The Stark Crusaders are a successor chapter of the Iron Hands. They have very much continued the Iron Hands belief that the ‘flesh is weak’ and embrace bionics, mechanical enhancements and of course, dreadnoughts. The Starks’ dreadnoughts are often chapter relics of the old Contemptor, Furibundus and Deredo classes.
They also revere ancient power armour, terminator armour, vehicles and weapons, believing they have served the chapter well for millennia and should continue to do so. As such, a force of Starks will often include a mix of power armour variants, commonly MkVI alongside the more common MkVII, even within the same unit, as well as vehicles that have long since been superseded by newer models.
Much like the Iron Hands, the Starks have a close bond with the Adeptus Mechanicus, which is often reflected in their colour schemes, combining the metal/silver of the chapter’s colours with the red of the Adeptus Mechanicus. This bond has also helped them to keep their ancient vehicles, weapons and equipment in action for millennia.
Captain Lando Stratos
The Stark Crusaders 3rd Company had been ridding Ska’garath IV of greenskins for nine months. It had been a relentless and brutal campaign against a massive ork warband and both sides had taken heavy losses. Lando Stratos’s kill rate had seen him rapidly recognised as a fearless warrior and the high attrition of marines resulted in his battlefield promotion to squad sergeant of the 4th Tactical Squad.
That had been just eight days ago. There hadn’t been time for a formal ceremony or even a chance to speak with the captain since his appointment as sergeant, and now it was all over. Despite single-handedly slaying two ork behemoths in massive, thickly plated suits of tank-like armour with blasts of searing heat from his boltgun’s secondary meltagun barrel, Sergeant Stratos wasn’t equipped for the vicious close combat assault of these huge walking tanks. His squad were providing covering fire but their bolter rounds were ricocheting harmlessly off the final ork’s armour and it continued to advance. Stratos was too close and couldn’t retreat to cover quickly enough. He was quickly floored by a swipe of the ork’s giant fist, electrical energy sparking over its surface. Now the giant had him pinned to the ground with a single huge foot to the chest. Stratos could feel his generically enhanced, bone plate ribs cracking, hissing gases were pouring out of the multiple breaches in his failing power armour, life support systems were beeping loudly in his ears indicating imminent failure. He was already dying and now the xenos warrior was swooping down for the killer blow. Stratos’s lungs shut down, his vision was darkening and all he could think about was how he’d failed his squad, failed the Starks, failed the Emperor. The ork’s fist, the size of a dreadnought’s fist, crackling with blue flashes of energy, came crushing down on Statos’s face, ripping it off and shattering his skull.
His eyes were still closed, but everything was so bright. Everything hurt. Even his genetically enhanced Astartes body was struggling to cope with all the damage that had been done. But as Lando Stratos regained consciousness, he realised he was still alive, pain confirming the reality. He tried to open his eyes, but only one obeyed his command. The pain was incredible. He could make out the shapes of medicae servitors, he was surrounded by medical equipment and monitors, he must be back on one of the Stark’s medical frigates. A weary looking apothecary wearing a blood-stained tabard approached, but Stratos slipped back into unconsciousness.
It was three weeks since Stratos had first briefly regained consciousness, and ten days since he’d been able to leave the medi-deck, although he returned every day for more treatment. The pain was reducing by the day and he’d regained most of the mobility in his legs. His left hand and lower arm was now metal, but he was already using a bolt pistol effectively with it. Accuracy was improving each time his visited the practice range. What was difficult to get used to was his new face. The ork had removed Stratos’s face and destroyed half of his skull. This had all been replaced with metal. He only had one organic eye, his second being an augmetic that was better than his original – better night vision, better range, better clarity, better in every way. He’d been rebuilt in just a few days by the apothecary, now he needed to get used to his new body, full of augmetics, so he could lead his squad once again.
The flesh is weak. They all said it, they all meant it, and plenty of Stratos’s brother Starks had hands, arms and legs replaced with metal. But never had it hit home just how true that was. The flesh is weak. His body hurt, but only the organic parts. None of the metal hurt. The flesh is weak. His new arm is stronger. The flesh is weak. His new face is tougher and his new eye is better in every respect. The flesh is weak. He won’t be felled so easily next time. He’s stronger and quicker now. He has an opportunity to make up for his mistake. He can lead the 4th Tactical to glory and serve the Emperor. His body won’t fail him again. The flesh is weak.
