"- Who do you serve? I serve the Saviour of Mankind through the auspices of the hallowed Deathwatch. - Who do you serve? I serve the Throne. The Immortal Emperor is my only master! - Who do you serve? I serve he that reigns eternal upon Ancient Terra! Your questioning is meaningless! - Yet your thoughts betray uncertainty. Now the truth: Who do you serve?"
- — Excerpt from Watch Commander Rekin Vao’s questioning of a supplicant prior to their elevation to the rank of Keeper
A Deathwatch Keeper is a unique specialist Space Marine rank that is found exclusively in the Deathwatch. These Astartes are Veteran Space Marines and extremely capable warriors with many long years of service to the Deathwatch. These imposing figures bar entry to areas placed off-limits to ordinary Battle-Brothers, and stand sentinel over the captured xenos imprisoned within the walls of Deathwatch Watch Fortresses. Even an Inquisitor may not pass a Keeper without special remit from the Watch Commander. Keepers occupy positions of the most solemn trust as guardians of the holy and the most profane objects in the care of the Deathwatch.
Keepers appear most prominently on Watch Fortresses where their imposing figures bar entry to off-limit areas to those not authorised to enter, even their fellow Battle-Brothers. A Deathwatch Keeper is first and foremost a Veteran Space Marine, an extremely capable warrior with many long years of service. Keepers are often equipped with ceremonial weapons and armour to make their status clear to all. They are usually armed with tall powered glaives, double-handed Chainswords or even incredibly ancient Las-lances. Richly embroidered robes cover their armour, save for their helm and shoulder guards. Their helms bear the Imperial Aquila or the icon of the Deathwatch, cunningly wrought into their faceplates. Beneath their robes their Power Armour is of the earliest and most hallowed marks, hailing from the days of the Great Crusade. Their armour and weapons are heavily inscribed with esoteric sigils and catechisms in High Gothic.
Keepers occupy positions of the most solemn trust as guardians, fulfilling sacred duties that in other Chapters would more commonly be undertaken by Librarians, Apothecaries or Techmarines. But amongst the ranks of the Deathwatch such specialists are too few and their tasks too many for this to be practical. Instead these burdens are undertaken by Battle-Brothers who have served the Long Watch across many decades’ Vigils. Keepers are entrusted with all manner of things important to the Deathwatch—everything from alien prisoners to the starships carrying Kill-teams across the void. The rank of Keeper is only offered to Battle-Brothers with a long and unblemished record in the Deathwatch. If accepted, the supplicant Space Marine must undertake a lengthy period of prayer and fasting before they present themselves before the Watch Commander and his most trusted advisors to be put to the question. A long and gruelling trial ensues as the Watch Commander, with the assistance of his Librarians, drills deep into the psyche of the supplicant. Great temptation will come before a Keeper many times in his duties and the Watch Commander must determine that every last fibre of his being is totally loyal to the Emperor and the Deathwatch.
Not all Space Marines pass the test. Some are destroyed by it and descend into madness. In a few cases the questioning reveals character flaws so deep and pernicious that they must be destroyed before their hidden malice can spread to others. Others might show no hint of treachery in their character but lack the steely determination to give the Watch Commander certainty that it will always remain so. Only if the trial is passed and the Watch Commander thoroughly satisfied by the unshakeable loyalty of the supplicant will they be raised to the rank of Keeper. In a solemn ceremony the newly-appointed Keeper undertakes the most binding and terrible oaths to forever guard the secrets with which he has been entrusted. Finally, the Watch Commander locks a special piece of armour, a silvered vambrace known as a Clavis, around the right forearm of the new Keeper, symbolically and practically binding him to the additional duties he has pledged to undertake. A Clavis is a marvel of the Dark Age of Technology that links itself directly to the Space Marine's nervous system and monitors his vital signs.
The Clavis will only function for its selected bearer and no other while he still lives. At the point of death or removal the Clavis will shut down and become non-functional until it has been re-awoken by the correct abjurations from a Forge Master. Each Clavis is a unique and complex kind of key that has been attuned to the objects in the Keepers’ care. It speaks with an invisible light and an undetectable vibration that opens or reseals heavy magnetic locks and impenetrable gravitic shield barriers at the Keeper’s command. It also enables Auto-defences to register the Keeper as a friend and stand down when he is in areas protected by their vigilance. Aboard a starship the Clavis will permit access to the command chapel (bridge) and stir the Machine Spirits therein for the rites of activation.
Though the Clavis is both a real and symbolic tool of the Keeper it is only a part of what defines him in his task. A Keeper must also learn many secret watchwords and hidden phrases of power; he must master the correct rites of opening and closing for the places under his guardianship and the proper supplications for the Machine Spirits in his care. A Keeper is inducted into many mysteries pertinent to the object of his duties and will come to know more of it than any other living Space Marine. He may often be called upon for counsel regarding what he has learned in later years and eventually it will fall to him to conduct the training of his own successor.
