“All theatres are theatres of war. All war must be theatrical.”
The tired eyes of Imperial Governor-General Leonard Renn, weary of reasoning with the psykers that made up his current counsel, moved his hand to his face and gently pinched the bridge of his nose. Normally, the presence of psychic intervention would be the cause of such headaches as the General was currently experiencing, but he would cite the psykers’ insipid babbling as reason this time. He couldn’t truly understand them; that much was clear. What was clear, though, was that no man in this room was safe, and that the psykers were currently doing jack all to fix that problem.
A stirring of thoughts, bereft of emotion but filled to the brink with reason, entered the room. They swirled around the air, interlacing, connecting, before being either fulfilled or abandoned. In warpspace, in the same unmarked location on the same unmarked planet, the former servant of Chaos that once led a great insurgency suffered. The lost souls of Abaddon the Despoiler, Araghast the Pillager, Eliphas the Inheritor – and more – all rippled through warpspace, tearing tremors in his psychic form and sewing them shut soon after. The servitor of Chaos had long since been laid to rest, his final thoughts of despair in knowing the truth of his race. This man was a convert of a peculiar nature; he was brought to Chaos through the Ruinous Powers, like all others, but was denied a guided recovery by the Adeptus Astartes. Instead, some part of his mind set out to free the rest – and succeeded. The sorcerer unshackled his mind from Chaos, and in doing so, condemned himself to eternal suffering; for once the forces of Chaos are denied you, they punish you.
And so it was that the Ruinous Powers of Chaos took hold of Heretic Azariah Kyras, former Chapter Master of the Blood Ravens, and punished him for his sudden lack of consignment. Kyras denied Chaos their way, and so Chaos took hold of Kyras, and turned him into a Daemon of nearly-unstoppable power. It was this Daemon that nearly slew the Blood Ravens Captain, Gabriel Angelos, who eventually became his replacement as Chapter Master. This Daemon’s death was unforeseen by the powers that be, however, as Blood Raven reinforcements led by Apollo Diomedes succeeded where Gabriel Angelos had failed. Without a physical form, Kyras was nearly freed from the persecution of Chaos – but he was promised an everlasting existence of pain, so that he may truly grieve and beg for his death. Such a contrived concept was one that the powers of Chaos truly relished. In the end, Kyras’ physical death meant little. It would be his psychic death that could truly offset the Ruinous Powers, for as he was exposed to the Warp directly, his powers grew. All he would need is the opportunity to use them…
Perhaps it was his interference that caused the psykers to be as distraught as they were. Needless to say, this helped the Imperial forces on Armageddon none, as the war-torn planet-turned-Orkish-Valhalla was constantly under attack by the greenskins. The Governor-General needed to do something about it, quickly and efficiently – with minimal casualties, if possible. Such a plan seemed well out of reach at this point, considering the state of affairs within his military’s ranks and that of the very counsel designed to debate matters of this sort. How was anything supposed to get done when the advisors did naught but squabble?
Out of the corner of his eye, he noted that the chamber door had been opened slightly. Not wide enough for someone to enter, but wide enough for an ear to hear everything. Leonard shook his head, mentally making it a priority to see who was snooping about. Normally, such a breach in security would be both rare and taken as a grave concern, but given the current status of the planet… The Governor-General could only scoff at Armageddon. The man was fond of the saying, “If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry, with what I have to put up with.”
Leonard abruptly interrupted the counsel with the boisterous voice and firm intonation of a veteran commander. The room was built so that those speaking at the centre of it would be the loudest and most heard, and that their echoes would have echoes. “I will remind you no more that the fates of our men, the Imperium’s finest warriors save the Adeptus Astartes, lay very delicately in your hands and tongues.” The Governor-General knew his breath was wasted, but knew also that leaving without adjourning the counsel would only sow more confusion. “I will entrust this responsibility with you, as I do every morning and every night. Do handle it with some sense of gravity. The Emperor protects.”
He left quickly, making a point to close the door wholly after finding no trace of a snoop, and made his way down the hall. The corridor that ran parallel held the offices of his advisors, which would soon be manned as the disorderly counsel made their way out of the hearing chamber. Right now, Leonard wanted to be as far away from them as possible. He needed to collect his thoughts, and investigate possibilities of accelerating his goals without the aid of the counsel. His most important objective was first and foremost the securing of the Fire Wastes from Ork counterattack, now that proper military bases had been established. Though the climate there was far from inhabitable, the hardy miners and Guardsmen would survive long enough to maintain a battle line and prevent the Orks there from taking the region. Still, much of the landmass was unsecured or inhabited by the Orks, and action needed to be taken to prevent the xenos from massing and overtaking the Imperial forces.
