Who Watches Them

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Inquisitor Vincent Zucht paced dreamily across the grey marble floors of his office. Numerous private books lay in shelves lining the walls, each containing works incomprehensible to men without particular predilections. As his boots clicked upon the floor, timing the patient beats within his own chest, he rehearsed how he would open conversation with the guest who would soon be arriving. It was another member of the Ordo Hereticus, a man with hands deep enough in the cookie jar of administrative power that his very sugar-coated fingers could be mixed with butter and made into frosting.

The double doors of the office swung open loftily, held aside by a pair of very stern looking men of the type often hired to make a noteworthy impression. In fact, Zucht did make a mental note of their appearance, jotting down and underlining the phrase “unnecessary machismo” before storing away the memory for later. He was not a man who admired a boastful declaration of strength, and often found that disinformation, diplomacy, and, if necessary, precision were quite more than enough to handle the daily politics of his office.

Through the doors, tracking mud across the rug leading to Zucht’s desk, tromped a short, wide individual adorned with all manner of official flair. Inquisitor Warden, as the man was called, waved the two men at the door away with an exaggerated swat of the wrist. The bloated little man removed his feathered cap and strode directly towards Zucht with intent and meanness in his squinted eyes.

“Inquisitor Zucht!” Cried the presumably human man.

Warden held a greasy hand upwards towards Zucht, which Zucht took with only a moment of hesitation. Warden’s palms felt to Zucht as if they had recently been very intimate with buttered popcorn.

”Please, Warden, have a seat,” Zucht said, gesturing towards his desk.

Once the two men had made themselves comfortable, Zucht offered Warden a brandy, which Warden took amicably.

”So what do I owe this visit?” Asked Warden, “What’s so important that you had to speak with me privately?”

”It’s about the Ultramarines,” Zucht replied.

Warden’s face lit up so fast that the baby fat of his cheeks bounced.

“Ah! The best of the Imperium! What do you – do you want to ask them on a date or something? Too embarrassed to ask them yourself, so you want to send me? Ha!”

Zucht set his elbows on his desk and steepled his fingers. He gazed placidly at Warden until the smile vanished from his face and transformed first to embarrassment, then to disgruntled anger. Warden took a swig from his drink.

“Well what, then?” He asked, his vision preoccupied with his glass.

”I’ve been reviewing some records, and I notice they have quite a number of successor chapters.”

Warden waved his hand in the air spasmodically, as if attempting to dismiss Zucht’s statement with physical effort.

“Of course! They’re our very best chapter! No defects in their geneseed. No imperfections. What do you care for?”

”They are also the most publicly endorsed first founding chapter in the entire galaxy. So much so that the Imperium as a whole encourages their successors to emulate every aspect of the Ultramarines.”

Warden glared over his alcohol at Zucht.

”We even go so far as to encourage other chapters, including other first foundings and their derivatives, to do the same,” Zucht continued, “And I also find that we have devoted a massive amount of resources and energy to promoting the Ultramarines’ image across every planet in our holdings.”

Warden stood from his seat and pulled a comb from his jacket pocket to adjust his comb-over. As he finished setting the hairs into place he set his brandy down on the desk, then stood up as tall as possible, which was not much.

”Are you concerned that my efforts have been lacking in my sector?” Warden asked, his eyebrow arched to menace, “Because I can assure you, we have done all we can to convince the Emperor’s people to trust in His greatest gift to humanity!”

Warden was a very strong Adrentite, a philosophical group which believes that the Emperor will manifest His will in the form of a group of people or perhaps all of humanity itself. A native to Macragge, Zucht had heard rumors that perhaps Warden may have some blood relation to Marneus Calgar himself, however distantly. Apparently this translated to loyalty, and indeed Zucht’s records on Warden’s exploits were quick to reveal this fact.

”Relax, Inquisitor,” said Zucht.

He placed his hands in the air in an act of placation. Warden continued to stand, staring Zucht directly in the eye. It looked as if the man were considering whether he should inflate like a balloon full of hot air or sit down and inflate like a balloon full of Brandy. Eventually he resolved that the latter sounded like a more enjoyable option, and down he sat. Zucht watched him as he swiveled to the side in his chair and glared at Zucht from one eye just before finishing off the glass. If not for Warden’s filial ties, Zucht contemplated, Warden would unlikely be enjoying the finer points of Inquisitorial power.

”As they say, leadership is a responsibility,” Zucht commiserated, “and sometimes we are forced to make inquiries which are distasteful.”

Warden continued to glare, perhaps awaiting an apology. It would be a long wait, if that was the case.

”My reports indicate that you have a very – shall we say – vested interest in the Ultramarines chapter. You campaign on their behalf quite frequently.”

Warden’s expression softened at this assertion. He rocked his chair defensively back towards Zucht’s facing, then poured himself another glass of Brandy.

“Of course,” he managed before beginning his second round of the drink.

“You have often remarked that they are the antithesis of heresy.”

“Yes.”

“In public services, you have issued orders to tell Imperial citizenry that being as the Ultramarines is being as the Emperor.”

“Where is this all going?” Warden demanded.

Warden set his drink down with a thunk and met Zucht’s gaze levelly. Zucht’s face remained like stone.

