A Masterpiece of Mundanity
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Mark Butterworth
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Two figures made their way down the street; the one in front strode with confidence, the one behind moved with the tell-tale crawl of a tracked servitor. They stopped at the entrance to a non-descript warehouse opposite a small Ecclesiarchy shrine. In the harsh light cast by the lamp above the door, the lead figure was revealed as a man dressed in fashionable clothes, well-built with a handsome face. He banged on the door with his staff and, after a short pause, it was opened by a female figure dressed in a full-length ballgown. Her face was hidden by a white mask fashioned in the form of an aeldar with a cheek wound, which appeared to be still bleeding. The bottom edge of the mask was curved to channel the blood to the chin, which projected forward and allowed the liquid to drip away from her gown.
‘Good evening Mamsel Hyrro,’ said the man.
‘Sire Donorr, good evening. My father is expecting you,’ replied the woman, stepping back to allow entry. Her body language shifted subtly as she saw the servitor, and the flow of blood from her mask seemed to increase. Of comparable size to Donorr, the servitor’s head was covered by a deep hood.
‘Please follow me,’ she said, and led the pair further into the warehouse. Behind her, Donorr’s staff tapped a steady rhythm as it touched each drop of blood which fell from her mask to the floor.
The group approached a man naked above the waist, and wearing a golden mask modelled on a child’s face. He was stood behind a desk, on which was an object covered with a white cloth.
‘You’re late,’ came a deep voice at odds with the child’s visage.
‘My apologies Sire Hyrro,’ replied Donorr with an exaggerated bow. ‘I was unexpectedly delayed.’
‘And what’s that?’ asked Hyrro, pointing at the servitor.
‘Just a servitor. I needed it to collect your payment.’
Hyrro’s child-mask stared intently at Donorr, searching for any sign of duplicity. After apparently finding none, he indicated the cloth-covered object on the desk.
‘I have finished your commission,’ he stated. ‘It was very difficult to source the necessary materials.’
Donorr waited for Hyrro to say more, but it became apparent that he had finished. ‘May I see it?’ he asked.
Hyrro nodded at his daughter, who lifted the cloth away from the desk, revealing a mask made from a thin blue metal. Donorr could also see that the mask’s underneath was different, resembling a collection of fibres. The younger Hyrro donned a pair of cloth gloves and picked up the mask, showing it to Donorr. The front of the mask perfectly resembled a non-descript face, the type which would attract no attention and blend seamlessly into the background—the face of a man who wanted to be forgotten and disappear into anonymity.
Mamsel Hyrro turned the mask over so that the underneath could be seen, taking care to avoid her blood dripping onto it. Donorr leaned closer and saw that his earlier impression was correct. The surface was covered in a mass of fine fibres, each one constantly moving. He raised a finger to touch it.
‘Don’t,’ said Hyrro, causing Donorr to pause with his fingertip fractionally above the fibres. Donorr looked at Hyrro, the question unspoken.
‘When this mask touches living flesh, it will attach itself and not let go. Once you put this mask on, you will never be able to remove it. It will grow into your flesh and become part of it. Your face will become the mask.’
‘Excellent,’ said Donorr, straightening up and stepping back. ‘You have fulfilled my commission perfectly.’ He reached out a hand, and the servitor produced a rolled-up document from within its robes. Donorr handed it to the older Hyrro, who unrolled it and studied it closely. He nodded to his daughter, who placed the mask back on the desk and wrapped it up within the white cloth. As she handed it over to Donorr, she paused.
‘May I ask one thing?’ she enquired, blood no longer flowing from her mask.
‘Of course, Mamsel,’ Donorr replied.
‘This mask is extraordinary. Not only does it match precisely the contours of your face, but the materials used in its construction are …different. My father has spent longer on this product than any other I can remember. Yet the front of the mask is the plainest I have ever seen. No one will look twice at this work of genius. You have a handsome face Sire; why would you wish to hide it forever behind such a masterpiece of mundanity?’
Donorr smiled, and Mamsel Hyrro thought it made his face even nobler.
‘Mamsel, if you want someone to disappear forever but cannot make them go away, then you need to change them beyond any form of recognition. All masks have the power to transform whilst they are worn, but this mask goes further. Whoever wears it will literally become the character of the mask. They will forever become irrelevant.’
‘Remember,’ warned Hyrro senior, ‘this mask is designed for you. It will not fit another.’
‘I know,’ said Donorr. ‘Sire Hyrro, Mamsel Hyrro, I bid you farewell.’ He turned and marched away, followed by the servitor. Behind them, the sound of the gentle dripping of blood had resumed.
In the Ecclesiarchy shrine opposite the warehouse, the man known as Donorr stood in prayer before a statue of the Emperor hung over the altar. A poor copy, the face of the Emperor was worn away; he took that as a sign and made his decision. Turning to the servitor, he lifted its hood off and looked into a face which was identical to his own. The muscles were palsied, and the mouth was drooling, but the eyes stared back at him with a wild hatred. He held the mask in front of the servitor and pushed it into place.
‘Goodbye brother,’ said Inquisitor Frawn.
About the Author
Mark Butterworth lives and works in the UK.