The 13th Black Crusade
"Since the time of The Fall, our race has been haunted by, what we, in our reckless pursuit of hedonistic indulgence, gave birth to. Though our dreams once overturned worlds and quenced suns, we are now but fitful shadows clinging to the edge of existence. All the stars in the sky cannot blot out the hateful glare of the Red Moon's Eye. The birthing place of The Great Enemy pulses with all the malice of a daemon that is dreaming, casting its shadow over all we have ever done and all we ever shall. Every twisted strand of Fate and casting of the Runes leads me to this time, to this place, and it is clear that the final battle awaits me at the ancient Crone Worlds. A conflict the likes of which has not been seen since the Mon-Keigh warred among themselves, and the corpse of a seer fell to his traitorous son, is coming and all my steps lead towards it, no matter that I walk other paths. I see the stars stained red with the blood of the Mon-Keigh and, though their wars do not concern me and I would gladly let them destroy one another, I know that to avoid this fight is to condemn my race to inevitable doom. And though all I see is darkness, I know that I will not flinch from my destiny"
- – Eldrad, musing on his (now-Retconned) doom.
|The 13th Black Crusade|
|Date||999.M41 - Current|
|Theatre||13th Black Crusade|
|Status||Inconclusive. The Crusade is still ongoing, but the initial phase regarding the destruction of Cadia can be considered a strategic Chaos victory|
|Chaos||The Imperium of Man, Eldar|
|Commanders and Leaders|
|Abaddon The Despoiler, Typhus, Kossolax the Foresworn||Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed, Saint Celestine, Belisarius Cawl, Necron intervention via Trazyn the Infinite|
|Black Legion, Traitor Legions (Alpha Legion, Death Guard, Emperor's Children, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Thousand Sons, World Eaters, Word Bearers), Astartes Renegades (Crimson Slaughter, Extinction Angels, The Pyre, Violators, Warp Ghosts, Sons of Malice), Traitor Titan Legions (Deaths Heads, Death Stalkers, Fire Masters, Iron Skulls, Legio Vulcanum), Traitor Guard (5th Columnius, 666th Regiment of Foot, Discilian Apostates, Jenen Ironclads, Sentrek Freemenm the Traitor 9th, Ubridius Light Infantry, Volscani Cataphracts), various Fleets of Chaos (an estimated 38 different fleets).||Adeptus Astartes Chapters (Angels of Absolution, Angels of Vigilance, Angels Sanguine, Brazen Claws, Dark Angels, Death Spectres, Doom Eagles, Exorcists, Excoriators, Harbingers, Howling Griffons, Iron Hands, Iron Knights, Iron Snakes, Marines Exemplar, Night Watch, Novamarines, Relictors, Subjugators, Storm Warriors, Space Wolves, Storm Warriors, Ultramarines, White Consuls, White Scars), Adeptus Sororitas Orders (Bloody Rose, Ebon Chalice, Martyred Lady, Ermine Mantle, Wounded Heart), Astra Militarum Regiments (Avelornian Gunners, Bar-El Penal Legions, Cadian Karskin, Cadian Shock, Cadian Whiteshields, Drookian Fen Guard, Finreht Highlanders, Gudrunite Rifles, Jouran Dragoons, Kellersburg Irregulars, Gnovian Gharkas, Mordant Acid Dogs, Narsine Yeomanry, Necromundan 8th, Thracian Guard, Van Demans World Redbacks, Zenonian Free Companies), Adeptus Questoris (House Krast, House Arokon, House Raven), Titan Legions (Metalica, Ignatum, Gryphonicus, Astorum, Sinister), Adeptus Mechanicus (Skitarii regiments, Ordo Reductor, Ordinatii), Imperial Navy Battlefleets (Cadia, Corona, Gothic, Scarus, Solar).|
|High. One Blackstone Fortress is lost, along with unknown number of ships of the Black Fleet.||Incalculable. Billions are lost in many worlds across the Cadian Gate preceding the invasion of Cadia, and countless billions more die in the planet's defense. In the end, the Cadian Gate is lost, and the Great Rift tears the Imperium in twain.|
|*Cadia is destroyed, and the Cadian Gate is blown wide open. The Eye of Terror grows into the Great Rift, and cuts the Imperium in half. While the Imperium has managed to stabilize things on the side where Terra is, thanks to the resurrection of Roboute Guilliman, Chaos forces now have free reign over what is now known as Imperium Nihilus.|
Launched in what might be considered the final hours of the 41st Millennium, the 13th Black Crusade is Abaddon the Despoiler's latest attempt at trying to bring down the Imperium -- and very nearly did so. As of the current timeline, its still ongoing, with no signs of slowing down.
- 1 Signs of the End
- 2 Echoes of War
- 3 The Main Event
- 4 Bad Times Everywhere Else
- 5 The Fruits of Defiance
- 6 Round 2: The Eye of the Storm
- 7 The Storm Breaks
- 8 No Rest for the Virtuous
- 9 The End of Defiance
- 10 Hope Comes on Wings of Fire and Fury
- 11 Last Stands Are In Fashion Again
- 12 Important Stuff That *SHOULD* Have Followed
- 13 Meta
Signs of the End
A Creeping Doom
In the chaos of the end of the millennium, the first signs that Abby was up to no good was not the appearance of war fleets. Oh no, instead what happened was the sudden jump of sightings of abandoned vessels getting spat out of the warp at in the sectors surrounding Cadia. Though rare, such a large instance hulks showing up at the same time wasn't unheard of either, though their convergence upon the core worlds of the systems merited enough of a response that system defense ships had to be scrambled to deal with them.
Warriors of the Adeptus Astartes were also among those called to intercept these derelicts, but what they found were disease-ridden nightmares filled with toxic filth. When news of this spread to the rest of the Navy, every wreck subsequently encountered were destroyed ASAP with torpedos and macrocannons from afar. However, Abbadon's strategy had already begun to manifest.
Outbreaks of sickness soon broke out among the ranks of the Imperial Navy, which coincided with the sudden sighting of the Chaos warship called the Plagueclaw in the Urthwart system. With more and more navy personnel in the region fallen ill, the number of intercept-capable ships dropped as well, weakening the overall sector. Despite this the caravan of diseased ships continued to drop from the warp, all in direct course for important worlds. Ad-hoc groupings of ships formed to try and destroy the hulks before they reached those planets, and an unofficial fleet under Admiral Quarren assembled in Belis Corona to hunt down the Plagueclaw.
What it encountered instead was far, far, worse. In the Frenerax Dust cloud, the battle group was jumped by the infamous Terminus Est, flagship of Typhus, the Herald of Nurgle. Outgunned, the fleet still managed to fight its way free, but for some reason Typhus deigned not to pursue.
The months that would follow would bear out just why.
Despite barely surviving from the encounter with Typhus, it was not yet over for Admiral Quarren's men. Many would sicken and die from disease on the return trip to Belis Corona, but the fleet still managed to return with it ships still usable.
Compared to Belis Corona though, it was pretty bad. Many plague hulks had slipped through the piecemeal blockades arrayed against them, and the same disease that had infected their crew spread like wildfire through the inhabited worlds of the Cadian and Agripinaa sectors. As the plagues killed millions, panic soon spread, and inter-system traffic was halted to contain the pandemic.
As despair and morale among the local populations fell, apocalyptic cults began to appear on every benighted world, and preached that the Emperor's wrath had descended upon everyone as punishment for their wickedness. Only the faithful would be spared the Curse of Unbelief, and masses of self-flagellating devotees began to fill the streets of these worlds, attracted by both their fiery rhetoric as well as their surprising health.
Just at a time when the Imperial Guard forces were begining to have to deal with local mobs killing people left and right, the dead came back as servants of Chaos, the infections of Nurgle clearly serving as a time-delayed invasion tool.
Within months millions of plague zombies clawed themselves out from the makeshift graves they had been buried in among the dozens of worlds in the Belis Corona and Agripinaa sectors, and threw themselves on their still-living relatives. The Guard are pushed to the breaking point trying to contain both the zombie outbreak and the mobs of zealots running amok, while the Navy was still recovering from the initial plagues, and thus in no position to either defend these worlds or bring in orbital support.
The Terminus Est at the head of a Chaos fleet entered the sector, to begin running amok against the defenseless Imperial worlds.
Echoes of War
Faith and Zealotry
The Curse of Unbelief had a radical affect on the population of the outlying worlds of Belis Corona and Agrappinna, causing civil disorder so widespread that local government mandates were incapable of stopping mob rule, which largely broke down into violently killing whoever was thought to be a heretic. This further destabalized the sector, and even resulted in damage to important military infrastructure from rioters.
The Warp responded to such an outflowing of zeal and bloodletting in many places. Warp Storm Baphomael widened to engulf the edges of the Cadian system, while the Choir Chamber of Astropaths in Belisar (and the top nine layers of the hive spire it was on) was consumed in a massive psychic explosion. But that was not all, because the signs that something bad was still planned. Even the strategically inept normies could tell that there was a greater plan at play here, and the civilian populace was terrified that they'd be next.
The Ecclessiarchy attempted to respond to the disorder by dispatching clergy, confessors, preachers, and holy people in efforts to calm the people down, but it had little effect. Why the Ecclesiarchy didn't just deploy Sisters of Battle is a mystery that only the writers could make clear to us, but in any case people were scared out of their wits.
I certainly didn't help the situation when unknown raiders violently assaulted the Agri-world of Dentor, and butchered entire communities, before burning their homes down to the ground. Not only reducing the inflow of food to the main system, they also managed to cause substantial harm to the morale of civilians in the sector.
