- "We are mute but not without power, we are silent but not without resolve, we are untouchable but not without courage, we are sisters and have but one father. We are seekers and we shall find our prey, we are warriors and woe to those we oppose, the Emperor's mark is on our brow, all who deal with the Warp must beware, His Judgement and vengeance is ours to deliver!’"
- — Motto of the Sisters of Silence
The Sisters of Silence were an all-female Imperial order of Witch Hunters. They were active during the time of the Great Crusade in the early 31st Millennium, and their purpose was to hunt and kill rogue human psykers whose activities presented a terrible danger to the people of the newborn Imperium of Man. Also known as the Silent Sisterhood and the Witchseekers, they were the militant arm of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and were referred to internally within the records of the Adeptus Terra as the Departmento Investigates. The ultimate fate of the Sisters of Silence is not found in Imperial records, and no references to their continued existence in the era of the 41st Millennium exists. It is believed that they were either destroyed long ago or were ultimately folded into the organisation of the Imperial Inquisition. The Sisters of Silence's primary base of operations was the Somnus Citadel on Luna, the moon of Terra.
Of all the Emperor of Mankind’s servants, the Sisters of Silence were perhaps the most mysterious. These warrior-investigators were tasked with the apprehension of untrained psykers, often colloquially referred to on primitive human worlds as "witches," whose abilities sometimes manifested in ways that could be very dangerous to their fellow human beings, particularly if they became hosts for the foul entities of the Warp. The Sisters operated the Adeptus Astra Telepathica’s infamous Black Ships, which ranged the galaxy following behind the Great Crusade's Expeditionary Fleets in search of rogue psykers to capture or expunge, seeking to collect and carry them back to Terra where they would be tested and their eventual fate decided. Though few in number, the Sisters of Silence commanded great respect within the Imperium and most servants of the Emperor regarded them with some awe. Few would willingly stand in their way or interfere with their activities and few indeed were those who were comfortable in their presence.
The Sisters of Silence were well-trained warriors, and with the added benefit of their anti-psyker abilities they were dangerous opponents for any of the enemies of Mankind. Unlike other living beings, these women sworn to silence possessed no presence in the Warp and were therefore unaffected by psychic powers. There were many names for them in the multitude of human cultures to be found across the galaxy: Untouchables, Pariahs, Blanks. All of the members of their order were non-psychic, for they bore the Pariah Gene which made them immune to all forms of psychic assault and their minds unreadable by telepathy. These bearers of the Pariah Gene possessed the innate ability to disrupt psychic abilities. Their mere presence was intolerable to a psyker, for they become visibly uncomfortable in their company. Close proximity or intimate contact with Pariahs could cause a psyker great pain. This made it ideal for the Sisters to serve as Imperial Witch Hunters, identifying psykers secretly hidden amongst normal human populations as well as discovering those as yet unaware of their own innate abilities. The Sisters were also authorized to destroy any psykers they deemed too dangerous to capture and send back to Terra for testing.
In their studies, the Sisters of Silence read many of the great texts to be found in the towering stacks of the Libraria in the Somnus Citadel on Luna, from the earliest surviving volumes of the Psykana Occultis to the Voiceless Judgements of Melaena Verdthand. Within these tomes of psychic research and ancient lore, the young Sisters-in-Waiting learned much concerning the nature of the witch. They came to believe that skill in the Power Sword and Bolter were but one half of a Sister’s armoury, for knowledge of their quarry carried equal weight. In this quest they had learned a great deal about the extremes of psykerkind to be found in the human-settled galaxy. The Sisters learned to ferret them out, combat them and, if need be, execute them with extreme prejudice for the greater good of all Mankind.
- Jorgall Persecution (Unknown Date.M31) – A cadre of Sisters were despatched on the orders of Malcador the Sigillite, the Regent of Terra, to aid the XIV Legion of Space Marines, the Death Guard, in an attack on the xenos known as the Jorgall. During the ensuing battle, the Sisters managed to wound a mutant Jorgall psyker and capture it to be transported back to Terra for study.
