The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Seven

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Continued from The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Six.

5-027-001-M42[edit]

On the Ravenspire, the diminished Raven Guard awaited their lord anxiously. He had been sealed in the Apothecary’s wing, after the Emperor had unceremoniously dumped him there. The Master of Apothecaries himself had fussed over the comatose Primarch as best he could, but only time could have told whether or not he had lost his mind in Fulgrim’s trap.

Now, however, the Master of Apothecaries had come forth, and announced that Corax had awakened. Several squads of the First and Eighth companies – the only ones present at the time – gathered, awaiting the verdict. Several of the vehicle crews of the Techmarines also lingered nearby. Finally, supported on one arm by the Chapter Master, Poedra, the Raven himself emerged.

“Brothers,” he said weakly, “I live again.”

As one, the assembled marines snapped to parade ground attention. The Chapter Master and Master of Apothecaries guided the Primarch to a chair, into which he dropped, grateful. He was unconscious of the eerie parallel that could have been drawn between his own return and that of his brother, Lion, whose demeanor and behavior could have mirrored his.

“Lord Corax, I was overjoyed to hear of your survival,” Captain Revus of the Eighth Company said, looking for all the world like it was the first pleasant emotion he had ever felt. “Please, tell us, how did you survive in the Eye?”

“I didn’t,” Corax said, his voice returning. “I lost my way in there, and I went completely insane.”

Revus and Poedra glanced at each other beneath their intricate helmets, wary. “Yet…” Poedra said carefully.

“Yet I am sane now? I sure hope so,” Corax said, with absolutely no trace of humor. “The Emperor saved me from the endless monotony of the Living Labyrinth, but I have no idea what it did to me.” “Lord Corax, I can not know what you have been through, but surely you will return to lead us now?” Poedra asked.

Corax shook his head, his ragged black hair flying around him. “No, brother, now I rest. Honestly, I could stand for a few years vacation, as unlikely as I am to receive it. Somewhere very, very sunny.”

A few of the younger Eighth Company members smiled hesitantly, unsure if he was joking. Poedra tried to suppress a grimace, then remembered he was wearing a helmet. “My Lord, I’m sure that under the circumstances, a recuperative period would not go awry. The High Lords sent us a command to dispatch fifty Marines to Centrion, and their order stands with the return of the God-Emperor. The transit will take over two months. Will that be enough, my Lord?”

“I imagine it would be, but the Emperor has other ideas, I imagine,” Corax said wearily. “He risked a great deal to get me out. Fulgrim will not let this go uncontested. I have no doubt that the legions of Slaanesh are heading here, as we speak.”

The assembled Raven Guard were too disciplined to do anything as maudlin as gasp in unison, which is the only reason they didn’t. Poedra took an authoritative step forward, facing the First Company Veterans as he did so. “Then we will meet them, Lord Corax, as we must. We will stand by you in battle!”

“I’m sure you will, brother, but if Fulgrim attacks soon, I’ll be in no shape to do much of anything,” Corax said tiredly. “If he gives me the time I need to heal up, I will lead you once more. Until then…I can but wait.”

3-027-001-M42[edit]

Leman Russ was never a light sleeper, and something about being trapped in a two-week long artillery bombardment can take it out of a man. After sleeping, dead to the world, for nearly two full days, he found himself restless, however, and went to find Grimnir.

On the way, he found himself rapidly losing his patience with the bowing, obsequious Imperial citizens and soldiers. He had always had more tolerance for ceremony and faith than most of his brothers, child of Fenris that he was, but the pomp and pageantry was beginning to fray his temper.

Grimnir and Russ had taken to conversing in the Titan Bay of Kasr Vortiga, as it was large enough to always be full of people who were always busy enough not to listen in. Grimnir was trying to explain the Imperial Cult phenomenon to Russ, with little success. “Lord Russ, I don’t want you to come away from this with the impression that the Ecclesiarchy is faultless. We, the Space Wolves, have come into open conflict with them in the past, and never of our own provocation. That doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary.”

“No, you’re right,” Russ said angrily. “What it does mean is that it’s too powerful. No Church should be able to start wars against its own adherents, regardless of cause.

