The first completed Legion.
Numeration: XIth Legion
Primogenitor: Storm-Born Pelacles, Titan of the Laurel Crown, Polemarch of the Shieldbearers Legion.
Cognomen (prior): None official, though some informal references were gaining traction within the Expeditionary fleets they fought alongside.
Observed Strategic Tendencies: Strategic decapitation strikes, asymmetric warfare, deep-range independent actions.
Noteworthy Domains: Thalassia, with its enclave-colonies held as protectorates.
Origin: Champions of the Dawn
The saga of the XIth Legion begins, as with their sibling-Legions, in chthonic darkness, sheltered in ancient catacombs beneath the surface of Terra, and obscured under a veil of secrecy and deliberate misdirection that was gathered over the entire Legiones Astartes Project. Here, following the successes of The Firstborn upon the battlefields of pre-Unity Terra, the Emperor began the work of creating the remaining nineteen Legions that were to be set upon the mission of freeing Mankind from the clutches of Old Night. This would not be a task completed en mass however. Though great in comparison to any of the rival powers that ruled across Terra and strove for the legacy of Mankind’s birthright, the Emperor’s resources at this time were still limited, and the facilities in which He and His genewrights could carry out this undertaking were still limited in scope. While work on the gene-strains derived from all His stolen progeny continued to one degree or another, and without pause, it would be by the needs of the ongoing effort to unify Terra, combined with the requirements intrinsic to each Legion’s creation, that the order in which they would be advanced to the founding stage would be dictated. It remains to this day a point of pride in the XIth Legion that they were counted among the first to march into the light of day.
Of the first recruits chosen to form this initial march, amounting to a single Chapter when it first saw combat, we have only the barest records, and must rely in part on secondary sources and such later personal accounts as still exist. Unlike several of the Legions which would follow them, selection was carried out with a broad net, limited solely by where the population was free from those Strife-era taints that afflicted so many of Terra’s offspring. As a result, there would be no specific cultural inheritance to influence the XIth in character or method, though time would reveal favour having been shown towards other factors which would reflect in the Legion to at least as great an extent as the genetic legacy passed down to them from their Gene-Sire.
Possessed of a restless vitality and bellicose spirit, the XIth Legion served first as a dedicated counter to the enhanced elite of the Emperor’s rivals; the ironside regiments, genochem warbreeds, and battlewight constructs. The superiority of the XIth against even these lauded troops would prove a powerful psychological weapon in its own right against the massed levies arrayed against them, while emboldening the ranks of the Emperor’s own mortal hosts who fought at their side. Soon, effort was being made to maximize the impact of these clashes in every battle they took part in, the deliberate use of transhuman shock quickly refined into a weapon no armour could defend against. Across these early conflicts, dozens fought in quick succession across the frontiers of Imperial territory, the Legion forced the technobarbarian states observing them to witness the routing of those that had stood as unbreakable, and the breaking of champions previously undefeated. Each encounter was turned into a statement of the power wielded by the Emperor’s armies, issued in the fashion judged most clear and visible to them.
The Legion soon earned an impressive tally of combat honours, its achievements spurred on by the rivalries already emerging between Companies, and a reputation for victory against the most daunting foes. Over time, it would garner an aura of almost superstitious dread and awe among both the enemies of Unity and the Emperor’s allies, seen more as demigods of lore that rampaged through their foe than warriors to be fought. On more than one occasion their mere presence would bring compliance from those otherwise reluctant to bend the knee before the Emperor, and strengthen the will of those still unsure as to the conviction behind their oaths. Equally however, the XIth possessed an almost reckless drive, and an indefatigability that the merely mortal regiments fighting alongside them could not hope to match. A trail of armies left spent and exhausted marked their passage, unable to follow and the XIth unwilling to slow.
