The Coming Storm
As has been noted in other works, when the Insurrection ravaged the Imperium, few forces were not divided in some way. In the case of the Harbingers, that split was a small one, with only a few Lightning Bearers retaining their loyalty to the Emperor on the Day of Revelation. For once Icarion had chosen his course, he would work hard to ensure the loyalty of his own legion when he finally declared his intentions to the galaxy. It is only through perusing past battle records and piecing together the evidence that it is now known that the greatest potential resistance to Icarion's ambitions lay with the Praxis.
While they certainly served Icarion well, these Lightning Bearers represented a heritage which preceded Icarion’s command. This made them a potential rallying point for those who would defy the Primarch, and they had demonstrated a certain readiness to question his writ. Thus, Icarion deemed the culling of the Praxis necessary for his schemes. This extermination, along with that of other “unreliables” would take place on a hundred battlefields. These warriors would find themselves cut off from support or ambushed in dark hallways. It was planned so meticulously by Icarion and his closest lieutenants that at the time, most of the rank and file had no idea that they were betraying their brothers. At other times, potential holdouts were simply deployed to more dangerous warzones to be ground down by attrition.
To outside observers, it seemed that the Lightning Bearers were wracked by frustration, leading them to choose more arduous battles. A xenocide operation conducted in the Conota System seemed of a piece with this trends. Within this system, the largest colony of Rak'gol yet known was discovered, with a few xenobiologists theorizing that it may very well be the species' home system. It fell to the Lightning Bearers to cleanse this region of the nightmarish xenos. By now the vile creatures' rapacity was well-known, and their destruction was marked as a priority by the Warmaster himself.
The Stormborn, while engaged in his own campaign, quickly assembled a force from his nearest expeditionary fleets for this task. It was assumed at the time that the decision was determined by simple practicality, but records now show that each fleet contained a large contingent of Praxis and were following recent orders from their Primarch, ensuring that they were the nearest at the time of the Rak'gol discovery. What did arouse a few questions were Icarion's choices for the operational commanders.
Their capability was undoubted; Marshal Antru Ri-an was as old as the legion itself. Possessing a shrewd, calculating mind and an adamantium will, he had fought across a thousand battlefields and slain the champions of a hundred alien races. Yet he was better-known for his independent streak, one of the few Marshals to openly challenge his Primarch on several decisions. Furthermore, as a member of the Praxis, he was a powerful psyker, but he possessed no gift of divination. Instead, he had devoted his centuries of life to mastering all forms of telepathy to the point where it was rumoured that he was able to force an enemy to do his bidding so long as he said a certain phrase. It was a powerful tool against renegade humans, Orks, and other humanoid races; it was unknown if it would have any effect on the Rak'gol. Still, his willingness to object to his master's plans should not be mistaken for disloyalty. When the order came, Marshal Ri-an did not hesitate and accepted a shared command.
The other commander was no surprise whatsoever; Susanoo Empyon. Although technically the two Marshals stood at the same rank, it was well understood that as commander of the First Maniple, Emoyon tacitly ranked above Antru, who belonged to the Fifth. Moverover, Susanoo had always held a great deal of favour with Icarion, and his deeds were known the length of the Imperium. Some suspected that this joint command was a chastisement of Empyon for the recent losses at Farfallen. Empyon himself made no comment on the command structure and Ri-an, whose seniority had led many of his fellows to defer to him at one time or another, never pressed the issue.
While not particularly cordial, the two senior Marshals soon began drawing up battle plans to exterminate the xenos. They had been given five Maniples to command besides their own, along with substantial auxiliary elements. Early auspex scans of their targets had been unable to provide detailed information, due to incredibly high amounts of radioactivity from the Rak'gol void assets. What was known was that there were three orbital stations surrounding the planet, in addition to an unknown number of capital ships.
If the planet was to be cleansed, the three stations had to be eliminated. Consulting with Empyon, Ri-an determined to divide his task force into four battalion-strength detachments. He would lead the attack on one structure and Seventeenth Marshal Ayamo another, delegating Kensun of the Forty-Second to assault the remaining station. The three forces would approach each battle station, moving swiftly to avoid the crude but vicious defences, and draw away any remaining Rak'gol warships once the boarding parties were safely aboard. The Rak’gol were still largely unknown at this time, and Icarion sought as much information on them as could be found. Susanoo's ships would remain in reserve to reinforce as needed. Fittingly, he commanded the fleet's heaviest warships, which would deal the killing blow against the orbital stations once the prior objectives were accomplished.
When Ri-an gave the order, the Lightning Bearers invaded. As they neared, attempts were continually made to scan the void structures to glean more accurate information. All such attempts proved fruitless. The sheer amount of radiation emitted by the Rak'gol vessels created thick “clouds” that the auspices could not penetrate. Soon that same atomic energy was turned upon the approaching Imperial warships as crude beams of nuclear fire struck out from the orbital stations. Howler cannons and Roarer beams added to the defensive deluge, cracking apart Lighting Bearer vessels through their sheer volume of fire. Although worthy Librarians in their own right, the Praxis contingents died as easily as any Space Marine when explosions ripped through the decks or when sucked out into the cold void of space. Eager to close the distance and allow the psykers a chance to practice their warcraft, Ri-an ordered the fleet's engines set to full burn.
