Chapter 1. Hive War
The remains of the outer Ork defence ring were little more than a brown smudge on the landscape. What had but a few hours before been a massive ring of rockcrete and metal bunkers, trenches and fortifications had been reduced by aerial bombardment to a pile of burning scrap and broken mud.
From the bridge of the Warlord titan Imperius Martialis princep Marx Van Castle was able to oversee the entire battlefield, be it through his titans view ports or the complex auspex scopes that fed data directly into his consciousness. The massive hive spire before him rose into the low cloud cover, which was a mucky brown colour in stark contrast to the sparklingly white which seemed to cover the rest of the planet. He had been startled by the sheer quantity of cloud on this planet during his titans deployment, the swirling vortex of dense clouds seemingly without end. He had been even more surprised when his drop ship had punched through the clouds to reveal the blasted and polluted landscape beneath.
Pollus Massard was a major hive world of over five hundred and seventy billion people, although doubtlessly many of those where now dead at the hands of either the invader or far more likely the famine caused by the seizing and subsequent destruction of the major starports. The coming of the Orks had been a great surprise to the planetary governor, his fleet of picket ships being subsequently annihilated in orbit without even downing one of the Ork’s fifteen frigates, allowing the green skins to bring in their pair of massive space hulks without contest.
Those space hulks even now orbited gracelessly around the planet, the Imperial Navy relief fleet playing a game of cat and mouse with the two giants, trying to separate them so that they could be engaged separately; their combined firepower being greater than even the trio of Mars battle cruisers which had come to Massards aid. When Marx’s Mechanicus cruiser entered the system from the warp with the Imperial Fleet the enemy frigates had raced to intercept them in typical Ork fassion, leaving the lumbering hulks to linger in orbit, a lethal mistake for the Orks who were dashed to pieces by the long range fire from their combined torpedo and Nova cannon barrages.
The ground battle however was much closer fought. The Orks had landed well over fifteen million infantry and seven hundred thousand various tanks and vehicles, overwhelming the initial planetary defence forces response. The more serious threat however was the scattered reports of enemy titans, or Gargants as the green skinned monsters called them. Supposedly the massed PDF regiments had broken before a phalanx of over a dozen of them, smashing through the lines of tanks and men the governor was throwing at the Ork menace in a vain attempt to contain the threat during the initial Ork landings.
That had however been over a month ago. Now the Orks controlled the majority of the southern continent and had put to the torch sixteen major hives and immeasurable swathes of habitats and industrial precincts. The shattered remains of the PDF had retreated almost constantly fighting a costly rearguard action for the billions of civilians fleeing the ever extending battlefield in what limited transport was available or, for the majority of the poor hive dwellers, on foot.
Now however the might of the blessed and vengeful Emperor had arrived; twenty regiments of the Imperial Guard, mostly Mordian veterans, an entire three companies of Iron Hand space marines and the full might of the Legio Pyrricina’s Titan legion. With a wicked grin Marx almost pitied the filthy xenos to be facing such righteous firepower.
Grandmaster Pius Misenhein, lord of the Titan legion, Lord General Prax Farj’ter, commander in chief of the Imperial Guard forces and Captain Greyhold of the Iron hands had composed a brilliant plan whereby the majority of the Imperial force would be directed against the main Ork army, or Waaagh while a secondary force of four Warlord titans, each supported by a quarter of a single regiment of Imperial Guard would assault and ultimately seize the first hive that had fallen to the Orks and which was currently serving as their command and supply base, a brutal decapitating strike at the Ork leadership which would hopefully destroy the ability of the Ork to fight. The mighty Astartes meanwhile would assault key supply points throughout the continent, using their mobility to annihilate any Ork attempts at organising a counterattack.
That objective stood before Marx now, according to the tactical database it was mostly intact although a large amount of the lower superstructure seemed to have been opened up for some reason, revealing fleeting glances into the dingy interior of the hive. It had been defended by a massive ring of ruggedly built Orkish defences but the sustained bombing from the Naval Marauder bombers had reduced them to rubble, leaving the hive practically undefended as far as the Navy intelligence spotters could determine.
