The Coming of the Sorrowsworn
By that time, however, the situation in the Nerska March had deteriorated drastically. More of the Drowned came swiftly after the attack on Dauma. The 12th Tendril fell upon Carnium, which held the southernmost astropathic relay station in the March, and left the installation a smouldering ruin. While the Warp was usually stable in the region, communications were nonetheless slowed within the March, and drastically so without. For many worlds, the news of the first incursion at Dauma was followed by silence, leaving dread to curdle in the hearts of the Loyalists.
Nonetheless, the commanders of the Nerska March were well-coordinated and experienced. The isolationism which the Insurrectionists exploited against many frontier regions had no purchase when it came to the “Backbone” of fortress worlds from which the March was controlled. Instead, Icarion would have to break their defences with sheer, shocking force. Sorrowsworn Morro, having broken away from his original objective of Yamatar, was set to the task.
Where the first two assaults had been single Tendrils, now the overwhelming might of the XVIth surged out of the depths into the March and went straight for its fortress worlds. Every asset which had been allocated for the Yamatar campaign and not assigned elsewhere was retained by the Sorrowsworn, among them maniples of the Legio Mortis, heavily augmented Jeivka Phalangites and mechanised regiments of the Ghorthal Stonebreakers. Nerskine fleets found themselves confronted with Armada squadrons as well as Legion ships, each attack coming with overwhelming speed and exploiting detailed knowledge of the systems.
The first squadrons sent to investigate systems gone dark found wreckage in the void and ravaged cities on the surfaces of the planets. Garrisons and administrators had been wiped out, and often the investigators found populations whose minds were broken by the weapons and deeds of the enemy. At least, those which survived to report back provided such information - several detachments disappeared as if swallowed up. Such was the case at Tagral, the southernmost of the Backbone systems, where a battlecruiser and eight heavy destroyers vanished without so much as a single transmission after translating into the system. As scores of planets and colonies went silent, the Nerskine commanders were obliged to pull back their fleets to weather the oncoming assault.
With the situation already dire, Therbium’s taghmata now declared their allegiance openly, sending some troops to tip the balance on Richal but deploying most of them against other worlds in the March. Gyep, second of the Backbone worlds, fell under the relentless assault of Thallax, battle-automata and millions of tech-thralls, opening several more worlds to attack by the Mechanicum traitors or the Drowned. While the remaining fortress worlds stood firm, others were rattled and in several cases wracked by civil unrest, only put down with severe force. Those whose rulers regained control were now weakened, broken in short order or even yielding to the Insurrectionists.
On Kyvel and Ajnaz, the Imperial staff saw their domain hewn away from beneath their feet. Richal’s armies joined the Insurrectionist march, its rulers having consolidated control of their world. Ajnaz’s, finding themselves suddenly isolated and exposed, realised that they would be the next to feel the enemy's breath upon their necks.
Nothing would be known of Ajnaz’s fate for years, until a fleet of the Stone Dragons found the drifting wreck of the monitor Bastien during the Scouring. Until then, Ajnaz had simply gone quiet, swallowed up by the tide of silence and shadow. Then, with the finding of the Bastien and the data-cores which lay within, a stark tale of murder was dragged into the light of day. The killing hand belonged to Hennasohn, the one-time Legion Master of the XVIth.
The Neptune’s Grief, Hennasohn’s scarred old flagship, led an estimated fifth of the Drowned’s fleet strength into system, using fireships as a battering ram against the system’s minefields and clearing what remained with raking broadsides. Other vessels moved in the wake of Hennasohn’s own; Mechanicum ships bearing the mountain emblem of Richal, Rogue Traders with the four-pointed star and skull upon their flanks and other, less recognisable ships stalking at the margins.
The Ajnaz fleet was carefully deployed throughout the system, but against such a powerful attacker this prudence served only to hasten their end. Hennasohn defeated them in detail, leading the bulk of his ships to eradicate each detachment as he moved into the system. Those ships not of the Drowned fleet moved to stymy the attempts of the Loyalists to bring their forces together, hemming them in and paving the way for Hennasohn’s crushing attacks or running down those who ran.
By the time that the last of the system’s four battleships died, ripped open by a squadron of cruisers, Hennasohn had turned his attention to the world itself, and the sinkholes into which its primary cities had been built. His first move was to blind them, and drop-pods and assault rams plunged into the atmosphere, following in the wake of vessels broken in Ajnaz’s orbit. Watch-stations, defence lasers and holdfasts were overrun with vicious speed, paving the way for the Stormbirds, Thunderhawks and assault landers which carried the bulk of Hennasohn’s force.
