He had no recollection of the woman who stood before him. Her eyes spoke of familiarity and her stance promised peace. She had no fear of him. Almost as if she could see right through him. See the once human flesh that lay beneath the gifts of the God Emperor. The torn flesh, the aching muscles, the hearts that beat slowly from fatigue. Adrenaline having long run its course through muscles built in the forges of wars beyond the stars. He lay bare before her, his soul on display to a ghostly stranger.
His life now seemed full of ghosts. In these past days he had seen his brothers wither under the onslaught of the great enemy. Astartes born to carry His will into the stars stood against an onslaught of horrors thought of only in the darkest of primal nightmares. Nightmares that kept mankind in a superstitious lot that would keep them from the light of His truth. A dark night that smothered and held humanity in bondage.
He and his battle brothers were the waking dawn that would once again shine.
But he was alone now.
Alone and bleeding out, his body attempting to mend itself. Flesh slowly trying to piece itself back together, bones fusing and blood flowing as the gifts of his birth kicked into motion as they had done so many times before. Yet somewhere in his mind he knew it was not enough, that this time he had given too much, left too much of himself..
And that was okay.
It was something about how the woman had looked upon him that put him at ease. Her oddly familiar, yet long forgotten, face looked at him as though the sun would rise again despite the darkness that ringed his eyes. She was smiling now. A sad smile, a knowing smile, a dam for tears held in check. He knew not why she smiled at him, his mind still a haze of adrenaline and slowly creeping fatigue. For a son of the Emperor it should not be so, yet for weeks emotions dulled by centuries of life spent in the rigors of war roared inside of his mind since he stepped foot on this planet. Something muddled his thoughts, something akin to flashes before his waking eyes. Sensations pierced his mind like a ringing bell at every step on this planet’s soil, some painful and jarring, others beautiful and ringing.
A young boy ran down a cobblestone street as he aimed down the barrel of his bolter.
A voice called someone home for dinner over his vox, soft and sing-song behind the bark of his brother sergeant.
A market that once bustled with life as he searched rubble for survivors, finding nothing but corpses amongst the barking of ghosts that hawked their wares among the dead.
For weeks it had been a barrage of images before his eyes. People and places he had never seen flashing by, drowning his kill sight in flashes of lives lived so differently than his own. A life not spent on battlefields. A life not spent in vacuum. A life spent as a human. A life he knew nothing about, yet knew so well. A life culminated in the woman standing before him, the lone spectre that looked upon him in this city of ghosts and shadows.
The bells were quiet now. The only sound was the scraping of his ceramite armor as he pulled himself into a sitting position, his body protesting every moment. She watched him, ever staring, never looking away as shaking hands removed a broken helmet. A helmet he had hoped was the cause of her. Kill sight gone awry, a wayward machine spirit that danced across the lenses.
Now lain bare to the cool night air, he saw that she stood before his own eyes. She stood pale and silent, the very vision of death herself.
And she approached him.
He was a son of the Emperor, he knew well that death would come for them all someday. For a moment his mind wandered. Was the messenger that came for his brothers before him? A waifish woman to carry them home, to send them to the Emperor’s side? Had he died quickly in battle, perhaps she would have no need to come for him?
It was useless to speak, his mouth quickly filled with blood and he choked on it. Broken words formed in his throat as he spat crimson fleks onto his breastplate. Each syllable was a lance of white hot pain as he swore and struggled.
Her hand touched his brow and he finally knew her.
That night, when the stars shone faintly through the smoke streaked sky, his brothers found him. His vitals long ceased, he sat at ease as if merely sleeping, a look of contentment on his face. A rarity for their grim trade.
He was home. No longer the sword of the Emperor nor the shield of all those that would call upon His light, but a boy, a boy at home with his mother. A boy who long ago fled to the stars when his mother joined the Emperor at his side. A boy who had lost so much over so long that he had forgotten who he was beneath the armor, underneath the gifts of his father.
When he walked hand in hand with his mother’s shade to the side of the Emperor, he did not go as the son of the Emperor, avenging angel of righteous fury. He would go to His side as a son of man, what he had so long fought to protect, the very heart of the Imperium.