((Wrote this little vignette a while back. Even Space Marines are not totally free of worry and self doubt; when this happens though, they can seek out a Chaplain for guidance. But what of such heroes as even Chaplains look to for example? When the inevitable errors and limitations of their remaining human fallibility creeps up on them; to whom do they, or can they, turn, save perhaps each other? Perhaps many of them never need to, but perhaps by comparison to the other few, their burdens were not so great...))
“In its own ways, Time has passed both of us by, it seems,” Victoriege noted, accepting the proffered cup of tea. It seemed comically fragile and small, grasped in the gauntlets of his Tartaros-pattern terminator armor, but the Old Man of the Citadel, Chapter-Master of the Bright Lords, held far too much respect for the warrior sitting across from him to consider making light of his hobby.
Lord Ximo, Ruler of Tasal, Master of the Supernovas Chapter, released the delicate porcelain and nodded with a faint mechanical whir, his near-fully augmetic body never ceasing its panoply of soft synthetic sounds. The two Astartes, and the Marines they led, could not have seemed more different to an outsider, but bonds of mutual respect had welded these two confidantes’ armies together in brotherhood long since.
Leonhardt Victoriege was bluff and kingly of countenance, face weathered and golden-blonde hair silvered as a man who has passed beyond the cusp of youth; yet still far from the degree to which his more than eight hundred years of service to the Bright Lords should tell upon a man. Resplendent in his black and gold, reliquary armor, he looked every inch a hero stepped whole and larger than life from a stained-glass mural of the Great Crusade.
Ximo by contrast no longer had a face of flesh, regarding his opposite through a sectioned steel visor set with two glowing red photoreceptors. A more articulate contraption, still clearly mechanical but shaped in closer approximation to human features, lay discarded and deactivated atop a storage crate in one corner, near the entrance to the attached laboratory of techno-arcana where the Chapter's forgemasters maintained and attended his mechanical vessel. The laboratory space dominated the complex of rooms beyond that was technically Ximo's official quarters. A decorative folding screen stood pointedly unfurled in front of the doorway; blotting the existence of any rooms beyond the recluse chamber from its master's cybernetic sight.
His blue and black armor was largely unembellished, and his mere physical form was no larger or mightier than any other Marine; only a quietly incontrovertible aura of authority and wisdom distinguished his high station. Victoriege supposed the man had once resembled one of the cultures of his warrior disciples, but which one, only the Supernovans’ secret loremasters could know; whether he had been a pale and tattooed Qwaythian, with hairless skull and filed teeth, or a noble loch-toting exemplar of the plainsmen. Whether mountainfolk pioneer or polar barbarian or any of the dozens of cultures of Tasal; now it was impossible to tell. Now he was but Ximo, a face of iron with the soul of a Primarch, of all cultures and none in the eyes of his men, unassailable in his ancient wisdom for all the frailty of his remaining machine-shrouded flesh. The Supernovan’s body was a prison, for all of its masterful construction, yet it had allowed him to live for untold centuries as well, and the survival of that mind had brought ruin to untold numbers of the Emperor’s foes.
The evidence of those centuries was all around them; spilling over from a modest gallery alcove that had not proved enough to contain the Supernovan chapter master's countless mementos and keepsakes. They adorned seemingly every surface except the spartan, pristinely unused pallet bolted to one wall, and the intricately carved table of Tasalian ironwood at which the pair sat. Bold or vainglorious trophies were nowhere to be found in this collection; indeed, several items that looked to be prominent Chapter relics were piled beside the augmetic device on its storage crate. Only small things, made heavy by memory, had a place of honor here.
Ceramite shards from the armor of a fallen comrade. Crumbling purity seals, illuminated with poems of simple gratitude by the inhabitants of a planet rescued from invasion decades before. Simple tribal garments in a dozen styles, each made from the hides of different Tasalian beasts; a child's doll, resolutely bearing its faded wooden lasgun. A cruel sickled claw of some purple-black alien metal, its ugliness prominent amongst the collection; as if a reminder. The scrapbook of a life that had spanned many centuries, a quiet legion of testaments to the existence not merely of a soldier and a general, but a human being ancient enough to have known the distant ancestors of men now turned to dust beneath the earth.So old we are,
Victoriege thought as he looked through the collection, recognizing countless items whose humble sagas Ximo had shared with him over their many visits. Realizing, with a start, that he remembered when this book of tales or that scrap of woven cloth had been brand new additions, yet now sat dulled amidst countless years of dust. So old we have become.
There were those who thought Victoriege's own longevity, his timeless, indeterminately-aged features despite his incredible span of years, a mark of the Emperor’s blessing; but the old Bright Lord, and Ximo alone otherwise, knew enough to surmise differently. Only he and Ximo were ancient enough to suspect such things, much less be trusted to know.
“Your years may not lie not so heavily on your face, it is true, yet they seem to bear doubly so upon your spirit of late.” Ximo's tone, mechanical yet remarkably close to his original voice, retained more than enough nuance to turn the statement into a question.
