To even dream of what had happened would have been the gravest, the unholiest of heresy.
Yet here we were, with the fact accomplished handed to us, and branded in too many souls for the Inquisition to ever keep up with.
Ignorance had been the shield of the masses for thousands upon thousand of years, preserving their mind and souls from the horrors and tentations of the great enemy. And here it laid, either shattered or turned against ourselves, uncaring of the stalwartness of our faith. Undismisable, Irrepressible.
For amongst the survivors of what would come to be known as the Scorching Revelation, despite the revulsing obscenity of the event itself, a hope, so terrifying that even the most zealous of believers dared not let it pass their lips began to fester :
"The Emperor has returned. He walks among us."
For a moment it seemed as if time itself had stopped.
Then the sound of auramite armor hitting stone filled the cavernous chamber, reverberating on the great pillars and walls of the room, as the Custodes kneeled as one before their master. Guilliman alone remained standing, his many senses, natural and unnatural, taking stock of his surroundings with factual efficiency, yet daring not to take his eyes off the golden fires in the orbs of his Lord Father.
For this was not the throne that he had seen when he had last communed with the Carrion Lord. No, the throne of then had been a sprawling complex of building-sized power coils and grime covered mechanisms, arcing lightning and scattering vapors. A city in and of itself in which thousand of Mechanicus magi had labored daily to fix the constantly breaking down device, muttering prayers to the omnissiah at every corner, under the shadow of the silent Hetaeron Guards, the Emperor's companions whose armor had long been scorched black from their constant exposure to the necrotics energies of the throne.
This was not that throne. Though altered and fused to it's marble and iron twin, this was what the throne had looked like in the lastest days before Horus' heresy and Magnus' folly, when the Emperor had first stood upon. When the Human webway project had still been the secret hope of humanity, rather than the bleeding wound at the heart of the Imperium, as if in it's return the Emperor had brought back the heart of the palace with him.
And it was not just this room. From the darker depths of the palace to the Eternity gate, the entirety of the Sanctum Imperialis had been reverted to its era of glory, the custodes that he had encountered upon his arrival reporting reality changing underneath their very feet as they rushed ahead to the help of their genesire. Laboratories of ancient archeotech, long destroyed to give room to the infernal machine, had been restored, their content a pristine prize that had to be kept from the raving mechanicus priests by force. Vaults of long forgotten artefacts had resurfaced, their wards still as potent as the day they had been laid, alongside antique weapons and devices which only the Emperor and his then small cadre of trusted adepts had known the use and purpose.
Works of art of the golden era, defaced by time and the constant pollution of Terra had found a new shine, the many spires and towers of the sanctum seeming to have been reborn and cleansed of the damage brought forth by their stagnation. The great rockrete fortifications, erected by Dorn and his sons to fend the tides of the arch-traitor's army had undid themselves, revealing architectural wonders in a hundred of styles, once long collapsed and remodeled by necessity, creating a chasm of beauty and nobility in a forest utilitarian orbital defences and overcrowded hab-spires.
Yet all was not as miraculous as it seemed, for in these pieces of grand architecture and monuments to humanity's arts and creativity laid something that hadn't been there before. A new shine and a shadow. A low, imperceptible pull, a sense of individuality to each stone, each piece of metalwork that extended beyond the material. A discreet yet ever present hint that this Sanctum, this fortress of gold and stone, hadn't been restored for the profit of it's human monarch alone.
And so the Avenging Son remained standing, torn between his growing hope that his father had returned and the terrifying prospect that he would have to do the unspeakable to free him from the tainted flesh in which he now stood clad of, the flaming sword in his clenched fist neither rising nor falling.
For it was his father's soul that resided in this body, that much was as undeniable as the sun was at its zenith. The very light of his presence in the warp shined like a thousand stars, reverberating in the heart of humanity at a level so inextricable that even most aberrant of abhuman, the most stripped down of transhuman would instantly recognize the being before them as the one that had painfully guided their species through the dark for longer than men could remember.
Superhuman thoughts kept firing one after another faster than one could have ever hoped to follow, keeping him rooted in place as he tracked the descent of his primogenitor down the long set of wide stairs that led up to the dual throne. His psychic shields remained in place still as the robed figure of his Lord slowly crossed the distance to the contingent of kneeling Custodes and his son, a look of schooled if relaxed neutrality on his otherwise hard and regal features.
