Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Embodying Existential Debate: Real-Life and 40K

I have attempted to embody worldviews and philosophies through characters, exploring them in the process.

This has been less a matter of steelmanning (which I like) and more of an exercise in steeping yourself in the relevant literature to get a feel, method acting, or adopting an exotic or historical outlook through empathy.

This post is divided into two sections containing executions of this philosophical embodiment.

First, I have adopted four real-life worldviews that are mutually antagonistic, and attempted to express them credibly. None represent me personally, but I have made a good faith effort at embodying each in the voice of a character. You may wish to try this if you like to GM or write fiction.

Second, I have written a series of interlocutory or adversarial dialogues between Arbitrators, Ecclesiarchs, Inquisitors, cultists, and children in Warhammer 40K. I have done this first to explore the problems faced by people in the Imperium, and second to dive into their source of meaning in the credible fictional religion of the Imperial Cult.

I feel that Warhammer 40k has more potential as a medium for exploring existential themes and problems than other popular IPs. I have written the second part of this post to address recent discussions of this subject at Patrick Stuart’s and David McGrogan’s blogs.

    Setting: Starling & Shrike
Social Darwinist

    Setting: 40K
A Chapel in Flames
The Old Man in the Garden
Arbitrators in a Failing Hive
Captured Cultists
Why Doesn’t He Save Them?

Setting: Starling & Shrike

In a coffeehouse in Troutbridge

Social Darwinist

They call it murder. They make reference to “justice”. Make reference to justice when the knife plunges down your throat. You are experiencing justice. You are experiencing the full rigor of the Law, and when you at last drown in your blood, court is adjourned. The plaintiff will take his damages in your gold, your home and your women. Pray he neglects to levy further charges against your estate.

Murder. This is a value judgement. In whose eyes is it “murder”? Someone capable of murdering the murderer? Else if you have not prostrated yourself before a Prosecutor and his dictates, then you are a criminal and you will be “executed” by your Persecutor- unless you be Prosecutor too.

Someday it will come down to the Empire of Grimwall and the Cynthian Empire. Land vs sea. The Cynthians are a marvelous war machine when on the deep but deprived of their coastal tributaries they would not have a leg to stand upon. But if the Cynthians prevailed and made a corpse of every last man of Grimwall, who could gainsay their natural right to the fruit of the earth? It would be theirs to divide amongst themselves. And then it would be theirs to fight over.

Was it not right that Mandala was destroyed by Grimwall? Was it not right that Palmgrove was destroyed by Archzenith? Is it not right that tens of proud peoples hand tribute to their Cynthian suzerains?

Is it not right according to the Sun Lion? He shines upon the bloody battlefield with the self-satisfied serenity of the well-fed predator. He smiles to see other peoples’ children devoured and their mothers taken to wife, for that is the way of the lion, didn’t you know?

Is it not right according to the Burning Eye? But this is the deity of destruction. Soak up the liturgy of his dour cult and be enthralled by the greatest tale of destruction, punishment and revenge ever told. Besides the tale of history.

Is it not right according to the Fates? Nay! It is manifestly ORDAINED by the Fates!

Is it not right according to the Moon Bear? Boo hoo! I spit in the face of such a pathetic specter. And my sputum lands upon the earth. 

Manifestly the history of religion is a chronicle of battle-testament, and when it is not, it is a sad tale of self-castration, sequestration, cowardice and the renunciation of the great game into which we are born. But there is no renunciation of this game, as the anchorites find when the bandit tribes come, or the monastery finds when the monarch comes, or the scrofulous pale-bodied priest finds when palsy and pneumonia come into his peace-ravaged body.

And in all likelihood his soul is devoured by star-sharks because his gods and angels were half-cocked figments of a piteous imagination. Invisible friends who disappear when the palpitations cease.

When the Starling & Shrike detective blows the brains out of a child-devouring serial rapist, do you crow at that as “justice?” When he kills the poor Syndicalist with his delusions of “Brotherhood” or hands the man over to Tourmaline torturers in exchange for a bag of gold? More like blood magic methinks! A true Philosopher, that one!

Or is it justice to you when a “frothing anarchist” gives the darling Starling “labor spy” his “just desserts” with a neat stack of TNT? When he guts the capitalist piggie and watches him squeal? Or when the cunning rapist gives his ambushed detective a taste of eternity, then sends him screaming to meet it?

Some say this is a matter of perspective! I call them sallow-boned philosophers! It is all justice of the highest quality! It is the musica universalis, the metric and the measure, the highest of all philosophies!

    Counterpoint: Why is Troutbridge, a mercantile democracy where people trust each other, more militarily powerful than Grimwall, ruled by a military junta, or Bounty, ruled by industrial slavers? 


It’s common to speak of human well-being in terms of economics. Let’s talk about it in those terms, then, for sake of argument.

What does an economy consist of? Transactions and production. People make things and trade them.
These are the things that are said to increase the size of the pie, along with more universal factors like population growth.

Highly effective production and trade leads to surplus. Surplus allows for larger-scale endeavors, or for superior trade, both increasing the availability of goods and services with regard to an individual in the society.

So who produces things and who, in the main, trades them? Probably 70-80% of people in the average city-state are involved in the harvesting of raw materials and the production of finished goods, to include things like buildings and infrastructure. Another 10% or so are involved in the provision of necessary services like healthcare. Depending on how you count them, either a few percent of those or a few percent on top of them are involved in the advancement of human knowledge and capacity in the form of things like engineering and developing new medicines. Then you have a few floating percent who aren’t necessarily involved in a large enterprises, artists, musicians, transients and such.

You have all of these people participating in an economy, you have the recipe for continually advancing economic well-being. People are making things, they trade them, and a few experts advance knowledge.

What’s the problem?

Well, there are a few more percent of the population that we haven’t accounted for. The problem is twofold: nonproduction and the effects of these people on culture.

Let’s look at who they are. Clerics, nobles, soldiers, policemen, and rentier capitalists. They don’t assemble or produce goods, so what services do they offer and could these services be better performed for an individual by his peers inside a productive enterprise?

Clerics: I admit that this is not my area of expertise but why should you need a specialist for this? If you must engage in some kind of religion you shouldn’t need mediation between you and your deity, and if you need moral guidance then you’re better off consulting with your peers and your foremen.

Nobles: Aristocracies are created in times of chaos where gangsterism becomes a viable strategy on the large scale, and then afterwards calcify as force and propaganda resign people to their existence. An aristocracy must engage in state terrorism to maintain its power because its value-add is questionable. Ultimately it rests on simple superior force and is buoyed by appealing to people’s basest instincts of tribalism and voyeurism towards the leisurely ‘highborn’. People grow to see aristocrats of their culture as the ‘protagonists’ of life, whereas in reality there are no protagonists, only the common effort towards the common good.

Soldiers: Workers serve as part-time militiamen across the world, and unions (specifically work crews) acting as combat units would by their nature be extremely internally-accountable. But aren’t standing armies of full-time soldiers necessary for the security of a city-state? Under the current international order, perhaps, although an international coalition of union-militias acting in solidarity could stand off most invaders. When city-states and populations are no longer playing pieces for tyrants and schemers there will be much less reason to fight, as well. Hence the concept of international solidarity, international revolution. It’s not about city-versus-city, it’s about the people of the world uniting under one big union. Of course it would be broken up into many, many unions, each a part of their own industry, but united under the same principle.

Policemen: A system where a person is bought-in (based on one’s democratic workcrew also being their political unit), where one’s director and representative is elected by the individual and their tight-knit social circle where everybody knows everybody, is going to tend to reduce the degree to which people want to cause social chaos, but there are always going to be hard-cases and incorrigibles. It’s no use lying about that. If there’s one useful concept to adapt from feudalism, it’s the idea that a small community of equals is responsible for the conduct of its members; that if a member of a work crew is acting out, it falls upon his peers to straighten him out based on what he personally needs, given his personality and the situation he’s facing.

Rentier capitalists: The common argument for allowing industrialists to control huge resources is that if they coordinated the creation of an enterprise then it’s their property, or that if they were able to assemble it then they’re the ones most qualified to direct it. That’s one thing, but then you run into the aristocratic issue where the founder of the enterprise is highly competent but there’s no guarantee that those he names as his successors or regents will be, or that if the industrialist has won the love of his people that those who follow him or govern in his stead will conduct themselves morally. It is necessary to reward those who create new enterprises with prestige and social approval- doors will open for them whether or not there are structural rewards, but once something is constructed it is best if authority is delegated back to the people who comprise it, down to the level of work crews with their elected foremen and treasurers. People need to be incentivized for going above and beyond the call of duty, but not at the expense of the ability of people who work in the enterprises they establish to govern their immediate surroundings.

I ask you: what do you want for your life and fate? The struggle of nations for supremacy over the earth until only one way remains? A full-stop merging of all nation states where the aristocratic or rentier capitalist systems encompass the whole planet? Or a vision of global development and cooperation shared by the bulk of people in all city-states? Our way is the way of democracy distributed down to the work floor. A community of communities joined by a purpose that all people can share.

    Counterpoint: Why does your movement seek revolution in states where the workers seem to be bought-in and prospering generation-to-generation?


You live without a system. Forget your Darwinism and your Syndicalism, and I’ll put away the Hymnsinger. I mean you don’t live in an existential system. Do you even know what it is, to live within a system? Did you as a child? Can you remember?

You live in the House of Light and Fire but you grieve in the darkness. You see the world’s designs and you hear its noise but live through only the coldest framework. You are swirling matter, a freak in the eddies of stardust born to experience the crashing of protons, enjoying the magnetism of animal things and the mental activation of fleeting novelty. 

