Locking the Back Door (Fanfic)

Posted by Matt Ragan | Posted in ,

It's been several years since I wrote any kind of fiction, much less 40K fanfiction. I had a few ideas bouncing around in my head I wanted to explore and now that I knew the names of which characters were in what positions I figured I'd give it a go. I had found a few excerpts from Ian Watson's "Space Marine" and a few other tidbits here and there in my research that just begged for a bit of elaboration (the ritual of dueling, the Germanic Junkers feel, Lo Chang's fiery personality vs. Pugh's thoughtful one, Pain Gloves, etc.).

In honesty the one aspect of my chosen chapter I really dislike is their penchant for Pain Glove usage. I wanted to curtail that in a logical way for my own vision of the Chapter. I felt such a change warranted at least some fanfic rather than a line simply saying "My Imperial Fists don't do that, so there!"

Locking the Back Door

By Matt Ragan

(original material copyright 2010 by author, all 40K intellectual property belongs to Games Workshop and no challenge is intended by its use)

The near mindless servitor brought Vladimir Pugh another Gerriptes of hot Apfelwein and removed the previous one; now cold and only half finished. The Master of the Imperial Fists barely noticed the presence on his desk of the finely cut Jermani crystal. It was faceted with lozenge shapes; like diamonds each caught the light and accentuated the gently steaming golden liquid within. As usual, Master Pugh was deep in thought. His daily battle was one of coordination. He juggled the demands of an eternal war against the enemies of the mankind; with the mind numbing minutiae of his vast, complex, and ancient organization. His organization was nothing less than a full chapter of the Adeptus Astartes – the Space Marines. Vladimir felt the weight command more keenly than many other Chapter Masters because he felt the need to do much of it himself. The concept of ‘delegation’ was almost anathema to his personality. A student of the Imperial Fists gene-seed might say it had to do with the Fists need to self-punish manifesting itself. “Gene-seed” was a term used to describe not just the organ transplants that turned a mere human into a superhuman marine; but also the “genealogy” and “inherited traits” of those who shared a particular gene-seed. Every chapter of the Adeptus Astartes used a particular lineage of gene-seed, passed down from marine to marine dating back to the Primarchs; the legendary first generation. In the case of the Imperial Fists; this individual was named Rogal Dorn.

Master Pugh made his decision and spoke aloud to the autoquill. “Master He’stan, we are of one mind in this matter. We would be honored to once again fight alongside the mighty Salamanders. Captain Dirae will be dispatched immediately. Strike Cruiser Justitia Fides and the Third Company will provide the fist if your chapter would be so kind as to provide the forge and hammer.”

The autoquill was only seconds behind Vladimir’s spoken voice. A black feather, held in a desiccated cybernetic hand, scratched out the final sentence. This autoquill was much like any other except that the biological components belonged to a now “dead” vassal of the Imperial Fists. He was a scribe that had served faithfully and devotedly in life who had; upon his death, requested that a duty be found for him so he could serve the Imperial Fists forever. His request was granted and he had been rebuilt as a servitor autoquill. Here in the Chapter Master’s sanctum and office, Old Tovey continued to faithfully transcribe the words he heard.

Vladimir at last sat back and drank some of his warm Apfelwein; savoring the smell of blended apple, cinnamon, and lemon. The extremely small alcohol content was so miniscule that none would make it past his Preomnor; the Space Marine “pre-stomach” that filtered out toxins. He grinned at his last comment to the Forgefather of the Salamanders Chapter; subtle wordplay being one of his guilty vices. He took another sip and then removed the parchment from the autoquill. He read it over again to ensure accuracy (which of course it was, Old Tovey rarely erred in life and even less so as a servitor) and then rolled it up; sealing it with some dribbled hot wax from a nearby red candle and his signet.

He handed the parchment to the servitor that had brought him his beverage; “Take this down to be sent via astropathic communication to Prometheus in the Nocturne system immediately.”