Perhaps in a self-fulfilling act, by the time the Unification Wars were declared over and the Raptor Imperialis sheltered all, the XIth Legion had become accustomed to deployment only against the greatest opposition still facing the Emperor’s plans, and those few terrible offspring of Old Night still loose upon the lands He sought to pacify. These encounters regularly proved bloody for the Legion, for those they faced freely employed all of the fell arts and black sciences that had rendered the Age of Strife the living nightmare it is rightly remembered as. Yet far from being daunted by such foes, for the XIth such conditions seemed only to inspire them. Some accounts would claim it was when faced with such odds and against such abhorrent forces that they fought at their finest, striving ever to exceed the feats of their peers around them and now met by the ultimate tests of their ability.
In the conflicts that followed the completion of the Unification Wars, where the Emperor sought to secure the wider solar system, the XIth Legion initially found itself held as a strategic reserve, to be employed once the measure was taken of the myriad foes waiting to deny the ascendancy of the Imperium. As the full scope of what lay past the lunar sphere was uncovered and confirmed by Imperial Strategoi, the XIth saw increasingly regular, widespread, and aggressive deployment by the early War Council, marks and honours from every warzone coming to adorn the warplate of its legionnaires. These victories would come at a price that was becoming ever more common for the Legion, a fifth of those departing Terra lost across these far-flung battlefields, but also saw it rewarded with growing priority for the newest wargear crafted by the Adepts of Mars, and the output of Luna’s gene-forges.
Departing the Solar Dominion under the lightning-spiral banner of the 9th Expeditionary Fleet commanded by Praetor Teiro Akhos, this operational pattern would continue throughout the early years of the Great Crusade as the Emperor’s armies and iterators exploded into the Proximal Sphere, and from there into Segmentum Solar as a whole. Ever on the move, and rarely gathered at even close to their full fighting strength, elements of the XIth Legion were forever departing for new warzones, or returning to rearm and replenish their ranks. From this, the Legion’s tendency towards competition and rivalry continued to grow and deepen, and some have suggested that this was not an unintended consequence given how heavily the War Council dictated their role and deployments at this time. Despite, or perhaps even because of, this ever-present sense of challenge from one another, the XIth maintained an impressive internal coherence and a sense of camaraderie that could rapidly focus them against an outside target or bring them together towards a shared goal. When the Emperor’s command to attend their new-found Progenitor was received, the Legion did not arrive in haphazard sequence, racing against one another from the varied points it was scattered to, but as a unified whole that had stormed its way through a score of warzones as it gathered together in disparate elements.
Born of a Wine-Dark Sea
Just as the XIth Legion was among the first raised by the Emperor to fighting strength, so too was its Primarch among the first discovered and returned to His side. It was indeed the Emperor Himself that discovered the world upon which the incubation pod containing the infant Pelacles fell, though whether by chance or His unfathomable prescience is impossible for us to say, and in truth it matters not. Only that on isle-strewn Thelassia, whose own history of transhuman warfare would so influence the XIth Legion’s path, those scholars, courtiers, and artisans that preceded the Remembrancer Order watched as the golden-haired Primarch knelt before his Father and took his place in the Emperor’s vision for Mankind.
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Thalassia: Cradle of Champions (see end of doc for text)
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It would be later remarked that of all the Primarchs, Pelacles’ experience of war prior to his discovery was the closest in principle to the task set before him by the Emperor. He had led warriors augmented past human ability and skill, established and strengthened binding oaths and treaties with those brought into compliance, and united the far flung outposts of a disparate civilisation together under one banner. Certainly, his time under the Emperor’s guidance and tutelage was not as long as would be the case with some of his brothers, nor was he dispatched to serve alongside one who was more familiar with the Imperium’s ways, and the methods by which the Legiones Astartes fought before being granted his full command and authority.
In Pelacles there was something of a youthfulness of feature and character, at odds with the ageless mien that his brother-Primarchs carried, that for many made it so easy to believe him to be the Emperor’s son, where for others it was simply an understood fact. In such accounts as to be found relating to that short period before ascending to command of his Legion, it is certainly an impression repeated often, and the lens through which their interaction is perceived. Reputedly every moment was occupied at a feverish intensity, neither Primarch nor Emperor seemingly ever at rest or apart. Pelacles, for the first time encountering someone who could not only equal his pace and ability but who challenged the limits of what he was capable of, embraced everything that was offered, and offered everything in turn to his newfound Father. The Terran Court, in person, learned well of the indefatigable energy and keen-edged mind bound within him, a burnt out trail of statesmen, adepts, and generals left in his passing when the Emperor’s attention was essential elsewhere and the Custodes failed to hold his interest.
