This article, The Gulan Compliance, was written by T42, BioChimes, and 40kfan. Please do not edit this article without their explicit permission.
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The Great Crusade has come to an impasse over the shining world of Gulan, throneworld to the Gulan Conglomerates, an empire of clannish noblemen and prideful chiefs. Until recently, the Gulan Conglomerates controlled a great fiefdom of no less than several star systems. Now they are but a single world, their former holdings now under the control of a force far greater than they can imagine; now they ask their foes for peace. The forces of the Luna Wolves
, Iron Warriors
, and Emperor's Children
Space Marine Legions, guided by the mighty Emperor of Mankind's own hands though their honored Primarchs, have taken full measure of this powerful civilization. But now, the campaign has dragged on for months, and the Primarchs are becoming impatient. The powerful technologies of the Gulan Conglomerates have slowed the march of the Legions considerably, and the call for peace has only been met for the sake of expediency and preservation of the Legions resources.
To this end, a diplomatic team has been sent to negotiate the terms of the Gulan Conglomerates surrender and subsequent absorption into the burgeoning Imperium of Man.
A Mission of Peace
The roar of the Stormbird's engines crashed with the sound of the trembling interior. It's vast hold was spacious, considering the relatively small number of passengers. Bathed in the dim red light of the Stormbirds bay, the hulking forms of Legionaries, six clad in Cataphractii Pattern Terminator armour, five in their MkII and IV Astartes plate. Among their ranks, a lone human stood clad in the cream and white regalia of the 28th Expedition Fleet.
"Now," a tall, wiry-thin Astartes clad in a suit of richly ornate violet armour announced, addressing the hulking squad of Justaerin Terminators across from him, "please do remember that this is a mission of diplomacy, as I'm sure your Primarch has told you. There is to be no rashness on your account. I have been assigned as liaison to the Gulan council and in this capacity I will see it through; without argument, and most certainly without the cut."
At this one of the Terminators growled. He was massive for even a Space Marine, standing head and shoulders over the others, and a spitting image of his Primarch Horus, were it not for his plumed helmet and ruthless battle scared armour. "My squad is not beholden to you, Tribune. We are here to ensure the locals know their place. Save your wordsmithery for their ilk."
Tribune Lizvaspian, Shining Knight of the Emperor's Children, did not lose his composure. However, his demeanor stiffened ever so sightly and a sense indignation could be felt radiating from his form.
Who does he think he is, this Malak Blackspawn. Never before have I set my eyes upon a beast such as this, a feral dog in dirty armour.
"My Lord-Tribune will have none of your disrespect!" forced a shrill voice from behind, cutting for an instant like a knife through the machine noise, before being abruptly silence by a venomous glare from the Tribune.
Malak Blackspawn of the Luna Wolves shifted his bulk toward the pale faced Legionary, glaring maliciously at the young warrior through right eye of his helmet.
"Perhaps you wish to take it for him?" he rasped, clenching his fists; and with that motion activating the twin Volkite Sepentas mounted on his forearms. The weapons crackled with menace as they powered up, the air filling with malignant energy. Lizvaspian's Prefectors, his honor guard, tightened their grip on their Phoenix Spears the mood in the hold darkened. Vakko, Malak's second, placed his hand on the hilt of his Power Sword, ready to defend his Centurion.
"Y-you dare-!" Calios began, taking a step towards the insolent Terminator, but was cut off by a figure moving swiftly between the pair. He was clad in an unadorned suit of MkIII Power Armour, save for a great black pelt cape. At his side he wore an ornate power sword, inscribed with various runes. It was dwarfed by the great blade the Malak now held at its hilt, ready to draw.
"Please cousins, forgive my brother. He is not borne of a kindly nature, and was not educated in the ways of proper etiquette as I am certain all from your illustrious legion have been. I apologize on his behalf." He then turned to Malak. "Brother, idle bickering is not going to make a strong representation of the Emperor's two most favored Legions now, is it?" Ingar Blackspawn, Librarian of the Luna Wolves, spoke to his older brother. His words were quick, practiced, and altogether said with an air of knowing. Calios surprisingly found himself halted by these words, in spite of the rudeness of the Justaerin and the disrespect shown to his Legion.
"Yes, thank you." Lizvaspain said clinically, lessening the tension slightly. Calios bit his lip in annoyance, while shooting a sour look at Malak, who held his gaze over the head of Ingar. Calios imagined the smug grin behind that helmet, gloating in his success of driving him to outrage.
