There was no longer any sunrise on this world, nor did the sun set upon the passing of the day. Even day itself was something of an amorphous concept; for below this planet’s surface, within the tiers and tunnels that burrowed through the earth like capillaries through flesh, it was always a twilit realm of gloomy orange from the endless parades of sodium lamps and guttering candles. Above ground, the sky was forever a turgid grey-green expanse from the untold generations of pollutants that caged the upper atmosphere and left the world beneath its shelter in an enduring demimonde of dusk.
The surface itself was a suffocating mass of twisting thoroughfares, boulevards, streets, lanes and alleys, framed by an anachronistic jumble of timeless edifices of varying sizes, from the truly monolithic to the simply immense. Whilst most of the buildings had been erected from a cornucopia of differing materials, from the drab grey of ferrocrete to the alabaster white of marble riddled with contrasting coloured veins, time had desaturated them all monochromatic so that even the most opulent of architecture, gilded in gold, stood alongside its brutalistic neighbour equally under the same dull film of greasy, olive-hued, soot. To look at the urban sprawl for too long was to invite a dizzying sense of claustrophobic vertigo as the panoramic scape loomed inwards, breaking from euclidian geometry and threatened to fold in on itself like a tidal wave of liquid masonry.
An undulating current of human beings asphyxiated the wider avenues with a congestion of bodies, dressed in an anarchic collection of uniformly bland coveralls, robes and other purely functional clothing. The high-rise highways, which looped above the bowed heads of the thronging workers upon gargantuan pillars of ferrocrete, where similarly gridlocked with uncounted, smog-belching, vehicles, from the smaller, personal autos to the massive tracked road-leviathans. Soporific psalms sang from vox-poles to placate the herd. Votives and maxims were displayed from giant vid-screens, suspended in the air by means of arcane technology, further cementing the axiomatic truths of the Imperial Creed.
This was Holy Terra. Not the ivory towers and glittering spires basking under a pellucid sky often depicted in the artistic renditions upon commemorative hololiths and daguerreotypes peddled out to the gullible tourists and pilgrims. He had heard that this was the way Astropaths saw this world, bathed in the eternal golden glow of the Emperor’s beneficence. However this was the real Holy Terra, a chaotic stinking cesspool of decay, a perpetual engine at the heart of the Imperium maintained by oceans of sweat and blood.
Magistrate Danforth beheld all this from one of the innumerable balconies that studded the skin of the Hall of Judgement, that basalt cathedral of law which was like unto a city in itself, ringed by fearsome palisades of black iron. Spanning several miles in either direction, when viewed from above, it took on the aspect of a forbidding sable gauntlet, reminding the populous that no one can escape from the Emperor’s hand of justice.
The magistrate sighed heavily and turned away from the blighted vista. He didn’t have time to lose himself in such sour contemplations, his age and experience had made him irascible and malcontent with the actual realities of Holy Terra compared to the hallowed utopia spoken of in the hymnals of the Ecclesiarchy and seen through the glassy eyes of the pilgrims that flock to this sullied beacon. For a brief moment, he envied their delusions.
The tip of his staff of office clacked against the marble floor with every alternate footfall. His ceremonial garments and ornamental coronal collar behind a bedizened mitre were heavy and weighed him down, slowing his stride measurably. He took a right turn from the main concourse and found himself surrounded by endless rows of colossal open cabinets which stretched high into the vaulted ceiling a mile above his head, each on crammed with books, scrolls, single leaves and a million other mediums for recording the dictates of law. The delicately painted frescos, depicting the ancient Terran gods of law, were fading and crumbling in disrepair. A complex latticework of pulleys and guy ropes had been strung from the ceiling on thousands of looped hooks, installed long after the need for such artistic decoration had been overridden by the need to reach the top selves once the centuries of legal documentation, redrafts, legislations, citations, precedents, transcripts, regulations, statutes, enactments, decrees, edicts, rulings, motions, directives, proclamations and case studies had transformed the great Book of Judgement into an unwieldy library of itself. Here on Holy Terra was the most comprehensive collection of sector, subsector and planetary law ever collected and collated by ten millennia of long forgotten law adepts. There were many such repositories elsewhere in the complex.
Shadows of spider-like subordinates danced above him as they slid and slithered along the cables to retrieve elusive scraps of judicial particulars for the hundreds of cases being brought to the courtrooms daily. Scribes and assistants skittered between the shelves at ground level, often labouring under armfuls of weighted tomes. Danforth slowed his pace further and skirted around a pair of mechanised servitors as they fumigated the selves; one swinging the implanted nozzle of its arm left and right, whilst the other worked the pump handle of a large canister.
Eventually, he reached one of the many piers of the internal canal network – by far the most expedient way to travel across the many acres of the Hall of Judgement – and carefully stepped onto the waiting barge already laden with many volumes, piled high, ready to be ferried to other sections. A quick command to the servitor manning the tiller and the barge made way to the soft burbling of its engines.