The Titan’s March
In the heavens above his homeworld, the Primarch of the XIth first met the legionnaires created in his image, and on the pale, gleaming shore of Anaktora acknowledged and embraced them as true sons, beginning their induction into the martial culture that he had been raised in. He in turn became the locus of their dedication, an awesome and mercurial figure that caught them in his inescapable momentum, and whose favour would become their highest honour. Those swift early days spent on Thalassia’s rugged isles saw the path of the XIth was set and as new recruits eager to follow Pelacles to the stars grew in number, the stamp of Thalassian civilisation would soon come to permeate all aspects of the Legion, the Primarch’s homeworld reshaping it to a degree rarely neared by any of their peers. The final act carried out before rejoining the Great Crusade was to see the name and title ‘XIth Legion’ replaced in the records of the Liber Armorum Terranicus, the sons of Pelacles now his Shieldbearers, and his seal blazoned on their warplate and banners. If there was a thought by any that these changes were too much and too fast, too great a casting off of what had been carefully set down for the Legiones Astartes, the Emperor would hear no objection, leaving Pelacles to carry on without limit or pause.
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Mother to Immortal Sons (see end of doc for text)
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Pelacles’ entry to the Great Crusade came at a time when the Emperor’s armies had only recently burst free of Segmentum Solar’s bounds and were plunging into the wider galaxy with dauntless ambition. On the strategic and personal level, this state of affairs was one well suited to the style of warfare the Primarch favoured, and under his rule the Legion was driven at a relentless and restless rate that even their most far-ranging peers could not have matched or sustained. The broad pattern of deployment employed by the Legion before the Primarch’s discovery saw little change, save now with Pelacles himself forming the axis around which it revolved, and the spearpoint leading its litany of compliance actions.
For those that accepted submission to the Throne of Terra there were generous gifts and the fruit of Imperial science, the chance for their armies to win glory in the battles to come. When peace was rejected, however, war came like a thunderbolt that left the enemy reeling. Little given to the grinding drudgery of prolonged massed combat by nature or experience, Pelacles led the Sheildbearers in a return to the first principles of warfare they had practiced in their earliest engagements as the newly founded XIth Legion, married now to the attitudes of Thalassian warlords. Leaders were slain in sudden onslaughts, armies left crippled before even having the chance to fully mobilise and seats of power seized before they could be fortified. These were wars fought in manner counted just in the Primarch’s eyes, swift and clean affairs with little of the collateral damage less disciplined or honourable armies might have inflicted. Every opportunity for surrender was granted and those that fought in good faith and with principle could expect magnanimity if they laid down their arms, for needless slaughter was a wasteful thing, and destruction for its own sake merely robbed the victor of their prize. Be it by open hand or clenched fist, in the wake of each compliance trade-enclaves were founded by the Thalassian nobles that sailed in the Legion’s wake, binding these worlds to the Imperium and channeling their wealth back to Thalassia, and from there to Terra. The star-galleons and free-trader fleets supported by these colonies also played a further crucial role, ensuring the Legion was ever supplied with blood and steel as they advanced.
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The Titan and the Tiger (see end of doc for text)
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As recruits drawn from Thalassia began to swell the Legion’s ranks, and new warleaders proved themselves to their Father, the finest among the Sheildbearers’ commanders were evermore often dispatched to sail the less consistent warp currents off those that guided the Great Crusade’s principal thrusts. Charged with investigating the truth held in fragmented star charts and in tales of lost Human worlds and artifact of Mankind's ancient glory, these odysseys could see them separated from the main body of the 9th Expeditionary Fleet for years at a time, even decades on occasion, without direct support and beyond easy contact. Adventurous in spirit, they were granted significant freedoms to explore and conquer as they saw fit, sharing much with the Traders Militant that ventured into the unknown that lay beyond the Imperium’s borders. Returning with news of nightmares defeated and new worlds brought into the light of compliance, over the next sixteen decades they formed an ever-growing part of the Sheildbearer’s efforts towards the Emperor’s dream, and one that ever called to Pelacles himself.
