In the grim darkness of the far future, man grovels at the feet of man.
On your knees!
The words will be ring out like a whiplash. Harken, quickly! The barked command demands swift compliance. The audience of the order knows that their life depends on it. After all, if a superior has to voice such an obvious instruction to underlings upon entering their company, then the very command itself should be understood as a test of loyalty and obedience, for which you may be judged harshly. Failing the trial may cost you everything.
Summary punishments for failure to rapidly obey are all too common. Withheld rations and debt penalties are among the lighter punishments to be expected. Often the breach of discipline may involve corporal punishment such as flogging, scarification, scalding and burning. Occasionally the punishment will involve mutilation, and sometimes lobotomization and servitorization without anaesthetics. At other times death will be the consequence of not kowtowing eagerly when ordered to, usually through a lengthty phase of torture in dark chambers or on full public display. Kill one to scare a thousand.
Yet even unpunished lapses in giving obeisance to masters and ladies of rank may bring insidious consequences, as somewhere among data-files and parchments made from human skin will be marked a blot in the offending subject's record. A little runic symbol in a column here, or a quick note in the margin there. A noted instance of disobedience, in black on white. Nothing more than such a little quill-stroke of ink is required to doom the deviant, should a regular paranoid wave of arrests and purges roll out, and suspected traitors and heretics be dragged away to a hellish fate worse than death. Of course, the ever-present penchant for collective punishment means that the risks are not merely limited to the offending deviant in question, but may well result in crushed clans and parents never seeing their children again.
Such is the weighty meaning of explicitly spoken commands to bow low and crawl in the dust before superiors. Such is the threat of a baleful demise for the smallest infractions against the sacred hierarchy, in a time beyond hope.
It was not always thus. Stray findings from the misty past of the Age of Terra hint at human civilizations devoted to liberties and lessening of rank and privilege. Technoarchaeological uncoverings and mentions in garbled legends of yore paint a fragmented picture of the Dark Age of Technology, when men, women and children did not buckle under the yoke, but instead lived out their long lives in paradisic quests for knowledge and exploration of the universe. Such forgotten idylls of human existence were burnt to cinders by the ravages of Old Night, as human interstellar civilization was toppled from its lofty pedestal by the triple scourges of machine revolt, witches and Warp storms. Shattered ito n a thousand thousand pieces, most of isolated humanity turned to the worst excesses of warlords, roaming nomadic warriors and cannibalism, as tribes of feral survivors clashed and scavenged among the ruins of the ancients.
This Age of Strife was at long last ended by the coming of the Emperor, arising on Terra, the cradle of mankind, holding aloft a banner of lightning and a cruel eagle talon to grasp all the scattered remnants of humanity under His rule alone. In a fury of conquest did the Emperor of man and His Legions cut a bloody swathe through the Milky Way galaxy, crushing all opposition and tolerating no alternative sources of human regrowth. This systemic brutality was coupled with higher ideals of striving for knowledge and improving the lot of mankind, all encapsulated within the lying formulas of the Imperial Truth. For all the bloodshed and subjugation, the early Imperium also brought with it great hope to most worlds and voidholms brought into Imperial Compliance, as witnessed by the shining edifices, sparkling fountains and golden towers erected during this renaissance of broken man. When the Emperor walked among His people in the flesh, civic society saw a flourishing revival, with the ideal of Imperial citizenship was held up for all humans to strive for.
The early Imperium during the Great Crusade truly sported an active citizenry. While almost all of humanity during this period must be understood as the brutalized descendants of post-apocalyptic survivors who had went through millennia of demented savagery in nightmare landscapes, the promises harboured in the better parts of our nature could still be brought forth, like seeds sprouting once planted after inert centuries of no growth. Civilian society on most human colonies during the early Imperium was a caleidoscope of warriors and sages, of builders and artisans. The Emperor in the flesh did not only demand obedience, He also promised dignity and participation in His grand undertaking. Imperial mankind during the Great Crusade aimed not only for distant stars of future greatness and a million year dominion, but it also sought to create a better here and now wherever men, women and children lived. Voluntary organizations sprang up like mushrooms after rain, as Imperial citizens both high and low banded together to form everything from fire brigades, scholams and charitable hospitals, to volunteer munitions workshops and local unions supporting their faraway Imperial Army regiments.
