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As part of the constant vigil around the Eye of Terror, highly trained units of Kasrkin were pushed into the swirling maelstrom, desperate to find some indication of where the first blow would land. Astropathic divination pointed towards the blighted world of Urthwart, where a massive force was believed to be gathering. Urthwart was a world taken by Chaos, its population enslaved and sacrificed to the dark gods. The Kasrkin found nothing alive on Urthwart, merely death and hideous plague zombies infected with the Curse on Unbelief. But as the Kasrkin prepared to withdraw, frantic vox communication from their ships in orbit reported numerous vessels advancing on Urthwart from the Eye of Terror. The Kasrkin fell back to their dropships and attempted to return to their carriers, but it was already too late. The Imperial ships were either crippled or had been forced to disengage and make for Cadia. There was to be no escape and the Cadians were stranded on Urthwart as a massive vessel, larger than the most gargantuan capital ship approached them: the Planet Killer.
Oblivious to their fate, the Cadians could do nothing as the incomprehensible power of the Planet Killer was unleashed in a devastating lance of energy that bored through the planet's crust and sundered the very bedrock. The land split and the planet's core exploded, breaking Urthwart into spinning pieces of molten rock. The death of Urthwart echoed in the Warp, blowing out the encroaching warp storms, and every telepath within a thousand light years felt its death scream. As Urthwart collapsed in on iteself, a Chaos fleet of hundreds of warships and hulking transports surged from the depths of the Eye of Terror towards Cadia. The diseased Plagueclaw and Terminus Est, along with a massive flotilla of plague hulks, emerged in the Subiaco Diablo system and began heading deep into the pestilence-wracked sector. Alongside the Chaos fleet, and guarded by the Despoiler class battleships Merciless Death and Fortress of Agony, came two hideously altered Blackstone Fortresses. Where once they had served the Imperium as Naval bases, they now resembled twisted and mutated cathedrals, dedicated only to blood and death.
Naval patrols, forewarned by the surviving Astropaths on Belisar, fell back before the tide of corrupted vessels, desperately calling for aid from neighbouring sectors. The ban on transit between sectors was still in force and precious hours were wasted as Naval captains fought to overcome the bureaucracy of the Officio Medicae who attempted to prevent them from press-ganging their crews back into service. Those ships that could be mustered gathered in the Ormantep system under the command of Admiral Pulaski, ready to fight and die to give the defenders on Cadia whatever time they could buy with their lives. Unlike many other naval battles, there was no jockeying for advantaeous positions by the foes. The Chaos fleet obviously intended to batter its way through the Imperial Navy and the two fleets clashed in the shadow of the Ilthirium Belt, a mineral rich asteroid field plundered by the mining hulks of Ormantep.
Battle was joined and the horrendously outnumbered loyalist fleet fought in the grand tradition of the Imperial Navy, with courage, honour and steadfastness. A dozen vessels were crippled in the opening moments of the battle, either by wave after wave of torpedoes or constant attack runs of Doomfire bombers, but the rest of the fleet fought on. As both fleets intermingled and the battle became a desperate, close quarters engagement, with horrific damage being inflicted on both sides, a portion of the Chaos fleet split from the main battle and surged past the heavily engaged Navy towards the Agripinaa sector. For long hours the two fleets pounded one another, and all hope seemed lost when Admiral Pulaski's flagship, Honour and Duty, was destroyed in a catastrophic plasma drive explosion. The Imperial defenders had commended their souls to the Emperor when several Chaos warships that had assumed blocking positions suddenly exploded as the warships of Battlefleet Agripinaa caught the Chaos fleet off guard. Led by Admiral Quarren, the newly arrived Imperial reinforcements cleared a path for the beleaguered Navy to disengage from the battle and withdraw to Demios Binary.