Over the next century, Sergeant Stratos would indeed lead the 4th Tactical to glory. They became the 3rd Company’s most infamous and feared unit, repeatedly succeeding against all odds. Inevitably, Sergeant Stratos was promoted to Captain Stratos, leading the 3rd Company to even more impressive victories and glories.
Chaplain Merak Khamsin
Khamsin saw the monstrous ork towering over the prone Stratos and instantly reacted. He saw it all too late to prevent the ork striking, but seconds later was leaping through the air, screaming incantations of war. As he descended like a hammer from the gods, plasma spewed forth from his pistol and his weapon of office, the ancient crozius, swung down from overhead tearing into the back of the ork’s armour. This strike, suddenly leaping through the air like an airbourne storm of death, had become Khamsin’s trademark attack, so often had he appeared as if from nowhere, at a critical point in the fighting.
The impact of the blow forced the cumbersome ork to the ground, where Khamsin stood atop him, still bellowing incantations, amplified by his helmet – a bone white skull designed to strike fear into those facing him in battle. Whilst pumping searing plasma into the back of the ork’s armour, the Stark Crusader chaplain crushed the life out of the ork with repeated blows with his crozius to the xenos’s green head.
The encounter lasted only seconds before the ork was still. Khamsin glanced at the remains of the young sergeant. He was a bloody mess – limbs clearly dislocated and broken in many places, his face and head smashed – but there was still life there. Thalius was close behind, and Khamsin had seen the apothecary work miracles replacing weak flesh with metal augmetics. The sergeant would fight again and would be stronger than ever before.
Merak Khamsin had overseen the spiritual guidance of the 3rd company for centuries, and had seen every living Stark in the 3rd go through selection, training and battle. Many he had seen butchered in war, only to rise like mechanical Phoenixes after being patched up, augmented with metal, and implanted with bionics. Across centuries of war he’d seen Astartes in worse shape than Stratos fight again, but not much worse. This had been the bloodiest and harshest war the chaplain had seen in centuries. Not since the war against the vicious tyranid monsters swarming the cold worlds of Handolax had Khamsin seen such huge losses. That war had been a victory and the system had been cleansed of the filthy xenos, but at great cost. He was confident the war here on Ska’garath IV would end victoriously also, but the company would need time to recover. His skills in guiding the chapter’s spiritual wellbeing would be greatly tested in the following months.
Apothecary Orsi Thalius
Cages rattled all around as they walked between floor to ceiling banks of them on each side of the long room. The beasts they contained clawed at their reinforced prisons as they cried, screeched and growled in anger. Stratos didn’t recognise the majority of the creatures, ranging in size from a few inches in length, to bigger than an Astartes, some with scales, others with leathery skin, some with four or six legs, others with wings, others still were serpent-like. He didn’t approve of the apothecary’s ‘collection’. Keeping all these alien lifeforms seemed to be borderline heresy to him, but Thalius was adamant that it was essential for his experiments in augmetics. Orsi Thalius was the greatest apothecary Stratos had ever known. His ability to re-build an Astartes, augmenting their genetically enhanced bodies with bionics after massive battlefield injuries, was astounding. But the experiments conducted in the sub-level to the medicae deck was the price of his genius. Thalius used the various xenos creatures as test subjects, constantly trying new augmentics, drugs and techniques to hone his skills without risk to his brother Starks.
Thalius paused at the end of the room, a locked door in front of them, and turned to Stratos. “Orsi, what have you brought me down here for?”, barked the Captain, “You know my feelings on your pets”.
The apothecary’s eyes were wide – excited, manic even, certainly oblivious to his Captain’s frustration – as he explained that behind the door is what he wanted the Captain to see. He unlocked the heavy door and pushed it open to reveal a small room with a single large cage in the middle. Within the cage lay a large, bright red, thick-skinned beast. It appeared to be sleeping. Or dead. It was about a metre across and almost perfectly spherical. Stratos could just about make out what appeared to be two thick hind legs, two thin, stunted front claws, and a face. Most of the features were tiny – two small closed eyes, two tiny holes like nostrils, two tiny flaps on the sides, maybe ears – but the mouth was huge. It was almost the entire width of the beast.
Thalius rattled the cage and instantly the beast was awake, up on its feet and clearly agitated. It jumped straight at the apothecary, banging against the bars, mouth now wide open. It’s gaping maw was about half the size of the entire creature and filled with rows and rows of dozens of huge, razor sharp teeth. It clawed and bit furiously at the cage, trying to escape, stinking yellow saliva flying everywhere. It became clear just what those yellow stains on Thalius’s tabard were.