Unit and Formation Structure within the Legion
United so quickly with their Primarch, the XIth Legion had little opportunity to deviate on their own accord from the Terra-pattern organisational structure laid down at their founding before Pelacles' reforged them according to his own preferences prior experience of warfare. With little to compare it to among the other Legions, many in the War Council were astounded at what the realities of the free hand granted to a Primarch could entail, and perhaps equally so that the results were so readily accepted by the Emperor. Whatever concerns were brought to Him, and though not mentioned in specific detail, a flurry of missives shortly after Pelacles assumed full command of his Legion implies considerable discussion on the matter. As further Legions were reunited with the Primarchs in whose image they were created and underwent the varied changes that emerged from it, such things would be taken as a part of the rights and privileges extended to His demigod sons, but in these early decades of the Crusade much concern could still be evoked.
Under Pelacles’ reforms, the Shieldbearers emphasised the superiority of each individual legionnaire compared to those they fought as the key to victory. Even against the most terrible of foes encountered, there was none that could exceed them in all measures of power, skill or ability, and so none that could halt their punishing advance. Almost naturally, the line infantry Squad lay at the heart of the Legion’s approach, held up as the most adaptable and widely capable warriors at the Shieldbearers’ disposal. Both tactical and reaver sub-types were employed across the Legion to a greater or lesser extent, with elder Legion-brothers often known to deploy with some elan in mixed-configuration units. Outfitted to the highest degree from the extensive armouries maintained on each Legion warship, these veteran legionaries commonly came to amass a wide selection of personal wargear, customised to them by Legion artisans.
Above the Squad, and standing as the principle unit of organisation within the Legion, was the Warband. This sub-company force, averaging seventy five marines under the command of a Lokhos, was established as a direct parallel to the warhosts dispatched by the Thalassian city-states in their own conflicts, and Pelacles employed them in a similar fashion to the troops he had taken from defeated cities and made his own during the conflicts of his youth. As with these near-mortal forebears, it was between Warbands that the most long-standing and often personal rivalries formed, something the Primarch encouraged as conducive to maintaining the proper fighting spirit among his sons. This level of organisation was also the one where the greatest degree of personal initiative was granted, and indeed expected of any commander that hoped to advance, though with the drive towards personal success and achievement that burned in all of the Primarch’s sons, it would have been unlikely any other pattern of behavior could have been enforced.
Operating on mixed-tactical principles, the full panoply of war available to the Emperor’s Legions was present within the Sheildbearers’ arsenal, though by habit, nature, and experience they favoured certain methods and so also the equipment that best facilitated them. Precision over widespread destruction was a heavily favoured precept, a prime example being visible in the widespread use of laser destroyer arrays and heavy lascannons within the Legion’s Siegebreaker cadres. In comparison, the less discriminating flamers, whirlwind multi-launchers, and assault cannons were uncommon in the Legion outside narrow avenues of deployment, despite their proven effectiveness. Heavy armour formations were similarly rare and often focused on assault transport roles, though even in this there remained a preference throughout the Crusade for direct Stormbird insertions or high pace combat marches. In most cases, a Warband would second war-engines directly from the Forge rather than maintain its own armour column, and those brothers that operated them answered to the Legion’s Techmarines as their direct commanders.
These collective features ultimately combined to facilitate the fast-paced, low-collateral, and aggressively targeted warfare favoured by Pelacles and the Thalassian recruits that rose to positions of power as the Great Crusade progressed. For all the glory to be had in combat, war was always waged for the benefit of what was gained through it, not as an end in itself. The shift to deploying larger numbers of smaller formations that came to dominate the Legion’s operational deployment can likewise be seen as a logical extension of these principles, allowing for a flexibility and situational command presence often missing in those Legions of his brothers that favoured mass-formation or large-scale integrated actions. That the Primarch sought not to mitigate, but to take active advantage of, the interplay between in-group unity and inter-group competition present among his sons is equally clear, and shows the keen insight that once allowed him to alloy native Thalassian groups separated by centuries of ingrained opposition.
