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Death or Glory (Novel)

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Death or Glory
Author Sandy Mitchell
Publisher Black Library
Series Ciaphas Cain
Preceded by The Traitor's Hand
Followed by Duty Calls
Released 2006
Pages 420
Length 8 hours 50 minutes
Editions 2006 softcover
ISBN 9781844162871

Death or Glory, first published in 2006, is the fourth novel in the Ciaphas Cain series by Sandy Mitchell. Acting as a prequel to the events of the first novel, it chronicles the first major exploit of Cain's career that gained him his unwanted reputation for heroism. It is also the first novel in what may be termed the "Shadowlight Trilogy" in the series, along with Duty Calls and Cain's Last Stand.

Cover Description

Once again, reluctant hero Commissar Cain is catapulted into glory in the fourth installment of this tremendously popular series. Escaping from a disastrous space battle, the commissar and his malodorous sidekick Jurgen crash-land behind enemy lines. Even the sly Cain can't avoid a straight fight this time, as the only way out is to round up what few troops they can find and fight their way back to safety. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of barbaric alien orks stand in their way.


After mopping up a genestealer infestation on Keffia, the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery and its Commissar, Ciaphas Cain, are ordered to Perlia to reinforce an embattled Imperial garrison under attack by Orks. Never having fought Orks before, Cain is not too worried, since the beauty of being attached to an artillery unit is being stationed well back from the front lines. The last thing he expects is for his starship to come under attack, ejecting him and Jurgen onto the planet's surface in Ork-held territory, alone and without supplies. Desperate to survive, they strike out towards the Imperial lines, Cain little suspecting that his path is carrying him to an appointment with destiny.


This page contains spoilers for: Death or Glory (Novel)

Part One

After mopping up a genestealer infestation on Keffia, the 12th Valhallan Field Artillery is en route to Perlia, under attack by Orks. Ciaphas Cain has never fought Orks before, but is not too worried; like too many others in the Imperium, he has seen holos and preserved corpses of them, and tends to dismiss them as rather stupid, ugly brutes.

An extract from a popular history of the Ork invasion explains that, after rampaging across several surrounding planets, the Waaagh! led by Warboss Gargash Korbul targeted Perlia, the industrial heart of the subsector. Unluckily for the Orks, the Imperial Guard reinforcements were already on their way, accompanied by the man who would turn the tide of the entire campaign: Ciaphas Cain.

Cain and a few friends are enjoying their last evening of leisure aboard the troop ship, when it suddenly translates back into the Materium without warning. The crew reports that the Navigator has collapsed from a psychic shock, and the fleet is under attack by an Ork fleet. Cain and Jurgen rush toward the landing bays to rejoin the rest of the regiment, but a hull breach near their position seals them off and forces them to eject in an escape pod rather than be sucked out into space.

In a partial transcript from a board of enquiry, an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor explains to an assembly of Imperial Navy officers that Korbul used his own psykers (called Weirdboyz) to disable the Imperial fleet's Navigators and cause it to revert to realspace right on top of his waiting ships – a trap sprung with a degree of foresight and precision almost unheard of from an Ork.

Since they are traveling through the midst of an Ork fleet, Cain quickly decides against activating the pod's locator beacon; the better option is to make it to Perlia's surface and join the rest of the Imperial forces. Without Warp travel, this is a three-week journey, but Cain and Jurgen make it unmolested and – since the pod is spaced and provisioned for twenty persons – in relative comfort.

The landing, however, is another story. The space port is already under attack by Ork Fightaz, a couple of which notice the pod and come after it. A glancing hit from their weapons forces Cain to make an emergency landing, with no idea of where they are. When he pokes his head out of the pod, the first thing he sees is an Ork scouting party, which charges. He and Jurgen are able to dispatch them with lasguns and Cain's chainsword, though Cain gets a sobering first view of just how resilient these xenos are.

He and Jurgen find the Orks' vehicles, and a crudely-drawn map. Since the latter is not detailed enough to tell them exactly where they are, Cain decides to head for the nearest approximation of an Imperial settlement. They load up their limited supplies onto an Ork warbuggy and strike out for civilization.

Part Two

Reaching the town of Prosperity Wells, Cain and Jurgen park their buggy outside the town limits and enter cautiously on foot. It quickly becomes obvious that the town was overrun by the Orks. They are about to turn around, when their communicators pick up vox transmissions from an embattled PDF unit fighting in another part of the town. Cain is reluctant to get involved, but concedes that his chances of survival will improve if he has even a few trained soldiers standing between him and the Orks.

Distracting a band of Orks with a booby-trapped truck, Cain and Jurgen link up with Sergeant Alaric Tayber and his small squad of men. They have been making guerilla raids on the Orks since the town was overrun, though they were close to being trapped by the Orks that very day. When Tayber identifies their location, Cain is horrified to learn that he and Jurgen landed on Perlia's eastern continent, while the nearest Imperial forces have been driven to the western one – they are hundreds of kilometers from any sizable friendly force. Nevertheless, he is determined to try, and Tayber agrees (with suspicious enthusiasm) that he knows where they can commandeer some transport.