Back in Cadia, Adepts monitoring the mysterious Pylons noted that they seemed to be vibrating on a frequency similar to a ship's Gellar Field, leading them to theorize that it was keeping the Warp Storm at bay somehow. Microscopic stress fractures were beginning to show however, which led many to worry that the Pylons might break themselves apart if things continue long enough.
Word of the aftermath of brutal raids similar to what happened to Dentor eventually filtered back to Segmentum command, but with its forces stretched by pague zombies, armed mobs, and Chaos Warfleets, there was little it could do. The settlements on Sarlax and Amistel fell, and video recordings confirmed that Heretic Marine forces were indeed in the area. A discernable pattern emerged of the direction of the attacks, and all information seemed to indicate they were heading in the direction of Cadia. In preparation, the Imperial Navy slowly pulled all available ships and not dead/zombified/hospitalized personnell to prepare a defence.
While Imperial forces consolidated, they were by no means finished. On Lelithar, a figure calling himself The Voice of the Emperor was causing unrest and dissent. With his powerful speeches, he stirred the restless populations into open sedition, and his followers quickly overran vital Imperial facilities like bases and stockpiles. Once he and his followers had taken the space ports, the rebellion spread uncontrolled across the sector, with his cults appearing on the worlds of Yayor, Amistel, Albitern, and Bar-El. This not only caused a substantial loss of material and manpower, but also created a secondary front that would benefit the forces of Chaos in the long run.
The disruption the Voice's followers had caused spurred an immediate intellectual response form the Imperials: call him a heretic and fight for the sector. Civilian and military forces in the sector rallied around this cause, especially the promise of being able to avenge some of the worlds that had been devastated. In an effort to shorten the war, Command ordered Kill-Teams and assassins to try and kill the Voice, but these efforts all failed.
The Main Event
Should Have Been More Obvious
While the surrounding regions began to feel the pressure from the increasing frequency of Chaos-related attacks, Cadia remained a bastion of order and stability. Command expected that a massive attack was imminent, the planet recalled all of its deployed regiments back home; everything from Kasrkins and Whiteshields to children with rocks, sticks, and pails of shit were rallied on the planet surface. Hundreds of extra landing fields were made ready, as well as infrastructure to house and support hundreds of thousands of troopers prepared at Kasr Holn, Helotas, and Fremas.
Preperations were going well, and the arrival of an elite host of Imperial Guardsmen known as the Volscani Cataphracts was eagerly anticipated by Cadia command and the men already on the planet. Cadian command waited for the new arrivals to present themselves, but unknown to them, the Volscani had turned traitor, and were in the perfect place to do extreme damage to the Imperium: vulnerable landing fields with thousands of unsuspecting and poorly armed men, vehicles, and transports.
The Volscani opened fire, and in those first few minutes of confusion caused unimaginable damage. Governor Primus Marus Porelska was an early casualty of the fighting, and the rest of the Cadian High Command soon followed. After the initial shock, an immediate counterattack was made to control the damage. The Battle of Tyrok Fields, was over, and the Volscani were driven off and scattered.
Despite this victory, Abbadon had achieved precisely what he had wanted. Cadian Leadership had been utterly destroyed. There was only a single survivng officer of high rank, which is the good news. The bad news is that this officer turned out to be Ursakar E. Creed, who was immediately named Lord Castellan.
Fortress Cadia, Once More
A man of great charisma and strategic knowledge, Creed set about organizing and the Cadian forces that were already on-world. Defenses were strengthened, munitions were stockpiled, and food and water kept in ready. With his new influence as Lord Castellan and acting Governor Primus, Creed sent out politely asked everyone to quit fucking around and get over to help defend the real target of the Black Crusade. The Space Wolves arrived with fleets and men to defend the planet, while more aid from nearby systems of Imperial Guard and Navy forces would arrive as soon as the Administratum got off its ass and made itself useful for once.
The Navy arrived in enough strength to send out patrols and scout parties, and even managed to intercept several raiding parties. These soon reported on a massive force of ships headed towards Cadia, a force that would later be called the Black Fleet. In preparation, the Navy withdrew to the protection of Port Aurent.
The Kasrkin had not been idle, and had been making probing raids into the edges of their system. Urthwart was identified as the primary muster point for the forces of the Despoiler. The Cadians found nothing but death and plague zombies on that planet, but as they withdrew to their drop ships and carriers, Abaddon sprung his trap; the Imperial Fleet that had carried them there had been forced to flee before the massive Chaos armada that was coming in hot on the system, led by the Planet Killer.
Abbadon ordered the destruction of the planet to prevent a possible rescue effort and eliminate the Imperial Guard regiments already stationed. The destruction was so total that smaller warp storms completely disappeared and Astropaths far from the planet felt it.
The Black Fleet swept through the system in an atempt to catch the fleeing Imperial Fleet. The Plagueclaw and Terminus Est was among them, as well as the two missing Blackstone Fortresses from the Gothic War. Naval patrols fell back before the tide of corrupted warships, but an informal fleet formed under the command of Admiral Pulaski and mustered in the Ormantep system. Their goal was to perform a delaying action so that more troops could be sent to Cadia.
Abbadon had been reading up on Stalin lately, and decided to use numbers to try and overwhelm the Navy. This backfired spectatularly when the Imperials decided to actually use their fucking brain, resuting in higher casualties than were really necessary for Chaos forces. However, his strategy id kinda work, and they managed to rbeak through the Agrapinaa sector.
When Pulaski's flagship The Honour and Duty, exploded in a cloud of plasma, the remaining Navy ships prepared to make one last stand. But Admiral Quarren arrived, and together the combined ragtag fleet fought its way through back to safety at Demios Binary.
Nurgle and Khorne give their Blessings
With the Imperial Fleets driven off, the Agripinaa sector was left open for the diseased followers of the Plague God. It didn't take long for the worlds there to become visions of Nurgle's Garden, even as the Imperial defenders tried to fight the invaders off. On Amistel Majoris Plague Marines decimated the local PDF, before the Drookian Fen Guard made planetfall and aided in the defense. Someone clearly decided that World War 1 tactics were absolutely genius on the offensive, and so both sides decided to dig trenches and engage in siege warfare.
The Howling Griffons fought through the Chaos blockade, enabling the ships of the Legio Astorum to deploy their titans on the front lines, and dropping in to support the Titans with their own forces. They were met by Titans of Chaos, and this ensured that the planet would probably be utterly fucked until the next time GW decides to advance the plot.
On Lelithar, Militarum forces as well as the Titans of Legio Ignatum laid siege on the Imperial palace, where the Voice of the Emperor was said to have turned into his headquarters. Millions of fatalities occurred when the city's population threw themselves against the Imperial Guard. The siege is still ongoing, and the Astartes of the Death Spectres pledged their support in bringing the city to heel. Worse than that, the Guard was in no position to comfortably siege the enemy, as sickness still spread through most of the Guard, causing casualties.
The void war was not going any better, and Admiral Quarren had to pull his battered fleet back to Cadia as the wave of Chaos ships continued their inexorable advance. On the way, Abbadon took a moment to glass Demios Binary to satisfy his anger management issues with the Blackstone Fortress, and then the orbital defences of Solar Mariatus was quickly overwhelmed by an unending tide of traitor drop ships, which disgorged regiment upon regiment of surviving Volscani Cataphracts unto its surface.
The world was turned into a forward base for the Chaos forces, with which further attacks into the Cadian system were made, and the ore and mining value that the planet provided were probably not a coincidence either. The inmates of St. Josmane's Hope rose up in bloody rebellion, just as the Violators renegade Astartes attacked. The traitors were welcomed as liberators, and had their gratitude returned with conscription into the Chaos Army.
Blacken The Skies
Meanwhile, Admiral Quarren and his fleet held the line, but after three days its force was spent. He ordered those ships still capable to do so to make for the Forge World of Kantrael for repairs and rearming. Three Ramilies-class star forts made up Cadia's orbital defenses, and while one fell to the invaders, the other two were self-destructed to deny their enemy naval assets. With orbit around Cadia secure, the Chaos ships began to disgorge countless landing craft, each filled to the brim with traitor forces.
The Cadians predictably fought tooth an nail for every worthless scrap of ground on the planet's surface. If you haven't read the Cadia article, the short version is this: the moment you step inside a Cadian city, there is probably 3 buildings in which a whole regiment of Guardsmen are waiting to fill you with flashlight fire, not counting the dozen or so Melta and Plasma weapons that'll cook anything short of a Chaos lord into Chaos McNuggets instantly.
Predictably, the traitors decided to settle into an agonizing Siege, though why the Death Guard weren't deployed en-masse here is beyond us.
Bad Times Everywhere Else
While the Cadian Gate was the focal point of the Black Crusade, Chaos was also busy making things miserable for other places as well.
The Battle of Medusa
In order to keep the Iron Hands busy, Abaddon ordered several battlegroups to attack the Chapter homeworld of Medusa. All ten of the Chapter's Land Behemoth Fortress-Monasteries were deployed, and with the support of the heavily-mechanized planetary defense force, intercepted the ten-thousand tank strong Chaos invaders. In a running battle that played out over the course of five days, the Iron Hands Behemoths threw back their attackers, with their Ordinatus-grade weaponry destroying hundreds of tanks per volley.
