Ciaphas Cain

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"If I had only known what was waiting for me, I would've [insert cowardly and/or self-deprecating action here]."

COMMISSAR CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! is the protagonist of a series of novels by Sandy Mitchell, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Where Gaunt's Ghosts is Sharpe meets 40K, Ciaphas Cain is something between Blackadder and Flashman in the gothic SF world of Warhammer 40K. Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the normally absurdly Grim And Dark 40K universe, the series follows the exploits of a cowardly, self-hating Commissar, in charge of morale and discipline in the Imperium's army, who has managed to not only survive the front lines of the ultimate World Half Empty, but prosper. Over the course of the series, Cain becomes a massively acclaimed Hero of the Imperium, partly through opportunism, skill and minor heroism, but mostly through sheer blind luck. Sent to progressively more insanely dangerous warzones as his reputation grows, Cain actually wants nothing more than to find a quiet place to hide from the fighting.

In short, he's the type of person guys in his profession are supposed to shoot.

That is, if you believe him. The author himself has stated that he doesn't know whether Cain is the Dirty Coward he presents himself as, or doesn't give himself enough credit.

The novels are presented as sections of Cain's private memoirs, organized, edited, and footnoted by Inquisitor Amberley Vail, Cain's occasional liaison both professionally [1] and personally.

Ten novels and nine short stories have so far been published:

The novels

  • For The Emperor details Cain's adventures in creating a functional regiment, the 597th Valhallan, out of the remains of two former regiments that were savaged by Tyranids; his first deployment with that regiment, to the world of Gravalax which the Tau are attempting to steal; and his first association with Inquisitor Vail, who has discovered something very useful in Cain's aide, Jurgen, and wants to use the both of them against someone (Tyranid genestealers) who is playing the humans and the tau against each other...
  • Caves of Ice concerns the 597th's deployment to an iceworld under siege by Orks... and populated curiously by desert creatures. Cain has to lead a small squad into the planet's tunnels, finding something (Necrons) he is not exactly prepared for...
  • The Traitor's Hand takes place some years later, with the 597th deployed against a series of Chaos cults. With rebels and insurgents on every hand, Cain must figure out what the Ruinous Powers are planning, as well as deal with an Obstructive Bureaucrat who happens to be the one sort of person he can't simply pull rank on: a fellow commissar...
  • Death Or Glory is essentially a prequel, detailing Cain's first rise to prominence during the Ork invasion of Perlia. Shot down behind enemy lines, he begins gathering up survivors into a makeshift convoy and traveling towards safety. Though he stumbles upon a number of fortuitous circumstances (such as what looks like a clandestine research lab under a dam), he really has only one goal in mind: saving his own skin...
  • Duty Calls picks up with Cain still in the 597th, but carries on from where Death or Glory left off; it forms the middle book of a trilogy. Called to handle a genestealer infestation and associated tyranid hive fleet, Cain finds himself press-ganged by Amberley into helping her search for the people who ran that clandestine research lab. They have taken from it an artifact which could alter the very fate of the galaxy...
  • Cain's Last Stand takes place in the "present day" of Warhammer 40K, after Cain has already retired to Perlia and is teaching at a military academy. Of course, one of the events of WH40k's present day was the 13th Black Crusade, which catches the tiny planet up in its grasp. Abaddon knows about that universe-altering artifact, which has been returned to Perlia, and if Cain can't stop them from getting it, Rocks Fall Everybody Dies.
  • The Emperor's Finest details Cain's experiences serving with a chapter of Space Marines while clearing out a Space Hulk.
  • The Last Ditch once again sees Cain fighting alongside the Valhallan 597th to defeat an Orkish uprising on Nusquam Fundamentibus, during the course of which he uncovers something (a long-buried Tyranid bioship) that casts new light on an old foe.
  • The Greater Good shows a Tyranid threat so great that the Tau, in the midst of fighting the Imperium over a certain planet, ask for a truce and alliance. The story calls back as much as sixty years to The Emperor's Finest, as Cain is working with the same Astartes chapter, as well as to For the Emperor, since the Tau liaison is one Cain met in that book, and The Last Ditch, because some of the Mechanicus have been really too intent on For Science!
  • Choose Your Enemies, set not long after The Last Ditch, involves Cain and the 597th fighting Chaos cultists and eldar (the first time eldar are actually seen in the series) on the forge world Ironfound.

The short stories

  • "Fight or Flight" was the original story starring Cain, from which all other works sprouted. In it, Cain first joins the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery, a nice, safe assignment where he can hide away from anything more offensive than Jurgen's psoriasis. They successfully defeat an Ork infestation, but things go ploin-shaped when there turns out to be a Tyranid splinter fleet right behind them...
  • "Echoes of the Tomb" concerns an event Cain alludes to often: his first experience in a Necron tomb. He's a field adjutant helping agents of the Mechanicus investigate ancient ruins. Guess how it turns out.
  • "The Beguiling" takes place on the planet of Slawkenberg, where Cain runs into a priestess in service of the god Slaanesh. This priestess, Emeli, almost succeeds in seducing him, but Jurgen is able to intercede, and the story ends with the two of them fleeing and calling an artillery strike on their location.
  • "Sector Thirteen" involves Cain investigating a brothel where several of his men got into trouble. What he discovers is that it's actually the center of a genestealer infestation. He and Jurgen now have two priorities: wipe out the genestealer cult, and--more importantly--survive.
  • "Traitor's Gambit" finds Cain on a planetary inspection tour aboard the governor's luxurious yacht... which is immediately commandeered by a group of pro-Tau terrorists. He and Jurgen must find a way to stop the enemy from using it as a Suicide Attacker on the Imperial fleet -- while somehow avoiding death themselves.
  • "Old Soldiers Never Die" — at least not when a Chaos-driven plague produces a Zombie Apocalypse. This is as a novella, far longer than most of the others in this short-story list, but not nearly long enough to be published as a separate book.
  • "The Smallest Detail" focuses on Jurgen to such an extent that Cain himself is only mentioned, never actually appearing. It's also written completely in third person with an omniscient narrator. A bit of scrounging leads Jurgen to the mystery — which he solves! — of who's suddenly trying to murder him and why.
  • "The Little Things" is a very short tale of Cain — and Amberley Vail, once she comes out of the shower — foiling an attempt to kill one or both of them. Amberley uses her bath towel as a weapon, and Cain regrets that she covered up again so quickly.
  • "A Mug of Recaff" is another Jurgen solo adventure, while he's trying to find some recaff for the Commissar.

Finally, there are two audio dramas, Dead in the Water which came out in 2011, and The Devil You Know, 2014.

Tropes used in Ciaphas Cain include:

As part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the series involves a large number of the tropes on that page, as well as employing literary and narrative tropes of its own.