”What is this beast Thalius? What is it, why do you have it, and why are you showing it to me?”
Stratos’s frustration was increasing to the point of anger. Thalius continued to be oblivious to Stratos’s mood and explained to Stratos that, despite it’s red hide, it’s DNA was essentially Ork in nature. The beast was known as a squig, and the greenskins used them for a variety of tasks. This one, one of the largest, was a fighter. As far as Thalius could tell, there was no training given, it just naturally wanted to attack and kill anything that wasn’t Ork in nature. Thalius had found this one after the Starks’ latest encounter with the greenskins. It was injured and almost lifeless, so he captured it and brought it back with him to examine.
Stratos didn’t like having so many xenos contained within the Starks’ frigate. If there were any problems, the beasts could escape and run rampant across the ship. It was an unnecessary risk.
”Why is the beast on my ship?” shouted the Captain, over the noise of the squig trying to gnaw through the cage.
”It’s incredible Captain, the metabolism is unbelievable.” beamed the apothecary, “when I captured this, just three weeks ago, it was almost dead. I was going to perform an autopsy on it, but after just a few days it had made a massive recovery. Within ten days, it appeared to be back to full fitness.”
Stratos didn’t see the relevance. “So you’ve now got a full strength Ork beast. What are we going to do with it now?”.
Thalius’s mood dipped for the first time, no one understood his experiments or the importance of them. He knew they talked about him. His brothers said he was crazy, always messing about with alien creatures. But he’d also saved most of their lives at some point and he knew they respected him greatly for that. It’s why he could continue without too many questions. “If we can isolate what allows the creature to regenerate so quickly, I can use that to help new augmetics be accepted more quickly in Astartes”.
”Using Ork DNA in Astartes?” suddenly Stratos was calm. “Not under my command!”. Stratos quickly pulled his bolt pistol, aimed between the bars, and fired three shots in quick succession directly between the eyes of the beast.
In the years following his personal defeat on Ska’garath at the hands of a heavily armoured Ork nob, Lando Stratos vowed to never let his opponents get the upper hand on him again. This meant being fully prepared for any foe or environment, whether expecting to walk over a handful of natives or planning a system-wide campaign against a well armed and trained foe. Stratos recognised the need for advice from trusted colleagues, brothers with expertise in the different aspects of warfare. He couldn’t be selfish or arrogant enough to refuse the help of fellow Astartes.
Once again, the Stark Crusaders 3rd Company was deployed to an inhospitable planet in a system full of inhospitable planets. There was nothing to save or protect, but it offered a tactical opportunity to heavily damage a Tyranid hive fleet that had been making progress through nearby systems. Sergeant Stratos was holding ground with his 4th Tactical Squad on the north ridge of a canyon, with Sergeant Steele of the 5th Tactical mirroring him on the south ridge. Three pairs of Tactical units were deployed in total, all along the ridge of the canyon. Darke’s assault unit were to be the bait, supported by two other assault units, leading the massed aliens into the canyon from the west, where the tactical squads could cut them down with massed bolter fire. Several units of devastators were further east on both ridges, ready to add their fusillade of firepower to the slaughter. It was a simple plan, the assault units, lead by Darke, would lead the Tyranid horde into the canyon, use their jump packs to leap away from danger and clear the ridge of canyon, then the hail of shells would rain down upon the hapless aliens below.
Stratos, Steele and Grymm exchanged both words of encouragement and taunts in equal measure as they waited. They and Darke were close and they enjoyed fighting together. The banter helped ease the tension of waiting. It was a dark day, with heavy rain lashing down. Grymm’s habit of fighting without a helmet seemed unwise. Any normal human’s flesh would burn with the acidic rain, but it rolled harmlessly off his Astartes skin like fresh spring water. Large scarab beetles roamed underfoot, biting at armour and irritating everyone. The wait was long. Darke’s assault unit were several klicks away. All the marines were well trained and kept alert, but the wait always annoyed Stratos. But eventually, they came…
They’d drastically underestimated the aliens. They’d underestimated their numbers and their tactical ability. A few hundred small creatures chased the assault squads into the canyon, with several larger tyranids mixed in. Large in number, but relatively easy bait. But the second the assault squads activated their jump packs more creatures appeared from everywhere. Dozens sprang from the walls of the canyon, previously hiding chameleon-like in plain sight. Some burrowed up from the ground beneath them, striking at the marines before they could even leave the ground. Then there was the attack from the air – dozens and dozens of winged beasts swarmed towards them, darkening the skies with their numbers. Clearly, despite the Starks having reconned well and planned the trap, it was they who were being ambushed.
