The Titan Legios had long been a broiling mix of tensions and ambition, both among themselves and the wider empire of Mars. Through the synchronicity of Princeps, Moderati and Titan, these became impossible to disentangle from personal animosity, and gathered momentum during the late Crusade.
Some of the old Martian warlords bridled at the way Legios from lesser Forge Worlds, mere satraps of the Red World, were embraced by some of the Space Marine Legions. The most prominent of these were those aligned with the Iron Bears, whose domain included a number of Forge colonies. Though treaties codified the dual allegiances of the Mechanicum sects within the Three Fires, Kelbor-Hal and his allies had always resented the situation. To see Titan Legions steeped in the tribal customs of Huron and yet rising in the esteem of the Emperor’s armies, was even more galling.
Another irritant was the eccentric Legio Gojira, allies of the Scions Hospitalier, to whom all must now outwardly bow their heads after the glories of Qarith Prime. But in private many condemned them as upstarts, claiming glories meant for those bound to Sacred Mars, those who had served the Omnissiah for long centuries before the Emperor rose from Terra. These resentments, albeit less pronounced, burned for Legio Tonarum, the Fire Keepers' war horses, and the way in which the Legio Cruciatus were spurned.
The elevation of Alexandros to the post of Warmaster had, as with every other facet of the Imperium, set reverberations running from top to bottom. For the Titan Legions, it was as ever a matter of prestige, especially the Triad Ferrum Morghulis. These were the Legiones Tempestus, Mortis and Ignatum. Legions with histories stretching back to the rise of the Cult Mechanicus, they had accordingly enjoyed a preeminence in the Emperor’s armies.
Tempestus, long in service to the Vth Legion, could not avoid the reflected glory even if they wished to, and the Legio Mortis resented the way in which their own prestige was, at a stroke, comparatively diminished. Of course, the past conduct of Alexandros became a matter of renewed controversy. While he was ever respectful to the Mechanicum itself, he nonetheless was seen as too willing to overlook Sacred Mars' primacy. The hierarchy of Forge Worlds was of surpassing importance to the Lords of Mars, who had already taken steps to arrest the rise of Phaeton and found themselves troubled by the Abyssii sect, now closely tied to the Warmaster.
Camulos, senior Princeps of the Legio Mortis, presented a facade of loyalty in public, albeit one coloured by haughtiness and injured pride. In private, however, he fulminated against what he had always seen as fealty given at gunpoint, for a promise unfulfilled. He saw scant evidence of Mars’ promised parity with Terra, and came to the view that the Emperor had enslaved the Mechanicum. The shifting loyalties within the Collegia Titanica and Legio Cybernetica must be part of a broader scheme to fracture Mars’ control over its vassals. The Emperor’s recent demands for Warlord Titans to be delivered for secretive experiments on Terra had almost led to outright rebellion. Now a maniple of the Legio Ignatum had vanished, for reasons obscured to the Lords of Mars.
While Camulos seems to have felt the greatest anger at the Emperor, he was hardly alone. Across the Mechanicum’s domains, for a hundred reasons, Titan Legions watched for an opportunity to gain the prestige they believed they had been denied, or redress for perceived slights. Soon enough, these resentments would come under the scrutiny of Icarion and his advisors, as they sought allies for the war to come. On Mars, however, the Titan Legions would have their most important role to play, and none more than the Triad Ferrum Morghulis.
For others, rebellion was a matter of opportunity. We cannot know if Artificial Intelligence had ravaged Mars directly, so depleted is the historiography of the Dark Age of Technology, but all Mankind suffered when the Men of Iron turn against their masters. Certainly Martians understand better than most the dangers of machines allowed to run amok. Certain kinds of war machine and Skitarii were devised with the express purpose of cleansing such threats from Mars, and there are catacombs where, in recent centuries, men have only ventured as visitors and plunderers, never able to reclaim the territory.
And yet hubris is a powerful thing. Few societies have been known to persist in or revive the use of AI, but the campaign rolls of the Crusade show that some did. On Mars, a few ambitious magi were suffused with confidence that their new god, their Omnissiah, would provide the insight that eluded them. The Quest for Knowledge demanded that in all areas of understanding they run faster, stretch out to grasp it. Not yet, they told themselves, but one fine day they would have mastery over the technology that had nearly destroyed their species.
