Grand Provost Marshall Elune Gudarra, master of all arbites and High Lord of Terra, strode purposefully through the Hall of Imperial Glories, the thousands of masterpieces that covered the walls and floor, depicting victories in war, state and faith, holding no interest for her under the current circumstances. Above the wide floor, the titanic roof was an armour-glass vault so high that artificial weather formed inside it. The light of sunset bathed the monumental room in a warm orange glow that turned the unbelievable amount of gold used to coat every surface blood red.
The kilometres of marble hall, usually heaving with a thronging mass of men and women from all the myriad aspects of the Imperium, was empty save for the footfalls of the select few who had been called to council and their retinues.
Gudarra was a tall and shapely woman seemingly in her late thirties, with piercing grey eyes and hair the colour of ash, her footfalls sounded strangely heavier than even the largest of her retainers. The reason, well known to her acquaintances, was also the reason for her meteoric rise through the ranks of the arbites. When just a low ranking officer, green and uncertain, Gudarra had led the defence of a Mechanicum titan foundry against the marauding Greenskin after having executed the PDF commander for cowardice. In the resulting engagement, Gudarra's tactical prowess saw the foundry held long enough for Skitarri forces to come to the relief. The price however had been high. Over 80% casualties within the PDF and Gudarra herself had been near killed when Ork flame units had stormed her command bunker. Suffering horrific burns, organ failure and loss of limbs, it had seemed the young arbite's career was over and the best course of action was the gift of the Emperor's peace.
The Mechanicum however, remember those who aid them. The saviour of the incomplete Imperator titan 'Righteous Deliverance' was made whole again with the Machine God's blessing. Months later and the young arbite emerged from her coma more machine than flesh, but sensitive to her wishes, the techo Magi overseeing her recovery had hidden the bulk of the augmetics. Synthetic skin sheathed her metal body ensuring the only outward sign of the trauma Gudarra had suffered was a single metal fist, brutish and hissing with electrical energy, an outward sign of the favour of Mars.
Ahead of her an ornate staircase of black granite led to a pair of doors, simple iron rimmed dark wood. A group of high raking officials milled in the waiting area under the watchful eyes of a dozen silent guards in red and gold uniforms. Without breaking stride Gudarra walked between them and took the stairs two at a time, her retinue joining the other men and women in their pointless questions of what was going on.
Ever since the summons for the inner council had reached her personal vox it seemed the only thing the entire Imperial Palace was talking about was this meeting. Unlike the monumental senate room at the other end of the hall, where the hundreds of thousand of senators, lords and other worthies gathered for the great congresses that governed the mighty Imperium, this inner council was where the true wielders of power gathered.
Gudarra was one of the High Lord of Terra, the twelve people that effectively ruled the entire billion strong worlds of Mankind.
Through the wooden doors another pair of the silent guards stood at the controls of the turbo lift that would take Gudarra to her final location. Manipulating the controls the lift got under way with the smallest of lurches and the gravitic compensator hid the fact that the lift was now accelerating at a substantial velocity. Even so the trip straight down took several minutes. The arbite did not attempt to converse with the guards, it was not that she considered herself above them, simply that the guards of this most sensitive of locations in addition to chemical, genetic and mechanical augmentation they were blessed with, were ritually deafened upon their selection. No secrets could be overheard by those without ears to hear.
Finally the lift arrived at her destination. Stepping out and into a small, rounded and darkly lit antechamber that always reminded her of a lecture theatre, Gudarra saw the rest of her peers were already present, standing in small groups chatting cordially. Stopping long enough to place her battered but still perfectly functional power maul from her younger days on the streets in a weapons locker, Gudarra walked over to the only other High Lord she could actually call a friend.
“Marcus!” she shouted, earning a scowl from the Master of the Astronomican who was deep in discussion with Grand Master Oscar Lucius of the Holy Ordos.
“Elune!” replied Marcus Tobias Samworth Decius XXIII Lord Ecclesiarch of the Ministorum, taking her into a hug. Breaking away he looked up at her, his small stature belying his role as the head of the Imperial faith. “How have you been my dear? It's been too long!”
Despite his paternal tone, at nearly 500 years of age Gudarra was nearly two centuries older than the man, the processes keeping his body alive left him looking wizened and slightly frail as opposed to the purely mechanical and genetic improvements that left her functional immortal.
“I've been busy with the troops.”
This, she knew, Decius would understand well. Out of the twelve of them, he was the only other one who shared her deep concern for the people under their command.
“Well I can forgive you for that then,” he smiled at her, “tell me do you know why we're been summoned so suddenly?”
“I believe we're about to find out,” said Gudarra as she gestured towards the door at the far end of the room and the man that walked out.
“My most esteemed lords. This way please.”
The man, known here as the Councillor, was a diplomat extraordinary. Not a Lord of Terra but the facilitator of these meetings, within these walls his word was law and outside his power was nil. Introduced shortly after the council's inception, the Councillor's function was to smooth over harsh words and bring the room to order when the huge ego's of the Lords ran hot. A man for whom the company of the most powerful people in the galaxy was the norm, and yet he seemed... Uncomfortable? Pensive? Afraid?
Leading the Lords into the final dimly lit chamber, he took his position at the head of the room as the twelve Lords sat in a wide semi circle and lobotomised servitors brought each a favoured drink or snack, facing them were a chair, a throne and a small dais. A central throne deep set into the shadows that had been vacant for ten thousand years and was reserved for Him, and to its left was the functional chair of the Councillor. To the right on the dais made of solid obsidian stood the fourteenth and last member of the council. A Custodian, resplendent in gold armour intricate down to a molecular level, taller than even the mighty Astartes but seemingly of a slighter build. His purpose here was as the Eye, the watcher for the Emperor Himself.