Only when the two regents stood face to face did he dare to lower his defences in the immaterium, his own expression a hard and strained one that had, to the augmented mind and eye at least, growing difficulties in containing both his hope and fears.
For he did feel fear, then, or rather the closest thing a Primarch could feel to fear.
Yet the touch from a single tendril of his father's mind was enough to put most of those fears to rest, and confirm some of them with grim certainty...
The walk from the inner chambers of the Throne to the surface was just as surreal as it was solemn.
Behind the Emperor, three steps removed from Captain-General Trajann Valoris and the Primarch of the XIIIth, Valerian, Shield-Captain of the Hykanatoi formed the leftmost inner edge of a diamond shaped defensive formation around his sire. Twenty golden warriors comprised the silent procession, their march opened by the lumbering steps of the Moritoi dreadnoughts, echoing through the empty halls.
Above them, the great shadow of the Borealis-Pallas still stretched, the towering Warlord-Sinister titan turning its back to them, it's great Sinistramanus Tenebrae canon and plasma annihilators still primed and aimed at the now closed gate to the hall of the golden throne. Still casting the aura of abject terror it's kind was known for into the heart of all but the nulls, and those whose will rivaled the Emperor's own sons, its featureless faceplate inflexible in its vigil.
Fear was a sensation that was surgically removed during the ascension process of a Custodes, but if Valerian had to guess what was the closest thing to fear his kind still possessed, then the constant hyper-awareness of every potential threat, every attack vector around him, the accelerated routines of his internal auspex and tensed fibro-muscles of his battleplate would probably be it.
Yet even without the oppressing weight of the great god-machine his senses would have still been as sharp. The mere notion that their Lord walked among them would have been enough to push any of the ten thousand to the furthest heights of their focus and capabilities.
Something that none of them would have even dared to hope to ever happen.
Still, walking behind the Master of Mankind himself, Valerian couldn't help but feel a perfidious sense of inadequacy.
The Emperor had touched his mind as he had passed them, had touched each of their minds as his gaze met the eyes of each of his golden warriors, a warm and regal voice uttering their name in a formal yet almost familiar salutation.
But it shouldn't have been them standing there before him, an almost ragtag group of warriors, the ones closest to the Imperial Dungeon, who had rushed through it's shifting walls and corridors as reality realigned itself with a past long gone from mortal memories. Gene-wrought muscle and overloaded servos still burned and hissed with the recent memory of their mad dash, having propelled each one of them clear off the speed of sound as their battleplate's augurs worked frantically to conciliate present routes with the echoes of long outdated blueprints.
It shouldn't have been them, an eclectic assembly of Hykanatoi, Moritoi, Tharanatoi and Kataphraktoi, but the Emperor's own companions, the Hetaeron Guard, whose armor had been long scorched black by their constant exposure to the Throne's noxious emanations. A mark of honor, a testament to their commitment to a vigil from which there was no true end.
The most elite warriors of the Ten Thousand, who had stood by His side for more than a thousand years each. Warriors from whom none had heard a single word, nor seen a single trace, as it was for all who had been in the sanctum when the Vision began.
And so it fell to them to escort their Lord through the long labyrinth of tunnels depicting the history of humanity, a path of pilgrimage that linked the depth of the Imperial Dungeon to the surface of the sanctum imperialis, their black cloaks shifting slightly with a breeze that shouldn't be there, the color an accusing reminder of their most grievous failure.
Guilt had a different meaning to a Custodes. There was no self-pity, nor shame for there was no ego to bruise, no pride to wound. In their place was only an urge, an injunction to do better, or make sure their failings did not compromise their duty. Such was the reason for which the Custodes retired even though time slid upon each of them like water upon adamantium, letting go of their armor for the cloak of the Eyes of the Emperor. Nothing but the peak of their capabilities was acceptable.
And yet, they had failed their master. Again.
They had stood impotent as the psychic Vision had unfolded, their sight impaired by impossible colors, tastes, smells and sounds as their senses struggled to comprehend what it was they were witnessing, all the while pure knowledge of the events was burned in their psyche, as it was into those of any being possessing a soul or touched by the warp.