The attack was quick and brutal. Darke and his unit struggled to get clear of the canyon bed, losing men in the process. Other assault squads were less fortunate, losing all or most members in the first few seconds. Swarms of Tyranid creatures scurried and climbed the canyon sides with incredible pace, quickly coming over the top and overwhelming the marines who were unprepared for the sudden close assault. Even further down the canyon ridge the swarms of winged creatures attacked the supporting devastators.
What initially looked like a quick defeat of the Starks turned in their favour. Darke, the surviving marines from his unit, and a few other survivors from the canyon floor cleared the canyon ridge and immediately started to cut through the hordes of gaunts attacking the Tactical units. Although men were lost, they had the high ground and once the initial wave was defeated, it became easier to keep them back as the hordes of creatures came over the canyon top. The majority of the tyranids were attacking the north ridge, leaving the units positioned in the south largely untouched. It was a good plan, not splitting their numbers, but it allowed Steele’s unit to give covering fire across the other side of the canyon, as well as shooting down at anything left on the canyon floor.
Further east along the same ridge, three units of devastators were under attack from the skies. Winged gargoyles were swooping down and attacking the marines, who weren’t armed for a close assault, their long range weapons not suited for striking the flying aliens as they advanced. They were armed for a salvo attack on the canyon floor from distance and struggled to kill the flying creatures quickly enough. Stratos’s unit, along with the other tactical units, advanced east to help out their brothers, Darke and the remains of the assault marines holding back to stem the flow of creatures over the canyon ridge. Stratos lead the charge, running towards Grymm who was fending off attacks on some of his wounded comrades. Most of Grymm’s men were down, but none were dead. Grymm was fighting against five or six winged beasts, keeping them off his wounded unit. As they approached Stratos saw a gargoyle take flight away from the fight, and with it it took Grymm’s entire right arm.
Steele’s men were largely untouched by the ambush, the attack focusing on the north ridge, allowing Steele to offer covering fire. He could read the balance of the battle and could see Stratos heading east to help Grymm and his brothers, leaving Darke to fend off the tide of small, fierce creatures topping the ridge. Thus his unit focused their attention on those creatures climbing the canyon wall, not yet at the top. Taking out enough of these reduced the number cresting the ridge and facing Darke.
Grymm kept fighting as his genhanced body tried to cauterise the massive wound that used to be his shoulder. Stratos raised his bolt pistol, fired twice in quick succession, and the gargoyle dropped from the sky into the depths of the canyon below. They couldn’t get to Grymm fast enough and a large creature crested the ridge right next to him. It spat acid into Grymm’s face as it’s huge claws struck at his legs. By the time Stratos’s unit got close enough to cause any real damage to the creature, there wasn’t much left of Grymm. The skin on the lower part of his face was literally melting off, blood pouring from this mouth. His arm was gone and his legs shattered, one held in place only by his armour. Now Stratos was close enough, bolter rounds pounded the larger creature, then Darke shot overhead, using his jump pack to get to the forefront of the fighting. The creature was quickly killed by a few deft swipes of Darke’s chainsword, and now the numbers were more in the Starks’ favour. The creatures were slowly forced back until they retreated, knowing they could no longer win the battle.
As always, Thalius performed miracles. Grymm had two new legs and a new arm, but the acid hadn’t just damaged his face, it had got into his lungs too. He now permanently wore a face mask to allow him to breathe. This wasn’t the first time the four of them, Stratos, Steele, Darke and Grymm, had been to battle together and saved each other, nor would it be the last, but it was a defining moment in their personal histories. Each of them had saved the other, each lending a different strength to the group. This bond grew over the years and over many campaigns and each had a life-debt to each of the others many times over. Due to their successes, they all earned various chapter honours, including induction to the 1st company with terminator honours.
As Stratos’s skills as both a warrior and strategist saw him rise to Captain of the 3rd, his close brothers became leaders in the 1st company – Darke as a Vanguard Sergeant and Steele leading an elite Terminator squad. Grymm, regardless of the pressures from his Captain and friend, and even from the Chapter Master, refused to leave his 3rd company devastator unit. He accepted the terminator honours with great pride, but refused to leave the 9th Devastator unit he was so devoted to, even when offered the chance to lead other veterans. Grymm can often be seen holding high ground to gain the best arcs of fire, directing the fire of his unit, distinctive with his bare metal legs and gases hissing from his face mask.
