He was in the dust of a corpse-king’s court. He was before a resplendent Emperor for all the ages.
‘Father,’ he said, and when he had said that word, it was the last time he had meant it. ‘Father, I have returned.’ Guilliman forced himself to look up into the pillar of light, the screaming of souls, the empty-eyed skull, the impassive god, the old man, yesterday’s saviour. ‘What must I do? Help me, father. Help me save them.’
In the present, in the past, he felt Mortarion’s wordless presence at his side, and felt his fallen brother’s horror.
He looked at the Emperor of Mankind, and could not see. Too much, too bright, too powerful. The unreality of the being before him stunned him to the core. A hundred different impressions, all false, all true, raced through his mind.
He could not remember what his father had looked like, before, and Roboute Guilliman forgot nothing.
And then, that thing, that terrible, awful thing upon the Throne, saw him.
‘My son,’ it said.
‘Thirteen,’ it said.
‘Lord of Ultramar.’
He heard all these at once. He did not hear them at all. The Emperor spoke and did not speak. The very idea of words seemed ridiculous, the concept of them a grievous harm against the equilibrium of time and being.
‘Roboute Guilliman.’ The raging tempest spoke his name, and it was as the violence a dying sun rains upon its worlds. ‘Guilliman. Guilliman. Guilliman.’
The name echoed down the wind of eternity, never ceasing, never reaching its intended point. The sensation of many minds reached out to Guilliman, violating his senses as they tried to commune, but then one mind seemed to come from the many, a raw, unbounded power, and gave wordless commands to go out and save what they built together. To destroy what they made. To save his brothers, to kill them. Contradictory impulses, all impossible to disobey, all the same, all different.
Futures many and terrible raced through his mind, the results of all these things, should he do any, all or none of them.
‘Father!’ he cried.
Thoughts battered him.
‘Not a son.’
‘Not a name.’
‘A number. A tool. A product.’
A grand plan in ruins. An ambition unrealised. Information, too much information, coursed through Guilliman: stars and galaxies, entire universes, races older than time, things too terrifying to be real, eroding his being like a storm in full spate carves knife-edged gullies into badlands.
‘Please, father!’ he begged.
‘Father, not a father. Thing, thing, thing,’ the minds said.
‘Choose,’ it said.
‘Renewal. Despair. Decay.’
And then, there seemed to be focusing, as of a great will exerting itself, not for the final time, but nearly for the final time. A sense of strength failing. A sense of ending. Far away, he heard arcane machines whine and screech, close to collapse, and the clamour of screams of dying psykers that underpinned everything in that horrific room rising higher in pitch and intensity.
‘Guilliman.’ The voices overlaid, overlapped, became almost one, and Guilliman had a fleeting memory of a sad face that had seen too much, and a burden it could barely countenance. ‘Guilliman, hear me.
‘My last loyal son, my pride, my greatest triumph.’
How those words burned him, worse than the poisons of Mortarion, worse than the sting of failure. They were not a lie, not entirely. It was worse than that.
They were conditional.
‘My last tool. My last hope.’
A final drawing in of power, a thought expelled like a dying breath.
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