“Titan Martialis in position Majoris,” he reported to the commander of the operation, Princeps Majoris Kaan aboard the Warlord Titan Divine Wrath, his immediate superior in the legion.
He could just about make out his titan with his bare eyes far to his left, coming onto the hive spire from the north while he himself was approaching from the west. Two other titans would be approaching from the south and east although they were not visible directly due to the shear bulk of the hive spire. Marx was however completely aware of their progress as well as their own fields of view thanks to their relaying auspex data to his titan via the satellite link achieved with the Mechanicus cruiser far over head. It was also thanks to this link that Marx was able to fully monitor the progress of the main legion force to the north where the Emperor titan Galleus Emperacanus with Grandmaster Misenhein aboard marched towards the main Ork force alongside the other six Warlords and ten Warhounds that made up the rest of the legion.
“Deploy artillery support along north and west quadrants,” came the response from Divine Wrath’s tactical operations moderati when all four titans were in position.
“Signal our first stage Guard forces to deploy along the ridge,” Marx said to his own tactical operations moderati, a thin man named Freemans who sported a large beard, an unusual adornment for a member of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Immediately he began jabbering away in code to the various Imperial Guard elements that were trailing behind the titan, taking advantage of its bulk and void shields to protect them from any artillery fire from the spire.
At once a dozen Basilisk self propelled artillery pieces splintered off from their position in the Imperial Guard column and sped to either side of the titan, taking up firing positions along a ridge that gave them clear fields of fire across the debris fields approaching the hive spire as well as the ability to lay down fire to either flank.
“Artillery in position and confirming receipt of targeting data stream princep,” reported Freemans, the holographic table that lay in front of the command throne displayed that the artillery was in position anyway but Freemans was a stickler for the correct protocol and the codex’s of warfare had been written assuming a titan was not equipped with such a fine piece of equipment as a holo-projection table.
For a moment Marx admired the table, it was a gift from his tech priest mother who had given it to him when he had graduated from the Collegia Titanica. The fact that it was likely worth its weight in diamonds was secondary to the fact that the shear level of sophistication of the device made it invaluable for interpreting the hundreds of streams of auspex data that could be fed into a titan’s machine spirit. Lord Generals and Admirals would likely kill to possess one half as advanced as it although the Grandmaster of the legion had one of even greater sophistication aboard the Galleus Emperacanus but according to rumour it was older than the Imperium itself, heralding from the dark age of technology.
“Incoming artillery fire,” said Freemans, his voice as monotone as ever, even as the holo projector tracked the incoming salvo of shells before modelling with startling accuracy and realism their huge detonations as they ripped into the broken mud before the titan, sending blasts of dirt high into the air. The holoprojector also showed the origin points for each artillery shell, displaying markers indicating the exact location and likely size and model of weapon, the titan’s cogitators working instantly to calculate all the required angles and feeding the data into the holo projection. Disturbingly the shells had all come from the lower levels of the hive spire itself.
“Hostile artillery lacks sufficient range from its current location,” he stated, despite the obviousness of it, of twenty shells fired not one even came within fifty meters of the titan or the Imperial Guard forces.
“Turbolasers adjusting for barrage fire on artillery origin points,” reported Ghanx, the weapons moderati from his seat next to Marx’s. Ghanx was a strange one, even for a member of the Mechanicus. His face was completely covered or replaced by augment implants so that he appeared to be wearing a full helmet. As far as Marx was aware he had never left the Titan, except to perform exterior inspections of the weaponry and targeting equipment and had served with Martialis since its construction seventy years ago.
