+ inload: Baal; the beginning of the Alien Wars +

+ Baal, 191.M35 +

Look closely. Through the storms. A mountain range. Closer. Closer. There.

The Chapterhouse of Bibelo is one amongst dozens in the Otranto wing. Like much else of the fortress-monastery, most are closed, their statuary draped with cloth, their doors bolted and windows shuttered.

Periodically, nomadically, the Chapter moves from one Chapterhouse to another, like aristocrats in a too-large manse. The last in the cycle is closed, reverently, its treasures covered and boxed; even as the next is opened.

The serfs, servitors and aspirants go in advance, bearing incense-suffused candela-torches; brooms, brushes, and rad-gear. Dust is chased from the Chapterhouse, cloth is beaten jealously, tarnished metal made to shine once more. All is restored as best the staff are able. Masterworks – paintings, sculptures, tapestries – are cycled from shadow to shadow to preserve them. Those locked in place – the frescos, the carvings – must bear the pernicious sun with naught but dustcloth to preserve them.

It is a battle against entropy itself. 

A serf carefully lifts aside a cloth of fine cottovellum, and grimaces. The painting – an angular rendering of the fourth Prince of the Existon – made a mere decade ago, reveals varnish that is already yellowing in Baal's hard atmosphere. It is a scene repeated across the Chapterhouse, hundreds of swathed men, women and children hesitantly revealing what has failed since last the Chapter stood here.

A handful of the oldest works in the Chapterhouse were made mere centuries after the Division. These are little more than mustard-brown smears, the images beneath all but lost. The wood carvings are bleached. Stone has endured better, but forty-five centuries of accidents – even if only once in a generation – means that rare here is the statue that stands unblemished by time.

Still, the Chapterhouse of Bibelo is one amongst dozens in the complex. Tucked in a nook of the monastery, nestling between the mountainside and the Chamber Cordaline, it has survived better than most. Some, shamefully, have fallen into mandated disuse; rad-rot having penetrated too deeply, the roofing collapsing, walls slumping, or general disrepair overcoming the staff's ability to hang on, 

A series of Masters – Malapapa, the two Leos, Amareo – made reforms to the monastery; even extended it. Strateia were scattered about the whole extent. In the time of Locasto, it was common for the whole brotherhood to be stationed here, but even then, how could a thousand hope to fill a space made for legion? It was, and remains, an echoing place.

Today, as the Imperium bears another period of extended conflict, the Fortress Monastery of the Blood Angels is owl-haunted, its garrison positively skeletal.

...And yet....

...And yet they stand.

+++

Today, the Chapter assembles in the Chapterhouse of Bibelo – at least, those brethren present. Two members of the Chaplaincy stand in the centre of the alongside Martan, the Sanguinarian, and Master Formosus, heir of Sanguinius. 

The current Kolonio garrison company – the honoured Erelim, the third Strateia – enters, heads up, white honour-stoles across broad shoulders. Ancient Nonesuch heads the parade, the Prince Dahavauron (or Erasmus Tycho, to give him his atroatican name) a humble step behind. Montefeltro, Tycho's lieutenant, follows in turn; and behind him the Wards of Erelim.

A handful of ascendant scouts are next, bearing banners, honours, and golden images of the Emperor on long nalwood staves. Trailing these are scores of retainers, plenitentaries and honoured indents, led by the Master Internuncio. 

Finally, the scarlet-armoured veterans of another war march in, to take up their role as Kolonio in turn. These are the fifth Strateia, the Oertha, commanded by Prince Ofaniel Glorioso. Only they are not. Not any more. Ofaniel is borne in an adamantium casket by four of his charges. One limps, favouring his right leg. One is missing an arm. The eye takes in barely eighty brethren; and some of them are marked with the heraldry of the reserves. It has clearly been a hard war.

Warriors take their places in the gleaming Chapterhouse, standing or seating themselves rigidly on the pews as per their duty. Serfs scuttle about, namato-putti flit to the rafters. Marching falls to shuffling, then to silence. 

'Who commands?' The rich voice calls out, across a room barely a quarter filled, but once more resplendant and vital. The Chaplain-Sabatine, Puglius, is an imposing figure, but as Master Formosus – scarred and pitted – steps forward, even he is thrown into shade.

'I speak for Ofaniel. I speak for the dead.' The Chaplain-Sabatine bows and steps back.

Time passes, as the honorifics are played out according to ritual. Montefeltro has heard the change of Kolonio many times, but it is an anchor to him, as Baal is an anchor to the soul of the Chapter. This is an age of change and challenge, and the rituals are reassuring to him.

+++

Montefeltro has lived the lifetime of four men, and yet does not remember a time before the Twin Imperium. He knows, half-unconsciously, that it began in the time of Amareo, or Master Falstaff, or Conccio; and the Blood Angels aligned themselves with Terra; or Nova Terra; or were studiedly neutral. What does it matter to him?

In these enlightened times, the chronicling of antiquities is dead. There is little enough time for the present. Why look backwards into the past? What of relevance can it teach him? What could it hold up to the verities of the Ecclesiarchy?

...And yet...

...And yet Master Formosus is pushing the Chapter towards renaissance. Not for him the comforting certainties of divinity. To become a Chapter Master is to become an Imperial Commander. To be an Imperial Commander is to achieve that rarest of duties, that rarest of rights; that right and duty to question.

1 comment:

  1. I read this yesterday, and have been thinking about it since then. Makes perfect sense that a chapter only fills a tiny portion of the former legion home, and sometimes at least all that emptiness must be daunting.

    ReplyDelete

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