‘The Hexegon shall not suffer a flaw.’
The words reappeared in her mind in fiery letters, tapping behind her forehead as a headache constricted her skull. Nefrati’s sobs rose again as she fell once more to the ground, abandoning herself to sadness. The split tile shared the cold reality of her short life, exposed to the flashing light of a miserable bulb hanging from the ceiling. She felt the bruises of the struggle aching and the taste of blood, thick and bitter, slipping between her teeth. The royal guard had stormed into her quarters, ignoring the delicate carpets and knocking the ornate furniture over. Nefrati tried to dissuade them, even though she knew her father’s decree. Yet these raging thugs didn’t care about her crying and begging, throwing the young woman to the ground before kicking her.
Like the eye of a hurricane, the calm voice of her father had risen above the din.
‘The Hexegon shall not suffer a flaw. Your weakness is a disgrace to our family and I will no longer let you tarnish our honor by the failure of your birth.’
Those words had struck her even harder than the guards’ steel-toed boots. Her half-open eyes had distinguished the straight form of her father staring at her with infinite hardness. His stern whiskers adorned tight lips in an expression of restrained anger, of patience eroded by disappointment over the years.
Jalius Tescalon, Lord Governor and Guardian of the Hexegon for five generations, had the sharp charm of a military man and the uncompromising temper that went with it. Rejuvenat treatments had made his features hard and tense like old leather, but for three centuries his cold eyes had been offering the world the same look full of measure and judgment.
The Hexegon was a formation of six space stations surrounding a small tear in the Warp, lost in an aggregate of dead planets. It was a cosmic cemetery devastated by a war in ages past, now serving as an immaterial prison for an ancient foe bested by the Imperium, its captives held in a state of eternal limbo by Jalius’ astropathic choir.
Jalius Tescalon had taken part in that ancient conflict, yet had derived little glory from his feats of arms, contenting himself with performing his duty in total concentration. Scarce were the occasions when a spark of humanity ignited in him, and in those moments he would humble himself and recount the legends of the Emperor’s Angels. Giving up all protocol he would deliver a magnificent portrait of these terrible warriors for his subjects, before the walls of his mind closed once again, as if he had said too much.
The descendants of the old lord were born and died several times during his reign. His children were all born of in-vitro fertilized astropathic mothers, and were meant to be used exclusively for the Hexegon’s maintenance. Generation after generation, the six of his descendants ensured the watch of the Warp prison in a steady shift, replaced once fully spent. The present generation perpetuated the silent communion.
For eighteen years, the next five sons of Jalius had been training to take their place in each relay station, learning to control their gifts under the demanding tutelage of their mentors. These five sons were the pride of the Hexegon, its citizens praising their lord for his talented offspring – yet the sixth child was a different matter, a cursed trick that fate alone could craft. The five were the master’s canvas, stained by the brush stroke of incompetence.
Nefrati was the sixth one, and the stillborn hope of a cruel father.
She had done her best and worked throughout childhood to improve her gift. Despite promising beginnings, her inability to develop further talents had met the wrath of her father, who was eager for results. Nefrati knew what hopes weighed on her shoulders and no longer counted the efforts, sacrifices and isolation she inflicted on herself most of the time. To expand her mind out of her body, to snarl in the midst of alien thoughts was routine for her, but to collide with the Hexegon’s radiance was unbearable. She had tried countless times to cross that painful threshold, but the voices of her elder brothers and sisters were far too powerful, and she would come out of her trance only to endure the disapproving gaze of her father, judging the frail, sweating figure that could bring him nothing but disappointment.
Nefrati’s sadness turned into anger and she clenched her teeth, her fingers twitching against the tiles as if she might fall right through them. She had always done her best! Why did her brothers manage to work together when all she did was limp awkwardly? She slammed her fragile fist against the ground, but this only increased her feeling of powerlessness towards those haughty beings who, in secret, must have laughed at her misery. She wouldn’t be here, had they helped her. She would not be waiting for lobotomization, like charred meat. She who, from birth, had been denied any right to aspire to more than a life of servitude, was going to lose her conscience and become no more than an automaton, good for nothing but scrubbing latrines. Her father… no, the ungrateful monster, had told her that the pain she would feel would be the least she could do to repent for her failure. But by what right? And in the name of what value could he afford such gratuity? She was just a child, not even in her twenties! She…
The young woman startled. The voice that had pronounced her name was right there, by her ear. Nefrati searched for a loudspeaker, yet the walls offered nothing but wet concrete to her eyes. The room’s single lumen flashed briefly before the voice resounded again, more distinct yet devoid of hostility.
