‘I promise you sergeant, you are not alone. The God Emperor is here with you, as He is with me and all loyal citizens of the Imperium.’
The veteran looked up at Confessor Jax through dark, hooded lids before returning to the murky depths of her glass. She cradled the scratched and worn tumbler between her hands, every inch of skin scarred from wrist to fingertip. She sighed and took another sip.
‘Nemora, please. You are the only one here who refuses to talk with me,’ Jax said. ‘Why will you not let me lighten the burden on your soul? Let me bring you closer to our Almighty Father. He has brought peace to so many like you.’
Her eyes flashed with anger at that.
‘Like me? You think we are all the same,’ Nemora snarled, her eyes seeming to darken in an instant. ‘Just because everyone here carried their rifle, does not make us the same. Some here faced the horrors of the arch-enemy. Some stood firm against the tides of the Xenos scourge. But me? I cut down my own brothers and sisters, minds lost to madness. I killed the youngest man in our platoon, caved in the boy’s head with a shovel. I throttled our Commissar with my own bare hands. I pushed him into the flames and held him there until the skin of my hands and his neck were one.’
There were tears in her eyes now, though they refused to fall in sheer defiance of the world.
‘Do not talk of those ‘like you’! We all wore the same uniform, but few of us walked the deepest circle of hell. The others can thank your god if they like, mine was nowhere to be seen.’
Jax realised he’d been holding his breath as she spoke, but at that heresy, all the air with a shudder.
‘You can’t mean that! Nemora, you must-‘
Before he could continue she silenced him with an upturned palm. Though she raised it like a whip, once there it trembled like a leaf in the breeze. He saw that tears had broken free and left pale streaks down her rugged features. War paint for one whom war had taken everything from.
‘I know, I know. I shouldn’t say such things, especially to one who spends his days taking confessions from the faithful.’ Nemora paused, finishing her drink with one swift gulp. ‘The truth is I have nothing to confess. You can’t sin against something that isn’t there.’
Jax wasn’t sure what to say. Many veterans had given everything in the service of the Emperor. They had lost friends, limbs, even their minds in that glorious endeavour. Some never spoke again, whilst others spoke only in riddles. Nemora was the first that he had met who had forsaken the Almighty. Or if she had not abandoned her faith, then she had lost it somewhere in all that horror and trauma. Should he try and guide her back to the light? Surely the only faithful action was to alert the Ordo Hereticus and let them cleanse society of her abominable views. Yet something held him there, staring at the sad figure seated on the bunk.
‘Nemora, you must let me help you. I cannot see a soul stranded like you, hovering on the precipice of damnation and simply walk by. My position does not allow it. My faith does not allow it. More importantly, my conscience does not allow it.’
Jax spoke slowly and firmly, but she was unmoved.
‘I beg you, do not put yourself out of reach of the God Emperor’s love,’ Jax pleaded. ‘He may be as stern as the Eye of Terror, but He protects each and every one of us. Our God is all around us. He may be invisible, but He is not unreachable.’
No response. He would have to warn her then. A threat was better than a sentence.
‘If you stray from His flock, I cannot promise the wolves will not find you.’
She looked up at him now, but the tears were gone. A much deeper sadness in her eyes.
‘The wolves aren’t at the door, Confessor. They’re right here in my mind,’ Nemora said, tapping a finger against her temple. ‘I know what you have to do if I don’t recant, but I won’t do it. I loved our Holy Father more than you could ever know. I bled into the dirt of alien worlds, for Him. I killed and was ready to be killed, for Him. I sacrificed my own humanity on the altar of battle, for Him. And where was He? Nowhere to be seen then and not a glimpse of His grace in the years since. A part of me never left that battlefield. It is fitting, perhaps, that my God left me there too.’
Jax had no words. This soldier had seen hell and it had left its unholy imprint.
‘You should leave. Go tend to those whose scars only run bone-deep. You may still be able to help them. There may even be a God who still cares for their souls.’
Jax stood solemnly, and turned for the door.
‘The God Emperor is still out there for you too,’ he said, resignation in his voice.
Nemora regarded him with a look that he couldn’t quite decipher. Was it pity at his naivety or admiration for his belief? For many years after, he still wondered about that look.
‘You may be right, Confessor. Maybe there is a God out there, but not for me.’
Jax left without another word and walked down the corridor of the dormitory. Just as he reached the stairs, there was a muffled bang behind him. He did not return to Sergeant Nemora’s room. He did not even look back. There was nothing left for Confessor Jax in there. Instead he stepped out into the light, breathed in the cold night air and prayed that he was not alone.