Shadows in the Void
The Maracaibo Crusade
Certainly the most famous of the wars undertaken by the Celestial Empire is the fight against the Maracaibo Confederacy. Hostilities erupted after the An Lushan Incident when an Empire Navy cruiser was attacked and its crew held captive by Maracaibo-licensed privateers.
The Terrible Bokor
The public of all civilized governments were shocked when the Celestial Empire made public their accusation that the crew of the An Lushan had been slain in a demonic sacrifice. Furthermore, the political-religious leadership of the planets in the Confederacy were revealed to be Infernalist sorcerors. These sorcerors, took advantage of the popular Santeria/Voudun folklore and their dark arts to depict themselves as Bokor or “witch doctors”.
Two weeks after the An Lushan Incident, and 2 days after making the public disclosure about the fate of the crew, the Celestial Empire commenced military operations against the Maracaibo Confederacy. Many military observers were surprised by the speed with which the Banner Fleets were able to shift to a war-footing. It has been widely speculated in academic and military circles that the Celestial Empire must have had advanced knowledge of the demonic secret of the Confederacy, and made plans years in advance of the attack on the An Lushan. The topic of war-readiness remains a controversial one outside of the Empire.
The rapid mobilization of Red Banner Fleet, Red Bordered Banner fleet, Blue Banner Fleet, Yellow Banner fleet, and Yellow Bordered Banner Fleet allowed for rapid strikes into Confederacy space. It was immediately apparent that the Celestial Empire had a massive advantage in numbers and quality of ships early in the war. Conversely, the Bokor could count on armies of fanatical followers, as well as countless horrors summoned from another realm.
Although Banner Fleets went unchallenged in orbit of Confederate worlds, the Banner Armies could not risk making landfall against enemy forces composing entire planetary populations. Banner Fleets resorted to tactics of blockade and orbital bombardment. However, bombardment and blockade was slow-going. Confederacy forces had remarkable stamina, in part because slain living soldiers were reanimated by the Bokor as Zombies in the most literal sense.
Approximately three months into the war, with 2 Confederacy planets sterilized and 5 more under siege, the Bokor changed tactics. Realizing that the Empire’s control of space was too large of an advantage, the Bokor ordered their demonic minions to take the Stygian gates off-line to limit the Empire advance. The worlds already under attack were instructed by Confederate high-command to dig in, and hold out until the tables could be turned.
The Doldrums, and Counterattack
The Empire, found its fleets unable to bring the war to more enemy worlds, and faced stiffened resolve from those planets already under siege. As months dragged on, and the strategic paralysis of siege operations became apparent to commanders and enlisted men, this period earned the melancholy nickname “the doldrums”. It became clear to every fighting-man that the Empire’s military had lost momentum, and frustration and boredom combined to make crews lose their edge, to become sloppy.
The quiet was shattered suddenly on Day 297 when the Stygian gates to 3 besieged worlds activated and swarms of monstrosities from mankind’s darkest nightmares appeared in-system. These creatures moved with a swiftness matched only by the fastest ships, and the strength do smash armor, to breach hulls. These simultaneous surprise attacks took a fearsome toll. The Red Bordered Banner Fleet lost 29 of 35 ships in the Bahia system. The Yellow Banner Fleet lost 33 of 36 ships in the Zula system. The Yellow Bordered Banner Fleet was completely annihilated in orbit of the planet Nana Bukulu. In a 24 hour period, over 320,000 Celestial Empire citizens and nobles were killed in action; the third-worst single day death toll in Empire history.
Licking Their Wounds
Following this unprecedented setback, the Empire’s War Council convened an emergency session and rushed the Green Banner Fleet and the Blue Bordered Banner Fleet to reinforce the two planetary systems where Confederacy forces had not yet attacked. Out of this emergency session also came the policy to hire or enlist mercenary forces and volunteers from outside the Empire to bolster the military.
The next year of the war was characterized by the continued sieges of the planets Sakpata and La Llorona, punctuated by raids by these space-borne horrors. Eventually, with enemy forces reduced to manageable levels, ground forces were committed to mopping-up operations, and these worlds would become staging posts for Empire Banner Fleets.
The turning point came as a part of a Black Banner secret operation known as Operation Paperclip. Celestial Empire spies, apparently positioned before hostilities began, were secretly relaying flight data of Maricaibo military courier vessels. Given warning, a team of Black Banner special operators was able to intercept one of these courier vessels, capture the pilot and the flight data recorder. Because the disappearance of a courier vessel would be noticed, and stopping or slowing the vessel would put its arrival outside of the time envelope when its destination gate would be online. Therefore, the black operations crew had to achieve docking, board the courier vessel, retrieve the pilot and flight recorder, and sabotage the ship within a 30 minute period while the courier vessel traveled the dismal void at full speed. When the courier ship exited the Stygian gate at its destination, it self-destructed in a way meant to look like a freak mechanical failure.
With the intelligence assets recovered from this daring operation, combined with the human intelligence provided by agents embedded on Maricaibo worlds, the Empire military high-command was able to predict which enemy gates would be opened at what time, and begin planning operations to attack new Confederate systems.
The Big Push
Armed with this information, the military decided to make a commitment to victory, committing 15 of the 20 imperial Banner Fleets to the fight, as well as nearly 200 mercenary and volunteer vessels.
The battle plan was simple, yet required precise timing and coordination. Strike forces of 3-4 Banner Fleets plus auxiliary ships would assemble in preparation for word of a courier flight. While the Stygian gate was online for the short window, these strike forces of up to 250 vessels would immediately attack the gate control system, bombard the planet in a “shock and awe” campaign, and then rapidly deploy ground forces for vicious fighting. Simultaneously, at the gate that was the destination of the courier vessel, another strike force would reduce that world.
With these tactics, the Celestial Empire military was able to reduce 8 Confederacy worlds in 6 weeks; the breakthrough had been made.
However, the enemy was not finished yet. Maricaibo, the capitol world and final defiant world shut off their Stygian Gate completely. It looked as though the Celestial Empire would never exterminate the terrible Bokor, but could contain them to a single world.Luckily for their mortal followers, the Empire’s advanced scientific research community came to the rescue. When Confederacy forces first began disabling Stygian gates, the smartest minds in the Empire began working on an alternate method of spaceship locomotion. After nearly 8 years of research, a method of transporting ships faster-than-light without use of the Stygian Gates was introduced.
At this time, Maricaibo had been under self-imposed isolation from the galaxy for 6 years and 8 months. On day 2,933 of the war, a fleet of 180 ships, including an Extactor-class planet-cracker purchased from the RPC, arrived in orbit of Maricaibo. The captains of each ship expected to be greeted by all the space-borne horrors that could be summoned in 6 years of preparation. However, they instead found a dead world. The Bokor, seeing defeat as inevitable, had led their followers in planet-wide mass-suicide.
In the final tally, nearly 2.5 Celestial Empire warriors died in this crusade. 109 Empire vessels were destroyed. The Red Bordered and Yellow Bordered banner fleets were slowly brought back to full strength, and the Yellow Banner Fleet was re-founded and the new fleet fought helped capture 3 Confederacy planets and was present at the planetfall on Maricaibo.
Estimates of Maricaibo Confederacy casualties vary widely from a low of 10 billion to a high of 18 billion. Of the worlds that were conquered, 7 became Celestial Empire planets, and were colonized by retired veterans of the conflict. The remaining worlds, including Maricaibo, were considered far too tainted by the deeds of the Bokor and their demonic minions. To prevent like-minded groups from making these dead worlds into shrines to their wicked deeds, these planets were obliterated and sold to the RPC for mining.