His fleet's own guns were hardly idle in this time, and while the Rak'gol meted out losses, their vessels were annihilated by the Ist Legion ships. Empyon, his ships ringing the alien fleet while Ri-an thrust in close, made sport of it. The Lightning Bearers were among the finest naval fighters in the Galaxy, and cut through the barbaric xenos fleet with contemptuous grace, stripping the stations of their protectors. The moment Ri'an's ships came into close range, hundreds of boarding torpedoes launched, screened expertly by interceptor wings and las-volleys. Thousands of Lightning Bearers boarded and fought their way deep into the installations. Although the high radiation levels should have killed any unprotected human, it had been documented that the Rak'gol did take human prisoners, suggesting that they were preserved in some manner.
According to Empyon, there were indeed human prisoners within the orbital stations. From his flagship, he provided detailed instructions to reach them, apparent proof of his divinations. Ri-an was in no position to query these claims; while he kept seers among his retinue, they were occupied with fighting. However, Empyon had also warned that the slightest deviation from his instructions would ensure that no Space Marine would be able to exit the superstructure before the radiation overwhelmed their armour seals. Confident in his brothers' capabilities, the Fifth Sentinel proceeded with the assault.
What happened next is debated to this day. What is known is that while the stations were destroyed and the Rak'gol perished in the tens of thousands, the blood price was high, far higher than anticipated. Only a third of the six thousand Legionaries who boarded the orbital stations survived the battle - among them three praetors and most of their lieutenants. The Praxis contingent was almost entirely wiped out. Very little detail emerged, but Icarion let it be known that the Purge of Conota was the worst military disaster ever suffered by the Lightning Bearers. Neither the Council of Terra or his own brothers told more than the basic facts.
The Rak’gol had numbered far in excess of what the Lightning Bearers had foreseen, and launched an ambush with swarms of fighter craft that kept the rest of the Legion force from reaching their kinsmen. This was attributed to the presence of psykers among the xenos. Matters worsened when Ayamo’s station suffered a reactor meltdown, with only Captain Yamon’s company and a handful of squads escaping. Fighting his way back within range, Susanoo delayed until five minutes after the point where it was estimated the boarders’ protection against the radiation would fail. Then he began bombarding the remaining stations, reducing them to dust. Extra care was taken to ensure that none of the stations fell out of orbit onto the planet, Conota Prime, for it was a world rich in natural beauty besides its material resources.
Why the Rak'gol never set foot on the planet remains a mystery. Once the alien fleet and stations were neutralized, Icarion convened the Council of Sentinels, ostensibly to review the debacle and ensure nothing like it or the prior setbacks recurred. Of particular debate was how much of the blame should fall upon Empyon. Some pointed to his advice as the root of the disaster, others argued that Ri-anhad been too reckless, and a few argued that the two bore equal blame. It was the last group that Icarion ultimately sided with, though he emphasised that he respected his brother's desire to save the human captives as quickly as possible. Susanoo was officially reprimanded, but suffered no other consequence. The scale of the victory, it seemed, balanced the losses.
One final mystery has perplexed all the remembrancers and military scholars who have studied the incident. It is merely a rumour, carried by a mere handful of Legionaries who would ultimately keep their oaths to the Emperor, but strange enough to have made its way to other Legions despite the silence which largely surrounded the battle. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, it later emerged, a Lightning Bearers patrol ship discovered a Rak'gol escape pod from the largest of the orbital stations, the same one upon which Antru died. Within the pod was a Rak'gol Carver, young and severely injured.
Upon seeing the Lightning Bearers, the Rak'gol had held up a piece of adamantium, exclaiming in a voice which almost defeated the Astartes' ability to understand it, "Warn the Emperor!" This in itself is difficult to believe, for the Rak’gol have not been observed to possess a true language of their own, let alone master human speech. Before the Lightning Bearers could respond to this profound shock, the xenos rallied. It dropped the shard of metal and attacked, dying in a moment before it could do harm. As confounding as the Carver's behaviour was, the adamantium proved to be yet more of a puzzle. It was extremely weathered and had suffered recent damage, perhaps during the Carver's escape.
Yet, marred as it was, portions of an emblem and a word or name could still be seen, and more perplexingly still, bore striking resemblance to a component of Astartes power armour. A human face was embossed upon it along with a 'Sigma' character. Beneath the symbol, a few letters remained amid the abrasion: "SU RA N". The piece was tested and determined to be over eight millennia old, adding another layer to the riddle. All efforts to search the Rak'gol wreckage for more pieces such as this failed. Attempts to substantiate the account with Empyon and his company failed, as the Marshal refused to be reminisce about the blunder.
Or at least, the blunder that all took it to be at this time. During the Insurrection, captured data-logs showed no sign of the psychic interference and ambushes Empyon had blamed for the fiasco. Vox-traffic suggests that Yamon had failed to support a number of other companies during the attack, leading to suspicion that he had acted in someway to sabotage the reactor. It is now overwhelmingly believed that Icarion and Empyon orchestrated the entire affair to dispose of Ri-an, Ayamo and Kensun and their lieutenants - and other engagements, such as Farfallen, appear to be part of the same scheme. When the depleted Maniples were reorganised, they came under the command of officers whose loyalty was to their Primarch first and foremost, with Yamon assuming command of the Seventeenth. By the time Icarion showed his true colours, the Fifth, Seventeenth and Forty-Second were shackled completely to his will, and would be at the forefront of the Expansion Wars.
Edited by bluntblade, 12 November 2019 - 10:42 PM.