Marx could feel the shoulder mounted turbolasers rotating in their turret assemblies, he could feel the plasma reactor reaching its peak to charge their capacitors and he could feel the various targeting auspexes analysing the wind, the distance to target and a thousand other variables to ensure they hit their mark on the first shot. All this he could feel as if he himself was the titan, as if he himself had kiloton bearing turbolasers mounted on his shoulders. The wonders of his machine link never ceased to amaze him. With but a single thought he fired.
Immense las beams of scarlet red shot out from all four barrels and smashed into the distant spire, erupting into raging infernos as they consumed several Ork batteries each and caused considerable damage to the surrounding structure of the hive. Each shot was tracked by the holoprojector table but they were so bright that even as they hit the spire they were still clearly visible, even with the anti glare rituals performed on the portholes. They were oddly beautiful, like the firework displays that had so amused him as a boy. He fired again and a further four shots sped out to join the inferno, hitting another set of targets flawlessly.
As sizeable chunks of masonry and steel began to rain down from the spire amid plums of smoke and molten metal Marx couldn’t help but flinch. Their overall objective was to capture the hive spire intact in order to hopefully reclaim the holy relics that were held within, if they had simply wanted to flatten the place they could have done so with a single shot from orbit but instead they were charged with recapturing the main hive spire at the minimum. Marx would be among the first to admit his disbelief at such orders, holy relics or no. Clearing a major hive like the one before him would be bloody work, especially for the infantry who would have to go though the upper levels fighting the Orks for every nook and cranny. Not for the first time Marx was thankful he was fighting the enemies of the God Emperor from the safety of a massively armoured and shielded mobile fortress.
“Hostile artillery threat neutralised princep,” reported Freemans predictably.
“Never would have guessed,” smirked Preston, the operations moderati from her console. Preston, unlike most members of the Mechanicus of her rank still retained visible traits of her femininity, although her left eye had been replaced by a glowing red augment and a thick cable connecter her mind to the titans machine spirit she was still mostly human, and Marx thought her quite attractive. Although admittedly she was practically the only female he had any contact with these days.
From the holoprojector Marx could see that the other titans had also exchanged fire with Ork artillery originating from the spire, on the eastern side the Ork artillery had even been able to get a few shells to impact on the void shields of the titan. A futile gesture as they had been swiftly annihilated by the return fire before they had been able to reload for another salvo.
What concerned Marx more however was the stream of dark shapes emerging from the exposed lower levels of the spire. Ork tanks. Hundreds of them.
“Advance,” came the now distorted signal from Princeps Majoris Kaan, the high explosives used by the Ork artillery were interfering with the vox channels.
With a thunderous shaking of the ground the four titans stomped forwards towards the spire, each trailed by a hundred chimeras packed with guardsmen and a force of twenty Leman Russ battle tanks that sped to either side of the titans to hold the flanks of the advancing leviathans. Far to the rear lurked the remainder of the regiment, a hundred thousand infantry with the support vehicles to continue the assault on the hive once this armoured spearhead secured a beachhead.
“Targeting all hostile contacts,” said Ghanx.
Marx could feel the turbolaser batteries retargeting the base of the spire and with another thought the massive red beams shot out and bathed the largest of the gaps with fire. Perhaps a dozen Ork tanks were simply vaporised by the impact, the inferno of the blast, combined with exploding fuel and ammunition washed over the surrounding vehicles like a tidal wave and many of the open top Ork vehicles simply exploded as well, their fuel and ammo stocks feeding the growing firestorm.
Marx however saw none of this, his mind had retreated not only into the machine spirit of the titan but into the cogitators analysing the battlefield. He felt the Ork vehicles burning at the opening in the wall in the spire and he felt the other Ork vehicles racing through different holes, forming a massive armoured wedge that was hurtling at him. He felt the presence of Freemans performing the analysis of the combined Ork firepower and the complex calculations determining their success rate against the titan and its Imperial Guard escort. He felt the progress of the other three titans as they advanced and encountered similar forces of Orks moving out to engage them. He felt the reports from the basilisk crews as they turned their earth shaker cannons on the enemy tanks and loaded their shells.
