“For that reason, we have decided a guardian is required,” the High Magistrate concluded.
From the line of robed holy men, another stepped forward to conclude the speech. Yet, his words fell on deaf ears and decided minds would not be perturbed by the warnings. Everyone had stepped forward to volunteer and all would willingly sacrifice themselves if it meant they had a chance to serve.
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“I understand,” the robed man said, a simple monk. The one who no doubt decided that such evil should be contained if it could not be destroyed...yet. “Yet, you must all understand that this is one most unholy, its power is overwhelming. The guardian we decide upon shall most likely be forced into an unmoving state for the rest of his life, to be this evil’s focus. It will try to undo you and you must resist it for centuries. Even then, you will be destroyed by the end of your duty or should you falter.”
Nobody stepped back.
“Very well,” the monk said. “It is beyond my understanding of your capabilities so that responsibility will rise to the High Magistrate. Once he has decided who is the best among you, the rest will join a crusade in defence of all that is right. Use your hatred, marines. Glory to the Emperor!”
The process of choosing the guardian was simple, but by the end of it, we were all unsure. The fights didn’t last long, the strongest were clear, but the High Magistrate was not asking for raw, physical power. He was asking for the strength of mind, of heart and soul. To be incorruptible and to endure centuries without falling in strength or faltering in the face of evil.
Capturing the One Most Unholy was a victory of evil, it should have bolstered all the marines. Yet, it seemed some still had a weakness within themselves, even me. I was bested by another marine, struck from the list and told to prepare for the crusade. It was not a problem in my mind, but it certainly left me disappointed that I could not do more for the empire.
Yet, it seemed my thoughts played a role in swaying the ones in robes. Hearing my silent plea to do more, I was given an overseeing position of the marine who was to become the guardian. I would watch as his body was prepared, enhanced and his armour upgraded.
The marine endured many attacks on his being and became something greater each day. It took five years for the process to be complete and the man I knew disappeared. He was now the Guardian.
I returned to the crusade in a higher military position, but my mind was further. I had seen the creation of a warrior greater than any other. I had seen a soldier become an army then become an entire legion of super-soldiers. His might could have annihilated an entire planet of orcs without effort.
Yet, the resources spent on his creation, the time and the many lives lost. It could only mean that the One Most Unholy had not been properly contained. How could such a being even exist within the same realm as the emperor?
It didn’t matter what form of heresy it was, it needed to be stopped, one way or another. With that thought in mind, I led a team of marines that went on to smite all manner of creatures. Yet, our efforts were less than drops in the ocean.
“No matter how much blood one spills, how many heretics one annihilates, their evil is endless,” one marine told me. “We are made to win, even if all we do is defend. There will come a day that the wall of bodies we create holds the tide and then we start pushing back.”
“An assault now would be foolish,” another agreed. “In our haste to bring an end to it all, we leave an opening for such evil to corrupt. We cannot win yet, but we will win.”
It was not good enough. We had the One Most Unholy. Their power stemmed from his, which meant that to bring them down we needed to bring him down. It had been many millennia since it all began, I had long since lost count.
“To put an end to him would stop the rising tide,” I told them. “If he should be destroyed, our efforts, indeed all the efforts of every marine, would be greater. We would push them back, destroy the heresy, once and for all.”
“He cannot be destroyed, Captain,” a voice called behind me. “Only contained. If we could smite his evil, once and for all, we would.”
I turned to see the High Magistrate. He surprised me because I thought he would be with the rest of the robe-wearing council, close to the emperor. Yet, he stood, watching me.
“One cannot destroy this evil, for to destroy is an evil in itself,” the High Magistrate explained. “We can only contain.”
“Then why contain him?” I asked.
“By containing the One Most Unholy, we weaken his forces.”
“Weaken? We have yet to move from this planet for a century since his containment.”
“Correct. If he was free, aiding his troops with the full might of his power, we would have lost this planet a century ago. We hold the line, our power growing, while theirs does not. Two centuries from now and you will have Guardians among your ranks. Warriors that can push the tide.”
“Two centuries...is his power so great?” I asked, not with fear, but with anger.
“Use that hatred, Captain. Your efforts have been seen by all. There is a place for you and your men in our history. I offer you and your team a boon, whatever it may be. From there, you can fight until it is done.”
Fight until it is done. Meaning, fight until you win or you die. If I was to die before the last heretic, I would ensure that I would die in flames atop their innumerable dead.
“High Magistrate, I submit my men and I to the Guardian program,” I suggested.
“You will not survive the process.”
“We will. Make us Guardians and let us fight. That is the boon I request.”
The High Magistrate would not go back on his word and so our five-year process began the moment we stepped onto the interplanetary transport.
At last, I had a chance to be the one who attacks instead of defends.
All, save two of my team, died during the process. Five years felt like an eternity. Yet for every year that we endured, our lives extended a century. We went from being old marines to being young Guardians, made for battle.
All we needed to do was endure a single day in the presence of the One Most Unholy.
The Guardian whose process I oversaw was there, in a chamber unlike any other, guarding a cell made from light. He sat there, motionless. To a marine, this might have seemed impressive, but not as impressive as one expected. Yet, a marine wouldn’t survive in the chamber longer than a second.
I was to stay in that chamber, with the first Guardian and two of my men. My mind resisted, it held, but as for my men, they could not hold longer than an hour. Sensing the corruption, I moved to strike one, smiting him in barely a second. When I turned to destroy the other, I saw that he had already been annihilated.
The first Guardian did appear any different, but it was clear from the spread of the blood that it was he who destroyed my other soldier, faster than I could even comprehend, let alone achieve.
I persisted in the presence of that evil for the rest of the day and was sent to the front of the crusade immediately. I was confident I could cleanse a planet, but I knew from that display in the chamber that the first Guardian was chosen for a reason and if I were to fight him as a Guardian, I would still lose.
I was not resentful, only glad that such a Guardian existed, keeping that evil contained.