  • Abhorrent Admirer: In a non-romantic example, Cain considers Sulla as this. She, of course, remains completely unaware of what he thinks, and sees him as a mentor.
  • Absolute Cleavage: When Mira introduces herself, she is wearing a stylized outfit resembling a garish military uniform that is cut a little too tight around the chest for her endowment[2] which she resolves by leaving the top several buttons undone. According to Cain, other items of her wardrobe tend toward being low-cut, so this is something of a stylistic theme with her.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Since most cities in Warhammer 40k are so old the undercities have undercities (and many of those have undercities of their own), this trope is somewhat justified.
    • Both Lampshaded and subverted in Death or Glory. When Cain is trapped in a building surrounded by Orks, he remarks that having sewers and storm drains as a convenient escape route whenever he's trapped is not nearly as common as he would have liked.
    • Played straight in For the Emperor when Cain and Vail go into the city sewers to hunt Genestealers.
    • Somewhat lampshaded in The Emperor's Finest, when Cain points out to the Astartes Commander that the tunnels running below an enemy artillery unit aren't spacious enough to fit Space Marines.
  • Admiring the Abomination: This is a common failing of Techpriests when it comes to Necrons and their tombs, and the Cain novels are no exception:
    • While searching the mines below a processing plant his unit's guarding, Cain discovers a Necron tomb. The Techpriest who accompanies Cain can't understand why he wants to blow up the tomb's entrance and call in the navy to bomb the place into oblivion. He changes his mind after he's the only survivor of a group of "Cogboys" who entered the tomb; he eventually gleefully helps drown the tomb in promethium.
    • The short story Echoes of the Tomb chronicles Cain's first encounter with the Necrons after a group of Techpriests attempt to salvage what they believe is an inactive tombworld.
  • Air Vent Passageway:
    • Both used and subverted in Cain's Last Stand, where the air vents are exactly the place genestealers like to hide, but Cain takes the fact it works as a sign that the Tyranids aren't the only threat.
    • He also readily uses uses maintenance hatches after learning of them in Death or Glory (he notes in the short story Traitor's Gambit that he tries to acquire their access codes in advance when possible).
  • Almost-Dead Guy
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The resolution of Cain's Last Stand depends on this.
  • Anachronic Order: The first three books are in chronological order, the fourth is a prequel, the fifth takes place between books two and three, the sixth takes place in the WH40K universe's "present day" long after the events of the rest (although the last three all focus on his part in a single larger story), the seventh takes place between book four and book one, and the eighth (Which notably involves his second campaign on a specific world when the story of his first trip there has yet to be published) takes place after the third, but still half a century before the sixth. The short stories are in equally random order, ranging from Cain's first allegedly heroic deed as a Commissar to a story taking place a decade before the sixth book. In-story, the Cain Archive Amberley is editing the stories from is described by her as "consisting merely of a single dataslate, stuffed full of files arranged with a cavalier disregard for chronology, and to no scheme of indexing that I've been able to determine despite prolonged examination of the contents." Also, the editing and release of Cain's memoirs is done at Vail's sole discretion, such as expanding upon Plot Holes in previous books (Duty Calls was used to resolve a dangling plotline in Death or Glory).
  • Apocalypse Wow: Cain's Necron tomb-killing promethium bomb in The Caves of Ice is powerful enough to launch debris into orbit, where it buffets his fleeing troop ship. That would probably manage to squeak onto the Class 0 minimum requirements were the planet reasonably civilized beyond the sole refinery (which was consumed in the blast entirely).
  • Are These Wires Important?: Ciaphas Cain has attacked the wires of combat servitors[3]. Turns out they have armored wires. Even so, he tries it multiple times. Probably because he fights largely on instinct.
  • Armour Is Useless: Averted. Cain takes to wearing carapace armor under his coat from For The Emperor onwards, which helps on several occasions. Armor has also saved some others' lives.
    • Played straight with the Reclaimers and genestealers in "The Emperor's Finest".
  • Artistic License Ships:
    • Cain describes the Indestructible as an Armageddon-class battlecruiser in the beginning of The Traitor's Hand; a different work quoted in the book calls it a cruiser. This could be for a number of reasons (Armageddons are typically converted Lunar-class cruisers, or Cain's professed lack of interest in the navy).
      • Or "cruiser" could just be short for "battlecruiser".
    • Cain and a few other characters mistakenly thinking that any ship used by Space Marines is called a Battle Barge, as opposed to a distinct class.
    • Cain is amazed at the size of a Space Hulk based on how small the ships he recognizes are in comparison to the whole, comparing it to a small moon. Amberley states that the hulk in question is only 4 or 5 kilometers across in any direction, which she describes as "quite big enough", being so big that an entire fleet anticipates taking months to destroy it. The problem is that in this setting an escort ship is from .8 to 1.5 kilometers long, and a standard cruiser is more than 5 kilometers in length. The hulk is referred to as containing Battleships, any one of which would be twice the size as that given for the entire object.
  • Asymmetric Dilemma: While fighting a Mawloc in The Last Ditch, Cain worries at length about the prospect of being digested to death, prompting a footnote from Amberley about how he'd die of physical trauma or suffocation first. She admits that it's not as reassuring as she'd meant it to be.
    • Later in the same book, Cain marvels at a pile of demo charges that could take down an Ork Gargant. Jurgen agrees if the Orks had a Gargant... and if the Tyranids hadn't eaten all the Orks.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Cain survives three distinct assassination attempts in Duty Calls.
  • The Atoner: The Battle Sisters in Duty Calls.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: The Battle Sisters in Duty Calls, until Cain reminds them of other duties. Also, orks, tyranids, necrons and Khornates.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Exploited by Cain in Duty Calls when he realizes that the Battle Sisters are about to be overrun by Tyranids, which would have the effect of causing the entire defensive line to fold. He doesn't know who's in charge, so he picks the group of Sisters that have racked up the highest body count. He chooses correctly, as it turns out.
  • Back from the Dead: Emili.
  • Badass Back: At one point in The Traitor's Hand, Cain attempts to elbow a cultist behind him, then switches to stabbing his chainsword under his arm into the cultist's chest.
  • Badass Grandpa:
    • Cain himself in Cain's Last Stand. Even at more than a century of age and well into his ostensible retirement, Cain is still quite capable of the handing of asses back to their owners. It also helps that thanks to juvenat treatments, he is physically the equivalent of an extremely fit 50-something man, including in appearance.
    • Also Jurgen during the same time period. While his appearance hasn't been preserved as well as Cain's (it's one thing for a Hero of the Imperium to receive regular juvenat treatments, but Jurgen has to have his surreptitiously arranged by Amberley) he's still just as stoically dependable as he was on the day Cain first met him.
  • Badass Longcoat:
    • Like the sash and cap, this is a standard part of Cain's uniform.
    • The 597th Valhallan Regiment, since they're native iceworlders.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Cain has faced down Chaos Space Marines; Genestealer Patriachs and Tyrants; and Ork Warbosses in single combat.
    • The Guard, and sometimes the PDF, even though Cain usually regards the latter as nothing more than a joke.
  • Bad Dreams: Cain is plagued by these; Amberley comments that Cain often awakens in the middle of the night from them.
  • Battle Couple: Several examples:
    • Cain and Jurgen
    • Cain and Amberley
    • Cain and Felicia to a lesser extent.
    • Cain and Mira.
    • Grifen and Magot.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Cain says in The Emperor's Finest that the surest way to bluff your way through a conversation is to act like you already know what you're talking about and be just vague enough that the other person hears what he or she wants to hear. He demonstrates this spectacularly in Duty Calls by bluffing his way into a rogue Inquisitor's hideout.
    • The specific incident in The Emperor's Finest that Cain mentions this about involves, incredibly, marriage. To the heir to a planetary governor, of all people. It takes him DAYS to figure out what he's agreed to.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: The series is essentially one massive confession on Cain's part that he does not deserve the title of "Hero of the Imperium" with which he has been immortalized.
  • Bearer of Bad News
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Cain and Mira.
  • Beneath the Earth: Cain often ends up in these types of environments. He's also the perfect man for the job with his "tunnel senses," much to his discomfort. Amberley notes that while he often claims to be from a Hive World, she can't find any record of such a thing. Of course, this being the Imperium of "lose a planet because of rounding errors," that's not so far-fetched.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Commissar Donal.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Mira is described as having inherited a slight tendency toward weight from her father. She apparently carries that weight quite well.
  • Big Bulky Bomb: Multiple instances:
    • In typical 40K fashion, Cain improvises an over-the-top one of these using an entire refinery's worth of promethium to blow up a Necron tomb. The resulting explosion is felt from orbit.
    • He pulls another stunt like this on Nusquam Fundamentibus, where he essentially triggers a volcanic eruption to kill a buried Tyranid bioship before it can summon more of its kind.
  • Big Dam Plot: Cain destroys a dam to escape an Ork army in Death Or Glory. He later rigs another one (its replacement) in Cain's Last Stand, but it fails when Necrons arrive to claim the Shadowlight and jam the detonation signal.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Cain, Jurgen, and Amberley do this. A lot. Also, Captain Detoi and his troopers pull this off in Traitor's Hand, as do the surviving Reclaimers in The Emperor's Finest (sort of).
  • Black Comedy
  • Blase Boast: Cain does this a lot. He makes sure to remind the reader that he only does it to seem like a Humble Hero.
  • Bling Bling Bang: Amberley's power armor is gilded so much it looks like it's made entirely of gold from distance.
  • Blood Knight: Lieutenant Sulla is either laudably eager to destroy the enemies of the Emperor, or a borderline Leeroy Jenkins, depending on whom you ask. Cain definitely leans toward the latter view, but her eventual promotion to general officer rank, and more significantly her troops' high morale and confidence in her abilities, suggests that the former is more accurate.
  • Boarding School: Cain makes the Schola Progenium seem less like a badass Military School and more like Tom Brown's Schooldays, complete with “scrumball practice”.
    • The scrumball is Truth in Television; participation in sports is actually mandatory in many present-day military academies.
  • Boring but Practical: Cain reflects in The Last Ditch that many commissars favor bolt pistols as side arms for their well known loud and messy effects adding to their intimidation factor. Cain contrasts this with his humble laspistol, which though not as impressive, is something he rarely has to worry about running out of shots for at an inopportune moment, making it better suited for keeping him alive in the field than an ammunition-dependent projectile weapon might be.
  • Brains and Brawn: Played with. Cain is undoubtedly more clever than Jurgen, while Jurgen is much stronger than Cain. However, Cain's such an excellent swordsman that Jurgen can't even compare (he's able to best a Chaos Marine -- well, more like "barely fend him off while making it look easy" -- mostly by taunting said Marine) in melee, an Orc Warboss (he shot him in the face) and loads of pureblood tyranid genestealers. This results in Cain actually doing all the melee fighting, while Jurgen dispatches distracted enemies with heavy weaponry. And while Jurgen may be Book Dumb, he's certainly a talented scrounger.
    • Also, Cain is an amazing shot with a laspistol from the hip, while Jurgen is a much better sniper.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In The Emperor's Finest a decidedly meta footnote in Chapter 7: The irony of this statement seems to have eluded Cain entirely, though not, I suspect, most of my readers. In-universe this refers to fellow inquisitors but the passage this footnote refers to fits the most common complaint in RL about the Cain series.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Amberley's comment about Marshmallows and Meltaguns became a running gag that appeared in the first three books.
    • In Caves of Ice, Scrivener Quintus, in his idiosyncratic minutes of a meeting to assess the Ork threat on the refinery, offhandedly mentions that Broklaw fired his bolt pistol into the air to call the meeting to order. Later on, when Cain arrives after learning of the Necrons, he gets freaked out at the large blast hole in the ceiling, which Broklaw refers to like an inside joke.
  • The Brigadier: Lord General Zyvan.
  • Bring News Back
  • Bring Out Your Gay Dead: Inverted. The implied lesbian couple in Caves of Ice are the only Red Shirts who survive nigh-certain death going through the titular caves as well as a Necron tomb. They do quite well afterward and are recurring minor characters in later books.
    • In fact, it's strongly suggested that it's specifically because of their love for each other that they make it through all of the various horrors they face.
  • Bug War: For the Emperor, Duty Calls, The Last Ditch and the short stories Fight or Flight and Sector Thirteen are all campaigns against Tyranids and/or their Genestealer infiltrators. Cain's Last Stand starts with fighting against Tyranids.
  • Bullethole Door: Jurgen's melta (a weapon designed to shoot through armored tanks) comes in handy for these.
  • Butt Monkey: Penlan, aka "Jinxie". It hasn't killed her yet. She's even been promoted. Additionally, she's rather popular with the Regiment as it's believed that all the bad luck in her squad gets attracted to her and leaves everyone else alone.

Cain: But she's not nearly as accident prone as she's supposed to be. I'll grant you she fell down an ambull tunnel once, and there was that incident with the frag grenade and the latrine trench, but things tend to work out for her. The orks on Kastafore were as surprised as she was when the floor in the factory collapsed, and we'd have walked right into that hrud ambush on Skweki if she hadn't triggered the mine by chucking an empty food tin away...

    • When you think about it, this basically makes her the rank and file version of Cain, considering how often the latter manages to bumble into trouble just to bumble right out again through dumb luck. He just has better PR.
  • Buxom Is Better: Evidently, the Warhammer 40000 universe as told by Sandy Mitchell. Considering the main game has few women that aren't evil, monstrous succubi, or generally (facially) unattractive nuns, some might gain a new appreciation for the setting after reading his novels.
  • Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Inherited from the game's setting, mostly. See Shout Outs below for the best examples.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Cain is basically Flashman IN SPACE!!!
    • Gunner Jurgen is probably based on another George Macdonald Fraser character, Private McAuslan, AKA the Dirtiest Soldier in the British Army. Like McAuslan, Jurgen is ugly and exudes an aroma that causes revulsion in everyone he meets -- unlike McAuslan, he is a highly competent soldier, though he isn't terribly bright (Yet amazingly good at planning ahead).
    • Warmaster Varan is in many ways an Ersatz of Adolf Hitler, right down to the mustache, arm gestures, and speeches. Granted, he's an insecure, psychically-empowered mutant Ersatz, although this isn't revealed until late in the book. Amusingly, none of the Imperial forces are terribly impressed by his rhetoric, and Varan depends heavily upon his psychic ability to enthrall anyone he can speak with or has a line of sight to.
    • Ariott, a minor character in Death or Glory, is an Ersatz of James Herriott, of all people, being a veterinarian and later writing an autobiography called All Lifeforms Large and Small.
  • Captain Obvious: In The Beguiling

Cain: No wonder they made [Mulenz] an observer, I thought, nothing gets past this guy.

  • Car Fu:
    • One of Jurgen's specialties.
    • Magot also once ran over a Tyranid Lictor with a Chimera.

"Nice driving, Magot."
"You're welcome, commissar," the familiar cheerful tones of one of my perennial discipline problems assured me, before taking on a faintly puzzled air. "How did you know it was me?"
"Lucky guess," I told her.