Eventually, someone got the bright idea to not try and zerg rush the front of the Fortresses with big fuckoff guns and outflank the giant vehicles. With their mobile bases' vulnerable rear housing exposed, the Iron Hands desperately countrerstruck with Assault Squads, taking serious casualties but blunting the traitor attack. The remaining forces were mopped up by Chapter Predators, and thus concluded the battle of Medusa
Chaos All Around The Gate
The world of Belisar was paid an unwelcome visit by Lucius the Eternal and his Emperor's Children groupies, bringing untold amounts of slaughter, drugs, and sex crimes. Meanwhile, the Night Lords ran around terrifying everyone short of the dead and generally being Batman larpers without the aversion to guns. At Thracian Primaris Governor Thybault Helican XXIII fought against a rising tide of deviant cultists, while the Arbites under his command struggled to maintain order with firearms and weapons.
In Segmentum Obscurus, Alpha Legion sleeper cells went active, and did their part in delaying the arrival of Loyalist Astartes reinforcements across the segmentum. This allowed more traitor Titans and elements of the Dark Hereticus to deploy on the field. It also allowed for hordes of cheap conscripts and Daemons to be deployed with relative saftey.
Keeping the Space Elves Busy
Eldrad, knowing that the Eldar would be screwed if Chaos took greater control over the Galaxy, rallied his own Craftworld to participate in the Black Crusade. Ulthwe's Storm Guardians were deployed in strength, with each task force given a Waystone that contained a fragment of Eldrad's psyche to safely guide them to the warzones where they could make a difference.
At Belial IV, a strike force led by the Phoenix Lords would disrupt the raising of a dark cathedral by the Word Bearers to the Ruinous Powers. Meanwhile, the Harlequins told Ahriman to touch some fucking grass rather than trying to reach a bunch of dusty old books in the Great Library. Ahriman took this pretty personally and kept trying to break into it anyway.
Dorn's Regal Daughter, Assaulted
While the Imperium was busy with defending Cadia, a ragtag group of Chaos forces hatched a bold plan. The Phalanx, Fortress-Monastery and home of the Imperial Fists Chapter, was in orbit of Terra. The plan was pretty simple: break into the Phalanx, murderfuck anything they saw, and use the BFG to finally destroy the Imperial Palace. Led by that sick fuck Shon'tu and the undivided Daemon Prince Be'lakor, these unlikely allies wanted to upstage Abaddon's galactic bar brawl by conquering the venerable battle fortress. Iron Warriors and Daemons infiltrated the Phalanx through its warp drive, surprising the crew.
Even worse, the bulk of the Chapter was away on other missions, mostly because Abby's Crusade seriously threatened Cadia. The only thing standing between the invaders and defeat was thirty veterans of the First Company and 3rd Company. So about 130 men. Tor Garadon ordered them and whatever poor serfs that were onboard to defend the Phalanx. The Chapter had the home advantage of knowing which places were the best to defend, giving them so much overwatch fire that even the T'au would be proud.
However, Chaos corruption (helped along by Warpsmiths) soon turned the superstructure itself on the defenders. Whole decks were begining to do the unthinkable: change into Medrengard. The infestation spread rapidly, with scrap code eroding loyal machine spirits, and soon even the dorsal batteries would fall under Chaos control.
In order to prevent the Phalanx becoming a normie tier weapons platform, Garadon had to do the unthinkable -- blast entire parts of the fortress off with its own guns. He withdrew his forces to uninfected sections, and purged ten percent of the Phalanx's own superstructure. It was painful, but the sacrifice was worth it. Not only was the hold of the corrupt machine virus on the fortress broken, but the Phalanx would more importantly not be turned into a boring reflection of Medgrengard. He took the disruption this caused to order the Phalanx into the Warp -- wherever the fortress went, it would no longer be a threat to Terra. With that, Garadon remembered who forced him to ruin his pretty fort, and he was fuckin pissed.
While the Iron Warriors were soon dealt with, and Shon'tu given a permanent Imperial Fisting care of Terminator Squad Furan, Garadon still had to contend with Be'lakor's daemons because he forgot Daemons become more powerful in the warp. The diminished Fists were driven back to the Chamber of Storms, and they prepared to make their final stand.
Sure of his inevitable success, Be'lakor sent his hordes against the Imperial Fists, and joined the fight himself to give the Imperial Fists a piece of him. Suddenly, as Legion of the Damned started to manifest in force to aid the Fists in their fight. The victory turned into a route, and Garadon decided to take Be'lakor on his offer of "a piece of him", and yanked him into two parts.
As the Fists and Legion mopped up, Garadon took stock of his situation. Of the Astartes he started with, about half of the 3rd Company and 1st Company Veterans remained, and a tenth of the Phalanx's superstructure was simply gone, with the fortress itself severely damaged in countless other places. As for the Legion of the Damned itself, the spectral marines didn't dematerialize as was their usual habit, and instead stood at attention, as if waiting for something. Needless to say, aside from Garadon himself, everyone else gave the Legion a wide berth. Even if the Chaos forces had not accomplished their main goal, it accomplished something else entirely: kept the Imperium off balance, and weakened the Phalanx when they would inevitably be called to Cadia.
Sergeant Furan and Commodore Trevaux advised Garadon to make haste for Mars so they could get the thing repaired, but Garadon simply slapped a purity seal on the boo-boo and ordered them to deploy to Cadia immediately.
The Fruits of Defiance
The battle on Cadia had become a bloody stalemate, but it had done its job in pinning down the Chaos invaders there for the time being. The Imperium would definitely capitalize on this in a big way.
A Flicker of Hope
Admiral Quarren's fleet would receive much-needed reinforcements from Cypra Mundi, with the hope that it would eventually drive the Chaos ships back from the Cadian Gate. The extra ships made the difference, and Quarren was able to eke victories against fleets much larger than his own by having more than the Two collective brain cells that Abbadon's strategy seemed to possess. These created holes in the Chaos Fleet's blockade of the Cadian and Scelus systems, which Imperial reinforcements zipped through. Meanwhile at Belis Corona, the entirety of Battlefleet Gothic was deployed, in an all-or-nothing attack that would either drive Abaddon's minions out, or leave Battlefleet Obscurus permanently crippled.
Dozens of Astartes Chapters would be part of the reinforcements heading to Cadia, including the Blood Angels and the Dark Angels. The Sons of Sanguinius would strike at the largest World Eaters horde in recent memory at the world of Kasr Partox, and would go on to defeat a Bloodthirster on Agripinaa. The Dark Angels in the meantime would team up with their rivals in the Space Wolves, and battled Typhus' forces on Macharia, Kasr Sonnen and Korolis.
The Black Templars and Imperial Fists would also make their presence known, while Inquisitor Coteaz led Grey Knight strike forces against daemonic foces on Agripinaa, Xersia, and Kasr Holn. Meanwhile White Scars brotherhoods would strike out from Cadia itself, disrupting what little cohesion the Chaos forces had remaining.
Erebus: Party Pooper
The Word Bearers however, and Dark Apostle Erebus in particular prepared to enact a terrible ritual on the worlds they had conquered. As Imperial reinforcements began streaming into the Cadian sector, the ritual hit its peak, and suffice to say things went to Hell very quickly. As a million innocent lives were sacrificed, massive Warp Storms hit the areas around the Eye of Terror. So intense was the result that it stopped inter-sector transit in its tracks and effectively isolated each sector from each other. What's worse, the Warp Storms made it easier for daemons to manifest, so the embattled worlds now had to deal with hordes of Daemons wanting to party as well.
Typhus took advantage of the isolation and slowed enemy supply lines in the Agripinaa sector, unleashing the full strength of the Death Guard Plague Marines under his command, and reduced the already ravaged worlds further into ruin. The Imperials held on by threads, but its surviving population risked starvation as the Agri-Worlds of Yayor, Dentor, and Ulthor had already been lost.
Word spread that the Planet Killer was slowly making its way to Cadia, the plan clearly being for Abaddon to practice his favorite anger management technique of destroying planets to hell. The Imperial Navy was still pissed about Deimos Binary and swore that it would keep the space lanes around the Cadian Gate clear, and in many actions since saw Admiral Quarren kick ass and take names as hero of the Imperium.
Although Cadian High command would be forced to relocate to Kasr Gallan, Cadia still held against all odds, so dogged was its defenders in giving up its lives to defend it. Millions had already died, but it was close to a year and the Despoiler had still not conquered it. All they needed to do at this point was wait for reinforcements. Abaddon may have planned his assault well, but Cadia had held on for longer than anticipated. It would only be a matter of time before the Imperium sent tons of reinforcements that would turn the tide, incurring losses the Black Crusade could not afford.
Round 2: The Eye of the Storm
Taking Stock of Things
Through the efforts of Creed, his command, and the defenders, Cadia held on. Failbaddon's forces had been pushed back, but as Artificers tried to restore damaged fortifications, battles still raged on other fronts. What's more, there was no way of contacting the outer worlds of the system, as the comm relays had been knocked out in the fighting. However, Creed did still have means to contact what remained of the Imperial Fleet in orbit, and asked them to do some recon at the system's outer edges.
One thing bothered him immensely: in all the fighting, not once did he get a report of an armless fail anywhere on the planet. Creed was suspicious, but couldn't be sure of Abaddon's intentions. On one hand, the Despoiler could be planning to bypass Cadia entirely, chewing into the soft underbelly of the Imperium. That was a real possibility, and if Abaddon had a mind to do so, there wasn't anything Creed could do to stop him. Of the ships left in orbit, only the Space Wolves battle barge Firemane's Fang could still move and fight, and only due to the
toaster fucking ministrations of its Iron Priests.