Little did Calios know that behind that helm was only a grim, straight lipped glare, steely grey eyes daring the standard bearer to dare one more step. Malak felt no satisfaction for tempting Calios' wrath, only disappointment that he did not show him to his place, sprawled across the floor of the Stormbirds hold. Much of the Emperor's Children disgusted Malak, clad in their shined armour and gleaming regalia. How these worms thought themselves fit to fight alongside warriors such as himself was disgraceful. Malak would prefer even the company of the Ultramarines, or Word Bearers. At least those fools got themselves dirty, and bled for their respect. The Children? They relied on words, appearances, and politics. Only when their ego is tempted do they draw their blades. And while then they were impressive when they actually bothered to battle, they still lacked what Malak, his brother, and all the Luna Wolves had. Ruthlessness. They were born from the scum and barbarians of Cthoina. They had fought and died for their right to live, to be respected. The Emperor's Children were handed that opportunity as far as Malak was concerned. And none deserved what was handed to them. Not power, freedom, or respect.
The Stormbird's rumbling slowly came to a halt as the gunship entered Gulan's atmosphere, and the dim red light was suddenly replaced with a glaring white. The lone human blinked against the sudden change, though her pride forced her not to raise her hand against it. Malak too glared at this scrawny little being, only the Emperor's Children would dare bring a mortal alongside Legionaries, even for things as wasteful as these peace talks. This whole mission was a joke as far as Malak was concerned, were not Fulgrim whispering into Horus' ear, he would be crushing the skulls of Gulanian soldiers beneath his boots. And if it were not for Abaddon, Malak mentally cursed the name, it would be some other disgraceful sods on this mission, not Squad Hector.
While the Luna Wolf mused in silence, Calios, still fuming smirked to himself; Oh, these wolves are just as I remember. Thick skulls to match their thick, graceless excuse-for-armour. Such a pity.
The Stormbird's vox speakers crackled with life, "Two minutes to drop." The curt voice of a Legion serf droned. This prompted a quick flurry of movement amongst the Justaerin, making final cursory checks on their wargear.
"Belza," Malak spoke over his shoulder to one of the Terminators, arming his Reaper Autocannon and Power Claw.
"Yes Centurion?" Belza answered in his dry, haunting tone.
"Cycle your auto-loader to fragmentation rounds, the natives will likely be bunched up."
Belza gave a curt nod, and obeyed, his autocannon now loaded with powerful fragmentation rounds designed to shred lightly armoured flesh and bone.
"Vakko, bring up the rear, I want your sword-arm there in case the natives try to box us in."
"They will taste death and fire, m'lord." Vakko stated bluntly, his Charger humming to life.
"The rest of you know what to do."
There was a collective tumult of quick, almost dismissive confirmations. Squad Hector was one known for its autonomy. Malak only asked that his men followed his lead, how they chose to do so was purely their own prerogative. They knew what their Centurion meant, should the peace talks turn volatile, they were to target the Gulanian delegates first before turning their weapons on their security detail.
Calios shook his head slowly, such an ad hoc command. This was the primary fault of the Luna Wolves, their structures were completely anarchic. A Chapter may also be known as a Company, or a Division, or any other vague designation. Their commanders did not formulate intensive plans beforehand, nor practice the most efficient style of warfare. The Luna Wolves simply fought, like the War Hounds or damned Space Wolves. But unlike the former, whose savagery was tempered by martial honor, and the latter, whose boorishness was at least restrained by kindly natures, the Luna Wolves had only their ferocious resolve. They killed, tallied their marks, and killed some more. There was no grace to it, no grand strategy or battle plan. The artlessness of it all vexed Calios to no end.
But Calios' musings would have to wait, as the vox casters once again crackled to life.
"Beginning approach." This was followed quickly by the sound of the Stormbird's landing gear alighting upon solid ground, "Dropping the ramp."
"Sight," the Tribune announced curtly, the honour guard taking place on command, "and keep those weapons down, Luna Wolves." Lizvaspain concluded harshly. The Third Legion praised themselves on their succinctness, especially in times of trial, something that the XVI Legion never seemed to understand.
The vast landing ramp of the Stormbird slowly fell open, letting the cold bay light shine out onto the wide landing pad. The Luna Wolves disembarked in lockstep with the Emperor's Children, both taking in the sprawling cityscape of Gulan's grand Capital, Heima. Vast swaths of brightly lit spires rose past the overcast night sky, setting alight the clouds themselves, casting a pale grey twilight over the entire planet. Below the spires, innumerable structures stretched out into the horizon, all sleek and organic in shape, like a great riverbed of rounded marble stones. Even in this twilight of this hemisphere's night cycle, the marble white of the city seemed to be borne of its own lambency as it reflected the bright lights of the city itself. Vast streams of aerial vehicles created what seemed to be veins of light and metal coursing through the skylines. Thousands of vessels, some large transports, others smaller, more nimble personal craft. And with these vistas came the dull hum of the city itself. The collective sound of its workings and its people. It was a harmonious sound, neither manic nor oppressive, simply alive. The pleasant atmosphere kept the Legionaries on edge, separatists were never to be taken by at face value.
It was then that the second Stormbird came, its hull bearing the hazard marks of the Iron Warriors. The other representatives gathered could not help but glance over as its ramp dropped in a blast of steam and smoke. Striding forth from the cloud came a great hulking figure. At first, his form partially obscured by the smoke, it looked like some abominable nightmare creature, with tendrils lashing this way and that, burning red lights cutting through the smoke and twilight, complete with a great cog axe held aloft. But as the Techmarine and his bodyguard took their place alongside the rest of the delegation, the reveal of the his true form was only a little less unnerving.
Clad in iron-grey artificer armour rather than the traditional rust-red, it was difficult to tell where the Techmarine's armour began and his various modifications ended. Both arms had been replaced at the elbow with bionic prosthetics, and his helmet appeared to be built into his skull, both eyes little more than a pair of ruby-lensed optics that spun and whirred within their sockets. From his power pack sprung a host of mechanical tentacles ending in melta-cutters, manipulator claws, and several other devices that even Ingar had a hard time identifying, all overshadowed by a pair of bulky servo-arms that hung over his head like a technological mantle. His bodyguard consisted of ten Iron Warriors, clad in Maximus plate the colour of burnished metal, and all armed with bolters save for a particularly grizzled-looking Astartes who had a Chainsword and bolt pistol about his waist. Shuffling in behind them was a congregation of various servitors, scribes, translators, and various other menials.
"Sorakae Vhak, I presume?" Ingar addressed the mass of writhing mechadendrites and power armour.
"You presume correctly, Librarian. I apologize for my 0.24 second tardiness, the pilot servitor suffered a slight malfunction during orbital insertion." Vhak said in a twined tone, one voice smooth and eloquent, the other harsh and mechanical, creating a disorienting confusion of inflections.
The diplomats halted at the bottom of the ramp on the Tribunes direction, a greeting party was surely on the way and it was best to wait for their invitation. Which, after a short time, arrived. The armed group of soldiers were clad in the bright purple battle armour of the Gulanian Royal Knights, an elite body of soldiers that the Legions had become painfully aware of during the campaign. Their sleek armour was clad with various white and gold markings, signs of royal birth, runes of good luck, even words of encouragement from close squadmates. At their head was their commander, plumed helmet tucked under one arm, while his hand rested on the hilt of his sword. The Imperial representatives recognized the weapon, Malak in particular, as one of its kind had given him one of his latest battle scars not but three days prior. It was a Gulanian Pulse Blade, an arcane weapons whose inner workings remained unknown to even the finest techpreists attached to the Legions. However, it was clearly known that the blade could cut through most personal armour with ease. The man who held the blade was a typical paragon of Gulanian nobility, large dark blue eyes and curly blonde locks, complete with a soft, expressive face. He looked more like a pampered aristocrat than a solider, but each of the Legionaries knew that such an assumption would be foolish.
The Knight Commander made a quick bow, which was returned only by the Emperor's Children representatives.
"Welcome to Heima, honoured representatives of the Imperium of Man." He spoke in a practiced attempt at High Gothic. Though it was thick with his accent, it was surprisingly coherent.
"By the will of my lords, the Primarch Horus Lupercal of the Sixteenth Legion Astartes; Fulgrim, the Phoenician, Illuminator of Chemos, lord of the Third Legion, my kin; and our grace, the Emperor of Mankind, your world has been offered a second chance. Renewed diplomacy. A chance for peace. Your words are cherished in these difficult times, and by the Emperor's grace your welcome is excepted." Division-Tribune Lizvaspian spoke with a grace to match his station, his tongue weaving the intricate nuances of the Gulan proto-language in a sure, poetic fashion.
The representatives of Gulan, who appeared to be more scientist than politician, swept from a elegantly curved archway on the far side of the landing port and made their way painfully, and seeming intentionally slowly toward the group with heads held high in proud resistance. They wore hooded scarlet robes made from a light, almost translucent material that covered their sleek frames in a veil of shifting blood-light. And beneath, almost skin-tight suits of complexly patterned silk inlaid with thin woven wires that gave the appearance of a circuit board. Whatever the motivation these people had for agreeing to the meeting was hidden behind the impassive masks of indifference they each wore on their long, thin faces.
