Their Praetor, Zu’ul Na’gir, traces his origins to the motor-gypsy tribes of a world claimed by the XVIIth during the early part of the Great Crusade. Born aboard a tracked carrier, his mother died shortly after his birth, exerting her last grain of life to get her son to safety before the migratory swarms of xenoform locusts devoured the continent’s surface biomass.
Inducted into the XVIIth some fifteen standard years later, the legionary displayed considerable aptitude for armoured warfare and frequently grew impatient with the methodical doctrines of his fellow officers.
Following Monarchia, the XVIIth accelerated their execution of the Crusade and Zu’ul’s expertise soon rose to prominence amongst his kin. He gained a reputation for rapid advances, and possessed an uncanny ability to identify and exploit weak points in the enemy battle lines.
The vehicles under Zu’ul’s command held special significance for his Folio. Where others regarded their tanks and transports as mere tools, Zu’ul’s legionnaires gave them names, etched scriptures upon their hulls and painstakingly restored wrecked vehicles to their former glory. The chapter’s Motorpools and Engineerum decks were even converted into places of worship to ensure that the vehicles could attend the services.
Yet it was on Istvaan V where Zu’ul gained true notoriety. Some four hours after the moment of betrayal, many Loyalists had managed, despite the crippling losses inflicted by this act of wanton fratricide, to form cohesive formations and hit back at their erstwhile brothers.
One such sizeable formation of Iron Hands and Salamanders was inflicting significant losses upon the XVIIth; the Salamanders’ stubborn resistance, combined with the mechanical ingenuity of the Iron Hands, made for a formidable adversary. Worse, their commander was shrewd, using his armour to carve up unsupported Traitors that had overextended themselves in their advance, whilst evading traitor heavy battalions with tremendous skill. Upon hearing of this, Horus insulted Lorgar’s ability to direct his forces effectively, reminding him that every moment that passed on Istvaan would compromise the secessionists’ plan for total victory.
At Lorgar’s personal request, The Crimson Revenant moved into low orbit, disgorging wings of Stormbirds, Stormeagles and Thunderhawk Transports. Within minutes, Zu’ul was on the ground, directing his forces from the cupola of his Land Raider Proteus, ‘Instrument of Ruin.’ The armoured spearhead had soon located the enemy formation, misdirected it and probed carefully for weaknesses via aggressive reconnaissance. The pseudo tank battle raged for hours, neither commander willing to commit his forces utterly for fear of a trap. Bluff followed bluff as Predator tanks skirted the lines and Land Raiders charged forth only to quickly dive back into the choking radioactive fog that enshrouded the Urgall Depression.
It was one such piece of misdirection that finally proved to be the undoing of the Loyalists. A squadron of Zu’ul’s Land Raiders made contact with an Iron Hands Contemptor supported by infantry and a damaged Fellblade. In this engagement, a Land Raider was badly damaged whilst the rest of the squadron withdrew, giving cause for the Word Bearer’s within to disembark. Such a target as infantry in the open was too tempting for the Fellblade which moved into position to unleash its volkite cannon upon the target location. The infantry evaded the superheavy successfully, taking cover in a nearby arcology in the hope of mounting an ambush upon the enemy reconnoitre. Their opportunity came. The Iron Hands Contemptor advanced upon the stricken Land Raider, supported by a collection of Loyalist survivors. The Word Bearers watched as the Contemptor prized open the hull and ended the life of the mortally wounded tank commander. The Loyalists quickly got to work, ripping out the power coils and thermo packs of the Proteus’ lascannons and equipping themselves with salvage that could aid their own depleting motorpool. At this distance, the Word Bearer Stave Leader recognised the Contemptor as an ancient commander of the Iron Hands, a warrior of renown and deep significance. If the Iron hands would only commit here, in defence of one of their revered ancients, then the Salamanders would be forced to support them or submit to their forces being divided and destroyed piecemeal. Voxing his co-ordinates to the rest of Zu’ul’s Folio, the Stave Leader engaged.
Six of his men were annihilated in a volkite inferno seconds after breaking cover. The Stave Leader, along with his three remaining faithful, survived the few minutes that it took for the Contemptor to be locked into a protracted firefight with the Land Raiders that had returned from their feigned flight. When reports came that the Contemptor had been immobilised, Zu’ul committed all of his forces. The gamble paid off.
Whether it was the grief and rage of losing their Primarch that day, or the significance that the Iron Hands placed upon feats of mechanical engineering, who can say. Yet the bulk of Iron Hands moved to protect their leige, giving the Salamanders little choice other than to follow. It is fair to surmise that Zu’ul counted upon the Legion’s tendency to seek out a last stand…
Within fifty eight minutes of the Stave Leader’s vox call, battle was joined. Hundreds of Lascannon beams lanced through the fog, hungrily piercing ceramite and filling the battlefield with the shrieking crack of superheated metal. Contemptors bound through the Word Bearer ranks, eager to reach the Loyalist lines and exact a bloody toll upon targets of opportunity. Predator autocannons hammered home whilst the contents of Zu’ul’s Proteus and Phobos squadrons fixed their chain-bayonets in anticipation of the close action to follow. Zu’ul’s medusa batteries rained shells over the slow tread of his armoured formations, raining phospex and high explosive onto the defenders, whilst Vorbak units, spearheaded by demonically charged dreadnoughts, formed the vanguard of Zu’ul’s assault. It was at this very moment that Zu’ul’s forces received their new moniker; over the vox, the sonorous and enigmatic tones of their beloved primarch delivered the final order:
Children, the gods themselves watch o’er us now. In fire you march, in glory you tread. Hark! Bring Truth this day at my request, for now you etch our deeds upon the stars themselves. Break open hammer and iron this day, do it with bolt and blade and truth, with shell and shot, alchem venom, las lance - prayers and zeal; Steel yourselves - now advance! The very Horizon Burns at our touch!
—Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers