“The Inquisition is a hundred different schools of thought, divided by a single goal.”
—Lord Inquisitor Nihilus
The Imperium is assailed by countless enemies both from within and without. The attentions of unclean xenos, the invidious influences of the misguided followers of the Ruinous Powers, planetary unrest, mutation, rogue psykers, rebellious Imperial lords and more all work constantly to bring the Imperium down, to the ultimate extinction of mankind. Yet somehow it survives and humanity endures.
The Inquisition is one of the many reasons for the persistence of man in a hostile universe. Known as the “left hand of the Emperor”, the Inquisition operates across the Imperium and beyond to suppress and eliminate those forces that would destroy the holy dominion of mankind over the stars. Inquisitors are empowered to go anywhere and do anything---whatever they must to ensure the survival of the Imperium.
Their Inquisitorial Seal opens all doors bar none, and even the vaunted planetary governors must acquiesce to their demands without complaint or delay, lest they be themselves regarded as suspect. They will commit acts, no matter how vile, to maintain the unchanging integrity of the Imperium, and they will put whole planets to death in order to see that this is so.
The members of the Inquisition vary enormously in physical appearance, methodology and mentality. Some operate alone and in secret, hidden from the eyes of the common man, while others operate openly and carry dozens of acolytes and agents in their cadre. What they do have in common is that they answer only to their Order, and each Order answers only to the Emperor. Their efforts can be checked by no Adepta and they are utterly, fanatically devoted to the defense of the Imperium. Even the most loyal and honest Imperial citizen is likely to break into a cold sweat on learning that the Inquisition is nearby---and that suits its members perfectly.
As with the other Adepta, the Inquistion is a confusing tangle of duty and power, secrecy and division. The highly autonomous and covert nature of most Inquisitors only serves to exacerbate the situation. There are wheels within wheels, and many hidden depths to the knowledge and power of the Inquisition. Many Acolytes are ignorant of all but the most fundamental structure of their organization. Others still know nothing at all of the monolithic, byzantine order.
Broadly speaking, the Inquisition is a feudal organism. At its base are a great number of thralls toiling to support a complex edifice of influence and duty. At its very peak rests the master of mankind, the God-Emperor, in whose name all acts are justified. In between sit all manner of offices, fiefdoms, ranks and privileges, all of which an aspiring Acolyte may one day hope to claim.
Though far fewer in number than Acolytes or unwitting minions, Inquisitors very firmly form the heart and soul of the Inquisition. These independent and wildly varying individuals drive the organization forward, seeking out all manner of foulness and ensuring its destruction. There are countless types of Inquisitor, with endless levels of power. Each controls an intricate and subtle web of agents, Acolytes, resources, influences and contacts. Functioning very much as a microcosm of the Inquisition itself, each of these networks is capable of operating independently if need be---though what manner of necessity would require such isolation is a troubling thought indeed.
Whilst the chain of command amongst the ranks of the Inquisitors is obscure at best, the ultimate expression of the group’s tremendous powers is the Inquisitorial Representative to the High Lords of Terra. The Representative’s role is to observe the workings of the Imperium and inform the High Lords of dire threats uncovered by the Inquisition. The means by which an Inquisitor is appointed as the Representative are very obscure and the Representative changes constantly, with the same Inquisitor rarely serving on the High Lords’ Council twice. He is not the leader of the Inquisition, because no one man could ever claim leadership over the wilful and scattered ranks of its Inquisitors. He is at best an advisor who can whisper in the ears of the High Lords and, through them, the Emperor Himself. Beyond this basic structure, the Inquisition is further organized into loose groups, roles and affiliations. Each of these serves to further muddy the treacherous waters of the organization. These ordos, conclaves and factions are as diverse as those who make up their ranks. Whether it was these structures that have shaped the Inquisitors into the varied force that they are, or vice versa, is a matter of great debate.
The Ordos of the Inquisition
The great ordos are the principal means by which the Inquisition organizes itself, and most Inquisitors belong to one of them. The ordos are groups given over to rooting out a particular threat against mankind. With millennia of specialization, each has become a sharply honed weapon with which to excise those that would seek to move against mankind.