Calios smiled briefly; This is going to be an interesting game.
As the delegates began to arrive, the unhelmed leader briefly gave introductions. "I am Commander Vileraux, bondsman of Introspector Zandrieg, fourth of his name." The Gulanian Knight gestured towards the figure at the head of the red-robed delegates, who upon closer inspection wore a cluster of brightly-coloured cloth-stripes on his breast, signifying his high rank.
Zandrieg bowed stiffly towards the massed Astartes, appraising them with cold, storm-coloured eyes. "In the name of the United Peoples of the Conglomerate, I welcome you on behalf of the High Clans." His voice was soft, yet surprisingly commanding, a sign of a practiced orator. "My fellow Introspectors and I are to serve as cultural liaisons, while my bondsman and his fellow Knights shall provide security."
Malak bristled at this comment. "My Justaerin need no 'security'." he growled.
The Introspector seemed almost amused by the Luna Wolf's response. "I meant no offense to you or your warriors, I merely wished to state that the Commander is solely here for... additional protection."
Calios and Lizvaspain both shared a glance at that comment. Were the Gulanians merely being protective of their diplomats, or was their an ulterior motive for such a well-armed entourage?
"Before we proceed, I must ask, who among you is the overall commander?" inquired Zandrieg in his cool tone. The Tribune immediately stepped forwards, even as Malak stared daggers into his back. "I am," he declared, "Lizvaspain Shining-Knight, Dacio-Tribune I-IV Emperor's Children."
A hint of a smile touched the Lead-Introspector's thin lips. "Very well then. Tribune, if you and your men would be so kind as to follow me..."
From the landing pad Gulanian representatives boarded a spacious vessel which their delegates referred to as a "Hovertram", an elongated locomotive-like vehicle comprised of segmented cylinder-shaped compartments. Rather than travel on conventional tracks or railways, the Hovertram was propelled by anti-gravitic generators through a series of propulsion rings that hovered silently throughout the city proper, spiraling through them like metallic serpents while inbuilt gyromotors kept their passengers from being jostled about by the tram's sudden movements. According to Zandrieg, these vehicles were used as transportation for the Gulanian government; while the Imperials reboarded their transport, traveling in formation alongside the Gulanians, save for the Lizvaspain and his fellow Emperor's Children. As a gesture of cooperation, they had agreed to board the train alongside the Introspectors.
He had inquired if Librarian Ingar wished to join him aboard the tram, for despite his Legion's reputation he had seemed a much better diplomatic companion than his brutish blood-brother, but Ingar politely declined, stating; "My piece is best spoken at the moot proper."
Ducking their un-helmed head underneath the low entry portal, the two Emperor's Children entered the main coach. The floor within was covered by a plush carpet, overstuffed couches spaced strategically throughout. In the compartment's dead center their was a small table complete with cups and a small decanter of wine. Introspector Zandrieg sat upon the furthermost couch, Vileraux standing by his side. The Tribune couldn't help but notice that the Knight-Commander still wore his sword at his side, and was fingering it's hilt almost nervously.
"I apologize for the size constraints." said Zandrieg, motioning towards the entry portal. "our architects did not have people of your stature in mind when they were designed, I'm afraid."
"It is not a problem." replied Lizvaspain graciously, his deep lavander eyes surveying the glearish compartment catishly.
Zandrieg picked up the decanter and poured two glasses of rich, dark liquid, offering one to the Tribune. Calios stiffened at the implied insult, which the Introspector noticed immediately. "Once again, my apologies." He poured a third cup. "I assumed he was your bondsman."
Lizvaspain regarded Vileraux over his wineglass, staring directly into the Gulanian's blue eyes. "Prefector Calios is my lieutenant, yes, but I am afraid I am not sure what you mean by 'bondsman'."
Surprisingly, it was the Commander who answered his unspoken question. "A bondsman is a Royal Knight who has been honor-bound to a member of the higher authorities, such as the Introspectorium." Vileraux glanced at Zandrieg. "Once bound, the Knight and all under his command are his or her sworn protectors, and shall defend both them and their future descendants unto death." Vileraux now looked to Calios. "The honor-bond also comes with certain rules. For example, if drink is served, the bondsman partakes of nothing, as intoxication may impair his ability to protect the individual he is bound to."
The Tribune refused the offering with a polite hand. He's gauging our reaction. He realized. But to what end?
