The Imperial Heresy
Footfalls of heavy boots echo. There should be the shuffling and the murmured roar of millions of pilgrims in reverentially lowered voices. But there is not. Just one old, old man slowly walking the lonely path along the length of the Diamond Cathedral. Diamonds shine down with the reflected light from the glow-globes held aloft on ancient chains miles above the floor. The Mechanicum, it is claimed, has been forced to install a weather control system up in the roof to prevent thunder clouds building from the sheer amount of heat and moisture generated by the passing of the pilgrims in such an unimaginably vast edifice. The diamonds are embedded in the walls so closely that you couldn’t really see the wall, just the well ordered ranks of glitter and sparkle.
The lone figure gets closer to the sarcophagus at the far end of the structure. Scale is hard to judge, the cathedral eclipsing dwarfs and giants equally beneath it’s sorrowful splendour. As it gets closer, it becomes clear that the figure is male, wearing a coarse woollen robe. The wheeze of at least one prosthetic lung can be heard and perhaps the quiet whirring of artificial limbs. Beneath the hood of the robe, the glow of two artificial eyes can be seen, one blue and one green. Their difference gives silent testament to their differing age and speaks of a lifetime of physical abuse.
He strides towards the steps leading up to the dais upon which three sarcophagi rests. He walks proudly, but something comes across from his movements, as if the weight of eternity could be found upon his shoulders.
The sarcophagi are of simple stone, hewn from the ground of now long-dead Cthonia. Figures of sleeping men of noble features are carved into the tops of them in such painstaking detail that it looks like they may awaken at any moment. The old man knows that this will never happen, and is deeply saddened by it.
He sits upon the steps, his back to that final resting place of three near immortals, his hands resting upon his knees. The metallic gleam upon those fingers makes it is obvious that they too are also artificial.
The old man lowers his hood to reveal a face battered by conflicts beyond number. No hair remains on that scarred cranium, one ear is replaced by a prosthetic and the other a mess of perforated skin and torn cartilage. He doesn’t say anything for a very long time. He just sits there and remembers.
“It’s finally happened, old friend. They’ve removed me from active service. Ten thousand years, they said, was too much to expect of any one man. Told me my continued functionality was a miracle all on it’s own. Still command my Chapter, still responsible for defending the Gate Worlds. It doesn’t seem right, a Chapter Master leading from the back. You were never one to cower so, especially not at the end”.
More silence. The old man looked down at his augmetic arms. The left one stopped just above the elbow, sliced off by the Daemon Prince Jaghatai at the climax of the First War for Armageddon. The Over-Fiend of the Octavius Empire had torn the other out at the shoulder. Eventually the silence was broken.
“We still haven’t found Vulkan or the twins. But we still hope, for all it is worth now”.
There was more silence. Not for the first time, he felt a little foolish at this journey. After all, the occupant of that stone box has gone well beyond where words could be heard. There used to be so many that made this journey. So many. Every veteran who fought on Sanctus Terra during the onset of the Long War. Now there was just himself, all alone. Time waits for no one and claims all it is due.
Abbadon’s gaze sweeps across the diamond-studded cathedral. Trillions upon trillions of diamonds, each one was the carbon from a body of a soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice on the desecrated ground of Sanctus Terra. One of those was Ollanius Pius, the lowly mortal man who had stood up to a near-god. But for every Pius there were uncountable unsung heroes that died alone and forgotten.
There were only three men who had fought in that hideous conflict that had been more than just a glitter and a sparkle. The three of them occupied the three beautifully carved boxes. One was Horus who had mortally wounded the Dread Emperor at the cost of his own life, the other was Mortarion who had first confronted the false lord of man and managed to put a great gash in the Emperor’s armour before he fell and the third was Malcador the Sigillite. Only Magnus, it was rumoured, was greater than he at the psychic arts. Malcador, Holy Malcador, had closed the warp-rift the Emperor had been cultivating under the Blasphemous Palace with the agonising sacrifice of billions upon billions. Malcador had faced down the Deep Warp, though the exhaustion killed him.
Abbadon remembered all his old friends and rivals and those who were both. All of them gone now. Now he made the pilgrimage alone.
Every other day millions of pilgrims felt the light reflected by heroes as they shuffled through this hallowed hall. But once every five hundred years the guards closed the gates and the last surviving veterans walked the pilgrim’s path. Every time their number dwindled.
“I still remember the promise I made to you, old friend, all those years ago. The Grand Imperium is still safe, it’s people still protected. They still try, you know, after all this time, our fallen brothers. They try to get out of the Eye, but we keep beating them back in. Great Crusade after Great Crusade they try, but still we fight the Long War and hold them back” Abbadon took a moment to silently curse the name of Lorgar, Dark Prophet of Chaos. Every time they were just about to recover from the effects of the last Black Crusade up sprang that golden bastard and rallied all the squabbling factions in his reach and led them to the Cadian Gate, again and again and again.
Abbadon could never figure out why he felt the need to do this, to talk to a corpse. But he did anyway.
After a time the words ran out and he just sat there and remembered the good old days, now so very distant.