Popular movements, local associations and mutual support among Imperial citizens became the lived ideal of the early Imperium, and many people willingly offered up their wealth and time to help bring alive the Emperor's professed dream of a better mankind and a stronger Imperium to defend and expand the species. During the Great Crusade, the notion of an Imperial citizen meant something, and not only in dusty law codes.
The bane of this shining dream was the calamity of the Horus Heresy. The realization of the Emperor's vision was vanquished when the galaxy burned and brother slew brother in a great orgy of bloodletting. No more dreams of a golden future could grip the hearts of mankind after such an utter disaster. No respect for citizenship had a place amid the febrile mobilization for total war without end. No trust for the better parts of man's nature could be had after monstrous betrayal and neverending struggle turned the Imperium of Man paranoid and draconic. No remorse. No regret. No mercy.
The concept of citizenship under Imperial governance was alive and well during the early Imperium, but has long since wilted and been burnt to ashes through fivehundred generations of starkest trauma, carnage and demented degradation of mankind. The civil war of the Horus Heresy broke the back of man's rise to the stars, and the dysfunctional tyranny of the High Lords of Terra slowly eroded away the last remnants of the Emperor's brutopian dream, leaving nothing of value in their wake. And so we find that there is no such thing as an Imperial citizen in the latter parts of the Age of Imperium.
In Gothic, the very word of 'citizen' has lost all meaning that it once held during the promising times of the Great Crusade. Nowadays, the Low Gothic language speaks only of Imperial subjects, for they are citizens no more.
After all, how could wretched humans in the decrepit Age of Imperium imagine themselves as anything but smallfolk, little people with no control over their fates? Naturally, decisions will be imposed on the fatalistic herd of helots from above, and the thralls of the Emperor have no hope of ever changing the status quo. All they can do is grit their teeth, bear the burdens and hope that they survive through hardships without end. The members of our species in the Age of Imperium are but inhabitants of a territory, the bonded serfs and thralls of their masters and overladies, those superiors whose authority radiates out from the God-Emperor seated in heavenly splendour on the Golden Throne of hallowed myth. Ave Imperator.
To an Imperial subject, there is no freedom, only obedience. There are no rights, only duties. On a million worlds and voidholms beyond counting you will find masses of humans, all cowed, clannish and parochial. This violent sea of human misery is expected to give Terran obeisance and to humiliate themselves whenever they come into the company of their masters and betters. This custom of prostration is an ever-present symbol of submission to Imperial authority whever you go across His Divine Majesty's cosmic domains. A loyal and obedient subject will know to offer proskynesis and adoratio, to kowtow and bow flat to the floor. Of course, the forehead must touch the ground out of respect for upper castes, nothing else would do. Nevermind the unhealthy alchymical dust particles. Some forms of prostration in certain human cultures across the Imperium of Man will even include the licking of superiors' feet, though this is not a custom in the trend-setting high culture of Holy Terra.
The act of crawling in the dust before your betters is a sign of the times, of that Age of Imperium where man finds himself locked inside a fortified madhouse, raging against the dying of the light. As a rule, human commoners under Imperial rule cannot even conceive of the idea that they could be something more and still remain loyal Imperial commoners. For the smallfolk, the only choice stands between the whips of servitude and the flames of revolt. The very idea of civil society with citizen participation and local voluntary grassroot organizations under Holy Terran rule is completely alien to man during the sclerotic Age of Imperium. Any hint of striving for becoming citizenry will be crushed under the jackboot, as Imperial paranoia does not tolerate even the threat posed by volunteer firefighting corps. After all, any such bottom-up organization may turn out to be the framework for disgruntled underlings to launch organized rebellions against righteous Imperial rule. Better instead to quench any such hotbeds of sedition, and let serfs burn helplessly when disaster strike, unless they can pay the fee of firefighting corps. Emperor willing, their souls will find a better afterlife at His side after perishing as lambs of sorrow in this mortal coil of suffering. All life is but a trial to prove oneself worthy before death, after all.
