structures, though the cost had been terrible and Belial badly wounded by Angron himself. Several World Eaters attacks led by Angron on the new Unforgiven defensive line had failed, but at great cost. Soon enough, the Unforgiven now found themselves encircled and awaiting inevitable destruction. Just then, a Golden Host led by Dante himself emerged from the sky to save the Dark Angels. Together with these new allies, the Dark Angels led a general counterattack to break out of their siege. Amidst the chaotic battle, Azrael and Dante coordinated their actions despite a lack of Vox contact. Angron clearly had to be dealt with first, and the Blood Angels focused most of their fire upon this foe. Dante and his Sanguinary Guard fell upon the Red Angel alongside Assault Squads and Redemptor Dreadnoughts. Faced with this trap, even Angron staggered in the face of the Blood Angels assault.[7b]

However such was the might of Angron that not even this could subdue him. Despite coming under attack from all sides the Red Angel endured and atop a high tower bested not only the Blood Angels elite but even Dante himself. After destroying both Redemptor Dreadnoughts, Azrael watched in horror as the battered Angron threw Dante to the ground and was about to deliver the killing blow. Horror turned to disbelief as shadows erupted from the spot between Angron and Dante. From these shadows strode Lion El'Jonson, who deflected Angron's blow. The Lion was not alone: his loyalist Fallen known as The Risen emerged beside him. Despite the countless questions that surged across their minds, the Dark Angels only felt jubilation at the arrival of their Primarch. Azrael ordered a furious counterattack led by the Deathwing, and the Unforgiven pressed forward with a renewed zeal.[7b]

The Lion quickly withdrew from Dante's broken body to draw away Angron. The Red Angel rained a constant stream of blows upon the Lion, but against such a foe even Angron was hard-pressed. The Lion briefly met Azrael's gaze and in that moment knew that it was up to the Supreme Grand Master to win the day on Wyrmwood and recover the broken Blood Angels while El'Jonson dealt with Angron.[7b]

Lion El'Jonson faces Angron[7c]

The Angel and The Beast

On Wyrmwood itself, the Unforgiven and their new allies continued their assault, but were hampered by the ever-shifting puzzle-like terrain and traps of the mechanical world. Amidst all of this battled the Lion and Angron. While El'Jonson was disgusted by the corrupted form of his former brother, Angron felt only some dim recognition at the Lion. The two demigods fought their way across Wyrmwood, and with the Lion armed with his new weapons Fealty and the Emperor's Shield even Angron was facing extreme challenge. The battle between the two was titanic and saw them tumble into structures and Angron throw vehicles as if they were missiles. As Wyrmwood shifted, the ground crumbled beneath them and their battle continued as the two plunged below.[7c]

By now, Azrael had linked up with the new acting Blood Angels commander, Aphael of the 2nd Company. They fought their way to the remains of the Sanguinary Guard, where they found several survivors including Dante. Dante was helped back to his feet, and together with Azrael and Aphael they planned their next course of action. Entursting Nakir to enact the Exterminatus plan, Dante and Azrael focused on extracting their warriors by seeking to establish several stable landing zones for gunships to land. The first to fall before the renewed Imperial plan were the World Eaters of the Warpforge Palace, which were overwhelmned on all sides by Blood Angels and Unforgiven. Dante and Azrael then ordered their forces form up and make for the nearest extraction zone. When asked about the Lion's status, Azrael stated he did not know where his gene-father was gone but had faith that he would find his way back into orbit with them.[7c]

Meanwhile, the Lion and Angron continued their battle in the industrial depths of Wyrmwood. As they fought closer to its core, they began to penetrate the veil between reality and the empyrean. After fighting across across Daemonic assembly lines, the two found themselves back on the surface. The Lion sought to use their new enviornment to enact his plan, while Angron had by now grown into an even greater fury then usual. Using the industrial steam to his advantage, the Lion was able to use Angron's own strike to push the point of his Power Sword Fealty into the Daemon Primarch's throat. The wound was such that not even Angron could quickly regenerate from it, and while he lay on his back the Lion used the point of the Emperor's Shield to decapitate his corrupted brother. As Angron exploded back into the Warp, the Lion was victorious but badly wounded. El'Jonson hefted himself to his feet and now sought to escape Wyrmwood.[7c]

By now, Azrael and Dante were nearing their own extraction zone. Despite the infernal horrors of Wyrmwood including roaming tentacles and shattering terrain, Imperial gunships conducted several waves of evacuations. Yet the Blood and Dark Angels were now faced with new foes in the form of Nurgleite Daemons. Azrael took command to hold off these enemies with heavy fire as Dante and Sammael led assault elements around their flanks. During the subsequent fighting, Dante saved a group of Deathwing carrying the injured Belial from a group of Daemon Engines as Sammael waged a breakout attempt to establish a corridor to allow his allies to escape. Sammael's charge was met by a huge Great Unclean One known as Urghab'laxx, and the route to salvation now seemed closed. However it was then that The Lion emerged before Azrael, and despite being infuriated by the presence of The Risen the Supreme Grand Master quickly worked alongside his genefather. The Risen threw themselves as the Great Unclean One and his Daemons as Sammael was ordered to break through the Chaos lines at any cost.[7c]

Together, this renewed Imperial counterattack was able to smash through the Daemonic ambush. As the Blood Angels and Dark Angels broke through under the Ravenwing, Urghab'laxx was subdued by an army of Risen. Finally reaching their extraction zone, Dante and Azrael were the last to board their gunships and make for space. As they left, The Rock opened up its guns on Wyrmwood and seemingly delivered a killing blow to the ruins of Caliban.[7c]

The Key Awakens

Though they had by now apparently succeeded in destroying Wyrmwood and pushing back Abaddon's fleet, Azrael and Dantes forces had experienced grievous losses. The Lion had also fought his way back into orbit, and announced over the Vox that to stay in the vicinity of Wyrmwood was to risk annihilation. The traitors had awakened something in the core of the planet, and it was now beyond the ability of The Rock to even destroy. Azrael and Dante ordered a general withdrawal. Aboard the Vengeful Spirit, Abaddon felt satisfaction at the devastating losses he had inflicted upon his foes but bitterness at the arrival of another loyalist Primarch.[7c]

It was then that Vashtorr established contact with Abaddon, announcing that he had succeeded in the construction of the Dissonance Engine and with it the awakening of The Key. Using the ascendent Wyrmwood, they could now claim The Lock and with it The Weapon. Shortly after, Wyrmwood tore open the veil of reality itself and plunged into a whirling abyss.[7c]

Aftermath

Ultimately, the Arks of Omen Campaign can be credited as a Chaos strategic victory despite the return of Lion El'Jonson. Vashtorr succeeded in assembling the Key-Fragments, and now sought to find The Lock in order to obtain The Weapon. The Inquisition under Coteaz recognizes as such, and has ordered all available assets be used to stop The Arkifane at all costs.[7c]

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