An ad hoc tactical plan allows them to storm the Orks' vehicle park, which also happens to be where they are herding their human slaves. Cain is dismayed when Tayber insists on freeing them and bringing them along as they escape Prosperity Wells, touching off an explosion that levels the town and incinerates most or all of the remaining Orks.

The history describes "The Battle of Prosperity Wells" as the turning point of the whole war, when thousands of Orks were wiped out in the explosion of Prosperity Wells (subsequently renamed "Cainstead" after its rebuilding) as the few survivors on the eastern continent began to rally together under Cain's inspirational leadership. The explosion showed up as a minor event on Imperial satellites, and gave the High Command the first signs that something might be happening behind the Ork lines.

Part Three

Cain was hoping to pick up a few professional soldiers to stand between him and the Orks; the last thing he wanted was to be saddled with a pack of refugees who will consume their limited supplies and slow their flight to the Western continent. But he knows better than to express this out loud, so tries to make the best of things.

After pulling away from the town and establishing a perimeter, Cain orders Jurgen to provide the few hundred refugees with a small meal and some water, while ordering Tayber to recruit anyone with useful skills. Their first volunteer is Tayber's Enginseer sister, Felicia (which explains Tayber's determination to free the prisoners). Cain is impressed by her enthusiasm and she immediately starts in on repairing the Ork vehicles.

Other volunteers include Ariott, a veterinarian who is the closest thing they have to a trained medic; Kolfax, a roadworker who can guide them through the desert; and Norbert, an Administratum scrivener who has already inventoried their supplies and outlined rationing procedures. Tayber also organizes the few volunteers with fighting experience into ad hoc fireteams.

Cain is deeply worried at Norbert's report that they only have enough supplies to keep everyone fed and watered for 2–3 days, but Tayber says the PDF maintains a series of supply caches in the desert for just such an invasion. The nearest one is only a few days away, though their water will likely run out before then.

Their convoy makes slow but steady progress through the desert, mercifully without coming too close to any Orks. Kolfax leads them to one of his watering holes, and is astounded to find that the rain has been good enough to leave a whole lake of fresh water. The entire group's morale improves at being able to drink their fill, eat a hot meal, and bathe for the first time in weeks. While discussing their supplies and equipment, Felicia cheerfully volunteers to try and fix and operate the broken vox-caster the PDF has been lugging around.

This turns out to be a blessing when they reach the supply dump, just behind a raiding party of Orks about to loot it. The few PDF defenders holding the dump mistake Cain's party for Orks at first, but the vox allows them to coordinate a defense and Cain ambushes the Orks. Cain makes the acquaintance of Lieutenant Piers, the ranking PDF officer among the defenders. The supply dump has almost everything they need, including heavy ordnance for some of the gung-ho defense volunteers, and a power loader built on a Sentinel chassis which Felicia gleefully outfits with a Heavy Flamer.

Joining with Piers's group and its vehicles, Cain prepares to move out the next day, after sending a short burst-transmission to any other straggling units nearby. Just before they are out of sight of the dump, a Leman Russ Battle Tank is sighted, speeding for the dump with a party of Orks after it. It needs to replenish its magazine, which may be problematic when Cain's party has booby-trapped the dump to explode. Cain is flabbergasted when Felicia pilots her new Sentinel back to the dump to grab a few pallets of shells, allowing the tank's commander Sergeant Sautine to drop one on the pursuing Orks, before veering off to rendezvous with Cain. Between their covering fire, and setting off the explosives in the dump, Cain's force annihilates the incoming Orks.

The detonation of the supply dump is enough to convince the Imperial High Command that something significant is occurring behind the Ork lines, beyond the simple internecine feuding so typical of Orks.

Part Four

The next few weeks pass smoothly, with Cain's force continuing to absorb units of stragglers and dispatching whatever isolated pockets of Orks they run across. By the time they have reached the mountain ranges, between themselves and the western continent, his force has grown to about three hundred soldiers, several times more that number of refugees, and a few more armoured vehicles.

Kolfax says they have a problem: the trails through the mountains are an ideal place for the Orks to box them in and ambush them; on the other hand, going around the mountain range will take far too long. Felicia has a third option: the Mechanicus operates a generating plant in one of the valleys, powered by a hydroelectric dam. The service tunnels are wide enough to accommodate their vehicles, and if they can drain them using the plant's controls, they should be able to pass underneath the mountains altogether. Cain agrees it is their best option, even despite Felicia's offhand remark about the local superstitions surrounding the locally-named "Valley of Daemons."