The end of the Vision, as both their Master and the abomination had been moored and sealed into their vessels on the throne, would have been a relief, if it hadn't meant that they were still stuck behind the great doors, without any means to shield their Lord from the threat.
Valerian didn't know who had called for one of the kings of terror to be roused, nor which path the titan warlord had used to reach them so quickly, the sound of the earth quaking under its feet and it's world-shattering klaxon heralding it's arrival long before it ever came into view.
He only knew that a weapon capable of erasing reality itself and shattering worlds with the weakest of it's salvos had joined their assault and rescue operation in one.
And still they had failed
Valerian lightened his grip upon his guardian spear, reacting in a fraction of a millisecond to the microfracture he had caused upon its shaft, lest he shatter it then and there, and refocused on countering the thousands of attacks his mind envisioned each new seconds of their long walk to the surface.
They had to be better.
Utter and complete failure.
To have known the state of his imperium through the eyes and experience of the souls that he sheltered from the ruinous powers had been one thing. To behold it with his own physical senses was another entirely.
Standing upon the highest balcony of the tower of Hegemon, above the great gathering Hall in which the majority of the ten thousand were being assembled, the one that renegades and traitors had called Carrion Lord, Corpse Emperor, and a slew of other names far less decent yet still apt could not help but weep silently.
Beyond the walls of the palace until the horizon was nothing but crude and inordinate towers and mega-structures cramped and piled up upon another, nearly crumbling under the weight of decrepit ornaments, banners and religious iconography.
The once blue skies of Terra were hidden behind a grey smog of pollution so heavy even sunlight could not entirely pierce it. Even from here he could smell the decay of the entire planet, ozone, grease and rust filled the air so much that no other smell would be perceivable to baseline humans.
Over the din of distant machinery and constant vox broadcasts rose the clamor of riots and uprising, only matched by the constant cracks of weapons as the mortal guards of the palace violently repressed the desperate souls seeking entry. His superhuman hearing allowed him to pick each individual voice with ease, his mind sifting through the thousands upon thousands of desperate or hopeful prayers and supplications in less than picoseconds. He heard the crunch of bones and cries of pain as the unlucky were trampled by the masses. He smelled the mixing of incense with blood as delirious priests and ecclesiarchs got shot down at the gates while proclaiming divine right and protection. Heard the revying of chainswords and the heavy clack of bolters as both the sons of Dorn and Sororitas cut their ways through the crowd, either to protect their quarry or come to the help of the defenders, soon joined by the smell of promethium and charred flesh.
He could have stopped it, then and there. All he would have to do would be to extend his mind to them and command them so, and they would have all gone to their knees in reverent adulation. Yet he balked at the idea. He was their God-Emperor, returned. The God-Emperor of the most heinous regime and religion humanity had ever known, differing only from the cults of the cancers in the warp by the intent of its cause and the altars of its constant sacrifices.
His eyes scanned the horizon once more as the golden tears on his face evaporated in miniature nuclear fire, his jaw clenching as he tasted the bitter fruits of his work and failings. He dared not yet extend his senses beyond the material, for fear that the laughter of the thirsting things would make him slip and act rashly, raw as his restored humanity still was.
The ghostly body embracing him from behind, the delighted whispers of hatred and twisted affection slipping in his ear at the smallest lapse in his countenance were aggravating enough as they were.
With a psychic pulse the Master of Mankind pulled back the chains of the youngest of Chaos, arcane mechanisms and locks woven from his very being moved, confining the raging storm pulling the strings of the vessel from within to a path away from the Materium.
The price of his peace was paid by a petulant jab of pity and guilt as his eyes crossed the lost gaze of a child servitor, dozens of kilometers away. It's face was pale and inexpressive as it mindlessly wiped the grime off the widows outside of a high tower, suspended to a railing by dilapidated mechadendrites, long forgotten to its never ending task by its uncaring masters.
Discarding the human emotion as best he could, he turned around, coming to face the assembly of golden warriors. A look and a brief nod from the Captain-General told him that all those whose duty didn't prevail over their presence were in attendance. Next to him, Guillimane stood, his earlier apprehension and uncertainty replaced by the grim countenance and bitterness that had plagued him ever since they had last spoken.
