The Fear of Death
“Dost thou fear death, Brother?”
The question hung in the air, limp and hoarse. Mǫkǫyll looked at its origin, but through the grate in the confessionary box he could not see who asked it. The confession box was small, cramped, and cold, and the murky darkness inside felt more like a prison cell than a holy place. He paused in thought for a few moments before finally answering: “No.”
“Wrong.” The reply dripped with venom, and Mǫkǫyll could almost see the snarl on his face. “Thou wouldst do well to heed mine words, Captain. Thou who hast no fear of death cannot be called mine brother.”
“Forgive me, High Chaplain,” the Captain said cautiously, “but I do not understand why. Surely bravery in the face of death is among the highest of virtues.”
The confession box was quiet again. “I had expected better of thee. Walk with me, and I shall…rectify thy lack of understanding.” With that, the door on the other side of the confession box opened, and the Captain followed suit, grimacing. No matter what the conversation was, the High Chaplain never failed to condescend.
The High Chaplain walked ahead of Mǫkǫyll, not bothering to turn around. His veteran’s mechadendrites slowly twisted and writhed as the two of them slowly left the Chamber of the Deepfather and into one of the ship’s long hallways. Through the glascrete windows, the murky blackness of the Deep swirled around them, and the dim light of distant stars struggled to pierce the nebulous dark. Asteroids and balls of rocky ice could be seen around them as the strike cruiser Novgorod slunk through the Belt of Cjus, a debris field in the bowels of the Deep.
The only sound between them was the thudding of armored feet on the deck, but they could hear the servitude hymns of the Thralls below, toiling in the depths of the vessel. The smell of the Chamber’s burning incense and torches was replaced with the coppery smell of the furnaces below, wafting throughout the ship.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Siewurd spoke again, without turning. “Tell me this, Captain. What is the ultimate duty of an Astartes?”
Mǫkǫyll scowled. “I do not need lecturing, Chaplain. Your assumption of ignorance in your fellow brothers does not sit well with me.” He paused as Siewurd chuckled, a grating mechanical sound. “An Astartes, at the basest level, must serve as the will of the Emperor.”
“Correct,” replied the Chaplain. “And is our Glorious Emperor’s will not, Captain, what an Astartes must enforce in all of his days?”
Again the Captain frowned. “But of course.”
The High Chaplain violently spun around, leaning in close to the Captain’s face. His inky black eyes stared straight into the Captain’s with a look of pure malice. “And yet it puzzles me, Captain, that thou knowest this holiest of goals and yet does not understand the fear of death.” The Chaplain’s mechadendrites swung about angrily as he continued. “Fear is a sea, a sea that all of us swim within. It surrounds us, envelops us, drowns us in it, all of our days.”
Siewurd’s hands clenched into fists. “An Astartes must serve the Emperor. All Astartes know this. Thou knowest this. I realize that.” His brow furrowed. “What thou and others like thyself do not realize is the exactitude of this task. A Battle-Brother’s death is the second greatest mistake he can make. Were thee to die in battle, or worse yet, off of it, thy existence as an extension of the Emperor would cease. One of His divine agents would be gone. His sword would dull. His shield would crack. And His hand would falter.”
He stepped back. “But there is a greater sin yet, Brother, the greatest sin an Astartes can commit: to allow a Brother under thy guidance to cease. Thy Brothers look to thee, Captain, to lead and guide them in their holy task, and were they to perish under thy watch…”
The Chaplain paused for a moment, and Mǫkǫyll noticed a change in Siewurd’s expression. His usual scorn softened, and his eyes filled with what the Captain could only assume was regret. The Chaplain then lifted his right arm, forming a straight right angle.
“Look, Captain, at my sin,” he choked out. The nine long nails in the Chaplain’s arm, the source of his namesake, pierced all the way through his armor, and the runes of penance inscribed on them glowed softly. “I have committed this sin, my Brother; the first time I was required to lead our glorious brethren in battle…and I FAILED!” His yell resonated in the hallway, echoing throughout the ship.
He then placed his right arm on the Captain’s shoulder. “I have heard, Captain, what mine brothers say of me. That I am cruel. That I am cold. That I expect too much of mine fellow Krakens. But it is no fault but mine own.” He shook his head. “I made the mistake on that fateful day, and I have no wish to see another fail in how I have failed.” Mǫkǫyll’s frown softened as the Chaplain lowered his arm. “The fear of death, Captain, is the greatest thing thou canst wield. Embrace thy fear. Use thy fear as fuel, a fire deep within thee that churns the depths of thy soul.”
The Captain finally nodded. “I know you mean well, High Chaplain. I thank you for your words.” Siewurd nodded in return, but held up a finger. “One final piece of advice, Captain.”
“If fear is a sea, Captain, then you must be an anchor. An anchor cannot ignore the sea, just as thou cannot ignore thy fear. It defines thee. But thou can Stand Firm. Thou can steel thyself, and anchor thy brothers to thee. Thy example can drive thy brothers to newer and greater deeds than ever experienced before, and thy leadership can write sagas our future brothers will sing in praise.”
“If fear is a sea, Mǫkǫyll, then be an anchor, and hold fast.” Siewurd began to walk back to the Chamber, leaving the great Captain alone with his thoughts…and his fear.