On the other hand, Abaddon is a prideful fuck, so the likelihood he'd just let some
more competent minor Chaos Lord destroy Cadia was pretty low. Creed reasoned that they'd be screwed should Abaddon decide to make an appearance, but at least it would buy the Imperium time to build up the forces needed to banish the Despoiler back to the Warp for a spare pair of arms. So to ensure Abaddon didn't screw over the inner segmentum, Creed decided to give him a target he could not ignore.
The Last Minute Build-Up
Creed moved the entirety of his command to Kasr Kraf, the only bastion still left in one piece after months of fighting. Located in Cadia Secundus, the fortress overlooked the strategically important Elysion Fields, which also was the homeplace of the Cadian Pylons. The defenders began strengthening the already-formidable structure, with combat engineers further expanded the existing archeologist tunnel networks and caverns beneath and turned them into fallback points and other defenses. Mechanicus Adepts scoured the many fallen bastions in the region for parts and materials to bring back everything from the Plasma Cannons to Peashooters to get ready for war.
Everywhere else in Cadia Secundus it was pretty much the same story, with Shock Trooper regiments desperately restoring ravaged defenses with whatever they could scrounge. Battered Space Marine forces, also joined them to strengthen their position.
The Space Wolves of Orven Highfell 's Great Company took position north of Kasr Kraf, in the remains of Kasr Jark, and taking skirmish actions against the odd Daemon they found. Further north from that, the Dark Angels the 4th Company under Brother-Captain Korahael turned their grounded Strike Cruiser Sword of Defiance into a mighty bastion, as enough of its naval-grade weaponry survived its crash landing. South of Kasr Kraf,Marshall Marius Amalrich's Black Templars spread themselves among the lines of Guardsmen to bolster their confidence and enforce morale.
The battle sisters of the Order of the Martyred Lady garrisoned themselves across the valley, in the massive Shrine of Saint Morrican. This also had a side affect of letting Incense flow across the valley to Kasr Kraf and bolstering the morale of the defenders
Worst. News. Ever.
Creed kept a vigilant watch and had his men under constant drill, but Creed was busy with another plan. Working with Magos Klarn, he had parts from the ruined psychic choir at Kasr Luten salvaged to make a make-shift beacon that he hoped would create a signal powerful enough to get a call for reinforcements out. Despite grave misgivings from many under his command, Creed ordered a message to be sent. The message got out, but at the cost of the rest of his Astropaths and Sanctioned Psykers. Welp, there goes the Psychic Phase then.
It was then that the defense monitor Pyrax Orchades, its superstructure damaged and its crew mostly dead, returned as the sole survivor of the recon fleet that left several weeks earlier. It came with news -- the true bulk of the Black Fleet was inbound, with the Blackstone Fortress finally confirmed to be among its vast number.
Creed's worst fear had come to pass. Round two was about to begin.
The Storm Breaks
Not Stopping For Nothing
Abaddon's Black Fleet was as massive and implacable. It was made up of countless ships of all types, from Great Crusade-era survivors aligned to each of the Traitor Legions, mutated Daemon Ships, foetid Plague husks, Space Hulks, cargo and bulk haulers, with their holds filled to the brim with recent
conscripts converts to Chaos. Each Chaos warlord had differing reasons for joining this massive armada, but they all had one goal: fuck Cadia.
Despite being devastated during the start of the Black Crusade, the remnants of the Imperial Navy tried another delaying action to hinder the passage of the Black Fleet twice. The first time was at Vigilatum by the ships of Battlefleets Scarus and Corona, while the second time was an ambush led by Admiral Dostov's Victory-class battleships at the Iron Graveyard. Both were brave, if fruitless attempts to buy time, as the ships of the Black Fleet plowed through barely without being slowed down.
Back at Cadia, the news of the Blackstone Fortress was inbound put Creed and his subordinates into a flurry of preparations. On its own, the Fortress could scour all life off the planet, but Cadia still had one more ace in its sleeve: Null-Arrays. In the wake of the Gothic War, the Adeptus Mechanicus had worked to find a counter: a hybrid of a void shield and Gellar field large enough to cover Cadia itself. In theory, it would dissipate the energy weapon like a T'aus Fist on a terminator.
Cadia's network of null-array projectors were barely finished when the initial attacks of the Black Crusade began. Months later, none of them remained intact, having been strategically targeted during the initial landings. Tech-Priests tirelessly busy with restoring conventional defenses were told to get their Mechadendrites out of their ass and get the Null-Array back online. However, this process would take time, and Abbadon's fleet was closing fast.
One Final Roll of the Dice
The Black Fleet was within a day's travel from Cadia, and the Null-Array was not even remotely close to ready, with even Magos Klarn morosely noting that even partial effective coverage was not possible in the time that they had left.
Sven Bloodhowl came forward with a bold suggestion: he and his Great Company, the Firehowlers, would take the Firemane's Fang and use it to board the Blackstone Fortress, and do everything that they could to slow down its transit. The Firehowlers would not go on this suicide mission alone, and nearly two hundred Space Marines of the various Chapters already on-world joined them on the warship, along with the Cadian 13th regiment and a full maniple of Skitarii. The cheers of the defenders accompanied the daring raiders off, but these soon grew quiet when the battle barge finally broke orbit, and all communication was lost.
A day later, and Creed did his best to ease his soldiers' doubts and shore up their morale in every way that he could. However, even he had his doubts to the outcome of the coming battle.
The first ships of the Black Fleet arrived on schedule, the crippled fleet that held orbit around the planet opened up with whatever weapons they still had functioning, while planetary batteries threw up anything they could muster.
But this was merely the precursor, as the death glow of the last Imperial ship was destroyed, and the Will of Eternity moved into position to fire upon the planet. The fortress arrayed itself in orbit, and as its central eye glowed in the baleful energies of the Warp, it fired its ultimate weapon at the planet. A bright purple beam burst forth, promising ruin on the fortress world...
Except the beam dispersed harmlessly before it even hit the planet's atmosphere. The Null-Array had worked! The defenders cheered, but Magos Klarn was suspicious. Barely an hour ago, he had made a last-minute inspection of the projection grid, finding most of his adepts slain, and xenos technology buttressing the null-array's circuitry, which increased its efficiency to the point that a single projector could protect the whole planet. Cadia had been saved yes, but Klarn wondered who had been behind it.
After the clear evidence that the battle would not be won quickly, Abaddon and his forces ordered a second landing of the planet, with the objective being the Cadian Pylons, the Null-Array, and the Cadia in general.
Business As Usual
The Black Fleet opened up first, with macro cannon and melta torpedo alike pouring down a deluge of fiery death upon Cadia's already ravaged earth and rock. Several fortresses were lost to the bombardment, because yeah, it was that intense.
The bastions of Kasr Kraf returned fire. While most blind-fired, accuracy didn't mean jack in this case, due to the skies being filled with what seemed to be an endless swarm of drop-ships and transports.
To the west the macro-cannons of Kasr Stark roared one last time, before disappearing in a massive explosion as its ammunition bunker was penetrated by a melta torpedo, while up North the ground Sword of Defiance sent up a broadside that raped an incoming drop-ship and sent its Helldrake escorts scrambling. Valkyrie gunships of Clavin Surekka 's Howling 119th rose up to hunt, and quickly picked off targets before they darted back to the safety of friendly covering fire. In spite of these efforts, the Chaos forces managed to gain a foothold on the planet surface.
During all this, the void shields of Martyr's Rampart finally gave out, and follow-up salvoes shattered its superstructure, dislodging the macrocannons and killing many defenders. Creed ordered the survivors back to Kasr Kraf, unwilling to waste lives in the wilderness when there were intact walls that needed defenders. 80 percent of those alive managed to return to Kasr Kraf, and they did so all while macroweapons and lances carved up craters all around them. The Black Templars stood their ground, determined to defend their positions to the last.
Close And Personal
Drop-ships closed the distance, and the defenders of Kasr Kraf were suddenly given something to worry about as Dreadclaw drop pods came shrieking down unto the ramparts. Word Bearers and Alpha Legion Traitor Astartes deployed and opened the engagement. Shock troopers were deployed to counter these incursions, but the Legionnaires raised blasphemous icons, summoning daemons to bolster their attack. What was an already tough fight became a battle for survival.
It was much the same everywhere, as redoubt and gun emplacements fell from within, their defenders overwhelmed by the tide of Daemonkin. Many fled, only to be cut down by hellblade and claw, but many more still fought to the last, their defiance spurred on by the fiery sermons of their Ministorum priests.
Nowhere was the fighting harder than at the Shrine of Saint Morrican, as the blazing faith of the Sisters of Battle goaded the Daemons into attacking that sacred ground time and again. The surviving sisters of the many Orders there never took a step back, and under the determined gazes of their Canonesses Eleanor and Genevieve, threw back the ravening hordes with bolter and holy flame.
The first drop-ships to make it planetside landed on the East of Kasr Kraf, deploying Daemon-engines with the aim of reaching the eastern curtain wall. The Cadian 252nd was stationed nearby and ambushed them, sending the first wave straight to hell. The Chaos Baneblades that followed however were not even slowed, and their counter-barrage brought down part of the curtain wall, which buried three squadrons of Leman Russ tanks as veangence. Skull-decorated Rhino transports roared from behind the Baneblades and moved to exploit the new breach.
The remaining makeshift defenses of Kasr Jark came under Iron Warriors bombardment. Orven Highfell ordered his brothers into their transports to sally forth for an assault. Warsmith Krom Gat had anticipated this, and had fortified the approach to his location with drop-bastions and cursed aegis to slow down the furries. This did not deter the Sons of Russ, as they swept away all opposition in their way, and used Krom's own trenches as cover against his artillery barrages.