Grovel at the feet of lordly masters and dominas. Humiliate yourself in veneration of your overlords, righteously appointed via invisible sacred hand by Him on Terra. In the Imperium of Man, people are resigned to their fate. Things are decided for them on high. It is miserable, yes, but that is how it is in the Imperium, and how it has always been. Fighting against it is pointless. It is best for Imperial subjects to offer up slavish obedience, for that way salvation of the soul lies. The alternative is too baleful to even consider. And so servants of the Golden Throne will humble themselves in the dust, at the feet of their cruel taskmasters and callous owners. Under the Adeptus Terra's rule of an iron fist, their life will amount to grinding duty without any semblance of rights, all give and no take, all suspicion and no trust, all stick and no carrot.
To Imperial subjects slaving away in backbreaking labour and mindnumbing work, the only comfort lies in faith and the only relief is found in the promised afterlife, for this material world has turned into hell on earth, where humans are both its tormented souls and its devils. The Age of Imperium has resulted in a complete loss of human dignity, as the end point of a retarding journey into the deepest pits of depravity.
This descendant degeneration has moulded men, women and children into the fatalistic denizens of a mortal hellscape, a star realm that was once the shining dream of the Emperor of mankind.
A forgotten dream.
A dead dream.
And so the worsening of the Imperium grinds on, in a slow death spiral of demechanization and loss of knowledge that will drag the human species with it into the pits of oblivion.
To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. It is to toil and die amid darkness, in a doomed empire lorded over by the vilest of despots. At all turns, your sacrifice will be expected. Your death will be thankless.
And whatever happens, you will not be missed.
It is the fortyfirst millennium, and there is only submission.
"Salve. Colonel general Károly von Pflanzer-Nádas, commander of the Imperial and Royal Astro-Ungarian LXXXIII. Army Corps, noble servant of the Duarchy and officer of His Divine Majesty's Astra Militarum?"
"Correct, protasekretius. Explain this ill-uniformed commotion at once! What is this armed rabble you have dragged in?"
"As per the filed request of general Kaspar Klausner-Varešanin of the Imperial and Royal Astro-Ungarian 973rd infantry division, under your august command no less, in the fullness of time this entire regiment of replacements has been transported and assigned to your Corps, colonel general. You are called upon to sign this reinforcement acquisition form in quadruplicate and imprint your signet ring in hot wax on each parchment copy to satisfy Departmento Munitorum protocol, colonel general."
"Replacements! Those are clearly offworlders, and filthy ones at that, protasekretius. Is this a form of joke?"
"The Departmento Munitorum do not administer wit, colonel general. That is outside our jurisdiction and permit. And strictly against Adeptus regulations, for the record. Last notary in the armaments requisition bureau to voice an ill-opportune quip of blasphemous nature was sentenced to death by a thousand paper cuts at the hands of his colleagues, though I am informed that the execution of said sentence required closer to seven thousand administered cuts by paper edges to achieve the desired lethal outcome. Nevertheless, justice was served, for thus perish the wicked. Thus to your question the answer is a negative, colonel general. These are your assigned reinforcements."
"But check their homeworld, man! Are my Corps to become some ad hoc jumbled-together mess of forces from all over the Segmentum? Things are surely not yet that dire. Protasekretius, I refuse to believe that this tanned and slovenly riffraff could possibly have hailed from my dear Astro-Ungaria."
"Objection duly noted, colonel general. The documentation states without doubt that this force, the 44th regiment of infantry, originates from your planet of Strayah-Ungaria, colonel general."
"Surely you mean Astro-Ungaria, protasekretius?"
"Strayah-Ungaria it is, being a legitimate variant spelling, colonel general."
"I am aghast, protasekretius! You offend the honour of my homeworld. If you were a man of action I would challenge you to a duel on the spot. Or drink you under the table. Indeed!"
"Take heed, colonel general! The writing do not lie, for it stands here in black on white, as true as the Emperor's holy light, colonel general. It is an indisputable fact, colonel general. The Departmento Munitorum cannot object to every misspelt name, wording error and quaint variant spelling out of dialect and individual excentricity produced by the milling herd of plebs and august nobles, colonel general. Unforgiving penalties may apply to such writing mistakes for us Imperial servants within the Adeptus Administratum, yes! Yet the herd of semi-illiterate subjects which it is our responsibility to administer can not be scrutinized and penalized thusly, colonel general."