“More to the point,” Russ added, gesturing angrily at the collection of Omnissiah portraits, cogwheels, and devotional necklaces the various techpriests and enginseers were wearing, “the Cult wasn’t supposed to even exist in the first place, Sir Logan. I’ve read the book of Lorgar, and I’ve heard more than enough prayers and such drivel being thrown at me and others since I returned. They sound far too similar.”

“I have no knowledge of the book of Lorgar, Lord Russ,” Grimnir said truthfully. “But it must not have been very damaging if it is the basis of the Ecclesiarchy.”

“It was writing that book that drove Lorgar to Chaos, Grimnir,” Russ snarled.

Grimnir struggled to find words. “Lord Russ…sire, the Imperium was lost and adrift when the Emperor ascended the Throne. You, Lord Khan, Lord Corax, Lord Dorn, Lord Manus, Lord Sanguinius, Lord Vulkan…in fact, all the Primarchs except Lord Guilliman were dead, missing, or traitors, within two centuries of the Betrayal. The people were terrified. People kept deifying the Emperor, as a true, immortal God, and finally the aristocracy realized that the best way to keep the peons in line would be to give in and let them believe in something. Ten thousand years later, here we are.”

Russ glared at Grimnir, before speaking low and angry. “I. Do. Not. Care. The Emperor told us from day one that we were the products of his genes and the force of Chaos to which we were exposed when we were stolen from him. Two of our brothers were sucked into the raw stuff of the warp, and became little more than monsters. They were put down, their Legions dissolved into the Ultramarines, and their very names erased from history. If the Emperor were an omniscient God, how could that have been allowed to happen?”

Grimnir was looking VERY uncomfortable now. Russ had just flat-out told him what no other person in the Imperium was even willing to admit was possible: that two Primarchs had turned into daemons even BEFORE the Horus Heresy. “Lord Russ, why are you telling me this? I am a very rational man, sire, and feel no need to perpetuate a lie. You and the Emperor himself both say that he is a man, and I will accept it.”

Russ’s grimace faded. “That, brother, is the wisest thing you could have possibly said.”

Grimnir rolled his shoulders, cricking his neck. “Lord Russ…I want you to know that for all the things I have seen in the campaigns against the Emperor’s foes, it is the acts of the heretic that unnerve me the most. I am a Space Marine, and I know no fear. I do, howe-”

“Bah!” Russ interrupted disdainfully. “That sounds like something that asshole Roboute would say. He was always keen to force his own ideals onto other people.”

“Yes, Lord Russ, it’s from the Codex Astartes,” Grimnir said awkwardly. “Lord Russ…you have read it, right, you were its most strident opponent, if I recall correctly.”

“I read enough to know that he wanted to divide our numbers into nice, easy-to count increments of five and ten, presumably so the bean-counters wouldn’t strain their abaci,” Russ said in pronounced irritation. “Ten squads of ten men, in ten companies, from our ten thousand man Legions, counting five-man Terminator squads. Foolishness. And even the Army, which we had no business structuring: A thousand men in five companies, with five platoons to each, with fifty men a piece, with ten men in each of five squads, which divide into five-man fireteams. The book was a living stereotype,” Russ said, his irritation in full swing now. He caught sight of Grimnir’s pronounced discomfort, and pulled himself back to topic. “But what were you saying about heretics?”

“That they are harder to fight than even daemons, and the foulest xenos, Lord Russ. They fight with ideas, not with weapons, half the time. All their leaders need to do is promise them higher standards of living, vengeance against some wrong, perceived or valid, and that’s it. An army that fears failure more than death. And yet, heretics usually turn to Chaos or xenos-sympathy not because they are insane, but because they are spiteful, outcast, or degraded.”

“And how does the Imperial Cult avoid that?” Russ said, trying not to roll his eyes.

“It doesn’t, Lord Russ, but it does have a positive effect on morale of those opposing heretics. Guardsmen fight harder, longer, thinking that the Emperor is taking a personal interest in their protection. ‘The Emperor Protects’ is something we’re expected to say to those under our command, regardless of who they are.”

Before Russ could reply, the air around him started to shimmer with a familiar purple light. Russ turned and backed a few steps up, to avoid being stepped on by the huge Emperor, as he teleported into the room. “RUSS. GOOD TO FIND YOU SO FAST,” he said, as soon as his beady eyes found the red-dreadlocked Primarch.