No Rest for the Virtuous
Cracks in the Facade
The defenders, having been fighting for days, took what rest they could, but many would push the limits of their bodies and sanity, if only to avoid the nightmares such fitful sleep would bring. The Chaos forces, obviously wanting this to continue, kept up the pressure to further demoralize their enemy.
The walls would be swept clear of daemonspawn, only for more to show up in that same location. Kasr Jask finally fell to the spells of Elek Stane's Cyclopia Cabal, while three times did Master Korahael and his Dark Angels hurl back assaults from the berserkers of the World Eaters. The eastern curtain wall fell in spite of the efforts of the knights of House Raven.
Through this breach came the Night Lords and Chaos Raptors hungry for new prey. Initially the defenders fell back in good order, but eventually the pressure from the Chaos shock troops cracked the discipline of the defending forces. The stragglers were soon overwhelmed, and the rearguard followed not too long afterward.
Creed ordered the gates of the second curtain wall sealed, making the difficult decision to sacrifice thousands to preserve ten times that number. Many died in either stoic acceptance or despaired disbelief, but while eight of the great gates slammed shut as planned, two remained open.
Faltering Faith, Faltering Defenses
At the East gate, the commander waited too long for stragglers. When the gates finally tried to close, Chaos Hellbrutes were in position to hold the doors open. Desperate defenders hurled everything from plasma guns to expended ammo packs into them, and while they were able to take them down, a large warband made up of Possessed had managed to slip through the breach.
Before the warband could do any damage, the remains of the Novamarines 2nd Company and Cadian 403rd intercepted them, and under the shadow of the Jorus Redoubt made their stand. It bought time for the tanks of 185th to turn their battle cannons on the traitors, but while the traitors were annihilated, scarcely a hundred of the 403rd remained, and none of the Novamarines survived the encounter.
The West gate, on the other hand, could not at all, as its locking mechanisms failed due to supernatural decay. The commander there ordered the 113rd Death's Head Baneblade company to use their tanks to block the opening, but it was too late; wave after wave of deranged Chaos Cultists streamed through. The traitor Astartes of the Black Legion followed, but by this point it was far beyond what the weary defenders could throw off. The gate was lost, and with it the second curtain wall.
Snuffing Out the Candles
On the seventh day of the siege, the Dark Angels came under attack from the Terminus Est. The bombardment was far more substantial than anything else in the Chaos fleet, and forced a withdrawl from the vulnerable position across hostile ground. Korahael ordered the 4th Company to evacuate but they were not out of danger yet, as the plains outside were still teeming with World Eaters eager to spill their blood.
At the Shrine of Saint Morrican, the sisters of battle didn't fare too much better. They were worn out from bored from burning everything with flamers over the past few days, and while the structure had held admirably against attacks it had not been designed to defend against, there were limits to what it could endure. Its end came at the hands of a trio of Lord of Skulls that led an armored spearhead to break through the defences
Canoness Genevieve led a counter-attack, with Seraphim Squads clearing a line of fire for the Retributor Squads multi-meltas. The salvo nuked one of the Lord of Skulls, and the resulting explosion consumed the other two, along with the NorthEastern portion of the shrine. The victory was phyrric for the defenders, as the defensive position had been lost, and forced an overall withdrawl back to Kasr Kraf
However, Orven Highfell's Space Wolves finally triumphed against Krom Gat after days of trench warfare. The warsmith was torn apart, and his body was left to burn in his citadel, but the victory came at the cost of half the Ironwolves number. But the Wolves could not savor this victory, as Wolf Scouts came with news of the traitor Titans of Legio Vulcanum on the move. At his Wolf Guard's advice, Orven ordered his men to recover their fallen, and board their transports to make for Kasr Kraf. By nightfall, they were joined by Master Korahael and the remnants of his 4th company, whom they had assisted from being encircled by the Berserkers that hounded them.
One after another, the outposts surrounding Kasr Kraf fell, but in the south defiance still burned brightly. Martyr's Rampart still stood thanks to the outright insane defense by Marshall Amalrich's Black Templars. Despite being completely outnumbered, the Templars continued to resist the Word Bearers and Black Legion.
Too Much, Even for Faith
By the eighth day the walls of Kasr Kraf came under bombardment from artillery units stationed in the wastelands, causing further demoralization. Rumors spread amongst the ranks, and despite the BLAMing of the Commissars and the regimental preachers, morale dropped like a rock.
If not for Creed, the fortress would have long fallen, and the Lord Castellan quelled the fears of the men and women under his command not with mere words, but by example -- he fought with on the ramparts, ate with them, stole what furtive sleep he could with them. And where Creed went, Kell went as well, with the tattered colors of the Cadian 8th held high. Under the Lord Castellan's watchful eye, the Kriegan gates held firm, but at the Eastern defenses, the situation teetered on a razor's edge.
There was no end to the defenders' resolve, at least. The surviving Valkyrie gunships of the Howling 118th ferried the remnants of the Northern and Eastern garrisons behind Kasr Kraf's walls, and soon Battle Sisters joined the guardsmen on the ramparts. These were soon joined by the Ironwolves and Korahael's 4th Company survivors, though not all of the Ironwolves apparently deigned to join the airlift. Unconfirmed reports indicated that Wulfen had been unleashed on the wastelands, but Orven Highfell said nothing of these claims.
The Howling 119th's Last Ride
The traitor Titans of the Legio Vulcanum continued their implacable advance, and princeps Malas Tiron was a veteran of the Long War. Thanks to a gift of the Dark Gods, his mind commanded the God-Machines directly, and the Titans moved as if part of one body. Nothing could close without getting utterly raped by death guns. Anything that did manage to somehow knock the void shields off of some of his units moved back and allowed the less-damaged Titans take their place in the battle line. Despite the defensive fire of the defenders, the legio came closer and closer to the walls of Kasr Kraf.
The Eastern defenses were saved once more through the efforts of the Howling 119th. With low munitions, the surviving Valkyries were deployed to intercept the Legio. With the skies above the Titans swarming with Helldrakes air support, the 119th were fully aware that it was a suicide mission. Days of observing Legio Vulcanum allowed them to deduce that if they could somehow take down the Warlord Titan Vessel of Damnation, the others would fall as well.
The void shields of the Warlord faltered at the expense of the majority of the 119th, and by then they were out of munitions. With a prayer commending his soul to the Emperor, Strekka drove his Valkyrie hard into the traitor machine's helm. The ensuing explosion that marked his martyrdom could be seen from the ramparts, and the Warlord shuddered to a halt. Its slaved machines spent a precious few moments in confusion, which the defenders took advantage of and destroyed an enemy warhound.
Soldiers cheered, but those soon faded as the subordinate Titans seemed to have come to their senses, and recommenced their march. Only the Warlord remained unmoving for now, its head obscured by billowing black smoke.
The End of Defiance
A black bolt fell from the skies, as one of the bigger players of the siege of Cadia had decided to take a direct hand in its proceedings. But this was not the Despoiler himself, but rather one of his lackeys -- Urkanthos, who until very recently was simply the Commander of the Black Fleet, but because of his victory against three Imperial Battleships in the void battles leading to the attack on the planet, had earned his ascension to Daemon Prince. The Scourgemaster was instructed by Abbadon to ensure the destruction of the fortress-world, and he intended to do it before the Despoiler lost his patience.
The Daemon Prince was soon joined by the Hounds of Abaddon, who hurled themselves at the Kriegan Gates, uncaring of their losses. Creed bellowed orders from the top of the barbican, and his soldiers slaughtered countless Traitors, but the Hounds kept up the assault. Orbital bombardment from the Black Fleet pounded the Gate indiscriminately, and slaughtered Imperial defender and Chaos cultist alike.
The Hounds were slowly making headway however, but eventually they were able to reach the gates. Demolition charges were placed, and the Kriegan Gates blew wide open in the explosions that followed. Urkanthos gave a roar of victory, and swept into the open gates, with the Hounds following close on his heels.
All or Nothing
When the Gates finally fell, it was up to the Kasrkin to shore up the defenses. Creed had three whole regiments in reserve, and he now sent them forth to hold the line. Battle cannons roared, lasguns flared, and the leading elements of the Hounds of Abaddon simply crumpled under the greatest single volley seen thus far on Cadia Secundus.
The Hounds however were undeterred by their losses, and slammed hard into the first line of bayonets. Urkanthos led them as they clawed at the defenders, with the mighty Daemon Prince's talons scything down a squad with each backhand swipe. With each kill, he felt himself grew stronger, as the blessings of the Blood God made themselves manifest.
As the Kasrkin battled at the gates, Creed sent out a call for all available soldiers to join them there. Conscripts fought beside scarred veterans, Mordians rubbed shoulders with Vostroyans, Cadian and off-worlder alike bled and died in the defense. But the numbers were not enough to hold back Urkanthos and his forces' daemon-fueled might, and wave after wave of daemonspawn, cultists, and traitor Legionnaires threw themselves at the ruins of the gates.
The Kasrkin of the 2nd died where they stood, but had given no ground in return. Others were less valorous -- the 33rd's morale broke once its Colonel was torn apart by Chaos Raptors, and with their retreat went all hope of possibly holding the Kriegan Gates.