The pressure around her skull receded as she opened up her senses. Nefrati had attuned to thousands of stray voices while her consciousness had drifted around the Hexegon’s stations, but this one was unknown to her. Even if humans’ thoughts and dreams were clouds of sensations unique to each and every one of them, it was impossible to know them all.
‘Who’s there?’ she pulsed, uncomfortably hearing the sound of her own psychic voice, hoarse and weak.
A creeping cold slipped around her brain, as if to isolate it from her skull and completely drive the pain away. Nefrati shivered but welcomed the relief with pleasure. The voice came back, carrying a delicate accent with sweet notes.
I am a friend, said the voice calmly, and I have heard of your misfortune.
The young woman turned around, still unsure if she was alone in her cell.
‘I do not know you,’ she said.
The voice sounded amused, or at least smiling.
My dear, do you know all your neighbors?
She looked down, innocently trapped. She had to admit that she did not.
Seconds passed, slow and silent, before Nefrati spoke again in a desperate psychic impulse.
‘I do not have friends. Everybody here hates me.’
Is that true, young lady? That is not what I heard.
Nefrati looked up and snickered. Her anger returned, rising from the thin layer of calm surrounding her mind.
‘I wouldn’t be here if people wanted me! They are happy to get rid of the dead weight. Who are you? Some lackey coming to mock me?’
She walked to the door and tried to look through the thin horizontal slit. The corridor partially appeared to her, empty. Sickeningly sweet, the voice returned and whispered in her ear.
My name is Amoch and I have not come to torment you, Nefrati. I came because I felt your distress and I’d like to help you.
All this was taking an impossible turn. Nefrati walked in circles, clenching and opening her fists. The pain pierced at the base of her skull, planting more needles in her temples. Eventually, she took a deep breath, and sat in the middle of the cell.
She closed her eyes.
Slowly, she mastered her perception again, conscious of her mind’s extension. It floated around her body and extended thin swirls beyond the corridor, under the floor and above the ceiling. Nefrati felt famine digging at the belly of an inmate two cells away, the sizzling prick of the copper wire feeding the lumen above her head; and, comforting, the unknown presence who had the decency to remain silent all this time.
‘Where are you?’ she pulsed. I can’t feel your aura.
Inside her ears, she heard the voice taking a painful inspiration.
I am not far.
‘Are you in the palace?’
Oh no, dear, I’m far away. It grieves me to tell you this, but I’m afraid the power of your choir is preventing you from reaching me.
Nefrati opened her eyes and fell back in fear. She raised her hands in front of her, as if to protect herself from some invisible threat.
‘You… she stuttered. You come from beyond…’
A courtly laugh stung the back of her eyes.
Alas yes, my dear. I’m afraid we’re both slaves to our kingdoms.
She recovered upright, insecure and disgusted at the idea of communing with a being from the other world. This despicable spirit did not deserve to address her.
‘I am not a slave, I am the daughter of the Lord Governor of this domain.’
The words sounded hollow in spite of her, leaving her mouth without the slightest assurance.
She felt the cold enveloping her brain stir.
Allow me to question that status, my dear. Your masters hardly seem to hold you in high esteem. Is there a reason for this?
Nefrati wanted to spit on the ground, feeling the heat of her saliva mingle with her bleeding gums.
‘I’m not good enough for them. I disappointed my father, despite all my efforts. I’m too weak to join the Hexegon’s choir.’
She laughed with no joy.
‘But you don’t understand any of this. You don’t live in the civilized world.’
She perceived the revolting amusement of a depraved being, and braced herself for the harsh laughter that she knew would come. And yet, it did not judge her, contenting itself with floating around, ignoring the surrounding spirits. Insolent. Eccentric. Free.
Know, my dear, that laws govern your world and mine equally. Tyranny and jealousy are puppets agitated by the greedy strings of our kings. They envy our good faith because it threatens their empires.