Captain Stratos calls on his old comrades frequently to bolster the 3rd Company, thus they often still fight alongside each other. In preparation for a campaign Stratos will call upon his Triune for tactical and strategic advice, recognising each of their specialised expertise and experience. On the battlefield, members of the Triune can be identified by golden purity seals with red parchment, personal gifts to them from Stratos when he was first appointed as captain.
It always started as a prickling sensation in his head, like his brain had pins and needles. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t even that uncomfortable, but it was quite disconcerting to know that someone else was inside his head, especially someone as powerful as Idris Astura. Augusta trusted his mentor implicitly, but that didn’t make the sensation any easier to deal with. He knew what was next, the prickling would grow and change and become an increasing pressure inside his head, like someone’s fingers were kneading his doughy brain.
Augusta and Ardea were being trained by Astura. Captain Stratos wanted them available as a powerful battlefield weapon and Astura knew what was required. He was training them to pool their psychic force into a symbiotic relationship, allowing more powerful and tactically flexible attacks. Idris Astura wasn’t the most powerful Stark psyker, the Starks’ mysterious Chief Librarian held that title, but his powers and control of those powers still made him one of the most powerful psykers the chapter had ever had. Ardea was only a little more experienced that Augusta, and they worked well together. Combined with Astura’s greater experience, they were a formidable force.
Augusta wasn’t new to the Librarius, but could still remember his first time there like it was yesterday. He’d been an Astartes long enough to not clearly remember anything before, and for a long time something always seemed…off. He was a good warrior, but he knew he wasn’t outstanding compared to some of his brothers, yet in the training cages he often bested men he knew were better than him at armed combat. He could feel a blow coming before his opponent started to swing, giving him time to dodge or parry it and strike a winning blow. It happened enough that it wasn’t just good luck. He’d been able to tell when the enemy were lurking in an abandoned building, or lying in wait over the next crest. But how he knew was always a mystery.
It was Astura that spotted his ability. One day, as he was leaving the training cages after another hard to explain win, Astura was waiting for him. He knew who the veteran epistolary was, but they’d never met before. He had a presence, a gravitas, the kind of person that you listened to without knowing why. When Augusta was told they were going to the Librarius, he tried to explain that he was needed by his sergeant, but Astura insisted. Despite Astura having no direct authority over Augusta, he was compelling enough that he obeyed without further question. When Astura explained that everything had been cleared with his superiors, there was nothing to support this, yet it was believed without question. As it turned out, it was true. Augusta would learn that the Librarius had a lot of influence within the chapter.
Within the hour Augusta was taken to places within the Starks’ fortress monastery he didn’t know existed. Miles beneath the surface of the Starks’ home planet Phedra, was the Librarius Monastery. A dark, cavernous space with many small corridors and ante-rooms, the Librarius became Augusta’s home. Over the following months Augusta was tested mentally and physically, largely in isolation. For weeks, the only person he saw was Astura. There was standard combat training, a continuation of what he would normally do with his battle brothers, but now there was brutal mental training, punishing psychological tests, and all with little explanation. Augusta had quickly realised all his unexplained feelings and abilities must have been psychic, and he was being tested and trained, but he was never told what the tests were, or what they were for. Until one morning, without warning, Astura introduced Augusta to Ardea. Augusta was to be formally inducted into the Librarius as a lexicanium, a low level but fully-fledged librarian of the chapter. Ardea was a codicer, a little more experienced in the powers of the warp than Augusta. They were partnered together for training and learnt quickly together.
And now they were combining their powers and training to full effect. As the pressure in his head grew, Augusta became acutely aware of the dangers. Despite the relative safety of the Librarius, he could feel the tug of the warp, the influence of Chaos just on the very edge of his perception. It took the combined efforts of all three librarians to keep the Chaos forces at bay, whilst still manifesting the psychic storm of electrical energy they would ultimately use in the theatre of battle. Their combination of minds allowed both Augusta and Ardea to control and manifest powers otherwise only someone of Astura’s vast experience could manage. This would become a powerful tool against the myriad xenos foes they would encounter. Captain Stratos would be most pleased with their progress.