Danforth dipped his staff on several occasions as they moved under walkways and gantries and even had to kneel once as they passed through a particularly low bridge of ancient stone. The journey itself was almost serene and the magistrate took a moment to reflect on the sheer majesty that was the Hall of Judgement as the barge trundled along a lofty aqueduct overlooking a pristine, spacious auditorium (one of many) that connected to multiple courtrooms. Defendants and plaintiffs commingled with pardoners and advocates whilst they waited for their cases to be called.
The engine stalled, slowing the barge as it drifted towards the terminus pier. Danforth stepped off and strode down an unassuming corridor underlit by stagnant, blackened torches burning sluggishly in iron sconces. He passed by unmarked doors of heavy, lacquered wood; these led to audience chambers of the Marshals of the Court, peerless law masters answerable only to the Grand Provost Marshal herself. Halting in front of one among many, the magistrate took an even breath before grasping the ringed handle, turning it and stepping across the threshold.
The chamber itself was kept in shadows, the only light filtering down from a pallid lamp set into the centre of the domed ceiling. What Danforth could see through the gloom reminded him of a courtroom, but more austere; the spectator pews were entirely absent, as were the jurors box, the dock and examination stand. The Reeve’s pulpit had been replaced by three raised alcoves overlooking the entire room. Four great statues stood in each corner, muscled behemoths of black stone wearing loincloths and helmets shaped into a canine form. They each had an arm outstretched where a set of scales hung from a clenched fist. Standing sentry in the half-light at their feet, the sinister cowls of the court proctors silently watched as the magistrate approached the circle of light, their gloved hands whining slightly as they tightened around heavy maces.
For the second time that day, Danforth knelt and bowed his head keeping his staff of office held upright. Minutes seemed to stretch into an eternity before a booming voice shattered the dense stillness;
“All Rise! Marshals of the Court in attendance!”
Danforth stood once more, in time to see three silhouettes take their place in the alcoves before him. Swathed in darkness, only their outlines were visible, exuding a palpable menace.
“Magistrate Danforth,” intoned the central shadow, “you requested this hearing. Explain why?”
“M’lords,” spoke Danforth through lips suddenly dry with apprehension, “A worrying pattern has begun to emerge within the reports across Holy Terra; from hushed mentions in conversations picked up by our auritus teams to recent interrogations of arrested recidivists and heretics….”
Danforth paused, abruptly disquieted as to whether this matter was worthy of Marshals attention, until he was prompted to continue by one of the shadows audibly clearing his throat.
“A common word has been appearing in the records: Pilgrym.”
“Pilgrims!?” came an incredulous hiss from the left, “There are thousands of pilgrims disembarking daily onto the soil of Holy Terra!”
“Do you expect us to task every precinct on Holy Terra to find this elusive pilgrim amongst such a sizable flock?” scoffed the right.
“With respect, M’lords,” beseeched Danforth, as the momentary feelings of foolishness drained through him, “I’m not referring to pilgrims, but Pilgrym. It’s in an archaic format and capitalized; I believe it to be a moniker, or perhaps a title.”
“What threat do you apply to this ‘Pilgrym’, if he, she or it exists?” enquired the left.
“At the moment, that is still undetermined, M’lords,” replied Danforth, almost apologetically, “currently there have been no crimes directly attributed to the Pilgrym, if it is even a person. However with the notable rise in convictions of heresy in recent months, I am concerned that this Pilgrym could be a herald of woe, fanning the flames of apostasy with the mere mention of the name.”
The magistrate let the shadows digest his suspicions without interruption; heralds of woe were exceptionally rare cases and almost unheard of on Holy Terra since the reign of Vandire the Malefactor, where a single individual can be found responsible through machinations for plunging an entire world into the darkness of anarchy and lawlessness.
“This could then be a matter of faith,” mused the centre, “you could leave this with the Ministorum for the moment and let them handle it with their own brand of piety and re-education.”
“We deal in the matters of law,” concurred the right, “let such affairs of theocratic doctrine be dealt with by the pontiffs and their confessors.”
“I would be happy to, M’lords,” asserted Danforth, “but with the internecine strife between the ratified sub-cults of the Imperial Creed also on the rise, I must distrust the Church’s capabilities to control their own affairs.”
Danforth could almost hear the whispered consultations between the trio of shadows.
“Very well, Magistrate Danforth,” declared the centre,” we will issue you with a warrant of law in this inquest. Ensure your investigation is conducted by this writ and make your reports regular so that we may ascertain whether further action or resources are required. In Lex Imperialis Absolutus.”
“In Lex Imperialis Absolutus.” Danforth repeated before bowing slightly and leaving the chamber.