When you accept what you would call a system of metaphysics, you enter the immediate presence of cosmic truths. You feel the reality of evil as a palpable force. Now, you already see the reality of evil, but when you can accept its name you will hear its call and then know it for what it is. It exists as more than a value judgement. You will acknowledge it for what it is. You won’t do that now, or you ascribe it only to temporal things because you live in a world of unthinking physics in which your consciousness is an alien, an aberration. Many people become pacifists when they acknowledge evil, or become moss-eating hermits, or waste away. Degrees on a continuum. Is it evil to cauterize a wound? It is evil to leave a man to infection if he cannot help himself. It is evil to burn healthy flesh. If you would use force against evil, then you must be sure beyond a flicker of doubt. Reactive, not proactive. This is what is commonly called justice.

When you enter a metaphysical structure, you can perceive good and evil, you can feel them, otherwise all you have is inclination.

You walk in the presence of good. You feel something of evil, certainly you see and perhaps experience its works, but you know nothing of good. You are a stranger to good. You catch glimpses of it but have no connection to good as such. You see it in a laughing child’s face, but the child experiences it as a constant presence, something that balances evil, balances the nightmare. You have no balance, only distraction. And you take it away from the child.

That constant presence of good. Do you remember what it felt like? Did it take shape in your imagination, a blue light borne on clouds? Weighed against the smoky fire in darkness and people’s eyes and you. Bracketing your every action between good and evil.

The saint reaching across darkness in the moment of despair, the constant love of the sacred mother, the punishing order of the demanding father, and the lifegiving rain of his satisfaction in your strength, these are immediate presences that buffer you. Well, they buffer young children who believe, and those whom you regard as childlike, such as me.

You and I live in the same system. We just see it differently. I say we see different facets. Different colors.
I am just making observations. What you do with this is up to you. You have time to think, and live.
    Counterpoint: What of the human sacrificers? Are they not reacting to a system of existential forces that they too can feel?

Meanwhile, twenty miles from Troutbridge…


Sir Therysicado Acheridane hated the filthy, ugly, incoherent, uncultured animals of the coasts. It was a perverse miracle that they could somehow swarm across ships and make them function, but he supposed with conscious mockery that enough effort directed at random within a vessel must at some point make it steam. Certainly the effortless Cynthian victories against so many of the world’s navies attested to the mud-dwellers’ primitive incomprehension of form, elegance, and economy of force in tactics, personal conduct and shipbuilding. Witness the way the primitives lope around their decks slack jawed, filthy, mismatched, ill-built and insubordinate. Only a few navies could contend with the Cynthians, and those were astonishing exceptions.

Mandrake took the cream of every nation’s aristocracy and combined them into a riotous, piratical fleet command. Their rare inspirations were not so inexplicable. Troutbridge seemed to have some kind of uniform standards of dress and cleanliness, so the relatively orderly function of their navy was not illogical, although their uniforms no doubt trapped the mire of soil and city. And their upper class barely differentiated themselves from the lower in terms of uniform. A sickening and telling degeneration that would no doubt lead to the subordination and consumption of the higher order by the lower. It would be seen: will they be crushed by the Cynthians, or by their own dissolution?

He shuddered at the thought of the pigs and apes of the dark inland destroying one of the only manifestations of civilization on the shore. Slavering, uncomprehending, incomplete, unfinished. 
It gave him an utter thrill to watch their greasy hides consumed with flame like cheesecloth cast upon fire.
He stroked his cheeks with his mouth ajar when he watched their corpses weaving in the wind a hundred feet above a blasted battlecruiser among churning steel, smoke, and fire from a successful Cynthian broadside. It turned them to rags, elongated their forms, made them limp like earthworms. Sometimes they came apart in the air and flitted to the sea among the rubble of their hulks. By Her Countenance, if he could give such visions to the Queen! It was enough to make Sir Acheridane weep with pleasure to watch them vanish from the earth, to see the remnants floating in oil-fired seas while the Cynthian fleet steamed away, safe in the knowledge that whatever refuse remained would be drank away by the cleansing sea and its phytoplankton, the sharks and eels.

A great relief. When he watched them die he always felt like laying in his bed hugging his duvet in ecstasy. Pure repose. Inner peace. To sleep in the garden of paradise. 

By the Queen, the Cynthian breed, and the silver gleam of the sea, Sir Acheridine would see their sickening hives crushed. Then he would burn and scourge them, inch by inch, of whatever fetid life was left hiding in their rotten wreckages. Someday the Cynthian Empire would no longer need its filth-dwelling tributaries and then the earth could be cleansed of their hideous memory. 

Setting: 40K

A Chapel in Flames

Arcadia stood watching the vidcaster. The Inquisitor was by his side, arms crossed. Father Timotheus was on his left and to the rear. In the screen an assortment of cultists and commoners were laying jackhammers into a statue of the Emperor. They were smoking out the Chapel of St. Ermine. A few of the most prominent, skins marked by the purple ouroboros, heaped the chapel’s vestry into fires lit on machine salve.

The Inquisitor looked at Arcadia with a cocked eyebrow.


Arcadia gazed into the screen balefully. People were shouting. White and crimson robes smoked on the bonfires. He saw them laughing insanely and dancing about like imbeciles. He pressed his eyes shut, then opened them again. 

"Not yet. This is an ugly sight but there is much yet to be salvaged." He looked to the Inquisitor. "We owe it to the Emperor to preserve His flock, to the degree that we can do so without error. I have met good men and women out in my patrols." He looked back at the revelers and his face darkened. "And we should preserve the Emperor's industry."

"You would say that."
The Inquisitor was tapping his chin.
"You've spent much time tending your flock, like a priest, and you don't want them burnt with the first sign of mange. But this blasphemy must be answered. Everyone I see on this screen must die.”

Arcadia glanced at the prancing figures assaulting the Imperial chapel. His hand curled round his lasgun handle and his heart visibly beat.

He blinked and shook himself.

Arcadia thought of the Father Assumptor’s words:
"Every man is a vessel for the Emperor. There are only two things that can cut a man off from His light. The physical corruption of Chaos, and the evil seed of the Alien."

The Father leaned in. "Even the foul philosophy of the Tau can be set aside. Never speak of these things to anyone with whom you would not unconditionally entrust your life."

Arcadia looked back at the screen and gestured. "Most of these commoners are not swarm parasites, nor Chaos mutants. Only a few bear the purple mark. I will go with my Arbitrators to determine the source of this madness."

The Inquisitor faced him.

"You tread a fine line, Arbitrator. You will bring this hive to heel. Forever." He looked at the screen, at the lurching figures emptying Ecclesiarchal coffers into the fire. "Or I will burn it from the memory of the Imperium."

"Yes, Inquisitor," said Arcadia. The man gave him a look and swept away.

Arcadia looked over at Brother Timotheus keenly.

"If this hive goes up in flames, what will you do, Brother? Will you take up your eviscerator and lay waste to the heretic?"

"I have no eviscerator," he said gravely. "The moment I believe that will happen I will invoke my charter as a mendicant and leave this place. I will go to the furthest port I can reach and resign myself to a hermitage, never again to look upon the works of man. Or I will start over in the most benighted village on the most irrelevant world I can find, and there I will die. You know I trust you, Arcadia."

"I know.” He looked down on the man, several years his elder, and then they parted.

The Old Man in the Garden

The Emperor is the light and the way for all men and women.

The interpretation of the Emperor, His nature, and His wishes for mankind, are of foremost concern to a great many holy men because of that.

It is such a great concern that being contradicted will drive many of them to violence.

As such, I am going to tell you about the Emperor as he is known to the Sages of Terra, but you must allow other men their views so long as they seek to serve the Emperor and to strengthen the Imperium. Do you understand?

In the beginning, there was Holy Terra, and it was a place of serenity. A garden, like this one, but covering all the world. It was like a field waiting to be furrowed, incomplete, and so Mankind was born to till it. The Emperor was born with Mankind, and it was His to make all the universe a garden for Mankind. He watched, and learned, and guided us as best He could while He made the ways of the universe known to Himself.

But there were many dangers. Brother warred against brother, and finally out of their iniquity their very tools turned against them. The soulless machines of the time nearly wiped us out. That is why our machines have souls now. So that they do not turn on us again.

This strife brought grief to the Emperor, so when He had finally learned enough about mankind and the spheres, He united all of the human race under one banner. Thus mankind prospered among the stars.

The old man thought for a time.

Mankind is not alone in this universe, boy. Before you can plant a garden, you have to go through and dig up the roots, pull the weeds and kill all the vermin. The universe is like that. There are pests, but they take many forms. They are monsters. We have to destroy them because if we don’t, they will destroy us. These creatures are called aliens.

The Emperor sought to spare us this danger, for He is compassionate beyond what you or I can know. He created angels to guard us, angels of death, called Astartes, to wreak destruction upon the alien. But the angels did not have our frailties, and thus they lacked our humility. A great many of them were taken with the idea that they were aliens too, not humans, and so they rebelled against the Emperor in the greatest war that has ever been known. This was the Emperor’s greatest challenge: his very children betrayed him, his sons killed each other in numbers that defy the ledger. Can you imagine how that must have hurt him? But he knew what needed to be done; for unlike these Astartes, his heart is full of compassion.

He fought for the people of the Imperium, and of course he won, but no one can be set upon by his own children and come away unscathed. The Emperor fought a duel with his firstborn son, the foremost of the traitors, Horus. The boy was slain, but the Emperor was gravely wounded. He could not die, but nor could his body be sustained, and so ever since that day he has lived on in the space between worlds, guiding us between our homes. He sacrificed himself on our behalf, and now he works every moment for our survival.