The servitor bowed and left. Vladimir now considered his next task. Chief Librarian Kempla had requested an appointment with both the Chapter Master as well as the Master of Sanctity regarding a matter of “utmost importance.” Because he had requested an appointment; Vladimir knew that it was not matter of immediate life-and-death. Obviously such a danger required no such formality. He glanced at the chronometer; he had several minutes before the meeting. Too little time remained to start on a different task, so instead he enjoyed the last of his still warm and fragrant beverage; a rare pleasure especially for Vladimir. The taste of food hardly mattered to him; mainly the texture and smell. He had long ago removed his taste buds as an act of penance.

Precisely at the appointed time; a disembodied voice announced the arrival of Chief Librarian Kempla and Brother Lo Chang, the Master of Sanctity. “Have them enter,” Pugh said to the door-servitor setting down his now empty Gerriptes. The portal to his sanctum office then opened to allow entry to two of the most respected (and also feared) beings in the Chapter. A Chief Librarian of the Adeptus Astartes was a psyker who commanded vast mental powers that could alter reality, sway battles, and strike dead lesser beings with but a glance. The Master of Sanctity was a Chaplain with a diligence and fanatic devotion (to both the Chapter and the tenants of the Primarch’s teachings) so unwavering that it could keep the chapter free of Chaos taint for centuries. Of course, that the Master of Sanctity was also one of the most capable warriors in the chapter and responsible for overseeing penance and purification helped. These were the two beings that now stood before the desk of Vladimir Pugh. “Please be seated brothers,” he said with a motion of his hand to a pair of ancient gilded adamantium chairs.

The Chief Librarian, as was his custom, got directly to the point and was the first of the guests to speak. “I am concerned that we have collectively left the back door to our spiritual fortress unguarded.”

The carefully chosen words had a powerful affect on the Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists. For thousands of years, the Imperial Fists were famous for their defenses of bastions, fortresses, and resistance to siege. Some of their earliest battle honors involved both their breaking of Chaos fortifications as well as creating impregnable forts to defend the Imperium of Man. Such a statement was very nearly like an accusation of abject failure of the most fundamental kind. However, Vladimir Pugh was neither rash nor a hothead; he was careful in thought, word, and action. Also, he respected Chief Librarian Kempla a great deal. So though he felt the telltale tingling of anger at the base of his neck, his response was measured.

“In what way, Chief Librarian Kempla? As you may well suppose, such a statement has gained my full attention.”

“And mine as well,” said Brother Lo Chang. The Chaplain; hailing originally from the Panpacific regions of old Terra, wore a simple black cassock decorated with the emblems of his office. The only olive skin visible was his heavily scarred round face; Lo Chang’s helmet had once failed him in battle and his visage was marked with deep craterlike pits and the faintly crisscrossed lines of dueling scars. His naturally slanted eyes glared hard at the Librarian.

The Librarian looked at the autoquill dutifully scratching out what had been said. “I request Master’s Seal,” and looked back at Vladimir Pugh.

Now very curious, Pugh nodded. “Tovey… Chapter Master’s Seal.” The autoquill stopped writing on the current parchment upon its platform. Gears then began to whir and click as a heavy, bound leather tome was elevated into place. Master Pugh inserted an ancient bone and ceramite key into the lock. Once unlocked, the autoquill then opened the libram to a fresh page. This was the Chapter Master’s Sealed Tome, now on volume CCCXII; that contained matters so private that only other Chapter Masters of the Imperial Fists could read them. Vladimir then looked back at both Kempla and Lo Chang, “Very well, both of you are now under the Master’s Seal, on your honor nothing said will again leave this room.”

Both nodded and the Chief Librarian spoke again. “I have concluded a recent study of, and into, our practice of using the Pain Glove. I reviewed historical records, policies, practices, and also worked with a few of our Techmarine brothers to review usage logs of our equipment. Based on trends, I believe we have crossed a dangerous threshold from using the device as a form of self-purification and conditioning… into the realm of courting the attentions of the ruinous powers of Chaos; specifically those of the Lord of Dark Delights who I shall not mention by name here.”

