The Siege of Rydenock was perhaps the most critical battle of the Judgment War's first century. Fought in 4054, in the 53rd year of the conflict, it triggered a massive shift in the scope and type of warfare being fought between the Solar Alliance and the Great Enemy. Prior to the Siege, the Great Enemy was seen as a relentless, but containable menace. Approximately a hundred worlds had fallen already, but only through protracted battles that seemingly cost the Great Enemy considerable resources. The initial waves of attacks were scattered, almost randomized, and seemed to lack any major strategy beyond raw aggression. Many worlds that had been attacked had even thrown back their invaders, often multiple times. Even so, efforts to reclaim lost worlds or, more critically, strike at the mysterious portal through which the first demons had appeared, were continuously thwarted. Worlds that had previously been attacked were often completely stripped of all life, and thus easy to reclaim, but others remained infested with Great Enemy forces and proved impossible to retake.
Eventually, however, the invasion began to pick up speed and cohesion. Attacks were continually driving deeper and deeper into Alliance territory, and increasingly important worlds were faced with attacks and even annihilation. Fearing damage to the interstellar infrastructure would soon become too much, Alliance Command began to formulate plans to halt the invasion outright, by breaking the Great Enemy's military force in a single blow.
Not only did it appear the invading forces were heading towards critical worlds of the Alliance, likely acting off of information absorbed from conquered worlds, but Alliance Command was confident that the sheer destructive power of its fortifications in the Rydenock system would be enough to crush any invading force.
Even before the Judgment War, Rydenock was one of the most heavily fortified systems in the Alliance, other than Sol itself. It had once been a frontline base in the Alliance's conflicts with the Valhallan Hegemony centuries prior, and had been continually fortified ever since, serving as the main center of human military might for fifty light-years in all directions. No human power had ever been able to break it. As part of its confidence in Rydenock's invincibility, the Alliance even began to engage in minor actions aimed at drawing Great Enemy forces towards it. Its hope was that a protracted battle of attrition would cause such a massive drain on the demon forces that a subsequent campaign of counter-conquest could be launched and the invasion ultimately halted.
Eventually, the inter-system sensor grids began to detect signs of FTL transit heading towards Rydenock, and, on Octas 4th, 4054, the first Great Enemy ships arrived in-system.
The defenses of Rydenock were extensive. Humanity had amassed nearly three hundred ships of all classes, supported by their contingents of All-Terrain Suits, Starwings, and ground forces. Nearly fifty million Legionnaires were stationed across the system in emplaced defenses, along with ten times that number in AI combat shells and drones. Over a thousand artillery emplacements were scattered around the system and just outside it, capable of launching thousand-pound shells at near-luminal speeds and invisible to most sensors until they fired. Each of Rydenock's six planets were ringed by hundreds of defense satellites, and the system boasted three Gallipoli-class starbases, mile-long stations bristling with the some of the deadliest weapons humanity could build. Additional forces were en route from neighboring sectors, as well.
The first waves of Great Enemy ships were miniscule compared to the Alliance forces arrayed across the system. They had barely even transited into the system when they were bracketed by artillery fire and quick-response units descended upon them. For the first several days, as Great Enemy forces did little more than trickle into the system, the defenders wondered if their ploy to lure a larger force in had failed. But gravitational ripples were still being detected in the sensor nets. More ships were incoming.
On the fourth day of conflict, the first real threat emerged. A capital-grade ship was among the attacking forces, and it plunged through the defenses, heedless of the damage it took. At the time, the move seemed foolish in the extreme, and the ship was torn apart quickly. Unknown to the defenders at the time, the ship bore a greater demon, one of the Avatar races, whose souls were powerful enough to merely be banished back to their own dimension upon death. Although the force of its death crippled every human vessel nearby, the true scale of damage would be the information it brought back with it as it reformed in the dark realm. Information regarding Rydenock's defenses and capabilities.
By the seventh day, the full invasion had begun.
