All my life I prayed for proof of my faith. Now, everyone can see it.
They tied Sebastian Chiara to the husk of a tree, his arms lashed outstretched to the withered branches. Taking the Aquila from his staff, they branded its mark upon his chest and even now he could feel rivulets falling from the weeping wound. They had cracked the censer upon a boulder and spread its contents below his feet, tracing the sign of the Ministorum in crude strokes of charcoal and ash. On every limb of the desiccated tree and on stakes of desert driftwood in the rusty soil, they had nailed pages of his holy texts. Leaves of imperial scripture, catechism and even his most treasured writings of Saint Drusus. In heretical adornment, the trappings of his faith were upheld in mock reverence.
They cannot defile my faith. It is untouchable and unreachable, ensconced within and invisible from without. The Holy Father of Mankind lives in me, binding me to him in the silence of my soul.
Missionary Chiara was only 25 years old by the time of his impending death. His life, thus far, an unremarkable span of existence. He had joined the Ecclesiarchy as a young boy, having been orphaned and cast out onto the streets. As a street urchin in thrall to the syndicates, he likely would have met an untimely end running obscura for men with cruel appetites and absent compassion. Yet Sebastian had been delivered, saved by the light of the God Emperor, lifting him from wretchedness and placing him on the path to salvation. Years of scholarly learning and devout practice had led him to the Missionaria Galaxia.
He had been desperate to set out on his first mission; the white-hot fire of his faith yearned to be set free. To raise those poor and wretched souls out of despair. To guide them away from the treacherous path of the heretic and the clutches of the alien. He thought on this unnamed Feral World that his faith could be a beacon, and yet, on the long journey he had worried. What if his faith was benign? What if they were blind to the guiding star of His majesty? What if he were doomed to praise and give all glory to the Father alone?
Of course, he had been wrong. They had seen is faith. They had seen it and despised it.
Sebastian had made landfall with a small retinue, accompanied by his adjutant, Mattias Brahm, and pilot, Aspera Tenold. They had touched down late in the day and seen no signs of life before the twin suns had fallen below the horizon. The inhabitants of this land had come for them just before dawn, emerging from subterranean lairs and subduing his compatriots with crude weapons. They killed Brahm that same morning, ripping his augmetic limbs and implants from his body with the vicious superstition of primitives. He bled to death in the terracotta sands, his blood pooling around him and warming the earth.
Aspera had fared no better. Stricken by wounds from her service in the Guard, she had long since lost the ability to speak. Enraged by her silence, they buried her up to her neck near the crest of a dune overlooking the valley. She could not cry out, but as night fell, Sebastian could see her eyes strained red and cheeks stained with tears. He never knew what took her, but the night had come alive with the sounds of tearing flesh, snapping bone and a chorus of animalistic yipping.
After that, he was alone with the silence of his faith.
Sebastian watched from his arboreal prison as both perished before the natives had left him marooned, his skin turning raw and cracked. On the third day, they returned, scores of the filthy and sallow denizens ferrying bundles of wood and root and fibre. Around his living monument they laid the pyre, spanning out in tiered concentric circles, to rise around his ankles. They had done this before, he knew, spacing the fuel evenly and with care. They wanted him to see the flames coming, to see it and to dread it.
They do not know dread. They know not the terrors of the warp nor the Xenos scourge. They cannot comprehend the cosmic dread that claws at the walls of humanity.
As night fell, their ranks swelled and torches flickered into life. Sebastian drew a ragged breath and began to intone.
‘Love the Emperor, for He is the salvation of mankind.’
Angry murmurs sprung up all around, defying his holy recitations.
‘Obey His words, for He will lead you into the light of the future.’
The first of the kindling took light, sparks dancing through the inky dark.
‘Heed His wisdom, for He will protect you from evil.’
Illuminated by the harsh yellow glow, he could see the whites of their eyes. Baleful and without remorse.
‘Whisper His prayers with devotion, for they will save your soul.’
As if in response, there began a chorus of chanting as the flames prowled closer.
‘Honour His servants, for they speak in His voice.’
Tongues of fire licked at his emaciated body and his voice took on a warbling tone, driven by pain and passion.
‘Tremble before His majesty, for we all walk in His immortal shadow!’
As the blaze engulfed Sebastian and his body cried out for mercy, he could feel the Aquila burning white-hot on his chest. The untouchable light of his faith breaking free of corporeal bonds, his spirit bound for eternal deliverance. With a last gasp of acrid breath that seared his lungs, he cried out into the walls of flame.
‘No longer in His shadow! I go to the golden halls of Terra! Bathed in His holy light!’
Sebastian Chiara’s body burned beyond recognition on that tree, till no traces remained. Yet on that pyre his faith was set free, and, surrounded in the dark by unbelievers: everyone could see it.