Marx also felt the massive volcano cannon that made up the titans port arm adjusting, bringing its oversized laser weapon to bear on the speeding tanks. With a tiniest of urges the main reactor surged to maximum and a searing beam of pure white light shot out, hitting the Ork tank on the left of the advancing column. The tank, and a sizeable amount of the ground it had been speeding across liquefied, tiny Ork bodies disappearing in the searing light. With the help of the machine spirit Marx rapidly moved the volcano cannon, sweeping it across the Ork tanks line of advance and destroying over thirty of them by the time the weapon started to overheat and automatically shut down, coolant spraying down the length of the barrel in a cloud of crystals. The entirety of the front rank of tanks had been reduced to dribbling metal slush in less than three seconds of sustained fire.
The surviving Ork tanks now faced the imminent problem of racing headlong into not only the molten remains of their comrades but also the molten mud and rock beneath them. The tanks at either flank swerved around the molten barrier, their turn being so sharp that many of the Ork warriors who were clinging onto the exterior of the tanks were thrown loose to land either in the pools of molten earth and metal or simply to shatter as they impacted against the hard earth. The tanks in the centre of the formation however were not so lucky, being forced to plough straight through the pools of molten metal and earth by their inescapable forward momentum. Most of them sank down into the molten metal before exploding, their fuel tanks and ammunition cooking off in the extreme heat. Others however managed to clear the hazardous area, their tracks and wheels igniting from the extreme temperature leaving them immobile, but not defenceless, their barrels swivelling to target the approaching titan and Imperia tanks even as more tanks rammed into them from behind , shunting them further into the molten pools of mud and metal.
The first tanks to fire were the Ork vehicles that had swerved to either side of the molten metal and had sped onwards in an attempt to flank the advancing Imperials. Their battle cannons and missile racks releasing a hail of fire against the Imperial force at extreme range. Most of the fire landed harmlessly in the path of the titan and tanks, but a spattering of the larger rockets reached the charging Leman Russ’s and two of the might tanks were destroyed in searing explosions. The spattering of fire that the titan received was easily absorbed by the void shields, the missiles and tank shells vaporising in flashes of light as the powerful void generators humming gently as its residual charge began to build.
“Hostile titan analogues detected emerging from hive spire,” reported Freemans, as if commenting on the weather. But with a glance upwards to the viewports Marx was able to see clearly the squat bulky shape of an Ork Gargant emerging from the gloom of the interior of the spire.
“A worthy opponent princep,” said Ghanx almost gleefully, “mass correlates to stompa pattern hostile titan approximately thirty meters in height. Detecting strong plasma emissions from both chest cavity and arm mountings.”
“Acknowledged,” replied Marx, who was studying the holodisplay that showed three other enemy Gargants moving out to engage the other titans. The easternmost titan seemed to be struggling with the host of enemy tanks having raced around its flanks to attack the column of chimeras. “Set as priority target and engage.”
The massive multi-barrelled mega cannon that made up the starboard arm had been rotating to target the main bulk of enemy tanks that had been bottled up by the strip of molten metal but instead Marx began rotating it upwards to target the Gargant, moving both the shoulder turbolaser batteries and the volcano cannon to target it as well once they had cooled down enough to fire again. With another thought the mega cannon began firing before it had reached its target and massive man sized shells shot out of the top barrel before the entire assembly rotated to place another shell laden barrel in the firing position.
The first shell hit the ground just in front of the line of molten metal, its explosion was immense sending three nearby disabled Ork tanks flying through the air like toys and sending a huge amount of dirt high into the air in a fountain of destruction.
The second shell hit an Ork tank head on and the large bulky vehicle simply ceased to exist, alongside the trio of flat bed vehicles that were loaded with Ork infantry that had been sheltering behind it.
The third shell landing in the midst of the largest grouping of Ork tanks still on the field and it caused immense destruction. Four tanks simply vaporised in the initial impact whilst over a dozen were sent rolling to either side, their barrels bent and their engines aflame, their crews being thrown across the battlefield with bone shattering force.