You owe the Emperor your life, as do I, and everyone in the Imperium. He is the greatest of us all, and his sacrifice is the example for how every Imperial citizen should live: wisely, forthrightly, powerfully, and with compassion for the good people among mankind. Those who deny the Emperor must be weeded out of the Imperium. By death.   

        “Do the aliens worship the Emperor?”
No, and they cannot worship the Emperor. They are cut off from his light forever, and so they are filled with hatred for mankind and our special charter. They live in shadows, and the only thing they want is to kill human beings and torture us.

        “Did the Emperor destroy all the angels?”
No. He would have been justified to do so, but his mercy is infinite. Those angels that did not betray him, he divided into tiny hosts and allowed them to wander the Imperium, throwing themselves against the alien and the heretic as penance. I warn you boy: there are still some of those dark angels from the Horus Heresy in this universe. They have gone to live with the daemons, which are evil spirits from deep space. Sometimes they come back to haunt us, for their bitterness cannot be measured. But today it falls to ordinary men to defend the Imperium.

        “What aliens are there?”
There are many. Some are like wild animals, others are more cunning, and some even have their own spaceships. The worst of them are the Eldar. They mimic the bodies of Mankind out of spite, for they live only to torture us. Their true forms are like great serpents. They were all born before the Emperor’s light shone upon the universe, so their hatred for us goes beyond what you can imagine. They come to our towns and villages just so that they can torture us in worse ways than your young mind can imagine, and then they make their clothes and ships out of our bones.

There are also some robots left over from the Age of Strife; they are very cold, very cold, and they envy our warm bodies, and so they take our skins to wear. And yet they can never get warm. And they can never learn better, for they are machines.

        “How do we fight them?”
We take weapons and we go to destroy them. Weapons are like tools, but for destroying aliens and anybody who works against the Emperor. I will not teach you forever, Arcadia. Someday, men from a great school will come to take you away to be educated, and they will teach you how to use weapons. But there are many ways to serve the Emperor, and the school will determine which you will do best.

        “What are the ways?”
A boy like you has a special responsibility to the Imperium. It has been decided that you will hold a position of great honor, and great hardship. The common people have their ways of serving the Emperor; they till the great fields, they fix buildings, they make weapons, and they stand shoulder to shoulder to defend the Imperium. But boys like you, boys with no parents, have been singled out to do the hardest jobs of all. Jobs that one must train his whole life to do properly.

If they see that you have a faculty with numbers, then you will go to the Administratum, and you will make sure that the Imperium, which is like a great tractor with many parts, is running the way it was meant to. If you are skilled at thinking strategically, like in a game of blocks, they will teach you how to command a voidship or to lead soldiers into battle. If you are able to speak well, you may go to the Ecclesiarchy and serve others in their worship of the Emperor. If your heart burns for the Emperor all day long, then you may become a Commissar and go to war in the Emperor’s name. And if you are strong, fast and brave, you may become a Tempestus Scion, who are the finest warriors in all the Imperium.”

Arcadia’s heart raced at this last prospect. The old man sat and thought.
“There are also the Arbites; they enforce the Emperor’s law in wicked places, and if you are not strong enough to become a Scion, you may become an Arbitrator.”

        “Don’t worry about that. I will be strong, fast and brave.”
The old man laughed.
“Well, I see how you’re inclined. But don’t think to argue with the Schola. They will put you where you are needed.”
This thought disturbed Arcadia.

Arbitrators in a Failing Hive

Penitentio, Arbitrator
Arcadia, Arbitrator

P: You have seen destruction beyond measure. Even the Sisters ruin men with their chainswords and delight in their blood. Every creature in the Imperium and beyond seem to be predator and prey, and the prey long to be predators. The workmen starve, freeze, and then are crushed when the hive collapses. There is no reason for this, or it is lazy neglect. They are skinned alive by Eldar, hunted for sport by gangers, sacrificed by cults, and they are probably even eaten alive by your ‘Green Dragon’. It’s not only the workers who suffer. I mention them because at least they add value. But laborious and downtrodden as they are, they still beat anyone to death who they think is a witch or heretic. They believe that the evil eye of their neighbor is making them impotent, and then after the murder the Ecclesiarchy and Mechanicus send Titus Plumber into a technological hell for their petty needs.

A: You’re just listing reasons for us to be here, brother.

P: It’s better that we’re here, yes. That’s why I walk the beat with you. But look at the Imperium we have known. Look at this hive. Look at how people live. Little better than rats. The Emperor Protect them because we can’t. Not when the day of reckoning comes. What will that look like, Arcadia? What will the Imperium come to?

A: We’re on a Hive World. Things aren’t like this everywhere. They were different where I was raised.

P: Were they? There might have been rocks and trees, but from what you’ve told me, there were also wars, massacres, and plagues. Tyranny. 

A: Order. And it was better than Chaos.

P: Yes, tyranny is better than Chaos. But there can be freedom without the influence of the Dark Gods.

