As a young man, callow and directionless, Anton, had tried to join the Guard along with most of his friends. Like them he was poked and prodded, made to jump through hoops, and otherwise suffered the multitude of indignities any military organization invents to ensure their recruits aren’t about to drop dead and can tell their ass from their elbow. All and all this was no different than the recruiting process on any other world in the Imperium.
But unlike most other worlds, Priory was home to a Chapter of the Adeptus Astartae, the Twelvers. These supermen had their giant fingers in every pie on and about Priory which was even vaguely associated with military matters. Of course, Priory being in the Imperium of Man and all, this meant there wasn’t a damn thing that they didn’t at least have a passing interest in. Now, with only a thousand battle brothers or thereabouts this meant that they would be stretched thinner than a bald man’s hairs if they were to look after everything personally.
It should come as no surprise then to find that in his eighteen years of life Anton had never met, let alone actually seen, a Marine in person. Thus, at the end of the tests, he discovered himself in a small room where a titanic grey robed marine sat behind a table, he was understandably surprised and not a small part terrified. His eyes darted frantically about the room, taking a quick inventory of the situation. Anton didn’t think that the table would slow the marine down for an instant, and the bare walls showed no other avenues of escape. He seriously considered just running back out the door. But when the marine pushed a deck of cards across the table rather than ripping off Anton’s head and drink his blood (Anton’s mother used to scare him back into line with tales like that) Anton decided that fleeing in terror might be detrimental to getting into the guard.
The marine said, “please take a seat,” in a deep voice with a strong High Gothic accent. Anton sat down quickly, looking down rather than meeting the deep blue eyes that were studying him far too intensely. There he saw the deck of cards up close, and despite the lingering fear, he couldn’t help but be fascinated by them. Each card appeared to be larger than his hand and was made of a thick paper. They were worn with age, and although all he could see was the plain red backs, he knew it must be the Emperor’s tarot. “If you would shuffle the cards please.”
Anton tentatively picked up the cards, but they didn’t burn as he had superstitiously feared. They were heavy, and their size made them awkward to handle as he shuffled the deck. The marine said nothing as Anton shuffled, and when Anton stole a glance he saw the planes of the marines face were immobile, but the eyes still seemed to be boring into him. Anton continued to shuffle until the marine wordless extended a hand that seemed as big as a dinner plate across the table palm up, fingers slightly spread. Anton placed the cards in the hand. When his fingers brushed against the marine’s he jerked his hand back, then flushed in embarrassment at his response.
“Fear not,” said the marine, “this is simply a test to ensure you are on the right path.” As he spoke he dealt out a (marine-sized) handful of cards onto the table face up. As the cards fell so did the marines face, the inscrutable expression replaced by a frown and tightening about the eyes. His breathing grew faster, and his eyes darted among the cards.
Anton had a renewed feeling of dread. But he no longer feared the marine, but rather what the cards might be saying. “Is anything wrong?” he asked quietly. He could see a card showing a burning tower, another showed a robed figure holding a baton, and a third a daemonic figure whose image seemed to be wreathed in flames.
The marine quickly slid his hand across the table, gathering the dealt cards into a pile. His face had returned to its former state, but Anton believe he saw a hint of what a very generous man would describe as a smile. “Nothing.” He paused, as if gathering his thoughts. “Your cards were difficult to read, your path has many branches.” Anton didn’t really understand, so he said nothing. The marine continued, “You will not be allowed to enlist.”
Anger suddenly flashed into life in Anton as he heard his plans shattered, “What! Why not? Because of what you saw in the cards?”
“Yes.” The marine reached inside his robe and withdrew a sheet of rich paper and a stylus, and wrote on it. He folded it and handed it to Anton. “Give this to the master sergeant in the main hall, he will ensure you are taken care of.”
Anton took the note in his hand, and the paper crumpled as he clenched it in his hand. The marine said nothing more, and Anton knew he had been dismissed. Fuming and cursing he left the room, so angry he didn’t even bother to read the note. He slammed the door behind him and stomped down the corridor to the main hall. In columns enclosed a massive space capable of housing thousands, but only a few hundred were actually present. Many were in ragged lines being sworn in by red robed preachers of the chapter cult, others scurried about their business. By the main arch at the far end of the hall was the master sergeant’s station, where he directed the new recruits to their scattered destinations. As Anton walked towards it his angry thoughts churned, cursing the marine who had ruined his life, at least as far as he was concerned. As he drew near he could see the master sergeants dress uniform with all of its ribbons, medals, and service hashes, and grew angrier at the thought that he would never have a chance to earn such rewards for himself. He slammed the paper down on the sergeants desk, and stood waiting.
