Behind the Veil
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Geneviève Laprise
Reading Time: 13 minutes
The vile creatures stood before her. Breathing through her mouth, she choked on the rancid smell. Putrid and pestilent, the oversized mutant oozed pus from various lacerations. A large flap of necrotic grey skin hung off its side where she had tried vainly to purge it with her chainsword. Yellow fat and infected fluids poured from the wound. The cursed creature roared in anger more than pain, splattering acidic spittle upon her exposed bronze skin, causing splotches of flesh to melt.
She told herself that the pain was nothing. She told herself that she would endure it for the Emperor. Sweat broke out on her brow, and the hand holding the chainsword trembled slightly. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she repeated Novitiate Superior Kayraline’s mantra in her mind: Pain is only weakness leaving the body.
Was she infected? Her heart hammered against her chest as the thought invaded her mind. She stared at the creature before her and froze at the sight of rotating, razor-sharp teeth and lapping tongues trying to taste her. She trembled ever so slightly at the memory. She should have been ready. Death before heresy! But she was dominated by fear and self-preservation.
Novitiate Sister Marika Molliere flicked her wrists, feeling the metallic restraints digging into her skin. She knew she would never be free from the shackles but moving against them helped her focus on the now instead of the disgraceful memories of her heresy. She wished to walk and fight among the children of the Emperor. Instead, she would suffer for her cowardice. Isolated behind the veil, blind but for the pure white of her cover, she longed for the darkness to dissipate. She could still hear the cries of Sister Kayraline in her memories amid the humming of the machinery and tubes attached to her. She was also vaguely aware of other far away and muffled voices.
Marika longed to taste the drab paste they served as rations instead of this horrid feeding tube intent on keeping her alive to suffer for her sins. But she had committed an atrocious act, and now she had to endure the guilt and torture and accept her penitence.
Hopefully, Marika would be deployed to her death within a few hours and be absolved of her sin. She had seen penitent engines endure their unbearable condition for days, even months, before they were sent to seek redemption. She could not stand to wait so long. She felt sorry for those who had to wait to die. Soon, she would be free and have the opportunity to make amends, and regain the Emperor’s favour. Oh, how she had failed Him – and Kayraline.
Her thoughts returned to her transgression as more drugs coursed through her veins. Had it been only one creature, she would not have failed the Emperor or her sisters, but there were so many behind the first, towering beast. She could not be expected to fight them all, could she?
She knew the answer.
The warp’s deformed and rotting cultists and creatures had surrounded her and her squad when they arrived at the Hive City of Myrth to quash a cultist insurrection. The stench of rotting flesh and putrid bile was overwhelming. It took all her willpower to refrain from vomiting. Moans of pain and screams of terror joined the discordant sounds of battle. At first, Marika had fought with her squad, setting alight the creatures of the warp. But instead of crying in pain and dying, the engulfed monsters just kept marching, even as their flesh burned and their pus-filled boils bubbled from the heat. The air grew thick with smoke and the smell of charred and rotten meat.
Marika had been separated from most of her squad. She was forced to engage the creatures in melee combat as her flamer sputtered and extinguished. Surrounded by the forces of chaos with only her chainsword to defend herself, she defied the enemy to come within its range. Though her hands quivered and bile rose into her mouth, the Emperor’s fury sustained her until she realised she was alone. Alone against an army of undead, unfeeling monsters with the only intent of spreading corruption among the pure.
Anguish flowed through her body, causing her heart to race. She had fled. A member of the Adepta Sororitas had run, and in doing so, she had condemned her Sister Superior to a fate more gruesome and damnable than death. The disease-riddled heretics had taken her and warped her into one of them. Kayraline had been condemned to live because Marika had been scared, too frightened to fight. Too afraid to purge the infected Novitiate Superior. Wracked with guilt, Marika whimpered at the memories.
Desperate to be forgiven, Marika quietly recited the prayer of blind devotion.
Oh Holy Emperor,
My faith has wavered, and by Your will,
I may be granted a chance to burn the heretic.
Kill the mutant. Purge the unclean.
I will lead Your daughters to victory.
Pain is my punishment, and I accept it.
I am weak, I am damned, I am a heretic.
I am not worthy of Your light but guide my blade
against those that seek to destroy Your Holy Imperium.
As she finished the prayer, she sensed someone approach beside her penitent engine. She prayed this would be her time to prove her loyalty to her Sisters and the Emperor.
‘I wish to repent,’ said Novitiate Marika to Sister Dogmata Odette Melansson on that sinful day.
‘Repent you shall!’ cried the woman with a fierce scowl and anger in her dark brown eyes.
Novitiate Marika had taken a deep breath and squared her shoulders as she stood before the veteran sister and those who remained from her squad. All eyes were upon her.