Through in spirit every body of troops among the Shieldbearers aimed for nothing less than exalted status among its peers, and many were renowned even among the other Legiones Astartes, one group stood above all others by its very nature. The personal Hetairoi maintained by each of the Legion’s commanding officers was modeled on the long-standing tradition of chosen companions maintained by the highest of Thalassian nobility, and in some ways was also reminiscent of the Emperor’s own Custodian Guard. These hand-picked companions carried out a range of roles in and out of battle, regularly dispatched as heralds to other officers or granted sub-commands of their own as their skills, and necessity, dictated. Bound by the greatest of oaths, this inner circle, that served as bodyguards and confidants both, had a freedom of speech and action that would be considered scandalous, if not verging on offensive, in other Legions, and while among themselves they were not immune to the rivalries common among the Legion’s brethren, could be relied on to act, first and foremost, in the interest of the one they were sworn to.
In counterpoint, existing as spectres haunting the future of both oath-bound brothers and eternal rivals, the Rhamnous stood alone and bitter, consumed by their rage and grief. These bonds between Legion-brothers were of mythic renown, and inspired repeated feats of phenomenal skill and ability across the many wars of the Great Crusade. For some of these legionnaires it became an inseparable part of their being, and the death of either comrade or adversary beyond resolution. For those within the Legion, it was understood that such pairs were but two sides of the same coin, the same Thalassian word describing them. Locked now into a descending spiral of morbid anguish that slowly corroded their reason and left them insensate to their own mortality once the darkness coiling within was given release, they were less deployed as unleashed, like unto a terrible force of nature, upon their foes. Ash-clad and armed with wargear rarely even seen among the most fell-minded of destroyer cadres, such was their dread reputation and risk to the wielder, they cast themselves upon any they came across in battle, with little aim save the greatest destruction wrought before they themselves eventually fell, every effort turned towards rendering the crucible of war into a sacrificial pyre dedicated to those lost to them.
Standing apart from the roil that encompassed the majority of the Legion, the Sieldbearers’ technical specialists, its master artificers and medicae corps, formed their own close-knit brotherhoods, aloof from the rivalries and shifting balance of power between Warband leaders. The neutrality of they and their holdings was sacrosanct, and in these places their word was law to all. Closely linked, the traditional duties held by their respective orders met in a shared responsibility for training each new cycle of recruits, and a range of ritual and ceremonial roles played in the rites and traditions of their Legion brothers. On the basis of this position in the Legion’s heart, it was common for them to be approached as advisors and arbitrators by both those in the ranks and in positions of high leadership. When marked as potentials for future initiation, legionnaires would first serve as Aspioi battle-guardians, where they both learned the rudiments of their master’s craft and provided a close-protection detail for them on the battlefield. Most commonly, those that found their way into these twinned bands represented those in the Legion whose desire to challenge and overcome obstacles had turned inwards, and where age and experience had banked their inner fire and granted them a tempered perspective.
Further apart yet, almost to the point of isolation, were found those secluded within the Librarium. Rarely departing their vaults beneath the fortress-monastery, and then almost exclusively as heralds of monumental potential looming in the paths of fate, the rare few among the Legion that displayed psychic talent were held equally in dread and respect for their foresight. Though little loved, there were none that would ignore the warnings they offered, just as there were few commanders that did not petition them on the rare occasions when they returned to Thalassia. Steeped in allegory and symbolism, their words were often found disquieting as much as illuminating, and the events of which they spoke were prone to only becoming clear once they were in motion.
