Eye of the Storm

5/5 (1)

When the madness came, it consumed Xiophe’s world all at once.

The Plunger groaned around her. The void vessel’s superstructure twisted impossibly as a torrent of unreality washed over its metal bones and ceramite flesh. The potent perfume of the crew’s tortured screams fouled the air. The hexagrammic wards of her chamber glowed with eldritch energies as they protected her. 

For now.

‘Father?’ Xiophe whispered into the vox horn, terrified to her very core. Squeals of static were the only response from the bridge. 

‘Look, but do not see,’ her father had instructed her what seemed like a lifetime ago as she’d navigated the Plunger, her House’s warp training vessel through the crack in reality. ‘Find the balance between looking for the path, but not seeing them. For when you see them, they will also see you. And the daemons are forever hungry.’

She had tried so very, very hard to do as she was told. As the scion of House Courphio, Xiophe had a duty. Yet despite her fervent desire to please her father, the indoctrinated urge to bring glory to her House and the cocktail of emotional tranquillisers and cognitive enhancers coursing through her veins, she had looked.

And she had seen

The Plunger was now adrift in the Immaterium. Shoals of silvery discs floated around it, swirling upon multichromatic currents. Soul-hungry predators descended upon bright black splotches of naked terror as the ship’s Gellar field stuttered. In the distance, leviathans shifted like ancient continents, their slightest motion causing ripples that would change past, present and future.

‘She’s only seven, Faarvid,’ Xiophe recalled her mother pleading with his father. ‘She should be playing with the other children. With us!’

‘Nonsense. I was her age when I made my first official run,’ the stern voice of Lord Faarvid of House Courphio brooked no argument. How Xiophe hated that tone and how she now longed to hear his voice again. To reprimand, to command, to just tell her what she had to do to unmake this horror.

The cold blue glow of the hexagrammic wards was taking on impossible hues. Leering faces cavorted across the shadowed reflections of her diagnostic screen. Gibberish ghosted from the Vox speakers. Unintelligible yet hauntingly familiar words scratched at Xiophe’s brain with claws of forbidden meaning.

The medicae servitor attending Xiophe detected her spiking stress levels. Auto-injectors integrated into her Navigator’s throne reacted by stabbing into her tender flesh with a mechanical hiss, pumping her system full of mood suppressants.

The world began to lose its colour, and a cold serenity descended on Xiophe even as her veins filled with molten lava. The all-consuming emotions blocking the hypno-indoctrinated protocols faded, and muscle memory took over. Xiophe’s slender fingers began dancing across the ivory haptic switches. Vidscreens around Xiophe’s throne burst to migraine green life, nav-runes, binharic code-strings and four-dimensional coordinates cascading like a poisoned waterfall. 

‘I will fix this,’ she said. Her voice was as deadpan as the attending medicae servitor’s, so distant from that of a seven-year-old girl. 

‘…m disappointed, so very disa…’

Her father’s voice susurrated from the vox. Or at least the voice of something that sounded like Faarvid Courphio. 

Xiophe hesitated, fingertips hovering above the keys for a heartbeat, but it was enough. Colour began to creep back into her world, and with it, the unspeakable horrors lurking in the periphery of her dual-vision. The real sight of her third eye still superimposed over her mundane ones, revealing the inherent insanity of the overlapping materium and immaterium. She squeezed her eyes shut.

‘No, no, no,’ she whimpered as her third eye remained open, showing her the hellscape behind reality no sane mortal ever wished to see. Xiophe instinctively slapped her hands over her third eye, but flesh and bone could do nothing to block her real sight. Her breathing came in shallow gulps as panic set in. More memories came to her unbidden.

‘Unshackle yourself,’ Faarvid had commanded and Xiophe had obeyed. She had taken the silver key hanging around her neck and reached up, gingerly inserting it into the lock of the complex cogwork nestled atop her shaven head. It had turned with a smooth click. A flower of golden petals had bloomed on her forehead as psy-dampened metal irised open, revealing Xiophe’s third eye and, to it, the sights that she had been prohibited to witness. 

With it, madness came, consuming Xiophe’s world all at once. As her slip of focus bloomed into a full-scale catastrophe ravaging the Plunger, she felt for the first time in her life like the little girl that she actually was. Unshackled from her burden as an heir, a prodigy and a Navigator, chemically repressed emotions burst to the surface. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks, yet no paternal punishment was in sight for showing such weakness. Sobs were not silenced by the iron grip of her father’s discipline. The tremble that shook her thin body was not awarded with lashes.

‘Only in death does duty end,’ the medicae servitor said, before self-terminating with a las-scalpel.

‘I guess… you’re right,’ Xiophe replied to the dead machine between tearful hiccups. Warning chimes whimpered as she unbuckled the restraints of her throne. She wasn’t supposed to leave it during warp travel, but Xiophe was beyond caring.

Clambering from the bulky apparatus, Xiophe felt the neural plugs try to pull her back. She tugged harder until she felt them detaching with a series of wet sighs.

‘Only in death,’ Xiophe muttered, staggering towards her chamber’s door on shaky legs. The hexagrammic wards were melting along with the walls. Her father’s tortured face bubbled up through the door’s adamantium, mouth open in silent agony.

‘Did it end for you, father?’ she asked with a sorrowful smile. ‘I hope so. Maybe we can finally play.’

Xiophe reached for the silver key dangling on its chain and looked at it. The key had represented her servitude, but now it was a symbol of liberation.

‘Wait for me… Dad.’

About the Author
Daniel was born on a sunny, peaceful spring morning in Budapest, Hungary. He preferred watching television over reading books. That changed when his school took him to the public library and everyone was forced to pick a book to read. He chose The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite his initial disdain, our hero devoured the book in a few days and hasn’t stopped reading since. If you got this far, please send help, his budget (and shelves) can’t handle more books! Oh, and he occasionally entertains the idea of being a writer. The fool.