‘I am far from absolution. Lost to any exculpation. I offer myself to repentance. Before the Emperor, I have sinned. Beyond forgiveness. Beyond forbearance. Beyond mercy,’ she began the Oath of Repentance. Her heart hammered against her chest as she awaited her sisters’ reply.
Melansson’s left hand rose in a fist as a cold silence echoed through the chamber. Marika looked up at the woman in front of her and trembled helplessly in place. She gulped down the ball of fear now stuck in her throat.
‘I wish to speak the Oath,’ she tried again, her voice dry. It sounded more like a question than a statement.
The sister dogmata’s anger hit her like a tidal wave. Sister Dogmata Melansson grabbed Marika’s bicep and pulled her closer to herself.
‘The Oath of Repentance is too good for you! You left your sisters behind. You left them to die, to become beasts of the warp. The least you could have done was kill them once they were infected! You didn’t even manage to grant your sisters that mercy!’ shouted the sister dogmata as spittle sprayed Marika across the face. The woman’s breath burned Marika’s skin as the corrupted heretics had on the battlefield, or perhaps it was the shame and fear.
‘I-I…’ stammered Marika.
‘As penance for your heresy, you will be assigned to a penitent engine. Then, perhaps the God-Emperor will see it fit to grant you mercy and forgiveness – perhaps not!’
The memories were so real, the colours, the scents, the feelings so vivid. A single tear ran down her cheek. Marika did not know how long she had been strapped to this penitent engine. It could have been a day or a year. To her, it felt like forever. The drugs kept her memories fresh. She whimpered and bemoaned her station.
Marika yearned to see the world’s beauty again, but all she could see was the light that slipped through the white fabric of her hood. Marika’s muscles clenched as she braced for what was to come.
She heard a catch in the low hum and vibrations of the machine throughout her body. Competing feelings of excitement and dread rose in her. It was almost time to repent, nearly time for her to fight.
Without warning, heat spread through Novitiate Sister Marika’s shaved scalp and along her spine. She arched her back as the searing pain and artificially enhanced rage coursed through her veins. Words rushed into her mind, her own words.
‘I wish to repent!’
Marika had not realised that she had spoken those words aloud until the stern voice of Sister Dogmata Melansson answered.
‘The Emperor protects those who serve Him. You have failed. Now go into battle and prove that those words are not empty.’
As her body was flooded with chemicals, rage, fury and need all at once, Marika wailed a cry of war that was as terrifying and anguished as any monster could have ever produced. Then, leading the Adepta Sororitas into battle against an unknown adversary, the power saw roared as Marika willed the engine’s right limb to life. Her heavy flamer was alight with Holy fire. She bathed the enemies ahead as she marched forward, creating a path for the Sisters of Battle. She was now the embodiment of the Emperor’s wrath, and nothing could hold her back.
Blind and immobilised, intent on purging the heretic, she embraced the drugs coursing through her veins and the memories of her heresy. Then, open to attack, injury or even to glorious and redeeming death, she used the gigantic power saw to cut through everything in her way. The saw screeched as it collided with metal and flesh.
‘Die!’ she screamed as she smashed more heretics with her chainfist, bodily fluids and flesh splattered onto her bare skin and staining her white robes. Then, spraying holy fire in an arch before her, she was vaguely aware of dying screams and moans.
She smelled it first: the smell of decay and the putrid stench of charred spoiled meat. Those she faced were the ones that put her in this cursed machine. Her body tensed, and she flung herself forward, pulling the machine with her. She squashed the heretics under the imposing penitent engine with a rage-filled cry. Marika imagined the foul minions of Nurgle pop underfoot like pus-filled pimples as their putrid and infected contents splattered and burned the soles of her feet. The crunching sound they made when the machine’s toes flexed and crushed the enemy’s bones drove her further into a frenzy. Her mind was focused solely on her repentance and destroying the foul creatures that had caused her penitence. She had no defences, so she continued marching into the enemy lines.
Then she heard it over the discordant sounds of battle, the dissonant chiming of bells and laughter. That laughter; she recognised it. Shocked, Marika whispered, ‘Kayraline?’
The penitent engine stalled but quickly recovered. Instead of a roar of anger, a sob escaped Marika.
‘I offer you, Sister, the gifts of the Grandfather. You have released me from my duty. I owe you the same,’ the former Novitiate Superior let out a laugh that turned into a wet cough.
‘No!’ cried Marika as her penitent engine sprayed the battlefield with holy fire.
Amid the death cries and the satisfying sounds of splintering bones, Marika slashed and cut her way through the enemy horde. Righteous anger replaced her guilt as she dreamed of salvation and honour in death until she heard a peal of laughter from directly beneath her. Moving back to come within reach of the target with her weapons, she focused on the terrible laughter. Perhaps if she remedied her blasphemy, she would be forgiven, and she might not have to die in this engine. The thought came and went in a fleeting moment. Still blind, she swung the heavy flamer and sent the saw at the end of the mechanical hand in the direction of the familiar voice.