Individual Keepers may carry out widely diverse duties. The most militant are often given over to the confinement and control of the alien prisoners kept at Watch Fortresses for interrogation and vivisection. They will learn special techniques for restraint and pain amplification from Apothecaries and Inquisitors to better dominate their charges, as well as details on the care and feeding of them so that they will not expire prematurely. Keepers originating from Chapters known for their experience in starship combat and manoeuvring will more commonly be placed in charge of Deathwatch rapid-strike vessels and bend their studies to combat in the void. The Keepers of starships have the grave responsibility of successfully delivering Kill-teams to their targets and extracting them afterwards. Such undertakings require a balance of subtlety and boldness that has made certain Keepers within the Deathwatch justly famous for their skills in this regard. Space Marines of a highly monastic or scholarly leaning will often be assigned to be Keepers in charge of data-crypts and logic engines (Cogitators) containing restricted xenos lore. Such data may be considered too dangerous to be freely accessible but it is part of the Keeper’s role to glean a core understanding of what he guards in case such knowledge is ever needed.
In some regions, Watch Stations must be permanently manned due to the dire nature of the threat they guard against. This duty is only given to the most stoic Keepers who are believed able to withstand the psychological impact of decades spent in lonely vigil at the edge of madness. Most highly trusted of all are the Keepers that stand guardian to the host of doomsday weapons, both Imperial and alien, locked away in Deathwatch vaults and Armouries. Despite these important responsibilities, a Deathwatch Keeper is not exempt from Kill-team duties, nor would they wish it to be so. The singular knowledge earned by a Keeper in his duties may mean the difference between success and failure for a Kill-team’s mission. When a Keeper leaves his post to go on a mission he ritually unlocks his Clavis and leaves it in the care of a Deathwatch Forge Master until his return. The benefits a Keeper might bring to his Kill-team are many and varied. For example, the forgotten lore gleaned from ancient Cogitators in a Keeper’s care might prove invaluable to a Kill-team investigating a little-understood threat. Likewise a Battle-Brother with experience as the Keeper of a prison can be essential for the capture of live alien specimens. For a vital mission the Keeper of a starship might even pass control of his vessel to a subordinate so that he can accompany the Kill-team to the surface. From there he can direct orbital bombardments and emplace Vox or teleporter beacons to ensure the rapid deployment or evacuation of Deathwatch forces.
- Clavis - A Clavis is a special silvered vambrace, a piece of armour granted to Space Marines upon becoming a Deathwatch Keeper. Created during the Dark Age of Technology, the workings of the Clavis are not fully understood even by the Adeptus Mechanicus, but it is known that it interfaces with the Space Marine’s nervous system and cerebral cortex and monitors his vital signs. The Clavis acts as a unique and complex technological key that contains a myriad of Inquisitional override codes and other, more arcane systems that allow it to bypass nearly any technological seal. The Clavis communicates with light, vibration, and other, less-well-known means to unseal magnetic locks and gravitic shield barriers at the Keeper’s command. Servitors and other Auto-defences register the Keeper as a friend and stand down in his presence. The Clavis is what allows a Keeper to walk his vigil undisturbed and reach nearly any secure zone of a Deathwatch Watch Fortress or starship.
- Cuiris - Brother Cuiris was standing his fourth vigil of the Long Watch at the time of the defence of Watch Station Midael, his second vigil as a Keeper. The rank is one only granted to the most pure of heart and trustworthy of Battle-Brothers, for it bestows upon them the most vital of duties. Brother Cuiris’s first Vigil was served at a Watch Fortress somewhere towards the galactic core, its name and nature unrecorded in the annals of the Jericho Reach. His second vigil was mounted at Watch Fortress Erioch, where he discharged his Apocryphon Oath with such dedication that the Chamber of Vigilance requested he remain there and stand a third vigil as a Keeper, an honour which he, and his parent Chapter the Blood Angels, acceded to. As a Keeper, Brother Cuiris stood his third vigil standing guard over the dread contents of the Xenos Bestiarium. He acted as warden and executioner, and occasionally as interrogator, of numerous fell aliens, including captured Tau, Eldar, and Orks, as well as organisms never before encountered or categorised in the extensive archives of the Ordo Xenos. When one such being broke its bonds by shifting the molecules of its body from one state of matter to something entirely unknown, Brother Cuiris was responsible for containing it, and in so doing he learned the key to defeating its entire kin should they ever be encountered again. In laying low this blasphemous entity, Brother Cuiris fulfilled his third Apocryphon Oath, but as before, it was requested of him that he remain at Watch Fortress Erioch, so valued were his skills and experience.
- Arius Hyzeron - Arius Hyzeron, a Battle-Brother of the Ultramarines, has been on Watch Fortress Erioch longer than any other Astartes of the Deathwatch. He is one of the ten Deathwatch Keepers who serve as Guardians of the Chamber of Vigilance and has held that post for over two Terran centuries. Although no one is left who can confirm or deny it, it is said that Sergeant Varthion himself recommended Arius to his current post for his role in the famous defence of the Jericho Reach's Warp Gate. This places Arius in the Reach over four hundred standard years ago. He has seen the arrival of many new alien threats in that time. Arius is gifted with his Chapter’s brilliant charisma, and has forged bonds with many of the people on Watch Fortress Erioch over his years there—even the stubborn Forge Master Harl Greyweaver. He has an easy smile, although his face is marred by a triumvirate of parallel scars that cross over his augmetic left eye. He is also a repository of speculation and past tales concerning the Omega Vault. This makes him of great interest to Epistolary Axineton.
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pp. 121-122, 145
- Deathwatch: The Game Master's Kit (RPG), pg. 27
- Deathwatch: The Emperor's Chosen (RPG), pg. 54