The Pact of Mars brought fresh restrictions to this work. No longer prohibited only by religious edict, now the word of the Emperor Himself - the Omnissiah incarnate - forbade all such work. So too were the Moravec Vaults, full of Warp-tainted archeotech, sealed and their location withheld to keep a vast store of technology and knowledge from the hands of men.
Other sciences were forbidden, and while most on Mars were willing to leave these avenues of enquiry alone, and toil to supply the Crusade and the worlds it rendered compliant, others refused to forget. Privately, they questioned how a man who forbade the pursuit of knowledge - of any kind - could be their divine ruler. The Omnissiah embodied perfect mastery of technology; therefore that same entity would have no reason to sequester that technology. Therefore, they decided, the being who had come to Mars with hand of iron in velvet glove was a pretender to the glory of their god, a blasphemer who had shackled the priesthood to unholy ends. This made His overthrow a sacred duty, and the works He had forbidden should be an instrument in that uprising.
Foremost among the blasphemers was Lukas Chrom, Master-Adept of Mondus Gamma. Dignitaries within and without the Mechanicum deemed him odious, but his forge’s productivity was undeniable, and Chrom himself was a master when it came to making weapons of war, especially automata. The finest of these he gifted to Kelbor-Hal as a bodyguard, and doubtless the Fabricator-General counted Chrom among his foremost lieutenants from the start of his planned subterfuge.
Chrom gifted the Traitors one of their most potent weapons in the war for Mars: the Kaban Machine. A monstrous, tracked engine of ruin, it was taught the rudiments of friendship with the personnel who aided in its construction before Chrom set in motion a chain of events which would force it to kill them. Whatever passes for a soul in a thinking machine was thus darkened and corroded within the Kaban.
The Cult of Mars has no afterlife in its creed. Martyrdom, by its dogma, has meaning only if it ensures the survival of the faith and knowledge. The Omnissiah’s victory must be achieved in this life. So there could be no doomed uprising against insurmountable odds. Righteous failure was failure nonetheless.
Whether Kelbor Hal and his minions plotted subterfuge on their own, we do not know. The proliferation of Forge Worlds and their fiefs in certain territories, the increasing production of battle automata, have been taken as hints, but we cannot deem them any more than that. So much has gone unrecorded, so much knowledge was destroyed or hoarded.
What is known is that Icarion, when he first began to plot, sought to exploit existing divisions within the Mechanicus, and the divisions he found ran through the structure from top to bottom. Kelbor-Hal worked doggedly to subvert his subjects, swiftly assembling a faction with which to purge his followers.
“Affirmation: we call it the Death of Innocence, as do the lackeys of Terra. They mistake it for a sentiment of mourning and regret, which they attach to the Schism and the destruction it brought.
Extrapolation: they show themselves unworthy to govern Sacred Mars. Innocence is a state of blankness, and its virtue is ascribed by weak organic minds. The goals of augmetic progress, the shedding of “humanity”, carry with them the abandonment of innocence. Innocence is ignorance, and we must know all. Furthermore barriers of artificial morality stand in our way that innocence would preserve, and none must be allowed to impede us.
Summation: the Death of Innocence is necessary and righteous, for innocence is a shackle upon us! Ruin to the False Omnissiah! Freedom for Sacred Mars! Freedom from the rule of flesh and innocence!”
- last words of the Heretek Suna Echek, executed by Chief Thirgen of the Fire Keepers in the presence of Alexandros.
The Emperor’s Shield and Sword
Icarion’s belief that Alexandros would join him proved utterly misplaced. Far from securing Kelbor-Hal’s uprising, the Warmaster’s Legion was well-placed to counter it. Alexandros himself was besieged by the fallout from the Day of Revelation, and unable to take direct action on Mars, save perhaps for one, singularly devastating intervention.
With Magma City most prominent among the Forges that survived the data-djinn attack, Kelbor-Hal ordered the Legio Mortis to march with all the force they could muster. The surviving engines of Legio Tempestus and the Knights of Taranis prepared to resist, but the cold arithmetic of war could not be ignored; this was to be a last stand that could only slow the enemy.