‘You, a monster of the afterlife, dare to pretend yours is good faith?’
Is yours, Nefrati ? Is calling me a monster an act of good faith? Have I ever harmed you?
She suddenly felt guilty, but the pain disappeared again as the voice was reassuring.
Do not worry, my child, I feel no hatred. The virtuous are unique because they are passionate and often accused by fools who are jealous of their talents. Eons ago, I was called the Storyteller by my peers. My voice carried in its currents the fabulous stories of magnificent gods, whom innumerable souls in sorrow drank with admiration. I was a beacon, a hot flame lost in the frozen oceans of the void. Yet still you can see, by the censorship of some arrogant little lords, what I have become on this sad day.
The voice rose with both grief and passion, as it remembered that past drowned in remorse.
‘What happened?’ Asked Nefrati, almost absorbed by the story.
An aggregate of powerful and jealous kings came to tear out our harmony. We were too sincere for their narrow vision of the universe. Their fundamental values were censorship and enslavement. Compassion and knowledge were plagues, obstacles to their barbaric endeavour. They carried war and fire on magnificent cities, toppling our statues and burning our homes. In the wind echoed the cry of the people, who begged only for mercy.
Deep in her chest, Nefrati felt her heart ache for this creature. The voice pulsed with grief around her head, flooding the cell with invisible tears.
They didn’t just lock me up. How many perished alone, deprived of my word ? Sick, poor, exiled: millions died of hunger and sickness or were put to the sword. These exterminated worlds are silent witnesses to our tragic fate.
Nefrati’s eyes widened as she realized, feeling disgust on her tongue, what the voice was revealing to her.
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand. You are talking about… worlds?’
Have you ever observed the planets around us, Nefrati?
She suddenly understood, and took the actual measure of the massacre that had taken place in the system after the advent of the Hexegon. A bloodshed. An entire system. All these people… She stammered, her eyes skimming across the tiles as she realized the atrocities that her father had built his kingdom upon. This cold and stoic being had not only disposed of his subjects and his own family, he had put entire worlds to the sword for his Hexegon. All the cruelty he concealed appeared to Nefrati as the most revolting admission of her life. Helplessly, she gave up.
‘I’m going to end up like them.’
Nefrati felt the needle of anger rising up her spine.
‘That is unfair.’ She ended up spitting. ‘I’ve always done my best for him.’
Your father, Nefrati, doesn’t want you anymore because he’s afraid of you. He is afraid of your true potential, and your praise is known to all beyond the palace. Know it, young lady, they are singing your name.
She raised her head, searching for meaning in these words.
‘Who is singing my name?’
Suddenly, the corridor resounded with footsteps. The stranger’s mind closed in on itself without a word, leaving Nefrati alone once again. Its departure allowed the headache to come back, climbing like gnarled roots along her neck. With a sharp squeak, the cell door came unlocked and the girl felt her heart stall in her chest, as she knew her time had come. A childish terror distorted her features when the royal guard took her out of the cell. The railed corridor skinned her bare feet as they descended several levels towards the heart of the palace. Nefrati felt tears pouring down her blushing cheeks when they passed the austere porch of the medical wing. In a burst of despair, she miserably tried to extend her mind in search of the voice, to call for help to whoever might hear her. When she realized she was too anxious to use her psychic gift properly, she let out a panicked scream in her real voice, soon interrupted by a punch in the stomach granted by one of the guards. Nefrati vomited a thin stream of bile that burned her trachea, leaving an acidic aftertaste in her throat. They dragged her to a room bathed in parasitic noises, where data consoles and cable forests stood, exuding a disgusting smell of formalin.
Embedded in the back wall, at the top of three short steps, stood a terrifying sarcophagus. Paralyzed by the vision, Nefrati no longer even struggled as she was carried over the mess of cables running along the ground, her gaze screwed into the dark, approaching hull. A noise drew her attention to the left. A servant turned to her, dressed in robes pierced with augmentations, casting its lifeless gaze into hers. For a fraction of a second, she thought she felt pity behind these half-closed eyes. The foaming saliva that ran along the creature’s chin annihilated this feeling. That was what she was about to become. Nefrati Tescalon, daughter of Jalius Tescalon, was living her last moments.
