For the Price of a Heartbeat

Serenity entered the Scholam’s chapel, bowing before the idol of the Emperor Ascended. She made her way towards the ancient wooden altar, towards the small confessional booth… where Frater Mepris would be taking her confession. Ghostly ice ran down her spine at the thought. His voice alone was enough to make her jump. Always so strangely excited. She had no doubt that he enjoyed every penance he commanded, every punishment he handed out. But Mepris was far from the worst. She had learned that a few weeks ago, on that night. When she had been called late into the chapel by him. And he had called for her ever since. 

Serenity made her way through the dimly lit room. Old and rancid candles were the only source of light. The ancient wooden tile boards creaked with every step Serenity took, the noise amplified by the otherwise completely soundless room. She walked past the Cursed Mirror, which had belonged to the martyred Saint Marticia. Flayed alive by her tormentors, it is said that the Emperor himself broke it when her martyrdom had ended, knowing it would never again reflect such a perfect being.

Serenity glimpsed at a cracked, distorted reflection. She saw no perfection. A skinny girl, clad in rags. A haunted and haggard face that betrayed the fact that it had not yet seen sixteen standard years. A head shorn to the scalp, robbed of any individuality, looking like a thousand others. Only the bruised eye made it stand out. A purple mark of shame.

Serenity shuddered as she realized. Even in this light, Mepris would see the bruise. And she would have to lie, because she could never tell how she had received it. Who had given it to her. They would kill her, he had said so, after he had been done with her. She could not even think of his name. She felt so pathetic.

Serenity wanted to weep then, wanted to cry like the night  she had arrived in this nightmare. When they had burned what little belongings she had. The papers with her real name on it, the one her parents had given her. The stuffed toy she had carried with her, the one her father had bought for her to celebrate her sixth birthday. The wonderful dress her mother had sown for her. It had a hundred little stars on it, each of them smiling at her with yellow little faces.

Serenity clenched her tiny hands into fists. Weak, small, useless little fists. She had imagined herself a hundred times, screaming at the Fraters when they would hand out another unjust punishment. When they would beat her for  saying her name. Her real name. At night she had dreamed of killing them all. She stabbed them with the kitchen knives, pushed them down stairs, spiked their food with imagined poison. Awake, she never did anything. Never dared. Too afraid of their hard and cold faces. Their calloused hands, greedily carrying their whipping sticks.

Serenity had spent many nights praying to the Emperor to send his angels of death. It was impossible that this was done in his name. Her parents had told her everything about the Emperor. That he was stern, but just. That you should never be afraid to tell the Emperor the truth, for he cared about all of us. If you served the Emperor, he would protect you, they had promised. Promised! It pained her to think it, but perhaps her parents had lied to her. Maybe they weren’t even dead, maybe they just did not want her any more. 

Serenity felt so stupid. So hopeless. Perhaps she was the problem. Perhaps she should not beg the Emperor to kill the others, but to kill herself. Perhaps it was all her fault. Serenity pulled back the curtain and felt little tears drip down her face. What did it even matter what Mepris would do to her? What he would do to her? She deserved it all. No mirrors would crack for her death. She was nothing.

Serenity seated herself on the uncomfortable chair. She was freezing cold. A strange smell hung in the air, metallic and rotten.

Juliana. The word made her jump. She had not even allowed herself to think that name. Too much pain. She almost didn’t notice that she had never heard this strange whispering voice before. Never seen those strange green eyes, staring from the pitch black darkness.

Juliana, the thing said again. Juliana did not know what to reply. She only stared at it in horrid disbelief. It knew her name! Her real name! The name her parents had given her! 

Juliana. That is your name, is it not, little human? Juliana slowly nodded, frozen in time. ‘Good. Juliana, I have a gift for you. Your suffering has fed me well, but all things end.’

Juliana understood now! The Emperor had heard her! This thing must have been one of his Angels, horrid and wrathful, such as the Fraters had always described them. His Angel of Death.

Juliana, the Angel whispered with a strange delight. ‘Speak the names of those whose death you seek, and I will see it delivered. All I ask in return… a single heartbeat. Such a small price, is it not, Juliana? All that you ever wanted, for the price of a heartbeat?
Juliana could not believe her ears! What was a single heartbeat to her? She would gladly die if it only meant that they would, too.

Juliana spoke the names. Even his name. When she was finished, the Angel nodded. ‘Very well, human. When you wake again, the deed will be done. The price will be paid. The bargain is struck.’ Without another sound, the Angel simply vanished.

Juliana awoke later at night, inhuman screams filling her ears. With a smile, she felt warm blood stream down her legs. Tears forming in her eyes she sent a prayer to the Emperor, thanking Him for His Angel.

About the Author

Drawn to the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium since he was a teenager, Sebastian has been following Warhammer for the better part of two decades, with varying levels of interest. Dissatisfied with the official lore for his beloved Aeldari, he’s decided to pick up the pen himself.