Victoriege nodded. “Seven centuries have I lead the Bright Lords in war, and each year of it I only become more aware of my failings. Of my frailties of the soul, and visions, perhaps, of my long-forgotten sins before the Emperor. I never took up the Raiment, did you know? I cannot help but feel the armor of our Chapter's champions would scorn me; its machine spirit is eldritch, and sees into the heart of the wearer. These doubts and visions and memories come to me such that I can no longer be sure at times who I am, and what manner of worth or wretchedness this soul has.”
“Yet young Helsir bears the Raiment. He passed through its Test of Throne-Fire to become your chapter's Paladin, thanks directly to your tutelage,” Ximo replied. “From what my own Marines tell me, he is a credit to Chapter and All-father alike. Only an honorless Relictor or the like would shy to count him amongst their number, and his deeds reflect on his teacher with praise.”
“Perhaps, Ximo. Yet there is a mark on my soul; gnawing doubts about myself that my pride in him will not alleviate.”
The mechanical ancient shook his head and chuckled laboriously. “For all the Bright Lords’ forgiving creed, you are over-exacting of yourself, Lionsoul. We are none of us perfect, not even the Emperor when he still strode the Materium in flesh. Soul of wisdom, they call me, yet do you not suppose I have wrestled and questioned deeply my decisions over the years, weighed my victories against my failures to keep my Novr safe, and found myself wanting? How many occasions do you suppose I have wondered whether a being with more steel per his flesh than many an adept of Mars is still a fit leader for Astartes or men? Yet still I sit here today, knowing there is no question of my fitness to lead in your
mind. You question whether men would still sing your praises if they knew your burden. I know it. Do you see me recoil? Do you doubt my legendary wisdom because I have not done so? Come now. There are holy texts set down of your words on such matters.”
“ ‘Through the Emperor’s saving grace are we made great beyond our flaws; through our grateful repayment of his mercy do we enable him to work through us and absolve our failings with ever-mightier deeds.’ ”
Victoriege quoted the words with a half-bitter chuckle, sipping gently as if to wash the taste of them away. Tea had never been one of his favorite drinks, but Ximo’s skill in brewing was unsurpassed, and the flavor was exquisite. “Fine words. Yet I wonder for whose benefit I truly said them, and so they must ring hollow in my case.”
“Either way, they are no less worthy. Come, old friend. Jephraim Bornhald may have been a son of Dorn, but this self-flagellation ill suits you. Do you not recall the words you once shared with me, when I spoke with you after the incident with that Inquisitor? When I asked your counsel upon the geneseed I ordered seized to replenish the losses his ignorant pride caused my Chapter to suffer, doubting utterly my own decrees and actions? Those were not words of hollow platitude.”
Victoriege nodded. “Aye. I told you that it is a righteous duty to secure the future of Mankind even above its present, and that the greatest deeds of our life pale before the worth of ensuring our successors will sustain and surpass them. That the inevitable failings and regrets in our lives are vindicated in the face of the same.”
“Just so. Heed, then, the words of wisdom I drew greater surety from hearing leave your lips, and do not let your doubts shackle you. You spoke those words from your heart, and you spoke them to me alone, for my sake alone. Now that they happen to apply to you as well, you cannot shirk them as self-serving, hmm?"
Although his friend's mask was immobile, and he knew from personal experience that there was no face and precious little skull beneath it, somehow Victoriege couldn't shake the feeling that Ximo was smiling as he spoke again.
"Whatever else your faults in the Emperor’s eyes might be, you have sacrificed to protect the Emperor’s flock, and sacrificed more to build your chapter a legacy of glory, so that your successors will continue to do the same. Time and time again I have known you to chose personal hardship for the sake of others, rather than choosing ease and convenience for yourself. For that alone, would I deem you a worthy ally in His cause. For that and much more, I deem you comrade, and have seen ties of blood-brotherhood forged between our Chapters. You trust my judgement as I trust yours, Bright Lord. If you cannot have your own confidence, have confidence in that, and in the Emperor.”
The stained-glass hero seemed to draw strength from the smaller man’s words, and it looked as though a tiredness that added decades left his ageless face. “Aye, you have the right of it! The trust of worthy comrades, and faith in the cause; between them, a warrior wants for nothing.”
“The Emperor lays a path before us all. I worry whether I am fit to lead others upon mine, Ximo, but you are right. I may still strive to follow it regardless of those doubts, and need never doubt the path is there. Thank you for the tea, and for your words.”
With a small bow of respect from one ancient lord to another, he rose, setting his cup down on the table. “Ximo, I have a growing feeling it will not be too long now before my fate finds me. But I look to my comrades again, those who stand beside me and those who sit across from me, and I think I shall not permit it to find me wanting.”
He turned, then, and left the pavilion, headed towards the hangar bay where Tasalian vessel met Ramiles starfort in a great riot of machinery, one of the Citadel’s many docks alive with motion as it refuelled the ship for its next voyage. Watching Victoriege return to his Chapter’s vast fortress-monastery, the Supernovan truly would have smiled, if he had still had a face, and poured himself another cup of tea.
“No, my friend… No, I do not think you shall.”