The Second Week - The Battle Truly Begins
Almost exactly seven days after the first wave appeared, the largest Great Enemy fleet seen yet by humans emerged into the system. Over a hundred vessels of every grade appeared. Alliance forces swiftly moved to attack, and a protracted battle began. Before the day was out, another hundred Great Enemy vessels appeared, reinforcing those few that had not yet been destroyed. The next day, another hundred appeared. Through sheer force of numbers, human vessels and defensive installations were slowly destroyed or overrun, though the bulk of the system's defensive capabilities were still intact, and exacting a truly grievous toll on the Great Enemy forces. For every artillery station, starship, or defensive facility destroyed, a dozen Enemy vessels were brought down in turn. And yet more Great Enemy vessels kept arriving into the system. The true battle had begun in earnest.
Although confident their defenses were holding, Solar Marshall Duvinsk, overall commander of the Rydenock defense, dispatched calls for additional forces once the second major wave arrived. This would prove a prudent decision, as, by the time the first reinforcement fleets arrived two days later, the Great Enemy was outnumbering the Solar Alliance in starships by three to one, despite the Alliance having already destroyed three times their number in Enemy ships. And still more ships were arriving every few hours. Each reinforcement fleet for the Alliance found itself engaging in combat within minutes of arrival.
By the tenth day of battle, the entire system had become a warzone as Great Enemy vessels risked collision with planetary bodies and other objects by exiting FTL speeds deeper into the system. It had been obvious from the outset whatever entity was driving the demons had less than zero regard for the wellbeing of its forces. Even Avatar demons, some of the most powerful entities yet encountered, were being sacrificed simply for the debilitating effects their deaths had in disabling all technological devices within hundreds of miles. Still, the human forces fought with relentless tenacity, and, for a time, the defenses were heavily taxed, yet they held. Reinforcements for both sides were continuing to pour into the system, until over five hundred vessels on each side were engaged in battle, with at least five times that number (predominately Great Enemy vessels) already destroyed.
The Third Week - Unexpected Treachery
On Octas 19th, the fifteenth day of battle, things shifted dramatically when a Great Enemy fleet of nearly five hundred vessels arrived from the opposite side of the system, in a direction completely unexpected by the Solar Alliance forces. This was the first indication that there was, in fact, more than one portal through which the demons were entering our universe. The odds of such a massive fleet moving undetected from the first known portal to completely flank the Rydenock system were astronomical. The inter-system detection nets only picked up the faintest ripples of FTL transit, giving warning a matter of hours in advance that something was coming, but the extent of what that something was could not ascertained. Expecting only a flanking force, the Alliance detachment sent to meet the impending arrival was swiftly overwhelmed.
Scrambling to reform the lines, Duvinsk pulled the bulk of the Alliance forces back towards the inner system, sacrificing the outer two planets and reforming a cordon within the orbit of the fourth. The hope was that even a massive ground invasion would take time to wipe out all the ground defenders on the outer worlds, and that, in time, there would still be something to save once the orbital spaces were cleared. Every few minutes a Great Enemy vessel was torn apart, whether by artillery fire, ship-to-ship combat, a suicidal ATS/Starwing strike, or even the occasional Legionnaire boarding action. Combat drones were being deployed and sacrificed in their millions at this point, sent into battle usually only minutes after rolling off local assembly lines. As important as fresh troops and weaponry was, many of the arriving Alliance vessels also carried raw materials to keep the the local factories operating, and thousands of salvage crews were diving into active combat zones to recover materials for repurposing, often becoming wreckage themselves. The corrupted materials used to make Enemy vessels were useless to humanity, but plenty of human ships and vehicles were readily harvestable.
By the end of the third week, the true power of the Avatar species was becoming readily apparent. They had only occasionally been encountered in battle before, or at least what evidence of their existence could be found was fragmentary at best, since they usually only appeared when a world's doom was certain and escape unlikely. But numerous greater demons were participating, and perhaps even directing, the overall battle in Rydenock. After five days of ground battles, a number of human ships were able to escape from the two outer worlds of the system, and return to the main battle lines, spreading amongst those defenders still standing.
Unbeknownst to their overjoyed comrades, however, the majority of those humans who had escaped had been corrupted in various ways. Whether their innermost desires were brought forth to overwhelming degrees by the Lustlords, their resolve broken by the Grieflords, or their sanity shattered by the Dreadlords, these humans spread among the defenders and used their knowledge to sabotage systems and slaughter their fellow humans. Entire battlegroups were rendered impotent and easy prey for Enemy attacks. In time, these traitors were hunted down and slaughtered, but considerable damage had been done, and the Alliance battle plans were in disarray. Worse still, an even greater threat wrought by the traitors was waiting to be unleashed.