“Father. Good to see you as well,” Russ said, inclining his head respectfully and trying very hard not to let his discomforture at the appearance of his father show.

“Hello, Leman,” a familiar voice said. Russ’s eyes tracked down the source, and his jaw dropped. Roboute Guilliman himself was standing beside the Emperor, looking a bit windswept, but alive and well.

“Roboute? Is that you?” Russ asked, shocked beyond eloquence.

Guilliman smiled. “It is. It is good to see you unharmed after all this time.”

“You as well, brother,” Russ said, clasping Guilliman’s proffered hand, neatly ignoring his own ‘asshole’ comment a moment before.

I WONDER IF EITHER OF YOU EVER THOUGHT THIS WOULD HAPPEN,” the Emperor said, a note of wry humor slipping into his psychic voice. Unseen behind them, the huge ceramite gates of the titan bay slowly swung open, and a Warhound and five Chimeras in Mechanicum colors rolled in, one leaking smoke.

“Not in all honesty, Father,” Guilliman said ruefully. He turned to Logan Grimnir, smiling lopsidedly. “And you must be Chapter Master Grimnir.”

“I am, Lord Guilliman,” Grimnir said. He inclined his head, then snapped back up to a salute. “You honor me.”

“As I understand it, you’ve been rather busy of late, defending Armageddon and Cadia alike from daemonic incursion,” Guilliman said, demonstrating the same attention to detail that had catapulted him to third-in-command of Man.

“I was, Lord Guilliman, though recent events have been a stark change of pace,” Grimnir said politely. The behavior of the Ultramarines in both campaigns had been a point of considerable contention between his chapter and Calgar’s. While the Ultramarines hadn’t refused his instructions, in either the demand to blow up the Ork power supplies in the Armageddon campaign, or destroy the relatively few Chaos Dreadnoughts in Abbadon’s army in the Cadian campaign; their apparently complete willingness to subject themselves (and whatever troops had accompanied them) to mindwipes upon seeing Grey Knights in battle had rankled a bit.

A few red-armored Blood Ravens unfolded from the comparatively cramped troop compartments of the Chimeras, joking amongst themselves that the Rhinos would have been more comfortable. Angelos was leading them, and he froze solid at the sight of the Emperor, speaking to the two Primarchs and the Space Wolves Chapter Master. “Uh…”

The Librarian with him followed his gaze and started. “Oh, my…is that the Emperor himself, Master Angelos?”

“It is, brother,” Angelos said, trying to keep his demeanor placid. After all, it wasn’t like they hadn’t met before. A dreadnought rumbled through the bay door behind the Chimeras, spinning its optics to face the Ravens.

“What’s the hold-up…oh fuck,” Bjorn rumbled, quickly reversing his steps, trying to quietly back out of the bay. No such luck held, though, Leman Russ spotted him out of the corner of his eye. He looked to be concentrating for a moment, then grinned as recognition hit him.

“Bjorn the Fell-handed! Old friend. Come over here, brother!” he said, waving joyously.

“Damn it,” Bjorn muttered. Angelos winced in sympathy. The Ancient Venerable Tactical Dreadnought wearily plodded over to where his former Chapter Master and Primarch waited, while his new Chapter Master walked behind, carefully avoiding Russ’s gaze.

“Bjorn, my oldest friend, I never thought I’d see you again!” Russ said, spreading his hands wide. “It does my heart good to witness you here, still leading our brothers into battle…why are you painted red?”

“Ah…change of plans, Lord Russ,” Bjorn said, awkwardly waving his lightning claw in vague circles.

“Plans? What plans?” Russ asked, still smiling. Grimnir was busy shifting his rapidly growing grin between Angelos and the Emperor, who were both trying not to notice.

“Well…ah…I got…well, I got tired of endlessly retelling the same stories over and over again, once every five hundred to a thousand years, you know, to the Wolf Brothers on Fenris…and I kind of wanted to get back into action. So, when the Blood Ravens came knocking, preparing to assault a force of Black Legionnaires here on Cadia, I hefted the old bolter and tagged along,” Bjorn improvised. Guilliman was watching the scene with a bewildered look on his lined face.

“Oh, I understand,” Russ said. “But…why are you in their livery?”

“Well, my joining their battleforce was not initially…ah…voluntary?” Bjorn’s voice trailed off. Russ shook his head, uncomprehending.

