The Inquisition (The Holy Orders of the Emperor’s Inquisition) is a secret organisation that exists outside the standard administrative hierarchy of the Imperium of Man. The Inquisition acts as the secret police force of the Imperium, hunting down any and all of the myriad threats to the stability of the God-Emperor’s realm, from the corruption caused by the Forces of Chaos, Heretics, mutants and rebels, to assaults from vicious alien species like the Tyranids, Orks or Dark Eldar. The Inquisition’s infamous sigil was derived from the personal heraldry of Malcador the Sigillite, the Regent of Terra during the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy and the second most powerful psyker in the Imperium of Man after the Emperor of Mankind himself. It was Malcador who first created the secret organisation that would later become the varied Ordos of the Inquisition at the start of the Heresy on the orders of the Emperor. The Master of Mankind had ordered the Sigillite to find a group of men and women of an “inquisitive nature” to search out the enemies of the Imperium, whether they lay within or without.
In the modern 41st Millennium, the Inquisition is the most powerful organisation of the Imperium’s many branches. Its agents, the Inquisitors, command fear and respect in equal measure. They are creatures of myth as much of flesh and blood, relentless beings who descend from on high to pass judgement upon the mutant, the traitor and the heretic. It is a rare citizen who does not dread drawing an Inquisitor’s steely gaze, who does not experience the starkest terror in his or her presence. Every Imperial citizen, from the poorest of underhive scum to the highest and wealthiest of nobles, has heard the tales of death and destruction, of the all-seeing eye that condemns or absolves with impunity. Those who have crossed an Inquisitor’s path and survived to tell of it are seldom eager to invite his attention again. Inquisitors are as varied in appearance and manner as the myriad threats they face. They range in age from fiery young zealots to hoary old veterans who have fought in the darkness for centuries. Some wear ostentatious robes and symbols of their allegiance, whilst others shun the trappings of status. Inquisitors commonly carry a wide range of weapons and wargear, so as to be prepared for any threat they might face. Some Inquisitors use outlandish weaponry, taken from defeated foes: exotic hardware, alien guns and Daemon-possessed weapons.
Inquisitors themselves care little for morality, and nothing at all for the Imperium’s many laws and procedures, except when they choose to make use of them. They are the Emperor’s left hand as the Adeptus Terra is his right, and stand in judgement over all the Imperium’s organisations. Indeed, an Inquisitor is apart from the rest of Mankind in every way that matters. By ancient tradition, his authority comes directly from the Emperor himself; there is no hierarchy to which he must answer, and he is beholden only to his fellows. More than this, a bearer of the Inquisitorial Seal can requisition any servant in the Imperium to assist in his mission, from the lowliest of clerks to entire Space Marine Chapters and Imperial Navy battlefleets.
Survival is the only goal for which Inquisitors strive; not personal survival, for they, more than any, understand that one life is meaningless when set upon the galactic scale. An Inquisitor labours for nothing less than the endurance of Mankind. This is a cold-hearted pragmatism, so unyielding and fervid that it eclipses the faith of even the most devout of the Ecclesiarchy’s adepts. The Inquisitor is an arbiter of absolute truth. In his or her eyes, tradition is irrelevant, decades of blameless existence count for nothing, and ignorance matters not one whit. The deeds of the hour are the Inquisitor’s obsession, and the consequences spiralling from the most seemingly insignificant acts his burden.
Though learned, Inquisitors do not possess some all-encompassing store of knowledge and certainty, for even the furthest-travelled and most experienced of their number hold but a fraction of the Emperor’s wisdom. Though there are many thousands of Inquisitors scattered across the Imperium, such are the threats arrayed against Mankind that ten times their number could not hope to achieve lasting victory, or even meaningful respite. Daemons clamour beyond the Emperor’s light, waiting for the hour in which the darkness drowns all. Aliens crowd close, subverting and destroying whole worlds. And all the while, the wilful, the foolish, the misguided and the arrogant within Humanity’s own ranks unknowingly work towards their own destruction. All of these threats must be opposed and contained, by whatever means are necessary, and only Inquisitors have the breadth of vision and authority to do so. Where a Planetary Governor or military commander might perceive only an insurrection to be crushed, an Inquisitor will recognise the heresy of which that rebellion is but a symptom. He will have the contacts and resources to root out alien conspiracies, bureaucratic corruption and the gene-seed deviances festering within hitherto blameless Space Marine Chapters.
If perspicacious enough, an Inquisitor will be able to detect incipient disaster through analysis or instinct, excising the cancer before it takes root, whether in person or through the scalpel of the Officio Assassinorum. Too often, however, his efforts are expended on a cataclysm already begun, one which can only be ended by the sledgehammer of the Imperial Guard or the horror of Exterminatus. There are no lengths to which an Inquisitor will not go in pursuit of his duty, no sanction too extreme. He knows that it is better for a billion blameless souls to perish alongside a single guilty fugitive, if it ensures the threat is ended. Most Inquisitors grieve for the murder they wreak in survival’s cause; they mourn every death, and forge on only through the knowledge that the act served a greater purpose. Others have become so emotionally cauterised that they give the matter no more thought than they would when sweeping the pieces from a gaming board. Yet there are occasionally acts of mercy to balance those of murder. Inquisitors are not blind to the possibility of redemption. Virtue in the present can sometimes outweigh the evils of the past, though such reprieves are rare indeed.
Lesser men might believe that the means matter more than the end, but those who bear the Inquisitorial Seal know better. Perhaps in another time – another place -– the men and women of the Inquisition would be considered as monstrous as the threats they oppose, but to judge them as such is to wilfully overlook a brutal truth: morality and compassion are luxuries that the Imperium can ill afford. Steeped in atrocity though they may be, Inquisitors are the heroes their times require.