“A WITCH DARES ACCUSE US OF TAINT?” Chaplain Lo Chang had leapt to his feet, knocking over the heavy gilded chair in which he had been sitting, and was glaring with barely leashed fury at the Chief Librarian. Unlike the Chapter Master, Lo Chang was a man of deep passions. As a Chaplain of the Adeptus Astartes he wore his emotions and zeal on his sleeve for all to see. Following so closely a veiled accusation of failure by the Imperial Fists as a chapter; this was an even more damning accusation – especially to the Master of Sanctity. The Chaplain Corps was responsible for ensuring the spiritual purity of the Chapter. “YOU SUGGEST WE, THE SONS OF DORN, THE HEIRS OF THE SEVENTH LEGION, THE PRAETORS OF THE EMPEROR HAVE FALLEN UNDER THE SWAY OF CHAOS?!” Brother Lo Chang was very nearly frothing, some spittle flying from his lip as he yelled.

The Chief Librarian turned his head and looked up at the standing Chaplain with eyes that crackled with psychic energy. His response would have to be selected carefully. For a Librarian, to be called a witch - a psyker not trained by the Imperium and usually under the control of Chaos - was a vile insult. Insults in the Imperial Fists were resolved with sword duels. They rarely resulted in death; the ceremonial tungsten épée usually leaving nothing more than a scar upon the cheeks. However, they took time and to indulge in it would utterly ruin the secrecy he was striving for by requesting Master’s Seal. As Lo Chang stood over him breathing furiously, awaiting his reply, Kempla took a moment to let go of his anger at the insulting word. The purple lightning faded from his cold, grey eyes.

“No, Brother, I do not. I have been unable to find any trace of actual taint… yet. However, I excuse not myself in my accusation of negligence. It is to address this matter I requested this meeting. Though, once it is concluded, I will certainly be happy to meet you in the Arena Restricta if that is your wish.”

Vladimir spoke up, “Master of Sanctity Lo Chang… may we continue?” By using his full title with the faintest stress on the word ‘Master;’ it was a subtle reminder that Lo Chang was no longer a mere Company Chaplain.

Lo Chang stood erect, exhaled, set his chair back in order and turned to face the seated Librarian. He then saluted Kempla and spoke, “I apologize for my ill chosen word. You grace me with your show of restraint. I thank you for the lesson. I am in your debt.” These were the highly ritualized words of the Imperial Fist Honor Duel, spoken by he who was acknowledging fault (or had lost the duel regardless of actual fault).

Chief Librarian Kempla stood up and returned the salute, “Nay brother, I am in yours.”

Were this the Arena Restricta, the dueling ground, at this point two steins, one red and one black would be brought forth by the umpire. The duelists would then drink them in one draught and then smash them together. However since it was not, Master Pugh spoke again, “Let us then continue this meeting; afterwards you should both claim your drinks.”

Both again sat, Chaplain Lo Chang folding his arms into the sleeves of his cassock. The expression of annoyance on his scarred face clearly indicated that he intended to just listen and not speak.

Kempla looked back at his Chapter Master and gravely explained, “The records show that Commander Drakken, your predecessor, made a change in the way Pain Gloves were to be administered. Prior to his tenure, the full torso Pain Gloves were used only at the request of the penitent and only under the authority and direct supervision of a Chaplain. To facilitate a more personal penance, the restrictions were removed and Brothers were allowed to self-administer.” The Librarian looked over at the Chaplain who nodded in agreement with the historical summary presented.