Quarren had saved what remained of the fleet, but in doing so had left the way clear for the splinter fleet of Chaos vessels to breach the defences of the Agripinaa sector. With little or nothing to prevent the Chaos ships from entering each planet's orbit, the systems of the Agripinaa sector were wide open to attack by the diseased followers of the Plague God. Soon the worlds of this and the Belis Corona sub sector became nightmare visions of hell, mud, horror and war. On Amistel Majoris, cursed Plague Marines of Nurgle landed and decimated much of the local defence forces before the forces of the Drookian Fen Guard were able to effect planetfall and bolster the embattled defenders. Plague took many hundreds of lives and the once verdant fields of this prosperous world were reduced to desolate, corpse choked plains, with bodies piled ten deep in every crater. Colonel Pertaj orchestrated a masterful defence, devising a cunning series of trench systems to confound the foe and lead them into deadly fire traps. But the colonel never lived to see his defences in action as the plague struck him down before the first major engagement of the war. Space Marines from the Howling Griffons Chapter fought their way through the Chaos blockade, escorting the ships of the Legio Astorum, to man the defences as the first wave of attackers struck. Only the Space Marines, with their blessed power armour, and Titans could survive the toxin-ridden battlefields of this plague front and the normally lightning fast warfare practised by the warriors of the Adeptus Astartes bogged down into gruelling trench fighting. Both sides fed their forces into the meat grinder of battle, neither willing to surrender the world to the other.
On Lelithar, the originating world of the Voice, Imperial Guard soldiers of the Jouran Dragoons, together with Warlord Titans of the Legio Ignatum landed at Gorgosa and laid siege to the captured Imperial palace, said to be the operational headquarters of the Voice. The resultant siege decimated much of Lelithar's capital city and cost the lives of millions of people as the city's populace rose to fight the soldiers of the Imperial Guard. Supported by the Death Spectres Chapter, the siege continues to grind mercilessly towards an uncertain conclusion.
Plague swept across the face of every world and as many soldiers fell to disease as to the weapons of the enemy. In space, Admiral Quarren led the battered fleet in a fighting retreat back to Cadia and stationed it in a defensive posture in conjunction with the three Ramilies class star forts in orbit. The Chaos fleet advanced towards Cadia, stopping only to allow the Blackstone Fortresses to scour the Demios Binary to a barren rock. Lightning arcs of incandescent energies razed the planet's surface bare, killing millions of Imperial servants and destroying every structure in a matter of hours. Chaos vessels quickly overwhelmed the orbital defences of Solar Mariatus, the outermost planet of the Cadian system, and hundreds of dropships carrying traitor regiments of Volscani Cataphracts descended to the surface, attacking the mining outposts and capturing the valuable ore refineries from the defending units of the Cadian 23rd.
Here, the traitor forces established a forward base of operations from which to launch attacks throughout the system. St. Josmane's Hope fell soon after, the inmates of this military prison rising up against their gaolers as the first waves of the Violators renegade Space Marines attacked. Brutal, close-quarters fighting erupted all across the continent-sized prison and many of the guards kept a bullet for themselves rather than be taken by the frenzied inmates. Welcoming the traitor forces as liberators, the inmates were to be horrifyingly disabused of this notion as those allowed to live were instead taken as slaves for the Chaos fleet or conscripted into its armies. Enemy ships spread throughout the Cadian system, several being picked off by shadowy Eldar vessels that vanished as mysteriously as they arrived, but the bulk of the Chaos fleet advanced directly on Cadia.
Admiral Quarren had done what he could, but the overwhelming Chaos fleet could not be stopped and after three days of hard fighting, the majority of his ships had been either crippled or destroyed. Those vessels that could escape fled to the Forge world of Kantrael in an attempt to refit and rearm in time to make a difference, but there were precious few of them. A single Ramilies star fort fell to the invaders, the remaining two managing to overload their reactors and self-destruct before the enemy could consolidate their hold upon them. With the space around Cadia secured, orbital bombardments hammered the planet's surface and, one by one, the defence batteries were silenced. Hundreds of cargo hulks moved into orbit and disgorged swarms of landing craft that streaked through the planet's upper atmosphere.
The invasion of Cadia had begun.
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