It had maybe been an hour since Octavia finally had been dismissed from the Medicae aboard the Regina Aurea, the Dauntless-Class Cruiser that had been lent to the Order of the Sacred Rose nearly two millennia ago. It was a great ship, white and silver on the outside, adorned by the sigil of the Sacred Rose even, as to honour the women they served. This was home. Octavia should’ve felt at home.
Yet, as she walked the sheer endless hallways and corridors, passing rows upon rows of windows showing the all-consuming void of space. She dared not lay her eyes upon the planet below them. Obost III, the world she had lost so much on. Not only had a Traitor Marine of the Iron Warriors nearly killed her there barely a week ago, her squad had fallen too.
The raven haired Sister never stopped walking, why would she? To stare upon her greatest shame? Her greatest defeat yet? Had this really been the Will of the God-Emperor? Could he be so cruel, so cold as to keep her alive while taking in her Sisters?
Octavia stopped and turned. She finally did take the time to stare down at the brown and green mess that was Obost. Her piercing blue eyes did not move nor twitch as she stood there. She raised her leather clad hand and took a deep breath, still feeling the sharp sting of her healing ribs. Yet she could not bear to look at it any more, and in pain, the Sister Superior closed her eyes. She felt a single tear depart her left eye to roll down her cheek, only to get caught in the deep ravine of the scar on her cheek.
Lillith, the fiery redhead. Rana and Sarisa, the youngest and most pious of all. Lucia, a marksman unmatched. Celeste, silent but always there for you. Aurelia, untouched by blade and bullet for nearly ten years. All of them were gone now. The Sister let her head hang down with her hand still helplessly reaching out to Obost. Everyone had done their duty. Everyone had served better than Octavia ever could have. After all, she had failed. She had failed to bring them home. And rather than showing the decency to die alongside them, it was her who had survived. These women had trusted her. They had believed in her, listened to her, and she had led them to death.
Victory, the Canoness called it. So did the generals. Of course, the invasion had finally been repelled. Octavia knew that in the bigger picture, this was acceptable. This was how it should be. Her Sisters had died honourably and were now walking the Golden Halls of the Emperor. They surely had been welcomed there. How could they not? All of them were now heroes, after all.
To Octavia, at least.
And to Octavia, the bigger picture did not matter. Not here, not today. Everyone was gone. How could anything matter? How could she have betrayed her Sisters like that? She clenched her fists and dared open her eyes again. For a moment, she saw them in the reflection of the window, standing there, right by her side. Lillith with that mischievous grin on her face and her flamer in hands. The rest posing all heroic for but a moment only to fall into laughter. Their voices, the songs they had sung together– it all faded. All Octavia could hear now were the terrible screams over vox. The begging for a quick death.
‘Why? Oh, Emperor… Why? What had Octavia done to deserve this? Had she disappointed him that much? Had she fought so terribly that he had planned the worst of tortures for her?’
Her hands moved to grab her hair, almost tearing out a few strands. He could have just let her die. The Hospitaller could have. She had begged for it. That much she remembered. When she first had woken up, only remembering the death of her Sisters, she had begged for the Hospitaller to let her perish, so she could at least be with them. Octavia’s duty should not end this disgracefully, however.
Only seeing her own reflection in the window, she noticed the wet glisten on her cheeks. Her eyes were reddened and she looked like the wreck she was. No crewman was to see her like that. Thus, she took a deep, very deep breath, pulled off her gloves to put them on her belt, and wiped away any tears.
‘Ten years. How did we fight for ten years side by side only to now have you all die in my arms?’
She quickly shook her head and turned from the window. No, there was only one place left where she would be able to find comfort. A turn to the left, then she made her way through corridor after corridor, her eyes lowered to avert anyone from seeing her further failings. To the men, women, and servitors she passed, she only was a Warrior of the Emperor, showing purpose and determination in every step. A beacon of hope and light to some, a fount of anxiety and fear to others.
Yet, the Sister only had one purpose she followed. And soon she should find it. Her place of comfort. It was the Regina Aurea’s very own chapel. A small shrine dedicated to Saint Arabella. Octavia stopped in front of the large, blackened gate. A white rose adorned each of the massive, wooden doors and the Sister hesitated. For the first time in her life, she hesitated.
She clenched her jaw, forced herself to take that last step and put her hands on the cold wood and pushed open the gates. They creaked, almost as if they were sighing, lamenting the Sister’s failure. And yet, Octavia continued. Stained glass tinted the chapel’s twilight, the shadows looking even darker than they should. Maybe, maybe not. It felt a lot darker than usual. The high ceiling nearly seemed hidden in darkness, and the deep grey coloured stone of the walls did not help either as she passed the shelves of dozens, if not hundreds of candles. Each of them stood for a fallen Sister. Somewhere among them, six candles burned. Her Sisters’ candles.