Yet into this equation, an unexpected factor intruded. Mere kilometres from their objective, the Imperator Aquila Ignis turned upon its lesser brethren with murderous violence. The cause is contested even now, and with the fragmentary evidence left by the Hereteks, the truth will likely remain shrouded for all time. Fragmentary data-ledgers attest to Princeps Camulos declaring judgement and sentence for high treason, claiming to speak with the voice of Alexandros. Some suggest that the volatile and prideful Camulos, corrupted by the tainted gifts of Kelbor-Hal, gave in to madness or was overwhelmed by the bloodlust of the Titan itself. Another interpretation, and one enthusiastically promulgated by the loyalist Mechanicum, was literal divine intervention; the Omnissiah venting wrath upon those who turned its avatars to blasphemous ends. Alexandros never commented, and if he was responsible, such an act speaks to power beyond anything he ever overtly displayed.
Whatever the reason, the Aquila Ignix laid waste its fellow Titans before dying in a spectacular reactor-breach. Those not destroyed by its guns had, in the final moments, succumbed to a rage which overrode any tactical sense or self-preservation, cited by many who believe the theories of madness or divine judgement. Attacking at close range they killed the Imperator, but were themselves consumed in the explosion. As a consequence the entire Martian maniple was destroyed and the Secutarii of Mortis all but eradicated, to say nothing of the tanks and other war machines caught up in the devastation.
The scales, so far tilted overwhelmingly in favour of the Traitors, were suddenly shaken, and now the Halcyon Wardens came to further even the odds. Led by the former Legion Master Irvin Ruel, they landed at those Forge cities which remained loyal, supported by Solar Auxilia regiments on station throughout the system.
(Portrait of Ruel?)
It is true that, even in the days of Ruel’s tenure, the Vth Legion’s reputation had been that of a blunt instrument, brusque in manner and bellicose conduct. Yet the Irvine Ruel of the new millenium was a very different commander, tempered by over two centuries of war and the example of his Primarch. Arriving on Mars, his flinty character brooked no impetuous rush to slay the rebels, and instead he began to carefully allocate forces, judging what he could afford to commit and where reinforcements would be in vain.
In some cases, particular individuals were prioritised. Perhaps the best-known was Arkhan Land, a technoarcheologist who had unearthed the STC patterns for, among other things, the Raider Tank which bears his name. Land and other notables were to be extracted from ___ by gunship before the enemy could attack, but a shock attack by strange, savage automata threw the plan into confusion. Instead Captain Tannhauser had his men bundle the various worthies into tanks and flee across the sands. A hectic pursuit ensued, with tanks, Skitarii Ironstrider cavalry and even ornithopters giving chase until a wing of Vth Legion fighters and bombers reached and shielded the convoy. Back at the city, the remaining Halcyon Wardens and loyal Taghmata fought a grinding retreat as the enemy poured into breaches created by their automata. Reluctantly the Wardens were forced to abandon hab-facilities to protect the key forges, gradually giving ground and guarding what they could until an army of Saturnine Auxilia broke the siege four days later.
The Taghmata Abyssii, recovered from the djinn attack, added their strength to the defence. Alexandros pressed dozens more Forge Worlds for aid, and they began to muster, filled with both zealous anger at the heresy of Kelbor-Hal and ambition. If the eons-long reign of Kelbor-Hal and his acolytes was to end, there would be a great deal to play for in the aftermath. Whether by honest motives or otherwise, vast armies of Skitarii, automata, Knights and all the other weapons the Mechanicus could assemble descended to fight upon Sacred Mars.
Such dramas played out across all the remaining Loyalist strongholds on Mars over the next two. With Mortis in ashes, Tempestus and House Taranis could spare some of their war machines to tip the balance between Ignatum and (that other Loyalist one that isn't Tempestus). The Kaban Machine, meanwhile, had vanished, and while captured Traitor archives have done nothing to disperse the mystery around this event, it was a boon to the Loyalists. The fighting now entered a phase of strange inertia, though still violent enough to stain the sands red anew, for the Traitors brought out fresh weapons from stores previously forbidden. Equilibrium could not last, and every Forge churned out weapons and the soldiers to wield them. Now fresh actors arrived to usher the drama into the next phase, some summoned, other arriving utterly unlooked for.
The latter were the core of the Iron Bears’ First Grand Wartribe aboard the Dragon of Autumn, accompanied by a few escort vessels and the handful of survivors they had rescued in the battle over Kataii. The Bears were sorely reduced, having borne the corpse of their Primarch back to the flagship and then endured a harrowing Warp voyage. Lord Chief Cass lay in stasis, wounded unto death and awaiting internment in a Dreadnought sarcophagus, while command had passed to Achille Nibaanisiiwi of the Firebound Slayers. The Daughters of Daer’dd were similarly mauled. Nonetheless, the remaining Bears were welcome allies, and brought with them Knight walkers and a War Maniple of the Legio Auris.