  • Cassandra Truth: Cain does it to himself in Cain's Last Stand, continuously reassuring himself (despite recurring nightmares and overwhelming lack of evidence) that there are no Necrons on Perlia. Guess who shows up at the very end?
  • Changing of the Guard: Subverted. Young Donal in Cain's Last Stand is in many ways a dead ringer for a younger Ciaphas, and Ciaphas knows himself well enough to be watching the young cadet. As Cain's essentially upon his last great adventure, the reader might expect Donal to survive and take up the reins as a Generation Xerox. Unfortunately, Donal is badly wounded and attempts a You Shall Not Pass moment, but is captured and mentally enslaved. Cain and Jurgen rescue him, but they are forced to test the extent of Warmaster Varan's mental domination, and when Donal feels himself slipping again he commits suicide.
  • The Chains of Commanding
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Jurgen's status as a "blank" is a significant factor at the end of For the Emperor, and throughout the rest of the books it often saves Cain's life in certain circumstances. In Duty Calls, it serves as a seal protecting Jurgen from being harmed by a Chaos Artifact of Doom when he picks it up - an artifact which ends up killing the rogue Inquisitor as he makes his getaway once he leaves Jurgen's area of effect. In Cain's Last Stand, Cain again uses it to his advantage when he confronts Warmaster Varan. Jurgen's presence nullifies the power of Varan's Compelling Voice, allowing Cain to wrong-foot and defeat him.
    • When Cain and a small squad go into the Necron tombs to destroy the warp portal in Caves Of Ice, they get confronted by Pariahs. Most Freak-Out, but Cain and Jurgen are unaffected due to having an acquired immunity to the psychic effect used by the Pariahs, since it's essentially the same thing as Jurgen's ability.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Whenever Jurgen's melta is brought along, it will probably be needed. (Of course, a melta being a melta, there are plenty of times when it would have come in very handy. It's a very "opportunistic" weapon).
    • In "Traitor's Gambit", Cain finds a tau-made gun and keeps it as evidence of their involvement. It's still at hand when he needs a weapon quickly and his laspistol is not convenient to draw.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Inquisitor Vail, in the first book, is introduced to Cain incognito at the governor's palace. He doesn't discover her true identity until later in the book. The reader, however, should know who she is since her name and Ordos are revealed in the introduction.
    • Warmaster Varan is first mentioned in The Traitor's Hand in one of the chapter opening quotes, those being his last words. It isn't until Cain's Last Stand that those words are spoken by the man himself, although in a slightly different context than their original use would have the reader believe.
    • Inquisitor Malden is quoted on page 47 of the Omnibus: "You'll get more with a kind word and an excruciator than with just a kind word." A psyker named Malden shows up in Traitor's Hand to...extract information from a member of the council of claimants.
  • Children Are Innocent:
    • Even Cain is horrified in Duty Calls by the realization that Killian abandoned children to a Tyranid attack.
      • Also in Duty Calls, Cain visits a refugee camp and is disturbed to see "apathetic children too bored and hungry to do much more than sit and whine instead of enjoying their carefree years as they should have been..." Careful, Commissar; your compassion is showing.
    • To a different degree of "innocent", given the setting: Amberley recalls a book from her childhood where she always liked the pictures of burning heretics, and children are taught songs like this:

"The tracks on the Land Raider crush the heretics, crush the heretics, crush the heretics. The tracks on the Land Raider crush the heretics all day long..."

  • Clean Cut: In Duty Calls, Cain manages to score one of these on an assassin using his chainsword.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Ariott is pressed into service as the caravan's medic in Death or Glory. He's actually a vet.
  • Cold Sniper: Sorel, in For The Emperor.
  • Commissar Cap: Standard gear, though Amberley does note that Cain would probably prefer a helmet. It's humorously Lampshaded near the beginning of Caves of Ice:

Captain Durant: The one in the fancy hat wants to know if you've wired up his gadgets.

    • Also:

Cain: "It was a tough call for me to make, but unfortunately that goes with the hat."

  • Compelling Voice: Warmaster Varan can turn anyone to Chaos if they can see and hear him - even Battle Sisters.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: The ultra-religious Tallarns, or at least Asmar and Beije in The Traitor's Hand, call it blasphemy that Cain had his dropship land on part of a monastery because he was in a hurry to get there to save them. The part in question was the vegetable garden. Then they don't even help fix it.
  • Compromising Memoirs: Cain wrote a set, which we're now reading.
  • Consummate Liar: Even before he knew about Jurgen, and afterward when he's not around, Cain was confident in his ability to fool mind readers - mostly by controlling stray thoughts. It is implied that he couldn't have defended himself from an actual investigation and is lucky that his memory has never been scanned before. But then again, Amberley is the first human being in his life whom he cannot fool no matter how he tried, and she's an Inquisitor.
  • Continuity Drift: In For The Emperor it is mentioned that Cain has seen Astartes reclaim the geneseed after going back on the Space Hulk. However, in The Emperor's Finest he is far too sick to actually go back onto the ship, and in fact starts making movements to get as far away from the ship as possible. Perhaps he returned several months later.
    • Also in For the Emperor, Cain mentions that he mopped up the Space Hulk with an Imperial Guard Unit which wasn't with them either. This means they came back with some support.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • A small blink-and-you'll-miss-it one in Duty Calls. When riding in a limousine, Cain notices a small cabinet made of naalwood, and comments that it was probably worth more than the aircraft he rode in on. This is because naalwood only comes from the planet Tanith which was destroyed by Chaos, and so is very rare and very expensive.
    • Commissar Forres hastily retracts an accusation of cowardice in The Last Ditch after she learned that the last time a Commissar insulted Colonel Kasteen, Cain challenged said Commissar to a duel. This was Tomas Beije, towards the end of The Traitor's Hand.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Explicitly invoked and averted. Once Cain claims that a plasma bolt missed by a millimeter. Amberley points out that he would have suffered flash burns that close, so he must have been exaggerating.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Cain is a product of the Schola Progenum, schools which raise and educate the children of people who died serving in the Imperial forces.
  • Cool Teacher: Cain appears to have become one prior to the events of Cain's Last Stand (or at least he claims to be more relaxed, to the irritation of his colleagues).
    • By the time Cain's Last Stand was written though, the latter was forgotten; every named member of the faculty is ultimately shown to be a bit of a Cool Old Guy (or in one case, a Cool Old Nun), at least off duty.
    • Those awesome four are hardly the only teachers in the schola, and Cain does mention that he wouldn't really bother with the rest of the faculty. And even with the above three, he doesn't really give a picture of their teaching styles.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Cain repeatedly comments that if the Emperor is actually watching him, He has a sick sense of humor.
  • Covers Always Lie: Boy, do they; the cover artist deliberately presents Cain in the overblown style of the propaganda posters the character so often ends up on. Thus, the laspistol-wielding, cover-seeking Cain is depicted boldly leading his men, and even dual-wielding bolt pistols while he stands on a pile of enemy dead. Also, none of the covers include the red sash Commissars wear as part of their uniform, and which is a minor plot point in Cain's Last Stand. Cain is also depicted as being hugely muscled, although given his daily chainsword practice regimen and feats with the weapon in-story that's not much of a stretch.
    • Hypotheses aside, one of the few things we do know for sure about Cain's physical appearance is his imposing height -- Amberley in one book clearly states that Cain was just under two meters tall and invariably among the tallest in any group of people.
  • Crapsack World: A more straitlaced example than usual even for 40K, since it's looked at with more parodic eyes than usual.
  • Cricket: It shows up as "grasshopper", apparently named because of the huge leaps players have to take. Just like cricket, the rules are completely arcane to those not native to the world where it's born, and games last insanely long, especially if it's rainy.
  • Cult: There's the usual mess of Chaos cultists. Also, Vail reports a cult that worships Cain as the embodied will of the Emperor and quotes the Book of Cain. Fortunately, Cain never heard of it.
    • Almost certainly picked up from Flashman, where there is a (historically accurate and very funny) scene referencing John Nicholson, a British officer in India in the 1840s who was worshipped as a god by several frontier tribes known as the Nikkulseynites. His response was to flog anyone who mentioned them; Flashman suggests taking up a collection instead.
  • Cyborg: A huge amount of humans and orcs have some sort of augmetics, purposes ranging from simply replacing a couple of lost organs and limbs[4] to full-on conversion into a machine (Mechanicus and servitors).
  • Dangerous Deserter: The first book gets some of its tension from whether the penal squad will decide they've got nothing left to lose and become these. Kelp does. No one follows, and he seals his fate when he attacks Cain.
  • Deadly Dodging: Cain making combat servitors fire at each other in Cain's Last Stand.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Cain, in his comments on other characters.
    • Amberley frequently does this in her footnotes and in her comments about some of the non-Cain texts she inserts pages from.
  • Deceased Fall Guy Gambit: Cain defuses an argument between the Ordo Xenos and the Adeptus Mechanicus over which side caused the security leak that allowed Chaos agents to learn of the Shadowlight by blaming it on the long-dead rogue Inquisitor Killian. While he claims this was just so he could stop the argument and get people working on solving the problem, the logic he uses in naming his scapegoat is fairly plausible.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Now and again, especially when Cain is up against the Tau. Apparently, egalitarianism and open-mindedness freak him out, as you would expect from an Imperial citizen.
      • From the same book, he also seems approving when the Arbites show up to beat the crap out of a handful of troublesome, but otherwise peaceful pro-Tau humans.
    • Another example in Cain's Last Stand: glancing around the Schola grounds, Cain notes a black-painted truck bearing a load of prisoners for interrogation, execution and live-fire exercises, decides all is well and gets back to work. There's also the line about looking forward to a brisk round of target practice against unarmed demonstrators, but that one was probably a joke.
      • He mentions organizing firing squads very casually as part of his duties in one of the short stories.
    • Cain also appears to believe wholeheartedly in machine spirits and the rituals of the Mechanicus, although he doesn't care much for individual techpriests most of the time. (Given the two Necron tombs they hacked off while he was around that we know of, it's hard to blame him.) Finding a stolen Imperial-made gun mounted on an orkish buggy, he wonders if it will still work now that its spirit "has been corrupted by being forced into servitude". When it does, he reckons it's because it remains loyal to the Emperor.
    • Amberley Vail usually comes across as a fairly reasonable, likeable person. And then she mentions, in Caves of Ice, how she can never hold back a smile when looking at the amusing expressions on the faces of heretics being burned alive in a book from her childhood.
      • She also seems quite pleased (enough to unsettle Cain) in For The Emperor when the Tau seem unaware that their wounded troopers they've just rescued are probably infected by genestealers, and shows no inclination to warn them.
  • Did Not Do the Research: This shows up in-story in multiple ways.
    • In Caves of Ice, Inquisitor Vail mentions in the footnotes a popular holodrama in which her savant claims to have counted "437 historical and technical inaccuracies in the 1st episode alone".
    • Cain regularly Does Not Do The Research about local situations when accepting new assignments, which explains why he's always going into potentially dangerous situations thinking they're actually cushy assignments.
    • Much to Cain's annoyance, Jurgen is regularly ignored by all of the popular renditions of Cain's adventures and most history texts; Sulla mentions Jurgen in her memoirs, but only refers to him as Cain's aide and fails to mention his name.
    • Unfortunately, Sandy appears to have one of these as well, in Amberley's comments about the Hulk only being 5 kilometers in diameter at most (This being a setting where 5 kilometers is the length of a battleship. The Hulk consists of many of these, among others) which seems a rather unlikely error for an Inquisitor to make. Could be explained as a typo, of course.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Over the course of the books, Cain defeats several daemons and a few Chaos Space Marines in close combat...with the aid of others, of course. Cain's reputation has gotten such a boost from these feats that the Imperial Guard has even made a drinking song about him kicking Khorne in the balls.
  • Disposable Pilot: Warmaster Varan's (Brainwashed and Crazy, like all his minions) pilot is eventually revealed to have starved to death as he had been told to stay there until Varan's return. After Varan dies and Decapitated Army is noticeably averted, he continues to wait for orders that never come.
  • Divided We Fall
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Varan is a relatively short man with a huge ego, extraordinary charisma, astounding oratory ability, fanatical and twisted followers, and a tiny moustache? Subtle.
  • Doorstopper: These books aren't, unless you buy the omnibus editions, but there are references to books of this type in the stories, most notably the novel Waaaagh! and Peace: The Siege of Perlia and its Neighboring Systems, which was never completed due to the author's untimely death. The 37 volumes which he did complete are an incredibly detailed reference on the first nine weeks of the titular two-year campaign (Which would imply that the complete version that the author intended would have gone on to 428 volumes).
  • Dressing as the Enemy
  • Driven to Suicide: Shows up twice in Cain's Last Stand:
    • Donal shoots himself when he realizes that he can't overcome Varan's brainwashing.
    • When the brainwashed Battle Sisters acting as Varan's bodyguards have his control over them broken, they collapse into screaming hysterics, then throw themselves off a rooftop.
  • Due to the Dead: In Caves of Ice, when they have to burn a body to keep the orks from realizing they're there, even Cain seems perturbed by it.
  • Dungeon Bypass:
    • Cain is on the receiving end of one of these in The Caves of Ice.
    • Jurgen's melta is frequently used for this.
  • Dying as Yourself: Commissar Donal.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A minor example in For the Emperor: Cain's narrative remarks that "Even after all this time I still find myself missing" Jurgen, which implies that Jurgen was long dead when Cain recorded this part. But Jurgen was still with him in Cain's Last Stand, set in the last year of the 41st Millennium, and Amberley notes that the Cain Archive was probably composed only about two to five years later.
    • A line in his narrative of Caves of Ice, however, indicates that account was composed "more than a century" after the events ... which if literally true means a good 33 years after the start of the 42nd Millennium, giving plenty of time for Jurgen to have died long ago but still after Cain's Last Stand. Yet another of Amberley's footnotes to Caves, though, says that narrative dates from before the Black Crusade. Apparently she didn't notice the "more than a century" line.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Although we recognize it also depends of his luck.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Actually saves Cain's life in Duty Calls. See Good-Looking Privates below for details.
  • Egopolis: A town Cain saves in Death or Glory (or more accurately, blows up with an ork army inside) gets rebuilt as "Cainstead." Amberley notes that he found this hilarious. He also seems to have found it a bit embarrassing, and consistently uses the original name in his reminiscences.
  • Elite Mooks: The PDF in Cain's Last Stand.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: Played with, as the governor's speech is a complete failure (and not even rehearsed), demonstrating just how out-of-it the governor is (and with a name like Merkin W. Pismire the Younger, take a wild guess who he's supposed to be...).
  • Emotion Bomb: A psyker in Duty Calls uses despair, Slaaneshi cultists spread lust around wherever they are, and Necron pariahs are "shrouded in horror"... over and above the reasonable reaction to Necrons, that is.
  • The Empire
  • Enemy Mine: In For The Emperor, Cain's recon team and a squad of Tau pathfinders briefly team up to scout out the terrorist base. Then they find a Bigger Fish and things get worse.
    • The Greater Good begins with the Tau interrupting their conquest of a planet to ask for an alliance against the Tyranids. They specifically looked to deliver the request to "the hero Commissar Cain."
  • Enemy Civil War
  • Ensign Newbie
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Parodied in Duty Calls, where Cain considers Periremundian fashion (and PDF uniforms) so garish that even Slaaneshi cultists would find them in bad taste.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good
  • Exact Words: At the end of Cain's Last Stand, Cain lures Varan to a meeting to discuss "terms of surrender". At the meeting, he announces that it's to discuss the terms on which Varan surrenders. He does it again a few pages later by fulfilling Commissar Donal's final request, killing Varan by putting the boot to his ass.
  • Explosive Decompression: Notably averted in Death or Glory. Lampshaded by Inquisitor Vail in a footnote.
  • Expospeak:
    • Vail's footnotes frequently serve as this.
    • During a briefing in The Traitor's Hand, Cain gives a concise but informative discussion of the Chaos Gods, focusing on Khorne and Slaanesh as their minions are relevant to the story.
  • False-Flag Operation
  • Famed in Story
  • Fantastic Racism: Both used and subverted to a degree. Cain says he has trouble thinking of the Tau in For The Emperor as people, and the short story Traitor's Gambit makes his dislike of the Tau even more evident. Equally, he's shocked by (comparatively) friendly Tau behavior, being confused when a kroot saves his life when he is set upon by dissidents who support the Tau presence. Despite this, and remaining suspicious of multiculturalism or alien values, he gets on well enough with two comparatively cooperative Tau soldiers (a Fire Warrior and the aforementioned kroot), doesn't seem to bear most aliens any specific animosity, and almost warns the Tau when they recover two possibly-Genestealer-contaminated soldiers. Note that even feeling any sympathy towards aliens puts him light years ahead of everyone else in the galaxy.
  • Femme Fatale:
    • Inquisitor Vail.
    • Colonel Kasteen to a lesser extent.
  • Fictional Document: The assorted outside sources Vail sources in her footnotes.
  • Field Promotion: Cain hands these out in Death or Glory and Cain's Last Stand.
  • Fiery Redhead: Kasteen and Magot.
  • First Book Spoiler: For The Emperor runs on this. 296/301 Valhallan is merged into the 597 (and are forged into a single force, instead of two mutually antagonistic units) and Kasteen and Broklaw become friends between each other and with Cain, genestealer cults are behind the trouble on Gravalax, Amberley Vail is the inquisitor, Jurgen is a blank.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The entire Valhallan 597th in general. Kasteen and Broklaw in particular.
  • First-Name Basis
  • Five Rounds Rapid: Used word for word in The Traitor's Hand. Also said — by Cain himself — in For the Emperor when he thought Jurgen's melta would make too big a hole but two hellguns would be just right. Averted in the short story The Beguiling: faced with a daemon, he doesn't bother trying to use a normal gun, instead calling in a full artillery barrage on the location.
  • Flower in Her Hair: Amberley sports one briefly in Duty Calls.
  • Food End: To date, six out of eight books have ended with a mention of food or drink. The exceptions are Cain's Last Stand and The Last Ditch.
  • Footnote Fever: Each book contains about one footnote per five pages. In the foreword to the first omnibus edition, Sandy Mitchell commented that the typesetters were very glad no other Black Library books had such footnotes. (Incidentally, this is another facet picked up from the Flashman books, which are themselves quite well annotated, although those notes are at the end of each book rather than the bottom of the page.)
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Cain alludes to the Bell of Lost Souls tolling for him. Vail assures the reader that it was just a soldier's figure of speech since he couldn't have expected it to ring for him -- then.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Cain will live, to write his memoirs. Vail will live, to edit them. Jenit Sulla will live, to poorly write her memoirs (and rise to the highest ranks of the Imperial Guard). Lord General Zyvan will live (at least) long enough to transfer Cain from the 597th to his personal staff, where Cain stays until (at least) three years before his retirement.
    • In the prequel books, Jurgen becomes Cain's aide, he finds necrons in that tomb, Emili is a Slaaneshi cultist attempting to sacrifice his soul and is promptly killed off, et cetera.
    • There are also minor characters in some of the books whose later memoirs are quoted by Amberley in the same volume, which makes it clear that they survive the book.
  • A Friend in Need: Kasteen and Broklaw, at the end of Traitor's Hand.
  • Friend or Foe
  • Funny Background Event: Amberley's psyker Rakel is present at a Guard briefing in For The Emperor, with the command staff informing Cain of the state of play while steadfastly ignoring her bizarre antics.
  • Gainaxing: A rare written example. On multiple occasions, Cain uses some variation of the word "undulating" to describe Mira in motion.
  • Genki Girl: Of all possible people, Magos Felicia Tayber, an Adeptus Mechanius tech-priestess. [5] Whom Cain may or may not have slept with...
  • Geo Effects
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Amberley confronting Governor Grice at the end of For The Emperor. She was wearing a ring with a concealed weapon on it at the time, so it's rather more serious than most examples of the trope.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Amberley Vail's disguise when Cain first met her.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Cain explain chaos cults thusly in Cain's Last Stand:

Cain: Cultists try to attract the attention of the Ruinous Powers. The lucky ones eventually reach high-end jobs through mundane means, so they can undermine the Imperium's proper working.
Cadet: And the unlucky ones?
Cain: They succeed.

  • Good-Looking Privates:
    • While Cain wouldn't be caught dead in the poses on the covers[6], it's implied his appearance is pretty accurate.
    • Colonel Kasteen's pretty easy on the eyes, too, to the point where Scrivener Quintus's meeting minutes were full of references to how the light caught her hair. Cain himself makes a number of references to Kasteen's good looks, and while he doesn't pursue her, he's not beyond checking her out...which actually saves his life in Duty Calls; watching her walk up stairs means he's looking in the right general direction to see an assassin in the base's rafters.
  • Go Through Me: Invoked word for word in The Traitor's Hand by Magot, as she moves into a Commissar's line of fire to shield Grifen.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The heroic exploits of Gunner Jurgen, acknowledged by few and told by none besides Cain himself.
  • Happy Fun Ball: The Shadowlight. The core of it is naught but a slab of dark stone roughly the size of an Imperial data-slate. It's really a psychic power-boosting Artifact of Doom.
  • Hand Cannon: Cain deconstructs the usefulness of the Bolt pistol in The Last Ditch, noting that it uses physical rounds which can be eaten up fairly quickly, while the laspistol he favors can be recharged and by pretty much any means. In addition, he points out that its appeal among Commissars is mostly due to it being loud and flashy. In a footnote, Amberley says that this partly why Orks are attracted to Bolters, but she also notes that a Commissar would take offense to being compared to an Ork.
  • Hard Head: Subverted, hard, in Duty Calls, where a minor concussion puts Cain out of commission for three days and enlivens his life with nausea and dizziness after. He plays it up and down according to what looks useful, and other character are anxious to remind him that he does not in fact have a Hard Head.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Averted. Cain tells Emili that he prefers blondes before he shoots her, and later falls for the blonde Amberley. He does admit that he finds Colonel Kasteen, the red-haired colonel of the Valhallan 597th, to be quite attractive, but never follows up on it because of how that would complicate their working relationship. Finally, in The Traitor's Hand, Commissar Tomas Beije seems to be assuming that Cain is having an inappropriate relationship with Corporal Magot, who is also a red-head. He's very wrong; Magot's "preferences ran in an entirely different direction", and Cain "only has room for one lethally dangerous woman in [his] life."
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Techpriest Killian saving Cain in Echoes of the Tomb.
    • Cain clearly views the destruction of his escape pod during a landing where the passengers survived as this, gushing about the autopilot's great valor.
  • He's Just Hiding: In-universe, this is what the bureaucracy thinks after Cain dies of old age, even though Never Found the Body is very much averted. They've declared him dead too many times, and it's such a hassle clearing up the paperwork once he comes back. "We won't be fooled again!"
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Jurgen becomes Cain's aide right at the start of his commissarial career and is still his aide over a century later in his retirement. Cain considers Jurgen the only person he's ever truly trusted.
  • Hollywood History: A rare in-universe example, in Cain's Last Stand we find out that the way Cain's first fight on Perlia is remembered sixty years later is a heavily romanticized account. The main element of this is the idea that his force was mostly armed civilians, when they were actually a small group among many more professional soldiers. Another example from Perlia involves the new governor heroically defending her hunting cabin from an attack, ignoring the squad of stormtroopers that were assigned to guard her and did all the fighting. And of course, Jurgen is not mentioned in any of the histories Cain is featured in. (Amberley notes that, with the best will in the world, Jurgen isn't the sort of person you want to include in a heroic legend.)
  • Hollywood Tactics: The fresh-out-of-the-schola Commissar Forres seems more concerned with driving troops to show their valor and be willing to sacrifice themselves for the Emperor than actual efficient strategy. Kasteen calls her out on this, pointing out that using actual tactics tends to result in higher damage inflicted on the enemy while incurring fewer casualties, which in the long run counts more than just trying to show off one's courage.
  • Human Shield: Cain's professed motive for saving many people is that they will be between him and the guns. This is subverted in Cain's Last Stand, where he thinks that everyone between him and Varan is one more person for Varan to turn against him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Anything Beije says, ever.
  • I Can Still Fight: Used by Cain after he suffers any apparent injury. Though subverted, because he knows that it will trigger admiration and sympathy in others, who will encourage him to take it easy for a while, which he will grudgingly go along with while inwardly reflecting that he just manipulated them into letting him stay out of danger without losing face. Of course, these novels being what they are, the universe contrives to put him in even more danger anyway.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: In The Last Ditch, "Jinxie" Penlan accidentally discharges her lasgun while using its buttstock to try to unjam another weapon. Fortunately it hits an ork (Who then crashes its flier into the middle of a swarm of orks), so it works out for her in her typical fashion.
  • "I Know What We Can Do!" Cut: At the climax of Cain's Last Stand. Cain tells them what they can do, tells us that they opposed it, but does not tell the reader until he actually does it: he calls up Varan and proposes a meeting to discuss surrender terms. Specifically, terms for Varan's surrender.
  • I Meant to Do That:
    • Most notably in Fight or Flight.
    • The melee fight at the end of Death or Glory.
    • A number of Cain's achievements involve things turning out better than expected for him, and then not correcting people who believe that he planned it that way.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: In For the Emperor, Cain needs to win over the members of a tribunal in a case, and goes over how to do so.