“What, the other Space Wolves sent you to the Ravens’ ship while you were still in cryo-sleep?” he asked, trying to make sense of the situation. Grimnir had a cruel smirk on his face now, staring at the squirming Angelos vindictively.

“…No…” Bjorn said, as evasive as a Harlequin. Russ stared at the awkwardly shifting Dreadnought, the Emperor, who was seemingly very absorbed in the minute movements of the Warhound as its moderati powered it down, and Angelos, who was flushing red as a tomato at this point, before turning his gaze to Grimnir.

Finally, he turned back to the entombed Bjorn, who would have been fidgeting too if he still had hands. “Are you saying…I can’t even believe I’m asking this, but are you saying they STOLE you?” he asked incredulously. Grimnir crossed his arms and bared his fangs in a feral grin, looking very satisfied. Guilliman’s face was a mask of professional horror.

“…Maybe,” Bjorn said, his optics finally meeting Russ’s astounded glare. Russ turned to face Angelos, who was fidgeting with the collar of the helmet in his hands like a penitent schoolboy.

“Master Angelos? Is this true?” Russ asked, too dumbfounded to be angry.

“Well, sort of,” Angelos said. He hastened to explain, before Grimnir could say something petty. “We were passing the world of Fenris in our ship, the Litany of Fury, and our artificers wanted to show our respect to the chapter. So, they created a magnificent, and very expensive, power axe, for Lord Ragnar. When we presented it to him, though, he laughed at us and told us to, and I quote, ‘keep your pathetic trinkets.’ Well, we were quite understandably insulted, so we decided-”

“To commit larceny and abduction?” Guilliman broke in, his professional horror turning to rage. “Is that conduct for an Astartes to perform? What in the name of all that is untainted compelled you to do that?”

“You can’t kidnap the willing, Lord Guilliman,” Bjorn said, surprising the two Primarchs and Grimnir. “I was sick of the Space Wolves. I was happy to leave once I realized what was going on.”

“WHAT?!” Russ roared, while Grimnir looked like he had been hit by an airbus. The Emperor’s head pivoted back and forth between the two as if watching a tennis match. “You…you wanted to leave the Legion…Chapter you once lead?! WHY?!”

“Well, not forever!” Bjorn said defensively. “I just got sick of it. The brothers used me like a soundboard. All they ever did was wake me up, have me tell them the same damn stories over and over again, then put me back to sleep. For over EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS!” he exclaimed, his voice rising, surprising even himself. Angelos looked like he was trying to hide behind his own armor. “I mean, FUCK!” Bjorn continued, waving his lightning claw angrily. “I walked under blood-drenched skies with the Emperor at my side!”

DON’T DRAG ME INTO THIS PISSING MATCH, BJORN,” the Emperor put in, taking a step back, shaking the floor.

“No, no, I mean I have been a part of the Space Wolves since…well, boss, I seem to recall being one of the ORIGINAL volunteers from Terra that was used to test the geneseed project when you were creating the Legions, before the Great Crusade began. I was born on Terra when it was still called Earth! Being used as a living alarm clock to announce the passing of millennia by the Wolf Brothers was nothing more or less than an insult! I wanted to FIGHT! They wanted me to lead their little campfire songs!”

Russ’s voice dropped several octaves, and a few decibels. He leaned forward, his eyes ablaze. Grimnir’s smile vanished. “The history of the Space Wolves…as entrusted to the one man who was there for the whole thing…is not a camp…fire…song,” he said, his voice shaking with rage.

“Then clearly you haven’t asked Grimnir how much our traditions have changed for the worse lately,” Bjorn said, though he clearly didn’t want to provoke the Primarch further.

Russ snarled. “What the hell do you mean?”

“I mean we used to use wolves as mounts maybe, symbols,” Bjorn started, uncomfortably aware of the same conversation he had had with the Emperor, who was starting to look a bit guilty himself. “We were literal wolves when overcome by the rage, and so on. But…lately, it’s gotten to be so bad that it’s actually a little embarrassing. The tales they have me tell are exactly two in number: the one where I fought alongside you, and the one about how Granad Wolfblood threw Doombreed off a cliff. That’s boring enough as it is, when I fucking lead the chapter for centuries, and I’d rather talk about that. But every time they wake me up now, I see more and more wolf.