At the other, southern end of the planet, the Deadlands were rife with turmoil. Any Imperial Guard forces were either dead or currently beset upon by Orks, and it would be some time before they could regain a foothold large enough to defend effectively against the constant raids. It was most likely due to ineffective Ork equipment that the Guardsmen there continue to sustain; the Deadlands is known for inhospitable, extreme cold that has no doubt claimed many a greenskin in the past battles. The Imperial forces are able to remain and operate in the region thanks to the saving graces of their armour and housing, but such benefits will wear thin if the military falls. For every Ork felled, another twenty will come – if they haven’t arrived already.
Often times, Governor-General Leonard wished that it was as simple as erecting a massive, anti-Ork planetary shield. Such a device, though heavily set in fiction, would make short work of many of his problems…
“Something the matter, Governor-General? Are your many psykers and legions of tanks not serving you as well as you’d hoped?”
Leonard spun around from where he had been standing, only to see nothing. The voice had been close – as if someone had been behind him – and it sounded uncannily human in form but detached in tone. Whoever it belonged to had a sense of intelligence, but also of apathy, and perhaps lethargy. The dissection of the unseen man’s vocal presence did little to help Leonard find the speaker, though; at the sight of nothing, he began to doubt himself. Perhaps he was so tired from his constant work that he had begun to have auditory hallucinations.
“I’m standing right here, Leonard Renn. There’s no need to squint and sway your gaze.”
The voice had not moved; indeed, it was emanating from the same room. “Wh… Where are you?” Leonard croaked out, unsure of himself for a moment before regaining some of his vigour. “Show yourself! I will not hear a man too afraid to be seen!”
A soft chuckle was breathed out, and a tall male in an imposing black suit materialised before the Governor-General. He wore the plain black suit with a plain white undershirt and a plain black tie – garb not seen on any human for millennia, and certainly not seen by Leonard. His face was weathered and showed sign of battle – perhaps internal, perhaps not. His eyes seemed to flicker between green and blue in a rather indecisive manner, as if they could not choose just one colour and felt the need to cycle periodically. His presence was unnerving; it felt to the Governor-General that just by being around this man, he was endangering himself. The room suddenly had the feel of a hopeless encounter – something Leonard had no business being in, and something that he certainly could not win.
It was terrifying.
The newcomer’s voice spoke out, with a bit more effect this time. “I can sense that you are uneasy – and not just because of me. The psykers are indecisive and their intentions are not discernible. The Orks are unrelenting and show no signs of stopping. Your men are at their wits’ end, and you fear that you will be too, sooner rather than later.” He paused for a moment, allowing his words to sink in. “You are afraid. Even with the promises of the Imperial Ecclesiarchy, your God-Emperor is of little help to you in these dark times.”
The Governor-General interrupted, rather vehemently. “No man has the right to speak out against the God-Emperor – and certainly not one as unknown as yourself!”
The man he addressed merely shook his head. “You are blinded by your fellowship. You brand yourself an Imperial, a servant of this God-Emperor, and for what? Has he aided you in your charges as a Guardsman? As a Governor-General? As a man? No. I think not. You speak the truth, though, Leonard; no man has such a right. That is not a benefit of the Ecclesiarchy, though; it is a downfall. But I have not come to debate with you the Emperor’s godhood. I have come to give you newfound hope.”
As he spoke, Leonard felt himself slowly grow weaker and wearier. Perhaps it was due to the workload, and perhaps not. It was still happening, regardless of the cause. The Governor-General collected himself, though, and responded quickly to the man before him. “I know nothing of you, or about you. Why would I be so keen to associate myself with you? You know my name, and seem to know a lot of my situation, while the exact opposite is true of me. With you, I know nothing.” He thought for a moment. “I need to know who offers help at random, for this universe is a place of living horror. I cannot be expected to trust unknowns so readily.”
The man's response was quick, and unexpectedly forward; “I am Xandel. I oversee developments within the Imperium of Man. I will continue to remain mostly unknown. It is not in my best interests to give you more than what you already know. I can offer you a solution to the Ork problem of Armageddon, for no cost, and relatively little cooperation.”
Before Leonard could respond to what was said, he let himself hope – if only for a moment. As foolish as hope is, it drives human ambitions, boost morale, and gives people the resolve to carry on. Perhaps Leonard’s anti-Ork shield had come, at last…