The War for the Emperor's Soul
Chapter 1 Opening
Ten thousand years of battle, and still the war rages on…
For ten-thousand years the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is master of mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls die every day. For whom blood is drunk and flesh eaten, human blood and human flesh, the stuff of which the Imperium is made.
Forget the power of science and technology, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned.
Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for myth and superstition have replaced knowledge and reason.
And forget the promise of peace, for there is none to be found amongst the cold stars. Only an eternity of carnage and slaughter.
* * *
Two sputtering candles were the only light in the room. They sat upon a battered and ancient desk pilled high with heavy volumes and cracked scrolls. A servo-skull floated down out of the dusty shadows and hovered over the display. And aside from the scratching of the digi-quills from the desk’s occupant, the gentle humming of the servo-skull’s gravity inverter was the only sound in the room. The figure hunched over the desk was old, whisps of long grey hair hanging down on his shoulders. Various cybernetic implants ran down from the back of his skull and under his collar, the bulges of cables and shunts clearly visible running down his arm under the heavy fabric of his robes. Two of his left fingers were missing, in their place were clattering metallic replicas, each appended with a white feathered quill supplied by an ink feed. With surprising grace and dexterity the two quills scratched and scribbled across page after page, tracing long flowing lines of elegant script. The man seemed totally engrossed in his work, his only companion the hovering, gilded skull that gently orbited him. Occasionally it chirped and whirred as the tiny cogitator inside its brainpan performed some calculation. In one eye socket was a telescopic lens that focused in and out on the figure and his work. The floating skull suddenly let out a tone of alarm and turned to the door. “I know, Maurice, I can hear very well, say thank you.”
Someone knocked on the door, quietly, as if they didn’t really want to be heard. The old man at the desk reached out. Hidden under a pile of parchment was a very old, very large pistol. With an oily click he cocked the hammer and pointed it at the door, still concealed under the sheaf of paper. The knock came a second time, and then the door opened a fraction. The man behind the desk tensed. It opened further and in stepped a thin figure who whispered “Enoch, are you still awake?” “By the damned Throne you daft idiot, I nearly blew you into the afterlife”, hissed the hunched figure. “Get in here and shut the damn door before the draft puts out the candles.”
The second man closed the heavy wooden door, having to put his shoulder into it as the ancient wood had warped with time, causing it to stick. When the latch finally clicked he sat down on a worn but comfortable leather chair in front of the desk. He leaned forward and lifted the papers, revealing the firearm. “Old age has made you paranoid,” he said with smile. “It’s not old age that’s made me paranoid, it’s living on bloody Terra for a score of years that’s done it.” Enoch learned back in his own chair, which creaked as he shifted his weight, and rubbed his arthritic writing hand. “Not to say old age hasn’t contributed in its own special way to my general feelings of misery and discomfort.” “Why did you summon me to Terra, Enoch? It’s a long way.” “Is your time so valuable that you can’t spare a brief moment to talk with an old friend, Sam? Let’s at least have a drink, it’s been so very long since last we met.” Enoch reached down and produced an unremarkable bottle of a clear liquid and two glasses “I swear Enoch, if that’s Victory Gin I’ll finish what time has started.” “Bah, this is the good stuff. Not that rubbish they issue to the plebs. Comes from Tilliea. I understand it’s made from potatoes, or something very much like a potato. In any case you could clean spoons with it, which is why I keep a bottle next to my bed as well. Samuel raised an eyebrow and took his glass. He smelled it. Cautiously. Then he took a sip. “Emperor damned,” he coughed, “you could strip paint with this!” Enoch threw back his glass and downed the contents in a single gulp. He sucked a long breath through clenched teeth, then exhaled while pouring himself another glass. “That is a possibility, yes.” “And you keep a bottle of this beside your bed?” inquired Sam. “Oh yes, it’s of great comfort at those unfortunate times when you awake with a start at some god awful hour and can’t remember who you are.” Enoch emptied his second glass and continued, “Not that it helps you remember, but after a bit of this you’re somebody else anyways.”
Sam put his glass aside on a nearby table, he was afraid further ingestion would result in blindness. It tasted like the bottom of a log pile. Enoch put the bottle aside and stood up. He shuffled over to a wooden cabinet and leaned down with a groan until his eye was level with the ocular scanner. With a click the doors popped open. The old man reached inside and drew out leather portfolio and a handful of data-stacks. “I called you here for two reasons” he said, as he dropped the portfolio on the desk and opened it. “This man has been sighted in the Calixus sector,” he said as he passed a picture across the desk. Samuel took it and studied for a moment. “I believe it’s one of the Fallen-“ “It’s Cypher.” Samuel interrupted. Enoch waved a dismissive hand, “We don’t know its Cypher. This man has called himself The Voice of the Emperor. Spreading anti-imperial propaganda, that sort of nonsense.” “Look at the sword Enoch” “I’ve studied the picture Samuel, and there are lots of swords in the galaxy.” “He never draws it.” Samuel muttered, lost in thought. “Not ever.”