"And as to the topic of misspelling in particular and indecent paperwork in general, then by the God-Emperor of Holy Terra as my hallowed witness do I swear that you Strayah-Ungarians have proven a poorly organized asset to the Imperium, with sloppy spelling and wild variations in naming conventions all over the desk! Your scattershot misnamings and filing havoc are almost as bad as your casualty rate, by the Emperor's teeth! This is the truth and pardon the spittle, colonel general. If your ilk kept your writ in as fine an order as you do your starched uniforms and waxed moustaches, then by the saints would there be rigour and order in the buraeux whenever your parchments show up in the tray, colonel general!"
"In that case I will grudgingly sign, seal and file a formal complaint, protasekretius."
"Complaint denied, colonel general. Proper equipment for undertaking a ritual procedure of formal complaint is not present in our field cabinet and can not be retrieved in time within the next eighteen Terran hours due to fuel shortages and signal breakdowns, colonel general. Your complaint will as such expire unanswered, and thus no ink will be shed over it as per the statutes of the Parchment Savings Decree of 912.M41, paragraph § 47, colonel general."
"Enough of this rigmarole! Begone from my sight you maggot-suckling scrivener! Hand me the papers and let us be done with it, protasekretius."
"In His name."
"The hell it is! As to you, colonel Jezza Joe, fate would have it that you are to serve and die alongside the Emperor's finest soldiery here on the Ligurian front. Indeed. We are the Duarch's very own Astro-Ungarian Imperial Guardsmen of the LXXXIII. Army Corps. Consider it an honour, colonel. Pray often, wash regularly, carry yourself with upright dignity and obey your superiors without question at all times. Welcome, colonel. Ave Imperator!"
"G'day mate. From Strayah with love like a fething wocker, cur'nt gen. For the Empie!"
- Anecdote from Marija Svoboda's autobiography Through Eyes of Aide-de-Camp, literary work approved by planetary censors in 942.M41 and published in Low Gothic on Astro-Ungaria by Printing House Ginzkey of Hive Zweidorf
In the grim darkness of the far future, ignorance informs imagination.
Behold! The Imperium of Man. The defender of our species. An empire of a million worlds and countless voidholms, the Imperium of Holy Terra and Mars stretches thin across the galaxy. Besieged by aliens and monsters, it is beset from within by rebels and worse. For ten thousand years has this rotting edifice of human limitations endured, in the name of a silent Emperor.
For all the resilience and rebounding might of the beleaguered Imperium, the true state of human affairs in the Age of Imperium is not to be sought amid heroics and brilliant deeds, nor among miracles and lives of bottomless faith. Nay, instead let us brush aside the propaganda and the stories Imperials tell themselves, to look instead with open eyes on what the Imperium is, and what it can never become.
The Age of Imperium for humanity is characterized first and foremost by wasted potential. The golden pinnacles of cunning knowledge and plenty that was the Dark Age of Technology came crashing down in a calamity that nigh on wiped the human species from the stars. The scattered remnants for the large part persisted as utter savages among the ruins, in the shape of cannibal ferociously tribes raiding each other and looting the scraps left over from the failed promises of better times. Man slew man, and woman harrowed woman, and child strangled child during the fathomless desperation of Old Night. And all was fell.
The Imperium began as a promise of rebirth, an iron fist crushing all opposition to both establish cruel unity and grasp for a better future. Yet the renaissance brought about by the Emperor of Man and His all-conquering Legions was but a gasp of a few centuries. Dazzling were their conquests, and impressive was their restoration of human fortunes across the Milky Way galaxy. Yet for all the shining works, recovered knowledge and real hope of the early Imperium, this ruthless colossus of war and subjugation sowed the seeds of human doom. Granted, the gargantuan civil war of the Horus Heresy destroyed much precious tech-lore and scarred the Imperium forever, yet even the fratricidal rage and maniac killing during the Horus Heresy paled in comparison to the smaller wars of greater consequence that the infighting Legions had already carried out during the Great Crusade.