- Scouring of Prospero (Unknown Date.M31) – The Sisters' most successful campaign during the early Horus Heresy occurred during the Imperial assault on the Thousand Sons' homeworld of Prospero after their Primarch Magnus was found guilty of violating the anti-sorcery edicts of the Council of Nikaea. The Sisters of Silence deployed in support of the Space Wolves Legion and a contingent from the Legio Custodes, and provided the main line of defence against the potent psychic abilities of the Thousand Sons Legion.
- Battle of Terra (Unknown Date.M31) – The Silent Sisterhood provided a stalwart defence of the Imperial Palace during the Siege of Terra. They were also instrumental in the defence of the Imperial Webway located in the subterranean levels of the Imperial Palace against a massive daemonic incursion from the Immaterium.
Oath of Tranquility
Full-fledged Sisters of Silence each swore an oath of silence as a mark of fealty to the Emperor and their sacred mission. No Sister could utter a word, unto death, once she took the Oath of Tranquility. A novice Sister who had yet to take the vow was allowed to converse normally, though they were also trained in the use of the various forms of gestural signing incorporated into their Order as its primary means of communication. Sisters-in-Waiting served their Order by speaking when communication was needed with outsiders, acting as interpreters between the senior ranks of Sisters and other Imperial servants. Those Sisters that took the Oath of Tranquility communicated exclusively through the use of the various forms of sign-language, similar to the battle signs employed by the Space Marines, and would not willingly break this most sacred of oaths. These women never spoke, even when wounded by projectile rounds or badly injured by weapons fire or the bite of edged weapons.
Sisters of Silence Sign-Language
The Silent Sisterhood made use of several different types of sign language, including the following:
- ThoughtMark - ThoughtMark was one of the symbolic sign languages employed by the Silent Sisterhood. Small in scale, full of delicate gestures of finger and thumb, it served to convey concepts of great subtlety or intricate nature. It was far more graceful than the large, sharp motions of BattleMark.
- BattleMark – BattleMark was the command sign language used by the Sisters to communicate on the battlefield. The gestures used to communicate in BattleMark were large, sharp motions that enabled a person to convey their thoughts in line of sight and can be seen at extreme ranges. This gestural language is most similar to Astartes battle-sign and may have a similar origin.
- Orskode – Silent Sisterhood transmissions sent to locales beyond line-of-sight were despatched not with words but in an ancient machine-readable variant of ThoughtMark known as Orskode, a mechanical rattle or clicking that to untrained ears would resemble the sounds of turning cogwheels.
The Sisters of Silence were organised into multiple warrior cadres that were readily identifiable by their corresponding animal totem (the Frost Lynx, Ice Leopard, Iron Lynx, Raptor, White Falcons, etc.) and squad types (Vigilator, Prosecutor, Excrutiatus, Prosecutor, Witchseeker, etc.) as well as their different armour colour schemes and iconography.
- Sister-in-Waiting – A Sister-in-Waiting is an Aspirant to the Silent Sisterhood who performs all of the menial tasks within the Order and waits on the appraisal of the more senior-ranking Sisters. Since Sisters-in-Waiting had not yet sworn the Oath of Tranquility they often acted as interpreters for the senior Sisters when dealing with outsiders.
- Novice-Sister – A Novice-Sister was an Aspirant to the Order who had not yet taken the Oath of Tranquility but was considered to possess more skill and knowledge of the Sisterhood and its ways than a Sister-in-Waiting. A Novice-Sister was not required to perform as many menial tasks as a Sister-in-Waiting, as she had more important tasks to fill her days, such as learning witch-lore and practicing her combat skills.
- Null Maiden – A Null Maiden was a full-fledged member of the Sisterhood who had taken the Oath of Tranquility.
- Vigilator – A Vigilator was an unspecified rank of Silent Sister who often accompanied an Oblivion Knight on a mission.