With much of Thallassia’s traditions of warfare pervading the legion, it is unsurprising that the Shieldbearers came to maintain a significant number of voidcraft, or hold them in high regard. With at least two hundred voidships of cruiser-grade or heavier in its service, they maintained one of the largest battlefleets in the Imperium, though one that was rarely gathered together. In place of true battleships, the Shieldbearers favoured the faster classes of grand cruiser and gallease-of-war, finding them more suitable for the style of campaigning they practiced. Pelacles’ own flagship, the Aegis, was built along the same principles that underwrote these lesser craft, and heavily informed the changes that would be made over time to other warships in his fleet. Swift for its size, and built by the finest shipwrights of Mars’ Iron Ring for range and endurance as it sailed the void, the vessel’s most striking feature was an aquila-carved ram that extended out from its heavily armoured prow, a feature that made mockery of attempts to bar its path and was the doom of numerous vessels over the Great Crusade.
Legion Command Hierarchy
In what was a clear effort by Pelacles to bring his Terran sons into the Thalassian martial ethos, and through the influence of those youths from his homeworld who won the right to join them, the XIth Legion came to maintain one of the loosest and most protean command structures of all the Legiones Astartes. The ranking officers of the XIth Legion had long been known for their pride, competitive spirit, and aggressive pursuit of whatever goals they set themselves, as quick to nurture slights as swear brotherhood, and almost pathologically incapable of backing down from any challenge to their skill and ability. The presence of the Primarch seemed only to kindle this fire within them to new heights in their ardent desire to prove themselves as they competed for his favour, a zeal they passed onto those that joined their number. When partnered with the cultural inheritance of Thalassia that swiftly spread throughout the Legion, a new and almost frightening spirit came to define those who led it, the Erisian Brotherhood as it came to be known, seeping down through the ranks until it touched on every last battle-brother.
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Heroes of the Laurel Crown (see end of doc for text)
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The Lokhos of each Warband relied on a combination of personal charisma, reputation, and raw will to establish their dominance and authority over those that were otherwise their nominal peers, the rigours of battle weeding out any who lacked the mettle or skills demanded of them long before they could be accepted as leaders by those under them. Granting nuance to what could have merely been a clash of unfettered ambition and belligerence, the respect owed to experience, proven expertise, and acknowledged honours transcended rank, and allowed for a greater strategic flexibility and cooperation than might have otherwise been the case. With this arrangement came new titles and honorifics to define the interplay of power between them: Dakhoi for when the leaders of single Warbands answered to them, and Krahtoi for those who held dominion over them in turn. Beneath Pelacles and beholden to none other, stood the Autokrahtoi, granted the right to lead their Warbands beyond the sight of their Father and serving as the agents of his will across the wider galaxy, fulfilling a similar role as Hetaroi companions did among the lesser war-leaders, but on a far grander scale.
As a result of this system, the might of the Legion’s preeminent formations, still referred to by the designation Warband, though alternatively known as a Warhost or Battle-March depending on circumstance, were in no way fixed. The death of a key command officer, all the more so as their rank and the number of subordinates sworn to them increased, could result in seismic shifts in the relative authority of officers that had served under them as a new balance of power was reached in the aftermath, even leading to the breakup of higher order formations into smaller bodies.
At the height of Pelacles’ campaign to bring all the city-states of Thalassia under Anaktora’s dominion, he and his home city had risen to undreamed of heights of prosperity and wealth that was reflected in the battlegear carried by himself and his personal warhost. In declaration of his own personal successes, the Primarch wore demi-plate blazoned fully in polished orichalcum that shone with a ruddy brilliance in the sun, and which would be the basis for both the armour presented to him after being reunited with the Emperor, and the heraldic changes made to that worn by his sons.
Following their reunion with Pelacles, and in their new incarnation as the Shieldbearers, the XIth Legion would adopt a scheme of burnished copper in his honour, and, by his will, to mark the victories they had claimed for the Emperor in his stead. For battle honours and rank markings, soon functionally the same among their number, legionnaires would be rewarded with etched orichalcum panels, and complex inlay of Thalassian meander that incorporated subtle memetic properties. These designs, along with other motifs drawn from the culture and history of the Primarch’s homeworld, would soon overtake much of the Legion’s prior armorial conventions, mirroring the new ranks and formations that he introduced. Though a great deal of superficial variation in how they were executed would develop across Warbands, the core principles and intent behind these heraldic forms would remain impressively consistent throughout the Great Crusade.