A: I know that. I see it every day in the techno-barbarians of the underhive. A beautiful existence.

P: That’s not freedom! Your walks by night are freedom! Completely noncompliant, but I would never report you for it. Because that is freedom. You break our law… you risk everything to do it. It’s that important to you.

A: I do what I do in service of the Arbites and the Emperor. Nothing I’ve done is outside the spirit of our law.

P: It’s not just service. You know that without the freedom to do what one’s conscience tells him to do, existence itself loses all meaning.

A: I don’t know that. Life can be found when the body is caged. We could be captured by gangers. The only thing that would bring us through would be knowledge of the Emperor’s love and the example of His sacrifice. Not freedom.

P: But that is what your conscience compels you to do. To bask in the Emperor’s light.

A: My friend, I love my nighttime walks, but what does that have to do with the travails of the Imperium? 

P: The people live like rats. You see this every day. Yet they cannot palliate themselves. They aren’t allowed to fix the problems around them. Everything must be handed up to the Ecclesiarchy, the Mechanicus, Adeptus Terra, the Arbites.

A: If most people tried to do what we do, they would die. I’ve nearly been killed many times.

P: And yet it’s better to walk into danger with courage than to wait in your hovel for it to come in and take you like a newlywed.

A: So should everyone be trained as an Arbites? Or make decisions for the Administratum?

P: We don’t even give people the chance. It was sheer freak luck that we became Progena, and then Arbitrators. How many people in this Hive could do our job, if they were trained like we were trained? We’ll never find out. Weld here, pray there.

A: You remember the ones who didn’t make it through the Schola. They suffered and then they died. They couldn’t give a thing to the Emperor but their souls. It quickens my heart just to think of it.

P: Not everybody has to go through the Schola. Many could become stronger if their Emperor-given talents were cultivated instead of being crushed into rote meniality.

A: Regular people can be heroes, too. I’ve heard of PDF troopers and Frateris Militiamen driving back Eldar, Orks, and gangers.

P: Yes. And I love those stories, but they’re flashes in the pan. What do those people go back to? The warrens, where there’s no hope.

A: I’m not sure that’s true. Experiences like that probably shape the way that they live, don’t you think? And the lives of their friends and children.

P: That could be. But think of this. That inspiration could manifest itself outside of battle, too. If people were free to innovate, this hive might not be such a hellhole.

A: Perhaps. I don’t disagree with you, but these are times of great risk. The Imperium is like a tight fist right now. I’m not sure we could fight if we let ourselves slacken.

P: Yes, maybe. But can we survive the path that we’re walking? Every day, catastrophe strikes the Imperium. Every day armies are wiped out, manufactorums are destroyed, and knowledge slips away. Fleets disappear into the Warp. Great men are corrupted or mutated. Are we going to fight over it as it burns? Or can we adapt ourselves to it?

A: What do you propose? Do away with the Ecclesiarchy or the Administratum? Every man, woman and child in this hive would tear you limb from limb for proposing it.

P: Not exactly. But the Imperium is… well, it was ideal in the previous age, but planets would do better if each could be governed by its own inhabitants, the way they were before the Great Crusade. Then they could adapt to their own circumstances instead of receiving irrelevant doctrine.

Arcadia’s cheeks go red and he glances around. He leans in and whispers,

A: And what of the Emperor, then? Is there no value at in the thing He built from His mind and eye? By His name, the Imperium may not be perfect, but at least it keeps men from Chaos. If each world had its own way, there’s no telling how deep into horror they might descend, given the terrible things we already do to each other as-is.

P: The Emperor… I would never speak against the Emperor, Arcadia, even as I criticize the Imperium, which today is a work of Man. But the story of the Emperor can be interpreted in many ways. Think of the Primitive Worlds whose pagan beliefs have been syncretized with the Imperial Cult by the Ecclesiarchy. They have no idea of what the Emperor did and what he means to the Imperium at large. But they worship him, and that is sufficient, even if their ways are foreign to us.

A: But why do they worship Him? The same reasons that we worship Him. The Emperor brought us through the Imperium’s darkest hour. In fact, He gave His waking life to do so. Can you imagine if the Space Marines turned on us today? Whatever our problems are, we can’t even imagine that. When He was betrayed by His sons, what did He do? When He saw them tear each other to pieces? When the whole Imperium went up in flames? When He was forced to kill His most trusted servant, who crippled Him with his own hand? What did He do? He held the Imperium together. He kept mankind unified. He gave His life for it. Then in dying He walked into the warp, hell itself, on our behalf. How many ways of interpreting His story are there? Which is more powerful than that? We owe it to Him to follow in His footsteps and to keep the faith in the Imperium.

P: Good! Very well said! So the Emperor is an ideal. But the Ecclesiarchy and the Tithe are not! Let him bridge the Warp, and we can use it to trade for what we need, not merely for the delivery of orders and tithes.