Ciaphas Cain:"Bribery and threats are always popular, but generally to be avoided, especially if you're likely to attract inquisitorial attention as they're better at both and tend to resent other people resorting to their methods."
Editor's Note:"This is, of course, entirely untrue. As His Divine Majesty's most faithful servants, we're most definitely above such petty emotions as resentment."

  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Cain briefly forgets that not everyone has his tunnel instincts in an early book.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: The Big Bad of Duty Calls says so to Cain.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Mira owned a dress that was pretty much only held up by static cling. In Amberley's footnotes, she said that she used to own one of those, but it was wrecked in a firefight. She never bothered to replace it, because the few places you could hide a gun in a dress like that were rather uncomfortable.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Lampshaded and subverted in the first novel, where Vail accuses Cain of "showing off" when he scores a headshot on an enemy Mook with his laspistol. He goes on to reveal that he was aiming for a torso shot and fired right when his target had ducked. However, Vail reveals in a footnote that Cain does possess an uncanny accuracy with a laspistol when firing at long-distance targets. He often attributes this to his augmetic fingers, but no other character with augmetics seems to share this skill.
    • Amberley further addresses Cain's attribution of this to his augmentic fingers in a footnote, pointing out that the shaking is caused by heartbeat rather than the fingers themselves. She conjectures that his belief that his augmentic fingers give him better weapon handling is more psychological than physical. Of course, shortly after getting those fingers he did most of his laspistol practicing in an Astartes training chapel, a rare honor which had a strong positive effect on his self-confidence.
    • In The Emperor's Finest he has Jurgen take a shot at a fuel tank which was too far for him to hit himself. Jurgen has to try a few times, but then it's revealed he actually aimed for (and hit!) the much smaller release valve, having assumed that was what Cain meant.
  • Indestructible Edible: Imperial ration bars: unknown composition, palatable only to the desperately starving, capable of surviving some forms of Exterminatus, and "tasting reassuringly like nothing that you could identify.”
  • Indy Ploy: Cain pretty much makes everything up as he goes along, though he does try to plan to avoid getting into firefights and occasionally actually has a plan beyond "Get out alive", even if it rarely actually works out that way.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Plays a few Ork words for laughs, like "zogoff". Amberley occasionally provides translations that give a much more sophisticated explanation to the words than the Orks probably could articulate:

"An orkish word, which translates roughly as 'go away', but which may also mean, 'leave it alone', or 'I doubt your veracity', according to context."

  • In Its Hour of Need
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Rakel the psyker is too crazy for ideas like modesty, and her attire is repeatedly described as inappropriately revealing. Most characters find the crazy too disturbing to appreciate it.
  • Insult Backfire: The Guardsmen characters constantly use Cogboy as a mildly derogatory term for Tech Priests. In Death or Glory we find out that the Tech Priests themselves use "cog" as a compliment for someone who is essential to the the smooth running of things but frequently not acknowledged.
  • In the Back
  • Irony/Unreliable Narrator : For all his claims to be an abject coward and fraud, Cain actually is very good at his job, if for the wrong reasons. At one point Vail notes that his unorthodox swordsmanship is some of the best in the entire Imperium (presumably among regular humans, the books make it quite clear that 'among the finest in the entire Imperium' is still not in the same league as Astartes or heavily augmented humans or aliens).
  • I Surrender, Suckers: A variation in Cain's Last Stand.
  • It's All About Me
    • A repeated gripe about Cain's memoirs from Amberley.
    • Cain is of the opinion that this is the case with Mira. Amberley lampshades the Irony of that sentiment.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Subverted in The Traitor's Hand, where the captured Slaaneshi cultists seem to actually be enjoying the treatment.
  • Kid Hero: In Cain's Last Stand, the students at the schola provide support.
  • Kill'Em All: While Cain has an outstanding track record of coming back from missions almost unscathed, very rarely do many of his squad survive.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Salamander Cain often travels in is frequently equipped with a flamer, and it gets used frequently. Also, at the end of Caves of Ice, several million gallons of promethium are ignited to stop a Necron assault.
  • Kill It with Water: In Death or Glory, he takes out a large Ork army by destroying a dam.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: In The Traitor's Hand, how he stopped Beije from trying to arrest him.
  • Knight Templar: The Inquisitor in Duty Calls is willing to stage a massacre and hand over humans to be massacred by aliens on the ground that what he is protecting is too valuable for the information to get out.
    • Played with in the same book. Certain Battle Sisters refuse to retreat to the line of their defenses because they must serve the Emperor; Cain finally points out that if the Tyranids outflank them, they will be responsible for the massacre of civilians in the Emperor's Temple. This not only persuades them to retreat, it causes one of them to thank him later, for reminding them of their duty, and admit that their zeal had led them astray. Later, this takes on a grimmer note. The sisters realize they have sheltered a renegade inquisitor. Even his deception does not ease their guilt; they realized their zeal had blinded them from seeing the facts. In atonement, they sacrifice their lives to ensure the escape of the Inquisitor who had told them the truth and her party.
  • The Klutz: Penlan, aka "Jinxie."
  • Lady Land: According to Vail, women are considered superior on Nusquam Fundamentibus. Indeed, the command echelon of its first Imperial Guard regiment, the planetary governor, and the past few generations of planetary governor are all female. The senior Magos from the Adeptus Mechanicus is one of the few males to hold a position of authority on the planet, as it's a part of the Imperial government.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Most of Inquisitor Vail's commentary is either this or additional Backstory. Things brought up by fans are sometimes directly referenced in the introductions as being from her "Inquisitorial colleagues".
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Most of the covers have Cain's Commissar Cap obscure the top half of his head, leaving only his Judge Dredd-esque chin to inspire the masses.
  • Last Stand: Cain's gotten at least two of them in the same location... and he seems a bit annoyed that people keep calling them that.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One of Amberley's comments in The Last Ditch basically boils down to saying you should use the Lord Commissar rules to represent Cain on the tabletop.
  • Leeroy Jenkins:
    • Cain considers Lt. Sulla to be one, worried that in her eagerness to smite the enemies of the God-Emperor she is going to get herself and (more importantly) Cain killed. He also holds this opinion about Sisters of Battle, considering them so fanatical as to be unreliable at holding to a plan, saying the best you can do is point at the enemy, yell "Heretic!", and let them do their thing.
    • The Nusquam 1st (and the PDF they recruited from) were a entire regiment of these. This green regiment and their equally green Commissar considered the more effective tactics used by the Valhallan 597th to be acts of cowardice, ignoring Col. Kasteen's pointing out that the Valhallans were doing twice as much damage as the Nusquams while taking only a third as many casualties. They wised up eventually.
  • Left It In: A Dubya-parodying character in one of the novels ends an atrociously bad speech with something like "You'll edit that out anyway... what do you mean it was live?"
  • Legally Dead: Cain had been declared legally dead many times (most prominently in Death or Glory) to the point where it was inverted - there is a specific edict that prevents bureaucrats from calling him legally dead, so now he forever remains in active service even after being buried with military honours.
  • Legendary in the Sequel: "Fight or Flight," the original short story, features Cain's very first adventure as a newly-minted commissar. The work which followed it, For the Emperor, features Cain as an established HERO OF THE IMPERIUM. Due to the series's Anachronic Order, subsequent works play up and down the scale.
  • Lighter and Softer: This is a comedy set in the Warhammer 40000 universe. On top of which, Cain himself is a Lighter and Softer version of Harry Flashman In Space. Whereas Flashman really is a Dirty Coward and all around Jerkass (he raped a woman in the first book), Cain generally comes across much more sympathetically. It's not at all clear that Cain is the craven he bills himself as.
  • Like a Badass Out of Hell: Daemonized Emili.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The series is presented as a group of extracts from Cain's memoirs edited by Inquisitor Vail. As such, he downplays his reputation for heroism, while she notes that he's being too modest. Vail also notes places where Cain seems to have mis-remembered the times of events, adds context and hindsight and edits out anything too specific about their relationship.
  • Little Did I Know: Practically Cain's catchphrase. Every book starts with a variation and he repeats it regularly, as well as his commenting that he'd be "gibbering in terror" if he only knew... It's greatly toned down in the 4th and 5th books, and is worded a lot better.
  • Living Legend: Cain really wishes he weren't (at least not the "legend" bit).
  • Lord Error-Prone:
    • Toren Divas, whose well-meaning enthusiasm gets Cain nearly killed at least three times that we know of.
    • Cain sees Sulla as this; she's really not that bad, just way too gung-ho for Cain's tastes.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Vail invokes it to explain why Cain would be a logical assassination target; Cain himself is oblivious to his effects on morale.
  • Love At First Sight: Cain explicitly denies believing it before admitting that he can, decades later, remember every detail of the first time he saw Amberley Vail.
  • Mad Bomber: Captain Federer, commander of the 597th's sappers, has quite a thing for big booms. Rumour has it that he was ejected from an Adeptus Mechanicus seminary because of it.
  • Made a Slave
  • Magic Feather: Cain credits his synthetic fingers for his excellent pistol aim, but Inquisitor Vail points out that most people with them lose ability with their hands. She suspects the real reason is all the time he spent training with a Space Marine right after getting them.
  • Malicious Slander: Stupid Beije.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Cain, in the best possible way.
  • Matter of Life and Death
  • Mauve Shirt: Several, most notably Sergeant Lustig, Penlan and Magot.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ciaphas and Cain are the names of well-known villains from The Bible. One possible translation of "Caiaphas", according to The Other Wiki, is "rock that hollows itself out".
    • The Single-Issue Wonk who wrote that Fictional Document in For The Emperor is named Stententious Logar, a slight misspelling of a word meaning "addicted to pompous moralizing".
    • Inquisitor Vail's name could also be one; she is, after all, concealing ("veiling") Cain's true nature from the world at large.
    • Mira means "Look at that!"[7] in Latin. Cain certainly does, and then some.
    • It gets downright silly with some of the merely mentioned minor characters, such as the fencing instructor "Miyamoto de Bergerac" [8] and the author of a book about the fungus-like features of orcs "Migo Yuggoth" [9]. See also the Shout Outs page for more examples of this sort.
  • Melee a Trois: As might be expected from him, Cain takes full advantage of this trope in The Traitors Hand when he needs to get past a barricaded group of Slaneeshi cultists guarding a Daemon-summoning ritual. By luck a group of Chaos Space Marines in service to Khorne have the same goal and choose this exact moment to show up. Cain decides to hang back and let them break the barricade for him and distract the cultists. Unsurprisingly, Bejie calls him out on this and calls him a coward, to which he calmly suggests Bejie lead the way. Beije doesn't take him up on this offer.
  • The Men First: Cain does this to inspire loyalty, which may extend his lifespan in battle.
  • Merciful Minion: In the first novel, a riot breaks out on the ship he's assigned to. In the aftermath he can't have anyone executed (since it would destroy morale, and more importantly make him likely to suffer an "accident" on the battlefield) but the captain wants blood (he was in a relationship with one of the military police killed in the riot). So Cain lets the captain hold a tribunal (the defendants of which are found guilty) and sentences them to "death" by transferring them to a penal legion to die in battle.
  • Military Moonshiner
  • Million-to-One Chance: Cain, and his reputation, practically live on this. It's not always good examples either - in Caves of Ice, though it's not quite a million to one shot, the chance of Cain and his squad stumbling across a Necron tomb are pretty damn low. This is justified later on when Cain determines that the Adeptus Mechanicus deliberately positioned the mining facility over the Necron tomb, so finding it was just a matter of time.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe example- while Amberley is pleasantly surprised to find her publications of Cain's stories are unexpectedly popular among her fellow Inquisitors, she's slightly put out that many of them prefer to treat them as light entertainment rather than the "serious food for thought" she'd intended them to serve as.
  • Mission Briefing: General Zyvan gives a few of these, as do Colonel Kasteen and other officers.
  • Mistaken for An Imposter: Played for Laughs -- one of the few instances in Cain's later career where his name doesn't immediately evoke awe in the person he's introducing himself to is a moment when the other person thinks he's joking.
  • More Dakka: Cain insists on having a pintel-mounted heavy bolter put on any Salamander that he uses, if one isn't already mounted. They tend to get used a lot.
  • More Expendable Than You: Cain's professed motivation in his very first adventure. Also inverted in that Cain's true intentions were exactly the opposite.
    • Brought up in The Traitor's Hand, when Cain claims that the Imperium needs its generals but can always get another commissar. Zyvan disagrees: "Not like you, Ciaphas," a comment which genuinely surprises Cain.
      • Similarly, in Duty Calls Cain expresses surprise that a psyker tried to assassinate him rather than Zyvan or the planetary Arbites chief. Amberley notes he doesn't seem to realize he's so popular with the Imperial Guard that his death would seriously damage morale.
    • Another example is partially acknowledged by Amberley. Cain is extremely useful as an asset to the Imperium as a whole but competent heroes (whether or not their reputation is deserved) aren't especially rare. Ironically, Jurgen, as a blank, is far more rare and valuable (at least, to the Inquisition).
  • My Friends and Zoidberg: Cain's Fake Ultimate Hero reputation causes him to regularly apply this to himself in his narration.