When they reach the dam, Piers and Sautine set up a defensive perimeter, while Cain accompanies Felicia inside the plant. To their amazement, they are attacked by a gun servitor, before Felicia (the nearest Mechanicus representative available) orders it to disengage. One of Cain's troops asks what a gun-servitor is doing in a hydroelectric plant, and Felicia is as baffled as the rest of them. Exploring deeper into the plant, they find a hidden vault, with a laboratory inside. The doors have been blown open with heavy weapons, and inside are the slaughtered bodies of several dozen Tech Priests and Skitarii. Felicia's first thought is that the Orks got there first, but Cain disagrees: everything he sees speaks of precision and cold efficiency, almost like the work of an Astartes squad. Cain concludes that whoever it was, they're gone now, and whatever they took is not their problem.

But just as Felicia starts to work on draining the access tunnels, a force of several thousand Orks masses at the base of the dam. Those that come charging up the causeway are picked off by Cain's defenders, but it is only a matter of time before they are overwhelmed. Cain urges Felicia to hurry, and she retorts that she can't do so without risking blowing up the generators at the foot of the dam. Cain switches tack immediately, targeting their one Basilisk artillery piece at the base of the dam: the resulting explosion collapses the dam, releasing a torrent of water that washes away the entire Ork host.

For the first time in the campaign, the actions of the mysterious force behind their lines is worrisome enough to the Orks that they divert a portion of their forces from the front lines to double back towards the mountains. This bit of breathing space is all the embattled Imperial forces on the Western continent need to start preparing a counter-attack.

Part Five

Cain's party traverses the aqueduct uneventfully, and they come out close to another supply dump. Unfortunately, the Orks are swarming around in force. Cain organizes a diversionary attack, detailing another party to sweep in during the confusion and grab whatever ammunition they can, before speeding out again. Cain plans on going in with the second party, thinking it much less hazardous than a hit-and-run attack on the main body of Orks.

He is wrong; the raiding party is ambushed inside the walls, and Jurgen has to swerve his and Cain's Salamander Scout into a nearby building to save their lives. Inside, Cain sees a gathering of Nobz, and belatedly realizes that the Orks have commandeered the supply cache as a headquarters. He and Jurgen are then rushed by the biggest, meanest Ork in the whole Waaagh!: Warboss Korbul himself. Cain desperately evades the Warboss' attacks, while yelling for Jurgen to shoot the Ork. Jurgen says he can't, since Korbul's bodyguards are holding back until the "duel" between Cain and Korbul is finished, but if Jurgen fires, the Nobz will rush them.

Cain's dueling reflexes, and his indefatigable will to survive, allow him to win, tricking the Warboss into bearing down on him with his Power Klaw, drawing him close enough for Cain to raise his other hand and fire his laspistol into Korbul's eye at point-blank range.

Korbul falls dead, and there is a baffled silence from the other Orks. Jurgen tells Cain to hold his ground, and in a moment, Cain sees why: one of the Nobz barks an order at the others, who don't agree, and within moments they are fighting amongst themselves in a bloody melee. Cain and Jurgen rush outside to see Felicia in her Sentinel, ready to lead them out. Cain is later mortified to learn that she outfitted her vehicle with a pict-caster that captured images of his confrontation with Korbul.

With Korbul dead, the Waaagh! disintegrates into the chaotic free-for-all so common to Orks, allowing the Imperial counterattack to mop them up with relative ease. A short time later, months after his arrival, the citizens of Perlia are able to learn the name of the Liberator to whom they owe their salvation: Ciaphas Cain.


Cain's force heads for the Imperial lines, now only a few days away. They sporadically engage small bands of Orks, but the vast majority of the Waaagh! is ignoring them in favor of cutting itself to pieces.

Finally reaching sight of the Western continent, Cain is dismayed to see a band of Orks that, chaotic as it is, is still large enough to give them serious problems. Deciding they've come too far now to turn back, he orders the column to charge ahead, and they break through, thanks in no small part to a bombing run by a squadron of Thunderbolts and supporting fire from the Western side's artillery batteries. Even Cain is amazed to see that they actually made it.

"Cain's Heroes", as history will later dub them, are met by a detachment from the 362nd Valhallan Ice Warriors. Cain's first request is for medical aid for his most serious wounded. His second – since his greeter is a Valhallan – is for something he's gone without since landing on Perlia: a nice mug of tanna.

In a footnote, Amberley Vail reports that roughly 70% of Cain's original force made it to safety, a remarkable achievement by any standard.

List of Characters

Imperial Guard

Imperial Navy


The Inquisition


  • There are numerous oblique references to the original Star Wars film:
    • Cain and Jurgen jettison from a ship under attack in an escape pod and crash-land on a desert planet, in the same way C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-land on Tatooine.
    • During the fight outside the supply dump, one of the civilian volunteers whoops, "I got one!" and Cain tells her, "Don't get cocky," echoing an exchange between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
    • Seeing the damage to the Mechanicus Shrine, Jurgen notes that the damage is far too precise for Orks, echoing a brief lecture by Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke, seeing a sandcrawler attacked by Imperial stormtroopers.


See also