Tiny specks of light amidst the bleak, crushing blackness of eternal night. Fitting, Octavia found. It reminded her of the Imperium, almost. This galaxy. Moving past rows of wooden benches towards the steps leading to a large, white marble altar, the Sister felt her knees grow weak again. No one was here. She was alone. For the first time ever, Octavia was entirely alone in this chapel. Her echoing footsteps were the only thing to keep her company.
And so she chose to walk up the stairs, and put one hand on the altar. Back in the day, she would never have dared to touch it. And now, when she finally ran her fingers across perfect polished marble, it felt cold. It had been the day before they had descended upon Obost, when she had last been here. All of her Sisters were by her side, coming together for one last proper prayer to steel their hearts and souls as they would face the madness of war and corruption once again. She passed the altar to stop in front of the statue of Saint Arabella, sculptured from the very same marble as the altar.
In front of her Saint, Octavia’s legs finally gave out, the Sister Superior falling to her knees. She heard the doors fall back into the locks, even flinching at the harsh sound. She was still alone. Entirely alone. There was no warmth in her chest as she smelled the sweet incense and looked upon the perfect face of her Saint. No certitude. No comfort. All she saw was a white, judging pair of eyes, staring down at her, loathing her. Cold disdain, and she deserved it.
‘Please, my Saint… I beg of you. Grant me guidance. Grant me purpose… Mercy…’, Octavia’s voice broke and again, she felt hot tears run down her cheeks. ‘…Anything. Please. I know, the Emperor provides. And he watches over us. But I… I do not feel his presence. Please. I need you. I need your help.’ A soft sob interrupted her, as she clutched her hands around the statue’s feet.
‘Has he forsaken me? Have I disappointed you all? I am sorry. From the deepest depths of my heart… I am so sorry.” The sobbing woman uttered as she broke down and shed that last sliver of composure she had clutched onto to keep her endless guilt from crushing what was left of her heart. She bent her head to rest it against the statue, sullying its feet with tear after tear.
‘I wish I had died. If I could switch my place with that of the others…’ Her fingers dug into the polished marble, barely being able to hold on to it. As if the Saint rejected her begging. Rejected her.
‘Grant me the merciful embrace of death… and be it on a pyre. I would rather burn to death than… live with this shame.’ Much more did not leave Octavia’s lips. She sat there. Alone in the dark chapel, none smiling down upon her. The Sister sobbed, and sobbed. Nothing could have contained her tears, and with everything gone, she had but to seek the cold embrace of the Saint.
Her raven hair stuck to her face by the time she raised her head back up. Wet strands of it almost made it look as if there were cracks all over her reddened and wet face.
She would not be blessed on this day. Realising this, Octavia very gently started to clean the Saint’s feet with her own vestments. She had wasted Arabella’s time enough. Defeated and in resignation, sniffling and with tears still not stopping their assault along her cheeks she stood up and took a step back.
‘At least… At least please tell them how much I love them, my Saint. Please… Let them know, I miss them. I always will, for… for they were my Sisters and the greatest gift the Emperor ever had bestowed upon me. I shall carry their names to my grave. And one day, one day I will have redeemed the mistake of having survived. Because only in death does duty end, does it not? One day, you will be proud again to call me a Sister of the Sacred Rose. And that day, I will join my Sisters in His Golden Halls.’ She tried to sound hopeful, when no hope was left in her. All she felt were desperation and pain stinging her shattered heart like a red hot dagger.
With her right hand she rubbed her eyes as dry as she could. She bowed once more, raising both hands into the symbol of the Aquila. Had she just lied to Saint Arabella? She would die. Some day, she would. But would she really be able to ever make her proud again? Or anyone else, for that matter? She should have died. Should have been a martyr, side by side with the others.
Octavia turned from the statue and walked halfway down the stairs to the benches. There, she suddenly stopped, sat down and stared up at the ceiling. Were it mere minutes she stared up there? An hour? Maybe even longer? By the end of it, Octavia did not know any more. And she did not care either. There was nowhere to be. No one to be with.
Warmth, ethereal, crept along her shoulder. It was almost as if someone had grabbed it ever so gently from behind. The Sister froze but dared not to move. She knew it, it was her imagination. She closed her eyes, and it gave some comfort as she thought about her squad standing behind her, and Lillith grabbing her shoulder as she had done so often.
She felt that lump in her throat again. This time, however, there were no tears to spare. Nothing left to cry with.
Her body tensed up to be shaken with a dry sob, and instinctively she reached for the hand on her shoulder, only to grab air.
‘Do not forsake me…’ Octavia uttered, as she wrapped her arms around her own body and started sobbing again, all alone in this empty chapel.
With nothing to comfort her.
About the Author
Suzanna is a 25 year-old student with a passion for writing. She was first introduced to Warhammer 40,000 ten years ago, and the hobby has remained important to her ever since.