Samuel Abraxis was no fool. He’d been in the Inquisition for the better part of forty years, and had learned to listen to his instincts. Right now his instincts were telling him that this was just the hint of something far greater.
“We can assume the Dark Angels are on the move then?” “Most likely,” Enoch replied, “The Tower of Angels has been sighted in the nearby Chirus Sector.” Enoch leaned forward. “You better find him before they do Samuel. And you better watch your back.” Samuel glanced up from the picture and gave Enoch a curious look. “Why exactly? What have you heard?” Enoch gave a long sigh. “This would be the second reason I called you. It’s Jonah, his health is failing.” Enoch trailed off, reading the other man’s expression. Samuel remained impassively blank. “How bad?” Samuel inquired. “Who knows? The evil minded bastard could live another two centuries, or he could drop tomorrow. It’s impossible to say, but there are already whispers of a successor.”
Samuel leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. For long moments the room was silent, save for the thrumming of Maurice somewhere above. Still looking up Samuel asked, “Who will be elected to replace him? Who will take the seat as the Bearer of the Seal?” “Who’s to say,” Enoch replied with a shrug. “Farson has a strong claim, and the backing of the Thorians and Xanthites. Draco has the support of the Amalathians and the Monodominants. It could go either way.”
Enoch got up and walked to the tall window. It was dark outside, the faint glow of the pilgrim’s processions was visible far, far below, snaking through the crowded streets all the way to the bulk of the Imperial Palace far on the horizon. Millions upon millions of souls making a pilgrimage that sometimes took many lifetimes, just to stand on Holy Terra. “It’s going to bad Sam. There will be blood before the dust settles on this one. Jonah had the political clout to keep Farson and Draco and the factions in check. Nobody could make a play against him.” Enoch turned from the window. “With him gone Sam, old debts are going to be settled. People are already sharpening their knives. It’s going to be like the old days, like the bad days. There are too many vendettas and secret agendas. Too many men plotting behind locked doors.” He sat back down at his desk and leaned across to Samuel.
“The Inquisition can’t survive another secular war. And neither can the Imperium. Everything’s too old, too brittle. You know how bad it is out there. One good push, and it could all come toppling down.” Samuel was gazing out the window, chin resting in his hand. “What do you need from me Enoch?” “Get away from Terra, after this you mustn’t return. It’ll give you an air of legitimacy if this goes how I fear it will.” “What are you planning?” “If open fighting breaks out Sam we’ll need somebody to intervene before things escalate. Somebody who’ll restore order and assume control.” Enoch stopped and gave Samuel a long hard stare. “Somebody who can make a hard choice, when need be.” “By the Throne Enoch, you can’t be suggesti-“ The old man stood up so fast his chair fell over backwards with a crash. “I bloody well am!” he shouted, “It’s not pretty and it’s not fair but it’s what damn well has to be done. I can’t do it Sam. I’m too old. Too old and too tired. It’s time for the younger and stronger men to take up this cup. If fighting breaks out somebody needs to be ready to run damage control. To salvage the Inquisition before it tears itself apart.” “To silence any witnesses,” Samuel shot back with a bitter tone. “The rest of the Imperium can’t know about this Sam. It’ll be a match to a powder keg.” An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Enoch finally broke it. “Can I count on you Sam?”
Samuel took a moment to respond, but he finally replied with a sigh “Yes, you can count on me, old friend” Enoch walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You were my best student Samuel,” he said, “I’m glad I can trust this to you. Now go find Cypher. And others who you can trust. Others who are loyal to the Throne, who haven’t been corrupted by the politics here on Terra.” Samuel gathered up the portfolio and clasped Enoch’s hand. “Be safe old man.” “And you Samuel, be wary. You’ve never taken a side Sam. Never aligned yourself with any of the factions. You’re an unknown variable to the them, and that makes you a threat.” Samuel just nodded, he had no more words to say. As he went to open the door, Enoch called out one last time. “When the time comes for you return to Terra Sam…” Enoch left the sentence hanging in the air, but Samuel didn’t finish it. He just gave a nod and closed the door behind him.
When Samuel had left, Enoch propped his chair back up and sat down. After long minutes he pulled out his bottle of clear liquid and poured himself a third glass. The servo-skull glided down and chattered. “I know Maurice,” the old man sighed as he drained the glass, “this is where it starts to go bad.”