Cain: This was a job for Zyvan's tame psykers, and no business of honest men. Or me.

  • My God, What Have I Done?: The brainwashed Battle Sisters have a terminal instance of this; see Driven to Suicide above.
  • New Meat: Referred to as "fungs", for FNGs (Frakking New Guys).
  • The Neidermeyer: Assidiously averted by Cain; played to the hilt by Beije.
  • Never Found the Body: Cain was declared KIA at the beginning of Death or Glory as the result of a space battle (in which not finding a body would be perfectly understandable). His record wasn't corrected to MIA (due to his radioing in a month after being declared dead) until around the time he managed to fight his way through the Ork army back to Imperial lines, and the revision to declare him alive didn't happen until after the campaign ended. According to Amberley's footnotes, this happened to him so many times over the course of his career that eventually the Munitorium stopped trying to keep track and declared that he would be listed as alive and on active duty at all times - even after his death from natural causes and burial with full military honors.
  • Nice Hat: As a commissar, he gets a one as part of his uniform.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Cain has three literal sources: Necrons, his time as a prisoner of the Dark Eldar, and Emeli.
  • No Except Yes: Cain doesn't "charge the enemy". He "retreats forwards".
  • No Hero to His Valet: Inverted; Cain actually is a hero to Jurgen, the closest thing to a valet he has. Amberley Vail's association with Cain has let her see the accuracy of his accounts, even though she thinks he may be too hard on himself.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Done to Cain by the Big Bad of Duty Calls.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted, and specifically discussed in Cain's Last Stand. The people Varan controlled remain warped even after his death. Cain observes it would have been easier if they had been freed -- "but this wasn't some comforting fairy tale...". In one rather extreme case, Varan's personal shuttle pilot was found dead after the final battle. He had been ordered by (the now deceased) Varan to wait for his return. The pilot took these orders literally and starved to death waiting for Varan.
  • No Time to Think: During the Wire Dilemma, he is forced to guess because all the wires are the same color.
  • The Nondescript: Malden in The Traitor's Hand.
  • Noodle Incident: Cain makes frequent cryptic references to his earlier adventures; some have been explored in short stories, others it is assumed the reader would have heard about. Cain's Last Stand has a ton of these due to being written well into the future of the series.
  • Not Quite Dead: A footnote in one of the books reveals that Cain has been listed as "killed in action" so many times that the Munitorum eventually gave up trying to keep track and decided to keep him on the payroll regardless - even long past his confirmed death and burial with full military honors. And even then they aren't sure he's actually dead. Of course, Vail isn't speaking...
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Governor Grice in For the Emperor; everyone thinks that he's merely a puppet being controlled by the Tau, but he's really a member of the Genestealer cult that thrives in Gravalax's underground, which is trying to play the Tau and the Imperium against each other to soften them up for the coming wave of Tyranid invasions.
    • Inquisitor Vail when she first appears.
  • Oblivious to Love: Cain takes nearly half the book to figure out Mira's true objective in tagging along with him. And even when he figures it out, he still thinks she's trying to bag a Space Marine. When the full realization hits him, he wastes no time in trying to get rid of her.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • Both played straight and subverted in The Caves of Ice.
    • Averted by Scrivener Norbert from Death Or Glory, who is actually helpful and never even acts obstructive.
    • Amusingly subverted in The Traitor's Hand, where the Council of Claimants unwittingly votes itself out of the loop.
    • Also subverted in Cain's Last Stand with Bursar Brasker, who's also been using Obfuscating Stupidity "to conform to other people's expectations" and turns out to be something of a kindred spirit to Cain.
  • Oh My Gods: Cain occasionally uses "Emperor's Bowels!"; the modern equivalent should be obvious.
    • And Felicia Tayber is fond of "Omnissiah's cogs!"
  • Old Retainer
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They can still talk and think and shoot lasguns, though they believe that loyalists are only following the False-Emperor rather than the "True-Emperor"...
  • Outrunning the Fireball: In the final pages of The Last Ditch, after blowing up the safety overrides on a geothermal power station to produce a volcanic eruption. Cain and Jurgen are cut off from the escape route the rest of the Guard are taking. But they've got motor-bikes, and there are the tunnels left by tyranid burrowers.... They reach the exit and are out of the line of fire mere seconds before the "plume of ash, dust, and incandescent embers" gushes out, turning the snow around them to steam.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: The shadowlight from Duty Calls is so ominous, it's never referred to with a capital letter and always in italics. This changes in Cain's Last Stand, where they actually use Caps as Shadowlight (might be ShadowLight)
  • Percussive Maintenance: Apparently the most reliable way to fix the resolution on a hololith. If you're particularly good at it, it may mean you have a religious (i.e., techpriest) vocation.
  • Phobia: Not a phobia, per se, but Cain is utterly terrified of Necrons, and absolutely will not confront them unless there is no other choice available (see Badass Decay in the YMMV tab). He also fears the Dark Eldar, often cringing from remembering the time he spent as a prisoner in a Reaver.
  • Pillow Pistol: Amberley says he does this everywhere.
  • Ping-Pong Naivete: When investigating a Slaaneshi hideout, Cain finds a room with a big pile of cushions in the middle, its purpose unclear. Amberley lampshades that Cain, a man of the galaxy, seems a little hypocritical here.
    • Cain also takes a while to figure out Mira's reason for going with him on a campaign.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Subverted. Cain is so different from the stereotypical commissar (leading by example [so to speak] rather than fear and intimidation, not being trigger-happy, etc.) that it would seem that he's ineffective at his job, but both Amberley's comments and the actual memoirs indicate that this is anything but true.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Cain's entire career can pretty much be summed up as a repeating cycle of "Be thrust into danger" --> "Find greater danger while trying to escape first danger" --> "Become praised as a hero for defeating new danger." Naturally, as his fame increases, so do others' expectations of him, much to his chagrin.
  • Playing Possum: Cain uses a variation (with himself as the bait) in Caves of Ice in order to ambush an Ork advance party and keep them from reporting the Valhallans' landing to the main horde.
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: Beije is a textbook case of a secondary character who goes from a minor obstacle for the heroes to deeply unlikeable after spouting off at the mouth.
  • Porn Stash: Jurgen is almost never without at least one "porno slate".
  • The Power of Trust: In general, Cain seems to be pretty Genre Savvy about this: he tries to build up trust with his subordinates because he knows that the more they appreciate him, the less likely they are to leave him hanging in a firefight.
  • Precision F-Strike: Lord General Zyvan telling the Administratum people that if they aren't happy with his decisions they can bitch about it to the Tyranids.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Replete with them, usually right before Cain kills someone with his laspistol.
    • "Sorry. I prefer blondes."
    • "Blood for the Blood God!" "Harriers for the cup!"
    • "Impersonating an inquisitor is a capital offense."
    • "Commissar Donal sends his regards."
      • Especially appropriate in that, as he said it, he was doing exactly what Donal had, as his last request, asked Cain to do. "Kick his arse for me." Let us reiterate: Cain killed a man by kicking him in the arse... with the help of a large drop. Not just any man either, but a Chaos warmaster.
    • Subverted in Duty Calls.

"Enjoy your trip."