Outside, the Knights of House Raven fought an equally desperate battle against the remaining titans of Legio Vulcanum. Baroness Vardus and her fellow Nobles were simply outgunned and outnumbered, and while they had destroyed one Reaver and crippled another, it cost them four Nobles in return. What's more, they were soon running out of places to maneuver, which took away their single advantage to the bigger Titans. But the worse news was yet to come, as the Vessel of Damnation had rejoined the fight.
A Change of Priorities
Further south, Marshall Amalrichs Black Templars still continued their fight, despite being literally knee-deep in bodies. And yet their numbers were less than from the massed waves of the previous days. The marshall looked north, towards the embattled bastion and the storm gathering there, and finally experienced clarity. His peers were right in the end, and the might of the Templars could have made much more of a difference on the ramparts of Kasr Kraf.
Amalrich swallowed the last of his pride. It was still not too late to make amends. He ordered his surviving men aboard the Cruxis Crusade's remaining Thunderhawk Gunship, and finally abandoned the Martyr's Rampart.
Back at Kasr Kraf, the Hounds of Abaddon ran down the fleeing Guardsmen, and Urkanthos roared in delight at the slaughter. He had been tasked to destroy the Null Array so that the Will of Eternity could vent its fury upon the world, but he saw now an opportunity to claim even more glory. Maybe he can even one-up Abaddon and conquer Cadia itself in the name of his dark patrons!
Those pleasant thoughts were cut short however, as a massive volley stopped the advance of the Hounds cold. Where there had been fleeing rabble, Urkanthos now beheld a manned Aegis line as well as a wall of formed bayonets, and the grim and determined faces of the Cadian 8th. Cadia stands! came the lone battle cry, and it was soon followed by more voices. Cadia Stands! the assembled soldiers shouted, as defiance found footing once more in their souls.
And at the epicenter of all of this stood Lord Castellan Creed, with Jarren Kell still proudly holding up the regimental colors. One with their men, they bellowed the same mantra of defiance back at their daemonic foes. Cadia stands!
Delaying An Irresistible Force
The Hounds of Abaddon slammed into the prepared ranks of the Cadian 8th, but found the resistance much tougher compared to that of the 33rd. Chaos Raptors screamed into the air and dropped straight into Creed's command line, thinking to repeat their prior success, but the veterans of the 8th were ready for them, and while scores died to take down every Raptor, Creed still survived to lead the fight.
The fight at the muster field ground into a bloody stalemate, but for once things were in the defenders favor. Creed directed his soldiers as if they were his own weapons, and struck at revealed weaknesses while at the same time withdrawing when the odds were not in his favor. He spent hundreds, sometimes thousands, of lives, but never carelessly, and with the blood of his Shock Troopers he bought precious time. Creed had already abandoned any idea that aid would arrive, but he also knew that every moment he fought on was a prize without price, and a wound on the Despoiler's pride.
Cadia still stood, but only because Creed was there with it.
And it was not just the Cadian 8th that showed their defiance. The Dark Angels 4th Company under Korahael fought side by side with the Ironwolves, while the scattered remnants of other Astartes Chapters put aside rivalries to fight as one demi-company. The Sisters of the Martyred Lady marched with the conscripts of the 111st. But the greatest and most welcome surprise came when the Thunderhawk of the Cruxis Crusade, its sides bellowing smoke and fire, plowed into the muster field, and disgorged its warriors unto the heart of the heretics. The Sons of Dorn had a lot to make up for, but each foe laid low was a step in the right direction.
More Damage To Be Done
As resistance stiffened once more, Urkanthos thoughts returned to Abaddon's orders: destroy the Null Array. He gathered the remains of the Hounds, and made cut their way towards the command bastion. There was little that Creed could do to delay the Daemon Prince, as another threat had made itself an immediate priority -- the traitor Baneblade Vicanthrus and the armored column it lead had just cleared the rubble of the Kriegan Gates. As the lead lines of Creed's men disintegrated from Demolisher Cannon fire, the Lord Castellan ordered every available heavy weapon to target the super-heavy tank.
In front of the command bastion, the conscripts of the 111st where barely a speedbump to the Daemon Prince, but they held the line to the last. The Sisters of the Martyred Lady were much more of a threat, but while the Sisters smote the last Hound with zeal and bolter fire, Urkanthos could not be denied, and he soon reached the Egressium Gate. Canonness Genevieve and Eleanor was there waiting, along with a host of Seraphim. The remaining Sisters fought hard, and the twin Canonesses were able to gravely wound the Daemon, but it wasn't enough, and as they died, nothing left stood in the way of Urkanthos destroying the Null Array.
Back at the muster field, Marshall Amalrich tried to muster another assault at the traitor Baneblade, but as the tank's massive guns turned toward the Cadian 8th's Aegis line, it suddenly froze in place. Its weapons suddenly opened fire, but not at the Imperials. Instead it cut down its escorting Chaos Havocs, as well as the Alpha Legion predator beside it.
For a moment, neither side could make heads or tails of the Baneblade's sudden turn, and no one certainly noticed the cloaked figure from whose hands flowed a stream of nanomachines that seeped into the Vicanthrus. But that was all Creed needed, and he ordered led his troopers in the direction of the command bastion. On the way they passed through the bloody ruin that were scant hours before fellow soldiers and Battle Sisters. That was not a good sign, no matter how one sliced it.
Inside the command bastion, Urkanthos had just finished off Magos Klarn and his Skitarii maniple. With nothing in his way, the Daemon Prince dove down into the depths of the arcane technology keeping the Null Array functioning.
By the time Creed and his forces arrived at the Egressium Gate, it was too late. An explosion that signaled the destruction of the Null Array ripped across the Command Bastion, and Creed and his command barely survived its passage. The Lord Castellan knew what that meant, and grim determination once more set upon his craggy features. Regardless of the outcome, he knew his duty -- he, and every Cadian on world, would continue to fight to the very end.
Still, some of his frustration boiled over, and he took it out on one of his troops. But the trooper had seen something he hadn't, and as Creed turned to look himself, he found himself cracking the first sincere smiled he'd had in a decade.
Hope Comes on Wings of Fire and Fury
The Emperor's Bride
She arrived like a comet, wreathed in holy fire as she made her descent. As she neared, and the defenders got a better look at her, her name began to be spoken, from Battle Sister to Shock Trooper. It spread like wildfire, uttered in reverence and elation by the faithful.
For Saint Celestine had finally come.
She didn't even slow down once down on the muster fields, as her fiery wake swept traitors off their feet. Her silvered sword was a blur, and each stroke banished daemons back to the Warp.
Her arrival re-invigorated the defenders, and strength returned to tired limbs as much as hope flared in their hearts. The Emperor was still with them! Why else would He send his Living Saint to guide them in this darkest of hours? Even Creed forgot the looming threat of the Blackstone Fortress to join his men in battle. Only the Astartes were unaffected, as the Imperial Creed wasn't their faith, but even so Celestine's arrival was still welcomed.
The traitor Baneblade was buried against the surge of defenders, and cultists scattered from this renewed fury. Only the Black Legion was able to meet the charge with their own blasphemous resolve, and so the attacked soon stalled.
But Celestine did not come alone. The landing craft of five companies worth of Battle Sisters from the Order of the Martyred Lady, escorted down by Imperial Fists Stormtalons, arrived on the muster field and disgorged their cargo of chanting Sororitas. They had been lost in the Warp for around fourteen hundred years before Celestine had found them, and now was their chance to make up for that lost time with interest.
The reinforcements tipped the odds in the defenders' favor once more, and the traitors were pushed back. Saint Celestine sought Urkanthos out personally, and while she was no match against the Daemon Prince on her own, her faith had resurrected the twin canonesses that he had slain just shortly before. And so the trio's battle with their unholy foe began in earnest.
Outside the eastern walls, Baroness Vardus of House Raven was out of options. The Titans of Legio Vulcanuum continued their inexorable march towards Kasr Kraf, and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Detonating her plasma core and going out in a blaze of glory sounded like a sound tactical move at this point, but before she could act on these thoughts, the bright yellow Stormhawks and Thunderhawks of the Imperial Fists swooped in. The entirety of the Vessel of Damnation's right side disappeared under intense turbolaser fire, and as the aircraft finished their attack run, the baroness put aside thoughts of glorious suicide away. For now.
Far above the melee at the muster fields of Kasr Kraf, the Chaos ships in orbit were about to get their own rude awakening.
An Imperial Fisting, Done Dry
Abaddon had planned many things, but he certainly did not foresee the Phalanx suddenly thundering into the midst of the gathered might of his fleet. The venerable battle-fortress' guns roared to life, while its ancient shield generators held firm despite soaking multiple broadsides from the ships around it.
Tor Garadon had witnessed wonders and horrors in the last few hours to last a lifetime, from the arrival of the Legion of the Damnned, followed by the Living Saint Celestine guiding a time-lost Sororitas transport to the Phalanx's care. There were so many questions he didn't have any immediate answers to, but the sight of the gathered might of the Black Legion was something he was very familiar with.
The battle fortress was alone amongst a multitude of foes, but it didn't matter; something needed to die, and the Phalanx would be the one to do it.
The Will of Eternity was the greatest threat, so the Phalanx turned toward the Blackstone Fortress' direction. As its flank batteries hammered the Traitor ships trying to surround it, Garadon held the powerful bow guns of the fortress ready -- because of all the damage it had experienced prior to arriving at Cadia, it had to make that first planet-cracking volley count.