Then she felt it—a touch. Something had grazed her foot. Her body tried to recoil, to get away, but she couldn’t move. The fingers closed around her left ankle—swollen, viscid digits. She shivered in disgust as another hand grasped her right shin. Nails sharp and ragged dug into her skin. Marika recoiled. Her mind reeled in terror and fear.
‘I am a Sister of Battle!’ she cried. A familiar voice responded to her affirmation.
‘You never truly were, and you are not anymore,’ rasped Kayraline. Marika tried to kick her legs free, but succeeded only in pulling taught the chains attached to the shackles that bound her in place. The creature that was once her sister clung to her, drawing rivulets of warm blood. The wounds ached and burned.
‘You left your Novitiate Superior to die, but I did not die, Sister. I accepted the gift so I could exact my revenge upon you!’ snarled the woman, now climbing up her body.
‘Oh, Holy God-Emperor, give me strength to do now what I should have done before!’ Marika’s voice shook with righteous anger as she screamed not with fear but with conviction. Her power saw came to life once again as she continued slashing blindly and caught the vile creatures that stood nearby. Her heavy flamer hissed loudly, spitting His holy flame. She turned the fire toward herself, hoping to cleanse the enemy that now clung to her body.
‘Heretics crave the cleansing fire of absolution. You need not fear, for I shall deliver it to us,’ added Marika, as the flames started licking at her flesh and that of the former Novitiate Superior. She did not cry out when her skin started to bubble and blister. Instead, she clenched her jaw and sucked in air, using the pain to fuel her rage.
‘Die!’ she spat through gritted teeth. The woman-thing continued climbing up Marika’s body as they burned. A peal of loud, arid laughter rose from the heretic’s throat, which in turn became a hacking cough. Claws scratched Marika’s exposed flesh until finally, she realised that their bodies were melding together. Shock, rage and disgust filled Marika’s heart.
‘Suffering is weakness leaving the body. Pain is a blessing,’ she hissed.
‘Accept the gift,’ whispered Kayraline into Marika’s ear, sending a shiver through her body.
‘Nev-‘ Marika’s voice caught in her throat as the hood that had blinded her was suddenly removed. The engine’s pilot met the diseased and burning woman’s milky brown eyes. The smell and the unsightly welts and decay readily apparent on a woman she had admired, trained with, dare she say loved as a sister, repulsed her. Her eyes watered from the acidic breath so close to them. She blinked hard as her eyes adjusted to the light, colours and smoke. Then, the heavy flamer sputtered and died.
‘That’s it,’ cooed Kayraline, ‘Look around. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All that pain and fear? You need not worry. It will be over shortly. Grandfather grants you his boon, so cease your struggling,’ Kayraline said, her face now directly in front of Marika’s, head cocked to the side, studying Marika’s reaction.
‘I am a daughter of the Emperor,’ the penitent Novitiate whispered as the woman watched her.
‘He does not think so, or you would not be in this monstrosity.’
‘I wish to repent…’ she breathed, and the circulating power saw suddenly roared back to life.
‘I wish to Repent!’ she cried fervently as she aimed the power saw at herself and the foul heretic. The sound of the saw’s blades biting into the heretic made her scream with rage, but Marika did not end there. As the blade bit into her flesh and bone, Marika felt a calm peace settle over her. She had done what she couldn’t do on that dreaded day, and now she would die with honour.
Marika no longer felt the searing hot pain in her legs and along her body where the claws had bitten into her skin. Instead, her body grew weak as she tired from blood loss.
The pain, the disease, no longer mattered. She looked at the sky and watched the sun as darkness pulled at the corner of her eyes. Silence fell around her, and a peaceful smile tugged at her lips.
‘For the Emperor,’ she whispered as her eyes fluttered closed.
A veil dropped again, but it was a black velvety curtain of death rather than the pure white of light. It wrapped itself around Marika Molliere like a weighted blanket. She felt hope. Soon she would meet the Emperor. He would know the sacrifice she had made in His name, and she would be forgiven.
‘God-Emperor, I give my life for you,’ she exclaimed with the last of her life leaving her body through her wounded midriff.
As the darkness shifted, she expected a light to appear. She had witnessed other sisters’ deaths, and they spoke of His Glorious Light. She knew it was coming, the light would wrap her in a warm glow, and she would finally be forgiven.
Marika waited patiently. The Emperor would come for her.
She waited and waited until the truth finally revealed itself to her. After living in the service of the Emperor, there was nothing. Death was not glorious or honourable. It was cold and lonely, unforgiving – at least for her.
About the Author
Geneviève is a 42-year-old mother of three and a French Canadian military wife. She enjoys writing fanfiction and original dark fiction short stories. She also likes to homebrew Warhammer, mostly Sororitas and helps others in their writing journey.