  • Psycho Lesbian: Magot, but in a good way as long as you don't threaten Grifen.
  • Punny Name: All over the place. Several planets, including the ice worlds Simia Orichalchae and Nusquam Fundumentibus - respectively, pseudo-Latin for "brass monkey" [10] and "arse end of nowhere"[11] - as well as Sodallagain, a planet with apparently nothing of interest. In Cain's Last Stand, there's Orelius's ship, the Lucre Foedus... quite appropriate for a Rogue Trader. The Planetary Governor of Deepwater is named Landon Hoy. A lot of the Shout Outs also feature these; see the entry below.
  • Purple Prose: The excerpts from Sulla's books. Vail apologizes each time she has to add them, and makes rude comments about her writing ability. While they are somewhat florid, they aren't much worse than the writing of Cain himself, or something like Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood. Vail's contempt presumably has absolutely nothing to do with Sulla's (professional) admiration of Cain.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The penal squad in the first book. Not to mention the rest of the 597th Valhallan, at least at first. As well as Cain's Liberators from Death or Glory, who start out as just a squad of PDF and a few dozen civilians and end up with a few hundred troops and everything a mobile army needs but air support. Perhaps the most impressive is Vail's retinue in Duty Calls. Faced with a food vendor who had stumbled into some knowledge of the Inquisition -- and picked up a gun when cornered by a Chaos cult -- Vail hires her. Others include a former commissar/member of a penal regiment, and a former arbite who had, while undercover, imploded a criminal organization with a judicious murder and frame.
  • Ramming Always Works:
    • Attempted by one of the other Schola teachers in Cain's Last Stand. It works, destroying the ram and the ship it hit, but it didn't destroy the ship they had hoped to.
    • Attempted by an orc in Death or Glory, didn't work because he's an orc and Felicia just stepped out of his way (on a mecha, that is).
  • Rare Guns: An in universe example in that twin-linked heavy bolters are not the standard turret armament on Chimera armoured transports, multilasers are. However as forge worlds churn out billions of both, not that rare.
  • Rashomon Style: For times when Amberley was there in person, she'll note when she remembers things differently than Cain has written them. The extracts from other people's accounts diverge even more, as Jenit Sulla never sees Cain as less than a mighty hero and a personal mentor (after he's spent a while griping about her, her gung-ho tactics and her horse-like face). Tayber from Death Or Glory is probably the biggest example of this, as Cain describes fighting off hordes of orks until he and Jurgen believe they're cornered and their luck has finally run out, only to be relieved in the nick of time by a PDF unit, while Tayber's account has Cain roll into town alone, kick orkish arse, forge the PDF and civilians into an army and go on to liberate the planet exactly as he planned.
  • Realpolitik: The Tau justification for partially occupying the planet in For The Emperor is the protection of their trading interests. Cain doesn't buy it, as the Imperium has used a similar justification to gain a foothold before taking over. Of course, it's his job to shoot anyone rude enough to point this out.
    • Also, he's told that the Imperium are desperately keen to avoid having to defend Gravalax from outright invasion by the tau, as it would be a drawn-out war of attrition for a largely insignificant backwater, and a drain on resources needed to fight the tyranids and necrons, in contrast to the rhetoric that the Emperor's mighty forces will defend his territory anywhere in the galaxy.
  • Reassignment Backfire:
    • Inverted repeatedly throughout the books, as Cain tries to get himself assigned to a nice, quiet job where he doesn't have to be shot at all the time, but always winds up in the worst possible situations - which gets him a reputation for being a thrill-seeker, causing him to end up in even more of these!
    • Played straight in the original short story Fight or Flight, which ends with Colonel Mostrue assigning the odorous Gunner Jurgen to Cain as his personal aide, obviously intended as a practical joke at Cain's expense. Jurgen goes on to not only be a more than able aide to Cain, but also turns out to be a blank whose powers save Cain's life countless times. Cain himself mentions that even heroes of the Imperium like himself are a dime a dozen compared to a blank like Jurgen.
  • Recurring Dreams: Flashbacks, even. One of them is actually a plot point, though turns out it wasn't a normal kind of dream.
  • Redshirt Army: Played with: the books seem to take delight in never having the escorts' survival - or their total wipeout - taken for granted. Played straight and lampshaded in the short story Echoes of the Tomb where the redshirts were troopers of the Adeptus Mechanicus - and they wore red uniforms. They're even called redshirts by Cain. And, despite cybernetic augmentations and hellguns, they are all slaughtered when the Necrons wake up.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cain uses this sort of logic to justify some of his more apparently "heroic" actions - confronting dangerous threats, while seemingly suicidal at the time, has a much better chance (he claims) of ensuring his survival in the long term than running away and allowing them to grow even more dangerous, not to mention adding to his reputation for heroism.
    • For instance, the time in Death or Glory when he wanted transportation for the PDF squad he intended to use as bodyguards. He had them sneak into the enemy motor park quietly, while he barged in the front gate and started singlehandedly shooting the place up as a distraction (Jurgen was busy starting up the vehicles they'd take).
    • Cain's plan for taking out the big bad in Cain's Last Stand runs on this and I Surrender, Suckers.
  • Revealing Coverup: In Duty Calls.
  • Robo Speak: Lampshaded in Cain's Last Stand, where he actually uses a trio of combat servitors' tendency to repeat their directives out loud to track their locations.
  • Royally Screwed-Up: Cain assumes that this applies to all planetary governors until proven wrong. In at least two cases (One evil due to inherited Genestealer DNA and one just inbred to the point of imbecility), he's right to do so.
  • Running Gag: Many.
    • Holograms flicker and require Percussive Maintenance.
    • Jurgen smells and looks dirty.
    • Jurgen randomly offering Cain food and drinks. Also, Cain's obsession with tanna.
    • Everybody loves Cain and makes sculptures and whatnot dedicated to him, always wildly inaccurate. Cain hates the very existence of such art.
    • Cain has to do something brave to maintain his heroic reputation.
    • Cain chooses between two missions - one investigative or something, one on the active battlefield. He chooses the former. It doesn't end well and he mentions that in hindsight he would have gladly chosen the latter if he had any idea.
    • The artwork usually depicts Cain with a Bolt Pistol instead of his preferred Laspistol. This can be justified both in and out of universe by the Bolter being the signature human weapon, and it just plain looks cooler than a laspistol.
  • Scrumball Is Slaughter: Cain was a keen Scrumball player at the Schola Progenium and states that the only team that could regularly beat the Commissarial cadets was the Sisters of Battle cadets - not because they were better players, but because they seemed to be under the impression that the aim of the game was to hospitalise the entire opposing team.
    • Beije never did well at it, possibly because he was enthusiastically tackled by everybody whether or not he had the ball.
  • Seeking Sanctuary
  • Selective Obliviousness: Mira, with whom Cain has spent the last few weeks being very close with, brings up with Cain how she is considering returning to her homeworld with a consort who is a heroic champion of the Imperium, discussing how this would be advantagous for her for succession and political reasons. Cain agrees with this assessment, showing support for the idea while completely ignorant that she was talking about him, when this is otherwise transparent to the audience. Amberley lampshades Cain's missing this, saying that his experience with women to that point had been more "broad than deep", and he did not yet have much experience with the dynastic considerations of Imperial nobility.
    • That, and he knows he can't simply resign his commission with the commissariat. If he were to attempt it, they would shoot him, and not even a planetary governor would be able to stop them.
  • Sensor Suspense
    • The fourth book has this, when he's in an escape shuttle that's being attacked by an Orcish fighter (since it most likely has very close ranged weapons its appearance on the pod's radar is the same as it would be for a missile).
    • Also present in The Emperor's Finest, which sees Cain boarding a space hulk alongside a chapter of Space Marines.
  • Series Continuity Error: "The Beguiling" includes a reference to the events of "Sector 13," so it must take place later. But Death or Glory opens with departure from Keffia en route to Perlia, leaving no time for "about eight months" of campaign on Slawkenberg, where "The Beguiling" is set. So even though "The Beguiling" makes not the least hint about the Siege of Perlia, it must occur after Death or Glory — and even with Cain hailed sector-wide as the hero of Perlia's Liberation, Colonel Mostrue's still awfully ready to shell his position....
  • Serious Business: Among the Valhallans; snow-sculpting, snow forts, Snowball Fights... pretty much anything involving snow and/or the killing of Orks.
  • Shadow Archetype: Lady General Jenit Sulla, to a certain extent. In battle, she's everything Cain is: decisive, (presumably) a deft hand with weapons and charismatic enough to get people to follow her into certain death. Both of them achieve high position and a fair amount of fame. Personally, she's everything Cain is not: selfless, dutiful and loyal. She does from selflessness what Cain does for manipulation. And the best part? He created her. It's just after their first conversation in For The Emperor that she begins her climb towards glory, spurred on by his (fake) confidence in her. And she does it by imitating him.

Sulla: "I just asked myself what the commissar would have done."
Cain: "And then did the opposite, I hope." (Beat as she starts to look dismayed.) "That was a joke, lieutenant."

    • And her rise through the ranks began when he made an offhand comment that unlike all the platoon leaders of fifth company, she hadn't dropped the ball when forced to take over for her wounded company commander. Colonel Kasteen interpreted this as a recommendation and breveted her to captain.
  • Ship Tease: Some of the later interactions between Kasteen and Broklaw seem to indicate that they've taken a liking to each other. Cain Josses any such implication between himself and Kasteen... assuming that he's telling the truth and Cain was the one who actually wrote that bit.
  • Shout-Out: Enough that it has its own page.
  • Shrug of God: Sandy Mitchell says he doesn't know whether Cain is the Dirty Coward he claims to be, or is selling himself short.
  • Single Biome Planet: The Valhallans are ice-worlders and have a habit of setting their air-conditioning to levels that makes the breath visible. Being assigned to Simia Orichalcae, the iceworld in Caves of Ice, brings them evident joy.
    • It's mentioned in Cain's Last Stand, though, that Valhalla is a justified case; All of the inhabitants live near the equator, and "Gone North" (their equivalent of "Gone South" or, "Gone Ploin shaped") arises from the fact that the Northern part of the planet (and the southern part, Amberley is quick to point out) is a place you really do not want to go.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: In For The Emperor, Amberley adds a wider view of the situation on Gravalax with excepts from a writer whose main failing is to blame everything on a conspiracy of rogue traders.

"Perhaps one owed him money..."