“I mean, our ranking system is bad enough as it is, with three out of four ranks having the word wolf in the title,” he said, his anger fading, replaced by resentment. “Then, a few millennia back, they change the ritual for waking me up to replace every instance of the words Astartes and warrior with the word wolf. And then, more recently, every time I go out into the Great Hall to retell the same damn stories over and over again, I see some of the brothers actually wearing wolf pelts…not as ornamentation, but as actual articles of clothing. I mean, what the fuck? And THEN,” he said, overriding Grimnir’s angry objection, “last time, I see people RIDING wolves. Not as pets, or as part of the ceremony. No, I mean, they’re fucking riding Fenrisian wolves around like it’s a means of getting around! Like as transportation! What the FUCK? I had to get out of there.”

“Can you even START to imagine what it was like, knowing for a fact that for the rest of TIME, I was going to be subjected to greater and greater desecrations of the Chapter, turning more and more into the furries the whole rest of the Adeptus Astartes have been calling us from the beginning; and all I can do about it is stress the parts of the legends that don’t have wolves in them?” he asked, words tumbling out of his speaker over each other, millennia of stress released.

“All I can do is pray and pray in the few free minutes I get before they put me back to sleep that MAYBE, just MAYBE, they’ll remember I have a lightning claw and a rocket launcher for arms, and put me back to GOOD use, instead of just using me like a ‘Baby’s First History Holovid,’ and I’ll get to go rip some Thousand Sons in half or something, rather than THIS!” he roared, nearby Techmarines and Enginseers staring at the display in shock. “Fuck me raw and call me a Salamander, If the Blood Ravens want to use me for what I was BUILT for rather than that, they can paint me hot pink and call me a Pretty Marine!”

Bjorn stood there angrily, his resentment and anger draining away, leaving Russ and Guilliman stunned by the outburst, Angelos looking like he was seriously contemplating shooting himself, and the Emperor wondering if anyone would have noticed if he had teleported out.

“I wonder what a Pretty Marine Chaplain would look like,” Grimnir mused, his hand over his mouth, looking contemplative.

Russ turned to look at him, astonished, his face pale. “Is…is that what you got from all that? You…you got the Pretty Marines?”

“Well, it’s a valid question,” Grimnir asked, keeping his face straight.

“You…I can’t even believe…you seriously,” Russ said, struggling to even speak. “You got, for all that…oh…you…damn it,” he said, trying to keep his anger intact under a rising tide of mirth, “you heard nothing but…but the damned…the…oh fuck you…” he managed before cracking up. The visible smirk on Guilliman’s face didn’t help. Russ stood there, doubled over, his arms wrapped around his heaving chest, gasping for air between peals of laughter. Tears poured down his face, and he nearly toppled over. Angelos managed a smile, while Grimnir let loose the chuckle he had been holding. Russ leaned against Grimnir for support, who rolled his eyes and grinned.

“All right, feel better, Lord Russ?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah…*snort* yeah, yeah, I…fuck,” he managed before being overcome with the giggles.

Roboute sighed. “Sir Bjorn, with that load of steam released, are you quite ready to speak about this civilly?”

“Fine. Ugh. Look, Grimnir, no offense, but I can’t take it anymore,” he started.

“So I gathered, Elder Bjorn,” Grimnir said, gingerly removing Russ from his shoulder. Russ finally got himself back under control, wiping tears of hysteria from his eyes. “I think that your complaints, though inappropriately delivered, hold merit. The Blood Ravens’ conduct, however,” he said, turning a glare loose on Angleos, whose faint smile vanished as if it had been dropped down a well, “is completely unacceptable.”

“I AGREE,” the Emperor said, apparently choosing to forget that he had already known of the dreadnought’s defection. “CHAPTER MASTER ANGELOS, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?”

“Nothing, my Lord God,” Angelos said glumly. “It is true. Nothing else to say.”

“VERY WELL,” the Emperor roared, “THEN IN LIGHT OF BJORN’S…TESTIMONY, I THINK IT WOULD BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOUR CHAPTER TO BEAR PENANCE FOR THIS LARCENOUS BEHAVIOR. I WILL PASS ALONG MY JUDGMENT WHEN I HAVE HAD TIME TO CONSIDER THE REPERCUSSIONS OF THE ACT. BJORN, AS THE AGGRIEVED PARTY, WHAT HAVE YOU TO ASK?”