The Fourth Week - Evident Corruption
As the fourth week began, Solar Marshall Duvinsk was forced to accept the possibility that Rydenock would fall. Nearly five hundred Alliance vessels had been destroyed at this point, with an almost equal number still standing. Over nine thousand Great Enemy vessels had been wiped out, and still almost a thousand more pressed the attack across the entire system, with fresh waves of reinforcements arriving almost hourly. Worse still, human reinforcements had been pulled from across the sector and well beyond it, and now dozens of other worlds were reporting attacks while their defenses were weakened. With growing horror, Alliance Command was finally beginning to realize the scale of the invasion they were facing.
Still, the humans of Rydenock fought on with legendary tenacity. No vessel was lost without taking at least five Great Enemy ships with it. No space station was abandoned without its weapons running dry. No inch of planetside ground was given up without a shocking toll of blood. And yet the Great Enemy continued, utterly heedless of losses or the effort required to secure any objectives. They were more akin to an elemental force than a true military. Alliance Command's previous hopes of breaking the Great Enemy's might through sheer attrition was long gone in the face of seemingly infinite forces. They had already destroyed the equivalent of the Alliance's entire military and then some, and yet enough ships to break Rydenock were still present, plus hundreds more still attacking other worlds elsewhere.
The sphere of defenses continued to contract as the Alliance was forced to fall back again and again. The second planet formed the center of the defenses, as it held the bulk of the remaining manufacturing centers. Were it not for the millions of combat drones they were producing every hour, the system would have fallen already. But on Novas 5th, the thirty-first day of battle, the final blow enacted by the traitorous humans would land.
Decades of work by the Great Enemy among worlds they had already conquered culminated in the means for them to corrupt the software and AI's used by humans to aid them in everything from simple daily tasks to all aspects of warfare. The Alliance simply did not have the numbers of people needed to sustain warfare on the scale the Great Enemy brought. But with every soldier or pilot supported by teams of drones and androids, the force multiplication was astronomical. Indeed, most of the Enemy forces had been fighting drones and androids thus far, though the human death toll was still catastrophically high.
Although the Great Enemy had devised the means to corrupt the AI networks, it was the traitorous humans who bypassed the outer firewalls and defenses to upload the virus into the heart of the Alliance systems. The seemingly-sentient virus spread quickly, though subtly at first, not revealing itself until it was inveigled into networks across the system. But once it revealed itself, perhaps on some hidden signal, the spread of corruption quickly became evident. Within hours of the first reports of system anomalies, entire networks were collapsing into distorted scrapcode as thousands, then eventually millions, of drones and androids turned on their human companions, hurling themselves with berserker fury upon their former comrades. Even the most venerable and advanced androids, deemed sentient in past decades and with centuries of service to their names, were reduced to howling maniacs almost instantly.
The only saving grace for the Alliance forces was that the corruption seemed to be limited to purely artificial systems. Even the most heavily cybernetically augmented humans were unaffected by the virus, and those systems controlled by direct neural input of humans, through direct willpower, remained steadfast, though some operators were killed by feedback as the virus sought to overwhelm them. Theologians would argue after the Siege that humans were unaffected because they had souls, or perhaps a measure of the Creator's divine power, but in the moment such considerations were absent from the minds of the Alliance military. Any semblance of order among the defenders was annihilated as automated systems rebelled across the system. The Great Enemy immediately pressed the attack again, driving deep through the sphere of defenses.
Within a day of the virus emerging, Solar Marshall Duvinsk declared Rydenock was lost, and ordered a full evacuation of any surviving humans. This was far easier said than done, however. Many ships were experiencing critical systems failures, and only those who had destroyed their AI cores and rebuilt their systems to be operated manually, or had completely cut themselves off from the battle networks before infection, were fully functional. Still, the forces of humanity continued to comport themselves with valor, and very few incidents of mass panic were reported. By the thirty-fifth day of battle, Enemy forces were present on every planet in the system. The outer two worlds were mostly overrun at this point, but ground forces on the other four were still putting up fierce resistance, especially in those cases where it was obvious rescue would not occur.