The fourth, fifth and sixth shells landed squarely on the enemy Gargant, hitting it on its fat bulbous belly. Marx had never seen a Gargant outside of the training holograms before, and this one at least looked completely different from the simulations. It looked like a fat Ork with squat little legs, its arms were huge oversized cannons and a massive cutting disc was spinning on what looked like an Imperial standard pattern construction crane mounted on the things back. It was almost comically crude in its construction but Marx knew not to underestimate the fighting ability of the Ork.
As shell after shell impacted on the Gargant its own Ork shields flared brightly, a huge flash of multicoloured light with each impact. As far as Marx knew Imperial science had no idea on what principles Ork shield technology worked, it simply did but Marx could clearly see its effectiveness here in resisting the mega cannons hi-explosive shells.
As the massive turbo lasers adjusted to target the Gargant Marx took a moment to take stock of the rest of the battle. The Leman Russ formations had engaged the surviving Ork tanks with great efficiency, their battle cannons and las cannons wiping out all but a few dozen that sheltered by the Gargants bulk. Similarly the basilisks had wrought terrible damage against the tanks and other vehicles emerging from the hive, turning most of the gaps in the spires exterior into kill zones filled with the burning debris of Ork vehicles.
Finally the turbolasers were in position and Marx quickly fired them off, four super-heated beams shot at the Gargant and its shields shattered under the barrage. Massive spots of fire sprouted from where the turbolasers had penetrated through the shield, three on the main body and a fourth straight through the crane assembly, the massive spinning blade zooming off and embedding itself into the side of the spire. The Gargant remained operational however and it levelled a pair of massive cannons at the Martialis and fired, rocking itself backwards with the recoil as bolts of plasma rocketed out towards the Imperial titan, nearly toppling itself with the shear level of force that was unleashed.
The impacts tested the Warlords void shields immensely, the two impacts exploded with incredible force and the upper body of Martialis was wreathed in flame as the void shields faltered under the plasma barrage, radiators desperately pumping the absorbed energy away from vital systems.
“Port void shields have collapsed!” screamed Preston in synchronisation with a series of sparks that rained down from the overhead consoles, fuses burning out under the feedback from the energy surge in the shield matrix. From the look of the damage control readouts however they had escaped any real damage from the shield breach, the port hull armour had been able to absorb the residual detonation that had gotten through the shields.
“Hostile Gargants shields remain down,” reported Ghanx with an almost frantic haste, “Ork plasma reactor targeted.”
By the time Marx had focused his mind on targeting the designated point of the target the machine spirit had already focused the volcano cannon onto it, it took the slightest of commands for the weapon to fire before the bright white beam spat out and sliced deep into the Gargants chest, melting straight through the meters of exterior armour and rupturing the reactor casing. The Gargant almost audibly screamed as plasma boiled up out of the wound and poured forth, almost like a living being bleeding out its life essence.
As the Gargant died its noisy death however there was no opportunity to celebrate as a bright beam of energy shot out from the debris fields to the left of the titan and hit it on its unshielded side, cutting into the knee joint just behind its frontal heavy plating. As the beam burned through the vulnerable joint the titan began to tilt as the joint gave way beneath the colossal weight of the war machine.
“We’re going over!” screamed Ghanx in an unaccustomed outburst of panic whilst digging his hands into the seat restraints.
As the titan toppled slowly like a tree felled by primitive loggers Marx was just able to make out the large tank hidden in the broken rubble that had felled them, a Shadowsword super heavy tank, armed with a smaller version of their own volcano cannon. From its burnt and jagged exterior it had likely been looted from the retreating PDF troops and had been securely buried in the outer defence ring when the bombers had levelled them on top of it, hiding it from view and their own auspex scopes. Marx was reassured to see it blown into bits of flaming debris by a barrage from the basilisk artillery just before the titan hit the ground and all became darkness.