As her back was pressed against the rough surface of the sarcophagus and her ties were locked, she saw him.
In the frame of the door he was wearing, as always, the armour of his rank. The ornamented chest plate of the Aquila reflected the multicoloured lights and screens of the room as he approached. Fear and distress instantly gave way to rage in Nefrati’s eyes. She wanted to struggle, to tear her ties, to throw herself at that face that deep down she had always hated. Like an oil puddle, the cold enveloped her brain again.
He comes to taunt you, Nefrati.
The guards retreated and lined up on the sarcophagus’ sides as Jalius went up the steps to stand before his daughter, his hand casually resting on the knob of his sword. He took a breath before speaking, his voice cold and hard as stone.
‘Know that I deplore what’s happening.’
He planned it.
Nefrati tried again to free herself, the bonds cutting into her skin as she struggled, but her efforts were vain. The old lord took one step closer.
‘You are not worthy to walk among us, Nefrati. It is not your fault, for not all receive enlightenment,’ he continued with no heat in his voice.
He despises you.
‘Your abilities are too weak for serving, but your presence is a danger in spite of you.’
He’s afraid of your true power.
‘I can’t risk the lives of the millions of souls living in the Hexegon.’
He slaughtered many more.
‘It is only justice, the natural order of things,’ he ended, turning around to walk down the steps.
It is his justice, the justice that exterminates and kills children.
Is this the end of your life, Nefrati? Will he continue his reign with impunity? Are you going to let him annihilate your power, let him get away with this? Will you cover yourself with the blood of the innocent?
‘No!’ She pulsed. ‘I want him to pay for what he did, for his cruelty, he’s no good man!’
She felt a cry rise in her. It was born from the bottom of her heart, strained her belly and caused her fingernails to dig into her clenched fists. Cogitator alarms blared in the room. A pipe broke, hissing with steam. Eyes turned to her. Nefrati’s spirit bubbled with a fury she had never felt, the anger which animates the last moments of a daughter betrayed by her father. With all the power of her hatred, all the violence of her grief, she screamed.
‘I want REVENGE!’
The voice in her skull answered with a satisfaction that Nefrati’s fury prevented her from discerning.
So get your revenge.
Nefrati saw her father, half-turning at the cry. The guards remained as motionless as statues, as did the beatified servant and the innumerable data streams flickering on the monitors. She bent and fell forward. Her bonds had vanished. Her prisoner’s rags were gone, replaced by one of her daily dresses. She turned and found nothingness instead of the sarcophagus. The wall itself had disappeared, replaced by the deepest abyss. Nefrati was stunned by this unreal phenomenon. Was she responsible for this? Did she unlock her full potential? Such questions drowned her mind when small flames appeared in the dark. She recognized candles, flickering farther and farther, tracing a fragile path in the dark. Hesitantly, Nefrati stepped forward and was surprised to feel cold stone under her feet.
With precaution, one step at a time, she advanced. Shyly, she tried to spread her mind before realizing that it was already all around her, expanding in all directions as if invisible barriers had never bound her before. She stretched out her mental presence as she would have stretched out with her body, and was overwhelmed with such a feeling of comfort that she grinned ear to ear.
She continued to advance, until she saw a flame larger than the others, more fragile and with changing colors. The closer she got, the more she felt something calling her from behind that multicoloured core. The cold caressed her brain again, and Nefrati understood who was trapped in this cell.
‘Amoch?’ She pulsed.
I am here, dear child.
‘Where are we?’
At the worlds’ crossroads, the entrance to my dungeon. It was here, amid the tears of my subjects, that your father exiled me.
All around her, Nefrati discerned cries similar to roars, thirsty complaints at the limit of her perception.
I am glad you are here, Nefrati.
His voice was imbued with the deepest sincerity that the young woman had ever heard.
Her surroundings became more distinct and the black veil around Nefrati deformed in places, sinister faces appearing through transparency, full of anger and rancour.
They are the countless innocents slaughtered by your father. They too demand revenge for the injustice they have suffered. The unthinkable throne of lies built by your father is carved from the bones of the infirm and the abandoned. You are like them, Nefrati. You are no different from me. We can bring justice to the oppressed and the innocent, rather than let the torturers get away with it.