“Do you know who watches them?” Zucht asked.

The question seemed to have been in a foreign language to Warden. The man tried raising his eyebrow, opening his mouth, closing it again, and then scrunching his face up into the shape of a fat raisin.

“What?” Warden sputtered.

“All of the first founding chapters are watched intently. They are of the utmost political importance to the Imperium because of their symbolic meaning to the Imperial people. If any one of them were to go rogue, the blow to morale across every sector they influence would be tremendous.”

Warden pushed his seat away from Zucht’s desk in disgust. There could be no mistaking his expression for anything but disdain and, if Zucht was any sort of judge, confusion. This was a hardliner fan of the Ultramarines indeed.

“Are you suggesting that the Ultramarines might turn traitor!?” Warden demanded.

It would not be impossible, Zucht reflected. There were some signs, but then there were always signs. What bothered him were the far-reaching implications of what may happen if the unthinkable were to occur. They called Calgar the “spiritual liege” of all Space Marines, and that could be quite dangerous. With more successors than any other chapter and more political power to boot, what would befall the Imperium if the Ultramarines defected? However, these were not musings to share with Warden, and Zucht took another route.

He laughed and patted Warden on the top of his greasy hands, pulling the man back towards him with a smile.

“No, of course not!” He said, “There are those who say that Calgar uses unpurified weapons stolen from a Chaos lord, but I imagine those are merely nasty rumors.”

Warden nodded.

“Yes, rumors.”

“And there are some people who are saying that Tigurius is as great a psyker as the Emperor Himself.”

Warden happened to be taking a sip of his brandy at precisely the right moment, as these things often occur, to snort it back into the glass.

“Yes, well. In some of my campaigns we do mention – “

“Right, right,” Zucht nodded in appreciation, “Sometimes the common man exaggerates official statements, but clearly the allegations are false. If they were true, then Tigurius would already be solving all of the problems with the Astronomicon. Or at least, that is what I would request he be used for.”

Warden attempted a blank stare. Zucht knew full well that Warden had released claims that Tigurius’s power rivaled the Emperor’s, and he had apparently not considered what such a thing would mean to more practical parties.

“What I am concerned about, however,” Zucht said, “Is the wellbeing of the Ultramarines.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Warden asked.

“Well, before the incident with the Tyranids, they were the only first founding chapter to have parade routes, but since then they have been striving to make recoveries.”

“The parade routes were for citizen morale,” Warden mumbled.

Some funny thoughts began to occur to Zucht, and he decided to pour himself his own glass of Brandy. His mind was percolating, and he was going to need to cool it off before he got himself into trouble.

“And while we are discussing Tyranids,” Zucht continued, “There are over a hundred different classified iterations of the Hive Tyrant genus. Did you know that, Warden?”

“So?”

“But we say that it was a – what – a ‘Swarmlord’ that defeated Maneus Calgar in battle? Presumably a supernaturally intelligent version of a regular Hive Tyrant?”

“Yes, well it would have had to be, Zucht. I know that ‘Swarmlord’ is fairly uncreative as far as names go, but it must have been a special creature.”

“Oh, of course. But how do we know? Was it wearing a name tag? Imagine, how dreadful if it were merely a regular Hive Tyrant.”

Warden sipped his brandy quietly.

“But yes, it would have had to be special, because Sicarius was able to defeat over ten thousand Orcs with a hunting knife by himself. Or was it one hundred thousand? I believe it depends on which planet you’re on.”

“The Ultramarines can not be defeated by an ordinary foe, Inquisitor.” Warden said with an edging coldness that appeared to be freezing the alcohol.

“Certainly, but we have their geneseed! There are literally thousands of Ultramarine-based chapters in existence at this very moment, and each should be no more or less special than the original Ultramarines themselves! Because there are so many Ultramarine chapters in operation, one might even say that they are the least special of any Space Marine forces. So what bad luck that the Ultramarines should be faced with the only ‘Swarmlord’ in the entire Tyranid fleet, yes?”

Warden took to his feet solemnly and placed his decorated hat back over his head.

“I believe it is time for me to go, Inquisitor,” he said guardedly, “Thank you for the brandy.”

Vincent Zucht shook the man’s hand and saw him to the door where his pet thugs waited. Once he left, Zucht considered his sullied rug. He’d have to call someone in to clean it, but at the moment he felt deflated. Zucht strode to the desk in his office and slumped into his leather chair. It didn’t have any skulls on it, and apparently this was a fashion faux pas for an individual of his station.

He sighed. It turned out that the man who kept up best with the Ultramarines was apparently nothing more than their biggest fan. Investigating a Space Marine chapter is never easy, especially with the first foundings, but this – this would be difficult indeed! The Ultramarines were perfect, or so it was said. But if such were true, how can it be that their successors are occasionally known to succumb to the ruinous powers? Why is it they alone are the only perfect warriors in a sea of death and failure? Who watches them to be certain they were as just as is claimed?

Zucht wondered, and he reflected that he would have to keep a sharp eye out for assassins until Warden forgot their little meeting. One thing was certain: there is corruption everywhere. One merely needs to turn over the right stones.