What caused Gudarra's frown was that in the more than half century since her elevation she had never seen the Eye wearing full plate. Before today she had only ever seen the Custodian, if it even was the same one each time as he had never spoken or removed his helm, in his black and red mourning attire.
“So. Councillor,” asked Lucius belligerently but oddly he looked slightly sickly, “care to explain why I was pulled away from my duties with no warning for a meeting that no one seems to know what it is about?”
“As my Lord knows full well, I only chair these meetings I do not call them.”
“So who called for this meeting?” blurted the mechanical voice of the Fabricator-General of Mars. A swivel of heads from the assembled Lords failed to find anyone standing to claim responsibility.
“I did,” growled a voice. Deeply masculine and grating like continental plates colliding, it sent an immediate shiver of fear down Gudarra's spine. Her eyes whipped around and she finally saw what had been there all along. A figure sat in the Emperor's own throne. Cowled in a thick heavy robe and hood that looked like it may have once been white but had been burned to a dark char. The looks of shock on the faces of the other Lords confirmed that somehow every one of them had missed the man though he sat in plain sight. Even as she stared her mind rebelled and her gut churned as though she didn't want to see him.
“I summoned you here to issue a warning,” the man continued slowly, “the End is upon us.”
Not a sound could be heard.
“The forces of darkness gather. The veil thins. The throne's mechanisms fail. He decays. And through it all, the so called leaders of Mankind bicker and plot against themselves for petty gain. How disappointing.”
The accusation in the words was undeniable.
“Who are you?” gasped Gudarra, shocked she had even been able to speak.
The man continued as if she hadn't spoken, or maybe her question, the question of a High Lord of Terra was simply beneath him.
“A hundred years. That is it. One hundred years before all this will come crashing down. A hundred years before the enemy is defeated and scattered to the winds. Which one will be true?” he said, seemingly to himself.
“Who are you? In the Emperor's name answer!” Lucius now managed to speak.
“I am the Invisible One. I am the hope of you all. I am the man whom despite his oath of servitude was betrayed by your Emperor.”
The man, whoever he was, now seemed to grow in stature even though he still sat perfectly still as his ire rose.
“I was the Paladin of the Empire. And yet I was still abandoned to die with my sons on a world of daemons, all because I discovered the Primordial truth and made to warned my brothers of its perils.”
With a almost silent whir of motors the man stood and the Lord's gasped. The man, if he was a man, stood taller even then the Custodian and broader than the most gene bulked warrior. At his hip hung a leather scabbard for a sword longer than a mortal man was tall.
“I am the man who will honour his oath to defend this Imperium from all threats inside and out. I will exterminate them all, the xenos, the traitor, the subverter and all those who would sacrifice their fellows for material gains,” he paused. “And then, once I have destroyed all who stand in Mankind’s future, I will walk through the eternity gate and enter His inner sanctum. And I will cast his rotting corpse from the Golden Throne and take his place upon it!”
Shock and horror warred within Gudarra at these words. What was this man?!
Throwing off the dark cloying presence that had kept the twelve Lords seated, Lucius rose to his feet, his face a mask of utter rage and prepared to strike the man down. A pysker of unbelievable powers, Lucius was possibly the strongest witch mind in the Segmentum and the powers he could summon had banished daemons and doomed entire cities to fire and death. Throwing back his hands which were now trailing a bright aura of red light, the inquisitor marshalled his aetheric forces and with an overpressure that burst one of Gudarra's ear drums, he unleashed a bolt of pure devastation at the man standing mere metres away that could have brought down a scout titan. The room turned yellow and her arbite reflexes still as sharp as ever, Gudarra threw herself flat out of the chair and a fireball rolled along the ceiling.
Dazed and unsure she rolled to her feet and stood. The defences built into the room by the Mechanicum had already siphoned off the fire and smoke from most the room and with a quick look Gudarra saw all twelve of the Lord's and the Custodian had survived Lucius's idiot rage although several were unconscious from the blast or choking on smoke. The councillor, closer to the target of the inquisitors rage was not so lucky and now was a barely recognisable lump or charred meat.
In the centre of the room smoke swirled.
“I told you little man, I am the Invisible One,” came the growling voice of the huge man as he stepped from the shadows. His cloak had been partially burned away and underneath a suit of power armour that seemed to be carved from white quartz veined with gold was now visible. His head was still cowled.
Snarling Lucius gestured and his daemon hammer flew from the weapons rack into his hand as he charged. With a movement that would have been too swift to follow had it not been for the bionic eyes she possessed, Gudarra saw the man reach for his sword and in a single movement draw and remove Lucius's hand. The sword was black, and like the man himself hard to look at, the edge seemed inconsistent like it was not really there and the eye slid of its edges like water from a cliff. Before her mind could snap from such an impossible sight the man slid the blade back into its scabbard.
Howling Lucius fell to his knees clutching his stump. His eyes met Gudarra's and she saw a grey tone begin to spread across his flesh radiating from his wrist, within a handful of seconds all that was left of the inquisitor was a desiccated corpse with milky white eyes still boring into hers. He fell and shattered like porcelain.
The man addressed the eleven remaining High Lords, all the while staring dispassionately at the dust that moments before had been one of the most powerful men in the Imperium.
With that single word he reached for his left vambrace and pressed a rune glowing in red.
“Wait!” screamed Gudarra, desperate to know why this had all happened. “WHO ARE YOU!?”
Fixing her with a stare she was sure could have flayed the very soul from her body he finally answered in a way she could understand.
“I am the eleventh.”
With a bang of displaced air the teleport homer took him away.