“In the years since I have been able to show not just a gradual increase in Pain Glove usage, but an exponential increase in both frequency and duration. I know that for many it has stopped being used as an actual penance; rather it has moved to the realm of custom and mere ritual. Our Primarch Rogal Dorn found enlightenment in the Pain Glove; but our vision of its original purpose is clouded. In fact, in some of the brethren I have come to detect the faintest sensations of pleasure when enduring the searing pain of the glove. It is this last that is the most troubling. At this stage, the Feaster of Pain gains the most by our actions – not us. I believe that we have so far stayed pure because the Ruinous Powers have not been looking for a doorway past our defenses here in the heart of our own home.”

The Librarian had stopped for a moment to let his Commander ponder what he had just said; he was familiar with Vladimir’s thoughtful pauses. Pugh mentally reviewed what he just heard. Had it become mere custom? He himself had just used the device this morning. The Pain Glove was an ancient machine. It covered every square inch of skin and subjected the user to the excruciating sensation of simulated burning flesh. He had endured one full minute as penance for being late to an appointment with the Master of Rituals at the firing range. It was to remind him to be more diligent. He had not spoken to anyone about it; he had simply entered the Pain Glove as always… self-administered. He had not confessed, had not discussed it with a Chaplain or possibly sought a different way to remedy his tardiness. Now that he thought on it; he was late because he was dealing with a communication from the Fifth Battle Company engaged in a campaign against Orks. His tardiness was completely justifiable… perhaps the Librarian’s words had the ring of truth after all. He nodded to himself and looked back up at Kempla.

The Librarian continued, “I requested Master’s Seal because I know our nature. Were this to be common knowledge we would as a Chapter be wracked by feelings of guilt. Our need to self-castigate would drive us to ensure that we were utterly free of even the slightest trace of taint. I believe that such a mass reaction would at last bring our unguarded rear door to the attention of the The Dark Prince.”

Pugh could not help but nod in agreement. He knew that was indeed what would happen to his fellow battle brothers. It would cripple the chapter as an effective fighting force for an unknown amount of time. This matter would definitely remain under the Master’s Seal.

Kempla leaned forward and went on, “With your and the Master of Sanctity’s approval, I suggest a course of action. Allow the Chaplains again to be the guardians of this portal. Once again require confession and a Chaplain’s supervision of the administration of the Pain Glove. My research has shown that in our early days, the full ritual was more elaborate. The sins would be written upon parchment. This was then burned after being read by the Chaplain during the confession. The penitent would meditate in the Solitorium wearing a cassock of sackcloth and daub his face with the ashes of the parchment. After a specified amount of time of meditation as dictated by the Chaplain, only then would the penitent enter the Pain Glove. Afterwards came a ritual cleansing of the ash and other filth. It is the suggestion of the Librarium we heed the wisdom of our forebears and return to this older practice.”

Pugh looked at the Chaplain. “Well?” The silence was broken only by a scratching autoquill.

Lo Chang didn’t answer for a few long moments. The Librarian’s words had struck like a Thunderhammer. He had a personal habit of listening to the confessions of his fellow battle brothers while seated upon a pain stool. He told himself that this was done so that he might better feel the pain of the penitent’s sins. In truth, he rather enjoyed the sensation after all these years. Did that mean that he, a Chaplain of the Imperial Fists, the Master of Sanctity… had he felt the faint touch of Slaanesh? No of course not. Nevertheless, he wanted to enter the Pain Glove right now to purge these feelings; to burn them from his skin. If he could feel this sense of inadequacy and want to self-castigate immediately to exorcise the doubt; how would it affect the Chapter? The witch was right… damn.

“Agreed with one obvious modification; Chaplains cannot authorize their own Pain Glove sessions myself included. Additionally, I will ask the Master of the Arsenal and the Chief Victualler to go through Phalanx and gather up any lesser pain devices like chairs, stools, and cilice belts.”

Pugh stood and nodded, “Good, now let’s get this done. I want this back door sealed. No fortification held by Imperial Fists will ever fall from negligence on our part. You are dismissed Brothers.”

Lo Chang stood up alongside the Librarian and saluted, all repeating the Imperial Fist battlecry, “Primarch-Progenitor, to your glory and the glory of him on earth!”

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