The Fifth Week - Final Evacuation
The final week of conflict in the Rydenock system was largely marked by efforts to recover enough from the effects of the Enemy virus to effect an evacuation of as many humans as possible. Most of the manufacturing facilities on the second world had been sabotaged and destroyed as soon as the AI corruption was evident, but several had overwhelmed the humans present and were still producing waves of drones now under the Great Enemy's control. Every hour acts of insane heroism were committed in the name of rescuing trapped comrades, though as many of these stories ended in death for all involved as they did in a successful rescue. Some ships attempting to escape would engage their foldspace drives at dangerous angles, with obstacles in the way, or while still within the gravity wells of celestial objects, and many of them were destroyed in spectacular fashion by doing so.
It remains a rousing testament to the human spirit, though, that the bulk of surviving human forces were refusing to leave until as many were saved as possible. Despite impossible odds, pilots, Legionnaires, and Starmen alike volunteered for one suicidal mission after another to rescue more of their comrades. Perhaps the overwhelming Great Enemy presence, making it almost as impossible to escape, lent a fatalistic courage. Sufficed to say, they were determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, whether or not whatever was leading the Great Enemy even noticed.
True hope arrived on the thirty-seventh day of battle. A final fleet of over a hundred ships, originally meant to reinforce the lines, became a relief effort aimed at breaking the Great Enemy lines enough for what was left of humanity in the Rydenock system to escape. This hope was further amplified by the fact that the fleet was led by none other than the legendary SAS Constitution, the flagship which had first encountered the Great Enemy decades ago. Commanded by Lord Admiral Satima, the Constitution led the charge in a daring flanking attack that caught the Enemy forces completely off-guard. In fact, its lance cannon struck down the largest Enemy capital ship present in the system at the time.
With the Great Enemy thrown into disarray for the moment, the relief fleet broke through and collected as many humans as they could. The remaining system defense ships still functioning joined them, and together, they were able to once again break through the Enemy lines and effect a final escape. All told, about a hundred and fifty vessels were able to escape. Unfortunately for humanity, Solar Marshall Duvinsk was not among them, having given her life to maintain what was left of the Alliance communication network through her neural links and sheer willpower, with the feedback eventually killing her during the evacuation. Once the evacuation was complete, Lord Admiral Satima declared Rydenock as fallen to the Great Enemy. Of the three hundred million humans who partook in the battle, perhaps four million survived to escape.
The Siege of Rydenock had lasting repercussions for the Solar Alliance. The most immediate effect was the loss of the Alliance's greatest bastion system outside of Sol. In a broader sense, though, the destruction of Rydenock elevated the Great Enemy from constant menace to existential threat against humanity. Dozens of smaller worlds had fallen, but it was assumed by Alliance Command that destroying enough of the Great Enemy vessels to afford a counter-invasion would be enough to stop the menace. Following the Siege of Rydenock, however, it became apparent the Great Enemy commanded forces magnitudes in excess of that available to humanity. Alliance Command even went so far as to assume the invading force was functionally infinite. When pressed for answers on what to do next, for the first time since the war began, none were forthcoming.
Worse still, the AI corruption experienced in the Siege was being replicated on subsequently invaded worlds. Within a year, as no measure of defense seemed able to resist the corruption, production of new androids and AI systems was outlawed. Only those who operated completely offline, isolated from other systems, were allowed to continue functioning. In one fell swoop, an estimated 70-80% of the Solar Alliance's fighting power was rendered a liability and removed from its combat rosters. Only those systems directly controlled by humans via neural links were kept in place.
In time, new initiatives would be undertaken to replace the artificial combat systems with human-driven ones, and new levels of enhancement to the human genome, previously thought impossible, would be implemented. These advances, born as much of determination as desperation, would lead to, among other things, the development of the Savior program several decades later. These special All-Terrain Suits, and their pilots, were refined to a degree as to utterly surpass anything humanity or the Great Enemy had displayed thus far. Their first deployment, in which a single four-person squad of Savior Suits annihilated a fleet of over fifty Enemy vessels attacking New Caledonia, gave rise to the adage, “A squad of All-Terrain Suits can change the course of a battle, but a squad of Savior Suits can alter the fate of a planet.”