From the perspective of those first grey-clad Terrans who presented themselves to their newfound father the most visible change to come about, and a critical element of identity in the eyes of those Thalassians who succeeded in the trials to join them, was the adoption of the Athenos, Pelacles’ personal shield blazon, as the Shieldbearers’ seal and standard, to be borne with pride by each and every one of his sons.
The exact strength and location of the Shieldbearers in the run up to the Betrayal can only be estimated, given the somewhat idiosyncratic and far-reaching patterns of deployment it favoured, and such information as can be gathered suffers from the limitations imposed by distance, time, and the vagaries of astrotelepathic communication and warp travel.
As of 001.M31, the records of the Divisio Militaris give 134,000 as the nominal fighting strength of the Legion, though we might reasonably assume a margin of error on either side of that figure, and those following, of up to a full Terran-pattern Chapter. Of this, detachments to various Expeditionary Fleets spread across the galaxy, always a significant part of the Legion’s deployment, sat at approximately 27,000 legionnaires, including the 2,600 strong Warhost of Autokrahtos Denaeus which fought as an honour formation alongside the XVIIth Legion. With far less certainty of either location or fighting strength, a further 30-40,000 were deployed on temporary independent operations under their own recognisance. Pelacles himself can therefore be said to have been at the head of perhaps 70,000 of his sons as they swept through the deeper Veiled Region following up on reports from IVth Legion pathfinders that had scouted the region a decade earlier.
Despite being some distance from the core of the Great Crusade, the 9th Expeditionary Fleet would have always been amply supplied with war material by the chain of trade-enclaves established by Thelassian expatriates on the compliant worlds left in its wake, and in reliable, if indirect, contact with central Imperial territories. Detached forces would have also, at the onset of any campaign, been similarly supplied, though largely without the same access to sustained provision or replacement of casualties.
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Thalassia: Cradle of Champions
Believed settled in the twilight before Old Night had fully fallen across the galaxy, Thalassia was then, as now, a world of dark seas speckled with rugged island chains and mountainous archipelago on which clung brightly painted and frescoed city-states, fed by the rich oceans surrounding them and prosperous from trade and war. Once technologically advanced, much had been lost since the past age of its founding, a pre-feudal level prevailing among the wider populace, though skilled in their artistry in spite of it.
Only within the deeper halls of each city’s palace complexe did there remain any remnant of Mankind’s Dark Age heights, and by far these were limited to the means by which their elite were elevated beyond mortal ability; gene-sculptors, cybermantic engines, and bio-alchem refineries. War had evolved into semi-ritualised forms over the milenia, the sole provenance of those superlative warriors born to the ruling houses and the basis of their legitimacy to govern, held as demi-gods by those below them. In hard fought competition, warbands were selected to sail with the summer winds, challenging cities perceived as weaker, or against whom some slight was felt. Without the manpower or inclination to take and hold territory, oaths, tribute and concessions for trade, the lifeblood and wealth of the world, became the highest currency of diplomacy and war both, bound by oath and blood. As willing to offer the olive branch as blade if it brought them strength, defensive leagues formed for the weak to stand against the strong, and cities could become as kin to one another through marriage, the exchange of gifts, and the bonds of those who had once fought side by side and now wielded power.
That the child washed into the harbour of Anaktora was the product of post-human arts was plain to the city’s rulers, and some inkling as to his origin was whispered among them also. Athene, newly invested as the city’s Basileia, adopted him as her son, challenging any to counter her will. On the next dawn he was presented before the city and named, Pelacles, the ocean’s son.
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Mother to Immortal Sons
Athene would hold a position of almost cult-like reverence within the XIth Legion; the one whose visage was borne on the left pauldron of every battle-brother, and alongside Pelacles and the Emperor, to whom victories were dedicated. As Mother of their Gene-Sire by all reckoning of Thelassian tradition and culture, she was Matriarch of all who shared his blood and owed due fealty as such.