Any other vessel would have been reduced to scrap by the sheer amount of fire it had received, but the Phalanx was made of sterner stuff, and even without an escort fleet it was still more than a match against the rabble that was facing it. But it could not hold on forever, as the heavy hitters of Abaddon's fleet left their moorings around Cadia and headed in its direction. Garadon didn't care though -- if this was to be the Phalanx's last battle, so be it, but not before the Blackstone Fortress was destroyed.
Unknown to all, Sven Bloodhowl and the remnants of his volunteer strike force still fought on in the depths of the Blackstone Fortress. They were pinned down, just short of a vital interchange that powered a section of the Will of Eternity's shields. The arrival of the Phalanx, viewed through one viewport, reinvigorated the raiders, and as the Legion of the Damned began to manifest all around them, Sven led the last of his Firehowlers to glory.
An explosion flared on one of the Blackstone's flanks, and along the whole lower port quadrant of the Will of Eternity the shields sputtered and died. That was the chance that Garadon and Trevaux were hoping for, and as one the main batteries of the Phalanx focused-fired on that area with the fury worthy of Dorn himself.
Traitor ships desperately battered themselves against the Phalanx 's onrushing mass, and while this silenced some of the battle fortress' guns, the rest still pounded on the Blackstone's now-cracked hide. In the strategium, hull breach klaxons and damage reports kept on being heard, but Garadon paid it no heed. The Will of Eternity was going to die, no ifs or buts about it.
After what seemed to be countless salvos, something within the Blackstone Fortress just... shattered. Massive fissures appeared on its surface, and lurid purple light bled through the cracks. As the Phalanx limped away as fast as its engines could muster, a silent scream echoed across every living being in the Cadian Gate as the Blackstone Fortress broke up in a blinding flare of warp energy. By the time the glare faded away, a full third of the Black Fleet was gone, snatched back by the tides of the Warp, while more had burned out and crashed on Cadia's south pole.
As for the fortress itself, its ruined husk remained in orbit, a brand new and lifeless moon overlooking its former quarry.
A Reprieve, Not a Victory
The remaining Nobles of House Raven combined their fire with that of the Imperial Fists Thunderhawks, and soon enough the traitor Titan Vessel Damnation was reduced to fused and melted slag. At the same time, with the forces of the Cadian 8th and Sororitas of the Martyred Lady in the lead, the traitor filth was finally driven from Kasr Kraf's muster field. When Sergeant Kell replanted the company colors of the regiment back on the Kriegan Gates, Urkanthos himself had fallen, slain at the hands of Celestine and the reborn Canoness Eleanor and Genevieve, and the daemon prince's unholy corpse thrown off the walls.
With the death of the Blackstone Fortress, the spirit of many of the traitors broke, and soon the invaders fled south, hounded by the Ironwolves and the Knights of House Raven. Those who could not flee threw down their arms and begged for mercy, but the defenders would give none, and met their end via sanctified promethium. Countless died in the assault, but despite the victory of the Phalanx, Abaddon's forces still held air superiority. The air space above Cadia Secundus swarmed with drop-ships, who eagerly picked up survivors in preparation for another attack.
Creed himself knew the truth of the matter. This wasn't a victory. They had survived, but he wasn't sure if Cadia's luck could hold for much longer.
Indeed, far above the atmosphere, in the bridge of the Vengeful Spirit itself, Abaddon mulled this new setback in front of his nervous lieutenants. Cadia was still intact and still defiant, but the Blackstone was now in ruins, its three massive pieces spread across the planet's orbit for kilometers. And while Prozus Ghael, the commander of the Will of Eternity, had somehow survived, he currently wished he didn't. Now he languished in agony under the ministrations of Abaddon's torturers, who would make sure that he would live for a long time before death was allowed to claim him.
Urkanthos' failure cast a tense shadow over the gathering, and the Despoiler was definitely in a foul mood. No, he would not let another of his lackeys possibly screw things up, oh no, now it was time for Abaddon to handle matters personally. No more messing around. Win or lose, the commander of the Black Legion would see things through himself.
Arrivals at the Eleventh Hour
The dawn of the next day was greeted by the smell of ignited promethium, as countless funeral pyres burned in Kasr Kraf's muster fields. They burned for two days, fed by whatever fuel that could be spared for the task, a final mercy to the martyred dead, so that Chaos corruption would not disturb their rest.
It came at Saint Celestine's insistence, and even Creed couldn't gainsay her request, though not out of piety or respect. The task would keep the minds of his soldiers occupied, buttress their flagging morale, and keep them from quickly realizing just how precarious their situation really was. But Creed knew, even long before the corpse of the slain daemon prince was thrown off the ramparts. The previous day's show of defiance was the fortress' last, and when the hordes of the Despoiler came again, the defense would have to be done somewhere else.
Creed let Celestine continue her ministrations, and continued to ponder strategic withdrawals. The arrival of the Phalanx, damaged as it was, provided possibilities. What if it could take the bulk of the Cadian forces on-planet elsewhere, to continue the fight perhaps at Agripinaa or Belis Corona?
As unbelievable as it may seem, reinforcements still managed to reach Cadia this late in the siege, mostly due to the disruption that the Phalanx and its destruction of the Blackstone Fortress had provided. First were the Crimson Fists 5th Company under Brother-Captain Luis Tracinto along with the remnants of the Cadian 14th, who had been driven off Kasr Partox. A dozen cruisers limped in from Solar Mariatus, their holds filled with the tanks of Armored 51st Regiment as well as the Knights of House Taranis.
The latter's flight to safety was especially intriguing, as the spoke of slate-grey ships bearing faded symbols of the Space Wolves appearing out of nowhere to intercept their pursuers. When asked if these were reinforcements from the Fang, Orven Highfell could give no answer.
However, the last of these unexpected arrivals would be the most welcome. It was a Mechanicus Explorator Fleet, arrived from the dry and backwater Eriad System. Creed hoped that it could breath life back to the planet's shattered defenses, but it soon became apparent that the newcomers had experienced their own trials. While the ships of the fleet itself were untouched, the ranks of its Skitarii as well as its artificers and battle-masons had been thinned considerably by prior violence at that arid world.
But that wasn't the worst of it, oh no. Its leader, the Archmagos Belisarius Cawl, had some terrible news to share to the Cadian war council.
An Awful, Terrible Truth
Cawl briefed the gathered War Council of his discoveries at Eriad IV, and while it was nigh-incomprehensible at times due to the lexicon the Archmagos used, the meaning it held was still abundantly clear to those gathered there. For time immemorial, structures similar to the Cadian Pylons had been buttressing reality together like stitches on a tapestry, keeping the Warp at bay... And like the sneaky bastard that he was, Abaddon had been quietly destroying these structures throughout the galaxy, usually timing it during one of his Black Crusades. And with each Pylon field obliterated, reality slowly unraveled as well.
Cawl's ramblings sounded like a crackpot theory for some, but at the same time the evidence bore itself out. It brought a new but very disturbing perspective on the "failure" of Abaddon's previous Black Crusades, and the rising tide of darkness and prevalence of Warp Storms in the galaxy since the Despoiler had first set off from the Eye. These costly campaigns throughout the millennia had all been smoke and mirrors, obfuscating what Abaddon's forces had really been doing. It was something only an immortal, who could afford to wait thousands of years for a resolution, could have come up with.
There was no way of knowing how many Pylon fields remained in the galaxy, or just how close the galaxy was to finally fraying, but one thing was clear: Cadia could no longer be abandoned. The Despoiler had to be stopped here. The question now would be how to do this impossible task.
Last Stands Are In Fashion Again
The defenders of Cadia made the first moves, as the Phalanx repositioned itself over the Elysion Pylon fields of Cadia Secundus. With the airspace secured, Creed ordered his forces to dig in, and soon trenches and aegis defense lines were put up, while the catacombs below further expanded and fortified to act as a makeshift bastion. As the Militarum forces, Astartes, and Sororitas busied themselves above, Cawl and his adepts tried to force a response from the pylons themselves in the warrens underneath.
The Space Marines that still remained by this point, now reinforced by the Crimson and Imperial Fists, formed an ad-hoc strike force under Korahael's command. Only the Space Wolves disregarded this, and Ironwolves squads would stalk the perimeters on their own accord. While Korahael was quick to accept this as another sign of the Son of Russ' thick-headedness, Garadon wasn't as sure, as the latter had never encountered Wolves as taciturn as the Ironwolves. As the evening wind brought with it echoes of distant wolf howls, Garadon couldn't help but be concerned.
Once the defenses had been set the waiting began once more, and for many of the defenders that were at the Elysion fields, it became nerve-wracking. Not more than a few wanted the Despoiler to get on with it already, as being dead seemed preferable to being bored.
As the defenders fidgeted in their trenches, Saint Celestine hovered in the air above them with her new retinue, consumed by her own worries. She was visited by a recurring vision, of blood and fire, and a fortress torn asunder, but beyond that... Hope? Clarity would come in time, but for now she could only trust in the Emperor.
Cawl for his part, was about to throw in the towel. He had tried everything he knew from his long long life to get the Pylons to respond, but nope, they remained unresponsive.
It was at this point a certain... observer, made himself known. He offered the Archmagos certain insight into the functions of the Pylons, and while Cawl was wary at the Necron Tech Support, he didn't have any other options at that point. The offer was sincere however, and with the brand-new knowledge finally figured out what he needed to do to make the Pylons do what he wanted.
Far above Cadia's south pole however, things were starting to stir. Countless hangars unloaded their cargo of drop-ships into the upper atmosphere, all blazing a fiery trail in the direction of Cadia Secundus.
The Battle of the Elysion Fields was about to start.