  • Shaggy Search Technique: Most of Cain's most pivotal discoveries are made when he tries to run away from something else. Another notable practitioner of this is "Jinxie" Penlan, who discovered an ambull tunnel in The Caves of Ice by falling through the floor into it and once triggered a landmine by throwing away an empty food tin.
  • Slave to PR: (Supposedly) one of the few reasons why Cain doesn't chicken out at the first opportunity is that doing so would cause him to lose his reputation as a Hero of the Imperium, with all the benefits that brings.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: Noted as an effective tactic against Ork flyers in The Last Ditch.
  • Snowball Fight: With an Ork WAAAGH! due in a day or so, the Valhallans decide to spend their down-time having one. You can't really blame them, since its been a long while since the ice-world soldiers have found themselves in natural snow.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Maxim Sorel, who ends up stabbing a man to death in a brawl simply "because he didn't see any reason not to". Following the court-martial for the above infraction he is sentenced to death by taking on a suicide mission alongside Cain. This does not stop Sorel saving Cain's life and makes him one of two convicts out of the original five who do not go rogue or get subverted by the enemy.
  • Soldiers At the Rear: Cain wants to be this, he's overtaken by events.
  • So Proud of You
  • Sour Supporter: Kolfax in Death or Glory.
  • Spanner in the Works: Cain is practically a walking one. For the rare situations where he himself isn't enough, there's Jurgen and his peculiar talents. Between the two of them there is practically nothing they don't bring to a gear-grinding halt. The trope is even mentioned by name.
  • Spider Sense: Cain's palms itch when his subconscious is realizing something's amiss but it hasn't hit the rest of his brain yet.
  • Spot of Tea: Valhallans really love their tanna, and so does Cain. Amberley tried it once, and was diplomatic about loathing it.
    • To those interested, Tanna is exactly chifir - a russian beverage that is basically really, really strong overboiled tea. Pitch black. Very bitter. Acquired taste. A psychostimulant drug. Really addictive after prolonged use. The only difference is that chifir is typically consumed by prisoners because alcohol, nicotine and other drugs are strictly forbidden in Russian prisons.
  • The Squadette: The Valhallan 597th regiment Cain finds himself working with in the novels contains remnants from the all-female Valhallan 296th.
  • Stealth Pun: The author absolutely loves making these. See the Shout Out page for more details.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Cain manages to successfully convince others he has this. (See also Pre-Mortem One-Liner.)
  • The Stoic: Jurgen. When Cain writes an emotive scene where they're stuck in a corner, about to torn apart by ravening hordes of tyranids, Jurgen will placidly comment "Bit of a mess", as if he's offering Cain a sandwich. This also makes Cain keep his cool, as the commissar can hardly appear less composed than his aide. Also, Malden the Psyker, from the third book.
  • Stranded with Edison: In Death or Glory, their makeshift convoy/militia (made up of the rescued survivors/slaves from a town looted by orks) has just enough specialists to survive (a tracker to help them find water and supply dumps, a vet to serve as an impromptu doctor, a tech-priest to keep their vehicles running, and enough former police, gang members, and PDF troops to form a militia ... plus a not-so-Obstructive Bureaucrat to manage their supplies).
  • Strictly Formula: Said formula being old Victorian and early 20th-century juvenile adventures such as the Tom Swift series. Not that that's a bad thing.
  • Stylistic Suck: This pops up in multiple ways:
    • It is hinted that Cain's own official memoirs fall under this trope, much like Flashman's.
    • Much to Amberley's chagrin, she sometimes has to fill in background information with extracts from the memoirs of Jenit Sulla (and always makes comments sniping at her "one-woman assault on the defenceless Gothic language"). Where Cain's are erudite and well-written, Sulla lacks any literary talent and fills her own with dreadful nonsense and Purple Prose.
    • For The Emperor also features extracts from Purge the Heretics, most notable for its author's overwhelming hatred of rogue traders (he blames them for everything, and every excerpt is cut off just before he launches into another rant).
    • For Death and Glory, set before Cain joined Sulla's regiment, we have the memoirs of Sergeant Tayber, which are nearly as unreadable.
  • Succession Crisis: One is happening in the background during The Traitor's Hand, but Cain doesn't pay much attention to it (And given how little attention he pays to his briefing slates, may not have even known it was going on).
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: The superiors in this case may be completely innocent, but Colonel Mostrue often seems a bit too quick to call in artillery strikes close to where Cain is stationed during Cain's time with the artillery unit, and also frequently gets Cain sent off into dangerous situations. Cain suspects that Mostrue is aware of the fact that his first great triumph was really just a desperate attempt to get to safety and abandon the battery to its fate, but whatever Mostrue's intentions, his repeated survival of adverse circumstances only adds to the double-edged sword which is his reputation. Of course everyone else in high command does this too, they're just not aware of the fact Cain really would rather they didn't.
  • Sword and Gun: Laspistol and a chainsword.
  • Take That:
    • Governor Merkin W. Pismire the younger's address.
    • Also internally: Vail can't seem to resist taking the occasional stab at the other Inquisitorial Ordos (especially the Ordo Malleus) in the footnotes.
    • In Traitor's Hand, an overeager young soldier cries "Come on, men! Do you want to live forever?" before charging a tank. Cain, upon hearing this, groans about what a vapid and totally unrealistic cliché it is. He's also amazed when it seems to inspire his companions rather than causing them to run the frak away.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome / Tall, Dark and Snarky: Cain passes himself off as the former in public but is at heart the latter, as his memoirs amply demonstrate.
  • Talking in Your Dreams
  • Tanks, But No Tanks: In Duty Calls, a news report claims Cain used a tank to stop what was essentially the Hindenburg carrying an awful lot of promethium from crashing into a city. In reality, he used a Chimera (an APC).
  • Tarot Motifs
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: At one point in The Traitor's Hand, a World Eater Chaos Marine gets killed "with satisfying thoroughness" by two krak missiles and a lascannon blast, any individual one of which would be enough on its own.
  • Think Nothing of It: Cain disclaims his own heroism, frequently, being aware that it will add the charm of modesty to his legend, and occasionally in an unsuccessful attempt to let him get by them and do something else. Sometimes, he is actually annoyed that Jurgen gets none of the credit he deserves, with all of it going to Cain.
  • Title Drop: "Cain's Last Stand" is used several times, as it's the name of one of the battles of his early career, the site of which he returns to in order to make another stand. Another character remarks on this, saying most people only get one of those.
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Jenit.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Lampshaded in The Traitor's Hand, where Cain observes (to himself) that "torturing a masochist is singularly unproductive." Beije attempts it anyway, with humorous results. Cain is calling back to an earlier remark by Lord General Zyvan, about how some prisoners seemed to be enjoying the attempts at interrogating them.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The plot of Death Or Glory.
  • Tsundere: Sulla, in For The Emperor, starts by showing oposition and dislike of Cain's decisions on the regiment -- in front of other officials -- but she eventually asks him privately, in a rather nervous and shy way, for a chance to show her value as a soldier. Cain of course takes the oportunity to act magnanimously, and get one more person disposed to cover his back, which make Sulla all the happier.
    • Mira in The Emperor's Finest is definitely a Type A.
  • Unequal Pairing: Cain and Amberley may be intimate (see UST below), but Cain is very aware of just where his place is in relation to her.

I'm sure most of the men in the galaxy are familiar with the sinking feeling that accompanies the words 'Do you think you could do me a little favour, darling?', but when the woman doing the asking is an inquisitor it's even less wise than usual to say, 'No.'

  • Unfriendly Fire: Cain's main justification for treating the troopers well is avoiding this. He also suspects Colonel Mostrue, his first commander, of attempting The Uriah Gambit from time to time. In Duty Calls, he comes to suspect that some of the PDF did try this. He's right - and they had orders.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Subverted. While it's never said outright, statements peppered throughout the books, both in the text and in Vail's footnotes, all but confirm that the sexual tension between Cain and Vail is very much resolved. For one thing, she knows that he always arranges a Pillow Pistol where he sleeps, no matter how secure the area. For another, she mentions nightmares waking him on several occasions.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Cain never found out, but one of the Tallarn witnesses to a battle where he beat down a Daemon Prince wrote a book about the experience and started a minor branch of the Imperial faith that worships him as a physical manifestation of the Emperor's will.
  • Upper Class Twit: Cain's opinion of nobility in general and planetary governors in particular. It's played with throughout the series, but especially with Mira in The Emperor's Finest; while she's certainly arrogant, pushy, dense, and condescending, she's also capable of handling herself in a firefight, among other things.
  • Vader Breath: Valhallan Janni Drere, whose augmetic lungs make an audible hiss! click! noise when she speaks.
  • The Vamp: Emeli.
  • Verbal Judo: In For the Emperor, Cain defuses a riot just about to begin, when everyone's attention happens to focus on him so that he can't just sneak out, by confusing the participants by suddenly starting to give orders to clean up the mess.
  • We Do the Impossible: Because of his reputation, Cain always gets the most important or dangerous tasks to accomplish, forcing him to triumph in suicide mission after suicide mission... which is exactly what he wants to avoid.
  • Weapon of Choice:
    • Jurgen's meltagun.
    • Cain's chainsword and laspistol. In the first book, Cain declines to replace it with a more powerful hellpistol because he's afraid that the extra weight would throw off his aim. See Covers Always Lie above for what the general Imperial population believes is the case.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cain gets one of these moments at the end of For The Emperor, when he executes two Guard troopers - the only survivors of a "special mission" other than himself and Inquisitor Vail - without forewarning or explanation. As the rest soon discover - and confirming Cain's unvoiced hunch - the two executed troopers turn out to be carrying Genestealer implants.
  • Where's the Kaboom?- towards the end of Cain's Last Stand
  • Where It All Began: The plot of Cain's Last Stand, sort of. Perlia isn't his home, but it is where his reputation was first solidified and seems to be his favorite planet of all the ones he's visited in his long career.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Necrons?: Necrons are to Cain what snakes are to Indiana Jones, and with good reason.
  • Wire Dilemma: In The Traitor's Hand.

- They're both purple!

  • Woman Scorned: Taken to extremes in a manner only the 40K universe could in the third novel.
  • The Worf Effect: Whenever Cain ends up facing Tyranids or their Genestealer agents, he will always make a reference to the time he was on the space hulk Spawn of Damnation and saw Space Marines in Terminator armour get shredded by a bunch of purestrains, as a shorthand of reminding himself and the readers of how dangerous they are. [12]
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: The Tallarns in The Traitor's Hand.
    • To the surprise of exactly no-one but the Tallarns and their commissar, the girl goes after him at the first opportunity. To the surprise of no one, Magot easily beats the warp out of the Tallarns' best fighter. He then gets in trouble because Magot has a higher rank than him.
  • You Are in Command Now
  • You Killed My Father: Cain, to the kroot. Only an allusion, not leading to Revenge. This also may have simply been a lie as well, strengthened by the following footnote mentioning that Amberley still couldn't find any confirmation of Cain's actual past and that he is exceptionally skilled at manipulating people. The Kroot shrugs it off and says he's sure they died well.
  • Your Favorite: At the end of Caves of Ice, Cain has spent the last several days helping Amberley deal with the aftermath of his discovery, and destruction, of the Necron tomb. The last night before he leaves, he takes the liberty of ordering food, because she's been busy; he gets her ackenberry sorbet, which he indicated "hadn't been hard to remember" was one of her favorite foods. (Amberley, editing as usual, puts an abrupt end to Cain's narrative at this point, because though she admits that Cain continues for several more paragraphs, "it only covers personal matters of no interest to anyone else.")
  • You're Not My Type: In "The Beguiling," Cain uses this as a Bond One-Liner when he shoots a chaos cultist who tried to seduce (and allow a demon to possess) him.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Cain notes one cadet is not this in Cain's Last Stand
  1. he and his regiment occasionally help the Inquisition, either as cat's-paw or heavily armed backup, and she's who he calls when he finds something that falls under the heading of "the Inqusition's problem"
  2. And being the daughter of a planetary governor, it was almost certainly deliberately tailored that way
  3. servitors are lobotomized cyborgs
  4. Cain has two augmetic fingers for example
  5. The Adeptus Mechanius prefer to rise above emotion — or like to think so — to be more like machines.
  6. or any other pose, for that matter, if he were to have his own way
  7. Literally, it's the imperative form of mirari, "to marvel at"
  8. Presumably from Miyamoto Musashi and Cyrano De Bergerac
  9. In the Cthulhu Mythos, the fungoid humanoids known as Mi-Go come to Earth from Pluto, which they call Yuggoth.
  10. from the British expression "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"
  11. also British slang, for the middle of nowhere
  12. This only applies to accounts set chronologically after aforementioned adventure in the space hulk, of course.