The Drowned plied a reaver’s trade on Ajnaz, raining down ordnance from on high as much to sow terror as inflict material damage. Some cities, lightly defended, were ripped from the very crust with cyclonic torpedoes. Fire Raptors dropped into the sinkholes, saturating landing platforms as the dropships set down their murderous cargo, while on the surface breaching drills were sent tunnelling down to attack from the defenders’ rear.
Within a few hours, only the world’s capital city held. In the upper levels the invasion had resulted in raw slaughter, the militia unable to stand for any more than a few minutes against the Drowned. Civilians caught in the way of the invaders were killed out of hand, cut and shot apart or crushed under armoured boots. But further down, the hardened regular soldiers of the Ajnaz Bronzewrought regiments brought up tanks and heavy Sentinel walkers in their hundreds. This was a force which even an Adeptus Astartes Chapter would not overcome without steep losses, and as the Drowned made their first attacks they found another enemy.
A few ragged companies of Crimson Lions, retreating from their ambush by an Eagle Warriors force, had limped into harbour at Ajnaz. Finding themselves cornered again by Insurrectionists, they fought now with the zeal of men who wished nothing more than to sell their lives at the highest price they could take. They positioned themselves carefully, where they could best support the mortal soldiers, but when the chance came to cross blades with the Drowned they fought as savagely as their namesake, bloodying the Drowned with swords and axes.
The Bitter Blades
Hennasohn was undaunted, however, and met this armoured might with a force which far exceeded it. On the heels of the Drowned came slab-sided heavy landers, which set down with a roar of engines. Then a new cacophony echoed through the stricken city, a wrathful challenge and a dirge for the doomed soldiers who stood against the invaders. It was the ancient challenge of a Knight House, and on came scores of the towering machines clad in bronze and copper. House Devoram, more commonly known as the Sin-Eaters, strode out into the city, come to conquer in the name of their grim masters.
Where the defenders had expected a gruelling battle against the Drowned’s dogged advance, they met a wall of iron which towered over them. A score of Styrix, Magaera and Valiant armours formed the core of the Sin-Eaters’ advance. They strode imperiously through the boulevards and parades, contemptuously shrugging off Loyalist ordnance and killing with every shot or blow. Around them fought more common patterns and the lesser Knights Armiger, each still more than a match for a Sentinel and indeed many of the tanks arrayed against them. Within an hour, the contest of machines was done. The Loyalist engines were left as burned-out husks or debris, torn apart by claws, fists and chainswords.
The surviving soldiers of Ajnaz scattered into narrower thoroughfares, some to regroup and dig in along the route to the Imperial Commander’s palace, some simply to hide. Their choices made little difference to the Drowned. In squads and companies they spread out, deploying with Sin-Eater Armigers where possible in what was now closer to a hunt than a battle. On the primary thoroughfares, Hennasohn and his senior captains led their companies through the midst of gutted war machines towards the palace and found the remaining Crimson Lions. In the confines among the wreckage the battle became a hundred smaller fights, the Crimson Lions using their combat shields to raise small phalanxes and press the Drowned into corners where they could be brought down more easily. For a time, the warriors of the IIIrd Legion held the parades.
But then Hennasohn took a hand. "Poltergeist" he was named for his telekine powers, and he fought with a retinue of similarly gifted warriors. He came into the midst of the Crimson Lions surrounded by a blizzard of metal shards, a storm that split ceramite in a hundred places and shredded the flesh beneath. Beside them were Terminators, who used their fists and claws to tear through the obstacles before them, and did much the same to any Loyalist caught in their path. The Crimson Lions, already battered by hours of fighting, were overborne and undone, though each resisted with blood-drenched vigour and fury to the very last.
As the highways were cleared, the Sin-Eaters rejoined the advance, and with their mighty guns they obliterated the Ajnaz formations surrounding the Imperial Commander’s stronghold. Hennasohn entered the palace once the Magaera Blood Tithe had prised open its doors. There he unleashed the psyker powers for which he was so darkly renowned, and when he emerged from the palace all that remained of his victims was burned blood. That smell, it is said, was still quite apparent when the Stone Dragons entered the palace decades later.
At the time, however, one fact was obvious to the Loyalists: Kyvel was now alone before the oncoming kraken.
Edited by bluntblade, 31 July 2019 - 10:46 PM.