“Highfather…” one of the acolytes at Tactical called out.
“Yes, I see it.” Highfather Heinreich Kalladan replied as he beheld the readouts of the holo-display. The Loyalist fleets were making another pass. Kalladan turned to another acolyte in comms. “What news from the prophet?”
“Many apologies, Highfather, but the most holy Cha-Dawn speaks with the voice of the Allfather.” The man simpered as he prostrated himself. “He decrees that the Vessels of the Allfather are not to be expended in combat and are instead to retrieve the Bringers of Final Harmony from the surface once the battle is won.”
“So, the Allfather will not send the bio-ships to aid us…” Kalladan mused. “No matter. We have more than enough strength to carry out the orders sent by Apostle Shupro and level the Command Citadel. For the glory of Cha-Dawn!” He shouted, echoed by a fervent refrain from the rest of the bridge crew.
“Highfather!” shouted the Tactical position. “Torpedo contacts! HUNDREDS!”
Kalladan’s face paled as he confirmed the acolyte’s cry. Sure enough, his display was opaque with the number of glowing crimson torpedoes inbound. Their dispersal pattern was huge, resembling a giant shotgun blast. Stray movement within the torpedo salvo betrayed dozens of squadrons of fighters, dead set on ensuring the torpedoes reached their targets.
His erstwhile Astartes allies immediately turned to starboard, to continue their troop landing without encountering the torpedoes. This, too, was part of Shupro’s plan, though it had happened ahead of schedule. The question was, to come about with the Astartes, or to maintain course and outrun the torpedoes? Kalladan hesitated. Reacting to the enemy was surrendering the initiative, and would leave them out of position to bombard the Citadel. However, the two fleets had to part at some point in order to enact the plan, and now was as good a time as any.
He gave the order: maintain course.
Various acolytes called out tactical information as the Black Fleet under his command began to react to the incoming enemy torpedo wave. The engines of the ancient ships flared as they thrusted forward to outrun the worst of the barrage. Kalladan worked feverishly to co-ordinate the movements of the ships. Several ships were brought up from the rearguard to form a picket, protecting the most precious prize: Battleship B-2, the new home of the prophet Cha-Dawn.
As the battle lines reformed, Kalladan watched as the Loyalists began to enter firing range. Their largest ships were leading the charge, with the lighter escorts and cruisers trailing behind. Kalladan smiled. He could outrun most of those Battleships and cross their paths, forcing them to come into oncoming fire. He sent the order for cruisers lagging at the rear of the formation to give full power to their engines. Sure enough, as the fleets closed, the Black Fleet overtook the loyalists.
Suddenly, the loyalist fleet became two distinct bodies. All the lighter craft had pulled hard to port and were now on a course orthogonal to their original path. Kalladan gasped. Though these ships were lighter in armour, they contained four Astartes Strike Cruisers as well as a sizeable flotilla of escorts.
The only way to prevent these lighter ships from flanking the fleet was to turn directly into the Loyalists. Any other maneuvers would keep the lighter craft from the fire arcs of his ships. Kalladan tried to wheel the fleet as he ordered every bomber he could muster to attack the lighter half of the enemy.
Then he saw their true goal.
The loyalist fighters abandoned the torpedoes and instead fell upon Kalladan’s bomber waves. Worse, the Astartes fired Bombardment Cannons which tore his fragile bombers to pieces. The lighter ships had unfettered access to the rear of the fleet, giving them a direct line of attack on B-2.
Kalladan shouted orders at his acolytes, and through the shaky vox. Some of the Black Fleet cruisers began to come about, but were sluggish and pulled themselves out of the main line. The enemy Battleships pounced, blasting these isolated ships before the rest of the fleet could support them.
In a panic, Kalladan ordered B-2 to come about in order to defend itself. But it was too late. The nimble Astartes cruisers had gotten into an aft position, while the various classes of light cruisers began to punish B-2 at point blank range. Horrifyingly, these cruisers let loose one last salvo of torpedoes, crippling B-2 and then crashing headlong into the massive battleship.
The loyalist losses were huge, but it was of no consequence. B-2’s power output dropped to a third of its previous maximum, just as the boarding parties from the Astartes lit up the screen.
Kalladan collapsed. Had he turned with the Chaos ships, he would have won. One mistake had cost them everything.