"We may yet prevail" began the Emperor, with a voice that had born legends and commanded the death of worlds.
"Our dream of an humanity stripped of the paranoia and mysticism that had for so long plagued it's way to progress and ascendency may lay shattered at our feet. The imperium that we built, the bastion of knowledge and unity that should have been the groundwork of the Shining Path may be no more than a bloated, decaying husk of its old self. Enemies assail us from every corner of the galaxy, be they from inside or outside of humanity. Be they traitors or unwitting gears in machinations they cannot begin to grasp. Be they lords of terror or crawling parasites inflated with power and ego."
"Yet still humanity endures, raging on and on against the dying of the light. Sacrificing trillions so that billions can live to see another day. Across the stars, men and women decree the cullings of millions to spare worlds the final sentence"
"No more." He continued, finding the eyes of each of his closest allies
"We will reclaim what has been lost. We will rebuild what has been destroyed. We will bring back knowledge of what has been forgotten."
"In the grim darkness of this twisted future, you will be my spears of light."
"None shall question your word, for it is with mine that I entrust you. You, who gave yourself entirely to me, so that you could become the best weapons that mankind could forge, be it against ignorance or the multitude of threats that would see us shredded apart"
"I know each one of you. Even in my deathless vigil, you were the pillars upon which I could grasp reality. Amongst you stand the greatest poets and philosophers that mankind ever bore, the greatest minds and strategos one could hope for, clad in flesh whose design was only bested once"
"Remove the black from your garb. I am returned, and I bring with me an undertaking that you alone can carry out."
"You are my spears of reason and knowledge thrust against mysticism and paranoia."
"They will bow down before you, and call you avatars of the Master, asking for my grace with sacrifice and offerings. It is your task to teach them to stand up, show them that it is in humanity and it's potential they must have faith, that no thing or man that demands worship is worthy of anything"
"Remove the black from your garb. The time of grief must pass. Now comes the time of reconquest, a reconquest of the mind, so that the soul may be mended !"
He looked at them, then. Beyond the flesh, and past the walls of the palace, to every and all that had stood vigil for ten thousand years. Be they among those present in the grand Hall with him, down in the darkest catacombs of Terra, or far away, defending the throne from threat yet to come, all had heard his message.
Though they knew the gruesomeness of the task ahead, the sheer folly of the undertaking, none protested. Across all of mankind territory, in perfect synchronicity, the butt of ten thousand guardian spear hit the ground. Ten thousand fisst clad in intricate auramite hit their chest, head bowed to the only authority they would ever acknowledge.
And in the shadows, thousands more of Eyes did the same.
Guillimane alone remained unbowed. His fingers nearly bleeding as he gripped the flaming sword at his hip, his eyes remaining fixed on the distant, golden orbs of his father.
He dared not hope.
He could not.
A/N: And there we have it. After ten thousand years, the second chapter of this story, which is technically chapter 1.5, as this is still mostly expository material.For those wondering where the hell I have been, the answer is that I made the fatal mistake of doing my research using the method of revered loremaster Luetin09. Which implies reading books. Lots of books.And on that particular note, if you ever want to catch glimpses of who the Emperor was as a person, or any clue to his nature, I recommend skipping Master of Mankind entirely. You'll get ten times more insight from the opening dialogue of Valdor, birth of the Imperium than in the entire book.Do also note that the author of Manager of Mankind had free reign from GW on to reveal or not on the Emperor in the book, but chose to reveal nothing because he thought it was boring/lame to do so. And while I was initially mad at him for that, in retrospective there was no one more fitting to write that book.Amazing things like science remain amazing even once explained, when the understanding doesn't bring even more wonder. If the wonder only existed because of the mystery, the that thing never had any worth to begin with.He could have led the fanbase into an age of enlightenment, wonder and progress, but instead only brought about mysticism, uncertainty and stagnation.Ironic, is it not ? (Yes I wrote that with Palpatine in mind) Anyway, the next chapter should give you a more personal look at things, and characters. I haven't yet decided if we'll go take a look at the Prince's court reaction before or after digging in ecclesiastorial antics and politics. In any case, you can safely expect a lower score on the Balzac scale from now on.