“Nothing to ask, sire, I’ve been having the time of my life since I got out of that bloody tomb,” the dreadnought said, drawing an exasperated stare from Grimnir.

“ALL RIGHT THEN. ANGELOS, STAY WHERE I CAN FIND YOU. BJORN, GRIMNIR, DISMISSED. ROBOUTE, LEMAN, GO GET SOME REST. I’LL HAVE A JOB FOR YOU BOTH TOMORROW.”




At that very moment, Blackrippah the Gretchin-handler was running for his life. A tumbling ball of fire the size of a wartrukk was falling down the hill behind him, crushing the hunter gretchins he had had been shepherding in the forest. He risked a glance over his shoulder and shrieked, redoubling his effort…but it was too late. The blazing orb of pine sap, promethium stolen from his own trukk, and gretchin bits rolled straight over him, killing him instantly.

Fifty yards away, Jaghatai Khan laughed, rubbing pine sap off on his armor. The white, red, and grey armor he had worn when he had chased that damnable Dark Eldar hadn’t aged any more than he had, but he knew better than to use up what tiny, precious ammunition supply he had on these foolish Orks. This was almost too easy, anyway! Orks were fearsome warriors, but dumber than a bag of hammers, and he had thrown them into total and complete anarchy.

For a fleeting instant, the sky blackened, as an Ork fightabomba screamed overhead, leaving a thick trail of promethium smoke. The pilot flew low and fast over the trees, looking for whatever had been tearing their forces to ribbons, but to no avail.

An angry shout became audible as the aircraft swooped off, coming from the direction of the ravaged main camp. Jaghatai looked out over the camp, grinning, as the fireball he had made rolled straight over the Warboss’s parked tank, setting its fuel merrily ablaze. The Warboss screamed and threw his underlings at the tank, trying to order someone to put it out, but it was too late. The tank exploded, casting white-hot shrapnel, pools of burning fuel, and rapidly-bursting ammo all over the area, and making a fine mess of the pine-sap drenched ball of kindling, too, spreading the fire even further. Jaghatai smiled contentedly. Only one more step, he thought to himself, and then…freedom.

3-028-001-M42[edit]

Gabriel Angelos, Master of the Blood Ravens, sat on a sandbag just outside the outermost walls of Kasr Vortiga, stewing in his own misery. His stomach felt like it was curling in on itself, and he honestly couldn’t keep his hands from shaking even by gripping them on one another. He tried wondering what would happen, but quickly abandoned the process, finding speculation useless. He tried praying, but immediately recognized it: his God-Emperor was judging him directly, what good was prayer?

After nearly three hours, the Emperor appeared out of midair before him, the shockwave nearly knocking him backward, though his augmented inner ear allowed him to keep his balance. He immediately cast his gaze to the ground, apprehensive in the extreme.

“CHAPTER MASTER ANGELOS. THE STORY BJORN TOLD ME IS SOMEWHAT DISTURBING,” the Emperor said. Angelos waited long enough to know that he was finished speaking before levering himself up off the sandbag, then kneeling before the gigantic Emperor.

“I know. It is factual,” he said, his voice dulled by resignation and nerves.

“YES. HE’S TOLD ME A LOT. SPECIFICALLY, HE’S TOLD ME THAT YOUR CHAPTER HELPS ITSELF TO ALL MANNER OF INTERESTING WARGEAR, LEFT BEHIND AFTER BATTLES. DO YOU REALLY HAVE A SUIT OF CUSTODES ARMOR SALVAGED FROM THE HORUS HERESY-ERA WARSHIP YOU CAPTURED FROM THE WORD BEARERS?”

“Well…yes, my Lord God. The Traitors hadn’t found it, somehow, it was jammed into the bulkhead in the abandoned core of the ship,” Angelos said, his stomach knotting even more.

“FASCINATING, REALLY, NOW LISTEN UP.” The Emperor’s tone grew dark, and Angelos felt the hair on his neck stand on end. He couldn’t resist tilting his head back and looking at the Emperor’s face.