Aside from their membership of an Ordo, many Inquisitors also serve in a regional grouping generally known as a conclave. These federations of Inquisitors watch over a particular area of Imperial space, although the whole Imperium is by no means covered by conclaves and endless tracts of it are devoid of a permanent Inquisitorial presence.
Conclaves can include Inquisitors from all manner of ordos as well as those who belong to no other organizations. The largest conclaves, those which watch over particularly populous or dangerous areas of the Imperium, have enormous resources available for the use of their dozens of Inquisitors, from spaceships to private armies. The smallest might number only three or four Inquisitors and a handful of trusted agents.
Any conclave has the power to commission a special cabal to investigate a particular matter, though they are rare. Sometimes the line between cabal and conclave are none too clear, particularly in areas where there are few Inquisitors. Cabals are, in practice, autonomous bodies, specialist taskforces charged with the prosecution of a particular sensitive concern. Cabals are despised by many, who see them as secret societies or unnecessary inner factions within a conclave. However, they have been shown to be a highly effective tool: by combining and focusing the activities of varied Inquisitors on a particular scheme, cabals have often achieved noteworthy successes.
The Tyrantine Cabal of Inquisitors within the Calixis Sector is an example of a large and comparatively close-knit cabal. The ominous threat of the much prophesied Tyrant Star---a strange apparition that heralds great disaster---has forced Inquisitors to band together. Appearing as it does, seemingly at random throughout the sector, the Tyrantines have so far been unable to track or predict its wax and wane. Whenever events begin to herald the arrival of the Tyrant Star---mass riots, dreams of a black wreathed sun, natural disasters, unprecedented psychic phenomena and so on---nearby Inquisitors and Acolytes race to observe the appearance. The data they record is shared amongst the other members of the cabal and is much debated upon.
A further division within the Inquisition is the personal philosophy adopted by each Inquisitor and, to some extent, their Acolytes. The members of the Inquisition are men and women of strong character and convictions, and each has a different view of how the Imperium should best be saved from the many threats that beset it (including the Inquistion itself ). There are as many beliefs as there are stars in the sky but over the centuries Inquisitors have found common cause and banded together into factions. Some factions are ancient and can claim many powerful Inquisitors among their ranks, while others are little more than cells of two or three like-minded Inquisitors.
Many Inquisitors describe a broad split in their ranks between Puritans and Radicals. It is not unknown for Inquisitors to come into direct conflict over their beliefs. On a few occasions Inquisitors have been dragged into hidden, internecine wars, using the Inquisition’s valuable resources (and often their Acolytes) to purge the ranks of their enemies and settle old disputes. Such conflicts are rigorously concealed from the rest of the Imperium, and even the highest-ranking adepts would be deeply shocked to discover that these inscrutable, all-powerful guardians of humanity can be riven with dissent and even murder. Even when these conflicts are not exposed, they simmer beneath the surface---there is probably not a single Inquisitor in the Imperium who does not have an ideological opponent among the Inquisition’s ranks. Given that Inquisitors are men and women of action, such conflicts always come to a head sooner or later.
Additional Factions include:
The methods employed by an Inquisitor can often provide a clue as to their personal philosophies. Each Inquisitor works in a different way, as befits such highly individual beings. Some like to work alone, whilst others employ thousands. Some lean towards direct, personal action, whilst others like to puzzle things out from a sequestered retreat filled with comm-links and data-lines. Whatever the case, the modus operandi of each Inquisitor is unique.
Broadly speaking, each Inquisitor controls a network of agents beholden to serve his needs and interests. In turn, each Inquisitor also has certain obligations to his Ordo, conclave or conscience, which he must fulfil. An Acolyte quickly learns that he is but a small part of a wide and subtle web of influence, knowledge and power. Frequently he will merit little direct attention from his master---at least until he proves himself capable and worthy.