The Fire Keepers arrived in far greater strength over two months, recalled from the tasks Niklaas had set them to in the wake of the betrayal. By strange chance, the warriors of Tribe Barinthus brought with them a single Scion Hospitalier from their search of Untara - Second Captain Odyssalas, honour-brother to Nibaanisiiwi. Bereft of his own Legion, Odyssalas would spend the campaign at his friend’s side, the warriors of Barinthus and the VIth forming a hybrid force as the war turned to sieges and lightning raids against the Traitor-held forges.
Upon Niklaas’ arrival, a week after the Dragon of Autumn translated in-system, with his forces reinforced by fresh Vth Legion detachments and Taghmata from a dozen Forge Worlds, Alexandros took to the surface. The fighting on Mars now entered its most ferocious stage, as two Primarchs brought their mastery of war to the surface. Niklaas’ wrath was volcanic, dormant ever since ___ and now given license to erupt. With Ordinati, Titans and all the terrifying works of the Ordo Reductor at his fingertips, he embarked upon a campaign of destruction which Kelbor Hal was powerless to halt. Fortresses were torn down and armies scattered until, two weeks after his arrival, the Primarchs brought the war to the Fabricator-General’s doorstep.
They might have simply crushed Kelbor Hal with orbital bombardments, but the void shields over Olympus Mons were as potent as those of any fortress. Besides, the forges and the technology within were of incalculable value, to say nothing of the mountain’s holy status to the Mechanicus. It would have to be taken, and Kelbor Hal’s remaining armies barred the way.
The Battle of the Mariner Plain has been the sole subject of multiple books, such was its scale and importance. It raged for forty hours, covering the fifty kilometres of defences which Kelbor-Hal had set about his stronghold. Forty Titans and some two hundred Knights clashed above the masses of tanks and infantry.
(Focus on battle)
The Red Dust Settles
Kelbor-Hal arrived in Icarion’s realm with his authority diminished, but not reduced utterly. Certainly at this stage no rival to his power existed within the Mechanicum sects pledged to the Stormlord, and the dread authority of the Fabricator General was not easily negated. Certainly Kelbor-Hal turned his brilliance and adamantine will to shoring up his position. Seeking a new base of operations in which to do this, close to the centre of Icarion’s power, he alighted on the Loyalist Forge World of Sarum.
Sarum had been bonded to the Warmaster’s own Legion for over a century, its masters slowly evolving from their survivalist origins to something more in line with the Martian mold, yet steadfastly loyal to Alexandros. It is likely that, even with such stunted emotions as his augmetics left him, Kelbor-Hal viewed them with loathing and relished the chance to wreak some measure of vengeance upon the Warmaster. While Icarion’s forces had blockaded Sarum until this stage, now Kelbor-Hal mustered an invasion force from the taghmata of several Forge Worlds and his surviving followers, and launched an all-out assault upon the world. The defenders of Sarum, including a garrison of Halcyon Wardens, were butchered, their surviving works turned to the cruel purposes of Kelbor-Hal.
While none yet challenged Kelbor-Hal’s primacy, there were those who took note, and began to scheme. Certainly several factions escalated their work with a newfound zeal, foremost among them Xana and Cognis. Freed from many of the constraints their Loyalist counterparts continued to toil under, Icarion’s allies delved headlong into forbidden science, many senior adepts driven by personal and factional ambition as much as they were by religious fervour or scientific curiosity. For the cunning, powerful and well-connected, disorder was a ladder, and untold power beckoned from the top.
Mars was placed under the control of a diumvirate of Zagreus Kane and Ipluvien Maximal, the most senior of the loyal magos to survive the Schism. Under their oversight, Mars returned to productivity, though it was severely diminished. While great effort and vast resources were expended to restore what had been lost, works such as Zeth’s Akashic Reader could not be restored or replicated. The sheer extent of prototype or relic technologies lost forever is long enough that no serious attempt has been made to catalogue them.
The Loyalists had little reason to celebrate, however, as they counted the cost and viewed events beyond the Sol System. For while the Imperium’s heart and the surrounding sectors were secure, events elsewhere threatened to overwhelm the Warmaster’s forces.