For the early Imperium did not only bring feral survivors and scavengers into the Terran fold, but it did also brook no competition. In the long run, the worst crimes of the Great Crusade was the brutal annihilation of all alternative sources of human regrowth, gathering all future paths for humanity across the stars to converge on the one road leading from Terra unto damnation. Such advanced human civilization as the Interex, the Olamic Quietude, the Diasporex and the Auretian Technocracy were all stamped out by His Legionnaires. The seeds of these interstellar cultures were never allowed to grow and spread and shape the fate of mankind across the galaxy in competing power blocs. Thus was the destiny of all humanity bound to that of resurgent Terra by strangling her daughters in the cradle.
The immense physical might and quantity of forces available to the High Lords of Holy Terra should not be allowed to mislead us from the real state of affairs of mankind, for the truth of the matter is that the children of Old Earth during the Age of Imperium has sunk into an irreversible death spiral, where quests for knowledge mean only digging up the technological fossils of brighter ancestors, and never the toil and ingenuity of innovation and discovery. In this morass of ever-worsening demechanization, suffocating bureaucracy, frothing fanaticism and schreeching inefficiency, dysfunctionality is king, and the worsening of all mankind is his command.
Here, in a fortified madhouse straddling the stars, the last strong guardian of humanity is also its insane captor and hostage-taker. Here, in a demented cosmic realm worshipping human primacy, human power in the Milky Way galaxy has undergone a baleful decline through fivehundred generations of wasted development on a million worlds and innumerable voidholms, all under the aegis of the Adeptus Terra. Here, in the monstrous tyranny and bane of innovation and scientific rediscovery known as the Imperium of Man, will you be able to find every self-deprecating absurdity imaginable to mortals, as the fundamental mood of the human species has soured to a dull bitterness spiked with hatred, even as its faculties has boiled over in a fever pitch of savage zealotry and self-righteous bloodletting.
And so blessed machines designed by clever ancients will fail, and eventually no one will remain who can repair or build the lost machines anew. Where machines fail, flesh and will must pick up the slack. Where machines break down, men and beasts must heave and pull for all that they are worth. The Imperium can never become a pinnacle of human achievement and genius invention in the fields of science and technology, for it has shunned that which makes man truly great in the world, clinging instead to parochial superstition and the wreckage of bygone makers.
One example of this demechanization and reliance on throwing bodies on a problem can be glimpsed on the planet of Astro-Ungaria, where a peculiar solution to a lack of mobile heavy firepower has seen parody become reality, in the form of heavy weapon horse teams.
Let us glance on Astro-Ungaria, a civilized human world of majestic rivers, great mountain ranges and an endless tide of squabbling tribes and sects. Predominantly of a Catholodox persuasion within the Cult Imperialis, this world of misery and splendour is ruled by the mediocre potentate titled the Duarch, a Planetary Governor of an ancient dynasty who reigns over the Imperial and Royal domains of Astro-Ungaria for the sake of the dear homeworld and Holy Terra alike. The Duarchy is characterized by internal strife held together by ancestral loyalty to the ruling house, and faith in His Divine Majesty. All of the Astro-Ungarian military is chronically underfunded, and has gained a reputation for widespread incompetence, constant shortages, stulted leadership and screeching dysfunctionality, all of which is barely held together by a mass of manpower, solid infantry marksmanship and excellent artillery.
The aristocratic officers of the Astro-Ungarian military are renowned for their splendid banquets and parties, with fine chocolates and waltzes accompanying wonderful dresses and uniforms seen gliding over polished dance floors. Indeed, a great many Astro-Ungarian officers tend to act like characters out of operettas, putting great stock in their lineage and standing as well as in their physical appearance and pleasant conduct at social events, while paying less attention to the operational arts of militaria. Do you suppose that the Astro-Ungarians will be as brave in war as they are licentious in peace? A sinspeech whisper joke that refuses to die continue to claim that Astro-Ungarian colonels will be more concerned with winning the next card game than the next battle on the frontline. Likewise, other banned jokes remark upon the ability of officers to always acquire fine liquour, no matter the dire straits of shortage or encirclement by the foe. The officer's mess cannot be allowed to disgrace the honour of the homeworld, even when Astro-Ungarian soldiers have to dig up old mass graves to scavenge uniforms off the rotting corpses of their fallen comrades.