Lizvaspain looked out upon the cityscape rushing past, taking in the sleek athletics of the Gulanian capital. All structures within, no matter what their function all bared the same geometrically precise style of rigid lines and perfect angles. Hovertrams snaked through the skies, winding in between delicate bridges that formed a spiderweb of interconnecting walkways. In the rays of the setting sun, it all shone with a fiery brilliance, the sunlight itself seemingly incorporating into city's design. It was beautiful, but again and again the Tribune's genenhanced eyes picked out a particular prevailing type of building within the infrastructure of Heima.
"Introspector?", He asked, readying a testing inquiry of his own. "If I may ask, why does your city have so many places that resemble temples and fanes?"
"Ours is a nation of many cultures, and therefore, many religions. Each one is allowed to build places of worship and practice their faith as they please, so long as their beliefs do not interfere with the governance of the Conglomerate."
Lizvaspain allowed a slow smile to creep across his face. "Then I am afraid I must inform you that the Imperium is beholden to no creed nor cult, only the empirical clarity of the Imperial Truth."
To his credit, Zandrieg's mask of composure slipped only for the briefest of seconds before re-setting. His bodyguard, meanwhile, didn't even try to hide his shock.
"You mean to tell us that your Imperium believes in... nothing?" exclaimed Vileraux.
The Tribune merely sat back and continued to smile with a mouth of perfect teeth. "Not at all. We believe in wisdom of our Emperor and the strength of our Primarchs, in the support of our battle-brothers and the might of our armies. But we do not need faith in a menagerie of spirits or pantheon of gods and goddesses to succeed in our endeavors. We never have." He looked directly at Zandrieg. "We never will."
Calios smirked at his Tribunes maneuvering. They might act all high and mighty, but take away their faiths and they're left groping around in the dark. he thought. It almost sad really.
The Introspector was silent for a long minute, nursing his wineglass as the Heiman landscape sped by them. "It seems," he finally said. "we have much to discuss at the Clan Moot."
"Indeed we do." replied Lizvaspain. As if on cue, the Hovertram slowed to an elegant halt.
An Extension of Politics
The procession was insufferable for Malak, Ingar could tell from the way he reflexively clenched and unclenched his left hand, standing in the shadows at the edge of the massive domed Moot Proper. Ingar on the other hand, found the complex ritual fascinating. Ingar, Lizvaspain, and Vhak stood in the center of a massive dais, directly across from two other diplomats and the one called Zandrieg. Meanwhile, the rest of the delegates had taken their seats within the great rows surrounding the dais, heads bowed now in what could only be described as prayer as the negotiations officially began. In between the twin trios of diplomats stood a priestess in simple white robes, preforming some kind of ceremony to the Gulanian Goddess of peace and diplomacy, supposedly making a moving offering to the goddess that negotiations go favorably for all those involved. This was apperently common practice for the clans of Conglomerate, and it would be considered a bad omen to undertake peace talks without first making a spiritual offering. Apparently this Goddess was widely accepted enough for even this cosmopolitan people to accept her "blessings" regardless of their direct faith, as Ingar understood it from his research, she was more a benevolent spirit than a creator or overlord, a kind of element of the spiritual world whose existence was agreed upon across all stripes of theologians.
While Lizvaspain did not show it, Ingar could feel the Tribunes amusement. He clearly found such practices, even if they were purely ceremonial, to be a declaration of the cultural backwardness of even an advanced people such as this. It was a sign of weakness, like an open wound to a predator. Meanwhile, Ingar found Vhak's mind to be a flat plane, with but a single path crossing its otherwise vacant expanse, to negotiate the terms of technological progress and existing technologies within the bounds of Imperial doctrine. He cared not for the pointless rituals or worships, for it was not his place to care. Ingar, however, found himself enthralled. In spite of Imperial docrtine, Ingar found faith to be a study into the inherent flaws of the human race. An Achilles Heel from which none, save the Space Marines and cold adepts of Mars, could escape. He understood that there were things beyond, within the Warp, but such things were simply of another plane, made of energies that had only to be examined to be understood. They were no more magical than the workings of even the mightiest Titans. They could be explained one day. Plainly, Ingar found it amazing that so many billions of civilizations could be so wrong in their superstitions, and that only the Imperium had found the truth. Such superstitions were enthralling only in how strange they were, and how the lower logic of ancients was held to purely for ceremony and comfort. The Imperium, as far as Ingar was concerned, was the first establishment in mankind's history that attempted to shed this long outgrown skin of superstition.
And so Ingar watched intently, occasionally looking to his brother off to the side, brooding impatiently alongside the rest of the Imperial delegations armed escorts.
[MORE TO COME]