In Their Towering Shadows
The first attack came from the west, as traitor drop ships slipped as close as the edge of the Phalanx's weaponry as they could before they unloaded their cultist cargos. These pathetic dregs came from a myriad of worlds and backgrounds, all united under their new "freedom" from the Emperor's dogma, and driven into a frenzy by the Dark Apostles among their midst. In their thousands they tried to swarm the fields with , but as they crossed into the Phalanx's range, hundreds were instagibbed by the fortress' bombardment cannons. Still the maddened horde pressed on.
The soldiers of the Cadian 9th held their fire until the last moment. They recalled their shame when they broke and ran at the Kriegan Gates, and each had lost comrades to the Commissars as they bloodily re-instilled discipline after. What's more, they looked at the insane throng with pity and disgust, as they were a dark reflection of what they might had been, had their fates been different. As one the 9th peeked from their trench lines, and as one they fired. Countless cultists crumpled, lasbolt holes in their chests, while Apostate preachers screamed their last as Earthshaker shells hit their marks, but thousands more rushed in, and crushed the remains of their fallen into bloody paste.
More assault craft landed in the north and east, and heralded the arrival of Abaddon's second wave. In the North, Celestine led the Sisters of the Order of the Martyred Lady against the newly-deployed Daemon Engines. Exorcist rounds met gouts of daemonic flame, while Seraphim squads stalked Warpsmiths before they could bring their mechanical nightmares back to the fray. Meanwhile in the east, the Imperial Knights united under Baroness Vardus lent their support to the tanks of the 185th, as they dueled the massed armor of the Crimson Slaughter and the remaining Titans of Legio Vulcanum.
The south that the Cadian 8th and 21st defended however saw Abaddon's most determined strike yet, as an armored column two miles wide drove through the Phalanx's bombardment relentlessly despite heavy losses, with swarms of Helldrakes providing air cover. Imperial AA guns opened up, but they could only disperse this hellish flock, and not clear it entirely from the skies.
As he saw the plight of his allies, Korahael finally deployed the Space Marines to assist, with the Black Templars and Imperial Fists sent southward, while he and the Crimson Fists headed north. Of the Space Wolves there was no sign, though there was a suspiciously defended bastion far southwest that had seen an entire Black Legion armored column annihilated...
The Despoiler's Fist Closes
While the defenders were still holding, with every hour that passed the Despoiler's minions pushed them back at all sides. In the east Baroness Vardus finally met a glorious end, as her Knight dealt the traitor Reaver Furioso Rex a deathblow before its own reactor failed. Her remaining Nobles fought on to the last, their own ends a credit to their House. With the Knights gone, the tanks of the 185th were left on their own, and were forced to make a fighting withdrawal, forgetting in their terror that there wasn't any place left to withdraw to.
Into this the Space Marines entered the fray, ferried in by Imperial Fist Thunderhawks, just as Crimson Slaughter hit the trench lines. Crimson Fist Devastator Squads opened fire at the remaining titans, while Loyalist met Renegade in furious melee amidst the burned remains of House Raven's war machines. It was here the Brother-Captain Tracinto met his end via chainfist, but he was soon avenged by Korahael's own relic blade.
In the West the Cadian 9th died where they stood by the hundreds, in penance for their prior cowardice at the Kriegan Gates. As their lines diminished, Creed ordered his reserves to reinforce them, but by the time the 75th and 403rd reach their trench lines it was too late, and the foe was too numerous. The 9th had been overrun, but through their valiant deaths they had wiped away the taint of dishonor.
Up North the Sisters of Battle fought on, and not one Daemon Engine reached the trenches, as they had met their enemies head-on in the plains before them. Scores were martyred in the defense, but their Faith buoyed them on, all in the name of Him-On-Terra.
Down South however, things took a turn for the worst very quickly. A panicked colonel of the Cadian 21st ordered his soldiers to head of the hills. He was quickly BLAMMED by a Commissar, but the damage was done, and the 21st routed. Creed tried to rally them via vox from his command skyshield, but the Lord Castellan himself was soon under assault.
Abaddon himself led the teleport assault on the skyshield, accompanied by the Bringers of Despair, the Black Legion's finest warriors. They tore through Creed's command effortlessly, but despite this Creed still managed to escape, thanks to the heroism of his longtime companion Kell. As he saw the Castellan airlifted via Valkyrie to safety, the injured Kell gave Abaddon the proverbial middle finger along with his best shit-faced grin in defiance.
The Despoiler, not amused, broke his spine in response.
The Darkness Comes Quickly
Important Stuff That *SHOULD* Have Followed
- Eldrad leads an ill-fated raid on one of the Blackstone Fortresses, only to learn too late that it wasn't just any Slaaneshi Daemon waiting for him there, but Slaanesh itself. His soul is dragged screaming into the Warp, but there's enough ambiguity left due to the fact that the not all of the Waystones he left the Storm Guardian squads he had sent to reinforce the Imperium had not gone dead.
- The Planet Killer is taken for a joyride by a Chaos Lord named Malifica Arkham while Abbadon was busy in Cadia, but was eventually jumped by four Lunar-class Cruisers and destroyed for good.
- The Voice of the Emperor is revealed to have been Cypher all along, and was captured by the Black Templars... Who then got conveniently "lost with all hands" with the only other ship in the area being a Dark Angels strike cruiser. Hmm...
- Maugan-Ra successfully frees the Craftworld of Altansar from the grip of the Eye of Terror.
- The lost Space Wolves 13th Company comes roaring out of the Eye of Terror chasing Abaddon's forces, with many of them fully in the grips of the Curse of the Wulfen. Leman Russ was said to be leading them personally, though in reality nothing came of this plot thread.
- The Relictors go full-Renegade after making off with Chaos artifacts taken from the Inquisition.
The 13th Black Crusade is literally where the "clock" stopped in the Warhammer 40,000 for more than two decades and several editions, before a new management decided to move things forward finally for 8th Edition.
There have been two differing outcomes for this Black Crusade as far as lore goes -- one from the Eye of Terror Campaign, and the one for Gathering Storm, the latter of which became the new status quo for the setting.
Humorously, the latter actually still treats many of the beats of the Eye of Terror campaign as canon, just as long as it doesn't contradict things outright.
The Eye of Terror Campaign
Back in Third Edition, GW ran the "Eye of Terror" worldwide campaign to determine the outcome of the war. Going by the numbers of the battles sent in (admittedly not a tamper-proof measure), the forces of Chaos actually won the ground war, and the Imperium won the space war, since this was before GW had the "fuck our customers" mindset, they actually did wrap up the 13th Black Crusade...
In the 18th issue of their Battlefleet Gothic Magazine.
Yep, the major event that the whole setting stops at was wrapped up in an issue nobody bought (so a lot of people thought it never ended). Abaddon's fleets (including the Planet Killer and a Blackstone Fortress) were crippled and he and his generals were stranded on a dozen worlds. They continued to win the ground war on most planets, including Cadia, but even if they did capture those they'd be left stuck without any way of proceeding whereas the Imperium could just virus bomb the captured worlds.
Codex: Eye of Terror
Also around this time was a codex supplement based on this war. While the lore was a pretty basic recap of the opening acts, it did offer some variant armies. While all of them lacked quite a bit compared to the official codices, they offered a nice little variant theme.
- 13th Company Warband: A variant Space Wolves army focused around the rumored Wulfen. While you lack any of the vehicles aside from bikes, you get a hyper-mobile army that can wade through cover in order to approach the enemy and rip them to pieces with their claws.
- Cadian Shock Troops: A variant Imperial Guard army based on the Cadians. This introduces Sanctioned Psykers and Conscripts (here fluffed as the Youth Army corps used by the planet) as well as giving Kasrkin their time to shine. This would also be the first time Creed and Colour Sergeant Kell would be statted, being the biggest heroes of this war.
- Lost and the Damned: The forces of mutants and heretic guardsmen led by daemons and chaos marines, an army that wouldn't see any further support until Forge World made their crack at it. This gave a dizzying amount of possibilities merely by being the blend of two different armies, complete with extra markings, rather than just being a variation of an existing army with a few different rules.
- Ulthwé Strike Force: A variant Eldar army made for deep-striking by emerging from small rifts in the Webway. This meant that the army couldn't use any vehicles bigger than Vypers and War Walkers. That said, their guardians are a bit better than their common kin and their Seer Councils (which took the place of a typical Warlock bodyguard for both a Farseer AND the Avatar of Khaine) were required to keep at least a few of their number to protect their heroes. This also meant that you couldn't take Autarchs or Phoenix Lords as HQ choices.
The Gathering Storm
To herald the end of 7th Edition and welcome in 8th, Games Workshop did something unthinkable and decided that it was time to shake things up and finally move the plot forward. To do this, the company decided to return to Abaddon's 13th temper tantrum, and make it less fail than what happened during the Eye of Terror campaign (admittedly not that hard). To accomplish this, it did the following:
- Stress the fact that Cadia was not the goal of the Black Crusade, but merely step 1 in a much broader campaign of general nastiness for the Imperium.
- Tighten the narrative, focusing less on the entire battlefront, and instead on a select few but crucial battles that could decide the campaign.
- Make the conflict much more personal, and introduce characters who had actual stakes on the fate of Cadia.
- Blow up Cadia, just to show that Abby was not messing around anymore.
Suffice to say the end result was much more well received by the fanbase, and while Cadia eventually was destroyed in the end, the stagnation that had settled upon the setting for years was finally shaken off. While it hasn't been a hundred percent perfect (what big change is), the narrative figuratively hit the floor running, and hasn't stopped since then.