The logistical malperformance and organizational chaos of most Astro-Ungarian regiments within the Imperial Guard tend to be matched by their wasteful and rigid approach to war, carried aloft at bayonet point by an unbreakably optimistic spirit, faith in the offensive and the dreams of grand sweeping battle plans hatched by a noble general staff that does not possess the equipment and trained forces necessary to carry out their overly ambitious visions of glorious offensives. Indeed, the Astro-Ungarian Planetary Defence Force and Imperial Guard could very well have been strong armies, if given sufficient funding and vastly increased mechanized forces. Instead, the haphazard force structure of Astro-Ungarian units tend to revolve around massed infantry, a love of cavalry and a good artillery corps which often end up carrying the rest of the Astro-Ungarian army on its back.
The better trained soldiers of the Death Korps of Krieg have repeatedly concluded that fighting alongside Astro-Ungaria is akin to being chained to a corpse. It is an overly harsh judgement, but nevertheless an exaggeration built upon truth. The corruption, ineptitude and lacklustre performance of Astro-Ungarian regiments within the Astra Militarum has been repeatedly noted by the Departmento Munitorum, yet ultimately Astro-Ungaria provides plenty of loyal and valiant manpower, while the shoddy combat record of its Imperial Guard forces is nothing out of the ordinary compared to a majority of Imperial worlds and voidholms, once the facade of Imperial invincibility is seen for what it is. And so the farce that is Astro-Ungaria at war continues to waltz on, to the tune of great bombardment.
The underfunded nature of Astro-Ungaria's soldiery means that they will be fine for parades, with military orchestras of the highest calibre, yet their more sophisticated equipment will always be sorely lacking. One example of an attempted solution can be seen in the crude arrangement known as the heavy weapon horse teams, which combines a love of horses with an undying military optimism ill suited for the reality of advanced warfare.
The phenomenon of heavy weapon horse is not just that of one or more pack-horses carrying a disassembled piece of heavy weaponry. It is instead a seemingly logical evolution of pack horses carrying around heavy weapons, which grants mobility in the field and makes away with the trouble of unloading and assembling the heavy weapon by instead attaching it fully assembled to the horse, to be fired virtually on the move if so desired. The use of heavy weapon horse teams originated in cavalry heavy stubber units after the Age of Apostasy in order to make up for a lack of light vehicles, but has long since spread to a fair number of infantry and dragoon regiments.
There is something to be said for horses, no matter their innumerable drawbacks compared to machines. The horse is an organic walker adapted for rough terrain. Such equine transport requires no fuel, and in lush landscapes the beasts of burden may prove self-feeding. Even so, the tradition of using horses as hooved weapon platforms amounts to a maladaptation, even a blunder, yet such crude fixes through rudimentary means are only growing more common across His astral dominion.
The horses used for carrying heavy weapons will usually be Immensely strong Ungarian draft horses, descended from small breeds favoured by feral steppe nomads during the Age of Strife. The Ungarian draft horse is not a gorgeous and agile Viepizzaner breed by any means, but a stout workhorse favoured by agri-serfs and robotniks in mountainous regions. No matter the continent and region from which they hail, all Astro-Ungarians take pride in their horses, and their regiment tend to sport a great number of horses for logistic duties.
Heavy weapon horse teams will invariably sport spare horses to allow for shifts of rest by switching over the heavy weapons, and likewise there will be pack-horses to carry ammunition and spare parts. A lack of horses for spares and ammunition transport will result in officers arranging for conscripts and press-ganged menial civilian thralls to pick up the burden usually shouldered by strong horses, thus producing the sight of flocks of human porters lugging around heavy weapons adapted for equines to carry.
Hard to hide, heavy weapon horses are trained to lie down on command, and they are likewise drilled to walk into a hail of fire when prodded. It is rarely worthwhile to armour the horses, given the heavy loads that they already carry, and thus the fine beasts will be completely exposed to all the lethal dangers of the battlefield. Heavy weapon horses are trained to be accustomed to the noise of battle, and they often turn deaf from the din, and sometimes they turn more or less blind by flashes from energy weapons. Crafty crew may occasionally fashion blinders and dampeners for the eyes and ears of their horses, yet such kit for creature comfort is not regulation standard within the Guard.
Some Astro-Ungarian units sport strange, alien mounts and draft animals, all of which are used alongside horses for heavy weapon carrying duties. Aside from horses, other Terran-derived beasts of burden include mules and camels.