A number of commentators from elsewhere in the Imperium, and specifically within the Imperial Court, are known to have considered the power, position, and authority she held with distaste, if not outright concern. It was improper in many eyes for a mortal to hold such authority over a Primarch and Legion, irrespective of why or how, let alone be incorporated into oaths alongside the Emperor. Pelacles himself held this state of affairs as obvious and self-evident facts of life. No word would be heard against her by him or his Legion, and blood was spilled more than once over the matter.
Any close investigation into the Thalassian Princess, as her native title, Basileia, was commonly, if inexactly, rendered in High Gothic, reveals a woman far different to the image painted by her detractors. In the period of military and political turmoil preceding the Primarch’s discovery, Athene saw off rivals greater in number and resource to secure her personal independence and authority. A skilled and respected fighter, shrewd warleader, and keen speaker, she welding the fractious nobility and disheartened citizenry of Anaktora into a functional whole that preserved their city's freedom, rendered commonly at the time with the helms of her defeated opponents held high. When Pelacles’ incubation capsule was found, it was she who dictated his fate, raised him to adulthood, and trained him in war. When the Primarch went on to establish his city’s local, and then global, hegemony, it was she who consolidated the economic and diplomatic ties that bound his conquests in the long term and cemented the new order in place. When the Emperor arrived at Thalassia to claim His son, it was she, and not the Primarch himself, who stood foremost among the delegation that received Him.
The final word on the subject would perhaps have been the one that was never spoken. Whatever opinion He may have had, the Emperor Himself made no comment.
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The Titan and the Tiger
The Brotherhood of Primarchs was already an institution made mythic by the turning of the Great Crusade’s first century, and while like many legends it was a thing forged of fable as much as fact, there was at least one instance where it stood as a truth beyond any debate or challenge.
Pelacles of the XIth and Taizu of the XVIIth shared a bond that would inspire the works of remembrancers and iterators, and be extolled among the Imperial Army as the apex of fraternal camaraderie. To those present when the brothers first met, it was quickly evident that they recognised a kindred spirit * * **
. From such reflection come the musings, entertained by many, on how much each Primarch was a product of the Emperor’s design, and how much by the nature of their experience.
The Legions of the two Primarchs would fight side by side following Taizu’s discovery before the needs of the Crusade cast them to distant corners, and in this short span the substance of their relationship was forged true from the promise of that initial meeting. By the time they were separated by duty and the oaths sworn to the Emperor, both would have walked at ease on each other’s homeworld, exchanging tokens and unshakable oaths. In Anaktora’s acropolis they drank wine mixed with the water of the sea and blood of their veins to seal their bond. On Xanadu, they * * *
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Heroes of the Laurel Crown
From time immemorial, it had been the tradition for Thelassian city-states to hold cerimonial games of athletic prowess and skill in order to commemorate significant events, and as the centerpiece of celebrations or the funerary rites of the nobility. There too, the elite warriors of the ruling class could measure themselves against one another in controlled settings, and the participants of each Warband selected. On a global scale, the Makhian Games offered a similar function every four years, held on the sacred isle Labrys where Mankind first walked upon the world. The effort of traveling to take part, combined with traditions firmly established in Thalassian culture, created a season of peace where diplomacy could be carried out and the strength of each participant’s Warband displayed without bloodshed.
Pelacles, even in his own short youth, came to dominate both local and worldwide events, excelling at all competitions even while still smaller than the men and women he competed against , setting the groundwork for his city’s rise to power. Later, he would introduce such games to his Legion, the Makhian Games now the method by which aspirants won their chance to become a son of the Laurel Crowned Titan, overseen by the elder demigods that would train and guide them. Between Warbands, victory and funeral games became an important aspect of Legion culture, binding brothers together through shared endeavour, and granting a healthy outlet for the rivalries and tension among them. Certain roles and duties among the Sheildbearers could only be achieved through victory against other contenders in events staged for that purpose, Athene’s guardians and the Primarch’s Equiery among such high positions of honour.
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