He needn’t have bothered; its utterly alien features were impossible to read. “CHAPTER MASTER ANGELOS, I HAVE ALLOWED THE BLOOD RAVENS A GREAT DEAL OF LATITUDE. YOU HAVE ALL MANNER OF ORGANIZATIONS THAT DEVIATE FROM THE CODEX ASTARTES, THOUGH CERTAINLY THAT IN AND OF ITSELF ISN’T A PROBLEM. WHAT I DO FIND PROBLEMATIC IS THE CREATION OF ROLES LIKE THE SECRET MASTERS AND THE PSYKANA, WHICH GO AGAINST THE RULES I ESTABLISHED AT NICAEA. YOUR LIBRARIANS HAVE DONE QUITE WELL OVER THE YEARS, PREVENTING FULL-SCALE DAEMONIC INCURSIONS, HERESIES, AND XENOS INVASIONS. HOWEVER, FOR EVERY TRIUMPH, YOU BRING RUIN ELSEWHERE.

“YOUR THIRD COMPANY CHIEF LIBRARIAN TURNS TO CHAOS, YOU KILL GUARDSMEN FOR DOING THEIR JOBS, YOUR CHAPTER MASTER HIMSELF MERGED WITH A GREATER DAEMON. ALL ARE THINGS WHICH YOU, PERSONALLY, GABRIEL ANGELOS, ARE NOT TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE, BUT THE PRACTICE OF STEALING FROM OTHER CHAPTERS LIKE A FLOCK OF MAGPIES IS THE LAST STRAW.”

Angelos squeezed his eyes shut and let his head hang in shame. “I understand, my Lord God. By what means shall I atone?”

“FOR NOW, I AM BINDING YOU TO THE DEATHWATCH,” the Emperor said, shocking Angelos into raising his head again. “THERE YOU WILL SERVE, ANONYMOUSLY, PROTECTING THE GALAXY FROM THE THREAT OF THE GLASIANS UNTIL THE BLUE DAGGERS FIND YOUR USE HAS EXPIRED. I WILL DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOU AFTER THAT.”

Angelos recovered quickly. “Blessed Emperor, I thank you truly. I will never falter in the defense of the Eastern Fringe from the foul xenos menace!” he declared, elated. He was to be forgiven!

“NOT SO FAST, ANGELOS. YOUR OWN RECORD OF SERVICE, THE STRENGTH OF YOUR OWN ACCOMPLISHMENTS, AND BJORN’S TRUST MEAN A LOT, FOR YOU, BUT YOUR ENTIRE CHAPTER IS SKIRTING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO HERESY WITH THEIR COLLECTION OF SORCEROUS KNOWLEDGE AND RELICS.”

Angelos found his elation dying right back down. “My Emperor, only ever have we served the Imperium, loyally and capably.”

“WHEN YOU’RE NOT TURNING TO CHAOS, STEALING FROM YOUR BROTHERS, KILLING IMPERIAL GUARD, AND USING SORCEROUS WEAPONS. DON’T PATRONIZE ME, SPACE MARINE,” the Emperor roared dismissively.

Angelos felt his temper flare at the blanket condemnation, but wisely held it in check. “My Emperor, I-”

“MY MIND’S MADE UP, ANGELOS,” the Emperor roared. “YOUR OWN PERSONAL CONDUCT IS BOTH EXEMPLARY AND UNPARDONABLE, AND THAT OF YOUR CHAPTER IS BOTH HEROIC AND APPALLING. I AM NOT GOING TO HAVE YOUR CHAPTER DISSOLVED, BUT KNOW THIS: EVEN ONE MORE INFRACTION FROM THEM – ONE MORE MEANINGLESS KILLING OF GUARDSMEN OR SORORITAS, ONE THEFT FROM OTHER CHAPTERS, ONE MORE LIBRARIAN FALLING TO CHAOS; AND YOUR CHAPTER WILL BE GENE-HARVESTED AND DECLARED DEAD. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?”

“Completely,” the Chapter Master said, bowing his head once more. “I shall inform my battle brothers, before I depart. To where shall I go?”

“VOID PLATFORM SIGMA OCTAN, CHAPTER MASTER,” the Emperor said, somewhat surprised by Angelos’ lack of protest. “THEY WILL EXPECT YOUR ARRIVAL. DISMISSED.” The Emperor vanished without another word.

Continued in The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Eight.