Many Astro-Ungarian regiments have seen their Sentinel scout units replaced by unwieldy heavy weapon horse, in a dysfunctional cutback which makes sense on paper. After all, both cavalry and Sentinel walkers are used as scouts since horses are fast, right? And the Sentinel is armed with a heavy weapon, correct? Thus, a horse with a heavy weapon equals the function of a Sentinel in an Imperial Guard order of battle, but has the advantage of being much cheaper, being able to replenish its own numbers to some extent and being able to feed off many kinds of vegetation for refueling. Therefore, a heavy weapon horse can fill a Sentinel's role, according to certain myopic bean-counters in the Deptartmento Munitorum, who will wave off the problem of the heavy weapon burden considerably slowing down the horse.
Occasionally, heavy bolters with their short barrels will shoot off the reins of the carrying horse, to speak nothing of bloody accidents involving heavy bolters and scared horses throwing their heads into the line of fire.
Horse mortars, on the other hand, tend to sport flimsy support legs to save the horse from the worst excesses of recoil, but the tight requirements for ease of mass manufacture and the ever-worsening Imperial tendency for retardation of equipment quality means that mortar horses will invariably suffer horrendous back injuries, unless the crew take rare pity on their loyal beast and goes through the trouble of unloading the mortar to be fired on the ground instead of from horseback. Such kindness is extremely hard to find in the traumatized cruelty that reigns supreme across all human cultures in the Age of Imperium, for evil begets evil. A rare few mortar horses will be fortunate enough to have bionics implanted into their spines and legs, yet such enchancements through technology is usually seen as an unnecessary extravagant lavishment upon a mass of meat that will soon be consumed in the flames of war anyway, just like the rank and file soldiers who will soon need to be replaced due to heavy attrition. Better be frugal instead.
The use of heavy weapon horse teams in the field have proven an inefficient employment of resources, yet even flawed approaches may sometimes yield results no matter how underperforming, and sometimes the weakness of a doctrine may be hidden among the titanic casualties in offensives that costs hundreds of millions of lives. What is one more waste of life and material amid a mountain of corpses? And with so many regiments with wildly varying combat doctrines and equipment, why should the heavy weapon horse be singled out as particularly problematic when other regiments charge into battle wielding dual swords?
Ultimately, heavy weapon horse teams have for the most part proven a debilitating and atavistic part of warfare across the Milky Way galaxy. Sometimes, such as in forested terrain with the element of surprise being on the Imperial side, heavy weapon horse has bitten hard and kicked well, yet more often than not their contribution to battle may be found in the rotting cadavers of equines, the scrap remains of equipment and the torn corpses of soldiers strewn across battlefields under strange skies. Yet to their callous overlords and dominas, Imperial subjects and horses are nothing but faceless numbers in a broken equation of increased input to feed the meatgrinder. It may be abominable, yes, but who will even care?
And so ever-more primitive solutions will be found for problems caused by the senility and sclerosis of a demented interstellar civilization that amounts to a sinking ship. Where machines have decreased, the increased use of warm bodies must compensate for the loss of mechanical capabilities. Thus the heavy weapon horse phenomenon is just one of endless other examples of technological regression and debasement of knowledge, that slowly grinds away all that ancient man ever achieved across the stars in his time of power and wisdom. Eventually, his degenerate descendants will succumb to their retrograde ways, for the etiolation of technology has robbed mankind of any chance whatsoever to survive the overwhelming tide of horrors about to drag our species into oblivion.
Man may be a creature of unbounded potential, yet the astral dominion that he has fashioned in the name of an undying god has effectively drained all potential dry, leaving nothing but a crumbling husk where once ancient man boldly reached for the stars and stood on the cusp of unlocking the secrets of creation self. All that is left, is inept rage.
And so the heinous cruelty that man is capable of in the Age of Imperium is matched only by the dilapidation of knowledge and technology, upon which all of man's future hopes rest.
Such is the depravity of our species, on the brink of doom.
Such is the fate of mankind, in a time beyond salvation.
Such is the end that awaits us all.
It is the fortyfirst millennium, and there is only shortcoming.
- - -
See here for converted miniature examples of heavy weapon horse teams.
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