One of the few constants of the Inquisition is that there are no standard regulations, codes of practice or “correct” behavior. Whilst the other Adepta follow dogma set down millennia ago, the Inquisition remains a flexible and unpredictable organization. An Inquisitor is free to arrange his affairs in any manner that suits his needs and personality. However, humans being the creatures they are, the Inquisition does possess a certain level of tradition and custom within its various ordos and conclaves. The Calixian Conclave, for example, looks to the ancient wisdom of the Scintillan Dictates to guide it, inscribing and interpreting its principles until they have an almost liturgical quality to them.
Perhaps the most common shared traditions are those steeped in powerful symbolism. In many ways, man is a very simple creature, who responds very well to certain images. The Inquisition knows this, and is happy to exploit it to suit its own needs.
Fire is traditionally associated with the Inquisition and its works. The image of the cleansing flame is a strong one and Acolytes are encouraged to employ it when they have need to strike fear. Wherever there is the whitehot excruciator, a witch pyre or a promethium-dripping flamer, there too is the Inquisition. Other than the literal interpretation of fire as a weapon, there are other uses for such symbolism. Many Inquisitors consider their role to be that of the cleansing flame, there to burn away the rotting flesh of corruption. Some also hold that they are guardians of the Emperor’s light, the holy flame of faith. Those that attend the Black Ships speak of fuelling the mystical beacon of the Astronomican, casting willing souls into the furnace of the Emperor’s will.
The hammer is also associated with the Inquisition. Many Inquisitors carry gorgeously bedecked warhammers with which to smite their foes. Like the Ecclesiarchy, many members of the Inquisition regard the hammer as a metaphor for piety, the force by which heresy and corruption are crushed. Warhammers are common gifts for Acolytes who have proven themselves especially adept at destroying cultists and heretics.
Aside from the flame and the hammer, perhaps the most powerful of the Inquisition’s symbols is the Seal. Each Inquisitor bears an Inquisitorial Seal. This is a small amulet or icon in the shape of a stylized column. Thought to depict a pillar of strength or rod of control, this seal is their badge of office and for an Inquisitor to reveal it shows that he is demanding that his authority be respected. An Inquisitor who shows his seal to a planetary governor, for instance, expects to have the planet’s resources at his disposal from that moment onwards. The Inquisitorial Seal is, in a sense, an Inquisitor’s most important item of equipment, and he will never willingly relinquish it. Some seals incorporate circuits and sonic probes that can be used to hack into cogitators and open electronic locks, or double as simple weapons to ensure that the Inquisitor is never unarmed.
An Inquisitor and his cadre can also display the Inquisitorial Rosette, a symbol of the Inquisition worn on an Inquisitor’s clothing or wargear. The rosette can be worn by those in an Inquisitor’s employ and can also be displayed on vehicles or by the armed forces being used by the Inquisitor. The rosette signifies that an individual is in the employ of the Inquisition and is enough to ensure the fearful cooperation of most adepts and citizens who know of the Inquisition’s purpose. The rosette, however, is used very sparingly, as most Inquisitors prefer to keep themselves and their Acolytes low-key. The rosette is most commonly used when in the company of fellow members of the Inquisition or when an Inquisitor wishes to strike fear and awe into the common man.
Titles and Authority
The Inquisition is an ancient and arcane organization made up of shifting webs of patronage, influence and power. Although titles and epithets may be awarded or simply come about naturally for individuals within the Ordos, it actually possesses few hard-cut ranks of authority. The highest is that of Inquisitor Lord , of which any sector might have only a dozen (and often less ) at any one time. Below them are the Inquisitors ordinary. They are the principle agents of the Inquisition and they each hold the same notional full authority of the Holy Ordos , but in practice can differ greatly in temporal power and influence with in their own number. Beneath them, and far outnumbering them, are the Acolytes, each of whom may one day a spire to higher office and may be referred to depending on their master’s whims as interrogators (a title usually reserved for those senior agents headed for a rosette themselves), specialists, savants, explicators, throne agents or, more likely, simply as Acolytes.