A: An Imperium run by Rogue Traders? May the Emperor preserve us. There is a reason that on Knight Worlds the merchants are held in contempt. A man has higher purposes. And what should happen now that we’ve been cut off from the Imperium? Surely we can’t trade for food.

P: This world is rich with water. Nothing is stopping us from setting up an agricultural system. This hive could be a heaven on earth with proper guidance. The Arbites and Sororitas hold the mandate of the Emperor here. If the Planetary Governor refuses to adapt in the face of starvation and obliteration, we’ll take charge of things.

A: Hold now, brother. He hasn’t stepped out of line yet. And assuming he did, there are rules about how to govern a world in absence of an Imperial Governor. For one thing, the Inquisitor would become the head of state until contact could be reestablished with Holy Terra.

P: True. Don’t worry brother, this is all just talk. I confide in you because I know that you can handle a thought without opening fire on me. Whatever happens, all we need to be concerned about is protecting the future of this Hive.

Captured Cultists

A pre-Khornate cultist and a Slaaneshi

PKC: I have seen brutality that defies description. There is no higher law in the Imperium. I’ve seen good people ruined by violence, their killers and maimers unknown, unpunished. What are all the voidships, Basilisks and lasguns? Pure force. The Emperor’s divine right. His right is in his weapons.

Look at the creeping things. Look at the servo-cherubs. We live in a waking nightmare. If you have ever lived one holy moment in your life you know what a parody of beatitude this is. This rat-trap. Have you ever seen the delight in a murderer’s face? After he’s killed an innocent and walks away with their blood on his boots? Screaming, still dying, over nothing? There is a man with divine right. On a divine mission. The son of a god. The highest purpose of man, embodied. And then the lust in his woman’s eyes.

Are we made in the Emperor’s image? The great conqueror’s image? The slaughterer of whole races? The deadliest warrior to have ever lived? And the greatest tyrant? Why shall we not keep the faith then, with his sword arm? With his naked blade? He who enslaved the universe. He who bound us to our every factory and dirt patch. Ten thousand years of slavery. He put us in chains… and it was his right, I suppose. Who might gainsay him? Horus, who lies dead and buried. 

As does the Emperor. Let us gain from his example, yes, but not be chained to the ghost of a ghost. Whatever his spirit does to the warp, he is dead here, and his lovers work no miracles. He cleared out barbarians and built his bastions. He slaughtered whatever knaves dared raise their eyes to him, and in the end the sword claimed him too. He is the example, but not the king. So who are the others who bind us? The fat, soft, mewling eunuchs of the ecclesiarchy and their rabid dogs and bitches. The “Imperial Guard”, who long for freedom and go rogue at the drop of a hat. The Astartes, locked in a death struggle with the deadliest predators in the galaxy; we are beneath their vision, should we be careful. The Arbites, pitifully few. Who can say this is an edifice that cannot be tipped over? You say we serve Chaos; I say we are free of a captor.

S: We do not serve chaos! All is chaos! You are a speck in a whirling sea! You speak of the Emperor but you are just a forgotten plaything of the real gods! There can be no structure, no order, no plans! All folly! There is but hand against hand for a breath of air in the maelstrom!

A: You’re wrong. Chaos does not preclude order. 

C: It does in this hive! In this system! Its time has come, as it will for all things...

A: No. There is entropy, but by will, faith and a cold eye we rebuild and bring order to chaos again. 

C: Enough! There is one thing that never changes, and that is the agony of witnessing self-deception! Grant me my afterlife, for I hear the daemons call...

Why Doesn’t He Save Them?

Arcadia, the purpose of the Ecclesiarchy is to minister to the souls of the Emperor’s people. You live a good life here but the time will come when you see what is the lot of the many souls of this Imperium, and you’ll realize that just continuing to labor on in the galaxy we inhabit is no mean feat. There is a reason that we continue to face the Enemy and will always face him in some guise or another. The thing that becomes corrupt is already inside of you. It will become corrupt if you do not understand what you labor and fight for.

All this, he gestured around the quiet garden, is, to me… he thought deeply, if not the best thing that one can know, at least conditions that should prevail when a man is at repose. Places like this are known to almost no one, from the highest noble to the meanest workman to the most debased criminal. They are all caught in deadly traps, particular to their own classes. 

        “Why? Why can’t they have this? It’s so simple.”
The old man looked at the stars.
We live at the very edge of things, Arcadia. There is much that we are sheltered from by the labors and privations of men you will never meet.

He looked at Arcadia.

You will pay your toll too someday. You will stand at the frontline or the furnace. That is why I speak to you of these things. Not idly. You will not play among the berries like a squirrel your whole life, and when you reach your station you will need to know why you must endure, or you will not.

        “Why must I endure?” It was the simplest way to ask.
Because every man around you is a vessel of the Emperor’s light. The Emperor intended a life of honest labor, repose, prayer, contemplation and plenty for His servants. But conditions do not yet permit this. We cannot all sit at the Emperor’s table and break bread with Him as we wish to. Instead we are called to stand by His side in battle. To some, that is the highest ideal. It is a great honor indeed.