“Easy son,” said the sergeant, “what are you all worked up about.” He unfolded the note and began to read its contents.
Anton said, “That damned marine…” but stopped as he saw the sergeants eyes grow wide. “What is it?”
The sergeant said nothing, but placed the rumpled piece of paper down on the desk carefully, as if it were something special. He reached into his drawer and pulled out a pre-printed form, which he started filling out. “You’re to go to the Chapterhouse in Priory… Immediately” He took a stamp out and slammed it down on the paper, then handed it to Anton. “Good luck son…” the sergeant said, and then after some thought added, “Sir.”
Anton spent the next several hours in an orbital shuttle on the way to Priory central and the chapterhouse. He was filled with equal parts anticipation and fear. “He wondered if he had been selected to join the ranks of the marines, to become as strong and powerful as the one he had just met. But when he arrived at the shuttleport he was met by a man in scholar’s robes. The man’s age was spelled out in wrinkles that turned his face into some sort of variegated topographical map, but bright blue eyes peered out of it, and the map around his mouth guided Anton to believe he was of a kindly, happy disposition. “Welcome to Priory Central Anton, I am Master Valon. No doubt Brother Julian has left you with many questions, as is his wont. You are to be my pupil, and I will show you many wondrous things.”
Anton had no idea who Valon was, and didn’t particularly care to be hooked up with some old codger poring over dusty old tomes. But looking back on that day through the last century, Anton could only conclude that whatever Brother Julian had seen, Anton was glad to have been set on a different path. Many of his friends who had joined the guard that day were dead or crippled, though some still soldiered on. Anton’s adventures had been more cerebral, but he had fought battles over design and nature and achieved victory. They had been to a multitude of different worlds, while before today Anton had never set foot on another world. But here he was on the Ignatius. Overhead the gas giant Hraxis blazed in a riot of colour, and beyond the tiny sun lit the world with strange double shadows. He had been met at the spaceport after the long voyage out from Priory. A shuttle had rushed him to the building site, and there he was met by a polite factor who escorted him above the rising towers of the new chapterhouse that was being built there. The factor guided him to the middle of the transept where another giant marine stood like a bookend to the one he had met that day. Unlike the other this one wore an unadorned red robe, and no fear marred his mind, but pleasure. He turned as Anton approached, and executed a short bow, which Anton returned. The marine spoke, “Master Anton, I’m so glad you agreed to come.”
“Legatus Korvus, the pleasure is entirely mine.”
The marine smiled, “Please Master, I am not so mighty that I have forgotten who it was that that helped make me what I am.” Korvus place a hand gently on Anton’s shoulder, and looked up. Anton did as well, and above them the scaffolds contained the soaring towers of the new chapterhouse. Servo skulls soared, inspecting details and crannies, and masons bent to their craft.
Anton said, “It is more magnificent than I imagined.”
Korvus shook his head, “You are too modest. In this age there is seldom call do do aught but destroy. To be given the chance to build something new is nothing but a miracle. That it should be of your design is only appropriate”
Anton nodded. That the great buildings were artifacts of a distant age had always been a disappointment to him. His notes had always been filled with sketches and drawings of buildings born from the cloth of his imagination, paying tribute to the past while looking to the future. But here was one coming to life before his eyes. “The Emperor has been gracious.”
“Or perhaps it is the influence of the Son.”
There is a pause, and Anton looked about to ensure there were no unwelcome ears. But none were near, and the clamour of the construction would keep even the loudest voice from carrying. “What do you mean?”
Korvus smiled, “Aurelius has seen the child.”
Anton’s eyes went wide, “You have found him?” he asked, shocked and amazed. Korvus lowered his head, “Not yet, but we are closer than we have ever been.” Anton’s eyes looked skyward again, and in his mind he gave a silent prayer of thanks. “Then perhaps the name of Sacra Familia was not presumptuous on my part.”
Korvus 22:59, 8 February 2008 (UTC)Nicholas Cioran