- Oblivion Knight - Oblivion Knights were senior-ranking Sisters who lead other Sisters of different ranks on their various missions on behalf of the Emperor and the Sisterhood.
- Excrutiatus - The Excrutiatus were Sisters clad in thick, buckle-studded coats of red-leather. These Sisters had no eyes, for in their place they had two heavy lenses or ruby-coloured bionic implants in place of their natural eyes. It is said that to attain this esteemed rank a Silent Sister must personally have slain 100 witches.
- Witchseeker Pursuivant – A Witchseeker Pursuivant is a senior-ranking sister who ranks above an Oblivion Knight within the hierarchy of the Order.
- Sister-Commander – The Sister-Commander is senior-most rank within the Order and she serves as the overall commander of the Silent Sisterhood.
Notable Sisters of Silence
- Sister-Commander Jenetia Krole - Jenetia Krole was the mistress of the Raptor Guard and one of the Emperor’s personal battle confidantes, as well as the highest-ranking Sister of Silence during the early days of the Horus Heresy.
- Sister-Senior Celia Harroda – Sister-Senior Celia was the Witchseeker Pursuivant, and heroine of the Sisters of Silence during the Battle of Terra, when there was a massive daemonic incursion within the Imperial section of the Webway created by the Emperor within the subterranean levels of the Imperial Palace. On one occasion a mighty Bloodthirster, the greatest of the daemons of Khorne, fought its way through the Imperial defenders and to the Webway gate into the Palace itself. Only the last minute intervention of Sister Celia Harroda was able to stop the beast from crashing through the gate and into the Imperial Palace's dungeons. Sister Celia confronted the huge daemon, her presence chilling the air around it and stifling its otherworldly power, and silently she despatched the monster with swift strokes from her blade of frost. The effort utterly exhausted her and with the final, banishing stroke of her sword she collapsed upon the threshold between the Warp and realspace never to take another breath.
- Sister Emrilia Herkaaze – Sister Herkaaze was an Oblivion Knight of the Silent Sisters. Alongside Amendera Kendel, Sister Herkaaze was drawn to the notice of the Sisters of Silence as a child. Each of the Sisters were recruited from worlds in the Belladone Reach. Kendel and Herkaaze had shared a vague kinship throughout their Aspirant trials, but as they had grown into full Sisterhood, the women’s early friendship soured. Years later, they were bitter rivals within the Order, each nursing antipathy for the other. How this bitter enmity began is not truly known, but one story, told to novices by other novices, said that the women had once fought with a fire-witch on Sheol Trinus; Herkaaze, unwilling to fall back before a powerful enemy and regroup, had been struck by burning debris and later turned the blame upon Kendel for refusing to support her. Sister Emrilia’s extensive old wounds might indicate that there was some truth to this tale.
- Sister Amendera Kendel – At the outset of the Horus Heresy, Amendera Kendel was thirty standard years old and like her fellow Sisters cut an impressive figure; she was lithe and poised, clad in a shimmering snakeskin over-suit of dense chainmail and a sweep of golden armour plate that resembled a bodice. She wore her purple-black coloured hair in a topknot from a seamless scalp, bare but for a blood-red tattoo of the Imperial Aquila. Sister Kendel was an Oblivion Knight and commanded the Black Ship Aeria Gloris. During the Great Crusade Sister Kendel was a part of a cadre of Sisters sent on the orders of Malcador the Sigillite to deploy alongside the Death Guard Legion in the prosecution of the xenos known as the Jorgall for daring to venture into human space. The Sisters proved instrumental in attacking and wounding a powerful mutant Jorgall psyker. They then captured the wounded creature for transport back to Terra and further research into its abilities. Sister Kendel then moved on to perform other duties. After the opening shots of the Horus Heresy occurred on Istvaan III, Sister Kendel volunteered to protect the Death Guard Captain Nathaniel Garro and the survivors of the frigate Eisenstein at the Somnus Citadel on Luna. She was later forced to lead her fellow Sisters into battle with the corrupted Death Guard Astartes Solun Decius who had finally given into the Nurgleite contagion inflicted upon him by the reanimated corpses aboard the Eisenstein. His corrupted body had mutated into a daemonic entity known as the Lord of the Flies. After defeating this significant daemonic threat, Sister Kendel, Captain Garro and Captain Iacton Qruze of the Luna Wolves were confronted by Malcador the Sigillite. He informed them of his intentions to form a new organisation which would need to utilise "men and women of an inquisitive nature" and offered them a place within this new fellowship of Loyalists. Amendera Kendel’s ultimate fate remains unknown.