He knelt and spoke quietly.

But that is not the Emperor’s final purpose for His children. The wars He fought were to create a sanctuary where this could be. He gestured around.

When you fight, this is what you will fight for. Garden, library, open sky, and our descendants.

        “Do the people out there not have such things?”
In the main they do not, or they cannot use them as we do. You’ll see in time. You will remember this life, for you are one of the very few who has known it. This place is a shrine, a grove to the Emperor. You must carry the spirit of this place wherever you go.

       “I will, Father. You said we must always face the Enemy. That he will always come to being in some way. Why is that?”
The Enemy is unique among mankind’s foes in that he takes his initiates exclusively from our numbers.

What happens is this.

Perhaps your world is destroyed by the Alien while you are on a journey and everyone you have ever loved is devoured by beasts. Or worse, your world is being conquered by a foe, and so the Navy destroys it at the Inquisition’s behest-

        “What? How could that ever happen? Why would they do that?” *Tears came to Arcadia’s eyes.
Now, sweet child… the old man’s face fell, The decisions we must face in our life are not of our own making. Who would set himself such a choice, that millions of good men and women be felled by his own hand, or that they all be set to the purposes of the enemy that millions more may die?

Arcadia was crying.
        “That’s… harsh.”
It is, my boy. But we are not the Emperor, that we might reshape matter at will and save the many where the enemy is overpowering. We must work with the tools that we have, and they are not always enough to save those caught up in the axle. But we must still labor, fight, and choose, such as we can, so that as many can be saved as might ever have ever been.

        “Why doesn’t the He save them?”
The old man looked at the sky.
Because they will sit by His side in death. He is fighting a war of His own in Heaven. The forces that we face transcend this mortal realm.

He plucked a blade of grass and held it, then let it fall.

There are dark forces. They are stitched deeply into our reality. The Emperor’s eye is turned to rooting them out. Only his most trusted servants aid him in that task. Count yourself lucky that you have not been called upon for this.

He glanced into the darkest part of the sky, then looked down at Arcadia from where he sat on his light wooden bench.

We have our own weeds to root out, and we are blessed for this, terrible as our foes may be.

        “Its so cruel. Why do things have to work this way?”
Some people ask that question and never come to an answer. That is where the danger lies, and where the Ecclesiarchy’s first duty is found. Some decide that the Emperor is dead, because they have never looked upon his face.

The old man raised a finger.

The Emperor lives because ships can travel through space.

He lowered his finger.

The danger comes when a man has never looked clearly at the good that the Emperor has made, but the power of the Enemy is made all too clear to him. So he says that the only Gods are the Chaos Gods, and the universe reflects their nature. And so all of the horror and destruction makes sense. It becomes a good thing: this is the will of the Gods. He sees their works everywhere. He calls it good and joins in the revel.

Some become killers, others thieves, others mere apostates who undermine the good works of the Emperor and Imperium so that more may fall from light unto their varying sins. Those that walk among desperadoes may openly speak of their revelations, but others hide their hand and speak their piece as Imperial citizens.

The Ecclesiarchy would by and large simply crush these whisperers, but I caution you there; quick brutality will drive more souls into the darkness. Keep your fell hand ready, but first show the glory of the Emperor in your words and deeds. That will be holy fire enough. Few are so far gone that they must be torn out root and branch. But never forget that such men exist. The Emperor’s mercy is for all, but it is for the wellbeing of the Imperium that some must give their lives before they receive it.

He sighed.
Not all men control their own bodies. Some share them with spirits. That is why when you find yourself off the path you must find it again and quickly, for there are ghosts in the darkness who will enter you like wasp larvae. Some come from the Warp and leave burning footprints in the sand. They claw their way in through your flesh. Some slip into you if you have uttered cursed words, but this you must do willingly. But some spirits live within you already, not yet daemons, but rather like machine spirits. They serve their purposes but may become corrupted like a bad liver should you give them enough pique. Then they become daemons, and you become a mutant. You may see this in men who have grown horns, whips, and toad legs.

Yes, my boy. Now, some deformities may come from the sun or the soil, or from good service in the Emperor’s name. If the Enemy cannot manage slaying you then he may maim you and this is a badge of honor. And sometimes our bodies just wither and die by the Emperor’s will alone, for he needs us early in the war in heaven. A fact that turns many from Him. But some maladies are born in the soul.

        “So people turn into the Enemy when they get upset enough?”
That is one thing that can happen. But it is always a choice. You will know this when it comes, and by the Emperor, remember this place and remember my words. Do not let it make you a slave to darkness. Remember this place. Remember my words. Give your soul balm, not bile.

He sat back heavily. There was silence for some time save for the chirping of birds and the buzzing of green insects.

But there is not only pain. Now I will tell you of fear, and desire. 

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