The Pain of Sacrifice
THE ETERNITY GATE.
The forbidden entrance to the heart and soul of The Imperium of Man.
Pilgrims from all over the galaxy tramp the long road to see the sacred entrance to the holiest of places. Most of them will never finish their journey or reach their ultimate goal. Uncounted billions will fail and millions will die on the way.
It is a pilgrimage that only the truly pious will attempt.
Three figures, a small group amongst thousands, trudged slowly along a road worn to the sheen of glass by countless feet. If one looked carefully they would notice that the group wore uniforms of a sort which were now threadbare and faded.
Many soldiers made the journey. They had fought for their God and now they wished to be near him at the very end.
It had already taken this group the best part of two years to get from the spaceport at the Katmanda Gate to the outer walls of the Imperial Palace.
There appeared to be no end in sight. They might not make it in time.
Please my beloved Emperor, bless those who have made this most Holy journey. Look upon your devoted children and grant them safe passage.
Et beatus est quicumque non tuetur nos.
Blessed is he who protects us.
To sergeant Norog, pulling the Commissar was an honour and not a chore. Lord-Commissar Anton Scheuer was not heavy.
For what seemed like a lifetime, he had hauled the old man along in a small, improvised rickshaw made from scraps he had fixed together. It was barely roadworthy, its wheels battered and worn by the endless miles they had travelled. By land, air and sea they moved slowly towards the ultimate goal; The heart of Holy Terra and the Sanctum Imperialis, the Legendary Golden Throne, where the master of Mankind watched over Humanity.
“I can feel His presence,’ Scheuer would often mutter. ‘I feel his warmth and see his guiding light.” Sergeant Norog would smile and reverently stroke the old man’s grey hair.
“Soon be dere Boss,” he would always reply. “Soon be dere.”
Trusted Tamachi, the erstwhile Chorgoris scout, lead the way, weaving them along a path that only he knew, and keeping them clear of the curious or the foolhardy who dared stand in their way. Norog was physically imposing, but Tamachi was a hidden weapon that killed and maimed without pity or compunction. It was after all, his sworn blood-oath to get Norog and the frail Lord-Commissar to the journeys end.
“I want to see it,” said the Commissar. “I want to be near him at the end.” And his loyal Norog, the tough Ogryn sergeant who had fought alongside him in countless battles across the stars, was determined to grant his dying wish.
Terra was not a pleasant place to be, and the roads that lead to the Imperial Palace were fraught with dangers. Even near the heart of an Empire and close to the citadel of a God, there was lawlessness and evil.
Bodies lay everywhere.
Most of them were pilgrims, dressed in white robes and wearing broad hats. Some of them were in rags stained with blood and filth. Some, like these men wore the uniform of the Guard, proud and true.
Scavengers stripped the dead clean and recycling teams took them away. There was no dignity here in the mountains on top of the world.
The smell was unbearable.
They kept going, one foot in front of the other, mile after agonising mile, ignoring the dead and the extended hands of the destitute and needy.
When they ran out of food, Norog would fight in the Pits against all-comers. Sometimes Tamachi would slip out at night and come back with exotic foodstuffs that none of them had ever seen before. They never asked him where he got the stuff from. It was best not to enquire.
Hard faced Arbites moved them on with shoves and threats, sneering at their uniforms and bearing. No one was special here, no one deserved better treatment than the rest.
Scheuer tried to protest and he threatened all sorts of retribution on these men, but his medals and decorations meant nothing to them.
“Move along citizen. Move along.”
Then one clear morning they passed through a massive bastion of adamantium bristling with weaponry, its walls lined with grim troopers in carapace armour bearing the winged Aquila emblem of Terra.
Scheuer’s eyes were closed, but he had a wide smile on his face. His fingers were crossed across his chest.
He whispered litanies and prayed for more time.
Onwards and upwards through crowds of chanting pilgrims and then further and deeper into the Palace where wonderful murals lined walls of gold and silver depicting the Lord of Man with his vaunted Space Marines. Battles. Wars. Victories.
Then there were gargantuan statutes of heroes from antiquity and Incredible works or art that were the size of small Hives. Sights that no man had ever beheld, nor ever would again.
Then finally one day, they were stopped by the masses who were now silent and in awe.
“Dere is a door Boss, a shiny door wiv two big men.” Said Norog enthusiastically.
Scheuer smiled, gripping the ogryn’s arm.
“It is the gate sergeant. The way leading to it is a mile long. Those...” he coughed a deep throaty cough. “Those men are Imperial titans.” He tried to laugh but the effort caused him distress. “Titans... the big metal walkers…”
“I will lift you up Boss, so you can see dem. Me and Tachi will help you up.”
But when they went to him, the Hero of the Augustus Gate and the Siege of Andromeda was gone. Lord-commissar Scheuer was with his God now and forever at peace.
Across that sanctified mile. Past the millions of banners and flags and the statues of the Heroes of the Imperium. Beyond that golden gate, the greatest man to have ever lived looked down on all he surveyed. Was that a sigh in a place without sound? Was that a whisper in a place that no spoken word was uttered? If one of the hundreds of golden warriors of the Custodes dared glance in His direction, and upon that grim, mummified face that none dared to look upon, would they have seen a tiny sparkle in the corner of one of those empty eye sockets?
A tear of sadness perhaps? A tiny sign from He who watches over all…