- Sister Thessaly Nortor – An Oblivion Knight, Sister Nortor possessed a taut, scar-sharpened face which was usually drawn down into a scowl. The second-in-command of the Storm Dagger cadre had made no secret of her disdainful opinions for the Warmaster Horus’ mutiny against his father the Emperor. Sister Nortor’s breath would rasp quietly through the mechanical apparatus at her neck; almost three-quarters of Nortor’s throat had been replaced with a mechanical augment. Made of a polished silver-steel, her cybernetic implant served the function of flesh destroyed during an engagement against the Jorgalli, inside one of the xenos’s bottle-worlds. As well as her neck, much of the Null Maiden’s lungs were also synthetic proxies assembled by the Sisterhood’s biologians. Many of her fellow Sisters were privately envious of the dour Sister Thessaly; Nortor’s larynx had been lost to the acidic bite of the bottle-world’s alien atmosphere, and she had refused to allow her augmentation to be fitted with an artificial replacement for her missing vocal cords. The woman was as silent as was humanly possible, and therefore an ideal to be emulated by her fellows within the Order.
The Sisters were equipped with a variety of weaponry and devices specifically designed to aid in the nullification and capture of psykers. It was difficult to tell these warrior women apart from one another. They wore a lighter, smaller variant of Power Armour polished to a glittering sheen, unadorned by any brash sigils or fluttering oath papers like the warriors of the Astartes. The Sisters' faces were hidden behind hawkish gold helmets equipped with breather gear that let the unmodified members of the Sisterhood manage the toxic air of hostile worlds.
As the militant arm of the Divisio Astra Telepathica, the Horus Heresy-era precursor of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, the Silent Sisterhood operated the Black Ships that travelled to the myriad worlds of the Imperium to collect psykers and carry them back to Terra to be processed and trained by their parent Adepta. Each of the Black Ships had a small contingent of the Silent Sisterhood aboard. Whereas conventional vessels of the Imperial fleets ran with pennants and signal lamps to illuminate the lengths of their hulls, these infamous vessels came in darkness, arriving out of the interstellar deeps as an ocean predator might slip to the surface of a blackened ocean. Where the ships of the Astartes were swords to be wielded against the enemies of Terra, the Black Ships were akin to a hammer of witches. As with every starship in service with the Divisio Astra Telepathica, these voidships were equipped with aphonoria; great spaces within their hulls where sound-deadening technologies could provide a near-absolute silence. To break this total lack of sound was viewed as an obscenity, a defacement of the Sisterhood's most sacred oath.
- Aeria Gloris (Black Ship) - The Imperium's Black Ships were originally the flagships of the Silent Sisterhood during the Great Crusade and were responsible for carrying them back and forth across the galaxy on the Emperor's witch-hunting missions. The Aeria Gloris was one such vessel under their command.
Fate of the Sisters of Silence
The fate that befell the Sisters of Silence following the Horus Heresy is not recorded in Imperial records. It is not known whether or not they were utterly annihilated during the defence of the Emperor’s secret Imperial Webway Project within the Imperial Palace's dungeons or if they were disbanded and incorporated into the ranks of the fledgling organisation of the Inquisition. There is no known Imperial record of the Silent Sisterhood still operating within the 41st Millennium nor is there any reference to their destruction or disbandment.
- Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow
- Thousand Sons (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Prospero Burns (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions (Background Book)
- Tales of Heresy (Anthology), "The Voice" by James Swallow