Appearing from nowhere, a dagger rattled down on the stone, flickering with pink reflections. Nefrati retreated at the sight of the weapon, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
Have no fear, Nefrati. The spell held by your elders can only be broken by the blood of their fellows. And you are the most powerful of them. Asking you this makes my heart heavy as I know it will hurt, but justice will not be ours unless you agree to this painful act.
For them, he added, and Nefrati felt Amoch’s consciousness weaving cold threads from every tortured face to her heart. By the Throne, there were so many.
Feeling indebted, she crouched down and grabbed the dagger as if by automatism. The weapon was heavy, far more imposing than a simple knife. She felt the soft cold curl around her brain as she slowly slid the blade along her arm. The tingling of the severed skin was quickly replaced by acute pain, but Nefrati clenched her teeth and continued as hot rivulets of blood flowed in scarlet lines over her pale skin.
At the edges of her consciousness, she heard panicking voices and what seemed to be alarm sirens.
Someone was shouting her name.
A little more blood never hurts.
A slam startled Nefrati. In front of her, the violet flame widened into a lightning maelstrom. She protected herself from the bright light with her bloody hand, as an immense silhouette emerged. A heavy step echoed on the stone, dragging pink sparks and electric residues. Nefrati was breathless before the god standing before her. His purple and golden armour was an impossible amalgam of arabesques and sublime sculptures. His movements were perfectly fluid as he raised his arm, closing and opening his hand. As if satisfied with the result, the iron-helmed being turned to her. Its voice was deformed but unmistakable.
‘I owe you my infinite thanks, Nefrati,’ Amoch said.
Frozen in place, the young astropath did not know what to say. This impossible being resembled the Emperor’s Angels as described by her father. Why would he imprison one?
‘You…’ she managed to articulate. ‘Are you one of His Angels ?’
The ethereal wind blowing from the crack in Amoch’s back brought to her ears a laughter she could not define.
‘Yes, dear lady, I am an Angel. And thanks to you, for justice will finally be served. Your vengeance, our vengeance, the vengeance of our exterminated brothers. Centuries of penance finally come to an end.’
He held out one of his enormous hands to her, as a friend would do.
As a father would have done.
She stretched out her bruised arm and blood ran down to her clavicle. Something deep inside of her screamed in silence. In the distance, the alarms rang louder.
Their fingers touched, and the air instantly filled with an atrocious stench. A wind of decay blew out all the candles and carried tornadoes of infinitely powerful cries, bursting out of inhuman throats. Nefrati vomited without vomiting. She cried without crying. She tried to cover her ears but Amoch’s hand held her still. She raised her eyes to the helmet staring at her, impassive in the torment, its red lenses planted in her gaze. Then, with her sixth sense, she saw him. This broken, fetid, infinitely old face set with abominable eyes. And this mouth with no lips and sharp fangs, with a rotten tongue as the instrument of insidious and corrupted words. Nefrati wept and her tears were swept away in the storm, torn apart by greedy ghosts.
Amoch’s relentless grip brought her closer and she was overcome by indescribable nausea. She closed her eyes, in such panic that she pressed her eyelids as if to erase everything. The cold was freezing her brain now, digging deeper and deeper into her organs. Something grew inside her. Something that hurt her. Something that wanted to come out. Nefrati suddenly felt she was falling, as if the stone floor had disappeared. The dizzying fall brought her spirit back into her body, yet she still felt Amoch’s grip on her arm. The scent of panic reached her at the same time as the sirens and the frightened cries. Behind her, the innumerable voices saturated the abyss with their thirst for blood, their voracity pressing horribly behind her eyes. In the midst of the noise, the honeyed tone of the giant was the last thing she heard, whispering in her ears with feral satisfaction. Nefrati felt something tear in her chest.
‘Wake up now, dear lady.’
Nefrati opened her eyes to the terrified medical room, and died.
About the Author
Alexandre lives in a small village surrounded by woods and rivers in the outskirts of Paris, and often escapes to the rough coasts of Britanny.
Despite speaking English with every bit of talent expected from a French person, his first wish is to write stories that can offer a refreshing break in the midst of this fretenic century.
Also, he despises talking about himself using the third person.